"Where is all the snow coming from?" Sammy pressed his nose against the cold window, gazing out through the fogged-up glass. Dean looked at him from out of the corner of his eyes, not wanting to give his grandpa the impression that he wasn't paying attention to his reading. Dean, in all of his eight-year-old wisdom, knew the answer to Sammy's question. He simply wondered what Mommy would tell him.
"That's all of Frau Holle's doing. She's very busy this winter, isn't she?"
"Who's she?" Sammy asked and Dean had to bite back a snort. His little brother knew nothing, he was just a baby after all. Mommy looked away from her notebook to smile at him.
"She's the one who makes it snow," she said. "She always has, for as long as there's been snow. She shakes out her bed and the feathers that fall out of her blankets and pillows turn to snow." Sammy looked at his mother with wide eyes, then he turned back to the window.
"Snow is fallen feathers," he whispered, awed.
"You paying attention, Dean?" Dean gave a start and guiltily looked up at his grandfather.
"I'm sorry, but I've read the page twice. I think I have the sigils memorized," he promised but grandpa nodded his head towards Mommy and Sammy.
"I mean to the story about Frau Holle."
"I know that already," Dean said, puffing out his chest in pride and his grandfather reached out to ruffle his hair. "But why is it important?"
"Every legend is important to us. It tells you not only what people believe, but also what to look out for when doing research. A Man of Letters always has to pay attention, you understand?"
"Yes, grandpa," Dean promised earnestly and his grandfather smiled down at him. Dean turned the page and started reading. But he couldn't resist looking over his shoulder once again at the window to see the snow piling up.
Dean didn't know where his body took the energy to still shiver. He was exhausted, the fingers clutching his gun to his chest were numb, feeling frozen in place. It hurt, hurt, hurt. He knew that he wasn’t going to die from his wounds, but maybe his attempt to get home would do him in. And wouldn't that just be fantastic? To have survived the front, the final ambush, to drag himself through the stained earth and snow, leaving behind a trail of blood, just to die in a ditch? He'd probably be covered in snow, leaving his body to be preserved for some poor bastard to stumble over him come spring. He just hoped it wasn't a kid.
"Frau Holle's not doing us any favors here," Victor words rang in his ears. It felt like ages ago, but it probably had just been yesterday. Dean didn't remember what he had said in return, too busy dismantling hex bags and letting the runners know how to defend against the curses and hexes flung their way. He just knew that he had spat something biting.
"Just snow, man. Don't you think that if Frau Holle existed, that'd she have mercy?" he remembered Benny saying, reloading his gun.
"Maybe she's a witch," someone else had whispered fearfully and silence fell. And the snow continued.
Maybe she was a witch, Dean thought to himself, trying to burrow deeper into his blankets. Maybe she was out to get Dean for destroying the Grand Coven.
Something touched Dean's shoulder and his eyes snapped open. It burned to move but he didn't want to be eaten by a random monster either. But as his blankets fell away he didn't see a monster staring at him, but an old woman. A shawl was wrapped around her head, white, unruly hair spilling around her face. And she looked old, so old that Dean feared that the weight of his incredulous stare alone would be enough to make her crumble apart.
"Sir, please. A morsel to eat?" she croaked and Dean stared some more, as if she had spoken in a foreign tongue. Her frail hand patted at his shoulder and Dean sprang into action. He bit back a hiss when he moved. He had some rations left. He took one of his two blankets and held it out to the woman. He shivered right away but the woman looked like she'd be blown over by the flurry of snow. He found his tin and gave it a shake. There was still water in it. He handed that to the old woman, then he found wrapped stale bread that hadn't gone totally hard yet and dried apples.
"It's no feast," he said apologetically and the old woman pulled everything into her lap.
"Thank you," the woman whispered, picking up the food with her frail fingers. Her nails were painted a muddy color. Surprising, Dean mused to himself, that the polish wasn't chipped. Dean studied her and wondered where she had come from. A woman as frail as her surely couldn't have walked a lot. Maybe she had been displaced during the war, lots of civilians had to be evacuated.
"Is there a village close by?" Dean asked and the woman put another slice of apple into her thin mouth. Dean didn't even know if she still had teeth.
"On the other side of the field and behind the woods. Not far," the old woman told him, her voice hard to hear over the wind. Dean watched her and wondered if he could scratch together enough energy to go there. He couldn't run off though and leave this woman all alone. "You're a soldier?"
"Not anymore. The war is over. I'm just trying to get home. My family must think I'm dead," he answered and let his head fall forwards, exposing his neck to the cold. He was tired. He wondered if he'd ever see his family again. He was so far away from home. The woman looked at him, her face thrown into shadows by her shawl.
"They're waiting for you?" the woman said. "Your family? You love them?" Dean was a bit surprised by the question, but he felt drowsy, the wound in his side and the scratches in his arms pounding with his heart beat. He found it hard to think.
"Yeah… Yeah," he said and felt his eyes sting. "I just wanna go home," he said with a shaky voice. His vision was filled with snow. It was better than what he'd seen on the battlefield, but he felt like the snow was piling around him, ready to put him to sleep, wrap around him. A cushion of snow, a blanket of snow.
"The snow is feathers," he muttered to himself, sorrow spreading in his hurting chest.
Dean woke with a gasp, pain shooting down into his lungs with the sudden gulp of cold air. He coughed into his arm, then he squeezed his eyes together, trying to get his breathing back under control. When he moved, powdery snow fluttered down his shoulder and hat. He slowly opened his eyes, just to close them again when he was blinded by bright light. He tried again, carefully, until he was blinking into a crisp, sunny morning. He was still lying in a ditch by the side of the road, he was still hurting and cold, but he was alive. It wasn't snowing anymore and it felt warmer without clouds blocking the sun. Dean closed his eyes, feeling the winter sun on his cheeks. For just a moment he allowed himself to breathe and be. Not worrying about the next ambush, about his men, about all the horrible ways to die when hell itself had spat out your enemies.
Only slowly the memory of the old woman came back to him. He looked around, dreading to find her frozen to death, but she wasn't here anymore. The blanket she had used was wrapped around Dean. She must have gone on. Good. Dean sighed in relief.
He turned his head to look over the field. The village wasn't far away. With a pained groan he rose to his feet, everything aching in protest. A clinking noise made him look down to his feet. Two small items had fallen out of the folds of the blanket and were now lying on Dean's bag. He bent down to lift them.
Dean started at the coins in his palm with surprise. He straightened and looked around. Had the old woman left this for him? Dean was sure that she needed it much more than him. There was no way to figure out which way she had gone, her tracks long covered in snow. Dean wrapped his stiff fingers around the coins.
"Thank you," he said to the sky.
It wasn't going to snow today. Maybe Dean would even make it home.
Dean got out of the theatre, a pleased smirk on his face. It was kind of grim to be amused about the weak stomachs of his class mates, losing their lunch over some werewolf guts. Gwen Campbell had met his eye, winking at him, right before she pulled out the dead werewolves' teeth to show to the class. Dean was glad that he wasn't the one who had to clean up the theatre today. It wasn't like he begrudged them the fact that they had never seen monster blood before. Most of them had been far too young to be part of the war or to be even considered for the draft when things got really bad. Those bright-eyed kids were future Men and Women of Letters; researchers, rune specialists, spell masters. That Dean was stuck in the same class as them, a couple of years older and having seen much more, was just a fact of war. War didn't let you finish your education, not even if you were the offspring of the Winchester and Campbell clans. Maybe especially not if you were the offspring of the Winchester and Campbell clans.
Dean's pleased smirk was wiped off his face the moment he stepped out into the open, a cold harsh wind blowing snowflakes into his face.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Dean grumbled and fastened his cape and wrapped his scarf around his face. He was supposed to still log in some hours at the library, researching for his final case, but he didn't feel like freezing his ass off. He made his way through the street. The snow was luckily just some light powder, that made the streets and buildings of Cambpell look very quaint. A Christmas dream, if it wasn't the end of April already. He stomped through the streets, aiming for his house. He lived in one of the smaller side-streets where the high but narrow houses crowded each other. He stepped through the front door. The mail wasn't lying on the doormat anymore, but was stacked neatly in the little shelf next to the door, so Sam must already be back.
"Sammy?" he called into the dark house, pulling off his coat, then he sifted through the letters. Nothing that couldn't wait until later. He ambled into the kitchen. The room was blessedly warm and surprisingly fragrant. Sam didn't have anything cooking on the stove but a kettle for tea. So… Dean spotted the box with the familiar and well-loved crest of Singer's Bakery on it. He had the lid open to reveal a pie, still warm. He laughed in delight.
"Hey, you're early!" Dean looked over his shoulder, seeing his younger brother come into the kitchen. He had rings under his eyes. Another all-nighter at the library then. No wonder he was already here. "I got you some pie. Thought we could both use the energy and a break from our projects." Sam pulled his long hair back into a ponytail, then he folded his thin, long limbs onto the chair, grinning up at Dean. Dean eyed him for a moment, but the grin remained and then the kettle whistled.
"Fine, I'll serve, you lazy bastard," Dean grumbled and then he got the plates and cups from the cabinets.
"There might not be any pie for a while though," Sam said and it was a good idea to do it when Dean was already sitting.
"What, why?" Dean demanded and Sam lifted his shoulders, then he pointed his fork towards the window. Dean followed the fork and saw that it was snowing more. Fat, fluffy flakes raining down from the sky. If they were lucky it would stop again and melt. But Dean was starting to find the snow a bit freaky.
"The snow's been making it hard for anything to grow," Sam explained and took a sip of his tea. "I overhead grandpa Henry tell grandpa Samuel that he fears that if this continues we might get into trouble. The snow's piling up. The train is still not running regularly."
"Aren't you worried at all?" Sam asked. "It's almost May and we're still getting snowed it. Don't you think this is kinda…" Sam lifted his hands, struggling to find words. "Not natural?" Dean huffed a laugh at that and saw Sam's face change into a frown. "Come on Dean. Part of our family hunts monsters for a living. Surely that can't be such a ridiculous suggestion!" Still chewing his current bite of pie, Dean lifted his finger and wagged it.
"I don't. I'm just a pencil pusher." Sam groaned in exasperation and Dean studied him. After a moment he sighed and put down his fork. "What do you want me to say or do, Sam? Don't you think the council would have done something if it thought the weather was of supernatural origin?" His younger brother lowered his eyes at that, then he looked back to the window.
"I don't know... It's just… odd," he said, then he turned back to look at Dean, a small, slightly forced smile on his face. "I guess I just wish Frau Holle would stop cleaning upstairs, you know?" Dean shook his head, laughing quietly.
"She's worse than you when you get bit by the cleaning bug," Sam teased lightly and then turned his attention back to the pie on his plate. Dean grumbled at that.
"You know, some say she's a witch," Dean said, because he disliked the silence between them. Usually, Dean and Sam were content to just sit by each other without talking, but something heavy had settled between them. It was like a weight was sitting on Sam's chest and it wasn't the usual worrying about his grades at law school. It was like the continued winter was smothering him.
People were getting restless as the snow continued and all of the fresh hope of spring was constantly buried under new snow. Dean hadn't really worried much, considering the snow nothing more than an inconvenience and now a nuisance if it meant that Karen wouldn't be able to make pie anymore. Maybe he should be more worried, because the lack of a proper spring could have very dire consequences for the people and the town as well.
But Dean just… He couldn't really bring himself to be so worried. The snow kept falling and he remained calm. As he watched his younger brother eat, his skin still pale from winter, he wondered if maybe something was wrong with himself. If maybe he had come back from the war broken or cursed and not just because he got in the way of the wrong hex and had to draw one too many sigils in his own blood. He knew that he wasn't… right. Just like all the soldiers that had survived weren't quite right. But beyond that? Dean didn't know.
"I've got to hit the library," Dean said and Sam gave a start, almost as if his mind had been miles away and only now snapped back into that genius brain of his.
"Do you have to work on your case?"
"First I have to figure out if there is a case," Dean said and Sam studied him for a moment, but then a small, genuine smile broke out on his lips.
"You'll look into the snow?"
"Yeah," Dean said with a sigh, "but no promises." He rose from the chair, then he pointed at all the things on their table. "You're gonna clean up in here." Sam wanted to protest, but Dean dashed out of the kitchen, grabbing his coat off the hook and his bag off the floor.
He stepped out into the street again, feeling the air on his face. It wasn't all that cold now, but still the snow continued to fall in big flakes. It really did look like Frau Holle was shaking out her pillows.
"Well… I suppose that's one lead," he muttered to himself, then he made his way to the library.
Dean felt ridiculous.
There was no way around it. He felt utterly ridiculous when he stood before the council to present his case.
"Winchester, Dean," Chuck called, his voice halting and insecure as ever as if he wasn't sure that it was really Dean's name on the piece of paper before him. "You are here to submit a case to the council. Are you hunting or researching?" Dean took a deep breath. He looked at the council, made up of one of Man of Letters and one hunter. His father caught his eye and he lowered his eyebrows at Dean's hesitation. Dean felt like he could see his father's worry rise with every moment that Dean didn't answer.
"I have prepared a hunt."
"Dean," his father said, but Bobby, who was sitting in as the professor from the hunters' side, held out his hand, touching his fingers to John's chest to stop him from raising out of the chair.
"Let the boy speak. There must be a reason for this," Bobby said into the room and John leant back in his chair. Dean didn't quite want to meet his eyes so he looked towards Chuck. Chuck looked at him for a moment, but then he seemed to remember that he was supposed to rattle down his script.
"Then you may present your case to Professor Singer. He will then decide if you will be allowed to investigate the case further as your final exam."
"Thank you… Uh…," Dean pulled out the portfolio which he had spent the last two weeks assembling. He hesitated, because in his bag was the other portfolio. The one he had spent months preparing and that should have made him part of the Men of Letters. He swallowed but then he put his new case on the table before him.
"I have to start by saying that I actually do want to become a Man of Letters, maybe in the future, but there was a current matter that I felt needed to be investigated," he said and then he lifted his head. God, he must have been blushing because what he had to say now sounded so ridiculous.
"I request permission to hunt Frau Holle." Dean didn't know if he had expected peals of laughter to start the second he said it. He had dreaded it but somehow the dead silence was much worse. Maybe he could pretend this was a joke and get his other portfolio out. Come on, Dean. You're not a coward. He looked up and met the eyes of the men before him. He was determined. Somewhat.
"Frau Holle, boy?" Bobby asked and Dean had never been able to read him.
"Yes, sir," Dean said. "It is now May and the snow continues on."
"Frau Holle is just a story," Bobby said and Dean was prepared for that. He knew that everyone who wanted to hunt something a bit more extravagant than a vampire or a werewolf had to convince the professors, no matter what. "And the weather is just weather."
"Snow in May is hardly regular weather," Dean argued, "and no. There is a long tradition of tales about Frau Holle. I will submit you my reading and research portfolio on her with the rest of my case."
"You sure you don't just want to submit your research on Frau Holle to me?" John asked and Dean was tempted.
"Unfortunately, I can't do that," Dean said regretfully, then he remembered where he was and added a "sir". John shook his head but Dean didn't know what he was thinking either.
"The tale of Frau Holle tells us about a young woman who is forced by her stepmother to climb into a well to retrieve a spindle. The girl crosses into the realm of Frau Holle, where she completes tasks to prove that she has a kind heart. Then she becomes Frau Holle's servant until she wants to return to earth. Frau Holle, pleased by her good work rewards her kindly. Whereas she punishes the girl's lazy stepsister when the step mother sends her into the well out of greed." Bobby nodded along. Everyone knew that story of course.
"This has the elements of how usual exchanges between fairy creatures and humans go. Of course, I did some further research to determine what I'm working with and all accounts point to her either being a powerful fairy or a pagan goddess."
"And why, by all heavens, do you want to hunt Frau Holle?" Bobby asked and Dean lifted his arms.
"To make it stop snowing? It's not the weather, Bobby. I've asked for meteorological records going back decades and observed the weather pattern myself in the last two weeks. It is far too warm for it to snow and for the snow to set and not melt right away. And the snow fall has a regularity to it. A pattern. It snows only in the evening, for about an hour, then it stops again. Then it returns shortly after sunrise for half an hour. Every day without fault, apart from Thursdays. On Thursdays, it only snows in the morning and then only again 24 hours later. Almost as if Frau Holle decided to rest." Now that got the attention of the council.
"Show me the records," Bobby said and waved his hand. Dean grabbed the sheets as well as his notebook and then stepped up to his father and Bobby. He let them study the records quietly.
"Did you find similar moments in older records?" John asked and Dean nodded.
"The weather data doesn't really go back far, but I've asked the meteorologist if they knew of history records that might imply something like it. And they found some records. But not too many, so I thought about other cases that could imply that Frau Holle is acting up and then I found records of no snow at all. Like Frau Holle decided to just disappear. It happens about every 100 years that there's either no winter at all for a while or too much of winter. As if she takes a holiday every 100 years…" Dean explained.
Bobby and John looked at each other over the notes, then John finally gave a nod.
"Okay, that sounds interesting. Go on. What would you do if you were to go on this case?" Bobby asked.
"Frau Holle's realm has to be accessed through a portal. A locking spell invoking Frau Holle's name and domain should make sure that I reach the right dimension. I don't think Frau Holle has to be killed, if she's even here, but I know what to pack in case I do."
"And your aim?"
"End winter," Dean said. Bobby nodded and that was that. He had the case.
For all his controlled silence throughout the hearing, John was far more rattled than Dean would have expected. John had asked him to accompany him to his house and Dean felt like "Sam's waiting with dinner" was probably a weak excuse to to try and get out of this confrontation. John was pacing his study, the coffee on the table next to Dean going cold. The silence was really starting to get to Dean.
"Dad, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go behind your back. You know I love sigil work and I really want to complete my research on the key of-"
"That's not what I'm upset about, Dean," John cut him off and Dean stopped in his tracks and watched his father. John combed his hand through his hair, heaving an agitated sigh. After a while he turned towards Dean. "You were at war. At the front."
"And you spent almost two years trying to recover from that. Dean, two years." Dean felt his face heat up in shame and he clenched his fists at his side. He stared at his feet, trying to will away the lump in his throat that made it hard for him to breathe properly. He heard John sigh again and looked up, finding his father studying him over the top of his glasses.
"It's not that I don't think you can do this. I know you can. But I don't think you'd want to go out in the field and confront monsters again." No, Dean definitely didn't want that and John could see it in Dean's expression even though he couldn't get his mouth to work. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because it's the right thing, Dad," Dean finally said. "It's the right thing and you know it. This long winter is wearing everyone thin. Have you seen Sam? How miserable he always looks? I mean, just look at yourself! You're- we're all tired of this winter." John lifted his eyebrow but didn't say anything. "Besides, the town is starting to struggle."
"I know, son… But wouldn't you rather let Bobby arrange for some experienced hunters to look into this?" John asked and a part of Dean wanted it. Just submit his research to John or swap it for his second portfolio that he had hidden away in the trunk by his bed. But Dean still felt oddly restless and not like himself. Now that he had paid attention he saw how this endless snow affected everyone. And him? He felt nothing. The cold wasn't as sharp, the lack of sun not as dreary. He felt… cushioned somehow. He was still going about his daily life as he always did, but he felt drowsy. It was a drowsiness that settled over him but only was chased away when the cold wind blew snow into his face. He now looked past his father, out of the windows that showed towards the road leading out of their town.
"I… Dad, I don't know why, but I have to do this… I'm just not feeling right and I think that if I go investigate I might improve?"
"Dean… Maybe the not feeling right means that you should see Pamela again, not that you should go out to put yourself in danger," John said and put a hand on Dean's shoulder. Dean didn't shrug him off, even though he felt something… shift inside of his chest. Almost like anger. He knew he wasn't angry, why would he be? His father was probably right. But still resistance rose inside of him. He turned around and part of his irritation melted away at the worried look on his father's face. Dean took a deep breath and then sat down on the window sill.
"I'm not planning to put myself in danger. I don't intend on fighting Frau Holle or any other creatures. I'll be heavily protected with charms. You know the tales. The most dangerous thing that awaits me in Frau Holle's realm is talking bread." Dean argued and he tried to aim for some levity but his father still frowned. Dean shrugged helplessly. "Dad. It's field work for university. Bobby wouldn't have accepted if he thought it too dangerous to complete." John looked at his son and Dean wasn't sure what exactly he was going to do if his father refused. But in the end John heaved a sigh. He sunk into his armchair and waved his hand.
"Thanks, dad," Dean told him with a smile. "I promise I won't disappoint you." John looked at him over the rim of his glasses, his expression bordering on reproachful.
"Just make sure you come back unharmed," he insisted and Dean was at a loss for words and unsure what to make of this. But he supposed that it was a demand like any other, and that was easier to compartmentalize than his father's emotions.
"Yes, sir," he agreed and waited for a moment. But John was sitting quietly, one hand to his mouth, staring pensively at the empty armchair next to him. Dean decided to silently take his leave.
He could breathe a bit freer once he was out in the open again. It was almost time for the snow to fall again, but he didn't want to linger for too long. His family's townhouse was close to the city center, so he had quite a bit to walk to the old part of town, where his own house was located. He didn't really feel it in himself to enjoy it, his brisk pace carrying him past people who looked up at the skies with a sense of dread. When he passed the Singer's bakery, he saw a new sigil above the door, the paint still gleaming wetly in the faint sun. He wondered if Bobby would inform the city council of Dean's suspicion and if the council would in turn tell the people of Campbell about it. Probably not. Grandpa Campbell didn't like the fuss, claiming that civilians always were susceptible to unnecessary hysteria. But the lack of transparency had cost them dearly during the rise of the Grand Coven, so maybe he'd be more careful this time.
Dean slipped into his house, spotting Sam's shoes next to the door. Dean quickly divested himself of his winter clothes and then he hurried upstairs, avoiding the creaking steps. Sam was worse than a blood hound though, because Dean couldn't even make it up the stairs before he saw his brother poke his head out of his bedroom door.
"How was the hearing? Did they approve of the case?" Dean groaned, stomping up the last steps and then dropping his bag on the floor. Sam approached him with a small smile tugging at his lips. "Did Professor Baum laugh at you?"
"I was lucky enough to get Bobby and Dad on the council," Dean said and Sam's faint smile dropped off his face. "Yeah."
"Well, you would have had to tell Dad eventually. I know he doesn't think highly of hunting but surely he didn't give you the "son, I'm disappointed in you, you're wasting your potential" spiel in front of Bobby… Did he?" Dean sighed and shrugged. He bent down to grab a hold of the strap of his bag, then he walked down the corridor to his room. Sam followed of course, so there went his chance to face plant into his bed and ignore the world for an hour or two. Dean put his bag away.
"I need a cup of coffee for this."
"Yeah, sure," Sam answered promptly and then dashed out of his room and down the stairs. Dean rolled his eyes at how loud Sam could be. Dean looked around his room, the tidy and comfortable bed, the trunk, the table with his notebooks open for late night thoughts that couldn't wait until he got to his study. There were sigils on the window frames and the threshold. He looked at the picture of his mother on the desk.
He had no idea what his mother would think of this. Would she be proud? Would she be as unsettled as his father? And what would she say to him if he tore through those hazy childhood memories full of fairy tales by hunting Frau Holle?
As Dean and Sam grew up, Mary would tend to follow up fairy tales with hunting tales, much to their father's displeasure, so John had taken over story time to tell them about sad beasts living in rose gardens and princesses in glass coffins. Monsters had been real to Mary in a way they never had to John, in ways that had not been real for Dean and Sam either, despite growing up in a town full of stories, of weapons and sigils to defend, with the best academy to train future hunters and men of letters.
Monsters had been Frau Holle making it snow and rain being angel tears. Until the Great Coven had risen.
Dean got his mopey ass moving once Sam was calling from downstairs. Dean looked a bit more composed once he made it to the kitchen. Sam handed him a cup of coffee and then he looked at him expectantly.
"Bobby agreed to the hunt after I made my case. Even dad thinks there's something going on," Dean said and Sam hummed as if he had expected it. Sam had no idea how many master level cases were rejected and there had been a very real chance that Dean would have been refused. Professors generally got bored by fairy tale inspired hunts. Well, the hunting professors did. Men of Letters professors were much easier to win over.
"Was dad angry? That you decided to hunt?" Sam wanted to know. Dean shook his head.
"Not really… but he is worried. He thinks that going back out in the field means I'll be in danger," Dean admitted and Sam lifted his eyebrow.
"It's just a case, isn't it? You don't have to actually hunt any monsters or creatures. It's not war out there anymore," Sam argued. Dean couldn't do much more than shrug. He didn't want to tell Sam how Dad thought Dean should go see a shrink again. Of course, he could downplay it like he always did. Pretend, that he only saw Pamela because the city made every soldier who was at the front do it. Sammy hadn't questioned it much. There had been other things to worry about back then.
"No. But it was kinda weird. I know dad worries. Hunting was always abstract for him, something that happens in libraries and by connecting information. He didn't even really get it when I got drafted." Dean wrapped his hands around the coffee mug and huffed a laugh. "Man, do you remember him when they packed us into the train to be sent to training? Dad, going out to Lawrence to decipher grimoires and me off to the front to detect and unravel spell work? He thought those were the same things."
"Don't worry, Mary, he'll make us both proud," Sam repeated the words his father had said to their Mom. Of course, Mom hadn't received any information about where exactly they'd be sending Dean. "I remember thinking what a weird thing to say instead of don't worry," Sam continued. "But everyone said it. The boy will make us proud. And then the notices that began with "We regret to inform you" started coming in." Sam shook his head. "It kinda feels like it did then." Dean looked up from his coffee.
"Hm?" Sam shrugged and inclined his head to the window.
"The snow? The way people have come to look up at the sky, expecting the worst, was pretty much how mom looked at the mail men, dreading to get one of those notes," Sam explained.
"Do you feel like that too?" Dean wondered and Sam heaved a sigh, shrugging almost helplessly.
"I don't know? Maybe?" he said. "Less now that I know that you're going to look into it. It's like…" Sam lifted his hands. "Like it's going to end now? You're going to bring winter to its end."
"You don't know that."
"You're gonna try," Sam insisted. "I'm sure you're going to figure out what is happening." Dean huffed and drank a sip of his coffee.
"Yeah," he said. He was certainly going to try. "But don't whine to me if I end up shooting Frau Holle down from the clouds." That made Sam pull a sour face.
"You don't kill Frau Holle!"
"Hey, you want the snow to end. Monster, gun, problem solved!" Dean said and made a gun clicking motion with his fingers, mimicking the sound with a cheeky grin. Sam rolled his eyes at him. "That's how hunters do it, right?" Sam had to laugh.
"Yeah, I suppose that's how hunters do it."
Inventory check with Chuck was… tiresome. The guy looked like he had spent the last night draining his alcohol reservoirs and not sleeping one wink. Though, all the time Dean knew the guy, he had always looked that way, even when he'd been on the train to war with Dean.
"Sorry, couldn't find the thing I was looking for," Chuck said.
"Lamb's blood. For the stake?" Dean told him and Chuck yawned his assent. "Come on, dude. I'm sure there's lamb's blood in there."
"Sorry, Dean," Chuck said, not apologetic at all. Clearly, he wanted to be elsewhere. Dean wished he could have done the inventory check with Gwen instead, or Dorothy.
"It's alright. I'm gonna get some on the road," he said and got his backpack. "Everything else in here?" Chuck gave the note Dean had submitted a cursory glance, then he nodded.
"Yep. You're ready to go," he agreed and Dean sent a silent prayer of thanks up. "You've got the witch killing bullets too? I thought you'd be going for Frau Holle?"
"Yeah, but who knows what she is," Dean said, putting on his coat and the backpack. He would have to leave right away, so that nobody else could meddle with his backpack and ingredients. The list of supplies was part of his grade after all. Considering there had been no corrections by Bobby he assumed that he didn't forget any life-saving things. He could get anything else on the road, but he only had limited money at his disposal and would have to buy everything extra with money from university. That would also hurt his grade obviously. It was somewhat ridiculous to be subjected to this after he had braved life and death situations during war.
"Good luck," Chuck said, giving Dean a small smile, then Dean was free to go.
Bobby met him at the train station, looking as gruff as always and not wearing his professor robes. Dean had said his good-byes to his father before and he had also survived through some teary words from Sam. He was just ready to be gone now. The sky looked stormy, but not horrible. It shouldn't start to snow until evening, if the pattern held.
"Yeah," Dean said when he climbed onto the platform. The train was already there, blowing steam into the cold air. "Any words of warning or wisdom?"
"If anything unexpected happens that puts you in danger, you abandon the case. No use surviving the war, just to have university put you into an early grave," Bobby insisted, then he clapped his hand on Dean's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "You hear me?"
"Yeah Bobby, I hear you," Dean agreed. "I don't plan to put myself in danger. I'm a glorified librarian, not a real hunter," he said.
"I don't think that, boy. What do you think I do all day in my study? Eat pie?"
"I would if I were professor," Dean told him with a grin and got a flat look from Bobby.
"All I'm saying is that in this profession you need both. Brains and brawns. And I know that you've got both. I know that what you're going to bring back will be valuable. Wisdom, not the severed head of Frau Holle."
"God, I hope so. I think everyone would be pissed if I killed off a fairy tale creature," Dean said with a laugh. He gave a start when he heard the loud, shrill whistle of the conductor. "Time to go!"
"Yeah. Every hunter wants to kill one of those, sure they're gonna be pissed if you take one off the list," Bobby said, then he did the unexpected and pulled Dean into a short but firm hug.
"Take care of yourself," he said and Dean looked at him, feeling a bit stunned, but he quickly recovered. He gave a nod and then he hurried to the conductor, who was already tapping his foot.
The door closed after Dean and he took his seat in an empty compartment, feeling like the only person in the world as the train pulled out of the station. Slowly, the city dropped away into the early summer landscape, covered by a layer of snow. Dean couldn't help but think that the world was bedding down to go to sleep. Like Snow White in her glass coffin, or the realm of Sleeping Beauty. Waiting a hundred years of winter until finally, the snow would lift.
Dean leant back in his first-class seat, the bag next to him and his hat on his lap. He closed his eyes.
The landscape rolled past him, the blur of white that was Campbell, falling behind. The rails followed the valley, its main river swollen and murky with the mixed weight of the melt water and summer storms. For the first three hours he did nothing but watch the towns in the valley, lying dark and still in the shadows of Frau Holle's ominous clouds. The white canopy of snow bringing clouds stretched all over the valley, but broke open after morning passed.
He had to change trains at Mills and when he stepped out his knees almost buckled at the scent of summer hitting him. It wasn't hot, but he still started to sweat under his coat. He blinked into the sun, bright rays shining through gaps in the thick clouds. Even though Dean knew that Frau Holle's powers were limited and and somewhere there would be an end to the eternal summer, it still surprised him to find Mills standing on the brink. This little sleepy town, with its tiny train platform wasn't much to look at. But it was here where he had to change tracks, to take him deeper into the rural part of the country. Dean put down his rucksack, pulling off his gloves and hat, then he strolled to the small station house. There weren't many trains taking him further in, especially not after the war. He checked the weather worn and faded train schedule, some of the connections crossed out by hand. Dean had of course memorized his itinerary, but with the weather and magic you never quite knew what you'd be getting after all.
Campbell Gate Station to Mills Station, change trains, and all the way to Queens Fall. Dean saw the station listed far down. It was the last station before the lands of demons started. Dean was intent to stay clear of any demons and never cross over, but Dean needed to get as close to supernatural infused lands as he could, because those were the best chances to find a portal that led to Frau Holle. Dean checked his watch. Ten more minutes until the train should come. He looked down the tracks that led north, grass and flowers growing between them.
Maybe this was all a stupid mission after all, but inexplicably a silent but persistent hope had slipped into the numbness that Dean felt so often. As the wind blew towards him, ruffling his hair and clothes, standing in a ray of sun and looking out over the pale green valley hit by columns of light, a sense of longing and excitement took a hold of Dean.
Was this how hunters felt? When they had a case to solve, people to save? This firm longing expanding in their chest to chase after… something?
Something out there waiting for Dean, something that called out to him now. His mother had called hunting a vocation and if it called you, you should follow. Of course, Dean could hear the teasing voice of his father in his ears.
"If it's not just sirens calling. I feel you hunters don't realize that what you call vocation might just be a monster trying to lure you into being their next victim." His dad was of course right about this, even though as a child Dean hadn't really understood. He knew that if sirens called for him he should cover his ears and that if a fairy offered him something, he should say no. The supernatural had ways to be persuasive and Dean had been filled with terror and not wonder, when thinking about fairy tales. Strangely enough, until now, Frau Holle had always been a tale that Dean had loved to hear. A creature that made the weather, rewarded good girls and punished the greedy but without causing the kind of harms that a trickster god would do? Much better than witches eating children.
God, Dean was glad that most of the Grand Coven was dead now, limiting the damage they could do to the nightmares of children. Setting fire to Katja had been one of Dean's greatest delights.
Dean sat down on the dry floor, feeling the cold of the stones seeping into his butt right away. He pulled his notebook out of his coat, to take note of his progress, his inventory, purely to pass the time.
At Queens Fall he'd have to go deep into the countryside. He had found records of a likely fountain that would work as a portal to Frau Holle's realm. If it didn't he had some back up plans, but crossing over seemed easy enough. Maybe he could have used any old fountain if he just had the right ingredients, but Dean wanted to be sure to conduct the ritual at a place where the barrier between the human world and the supernatural plane was thin. Or basically full of holes, where anything could ambush him out in the wilderness. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Dean looked into his bag, making sure he still had all his weapons to fend against the most common (and some uncommon) creatures. Sure, he had no blessed stake against a pagan god, but he didn't really think that he'd have to kill Frau Holle. If she even was a pagan God. Dean's fingers brushed something small and cool tucked into a folded leather cloth. He frowned and pulled it out. The cloth was supposed to hold some coins made out of different materials to pay in case there was a toll to cross over into Frau Holle's realm. But what he found instead was an ugly looking brass pendant. It looked to be like the head of some horned, weird faced creature. Dean held it up by its black leather string.
"Damn it, Chuck…!" Dean grumbled, then he stuffed it into his pant pocket to check if he had other coins he could use as toll fare. If his research was right, then he would have to pay access to Frau Holle's realm with some drops of blood, which – while uncomfortable – was at least something that was easy to get. Dean closed his purse again, then he threw the empty leather cloth back into his bag.
He heard the tell-tale sound of an arriving train. He could see the steam coming from around the bend of the valley. He quickly closed his bag and got up on his feet. The train came into view and Dean lifted his eyebrow in a mix of surprise and doubt. Finally, the train drove into the station and the driver came out of the head of the train, stepping out onto the platform and stretching.
"Hey there!" he said, all smiles. He was a thin, long guy, his uniform looking too big on him and Dean was sure that the garish green jacket with the brown tassels weren't standard train company issue. "I'm Garth, I'll be your…" The guy looked around at the empty station, making Dean cast a glance around too even though he knew the station was empty. "Private driver today!" Garth winked at him and waved his finger around. "Lucky you!" he went to grab Dean's bag before Dean could say anything, then he carried it to the single passenger carriage attached. Garth opened the door and climbed up the steps, depositing the bag inside. Then he came back down and grinned at Dean.
"What's your name?"
"Dean," Dean said and even though he was still firmly on human dominated soil, he didn't think it too wise to hand out his full name to some stranger who made the daily trip to more magic infused lands. Garth however seemed to brighten even more, his friendly face never wavering.
"And where are we headed, Dean?" Garth asked. Dean looked at him in confusion. Somehow Garth made it sound like the train would travel wherever Dean wanted it to instead of following the train tracks and the stations dotting them.
"Queens Fall," Dean finally said and then Garth produced a ticket machine.
"Long journey, my friend! Are you visiting family? A lover?"
"Err, no," Dean said, a bit disquieted by the nosy questioning. He'd much prefer to just get a ticket and go. "I'm a student, so I'm doing research."
"Right, right," Garth said as if he had received all the answers to all of his questions. He got out the ticked and handed it to Dean. "Here you go. The ticket to Queens Fall, with student discount is 6.90."
"Thanks," Dean said and pulled out his coins. He would have to make sure to save some different material coins in case he did have pay.
"Some small change maybe? I don't like silver too much," Garth said and rattled his ticket machine, making the coins clink together. "Hard to change." For a line that got as little business, he sure had a lot of coins in there.
"Uhm, sure," Dean said and dropped a couple of smaller coins into Garth's waiting palm.
"Thanks, Dean! Now get comfy back there. We've got a long journey ahead of us!" Garth climbed back into the train, sending Dean a grin. "Queens Fall, what a trip," he said to himself, with a smile. Dean wasn't sure what to make of it, so he decided the best course of action was to just get to his seat. He climbed into the carriage, finding it to be very small, with just four benches. The line certainly didn't get a lot of traffic. Dean settled down on the bench, finding it somewhat comfortable. The moment he was sitting the train started moving, making the small loop around the station house and then it was on its journey back to the outer edge of human civilization.
It was dark by the time the train pulled into Queens Fall. There had been many miniscule train stops along the way, but Garth happily passed them by without slowing. First there had been stations, similar to the one at Mills, but then things got smaller. Platforms with a hut, then just a single raised platform, to nothing but a faint burning light next to the track. Night descended at the same time life as Dean knew it fell away.
The world had a quiet air about it, hushed almost, but heavy. Here, too, snowflakes fell at night, making the landscape look asleep.
Dean was almost surprised when he stepped out onto a platform, with a small station house behind it. It was made of pale bricks, with square windows and a pretty green copper roof. It looked similar to the small station houses around Campbell. It held a somewhat dated charm and as Dean looked at it he felt like he had stepped through a portal, into some other time. Dean knew that time travelling did happen but then Garth spoke up next to him and Dean snapped out of his thoughts.
"So, Dean! You made it!" Garth said and then he grinned at Dean with a fond expression. "Aw, come here!" Dean almost bolted when Garth wrapped his arms around Dean, giving him a tight squeeze and patting his shoulder. "You'll find what you're looking for!" Dean stared at him, still flabbergasted. Garth lifted his hat off his head in a small sign of respect, then he dropped it back down and climbed into the train. "Thank you for your hard work!" The train's loud thrill sounded and then it drove on into the darkness. Dean assumed the train would go into a depot overnight, but he had a feeling that it might just disappear into the night altogether.
Now, Dean was alone. He looked around him, unsure where to go next. Opposite the stationhouse was nothing but darkness, open fields and a forest covered hill blocking the view of the horizon. Behind him was the station house, lit up with flickering lamp light, looking sort of inviting. Dean didn't exactly want to spend the night here, but maybe the stationmaster would be able to tell him of any inns. Unwilling to stay out in the chilly night air, with the snow still falling faintly around him, he grabbed his bag and pushed his way inside.
The station was nothing but a single room, tiled floor and an arched, copper roof. The glowing light that he had seen from outside was a lamp that stood in one of the windows. There were timetables on the wall, but other than the title proclaiming the sheets to be timetables they were completely blank. Stained with age, somewhat ripped and curling around the edges, but blank.
"They only show the time for those who are here to catch a train to somewhere," a voice spoke up and Dean gave a start. He hadn't noticed that he had company. He looked towards a bench that was facing away from him, spotting a dark mop of hair. The person turned around and he found it to be a woman. When Dean continued to stare she cocked an eyebrow and sent him a smile that made Dean's insides run cold. He didn't know why, but his hands went to his belt instinctively. There was a demon killing knife there. The woman, probably no older than Dean himself, saw the movement but she remained totally calm. "Relax, handsome!"
"Sorry, I didn't see you there," Dean called, his voice echoing strangely in the room, even though the woman's voice hadn't.
"It always takes two looks before you see someone properly," the woman said enigmatically, then she rose from the seat. She was short, her dark hair falling in waves over her shoulder. Her clothes were of a similar fashion the younger women wore at home; her legs clad in pants, the top buttons of her blouse opened and a dark jacket around her shoulders that only reached her waist. A dark woolen coat was laid across the backrest of the bench and a small bag rested at her feet. Even though she looked normal, there was something in her dark brown eyes that seemed otherworldly.
"Christo," he said instead of greeting her and saw her eyes flash black at the simple revealing spell.
"Don't tell me you're surprised to see a demon in Queens Fall," the woman mocked, never losing her grin. "Because if you did, then I have a surprise for you, handsome."
"No, no. It's just been a while I last dealt with…" Dean made a vague gesture towards her. "Demons."
"Some black-eyed war buddies? You do look like the soldier type. Even though some of the rough edges seemed to have mellowed out," she said, stepping close to him. She didn't smell of sulfur, but still of something sharp. It wasn't exactly unpleasant but Dean had somehow not planned on meeting any demons, so he was still unsettled.
"Something like that," was all Dean said and the woman smirked. She took a step closer and held out her hand to him.
"I'm Meg," she said and Dean hesitated before shaking her hand.
"Dean." Meg let go of his hand and then put her fists into her jacket's pockets.
"So, Dean. What brings you here?" When Dean only shot her a dark look, Meg laughed. "Come on! We've got some hours to spend. Surely you don't want to navigate Queens Fall in the dark?" Dean had to concede that she had a point.
"Are you waiting for a train?" Dean wondered and looked towards the blank time tables again. He wondered if Meg saw something else than he did.
"Not really. I'm waiting for someone," she said and looked out of the window, where the snow had stopped falling. "I don't think they'll be coming today." Meg's expression hadn’t changed much, but somehow he felt that Meg was tired, maybe even a bit sad? As if she'd been waiting for a long time. She looked up at Dean. "And? What about you?"
"Do we have to chat here? I'd like to catch some sleep before I continue. Is there an inn?"
"Something like it," Meg said and then she picked up her bag. "Well! I have nothing better to do, let's go have a drink." Meg walked to another door, not the one they had gotten in from and Dean hesitated before he followed her. Outside was a paved path, with hedges growing on both sides, some twigs meeting in uneven arches over Dean's head. He could see some stars glimmering in the sky, but they were quickly swallowed by the fast-moving clouds. When he looked back over his shoulder he saw a green door, the paint a bit peeling and a sign attached to it that read "Station". He felt almost like if he turned away and looked again, that the words would have been fading.
Dean wondered if he had already unwittingly crossed a portal, or if maybe this sort of travelling magic was simply a result of the different realms brushing against each other. He didn't worry too much at this point. Maybe he should, but he felt calm as he followed Meg. The woman brushed her fingertips against the bushes at both sides, the leaves rustling lightly.
"Where are you from, anyway?"
"Campbell," Dean answered after a moment. He followed Meg out of the path and found himself in a small village square. There was a fountain in the middle and a heap of dung next to it. There were some buildings arranged in some sort of circle around the square, the path they had come through being right between two houses. They looked worn and uninhabited. While nothing was broken, the fronts looked like a fire had burned through them, scorch marks making weird patterns. But while all the buildings were dark, there was a light shining in the window of a building right opposite them. It looked like an old-fashioned tavern, the wooden sign above the door proclaiming the building to be "Lilith's Den". Well, a bar called after the fabled first queen of demons? Promising. Especially for a human like Dean.
"I told you to relax. I won't let anything happen to your pretty face," Meg teased and Dean had no idea why the demon thought he would trust her. Most things hailing from hell didn't have the best intentions for humans. Sure, Dean would take a demon over a witch any time, but he'd prefer not to cross paths with either.
He followed Meg across the village square, past the fountain and into Lilith's Den. Inside it felt stuffy, but it was quiet. There were a couple of figures bent over their tables, quietly talking with each other, but Dean couldn't quite make out their faces. Meg went over to the bar, talking to a guy and then motioning for Dean to sit at a table. Dean took the table closest to a window, the one that also had a lamp in it, that illuminated at least part of the place. Dean didn't really like being here, but he had his warding that kept out demons and he had his knife. He'd probably be fine. Besides, he didn't feel any hostility coming towards him at all. It was like nobody particularly cared that he was here. Maybe they didn't.
"People just pass through Queens Fall. Nobody cares much about anything here," Meg said, putting a plate and a tankard in front of Dean. "You owe me 10 coins or a background story. Your choice." Meg said, propping her elbow up on the table and slowly bending her hand until her palm was facing toward Dean. The light caught her dark eyes, but there was no menacing black flashing at him. Dean thought about the coins in his purse and how he might still need them.
"Fine," he grumbled and took a gulp of his drink. It was beer, slightly too warm for his tastes. The food was stew, surprisingly tasty. Meg put down her arm, grinning at Dean. "What do you want to hear?"
"Why you are here, Dean. People don't just come to this part of the map without a destination in mind," Meg said. "Just making conversation." She insisted when Dean studied her.
"I'm a student at the University of Campbell and I have to conduct a case in order to finish and get accepted into the Men of Letters guild."
"So, you're not a hunter?" she asked and Dean shook his head. "Could have fooled me! You're a bit too rugged for a scholar."
"I lost a couple of years to fighting at the front," he said and Meg nodded.
"The war must have been a big thing, I only glimpsed bits and pieces while I was in service."
"You? A maid? Hard to imagine." Meg laughed at that.
"Yeah, I know. But you know how it is. If needs must then scholars become soldiers and free spirted women like me become maids. I was chosen, so I went. But when my mistress disappeared I decided to call it quits too. Got my money and left. The world was a different place when I got back home. Well… not that there was a home left. You know how it is." Dean looked at her with a pang of sympathy, but there was no grief in Meg's face. It was anyone's guess if she didn't feel any or if she simply didn't want to show it.
"Yes… When I got back it was… hard to get back into the swing of normalcy." Dean wasn't sure why he was being so honest with a stranger. But the stew was good, the tavern was warm and quiet. It somehow lulled him into a sense of comfort that he hadn't felt in a while. Like he was supposed to be here and that he was allowed to relax a bit because of it.
"Yeah. Isn't it always," Meg said and then she drank her beer, falling into silence.
Dean had received the keys to a room that was more like a glorified closet than a proper room. The wooden floor boards creaked viciously with every step he took, the window was tiny and resisted Dean's attempts to open it. Giving it a mighty shove, the window finally opened outwards, letting in the cool air. Queens Fall was a bit chilly even in the height of summer and Dean gave a shiver. But the forest scented wind that blew into the stale air did wonders for Dean's mood. He could still almost touch both walls if he stretched out his arms and the bed was a lumpy monstrosity, but he was alright.
He got out his notebook and pulled the candle a bit closer to study his notes. He would probably reach the portal he had found on the ancient maps from the Men of Letters archives. It was possible that those were dated, but bringing home an update wouldn't hurt his grade; besides, he had made sure to note down an alternative portal, just in case.
He closed the book, then took out the small fairy tale volume and opened it at a dog-eared page. The well-worn spine cracked in protest. He felt he knew the tale of Frau Holle and its regional varieties well enough now to recite it in his sleep.
Goldmarie, forced by her greedy female relative, to fetch the spindle she'd dropped into the well. Reaching Frau Holle instead. Completing tasks and entering into service with her. Doing housework, making weather. Home sickness and being rewarded in gold for her service. The greedy relative sending her lazy daughter Pechmarie to climb into the well too. Doing none of the tasks, failing her housework, being sent away and punished by being covered in tar.
It was a very simple, standard story of rewarding good deeds and punishing bad deeds. He had of course read other accounts too. An old, dusty volume by an author whose name he could no longer read on the worn spine, had argued that Frau Holle always chose two girls to fill the positions of Goldmarie and Pechmarie. Dean wondered if Frau Holle chose based on something as basic as hair color or if she just picked from a group of good girls and bad girls. But what criteria would that be? And would the reward and punishment be a simple self-fullfilling prophecy? Dean scribbled some notes into the margins.
Maybe he'd meet the one or the other when he reached their realm, but he thought it unlikely. Dean put away the book and then he tried to get comfortable. He blew out the candle, the room instantly sinking into darkness. No light came in from the window.
Dean slept deeply and restfully in this small tavern at the crossroad between realms.
Meg, for all her suave otherworldliness, was not a morning person. Dean was up with the dawn of day, coffee, maps and notes strewn over the table. His bag was packed and his breakfast eaten. He was ready to go, but felt it rude to depart without saying good-bye. Also, he just had a gut feeling that he shouldn't go just yet. Every person dealing with the supernatural needed gut instinct and Dean had plenty of it. So, he waited, leaving the innkeeper to his own devices.
Meg finally showed herself, looking like she'd got no sleep and was ready to murder someone in retaliation. Dean handed her a cup of coffee and her scowl momentarily lifted to show genuine surprise.
"Morning, handsome," she said, then she sat down. "I'm surprised you're still here." Dean shrugged. Meg looked out of the window, where it was snowing and heaved a sigh. Dean studied her for a while.
"Is the long winter also getting at you where you live?"
"Not as much… we're at the fringe of Frau Holle's domain," Meg said and Dean scribbled that into his his notebook. Meg lowered her coffee cup and cradled it to her chin. "You're studying it…?" Dean looked up in surprise when he heard the slightly worried tone of Meg's voice. She was frowning down at her notes. "That's your case?"
"Yeah. The winter's not stopping and while most people thought it was just nature doing its thing, I saw a pattern. And linked it to Frau Holle… And now I want to figure out why it continues to snow." Meg scowled and Dean was surprised by the hostility in her eyes. "I'm not trying to kill her. Just to get the snow to stop!" Meg narrowed her eyes at him, but eventually she nodded. "Why did this get you worked up?"
"Because you hunters kill people, sometimes people who are just doing what they have to do," she said, clearly bitter and wary of Dean.
"I'm not… I'm just…" Dean didn't want to lie to her, because he had killed people who probably didn't deserve to die. Not all witches were bad, not everything that didn't have a human soul was horrible. And not every human deserved to have a soul. "I'm a scholar now. I do research. I just want to know what's wrong and I want to stop the snow." Meg studied him intensely. "What do you know, Meg?"
"I served Frau Holle. As her demon tribute," she told him and Dean widened his eyes.
"A… tribute?" Dean asked and quickly flipped to a new page of his notebook. "What does it mean?" Meg laughed at that.
"Okay, you are a scholar after all, huh?" she mocked but Dean didn't mind. Meg sobered up quickly. "Frau Holle is an old entity… I don't know how old exactly but older than demons, older than souls."
"And that's whose lore?"
"Demonic lore. Angelic lore too," Meg said and lifted her eyebrow. "But it does concern you humans too, so I'm surprised that you don't know that…" She shrugged. "In any case, Frau Holle requires two girls to come serve her, most for a duration of 10 years. The demons send one girl and the angels another. To have a balance. Frau Holle is all about balancing dark and light. Logically angels and demons aren't exactly two sides of the same coin. She should have chosen humans and demons, or angels and Leviathan. But humans don't deal well with the ten years of servitude and the way that time passes. And nobody wants to get too close to a Leviathan."
"No kidding," Dean muttered. Then he tapped his pencil on the page. "But angels? I thought they lived in their own sealed off dimension?"
"There are portals everywhere, dumbass," Meg said flatly. "Every realm has a back-door. And angels aren't as far removed from humanity as you think they are. They wander sometimes." Meg shook her head. "They're quite unique. Stupid bastards too."
"So… you and another… tribute…"
"Clarence, yes," Meg said with a huff. "Perfect little Goldmarie." Dean took down the names in the margin though he didn't know if that was of any interest to their records.
"And you're lazy Pechmarie?" Dean said with a grin. Meg rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, but we don't get punished by being covered in tar, you know? You humans always have to give stories a weird spin to fit your good girl – bad girl fantasy," she said. Dean wanted to argue back, but then he remembered what Meg had told him yesterday.
"You said your mistress disappeared… She's really gone?"
"She apparently does that from time to time. I think she goes out to find herself," Meg said with another roll of her eyes. "I can't fault her, it's boring up there. Clarence was always so damn determined to do the job well. Drove me up the walls. And we could have had fun, if you know what I mean." Dean looked at her blankly until Meg wiggled her eyebrows and then Dean got it. He held back a grin.
"Back to the topic at hand. If I go to Frau Holle's realm I won't find her there?"
"Unlikely. And the ten years since the last tribute are almost up. I don't think that she'll be back in time… Usually Frau Holle's absence means mild weather all year around. But this long winter is unusual…"
"Someone's up there still doing Frau Holle's job?" Dean asked and Meg bit her lips. "Maybe Clarence? Is her service up?"
"Almost… I thought she'd leave when I did. There was no point in staying with Frau Holle gone. When winter continued I started wondering about it. Clarence isn't an idiot, but maybe something happened. And I can't get back up there without being summoned. I've been waiting here for a month," she said, sounding annoyed at the inconvenience but Dean wondered if she wasn't maybe also a bit worried about the woman she'd spent almost 10 years with. Dean thought about the new information he had received. If Goldmarie continued to make it snow in Frau Holle's absence, then getting her out of Frau Holle's realm would be the best way to make it stop snowing. Of course, that would only be a temporary fix, the world could live without a winter or two, but eternal winters were another matter.
"Good, then I'm going to bring her back," Dean decided and closed his notebook. Meg studied him. "It's my job to make it stop snowing. Bringing Goldmarie back to her family should do the trick."
"Maybe," was all Meg said, then he pointed her finger to the portal marked on the map. "If you go down there don't forget to offer your blood."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. Blood on spindle, throw spindle down the well, wait to be granted entrance," Dean said and Meg nodded. While Dean packed she made no move to get up and join him. "You'll stay here?"
"I'll stay here. See you at the station, Dean," was all she said and Dean didn't question her decision. He put on his cloak and put on his rucksack.
"See you at the station, Meg," Dean repeated, then he went out of the tavern. He turned towards the one road leading out of this lost town. The sun broke through the layer of clouds, already melting the snow. Dean felt a tug in his chest, urging him to go on, making his steps lighter and a smile spread on his face. He could solve this. He could stop winter. All he had to do was convince Goldmarie to follow him. Whatever happened to Frau Holle would be someone else's concern.
Maybe it was luck, maybe it was magic, but there were weathered sign posts directing Dean to Huldasquell, the location in which Dean hoped to find the well. He had read up on the locations of possible portals to cross into Frau Holle's domain. Huldasquell was a little village on the outskirts of an old, now derelict kingdom that had been abandoned as the world of the supernatural started to press in on the lands humans had conquered for themselves centuries ago. Little towns like Queensfall or Huldasquell dotted the no man's land. Places like this, so Dean's research suggested, had their own set of magic due to their liminal qualities. It was weird for Dean to imagine that places itself – formerly human settlements – would become filled with a living, conscious magic like that. But the supernatural world had its own rules and while most people claimed that magic would lose its hold over humans in the modern world, Dean wasn't as naïve.
He came to a halt, at a small copse of trees, hardly a forest. It was quiet save from the sounds of wood cracking. The trees around him looked old and dead, with specks of white lichen and moss crawling all over the deeply furrowed barks. The leaves overhead were dry and brittle, rustling in the breeze. It wasn't exactly cold here, not the kind of winter cold that had blown through Campbell. But the altitude and the lack of sunlight still made Dean shiver slightly. He pulled his waterproof map out of the deep pockets of his coat and unfolded it. Huldasquell was supposed to be right up and the last marker had pointed him in this direction. He put the map away again and continued on. The path opened up slightly to reveal a flat valley, with brown hills rising in the distance, creating a generous hollow. Dean supposed that this place must have been nice once, a long time ago.
Now? It was like some force had rolled over the land, sucking out the life and leaving it to decay. Dean pulled his binoculars out of his bag and checked the landscape. There was a castle in the distance, built partially into a hill. It looked old, but it wasn't a ruin yet.
"Hm." Dean muttered to himself, lost in thought. He continued walking along the path. There was a rickety and weather-beaten fence on both sides of the spall covered path. Dried grass grew in between the deep groves that hundreds of years of wagons must have dug into the path, back when this kingdom was still flourishing.
It had brought forth the best weavers in the entire continent. Back when the monarchy had still been going strong Campbells had worn the finest clothes from here. Dean studied the empty fields to the sides, seeing sheds that were falling apart, but not entirely crumbled. Then there were farms, still standing even though Dean felt a wind should send them bursting apart. Dean didn't have to travel as far as the town center, as the well was close to one of the old estates on the outskirt.
There wasn't a single person in sight. Maybe Dean should be relieved, but if was being honest he had sort of expected to have to face down some creature eventually. But luck was – for once – on his side and even though his feet were aching and probably blistered by now, two hours of more walking finally guided him to the well. It was unremarkable. Just a wide, round well made out of neatly stacked stones that looked ready to crumble if Dean touched them.
Dean approached it, but decided that he would have to take a break first. He didn't dare to pull off his shoes for fear of not being able (or willing) to force them back once the blisters were revealed to the world. Best to just soldier on in them. But it was nice to sit down on the dry ground and stretch out his legs. He kept his bag pulled close to his side, his arm slung over it. He gazed around the landscape. He could see the unruly backyard of a nearby estate, the faded reddish paint peeling and some shingles missing in the roof. It was weird to walk through ghost towns like this, feeling like time was standing still here, almost as if it was waiting for something, maybe even just the permission for the place to succumb to time.
Having seen his fill for the moment, Dean opened his bag to pull out some of his food rations. He had enough to last him for a while. He didn't want to build a fire here to get some coffee into his system, but he craved it. He wasn't tired and aside from his aching feet he felt alert, but there was a nervousness thrumming under his skin, insistently poking him to continue, to move on. Climb into the well and see what he would find. Dean forced the feeling down. He had to remain calm, do this by the book. He took out a sigil tracer and drew some lines in the earth around the well. He didn't want to be disturbed while he was away or ambushed the second he came back. With that done he took note of his progress in this notebook.
"Secured perimeter," he wrote, then he checked his watch. "At 13:21 I will do the spell to be granted entrance. Small amount of blood will be drawn from left forearm." Dean nodded to himself, then he put away his book and took out his kit with the objects he had prepared for the ritual. A simple spindle with a plain woolen thread, a small knife to draw blood, a bandage and some salve to put on the cut to help it heal. He laid the cloth with his material on the edge of the well. He didn't think that words needed to be said to request entrance. Most of the portal magic was activated by blood or some tool. If it didn't work then Dean had a back-up plan to force entry.
Dean rolled up his sleeve and then he put the knife to his skin. Dean hated this part of magic. His underarms were littered with small white lines, back where he didn't have the time or luxury at the front to use anything less potent than his own blood for spells. Dean cut into his skin, still flinching at the sharp pain. He cursed under his breath and then let the small trail of blood drop onto the spindle, watching the thread soak up the vibrant red. Once Dean thought it was enough, he cleaned the cut, put salve on it and then bandaged it up. He packed his kit away, shouldered his bag and took a deep breath. He took the spindle into his palm and looked into the well. It didn't appear to be too deep. Dean let the spindle drop and then he waited.
There was no clacking sound that would indicate that the spindle had reached the ground and for a moment Dean started to worry, but then the darkness inside the well seemed to glow and Dean watched how steep, golden stairs appeared. Dean snapped his fingers, happy about the success, then he swung his legs over the edge of the well. The stairs held under his feet.
And then he went down, down into the barely illuminated darkness.
Dean gave a start when he was suddenly standing in a bright landscape. He looked behind himself, where there was a small house, no bigger than a telephone booth behind him, the stairs leading up. Dean could make out the round opening of the well, showing clouds sluggishly moving across the sky. Dean closed the door behind him, then he looked around. It didn't look much different here than it did on the other side. There were fields of grass stretching as far as he could see, the hazy shapes of hills in the distance. A mild wind blew, making the grass sway. It was very tranquil. A single path led through the fields and up ahead rose a big building, most likely Frau Holle's estate.
Dean started walking, slowly following the path. He was in no rush. He looked past the green grass up to the overcast sky. He wondered if he too would have to complete trials, but Dean knew that Frau Holle wasn't there to watch and judge him. Besides, he wasn't here to reap rewards. He had to end winter. Still, he walked, keeping his eyes open. Eventually he did reach a small cottage, attached to a an equally small mill. Underneath a shed built next to the cottage stood an oven. Dean hesitated, but he eventually approached it. He was glad when no baking bread started talking to him, like it happened in the fairy tale. The oven proved to be empty, but there was a lingering warmth to it. He walked around the oven, checking out the shed, the mill and the cottage. Clearly the mill was in use, the wheel turning slowly. The cottage was a single room, with a big table in the middle. Flour bags were stacked against the wall. Otherwise this place was empty. Dean stepped back out and then he continued.
As expected, he ended up at an orchard, but no trees asked to be shaken so that the apples would fall off. He leant against the wooden railing and studied the trees. There was a basket with apples lying against one of the tree trunks. Dean wondered if Goldmarie or Clarence as Meg had called her, did all the work around here. Deciding that it would be best to try and make a good impression, Dean hopped the railing and went to grab the basket with apples. It was a bit hard to maneuver it past the railing while carrying it in addition to his bag, but Dean was a gentleman. Of sorts.
The estate came into view and the first thing Dean heard next to the wind rustling in the fields was the clucking of hens. Dean stepped past the gates of the estate, finding himself on a square and the center of attention of an army of chickens. They had noticed his arrival and started clucking and rushing towards him.
"Woah! Hey! No! I don't have anything for you!" The hens didn't let themselves be deterred and continued flocking around Dean. He groaned and looked around. There was a building off to the side that probably held stables. He could see hay through the open door and he thought he heard a horse. To the other side was another low building, probably a storage. Ahead was the main building of the estate. It seemed big enough, like the old Winchester estate where his grandparents lived. Even though the tale of Frau Holle was centuries old and if Meg was to be trusted she was even older than that, the estate itself looked no older than the ones he had spent his childhood summers in. Dean gave a start when a hen pecked at his shoes. He frowned at the animals, but then he put down his basket when he spotted a bucket hanging on a hook in the stable's wall. He cut his way through the chickens and found the bucket to contain food. He tossed some at them and the chickens seemed happy enough. In any case they let him pass. Dean looked up at the estate when he heard a window being closed. Dean hurried to the only door in sight, pulling his hat off. The door creaked open and Goldmarie studied him with a suspicious frown.
Goldmarie was everything he had imagined a fairy tale creature to look like, complete with an otherworldly aura. Her hair did look like gold, fixed into braids that were coming apart. Her eyes were a piercing blue and her mouth and cheeks were flushed pink. Once she fully stepped outside Dean saw that she was tall, quite a bit taller than Meg was. She didn't seem delicate, but like someone Dean could believe running the entire farm. She wore a somewhat old-fashioned dress, with a white apron stained with flour.
"You are not Frau Holle," she accused, but she didn't slam the door in his face. Instead she watched him and once he came closer her apprehensive gaze changed to surprise. Maybe Dean should be more careful when approaching her because Clarence was an angel.
Fuck, he was looking at an angel. What the hell did you say to an angel?!
"Uh… My name is Dean Winchester and I'm here to investigate." Clarence's eyes dropped from his face to the basket in his arms.
"You can bring those in," the woman said and went back inside. Dean was only rooted to the spot for a short moment, but then he finally moved and followed her. The kitchen was big, with light coming in through the many small square windows. There was a big table in the middle and shelves filled will all kinds of things lining the walls. There was a tiled stove in one corner, on which a cat slept, paws stretched out lazily. In the other corner was a regular wood burning stove and huge sink unit. Pots and pans were hanging from a rack but they didn't look like they got much use.
"So, uh…," Dean muttered, while Clarence stared at him from across the table. Dean put the apples away and took off his bag. "You're Clarence then?" Clarence narrowed her eyes.
"Did you meet Meg? Only she calls me that," she said and while her voice was even, she did sound slightly annoyed.
"Yeah? What's your name then?"
"Castiel," she retorted evenly. "Are you here to retrieve me?"
"Yes, sure," Dean said, wondering if it was so easy.
"But Frau Holle isn't back and I haven't served for ten years. Though it can be easy to lose track of the passage of time." Dean snorted at that, but since it might not be such a good idea to laugh at an angel, he hid it with a cough.
"I guess. It's been snowing for months."
"As is the nature of winter," Castiel reminded him evenly.
"It's summer now." Dean told her and Castiel widened her eyes at that. She stared at Dean, like he wanted to call him out for lying, but then she turned on her heels and walked out of the kitchen. Unsure what was happening, Dean quickly followed her. A long but narrow corridor led to a door behind which was a staircase. It wound its way up, then they emerged into another corridor on the upper floor. Dean looked around, but there were many closed doors and not much more to see. By the time he looked back to Castiel, she was disappearing behind another door that almost seamlessly blended in the wooden paneling. Steep wooden stairs brought him up into an attic space. Pidgeons were sitting in the rafters, flying out through a round window when Castiel hurried underneath them. There was another door and Dean could see Castiel hesitate, her hand on the heavy key. She took a breath and then she turned it. Behind was a drafty room, the roof rising high to meet at a point. A single arm chair standing before a curtain. Castiel passed the chair and pulled aside the curtain. Dean was surprised to see a different kind of sky through the window. It was grey and dark. Castiel pushed the window open and then she looked out, her braids slipping past her shoulder, leaving her neck exposed. Dean caught a glimpse of some letters on her neck. They didn't look familiar. Maybe Enochian? He stepped up next to Castiel and looked out.
"You told the truth," she said and Dean looked down. He jumped away from the window right away, sinking down into the chair and gripping the armrests. Castiel looked over her shoulder.
"It's… high!" he squeaked, knowing how undignified it sounded, but the window hadn't been just two stories up. That Dean could have dealt with. No. They were looking down from bird's view. Lands and towns stretching before them, so far down that Dean grew faint just thinking about it. He had recognized the big structure of Campbell University in the middle distance, white under a layer of snow, a thick dome of clouds arching over it and keeping away the summer sun. Dean lifted his head a bit and could glimpse some of the landscape from his position. It was green, maybe a cold, wet and dark summer, but at least it wasn't snowing. Maybe if you went far enough away there was proper weather.
"Frau Holle can affect the entire world with her powers, but while she's gone my powers only reach so far."
"And why are you focusing your… snowing on Campbell?" Dean asked, studying the forlorne way Castiel looked out of the window. Guilt and doubt were etched into her face.
"That's where Frau Holle had directed her gaze it seems. I've never looked out before. Meg told me about the window into the human world, but we weren't allowed."
"Yeah, you're the good girl, of course you'd follow orders," Dean said with a small smile. Castiel frowned at him and turned away from the window. She closed it and pulled away the curtain.
"I'm an angel," she reminded him as if that was explanation enough. Then she studied Dean. "Have you come to punish me?"
"Punish you?" Dean asked in surprise, standing up for the chair. "For what?"
"For the snow," she said, then she ducked her head and walked past Dean. Dean was unsure what to do, but killing the one responsible for the snow had never really been part of his plan. Dean followed her down and back into the kitchen. Castiel was standing there, staring at nothing at all. Dean could almost hear the gears in her head turning.
"I'm not here to punish you. I want it to stop snowing, that's all. I get that you didn't notice that it's summer now." Dean looked out of the window, where he could see the chickens still picking at the crumbs on the ground. It didn't look like summer here. It didn't look like any season at all. It wasn't hot, it wasn't cold. And if Castiel had been here for ten years, without seeing anything of the world outside… Well… Dean himself would probably have gone mad.
"Thank you, Dean," she said, then she pulled the apron off.
"What now?" Dean asked, wondering if Castiel meant to go home.
"Frau Holle has given me orders and it is my duty to follow them even in her absence."
"Is that a thing for you angels? Blind obedience?" Dean wondered. He didn't intend to be critical, but Castiel lifted her eyebrow at him, almost challenging.
"Of course. I am a creature of devotion and righteous wrath," she said and Dean blinked at her. But Castiel didn't have anything to add. "Since Frau Holle has not rescinded her orders I had to continue."
"But you can't. If you do we humans will suffer," Dean argued at once. Castiel looked at him mildly. Dean quickly went through his head what he knew about angels. Which was nothing. He had nothing to trap an angel, banish an angel or even kill an angel if Castiel wanted to be firm on her orders.
"I know. And while I do not presume to know Frau Holle's intentions, I doubt that she intends you humans harm." Castiel put her apron away and then she stepped out of the kitchen. "I will go find her."
"Uh. Okay. That would solve a problem for me," Dean agreed, grabbing his bag. On second thought he also took one of the loaves of fresh bread that were sitting on a shelf as well as some apples, shoving them all into the bag so they could eat later. "What will happen to the animals when you are gone? Frau Holle could be anywhere. It might take you weeks to find her." Castiel didn't seem perturbed, moving through the chickens without watching where he went. They parted before her and returned to their position after she was gone.
"They will want for nothing. Time stands still here if nobody tends to Frau Holle's estate. It is only our presence her that causes time to flow," Castiel explained, walking along the path with sure feet. Dean followed her, trying to remember all the things he would have to write down when he got the chance. Castiel only slowed down once they were in front of the booth that held the portal.
"Getting cold feet?" Dean asked with a small smile when he saw her stare at the door, hand hovering over the doorknob.
"No, my feet are warm," she said but she didn't move. "I don't… doubt that leaving is the right thing to do." Dean thought that she didn't look like a person who was free of doubt but she turned the knob without further hesitation and then she started climbing. Dean followed her at some distance, because he was sure that it wasn't polite to look under her skirts. There was a golden light getting stronger the higher Dean climbed and he squeezed his eyes shut. He blindly climbed out of the well, rubbing his eyes.
"Which way do we go?"
Dean jumped at the voice speaking next to him. He swung around, finding a man around his age standing next to him. He squinted into the distance, before he turned to look at Dean.
The man had dark hair, looking black in the setting sun, and piercing blue eyes. There was a certain resemblance, the same nose, the same plush mouth, the same eyes. But there was no way.
"Castiel…?" Dean managed to force out and the man nodded at him. "You're… why are you…?" Castiel tilted his head, looking at him with a frown. He looked down at his body once Dean waved his hands at him. Castiel put her (his?) hands against his chest and then pulled at his jacket. He was wearing a beige woolen coat, looking slightly bulky on his frame.
"My vessel?" Dean blinked at him. "We angels cannot walk the earth in our true forms. What you saw in Frau Holle's realm was a projection. And this is a human body that has been gifted to me."
"You're possessing someone?" Dean asked, breathless almost. Castiel shook his head.
"No. This body is mine."
"But why is it male?"
"I had heard that it was easier to move around unaccompanied and getting what one wants as a human male," Castiel explained and while Dean's mind was still reeling, the angel wasn’t exactly wrong. It was a bit out-dated, because women could do much more than still a couple of decades ago, but there would certainly be less questions about a man moving around on his own.
"Dean, which way?" Castiel asked again and Dean snapped out of his moment of staring. He turned around and pointed in the right direction.
"Let's go then," he mumbled, leading the way, with Castiel following a step behind Dean. "Uh," Dean started, uncomfortable about the silence and the many questions turning around in his head. "Are you actually a girl then?"
"I'm an angel, Dean, so no," Castiel explained and that didn't really help Dean any further.
"Don't you have sexes up there?" Dean wondered, pointing to the sky. "Are you all… devotion and righteous wrath chilling on clouds, playing harps?"
"No, of course not," Castiel replied. "We do reproduce if that is what you mean to ask."
"Not exactly but okay," Dean said, deciding to let the question rest. It didn't matter, studying angels wasn't why he was here. They walked in silence, Castiel keeping up with Dean's brisk pace. For a while this was okay for Dean as it gave him time to process what had happened, but eventually he had to slow down.
"Why are we stopping?" Castiel asked when Dean let himself fall down on a fallen tree trunk at the side of the path. They still had a long way to go until they were back at Queens Fall but night was falling quickly. Had Dean really been gone for a couple of hours? He checked his watch but it showed him that it was only a bit after four. It should still be bright outside.
"Sorry, but my feet are killing me," Dean said, stretching his legs out, then he looked around. "And night is falling. It's not a good idea to walk around through this kind of territory at night. It's easy to get lost and just because we're not seeing any supernatural creatures doesn't mean there are none." Dean looked at Castiel, but the angel wasn't forthcoming with any suggestions. Dean heaved a sigh. "I think it's best if we set up a camp for the night, secure the perimeter." Castiel seemed to want to argue, a certain impatience in him that Dean hadn't noticed at all in… well, his Goldmarie self. But it wasn't like Dean had been looking for anything in particular in her features. She had been cute and if he'd run across her in some tavern he would probably have made an attempt to have fun. This version of Castiel was great to look at, even when he frowned at Dean was pretty hot, but the fact that Castiel was a supernatural creature hadn't slipped Dean's mind.
"There are various creatures in the vicinity, but they keep their distance. If it calms you, then I will draw protective sigils," Castiel offered. Dean tensed when he heard that there were creatures around and a defiant part of him wanted to protest that he could damn well protect himself. But then he came to his senses. Castiel was an angel and if they really kept to their own world, any knowledge they had would be precious to record. Castiel started walking around in a wide circle around Dean. He didn't seem to do anything, he merely traced an invisible line, quietly. Dean took this moment to spread out a blanket and his sleeping bag. Then he got out his shoes, rubbing his bruised feet through his socks. He'd have to put some salve on his blisters later, right now he checked out what Castiel was doing. Which was crouching down and with a stick he drew lines in the ground. Dean thought about handing him his sigil tracer but in the end a sigil tracer was a glorified stick and did exactly the same as Castiel's twig did. He studied Castiel's hunched over form instead.
For all intents and purposes, Castiel looked human enough. But his movements were somewhat peculiar and different from the fluid ways that he had moved in Frau Holle's realm. It looked like he didn't quite know how to move his body unless the movement was necessary. He was efficient in what he did and stock still when he came to a halt to study the sigils he had drawn. Dean wondered if it was harder to move a vessel.
"Hey, Cas?" he called and Castiel raised his head, not commenting on how Dean had swallowed half his name. He guessed that if Meg could get away with giving him a nickname, so could Dean. "Can you tell me anything about angels?" Castiel looked at him for a while, then he turned his head away and continued working.
"Why?" he demanded. "We do not walk amongst you. The less we interfere with your lives the better. I was under the impression that this is what you humans prefer too."
"Call it curiosity," Dean said with a shrug, then he pulled off his sock. "I'm a scholar and you're the first angels I meet."
"You are arguably the first human to meet an angel in two thousand years. If you didn't bear His mark, then I would not have followed you out into the realm of humans. But you are worthy, I must trust in that." Dean frowned.
"What are you talking about?" he asked. "Worthy? His mark? Is that just a bunch of angel lingo to say that I'm handsome?"
"No," Castiel said flatly and Dean shook his head at him, in incomprehension. "Some humans are destined for greatness. That leaves a mark on the soul," Castiel explained and then he tilted his head to study Dean. "I assume you might consider it a burden." Now things got uneasy and Dean fidgeted. He turned towards his first aid kit and pulled off his other sock a bit more viciously than he should have. "You are upset," Castiel observed.
"No." Dean snapped.
"I can heal that for you if you wish," Castiel spoke up again, but he made no attempt to come closer. Dean looked at his feet, some blisters open and bleeding, then he tossed the salve back into the kit and looked up where Castiel was looking at him steadily.
"What are you? My nurse?"
"No, but you are hurt and I can help," Castiel said and then he seemed to reconsider. "I want to help." Dean hesitated, but then he stretched out his legs. Apparently it was invitation enough for Castiel, because he approached and crouched down before Dean. But instead of waving his hand over Dean's legs or something of that sort, he pushed two of his fingers against Dean's forehead. A shock of heat went through Dean, whispers tickling his ears, but it was over before Dean could even react to the weird sensation. It took Dean a dazed second to realize that the pain in his feet had disappeared.
"Thanks," Dean said, wiggling his toes, before he got back into his socks. Castiel nodded at him, then he raised from his crouch and stepped away, just outside of the protective line that he had drawn around Dean. Almost like he was guarding Dean.
"About angels…" Castiel's merely turned his head at Dean's voice. "What can you tell me? Why were you chosen to serve Frau Holle?" Dean asked, keeping his voice light. He pulled the contents of his bag out and spread them before him. Dean knew exactly what was in his bag, but it was good to have something to distract himself from Castiel's sharp focus.
"Our realm has been sealed off for a long time. When God left." Dean tensed.
Shit, God. God really existed? Suspecting none of Dean's inner turmoil Castiel continued to speak with his grave sounding voice: "I must believe that the gates were shut on God's orders. Some angels had been stationed outside to watch over humanity when the gates closed."
"Does that mean there are angels in this world? Not just up in Heaven?" Dean asked and Castiel nodded. "But why don't they do… you know. Good?" Castiel turned fully at that, tilting his head to study Dean.
"God commanded that we watch over humanity. So we watch, but we don't interfere," Castiel insisted. Dean narrowed his eyes at Castiel, a tiny spark of anger flaring up in his chest. He rolled up his extra clothes and stuffed them back in his bag.
"Yeah well. A bit of heavenly assistance would certainly have gone a long way in the last war," he said darkly.
"What war?" Castiel asked and Dean wanted to snap at him, but then he recalled that Castiel had been locked up in Frau Holle's realm for the last 10 years.
"Right, you and Meg haven't exactly received the newspaper up there," Dean muttered.
"Tell me about the war. What happened in the human world?" Castiel asked instead of answering. Dean groaned, then he pulled food out of his bag.
"Sit down, I hate having to look up to you all the time. My neck's already starting to hurt," he complained and after some hesitation, Castiel did sit down, still outside the circle. Dean wasn't going to ask him about it. If the supernatural creature wants to stay on the other side of the circle, so be it.
"Do you know what the Grand Coven is?" Castiel nodded at that. "Well, after years of being pushed to the fringes of human life, they decided to make a play for the control of the land," he explained. "Apparently the time was right to bring magic back from the brink of destruction. Obviously, they also wanted to have power over normal humans again, but they claimed it was all about saving magic. The supernatural has always been part of human existence but with the institutionalization of hunting and all the work the Men of Letters did to educate people, the supernatural was pushed back. It became less scary, more… well, controllable, I suppose. A lot of the danger comes from a lack of understanding. It's the fear of the unknown, of whatever uncontrollable thing goes on in the dark." Dean looked at Cas, finding him attentive. "I suppose angels aren't really afraid of it."
"No. Even though there are many things we do not know. We're not human. We can't use magic the same way you do," Castiel explained. "Go on." Dean nodded.
"Around 8 years ago, the Grand Coven decided to attack and destroy the Men of Letters before they could destroy them. Some monster got on their side, seeing it as a prime chance to make it easier to prey on humans again," Dean explained. He shook his head, a mirthless smile on his lips. "It was messy. Lots of collateral damage on both sides. We managed to destroy the Coven and Hunters took out a couple of Purgatory alphas in the process."
"And now?" Castiel asked and Dean looked up at him. For a moment Dean didn't know how to answer.
"It's peace now," he finally said but he wasn't sure if it was entirely true. But that was the nature of the relationship between humans and the supernatural. It was never truly peace, not when humans were their prey.
"And you think that angels could have helped?" Castiel wondered.
"I… don't know. We kinda imagine you angels as good, you know? Like you should be here to protect us, guard us, answer our prayers. Many humans hoped that someone would come save us. You were the most likely source of help people prayed for. Because people have faith, I suppose," Castiel didn't react to that, so Dean had to ask. "What can angels even do? I've never been all that interested in learning about angels, because religion's not really my thing. Also, while there seemed some proof of your existence you might as well have been extinct. Like dragons." Castiel tilted his head, his expression pensive.
"Dragon's aren't extinct," he informed him and Dean widened his eyes. "Different classes of angels have different tasks and powers. We are hierarchically structured, based on the orders that God has given our class. I was born into the class of seraphs. We're soldiers." Dean lifted his eyebrow in surprise.
"So that's why you were talking about righteous wrath and following orders," Dean said and Castiel nodded. Dean scratched the back of his head, trying to digest all the new information he was getting from Cas. "But… why was a soldier chosen to serve as a maid for Frau Holle? Don't you have other kinds of angels who might be more… I don't know. Suitable for the task?" Dean tried to imagine Cas in armor somehow. Not Cas how he sat before him now, but Cas how he had seen him up in Frau Holle's realm. Petticoats and apron and golden braids. So weird. The guy sitting before him didn't really look like a soldier either.
"Our class doesn't have much to do," Castiel said and there was a hint of consternation in his voice. "Since the gates of Heaven have been closed, only a handful of garrisons have been stationed on earth to watch humanity. We others… we mostly wait."
"Must be boring," Dean said and Castiel made a small noise of assent.
"Very." Dean laughed at that and even Castiel cracked a small smile, that lasted longer this time.
"How are you chosen to serve Frau Holle? Do you volunteer?" Castiel shook his head.
"No. I've been marked, I had to go," Castiel explains. Dean recalled the marks on the back of Castiel's neck. They were hidden now by the collar of his coat, but Dean assumed that they were still there. "A long time ago humans sacrificed two girls each years to appease Frau Holle." Dean looked at him in surprise.
"I'm not sure how the practice started, but sometimes darkness descended upon villages, causing people to waste away. Assuming it to be the work of a displeased god, the villagers sacrificed humans, two virgin girls." Castiel stopped talking, then he looked at Dean with a frown. "For some reasons humans seem to think that virgin girls are the best currency to win a god's favor." Dean laughed.
"Yeah! But there are a great many critters that like virgins for some reasons. I've never understood the hype," he said, then he studied Castiel. "I've never heard about the sacrifice before."
"Considering the ways humans generally interact with gods and creatures and magic, sacrifice is hardly surprising. Human sacrifice, whether it be sacrifice of live, blood or time is a main component of any interaction with the supernatural. Humans need to offer something to be able to partake in the realm of magic," Castiel explained and Dean nodded after a while. Magic didn't just come from nothing and humans couldn't perform spells without ingredients, demons didn't deal for free. You had to summon creatures, offer something to pass through portals. The list was endless. Nothing ever came for free.
"I get it." Castiel studied him, his gaze penetrating and searching in ways that made Dean feel uncomfortable. Ashamed even.
"Dude, stop staring!" Dean snapped. Castiel didn't avert his eyes though, blue glimmering even in the lack of light.
"You are tied to magic," Castiel said after a pause and Dean flinched. "It flows through you and lights you up in peculiar ways." Dean watched Castiel's eyes travel down from Dean's face to his chest, to land somewhere in the vicinity of his crotch. His eyes were still bright, contemplative. Dean moved his legs, shielding his dick, not that he had any idea what Cas saw, but the idea of being checked out was… weird.
"Seriously, Cas. You give me the creeps!" Castiel relented at that, turning his attention back to the line of trees. Dean tried to relax, but he still felt slightly ill at ease. He knew what he was about, but he didn't really like the idea of any random monster (if Cas could be called that) knowing everything about him. It was none of Castiel's business to know things that Dean didn't want to talk about.
Dean snorted, then he turned towards his bag and pulled out some of Frau Holle's apples to eat. Castiel however shifted, his glare again on Dean and Dean was tempted to throw the apple at him.
"I didn't steal it!" Dean argued though it was only half-true. He hadn't asked permission after all. Castiel continued to glare and Dean groaned. "Nobody was going to eat it anyway!"
"The apples are food from a magic realm," Castiel said calmly. "I thought you were a scholar who studies the supernatural." For a second Dean had no idea what Castiel's somewhat mocking tone meant, but then his heart dropped into his stomach and he let the apple drop from his hand.
"Shit," he hissed. "What would have happened if I ate her apples?"
"Probably nothing," Castiel said, "but I can't be sure. And I doubt you want to be the next to serve Frau Holle for ten years simply because you ate her apples." He looked at the open bag beside Dean. "Or her bread," he added with displeasure, then he grabbed Dean's bag and started throwing out anything that Dean had taken from Frau Holle's realm. Dean was obviously very displeased but took the rations that Cas handed him. Dried apple rings, crackers.
"Boring." Castiel sent him a sharp look and Dean bit into the apple ring with a grumble. "You were less scary as Goldmarie."
"It was a different realm," Castiel told him with a huff. Dean studied him, then he averted his eyes.
"The grass is always greener on the other side, huh?" he muttered. "It's still weird that you have a female form there and a male one here. It's… jarring."
"Humans have a very limited understanding of… well, anything."
"And you don't?" Dean challenged and Castiel lifted an eyebrow. "If Heaven's sealed off and you spent the last ten years as a maid in Frau Holle's estate, then what do you know about anything?" Castiel's expression at that looked like he had been made to bite into a lemon. Dean counted that as a win.
Dean was feeding chicken, a gold haired woman watching him from the window. Dean knew without a doubt that she was making him pie, because this was his dream and it was to be awesome.
Dean startled awake, thoughts of demanding chickens disappearing with his hope for some pie. He groaned and rubbed his hand over his face. Castiel was standing on the periphery of the circle, dawn slowly bringing light into the landscape around them. It wasn't snowing, which was a relief. Dean sat up with some reluctance and recalled that the only reason why it didn’t snow was because Cas was here. Which was of course a victory that should have caused Dean more delight, but seriously? He just wanted to burrow into his sleeping bag and ignore Cas until the sun was up properly. Even though Castiel wasn't making it snow anymore, it was still not warm.
"Why isn't it summer yet?" Dean grumbled and rolled up his sleeping bag. He looked around, at the undisturbed ground all around the circle. "And where have you slept?"
"I don't sleep," Castiel said and then he looked down at Dean. "I was watching over you."
"Ugh," Dean complained, feeling his face heat up.
"Besides, it takes a while for the magic to dissolve," Castiel continued, watching Dean pack. It didn't take long and then Dean stepped out of his circle. He wondered if he should break the protection but as Castiel didn't make a move to scratch out the symbols, he decided to leave it. "We should be on our way," Castiel insisted. Dean sighed but he shouldered his bag and led the way.
"How did you do it?" Dean asked as they were walking and Castiel looked at him from the corner of his eyes to indicate Dean had his attention. "Make it snow? Did you really shake out blankets and the feathers became snowflakes?"
"Yes," Castiel said gravely and Dean had to laugh at the absurdity. "The rules of Frau Holle's realm are simple. Household activities get translated into things that happen on earth. The energy I use to take care of the estate becomes weather for humans." Dean nodded along, fascinated despite how hilarious it sounded. "I'm clearly less powerful than Frau Holle, which limited the effect my actions had on earth." He looked a bit contrite at that.
"Chill, Cas," Dean told him. "If you had been any more powerful you would probably have started an ice age by accident."
"I am not displeased about my powers," Castiel told him, squinting at Dean like Dean was an idiot for even suggesting it. Dean shrugged his shoulders. "Why did Frau Holle choose to manifest her powers in this fashion? Why did she build an estate that requires servants to tend to it instead of doing what she wanted to do? It's peculiar."
"People are less logical than you might think," Dean assured him, though he too didn't have an explanation.
"She didn't like the estate, Dean. She was lonely but didn't try to really engage with Meg or I. Angels who came back from service had rarely spoken more to her than was required to receive orders. Most found her… unsettling." Castiel shook his head. "I understand them now, but Frau Holle was familiar too. Comforting somewhat even."
"Yeah, that does sound weird," Dean said and Castiel nodded wordlessly. "But loneliness would at least explain why she left. And not for the first time. Maybe she wanted to see the world."
"She leaves from time to time, but usually not for long," Castiel told him and Dean took a mental note to check out for weather anomalies in the last 10 years. "Sometimes she also goes out to test humans as she says," Castiel continued, raising his hands to make air quotes when he mentioned "test humans". Dean looked at him in surprise.
"She wants to know if you are worthy," Castiel replied and Dean felt a shiver go down his spine.
"That doesn't sound all that good. For humans I mean," he muttered. Castiel studied him silently. After a while he looked forwards again, down the path they were travelling on through the forest.
"When she talked to me, she sometimes mentioned having to find someone. But she never said who. I felt that there was anger and longing inside her," he said and then he turned his head to look at Dean. "But I've never been good at reading people, so I might have been wrong." Dean huffs a laugh at that.
"Do you really want to go and chase her? Can't you let her go and do her thing?" Dean suggested and Castiel seemed uneasy.
"I don't know…" Dean reached out and gave Castiel's shoulder a light clap.
"Come on, man. It's summer! And we've got to make up for lost time. We don't need her to bring back the cold all that soon," he insisted. It looked like Castiel wanted to protest, but in the end he didn't say anything, absorbed in his thoughts.
When they finally arrived at Queens Fall it was just as quiet as Dean remembered it. He saw the path that led to the station, but then his eyes went towards the inn instead.
"Come on, I'm starving," Dean said, slapping the back of his hand against Castiel's chest. The angel didn't follow him right away, but eventually he fell in step with him. When Dean went into the inn, he half expected to see Meg there, maybe sitting at the bar, chatting up the bartender, but a glance around the room didn't show her. She did say she'd wait at the station. Maybe she was there now. Dean steered Cas towards a table after he had given an order for food and drink. Castiel sat down, but he didn't remain still as a statue for long. He looked out of the window, his eyes flitted to the crumbs and spilled drink on their table, then he looked at the floor.
"Are you uncomfortable…?" Dean wondered, happy to be eating something warm again. Castiel frowned, but not at Dean for a change.
"No. It is strange not doing my tasks," he said and then he turned to Dean, leaning forwards over the table somewhat conspiratorially. "It is dirty in here." Dean laughed out at that, much to Castiel's dismay.
"No reason to go chase Frau Holle though, just so she can give you your job back. Why not just go back home?" Dean suggested, then he motioned towards the bowl of soup in front of Cas that he had yet to touch. "Eat." Castiel stared down into the soup, almost as if it was poison. But he did eat.
"It's not easy getting into Heaven from the human world," Castiel said and Dean nodded.
"Damn, I forgot about that. But Meg said there were portals. And surely you know where they are?"
"No. I'm not a high-ranking angel. I don't know where they are."
"That sucks," Dean said with some compassion. The idea of being separated from home for years and then having no way to get back? That reminded him uncomfortably of himself after the war. He didn't want to think about it for too much. "What now? Are you stuck on earth?"
"I'm not sure. If I found Frau Holle she could send me back. Maybe I could also find someone stationed on earth who has access to portals. A reaper maybe."
"Ugh, I don't like the sound of that," Dean said and Castiel levelled him with an exasperated look.
"A cupid then," Castiel said and Dean almost chocked on his spoonful of soup. He coughed but then he started laughing.
"What? Really? Cupids?" he asked. "You're kidding me."
"Cupids are low ranking angels," Castiel informed him and Dean leant back in his chair into a relaxed sprawl. It was warm in here, he had good food and he's just learnt that cupids existed. This was a great moment for him.
"It's hilarious. Angels who make people fall in love, an angel who wants to clean the floor of an inn," he said with a grin. Castiel rolled his eyes, then he continued to eat his soup. He didn't look pleased about it, more like this was a task to complete because Dean had found it weird that Cas just sat opposite him without moving. Dean watched him with a grin and a warm pleased feeling spreading inside of him. Probably the soup. He hadn't felt properly warmed in a while.
Unbidden, the thought of inviting Cas to Campbell crossed Dean's mind. The thought seemed stupid at first glance, but why the hell not? The dude looked a bit lost and there were great resources in Campbell. Maybe he could even teach the Men of Letters more about angels and let them record his knowledge of protective sigils. And Dean could get to know him a bit better. It might be fun. But even though the thoughts circled in Dean's mind and the more they did, the more he really wanted to ask Cas to come home to Campbell with him, Dean didn't ask.
Surely, Cas wanted to go home. And at one point Frau Holle would have to be found. Cas was the best shot they had after all. So Dean continued eating in silence and tried not to think about why he felt melancholic.
Sated and with his feet somewhat rested, Dean and Cas went to the station. Somehow, the alley between the rose bushes felt much shorter than the last time and soon they came upon the door to the station house. Dean pulled it open, stepping into the hall. Light shafts shone into the hall through the windows, but the place still looked a bit gloomy. Dean looked around, finding a figure sitting at the benches. It was Meg. She got to her feet when she noticed Dean.
"Dean, Dean, Dean. I thought you got eaten by hellhounds," Meg said with a mocking tone, then she looked past him and her face changed to something grimmer. "You didn't find Clarence."
"Meg," Castiel said, stepping away from Dean and nodded at her in greeting. Meg frowned at him, but then her eyes widened.
"Clarence?" she asked, clearly as surprised as Dean had been to see him out of Frau Holle's realm. "What the hell happened to you?" Castiel pulled at his woolen coat, lifting it as if it were a skirt.
"I have to use a human form to walk the Earth," he said, "my true visage would be overwhelming and melt your eyes."
"Stop bragging," Dean said with a laugh, but Meg seemed displeased.
"And you chose this form? Seriously, Clarence? You could be a queen among women and you go for a standard pretty boy face instead?" she mocked and Dean stepped between them.
"Alright, knock it off," Dean said but Meg still snorted a "bad taste" at Castiel. "Cas is perfectly fine the way he is!" Meg lifted an eyebrow, the displeased look morphing into a knowing smirk. Dean didn't like that look on her face one bit.
"Well, in any case, you've finally ditched Frau Holle. Well done, Clarence. Very naughty," she said and even though the words weren't nice, Dean got the feeling that Meg was actually relieved to see Cas again. Then she turned towards Dean. "But what took you so long? I was ready to pronounce you dead and split town," she complained. Dean looked at her with a frown.
"What are you talking about? We were only gone for a day," he argued but Meg scoffed at that.
"It's been a month," she informed him and Dean widened his eyes. Surely that was a stupid joke!
"No way," he said and Meg crossed her arms over her chest.
"Time passes differently in Frau Holle's realm. Slower," she explained. "Ten years of service in her realm means that a lot of time passes here, get it?" Dean felt very uneasy about that, thinking about how worried his family must be for him to not check in. Sure, one month was still an acceptable amount of time for a case. Suddenly, he realized what the slow passage of time meant for Meg and Cas, and all the girls before them. Dean cursed himself internally, then he looked down at his fingers, trying to calculate quickly. One day is a month. They were gone 10 years. So that…
"300 years," he breathed, then he stared at Cas. "You served Frau Holle for 300 years?!" Castiel only titled his head, not reacting to Dean's outburst, but Meg shrugged.
"Maybe now you understand why dear Holle no longer takes humans. The sacrifice was too great. A human who was offered to her gave up her entire life. And back then the service was only one year. But that still meant a 30-year absence."
"But how… What changed?" Dean asked and he took out his notebook to write this down.
"Legend says that an angel passed by and, moved by the human suffering, offered herself," Castiel told him, a faraway look on his face as he remembered the tale. "When Frau Holle scoffed, the angel offered 10 years of service instead. Eventually Frau Holle was warmed by the angel's care for humans. But she asked why the angel would give up those years. And the angel said because humans are worthy."
"And because Frau Holle likes to keep a balance, she demanded for a demon to also sacrifice herself." Meg scoffed. "Obviously that didn't go down well with demons in general. But bargains were made, treasures promised, so it happened. We're in it for our own good."
"Shame that this didn't make it into the fairy tales," Dean said with a small smile. Meg shrugged, then she turned towards Cas.
"What are you gonna do now, Goldmarie," Meg said. Castiel ignored the quip, looking at Dean like he had the answers. Dean held his gaze.
"I'm not sure," he said slowly, then he took his eyes away from Dean to face Meg. "I've got to find Frau Holle." Meg groaned. "And you?"
"There's nothing holding me. Maybe I'll see the world. Figure out what I've missed now that I've no longer got to worry about you destroying the world because you're such a good girl," she teased. Castiel looked contrite and Dean felt the urge to defend him, already opening his mouth to speak but Meg laughed at him as if she knew what he was planning on doing. The three were silent for moment, but then Meg seemed to make a decision and turned away from them, towards the main entrance.
"We should check what connections we have," she said and at first Dean didn't understand her, but then he remembered the timetables. He followed Meg towards them, Cas trailing behind. There was really something written on them this time. There was a train going back to Mills, with a connecting train back to Campbell, departing in just five minutes.
"Is it showing the same thing for everyone? Train to Mills? 15:04? Then onwards to Campbell?"
"Nope," Meg answered, tracing her finger over the paper, running it into blank space. "Train to Mills, then onwards to Lawrence." Meg turned to look at Dean over her shoulder. "Is that still a sleepy little village?"
"Nope. Busy town but far from any borders. You should have no problems moving anywhere as a demon." Meg didn't seem to be overwhelmed with delight.
"That's my path, so I'll go," she decided. Dean looked towards Cas, dreading his answer.
"What's your destination, Cas?"
"Campbell," Castiel said, then he looked at Dean. Hearing his own home town both surprised and relieved Dean.
"Hey! We'll be travelling buddies!" he said in delight, clapping Cas on the back and grinning at him. Castiel also managed to send him a somewhat timid smile. Meg eyed both of them.
"I wonder how long it’ll take until you'll be more than just travelling buddies," she remarked with a smirk that had heat shoot up into Dean's face. Castiel only looked at her with a puzzled squint. Luckily for Dean that's when they heard the sound of the approaching train.
"Come on, come on!" he urged them and they all got out onto the platform. The train was as small as last time. Dean couldn't help the smile when he saw Garth grinning out of the window.
"Hello friends! Where are we going today?"
They said their good-byes to Meg at Mills.
"Do you need anything?" Dean asked and pulled out his wallet.
"No. I've got enough," she said and patted the little bag she wore over her shoulder. "I got my riches for my service right with me." Dean shrugged at that and pulled out his calling card instead, handing it to her. Meg took it with a raised eyebrow.
"My address and the phone extension. In case you want to stay in contact or need a friendly… Hunter I suppose." Meg eyed him dubiously, but she pocketed the card nevertheless. Meg looked Castiel up and down next.
"Well, it was nice serving with you," she said, then she reached out her hand for Cas to shake it. Dean had maybe expected something a bit more heartfelt. Maybe a hug, or some crying. But Castiel seemed perfectly happy to give her his hand and a smile that bordered on fond. "And don't go chasing Holle too hard. You've earned yourself some freedom." Castiel nodded, but didn't make any promises. Meg seemed pleased enough with that, then she eyed him again. "If you ever ditch the meatsuit for something more comfortably and… shapely. Come see me." She winked and then her train rolled into the small station, whisking her away.
Their own train arrived soon after and Dean followed Cas inside. Dean paid for first class tickets for both of them, preferring the privacy of a small compartment even if it cost him a bit more. He watched Castiel look out of the window. The sun was already setting now but Dean could see that there was no snow covering the landscape anymore. Everything had melted already. He turned to study Castiel instead, the faint light catching his features, his eyes glowing bright.
"Hey, uh… What Meg said?" Dean started and Castiel's eyes focused on him. "Can you actually still change your body?" At that Castiel turned his head towards Dean, facing him fully.
"Why should I do that?" he asked.
"No. I didn't mean that you should, I just wanted to know if you could!" Dean argued, feeling his face heat up. Castiel narrowed his eyes at Dean.
"With effort. Why. Don't you like this one?"
"No. No! No, it's good!" Dean argued, holding up his hands. "I like it! I liked the other one too! I like both!" He knew that he was babbling but Castiel's sharp look seemed to drive him further into ruin. "Dudes and chicks, you know? Both… Just… Err…" The angel showed mercy and didn't comment, but he did seem pleased. Damn, Dean very smooth. Where the hell did he lose his dignity?
They drove on in silence for a while, Castiel looking outside as though the night didn't prevent him from seeing the landscape pass outside. Maybe it didn't. Dean alternated between dozing and reading. By the time dawn made the sky light up outside, throwing the hills into stark contrast against the sky, a woman came by to bring them their first-class breakfast.
"Two more hours until Campbell, gentlemen," she said kindly, taking in Dean's rumpled form with an amused smile. He should definitely freshen up before getting off the train. The long travelling wasn't doing him any favors. When Dean looked towards Cas, arranging the tray on the small table just to his liking, he found the angel just as put together as before. If you could call the messy hair and sort of baggy clothes well put together in the first place. In any case he didn't look like he had been hiking through the forest and travelling in trains for the better part of a week.
First, Dean really wanted to eat his breakfast, which was tasty – considering that it was served on a train. Castiel was eying the scrambled eggs with some trepidation and seemed to be mostly interested in the toast.
"Hey, Cas?" Dean asked when he had seen Castiel's usually impassive face go through a range of emotions as he tried the different food. He hadn't reacted that way to the stew back in Queens Fall. But Queens Fall had been a hinge between the human world and the supernatural, maybe the taste of food was different now that it had been prepared by humans. Castiel looked up from his tea, licking his lips. "What are you going to do now? In Campbell I mean?"
"I'm not sure," Castiel said. "Maybe Campbell is the best place to start searching for Frau Holle." Dean sighed to himself. Was Cas really going to dash off the first chance he had? Sure, he had no obligation at all to stay with Dean but… Dean supposed it would be nice? They could get to know each other more.
"You're free to stay with me," Dean said, after he had finally found the courage. Castiel looked at him, the surprise evident on his face.
"Why not?" Dean countered. "I've got the space and you sacrificed three centuries of your life. So you can relax a bit." Dean gestured to the world outside the train window. "You can watch nature turn from magical winter to summer, to autumn. Damn! You should see how beautiful the countryside is!" Dean argued animatedly. "We could visit my family estate in Winchester county! I know Campbell castle is impressive, but it's got nothing on Winchester manor, I promise." Castiel seemed to listen attentively and he even smiled a bit when he heard Dean speak so fondly of his grandparents' home. In the end he nodded.
"Alright," he agreed and Dean couldn't be happier. There was something inside of him that longed to keep Castiel close. He didn't quite understand it yet, but Castiel's presence soothed some of the ache inside of him. He felt nothing like when he had left his town to go on this case. He felt lighter now, like he could be happy. Really happy. Not just going through the motions.
Dean stopped that thought. It wasn't true. He hadn't just gone through the motions; he had enjoyed himself, he had been working hard to find his way back from war and he had been working equally hard to finish his studies to follow in the footsteps of his family. He had loved and laughed fiercely, he had enjoyed every moment he spent with Sam (even when Sam didn't do the dishes or let his room become a mess). So why did he feel like nothing had been as real as it was now? Him and Cas sitting in this compartment, the sun peeking over the hills, with Cas eying his grilled mushrooms like they were going to poison him? Dean shook his head, feeling his mouth form a fond smile.
Maybe he didn't have to think that hard about it.
They were an hour away from Campbell when Dean decided he had time now to do his final inventory. He piled all the contents of his bag on the bench, writing down how many rations he had left, how much money, how many ingredients. Dean pushed his hand into his pant pockets, pulling out spare change and the ugly necklace. He had forgotten about it again. What should he even do with it? If it came from the storage then he should probably return it. He looked up from the ugly brass face when he heard Cas take in a sharp breath. The angel's eyes widened, then he bent forwards to be able to snatch it from Dean's fingers.
"Hey!" Dean protested, but he saw the intense look Cas sent the amulet and decided to be silent. If an angel had such a reaction to a piece of junk then maybe it was important somehow. "What's wrong, Cas?"
"Where did you get this?" Castiel asked instead of answering.
"I received it by accident. I asked for coins out of different metals in case I had to pay toll fees to cross portals or wander on magical paths," Dean explained. "I just thought it's an ugly necklace."
"It's an amulet with magical proprieties," Castiel told him, holding it up by its string, the pendant dangling before his nose. "In a sense you might call it a path finder. It reacts to great power by glowing hot. Objects like this can be used to find God."
"That ugly thing?" Dean asked in disbelief but Cas ignored him.
"Frau Holle's power is great and I'm sure this pendant would react to her too," Castiel said, excitement making his eyes shine. Dean didn't like it. He snatched the pendant back, thought about rolling it up and stuffing it into his pocket, but put it around his neck. Castiel eyed him with a clearly displeased frown.
"Dean," Castiel said and it sounded like a warning. But Dean shook his head. He didn't want Cas to run right off again.
"I can't just give it to you. I have to make an application with the university to let you borrow this," Dean argued.
"It is an important mission, Dean," Castiel argued harshly.
"Yeah and important missions require paperwork! That's how we humans do things!" Dean hissed back, then he lifted his hand. "Just… Calm your horses." Cas took a deep breath, clearly irritated. "This train is bound for Campbell anyway." Castiel still glared at Dean, his eyes darting down to the amulet that rested against Dean's chest, but in the end he lent back in his seat and resolutely stared out of the window.
"Fine," he said and Dean heaved a sigh.
"Good. Thank you," he said, the words coming out slightly annoyed. He looked out of the window too, but mostly focused on Castiel's reflection instead of the town that they just passed.
One more hour until Campbell.
They stepped onto the platform in Campbell and Dean instantly felt a bit warm under his coat. They left the station, Castiel craning his neck to look at the copper and glass structure of the main hall. Dean put his hand at the small of Castiel's back, not guiding him, just making sure that he wouldn’t lose him.
They stepped out into sunlight. The clouds were thin and spotty and there was no more snow in sight. They started walking through the town, keeping on the side-walks so that Cas didn't accidentally step in front of a tram. The people that they passed this early in the morning, before the shops opened, seemed less drawn. The fearful, weary look they had sent to the clouds carrying snow were gone. People looked happy and laughter could be heard here and there. The heavy mantle of a too long winter had been lifted off their shoulders.
Dean felt a bit of pride spread in his chest.
"I'll have to go home first, check on my brother," Dean said, steering Cas away from the main road into a smaller one, past little shops and bakeries and flowers standing in colorful pots on the cobblestone street. Dean was grinning by the time they reached the old part of town where his house was and Castiel's eyes were wide, taking it all in.
"There we are!" Dean announced and opened the door to his house, pulling Cas in by his sleeve. Dean didn't bother taking off his shoes or his coat, he went straight to the kitchen, where he suspected Sam to take breakfast before going to the library to study. When he saw Sam his huge grin became softer. His brother was sitting at the table, looking down at the newspaper, fingers wrapped loosely around a forgotten cup of coffee. He looked pale, his hair uncombed and with dark rings under his eyes.
"Hey Sammy," he said softly and Sam's head shot up, eyes wide and almost frightened. But when he saw Dean he jumped up from his chair and Dean only had to take two steps into the kitchen before he had Sam in a tight embrace.
"Dean…! God, I'm so glad you're back...!" Sam's voice came out muffled, but Dean understood him well enough. "I knew you'd come back. When it stopped snowing yesterday evening I knew that you made it!" He finally let go of Dean and took a step back, looking Dean all over. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
"Nah! I'm good," Dean answered with an easy grin. Sam still stared at him, almost as if he couldn't believe it, but then he jumped into motion preparing some coffee for Dean.
"Wow, so… Did you find Frau Holle?" Dean shook his head and took the cup of coffee Sam shoved into his hands.
"No, she wasn't there. But the problem is solved. No more snowing," he said and then he looked over his shoulder where Cas still stood in the doorway, not yet past the threshold. Dean knew he could come in because he knew of no wards that would keep an angel out. Sam followed his eyes and finally noticed Cas.
"Oh…! Hi!" he said, then he looked at Dean with raised eyebrows, clearly asking him to do the introductions. And Dean grinned at that.
"Sam? Meet Goldmarie!" Sam's eyes became even bigger if that was possible. Clearly, he was too surprised to say anything at all. "Her... His?" He looked towards Cas for confirmation. Cas merely shrugged, clearly having no preference. "His name is Castiel. He's been serving Frau Holle for the last 300 odd years."
"Wha… Wait a minute! Goldmarie's a supernatural creature? And a man?" Sam asked incredulously.
"I'm not a man. This was merely the most convenient form for me to take," Castiel said and Dean nodded, finally shrugging out of his coat and getting another cup of coffee for Cas.
"When I met Cas in Frau Holle's realm he was a girl with golden braids and a cute dress," he said with a smirk but Castiel didn't register it as teasing at all. "And now he looks like this. What do you even look like when you're not using a vessel?" Castiel took a sip of his coffee, completely calm when he answered:
"I'm approximately 300 meters tall, white skin, dark hair and a pair of wings." He waited for a second, thinking what other information to give. "Only one head and one pair of arms and wings each. Multiple pairs get in the way of wielding a blade." Dean snorted in amusement.
"So you're like Snow White. A giant, monstrous Snow White," he quipped and Cas sent him a glare.
"No. I'm not a fairy tale creature."
"You are Goldmarie, Cas. Face it. To humans you are a fairy tale creature." Castiel rolled his eyes. They only stopped staring at each other, Dean fondly and Cas with a half-hearted glare, when Sam started talking, clearly stumbling over what exactly he wanted to say.
"Uuuuuuhm. O- Okay. I guess? I mean that sounds highly fascinating and all-" Dean laughed.
"I offered Cas a place to stay because it's not easy for him to go home." That got Sam to sober up quickly, his earnest worry and compassion lighting up his face.
"Of course. 300 years are a long time. The world has changed substantially," he said, "you are welcome to stay with us for as long as you need."
"You say that as if this is your house," Dean muttered, but after Castiel thanked him for his kindness, Dean put his hand on his shoulder, turning him out of the kitchen.
"Let's get you settled. The guest room should be ready," he said, leading Castiel up the stairs and down the corridor. The guest room was opposite the library, rather small but cozy as the rooms in such old houses tended to be. It had a narrow bed with a metal frame, a knitted throw blanket covering it. There was a chest of drawers with a mirror placed on the wall over above it. It had a miniscule fire place and a lumpy armchair that Dean had placed there mostly for decoration.
"I'd say unpack and make yourself at home," Dean started then he looked towards Cas. "But unless you hide your bag under that lumpy coat, it doesn't look like you have anything to unpack." Dean stepped to the side, letting Cas into the room. He went to the window, creaking it open to look outside. It showed into a small backyard where Sam tried to grow vegetables and they spent summer months lying in the sun until Sam was tanned and Dean was sunburnt and covered in freckles. Dean knew that the yard didn't look like much now, the grass and plants probably shriveled up because of the long winter. Cas turned away from the window and inclined his head towards Dean.
"I'm grateful for your generosity and hospitality," he said and while Dean knew he was honest about it, he seemed tense. His entire body was rigid and apparently uncomfortable and his eyes darted around, even though there was nothing new to see. It was like he either tried to find some speck of dust (and there was some, Sam wasn't that good at cleaning) or he wanted to burst out of the room and start his search for Frau Holle. Dean sighed heavily and Castiel's eyes snapped towards him.
"Cas. Just relax. You've got all the time in the world," he insisted but Castiel shook his head.
"No, Dean, I-"
"I get it, okay?" Dean interrupted him and Castiel pressed his lips into a thin line of disapproval. "You've obeyed Holle's orders for such a long time that not having them anymore must be hard. Getting back into normal life after that is far from easy." Castiel dropped his gaze to the floor. "And having all the options in the world? That must be weird, maybe even scary. But really, Cas, just relax a while."
"I'm not sure…" Castiel finally said and dropped his shoulders. It should be a victory for Dean to see him unwind a bit, but Cas just looked defeated.
"You don't have to be sure, Cas," Dean told him. "Take it as it comes." Castiel didn't say anything to that, but he stepped to the bed and touched his hand to the frame, studying it. Dean thought about what else he could say to make Cas look less lost about this all. But then the sound of the bell tower was to be heard through the open window and it reminded Dean that he had to be somewhere.
"Crap. I have to go present myself to the university," he said and fussed with his clothes a bit, making sure that all the buttons were closed. Cas was watching him curiously when Dean looked up at him. "Are you okay to wait here on your own? Sam'll probably be around until I get back."
"Of course," Castiel answered solemnly. Dean just hoped that Cas didn't take the first chance he got to dash away, but Dean had the amulet he wanted, so probably not. He sent Cas another look to make sure he wasn't gonna bolt, then he went back downstairs, where Sam was now in the sitting room with a book. But he apparently hadn't been reading because the moment Dean peeked into the room, Sam closed the book, not even marking the page.
"Dean, where are you going?"
"To university. I have to report back before Bobby and dad declare me missing in action."
"It's only been a bit over a month," Sam argued but he didn't try to tell Dean that the other two hadn't worried. "What about Castiel?"
"He's upstairs," Dean said, grabbing only a light jacket and then his bag. "I was hoping that you'd stay here until I'm back, in case he has any questions or needs anything." Sam nodded at once.
"Of course, Dean," he said and Dean was surprised by his restraint. It took a full two minutes during which Dean tied his shoelaces and combed his hair and looked at the post, before Sam blurted out: "So what's the deal with Cas exactly? Is he even human?" Dean huffed a laugh and when he looked at his brother, Sam's face was slightly red in embarrassment.
" I promise, he's not dangerous," Dean said but Sam waved him off.
"I'm not worried. If you trust him – which you obviously do, or else you wouldn't have brought him home – then I trust him too." Dean grinned at that and promised to talk to Sam some more later, then he went outside. He spent the walk to university thinking about Sam's words. He trusted Cas, didn't he? At least he trusted him not to hurt Dean himself, or anyone he cared about. But why exactly? He knew nothing about Cas apart from the fact that he was loyal, didn't have a lot of patience and was a seraph. And that he had healed and protected Dean, both from whatever monsters had been out there in the forest and from stupidly eating stuff that was probably fairy food. Sure, that was a basis for Dean to maybe be friendly with someone, but trust them? He had no idea why he did. Sam assumed that the two of them had spent the last month together, when in reality they'd had… what? Two days?
Dean walked into the entrance hall of the university's main building and went to the secretary's office. He knocked at the door and then let himself in.
"Hey," he greeted the woman behind the table, who sent him a polite smile.
"Dean Winchester-Campbell, right?" she asked and Dean nodded. "What can I do for you, Sir?"
"I wanted to ask if you could sign me up for a meeting with John Winchester and Bobby Singer. I'm back from my Master case," he said and the secretary nodded, then she took the receiver of her phone, calling the necessary assistants. Dean sat down in the armchair by the door, studying the slightly pompous chandelier hanging from the high ceiling. Dean didn't have to wait long because minutes after the secretary had made her call, John Winchester stormed into the office.
"Damn, dad!" Dean shouted in surprise when the man was standing before him, his hair all over the place and his robes wrinkled. "Did you run all the way from the MOL buildings to here?" John took a deep breath, then he straightened his robes and fixed his hair.
"Are you unhurt?" he asked, looking Dean up and down. "A month isn't out of the ordinary for a Master case, but when you didn't check in with us, I did start to worry."
"I'm alright, dad," Dean assured him. "Hell, I feel fine, more than fine!" That made John raise an eyebrow, but they said their good-byes to the secretary and walked towards Bobby's office rather than discussing the matter further in front of her.
Bobby was out of his chair, pacing, when they reached him.
"You're back," Bobby said and Dean nodded, putting his bag on the chair in front of Bobby's desk and unpacking his notebooks. "Shsssht" Bobby said, waving his hand at Dean to stop. Dean lifted an eyebrow in surprise. "Let's forgo protocol for the moment. You can review your progress later! First I have to know how you're doing." Dean grinned at him.
"Aww, Bobby. That’s so sweet of you," he teased and Bobby rolled his eyes at him.
"He said he feels more than fine," John repeated and eyed Bobby. "Maybe a spell that messes with his head."
"Hm," Bobby muttered but Dean could see his mouth curve into a smile under his beard. Dean groaned.
"The case was easy. The worst I got was blisters from walking and they're already healed. I found Frau Holle's realm through a portal in Huldasquell. Snow's stopped and I made it back in one piece, so why shouldn't I feel fine?" Bobby pointed towards the chairs and Dean sat down, pulling his bag off the second chair so his father could sit down too.
"Yes, you did well, boy. The snow stopped. We weren't sure though if it was just a fluke or if it was done," Bobby told him.
"It's done. For now," Dean said and then he started telling them of the case and what he'd found out, leaving the details for his report later.
"I brought Goldmarie back home," Dean said and caught a glimpse of Bobby sending John an alarmed look. "He's fine. Cas is totally alright. But he spent 300 years serving Frau Holle and now he's lost. I thought he could use a bit of a break before he rushes off to find Frau Holle. I suppose he wants closure. I don't think he'll return to serve her."
"Alright, you're the most familiar with the case, so you'll know best whether this Cas can be trusted," John concluded. Bobby knocked his knuckles against his desk.
"Good, I think we're done here for the moment," he said and Dean got up from his seat. "You have to hand in your notebooks, budget and itinerary, as well as a written report within a week. And return the objects you didn't use to the storage." Dean nodded and then Bobby held out his hand for Dean to shake. "Congratulations. I think the improved weather is proof enough that you achieved what you set out to do." Dean smiled at him, then he shook his hand. John clapped him on the shoulder.
"Well done, son," he said. "We'll be sure to celebrate."
"Do you already know what you want to do after you've got your title?" Bobby asked and Dean was momentarily unsure what to say.
"I thought I would continue doing research," he said after a while, then he looked at his father. "Continue the family tradition of being a professor?" John's proud smile told Dean that yes, that was the right decision.
"Yeah, alright. But you completed a hunt, which makes you eligible for a position on the hunting council," Bobby reminded him. Dean didn't even have to look at his father to know he was glaring at Bobby.
"Thank you, Bobby. I'll keep it in mind," Dean said. This wasn't the time to commit himself to a future career yet. Bobby seemed to accept that and nodded.
"I'm really glad you're back. Make sure to swing by Karen to get pie. On the house of course." Dean grinned at him, then he and John left the office. Dean knew that his father's silence would not last for too long, he could see him gearing himself up to something. When Dean was almost out of the front he assumed that maybe John wasn't going to say anything at all. But then John reached out and grabbed Dean's shoulder.
"Dean, listen," he said and [as] the two of them stepped away from the doors, to let some students pass. "I'm proud of you." The look on Dean's face made John's expression darken a bit. "You achieved something remarkable. Just because I was worried doesn't mean that I'm not proud."
"Yeah I… I get it. I was just surprised," Dean stammered and John looked at him with an almost sorry expression. "Of course I know you're proud of me. Thanks for saying it though." John nodded.
"I really didn't like having you out in the field, though. I know that you're an adult and that you can make your own choice, but I…" John lifted his arms in some sort of shrug, then he let them drop down to his sides again. "I worry." Dean smiled at him.
"Aww," he dared to tease and John rolled his eyes at him. "But it's not gonna happen again."
"You say that now, but if you become part of the hunting council like Bobby wants you to, then you'll have to do field work," John reminded him. Dean shrugged.
"I'll figure something out," Dean insisted and John looked at him dubiously. "Maybe I can take some kids out in the forest and teach them warding symbols. That's out in the field, right? It's different trying to cast spells and ward yourself when there's wind and uneven ground." His father laughed at that. "I mean, have you ever done warding work when your feet are sinking into mud and there's a storm raining down on your freaking head? It's hard work!" Dean told him with a grin.
"I'll prefer to cast my spells in spell rooms," John agreed and then he went to the door, opening it for Dean to pass through. John probably had to get back to his office and Dean had no reason to linger for too long. He was eager to get back home, make sure Cas hadn't slipped away. It was almost as if John could read his mind:
"What about this Cas though?" John asked, before Dean could bid him good-bye, swinging by Karen before going back home to Cas and Sam.
"What about him?" Dean asked.
"Are you sure you can manage?" When Dean looked at him in confusion he added: "300 years is a long time to be stuck in a world of magic. His entire family must be gone now. Maybe it's best to let him stay in the magical recovery ward at the sanatorium." Dean hessitated for a second. Dean hadn't revealed a lot about Cas, not yet. Was it a good idea to let his father come to his own conclusions? The magical recovery ward was a… well… Not a place Dean wanted to see any more of.
"No, I think he can take it," Dean finally said which of course made his father raise his eyebrow doubtfully. Dean heaved a sigh. "Cas is a chill dude. I'm not worried about him, though he does want to rush off to chase Frau Holle the first chance he's got."
"I doubt that would be a good idea," John said pensively. "He should become grounded. Get his feet back under him."
"Yeah… But servitude, and no small amount of attitude if we're being honest, is all he has right now," Dean said.
"Well, then maybe find him something to do," John told him. "If he was a servant then let him be a servant." John lifted his hand. "Just… make sure he doesn't make it snow again." Dean laughed.
"Yeah, I will," he said, then they said their good-byes and Dean was on his way to Karen's bakery. It was heartening that John had come to the same conclusion as Dean had. Maybe it wasn't the best idea, but the least Dean could do was present it to Cas.
Laden down with two boxes of pie, Dean found his brother and Cas in the sitting room, Sam apparently explaining some of the cases he was studying for his classes. Dean had tried to listen to Sam drone on about cases before and he felt that Cas should be bored to tears by now, but he seemed to be listening intensely. Dean rolled his eyes fondly, then he put the boxes into the kitchen.
"You guys want some pie?" Dean asked, finally getting the attention of the two of them. Cas got up to help Dean plate the food, but the moment he was in the kitchen with Dean, the pie boxes were ignored.
"Have you asked them about the pendant?" Dean gave a start, turning away from the cupboards and finding Cas staring at him. Dean backed up slightly, but there was nowhere for him to go, so he lifted the plates he was carrying and held them out to Cas instead.
"No, not yet," he said and Cas took the plates with a grimace. "Dad suggested that we could find you work, you know? Something you're familiar with to make you feel more at ease."
"Dean, I don't need to be more at ease," Castiel answered gravely, but he still carried the plates to the table and started cutting the pie evenly, putting slices on the plates. Dean suppressed a sigh of relief, then he watched Castiel put a kettle on the stove, grab spoons and the jars with tea and sugar. Either he had used the time to rummage around Dean's kitchen or it was a supernatural ability of his to know exactly what drawer to open.
"You could be my maid, you know?" Dean suggested and even though he said it in a teasing way, he did like the idea. Castiel looked at him, a frown on his face. He pulled a serving tray out from where Dean had stored it a long time ago (he didn't even remember having it) and carried it into the sitting room. He hadn't refused though. Dean followed him, a grin on his face. "Hey, I could even get you a nice uniform. Something a bit less last century than what you wore at Holle's. Maybe something scandalous, like skirts that show off your calves."
"You're gross, Dean," Sam said flatly, then he took the plate Castiel handed him.
"I'm sure that there is more important work to be done in the world than serving Dean," Castiel finally said, without looking up at him.
"I'm not so sure," Dean said and that got Cas to look at him. "I'm not saying this to be an asshole with an inflated ego. Frau Holle's not here right now. Let her be on vacation for a while. There have always been long stretches of time where she was gone. Nothing ever happened. Mild summers, mild winters."
"I don't know…" Castiel said, trailing off with a bit of a lost expression. Dean felt a pang of remorse. He had hoped that giving him another option would make him feel better.
"You can also go back home, pick up your life there?" Sam suggested and Dean looked at him sharply, remorse forgotten when panicked resistance to the idea barreled into Dean. It made Dean's next words come out much harsher than he had hoped them to:
"Sure, Sam. He'll pick up straight where he left off 300 freaking years ago." Sam instantly looked chastised and that made Dean wince internally. He took a deep breath and sat down. He tugged at Castiel's sleeve and when the angel looked at him he nodded his head towards the free armchair next to him that he had previously occupied. Dean wiped his hand over his mouth and chin, then he grabbed his pie.
"Is there even home for you to return to?" he asked when he felt a bit more in control of himself.
"I don't know, but I suppose," Castiel answered. "We're a slow-paced species, resistant to change." Out of the corner of his eyes he could see Sam sit up straight at that, his eyes lit up with interest.
"You said you often got bored at home," he said and studied Castiel's face. The angel nodded. "Maybe you'd be less bored here?" He sounded hopeful and Sam smiled at Cas encouragingly when he looked at both Winchesters with uncertainty.
"There's lots to do and see around here," Sam said with a smile. "Dean might think he's the hottest thing to see or do in the entire country, but he's certainly not." Dean rolled his eyes, feeling his cheeks heat up a bit at Sam's teasing.
"That's slander, Sam. I've gotten nothing but favorable reviews from people who got the full Dean Winchester experience," he said with bravado. Lucky or unlucky for him Cas looked at them with a confused frown.
"Are we still talking about the same thing?" he asked and Sam laughed heartily, mostly at Dean's expense, Dean was sure of it.
"I was just saying that Dean doesn't have to be the only reason for you to stay," he explained and nodded towards Dean.
"Hey, now," Dean groused.
"I do enjoy Dean's company," Castiel said and Dean smiled at him, feeling his chest warm. "And yours too, Sam."
"So you'll stay?" Dean asked and finally Castiel nodded. Unable to reign in his excitement, Dean made a grab for Castiel's hand, giving it a firm squeeze. "Awesome!" Dean knew he was as red as a tomato, especially when Sam started snickering, but he didn't let go.
"You can stay here and work for your keep as long as you want to," Dean insisted. "Or you could just relax."
"I would enjoy working," Castiel insisted.
"Hey! We could go to Winchester Manor later in the year! Show him the countryside," Sam suggested and Dean liked that idea a lot. "Though… maybe not Campbell castle." Dean shuddered.
Castiel looked at them but both only pulled disgusted grimaces so Castiel didn't ask.
"So…," Dean asked after they had settled down a bit. "Do you want a maid uniform?" Sam groaned.
Despite Sam's disapproval, Dean had taken Cas to get his measurements at the tailor where his grandparents had their servants' clothes made. Of course, it was mostly a joke at this point for Dean to have also gotten Cas the typical maid outfit with the dark blue dress, the white blouse and the apron with the Winchester emblem on it. Dean watched Castiel pull open the wrapping tissue inside the box and how put on the embroidered socks, the dark blue pants, the white undershirt and the white shirt. He helped him tie the dark blue bow tie and button up the vest. Cas didn't put on the jacket, but he took the apron from the other box and tied it around his waist. Dean watched that neat bow just in the small of his back, as Castiel worked.
"You're indecent," was all Sam said but he did smile a bit.
The transition of Cas as an addition to their household went much more smoothly than Dean could have imagined. The angel tended to wake up early and went on walks around the city independently of Dean and Sam. That first day after he had put on the uniform he brought back products from the bakery, because the kitchen wasn't stocked. ("What? I didn't cook when you were gone!" had been Sam's embarrassed confession.)
"I arranged to buy a chicken," Castiel said and Dean didn't know how to protest. Because one chicken was surely not enough to get them eggs every day, but he didn't want Cas to suddenly get an army of chickens as there had been at Holle's. "I'll look for a carpenter to build a chicken coop and will have to check if there's a farm that can deliver milk and chicken food." He was putting the Winchester's breakfast onto their table in the kitchen as he spoke.
"We have milk deliveries, Cas," Dean said, "just put the empty bottles outside and you'll get full bottles back." Cas frowned but he didn't object. "Fine about the chicken I guess. If you really need to have one."
"I feel every household should have a chicken," Castiel insisted, then he sat down and helped himself to a chocolate bun. Dean sent his brother an exasperated look, but Sam was grinning at him in delight, happily chewing his food.
"Maybe I should wash your clothes next," Castiel said, apparently already done with breakfast while the Winchesters were both just getting started.
"You don't have to do that, Cas," Dean said and saw Castiel narrow his eyes at him. "There's a cleaning service that comes every week. You can prepare the things for when the washer lady comes on Wednesday." Castiel seemed skeptical.
"Fine. Then I will clean the house now," he declared and left the kitchen.
"Alright, I guess?" Dean asked, watching Cas leave. So yeah okay. Maybe Castiel being around them was easy and smooth (unless Dean made a fool of himself), but trying to navigate Castiel's position as a servant would probably take some time.
"I'll have to go to the library," Sam declared once he was done eating. Dean nodded and when Sam headed out, Dean did the dishes and put away the food. Then he went up to his study to work on his report.
Somehow it was weird to have someone around the house, because Dean was so used to the house being silent whenever Sam was out. They haven’t had a servant since they moved out of their father's house. Dean knew that it was common for a man of his rank to have servants but he had not seen the point of it. He didn't need anyone to cook for him or to tend to him, not if it was only him and Sam in the house. His father had protested until Pamela had told him that having work to do around the house would be beneficial for Dean's healing process. And she had been right, shutting off his mind while he scrubbed the windows or tried to learn to cook for himself and later Sam had been a relief.
Throughout the day he caught glimpses of Cas as he was working, whenever Dean left his study. Close to midday Cas peeked into Dean's room, clearly not one to knock before coming in.
"What do you want for lunch?"
"Did Frau Holle make you cook?" Dean wondered, turning away from the typewriter to study Cas.
"Yes, but the products available to me where limited. I only had what the estate could produce. We had lots of wheat and apples." Dean laughed at that. "Sometimes Meg went out and came back with rabbits or fowl that we prepared together. Frau Holle never ate with us and she didn't indicate whether she liked it or not. So maybe what I cook won't be to your taste."
"I'll risk it," Dean said with a grin. Castiel sent him a small smile, then he wrung his hands before he patted his pants.
"Maybe I should put on the apron," Castiel decided, but Dean was kept from agreeing by the doorbell. Castiel tilted his head, but didn't make a move to open the door. Dean guessed that opening the door for guests wasn't something that occurred often at Frau Holle's estate.
"You're not going to open door?" Castiel asked and Dean had to laugh, heaving himself out of the chair. Castiel trailed after Dean, clearly curious about who was coming to see them. Dean shot Cas a look over his shoulder, making sure that his ruffled hair and the state of his clothes were presentable. Pleased by what he saw, he opened the door to Karen Singer, who instantly smiled at him.
"Karen! I didn't know you'd be stopping by!" Dean said, welcoming her in with a hug. Castiel stepped out of the way, still hovering. Karen noticed him.
"Oh, it's you again, the nice young man who said my bakery had the most pleasant atmosphere," she said with a smile and Castiel nodded once, bending his head far enough down to almost look like a bit of an awkward bow. "I didn't know you were employed with the Winchesters!" She turned towards Dean, her eyebrows raised.
"I met him on my travels. Cas didn't really have a place to go to and you know how Sam gets when I'm not around," Dean insisted, then he put his hand on Cas' shoulder and pushed him in front of him, so he was facing Karen. "Karen, Cas. Cas, this is Karen Singer. She and Bobby have been family friends for ages."
"That sounds like I'm ancient," Karen said, but held out her hand for Cas to shake. "Where are you from?"
"Heaven," Castiel said and Karen lifted both her eyebrows. Dean covered his face with his hand.
"You can't just blurt that out," Dean groaned and Castiel looked at him with a critical squint.
"Heaven as in… Heaven Port?" Karen asked and if it had been anyone else he'd probably take that easy way out.
"No… Heaven as in the home of angels. But maybe don't… tell Bobby yet? Or Dad?" Karen looked at him dubiously. "It's all in my report, I'm not trying to hide it. I just don't want them pester Cas. I want him to feel comfortable here with me," Dean arguesd. Karen heaved a sigh but she nodded.
"Only you would encounter an angel and make him your servant," she said, but her voice was fond. She looked towards Cas. "You're here out of your free will, right?"
"Yes," Castiel answered, his expression puzzled.
"Why did you drop by?" Dean wanted to know, trying to distract Karen's focus from Cas. She was still looking at him a bit awed and enamored, but she was able to tear away her gaze to hold out the basket.
"I wanted to bring something to eat. It's a shepard's pie, for lunch," she said and handed it over to Cas. "I assumed that you wouldn't have anything in your kitchen, because Sam isn't really that fond of cooking."
"Thanks for feeding him while I was gone," Dean said, "I appreciate it."
"Don't mention it, honey," she said and waved her hand. "I'm glad that you're back home." Castiel came back from depositing the food into the kitchen, bringing back the empty basket.
"Hey, Karen if you've got time, you could show Cas around the market?" Karen looked up at Castiel, her eyes sparkling.
"Of course! I'd love to give him a little tour," she said and hooked her arm through Castiel's. Dean was a bit surprised by her complete lack of reservation when it came to Cas. Dean assumed this was partially due to being Bobby's wife and partially due to the fact that most people simply couldn't help but think only the best of angels. Dean still didn't know how monstrous Cas' species was, but Cas wasn't dangerous.
"Enjoy," Dean said with a grin and Cas sent a somewhat unreadable look at Dean, but he didn't protest when Karen guided him out into the street. Dean could tell himself that the only reason he had jumped at the chance to make Cas go with Karen was so that the guy knew where to get food. And that it had absolutely nothing to do with his hope that by introducing Cas to his friends and family, he might want to stay longer.
Dean was good at fooling himself.
The weeks passed quickly and as Cas made no move to leave, Dean felt something within him settle. He felt comfortable in ways that he hadn't for a long time. Cas seemed to bring a sort of unassuming presence into the house that filled all the empty spaces that Dean had tried to ignore. Sam and Cas got along well and Castiel seemed to enjoy his work. Sometimes though, Dean caught Cas looking at him, expectantly almost, as if he waited for something.
Maybe he waited for Dean to give him the amulet, which Dean still carried around his neck, often hidden under his shirt. Dean felt a pang of guilt whenever Castiel studied him like that, but the moments quickly passed, when Cas turned his eyes away or he resumed work. And Dean's dread, that had lifted inside him, expanding like a balloon, settled back down.
Maybe Cas just wanted more work. He had complained before that he tended to get bored because their house wasn't that big and two bachelors and one angel and one chicken didn't make a lot of dirt. Cas had taken up embroidery but there was a limit to how many flowers Dean could tolerate in his house and once Cas had started adding his decorative stitches to Dean's vest, Dean had to put an end to it.
"How about we have dinner with my father?" Dean suggested, when Castiel rummaged around a wooden trunk where Dean kept the sewing material. Castiel lifted his head and studied Dean.
"Has he asked for our presence?" Castiel wondered and Dean shrugged. John had in fact been oddly quiet about meeting Cas, quiet enough to raise all kinds of red flags in Dean. All the casual "so, how's Castiel?" over tea didn't bode well either. So Dean had avoided getting John and Cas in a room together. Until now.
"Well, he's made hints that he'd like for us to come over. You too of course," he answered and Castiel closed the trunk again, but remained kneeling next to it. His apron rested over his thighs, the hem already richly embroidered, the snowflake and spring blossom theme slowly moving upwards, slowly encroaching the emblem of the Winchester family. Somehow Castiel's silence made Dean fret. "You know, I've submitted all of my work to Bobby, now it's time to celebrate. And we generally do that with family."
"Is it prudent to celebrate before you get the results?" Castiel asked and Dean snorted at him, momentarily distracted by Castiel's doubt in his skills as an academic.
"It takes Bobby a while to correct the paper, but I already know that I'll pass," he insisted and Castiel nodded, though didn't accept or decline the invitation. Almost impatient, Dean pressed: "Well? Are you coming?"
"Very well, I will get dressed," Castiel said, stood up and started undoing his apron's the bow while he walked past Dean. Dean turned around and poked his head out of the parlor, seeing Castiel take the stairs as noiselessly as he always did.
The door opening called him back out of his fruitless staring and he turned around to see Sam putting down his heavy book bag.
"Sam, we're going to dad's. I'm gonna head over to Ellen's to use her telephone," Dean said and whatever protest Sam was gearing himself up to got lost to Dean closing the door after himself.
John was pleasantly surprised by the visit. They had an ample dinner, with Castiel's stare sending one or the other servant hurrying out of the room again.
"Cut it, Cas, you're spooking them," Dean hissed when the maid rushed out after Cas had closely followed her every movement as she poured Dean more wine.
"What?" Cas demanded, partly irritated and partly confused. "I'm trying to learn. What if you have guests?"
"When I have guests over for something as a dinner, then you'll be sitting at the table too, you won't be serving," Dean grumbled.
"You sure? Your eyes go all glassy whenever you see Cas walking around in his uniform. You sure you want him out of it?" Sam teased and Dean shot him a dirty look. "Dumb question, of course you-"
"So!" John spoke up, cutting off Sam's words before Dean could toss his wine into his brother's face. "Cas. How are you liking Campbell?"
"It's pleasant here," Castiel told him, "people are kind."
"And you like working for Dean? Even after all the time you've worked for Frau Holle? Aren't you itching to do something else?"
"Serving is what is familiar, though I prefer it here," Castiel said and Dean instantly perked up at that. He itched to ask him what exactly he liked, though John was intent on continuing his questioning.
"I'm glad to hear it, but don't you want to return home?" John wondered and Dean was familiar with the kind of look in his father's eyes. Clearly, John considered Castiel as someone worthy of study. Dean didn't know if John still was under the impression that Cas was human.
"It is not a priority," Castiel answered calmly. He wasn't shy about any of John's questions, though Cas had learnt not to blurt out his species anymore. It wasn't like Dean was trying to hide it; all the paperwork was submitted after all and with it the full truth about Cas – as far as Dean knew it. Bobby hadn't come storming in, demanding for an examination. Campbell's rules about humans and creatures coexisting weren't as lax as other places, but non-humans were generally welcome. Castiel was immune to all the warding in Campbell, so maybe that hadn't tipped off Bobby's and the council's warning bells.
Dean shot Sam a look, but his brother just shrugged and continued eating his dessert. That traitor apparently didn't worry about whether Cas would want to leave. Not that Dean really worried. He was just… apprehensive.
"Can I ask you something else, Cas?" Castiel nodded and while his hands rested calmly on top of the table, Dean was nervously toying with his dessert fork. "I've read about the rules of Frau Holle's realm, especially about it always being two girls who serve her. Were you magically altered when you entered? And if yes, why wasn't Dean?"
"I'm from a different realm. My body adapted both to the rules of Frau Holle's estate and to the human world," Cas said and Dean observed his father's face, for any kind of tick or twitch to let him know that anything that Cas said surprised him. But his father had the perfect poker face. It was eerie.
"Stop fretting," Sam hissed, kicking Dean's shin. Dean shot him a dirty glare, but then his eyes were straight back on Cas and John.
"Dean sacrificed blood to be granted admission. You might call this loophole," Cas explained and then his eyes lifted to meet Dean's. "If Frau Holle's realm had been less stable at the time, Dean might have been sucked into one of the positions left empty."
"Meg's?" Dean wondered and Castiel nodded.
"It's mere speculation at this point, but it's possible that he would have been changed and forced to became one of the," Castiel lifted his fingers to make air quotes, "characters in Frau Holle's realm."
"Dodged a bullet there," Dean said uneasily, trying to to lighten up the mood, though Castiel's sharp look let him know that this was actually no laughing matter. Dean's vague grin died quickly.
"But being female is a prerequisite of being able to interact with the world of Frau Holle?" Sam wanted to know, speaking up for the first time. Sam generally didn't care much about the supernatural, though that brain of his liked to learn about the rules that governed the world of magic.
"I'm not sure. Though I don't think it would have been permanent for Dean," Castiel said and Dean wasn't entirely comforted by this. Not that he had any plans to return to Frau Holle's realm, but he wasn't really keen on having his body changed against his will. John propped his elbows up on the table and folded his hands.
"I'm more interested in you, Cas," he said and Castiel lifted an eyebrow.
"Yes. What are you? A boy? A girl?" John wanted to know and Sam almost chocked on his drink. He put his glass down with a loud clink.
"Dad! That's a rude question and entirely none of our business!" he said and John turned to look at him, unimpressed by Sam's irritation.
"I have no issues answering the question," Castiel said placatingly and while Sam still seemed dubious, he did relent. "I'm male now and you're welcome to think of me as that. Once I leave the human realm the question will become irrelevant again." Castiel tilted his head, his expression pondering. "It's generally irrelevant."
"Is it?" John askes, his interest now shifted. "Doesn't your species procreate?" Dean thought that this at least cleared up the question on whether Dad knew if he was human or not.
"We can, but we don't usually define ourselves by the way we procreate," Cas explained. John reached up a hand, rubbing it over his beard. He was looking at Cas like a very interesting study specimen and Dean didn't know if he should intervene before it got too bad. But his mind was still turning fruitless circles around Cas and procreation. John pressed his fingers to his lips, studying Cas intensely, which Cas met with his usual calm. John huffed.
"You've got to forgive me for my impertinent questions. But I'm a scholar. I can't help being interested." Now Cas actually smiled, then he looked towards Dean.
"Like Dean," he said fondly, then he reached out to take a sip of his wine, before he calmly added: "Dean seems to be pretty interested in sex too." Dean could feel his face burn up at that, much to the amusement of his family. Maybe the way Castiel laughed, softly and clearly pleased about his teasing, was worth it though.
They relocated to the parlor after that, to let the food settle and to wind down with a cup of tea (and a dash of something stronger in both John and Dean's cups). Dean had kept a somewhat close watch on his father throughout the evening, but John was surprisingly easy-going around Cas and Dean couldn't keep up his constant worrying. Eventually, he relaxed back into the couch, Cas next to him, both enjoying their drinks.
"Have you thought about applying for citizenship in Campbell?" John spoke up when his and Sam's conversation had petered out. Castiel lifted his head, looking at John with a quizzical expression. "Supenatural creatures that don't pose a threat to humans can apply. I suppose you would qualify." Castiel didn't answer right away so John turned to Dean. "Surely you two have discussed it?"
"No, we haven't actually, because I wasn't sure how you or Bobby would react to Cas," Dean said defensively.
"What's the point of citizenship?" Castiel asked, ignoring the look John sent his son.
"You can work for example."
"I do work," Castiel told him and John lifted his hands.
"What Dean has you do is not proper work. You're not earning any money after all, neither do you get the other benefits such as insurance."
"Work for lodgings and food is widely accepted, so it's not exactly illegal," Sam added, though Dean wasn't sure why Sam had felt the need to defend him. He still sent Sam an appreciative smile.
"That doesn't matter," John said, then he turned to Cas. "Don't let Dean force you into doing housework while you're his guest." Now that got Dean to glare at his father.
"I can pay Cas," he insisted.
"That would be technically illegal, though, if Cas doesn't have any papers," Sam said, looking almost apologetical.
"I thought you were on my side here?" Dean grumbled and Sam shrugged. Dean dared to catch a glimpse of Cas while he entered into a half-hearted debate about labor laws. The angel was keeping himself out of the discussion, though he seemed uncertain about John's suggestion. There was a reason why Cas didn't instantly jump on the chance, that much was clear. Even though Cas had no obvious reason to leave yet, his heart still was set on his mission. Working for Dean, getting a permit, earning wages… those things were nothing but distractions.
Almost as if he could feel Dean's eyes on him, Castiel looked up, quickly studying Dean's face, but then his gaze dropped down to the necklace that was hanging around Dean's neck. Castiel grimaced, but then he looked away.
Dean was left with the bitter knowledge that he was being selfish.
But the days wore on and Dean buried his shame in activities. With the semester having come to a close and no further work demanding his immediate attention, Dean felt the ease of summer becoming a welcome guest in his house. Sam was also on break now and even though he usually spent his time visiting friends, some of whom lived outside of Campbell, he seemed to make an effort to spend time with Dean and, by extension, Cas.
It was getting warmer now and Dean could watch the backyard and garden through the window in his study, where Cas and Sam apparently had decided that feeding their single chicken was a two-man job. Cas had found someone to build him a generous chicken coop and he had forced Dean to accompany him to pick out a chicken. Of course, for Dean all of them looked basically the same, so when after an hour of deliberation from Cas that was getting on Dean's nerves, he picked up the one that was pecking at his shoes. Cas was pleased by his choice and they took her home.
"It's not like we're adopting a cat or a dog. It's just a fricking chicken," Dean muttered, watching Cas carry the thing on his arms through Campbell. Cas however considered it his solemn duty and great pleasure to have someone to care for.
"It's not like the farm at the estate, but it's calming," Dean overheard Cas telling Sam, while they cleaned the backyard. Dean knew he wasn't supposed to eavesdrop, but his window was open and their voices carried up to his study. "It gives me the feeling that I'm needed," Cas said but then he shook his head. "Obviously the animals at the estate didn't really need me and I'm sure this chicken would do well without me."
Dean closed the window, deciding to condemn himself to the stifling air of old books and ink.
Cas seemed to be happy with the chicken. Dean had named her Meg, just so Cas would have something to tease the actual Meg with in case they met again. Cas, though not really mischievous by nature, had liked that. The chicken however seemed to have put it in her head to be a menace, because even though Dean had a policy of no animals in house, Meg the chicken clearly cared nothing for his rules. When Cas was in the kitchen, working with the door to the backyard open, Meg would come into the house for attention and coddling. Cas, of course, indulged her. Meg had also started to venture further, having some sixth sense or something because whenever Dean managed to catch Cas alone in the kitchen or in the sitting room, all of a sudden the fucking chicken was there too, drawing Cas' attention away from Dean.
"And here are my brother Dean, our friend Cas and their adopted chicken daughter Meg," Sam teased when he brought "just a friend from college" Jess over. It was rare enough that Sam invited friends to their house (Dean didn't know why; their house was awesome) but it was embarrassing that this was the first impression Jess got.
"Aw, that's so cute," Jess said with a teasing smile, though it was good-natured, Dean saw that.
"Thank you," Cas said in his serious voice and Dean didn't know if he was joking with Jess or not. "Should I serve tea?" he asked, putting Meg down.
"No, Cas. It's alright. I'll take it from here," Sam said quickly and then guided Jess out. Jess waved at them and then they were gone. Castiel turned to Dean with a frown.
"He seemed displeased with me," he said and Dean shrugged.
"I think it's because he introduced you as a friend. Maybe he didn't want Jess to know that we have a servant? Or that we have a servant that we are friends with? I don't know. He's weird," Dean answered.
"But given your status, wouldn’t Jess expect there to be a servant?"
"Yeah, but maybe not one who sits next to me with a stupid chicken on his knees," Dean told him with a laugh. Castiel seemed to contemplate this, but then he got to his feet. "Where are you going, Cas?"
"The market. We're out of apples," Castiel explained. "Please put Meg back in her coop." Dean wasn't sure how he was supposed to read Cas' suddenly dismissive tone of voice. But once Cas had left the house, he shooed Meg through the house and out of the kitchen to lock her up. He sat down at the kitchen table while he waited for his coffee to brew. There was a bowl of apples on the shelf. Apparently, Cas had learned to not talk about what was on his mind from the best. Dean wasn't an idiot, he knew that the whole servant thing was not really doing them any favors in the long run. Sam's displeasure with Cas' somewhat ambiguous place in the house was no secret, but was Cas unhappy with the situation too? Dean sighed to himself and decided that pondering over it wasn't going to solve anything. He decided to forgo coffee, put on his shoes and left the house.
It was warm outside, though not really hot, as Dean ambled through the streets, keeping his eyes out for Cas' head of unruly hair. Cas could be anywhere, seen Karen or Ellen or any of the other friends and family who he had painstakingly introduced Cas to. The market was already winding down by the time Dean reached it. Cas wasn't among the people still milling about the market square. Maybe he had already gone back or simply gone for a walk. Dean heaved a sigh, but then he spotted someone sitting on a bench on the other side of the market square, someone who wore the familiar colors of the Winchester uniform and had unruly dark hair. Dean made his way through the people and saw that it was indeed Cas sitting on the bench, staring up at the sky, still a clear blue, even though the setting sun would soon flood the sky with other colors.
"So, no apples then?" Dean asked gently, trying to keep his voice from sounding teasing.
"No," Cas said, but there was no anger in his voice, but he also wasn't forthcoming with an explanation.
"You know, maybe it isn't a thing angels do, but you're welcome to talk to me if there's something on your mind," Dean offered. Castiel didn't react at first, but after a while he closed his eyes, looking like a flower soaking in the sunrays.
"Talking would require me knowing what exactly I'm feeling," he eventually said, taking Dean by surprise. Castiel opened his eyes again so that he could look at Dean. "I don't, Dean."
"Look, I know this isn't an ideal situation," Dean said, "but there's always the chance to make adjustments if there's something you don't like." Castiel didn't answer. Dean sighed, then he got up from the bench. "Let's go for a walk! It's nice outside."
"I have to prepare dinner," Castiel protested, but let himself be pulled to his feet.
"Nah, Sam can get his own food. He probably won't stay for dinner anyway," Dean said, then he clapped Castiel on the shoulder. "Come on, let's head out." Castiel followed Dean, falling in step with him. Campbell had plenty of opportunities to go for leisurely strolls, even though that wasn't usually Dean's evening activity of choice. He took Cas through the old town and then towards the river. Other couples (Dean reminded himself that they were not a couple!) were enjoying the promenade. There were small cafés and restaurants on one side of the river, while the other side had a nice park that allowed for walking.
"When I was a kid, Mom used to take me and Sam through the park, walking along the river," Dean explained. "As soon as the sun sets and it gets dark, there'll be lights everywhere. It's nice."
"Is your mother around?" Castiel asked and even though Dean had expected the question, it still hurt. "I assume I'm not supposed to ask, since you haven't introduced her. But you also waited weeks to introduce me to your father."
"Yeah… I know. It's okay, Cas," Dean said. "Mom died during the war. She was a hunter but she wasn't drafted. It was just sheer bad luck that had her at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I'm sorry. That must be painful," Castiel told him softly and Dean didn't deny it. They were walking quietly for a moment, side by side, and it felt like Cas was giving Dean some space to reorder his thoughts. Dean had done a lot of not talking about his mother's death with Pamela, but he'd also eventually opened up about it to her. It was still something he didn't talk about with his family.
"What about you? Do you have a mom?" Dean asked, when they reached river. They leant against the railings, looking down at the river flowing slowly below them. "Or do angels just fall out of clouds?"
"No. As I told your father, we can procreate. Angels just rarely do. I know who my mother is, but she left Heaven a long time ago," Cas explained.
"A long time means…?"
"More than a 600 years ago," Cas said. "Angels don't generally raise their offspring. Heaven is made up of different divisions. The heads of division put in a request for new members. I was given to Naomi, who coordinates… corrective missions I would say."
"That sounds horrible." Castiel chuckled at that, shaking his head in amusement. "So, you're like… an angelic police officer…?" Dean stopped that thought and frowned. "An over 600-year-old police officer at that?"
"I'm a soldier, Dean, not a police officer," Castiel said with a small smile. "I don't know how old exactly I am. We don't keep track the way you do."
"Yeah well, you're immortal I suppose," Dean said, slightly uncomfortable. Leaning back against the stone wall, with his windswept hair and still in the servants' uniform, Cas looked like an ordinary human. He looked like he belonged here or at least like he could belong here.
"If I am in the human realm and have my Grace then I'm ageless. I'm not immortal. Like any being that lives, I can be killed," Cas told him calmly.
"That doesn't really… you know… Change much. We humans must be pretty insignificant to you," Dean muttered. Castiel turned around, away from the wall, only keeping his hand braced on it. He looked at Dean with a serious face.
"That's not true," he insisted and Dean felt his cheeks heat under the intense look. Dean rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortable but also kind of flattered.
"Uh… yeah. Maybe we should have something to eat?" he suggested and Cas squinted at him, probably because of the sudden change of topic.
"Of course," Cas agreed at once, but when he was about to walk away, Dean grabbed his hand. Cas stopped at once, looking first down at their connected hands before he looked back up at Dean.
"It's still early. We can enjoy the night," he insisted and pointed towards the restaurants that were lighting up as the sun set. It was warm enough that some places had put tables and chairs on the street, letting their patrons enjoy the view and the light breeze. "Let's eat at a restaurant. That way you don't have to cook or clean!" Cas seemed dubious of that, so Dean gave his fingers another squeeze, before he pulled Cas close and, in a move so bold it even surprised Dean, threaded their fingers together so that they were properly holding hands. Castiel looked down again, before he focused his stare on Dean, as if he was trying to figure out what the meaning of this was.
"I like to spend my time with you, alright?"
"Alright," Castiel said, his voice lifting the word almost as if he was perplexed by Dean's confession. But he let Dean pull him through the street, until Dean found something that looked somewhat fancy, but not too fancy. It was fancy enough that Dean was greeted with a "good evening, Mr. Winchester", but not fancy enough that their casual clothes were an issue, or there would be "your lordship" added to every sentence. They were guided to upper floor and on the balcony.
"Maybe take off the vest," Dean said to Cas and Cas looked down at his clothes.
"Because people will think you're my servant and while I wouldn't mind that particular gossip, I just want it to be clear to both of us, that you're here as my… well… dinner partner," Dean said, shying away from calling it a date. The balcony had rose plants and a glass roof, sparkling candles and lamps illuminated the space. It was downright romantic, but Cas didn't seem to react to that at all. He did take off the vest though and Dean handed it to a waiter for safekeeping.
"I want it back," Castiel said, watching the waiter leave with a somewhat forlorn expression. Dean reached out and grabbed Castiel's hands to calm him. "Dean… I…"
"It's alright. You'll get it back, Cas," he said and gave his hand a squeeze. "Why does this distress you?"
"It's a uniform, Dean. It shows who I am," he said and gesturing towards himself with his free hand. "What am I like this?"
"My dinner partner, Cas," Dean insisted and Cas sent him a flat look. At least that was an improvement from the distressed look of before. "Maybe we should branch out. Give you a bit more things that you can define yourself by, if this is something that you need."
"I don't know if it's something I need, Dean," Castiel insisted, letting go of Dean's hand to grab his glass of wine. Dean curled his fingers into his palm. It wasn't a rejection, he didn't have to read anything into this. Dean focused on the appetizers before him, trying not to feel uncomfortable with the silence that lasted until they had eaten their starters.
"I appreciate going out with you tonight," Castiel eventually said, completely taking Dean by surprise.
"Yeah? We can do it more often," Dean said at once, a giddy feeling bubbling up inside of him. He resolutely washed it down with wine, though it was probably there to stay. "Get you out of the house, us spending time together. A win-win situation, right?"
"I suppose. I get bored. Somehow this has been less an issue at the estate. But there's not much to do here for me. You and Sam are somewhat tidy and so many things can be done by simply going to the market or employing someone. It's baffling."
"Doesn't it work that way up in Heaven too?" Dean wanted to know and Castiel shrugged.
"Not in my garrison. As I said, it was boring," Castiel lifted his eyebrows.
"Yeah, I remember!" Dean laughed. They chatted idly through the main course, mostly about the different stores and the stalls at the market, something Dean had never paid a lot of attention to.
"Have you thought about getting a permit?" Dean asked during a lull in their conversation. His belly was comfortably full and his body felt relaxed both because of the wine and the atmosphere. The company wasn't bad either. He looked at Cas, who was gazing at what they could see of the city from here, now with night fallen there were sparkling lights everywhere. Longing coursed through Dean, soft but insistent, in a way that it hadn't for a while. Ever since he had set out to find Holle and had stumbled upon Cas instead, that dreadful feeling inside his chest had abated. Now it was here again; a longing to not just be in Cas' presence, but to hold him, to not lose him. He didn't know what to do about it, or if he could burden Cas with the truth.
"You could put down roots here," he said instead, hopeful. Castiel closed his eyes.
"Dean, you know I have to find Frau Holle," he said softly and Dean frowned.
"Why?" he demanded and Cas looked at him, surprised by the irritation in Dean's voice. "Why do you have to do that if you could build a life here?"
"Because I feel I should. It's not over," he told him, wide-eyed. Dean shook his head.
"It's over, Cas. It's over," he insisted and held out his hand to Cas. Cas lowered his eyes, staring at the invited palm. "Please, consider." Dean liked to pretend that he wasn't actually begging now.
"You too have to consider what it means that she's gone, Dean," he argued back. He moved, but didn't take Dean's hand. Instead he closed his fingers around the pendant that dangled around Dean's neck. Dean felt the leather cord cut into the back of his neck.
"Dessert, Mr. Winchester?" Cas let go of the pendant, sitting back in his chair as if nothing had happened, but his eyes on Dean were dark, meaningful.
The plates were put before them by the server, but Dean didn't pay the dessert any mind. He met Cas' gaze and he understood what he had to do.
Due to the semester break it took Dean almost a week to be able to get a hold of Chuck.
"Why again did you need to meet with storage? Aren't you done with your Master case?" Chuck complained when he let him into the room and then went behind the counter, scratching his head with a pencil and glaring down at the heavy book before him. He leafed through it, then he snapped the pencil against the page. "There you are. Filed everything away." Dean took the necklace off and held it out to Chuck, who didn't react to it. It didn't seem like he had missed it.
"I returned everything but this. I don't actually know why you gave me this," Dean said and Chuck squinted at the thing. Then he looked down at the book, before he bent down and pulled a manila folder out that contained all of Dean's orders from storage.
"Didn't you want something made out of brass?" Chuck asked, "I'm pretty sure I got it out of there. I remember that we were super low on stuff in there."
"I wanted a sovereign made of brass – the currency, Chuck?" Dean said exasperatedly. Chuck frowned at him and looked down at his notes. Then he groaned.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to decipher all of your chicken scratch? Every student comes in here with hand scribbled notes. As if the type writer hasn't been invented. Hell, you could even send me a telegram or phone in," he whined, muttering to himself. Dean lifted his hands in surrender.
"Okay, okay! I get it. No harm done," he said and Chuck eyed him.
"If you ignore the affront to your fashion sense, I guess?" he said and Dean had to laugh at that. "So, what?" Chuck asked. "Do you want to give it back? Why did you wait so long to return it? Not that I missed it. Which is weird. Maybe it hasn't been filed into the system properly."
"I actually want to submit a form to ask if I can borrow it for longer," Dean said, cutting short Chuck's muttering about the dreadful filing system.
"Ah, alright," he said and pulled a form out from under the counter with practiced ease.
"It's actually on behalf of a friend," Dean said before Chuck could readily hand over his pen. "He thinks that the amulet might react to great power and he wants to use it to find something." Instantly Chuck's expression clouded over and Dean wondered if he would be denied. Sure, the storage was only for members of university, usually, but Dean hoped for a bit of nepotism to play in his favor.
"What is your friend trying to find?"
"Frau Holle," Dean answered, "she's gone from her realm and my friend thinks there might be consequences." Chuck didn't have much of a reaction to that but he did put the pen down so that Dean could fill out the form.
"It's just an ugly pendant, no notes in the filing system about it," Chuck insisted but Dean ignored him as he filled out the form.
"Alright, I'll submit that," Chuck said. "But your friend will have to come round to the hunter's council if he's not part of the guild or the university."
"Err, okay," Dean said, unsure if he liked for everybody to know about Cas. Chuck nodded at him and then he sat on his chair, pulling out a book, clearly done with his work. He didn't demand the pendant back though. Dean counted it as a win.
Dean made a short detour to Singer's Bakery to get some of the cream slices that Cas seemed to love. When he got back home Cas was already waiting for him behind the door, almost startling Dean enough to drop his box.
"I have something to tell you," Dean said and held out the box. Cas didn't take it though because he pulled out his hands from behind his back, showing Dean a big envelope.
"I do too," he said with a smile.
"Let me guess, you're pregnant," he teased and Castiel frowned at him.
"That would require intercourse, even for angels," he insisted, then he looked at the box Dean held out to him. "Cream slices?"
"Yes! To celebrate," he said and motioned towards the sitting room. Castiel put his envelope on the table and fetched china plates and forks. "I finally got a hold of Chuck and submitted a request so you can get the amulet." Castiel looked up at him with surprise and Dean's heart sank just a tiny bit when he realized that Cas must have doubted that Dean would do it.
"Thank you, Dean," he said, with emotion, then his eyes dropped to the envelope and he put his hands on it. He moved it around a bit, hesitating.
"What is that, Cas?" Dean prompted and Cas seemed to make up his mind. He pushed it in front of Dean.
"I asked Sam for help in submitting an appeal to get a permit," he said. Dean froze, staring at the envelope and then slowly up at Cas.
"Really…?" he asked and Castiel nodded, a timid smile on his lips. Dean got up at once, startling Cas, but he couldn't get far because Dean wrapped him up in a fierce hug.
"That's amazing, Cas!" Dean said, overjoyed. "I had no idea that you and Sam were doing this! Behind my back!"
"Not behind your back," Cas insisted, "you just, as Sam says, tune us out when we talk about things."
"Yes, because you usually talk about boring stuff," Dean told him, still keeping his arms firmly wrapped around Cas, in a hug that was probably going on for too long.
"Are you… happy?" Cas asked, slowly patting Dean's back with his palms, as if he wasn't sure how exactly hugs worked. Dean let go of him, looking down into Cas' face.
"Damn, yeah!" Dean said and then he bent down to press a kiss to Cas' forehead. When he drew back to study Cas' reaction the angel seemed surprised by the affection, but certainly not scandalized.
"Will you stay?" he asked and Castiel didn't hesitate this time.
"I will stay, for a while," he told him, a warning swinging in that second part of his answer. "If you will have me?" Dean was overcome by emotion, almost too much happiness to hold inside, so he pressed his lips to Cas' forehead again.
"Of course! Of course, Cas."
Dean couldn't say exactly why Castiel's decision to stay had given Dean the idea that something between them had changed. But now he was determined to court Cas properly. Cas just looked at him with some doubt when he made his intentions clear with a bouquet of flowers and more pastries.
But he said "alright" with that slightly confused squint of his and while it wasn't the most romantic way of accepting courtship, it was exactly what Dean had hoped to hear. Dean was a gentleman of course, so not much changed in their arrangements. He didn't invite Cas to sleep in his room for example. Sam observed the entire circus (as he called it) with some amusement.
"Maybe now that you're courting him, Cas shouldn’t be your maid anymore. That would be weird," he insisted and Dean had to agree.
"It pains me too, man, but the uniform's gotta go. If things go my way you'll be Mr. Winchester soon and you can take up the role of angel of the house if you want to," Dean said, when Castiel proved resistant to any hints Dean had dropped that Cas could now stop working around the house. "But you're not a woman, so it's not like your options are limited to domestic work. Once you've got your permit, you can do whatever you want." Castiel still held on to the apron with a stubborn look.
"Maybe you can work with Karen?" Sam suggested, ever the mediator. "You seem to have a lot of experience baking!" Dean nodded at that.
"I'm not opposed to that," he said and Sam shot him a glare.
"It's not your place to be opposed," he reminded him sharply and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Sure, he's a free angel," he scoffed.
"I don't know," Castiel said, clearly ignoring the brother's bickering. He folded the apron and put it on the table. "I have to go to the hearings now. I will think about this later." He put his hand on top of the apron and looked at Dean with warning eyes.
"Let's get you dressed then. The new suit I ordered for you arrived earlier today, just in time!" Dean said, giving Cas' ass a slap. Cas looked at him indignantly.
"I thougth you were a gentleman," Sam said, shaking his head with a grin.
"Yeah, but he's a dude. I'm not going to ruffle any petticoats with a bit of indecency," Dean said with a wink. "This vessel gives him freedom, he said, so we're gonna take advantage of that." Sam's loud and exaggerated sigh followed Dean up the stairs.
"What do you mean I'm not allowed to come in?" Dean's offended voice echoed in the hall, the oak doors to the council's hearing chamber open in front of him. Bobby had his hands lifted in a way that was probably trying to be placating but Dean didn't feel like letting himself be placated.
"This is how it always is, Dean," he said and pointed towards the benches opposite the doors. "Until then you wait." Dean wanted to protest but then he looked up to catch Castiel's eye. The angel was calm incarnate which took some of the wind out of Dean's sails. But then he peeked past him into the room and met the grave eyes of his grandfather Samuel. The aging man looked as imposing as ever, wearing his pompous robes even though this was just a small hearing. The way he looked at Dean was as skeptical and disapproving as he had always been of Dean. For propriety's sake Dean nodded at him and got the smallest of recognitions back. Dean was used to that but at least Samuel had become more accepting of Dean since his service during the war. Though "squandering your potential" was still the last thing Samuel had said to him. His grandfather turned away and took his seat at the center of the raised platform that was arranged in a half circle around the small table and chair in the middle of the room. Dean just hoped that his dislike of all Winchesters didn't influence his decision. Dean reached out to grab Castiel's hand to give it an encouraging squeeze.
"It'll be fine," he said but probably more for his own benefit than Castiel's. Cas simply nodded, then he followed Bobby's order to take his seat. Dean stared at the closed door, then he retreated to the bench, where he spent the following hour glaring at the door. When it finally cracked open and the council filed out, Castiel following Bobby, Dean got up on is feet at once.
"You okay?" Dean asked, wrapping his arm around Cas in a half hug and giving him a chaste kiss.
"Of course, Dean," was Castiel's amused answer.
"Let's get some lunch," Dean said and they didn't speak about the hearing until they were at a bistro.
Castiel insisted that he was alright. "I've dealt with multiple war councils so this was hardly stressful." Dean rolled his eyes at the bragging, but he did settle somewhat at that. "They asked me things about myself, like my species, my abilities, how dangerous I am to humans. As if that was something to easily classify. A glass of water can be a danger to humans," he said, somewhat irritated. Dean had to laugh, glad that he wasn't drinking at the time, because he would probably have proven Castiel's point by chortling. "They also wanted to know about what benefits my powers could have for humans and what I wanted to do here. They also want to know what ties me to Campbell." Dean had expected these kinds of questions, though he still felt very nervous while he worked himself up to asking:
"And what did you say?" Castiel lifted his eyebrow.
"I told them that I was supposed to come here, that destiny decided for me, but after that I had no reason to stay." He looked at Dean, a soft expression on his face. "You built me a reason to stay."
"You're so sappy, I almost can't stand it," Dean said but his grin rendered his teasing useless. Castiel huffed at that.
"Of course, we also have to look after our daughter Meg. I can't just leave again."
"I hope you didn't say that to the council," Dean said, groaning at Castiel's innocent smile. "I hope you at least made it clear that you were talking about a chicken!" Castiel shrugged, hiding his smile behind his wine glass. Dean would have to speak a word with Sam about teaching Cas how to tease him. Dean reached out across the table and ruffled Castiel's hair in retaliation.
"Better. Less prim and proper."
"I'm an angel, I'm always prim and proper," Cas complained and Dean laughed.
The summer stretched before them, verdant, mild and free of obligations. With the decisions of the council on Cas' permit, the approval for the borrowing of the amulet and the results of Dean's case work still pending, Dean relegated them to the back of his mind. They would come later, now it was the time to enjoy the summer.
While Castiel continued to work around the house, they had come to an agreement that Cas should no longer wear his uniform. Dean had ordered him tailor made outfits which Cas looked dashing in, unfortunately he chose to combine his suit with his rather ungainly travelling coat. Though Dean let it slide because he still got to watch Cas through the creak in his door, see him stand in front of the mirror and tie his apron in a neat little bow.
Dean caught Castiel's eyes in the mirror and the angel quirked his lips, before he waved his hand and the door slammed shut in front of Dean's face.
"You're a killjoy, Cas," Dean called, his voice filled with laughter, then he went down the stairs. There were a couple of letters lying on the mat, so Dean grabbed them and went into the kitchen. He put on the kettle. Since he no longer had a reason to try to occupy Cas with housework, Dean and Sam had taken up some of the chores again, which tended to free up Castiel's evenings so he and Dean could take their evening strolls. He went through the letters while he waited for the water to boil and for Cas to come downstairs.
"Did you let Meg out of her coop?" Cas asked when he came into the kitchen, going straight for the door to the backyard.
"Nope, you know how cranky she is in the mornings," Dean insisted while he read a letter from his bank. He'd been living a bit larger recently, with all the trips to the restaurants and the frequent deliveries of flowers to Cas, but it was nothing to worry about.
Once Cas was sitting at the table with breakfast before them, Dean had opened a letter from Winchester Manor.
"My grandparents would like to invite us to the countryside," Dean said, raising his head to look at Cas. "What do you think? Would you like to see our family home?"
"Of course," Cas easily agreed. "What about Sam?" he asked once Sam came into the kitchen, yawning.
"What about me?"
"You wanna come see grandma and grandpa?" Dean asked, waving the letter around.
"I promised Jess that we'd study together," Sam said, "you kids have fun!" he added with a wink.
"Why are you the one winking, I should be winking at you because I'm sure you're not going to get any studying done!" Dean objected, which had Sam turn red.
"We need someone to look after Meg," Castiel spoke up, interrupting a potential argument. Sam calmed down quickly enough and nodded.
"We might be gone all summer," Dean warned, but his brother simply shrugged.
"I'll manage. And I'll forward you your letters if you decide to stay the summer," Sam said and even though Dean somehow wanted to find an argument against Sam's easy agreement, he refrained. Sam was old enough to spend the summer alone – or as alone as you could be with your father living in the same town. He'd be fine. And Dean would get to enjoy the countryside with Cas.
"Okay, then we'll accept," Dean decided.
The manor was exactly like Dean remembered it. A big building made out of white stones, the gardens in front properly trimmed in the current fashion, but Dean knew that he soon they'd seamlessly change into the green hills and meadows, a lush, rich countryside that was now in full summer bloom.
"It's beautiful," Cas said, when Dean helped him out of the carriage. The doors were opened already, the housekeeper smiling at Dean, her hair still a bright red even though she was advancing in age.
"Young Master," she said but there was a teasing in her voice. Dean walked up the stairs and gave her a hug. "We all missed you here!"
"Thanks Josie," he said, then he pointed to his side. "Can I introduce you to my-" Dean looked to his side but Cas wasn't there. When Dean turned around in confusion he found Cas still at the bottom of the stairs, keenly observing the servants at their work of unpacking their luggage and driving away the carriage. "Cas!" he hissed. Cas looked up and slowly walked up the stairs.
"Hello," he said and looked at Josie. She sent Dean an amused look.
"This is Castiel," Dean said pointing at Cas, then he turned his palm towards Josie. "Josie Sands. She is the housekeeper of the family. A good friend of my grandparents."
"I've heard about you. Dean is courting you, apparently with success," she said and Cas nodded.
"According to what gossip I've heard his attempts have been above average," Castiel said and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Well, I guess that's what we like to hear," Josie said, clearly not upset by Cas' dry humor (or just general weirdness, sometimes Dean couldn't really say). "Come you two, Lord and Lady Winchester are waiting for you in the parlor." Dean and Cas followed Josie, finding his grandparents reading.
"Dean!" Grandma Millie exclaimed the moment she saw him and got up, her beautiful silk gown rustling with her quick movement. He was wrapped up in a firm hug before he could greet her back. Millie kissed his cheeks and then there was a hand clapping him firmly on his back. Grandpa Henry had also gotten up from his chair, grinning widely at Dean.
"It's good to see you. Thank you for coming to meet your old grandparents!"
"You're not that old," Dean insisted stubbornly. "And of course I came. Thank you for the invitation," he said, then he held out his hand, beckoning Cas to approach. As always, Cas displayed no reservations or shyness but also no overwhelming social graces. Considering he was an angel there was no need for him to show any deference to the Lady and Lord Winchester. Millie however gasped in delight and made her own low curtsey and even Henry bowed slightly, putting his hand to his chest.
"What are you two doing?" Dean asked.
"John said that he was an angel," Henry said, "we're just showing our respect."
"It's an honor to meet an angel," Millie insisted. Castiel for his part wasn't embarrassed by the attention at all, but he was smiling slightly. Apparently he wasn't averse to it either.
"The honor is mine. You have a beautiful house," he said and Dean's grandma honest to God blushed like a schoolgirl at that.
"Oh you. Wait till Dean shows you the countryside! Do you ride?" Millie asked and just like that Cas was wrapped up in a conversation. They left Dean and Henry standing, while Millie gave Cas the grand tour of the house.
"So, everything okay back at home?" Henry said, filling the silence.
"You okay with Cas?" Dean asked instead, not interested in the small talk and cutting to the chase instead. Henry lifted an eyebrow. "I'm courting him."
"Yes, we've heard from John. And of course we're okay with it. It's not like we're going to disown you," Henry said with a faint smile. Dean studied him, then he shook his head. "Why? Do you think we're going to begrudge you happiness?"
"I assumed that there would be more resistance to me courting a supernatural creature," Dean confessed uneasily. He didn't want to offend his grandfather by suggesting that he was narrow minded, but Dean still had a certain responsibility towards his family. Henry heaved a sigh, but there was still the hint of a smile on his face.
"It's a new century, Dean," he insisted, then he winked at him and elbowed him into his side. "But if you want an old fashioned arranged marriage, I know of some ladies of good breeding that would be willing." Dean looked at him with surprise written on his face, but then he too had to smile.
"No, thanks. I think Cas is a good match."
"Well, it's too early for me to say that, but if you're sure?"
"I'm sure," Dean insisted, sobering up. Henry nodded. He had their blessing.
Dean wandered the shadowy halls. His naked feet made no sound on the cold, tiled floor. All the white, metallic doors were closed and bolted, but sounds still slipped through the cracks, muffled cries and screams and whimpers. Dean knew how to tune them out by now. The sounds in the asylum were different than they had been on the battle field, but Dean had been locked up here for months now. He had gotten used to it.
He slid the gold coin, warmed by his palm, over his fingers, a mindless game to keep his trembling hands busy.
Dean wandered when his mind got restless, the orderlies on night watch let him tire himself out without further comment as long as he didn't go out into the snow, running like the devil to chase... something. Something that would fill that sharp, expanding darkness in his chest that made his heart hammer with sudden fear and longing. It was still dark outside, dawn providing just enough light to throw the shadow of the bars into the corridor. Dean stopped and turned towards a window. The world outside was covered in snow. He wondered how many soldiers hadn't made it home, their bodies lying frozen on the fields, chocked by curses, throats ripped out, torn through by bullets. Frau Holle covered it all. Gently, snow as light and pure as feathers.
The world beyond the gaunt reflection Dean saw in the window was peaceful.
"Are you alright?"
Dean startled up from his day dreams and looked away from the book that he had very clearly not been reading. Fabric rustled next to him and he saw Cas turn to lie on his side, chin propped up in his palm. Dean blinked a couple of times, taking in the angel lying on their picnic blanket, the spots of light that made it through the treetop dancing on Castiel, making his blue eyes shine and some of his hair look golden, despite its dark color.
"Huh?" he asked dumbly and Cas' eyes narrowed, a worry line appearing on his forehead.
"I asked if you were alright," he repeated, then he reached out his hand to brush it over Dean's thigh. "Your mind seemed far away."
"I do think at times, you know," Dean teased and even though Castiel's mouth quirked up in a soft smile, Dean could practically feel the concern radiating off the angel. Dean looked at him, tapping his finger against the parchment, unsure if he wanted to talk or not. Cas tended to ask a lot of invasive questions but at times he also let people have their space, so Dean knew that he wasn't going to push now.
"You felt cold," Cas said and Dean frowned in confusion. "Your mind. It went somewhere cold. Like you were standing in a blizzard."
"Is that your angelic way of reading my mind?" Dean wondered, "so if I thought about naughty thinks my mind would get hot?"
"Don't be stupid," Cas admonished fondly. "I don't read minds. I can look inside people and get a read of what they're feeling." The angel sat up, his knees knocking into Dean's. "But I'm not very good at making sense of it. So I got… cold. Are you sad? Depressed?"
"No, none of that," Dean told him with a laugh, "I thought about the time after the war. I came back… not quite right. Nothing was the same... For a while I thought I was cursed."
"You're not cursed," Cas insisted solemnly, his eyes glowing as they darted across Dean's body, resting in the center of his chest. The angel lifted his hand and pressed it there, just below Dean's sternum. "Something has touched you."
"Lots of things made a grab for me. It was an all-out supernatural war. Since I was on the front lines everyone was surprised that they didn't have to lift more curses off me." Well, it wasn't that surprising considering that many curses lifted once the witch who had cast it was dead and they had killed many of them. Dean shrugged, then he looked at the angel. "What do you think touched me?" Dean could feel the warmth of Castiel's palm even through his light shirt. He covered Cas' hand with his own, then he intertwined their fingers.
"I'm not sure, but it's not bad. Some humans are born with blessings."
"Yes," Dean said, then he looked up at Cas. The angel seemed surprised by the weight in Dean's eyes, then he looked down at their linked hands, watching as Dean brought them up to press a lingering kiss to the back of Cas' hand. "Yes." He repeated softly. Cas lent forwards and first Dean thought he was going for a kiss, but he plucked something off Dean's hair instead. A leaf, radiant green without a single spot of autumn color bleeding into it yet.
"As are some angels," Castiel said, bringing the leaf to his lips, hiding a small smile with it. Lightness spread in Dean's chest, profound joy that filled him to near bursting. Laughter bubbled out of his mouth before he could stop it.
"Did I say something funny?" Cas wondered, but then he lay back down on the picnic blanket, on his back now and Dean joined him. They could see the clear blue sky through the gaps in the tree's green crown.
"No, you just said something that made me happy," Dean explained, turning his head to the side to look at Cas. The angel was still looking upwards.
"Oh," he said, then his lips pulled into a smile. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Dean did the same, Cas' hand still in his, the fragrances and sounds of summer around them, the light, warm breeze rustling through the leaves. Bright spots danced across his vision even as his eyes were closed. Peculiar, he thought, that they reminded him of snow.
Usually summers in the countryside passed languidly, long summer days stretching for what felt like a blissful eternity. But spending it with Cas, somehow it all seemed to pass all too quickly. Dean saw the first yellowing leaf float down into the garden, when he received a letter from university.
It was September now and the new term would start soon. Dean was called back to receive the results of his master case.
"You could stay, I know you like it here," Dean said, as they were packing their suitcases. Cas was folding one of the uniforms that Millie had given him. She obviously didn't expect Cas to become a servant at the manor considering Dean's courtship. But Cas had liked it a lot and the symbolic gesture had left the angel smiling at everyone for an entire day. That Cas would be so happy to wear the Winchester insignia on his chest had made Dean feel silly with joy.
"If I can choose then I want to go where you go," Cas told him gravely and Dean found himself blushing but packing just a bit quicker. "And I want to see Sam and Meg again. I hope they got along well while we were away."
"Don't worry about that chicken, she'd probably be fine even if the apocalypse started," Dean said with a laugh, which caused Cas to look pensive. Dean reached for Cas, pulling him close by his wrist until they were chest to chest. Dean adjusted his hold on Cas and then he swept him through the room for a couple of clumsy dance steps. "We didn't even get to dance."
"I'm not sorry about that," Cas said with a grunt when Dean twirled him. Dean laughed again.
"Yeah, we can dance in the privacy of our rooms. Once we'll finally stop being proper and share a room."
"I don't know if that is going to happen," Cas said and Dean blinked at him, surprised. Cas tilted his head. "The dancing."
"Right," Dean said with a grin, then he let go of Cas and stepped to the table. He closed the clasps of his suitcase. "Let's go back home!"
Dean wasn't sure why he felt nervous sitting in the study with Bobby, awaiting their comments.
"You passed," Bobby said and handed him a thick sealed letter. "But." Dean tensed, the big smile dropping from his lips and his hand hovering over the letter. He looked at Bobby, unsure what was coming now. Where they unhappy that he didn't actually engage Frau Holle in a battle? Bobby opened a drawer and pulled out a second sealed letter. When Bobby put it next to the other one, he saw that the new one had the seal of the Men of Letters on it.
"Due to the excellent research you did and the quality of your written paper I decided that you will be granted the Men of Letters diploma instead of the Hunter one," Bobby explained and tapped his finger on the thick parchment. "The choice is of course yours."
"A… are you sure?" Dean asked, dropping his hand on the table, but not making a grab for the diploma yet. He knew what he wanted, what he really wanted, but doubt still made him hesitate.
"The Men of Letters diploma will allow you to continue research at the university and to become both a professor and a full member of the Men of Letters organization," Bobby continued instead of answering Dean's question. "You are of course invited to become part of the Hunter council instead. You're an amazing Hunter with a knack for witchcraft. We would really like you in our ranks, son." Bobby was smiling at him, making sure that his words didn't settle like a heavy weight of guilt and responsibility on him.
"Bobby… I'm grateful," he finally started, then he dropped his eyes to the table. "And I would be honored to be consulted by hunters in case there's need. But I'm done fighting. I'm ready to…" he shrugged, suddenly embarrassed.
"I get it, boy. And you've done more than enough to honor your mommy and the hunter blood in you," Bobby told him, then he pushed the envelope with the Men of Letters seal towards Dean, who took it gratefully.
"Thank you, Bobby. Truly," Dean managed to say. Bobby reached out to grasp his shoulder, giving him a supportive squeeze.
"You're welcome." He let go and then he jerked his head to the door. "And now get out. Grab a pie on the house and then go partying or whatever it is you young people do." Dean grinned and got out of his chair. He waved the letter at Bobby, feeling the giddiness replace the anxiety and disbelief.
"Sure thing! Thanks Bobby!" he said and when Bobby waved him away with a gruff grumble Dean hurried out of the door, almost running into his father.
"What did you-"
"I'm a Man of Letters, dad!" Dean said and almost slapped his father in the face with the envelope when he eagerly waved it around. John pulled the letter out of his hands and checked the seal critically, adjusting his glasses as if the huge seal wasn't visible enough. After a moment John's mouth formed a small smile and he handed the letter back.
"Congratulations, Dean. I'm proud of you," he said and then he pulled him into a hug, clapping him on the back.
"Thanks, dad," Dean answered, his cheeks starting to hurt form grinning. "But why didn't you say anything? I'm sure Bobby consulted you before he gave me that choice!" he said when he let his father go. John shrugged.
"I didn't want your choice to be influenced by my wishes," John said. "This isn't about you stepping into my or your mother's footsteps. It's about what you truly want."
"But you know what I want, I always wanted to be a Man of Letters," Dean said, following his father through the halls.
"Maybe, but I also know how we pushed and we pushed hard, both your and Sam," John said with a sigh and Dean didn't contradict him. "I'm glad that you want to be a Man of Letters but." He grabbed Dean's arm and made him stop and turn around, looking at his father in confusion. "Dean, I need you to understand that you don't have to follow this path if there's anything else you'd rather do or rather be." For a moment Dean was speechless. There had never been other options, not only because Mary and John didn't give him any, but also because he had never wanted to do anything but research. The only thing that he could think of doing was maybe retiring to the country-side, raising chicken with Cas, working the land, dealing with nothing more arduous than brownies nesting in their attic. But that would probably be boring at one point. Dean wasn't quite old, damaged or weary enough to stop needing to engage his mind with research.
"I want to be a Man of Letters, Dad. I had given up on it because I thought this case had to be done. But now that I can do it anyway, I'm freaking thrilled. Believe me, I'm not just trying to suck up to you," Dean said with a grin. John huffed a sigh.
"Alright," he said and walked up to the door, pulling it open for Dean. Bright, golden autumn light streamed into the dimmed hall of the university building. Dean was dying to go out there and show Cas the diploma, but he turned back to his father.
"Why, did you want me to become something else? A baker maybe? Tailor? Doctor?" Dean asked with a raised eyebrow. John frowned at him and gave him a nudge with his foot, effectively pushing him outside the door. "Maybe a mechanic? Carpenter? Prima ballerina?"
"Good bye, Dean," John said and closed the door on him, but Dean could hear him laughing the moment the door was closed. Dean skipped down the stairs like a school boy on the last day of classes. He headed to the bakery to grab a pie for later, shouting his quick thanks to Karen, and then he was already rushing onwards to home. He didn't have a lot of time before he had to be back at the stuffy graduation dinner. He opened the door and almost stumbled over Meg when he got into the kitchen to put the pie on the table.
"What are you-," Dean started and then he grabbed Meg. "What is the chicken doing in the house again?" he shouted. He heard the floorboards upstairs creak and since whoever was coming down the stairs was doing so at a moderate pace, it couldn't be Sam. Dean opened the kitchen door and put Meg outside, blocking her path back inside with his leg. She angrily pecked at his boot, but when he tossed her some food to eat, she rushed away in a flurry of feathers and clucking noises.
"You're back." Dean closed the door and turned around, finding Cas standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Dean had to swallow around the sudden lump that formed in his throat. Cas was wearing the servant uniform that he had received from Millie and he looked… well, divine was the only word that seemed to do Cas any justice. It was a similar uniform to the ones Dean got him, but these looked just a bit more luxurious. And then there was that damn apron. Dean could just imagine that messy bow resting in the small of Castiel's back, just above his shapely ass, hugged so well by the dark pants. Dean could feel his own pants getting slightly tight, or maybe that was just his imagination? In any case, Cas was hot, Dean's face was burning and Cas tilted his head to the side.
"What?" Dean asked, "uh, the chicken was in the house again."
"You know that she needs affection," Cas told him with a smile, then he stepped into the kitchen, standing on the other side of the table. "But I wanted to know how your evaluation went." Dean opened his mouth in a silent "oh", then he sheepishly put the letter on the table next to the pie.
"I passed and I can join the Men of Letters," Dean said with a grin, then he slapped his palms on the table in joy. "The Men of Letters, Cas!"
"You seem happy," Cas said with a smile. Dean stepped around the table and wrapped Cas up in a hug, then he kissed his forhead and the spot between his eyes that sometimes creased up, then his cheeks.
"Damn happy, Cas!" Dean said with a laugh and pulled back enough to be able to look into Castiel's amused face. Screw it, he thought and then he dove back, kissing him on the lips.
"I like seeing you happy," Castiel laughed and Dean was happy that he seemed to be on board with the kissing. When Dean bent down again, Cas held up his hand though and Dean ended up kissing his fingertips instead. Or maybe he wasn't that on board after all? Was he moving too fast?
"I've got your gown upstairs," Castiel said when Dean looked at him in confusion. "You don't have a lot of time before the graduation event. There will be time later to do this," he said, removing his hand to steal a quick kiss of his own. The angel turned around and left the kitchen. Dean stared after Cas in a happy daze. But then he remembered that he had someplace to be and rushed out of the room, passing Cas in the upstairs corridors. He slapped his butt then he quickly shut himself into his room to avoid repercussions. Though he doubted there would have been any.
"I've made reservations in a restaurant for us. I wanted to invite your family too, but Sam said that we should have a private evening," Castiel said when Dean got out of his room, fiddling with the buttons of his collar and his cravat. His gown was pretty nice, as was expected from their family tailor and he had looked into the mirror long enough to know he looked great. Cas' eyes swept over him but he gave no indication what he thought.
"What? Really?" Dean asked when Cas' words registered. "But why not, I'm not averse to a private dinner," he said and winked. Castiel smiled as well, then he opened the door for Dean.
"Enjoy your celebration. I will pick you up at 7," Cas said. Dean nodded, then he decided to swallow the nervous butterflies and gave Cas a good-bye peck on the lips.
"Thanks, Cas," he said, then he ducked out of the house, wearing a grin and a blush that matched Castiel's.
Dean went into the graduation event with the intention to tune everything out, but in the end he was swept along the tide of euphoria that rose in the hall. Many of the women and men who graduated alongside Dean where a couple of years younger, but he didn't care. He listened to the speeches, ignored his grandfather's glare and accepted congratulations from the faculty members. It started to sink in that he did it. He really did it. Despite the war, his mother's death and his trauma, he had managed to finish his education.
"Lord Dean Winchester, Men of Letters does have a nice ring to it," Gwen commented with a wink, when she came over to offer her congratulations. s
"Well, I can probably scratch the Prince Dean, first in line to the throne of Campbell off my curriculum vitae, considering how Grandpa was glowering at me," he said, though he didn't feel any remorse for that.
"Ah, you know, who cares. Dear grandpa will probably live long enough to either change his mind or for you to produce a son or daughter that he will name heir," Gwen said with a shrug. Dean wasn't all too sure about the latter suggestion, but he wasn't going to spill the beans about his current hopes of marrying an angel in a male body.
"Why can't you just take the title? You're third in line," Dean said, "and you're a Hunter."
"Hard pass on that one," Gwen said with a laugh, then she clapped her hand on Dean's shoulder. "I've gotta run over to the next celebration, gotta swear some new hunters into the council," she said.
"I don't envy you," he said and she flipped him off, then she was gone. Dean caught the eye of his father, who was probably also headed to a faculty meeting. He waved at him and got a nod in return.
Dean was giddy by the time he got out of the door and as promised, Cas was standing there. He looked stunning in a dark suit, with a blue tie. His hair probably had been combed at one point, but the warm late summer wind had fluffed it up.
"Hey angel," Dean greeted, wrapping his arm around Cas to pull him in for a quick hug. "So where are you we going? I'm starving!"
"You always seem to be starving," Cas commented with a laugh and stepped away from Dean a bit so they could walk. They were still close, their hands brushing from time to time. The town was full of students in their gowns. Not only their academy had wrapped up their semester, the other faculties were out too. He knew Sam was somewhere, celebrating with Jess and their friends, even though they still had two years to go before they were released into the wild, wearing graduation gowns of their own.
Cas guided them further into the outskirts of town, until they ended up on the steps of "Seraphim". It was an old building, thin and high, flanked by two long and low buildings, making the house almost look like a tower. Six deep blue flags were hanging in the front, wings embroidered on it in golden thread that shone in the setting sun.
"Sam gave me a list of suiting restaurants. I chose this one for the name," Castiel confessed and Dean had to laugh. "I hope you like it."
"Well, I hope they don't have kitschy angel imagery in there, because I just know you're going to complain, like that one time you saw my Mom's collection of fat little cherub figurines," Dean said with a laugh and opened the door for Cas. He didn't miss the grumpy look that Cas shot him. Who knew that angels could be vain about their depictions?
The restaurant looked nice, not super luxurious, but clean and open. A server guided them to a private room on the first floor. The room wasn't too big, but it was nice; walls in carved wood, painted a light green and decorated in gold. There were in fact pictures of angels on the wall, most engaged in battle and wearing splendid armor. Apparently, Castiel shad nothing to complain about. The wide windows showed over the small square, there was a chandelier above them and a lit candle on the table between them. It was romantic. Cas wasn't one to start conversations, so they got through starters and part of the first course in relative silence. He was pleasantly buzzed on wine by the time their second course was done and he felt ready to reach out and cover Castiel's hands with his own. Castiel looked away from the window, studying their hands as Dean shifted them until the held Cas' hand in his own.
"I thought we could take the privacy to talk," Dean said and Castiel raised his eyes to study him. There was no fear or apprehension on his face, not that Dean had expected it. "I have to be honest."
"Of course," Castiel agreed and Dean had to smile. He wasn't nervous. It was almost a miracle, because Dean sucked at talking about what he felt and what he wanted, and avoided it as often as he could. He should be terrified, but he wasn't.
"I want to be in a relationship with you and I want to make it official. I adore you, Cas, and whenever I'm at your side… I don't know. I just feel lighter. Happier. And I guess I just want you to know that I'm serious about it." It took a moment for Cas to absorb the words and to reflect, but his answering smile was easing any lingering doubts.
"I am drawn to you too," he said. Dean lifted Castiel hand and kissed his knuckles.
"But Cas, what I'm hoping for is a lasting relationship. A proper commitment. Marriage, living together, raising… chickens together." Dean sighed, because this wasn't time to be a coward. "Maybe even children. Is that…" Dean studied Castiel's face, but he was difficult to read. "Is that something you want too? Something you can even give me?" This time Cas took no time at all to answer.
"I want this too," he told him and then his eyes widened, almost as if he was surprised by his answer. He frowned at himself and Dean let him think it through without saying anything. After a short while Cas nodded to himself, before he looked back up at Dean. "I want it too. I want to be together." Dean grinned at that, then he got up and walked over to Cas, he bent down and kissed him, long and lingering this time, but still soft and tender. He was happy, he felt no urgency that he carried into the kiss.
"Are we going to do this more now?" Cas asked, "because I like it." Dean laughed and kissed him again, but stepped away when the door opened for their next course.
"Any time you want to, my lips are yours," Dean said with a wink. Castiel winked back, which looked adorable.
"So… if you're going to stay by my side, does that mean that you're gonna give up your search for Frau Holle?" Dean asked, as casually as he could, between one bite of noodles and the next. Castiel had his wine glass raised to his lips but lowered it with a frown.
"No. If Frau Holle doesn't return by herself, then I have to go find her," Cas said. Dean felt his heart sink slightly. Cas would still leave, despite everything? "Hey," Cas said softly and Dean looked up at him, finding Cas smiling at him. "I can guess what you're thinking, Dean."
"Get out my head, sweetheart," Dean mumbled, embarrassed now.
"I'm not going to leave you, Dean," Cas insisted. "Frau Holle can wait. I deserve to enjoy myself a bit." Dean smiled at that.
"Damn right, you do," Dean said, the he raised his glass, "let's toast to that." Castiel smiled and they clinked glasses. "To us, the hottest couple in town."
"To us," Castiel agreed, winking at Dean.
Being officially together was awesome. Dean had mostly been a ladies' man who never stayed attached for a long time, but his life as a womanizing bachelor had been over a long time ago. After declaring that he and Cas were a couple to all the people that mattered, there hadn't been a lot of drastic changes. It turned out that both of them were rather fond of keeping their hands on the other, so their casual touches became a constant, as well as the kisses and hugs. Dean hadn't known that he could be in love with the concept of being in love, but he was.
And of course, they now shared a bed room. Both still had their personal rooms to retreat to, but climbing into bed at night with someone at his side, and waking up with Cas wrapped up in his arms? That was glorious. But they didn't take it further than that. Dean wasn't a particularly chaste man, but he still had some hang ups about having sex with an angel. Castiel laughed at Dean when he found the courage to talk about his worries, which wasn't particularly nice, but at least Dean knew that Cas had no qualms about sex.
"If you want it, I'm willing and yours to take," Cas said.
"That's amazingly romantic," Sam commented with a grin, poorly hiding it behind his bowl of porridge. It was unfortunate that Sam had a knack for walking in on Dean with his figurative pants down. There was no way around it though, so he should probably make the best of the situation.
"Maybe you're gonna invest in some ear plugs then, because you know me Sam. I'm always willing," he said with a wink and Sam made a disgusted noise, before he walked out, Meg on his heels, probably hoping to steal some of his food. Or nest in his ridiculous hair, who knew that that chicken was thinking.
"So we're actually gonna do this?" Dean asked and eyed Castiel. He was still wearing his sleeping clothes, the top buttons of his shirt open, revealing a tantalizing peek of a collarbone and neck. God, Dean wanted to kiss him all over.
"Now?" Castiel asked and looked at the table covered in flour because he had been making scones. "Here?"
"No, doofus. Not here," Dean laughed. "And I have to go to work in a moment. But maybe later. If you're up to it?"
"Of course, Dean," Cas said with a smile, then he packed him his lunch.
"You're my perfect housewife," Dean commented and kissed him good-bye. "See you later, babe."
"I'm not a housewife, I'm an angel," Cas reminded him but without any heat behind his words.
"The angel of my house and my heart," Dean said with a grin, blowing him a kiss, then hurrying down the steps. Cas heaved a fond sigh, then he waved at him before he disappeared back into the house.
Dean was pretty happy about his life.
The mild summer they spent in the countryside was followed by an equally mild mild autumn with slowly turning colors, leaves gently drifting down and warm breezes blowing the leaves through the streets of Campbell. Winter too, held no surprises, being slightly rainy but not bringing with it any of the biting cold that made Dean want to take a blanket into his office at work.
"Meteorologists and consulted experts at the Institute of Supernatural Research have confirmed that the winter will continue to be mild. Temperatures around the holiday season will be expected to remain around a comfortable 15 degrees Celsius, though they might drop slightly with clouds coming in this-" Dean switched off the radio in the living room, stretching his arms above his head until his joints popped. Christmas would not be white in that case, though that was hardly unusual around their parts. He got up from the chair, eager to see something else for a while than archaic symbols and studies of how to best combine runes for effective warding sigils. Some coffee would revive his spirits, maybe he could even get Cas to join him at the tea house. He stopped on his way to the bedroom when he heard a soft sound. He made a turn towards the stairs leading up to the third floor. He found Cas in one of the empty guest rooms, cool air coming towards Dean through the open windows. The bed was made, though missing the pillows, which Cas was obviously shaking out with more force than necessary.
"Sunshine, what are you doing?" Dean asked gently. Cas didn't stop shaking out the pillows.
"I am cleaning," he answered, his voice tense. A beat later he let the pillow drop on the sill, putting his hands next to it and lowered his head with a heavy sigh. "Dean, why isn't it snowing?" Dean's heart sunk slightly at Cas' distress.
"Cas, this is perfectly normal for this time of the year," Dean told him, "we frequently have mild winters here and it rarely snows in Campbell this early in the year." He walked into the room, his footsteps on the old wood the only sound between them. Carefully, he put his hand on his boyfriend's shoulder. Cas plucked a feather out of the cushion, then he held it out on his palm, letting the wind carry it away. "Cas…" Dean turned Castiel towards him, hugging him and kissing the top of his head. "I know you're not used to this, but you don't need to worry. For once, the weather has nothing to do with you, or Holle, or anything else. Just let nature do her thing." Castiel didn't answer to that, but he wrapped his arms around Dean's middle and snuggled into Dean. Dean closed his eyes with a happy sigh.
"I love you, sunshine."
"I love you too, Dean," Cas muttered against Dean's neck. "Thank you." Dean ruffled Castiel's already messy hair.
"Hey, so how about we get a cup of coffee and biscuits at the tea house?" Cas answered by pulling down Dean's collar to press a kiss against his sensitive skin. "Uh, is that a yes? Or are you asking me to ravage you?"
"I'd love a cup of tea," Castiel said, then he stepped away from Dean and fixed his own hair. "I'm going to get ready."
"You're such a tease," Dean called after him, hearing Castiel chuckle. Dean shook his head, but then his smile dropped off his lips and he turned around. The open window showed out over the slightly wet but snow free roofs of Campbell. Something clenched in the pit of his stomach, some sort of worry that he didn't want to examine any deeper. He pulled the pillow off the window sill and closed the windows, shutting out the cool air.
Maybe Dean wasn't the most romantic person on God's green earth but that didn't mean that he wasn't up for romantic gestures. It was March now and soon it would be a year until their first meeting. He knew that he probably had all the time in the world, but he was somehow starting to feel a restlessness inside of him. Not necessarily a bad kind of it, more like an eager giddiness that made his stomach flutter weirdly every morning he woke up and found Cas inside his arms. Maybe that was just what love was supposed to feel like. In a fit of near desperation, he had cornered Sam in the law faculty library and spilled the beans.
"It feels like I know there's a juicy pie waiting for me at home, but I'm still stuck in the office. And I can't think of anything else but that pie," he had tried to explain. Sam had of course laughed at first before he had sobered up slightly.
"Maybe you want to take your relationship to the next level?" he asked. " I doubt you find anything about your relationship with Cas to be lacking. Your old womanizing ways can't be the cause for your restlessness."
"Absolutely not, Cas is all I need!" Dean yelled, which had him shushed by the people sitting around Sam's table. "But I… Sometimes I worry that I don't fully have him? Not yet? Like he could open the window and fly away one day."
"Do you honestly think Cas would do this to you? He's as ridiculously smitten with you as you are with him," Sam told him with a small smile. Dean sat on the edge of the table, chewing his nails nervously.
"No, I don't think so. But I don’t know… I'm just… aching somehow," Dean said, rapping his knuckles against his chest. That had Sam tense at once and he frowned up at his brother. "In the there's pie waiting at home but I'm stuck in the office way!" Dean insisted, though Sam didn't look entirely convinced.
"Have you thought about proposing?" Sam asked and Dean shrugged casually, but Sam knew him well enough to look right through him. "For God's sake. So you've got like the entire wedding already planned in your head or what?" He laughed softly and Dean smiled goofily.
"I don't know. Maybe? I might have looked at wedding gown fabric."
"Why, are you gonna wear a dress?" Sam teased and Dean shot him a look.
"No, dumbass, but I thought Cas could wear a suit made out of the material that Winchester brides usually wear," he said and Sam smiled.
"Sure. But have you thought about how the ache in you might be soothed if you could stop worrying about what Cas' answer would be?" Dean groaned and covered his face with his hands.
"What if he says no?"
"Stop being so dramatic, Dean. He's going to say yes," Sam insisted and Dean dropped his hands, finding his brother beaming up at him. "Trust me. It's Cas. He's gonna say yes."
"Why are you smiling?" Dean asked but couldn't stop the answering smile from forming on his lips.
"Because you're gonna get married and I'm happy for you," Sam said with emotion, then he cleared his throat and gave Dean a shove. "Now get lost. You're sitting on my book."
"Alright! Thanks Sammy!" Dean said, then he grabbed his bag and headed back out of the library, a grin on his lips. He would go commission a ring right away. Maybe in the same amazing color as Goldmarie's hair had been, maybe with a sapphire.
"Dean! Wait up!" Dean turned around, finding Gwen waving at him.
"Oh, hey, what's up?" he wondered and she lifted her eyebrow at him, studying his clothes. He had unbuttoned his shirt, rolled up his sleeves, and taken off both his jacket and vest. "It's warm and I'm off the clock!" Dean defended himself.
"Better get back on the clock, because they called a council meeting," Gwen said, "including the Men of Letters." Dean groaned.
"Oh come on. I hate these last-minute meetings!" he complained, then he tossed his bag to Gwen and put his vest and jacket back on, following her to the Academy's main building, while trying to fix his tie.
"I'm sure your little angel wife will survive another hour without you," Gwen teased and Dean shot her a nasty look. "Cas asked me to babysit your chicken tomorrow, by the way]," she continued, grimacing. "Can't you just put the chicken in her coop…?"
"Don't ask me. He's in love with that stupid feathered menace," Dean told her with a laugh, "but to be honest Meg'll grow on you. Did you say yes?"
"Yeah," Gwen mumbled in embarrassment, "maybe he bewitched me because when I got out of the house I had no idea why I have agreed."
"I don't think Cas can do that sort of magic, I haven't actually seen him do any magic at all. Though he's good at taking my-"
"I don't need to hear that," Gwen hissed, then they walked up the stairs into the building housing the council. Dean said good-bye to his cousin, then he took a seat next to John.
"What is this even about?" Dean asked under his breath, not comfortable that he was constantly underprepared for these meetings. "Sometimes I hate hunters. Can't we just stage a coup and take over the reins?"
"Mutiny is constantly on my mind," John dead-panned, which had Dean bite back on a bark of laughter. "But if they bothered to fetch you directly instead of just making you miss out then I think it might have something to do with…" John gave him a heavy look that made Dean's insides freeze and his hackles rise instantly.
"Cas or Frau Holle," he mumbled and looked over at Grandpa Samuel who sat behind the elevated podium at the other side of the room. Once everyone was settled it became clear that this was exactly the topic of today's council meeting.
"We cannot be sure if Frau Holle hasn't returned to her duties or whether her absence will become an issue," Dean argued.
"We haven't had one day below freezing in Campbell this winter," one of the hunters argued, "the guys at the institute have found no supernatural interference with that." Dean bit back on a comment that they also haven't noticed a supernatural cause for the long winter last year, but he knew that as a new member of the Men of Letters it wasn't his place to argue with seasoned hunters. Discussions started back up, but Dean was too absorbed by his rising fear. What if they wanted to send Cas on a search for Holle?
"Periods of warmth are normal and we are still recovering from the prolonged winter. Unless you're a child who missed out on snowball fights, I don't see any reason to make this into an issue at this point," Dean insisted, though the hunter council barely deigned to look at him. Dean looked towards Bobby, who seemed suspended between compassion for Dean and a need to make sure that this wasn't a case for hunters. And Dean got that, but he didn't want Cas to be sent away.
"At the current moment the weather might be mild, but not a direct concern. Holle affects winter, so we will probably see whether she's back in her realm in half a year. I think it's wise to monitor how the weather continues, but Mr. Winchester Jr. is right that periods of warmth aren't unusual. He had already done research into how Frau Holle's absence tends to affect weather, so I suggest we get a small group together, who continues digging in that direction, to make sure that nothing unusual is going on."
"I agree with council member Singer," Gwen insisted, sending a wink Dean's way, "this isn't without precedent. At least so far. Let's not waste our time and resources on the weather."
"Fine," grandpa Samuel said, his voice loud in the room, commanding attention and obedience. "We will follow council member Singer's suggestion. But this has a time limit. If I don't like the way things develop, we've got to find Frau Holle." Samuel looked at Dean sharply. "That means we will require the service of Castiel. I'm sure you can spare your servant."
"He's not-," Dean grit out, but John grabbed his arm, stopping him mid-sentence. "Yes, Sir." The meeting was closed and Dean rushed out of the hall, out into the warm evening. He wanted to punch something or scream. Maybe both.
"Calm down, Dean. Your research so far supports the theory that this is nothing unusual. Cas won't have to leave," John insisted once he had caught up with Dean. Dean balled his hands into fists, swallowing curses he wanted to haul towards the general direction of the Council. "Go home, Dean." John clapped him on his back, then he turned around and walked towards the direction of the Men of Letter's buildings. Dean took a couple of deep breaths and looked up at the spotless blue sky.
His father was right. But he still wondered if he should rush through his proposal and marriage before winter came. Surely they wouldn't send a newly-wed away on a case. There was still a proper way to do things. Dean shook his head.
"This is just the weather," he told himself, already starting to sweat in his suit. "Just the weather."
Cas stood on the small back porch leading down from the kitchen into the yard. The sun was shining brightly and it was hot. Dean put his hands on Castiel's bare upper arms, pressing a kiss to the back of his neck, wrapping his arms around his middle. They still stood in the shade, but soon Dean felt sweat form on his brow.
"What are you doing out here, sunshine?" he asked and felt rather than heard Castiel sigh. He leant back slightly, letting Dean support more of his weight.
"The weather changed so quickly. Is this how it's supposed to be down here in the human realm?" Castiel asked, his voice heavy and Dean didn't have to see him to know that he was looking at the dry grass and Meg hiding out in the shadow behind her coop.
Dean knew that Cas was listening to the weather report on the radio. He knew that it was unusually warm and dry for the season, which was an break from the mild, agreeable weather they had had since the snow stopped.
"I'm worried that the balance is disrupted," Castiel continued, his hands searching for Dean's, intertwining their fingers and pulling their hands up to Castiel's chest.
"The balance?" Dean asked.
"Frau Holle was all about upholding the balance. Summer and winter, day and night, light and dark. Even life and death. Everything is supposed to exist in a balance," Cas explained. "What if her absence tilts the world to the other side? No more snow, just summer all year." Cas tightened his hold on Dean's hands.
"But this hasn't happened before, sweetheart, so why now?" Dean asked and Cas released his hands so that he could turn around.
"Because the realm is empty. Because I abandoned it," Cas said gravely, his mouth turned down in doubt and guilt. Dean didn't want to see that face on him. He pulled him into the cooler kitchen, putting his hands back up on Castiel's hips, turning him around to press him against the stone wall. Cas made a soft sound of surprise. Dean's worry for Cas swapped into something else, an urgency to make sure that Cas' mind stopped going down that path, a desire to have him close. He stepped up to Castiel and kissed him, hot and demanding, undoing the top buttons of Cas' shirt.
"Don't think like that, Cas. This isn't your fault," he promised between kisses.
"If it's not my fault, then what reason is there?" Cas asked and Dean heaved a sigh against Castiel's neck. He let go of his boyfriend and took a step back, so he could study Castiel's sad expression.
"Sweetheart… not everything has to rest on your shoulders," he promised, cupping Castiel's face with both of his hands. His face was warm, slightly flushed and his eyes were too bright. "Oh no, don't cry, sunshine…"
"I'm not crying," Castiel insisted, though he closed his eyes and turned his head to be able to kiss one of Dean's palms. "But I experience doubt. It's a terrifying feeling."
"Doubt about what?" Dean asked, pulling him to the table so they could sit down. "About us?"
"No, never," Castiel promised fiercely and Dean smiled. "Doubt whether I'm doing the right thing… As an angel chosen by Frau Holle it was my duty to sacrifice. But I stopped my service early. I didn't sacrifice enough. I'm not bearing the burden of lost centuries. I left and I'm happy. It feels selfish."
"It's not selfish, Cas. You left Frau Holle's realm because it was the right thing to do. You couldn't continue to make it snow. You did it for us humans. That's good, Cas."
"Is it? Because wouldn't it have been my duty to find her? Or to return to the realm for winter?" Castiel asked and Dean wasn't sure how to reply. He understood Cas' unwavering sense of duty, but he didn't know how to prove to him that he had made the right choice. That he had a right to make a choice even though he was an angel.
"What does your heart say?" Dean prompted after a long moment of silence. Castiel closed his eyes and lowered his head.
"That I want to be here with you," Cas answered silently and Dean squeezed his hand. "But I'm an angel, Dean. I'm not supposed to have a heart or make decisions guided by my emotions."
"Well, fuck that. It doesn't matter who you're supposed to be. It's important who you are," Dean insisted and Castiel looked up at him, a small smile on his lips.
"That's a very human thing to say," he told him and Dean shrugged.
"Yeah well, I have my moments," he answered and then he lent forwards in his chair to kiss Cas gently. "We can do research. Maybe if we dig a bit deeper we can find some hints about this balance you spoke of. Put your mind to ease a bit," Dean suggested.
"I would like that," Castiel agreed, "thank you, Dean."
"Whatever you need, Cas," Dean promised.
Cas enjoyed research and while they didn't really find any helpful information, at least combing through the library took Cas' mind off other things. He had found a dusty volume of Enochian poetry and Dean had left him to it in one of the reading nooks once Cas' running commentary and sniggering laughter made it too hard to focus. He checked the catalogue again but they had pretty much exhausted all information on Holle, even when they got creative with their search. There were still the restricted archives but he had already sighted the catalogue for them too and it didn't look all that promising. He wandered the corridors of a deserted, dusty corner of the library. There might be more Enochian poetry books hidden here somewhere, which, if Cas was to be trusted, were rather dirty. Who knew that Cas enjoyed naughty poetry. He knew that the Housewives Tales from Purgatory were full of naughty stories that young girls liked to giggle about. He had never really asked further when Jess told him that there were nice stories about girls getting wooed by monsters there. Dean didn’t really see the appeal, but maybe Cas would appreciate raunchy interspecies tales.
"Ah, there," Dean muttered and made a grab for the small book, but when he pulled it out he noticed that there was something behind it. He frowned and reached through the gap to get a hold of the book which apparently got pushed back. It was heavy and dusty, with a bland cover and no signature. He tucked the Housewife Tales under his arm and then took the mystery book to the table. He opened it, finding the title on one of the thick pages:
"Alpha and Omega. On the equilibrium between Darkness and the Light." Dean looked down at the book in surprise.
"Well, that sounds promising," Dean muttered to himself, then he checked for a signature again, but there was none. He cursed under his breath. "At least now I understand what Chuck has been complaining about. The filing system really sucks." Dean didn't really want to think about what kind of dumb luck it was to find this book. There was a tale among the Men of Letters that any place of knowledge had its own sentient magic and sometimes if you needed a book it would just appear to you. Or maybe that was just the wishful thinking of harried students. Dean turned the page but there was no information on who wrote it or how old the account was. Though from the foreword it seemed like it was a collection of old accounts from different sources. There was also a handwritten scrawl at the bottom of the page that read "Metatron" followed by some signs that Dean wasn't familiar with. Maybe random doodles. He got to reading.
By the time Cas wandered into the corridor, not much light still reached Dean's corner of the library.
"The library is about to close," Cas said and walked up to Dean's table, picking up the Housewife Tales. "Have you been hiding here, reading this?"
"No, babe," Dean said and Cas looked down at him when he realized that Dean wasn't gonna play along with the teasing. "I found something. I'm not entirely sure if it's helpful. It's a book edited by a guy called Metatron."
"Metatron?" Cas repeated in surprise and Dean looked up at him quizzically. "Metatron was an angel. He disappeared a long time ago. But he acted as the Scribe of God. Supposedly at least."
"Damn, then I suppose the stuff in here should be real," Dean said and Cas pulled out the stool from underneath the table and sat down at Dean's side.
"What did you find?" he wondered, his fingers reaching out to trace the symbols that created a frame on the page. Dean supposed that it could be Enochian.
"There's a tale about a creature called Amara, she's also known as the personification of Darkness, which balances out the Light. It was said that she was locked up by God because she threatened to destroy creation. I don't know if Holle is that old and powerful, though. Also I don't think she's out to destroy the world."
"Not explicitly, but if Frau Holle is indeed the Darkness, then taking herself out of the equation will have consequences. And somehow I think you're on to something here, Dean. One creature of light, one of darkness that serve her? Going out to test if humanity is worthy? What happens if she doesn't consider you worthy?"
"You think this is what's happening now? She found us not worthy and therefore she's going to destroy us?" Dean asked, slamming the book shut.
"I don't know, Dean. Frau Holle wasn't vengeful, she was longing for something."
"The Light?" Dean wondered and Castiel shrugged. Dean shook his head and hid his eyes with his palms. "Okay. So… what are we going to do now? We have no proof that Holle and Amara are truly linked."
"What is instinct telling you?" Castiel asked gently and Dean frowned up at him.
"I'm not a Hunter, I don't-"
"Dean. Not now," Castiel told him sharply, but not without a kind expression on his face. Dean sighed.
"I don't think it's coincidence that I found this book. I don't think it's coincidence that Holle employs a demon and an angel. And I don't think it's a coincidence that with her gone, the weather is totally out of whack," Dean told him reluctantly. "I hate to say it, but I think there's a chance that Holle isn't just an old powerful deity, but that's she's really this Amara chick." Castiel nodded.
"Yes. There was always something familiar about her. If she is as old as the Light – as God – then she is probably made from the same substance… It would make sense for them to feel similar to me," he agreed, but after his words heavy silence fell in the dark library. Dean knew exactly where this was heading and he didn't know how to stop Cas from opening his mouth. Cas shot him a look, probably doing his mind reading thing, but Dean wasn't granted any kind of mercy.
"Maybe it's wise if I went to find her," he finally said and Dean shook his head. "Dean… This issue is bigger than us."
"Nothing is bigger than us," Dean said stubbornly, pushing both the book and the Wives Tales into his bag, shouldering it and stalking away.
"You know that this isn't true, Dean," Cas insisted, an edge to his voice. "I love you and I don't want to leave, but some sacrifices are required for the greater good."
"I don't give a shit about the greater good right now! All I care about is you not abandoning me!" Dean shouted back, his voice unbearably loud in the empty library. Cas didn't answer and when Dean dared to look over his shoulder he found the angel standing in the dark corridor. He would have been swallowed by the shadows if it weren't for his brightly glowing blue eyes. Dean didn't have to see all of him to know that he was angry. And shit, yes, Dean was letting his fear and anger at the situation play with his emotions and everything came out wrong.
"I would never abandon you and if you don't know this by now, then I am disappointed in you, Dean," Castiel said, then he turned away and disappeared. Dean was rooted to the spot for a heartbeat, staring after Cas, but then he cursed at himself and left the library. He needed to cool down before he said anything else stupid.
He knew he would have to take his findings to his father, who would inform Bobby, who would ultimately inform the council. And he knew exactly where it would end. And he hated it.
He had a breakfast prepared the next morning. He was so tired and beaten after yesterday and sleeping alone in bed, that he didn't have any energy to beat around the bush when Castiel finally came into the kitchen, his expression wary.
"I'm sorry, Cas. I let my fear get the best of me. I know that you don't want to leave me and that it doesn't mean you don't love me if you have to go do the right thing. But I hate it. I don't want you to have to make that choice in the first place." It all came out in a rushed babble and Cas hurried through the kitchen to wrap his arms around Dean.
"There's a council meeting scheduled for today," Dean said after he managed to compose himself. He motioned to the table. "I guess I went a bit overboard, but I just need you to know…" Castiel reached out to put his palm on Dean's cheek.
"I know," he whispered, "and thank you." Dean couldn't do anything but nod and with a last look at Dean, Cas let go of him and looked at the table. "This looks wonderful, thank you Dean."
"Yeah, I thought I couldn't always make you cook," Dean told him, sitting down at the table.
"I like to cook," Cas promised, then he started eating. "Mm, very good, Dean." Dean's answer was cut short by the door-bell.
"I'll get it, babe," Dean insisted before Cas could get out of his chair. He ruffled Cas hair in passing, then he opened the door to find Gwen looking up at him with a carefully neutral expression.
"What's wrong?" Dean asked at once and Gwen sighed, letting herself into the house and the kitchen.
"Good morning, Gwen," Cas greeted, offering her a chair.
"I don't have the time to sit down. I'm here on Grandfather's orders," she said and Dean felt as if she had dumped a bucket of ice down his pants. "He wants Cas to be present at the Council meeting too."
"But why…?" Dean asked despite himself and Gwen shot him a look.
"You know why," she said, then she reached out and patted Cas' arm, before she turned around and left the kitchen again. "I'll see you two soon."
"This sucks," Dean said, not having any energy to get more enraged.
"It'll be fine, Dean," Cas insisted but Dean wasn't so sure of that. They still took their time at breakfast and carefully got ready. Cas put on nice clothes, unperturbed by the heat that made Dean wish wearing short sleeves was acceptable to wear to work.
Cas took his seat next to Dean wordlessly and waited for the meeting to start. Samuel lifted his hand, stopping the murmuring at once.
"We have reviewed the new information that Dean sent us yesterday. We have to suspect that Frau Holle isn't simply a nature deity, but in fact a much older force called The Darkness. A primordial power and one side of the powers that keep our world in balance. So far we don't have a cause to assume that she means to destroy creation with her absence, but we want to be prudent and not wait until it's too late." Samuel locked eyes with Dean and he hoped to look as defiant as he could. His grandfather didn't react, his gaze slipping to the where Cas sat. "Therefore, we decided to order the angel Castiel, former servant of Frau Holle, to set out and find her." Castiel didn't react, so Samuel continued: "we have decided that his search will last for a year before we must try other means." Now Dean shot up.
"A whole year?! With all due respect, that is-"
"Sit down, Dean," Samuel said, staring Dean down. John pulled at Dean's sleeve and Dean clenched his fists but complied. Was the bastard smirking? Dean wanted to punch him. "Since you declined becoming a hunter and part of this council, you don't get a vote in this." Dean wanted to shout at him, but a paper was pushed against his balled fists. Dean looked down at the note his father had scribbled for him.
"Supernatural liaison regulation?" he muttered under his breath, but then he realized what his father was telling him. "Sir, I understand, but I must remind you that Castiel and I are in a relationship. While the city of Campbell can order its supernatural citizens to complete tasks of a supernatural order, a creature who is in a relationship with a human may not be sent away for longer than six months." Dean felt victorious when he saw his grandfather heave a sigh. Since Dean had sent his grandfather a formal note informing him of his courtship of Cas, he couldn't pretend that he had just made this up on the spot.
"Very well. Six months," he said and he made it sound like he was indulging a kid who wanted a second slice of pie. "We will provide the necessary funds and tools. Castiel will be briefed on the mission tomorrow. Dismissed." Dean slowly raised out of his chair, daring to look at Cas, but Cas had his indifferent expression on, which Dean hadn't seen in a while.
"Thanks, dad," Dean whispered to his father who gave him a sympathetic nod, before he left the two alone.
"This sucks!" Dean shouted once they were outside, startling a couple of people on the square.
"Let's just go home, Dean…," Cas said gently and he didn't look defeated at all, not like he had just been condemned to spend 6 months apart. Somehow that calmed Dean instead of making his anger flare up again and he nodded. Maybe he was being overly dramatic. It wasn’t forever.
Seeing Cas stand on the platform that would whisk him away from Dean's side, it was hard to imagine that he had spent the last year among humans. He wore exactly the clothes that Dean had first seen him in the moment they stepped into the human realm. He declined to take any provisions, weapons or money with him, carrying nothing but his clothes, the amulet and a short sword that looked like it was made out of silver.
"Fuck," was all Dean managed to say when they were standing in the warm spring morning towards the end of March. Castiel's angelic mask cracked slightly to allow for a small smile at Dean's cost. "How can you be so calm?"
"Dean, I'm an angel. Going on missions is what we do. And 6 months isn't long in the grand scheme of things," he said and Dean couldn't help pulling a face.
"Yeah well, but I don't see things in the grand scheme of things," he snapped, "all I know is that my boyfriend is going to leave for six months and isn't even crying about it."
"You're not crying either," Cas observed smugly and Dean punched his shoulder.
"That's because I'm angry, I don't have the time to get upset if you're not getting into the grand tearful good-bye mood," he complained, the angel showing him another disarming smile. Dean narrowed his eyes at him. "You're doing this on purpose."
"Everything I do is on purpose," Castiel told him, then he tilted his head. "Dean. I promise to check in with you. You won't go for six months without hearing from me."
"Yeah, you better send me letters. And if you need anything at all, let me know and I'll deal with it," he said. Cas took a deep breath, nodding. Maybe this wasn't as easy for Cas as he claimed.
"Please keep an eye on Meg," he said and Dean rolled his eyes.
"I promise, our chicken daughter will be fine," he told him and Castiel nodded. He took a step away from Dean and he heard a faint sound of rustling feathers. The image of Cas just disappearing without a good-bye shot through Dean's mind and before he could properly think about it, he grabbed Castiel's wrist.
"Wait," he said and Castiel let his shoulders drop slowly, nodding. Dean took a deep breath and reached into his pocket. "This really isn't how I wanted things to go." He pulled a small box out of his pocket and opened it for Cas to see.
"You're giving me jewelry?" Castiel asked, genuinely puzzled, when Dean just stared at him with a beating heart and bated breath. It dawned on Dean that Cas might not have an idea what the gesture meant.
"You're such an alien, it's impossible," Dean said with a laugh, feeling silly but also relieved for some reason. Of all the people to fall in love with, it had to be this guy. He pulled the gold ring out of its box and indicated for Cas to give him his hand. "This ring is me asking if you want to marry me, Cas," Dean explained. The confusion lifted off Cas' face at once and he looked at Dean with a startled expression. Dean swallowed. "So uh. What do you say? Do you want to get married once you found Holle? That way we'd both have something to look forwards to."
"Yes," Cas agreed quickly, plucking the ring out of Dean's fingers.
"Dude, you'll have to let me put it on your hand!" Dean laughed and Cas returned the ring with a sheepish look. "Okay, left hand please." He slipped the ring on, glad that it fit.
"Thank you, Dean," Cas said and then he wrapped his arms around Dean, the hug so tight it was almost painful. But Dean laughed happily, wiping his eyes before anyone could see.
"Okay, now go. Save the world," Dean said, pinching Castiel's red cheek. Cas nodded at that, meeting Dean for a kiss, then he took a step back and with a gust of wind and a flutter of wings he was gone.
Dean still felt butterflies swirling in his stomach and he looked down into the empty ring box.
Despite Dean's assumption that six months would pass in slow agony, the intense burn of longing and emptiness of the house dulled as the days turned into weeks and then months. It got bearable over time and everyone around Dean was more than eager to swamp him with work and other distractions.
True to his word, Cas sent letters and even though it could only be one-sided, Dean enjoyed reading his notes and the reassurance they brought that Cas was thinking of him.
"I met Meg on my travels. She is doing well for herself. She wasn't surprised to hear about our assumption that Frau Holle is Amara, the Darkness. Though I don't think anything could ever surprise Meg. Her core did flare up bright when I told her that we would marry, though she quickly recovered. I invited her to our wedding but she just laughed in my face. I think she will still be there. She will also keep her ears and eyes open. But she was rather doubtful that I would find Frau Holle. Meg never had a particular wealth of faith.
I’m still searching.
P.S. Meg punched me when I told her that we named our chicken daughter after her."
In the beginning the notes came about once every week, with stamps from all over the world. Dean had unrolled a world map in one of the empty rooms on the third floor and was putting pins in to trace Cas' route. But the angel was covering impossible distances.
"He's an angel. He can fly," Sam reminded him when they crossed the two-month mark. Dean grumbled into his coffee. Somehow it didn't taste as good as when Cas had made it. And to be honest, Cas hadn't been particularly good at making coffee.
"I know he can fly, but if he does fly, then why doesn't he drop in to say hello? Go to sleep here, have breakfast with me and then fly away for eight hours. Normal working hours," he snapped. Sam looked up from his book, clearly not impressed by Dean's whining.
"The world is big, Dean. And there are many other realms that she could be hiding in. Cas needs time. And he can't just come home every day simply because you want a hug," Sam told him and Dean threw a bread roll at him. It wasn't nice of his brother to make fun of his feelings but Dean wasn't going to turn into a child and complain about it. But Cas could logically come by. Nothing was really stopping him, was it?
Fortunately for Dean, this morning the creeping doubt didn't have time to take root inside Dean's mind, because he heard the sound of the post being dropped through the mail slot. He was out of his chair before Sam could say anything. He dropped anything that didn't have Cas' writing on the front on Sam's book, ignored his grumbling, and carefully opened Cas' letter.
"Dean, I'm up north now. There hasn't been a winter either here, no snow. The people worry about what will happen if the eternal snow starts to melt on the mountains, if the glaciers disappear.
They didn't appreciate my answer that snow wasn't eternal and that in a couple thousand years the world would be out of the current ice age. Sometimes I forget that humans cannot be comforted by being reminded of the insignificance of their sorrows in the face of the passage of time.
This has made me wonder though how you, who feel time keenly, are doing. My longing to see you never falters, but I know that time will pass, as it always does.
Dean grinned down at the short note.
"Good news?" Sam asked.
"Nope, but Cas said he missed me," Dean answered proudly, ignoring Sam's fond eyeroll.
"Of course he does, he's your fiancé," he commented, but Dean had no time to sit around.
"I'm gonna head to work! See you!" he said and Sam laughed at him for his new-found energy.
Apart from Cas' letters Dean's life was uneventful. He was doing lots of research and spent hours in the warded training rooms, trying out sigil combinations. At other times he was assisting his father with his preparations for classes. He specialized in demonic lore, which was more about knowledge than about ways to kill them, considering that Hell was mostly closed off.
Dean felt Cas' absence though, especially as it started taking longer and longer for letters to reach him. The mostly light-hearted notes changed in tone too, as Castiel grew more frustrated as the search continued without results.
Dean wasn't a fan of having to take Cas' progress notes to the Council at the end of every month. The worst of the summer heat was passing them now. It wasn't the hottest weather ever recorded, not by a long shot, but after the cool summer of last year, they felt the change more keenly.
"Just sweating out the magic. We've had worse, so why are you complaining?" Bobby admonished when there were complaints after Dean's newest report that Cas has found not a trace of Frau Holle so far. "Castiel isn't our magic weather regulator. He's an angel and he has better stuff to do than making sure that we don't sweat our balls off in summer. Now get back to work!" Dean appreciated Bobby's words, though he didn't think that the upwards trend towards hotter weather was going to magically stop. Judged by Bobby's worried glance in his direction, he didn't either.
If Cas wouldn't find Frau Holle then they were going to be in trouble.
Six months after Cas departed, Dean started out of his sleep by the sound of the window opening. He sat up, staring at the fuzzy shape looking out into the dawn. For a moment he saw a figure in a dress, golden hair waving in the wind, shadow of big wings stretching into the room, but when Dean blinked again, he found that it was Cas who stood by the window.
"I didn't find her. I looked everywhere," he said, his voice quiet and calm. He touched the amulet around his neck. "I also prayed to God for help, I asked the angels, I made sure to look into her realm. But I couldn't find her."
Dean's heart was beating rapidly in his chest, part excitement, part fear, but he forced himself to calm down. He slowly pushed away the covers, got up and stepped towards Cas, wrapping his arms around him. He was real, solid, smelling like the countryside just after a storm. Dean pressed his nose into Castiel's messed up hair.
"I'm sorry," Cas said, his hands grasping the window frame so hard that it cracked. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Cas. She's an ancient force…," he answered, then he let go to step around Cas to be able to look at him. Cas' was still staring out over the roof tops. It's was October now, the tree leaves were all yellow, already brittle. The cobble stone roads were covered in a sea of red and yellow, looking bright even in the morning haze. Dean stepped in front of the window, finally drawing Cas' eyes towards him. He looked tired.
"Cas… Frau Holle will be back," he promised. Castiel studied him.
"You don't know that," he finally said and then he looked out of the window again, his gaze far away. Dean grabbed hold of Cas, pulling him close.
"It doesn't matter. You're back now. You did what you had to, now it's no longer your problem," Dean insisted. "You're home!" Castiel didn't reply, but Dean pulled him back into bed to wait for the sun to rise, to kiss him and cradle him close.
He held him extra tight, afraid that if he didn't hold him down, he might fly away again, just like the brittle leaves in the wind.
The Council wasn't happy that Castiel's search had been unsuccessful, but they had decided to wait and see what would happen. So far the current weather and Dean's research into past weather phenomena didn't suggest that something had really gone out of balance.
Autumn brought a cooling of temperatures, maybe slightly too warm and dry, but nothing Campbell hadn't seen before. Cas slowly lost his heavy aura of doom and gloom, but he still seemed to stare out of the window a lot.
"Maybe Cas needs a job. Fiancé of Dean Winchester isn't going to be interesting enough in the long run," Sam joked, startling Cas out of his staring. He held a basket with apples in his arms, which he had promised to turn into a pie for Dean.
"Is that true? Are you bored?" Dean asked, faking hurt. Castiel frowned down at him and put the basket on the counter.
"I am unsettled. I have failed my last task. I need to do something useful," he said, then he turned his back on them and started peeling the apples. "But the only thing I'm good at is housework."
"You could become a servant if you really feel like it," Dean said though with some reluctance. It didn't seem like Cas was entirely happy with the idea either.
"Well, what about using his skills as an angel? Cas, what can you do?" Sam asked and Cas' hand stilled in the middle of peeling an apple.
"My powers are limited when I'm in this vessel," he said with a frown. " As a seraph on earth I'm allowed to do minor miracles. I can fly and heal to some degree. I'm useful in combat, I'm stronger than a human and I understand any language known to man. There are rules to how I can use my powers though."
"Uh, that's good. There's a translator's office at the Men of Letter's headquarter! They might want your help!" Sam suggested and Castiel looked to Dean questioningly.
"We can ask dad? The last time I went there, the student assistant, uh, Kevin I think? He looked like he was two seconds away from crying when I handed him two lines of runes that I needed researched," Dean said and then he threw Cas a smile. "Do you want me to ask?"
"I'd be happy to prevent the tears of student assistants," Castiel said, but when he put down the apple and the knife, Dean lifted both hands. "What?" Cas asked in confusion.
"Can't it wait? Like until after you've made the pie?" Dean asked and Castiel's confused expression dropped. "Pretty please, sunshine?"
"Alright," Cas agreed, then he turned back around to peel apples at a fast pace.
"Cas, you're so whipped," Sam said with a laugh and Dean grinned proudly.
Dean had hoped that with Cas' return they'd start talking about their wedding, but Cas remained stoically silent on the topic, even though he was proud to show his ring to anyone who mentioned it. Dean knew that he had proposed in a way that linked Cas' success at finding Frau Holle with marriage. The sad and longing look Cas sometimes sent the gold band on his hand, was heart-breaking, but Dean wasn't entirely sure how to breech the subject.
It wasn't unusual for a couple to be engaged for a while before they tied the knot and it wasn't like Dean and Cas had some kind of old fashioned "no intimacy before marriage" deal going on between them. They were already acting like a married couple anyway and now they even left the house together to head towards the same place of work. Nobody had resisted Cas suggestion to help. Most people still didn't know that Cas was an angel, though people talked and suspected that he wasn't entirely human, because who else could spend hours translating any kind of text that was set before their nose.
"He doesn't even take toilet breaks!" Kevin shouted, waving his cup of coffee around. "I'm telling you he's a vampire! And the way he rattled off random facts about that parchment he translated today? At least a thousand years old."
"You're such a gossip. And vampires do pee," Dean told him, reaching past the young man to get to the coffee pot.
"And why are you an expert on vampire pee, Mr. Winchester?" Kevin grumbled. "Mr. Winchester. Senior I mean-"
"Just call me Dean, keep the Mr. Winchester for my dad," Dean said with a laugh.
"Mr. Winchester didn’t really tell us anything about him and he's not exactly chatty. Which is fine, because I need to focus. But he's like an automaton. It's creepy," Kevin insisted.
"He seems to be engaged though," the head of the translation office, some guy called Morrison or something, said, cleaning his glasses calmly. "When I asked about the ring he actually smiled." Dean grinned at that.
"Hello." The deep voice startled Kevin and he almost dropped the mug. He turned around and glared at Cas reproachfully. Cas ignored him and looked at Dean.
"We were just gossiping about you, Cas," Dean said with a grin and Kevin sent him a murderous look, his pale cheeks turning red.
"I have ears, I heard," Cas said with a smile that almost looked cheeky.
"You can't have heard! You were on the other side of the building!" Kevin shrieked, then he pointed an accusatory finger at Dean and Morrison. "Vampire. I told you!" he grumbled, then he left the room to go back to his mountains of books and papers. Castiel looked amused, then he crossed the room to kiss Dean. Dean might be a bit shy about public displays of affection, but who was he to deny Cas when he wanted a kiss? And judging by the way that Morrison continued to clean his glasses and not paying them any attention, he didn't really have to worry about being embarrassed.
"Hey, babe. So we're still on for tonight? Romantic dinner?" he stepped a bit closer to be able to whisper to Cas. "Sex?"
"Of course," Cas said, his voice flat and totally unaffected, but Dean caught the amused glint in Cas' bright eyes when he turned away to grab tea. "I will see you at 6," he said and then he left the house.
"You know," Morrison started and Dean had almost forgotten the dude. He put his glasses back on his nose and filled his own cup with coffee. "I've read a fascinating account on Nephilim. Might be interesting reading for you." He turned away after winking at Dean and left the room before Dean could figure out what the hell the guy was talking about.
Winter passed, Dean turned another year older and he felt like he was well on track with his life. He had a nice house, an interesting job as a research assistant, and a gorgeous fiancé. He didn't care that there was no white Christmas, or that he could sit out on the back porch, looking at the stars with Cas for hours without freezing his dick off.
Cas had become comfortable in life amongst humans and he had apparently shaken off enough of his guilt to ask Dean about venues for their wedding.
But time passed and no matter how much Dean had prayed that everything would be okay, their winter was followed by a very short and dry spring that turned into a vengeful summer.
By Sam's birthday, the heat had become sweltering, climbing higher than anything ever recorded at this time of the year. The temperatures didn't even cool down over night, making Dean sweat through his shirt while he was working in his study.
"Can't we just celebrate in the wine cellar? At least it's cool there?" Sam whined, his hair sticking to his sweaty face. He held a garish hot pink fan in his hands, waving air into his face. "Ugh, I can't stand it."
"We're not going to celebrate your birthday in the wine cellar," Dean grumbled, studying weather reports in nothing but a thin undershirt and with his pants rolled up over his knees. Sam wanted to complain but then the door to the cellar opened and Cas came out with a bag of flour and a frown on his face.
"Why is Meg down in the cellar?"
"She was miserably pecking at my feet. She was probably hot," Dean explained and watched his fiancé put the flour down on the counter.
"If Meg can hang out in the cellar, so can we," Sam argued and Dean groaned.
"I can drop by The Grotto today and ask if we can rent their rooms and hold the party there," Cas suggested and Sam groaned out his thanks.
"I'm not going to fish drunk people out of the river though," Dean warned, then he felt Castiel's cool hands wipe through his hair and come to rest against his neck. The good thing about Cas being an angel was that he wasn't affected by the heat and seemed to be able to cool Dean down a bit. "Oh yes, touch me more," he sighed.
"Gross," Sam muttered, but then he plopped his hand down across the table, so Cas could reach it and send a bit of soothing chill through him too.
"I'm worried about how the heat affects all of you…"
"It's alright, we're not that fragile… We just need to drink a lot, stay in the shade and we'll be fine. This isn't humanity's first hot summer," Dean insisted. Castiel smiled at that and continued to run his fingers through Dean's hair, making it stick up. Who cared. He wasn't going to leave the house if he didn't have to.
"Older people and kids are always at risk though… People do get sick and die during heat waves," Sam commented and Dean shot him a reproachful look. He was trying to comfort Cas! Sam mouthed an apology behind his ugly pink fan, but the damage was done.
"Maybe I should go to help people… I can't do much but if this heat wave is supernatural, then I feel it's my duty to take care of humans."
"Cas, sweetheart, this is not your duty. And you can't take that kind of burden on your shoulders," Dean said, turning around in his chair to be able to look up at his fiancé. Castiel frowned down at him.
"Dean, when we met you were angry that we angels didn't intervene in your war. It wasn't my duty then, but still you would have wished for me to have done it," he argued and Dean grumbled to himself. He hated it when Cas was being reasonable.
"Sam, back me up here," he whined instead of trying to come up with an argument, but Sam hid his face behind his fan.
"It's my birthday, I'm not gonna get involved in your arguments today."
"Coward," Dean grumbled, but he agreed that they would have to talk to some people to figure out if Cas was needed at the hospital. First they had a party to organize though. "Okay, so Cas will organize the change of location and I'll go get the cake and pie from the bakery. And Sam'll just be lazy and lie on the floor or something."
"Don't mind me if I do," Sam said, eying the cool stone floor wistfully. Dean didn't want to think about how terrible the heat might get as summer progressed. It was only the beginning of May after all and the hottest days were still to come.
The real heatwave hit Campbell a month later. The streets of Campbell felt deserted and many stores closed during the hottest hours because it was simply not bearable to do anything but sit in the shade.
"Reports from other regions are in, it's hot as hell everywhere. Half of the forests of Mills are burning because it's been so damn dry. I don't even remember when we last had a drop of rain," Bobby said, his voice drifting through the open door of the vault, to where Dean was trying to read though some other documents on Amara. The council had been relocated to one of the underground levels of the Men of Letters buildings. Bobby had been a bit weird earlier in the day, avoiding his eyes when he gruffly told him that his presence was not required. That didn't exactly stop Dean from listening in. He could do his reading anywhere and down here it was at least cool. And he could eavesdrop. Dean could see an elemental sprite flit around in its protective jar, cooling the room down to somewhat bearable levels.
"What I worry about most is the strain it puts on people. I'm not even sure that the symptoms are truly natural anymore," John said, sighing heavily. "A heavy weight rests on Campbell, like back when the winter didn't end."
"That though has crossed our minds. Castiel has joined Doctor Milligan on her visits to people who suffer from the heat. As I understood it it's nothing supernatural." Grandpa Samuel's voice was rough and scratchy. He was feeling the heat too, but he refused to abandon Campbell just to get to cooler regions. Dean could respect that kind of stubbornness, even though it was annoying.
"No, Sir," Bobby answered, sounding tired. "Which also makes it difficult for him to actually make an impact with his healing powers. The only thing he can do is cool people down temporarily. I don't see any point in him continuing it. We've got to investigate alternatives."
"We've got another ice sprite set up at the hospital, but it's not going to be enough in the long run…," John explained. Low murmuring followed, as the council tossed around ideas that Dean tuned out. He put down his pen and rested his head back against the cool stone.
He felt so useless and even afraid. It was just hot weather, it was one stupid, dangerous heatwave, maybe it was supernatural, maybe there was no solution at all. He knew that there was no point in sending Cas out to search for Amara again, which was one of the few things he and his grandfather seemed to agree upon.
" We'll keep looking for a solution. Thank you for your input Council Member Singer, we'll discuss it further… Dismissed," Samuel's voice cut through Dean's thought and he left the vault before he could be spotted. When he got out of the house the bright light and heat felt like a blast of painful magic and he groaned. He pulled his tinted glasses out of his pocket and put them on his nose. No longer squinting, he saw Cas sitting on the stone stairs, in the full light. He had temporarily given up his work at the translation office in order to run errands for whoever in Campbell couldn't brave the heat. Since the city was so big, there was always something to do for Cas and Dean rarely even saw his fiancé in the house anymore.
Studying Castiel, looking up into the cloudless sky, Dean missed him. He missed him so profoundly and he didn't even know why. He was here after all. Just within reach.
He walked towards him and dropped a kiss on top of Cas' head.
"Hey sweetheart," he said softly. "Are you on break?"
"I was on my way to Karen, to help her in the bakery. She's sick…," Cas said and Dean breathed in sharply.
"The heat?" Cas nodded, but then he got up on his feet and took Dean's arm.
"You shouldn't be out in the sun for long, you will be sunburnt within minutes," Cas said, pulling Dean along, into the shadow. Instead of going right home he followed Cas to Singer's bakery. The sign was flipped to closed, but Castiel turned it once he was inside it. Dean only now noticed that he was wearing his servant uniform and he was now putting on his apron.
"You've been helping out?"
"When I have time," Cas said, "Karen doesn't have the energy to be up on her feet for too long." He turned towards Dean. "Can you check on her?" Dean nodded and went through the back to where there was a door leading upstairs to the living quarters.
"Karen? You here?" He knocked at the door to the bedroom and opened it when he heard Karen's soft voice calling him in. Dean tensed when he saw her lying on the bed, the whole room dimmed to let in as little heat as possible. A fan was on, but not doing much to chase out the heat. Through the sliver of light he could see how pale Karen was, with circles under her eyes and skin clammy.
"Ah, Dean. Hello," she said, her eyes slightly unfocused, but she was smiling. "Did you come with Cas?"
"Yes. How are you?" Dean asked, stepping closer to put his hand on her forehead. She was really warm. She sighed, but didn't lose her smile.
"I'll live," she said and Dean tried to believe that.
"Of course you will. We've got Cas after all, right? He'll make things alright," Dean said and Karen's smile dimmed slightly. "What? What is it?"
"How is he supposed to fix this, Dean…? We can't put the fate of the entire world on his shoulders…," she said, "he's taking it to heart."
"What is he taking to heart, Karen?" Dean asked her softly.
"People talk… they complain. Angels are supposed to watch over humans," Karen said, shaking her head with a sigh. "Go back to your soon-to-be husband, Dean. Don't worry about me." Dean studied her, then he nodded. He squeezed her hand, then he left her to go back down into the shop, just to walk right into an argument.
"I'm sorry about your wife," Cas said, stoic as he usually was when he was dealing with people who weren't Dean. What surprised Dean however was that the person standing on the other side of the counter was Bobby, his face red and sweaty and upset. "I'm doing the best I can."
"Are you though? Are you really?" Bobby challenged. "What you're doing is like drops in the ocean! You've got vast powers, your kind can smite demons, raze cities to the ground, throw our entire planet off course! And what are you doing? Selling bread, running errands! You could be out there doing meaningful work!"
"What do you consider meaningful work?" Castiel asked calmly, though Dean could see how tense he was. He looked like he could fly off any second. Bobby lifted his hands.
"You were Goldmarie! You brought about winter in the middle of summer. So what's stopping you from doing it again? Just do your job! End this heatwave! Make it snow. I don't care, just do something!" Bobby shouted and Dean felt he shouldn't be listening to this, he should step out into the shop and put an end to this. At least now he knew why Bobby had acted all squirrely around him.
"I'm an angel. I don't have that kind of power," Castiel told him. Dean could see how Bobby's expression became dark and stormy.
"Bobby-" Castiel started, but Bobby opened the door, letting in a gust of hot wind.
"I said get out. If you're gonna be useless, then do it elsewhere," he snapped. Castiel didn’t move, but now Dean did, his heart beating in his throat.
"Bobby!" he shouted and Bobby startled, apparently not having noticed Dean at all. "Are you out of your mind?!" Dean hurried to Castiel's side and put his hands on the angel, but to his surprise, Cas shook him off.
"It's alright," he said silently, then he took off his apron and stepped out from behind the counter. He passed a stunned and chastised looking Bobby without saying a word. It was silent in the store until Bobby slowly pulled the door shut, making the bell tingle.
"I can't believe what you just said to Cas," Dean managed to say around the lump in his throat. He took the apron Cas had discarded. Bobby dragged his hand over his face.
"I don't… I don't know what came over me. I was just so angry and Karen is…" Dean felt a pang of sorrow for the man. "I'm not the only one who thinks this. We need to save Campbell. If only he-"
"If only he what, huh, Bobby? If only he had a magic solution? If only angels were able to control the weather?"
"Boy… we both know that if he made it snow again. If he returned…" Dean shook his head.
"No. No," he said, rushing to the door. "Cas is my family. And this is Cas' home. He has already sacrificed enough. He doesn't have to give up everything again," Dean said, not awaiting Bobby's answer. He slammed the door after himself and stood there on the porch, breathing heavily. He felt like he was suffocating, not getting nearly enough air into his lungs.
"Damnit!" he shouted.
Dean found Castiel in the guest room on the third floor again. It was almost too hot to manage up there, but once he stepped closer to Cas and into the room, it got easier to breathe.
"Are you okay?" Dean asked, watching Castiel sit on the window sill, looking out over the town.
"I don't know," Cas said quietly, his eyes still fixed on the outside. "It's a nice view from up here…"
"Yes, it is… You can even see the countryside from here," Dean answered, walking up to Cas until he was close enough to run his fingers through Castiel's hair. The angel moved to rest his head against Dean's chest, but he didn’t speak.
"Hey," Dean stated, "we could go there. I'm sure my grandparents would love to see you again," Dean started, but Castiel only closed his eyes. Dean felt panic take hold of his heart but he tried to force a smile on his lips and levity into his words. "We could even marry there. No point in waiting, right? Just a small ceremony in that tiny chapel on my grandparent's estate." He rubbed Castiel's shoulders. "It would be horrible and rushed and we'd probably sweat through all our clothes, but we could cool off in the pool later."
"Dean…" Cas said softly and Dean felt the word like a bullet tearing through him. Cas lifted his head, away from Dean's chest and looked up. But Dean squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head. "My love… I have to go."
"No," Dean said, his throat burning. He opened his eyes and found Cas looking up at him, so impossibly sad. "No!"
"I have to go back to Frau Holle's realm. Someone has to work the estate," Cas argued.
"But why does it have to be you?!" Dean shouted, desperation and pain urging him on to lash out. "And what if Amara's gone for good?! What if she's not going to come back and humans would have to manage?"
"Humans would have had to manage too with snow in summer," Castiel told him softly, "but still you came for me."
"That was because," Dean shouted, but then he stopped. Patiently, Castiel waited for Dean to find a way to finish his sentence. But Dean didn't know. What had it been that had driven him out of the comfort of his home? He had been alright. He had been… "Numb…" Dean muttered. "Because I felt numb. Because Sam was unhappy," he told Cas. "Because something inside of me told me that even though I hated it, leaving would be the right thing to do." Dean looked up at Cas, finding the angel's bright eyes full of shining tears. "Because it was the right thing to do." Castiel nodded.
"Yes. That's why I have to go. I must take her place. Until she comes back," he said and then he took Dean's hands in his, kissing his palms. "I have to make sure that you will be alright."
"But how, Cas? How can I?" Dean asked hoarsely, voice heavy with unshed tears. "Time will rush by and what if Amara never comes back? What if there is no more Frau Holle?" He watched a tear slip down Castiel's face, a slow trail, that looked like ice on Castiel's smooth skin. Dean hurt so much for him, for them, he didn't know how to bear it. "You will sit in your estate, longing, while I waste away and eventually die. And it'd be just a blink of an eye for you. And we would all be gone. And you'll have nothing anymore. Cas… Cas."
"Yes," Cas answered and Dean didn't understand how he could be so brave. Castiel looked at him steadily. "That's the nature of sacrifice."
The end was a slow and quiet affair. Dean couldn't bear to watch him fold up all the clothes he had bought for himself in Campbell, he couldn't watch Cas walk through the house, letting his fingers trail over everything, as if committing them to memory.
"What's happening? Dean, what's happening?" Sam had asked, worried at first, but then more frantic when Dean only answered by averting his eyes. Sam rushed out of the room and Dean pressed his palms to his face when he could hear Sam trying to argue with Cas, but Dean knew it was pointless. Cas appeared in the kitchen door, looking at Dean, but then he turned away and left the house.
"Just watch him… Disentangling all his roots with that fucking stoic face," Dean bit out when Sam came down into the kitchen, looking pale and shaken.
"Can't we do anything?" Sam asked helplessly. "I heard about what Bobby said… About what other people say. And I… I don't understand."
"I do… You might make the same reckless demands if you had to watch Jess waste away before your eyes," Dean said quietly. He was still incredibly pissed, but he knew it was pointless. "He wasn't the only one… Cas never said anything but people have asked him to do more, fix more constantly… It's just… It's unfair, Sam! He's giving and giving and now he's giving so much that he'll just gonna disappear! And all just for a drop in temperatures!"
"But he'll be back, right? Once Frau Holle returns, once the world is back in balance…?" Sam asked, but he didn't sound convinced either. Dean didn’t know what to tell him.
"Yeah… I don't really have that kind of faith," he finally settled on saying. The silence it the kitchen was heavy, hot and stifling. Dean thought about making an escape, join Meg in the cellar.
"And you're just going to sit here?" Sam asked and Dean shot him a glare.
"What else am I supposed to do? Chain him up in the dungeon?" he spat. His brother frowned at Dean, shaking his head.
"How about you spend the rest of the time you've got together?" he asked and Dean felt his chest clench painfully. No. He didn't want to do that. He didn't want to go out in public, watch Cas say good-bye to all the people he met and came to like here in Campbell. Knowing that every good-bye to Campbell, every thread severed, brought Cas one step closer to fly away from him forever.
"Sammy, I can't," he said, not even embarrassed that his voice came out like the wail of a dying animal.
"But you must, Dean… Be with him," Sam answered, his voice soft and eyes wet. Dean shook his head, but he got up.
It wasn't hard to find Cas, because he could just follow the trail of bewildered or guilty looking neighbors. He caught up with him on the deserted market place. Cas looked up in surprise when he saw him.
"You shouldn't be out in the sun, you'll get-"
"Sunburnt, I know," Dean said, then he crowded up into Cas' space and kissed him. "I want to be with you. This must hurt you as much as it hurts me, maybe even more. I want to be by your side. Until the end," he said. Castiel's calm expression crumbled and his bright eyes shone wetly.
"Thank you," he whispered and Dean gave his hand a squeeze. "Let's go."
Dean accompanied him to Mills, where they were sitting in the dark of the platform, feet dangling over the edge. There was long, dry grass and ferns growing on the tracks, that tickled Dean's naked legs. Even though it was past midnight, it was still hot and dry. But there were clouds gathering overhead, concealing the twinkling of stars.
Cas was sitting next to him, resting his head on Dean's shoulder. He was back in the clothes he had first worn, but his heavy coat was rolled up and resting on his lap. He didn't have a bag with him, leaving the human world without any possessions to remind him of it. Dean knew that he didn't have much time left, but he couldn’t find it in him to break the peaceful silence. He watched Castiel, his face calm, eyes closed, hair moving in the light breeze.
"I love you," he whispered, just as the lights of the train became visible in the distance. Castiel opened his eyes and craned his neck slightly to be able to look up at Dean. He smiled.
"I love you too," he said. They reluctantly got up and watched the small train drive into the station. Garth looked out of the window, lifting his hat in greeting.
"One ticket to Queens Fall?" he called and Castiel let go of Dean, to go up to the window, handing Garth the coins and receiving a ticket instead. "No luggage?" Castiel shook his head, then he turned to look over his shoulder where Dean was standing. Garth watched them, but he didn't offer Dean a ticket, as if he knew exactly that this train was only driving for Cas tonight. Considering how the magic worked here, that was probably the case.
"Ready when you are," Garth promised, then he closed the window. Cas nodded, then turned to Dean, reaching out to take his hands in his. Dean was already crying but he was surprised by the fierce expression on Castiel's face.
"No matter what happens, if you ever need me, I will come," Cas promised. "I will come for you, for your family, your children, their children. If you are ever in need of help, summon me. I will come. I will protect your bloodline."
"Our own guardian angel, huh?" Dean said with a smile, after he managed to swallow past the tears. Castiel nodded, then he let go of Dean's hands. He lifted his left hand to look at the engagement ring. His other hand moved as if to pull it off, but then he dropped that hand and looked up at Dean.
"Can I keep the ring…?" he asked timidly and Dean stared at him.
"Yes! God. Yes," Dean said, reaching out to grab Castiel's shoulders, giving them a squeeze. "I don't want it back. Even if I could fall in love again, I don't want you to give it back. This is yours. Cas. You'll always be my… almost husband." The love of his life, Dean was sure, but he didn't want to make this wound any worse or make it harder for Cas.
"Thank you, Dean." Cas said and then his breath hitched. Dean pulled him close, letting Cas hide his face against Dean's neck. He felt so solid and alive in Dean's arms, he couldn't imagine that just in a few short moments he would be gone.
Finally, though, Cas pulled back for Dean to kiss him good-bye. Dean carded his fingers through Castiel's hair and committing his face to memory.
"Good-bye, sunshine," Dean said and Castiel smiled at him.
Dean watched him board the train and then disappear. He sat down on the bench outside the station house, looking up into the sky, where clouds continued to gather, almost as if they knew that Cas was leaving.
The next day heavy clouds rolled into Campbell with Dean. When he stepped out of the train he felt a cool breeze. The clouds covered the sky, blocking the sun and people opened the doors and windows to look up heavenwards.
The first drops of rain fell down just as Dean sat down in the third-floor guest room. The land seemed to utter a sigh of relief.
Dean, on the other hand, was devastated.
5 years later
"Professor!" Dean turned around, readjusting his heavy bag. He found Charlie Bradbury, a promising Master case student who had transferred into the Men of Letters faculty from out of country, hurrying down the stairs, still careful enough to mind the snow on the steps.
She shuddered when she reached Dean, rubbing her arms.
"Something wrong? Did another catalogue card get stuck?" Dean wondered, then he looked up into the sky because it started snowing. He smiled into the sky.
"Like clockwork," he mumbled and Charlie looked at him, then up into the sky.
"We've had pretty steady snow this winter. I had heard that Campbell had mild winter, with moderate snowfall," she said.
"Our winters are kind," Dean said gently and Charlie studied him, but didn't comment. Instead she held out her hand. Dean found the amulet dangling in front of his eyes. "Did you mean to take this along? It was still on your table."
Dean looked at the amulet in surprise. He couldn't remember putting it on his desk.
"Huh, I thought I had given it to Chuck," Dean said, but he took the necklace and put it around his neck and then stuffing it under his jacket.
"It's pretty ugly, so maybe he returned it," Charlie joked, then she punched his shoulder. "Have fun on your trip!"
"I will. You enjoy working on your filing system," he answered and Charlie waved at him before she dashed back up the stairs. Dean touched his chest, feeling the shape of the amulet under the fabric.
He walked through the city and headed out to the station. It was a long familiar journey out to Mills and he took his familiar seat on the bench outside the station house. It was chilly this early in the year, but not too cold to sit out for an hour or two and wonder if this was the day he would get into the train that would take him further.
Maybe this was the day to give up his human life, board the train to Queen's Fall and join Cas in Holle's lonely estate. He had discussed it at length with Sam and with his father. He knew what leaving meant. He knew that he would probably be changed by the magic, he knew that every blissful day he would be able to spend with Cas, would also be a torment. Within months of his stay with Cas, everyone he knew in the human realm would be dead.
So he sat at the station of Mills and waited and knew in his heart that the train to Queens Fall wouldn't come for him.
"Hello?" Dean startled and looked up. He hadn't noticed anyone approaching, but there was a woman wrapped in a dark coat and a black shawl around her head and neck. Snow was clinging to her clothes.
"Oh, hi. Sorry," Dean said, scooting over so that there was enough space on the bench. The woman smiled at him and walked through the snow until she reached the part of the platform sheltered by the roof of the station house. She pushed down the shawl when she was out of the snow, her brown curls falling freely around her face. She was beautiful to look at, with dark brown eyes and a smile for Dean. Dean felt some of the tension bleed out of him. Maybe it was nice to not sit here alone.
"The weather here is nice," the woman commented, then she looked around her, at the light dusting of snow covering the country side of Mills. "Even though it's mild."
"That's true," he answered, glad for the conversation but it was hard to swipe away the sadness and longing. But he had to at least try. He couldn't spend the rest of his life moping and miserable. He turned towards the woman and studied her. She didn't seem to be having any kind of luggage on her. "Are you travelling?"
"Yes," she answered with a fond smile. "I get lonely sometimes, so I want to see the world." Dean nodded. He could understand loneliness now and the urge to just leave everything behind to chase the slightest hope of reprieve. Dean unclasped the bag that was between his legs. He pulled out a bundle and held it out to the woman. She lifted her eyebrow in confusion.
"It's food and some other necessities. I always bring something with me in case I finally take the train out to Queens Fall," he sighed. "But I don't have the guts. Not today." He saw her lower her eyes to the bundle. "So if you've still have a way to travel, you can have it." The woman lifted her hands and gingerly took the bundle out of his hands.
"Thank you," she said with a smile at Dean, seemingly touched. She wiped her hand over the bundle and then she looked up at Dean. "Spring will bring growth and love," she insisted. Dean looked at her in confusion, but still smiled, nodding at her. There was a peculiar warmth in his chest but he wasn't sure just what he was feeling. The stranger got up, holding the bundle to her chest. "Good deeds will be rewarded." Dean sent her a look, but then something bright caught the corner of his eye. He grabbed under his shirt, pulling out the amulet. It was glowing brightly in his palm. Startled, Dean looked up, but the woman was gone.
The amulet's warm glow lingered.
Dean didn't know if he should hope, but he awaited the first spots of green to peek through the snow with a sense of exhilaration that he hadn't felt in five years.
On this particular morning he woke up early, when the sun had not yet risen. Through the open window he could hear Meg making a ruckus down in the yard. He frowned, got out of bed and stumbled to the window. When he looked down he saw that Meg's coop was open and for a second he was terrified that something might have gotten into the yard to eat her.
There was something in the yard. Or someone. A figure in an old-fashioned dress, with pale, long hair spilling over her back. Dean felt his breath stuck in his throat.
"Cas…!" he managed to breathe out and the woman down in the yard turned her head. She looked up and Dean thought he could see the smile. But then he blinked and she was gone. Meg's coop was closed, the chicken quiet, the yard deserted. Dean stared down into the yard, leaning out of the window. Was he hallucinating now?
Dean turned around and there he was, Cas, in his human form, smiling brightly at Dean, his eyes shining an unnatural blue. Dean couldn't speak. He wasn't sure if this was real. "I'm back," Cas said.
"Cas… Is it really you?" Dean asked, but he didn't wait for an answer, already reaching out to pull Cas close. It was like the ice inside of Dean thawed the moment he had Cas wrapped up in a hug. He wanted to stay like this forever, but he needed answers first.
"I think I saw Amara, maybe a month ago," Dean started and Cas nodded at him. "Was that really her?"
"She has returned to the estate," Castiel said. "She said she had wandered among humans and had found you worthy."
"Good deeds will be rewarded," Dean muttered and Cas nodded.
"She was pleased with my work and my... sense of duty."
"Sacrifice and irritating selflessness," Dean grumbled.
"She offered me my rewards. Power or gold… My own dominion even," Cas told Dean and Dean waited how Cas would continue with bated breath. He shouldn't have worried though because Cas grinned at him, kissing Dean fondly. "I asked to return to the human world and to be with you."
"Oh Cas," Dean said, pulling Cas in for another hug.
"If you still will have me. It's been years in your world, Dean…"
"Of course I still want you, sunshine. I never wanted anyone else," he said, laughing now and kissing the side of Cas' face. "And now that you finally found Frau Holle, we can go ahead with the wedding."
"Oh, I'd like that, Dean," Cas said and Dean knew that he meant it.
Outside the snow fell in soft flakes, a last hurrah of winter before spring would push through, coaxing the world from slumber under its blanket of snow.