Hide me in the shadow of your wings
From the wicked who do me violence.
The banishing sigil is powerful.
When Castiel wakes up, he is lying on his back staring at an arched stone ceiling. The light is low, a flickering candlelit gold, and around him voices are whispering.
It takes him a moment to realize that they’re whispering in Italian.
His body feels leaden, his grace sluggish and out of reach. It’s not that he’s powerless; it’s just that everything has been scrambled.
He turns his head and is surprised to see a human skull watching him from an alcove in the little stone chamber where he lies prone. Incongruously, it’s wearing a bridal veil. Retreating from the macabre sight, Castiel pushes himself up to sit.
It’s a mistake. The world spins and he’s almost falling back again when a strong hand catches hold of his arm. “Be careful,” a rich voice says, lilting over the Italian words. “Take your time.”
Castiel turns to find a man crouched next to him, holding him up with one hand. Behind him lurks a nervous woman, biting the nail of one finger.
But the man doesn’t look afraid. He considers Castiel with a curious expression on his narrow sun-darkened face. His black hair is shot through with gray, and his eyes are bright and intelligent. He looks like a man in the habit of knowing more than he says and he tips his head to one side as he regards Castiel, “You arrived with some force, I understand.”
“I— Where am I?” Castiel says, and then, remembering, repeats it in Italian. “Scusi. Dove mi trovo?”
The man lifts an eyebrow, lips parting in an inquisitive smile. His teeth gleam white against his tan skin. “Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco,” he says. “I take it you didn’t come here on purpose?”
Castiel presses a hand to his forehead. “No,” he says in Italian. “I don’t think so.” He looks around and sees, now, that he’s in a crypt. Saint Mary of the Souls of Purgatory at the Arch, the man had called it. He wonders whether the Purgatory connection is simply an ironic coincidence. He wonders if this man, with his hand still on his arm, knows who and what he is.
His head feels light, not quite attached to his body, but his grace is settling under his skin and, at his back, his wings shift weakly. He’s not been permanently damaged at least, but he’s not quite got his mojo back – as Dean might have said.
The sudden assault of memory pierces him, makes him catch his breath in pain. Dean is gone. Gone forever. For a moment, Castiel can’t even breathe around his grief.
“Stai bene?” the man says, his hand tightening on Castiel’s arm. “How can I help you?”
Castiel shakes his head, presses a hand over his chest as if he could push the pain away through force of will. “I’m okay,” he lies, grinding it out through gritted teeth. “Grazie.” And then he remembers Sam and in a panic tries to stand. But his knees buckle and the man grips his arm tighter, the woman catching the other, before he falls.
“Okay, okay,” the man says. “Not so fast. Sit. Sit back down. Sofia – some water?”
They ease Castiel back to the ground and the woman disappears, trotting up the stone steps at one end of the crypt with evident relief. Castiel sits forward, braces his forehead against his knees, and catches his breath.
There is silence. The air down here is still and damp, ancient in a human fashion. He supposes this place would be considered old. Dean would have thought it ancient. Dean…
His eyes prick with the tears he’s yet to shed, held at bay for Sam’s sake; Dean’s last request had been for him to look after Sam and that’s what he’d intended to do. Yet already he’s failed him, failed them both. He takes a deep breath and hears it shudder in his chest.
Next to him, the man clears his throat. “My name is Luca Moretti,” he says. “I’m a Man of Letters, of the Naples chapter.”
Castiel lifts his head, scrubs a hand over his eyes. A Man of Letters? “Do you—” He clears his throat, unsure whether he’s relieved or concerned. “Do you know what I am?”
Luca Moretti raises an eyebrow, one corner of his mouth curling toward a smile. “You’re not the first of your kind I’ve seen since the doors of Heaven closed, Angele Dei.”
Angel of God? Not so much, perhaps. God is dead and Castiel has long since put his faith and love in something other than his father: in humanity – in Dean. But he nods in answer to Luca Moretti’s assertion, because it’s close enough to the truth, and says, “My name is Castiel.”
That earns a reaction. Luca sits back on his heels, eyes going wide in recognition. “Well, I’ve heard a lot about you,” he says.
I bet you have, Castiel thinks. What he says is, “I won’t hurt you. I just need to rest until I can go—” Where? Home? There’s no home without Dean. “Go back,” he says. “I won’t be here long.”
Luca pushes himself to his feet. He’s sparely built, but looks lithe and capable. Castiel notices that he carries a knife in his boot, sees the silver gleam of it as he stands. And Luca moves like a hunter, wary and catlike. He’s no book-bound academic. “You’re a friend of the American hunters?” Luca says. “The Winchester brothers?”
“Yes.” Castiel swallows the knot in his throat. “Yes, they’re my friends.”
Luca circles the crypt, trails a hand over one of the many human skulls watching them. “The recent business,” he says, “with Erebus? That was them? They freed her from her confines?”
“And defeated her,” Castiel says with a flare of defensiveness. “Dean died to destroy the Darkness.”
Luca stops, fixes him with clever eyes. “Dean Winchester is dead?”
“Yes.” He has to clamp his jaw together to keep the grief inside, but he meets Luca’s gaze beat for beat until the other man’s face softens into compassion.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I can see that his loss grieves you deeply.” He moves closer, crouches before Castiel and looks at him intently. “But what kind of a man,” he wonders aloud, “could earn such love from an Angel of God?”
Castiel turns his head away. “Dean Winchester was the best man I ever knew,” he says. “He gave his life to save the world, but I would have given mine a thousand times over to spare him.” He feels tears on his cheeks and doesn’t try to hide them. He’s not ashamed of loving Dean; it’s the purest thing he’s ever done. His only regret is that Dean had never known the depth of that love – that he’d never found the courage to tell him.
Luca sighs. “Non ci sono parole per alleviare il dolore,” he says gently, and puts a hand on Castiel’s knee. “I’m very sorry.”
Castiel just nods and, for a moment, allows himself this human comfort offered by a stranger.
Then it passes and Luca moves his hand away. “I’ve heard many stories about the Winchesters,” he says, “and about Castiel, the angel who fell from grace for them.”
“I imagine you have.”
“There are people who fear you – all of you. Did you know?”
Castiel pushes a hand over his face, scrubs away the tears. At the top of the stairs into the crypt, the woman, Sofia, has appeared, holding a bottle of water. She hesitates before coming down; perhaps she’s one of the people who fear him? “What people?” he says, turning back to Luca.
“Powerful people. You should be careful.”
Castiel huffs out a bleak laugh. “We’ve been hunted by archangels, leviathan, demons, witches, Satan, and God’s own sister,” he says. “I’m not afraid of ‘people’.”
Luca lifts an eyebrow again – he seems to do that a lot. “Well,” he says, “perhaps it depends on the people?”
“Perhaps,” he says and finds himself smiling.
Luca catches his eye and mirrors his smile, then shakes his head and looks away.
Castiel feels his wings bristle at his back and he takes a breath. His head is clearing, his power returning. He tries an experimental flex of his wings and the candles in the crypt flicker, their light dimming.
Luca’s gaze swings back to him. “Caspita!” he murmurs in astonishment.
Castiel gets to his feet as Sofia reaches the bottom of the stairs. With an impatient gesture, Luca beckons her over and she hands Castiel the bottle of water.
“Thank you,” he says and takes a sip to be polite. “I should go now. I’m needed.”
Luca nods and after a pause offers his hand to shake. “It has been fascinating to meet you, Castiel.” He puts an Italian emphasis on the end of his name; Castiel likes the way it sounds. “Perhaps you will come back one day? I have … many questions.”
“Thank you,” he says. “I— I would like to see more of Naples, when I have the time. Last time I visited, it was mostly Greek.”
Luca exchanges a wide-eyed glance with Sofia. “Okay,” he says. “Well, I will happily give you a tour of the more modern Roman sites.”
Castiel smiles. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you for your kindness.”
And with a beat of his wings he is gone.
Eventually, Dean finds a signal. And thank fuck for that, because otherwise he doesn’t know how he’d have figured out any of this.
He gets a signal, but Sam isn’t answering and he deleted Cas’s number after Lucifer took the wheel – just in case he did something dumb, like drunk-dialing Cas and begging him to cast the bastard out.
But it’s okay, because Google Maps tells him where he is: Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden, Springfield, Missouri. It’s a pretty random place for the ultimate showdown between the God and the Darkness but, hey, welcome to the life of Dean Winchester.
Oh, and also? His mom’s in the passenger seat of the crappy Toyota he’s just stolen, wearing his jacket over her nightgown.
“So this is a telephone?” she says, incredulous as she turns his phone over in her hands.
“Uh, yeah,” he says, as if his smart phone is the most mind-blowing thing about the situation. “And it’s a computer, and a camera, and like a tiny TV too.”
He scratches at the back of his head and keeps driving. He has no idea what to say to her, how to explain this. He wishes Sam was here, or Cas. Both, preferably. He could use the backup. “So, uh,” he tries again, “you don’t remember anything?”
Out the corner of his eye he sees her turn to look at him. “No. The last thing I remember was…” She shudders. “There was fire, and Sam—”
“Sam’s fine,” Dean assures her. “I took care of him, Mom. He’s fine.”
She reaches out and puts a hand on his leg. “Of course you did,” she says. “Of course you did, Dean.”
He swallows, but it’s hard to choke back the emotion. He clears his throat. “You, ah, you heard of the Men of Letters?”
The hand on his leg goes still. “How do you know about them?”
“I know about a lot of things,” he says. A lot more than she’d like, probably.
His mom lets out a slow breath. “The Men of Letters were wiped out before I was born,” she says. “I’d hoped you and Sam would never know anything about them. About any of it.”
“I know,” he says quietly. But there’s so much to tell he doesn’t even know where to begin. Or whether he should even try to explain it all; the last thing his mom wanted was him and Sammy to be raised as hunters and now they’re so much more than that – maybe even something worse in her eyes. He decides to start with something basic, “So, um, guess who found the Men of Letter’s secret hide out?”
“The Men of Letters bunker?” she says. “Really?”
She sounds impressed and Dean feels stupidly proud. “That’s what me and Sammy call home these days. It’s pretty awesome. Kinda like the Bat Cave.”
“It has bats?”
“No like—You know, Batman?”
“The TV show?”
“Right. No, not— It’s, uh, there are movies too now. It’s cooler.”
After a pause she says, “So there’s just the two of you living there?”
“Uh-huh. Well, and Cas too now. Hopefully.” Now that he’s back. It gives him a warm glow right in the center of his chest knowing that Cas is back. He feels his smile broaden. “Yeah, you’ll like Cas.”
His mom smiles too. “I’m sure I will. Who is she, exactly?”
“He,” Dean corrects. “He’s, uh… Actually, he’s an angel.” He spares a quick look, wants to see how she takes that. “A bona fide angel of the Lord.”
Her eyes are round. “An angel?”
“Yup.” He smiles. “Remember how you always used to say angels were watching over me?”
She shakes her head. “I didn’t think they were real.”
“Well neither did I until Cas came along.”
“And he… He watches over you?”
Dean smiles at the thought, turns his eyes back to the road. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess he does. I mean, he’s always there for us, he always has our backs. Hell, he’s died bloody for us a couple times.” He feels a swell of warmth, a sudden longing to see him again; he missed Cas so bad these last months. “Actually, turns out most angels are total douches, but Cas? He’s something else. Best friend I ever had.”
His mom’s silent for a couple beats, then she says, “Well then, I can’t wait to meet him.”
The Impala is parked out front of the bunker when they pull up and his mom looks at it with a bemused expression. “You’re still driving this old thing?” she says. “Don’t you have flying cars or something, yet?”
Dean laughs, giddy with anticipation of what’s to come. Not only is he about to pull another ‘back from the dead’ routine, but he’s going to get to see Sam’s face when Mary walks in. “Come on,” he says, and leads her down to the bunker’s doorway.
But he knows the moment it opens that something’s wrong. It’s too quiet, the lights are out, and his gun’s in his hand before he’s reached the top step.
“Dean?” his mom says, quiet behind him.
He takes the steps slowly, walking silently. He thinks, Lucifer? It’s the only loose thread and the bastard knows his way into the bunker now. Sonofabitch.
From the bottom of the steps, he sees two things: blood on the floor and an angel banishing sigil dripping down the wall. If it was Lucifer, then someone – Sam? – tried to banish him. But too late, from the look of the blood.
He thinks of his mom upstairs and his heart kicks up a notch. She didn’t come back from the dead for this, to see Sammy dead at the hands of the goddamn Devil. “Sammy?” he calls, low like he can somehow call out to him secretly.
There’s a noise behind him. “Dean?”
He spins around, keeps the gun raised because for a moment it looks like him, like Lucifer. Then he blinks, “Cas?”
His blade is drawn, held low, and his face looks anguished. “Is it you?” he says, like he can’t believe it. “Dean, is it you?”
“Yeah.” Despite everything he smiles at the broken relief on Cas’s face. “Yeah it’s me. I made it.”
Cas’s shoulders sag and he has to brace himself against the table. “That’s—” And then he’s moving, wrapping Dean in a bone-crushing hug. “I thought you were dead.”
“I’m okay,” he says, hugging back as best he can with a Glock in one hand. “I’m okay, buddy.”
Cas takes in a breath, Dean can actually feel it shuddering in his chest, before he pushes himself away, his face very serious. “Dean, something’s happened to Sam. I think he’s been abducted.”
And it’s like the bottom falls out of his world. Again. “What?” is all he can say because, Jesus, can’t they just ever catch a fucking break? He’s just saved the goddamn world. What more does it want from him? “The hell happened?”
Cas shakes his head. “I don’t know. Sam and I came back here after…” He clears his throat. “After. And there was a woman waiting. I don’t know who she was; I didn’t recognize her, and she banished me immediately. It was a powerful sigil and I was … displaced … for some time. I’ve only just got back myself.” His eyes move down to the blood on the floor. “It’s Sam’s,” he said. “It’s not much, less than a pint. I don’t think he’s dead.”
“Dean?” His mom’s voice echoes down from the top of the stairs and Cas glances up, smiting hand raised and a gleam of power behind his eyes.
“It’s okay,” Dean says, and grabs hold of his wrist. “It’s okay. She’s with me.”
Cas tilts his head as he lowers his hand. “Dean,” he says, quietly, “that’s your mother.”
“Yeah. Nice work, Sherlock.”
“It’s hardly a matter of deduction,” Cas says, bemused. “I’ve met her before, remember? In the past.”
Ignoring that complication, Dean just says, “Amara brought her back. As a— a parting gift, I guess.” Cas narrows his eyes and Dean knows exactly what he’s thinking. “It is her,” he insists. “Cas, it is. I know it.” He puts his hand over his heart. “I can feel it.”
Cas regards him for a moment, then nods. “Alright,” he says and his shoulders shift, like he’s powering down.
“You got your mojo back, huh?” Dean can’t help the little frisson of excitement he always feels running down his spine when Cas is all juiced up and awesome.
“To some extent, yes,” Cas says. “When God healed the damage Amara did to both Lucifer and me, He— Well, my grace is fully restored, even if Heaven is still locked.”
“Well good,” Dean’s gaze drifts back to the bloody floor. “Looks like we’re gonna need it.”
Castiel sits at the war room table while Dean and his mother confer in the kitchen. He studies the label on the bottle of water he brought back from Naples and tries not to listen in, tries to respect their privacy, but it’s clearly an argument. He hears: “He’s my son, Dean” and “I was hunting long before you were born!” from Mary Winchester and, from Dean, “We only just got you back!”
The gist of the conversation is clear. Mary wants to help find Sam; Dean wants to keep her safe in the bunker. Not that the bunker was any protection for Sam. He glances up and sees where Amara burned out the protective sigils. It will take some work to restore them.
They’ve cleaned up the blood, but there’s still a ghost of the unusual banishing sigil on the white wall and Castiel studies it, trying to piece together who the woman might have been. His memory is fractional, just a glimpse of a youthful body and fair hair. He’d not sensed a demon, though, or a witch. He thinks she was human. Possibly a hunter? Although why she would feel the need to ambush Sam and abduct him, Castiel can’t work out.
The words of Luca Moretti return to him: there are people who fear you – all of you. Did you know?
“Hey,” Dean says, and taps Castiel on the shoulder with a bottle of beer, offering it to him.
Castiel takes it out of politeness and smiles as Dean takes a seat opposite him at the table. “How’s your mother?”
“Freaked,” Dean says and flips the top off his beer. “Worried about Sam. And taking a shower.”
“The, um, clothes?” Castiel says. “They were suitable?”
Dean huffs a laugh. “Yeah, she said they were fine. Thanks, Cas.” He smiles around the lip of his beer bottle. “Buying underwear for my mom? That’s gotta be beyond the call, man.”
Castiel doesn’t bother trying to fathom the complexity of why that would be the case, given all that he’s done for Dean; he’s learned that there are some human things that just are. Besides, he has more important things on his mind. “While I was gone,” he says, “I learned something.”
In the low light, Dean’s eyes glitter brightly. Castiel has always loved how bright they are, how full of life. He feels his chest constrict, again, with relief that Dean is alive – and with fear, given the now certain knowledge of how unbearable it would be to lose him.
“You gonna tell me?” Dean says smiling as he takes another pull on his beer, “or do you want me to guess?”
“You won’t guess,” Castiel says.
Another smile, this one fonder. “So go on, spill.”
“The sigil sent me to Naples, to a crypt there, where I—”
“They have crypts in Florida?”
Castiel stares for a moment. “Naples, Italy.”
“Oh.” Dean’s eyebrows rise. “Cool.” He waves his beer bottle. “Carry on.”
“Well, I met someone there. He— His name is Luca Moretti. He’s a member of the Naples chapter of the Men of Letters.”
That seems to snag Dean’s attention, because he lowers his beer. “They have Italian Men of Letters?”
“Of course. In its heyday, it was a global organization,” Castiel says. “It stands to reason that some chapters are still functioning.”
“Hmm,” Dean says. “And what did Mr. Naples have to say? Something about Sam?”
“Not directly, no. But he did say that there are people who fear us – you, your brother and me. He said we should be careful.”
Dean takes another drink. “That ain’t much to go on, Cas.”
“I know.” He spreads his hands on the table, looks at them stretched out over the map. He feels helpless, again. “I wish I could be of more use.”
“Dude…” Dean says, as if that word alone is reproach. “I’m just glad you’re back, man.”
Cas glances up, meets those bright eyes of his. “Thank you.”
“I missed you,” Dean says, swallowing the admission with another mouthful of beer. “These last few months, I missed you, man.”
“I missed you too,” Castiel says. “I— I always miss you, when we’re apart.”
Dean gives a slight laugh and shifts in his chair like Castiel has said something unintentionally amusing, or socially inappropriate. “Right.”
Silence falls. In the distance, he can hear the running of water through pipes, the tick-tick of the generator powering the bunker. Dean drains his bottle of beer, sets it on the table and gets up, heading for the kitchen. Maybe to fetch another, maybe to leave. But Castiel doesn’t want him to go, doesn’t want to leave this conversation unfinished; he remembers his regret of just a few hours ago, that Dean had never known how he loved him.
“Wait,” he says and gets to his feet as Dean passes by. They’re standing close – close enough that Castiel can feel the heat of Dean’s body, the vibrancy of his soul brushing against his grace. “Dean, I have to tell you something.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
Castiel hesitates, and then presses on past his doubt. “You said I’m a brother to you. To you and Sam.”
“You are. You’re family, man.”
Castiel nods, lifts his eyes to hold Dean’s – to make him understand. “I appreciate that,” he says. “And Sam means as much to me as any brother could, but you…”
Dean lifts his chin like he’s sensing danger, his expression turning wary.
It throws Castiel off for a moment, but he’s determined to carry on. “Dean, what I feel for you—”
“C’mon, man,” Dean says, backing up a step. He’s smiling, but it’s a sharp, alarmed expression.
“—it’s not brotherhood, Dean. It’s different. It’s more than that. What I feel for you—”
“Don’t do this, Cas. Don’t make it awkward.”
That stops him, his all-too-human heart jumping uncertainly in his chest. “I’m not trying to make anything awkward. I just want you to know that I love—”
“Don’t.” Dean shakes his head, rubbing at the back of his neck. There’s a dark flush in his cheeks. “Dude, we’re brothers, okay? That’s what this is. You and me? We’re brothers. We’d die for each other. We’re family. But we’re not—” His glance skitters away from Castiel, his brow drawn down into a frown. “It’s not that, okay? I’m not that. It’s not what’s going on here.”
Castiel stays still. His chest hurts and it’s much like that moment in Nora’s house, when he realized he’d misunderstood everything. “I, um,” he says, “I don’t expect you to…” He clears his throat. “I just wanted you to know.”
“Jesus,” Dean says, laughing. It hurts, that laugh, it cuts like a knife. “Cas, I don’t even… Sam is gone. My mom just came back from the dead. I haven’t slept in, like, a week. And this is the moment you choose for your freakin’ Hallmark moment?”
When he puts it like that, Castiel supposes he must seem ridiculous. “I’m sorry,” he says. “You’re right. It was inconsiderate.” He sits back down, harder than he intended. “I was just—” It’s not an excuse; it’s barely a coherent reason. “I thought you were dead.”
“Well I’m not,” Dean says. “So get your shit together, man. Sam’s the priority here.”
He nods, keeps his eyes fixed on the map on the war room table. The image is starting to blur, but he doesn’t dare blink. “Of course,” he says, rough-voiced. “I apologize.”
Dean doesn’t answer and for a moment it’s just silence again. Then Dean moves, heading past Castiel toward the kitchen. He touches his shoulder as he passes with a brief press of his fingers. It feels like pity and Castiel hates it.
Getting to his feet he says, “I’ll make some enquiries.”
Dean stops. “What enquiries?” he says from the doorway, half-turned.
“About Sam. You should do the same, see if anyone in town saw anything. The woman in the bunker was human, so she must have driven here. Someone might have seen an unusual car.”
“Yeah, okay,” Dean says, turning back to face him. His eyes are focused somewhere near Castiel’s shoulder, his brow still creased into a frown. “But where are you—?”
“I’ll be back when I find something,” he says and stretches his wings.
He doesn’t wait to hear Dean’s protest; he can’t bear to stay any longer.