Castiel Novak, age 12, is in love with words. They're beautiful, wondrous things. They do so much. They elicit feelings, memories, spells, ideas. He loves so many words. Fantastical words like "balloon" and "combustion." They're exciting and imaginative. Dreams. Happy words like "cat" and "dandelion." But... there are words that Castiel Novak hates. "Hate." It's a strong word. He hates to use it. But sometimes it applies. Words whispered behind elegantly gloved hands. Words that are pretending that they shouldn't be heard, but can be. "Poor boy. With that eccentric father of his. After his mother passed, there's no hope for him. Poor, poor boy." Horrible. "Eccentric" is a good word, Castiel stubbornly believes. Eccentric pays to keep oil in the lamps, food on the table. Castiel is only twelve, but he believes that "eccentric" means "more brilliant than most people understand." Brilliant enough for people to be scared of.
Except for Castiel's second-favorite word. "Dean." He likes it because there's only one in his whole world. And Dean is lovely. The best friend he's ever had. Dean likes that eccentric father of Castiel's. He's always smiling wider than anyone else in Castiel's world when he says, "good day Mr. Novak. May Castiel come to play or is he busy helping with your inventions?" So polite. Castiel's not fond of the word "polite," however he admits that's probably because he's not so good at it himself. That's fine, though. Dean isn't polite with him, regardless.
And Castiel will not stand on ceremony in his workshop. That's another wonderful word, though in this case, may be a bit of an exaggeration. In reality, it is an old, abandoned house. Small, cozy, given back to the forest at the edge of the city over the years. There's magic in places like this, Castiel is certain. It's where man and nature meet without conflict. The wooden stairs leading up to the porch are soft with moss and rot. The house was handsome once, but now it's spectacular. The paint has peeled to nothing, vines and wisteria climbing up the endless windows to the observation tower at the very top. Plants have shoved their way through the floorboards inside, but Castiel knows where to step safely.
His work bench is near the kitchen in the music room. It's not much to look at. The wood is warped; stained with paint, nicks from knives, scattered with burns from volatile potions and spells. Even the tools are hand-me-downs, cast offs like the house. They're rusted. Some of the beakers and distillers are cracked. The metal boxes filled with springs, cogs, watch parts, non-volatile spell components, are all beyond use for a proper artisan, but to Castiel, they're more precious than gold. His father knows that, and it's why they're given to his son happily.
"Hello, Dean," Castiel says from the doorway.
"Hey, Cas," Dean answers, looking far too clean.
He's already removed his black frock coat and unbuttoned the dark red and black checkered waistcoat. He's even discarded his four in hand to the table, and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. Mrs. Winchester would be appalled. Castiel thinks he looks wonderful. "What are you dressed like that for?" he asks.
Dean wrinkles his nose. "Mother had a party with the city council. I'm old enough to go."
Castiel slips his tweed jacket over his shoulders and rolls up his own sleeves. "Sounds boring."
"Yeah. S'why I'm here. You're always fun."
"I got sandwiches. You hungry?"
"No. I ate a lot at the party so I wouldn't have to talk to anyone."
Castiel smiles. That sounds like Dean. "Was it good?"
Dean gestures to a pristine red handkerchief on the bench. "Saved you some."
This is why Dean is his favorite person, second-favorite word. He pulls up the silk to reveal pastries of every color on God's beautiful earth. "I'll get fat," he beams.
"So?" Dean shrugs. "You've got a hole in your jacket again," he observes, nodding at the sleeve where the elbow has worn thin.
"Father's saving to buy a new one," Castiel answers, stuffing his face enthusiastically. The pink dainties are strawberry. He loves strawberries.
Dean watches him for a moment with a sparkle in his green eyes, then holds out his hand. "Give it here." At first Castiel thinks he means the desserts, and he's about to protest that Dean has already eaten enough. But then he glances to where Dean is looking. Ah. The jacket. Castiel tosses it across the table with his clean hand. Dean turns it over and inspects the loose leather patch Cain had put on it last season. "What're you working on today?" Dean mutters distractedly, digging for the needle and thread on the shelf next to him.
"Clockwork," Castiel answers. "I want to make some figurines for Father to sell. Little clocks."
Dean arches an eyebrow without looking up from his work. "Sounds good. What kind of figurines?"
Dean puffs a laugh. "Why angels? You're not religious." He bites his tongue between his teeth while trying to thread the needle through the tiny eye hole.
Dean hmm's. But he doesn't disagree. He makes quick work of the patching, as always. He hasn't much talent with a needle and thread before on his own, but once he had seen that mending clothes was the single talent - in his mind - that Castiel did not possess, he set himself to learning it, and learning it well.
It pleases him the way that Castiel's brow furrows with consternation when he glances up from studying the collection of tiny gears to see Dean's finished work. "You could be a tailor."
"I could be a lot of things," Dean replies airily, "but I won't."
Talking like that troubles Castiel, though he's not entirely certain why. He just doesn't like it when Dean says things like that, as harmless as they may seem. Nothing is harmless. He has never encountered a truly harmless word, or string of words, in his life. Some sentences like to hide their true intentions, but those innocuous things are usually more dangerous than their violent counterparts. He suspects that Dean's statement is like that. He isn't sure how to diffuse it, but he tries. He says, "you can be anything you like."
It doesn't work because Dean scoffs, "has that ever been true of the aristocracy and their well-meaning parents?"
Castiel considers this. He doesn't know the actual answer. All he knows of the wealthy families are their strawberry sweets and Dean's willingness to run away from them. He says, "no, I suppose not."
Dean smiles at him, pleased at his answer. Such a sad thing. Castiel marvels at how brave Dean is. He may dislike the trajectory of his life that's been laid out persistently since his birth, but he accepts it without tears or anger. Another thing that Castiel doesn't understand is that sort of sacrifice. He hopes it doesn't hurt Dean. Most days it probably doesn't. But sometimes the light is a little dimmer. And all that Castiel can do is cast a bit more of his own.
"Did you practice the spell?" he asks.
"Yes, but I had to use the transmutation circle that you made. It won't work when I draw it."
"Let me see it?"
Begrudgingly, Dean takes a square of dark dyed cotton from his pocket and spreads it on the table. The transmutation circle drawn on it in chalk is crude and singed.
"It's as bad as you're handwriting," Castiel says bluntly. He didn't intend to sound unkind, but Dean is rarely offended by him. He seems to enjoy Castiel's honesty.
"I will never understand art or calligraphy," Dean says proudly.
"Both of which you need to accomplish alchemy without killing someone," Castiel mutters, studying every line of the drawing. "This is terrible," he finally confirms, intrigued. "What happened when you used it?"
Dean shrugs. "Nothing."
"Something would have happened," Castiel counters.
"I burned the curtains," Dean grins.
"Was your mother thrilled?"
"She forced me to attend the party as punishment."
Castiel believes that. "We can use mine." He holds out the cotton to Dean, who stuffs it unceremoniously back into his trousers. "Watch carefully." He collects the ingredients and carefully spreads them out on top of his own transmutation circle. Blobs of blue, green, and white seaglass, small rusty cogs and wheels. A stained piece of some kind of metal. A clock face rescued from a broken wristwatch.
Dean leans as closely as he dares to watch Castiel's work. Castiel would be lying if he said he didn't very much enjoy how excited and enthralled his friend looks every time he watches a transmutation. It's the one thing he doesn't seem to mind Castiel - or anyone - being better at.
Castiel presses his thumbs at the bottom of the circle, the others curved up towards the sides. He loves doing this. He can feel the crackling of earth energy around him, standing up the short hairs on the back of his neck and arms. The trick to alchemy is timing. It's about patience. His eyes burn hot for a moment, flashing unearthly blue-white, and it's then he begins to raise his hands from the circle slowly. The circle glows red, sparkling up, the light clinging to the pads of his fingers like honey. As the circle grows up, so do the raw materials, shining and taking the form he has designed for them.
Dean says nothing and holds completely still. Even the slightest break in concentration can have disastrous effects, and Dean doesn't want to be thrown out of the workshop.
It's difficult to see the creation being made through the wavering energy circle, but it is definitely taking the shape of an angel. Castiel pauses his hand movements for a moment and then brings his thumbs and forefingers together, ending the spell.
"Ah!" Dean exclaims in quiet wonder.
Castiel nods in satisfaction. It's turned out exactly as he'd planned. The angel is only tall as his hand, and just about as wide. It's soft curves, the body in milky green glass, edged with blue. The oval wings are white, edged with delicate filaments in rose gold. In its round hands it holds the clock, now ticking mutedly. Castiel turns it around to face Dean, ready for his appraisal.
Dean leans in, taking in the details, touching the ruffles in the dress, the flat circle of the halo. "It's incredible," he whispers. His green eyes shine when he meets Castiel's. "How do you wind it?"
"You don't," Castiel answers. He taps the latch on the clock and it pops open. Inside, the cogs and springs glow red. "It's run by alchemy. It never needs winding or setting. Perhaps the spell will need to be charged again in a decade or two, but once I perfect the symbol, it won't even require that much." He lifts the angel to show Dean the miniature transmutation circle etched into the bottom. "This keeps it functioning."
"Amazing," Dean says, accepting the angel and turning it around and around. "You could become the best alchemist in the city, even more than your father."
Castiel flushes at the compliment. "Thank you. You may keep that one, if you wish."
Dean clutches it like an invaluable treasure. "Are you sure? You don't want to sell it?"
"No," Castiel smiles. "I can make more. That one is for you."
"Thank you," Dean beams.
"It's nothing," Castiel says.
"I have to go," Dean says uncertainly. "It's getting late."
Castiel glances up, surprised at the darkness. Time had gotten away from him. But the son of a merchant worries about such things less than a son of the mayor. Castiel stands from the bench and lights the two sooty oil lamps. "Give your family my regards," he says, though he knows Dean won't. It's for the best.
"Don't stay here all night," Dean says. "It's wet. You'll catch chill."
"You fixed my coat, I'll be fine," Castiel answers dismissively, already focused on gathering the parts for the next angel to keep the loneliness of Dean's impending departure at bay. Dean returning home is the least favorite part of his day. But then it's over and he is consumed by his work until the lamps run out. When he moves to pick up his jacket, he spies the glitter of a gold coin on the table. He picks it up. Dean must have left it. For the angel? Why? It's ten times what it's worth. "That was a gift," he murmurs, disappointed for some reason that he didn't fully understand.
~ o ~ x ~ xoXox ~ x ~ o ~
"I know that's Dean," Ellen says from the sink where she is scrubbing the fine china from the party. "You had better remove your boots and put them under the table so your mother don't see them and scold you again. I'll have Bobby clean them later."
"You're my favorite person in the world," Dean grins, doing as he's told, and stooping to unlace his shoes.
She lets out an inelegant snort. "You've got your father's silver tongue. Were you off with the Novak boy again?"
"Cas is my best friend," Dean says, jumping up to sit on the tiled counter next to her, plucking a ripe red pear from the fruit bowl and polishing it on his vest.
"I'm not your mamma, boy. I happen to like him, too."
"'S'nothing wrong with him," Dean mumbles around the pear.
Ellen snaps him with a hand towel for talking with his mouth full. "I know that. You know that. It's the father, not the child."
"Nothing wrong with Master Novak, either," Dean says carefully. None of the adults speak of such things to him. Children aren't to be bothered by adult problems, or even understand them. Dean doesn't, really. However, he has learned in his limited way that some adults will tell him more than they mean to if he doesn't ask them too many questions. He's become very adept at making statements.
Ellen does not disappoint. "Not in the troubling sense, no. He's... not all right in the head, some say. Probably all them spell and chemical fumes. Breathing that in can't be good for a body's proper constitution."
Dean sees fit to roll his eyes at that. "It's not true. Master Novak isn't mad; he's happy."
Ellen turns her head and levels him with a look he has no hope of interpreting. "Sometimes I believe you're smarter than you let on. Now run off and go to bed. I won't have your father yelling at me for keeping you up."
Dean does as he's told. Antagonizing Ellen is always a terrible idea. He's more scared of her than his father. He's silent in his stocking feet as he scrambles through the hall and to the sweeping grand staircase. As he tiptoes past his parent's room, he sees light spilling from under the door, but he goes on unmolested towards the end of the upper rooms. He slips into his bedroom and lights only the lamp on his oak desk. The rest of the large room is bathed in shadows that used to frighten him when he was younger. The bookcases used to make long, sinister curves that met with the study table and chairs in the center of the floor, creeping the darkness to his four poster bed. When the summer storms came back then, he'd call for his mother, and she and Sam would sleep among the goose feather pillows and imported cotton sheets. It never felt crowded, and probably still wouldn't, though he's grown.
Tonight after pulling on his night clothes, he sits at his desk, pulls the alchemy angel from his breast pocket. He holds it to the light, watching the colors shine along the polished wood.
There's a soft knock on his door that he doesn't bother to answer. It wouldn't matter anyway.
"Welcome home," Sam says.
"Did they ask where I had gone?"
"No," his little brother assures him.
They never do. "Were you worried for me?"
"Why would I be?" Sam laughs and comes to the desk, sitting on it and swinging his legs.
"You're such a bitch."
"Jerk!" Sam gasps, but he's not angry. No one in the whole world swears in front of them, and less than no one allows him to do it himself. They're quite fond of it in each other's private company. He catches sight of the angel. "Wow, that's real pretty! Did you make it?"
"Cas did," Dean says, passing it over. "It's an alchemy clock, see the bottom?"
Sam flips it over. "Yeah. Cas is amazing at this! He'll take over his father's shop, won't he?"
"Some day," Dean shrugs. "Maybe he'll be a city alchemist."
"Ugh," Sam groans. "That's so much school! How could anyone do so much school?"
"You love school," Dean laughs.
"Yeah, but I don't wanna be in classes for the rest of my life!"
"You're eight years old. Everything longer than tomorrow seems like the rest of your life."
"I'm not ready to be old and stupid like you," Sam quips.
Dean scoffs, but then they're quiet. He watches his little brother turn the angel this way and that, a thoughtful look on his face which becomes actively avoiding his brother's eyes. "Sammy?" Dean prods after a minute.
Sam puts the angel down. Stares at it. His hazel eyes fill with tears and he sniffles loudly.
Alarmed, Dean grabs for the handkerchief he'd wrapped the angel in for safekeeping, dabbing at his brother's cheeks. "What happened?"
Sam shakes his head.
"Sam, you can tell me."
He shakes his head more vigorously.
Dean flicks Sam's ear. "Tell me."
"Ow!" Sam protests, rubbing at the abused spot. "That hurt!"
"It stopped your crying, though. Tell me what happened."
Sam bites his bottom lip, but Dean can see he's worn the boy down. After a pause, Sam says softly, "they're sending you away."
Dean sits back. "What?"
"Mother and Father are sending you away to school next year!" Sam whispers fiercely. "They were talking about it over tea after you left. They didn't think that I was listening. But I was." He sniffles again. "I don't want them to send you away."
Dean's heart clenches. "They won't," he says weakly. "They wouldn't. There's no reason. I'll speak with them tomorrow. Please don't cry, Sam. I'm not going anywhere."
"Yes. You wanna stay in here tonight?"
Sam leaps off the desk and runs to Dean's bed before he changes his mind, wiggling under the covers. Dean grins and shakes his head, shooing his brother to the other side after turning off the lamp.
~ o ~ x ~ xoXox ~ x ~ o ~
"I was crafting," Castiel answers. He steps beside his father, watching his large, deft hands putting the innards back into a beautiful mahogany grandfather clock face.
"Are you still attempting to teach Winchester's boy how to do alchemy?"
"It may be a lost cause," Castiel smiles, pulling up a stool and sitting beside him. "He's hopeless."
"Few have the innate talent to perform such a science fused with art. What did you make?"
Happy for his father to ask, Castiel opens his satchel and lines up six angels, all identical except for their colors. "I made them for you to sell."
"Remarkable," Cain murmurs, abandoning his repairs to inspect each one under his magnifying glass carefully. "Oh, you've made them self-sufficient. Castiel, the craftsmanship is astonishing for your age. For any artisan. You really wish to sell these?"
"Only if they are good enough. I'm not sure of the design. Or if the spell will hold-"
Cain places a warm hand over his son's smaller one. "Castiel, you may not fully be aware of the finer arts of owning a shop such as this, but the goal is to produce products that are both beautiful and practical. Those items have the most value to people in this day and age. These clocks are that. They would be beautiful on any parlor table or bedroom stand. And they will tell the time accurately for a long time to come. I believe that we could sell a great deal of these. More, if you wish to make them."
"Yes!" Castiel says excitedly. "I found the seaglass on the shore, and the clock parts were scraps. There's no cost to make them."
Cain nods contemplatively. "Wonderful. Then you may display them in the shop. Perhaps by the summer you will have saved enough to give yourself a treat."
"The money is yours," Castiel disagrees. "Ours, rather. I... Father, I know you don't like to talk about it, but we could use the extra money. I am willing to help."
Cain faces his son, eyes looking full, and strokes the boy's messy hair, resting his large palm on the back of Castiel's neck. "Things will turn around. But in the meantime, I won't insult you by saying you're imagining things. It is difficult, especially with your mother's passing... but things will turn around."
A suspicious lump forms in Castiel's throat. "Yes. Until then, let me help."
"The burdens of adults should never fall on children," he says softly.
"But they should on family," Castiel adds.
Cain smiles. "You're incredibly brilliant, Castiel. God blessed me the day that you were born. Promise me you will cease growing up too quickly."
"I'm happy, Father. I swear it."
Cain pulls Castiel to his side for a brief hug. "Good. Who patched your jacket? It was frayed before."
Castiel holds his arm up. "Dean fixed it for me."
"I like him," Cain says, turning back to his work.
"I do, too," Castiel agrees, comfortable spending the evening watching his father work. He's getting tired, lulled by the same sounds and movements he's known all his life. Cain is a large man, and his fingers are thicker than most artisans of his type, but he's gentle and sure with everything. He never drops a single screw, his hands never so much as tremble. He can draw an intricate transmutation circle in seconds. Castiel hopes to be just like him one day.
"Get yourself to bed, son," Cain says when Castiel slumps forward on the bench.
He blinks several times, yawning. "Good night, Father." He shuffles to the short wooden staircase into the apartment above the shop. Compared to other shops, their home is large. There's a small galley kitchen, removed washroom, and two bedrooms shut off from the living area. Castiel's bedroom is only large enough for his bookshelf, single bed, and a small table, but it's cozy, and he loves it. He doesn't bother to turn on the lamp considering that he barely has his clothes off before he's on the bed, fast asleep.
~ o ~ x ~ xoXox ~ x ~ o ~
Dean and Sam enter the dining room together, dressed for the day. Mary is already pouring a cup of coffee for herself and her husband when the boys appear. "Good morning," she says brightly. "Did you boys sleep well?"
"Yes, Mother," they say in near-unison.
"Get your food while it's still warm," she advises.
They go immediately to the buffet to fill their plates. Breakfast is the only meal they serve themselves, and that's another reason why Dean likes it best.
They're seated and eating when Mary says, "Sam, I noticed your bed empty this morning. Did you spend the night with your brother again?"
Before either of them can answer, John tuts, "aren't you too old for that now?"
"I'm sorry, Father," Sam says.
He smiles. "Not to worry. But you will need to get used to your own room soon."
Sam looks confused by the vague statement, though he's heard the reason yesterday, but Dean has caught the meaning. He straightens in his chair, already dreading what is about to happen. Suddenly he's no longer hungry. "Father?" he asks carefully.
John puts his fork down on his plate neatly, dabbing the corners of his mouth with a napkin. "Your mother and I have been talking about your future, Dean."
His tongue is thick in his mouth. "Oh?" he croaks.
"Yes," Mary says. "You're old enough now that your father and I think it's time for you to go to the academy in the capital. It's the best boarding school in the country. Your father and I both were educated there."
Sam is slumped small in his chair, lower lip trembling as he pokes at his eggs. Dean glances at him. "Why do I have to go?" he asks.
John looks genuinely surprised by the question. "Why do you not want to?"
A lot of reasons. "Because my home is here. My friends, my family." Cas. "I don't know anyone in the capital."
John waves that off. "You'll make friends. And you will know someone, besides. Middleton's daughter, Celeste, it's also beginning there this year."
He has no idea who that is. He's seen the Middletons at family parties before, naturally, but their daughter has never been with them. Dean has very little use for girls. They laugh strangely and don't like to run, from what he's seen of them. They're no fun at all.
"Please, can you think about it some more? I want to stay here."
"Darling, don't be unreasonable," Mary admonishes lightly. "The school has already accepted you. Spaces are limited. It's an honor to be invited there."
Why would honor matter to him? Inexplicably, Dean feels an intense surge of anger. His life is here! He's needed here! Who will tuck Sam into bed every night and make sure he's not scared? Who will allow him to share the bed when the storms are terrible? Who will patch Castiel's sleeves? He has a hundred reasons rattling around in his head. But all he can manage through the spines in his throat is, "I don't want to go."
His father sighs. "Well, you are, so that's the end of it."
The chair screeches against the polished floor as Dean shoves it back. "I would like to be excused," he says harshly.
John opens his mouth, but Mary puts her hand over his arm. "Of course," she says.
Dean can't flee fast enough. He runs straight to his room without pause, digging his satchel out of the bottom of his armoire, stuffing it with shirts and trousers, papers and pens from his desk. He practically flies around until the satchel is full, and then speeds down the back stairs to the kitchen, avoiding any of the staff who may attempt to speak to him. No one is around. His cleaned boots are shined in the mudroom thanks to Bobby. Dean yanks them on, and then he is away from the suffocatingly huge house, on the familiar path to the workshop at the edge of town.
It's only inside the muted sanctuary that he can stop, heart pounding wildly in his chest, body shaking with anger. Fear. He stands in the center of the reclaimed house, sucking in huge, gasping breaths, ashamed of the burning tears running down his face.
He swings around. Cas. Castiel is standing in the doorway in a pool of dappled sunlight among the moss and vines breaking through the broken floorboards. He's beautiful, Dean realizes. Like a faerie. Like the angel he made. Dean can't explain the way his heart feels so full, but he can't deny it, so he doesn't try.
"Cas," he says brokenly, dropping the satchel. "I'm being sent away. I don't wanna go. I don't wanna leave here. I don't wanna leave you." He covers his face with his hands, great hiccuping sobs crashing from him.
He feels a warm body close to his. Hands on his shoulders, pulling him in. He sinks into the sensations, crushing himself against Castiel. For the moment, he feels safe.
He has no idea how long they stay that way, warmed by the early sunlight, ignoring the damp of the encroaching woods around them. Eventually, Castiel takes a step back. Dean slumps away, scrubbing at his face with his sleeve. "Are you all right?" Castiel asks in his typical quiet way.
"No," Dean sniffs.
Castiel holds out his hand. Dean takes it and is guided back to the cozy workshop. Dean collapses onto the bench, listening to Castiel light a burner to make tea in the bent up brass kettle. He makes the best tea in the world, in Dean's opinion.
Seeming as though he can read Dean's mind, Castiel begins to talk calmly. "My father taught me how to blend teas," he says. "My mother owned a tea shop before she met him. She knew the best plants, flowers, and fruits to use. How to dry them properly. She taught him, and he taught me after she passed away. I do not remember her much, but I remember the smell of the teas always in the house." He slides a cup across the table.
Dean wraps his hands around it. "I hate tea," he says. "Except for yours."
Castiel smiles, then it fades. "Why are your parents sending you away?"
"School. They want me to go to the academy."
"In Angel's Gate?"
Castiel sits down next to him. "That's amazing, isn't it? It's the best school in the country. Not many people are lucky enough to go there."
"I know that!" His angry voice echoes through the room. "My mother and father have said the same damn thing to me." In the face of Dean's anger, Castiel is silent, and Dean is guilty. He hadn't meant to shout. "I'm sorry," he says in a more measured tone.
Castiel sips his tea for another silent minute. "I'm a little envious of you. The academy has the biggest library in the world. All the things you'll learn... I'm envious."
Dean feels worse than ever hearing that. He realizes that the academy is only a dream for many. In theory, it only accepts the brightest students in all of the core disciplines. In reality, money and influence can do much more. If not for that, Dean's certain Castiel would have been accepted, had he applied. He hates hearing Castiel's envy. Wonders if his friend is more willing to see him gone than he is to be going. "Cas... you're really fine with seeing me go?"
"No," Castiel answers immediately, blue eyes shining significantly into Dean's very soul. "Dean, I will never want you to leave."
He doesn't know why the words feel a lot bigger than they sound, but all that's important in this still moment, is that Castiel means them.