Winter was almost upon them, and despite the many weeks they’d spent preparing for it, it still caught them by surprise. The winds were colder, cutting into their cheeks and causing their cabin to creak ominously. After their visit to the nest, Castiel had chosen to spend most of his time with the Winchesters. The flock hadn’t protested, and Castiel bitterly thought that they were probably relieved he wouldn’t be near them for extended periods of time. He was basically living in the cabin now, and he spent his nights in Dean’s bed.
Today was a special day, one that he’d been dreading since Dean first told him of the request they’d received from a desperate villager. Castiel fidgeted anxiously as he watched the brothers pack up their things into sacks and grab their weapons bag.
“Are you sure I can’t come with you?” Castiel asked a little desperately, even though he knew the answer would be no. Dean stepped up to the harpy and placed a reassuring hand on one tense shoulder. After a little deliberation, he sighed and tugged Castiel into his arms, pressing his lips to the wild head of hair.
“It’s not that we don’t want you there-“
“Yes, I know,” Castiel’s voice cut him off, grumpy and muffled. Castiel’s wings wrapped around the hunter and clutched tightly. “I can’t blend in with the humans and they’ll think I’m dangerous.”
It had taken a few weeks of careful healing, but Castiel’s injured wing, though a little stiff, had regained its former health. Dean’s gentle attention and constant grooming had helped his feathers regain their healthy lush, the colors once again a soft peach cream.
Castiel knew that the hunters were semi-retired and still helped whenever the people in the nearby villages requested their skills. It was inevitable that Dean and Sam would need to go on another hunt, but it was a sore spot for Castiel, who wanted to go with them. He wanted to help Dean, to give back to the brothers as a gesture of thanks for the last several weeks in their care.
He may not be a Hunter like Gabriel, but Castiel was useful on a hunt, deadly when needed. His talons weren’t just for show.
But it didn't matter how helpful or useful he could be, in the end, Castiel was a harpy and not all humans were aware that there were peaceful supernatural beings. Most humans didn’t like things that were different from themselves.
“We’ll be careful,” Dean reassured Castiel as he pulled back and flashed a cocky grin. “We’re the famous Winchester hunters for a reason and it’s not only because of our good looks.” The ridiculous waggle of his eyebrows had Sam chuckling and Castiel relaxing further. They would be okay. Most hunters didn’t survive as long as Sam and Dean had, and it truly showed how skilled they were that they’d retired from the hunting world without major injuries.
“Come on Dean, we need to be at the coastal town in three days’ time.” Sam shot Castiel an apologetic look as he stepped in and grabbed his reluctant brother. Castiel shoved down the whine that wanted to break out of him, instead trailing after them forlornly as they walked out of the cabin.
Dean groaned, shivering when the freezing air hit their exposed skin. They were all wearing heavier furs as it was now firmly in the colder seasons. The forest itself was cool even in the summer, so during the late fall and winter it was freezing. It would probably start snowing soon. So far, it had just been spaced out rainy days, but the stormy season was slowly approaching.
“I can’t believe we’re going to the ocean in this kind of weather,” Dean grouched as he pulled his heavy cloak around himself, glancing at Castiel with envy in his gaze. The harpy looked entirely unaffected by the cold, wearing his same thin tunic. Harpies generally had regulated internal temperatures and the cold rarely bothered them. They had to be resistant because they spent a lot of their time in the air where they were constantly buffeted with high altitude winds.
The only addition to Castiel’s clothing was a light cloak. It was a beautiful green-blue that both blended in with the trees and made his eyes stand out. It was a simple cloak, but there were designs embroidered into the bottom edges that looked like leaves blowing in the wind, the wisps and curls of the wind emphasized with silver threads.
The hunters were less fortunate, both in their lack of resistance to the cold and their destination. The ocean was constantly shifting, but it was now cold enough that stepping into it would lead to certain death, even without the current danger. The case had been brought to them by a desperate villager from a coastal town. He had stumbled upon them, half dead and shivering, still wet from his experience. He’d been mad with fear, a wild look in his eyes as he’d sobbed out his story.
There was an unknown creature that lurked in the ocean, terrorizing the town and dragging those who ventured too close into the dark waters. Local hunters had tried to stop it, but none had survived the encounter. The town relied on their fishing to survive. With the creature there, they were forced to rely on their food reserves that were meant to be used during the winter. They were in dire straits and at this rate, they would not have enough food to survive fall.
The Winchesters had agreed to the case easily enough. They would never turn down people in need of their services.
It worried Castiel, but it also made him proud of how courageous they were. The Winchesters were good people, and he was happy to call them his family.
“Dean, if we leave any later we will have to deal with rain and snow.” Sam rolled his eyes, though the quirk of his lips showed that he was used to Dean’s complaining.
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s just finish this quickly.” Dean kept staring at Castiel, his lips stuck out in an almost pout. They had been together for almost half a season now, yet they were still deeply in the honeymoon phase. It was clear to them (and to poor Sam) that they were the type of couple that would be stuck in the honeymoon phase for years, if not the rest of their lives. Sam patted Dean on the shoulder, taking pity on his brother’s obvious reluctance to leave Castiel’s side.
Dean and Castiel continued staring at each other. Probably used to their absolutely weird mating practices, Sam wandered off to get the horses ready and saddle them up.
Finally, Castiel stepped closer, his wing coming up to present something to Dean.
Castiel’s hand slipped out of the mass of feathers (in a way that always made Dean chuckle, it looked both silly and cute) and presented Dean with a single peach cream feather.
Dean took it carefully, turning the feather in his fingers as he watched the way the sun shone through it.
Castiel cleared his throat, a slight flush on his cheeks as he explained, “When our mates leave for a long time, whether it be for war or for a hunt, we give them a feather. It’s a good luck charm, but also a way to remind you that you’re not alone…” Castiel let out a muffled chirrup as Dean dragged him close and pressed a deep kiss to his mouth. He cooed into it easily enough, wings coming up to surround them in warmth. Dean shivered, feeling protected and loved in the cocoon of Castiel’s wings.
“It’s only two weeks, Cas.” Dean teased, once he pulled back enough to thumb at Castiel’s lips. Cas darted out his tongue and the quick swipe of it on Dean’s thumb had the hunter’s eyes darkening in arousal.
Cas buried his face into Dean’s neck, biting hard, laying his claim on Dean. Dean let it happen, tilting his head to the side and closing his eyes as Castiel laved over the spot gently to soothe the pain. He pulled back, eyes tracing the teeth marks he’d left behind with a smug air. It would last those two weeks, and when Dean came back he would leave many more marks on him.
Dean let out a huff of laughter, carefully untangling himself from Castiel’s wings as he held them in his hands. Cas looked up at the sun, his stomach sinking as he saw that it was a bit lower in the sky than before. They would need to leave soon if they wanted to make it to the nearest town by nightfall.
“I’ll be back,” Dean promised, pressing a lingering kiss to Castiel’s forehead. The harpy huffed, rolling his eyes, before dragging Dean down and giving him a real kiss.
“May Motherbird bless you on your flight and bring you back with the winds of fortune,” Castiel spoke quietly, a mantra that was said to every harpy that left the flock and into certain danger. Nowadays, it was used in almost every situation, but Castiel couldn’t help the anxiety he felt knowing that the brothers were heading into a case they knew next to nothing about.
Dean chuckled as he brought up the feather in his grasp and kissed it, throwing a wink at Cas for good measure. “I have your blessing and this good luck charm. I’ll be back in no time, you won’t even notice I’m gone.” He carefully tucked the feather into one of his pouches, patting it almost fondly to make sure it was safe and snug.
With one last hug and a nuzzle of affection, Dean walked over to the horses and expertly threw himself onto the saddle. Sam was already on the other horse, his face showing his unease as he went through the case details in his head.
Castiel gave them an encouraging smile and a small wing wave as they rode out of the forest, the horses gaining speed until the trees swallowed them up.
Castiel sighed, his wings drooping forlornly once the hunters were out of sight. He’d taken to living with the Winchesters these past few weeks, but the brothers had insisted he go live with the flock until they came back.
He stood up straighter, squaring his shoulders as he slowly let out a breath. He could keep himself occupied for that long.
Castiel flew over the main nest with a hint of trepidation.
It was busy, as it always was. A lot of the flock were flying around, preparing for the coming winter season. Fall wasn’t as much of a problem to them, but during winter, the snow piled up in the nests. Logically with the leaves and branches blocking the way they should have less snow accumulating in the nests, but the unfortunate reality was that the snow piled high on the branches instead. Once it was too heavy for the tree to support the weight, it would bend and dump the snow onto the nests and cover both their living space and whichever harpy was unfortunate enough to be there. This sometimes leads to casualties, and in many cases, damages to the smaller structures within the nests. The main nest consisted of many stalls and smaller wooden buildings and though they were sturdy, the steady onslaught of heavy snow usually made them cave in.
Over time, the flock had learned that the best way to solve this problem was to create a temporary wooden cover over the entire nest. They would gather large branches and vines to bind them together, slowly building the structure over the main nest. The community would also help build smaller versions for their private nests. It would be tragic to fall asleep in peace, only to be buried alive by a mountain of snow.
They didn’t like the feeling of being closed off and unable to fly up and away, but there was little choice in the matter. As a result, the harpies stayed inside the nests, waiting out the storms.
The flock’s hunters were the only ones who didn’t help with the building of the dome’s construction. They were instead tasked with stocking up on food to prepare for the winter seasons. Even most of the Scavengers were pulled into the building process, as there was little vegetation to scavenge in the colder seasons.
A harpy flew straight into Castiel, almost knocking him down. He quickly adjusted, landing with a small stumble on a nearby rooftop.
The familiar voice made him groan, and he glared at Balthazar as the harpy once again tried to fly into him and knock him off the roof. Castiel quickly dodged and carefully jumped to the floor of the nest. Behind him, Balthazar crashed into a stall with a curse, before his head popped up enthusiastically.
“Didn’t think I’d see you here again. Thought you were building a nest with that hunter of yours.”
“I already have a nest here,” Castiel shot back, flushing as he walked over to the man and dragged him out of the mess with one taloned foot hooked into Balthazar’s tunic.
The stall owner glared at them and threw her wings in the air, mumbling choice words under her breath as she cleaned up his mess. The flock was used to Balthazar’s destructive ways and had learned to just deal with it.
“Hm, a nest that you haven’t stepped claws in for almost a month now.” Balthazar tapped a wing on his chin, faking a thoughtful posture. “Admit it Castiel, your nest is with that hunter.”
“Well, at least with them I’m welcome,” Castiel snapped back, and something like regret flashed over Balthazar’s face, knowing he’d pressed his teasing too far.
“That’s not what I meant Cassie-“ Balthazar held up his wings placatingly, his head tilted down in a way that was apologetic.
“Didn’t sound like anything but a criticism of who I’d chosen as a mate,” Castiel quietly said back, his wings puffed up in anger and ruffled from the nervousness he felt as the flock watched their argument with interest.
“A mate,” Balthazar repeated, a twitter of disbelief falling from his lips. “Castiel, you may believe that, but does he feel the same?”
Castiel’s eyes were conflicted, darting to the side, away from Balthazar’s concerned gaze. He knew that the harpy was trying to protect him in his own way. Balthazar was one of the few harpies that didn’t care about the color of his wings. He’d always been rowdy and dramatic, dragging Castiel into his many pranks and schemes when they’d been children. He got along famously with Gabriel and they were a source of most of Castiel’s headaches.
“That is for us to decide,” Castiel’s words were firm, but he couldn’t help the way his thoughts turned to Balthazar’s concerns. It was true they could never formally declared their intentions with each other, but Castiel knew that Dean was it for him. He would love only Dean, for the rest of their lives.
But the hunter…
As someone who had protected (stalked) Dean for many years, he was aware of the hunter’s many dalliances with villagers of all genders. It hadn’t bothered Castiel back then, but now that they were romantically involved…it was different.
It was weird, thinking about it. He felt something uncomfortable rear up in his chest, a pain that felt odd the more he thought about the hunter and his popularity. Dean could choose anyone he wanted, yet he’d chosen a cursed harpy from a flock that barely tolerated him. It was an unfair trade-off, Castiel knew that. He knew he was getting the better end of the deal, but he couldn’t let Dean go. He was too selfish for that, and he had wanted the man for too long to just let him go without a fight.
He knew that Dean was loyal to those he loved, and that he loved fiercely. What Castiel was worried about, was how long would he be loved? How long before Dean found someone better?
Still, Castiel had hope. He could sometimes smell the overwhelming emotions that wafted off of Dean. The hunter was an emotional man, though he hid it well. Dean felt all his emotions brightly and to their fullest and they guided his actions. Whenever he was with Dean, the hunter’s emotions were more subdued, in a way that signified contentment and perhaps love.
“Cas…” And it was that name that broke him out of his thoughts. The nickname that only Dean ever used, falling from Balthazar’s mouth. Balthazar had lifted his wing, caressing Castiel’s in a comforting gesture.
He pulled away from it, not rudely but rather in an attempt to settle his nerves. He wanted to be alone.
“Don’t. I’ll be fine.” Castiel turned away from his friend, and ignored the worried frown on Balthazar’s face.
Castiel had pretty horrible luck. He could admit to that. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise to him that his pleas to the gods for some alone time were largely ignored.
He was accosted by Gabriel not far from where he’d left Balthazar. The harpy had immediately thrown a wing around his shoulders and steered him towards the Council room.
“Hey there, Feathers, I would apologize for interrupting that, no doubt, interesting conversation you were having with Balthazar, but you looked like you needed a save,” Gabriel drawled out sarcastically, a smirk on his lips that fell an instant later. “Seriously though, you’ve been summoned. The Council requests your presence.”
Castiel scowled, moving his shoulders pointedly until Gabriel got the message and removed his heavy wing. “I was just going to go check on my nest. I need to start building a cover-“
“Nope, Council says its urgent,” Gabriel gave him an apologetic look at that, a grimace on his face that told Castiel just how much he disliked the orders. “You know how it is, some fake concern, some posturing and then you can go back to your nest.”
Resigned to his fate, he followed Gabriel to the Council room.
The Council room itself was a large building and the only one without a roof no matter the season. It was a symbol of trust, there would be no secrets from the rest of the flock, and that the Council would hold meetings on important decisions where anyone could listen in. Of course, the benefit of that was the rest of the flock kept a wide berth around the hall, respecting the Council and trusting them just as much in return. This usually meant that even though eavesdropping was possible, the flock was polite enough to never listen in.
Castiel could see with some surprise, that the whole Council was at this particular meeting. It wasn’t common for all the Council members to attend a meeting, most of them had their own obligations to tend to. They were perched in alcoves, spread out in the walls of the building and each Council member kept to their designated balcony area. It never failed to intimidate Castiel, being surrounded on all sides instead of speaking to the Council directly in front of him.
His head tilted up as Gabriel flew up to his spot as well, leaving Castiel standing in the middle of the floor.
Once Gabriel was settled, Metatron cleared his throat with a flutter of his dark brown wings, their red pattern a flash of color in the shadows. Castiel cringed, already anticipating the fake concern that Metatron seemed to enjoy using as a method of keeping the flock complacent. Castiel saw right through it, of course, and knew the man was a sniveling bastard who cared little for the people he was in charge of. It was ironic then, that he represented the Educators, tasked with teaching the next generation of harpies.
“The Council has been discussing your…current predicament and we believe that the Winchesters may not be the best influence on you.”
Castiel bristled at that, though he kept his face carefully neutral, his feathers puffed up in agitation.
“Wasn’t it the Council who sealed a treaty between the flock and the hunters? I believe that my private life is none of your concern.” Castiel knew he was speaking out of line, but years of treading carefully around the Council had taken its toll.
He had wings, ones that were cursed and brought him nothing but trouble. He had wings and he could fly anywhere he wanted, yet the heaviest shackles were the ones his wings gave him. With Dean, on the ground, he felt freer than when he’d flown in the skies with a flock that didn’t want him.
“The hunters are dangerous, Castiel,” Hannah urged, leaning closer to the edge of the alcove as she stared down at him. “We believe they may darken you further and drag you into violence. They’re a brutal sort, and they don’t understand the cost of peace.”
Castiel knew Hannah was genuinely worried for him, she’d always been one of the more sympathetic of the Council. She was the representative of the Craftsmen, and many of them had enlisted Castiel as a helper. They didn’t despise him, and his relationship with the Craftsmen kept Hannah cordial and perhaps even a bit fond of him. Yet her words stung. Not only because they passed judgment on two hunters who had been nothing but kind to Castiel, but also because the Council had little faith in him.
They were afraid that the smallest hint of danger would cause Castiel to Fall and become just like Lucifer. Most of them were not concerned about the effects of the Fall on Castiel. No, they were mostly concerned that he would kill the flock, or at least attempt to hurt them.
They were afraid of how powerful he could become.
Fear was a vile emotion, one that had guided them into one too many wars. Yet time and time again, they failed to learn from their past mistakes.
“I doubt that Castiel would Fall for a human,” Anna spoke up for him. Again, the intention to help was there, but they were misguided. Anna was the leader of the Blacksmith harpies. Most of them kept to themselves and believed in strength above all else. She’d seen the strength in Castiel when he’d helped out the Blacksmiths, and she respected it.
Her words hurt because he was falling in more ways than one.
“That human,” Castiel spoke slowly, eyes fiery with anger as he stared them down “is my mate.”
The sudden silence was deafening. While before there had been some chattering here and there, and the errant ruffling of feathers as they adjusted themselves, now it was dead quiet.
“You would give yourself to one not blessed by the Motherbird? Those humans are barely vermin, much less our equals.” Uriel’s words were harsh, disbelief coloring his voice as he balanced on his powerful wings. Uriel was the leader of the Scavengers and they’d seen too much pain in the human world to believe anything but the worst in them. Their travels lead them far and wide, and most came back with tales of humans and their dubious morals. Of their wars and the way they treated their children. Even as a cursed harpy, the flock had never thrown Castiel out because they believed in taking care of their own. Uriel leaned closer, his wings large and imposing as he stared down at Castiel with a steely gaze. “Your choice is not just your own. It could lead to consequences that the flock is not ready nor willing to bear.”
“Then perhaps I’ve overstayed my welcome with the flock,” Castiel’s voice was hoarse, pain lacing his words as he realized this decision was a long time coming. It wouldn’t be the first time a harpy left the nest to seek refuge with other flocks. The flock never threw out anyone, but they certainly pressured certain individuals enough that they eventually left on their own.
“Let’s not be hasty,” Gadreel lifted his wings placatingly, his light pink feathers ruffling in agitation. He was the leader of the Caretakers, and had a softer heart than most of the harpies. He was still young, and his family had been lucky enough to be spared in the war a generation ago.
Castiel’s parents - and many of the flock - hadn’t been so lucky.
“Castiel, we want you here with us,” Gabriel finally spoke up. He’d stayed quiet, letting the Council have their say before stepping in. They always accused him of favoritism and though it was definitely true, he didn’t want to give them a reason to call him out on it. “Perhaps you should think about your choices before making a decision.”
Those were words Castiel never thought he’d hear from Gabriel, considering his infamous impulsiveness. The man was uncharacteristically serious now, however, his eyebrows pulled beseechingly and almost in a pleading manner.
Talk this over with Dean first, he seemed to be saying with his eyes. Castiel sighed, wings losing their tension as he settled back down, pushing back his simmering anger.
“Then we will adjourn at a later date,” Metatron spoke up, a sharpness to his words that told Castiel all he needed to know. The harpy had been trying to get Castiel thrown out or at the very least, force Castiel to leave on his own for as long as he had been on the Council. It was that knowledge that made Castiel stand a little taller, glaring straight at the harpy as he stared Metatron down.
He would not let them win so easily. Castiel had stayed with the flock his entire life, and despite their sometimes harsh treatment of him, he knew in his heart, that the nest was his second home.
His true home, his nest, lay with Dean now.
“Then, if you’ll excuse me,” Castiel words were measured, a heavy veneer of sarcasm over his movements as he threw his wings out in a customary bow.
He left quickly after that, determined to focus on building a covering for his nest for these next two weeks as he waited for Dean and Sam.
The rest of the flock usually helped each other when building their covers, but Castiel knew that he’d be by himself like all the years before. He’d hoped that Dean would help him this year. Usually, mated couples worked on theirs together, with a helping hand from the community. It was a bonding exercise as well as a way to strengthen relations with fellow harpies.
And this year, just like the past thirty-two years of his life, he was alone.
Castiel crowed with effort as he finished twining the last vine on the branches, his clawed feet aching with overuse. It had been two weeks since he’d started on the covering and he was one of the last to finish.
Gabriel and Balthazar would have helped, but they had been tasked with traveling long distances to rivers and coastlines, hunting for fish and deer for the flock’s winter stores. By the time they returned and built their own domes, they were too exhausted to help Castiel with his.
Castiel was thankful that they were hunting on the opposite coast from the Winchesters; he didn’t want his flock to be attacked by the sea monster.
Castiel frowned as he tested the ropes and twines that all converged at a single point in the middle of the covering. Some of the harpies with smaller wings would require at least one other harpy to lift the covering, but Castiel was fortunate that his wings were up to the task. His were strong, and it showed when he clasped the ropes in both taloned feet and started flapping. Dust and leaves blew up around him as he carefully lifted the covering, gaining speed as he rode the gusts of wind whipping through the air.
Once he was high above the nest, he carefully glided down until he could safely place the covering on top. It fit perfectly, and it made his nest look like a round orb with no opening. Of course, he could still get in and out using the doorway system he’d created, but it still looked rather claustrophobic from afar.
Castiel sighed, he wasn’t sure if he’d be staying in his nest or with Dean and Sam through the winter. Either way, he would need to talk to them and come to a decision. Once heavy snow came, he would not be able to fly.
The Healers of his flock usually ran themselves ragged this time of the year. The chill of fall brought with it many rare herbs that they normally wouldn’t be able to gather in any other season. Healers had small wings with primarily white-colored feathers patterned with yellow throughout that were able to cut through the heavy snowfall and allowed them to harvest as much as possible.
Castiel was an anomaly because he had been lumped in with the Healers despite the fact that his wings were larger and not the same color. The difference was that his healing came at a heavy price, and used some sort of mystical powers rather than the old-fashioned herbal remedies the rest of the Healers used. The Healers were just as nervous around him as the rest of the flock was, in awe of his astonishing ability, but still too afraid to teach him anything on the arts of herbal healing.
He hoped that one day he could build up enough trust between them that they’d be willing to talk to him without tripping over their words.
Castiel was perched on top of the covering, crouched as he tried to decide what his next move should be when Gabriel landed next to him.
“Gabriel,” Castiel greeted, standing with a slight trill as he stretched out his aching wings and feet. Seeing Gabriel reminded him that he needed to talk to Dean, and Castiel decided that he should head out to the cabin to wait for the Winchesters. It was the end of the allotted two weeks, and they should be back within the next day or two.
“Cassie,” there was a slight whine to Gabriel’s words as he literally flopped on top of Castiel’s back, almost toppling him over. The harpy was heavy, and Castiel cawed in irritation.
“What do you want now?”
“It’s like you don’t love me anymore. I remember when you were a cute little fledgling who always clung to me,” Gabriel lamented as he let out a loud sniffle, right into Castiel’s vulnerable ear. “I just came by to help you with the cover, but I see you have it done already.”
“Yes, no thanks to you,” Castiel managed to extract himself from Gabriel, turning to face the harpy, a small smile dancing on his lips. Gabriel was annoying, but he had a big heart.
“You wound me,” Gabriel cried out, one wing coming up to cover his mouth with a fake tremble in his feathers. “I was slaving away hunting for us and you dare judge me?”
“Gabriel, we both know you make the other hunters do all the work,” Castiel rolled his eyes, huffing out a subdued trill as he glanced down at Gabriel’s sharp talons. His feet were bumpier and scarred more than most harpies due to the amount of hunting he had to do. Castiel knew that Gabriel did actually provide for the flock more than most, pushing himself to his limits to prove himself and to live up to expectations. It was a running joke between them that Gabriel did nothing but laze around. They both knew that they were shackled down, even if the expectations were different between his golden wings and Castiel’s peach cream ones, they were both cursed because of their differences.
“I’m heading out to the cabin and I’ll be staying there as I wait for the Winchesters to return,” Castiel informed Gabriel as he hopped down to the thick branch and twisted open the doorway.
“Oh, sounds fun. I’ll escort you there.” Gabriel followed him inside, looking around with interest as he was rarely let into Castiel’s nest.
Castiel smiled, though he hid it from Gabriel. Despite Gabriel’s rather brash personality, he was such a big brother sometimes.
Castiel’s nest used to be a symbol of comfort and home. It held pieces of Dean, and it was what he used to hold himself together when the main nest held too much judgment for him to handle. As he watched Gabriel poke taloned feet into his many piles of clothes, he was seeing his nest with new eyes. It was dusty and littered with debris after being untouched for so long.
After all, he didn’t need the safety of his nest anymore, not when he had Dean.
Thinking of the hunter brought a new sense of urgency and Castiel hurriedly gathered some food he’d brought in yesterday, as well as his cloak. He didn’t need much since the Winchester’s cabin was fully stocked for the fall and winter, but having some fresh food would be better than none.
He threw the cloak on and adjusted his pack. He grudgingly let Gabriel fix his cloak for him before they set off. Castiel felt his heart pounding, singing with joy as he soared over the trees through a misting rain, towards a familiar clearing.
This would be just one of several rainy days in these coming weeks. Soon, the storms would come, and they would have to stay inside their nests. For now, it was still light enough that they could travel with only mild inconvenience.
They landed easily enough, and shook off the small droplets of water. Their feathers ruffled up before smoothing again, a shiver going through them as the rain started falling heavier around them.
“Whelp, I’ll leave you to it. Make sure to come back to the nest before the storms hit. It’s safer in the nest then down here.” Gabriel's mouth was tugged downward in worry, his gold eyes flashing as he squinted dubiously at the cabin. “I’m not sure if this cabin would hold up in light rain, much less storms.”
“It’ll be fine, Gabriel,” Castiel rolled his eyes, opening the cabin and letting out the stale air. He breathed it in, smiling when the familiar scent of family and home relaxed his shoulders.
Gabriel was watching him with measured, knowing eyes, a gentle smile on his lips.
“I’m glad you found your mate.”
The words were spoken softly, almost drowned out by the rain falling around them. Castiel didn’t turn around, closing his eyes tightly as he felt an overwhelming emotion run through him. It meant a lot to him, having someone his last remaining family member, and one of the flock, acknowledge his relationship with Dean.
He didn’t realize how much he’d wanted their approval until Gabriel gave it to him.
“I am, too.”
He finally turned around, stepping back into the rain and pulling Gabriel into a tight hug. The older harpy seemed surprised. Castiel had become more subdued and less affectionate over the years. It took a few more stunned moments before Gabriel was wrapping his wings around Castiel. They stood there, sheltered from the rain by wings that belonged in legends, and just breathed.
They pulled apart, but not before Gabriel took advantage of their proximity and gave Castiel a big wet kiss to his cheek. Castiel scowled as he brought up a wing to rub at his cheek, a blush on them as he tried to keep up an annoyed facade.
“Just go already, if you stay any longer I fear that you might cause another catastrophe.”
“It was one time and I only destroyed two buildings by accident,” Gabriel argued back good-naturedly as he turned to go.
With one last well wish, he flew off, wings shining gold in the sky shrouded by dark clouds.
Castiel took a deep breath and stepped back into the cabin. His eyes shined bright in the otherwise dark cabin. Dean and Sam would be back soon. For now, he would clean the cabin and await their return.
Castiel was silent as he stood on the porch. The sun was setting, and the wind was harsh as it rattled the trees. In the distance, there was a muffled rumble, a sound that shook the ground underneath the cabin. It reverberated through his feathers, and he could feel them stand up on end for a moment before settling. His eyes glowed an eerie blue in the near darkness, the sunset hidden by the heavy grey clouds that approached.
It had been two weeks since he’d arrived at the cabin. Two weeks of waiting with increasing worry and a sinking suspicion that the Winchesters were in some kind of trouble.
They were supposed to return two weeks ago. Castiel had waited for one week before flying back to the nest, bringing his anxieties to Gabriel. He was worried sick that something had happened to Dean and Sam. Gabriel had reassured him the best he could and said that whenever the Hunters went out they would keep an eye out for the Winchesters. So far, there hadn’t been any word.
Now, a week later, Castiel decided that waiting wouldn’t help anyone. He’d set out to find them himself. He could only hope that they were unharmed.
The scent of rain hit him, and lightning crackled across the sky soundlessly. A few seconds later there was a loud boom. The birds nesting in the trees shrieked as they flew off into the sky, spooked by the storm.
Castiel pressed his mouth into a grim line as he turned around and stepped back into the warm cabin, closing the door firmly behind him. The fire crackled in the hearth, fueled by a few of the many logs that the Winchesters had stockpiled in preparation for these exact circumstances. The cold outside was almost numbing, and even with his resistance to the colder temperatures, he felt uncomfortable.
His eyes scanned over the supply of food he’d been steadily using up. The Winchesters had kept food in the cabinets as well, meats that they’d dried and cured. If he was to travel to the coast, he must bring supplies with him, light enough to carry as he flew.
The wind picked up speed, howling through the trees and the clearing unsettlingly. The cabin seemed to rattle, and the rain hit it so hard it sounded like rocks were pelting the wooden logs.
Castiel breathed in a shaky breath, clenching his fists as he tried to calm down.
Somewhere out there, Sam and Dean were in trouble. In this weather where a stronger man might die, they were probably struggling right this very moment. Castiel had stayed, cooped up in this cabin, because he had believed that he was more help here than out there, lost in the storm. But enough was enough. It had been far too long, and it was no longer a matter of delayed travel, but quite possibly actual danger the Winchesters had encountered.
Castiel felt helpless as he sat down on the bench in front of the fireplace, the furs cushioning the hardwood. He clasped his hands together and leaned forward, resting his wings on his thighs. He stared pensively at the dancing fire, wishing and hoping that the storm would end soon. They usually lasted for days and weeks. As soon as it was over he would rush out to the coast and-
A loud bang shook him out of his thoughts. He immediately whirled around and jumped back, startled as he kept behind the bench, keeping it between him and the door.
Two men stood in the doorway, both shrouded in darkness. The taller one was leaning over heavily, listing to the side as he carried most of the weight of the second man. He had his arm around his shoulder, dragging the shorter man into the cabin. They were so wet from the rain that water was running in rivulets onto the cabin floor, creating dark pools wherever it touched.
Lightning flashed behind them, and their silhouettes brightened for just a moment, enough for Castiel to see.
Castiel ran over, his talons taking out pieces of wood in his wake as he scrambled, quickly supporting Dean’s weight on his other side, eyes desperate as he gave a cursory sweep of the man’s figure. Dean was slumped over, unconscious. He was extremely cold to the touch and his lips were a worrying blue, his face pale.
Sam panted as he quickly guided Dean to the bench and laid him there with Castiel’s help.
The harpy ran his wings over Dean’s body, taking in the dark stain on the side of his stomach that wasn’t rainwater, but rather a steady flow of blood.
“Sam, what happened?” Castiel demanded as his breath came in quick pants. He knew he was panicking and he struggled to hold on to his composure.
Sam didn’t answer as he ran to the bedrooms. Castiel heard Sam rummaging around, making a mess in his haste. The large man came back quickly, holding on to their small supply of bandages and salve with some disbelief.
“Is this all we have left?”
“Yes,” Castiel’s voice wavered as he pressed his hand over Dean’s wound, trying to put pressure on it. He tried not to notice the way the blood stained the feathers on his wing, the sight of it causing him to keen low in his throat. The man didn’t even flinch. He didn’t wake up. “I…most of it was used on my injured wing and we didn’t have the time to restock.”
“Damn it!” Sam cursed loudly, causing Castiel to wince in guilt. Sam noticed and quickly crouched down next to Castiel, giving him a steady pat on the shoulder. “It’s not your fault. We’re just unlucky.”
Sam paused, eyes distant as he put down the medical supplies. He got up and closed the still open cabin door. There was a moment where he leaned against it, resting his forehead on the door as he tried to catch his breath. His shoulders were slumped, wariness and exhaustion clear in the slight shakiness of his limbs.
“Sam, what happened?” Castiel asked again. He stood and went to the kitchen area; running hot water into a bucket. They would need to use it to clean the wounds. Though the Healers had refused to teach him their skills, Castiel had learned what he could through sneaky observation, but it wouldn’t be enough to save Dean. The wound was too severe.
“We just…” Sam let out a pained groan, stumbling over until he was sitting with his back leaning against the bench. He was by Dean’s legs, and he looked over at his brother, eyes filled with terror. “We should have researched more before attempting to subdue the monster, but we were too hasty. We wanted to come back before the storms started so we jumped right in with only a handful of lore and firsthand accounts. The monster was nothing close to what we’d predicted. It took on the form of the water itself and was near impossible to kill. In the end, we had to rely on an ancient artifact we hunted down and seal it inside.”
Sam sighed as he brought his knees up and wrapped his arms around them.
“But in order to do so, we needed bait. Dean refused to listen and volunteered himself. He rowed out into the waters, but the creature toppled his boat over and he was swept into the ocean. While it was distracted we caught it. We succeeded, but it almost cost us Dean’s life. It still might.”
Sam’s fingers were clenched tightly against his wet clothes, his tears hot against his rain-soaked face.
Sam looked up, face twisted and lips bitten to the point of drawing blood as he met Castiel’s eyes.
“He wasn’t going to make it, the wound was too deep and the waters were too cold. We did everything we could with what we had, and that bought us some time. But before he fell unconscious, he made me promise that I would bring him back to the cabin. He wanted to see you before he…” Sam trailed off and Castiel knew with a sort of distant resignation that Dean thought he was going to die.
“We can still save him.” Castiel insisted, grabbing the heated water and a towel. He was determined. There was no way Dean would die on his watch.
“Cas…we don’t have enough supplies.”
They both stared at the leftover salve, not even enough to cover Dean’s entire wound, and the measly pile of bandages they had.
They looked outside through the windows, heart sinking as they realized they wouldn’t be able to leave this cabin for at least a week. Not in this weather.
Outside, the storm raged on.
It was another grueling day of watching the young hunter, helpless, as the young man had sustained an injury from the animal he’d been hunting in the forest. It reminded Castiel too much of that time Dean was caught in a bear trap, and though the injury was just a minor slash on Dean’s stomach, Castiel had almost jumped out and revealed himself in his panic. He felt so helpless, unable to come to his aid and restrained by his promise to Gabriel and his loyalty to his flock. Castiel knew he couldn’t reveal himself to the hunter, and it was that hesitance that saved him when, moments later, John tore through the woods, helping Dean to his feet and pressing a calloused hand to the bleeding wound.
Castiel left quickly then, bile rising in his throat at his own cowardice and a surge of envy at John, for being able to stay by Dean’s side when he couldn’t.
“Hey Cassie,” Gabriel greeted as he jumped from tree to tree, following Castiel as he steadily walked through the forest, “what are you doing?”
Castiel let out an annoyed sigh, frustrated yet again that Gabriel was constantly shadowing him like an overprotective brother even though he was already twenty.
“I was making sure Dean got home safely,” His reply was a soft grumble, his wings rubbing against each other as he fidgeted. Not that he’d been much help, a fact he was quite bitter about. He was rather protective of his human, but he also understood that his actions were considered invasive. Although only Gabriel knew about his daily excursions, it was still a part of his life he was reluctant to share with others.
Gabriel let out a quiet hum before jumping down from the tree in front of Castiel, blocking his path. Castiel frowned as he stepped to the side, trying to go around Gabriel. Gabriel followed, an infuriating smirk on his face as he blocked Castiel’s path yet again.
“What do you want Gabriel?” Castiel scowled as he lifted one taloned foot, ready to bodily push the harpy out of the way if he had to.
“Nothing, I was just thinking-”
“How rare,” Castiel drawled, raising an eyebrow at Gabriel as he boldly interrupted him.
Gabriel only let out a loud crow at that, probably proud that Castiel had adopted some of his own, sassier tendencies. He continued speaking, ignoring Castiel’s remark.
“I was wondering how exactly you planned to protect that human of yours.” Gabriel had an exaggerated look of concern on his face, the pout ridiculous on him. He leaned in close to Castiel, suddenly serious as his voice dropped lower. “Humans are weak, Castiel. They die and hurt each other without thinking. If you choose to protect Dean, you’ll lose yourself in the process.”
Castiel flinched back, mind flashing to the blood that had spilled out of Dean moments before.
Gabriel took a step closer, close enough that Castiel could see the gold of his eyes, the color almost a perfect match to his wings. Although Castiel was taller than Gabriel now, in that very moment, Castiel felt like Gabriel was towering over him. He realized that this was why Gabriel was the strongest harpy in their flock. Not just because of his wing color, but because his very presence demanded respect and exuded power.
“So, what I’m really asking here is, how much are you willing to give? How much for this human you barely know?”
Castiel listened with bated breath, his emotions hard to identify as they all flew by him within that split second. He knew that Gabriel was just watching out for him, protecting him.
But he also knew his answer. It was the same then, on that fall day that he’d first set eyes on Dean Winchester, and it was the same now, years later.
“Anything,” Castiel whispered, breathless as he realized he meant every word. His heart aching, yearning for Dean. “I would give him anything, and everything.”
And when he met Gabriel’s eyes, all he saw there was pride and felt an almost bone-deep sense of foreboding.
When Gabriel finally spoke, he didn’t seem like himself, an ancient power in his flashing gold eyes.
“And you will.”
It was a promise; it was a certainty. It was a prophecy and a legend.
Castiel watched the unsteady rise and fall of Dean’s chest as he breathed shallowly. His wing covered most of the human as he held his hand. Dean felt so cold, so fragile underneath the warmth of his wing.
He was kneeling on the floor next to the bench, the fur rugs on the floor cushioning his knees. They’d piled furs on top of Dean, in hopes that it would warm him up. Underneath all the furs was Castiel’s wing, in direct contact with Dean’s bandaged abdominal area. His body heat would hopefully help.
He lifted his wing slightly, just enough so he could peek under and check on Dean’s bandages, and pressed his lips together, anxious as he noticed that the new bandages had bled through.
Sam had reluctantly gone into the bedroom to wipe himself down and change his clothes before he caught a cold. There was nothing they could do now, after all, and Castiel would be standing vigil.
While Sam was busy, Castiel had removed the bandages binding the wound closed and wiped off the poultice that aided in clotting Dean’s wound so that it would bleed slower. It was likely the only reason Dean had survived the trip back was through the quick patching up they’d done on his wound, while at the village. The old bandages were dirty enough that there was a risk of infection, so he’d used what was left of the anti-inflammatory salve and bound the injury with the leftover bandages they had in the cabin.
When Castiel carefully ripped off Dean’s shirt and the muddy bandages, he’d almost choked up seeing the wound. It was wide, gaping open in a way that seemed as if Dean was one gasp away from spilling his internal organs. It stretched from above his heart to his right hip, practically stretching across the entire length of his abdomen and creating a diagonal wound.
By now, the salve was all used up and the bandages, too. There weren’t even enough to really cover the whole wound, and the parts that were covered had already bled through. They’d considered using clothes, but most of their clothing were either too dirty to risk it, or it had fur on them which would aggravate the wound.
Dean needed urgent medical attention, preferably from someone who had the supplies to properly heal and stitch up Dean’s wound.
“How is he?” Sam’s voice was almost drowned out by the heavy rainfall, his tone hesitant as he stepped up to the bench wearing fresh clothes. The others had been drenched in rainwater and Dean’s blood. He leaned over the back of the bench, worried as he took in Dean’s unnatural stillness interrupted only by occasional shivers.
“He’s…” Castiel struggled for words, trying to stay positive but failing. Dean was growing stiller by the hour, and Castiel knew that didn’t bode well for his chances of survival.
“He won’t last the night, will he?” Sam phrased it as a question but they both knew it was the truth. He turned away from his brother, the firelight dancing over his skin and highlighting his distraught face. He looked broken, his face weary and lined with preemptive grief. “This is all my fault. If I had insisted harder and stopped him from being the bait-“
“No,” Castiel interrupted firmly, standing up and carefully sliding his wing out from the cozy blanket nest they’d stacked on top of Dean. “You couldn’t have predicted this. It was an accident, and we’ll find a way to save him.”
Sam looked determined then, a fieriness in his gaze as he stomped over to the cabin door.
“And we’ll need supplies to save him.”
“Sam don’t-“ Castiel tried to stop him as he flung open the door.
Instantly, the muffled sounds of the storm that the cabin had protected them from grew into a crescendo. Outside, the world was so dark it was almost black. The only thing that interrupted the empty darkness were the flashes of lightning. Their horses that Sam had tied to a nearby tree, reared up in fear, their neighs loud and panicked.
Sam took one step outside, arm raised up to try to block his face from the rain. Almost instantly he was pushed to the side by the powerful winds. The only thing that stopped him from toppling over was Castiel. The harpy had reached out one angry wing and grabbed him, yanking him back into the cabin with a harsh thump and slamming the cabin door closed.
They both panted, adrenaline running high as they recovered.
Before Sam could get up off the floor, Castiel was on him, both hands snuck out of his feathered wings to grab onto Sam’s shirt, lifting him up into the air until his feet were dangling.
Castiel could smell Sam’s fear, his pain, and his heartbreak, but that was precisely why he needed to do this.
“You absolute idiot,” Castiel growled out, eyes flinty as he stared down Sam. “Don’t seek death just because you feel guilty. Think about how Dean would feel, knowing you’d made such an incredibly stupid decision in an effort to save him.”
Sam grimaced as he avoided Castiel’s gaze, tears gathering in his eyes. Carefully, Castiel set him back on his feet, his wings falling to his sides with a heavy weariness.
“I want to save him, too,” Castiel raised a wing up, hiding his face in those cursed peach cream feathers as he cried. “I would give anything for Dean to live. I understand your pain, but I can’t allow you to hurt yourself like this.”
“There’s nothing we can do then.” Sam collapsed forward and Castiel caught him, slowly lowering them until they were kneeling on the floor, hugging. Sam sobbed into Castiel's shoulder and he tried his best to comfort him. Castiel felt tears streaming down his face as well, his blue eyes shining with pain.
“No,” His voice was hoarse and resigned. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Sam was curled up on the rug in front of the fireplace, fast asleep. He’d cried until he couldn’t anymore, and it seemed the exhaustion had caught up to him. He’d fallen into a deep sleep not soon after, even as he struggled to stay awake to watch over his brother.
Castiel couldn’t sleep. He sat on the floor in front of the bench. He was leaning his back against the seat, his body angled so he could watch Dean. His eyes traced Dean’s features from the bridge of his nose to the eyelids covering those beautiful green eyes he’d always loved.
And Motherbird above, he loved him so much.
Twenty-two years of trying to protect Dean, and what did it amount to? It led to this moment when all he could do was helplessly watch the man he loved slip away from him, every second a step closer to death.
Castiel let out a quiet trill, the tune a familiar one that every harpy knew. It was melodic and shaky because of all the crying he’d done, but it still had a distinct sound to it.
It was haunting, the notes lilting in a pattern that Castiel had always found comforting. It was a bird song, one that the flock would sing together whenever one of their own passed away. It was meant to heal and to guide the harpy’s soul into the next life.
It asked for guidance from the Motherbird and a promise to her that one day they would all return to her flock.
Dean wasn’t a harpy, but Castiel hoped that when he passed, he would see the man with his flock, waiting for Castiel on the other side.
Castiel tilted his head back, resting it against the seat as he stared at the patterned wooden logs that made up the cabin roof.
He remembered the many days he’d spent content with watching Dean from a distance. He remembered when they’d finally met, how scared and elated he’d been. He remembered their first kiss, the way it had felt warm and the smile Dean had pressed against his lips.
He remembered a time when Dean had bled, and Castiel had borne his first hint of darkness without regret in order to heal Dean.
He remembered golden eyes, asking him how much?
How much was he willing to give?
The answer was always, always -
Castiel turned around, wings shaky with adrenaline and determination as he kneeled next to the hunter. His back was to the fireplace, and he thanked the Motherbird that Sam wasn’t awake enough to stop him now.
If Dean was awake, he would see nothing but a dark shadow hovering over him, the orange and red glow of the fire giving the figure an almost ethereal glow.
Castiel took a deep breath as he pulled the furs from Dean’s prone form. He placed both wings on Dean’s wound, staring at them one last time. His wings had brought him nothing but trouble, yet it was what he had been given at birth. It was a part of him, and it hurt that he’d learned to accept the color of his wings a little too late. He burned the soft peach cream color in his mind before tilting his head forward.
And for the second time in his life, he prayed.
Please. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, breath coming out in harsh pants as he felt fear and a small seed of hope take root in his heart. Please save him. Take me, take everything I have. Just save him. Please.
He held his breath as the storm seemed to quiet around them, the world holding its breath with him as he prayed with all his heart.
There was a whisper in the air, a hint of bird song as the wind picked up speed.
There was a light, unnatural in the cabin, warmed by firelight.
Castiel carefully opened his eyes and gasped as he watched with rapt attention. Dean was glowing, a beautiful shifting wave of rainbow colors dancing over him. It reminded Castiel of abalone shells, of the subtle rainbow colors they held in them.
Slowly, the glow sank into Dean. Already, the human was breathing easier, a healthy color on his cheeks rather than the dangerously pale one he wore before.
There was a moment of silence and Castiel didn’t dare move. Just when he thought it was over, his wings started changing color.
As if it was raining ink onto his wings, spots of black were splashed on his once peach cream wings, the ink spreading like water as it traveled down his feathers. They spread until every inch of his wings were covered; not a single feather was spared.
He stared at the pitch-black feathers with tearful resignation. They seemed to shimmer prismatic in certain angles of the light, but he knew that was just wishful thinking. His feathers were now black, just like Lucifer after his Fall. Yet, he did not regret the path he’d taken to save Dean.
Castiel snatched his wings back, standing up hastily as it dawned on him that he was now a danger to everyone around him. His future was uncertain, but he knew he couldn’t stay here. He didn’t know when the darkness would spread to his heart, but when it did, he feared its influence. He would never forgive himself if he hurt those he cared about.
In his haste, he stumbled over Sam, though he caught himself before he fell over completely.
Sam woke up, immediately alert as he sat up and glanced around with a frown.
“Castiel what…” Sam trailed off as he noticed Castiel’s now black wings. His eyes traced over the shifting rainbow colors and his mouth dropped open in awe.
“I know,” Castiel said miserably, his head hung low. “I know it’s ugly to look at.”
“No, it’s-” Sam protested, a breathless awe in his voice, but cut himself off when he heard a faint groan come from Dean. Sam instantly scrambled over to his brother, hands hovering over his bandages. “Dean, are you okay?!”
“I feel like I have the worst hangover in the history of hangovers.” Dean groaned in response as he raised a hand up and pressed it against his forehead, slowly opening his eyes into a squint. He shoved at Sam to back up, as his brother was hovering way too close for comfort. “What the hell happened?”
He sat up and Sam let out a worried yelp. When Dean didn’t seem to react in pain, his brows furrowed in confusion. He grabbed at the bandages, unraveling them quickly. What he found underneath was perfectly unmarred skin, the only traces of an injury was blood still smeared here and there.
Sam turned to Castiel, understanding dawning as his eyes focused on the black wings. Dean had told him the harpys’ myths and he’d told Sam Castiel’s story. Sam had never believed it, not until this very moment.
Castiel turned quickly, intent on leaving before Dean noticed his now ugly wings. However, Sam quickly stood in his way, blocking the doorway.
“Let me through,” Castiel’s voice was a low threatening rumble, his eyes darting around frantically for an escape route.
“No. Stay Cas, we can talk this through-“ Sam tried to placate him, hands held up in front of him.
Castiel froze, his back tense as he curled into himself, folding his wings in front of him so Dean wouldn’t see. He could hear the disbelief in Dean’s voice, the concern.
It made him want to run.
So, he did.
Castiel turned around and ran deeper into the cabin. In his panic, he chose the first available room, opening its door and darting inside before closing it. He could hear Sam and Dean following after him, and he had to think quick. He cursed as he realized he’d holed himself up in Sam’s room, one that had no windows he could use to escape.
He grabbed the wardrobe and pushed until it fell on its side, effectively barricading himself inside the room. They wouldn’t be able to open the door now.
Castiel went to the farthest corner of the room and sank down, bringing his knees up to his chest and folding his disgusting wings over them. He buried his face in his wings, too tired to cry yet too consumed by fear to sleep.
Distantly, through his grief, he could hear Dean and Sam shouting for him, banging on the door. He curled up tighter, barely holding himself together.
What was he going to do now?
“Cas…” Dean leaned forward, letting his forehead rest on the tightly shut door as he breathed heavily. His eyes were clenched shut, tears prickling at his eyes. He turned to Sam, his voice rough as he questioned him. “What happened?” Dean’s eyes widened, remembering belatedly that he had been wounded pretty badly. His hands swept quickly over his stomach, only to find nothing there, not even a scar. In fact, the only evidence that he had even been injured was the dried blood and the ripped shirt he wore.
When he’d woken up, clear-headed for the first time and without the feverish pain keeping him unaware, he’d seen Castiel’s black wings and automatically assumed the worst. He’d been so focused on Cas that he hadn’t even thought to question his sudden return from the brink of death. Sam looked away from Dean, sighing as he ran a shaky hand through his long tangled hair. There was still blood and dirt matting it.
“I don’t know,” Sam confessed, guiltily. “I was watching over you and fell asleep from exhaustion. Castiel he…”
“He healed me, didn’t he,” Dean whispered, his head hanging low as he felt a part of him break. Cas was now cursed and it was all because of him. The fate that Cas had feared so much, that had made him a pariah in his own flock, was now his reality. And Dean was the one who put him there. “Fuck!” Dean bit out as he slammed a fist into the wall. The pain from the impact kept him focused. He couldn’t wallow in self-pity now. Cas needed him, and he also had to make sure Cas was still okay.
“Sam, take a break. You can take my room for tonight.” Dean slid down the door, sitting until he was leaning back against the door with his head tilted back.
Sam protested, crouching down so he could meet Dean’s eyes. “Dean, you almost died. At least rest on the bench.”
Dean stared up at his brother, before giving him a soft smile. Usually, he’d smirk and brush his brother’s concerns off with a well-placed joke, but he could tell that Sam was truly shaken by his near-death experience. “It’s fine Sammy, I can take care of myself. Cas needs me right now, and I’m not willing to let him be alone with his thoughts.” Dean bared his teeth in a grimace. “That stupid harpy has a habit of blaming himself for everything.”
“Well then, you are two peas in a pod,” Sam replied quietly, his eyes seeing right through Dean. “I know you think that it’s your fault Castiel made this choice. But it was his choice, not yours.”
“Maybe,” Dean shrugged, looking down and tangling his fingers together in a loose clasp on his bent knees. “But it was still because of me that he was forced to make that choice.”
“Sam, just go rest,” Dean interrupted, his voice slow and tired. “We can argue about this later.”
Sam let out a slow breath, his brows furrowed in worry even as he stood up.
“Alright, at least try to get some sleep.”
“I will,” Dean nodded, flashing his brother a reassuring smile as he left. Dean waited until he heard Sam bustling around in the bathroom, most likely drawing up a bath to clean himself before Dean knocked on the door behind him lightly.
“Hey, Cas,” There was no reply, but he didn’t expect one. He knew the walls were thin enough that Cas would be able to hear him. “I just…” Dean trailed off, eyes burning as he realized just how much Castiel had sacrificed for him. “Thank you.” Dean finally croaked out, throat tight with emotion. He didn’t know what else to say, brain muddled from the eventful day they’d had. He leaned his head back, imagining that perhaps through the door, Castiel could feel his warmth and his unspoken support.
Eventually, Dean fell asleep, slumped over to the side. He dreamed of beautiful black feathers, with all the colors of the rainbow in their depths. He dreamed of sad blue eyes, filled with tears and a fear that made Dean’s heart ache.
He dreamed, and outside the storm raged on.
Castiel had kept himself locked in this room for a while now. With no window, he couldn’t tell how long it had actually been. Dean had fallen silent after thanking him, and Castiel was worried that the human might still have residual injuries. Castiel had fallen asleep in the corner he’d chosen, had dozed off several times, in fact. Now, he was wide awake but exhausted, feeling worse than before he’d tried to sleep. His wings ached from being wrapped around him in the same fetal position for so long, but he was too afraid to move them. He was terrified that if he tried, he’d be able to feel the weight of his sins, and he would have to face his new reality.
A reality in which he would never fly again.
Castiel shuddered, his already red-rimmed eyes brimming with new tears as he tried to breath through his panic. He was a harpy, and flying was their whole life. It was how they provided for their flock. Without it, he didn’t know who he was anymore.
He desperately wanted Dean. He wanted the comfort of the human and his inane comments. He wanted Dean’s reassurance that everything would be okay. Most of all, he just wanted them to be like before, in love and unafraid. Now, he was too damaged to be with Dean. He was a danger to everyone. He didn’t know what to expect with his new cursed wings. He’d anticipated a rise in violent urges, perhaps the desire to maim and kill.
Instead, he felt the same. He couldn’t trust that though, they had no data to go off of and only the legends from the past as a guide. All the stories ended up the same way. Lucifer killed a harpy and ended up cursed. It was only a matter of time before Castiel committed the same atrocity and he would never forgive himself if he hurt Dean or Sam.
“Cas.” There was a knock on the door again and Castiel jumped a bit in surprise, his heart thumping in his chest. He stared at the door, willing it to hold. “Cas, you’re gonna need to come out of there eventually. Stop sulking and come join us for breakfast.” There was silence, as if Dean expected Castiel to reply. He didn’t, and eventually, he heard Dean walk away, steps slow and heavy.
It hurt, ignoring Dean like this, but he knew it would hurt more if he ended up injuring him. Castiel knew he was being a coward. He knew that the main reason he was avoiding Dean was his fear of rejection. He was afraid that Dean would take one look at his disgusting wings and tell him to leave. He wasn’t sure he would be able to handle losing Dean.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?”
Dean looked up at Sam, chewing slowly and poking at the loaf bread he’d ripped a chunk from. It tasted dry and bland. Dean was so worried, that eating was more of a chore than anything. Usually, he’d be ravenous by now, especially after the injuries he’d sustained, but after whatever healing magic Castiel did, Dean felt completely fine. He felt no residual pain from his injuries, no exhaustion beyond the normal amount from spending the night sitting up against a wooden door.
“We’ll be fine.”
Sam stared at Dean for a long moment before going back to his food. They ate in a heavy silence, both lost in thought.
“Do you think we should tell the flock?”
Dean scoffed, biting into the chunk of grilled deer meat angrily. “Yeah, right. They treated him like shit when he had one dark spot on his wing. Imagine if they saw him now. We’d be lucky they didn’t try to kill or imprison him.”
Sam hadn’t personally seen how the flock treated Castiel, but he knew the harpies were paranoid and believed their legends to be truth and not merely hearsay. He could understand why Dean would want to keep Castiel’s condition a secret. “Alright,” Sam sighed, taking a drink of water as he leaned back, “but we’ll need to call in a harpy soon. We’re no experts, and we can’t help Castiel like this. Our hands are tied.”
Dean let out a grunt, showing that he understood Sam’s point, even if he was irritated that they would have to depend on someone else. He didn’t trust the harpies to take care of Cas.
Finishing up his own food, Dean grabbed a plate and piled it with some meats and a chunk of bread. Sam didn’t comment, they both knew it was for Cas. Dean walked back to the still tightly shut door and knocked lightly, balancing the plate on his other hand.
“Cas? I brought some food for you.” There was no reply, and Dean sighed, clenching his eyes shut for a second as he tried to shove down his frustration. He knew the legend of Lucifer, and he knew what the flock believed. Dean, however, was not one to alienate Cas just because his wings were now a different color. He seriously doubted Cas would try to hurt him or anyone else, for that matter. The only thing he was worried about was the fact that Cas would no longer be able to fly. It was part of the curse, and if it was true…
Dean didn’t want to think too hard on it. He already felt guilty enough.
“Come on Cas, if you don’t come out I might even start to think you’re avoiding me.” Dean joked, his face pulled into a fake attempt at humor. With no reply, his grin dropped, the wrinkles around his mouth pulled taut with worry. “Well, if you decide to come out. I’ll be right here.” Dean slid back down the door, resting the plate beside him as he adjusted himself until he was comfortable. Sitting there, with a door between them, he had never felt more distant from Cas.
Castiel didn’t know how many hours had passed, but he was growing weaker by the second. His stomach gurgled loudly and Castiel looked down, glaring at it for betraying him like this. Dean had tried to lure him out with breakfast a while ago, but it had grown quiet again. Castiel stared intensely at the door, still blocked by the dresser.
Surely Dean would have retired to his own room by now?
He was hesitant to sneak out because he knew Dean was stubborn when he wanted to be. There was a high chance that Dean was just beyond that door, waiting for him. Castiel sighed, pressing his wing to his face. He opened his eyes and flinched back when instead of light feathers, he found nothing but a swathe of darkness as cold as the room he was in.
It hurt, every time he was reminded of what he had lost.
He knew he couldn’t hide here forever though and that eventually, he would have to Leave Sam’s room. Castiel tilted his head to the side, straining his ears. There were no sounds near the room he was in. He could vaguely hear Sam moving around in the living room area, and Dean was probably with him.
Cautiously, he stood up, his feathers rustling nervously as he crept up to the door. He tried hard to be careful and stealthy, his talons lightly resting on the planes of the wooden floor as he moved forward. He frowned down at the wardrobe he’d pushed over. He felt bad, seeing as some of the clothes had spilled out and made a mess. Castiel realized there would be no point being quiet because the moment he moved the wardrobe, it would make such a racket that surely Dean and Sam would come bursting into the room. Even more worrying was the fact that Castiel was unsure if he’d be able to move it himself.
He hesitated for a moment before standing on top of the wardrobe. It was on its side, so he could step on it easily enough. He dug his talons deep into the wood, wincing when he saw the deep grooves it would leave behind. He would apologize to Sam later. Castiel lifted his wings up, ready to fly and hopefully pull the wardrobe far enough from the door that he could sneak out. Castiel tensed suddenly, looking over at his black wings.
He’d almost forgotten he wouldn’t be able to fly anymore. He slowly lowered his wings again, his heart heavy. He shook his head, dark hair flopping wildly as he glared determinedly at the wardrobe. It didn’t matter, he couldn’t give up without trying first. Pushing all doubts and insecurities far from his mind, he took in a deep breath before flapping his wings.
He let out a surprised squawk when, with one flap of his wings, he flew back to the other side of the room, the wardrobe dragged along with him. He had collapsed onto the floor almost immediately, unbalanced by the powerful flap of his wings. Castiel stared up at the ceiling, absolutely bewildered. He had not only been able to fly, but he had moved that wardrobe as if it weighed nothing.
His wings were stronger, and he didn’t know how to feel about that yet. He couldn’t help the wide grin of elation that spread across his face, a heavy weight lifting from his heart.
He could fly!
Despite his joy, he was sure he made a humiliating sight. He was spread out on the ground, but his lower body was tilted up as it rested on the wardrobe. He sighed and wiggled his taloned feet, trying to get back up.
It was in that moment that Dean burst through the door with a worried shout of his name. Cas levered himself up with his wings, blowing his hair out of his eyes with a heavy breath.
Dean gaped at him, still tense and poised for a fight near the doorway. Sam was peeking around him curiously, but when he saw Castiel’s sorry state, he merely laughed and left, giving them some privacy. Dean hurried over to Castiel’s side, grabbing his wing without hesitation and pulling him up. A part of Castiel that was tense in anticipation of a rejection, loosened. He allowed the human to sweep his hands over him, checking him thoroughly and finding him intact except for some light bruises.
“Damn it Cas.”
Castiel stiffened in surprise as Dean pulled him into a tight hug, enveloping Castiel with the scent he’d grown to love. He could smell Dean’s emotions, his worry and his love overwhelming the residual irritation Dean felt. “I was so worried about you. Don’t you ever avoid me again, you hear?” Dean pulled back, both hands on Castiel’s shoulders with a firm grip, as if he was afraid Castiel would run. “We can fix this together.”
“Dean…” Castiel searched Dean’s eyes and saw nothing but support and love there. He raised a wing, hesitating for just a moment before brushing the black feathers down Dean’s cheek. “You’re not afraid of me?”
“Cas, you just fell over trying to move a wardrobe,” Dean drawled out, raising an eyebrow. “I think fear is the furthest thing I feel for you right now.”
“And what do you feel?” Castiel whispered, stepping closer to Dean, closing his eyes and sighing happily as he rested his cheek on Dean’s shoulder. He’d missed this.
“I…” Dean wrapped his arms around Castiel, gripping the back of his tunic. “I feel like a piece of shit for forcing you into using your powers like that. I feel like I don’t deserve you, and that because of me, you’ve lost everything. I feel like a fuck up-“
“Dean.” Castiel pulled back until he could meet Dean’s eyes, though the hunter steadfastly stared at the floor instead of him. Castiel sighed and kissed the corner of Dean’s mouth. It distracted the hunter, and as Dean kissed back, he pushed harder into Castiel’s mouth, licking in with a low coo.
They pulled back after several heated minutes, both panting as they stared at each other. Dean’s eyes were conflicted, his mouth pulled down in a grimace. “I don’t deserve you, Cas.”
“No,” Castiel was firm as he glared at Dean, a growl in his voice as he spoke his mind for the first time since he’d changed. “Do not dismiss my choices because of your own perceptions on what you do and do not deserve. I made the choice to heal you and I would do the same for anyone else. I had the power to help you, and I’m glad I did because if you had died-“ Castiel cut himself off and looked off to the side, choked up as he remembered the terror he’d felt, the loss opening up a hole in his soul.
“If you died, I would have nothing to live for.”
He heard Dean give a sharp inhale, the hunter’s heart racing loud enough that the harpy could practically feel it echoing in the room.
“Cas…” Dean seemed speechless, and Castiel saved him the struggle of having to answer.
“You mean a lot to me, Dean, I care for you. I-I love you.”
Castiel didn’t expect a response, and the passionate kiss Dean pressed against his lips took him by surprise. He let out a muffled chirrup before melting into the kiss, gently nipping at Dean’s bottom lip as he changed the desperate kiss into something slow and loving.
Dean pressed his forehead against Castiel’s and he could feel the hunter’s breath on his still sensitive lips. “Fuck, Cas,” Dean’s voice was hoarse, and Castiel felt heat sear through him, knowing he was the cause. “I love you so fucking much. It drives me insane sometimes.”
“Really?” Castiel breathed out, smiling as he closed his eyes and savored their closeness. Somewhere in their rushed kissing, his hand had snuck out of his feathers and buried itself in Dean’s hair, his other wing coming up to surround them in a shroud of darkness.
In the faint light streaming in from the hallway, his wings shifted, a fascinating rainbow color.
He paused, his attention diverted from his wings when Dean pressed a kiss to his forehead and grinned at him. “Yeah, you’re stuck with me now.” Castiel smiled sadly, knowing it was both a reassurance and a promise. If the flock didn’t want him back, at least he would have Dean. They stood for a quiet moment, sharing kisses.
“Now will you come out and eat dinner with us?” Dean had a teasing glint in his eyes, and Castiel chirped, letting Dean lead him out of the room. The mention of food reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in more than a day, and he was ravenous with hunger.
It was bizarre, stepping into the kitchen lit with lamplight. The warm colors danced across his wings, and though they didn’t mention it, all eyes were drawn to the way his black wings reflected rainbow colors.
“It’s good to see you out and about,” Sam gave him an encouraging smile as he slid the platter full of bread to Cas. Castiel let out an inhuman sound, a shrill chirp of excitement, before shaking his wings until his hands could poke through and grab a large piece of bread. He shoved it into his mouth and Dean got up, getting him a cup of water.
“Slow down there, the food’s not going anywhere,” Dean chuckled, even as he stared at Cas with fond concern. Castiel nodded, slowing down his chewing as he grabbed the cup and swallowed a few mouthfuls of water. It was bliss.
Now that he was aware of his surroundings again, he noticed that the storm was less intense. There was only the muted sound of light rain on wood, and the occasional worrying creak from the cabin as the winds buffeted it. Castiel set down his bread, mouth pressed into a grim line as he brushed his long primary feathers against Dean’s stomach. The hunter paused in his own chewing, looking down with a question in his eyes.
“The wound…is it gone?” Castiel itched to reach out and check himself, but a part of him still couldn’t believe that Dean was alive. That he’d managed to save him despite all odds. Dean pressed his hand against Castiel’s wing, letting it rest against his abdomen.
“Yeah, I’m fine Cas, thanks to you. Not even a scar left,” Dean still had hints of guilt when he spoke, in the way the corners of his eyes tightened almost imperceptibly whenever he was reminded of the incident. Still, the talk with Castiel must have helped lessen his burden because he was quick to shake off the negative feelings. A small smile quirked his lips and he looked into Cas's eyes, gratitude shining in them.
“That’s good,” Castel murmured, relaxing as he stole a piece of meat from Sam’s plate and quickly ate it with a smug smile. The hunter let out a small huff but Castiel could tell it was more fond than irritated. When Dean tried to do the same, but his hand was swatted away without mercy.
Dean opened his mouth to protest, but before he could a knock sounded on the door.
The Winchesters shared a look before reaching under the kitchen table. Somehow Dean had procured an axe and Sam a sword. They nodded at each other before getting up, heading to the door carefully. With how crazy the storm had been, no human would be dumb enough to come here.
Castiel stood up quietly, ignoring Dean’s glare and pointed gestures to stay put. He walked carefully, his talons making soft clicks against the wood as they all stalked towards the door. Castiel stood a few feet away and watched with narrowed eyes as the brothers did some complicated gestures before Dean cracked the door open to see who was outside.
Once he caught sight of who it was, Dean didn’t exactly relax, but he did let out a exhale, clearly confused. He opened the door wide, the axe he had now resting lightly by his side in a non aggressive stance. Sam peeked over Dean’s shoulder to see who it was and Castiel walked closer as well, craning his neck to the side.
“Gabriel?” Castiel’s voice was a whisper, both fear and relief as his wings twitched up in an aborted attempt to hug the harpy.
Gabriel looked absolutely waterlogged but at the sight of Castiel’s wings, his eyes grew wide and his mouth tugged down in horror.
“Castiel, what have you done?”
Castiel looked away, heart pounding. He tried in vain to hide his wings behind himself, and he could feel the Winchesters stepping in front of him protectively. Castiel clenched his eyes tightly shut, and around them, the storm slowly ended.
“Look,” Dean held a hand out placatingly, even as the other one tightened around the axe. “I know you guys have some stupid superstition about this, but Cas is still himself even if he has different wings now.” Castiel glanced at Dean, a hesitant smile on his face as the hunter proved yet again how loyal he was and how much he cared.
“If you’re here to take him, you’ll have to go through us, ” Sam stated, his voice low and dangerous as he flicked his wrist in a well-practiced move, placing the sword between Gabriel and Castiel.
Gabriel sighed, a crow of frustration falling from his lips as he pressed his face into a wing. He looked up, his golden eyes fierce. “You absolute idiots, I’m not here to take my brother against his will. I came to check up on him because the storm was dying down, only to find him in this sorry state. What did you two do to him?” He stepped closer menacingly, and the brothers barely resisted taking a step back. Every instinct inside of them was telling them to run, to get away from the harpy that could, and would, rip them to pieces. Gabriel had always been short for a harpy, and even though the Winchesters were taller than him, in that moment he seemed to tower over them all.
Castiel shouldered past Dean and Sam. He raised a wing but stopped just before it made contact with Gabriel. His hesitance was clear but Gabriel was not having any of his shit. He roughly tugged his brother forward, until they were wrapped up in each other’s wings.
“I’m sorry, Gabriel,” Castiel whispered, his words a low rumble muffled in the harpy’s shoulder. “I have disappointed you.”
“You dumb, selfless bastard,” Gabriel’s voice was tense with pain, and Castiel could feel the tears that fell on his shoulder. “I don’t give a shit about how or why this happened, because I know it has something to do with that brute of a hunter you’re in love with. What pains me is that I wasn’t here to help you through it.”
Castiel let out a sigh of relief, his smile shaky as he pressed closer to Gabriel. He’d been worried the harpy would forsake him as well, but he’d worried for nothing.
“Well, you’re here now.” Castiel felt hands brush his hair and he turned his head, reluctant to let go of the hug.
“Come on, the storm may be over but it’s still cold as balls outside right now.”
Dean gave another brief tug to Castiel’s dark hair before he let go. With another tight squeeze, Castiel and Gabriel let go of each other to step into the cabin.
Gabriel was mostly unaffected by the cold, even though he was still wet. He did, however, let Sam usher him onto the rug next to the fire so that he could dry off. His gold wings shimmered in the firelight and Castiel stared at them pensively before turning his focus on his own slightly shimmering wings. It was something new, and no other harpy’s wings had that effect. The flock’s wings were mostly simple flat colors but his new wings seemed to have a multitude of shades within the black.
Gabriel was of course the exception, and now it seemed Castiel was, too.
“Cassie, you’ve gotten yourself into quite a pinch this time,” Gabriel murmured, his eyes intense as he stared at the rainbow of colors that danced over Castiel’s dark wings. He looked up into Castiel’s eyes, nudging Castiel with his wing until the harpy relented and sat down next to him on the fur rug. “You do know the Council is going to go bonkers over this.”
Castiel pressed his mouth together into a grim line, his shoulders tense. “I know, but I was hoping they could see reason-“
Gabriel twittered, cutting off Castiel with a flutter of his wings. “Since when has the Council been reasonable? They’re a bunch of foolish fledglings too stuck in the old traditions to see reason.”
Castiel felt a small smile overtake his face, amused. “You do realize you’re part of this Council you’re insulting? And that most of them are older than you?”
“Bah,” Gabriel flapped a wing dismissively, “I’m the only council member who knows what they’re doing. And that’s saying a lot considering what people usually say about my competence.” Gabriel sobered up, his brows furrowed as he reached his hand out and brushed it over Castiel’s wings. They still felt the same, but both harpys knew everything would change once the Council discovered Castiel’s new condition.
“Well, the best thing we can do right now is to hide you with the Winchesters. I’ll try to find a way to reverse or remove the curse, and I’ll make excuses about why you can’t come to the nest. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be better than the wrath you’d face right now.”
“Do you really think hiding it from the flock is the best idea?” Dean asked, his arms crossed and fingers tapping nervously on his elbow. Castiel’s eyes were downcast, a sadness in them that had only grown when Gabriel suggested Castiel hide from his flock. They all knew it was the best plan they had right now, but Dean didn’t like the pain it brought Castiel.
“Is there no other way?” Castiel asked, quiet as he stared down at his wings. They were a part of him now, and he knew that in order for the flock to accept him again, he’d have to purge himself of the curse and return his wings to their original peach cream color. He knew that Dean had noticed his melancholy, and had mistakenly attributed it to the fact that he would have to hide from the flock.
That did sadden him, but mostly he wanted to embrace this new part of himself. Dean had shown him that there was nothing to fear, that his new wings were just as much a part of him as his peach cream wings were.
Castiel wondered if facing the Council’s judgment was worth it. It was true that as a harpy, his instincts pushed him towards his flock, flourishing in their presence. He relied on their flock bonds, strained as they were. Yet, over the years, he’d never been truly happy. The flock was his family, but with Dean and Sam he felt a joy and sense of belonging he knew he should feel with his flock, but it was with these two hunters, these brave humans that he felt at home. They had accepted him readily, despite his change.
Would his flock do the same?
“I’m sorry Castiel,” Gabriel sighed, the lines around his eyes deep with stress and worry. “It’s our best chance right now.” Gabriel stood up, shaking himself until his feathers fluffed up then settled back down. Satisfied that he was now dry and warm, he headed for the door. Opening it up, he stepped outside on the porch and faced them, the cold winds rustling his feathers. “Now, make sure you do as I said and stay indoors as much as possible. It would ruin our plans if I told them you went on a scavenging expedition and a harpy spotted you at the Winchester’s cabin.”
“Of course,” Castiel nodded, though he knew it wasn’t very likely he’d obey.
Gabriel squinted at him suspiciously for a second before breaking into a grin and giving him a wink.
“I know you won’t listen, I’ll let lover-boy here know that if you’re seen outside by the flock, best case scenario you’re kicked out of the flock. Worst case scenario? They’ll kill you.” Dean paled considerably at that and quickly pushed Castiel behind him, sticking his head out the door for a quick scan of their surroundings, considerably more wary now. Gabriel trilled, a smug smile on his lips as he met Castiel’s glare over Dean’s shoulder. He had successfully activated the hunter’s protective instincts. Hopefully, this would mean that Dean could help keep Castiel out of trouble.
Gabriel side-eyed the hunter a little dubiously. That was probably a bad idea, Dean wasn’t known for his good track record of following the rules. Gabriel cleared his throat, an innocent smile on his face as Castiel continued glaring at him with puffed up feathers.
“I’m sure you two will stay out of trouble, and if worse comes to worst, Sam is in charge,” Gabriel fluttered a wing at Sam who had been watching the proceedings with concern. He seemed unsurprised that he was put in charge of clean-up, in case shit went down. It was kind of his default position in this rag-tag family they’d made. “I need to return to the flock before they get too suspicious.”
With one last smirk, he flew off. There was silence as the three men absorbed what they’d been told and their new mission of staying under the radar.
“Come on guys,” Sam said placatingly, pulling both Dean and Cas into the cabin as he closed the door firmly. “It can’t be that bad.”
The couple shared a doubtful look before replying.
“Sure Sammy, whatever you say.”
Everything was, in fact, very very bad. The next day, not even 24 hours after Gabriel had given them stern instructions, there was another knock at the cabin door. Dean answered it, mouth open and ready to tell Gabriel to fuck off and that they were staying under the radar. The words died in his throat and his mouth closed with an audible click when he was faced with two harpies, Bartholomew and Balthazar. The door was only opened halfway because he was a hunter and old habits die hard. He was grateful for his paranoia because behind the door, hidden from the harpies’ view, he was holding an axe.
He only hoped he wouldn’t have to use it.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” Dean asked, a charming smile on his face as he stood directly in the opening, blocking them from looking inside the cabin. His eyes darted past them to the cheery looking woods, brightened by the ever-persistent sun. It was unlikely that Sam would be back before nightfall and he’d hunted enough animals to feed them for a few more weeks. Dean was on his own for this.
“Yes actually,” Bartholomew answered with a sneer, shouldering his way into the cabin despite Dean’s protests. “We’re looking for a friend of ours. You might know him. We’re so terribly worried about him, as the flock hasn’t seen him in days.” Balthazar was suspiciously silent as he stepped in much more placidly, an apologetic grimace on his face.
“I have no idea what you’re looking for but you won’t find it here,” Dean replied, straight-faced and stern in a way that left no room for arguments. “Now, you flying freaks just broke into my cabin without permission. You seem to forget that I may be retired, but I’m still a hunter.” Dean hefted the axe up with his left hand and let the wooden handle fall harmlessly into his right with a resounding smack. Dean raised an eyebrow in challenge, a dangerous smirk on his lips. Both harpies tensed at the reminder and eyed his weapon warily.
“Don’t be so difficult-“
Balthazar shoved Bartholomew off to the side, ignoring the man’s indignant squawk. “We didn’t mean to intrude,” Balthazar interjected smoothly, his wings held up placatingly. “But we do have it on good authority that Castiel is here. We were merely concerned about him spending so much time in the company of hunters, and wanted to make sure he was alive.”
Dean bristled at the accusation, baring his teeth in a snarl. “I would never hurt Cas, and you dickheads know that. Cut the bullshit, we both know why you’re here and if you don’t leave, I will send you back in body bags.”
“That’s as good as a confession,” Bartholomew said smugly, turning his back to the hunter and heading deeper into the cabin. “You humans truly are nothing but monkey-brained idiots.”
“Hey!” Dean barked out, furious as he went after Bartholomew. Balthazar blocked him with a regretful look that Dean promptly smacked off his face with the blunted edge of the blade. Balthazar went down like a sack of bricks and Bartholomew cursed before throwing open the bedroom doors, moving fast. Before Dean could stop him, he threw open the door to Dean’s room, and there, sleeping through all the commotion was a sleep-ruffled Castiel.
He sat up with a startled jerk, eyes wide and still bleary from sleep, when Bartholomew roughly grabbed him by his tunic and tugged him out of the bed. Castiel cried out in pain, a taloned foot coming up to defend himself. Before he could, Bartholomew was torn off of him by a snarling Dean.
The hunter threw Bartholomew off to the side and stood in between him and Castiel. “Leave,” Dean growled out, his grip on the axe tightening with barely restrained fury. “Before I send you out in chopped-up pieces for the flock to find.”
Bartholomew let out a trill, throwing his head back even as Dean loomed over him threateningly. “Oh, you won’t have that chance. Did you really think we’d come alone?”
Dean turned so fast he almost twisted his neck, but he was too late.
“Dean!” Castiel cried out as he was tugged out of the window by two taloned feet that dug deep into his shoulders. Castiel was digging his own talons into the wooden floor, desperately trying to resist the powerful harpy tugging him. Dean could see rivulets of blood run out of the gouges in Castiel’s shoulder and felt any calm he had left, rushing out of him.
“Cas!” Dean bellowed as he reached for the harpy, his fingers barely grazing Castiel’s tunic. He held on tight to the edge of the fabric, and for one suspended moment, it seemed like Dean would be able to save Castiel.
Then, with a ripping sound and a feeling of dread running down his spine, Castiel was torn from Dean’s grip. Dean rushed to the window, poking his head out to try and see where the harpy had taken Cas. They were carrying him in the direction of the main nest and Dean felt a murderous rage rise within him. He turned around, ready to murder Bartholomew, but found the room empty. When he ran out to the living room, Balthazar was also nowhere to be seen.
Dean stared down at the drops of blood on the white piece of fabric he held in his shaking grip, his eyes swimming with tears. He clenched his eyes tightly shut, wiping at his face angrily, as he took a deep breath. He headed to his room with the gait of a determined man. He opened the closet, took out all the hidden weapons he had inside, and stuffed them into a bag. He paused for a moment before heading to Sam’s room and doing the same.
They had a friend that needed their help and Winchester loyalty meant that they were willing to fight an entire flock of harpies just to bring Castiel back home to them. Dean didn’t know how they had figured out Castiel’s condition so quickly. The only people who knew were him, Sam, and Gabriel. Only one of them had had contact with the flock, and if Gabriel had betrayed them, there would be hell to pay.
“Dean we can’t just climb the tree, they’ll see us coming,” Sam tried to reason with his brother, a hint of frustration in his hunched shoulders and a harsh frown on his face.
“Well then what do you suggest we do, genius? It’s not like we have wings,” Dean snapped, harsh as he hiked his pack up a bit higher on his shoulders, eyes squinted angrily as he tried to decide where to start climbing up. Sam sighed, running a hand down his face. They were both worried sick, and Dean was being more of an asshole than usual.
“I’m saying that we wait until Gabriel comes to get us-“
Dean turned around with a snarl on his face. “The only ones who knew that Cas had changed are you, me, and Gabriel. Now, who do you think ratted us out?”
Sam shook his head, eyes darting around warily as the trees rustled. The sun was starting to set, and the lack of light made it hard to tell if the rustling was just the wind or one of the flock. “You know as well as I do that Gabriel would never do that to his brother. There has to be another explanation.”
Dean let out a growl, ducking his head to try and control his breathing. He needed to stay calm, this wasn’t going to help them find Cas. “Maybe,” Dean conceded after a full minute had passed. He was grateful his brother knew him well enough to let him gather his bearings. He wasn’t the most rational when the people he loved were threatened, but he could see the truth in Sam’s words. “Either way, we’re going to get Cas back. I don’t care if we have to fight the whole flock for him.”
Sam opened his mouth to respond but cut off with a sharp intake of breath when Gabriel landed between them. Dean yelled out and lifted up his axe, holding it tightly in his grasp as he watched Gabriel with wary eyes. The harpy was uncharacteristically serious, his eyes sharp as he squinted at the two of them.
“Well? What are we waiting for? Let’s go get my dumbass little brother and skedaddle.”
“And how do we know we can trust you?” Dean shot back, though he did lower his axe a little.
Gabriel rolled his eyes before baring his teeth in a grin that looked more like a snarl. “Trust me, I didn’t rat him out and once I get my hands on whoever did it, I’ll pluck their feathers one by one and leave them looking like a naked chicken. Now, hurry the fuck up, I doubt the Council will wait before putting Castiel on trial.”
“Trial?” Sam asked, his posture slowly loosening as he tucked his weapon away and crossed his arms.
“Yeah,” Gabriel grumbled, stress lines more pronounced as he sighed. “The flock doesn’t just kill those that break the law, we put them on trial. Although most of the time it’s just a formality. The Council will make their choice regardless of what we say.”
“Then what’s the point?” Dean scowled as he slid his axe back into the holster at his hip.
Gabriel shrugged, jumping up and flapping his wings until he hovered a little above the ground. Each sweep of his golden wings sent up dead leaves and dust around them, causing both Winchesters to cover their faces and squint their eyes. “Beats me, but I think it’s to keep up the illusion that the flock has more freedom than they actually do. It’s all a crock of bullshit.”
“Aren’t you on the Council?” Sam asked amused.
“Yeah but that’s because I’m the strongest Hunter, not because I actually want to be with the rest of those stuffy old farts. Now come on, we’re wasting time standing here.” Without warning, Gabriel flew high enough to grasp both of them by one shoulder. He dug his talons in and they winced wrapping their hands around his scaled legs as he slowly started ascending, his enhanced strength allowing him to easily carry them up to the nest.
There were other harpies flying around them, most swooping close enough to catch a curious glimpse of the trio before flying away. By the time they got to the nest, the rest of the flock knew they were coming.
Gabriel let them go none too gently, and Dean stumbled as he was dropped down. Gabriel landed beside him and Sam had righted himself with relative ease. They were next to the Council building. This was the first time he’d seen so many harpies in one place. They were all perched in the branches and on some of the rooftops, chattering lightly to each other, gazes curious and a bit fearful as the trio walked into the Council building.
“Gabriel you’re late,” Uriel’s voice was steady, but there was a hint of irritation in his narrowed eyes. “I see you brought guests with you.”
Gabriel twittered before flying up to his spot, perching himself comfortably on the ledge. “Don’t play dumb with me, I know you guys didn’t want me here anyway. You all know what my decision would have been.” The council members shifted uncomfortably, the truth in his words apparent by their averted eyes.
Castiel was standing in the center of the room where the raised podium was. Balthazar and Bartholomew were on either side of him, most likely acting as guards to make sure Castiel wouldn’t try to run. Dean noticed with a hint of maliciousness that both of the guards looked a little worse for wear. There was still blood on their tunics.
Most of Dean’s attention, though, was on Castiel. Though there were obvious bloodied puncture wounds on his shoulders, Castiel stood tall, his head lifted high and a glare on his face as he stared the Council down. It made Dean ache with something like pride and he couldn’t help the smirk that spread across his face. He sauntered over until he was next to Cas, shouldering Bartholomew harshly until he stepped aside. Sam followed, stepping to the left of Castiel, flanking him.
Dean reached out a hand and grasped some of Castiel’s feathers, smoothing his hand down his wing. Castiel relaxed minutely, a slight quirk to his lips as he gave Dean a sidelong glance, the lines around his eyes easing just a little with relief. Dean gave him a confident wink before turning to the Council, his voice hardening as he addressed them.
“I don’t give a fuck why you decided to take Castiel by force. Either way, he’s going to leave with us, and if you try to stop us…” Dean trailed off as he cocked his head to the side, a dangerous grin on his face. “Well, we may be retired but we were renowned hunters for a reason.”
“What the Council decides to do with one of our own is none of your concern,” Metatron responded snidely as he leaned forward. “You two came here unannounced, carrying weapons. This is a clear violation of our treaty.”
“I was under the impression that the flock took care of their own. Instead, a pair of hunters has come to the aid of one of your harpies,” Sam voice was quiet but held an underlying hint of steel, his hands clasped behind his back as he stood straight and tense. “In fact, we had to protect him from the brutal treatment he received from your guards. Ironic isn’t it? That we need to protect him from his own flock.”
It was a hard blow and everyone knew it. The Council had survived thus far, after the war that tore apart the harpies allegiances, by claiming that they worked in the best interests of the flock. By hurting one of their own, they were sending out a message to the rest of the flock, one that could instill uncertainty. This time, it was Castiel they persecuted, but what if next time it was another member of the flock on that podium? Either way, the outcome of this trial was open to the flock, and already many of them had perched on the edge of the building, using the lack of ceiling to their advantage.
“We do take care of our own,” Gadreel insisted, a troubled frown on his face, “but that’s why we needed Castiel in our custody as soon as possible. He poses a threat to the rest of the flock now that he’s changed-“
“He hasn’t changed!” Dean barked out, interrupting Gadreel with an anger that made the harpies tense. “He’s the same as he always was, his wings are just a different color now. I mean, do you see this nerdy dude?” Dean gestured to Castiel, ignoring the slightly offended glare Cas threw at him. “He’s always been devoted to the flock. It’s your actions that have pushed him away and despite the blatant mistreatment, he would never hurt any of you.”
“Dean,” Hannah tried to placate him, her wings lifting in front of her beseechingly. “You have to understand that part of the blame lay on your shoulders. When we realized just how deep Castiel’s bonds with you two were, we stationed some of the guards near your cabin to monitor him at all times. We knew that this would happen, that inevitably the Winchesters would lead to Castiel’s Fall.”
“You guys were spying on us?” Dean was seething, his words hissed through gritted teeth. “That’s low even for you assholes.”
“The risks were too great to allow Castiel outside of the nest unmonitored,” Uriel sneered, clicking his tongue once with disdain. “Clearly our suspicions were not unfound as here Castiel is, corrupted by you hunters, just as we expected.”
“Are you sure he’s corrupted?” Sam interjected, his expression unreadable. “I’ve heard the legends, but none of them describe Lucifer’s Corruption as anything other than a murky purple-black. Castiel’s wings, on the other hand, are more of a rainbow black.”
Castiel lifted his wings and in the waning light, and they shimmered with a multitude of colors. It was truly a beautiful sight, and even the Council took a moment to observe.
“It’s true that his wings aren’t exactly as described in the legend,” Hannah continued, thoughtful, “but the fact that his wings changed colors is already enough of a warning for us.”
“Yes,” Metatron nodded, letting out a sigh as he leaned back on his talons, “and we have decided that Castiel poses too large of a threat. He will be executed at sunrise tomorrow.”
Suddenly, there was a clamor of voices, exclamations of disbelief from the Winchesters and Gabriel, and murmurs of shock from the harpies that were observing the trial’s proceedings. Castiel remained worryingly silent, his head hanging low as he stared at his wings.
“Now hold on here, you can’t execute Castiel just because you’re afraid of something he hasn’t even done yet. You’re going to kill him because of a legend with no proof?” Dean yelled out, his hands reaching for his axe. He was stopped by a wing, and surprisingly it was Castiel’s. He didn’t look at Dean, only staring straight up at the Council, his eyes empty.
“Gabriel is also a living legend,” Gadreel pointed out, though there was a hint of nerves in his fluffed-up feathers. “We have reason to believe that Castiel might become just as corrupted and evil as Lucifer if we let him live.”
“That’s just it, isn’t it?” Gabriel’s voice was just a murmur, but it cut through the noisy sounds of protest around him. The room fell silent. “I have the same golden wings Lucifer had, yet I never showed signs of Corruption. If anything I should have been the biggest threat to the flock.”
“That’s because you’re special,” Metatron insisted with a hint of misplaced pride. Having Gabriel in the flock led to them having a bit of a status boost, and also kept other flocks from ever challenging them for the territory.
“Maybe so,” Gabriel agreed easily enough, and Castiel tensed, knowing that his brother was about to say something monumentally dumb, “but by your logic, I have the same potential for evil. Then, shouldn’t I also be executed with Castiel?”
“Gabriel!” Castiel cried out, the first word he’s said since this had all started. Gabriel met his eyes with a wink, before turning back to Metatron with a straight face.
“Wha- but that’s different,” Metatron spluttered, even as the rest of the Council spoke quietly among themselves, finding some truth in Gabriel’s words. “You haven’t shown signs of Corruption, so you’re not a threat.”
“But I could be,” Gabriel continued, standing up taller and flaring out his golden wings. “I could become corrupted at any moment. Which means that if Castiel, who hasn’t done anything wrong besides upgrading to more fashionable wings, can pose a threat, then I can, too.”
“But we can’t-“ Metatron cut himself off with a harsh glare from Uriel.
They all knew what he wanted to say. They couldn’t lose Gabriel. The Council spoke softly among themselves, the rustling of feathers the only sign of their nerves.
Finally, they seemed to come to a conclusion.
“We see your point and we concede that perhaps our decision was hasty,” Uriel started, face impassive even as his jaw clenched a bit at having to admit defeat. There was a certain glint in his eyes though, that made Castiel tense. “We’ve decided to be merciful and banish Castiel from the flock. From here on out, he is no longer one of us and what he does will be none of our concern.”
Gabriel launched off of his perch with a frightening speed, moving until he was hovering right over Uriel’s ledge. His eyes glowed with anger, and he relished in the way Uriel leaned back with a hint of uncertainty in his eyes.
“You bastard, you know what that will do to him.”
Uriel cleared his throat, eyes never leaving Gabriel’s as he spoke, for fear of the harpy ripping out his throat. He was saved by Castiel speaking up, distracting Gabriel from unleashing his fury. Castiel had his shoulders hunched over, exhaustion in every line of his body. “That’s enough Gabriel.”
“But-“ Gabriel started to protest but stopped when Castiel shot him a truly weary look. He just wanted this to end. Castiel turned to the Council, addressing them for what would be the last time.
With those words, Castiel could feel the bonds to his flock, their constant, distant warmth, sever. He clenched his eyes tightly shut, searching desperately inside himself for something to hold on to. There were still three bonds left, and he was grateful that he recognized them as the Winchesters and Gabriel. Despite being cut off from the flock, nothing would ever be able to break their brotherly bond.
“Awesome,” Dean drawled out, already itching to leave as he backed up until he was at the entrance of the building. He made sure that Castiel and Sam were behind him. He refused to take his eyes off of the Council until they were free to go. “We’ll be on our way now.”
The Winchesters shot Gabriel one more grateful look, one that the harpy returned with a frown, his shoulders slumped in defeat. Dean narrowed his eyes slightly. They were basically home free now, why did Gabriel look like they had lost? Brushing it off for now, the Winchesters led Castiel out of the building. The flock watched silently, almost solemn, as Castiel held onto the brothers’ shoulders and flapped his wings. It was with some surprise that he found he was able to take the weight of them both. Not for the first time, he wondered if his change had also given him enhanced strength like Gabriel. His musings helped distract Castiel from his grief, his instincts already crying at being flock-less. He ignored it the best he could as he flew them to the cabin.
Once there, he set them down and walked straight into Dean’s room, the one that they shared. Sam and Dean shared a concerned look. “You go see if he’s doing alright,” Sam gestured to the room before heading over to the kitchen, pulling out items as he went. “I’ll get dinner ready.”
Dean nodded gratefully before heading to the room. Castiel was sitting on their bed, a distant look on his face as he stared out the window. Dean hesitated before sitting beside him, wrapping an arm around Castiel’s shoulders and tugging him until he tucked his unruly mop of dark hair under Dean’s chin.
“Do you want to talk about it? I thought you’d be happy to be free of the flock.” Castiel shrugged before going still, his breathing shallow. Dean was about to ask again when he realized the wetness on his chest was from Castiel’s tears soaking through his clothes. “Cas…?” Now he was officially worried, he had to be missing something. From what he saw and heard, the flock had always treated Castiel badly. He thought that being free would have been what Castiel wanted.
“It’s hard to explain to a human,” Castiel started, voice rough as he let out heaving breaths. “Harpies are pack animals, and we rely on our flock for security and comfort. Even though my flock was always distant with me, they were still there. I could feel their bonds within me, no matter how weak, and it was enough to keep me going. My instincts rely on those bonds, and to sever them like this is a fate worse than death. I shouldn’t miss it because the bond I have with you and your brother are stronger than my bonds with the flock, but it’s- I still feel…”
Castiel trailed off, a sob breaking out of his throat as he hiccuped a little. “I feel empty. I’ve lived my whole life trying to prove myself, to show the flock that I wasn’t a threat. That I mattered more than just as a potential for evil. But it was all for nothing. The moment my wings changed, they cast me out. I know now that I would never have been enough for them. I could have been the kindest harpy in the flock, and they still would have seen the color of my wings and not my actions.”
Dean was silent as he processed this. It made sense to him in a way. Even if what Castiel felt was apparently some sort of supernatural bond, what he described was something Dean himself had experienced. When his father had fallen into the bottle and cared more for it than his family, Dean’s bond with him had been strained and distant. But when he died, Dean had still mourned him because, despite everything, they were family.
“I understand,” Dean replied, solemn as he closed his eyes and wrapped both arms around Castiel. The harpy let out his pain and Dean held him through it all. “Castiel, no matter what, you’ll still have us. Family don’t end in blood, and you’re our family now.”
Castiel didn’t respond but eventually his crying lessened and he relaxed. Dean slowly maneuvered him onto the bed, wiping away his tears as he noticed the harpy had cried himself to sleep. Dean tucked him in before stepping outside and closing the door quietly.
Sam had set the table for three but when he noticed Dean come out alone, he put away Castiel’s plate for later. “Is he okay?” Sam asked, sitting down and digging into his food as he spoke.
“No,” Dean shook his head, sighing and letting himself show his own exhaustion now that he didn’t have to be strong for Castiel, “but he will be, with time. Harpies are pack creatures and reliant on their flock bonds. I think the only reason he’s not going insane is that he implied that he also has bonded with us, so he’s not completely alone.”
“That’s good,” Sam nodded, as he chewed thoughtfully. He was quiet for long enough that Dean shot him a look.
“Spit it out, there’s something you’re not saying.”
Sam sighed before setting down his utensils, clasping his hands in front of him and resting his chin on them. “Dean, I think I need to go.”
Dean looked up, bewildered, food halfway to his mouth. “Go? Where are you going to go? And for what?”
“I think there’s something strange about this whole legend,” Sam began, gesturing as he ran his hand through his hair with a thoughtful frown. “The harpies had this huge war a generation back that burned a lot of their records. What we know of this legend is only word of mouth and you know how those can become skewed. I really think there’s more to it. Castiel’s wings are nothing like Lucifer’s.”
“Yeah but,” Dean pointed at him with a fork, a little exasperated, “if they’ve all been burnt then there’s nothing left that you can find. Even if you get your little smarty pants fingers into this case, there’s no guarantee you’ll find anything.”
“But we have to try, Dean,” Sam insisted, knowing that Dean was already cracking under his cajoling. “Castiel needs to know the truth. We don’t even know what he’s capable of or what his wings actually mean.” Dean set down his fork, staring at Sam for a long moment.
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, you can’t,” Sam shook his head, getting up and putting the plate in the sink. “Castiel needs you right now, and we both know I’m the best person for this. I can go dig up information from the other flocks, and from any scripture I can get my hands on.”
“And I’m sure the flocks will be dying to give their secrets to a hunter.” Dean continued, dubious as he shoved his food in his mouth. “This seems pointless. We have Cas and he’s safe, shouldn’t that be enough?”
“Maybe,” Sam agreed with a shake of his long hair, already gathering food to serve as rations for the journey. “But will he be happy?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dean frowned, slightly offended. “Are you saying I can’t make him happy?”
“No Dean,” Sam replied with an exasperated eye roll. “I just think that Castiel would like to know what he actually is. And who knows, maybe with some new information, the Council will change their minds.”
There was silence for so long that Sam turned around, expecting his brother to be glaring at him angrily. Instead, Dean was staring down at his plate, a tired look in his eyes. “Okay Sammy, it’s your choice to make. I want Castiel to be happy, I really do. But I feel like this might give him false hope,” Dean met Sam’s eyes, the emotion in them almost overwhelming. “I just want him to feel safe again.”
“And he will,” Sam was firm in his answer, walking over to clasp a steady hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Just tell him that I’m off on hunter business. That way, even if I don’t find anything, it won’t let him down.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Dean sighed before letting his lips quirk up to one side in a playful smirk. “Since when did you get so mature?”
“Since I had to take care of your ungrateful ass,” Sam snapped back, ducking with a laugh when Dean threw a spoon at him.
“You take that back,” Dean hissed out, trying to keep quiet even as his lips struggled to hold back a grin.
“Oh please, we both know I could kick your ass.”
“That’s it, get over here.”
Sam laughed as he ran around the room, letting out an indignant yelp when his brother caught him and ruffled his long hair. They both caught their breath, trying to contain their laughter.
Sam looked down at his map again, scowling at the shitty scrawl and random nonsensical phrases on it. He could barely make out what looked to be a stick figure of him with a shaved head and ‘x’s over the eyes. He wondered yet again, why he thought Gabriel was a reliable source.
When he’d left the cabin, Castiel had been a bit suspicious, but Dean had distracted him in a way that made Sam gag even now. There were just some things he never needed to know about his brother’s sex life.
Sam had contacted Gabriel, who had willingly met him at the base of the main nest. The harpy had been amused by his attempts to figure out the truth and had scribbled out a really rough map that showed him where all the known harpy nests were. Despite Gabriel’s obvious doubt that Sam would be able to find anything, he had been oddly sincere with his words, letting Sam know which nests would have the best chance of retaining their scriptures even after the war.
There was one harpy flock in particular that Gabriel referred to as the ‘boring fucks’, but was more commonly known as the Sapien flock. They had refused to participate in the war, and their neutral stance had cost the lives of many of their allies, including Castiel’s flock. Though the flock despised them and broke off relations after the war, Gabriel understood why they had wanted to stay out of the conflict.
The Sapien flock’s creed was ‘wisdom above all’ and this included any unnecessary conflicts. Their life’s goal had always been to collect information and store it. To protect the scripture and harpy history the best they could. It hadn’t worked, because the opposing flock had still attacked them, but they managed to hold their ground well enough that Gabriel suspected they might have the answer Sam was seeking.
Sam looked at the map again, squinting at the odd drawing of an owl next to a thick forest area far to the north. There was a dot nearby, indicating a small town, but otherwise the Sapien flock was isolated. Sam resigned himself to checking with the five other harpy flocks on his way north and estimated the entire trip, there and back, would take him a month.
Closing the map, he shoved it back into his pack before pulling out his dried deer meat and taking a bite. His horse nickered and lipped at his sleeve and he patted the animal absently as he plotted out the best route.
He’d brought several rare items with him, various things that the Winchesters had collected over the years that they had figured could come in handy. Most were taken off of the vicious monsters they killed, and he could only hope they might be used for trading or to help ease negotiations.
Sam raised his hands up placatingly, his chin tilted up as he tried to move his neck away from the blade digging into his throat, just a hair’s breadth away from slicing the skin. “I come in peace.” He gritted out, teeth clenched as the harpy pressed the blade closer. He could feel a trickle of blood trace a path down his neck.
“You’re a hunter,” the harpy elder’s expression was neutral, his head cocking to the side as he spoke. He fluffed out his dark feathers, his face lined with age. Next to him was one of his guards, the other one was currently busy glaring a hole into Sam’s face as he held a blade to his throat. “Hunters never want peace.”
“That’s not true-“ Sam tried to protest but was cut off when the harpy slammed his taloned feet down, the sharp talons sinking into the ground around his feet, and he knew that it was a warning. Another word and he would slice off Sam’s foot.
“You want peace, but it is never for our kind,” the older harpy sighed as he shook his head, finally showing some traces of exhaustion as he looked down. He was missing a talon, and his scaled legs were scarred. “But your reputation precedes you, Winchester.” He nodded, and the guard reluctantly let Sam go before stepping back to the elder harpy’s side.
“We know you come seeking information.” His eyes were an eerie purple, and it was something that Sam noticed the guards shared too. Each flock had its own unique characteristics and this one was hard to miss.
“How?” Sam asked, rubbing his throat with a wince.
“We have a shared acquaintance. Gabriel sends his regards.”
The tension fled from Sam’s body as he let out a huff of laughter, running a hand down his face in mirth. He took back everything bad he’d said about the harpy, Gabriel had had the foresight to send word to the flocks letting them know that he was coming. It certainly helped negotiations. At least he hoped so. Knowing Gabriel, he had probably offended all the other flocks in this region.
“We know what you are searching for but we can not give it to you.”
Sam frowned. Maybe Gabriel wasn’t much help after all.
“I understand that you wouldn’t want to give information to a hunter, especially information that could potentially be used against you,” Sam started, pulling out his pouch and pausing in his movements when the guards dropped into a fighting stance. He slowly moved his hands back in front of him, palms up. “Please, I just need to reach my pouch. I am a retired hunter, and I promise I don’t want to hurt anyone with the information you choose to share with me. I have a friend and he’s a harpy, and a situation has arisen that we’re trying to find more information about. That’s why I’m searching for any scripture or harpy related history you could share with me. I brought items that may interest you, to pay you for your tim-”
The harpy brought up his wing, gesturing for Sam to stop and Sam snapped his mouth shut, eyes hopeful. The harpy stared at Sam for a long moment before sighing. “It is as you said, you mean us no harm and we can see it. We can smell your emotions and you are truly passionate about helping your friend. However, the reason we can not give the information to you isn’t that we don’t wish to, but simply because we no longer possess any of the knowledge you seek.”
Sam’s mouth opened and closed a few times before he furrowed his brows, stepping forward with a little desperation. “That can’t be, there has to be something left.”
The elder shook his head, purple eyes sympathetic as he idly brushed his wing against his scarred legs. “The truth is, the harpy flock that attacked us, that fought against a majority of us, believed themselves to be the superior flock. They tried to not only erase us, but our history. Many of our parents and grandparents died fighting the war and those of us still alive now barely recall the stories they told us as children.” There was a pause, purple eyes pulled tight in pain as he whispered, “we lost more than bodies in that war.”
“But Gabriel’s flock remembers some legends,” Sam blurted out. “There has to be something…”
The elder shrugged, his lips quirking to one side in a wry smile. “Gabriel’s flock was stronger than ours. What they remember is a blessing and something that we struggle to recover from every year. We no longer know who we are. All we have are baseless legends that we no longer believe in.” His face hardened, looking off to the side, gaze distant as he spoke in a broken whisper. “We were children but we prayed to the Mother Bird, just as we had always been taught to. But nothing stopped the killing, and no magical being came to save us. We can’t believe in a creator that gave us false hope and returned our desperation with nothing but pain.”
Sam wanted to continue protesting, but when he saw the hopelessness in the harpy’s face, he knew he’d dredged up bad memories. Sam’s eyes drifted to the elder’s injured legs, and he winced, realizing with some horror that if he was a child when the war happened then most likely…
Sam knew torture like the back of his hand. The hunter life had led him to be the torturer as well as experiencing torture first-hand whenever he or Dean were captured. He knew that those weren’t normal hunting scars.
“I’m sorry, thank you anyways.” Sam bowed as he left, and he swung onto his horse with ease, his mind miles away. He didn’t turn back as he left, even though he could feel their eyes following him out of the forest. This was only the first flock, and he wanted to hold out hope for the rest, but the farther north he traveled, the closer he got to the enemy flock. They had traveled south during the war, cutting a swath of destruction. It was very likely that it wasn’t skill that had kept Gabriel’s flock mostly intact, but rather distance. By the time the violent flock had reached the main nest, they’d been weakened from all the battles along the way.
Sam shuddered, this time not out of cold but a sudden awareness that Gabriel and Castiel could have died. They could have been murdered as children or tortured, just like the rest of these flocks. He wondered yet again if it was luck or the Mother Bird watching over them that spared their flock from total annihilation.
Sam had traveled the tundras, meeting with flocks that lived in large nests across open plains. He had perilously climbed down cliffs to speak to the harpies that lived within the caves hidden there. Yet every one had told him the same thing. They didn’t have anything left, and they were just happy to be alive.
Sam stared down at his map, exhaustion in every step as he leaned against his equally tired horse and crossed out yet another flock. There was only one more left, and he could rest or he could continue onwards. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept, but he was determined to find something, anything to bring back to the people he held dear.
Mind made up, he clambered onto his horse. He tapped his foot against its side, and it took off in a trot. It would take him a week, and there were no guarantees that the Sapien flock would see him, but he had to try. This was the best lead he had and he wanted to help ease the burden from Castiel’s and Dean’s shoulders. Sam knew the situation weighed heavily on them, and he’d been helpless thus far. Now, he was taking direct action. He could only hope he’d find the flock and that they were willing to share their information with him. If there was any information left.
He had to make several pit stops, otherwise he would have collapsed from lack of sleep and food, but eventually, Sam stood at the edge of the forest, breath coming out in little clouds as he shivered. He was grateful his brother had forced him to take a fur cape. The area here was frosted over in layers of ice.
From what Gabriel had told him, the Sapien flock were all the same wing color. They were very similar to snowy owls, and they took great pride in their beautiful feathers. It was true that Castiel’s flock also had very unique wings. The harpies he’d met along the way had had monochromatic wings that were almost exclusively brown or black, so he was curious to see the snowy white wings of the Sapien flock.
It took almost three hours of walking, and he cursed the dense trees that forced him to tie his horse near the treeline. He shuddered, clenching his eyes tight as a gust of cold wind seemed to cut into his cheeks. He continued walking, blindly using his hands to move from tree to tree until suddenly, his hands met nothing but empty air. He opened his eyes and he couldn’t help his gasp, barely able to understand what he saw before him.
The trees, for as far as he could see, were all burnt shadows of what they used to be. He could tell they had been majestic, but a large fire had decimated the entire area. Many of them had cracked in half, revealing gaping mouths and empty shells, but that wasn’t what shocked him.
If Gabriel hadn’t told him what color the Sapien flock was, he would have mistaken the field of white for snow.
There was nothing but black trees and white feathers. Sam carefully stepped forward, his feet leaving the safety of the green grass behind him and into the layer of ash covered feathers. The winds buffeted the area, and a cloud of white feathers swirled up from the ground before falling back down softly and so, so innocent looking. He was wary, but he could tell that this area had remained like this for years, maybe since the war. He trekked onwards, mouth pressed into a grim line as his heart sank with a growing feeling of dread.
Eventually, he reached what he could tell had been the main nest. He craned his head up, taking note of the large holes within the enormous trunk that had served as homes for the flock. The thick branches were also hollowed out and he noticed remnants of burnt scrolls and books. They had stored their precious tomes in the branches, and now there was nothing left. Sam turned in a slow circle, his shoulders slumped in defeat. There was nothing left here.
Sam couldn’t be sure if this was a recent attack or if it was from the war, but evidence showed that the Sapiens had either been wiped out by an enemy flock, or they had fled. Sam pulled out his map, already knowing without looking at it that he had failed in his mission. He stared at the parchment as his eyes blurred with tears. The map was full of ‘x’s and the only one not crossed out was the Sapien nest. With a heavy heart, he crossed out that one, too. There were no flocks left.
Sam wanted to collapse at the base of the tree and sleep right there, but he had a horse that depended on him for food and water. He started the long walk back to his loyal mount, head hung low as he just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
Dean rapped his knuckles against the wooden door frame, taking in the sight of Castiel sitting at the edge of their bed, his brows furrowed. Castiel looked up at him from where he’d been running his fingers through his feathers. He tried to smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. His face was taut with exhaustion, and Dean knew that he hadn’t slept much these past few weeks.
“Do you want to eat now or later?” Cas shrugged, and Dean shifted his shoulders back, his hands twitching with the need to touch, to comfort the harpy. “You need to eat, Cas.”
“Not right now Dean,” Castiel replied softly. He placed his wings in his lap, a sigh falling from his lips as he seemed to give up on trying to fix his unruly feathers. “I haven’t groomed my wings since the change and I wanted to…”
Castiel trailed off, a far-off look in his eyes as he stared down at his dark wings. Dean took a hesitant step closer before closing the door behind him. It was a futile move since no one was in the house but him and Cas, but it made Dean feel safer somehow, like it was just them in their ‘nest’ as Cas liked to call it. Dean took slow measured steps until he was standing in front of Castiel.
Cas looked up at him, blinking slowly. The wrinkles on his face were more pronounced and Dean indulged his urge to lightly thumb over them. He pressed a thumb to the corner of Castiel’s mouth, wiping away Castiel’s frown. Cas couldn’t help the way his lips twisted up, his eyes shining with a bit more life in them, as Dean touched him.
“What are you doing?” Castiel murmured, bringing up a wing to press Dean’s hand fully against his face. He closed his eyes, his eyelashes brushing gently against Dean’s palms as Dean cupped his face.
Dean gave a quick peck to Cas's forehead, using his free hand to tangle his fingers in Cas's unruly hair. “Do you need a hand with that? I happen to be a human with fully functioning hands and opposable thumbs.” Dean clenched the hand he had dug into Castiel’s hair, tugging the strands as if to emphasize his point. Cas's breath hitched, eyes closed and head tilting back as he went with the motion, letting Dean move him as he pleased.
It had shocked Dean, the first time Castiel had asked him if he’d like to groom his wings. From his understanding it wasn’t something harpies offered lightly, it was a sign of great trust. He’d taken to the task with a certain reverence that he rarely showed, a gentleness in his movements and love in every touch. Both times had been a pleasurable bonding experience for them, and he knew that this time, he would have to be the one to offer. Cas was too wary, still rankling from the stigma his wings brought.
“Are you-“ Cas cleared his throat before opening his eyes, the blue a subtle glow in the dim candlelight. His face was purposefully blank, slack and emotionless, but he spoke slowly, measured and hesitant. “Do you want to?”
“Of course,” Dean grinned at him, and he didn’t miss the way Castiel relaxed, something hopeful in the quirk of his lips. “I’d love to.”
Maybe this way, Cas could love himself a little more, fancy new wings and all.
Cas was already sitting at the end of the bed, his sharp, taloned feet, resting on the wooden floor beneath them. Dean clambered onto the bed, kneeling at Cas's left and facing his side. The window was behind him, and he shuddered at the cold gust of wind that came in. They’d found, after much trial and error, that this was the best position to groom Cas's wings. Dean reached out a hand, and he paused when Cas tensed, fingertips a whisper away from the edge where Cas's feathers merged into human skin. Carefully, he pressed his fingers there, stroking down the wing gently until he felt Cas slowly relax.
“It’s okay, I got you,” Dean murmured. He focused his attention on the wings, fingers straightening out wayward feathers and tugging out loose or bent ones. A small pile was starting to grow next to him, the beautiful feathers laid out like an offering. They glowed in the candlelight, a steady shift of rainbow colors that seemed to change every time he looked. As he worked, Cas slowly slumped forward, his wing twitching occasionally when Dean scratched at a particularly pleasurable spot. There was a constant low purr coming from his chest, with little gasps and murmured encouragements woven in.
Dean hummed, his song blending with the howling wind outside, and the frequency of Cas's pleased sounds increased. When he encountered Cas's hand, tucked away within the feathers, he gave it a gentle squeeze before moving on, intent on grooming Cas's wings to the best of his ability. Once he was done fixing the feathers, he reached towards their bedside table and pulled out the small bottle of oil there. It was one that had a pleasant sandalwood aroma and was usually used for Sam’s hair. Dean had teased Sam about it when he’d first started using it, but after he “borrowed” the bottle from Sam, he was grateful his brother possessed such a useful oil.
Dean poured a small puddle into the palm of one hand, pushing the stopper back into the bottle with the other. He set it down beside him on the bed, confident that the plug on the bottle would stop it from leaking even if it tipped over. Rubbing his hands together until the oil had warmed up, he started stroking Castiel’s wings, teasing the surface with the oil, leaving the feathers glistening with a healthy sheen. If the wings had glowed subtly before, now they practically shimmered with how bright the colors reflected.
Cas let out a small grumble of protest when Dean got off the bed. His eyes half-lidded and lips parted as he scowled at Dean, demanding he get back to work.
“Relax, I’m just moving to the other side so I can work on your right wing.”
Dean smirked when Cas didn’t even twitch in response. He was so out of it he didn’t help Dean move his wing, instead letting Dean manhandle him until he had it spread wide enough that Dean could access it from his position on the bed.
Dean started by brushing his fingers through the fluffier baby feathers. This time Dean didn’t resist. He leaned in and pressed his lips there, the light feathers tickling his lips. Cas jolted under his touch, and he looked up to see the harpy staring back at him with an indecipherable look.
“Too much?” Dean asked, his voice a low rumble. He tensed, hand braced on the bed and ready to move away if Cas wanted him to.
Cas shook his head, breaking Dean’s gaze and staring down at his lap. Dean opened his mouth, intent on asking what was wrong when Cas beat him to it.
“Seeing you here, treating me just as you always have….” Cas trailed off, a soft smile on his lips as he looked at Dean with tear-wet eyes. “It makes me believe that everything can be okay. As long as I have you.”
“Cas,” Dean breathed out before tugging the harpy closer, brushing a gentle kiss on his lips before pulling back just enough to press his forehead to Cas's. With their eyes closed, they rested there for a suspended moment. “You will always have me.”
Dean let out a pleased hum when Cas pressed a smile onto his lips, the joy in them almost palatable. Castiel’s answer was firm, with a trace of awe in it, as if he couldn’t believe he deserved this. That he couldn’t believe he deserved Dean. “I know. And I will endure every trial the Goddess will place in my path because at the end of the road, you’ll be there. To catch me when I fall, to hold me when I break.”
The way that Castiel looked at him was always intense. It reminded Dean of the look someone gave you right before they went in for the kill, the look of such absolute certainty and devotion to one task. Those eyes had followed him for years, and finally, Dean could look back without fear. He no longer had to wonder, each day passing by as he hoped that the harpy would approach him instead of watching from afar, that Castiel would meet Dean face to face, and deem him worthy of his company. He no longer had to speculate, because he was Castiel’s and Castiel was Dean’s.
He flashed Cas a watery smile, giving him one last kiss before pulling away. “Not that I don’t enjoy our little moment, but I do have a job to do and you’re distracting me.”
Cas rolled his eyes, the twist of his lips fond. “Well then, I apologize for the delay. You may continue grooming me.”
Dean threw his head back, a laugh breaking out of him as he gave a particularly vicious tug to one of Castiel’s broken feathers. Cas winced, and Dean pressed a kiss to the spot in apology.
“You’re so demanding,” Dean sighed, shaking his head in mock offense. “I don’t know why I put up with you.”
“You love me.”
Again, his words were said with absolute certainty. That despite the situation they were in, and their uncertain future, Dean’s love was the one thing he believed in. Dean met Cas's gaze, his eyes tracing over the face shadowed by moonlight and illuminated by flickering candles. He traced those stubbled cheeks, the stress lines on his face, his chapped lips, and he’d never seen anyone so beautiful.
“Yeah,” Dean finally croaked out, his voice hoarse and hands unsteady as he gently brushed his fingers through dark feathers. “I guess I do.”
And when Castiel smiled, Dean couldn’t help but smile back.
“Another!” Sam yelled out as he laughed, spilling mead on himself as he tilted a little too far off the bench. Sam had decided after filling his stomach with some food at the nearest town, that it was too pitiful to camp out in the forest and feel sorry for himself. Instead, he was going to get as drunk as humanly possible and then cry when no one but his horse could witness his shame. The bar he’d found had mostly human patrons, but he could see the occasional inhuman individual, drinking mead just like the rest of them. This town was near the Sapien flock’s forest, and it was clear to see that the forest housed more than just harpies. The bar was probably used to all sorts of monsters coming in and out, and treated them much like the rest of their patrons.
This was something he would usually never do. Dean was more the type to drink his sorrows away, but thinking about Dean had made Sam miss his family even more and he’d decided to say fuck it, what’s one drunken night going to cost him? He’d tried his best, and he could deal with the consequences later.
Sam immediately grabbed the mug and took a hearty gulp. It wasn’t until he had drained half that he realized, through blurry eyes, that the person who had handed him the drink wasn’t the bartender. In fact, they had taken a seat across from him, their head tilted to the side as they stared at him with a smirk. Sam scowled, squinting at the stranger.
He was wearing a dark hooded cloak, one that covered a majority of his face and wrapped him up into a formless shape. Sam felt envious of the man’s cloak, it looked very warm. Maybe if he asked nicely the stranger would give it to him? Oh, but he’d forgotten his manners! The nice man had bought him a drink he should say thank you.
“Why are you sitting there?” Sam blurted out, brows furrowing when his brain caught up with his mouth. Okay, that wasn’t what he had wanted to say and now he seemed like a rude ungrateful person, which he wasn’t!
“You seemed…” his eyes darted to the side, before focusing on Sam with a lazy intensity, a smile growing on his lips, “a little lost, so to speak.”
Sam let out a small harrumph, barely refraining from rolling his eyes. “Listen, I’m not looking for any trouble.”
The man hummed, acknowledging Sam’s words, but he made no move to leave. “But you are looking for something, aren’t you?”
Sam straightened out of the drunken slump he’d been in, both palms resting on the surface of the rough wooden table as he tensed, poised to run. “And how would you know that?”
The man shrugged with practiced nonchalance, and Sam was immediately on guard. “It’s always the same people around these parts, and you’re certainly not a local. It was just an educated guess.”
Sam wavered for a moment, but he knew the man meant him no harm, he just seemed genuinely curious and a bit odd. Sam trusted his instincts and relaxed, hand wrapping around the mug yet again. He nursed the drink in silence for a long moment, eyes studying the stranger before him.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
Sam shook his head, careful so he wouldn’t reveal too much information. “This was my last stop, and there was nothing for me here.”
“Ah,” the stranger replied sympathetically. There was a rustle of cloth as he adjusted himself, leaning forward slightly with a dangerous grin. “And what if I told you that I could give you what you want?” Sam blinked at him, clattering the mug down carelessly as he glanced at the open tavern door. There was something unnerving about this man. He didn’t feel like he was in danger, but there was a pressure around him and it was making him twitchy.
“You don’t know what I’m looking for,” Sam finally responded, leaning away from the stranger’s piercing gaze. He bared his teeth, unsure why he was being so hostile, perhaps discomfited by the casual confidence the stranger possessed. “And the fact that you think you do, is very telling. Have you been following me?”
The man burst out laughing then, and Sam recoiled at the shrill noise, his hand reaching to his hip for his sword. When the man didn’t do anything but shake with mirth, Sam relaxed.
“What’s so funny?” Sam gritted out, a grumpy frown on his face.
“Oh, I don’t have time to follow people, I’m much too busy for that,” he sighed, his cloak moving with his heaving breaths. “I come here as a friend. As a local, I am aware of the harpy nest nearby,and I know that they were a central hub for harpy-related knowledge and history. You’re not dressed warm enough for this region, and you’re clearly weary from your journey. You aren’t from around here and there’s nothing here that could attract a hunter….unless it was the harpy flock nearby.”
Sam had become increasingly tense as the man spoke but now he was very alarmed. Sam leaned in, a harsh whisper on his lips as he glared, eyes darting to the other supernatural patrons in the bar, “What do you want from me?”
The man shrugged, annoyingly relaxed at Sam’s looming posture. “The same thing you want, for the truth to be out there.” He looked up into Sam’s eyes, a glint in them that seemed to be full of weariness, “And I have the truth you seek, would you like to hear it?”
Sam knew it was stupid and dangerous, but this was the closest he’d ever gotten to a lead on this self-imposed case. This man offered him everything he needed to know. They were in a crowded tavern, and Sam knew that he could easily overpower the smaller man if he needed to. It was an easy decision to sit back and cross his arms, now sober from all the adrenaline and anticipation. He lifted his chin and the man took it as an indication that he could start.
“I’m sure you already know the original harpy legends, the ones about Lucifer.” Sam nodded, and the stranger smiled, seemingly satisfied that Sam wasn’t completely clueless. “Well, that legend was actually only the first half of a bigger story.”
Sam uncrossed his arms, eagerness in every move as his mouth dropped open. “What do you mean?”
“That legend was Lucifer’s beginning, and how he became cursed as one of the Fallen, but it wasn’t his end.”
Sam listened to every word with rapt attention, and slowly but surely, he was drawn into the story.
“The second part of the story isn’t as well known,” the man sighed, shaking his head slightly and jostling the hood a little off his head. “In fact, I would say that there are scant few who have ever heard of it.” The man paused, eyes distant as he spoke, a heavy weight to his words. “Back then, Lucifer wandered the Earth, filled with pain, weighed down by his cursed wings. He had suffered, and the Motherbird was silent, no matter how much he begged. But Lucifer was fortunate enough to have an older brother, Michael, who had cared for him from infancy and so took it upon himself to save Lucifer.”
The stranger met Sam’s gaze with something inscrutable, and Sam felt weirdly exposed by those eyes as if he knew exactly why Sam was there.
“Michael was born with peach cream wings.”
Sam couldn’t help his shocked inhale, mind racing as he tried to connect the dots.
“The flock didn’t know what he was, or why he was the only one with peach cream wings. They treated him kindly, of course, but even then, there was always a divide between Michael and the rest of the flock. When Lucifer was born with similarly unique gold wings, he’d taken the child under his wing and treated him like a little brother. Lucifer grew older, and with time, learned that he was the only one who truly cared for Michael. They garnered attention in different ways, and many of the harpies felt jealous of the fact that Lucifer clearly favored Michael. Despite that, Lucifer and Michael ignored the others and lived peacefully, as a family.”
The stranger turned his unnerving focus onto Sam, a scowl on his face. “What is it?”
“It’s nothing,” Sam paused before continuing. “Well, okay there is something. From what you say, it seems that Lucifer wasn’t all that bad.” The stranger shook his head, and Sam frowned at the oddly somber look he wore.
“No, this was just the beginning of the end. Lucifer became arrogant and he ignored his brother’s words one too many times. When he was cursed, Michael begged the Motherbird to spare Lucifer. He held vigil and made offerings for many days and nights before she finally decided to give Lucifer a chance at salvation. Her condition was that he needed to repent for his sins, and then he would be forgiven.”
Sam pushed the mug of mead towards the man, but he declined, still lost in thought.
“And repent he did. Michael found Lucifer and they went on a journey to help as many people as they could. They did everything they could, but nothing seemed to work. No matter how many people they saved, it wasn’t enough. It was made worse by the constant pain Lucifer felt from his heavy wings. Eventually, grounded and unable to fly, Lucifer refused to go on. If he couldn’t gain forgiveness, then he wanted Michael to end his suffering.”
“And did he…?” Sam trailed off, his voice a whisper as he unintentionally voiced his thoughts.
The stranger shook his head with a rueful smile. “No, Michael was always too softhearted. As Lucifer lay, broken and weary, Michael forgave his brother. Michael had taken him in a winged embrace, and told him that even if the rest of the world condemned him for what he’d done, he would always forgive Lucifer.”
Sam couldn’t speak, his heart pounding in his throat as he realized with a sinking feeling that he could tell where this was going.
The stranger let out a chuckle, eyes drawn down to the wooden grooves in the table and the white-knuckled grip Sam had on the edge of it. “Michael was always a soldier, a hardened warrior to everyone else except the little brother he loved so dearly. And so Michael forgave Lucifer. Michael healed him, body and soul, and in doing so he purged Lucifer of his sins. Michael willingly took the Corruption into himself, begging the Motherbird to give him Lucifer’s burden. It manifested itself in his wings, until his once peach cream feathers became something darker.”
Sam looked into the man’s eyes, and there was something like understanding there.
“Lucifer could only watch as his wings were restored to their former glory, but at the cost of Michael’s sacrifice. However, it wasn’t until later that both harpies noticed Michael’s new wings weren’t the same Corrupted black-purple that Lucifer’s curse had given him, but rather a gorgeous black that shined rainbow in the light.
“Motherbird is strict, but she is a fair goddess. Michael’s decision was an act of noble sacrifice, and by willingly taking Lucifer’s curse into himself, he had purified it. Michael’s dark wings were not a curse, but rather a blessing, an acknowledgment of his self-sacrificing actions.”
Sam’s mouth fell open, a grin spreading across his face a moment later. If what this man said was true, then every patch of black on Castiel’s wings and his now completely black holographic feathers were a testament to his purity.
They were a blessing, not a curse.
The stranger seemed amused by his happiness and lightly spoke up again. “You shouldn’t blame the flock for how they reacted. The truth has been lost over the years, the scripture forgotten or destroyed and those who knew it are no longer alive.” Sam’s brows slowly met in the middle as he thought long and hard, trying to work his mind around the lingering traces of alcohol. Something the man had told him earlier, and just now, had stuck with him. He knew too much, and it wasn’t normal….was it?
“If that’s true, then why do you know it?” Sam asked slowly, his eyes narrowing at the smirk the stranger wore.
“Because I was there.”
There was a loud bang and Sam jolted, head swiveling towards the source of the sound. He let out a grunt of annoyance when he saw that the bang had been a loud group of locals singing jovially as they danced on the table. When he turned back, the seat in front of him was empty.
There was nothing left, nothing to indicate that Sam hadn’t hallucinated the entire interaction.
Nothing except one gold feather.
Sam picked it up, turning it over in his hand, almost dazed with disbelief as he noticed it wasn’t pure gold, but had traces of black-purple Corruption on it. He clenched a trembling hand around the feather and quickly stood up, now all-too sober from the encounter. He had the information he needed, and the evidence that would help their case.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t go help Sam?” Cas brushed his wings against Dean’s back, leaning close to peer over his shoulder as Dean prepared their food. “This hunting trip seems to be taking a while. What was the case about?”
Dean paused for a second before continuing, voice light as he spoke, “It’s nothing too bad, don’t worry about it. There were sightings of a frost giant in the north. You know how Sam is, he’s a nerd. Frost giants aren’t real, or at least we’ve never seen one before, but Sam insisted that he go check it out anyway, just in case it was something we needed to deal with.”
Cas let out a thoughtful hum that made Dean want to twitch with nerves. It was hard lying to the harpy.
“You know,” Cas drawled out, his voice a low rasp as he rested his chin on Dean’s shoulder. The hunter shuddered as he tried to focus on his knife, skillfully sliding it through an apple. “For a pair of retired hunters, you two hunt a lot.”
He shrugged and Cas lifted his weight off of Dean, walking over to the dining area. Dean finished cutting up the fruit and set it down on the table next to the bread he’d baked and the cured meats.
“You can never really take the hunt out of the hunter,” Dean spoke up, sitting down heavily in his chair as he reached over and started grabbing handfuls of the assorted fruit to shove into his mouth. He never had the patience to cut fruit, preferring instead to just eat the whole thing as is, but they’d learned early on that Cas's hands were tucked pretty far into his feathers and the juices from the fruit would dirty them.
Castiel pressed his lips into a thin line but picked up his fork and started eating as well. Dean threw Cas a playful smile and it eased the tension in Cas's posture. Dean knew that Cas knew something was up, but he was grateful that Cas seemed to let it go easily enough.
His eyes traced the dark feathers now adorning Cas's wings, and he couldn’t help but get distracted by their beautiful glow. Even when Cas didn’t move his wings, the colors seemed to shift on their own, a rainbow that was just bold enough that you could see it, but faint enough that when you looked too hard, it seemed to be nothing but an illusion.
Dean refused to call it a curse; after all, it didn’t seem like Castiel was suffering. Mentally, he was dealing with a lot of internalized feelings about having wings like Lucifer’s but physically, Castiel seemed to be mostly okay. In fact, Cas had confessed to Dean nervously that he felt stronger and faster. That his wings were now more powerful. It was still something to worry about, but for now, Dean didn’t see any downsides to Cas's new feathers.
Cas didn’t share his opinion. He still seemed to hold on to the belief that he was different somehow, and that sooner or later he’d pose a threat to Dean and Sam. Dean frowned, heart heavy as he stared at the patched up tunic Cas now wore. The white had been stained by his blood, but after a few washes, the red had lessened to a faint pink. Dean was grateful he’d practically raised his brother because it meant he was more than adept at making and patching up clothes. The puncture holes on the tunic were all but gone.
Dean had offered to make Cas some new clothes, or let him have some of his, but Cas had quietly refused. The tunic was looking a little worse for wear, but Dean knew that Cas wanted to keep it because it was the only thing left that tied him to his old life and his flock.
Castiel didn’t comment on Dean’s staring and in fact, returned the favor. Dean sometimes forgot that Cas wasn’t human, and the little quirks that would be a faux pas in normal situations, only seemed cute when coming from Cas. The staring had taken some getting used to. Logically, he knew that Cas was used to observing him for hours on end, but having Cas up close, content to do nothing but watch him with half-lidded eyes, made Dean flush. Usually, the staring ended with Dean snapping and fooling around with Castiel for a few hours. He still hasn’t figured out if Cas was testing his lack of self-control or if he truly didn’t have any motives behind his actions.
“Is Gabriel coming today as well?” Dean asked around a mouthful of bread, raising an eyebrow as he looked out the window. It was about midday, the time that the obnoxious harpy liked to drop in. After Cas had been cast from the flock, Gabriel had started visiting almost daily. Dean found him to be a nuisance but he made Cas happy and that was enough for Dean to hold his tongue whenever Gabriel was more annoying than usual. He was grateful, however, that Gabriel cared for Cas, and by extension the Winchesters. One of those visits, he’d pulled Dean aside and let him know in a low whisper that he’d sent messengers to all the surrounding flocks so that it would help Sam in his search. It was touching, and it made Gabriel a little more bearable.
“Not today,” Cas shook his head. “Last time he was here, he had whined about today being a hunting day and that he would be out working.”
Dean’s eyes squinted in amusement, his fingers playing with a piece of bread. “For someone who enjoys his job, he sure does complain about it a lot.”
Cas rolled his eyes, shooting Dean a look full of mirth. “Well, Gabriel likes to complain about anything and everything. It’s in his nature.”
Dean laughed in agreement before they polished off the rest of the food. They were just putting the plates in the sink when the cabin door opened, letting in a gust of cold air.
“Sam,” Cas greeted in pleasant surprise, a grin overtaking his face as he stepped forward to envelop the bigger man in his wings. He pulled back, tilting his head to the side as he took in Sam’s expression. “I am just as pleased to see you again but the manic grin on your face is unsettling.”
“Sammy,” Dean breathed out, crushing his brother in a tight hug. He closed his eyes for a moment before pulling back. He kept moving back until he was a few feet away, his face scrunched up in a grimace. “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but you reek. Take a shower, we just ate and I don’t want that food to come back up again because of your manly stench.”
Sam ignored his words, stepping forward and rolling his eyes at Dean’s exaggerated gagging sounds. “Dean we have more pressing concerns. Look what I found.” With a flourish, he took the feather from his pouch, face split into a wide grin as he gave it to Dean.
At first, he didn’t quite know what he was looking for. The feather was gold, and they only knew one harpy who had that wing color. So, Sam had gone on a month long journey only to come back with Gabriel’s feather? It didn’t make any sense.
Castiel was tense beside him and Dean was about to ask him what was wrong when the harpy brushed his wing over the feather. Castiel rested the tips of his feathers, just enough that it covered half of the gold, over Dean’s palms. It wasn’t until Cas put his wing there that Dean noticed that a portion of the gold feather was black, but in a different way than Cas's.
On closer inspection, the feather was also oddly heavy, as if there was something weighing it down. Sam seemed to sense his confusion because he told them everything, from all the flocks he visited, to the remains of the Sapien flock and how he had met Lucifer himself. Dean and Castiel had sat down on the fur covered bench halfway through Sam’s enthusiastic retelling of his adventure, too stunned to stay standing.
“Wait, hold up,” Dean raised a hand up to stop his brother. “You’re telling me that this feather,” he raised it up into the light streaming from the window, noting the fact that the black parts stayed weirdly heavy looking and didn’t shine beautifully like Castiel’s did, “was given to you by Lucifer himself?” His voice raised up at the end, clearly skeptical. Castiel was eerily silent beside him, eyes focused on the feather. Every once in a while his eyes would dart back to his own wings, looking even more confused than before.
“Yes,” Sam insisted as he carefully took the feather back, “and he told me everything.”
Once Sam had finished explaining the second half of the legend, in great detail, he could tell that they were both hopeful. Cas reached over and Dean tucked his hand into the wing, easily finding Castiel’s hand and holding his fingers in a tight, reassuring grip.
“So, Cas isn’t cursed,” Dean concluded, a wide grin of relief on his face. “These new wings are meant to be a blessing.”
Sam nodded in confirmation before sitting himself down with a loud thump on the rug. “I think Lucifer was trying to help. I don’t know if he was sent by the Motherbird, or if he had seen the injustice you suffered and wanted to put an end to it. Either way, going by the timeline of when Lucifer lived, he’s several thousand years old now, so he definitely isn’t a normal harpy. I wager he’s probably a minor god.”
Cas was still worryingly silent and Dean nudged him with a shoulder, turning concerned eyes to him. “Cas?”
There was a pause before Castiel threw himself at Sam, toppling the hunter over onto the rug. “Thank you, thank you so much.” Castiel sobbed out as he cried into Sam’s shoulder. Dean kneeled beside them, hands hovering awkwardly before they finally settled in between Castiel’s shoulder blades, patting him in comforting strokes. Sam didn’t say anything, but his smile was a little gentler and his eyes were definitely watery as he wrapped his arms around Castiel.
“You’re family now, Cas. And we take care of each other.”
Dean met Sam’s gaze and mouthed a ‘thank you’ at him as well. Even though Castiel had tried very hard to move on and learn to live without a flock, they all knew that he still held a bit of self-hatred in himself. Castiel no longer had to be afraid.
It was two days after Sam came back that they accosted Gabriel during a visit and updated him on the situation. The moment they did, he had dragged them to the Council and demanded a re-trial. The Council had refused at first, but when Sam presented the feather to them they had caved. They would never take a hunter’s words at face value, but Sam offered knowledge of their own history and legends that they no longer had. It was a chance to learn more and connect with their culture as a whole; so much of who they were and where they came from had been taken during the war.
It hadn’t been easy, and the trial had taken almost two weeks of back and forth before they finally reached a conclusion. The Council had sought the advice of the elders, those few harpies that had survived the war. It was took some digging before they admitted that they might have heard the second legend when they were small children. It wasn’t a definite answer in favor of Castiel’s case, but it was enough that the Council decided to allow Castiel a trial period before they would officially let him back into the flock.
Their one demand was that the Winchesters give Lucifer’s feather to them for safekeeping. Castiel suspected that the Council had agreed to letting him back in, solely because they wanted access to that feather. Whatever the reason, they were just happy Castiel was allowed back into the flock for now.
Even though his flock hadn’t always treated him well, they were still family, and Castiel had grown to care for the harpies in his flock. He was grateful for the chance to prove himself, and he had sincerely thanked the Council, despite the previous animosity between them.
It was decided that Castiel would still spend the majority of his time at the Winchester’s cabin, but that he could take up his duties again within the main nest and help out where he could. He could sleep at his own nest, which had remained untouched during his absence, or he could stay at the Winchester’s cabin. It was up to him.
Castiel didn’t hesitate before choosing Dean, and the way the hunter’s face had lit up with joy made it all worth it.
They made the journey back home once night fell, and Castiel realized with a growing warmth, that he now thought of this cabin as his home, his nest. It was where he felt safest, with Dean in his bed and Sam nearby to make disgusted faces at them.
They had retired early, too tired to stay awake but too restless to sleep.
They both lay in bed, Dean on his back as Castiel draped a wing over his torso. Dean was unnaturally tense, and Castiel lifted his head up from the soft pillow, pressing a kiss on the scruff under his jaw.
Dean was quiet for too long before whispering back, “Nothing.”
“Really?” Castiel raised a brow at him before laying his head on Dean’s chest. “Then why does it feel like I am hugging a rock?”
Dean forced his muscles to relax but it was too late, Castiel was already looking down into his eyes with a curious tilt to his head. Dean sighed, running a hand down his face before he sat up and reached into the bedside drawer. Castiel quietly followed and sat carefully still as Dean rummaged around until he found what he was looking for.
Finally, he let out a little sound of triumph and turned back to Cas, his victorious smile faltering as he caught Castiel’s concerned eyes. Dean’s hands clenched and unclenched around something before he bit out a curse and opened his fist, showing Castiel what was on the palm of his hand.
Under the faint glow of moonlight, Castiel could make out a glint of metal. He picked it up with a questioning hum, turning it this way and that as he squinted at it. It was clearly something handmade as the shape of it was a little rough, but there were small gems adorning it. There seemed to be two colored gems, and they were arranged in a pleasing pattern. On closer inspection, the color of some of the gems were suspiciously similar to the original color of his wings while the others were the same color as his current wings. It sent a wave of nostalgia through him, and Castiel looked up when Dean cleared his throat.
Dean was staring down at his own hand, wringing his fingers nervously before sliding something on one of his fingers.
“So, um, I know that everything was a mess for a while and that you forgot, but I didn’t.”
Castiel furrowed his brow, a confused scowl on his lips.
“Did I forget something?”
Even in the dim moonlight, Castiel could see the beautiful flush that traveled across Dean’s face. Dean grimaced as he rubbed a hand on the back of his neck, his eyes darting up to meet Cas's before focusing on his tunic. Dean reached out and lightly touched the tunic, and it took a moment for Castiel to realize he was tracing the silver button he’d attached to it.
“I knew that you were missing your flock,” Dean started, voice soft and quiet as he gave Cas a smile, “and I figured that I could do something that would make you feel more at home. You told me before that whenever a harpy did something amazing that’s related to their job, they got to attach a charm to their tunic. It’s an important tradition.”
Castiel nodded slowly, mouth going dry at the sight of a similar ring on Dean’s finger.
“Well uh, I know you didn’t really have a set job in the flock, but I figured, you know, since you got a charm the first time you saved my life with your healing, that you should get a charm for saving my ass again.”
Dean carefully took the ring from Castiel before reaching into the bedside drawer and producing a needle and thread. Castiel sat, overwhelmed with the need to kiss Dean senseless as the man quickly and efficiently sewed the ring into his tunic, right next to his silver button.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen human unions, but generally we exchange rings when we want to…well, stay together forever, I guess. I know this will be the last charm you can ever get, since it’s not like you can heal anymore, and I’m sorry I couldn’t make you something fancier…but I just wanted to show you that, no matter what the Council eventually decides, you’ll always have a home with me.”
Castiel hung his head low, and Dean couldn’t make out his expression. “Oh, and Sam of course,” Dean rambled nervously, twisting the matching ring on his finger. “I mean, this doesn’t have to mean anything more than just a charm if you don’t want it to-“
Dean let out a yelp as Castiel slammed into him, pressing a fierce kiss to his lips before pulling back with lust blown eyes and a gentle smile that contradicted his harsh kisses. “Yes, I’ll marry you, Dean Winchester.”
Dean’s eyes widened in shock and he couldn’t help the answering grin on his lips. He hadn’t wanted to pressure Castiel into anything, but this was more than he could have hoped for.
That night, Dean worshipped every inch of Castiel, pressing kisses to each and every dark feather, just as he’d been doing for the past few weeks, to reassure Castiel that he still found them beautiful and that he cherished every single one.
When they were sated and exhausted, Dean had pressed a kiss to Castiel’s lips that tasted of them and filled with a love that made Castiel tear up, and for the first time since his change, Castiel felt that everything was going to be alright. As long as he had his love by his side, and his family to support him, they would always catch him, no matter how many times he stumbled and fell.