The trees whispered in the wind, branches swaying as two brothers walked through the brightly lit forest. Behind them, muffled by the sounds of their loud footsteps, came a rustling among the treetops. The taller man glanced behind him, apprehensive as his gaze darted over the unnatural movement in the trees.
“Hey Dean.” Sam stepped a little closer to his brother, whispering in a low voice. “We might have a little problem.”
Dean purposefully slowed his steps, keeping his body relaxed and calm even as his eyes darted around warily. His grip tightened on the axe he held, ready for battle. “What is it?”
“Well…there’s been something following us for a while now—”
“Oh,” Dean interrupted Sam with a brief chuckle, allowing his grip on his axe to loosen and relax, “that’s just Cas.”
“Cas?” Sam questioned with a frown. He stumbled to a halt, Dean continuing ahead of him, unaware, for a few seconds. When Dean looked back he was met with a grumpy stare - one that was judging and a little confused. “Wait, you’re telling me you knew someone was following us this whole time? I noticed months ago but didn’t mention it because whoever it was never did anything malicious.”
“Yeah, he’s been stalking me for years, Sammy.” Dean scoffed, laughing at Sam’s reaction when he finally processed that information.
“Years?!” Sam screeched, dropping the pretense that they weren’t talking about the harpy currently hiding in the tree a few feet behind them. “What the hell Dean!”
“Relax, it’s honestly kind of cute how he still seems to believe I don’t notice him. He’s really bad at hiding, too. I mean, the wings are really obvious.” Dean was way too nonchalant and Sam was only getting more worried. He stomped over to his bull-headed older brother, grabbing onto his arm to force Dean to face him. Dean shot him an irritated look but Sam ignored it in favor of a lecture.
“Dean, he might be dangerous.” Sam hissed out through clenched teeth, eyes darting to the harpy still hiding in the trees. The creature wore a lightweight, white robe and was positioned rather haphazardly on a cedar tree about twenty feet away from them. He was clearly too big for the branch he’d chosen, and most of his concentration was on balancing, one taloned foot raised a little uncertainly to rest against the trunk as he tried to steady himself. He flapped the large wings every few seconds, using them to avoid plummeting off the tree. Unlike traditional harpies they had encountered, with bird halves from the waist down, Cas's bird-related features were restricted to large peach cream colored wings, and from the knee down, his legs were scaled with three-clawed talons for feet. His upper body seemed mostly human, with an unruly mess of dark hair and deep blue eyes that lent him a severe look. He had stubbled cheeks, and there was a scowl on his chapped, rough bitten lips. “I waited for weeks, anticipating an attack but it never came. I wrote him off as a curious harpy, but now you’re telling me he’s been following you for years? We’re hunters. What if he’s here for revenge or worse, wants to kill us as some sort of trophy?”
“We’re retired hunters so I seriously I doubt it.” Dean rolled his eyes, letting out a huff of exasperation as he pulled his arm out of Sam’s grip. They continued walking, heading to the grove that they intended to clear out for firewood. It was luckily within walking distance to their cabin and they were about halfway there.
“He’s harmless. You don’t need to worry about him.” Dean rubbed his chin absentmindedly, scratching at his scruff. “I wanted to approach him the first few times he followed me, but he’s really fast. It was a weird game of cat and mouse until I finally gave up on trying. He’s a shy bird. Besides, he’s from that harpy flock near us.” Dean didn’t mention to his brother that he found the harpy adorable and honestly didn’t mind the stalking. The harpy had a perpetual stoic look on his face, sometimes marred by a frown whenever he witnessed Dean doing something questionably stupid.
Dean got the sense that the harpy was really only following him out of some weird misguided attempt at protection. Cas was also really bad at stalking. Even now, the harpy was peeking out from behind a tree trunk, his peach cream colored wings obvious against the bright green of the leaves. He seemed to prefer to stalk from above, opting to peek at Dean while perched on tree branches.
At Dean’s words, Sam seemed to relax a fraction, though he still wore a wary frown. “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?” Sam shot a surreptitious glance at the harpy behind them, hazel eyes contemplative and distant. “Hm…well, we do have a treaty with them, but I still don’t like how he’s been following you. Did you ever figure out why he’s doing it?”
Dean punched his brother’s shoulder lightly, smirking at the mock shout of pain that Sam let out as he used his free hand to rub the ache away.
“Drop it, Sammy. I can defend myself.” Dean paused for a moment, something unreadable flashing across his face before he hid it with an easy smirk. “I think the little guy has the hots for me.” He waggled his eyebrows lasciviously and Sam shoved him away, an annoyed ‘ugh’ falling out from his lips. “But from what I can tell, he’s trying to protect me.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “And why the hell would he be doing that? Do you know him or something?” His eyes widened as he dragged Dean a little closer to him, his fingers digging into his older brother’s forearm. His voice was low as he tried to speak without the harpy hearing them. “Do you think the flock sent him to watch us? Maybe they still don’t trust us.”
Dean shrugged, looking down at the ground for a long moment before continuing their trek. “I doubt it. It’s not like we made any demands in the treaty, nothing that would make them assign a guard to watch my ass twenty-four-seven. I still haven’t figured it out. He’s too skittish to approach. I don’t think his flock is even aware that he’s been following me. It kind of defeats the purpose of our whole ‘you stay over there and we’ll stay over here’ agreement. We may have a treaty, but they would still never let one of their own near us for extended periods of time.”
Sam was silent and he seemed to war with himself for a few moments, looking back to Cas who had not moved during their conversation, gaze conflicted. Cas was still eerily silent, watching. Sam gnawed at his lower lip, brows furrowed, before he finally sighed and let it go.
“Okay, but if anything happens don’t say I didn’t tell you so.”
“Whatever, bitch.” Dean snarked, brightening and walking a bit faster once he noticed the trees ahead thinning out.
“Shut up, jerk,” Sam muttered back with a wry twist to his lips. His brother was stubborn to a fault. They both were, but he trusted Dean’s hunter instincts. If he believed Castiel was harmless, then he would trust his judgment. Still, he would keep an eye out for the harpy.
They didn’t speak much after that, bustling about as they cleared out the area of twigs and settled into a familiar routine of chopping wood and gathering sticks. The storms around here were usually powerful enough to fell a few trees, and every year they tried to clear out the area as much as possible. It was their little picnic area, and their favorite spot to spend a quiet moment or two. Their dad used to bring them here, before he passed away. Following their usual pattern, Sam headed off to the other side of the glade to clear out the deadwood and undergrowth while Dean stuck to his end, gathering logs in preparation for fall.
Although it was nearing fall, the heat of the sun was cloying, and they had the foresight to wear their lighter shirts made of scraps of various fabrics; they were purposefully airy and allowed for some ventilation when it got too hot. The pattern resembled a plaid shirt and paired with their light pants made of deerskin, the physical work wasn’t as torturous as it could have been.
Eventually though, the heat became unbearable. Dean let out a weary sigh, tugging off his shirt and slipping out of it with some trouble, as it stuck to his sweaty skin. He stretched, closing his eyes and humming in pleasure at the caress of wind across his bare skin and the warmth of the sun on his face. He ran a hand through his hair to try and get rid of the perspiration and scratched idly at his belly, his abs glistening in the sunlight from the light sheen of sweat.
Suddenly, a hard thump sounded, pulling Dean from his peaceful state of mind. He blinked hard, trying to get the sweat out of his eyes, and frowned when he noticed a body near the edge of the forest that wasn’t there before. Even from this distance, Dean could see the peach cream colored feathers that covered the man sprawled on the ground, unconscious.
Cursing, Dean ran over to Cas, dropping his axe and kneeling down beside the harpy as he ran his hands over him, trying to figure out if he was injured.
Still unconscious, Cas let out a pained cry at one particularly hard pat on his wing and Dean winced, knowing without looking that the wing was broken. Cas ha fallen on his side, on top of his right wing and the impact had most likely snapped the appendage. Quickly, Dean called out for Sam, carefully lifting the harpy into his arms and trying not to jostle the creature.
His brother ran over, hair flying wildly as he sped up when he saw who was in Dean’s arms.
“Dean! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Dean gestured to the harpy in his arms with a nod, tightening his grip on Cas. “Our little stalker took a fall. I’m going to take him back to the cabin to make sure he’s alright.”
Sam opened his mouth to protest but stopped when he noticed just how pitiful the harpy seemed to be. With one wing hanging, limp and disfigured, it was obvious to see that even if Cas meant them harm, he wouldn’t be able to with this injury.
The way Dean stared down at the harpy in his arms, mouth set in a grim line and eyes tense with worry, illustrated to Sam just how much Dean seemed to care about Cas.
Sighing, Sam picked up his brother’s axe and nodded to Dean, tilting his head towards the direction of their home. “Just go on ahead. I’ll pick up everything and take it to the cabin.”
Dean shot Sam a look of gratitude, body visibly relaxing as he received his brother’s unspoken acceptance. “Alright. If you don’t come back in an hour, I’ll come look for you.”
Now it was Sam’s turn to roll his eyes, a smile lighting his lips. “Dean, we’ve lived in these woods most of our lives. Don’t worry about me and go take care of your feathery, little boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Dean grumbled, slightly flustered as his ears flushed pink. He turned around and started back the way they came, his steps steady and sure. They both knew this forest like the back of their hands but even though the sun was still high above their heads, people were known to get lost in the rather large forest.
Dean and his brother were the only humans who lived in the forest, most people preferred to live in the quiet communes and villages closer to the palace. However, as hunters of both supernatural and regular game, Sam and Dean chose to stay out in the woods. It made it easier to nurse themselves back to health when they were questionably injured and also to get rid of some of the bodies that piled up. Out here in the middle of nowhere, there were fewer questions asked. Supernatural beings were slightly more commonplace now, and it wasn’t unusual to find towns with a mix of both humans and creatures. Still, most smaller villages, like the one near their forest, still held onto the belief that monsters were nothing but a myth. It was easier both for the Winchesters and the villagers’ peace of mind to keep it that way.
Their mother had died as a result of a demon attack when they were children and their father had died seeking revenge. Dean had been barely past the age of seventeen at the time, and Sam was even younger. Eventually, Sam and Dean had found the demon responsible and avenged their parents’ deaths, but hunting left a mark on their lives, one that they couldn’t escape.
They decided to mostly retire from hunting monsters, only going out on cases when they encountered one by fate or a friend asked for help. Mostly, they kept to hunting normal animals and making a living from it. They had good relations with the nearby villages. Dean and Sam usually hunted more than they needed, so the villagers were always willing and happy to trade with the brothers for the furs, leather, and meat they brought.
It was through hunting that they encountered both good and bad monsters. Sam and Dean realized that they couldn’t continue hunting in good conscience; it was no longer an issue of revenge but rather morality. Now that they had achieved their revenge, was it necessary for them to keep killing? Monsters had feelings as well. They’d even befriended several throughout their travels. Of course, most monsters they encountered were evil, but sometimes there were ones just trying to survive and live a normal life.
Dean was thankful that they’d never had more than passing encounters with harpies, and most of those encounters were cordial. Before their father decided to settle in this forest, their little family of three had never had occasion to hunt harpies. Dean vaguely remembered one or two mentions of a hunt that may have involved a rogue, human-eating harpy, but beside that, his dad never spoke about them. He’d read John’s journal, of course, and seen the sketches of how harpies looked.
It wasn’t until his father passed away that Cas's flock had approached them, offering a treaty. Seeing as they were the first humans to move into the forest in recent years, the flock had wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any issues. They were aware of the Winchesters’ reputation and did not want any trouble. Thinking back, it was probably wise of them to wait. After all, John Winchester indiscriminately hated all monsters.
Dean grimaced, shooting a contemplative look at the harpy in his arms. If there was bad blood between their families, it would make his attraction to Cas a whole lot more complicated. But as it was, they were near strangers to each other and though they lived in different worlds, one a hunter and the other a monster, there was a fragile balance there that could work in their favor.
Dean hefted the harpy a little higher in his arms, one arm under his butt to support Cas's weight while the other lay on his back, securely pressing his body against Dean’s chest and tucking Cas's face into his neck. Cas's good wing was tucked in between their bodies while his right wing was left to hang freely. It swayed slightly as they walked, and Dean knew that the movements were probably aggravating the injury, but he didn’t have much of a choice. Holding the wing against him would just make it worse. Dean needed to get back to the cabin, so he could stretch and set the wing.
Dean could feel the warm puffs of breath the harpy let out, sometimes hitching in pain as he navigated the forest terrain. He tried his best to walk steadily, lest he cause Cas more pain than needed.
Finally, with a sigh of relief, they reached the cabin. It looked fairly generic, made of logs the Winchester men gathered themselves and put together as a family. It was all they had left of their dad. Dean still remembered the peace he had felt as his brother and father had assisted in gathering supplies to build the cabin. Their first cabin had burned down, with their mom still in it. The demon had made sure of that.
They’d moved to a new forest after that incident, the memories still too new and painful to stay in the place they’d shared with their mother. This was their second home, and one they were damn proud of. Every room and every piece of furniture had been crafted by them. There were two bedrooms in total; Dean and Sam used to share one while their father occupied the other, but after his death, Dean had moved into his father’s room.
Opening the door with a creak, Dean walked into the small living room area. He was glad to see that there were still a few smoldering logs in the fireplace. It was always a pain trying to start a fire, but with most of the work done for him, all he’d have to do was add a few more logs and stoke the flames. He stood there for a moment, hesitant. He wasn’t sure if he should place Cas on the bench in front of the fire, knowing it would be colder later in the night. However, with his injury, it seemed unwise to lay the harpy down on a hard surface, even if the Winchesters had draped a sheepskin over the wooden bench for maximum comfort.
Mind made up, Dean headed to his bedroom and laid the harpy down on the bed. He made sure to lay Cas on his back, with his wings spread out, supported by the straw mattress and bedframe. Dean grabbed warm furs to cover the harpy, but he couldn’t help staring in wonder at the way Cas seemed to look like a fallen angel. His father had told him tales of angels and their otherworldly beauty. It was one of his favorite stories growing up. Spread out on his bed, Cas was certainly a pretty sight. There was a window on the right side of the room and with the setting sun spread its copper colors over Cas's features, it seemed to make him glow ethereal, much like a god.
Now that Dean was able to look closer, instead of the sneaky glances he was used to giving Cas, he noticed that there seemed to be a silver button sewn into his tunic, directly above his heart. It was very familiar and it stood out to Dean because it seemed to be the only accessory Cas had. Compared to the other harpies that Dean met in Cas’s flock, Cas’s clothing was surprisingly simple and devoid of decorative items.
Cas gave a cry of discomfort and it was only then that Dean realized how close he’d leaned in. Shaking himself out of his reverie, Dean scolded himself for being a creep. Even though the harpy had literally stalked him for almost twenty years; it was still bad manners. He pulled the covers gently over Cas, making sure to leave his right wing open so that Dean could tend to it.
Quickly - he didn’t want to leave the harpy by himself for too long - Dean left the room and headed to the gigantic closet in Sam’s room. Even though Dean had his own closet, they shared that closet still, since they didn’t have many clothes. In the back, hidden from view, were two trunks. One contained their weapons and select materials for hunting. The other one contained various healing salves and bandages. He grabbed that one and with a grunt of effort, tugged it out of the closet.
Kneeling in front of it, he unlatched the lid and pulled it up, swinging it open. He swept a critical eye over his options. Although it was true they hunted animals for food and for trade, they sometimes came across injured animals that they nursed back to health. The brothers were never unnecessarily cruel, to kill an injured animal was tasteless and abhorrent to them. Dean had saved a bird once, a yellow canary that had fallen from its nest. It had also suffered a broken wing from the fall and much like Cas, it was innocent.
Dean had nursed the bird back to health, and set it free. It had been a sad occasion, it was almost like raising a child and watching it go off into the world for bigger and better things. Now, Dean was glad for that practice because he would be able to set Castiel’s wing and aid him in healing.
There was a sudden thump from the other room and Dean felt dread pool in his stomach. Last time he’d heard a thud, it had ended in Cas unconscious with a broken wing. He hurried back to his room, preparing for the worst.
He barely stopped himself from slamming, body first, into the entryway skidding to a stop in front of the open door.
The harpy laid on the floor, tangled in furs, his feathers puffed up in distress. He was practically wrapped in the things. Luckily, Cas had fallen on his left side, and his right wing was largely unmoved, draped awkwardly on the bed while the rest of his body laid immobile.
“Wha-?” Dean frowned, raising a hand up and moving forward as if to help but pausing when Cas shot him a scared, bewildered look.
“What am I doing here?” His voice was deep, rougher than Dean expected. Dean swallowed, feeling his face flush from the way Cas regarded him, his piercing gaze sweeping up and down his form.
“Uhm, I can explain.”
When Castiel was a child, he remembered his brother sneaking him out of their nest.
“Shhh, be quiet Castiel. If we want to see the humans, we’ll have to do it now while everyone’s out.” It was dawn, the sun barely peeking out of the horizon. Their brothers and sisters had just left the nest to go hunt for food. Harpies that were born within the same year were treated as siblings, but Gabriel was special. Even though he was older, Gabriel was actually blood related to Castiel and the only one who took the time to play with him. Gabriel had been born during an earlier season, and usually that would mean Castiel and Gabriel wouldn’t have many occasions to bond, seeing as they were placed in different groups, but against all odds they had remained close. They were often left to ‘watch over’ the nest, and perhaps that was another reason why they bonded so fiercely with each other. Compared to the light bonds he felt with his distant ‘siblings’ his bond with Gabriel shone bright and strong within him. Sometimes, he could even feel Gabriel’s emotion through their bond.
He could feel Gabriel’s irritation now. Being placed on watch was just another way of saying they were too young to venture out on their own yet. Gabriel was slightly bitter about that fact, being the second youngest of their flock. He was essentially stuck babysitting Castiel, who was almost ten.
The fledgling frowned, sniffling at the cold morning air that swept through the nest, “But Uriel said not to go down.” Even as a child, Castiel was always a stickler for rules. He tugged at his white frock, the sleeveless tunic barely covering above his knees.
Harpies didn't wear pants like humans; it was rather difficult to put on pants over bird legs, with talons instead of feet. Oddly enough, they did have hands, as their wings were essentially part of their arms. Most of the time their hands were hidden from view, tucked inside their long primary feathers. The primary feathers made their wings look massive, but the harpies’ bone structure only reached about three-fourths of the wing. Their hands lay at the end of the terminal phalanx bone.
Castiel felt the feathers on his arms flutter nervously before settling themselves. They were still a newborn peach cream color, one that he hoped he’d grow out of when he was older. He was a bit of a late bloomer. Most children his age had already started molting, their soft peach cream feathers switching out for harder, darker colors.
Castiel wanted strong-colored wings like his older brothers and sisters. Most of them had brown or black wings with variations and mixed colors. Each harpy had a unique wing pattern; depending on the color, it typically indicated a natural affinity with certain jobs. They started working once they passed the age of fifteen. Most Hunters had brown and dark green wings that helped them blend into the forest. Hunters were generally built slimmer, more for speed and dexterity than power. It gave them the ability to dive in and pick up their prey with their taloned feet. Others, like the Scavengers, had brown wings with grey patterns throughout. Their feathers were generally larger as it allowed them to travel farther distances scavenging for food and allowed them to carry heavier loads. Those harpies with orange-yellow, blue, or purple feathers were more suited for crafting and built many of the flock’s much needed items such as furniture and daily tools.
Gabriel, being the rebellious teenager he was, twittered and crossed his wings. He wore a similar tunic, though his was the customary gold-embellished frock of the Hunters. It had various other shiny trinkets they’d picked up or found stuck to it. The trinkets on his robe symbolized every time he achieved something within his job that contributed to their flock. It was an honor to have a trinket, the more that decorated their tunic, the more prestigious the harpy was.
Though he was still young, Gabriel was already one of their top hunters and his accessories proved it. He was allowed on team hunting expeditions, and his hunting prowess was renowned in all the flocks, which was impressive considering his age. Despite his skills, he was still assigned to watch over Castiel if there was no one else.
Gabriel received special treatment because of his golden wings that glowed brightly when he experienced intense emotions. Technically, he didn’t have the customary Hunter colors, but after having him work several of the available job options, they found he had a natural affinity for hunting. Castiel had heard whispers that Gabriel was special, blessed by their Motherbird. They said he would be a great warrior when he grew older, a truly legendary harpy. There were darker whispers, however, that some people feared him because of the color of his wings. It was part of the reason Gabriel was still sheltered. He wasn’t allowed anywhere alone, and though Castiel didn’t really understand why, he was just happy it meant there was always someone to play with him.
“Come on Cassie,” Gabriel tempted the child, smiling when Castiel seemed to bite his lips, wavering. “I know you’ve always wanted to see the humans...besides we won’t be going into any of the villages. There’s a new family that just built their cabin in the woods. We can just drop by and look at them from afar.”
Castiel blinked up at Gabriel with his wide blue eyes, his gaze trusting but slightly fearful. His tiny fists, usually hidden within his wings, grasped tightly onto the hem of his tunic, nervously clenching and unclenching.
“Do you promise we’ll get back before the others come home? I don’t want to get in trouble.”
Gabriel’s smirk softened, his smile genuine and fond as he bent down to ruffle Castiel’s already windswept hair. The child scowled at the treatment, batting Gabriel’s hand away even as his older brother chriped a laugh.
“Of course. You’re my favorite, wouldn’t want to get you in trouble.”
Castiel’s cheeks burned red at the comment, feeling a childish sort of pride at being held in such high regard by Gabriel.
“Okay then,” Castiel finally relented, puffing out his chest as a mimicry of bravery. This would be his first time out of the main nest and he was scared but he wouldn't show it. He didn’t want his brother to think he was a baby. “Let’s go.”
“Alright, up we go,” Castiel chirped in surprise as Gabriel picked him up, the abrupt motion forcing him to wrap his wings around Gabriel’s neck.“You can’t fly yet so we’ll have to go like this. Hold on tight, I’ll need to use my arms to fly.”
“Wait, Gabrie-” Castiel let out a squeal of fear as his brother jumped from their nest and started the dive down. The main nest where everyone gathered, was built on the tallest tree in the forest, an ancient oak that had existed for centuries and supported their flock just as long. Castiel held on tight to his brother’s neck as he clenched his eyes shut, trying to shield his watering eyes from the cold wind. Castiel could feel his feathers being bent from the pressure he was putting on them, but his main concern was not falling off and dying.
Gabriel had kept his arms tightly bent at his sides to maximize their speed, but spread his wings just as they skimmed the tops of the trees with his claws. Gabriel flung open his wings to their full length, stretching and shimmering gold in the light of the morning sun. Castiel couldn’t help the gasp of awe that fled his throat, once he gathered up the courage to open his eyes. He looked over at Gabriel’s strong wings, flapping lightly in the wind. In the light of the sun, they almost resembled the flickering flames of a fading ember.
Burying his face into his brother’s neck, feeling the pulse in his throat as he flew, made Castiel wish he could grow up faster. He wanted to know what color his wings would be when he grew up. He didn’t mind what job he received, so long as his wings were strong and the color beautiful, he would be satisfied.
Castiel’s body jolted as Gabriel landed on a branch, settling him down carefully on unsteady talons. He grasped onto the branch with his claws, still feeling the adrenaline from the flight coursing through him. Even though Castiel wasn’t the one that physically flew, it was still exciting experiencing the way the wind seemed to fill his entire body. He always knew his family had an affinity with wind, as they were creatures of the sky. Still, it was one thing to know it, it was another to feel it.
“That was…” Castiel breathed out, a grin breaking out on his face as his breath came out in harsh puffs.
“Exciting, wasn’t it Cassie? Just wait until you’re a little older, then you’ll get to fly just like that. I’ll even teach you my cool tricks.” Gabriel gave Castiel a playful wink, tugging the harpy down into a crouch when he opened his mouth to respond.
“Quiet now,” Gabriel whispered as he pointed down a little ways to the cabin that had just opened its doors. An older man in his mid-thirties appeared at the doorway. He stretched languidly in the morning sun, yawning widely before leaning back into the cabin and yelling out.
“Dean, Sam! Get out here, we have some wood to chop today. The days are getting colder.”
Castiel watched as a boy around his age stumbled out. He was holding the hand of a younger boy, one with floppy gold-brown hair that reminded him of Gabriel’s wings. Castiel’s focus, however, was on the first boy who’d exited the cabin.
He was...well, beautiful, quite literally the nicest looking boy Castiel had ever seen, with or without feathers. With a constellation of freckles on his cheeks and eyes that seemed as green as the forest around them, Castiel couldn’t help his small gasp of wonder.
Suddenly, the boy’s stunning eyes seemed to meet Castiel’s for a moment, his gaze sharpening in focus. Castiel held his breath as the boy blinked once, twice, before shaking his head and looking down at the child with the longer hair.
“Sammy, did you remember to bring your gloves?”
Ah, then that must be Dean.
Dean smiled down at Sam, giving the child a pat on the head when he nodded his head yes.
“Okay me and dad are going to be chopping wood today. You can help by gathering twigs, okay? Just make sure not to wander too far.”
Dean watched as the child nodded in assent and darted off, determined to find the best sticks. John let out a huff of laughter, shaking his head when Dean shot him a questioning glance.
“Nothing, kid...it’s just, you remind me of your mother sometimes.”
Dean appeared stunned and didn't speak, opting to grab the smaller machete he'd been using to cut up the larger pieces of wood his father chopped. Castiel saw sadness flash across Dean's face, then determination. It was a look Castiel was familiar with, one that came with grief and death. Many of the flock wore that face, and the cloying scent of loss filled the nest. The heaviness of those feelings felt like a physical weight on him, and some days he truly wished that harpies didn’t have the ability to smell emotions. It made the pain several times more intense. He was young, but he was very familiar with grief.
Castiel idly wondered why the humans needed so much wood. He remembered that Gabriel had told him once that humans were cold creatures, but he didn’t know if he meant that literally. Fall was approaching, and it was highly likely that the human family needed to be prepared for the storms that came with it.
Gabriel and Castiel perched in the tree, watching as Dean and his father started chopping down the surrounding trees. They appeared to be trying to clear out the area since their cabin wasn’t built in a clearing and there were still a lot of trees nearby.
After a few more minutes of observation, they carefully snuck away. Back in the safety of their nest and with no one the wiser, as promised, Castiel timidly asked the question that’d been nagging at him. He stopped his brother with a small tug on his tunic, meeting his questioning gaze.
“Can I keep him?” Castiel questioned, his face serious as he looked up at Gabriel. Gabriel seemed flabbergasted for a moment before he burst out in incredulous twittering laughter .
“You want to keep the humans?” He asked, his breath coming out in shaky, barely constrained chuckles.
“No.” Castiel shook his head with a frown, his dark hair flopping around wildly. “Only him. Only Dean.”
“Ah.” Gabriel tilted his head, furrowing his brows. It seemed his brother was serious. He knelt down to speak to Castiel face-to-face, putting a hand on his shoulder. It was then, that Gabriel made the best and worst mistake of his life. “Yes, you can keep him. But remember that he still has his own life as a human. He is not a trinket or a toy. You cannot take him to our nest or reveal yourself, but he is yours.”
Castiel nodded, his gaze distant but with all the somber determination a ten-year-old could muster.
“I will watch over him.”
Yes, Dean was his to protect.
Slowly, as if trying not to spook him, Dean stepped into the room with his hands raised in front of him.
“You took a bit of a heavy fall and ended up unconscious. I brought you back to my place since you were injured.” Cas seemed to tense up even more at his words, eyes darting around as if he was trying to find the nearest exit. Every time his eyes landed on Dean he seemed to turn a deeper shade of red. Inexplicably, the harpy was incredibly jumpy around him.
“I...I can’t be here.” Again, the harpy struggled, trying to untangle his body and left wing from the mound of furs.
“Hey, hey.” Dean threw caution to the wind and knelt down next to Cas, laying a hand on his shoulder to try and stop the harpy. Cas instantly froze at his touch, body almost trembling with how hard he was trying to hold still. “Stop that, you might hurt yourself.”
Castiel blinked up at him for a few moments, mouth slightly open. Dean watched as Cas's tongue darted out to wet his lips, the pink of them a contrast to the harpy’s dark stubble.
Dean quickly cleared his throat, unwrapping the harpy gently from the furs.
“There, now you can move,” Dean said gently as he looked off to the side. Even though he’d been aware the rather attractive harpy had been secretly stalking him for years, it was still jarring to have him so close. He rubbed at his own sweaty palms, trying his best not to show his nerves.
The harpy stretched out his left wing tentatively, giving it a shake to settle the ruffled feathers. He seemed to sense that his right wing was still hurt though, as he kept that one immobile.
“Here, I’ll help you back onto the bed. Do you have anyone I can contact?” Dean carefully lifted up the harpy, who was surprisingly pliant and didn’t complain even when Dean had to move Cas's right wing over, apologizing as he did so. Dean placed Cas on the center of the bed again, the harpy tracking him with those blue eyes that seemed to always follow him.
Dean moved to the entryway, eyes glancing over at Sam’s room where the medical supplies still lay open.
“No...my flock will come find me soon enough.” Cas eventually spoke after a few long moments of rather intense staring on his part. He turned his head away from Dean, staring out into the now-dark forest just out of reach through the window. “They should have felt my spike of pain when I broke my wing through our flock bond.”
There was something ominous in his words and Dean’s lips pressed into a thin line. Leaning against the entryway, he crossed his arms and settled his gaze on the harpy. “Should I be worried?”
Cas turned his head to look at Dean, frowning at how tense and worried Dean seemed to be.
“Of course not. Most likely Gabriel will come for me. You have nothing to fear from us, Dean.”
Dean didn’t react to the fact that the harpy seemed to know his name, even though he’d never told it to him. Cas had been his personal stalker after all.
“Gabriel is the short guy who sometimes comes to pick you up right? The one with gold wings?”
At Dean’s words, Cas sat up abruptly, wincing when he jostled his wing, “How did you know that?”
Dean rolled his eyes, letting out a huff of exasperation at Cas’s honest bewilderment. He stepped up to the harpy and pushed his pillows against the headboard before guiding Cas to lean against them. Cas went reluctantly, still ruffled from Dean’s words.
“Castiel, you’ve been stalking me for years. I’m a hunter. I noticed you after the first few times.”
Castiel scowled, probably at the perceived slight against his inability to stalk. Then, it seemed to finally hit him. “You know my name?” Castiel blurted out, staring up at him in wonder. Sitting up in the bed and practically buried in furs, he looked almost childlike in his confusion.
Dean let out a laugh at that. It was hilarious that Castiel thought he was that oblivious. He’d be a truly incompetent hunter if he hadn’t researched thoroughly on the harpy stalking him. “Of course, you seemed to want to know everything about me. So I made sure to learn about you. Sometimes, I can overhear your conversations with Gabriel, too. I also know you’re from the harpy flock that lives nearby. I’ve met with your leaders a few times, for peace negotiations.”
Castiel seemed shocked at that admission, blinking almost owlishly at him for a few moments before his face contorted into a sulky pout.
“I didn’t know that.” Castiel murmured, his gaze diverted and cheeks slightly flushed. Castiel seemed to be embarrassed that Dean had known all along. He was probably frustrated that he had spent all that effort hiding from Dean when it was all for nothing. Dean watched, amused, as Castiel’s feathers puffed up, the harpy’s wing twitching in an aborted motion as if he wanted to hide his face with his wing.
Dean shrugged, not bothered in the slightest. He didn’t know much about their culture, but from what he had garnered, things like treaty negotiations and bigger decisions were left up to the Council. The Council consisted of four to five members and each one represented one of the major jobs within the community.
Unless there was immediate danger, the Council didn’t bother broadcasting it to the flock. Dean figured Castiel was one of the workers; he didn’t seem to know anything about their treaty with the Winchesters.
Dean decided that it was time to spare Castiel from his mortification. He gently informed the harpy that he was going to go get some bandages and medicines, only leaving after he received a mumbled ‘ok’. Dean walked over to Sam’s room, grabbed the jar of salve he needed, and took an entire roll of bandages with him.
Dean paused for a moment, thinking of just how big the actual wing was before he grabbed a few more rolls of bandages. Better to be safe than sorry. Dean went back to his room, smiling at the fact that Castiel seemed to be dozing off, the warmth of the sun lulling him to sleep. Dean snickered when Castiel sensed his presence and tried to look alert, his feathers abruptly puffing up in attention before smoothing out again. He frowned at the human, shaking his head a bit, to try and stay awake.
“I would let you sleep but I do need you awake for when we splint your wing,” Dean commented, placing the bandages and medicines on the nightstand, one that he’d built himself. “Give me one second, I need to grab something to splint your wing.”
With a quiet nod of acceptance from Castiel, Dean went outside, rubbing his hands together as he did so. Already, fall was making its presence known. He could feel it in the air and the cold as the winds shifted, and it made him shiver. Sometimes he wondered why they still lived in an area with such volatile weather. During the day it was hot almost to the point of stuffiness, but once it neared sunset the temperature dropped drastically.
It was then that Dean realized he still didn’t have a shirt on. He felt himself flush at that, cursing and running a hand down his face. That explained why Castiel seemed flustered and unable to look him in the eye. He’d been practically indecent the whole time, and the poor, shy harpy was too polite to say anything.
Dean sighed, making a note to stop by their closet and change into his warm clothes. He usually wore a sweater and pants made of sheep's wool to sleep. The nights were frighteningly cold.
Dean quickly grabbed a few of the longer sticks they had in their pile of wood, glad that they made a habit of not only collecting logs but also sticks to stoke the fire. He could use those to splint Castiel’s wing.
“Dean!” Sam’s voice echoed through the woods and he looked up, shielding the sun from his eyes as he squinted. Dean barely made out his brother’s form, noting that he was tugging back a wheelbarrow filled with wood.
Dean smiled in relief at the sight. He’d felt slightly guilty at leaving his brother to pick up all their materials, but he’d forgotten they generally left their wheelbarrow in the clearing as it was their go-to spot to chop wood. Since they were the only humans who lived in this part of the woods, they didn’t need to worry about it being stolen.
“Hey Sammy, what took you so long?” Dean teased, picking up the bundle of sticks he’d gathered. Sam rolled his eyes good-naturedly and parked the wheelbarrow next to the mound of logs, stacking the wood neatly with the rest of the logs.
“I figured with an injured guest we’d need to keep the cabin toasty and warm.”
Dean felt touched. Though his brother had seemed hesitant to let Castiel stay, it was still thoughtful of Sam to try and make the harpy comfortable, despite his misgivings.
“Thanks,” Dean replied, grinning as he gave Sam a hearty slap on the back, almost dropping his pile of sticks as he did.
His brother huffed, smirking at Dean as he stacked the last piece of wood. He straightened up and rolled his shoulders, wincing at the strain in them. After a hard day at work, he was exhausted.
“Whatever, Dean. You want him in a more-than-platonic way and I’m just here to make sure you don’t get yourself killed.”
Dean spluttered, wishing his arms were empty so he could tackle his brother for that comment. Sam only laughed at him, walking into the cabin as he did.
Once they were both back inside, Sam tended to the fireplace and started dinner. Tonight, it would be roasted rabbit, freshly snared that morning. The brothers tended to lay traps nowadays, preferring the method over actively hunting.
Dean left his brother to it and after a moment of contemplation, went to the restroom so that he could grab a bowl and a towel. He filled the bowl with hot water and dropped the towel into it. It was times like these that he thanked the gods for Sam’s insistence that if they were going to live in the woods they were going to at least have decent pipes and a working water system. Their water came from the spring near the clearing they went to chop wood, and it was a big reason why they always tried to clear out that area every year. Having debris and random leaves pumped into their bowls wasn’t exactly sanitary. The system included a pipe that went underneath their fireplace, so that every time they kept the fire going, it would heat up the water. The other pipes avoided the fireplace, instead linking to their kitchen area and the restroom. They’d created the system themselves, or rather, Sam had technically invented it and Dean had done most of the grunt work which included digging trenches in the ground to create a path for the pipes.
It was definitely one reason why the Winchesters always kept themselves clean, despite their rough lifestyle. Access to clean hot water led to way more voluntary showers.
He then made a pit stop at Sam’s room and pulled on a pair of pants and a sweater, sighing in relief. He felt much warmer, wrapped up in sheep wool clothing.
Carrying the items he’d gathered, Dean headed towards his room, but stopped when he saw the harpy, head tilted to one side and fast asleep. Cas was still sitting up against the pillows, the furs pooled around his lap and wings drooping. Relaxed like this, he looked more peaceful, though his face was pale from pain. His mouth was slightly open, soft puffs of air exhaled out in visible clouds. Dean frowned, making a mental note to grab some more furs from the closet and pile them on top of the freezing harpy.
Still, no matter how much it pained him to wake the harpy, Dean definitely needed to dress his wounds and set the wing. Waiting longer would cause the injury to worsen. Dean quickly lit up the lamps he had in his room, closing the curtains over the window that showed nothing but the darkness of the forest and the soft light of the moon.
He stepped closer to the bed, carefully leaning down and giving Cas a gentle shake. The harpy opened his eyes slowly, blinking up at Dean with eyes that seemed to glow blue in the near darkness.
“Come on, we have to fix up your wing.”
Disoriented, Castiel chirruped in answer, blinking a few times then yawning widely.
“What time is it?” Castiel whispered, his voice deepened from his short nap. Almost like the sound of thunder and the roaring of fire, Dean couldn’t help the shiver Castiel’s voice gave him.
“It’s after sundown.” Dean finally replied, his own voice a bit strangled. He felt flushed and out of sorts. He wasn’t used to feeling such intense attraction for someone, much less a guy. He’d come to terms with the fact that he liked both genders and his brother didn’t mind either, it was just that he preferred females to males. This was the first time a man had invoked such a reaction just by being in his presence. It was a little disconcerting, and Dean didn’t enjoy the power Castiel seemed to have over him, even if the harpy wasn’t aware of it. Not only that, Cas was not exactly human. It hurt a tiny part of him, knowing that his father would never have approved of their relationship. It was probably cruel of him to think so, but he felt more settled knowing that John wasn’t around to criticise Dean’s decisions. Dean himself had no issues with Cas being a harpy, and Sam had always been more open-minded than the both of them.
“I see.” Castiel closed his eyes again, breathing out a shaky breath, both from pain and cold.
At the harpy’s noticeable discomfort, Dean quickly set down the materials he’d brought onto the nightstand. He knelt down on the right side of the bed so he could tend to Castiel’s injured wing. His eyes tracked down, giving a quick surveying glance over the broken wing.
He almost missed the spot of black among the feathers; it was hard to see, due to the dirt and various other twigs and dust them, but Dean shifted closer, leaning over to look closely at the spot. There, right near the tips of the wing, seemed to be a random splotch of black. Dean tilted his head, squinting his eyes at the spot.
It was weird. Definitely unusual. He’d noticed, quite early on after a few visits to the harpy flock, that Castiel’s wings were wholly unique. Everyone else seemed to have duo-colored wings with varying patterns. The majority of them had some variation of black or brown wings with patterned, brighter colors throughout. However, Castiel was the only one who had monochromatic peach cream wings. The only other harpy he’d seen that also had exceptionally unique wings was Gabriel, with his golden feathers.
Still, it was bizarre to see that Castiel seemed to only have that one patch of black, unlike the more evenly distributed patterns of his peers.
He looked up and noticed that Castiel had been staring at him with half-lidded eyes. He didn’t seem to mind the scrutiny of his wings but it still made Dean feel like he was violating the harpy’s privacy. Muttering a quick apology under his breath, he grabbed the washcloth and wrung it free of water, leaving it damp and crossed over to the left side of the bed.
“Do you mind if I...?” Dean asked, his hands hovering over the left wing, figuring it would be easier to clean the healthy wing before the broken one. He didn’t know a lot about harpy culture, but he did understand that harpies only let people they were close with groom their wings. Grooming was considered a bonding experience and one that harpies typically only allowed their family, friends, and lovers to partake.
Castiel seemed to hesitate for a moment before he nodded.
Feeling suddenly shy, Dean let the quiet of the night wash over him as he gently and thoroughly cleansed Castiel’s wing. He kept each stroke light and as he cleaned, more and more of Castiel’s true color was revealed. This close, Dean could see that the feathers were slowly going back to their usual peach cream shade, instead of the murky brownish tint the wings had taken from the fall. He cleansed the left wing thoroughly before moving on to the injured right wing.
He made several trips to the restroom to throw out the dirty basin and refill it with clean, warm water. As Dean made the trips back and forth, Castiel tracked him with tired eyes. He would blink languidly, releasing a soft purr whenever Dean seemed to stroke a particularly pleasurable spot. It was weirdly intimate, cleaning his wings with the candlelight flickering and casting a glow upon Castiel’s features.
When he’d almost finished with cleaning, Dean ran across a bump near the top of the wings where the long primary feathers started. His brows furrowed, curious but also worried that the swelling had gotten worse and that was what he was feeling. The bump wasn’t noticeable when he looked at the wing but he could definitely feel something hidden in the feathers. Dean carefully brushed back the feathers, and stared, baffled at the hand he saw.
“What…?” Dean couldn’t help letting out a confused sound, watching as Cas's hand uncurled from the fist it had been in. He looked up at the harpy, mouth agape and eyes a little wild. Castiel stared back at him, face amused and his lips quirked slightly to one side.
“That’s my hand.”
As if to prove his point he carefully flexed the fingers, wincing as he did so. Now, Dean felt truly stupid. He thought he’d understood the general gist of harpy anatomy. They had wings for arms and bird feet below the knees, but it shook his world to know that apparently, they had hands, too. Dean touched his own tanned hand to those pale fingers, shivering when he felt how cold they were.
“How does that work?” He couldn’t help but ask, not sure if it would be rude but too curious to stop himself.
Castiel didn’t seem to mind the curiosity though, answering the human with a patient smile.
“We mostly keep our hands hidden underneath our feathers. Most people assume we don’t have hands due to the abnormally large size of our wingspans, but most of our wingspan is made up of primary feathers. The actual bone of the wing and our hands, which indicate the end of the bone structure, lie a little more than halfway up our wings.”
Dean absorbed that information for a few seconds, realizing that this answered a lot of questions he’d had about harpies. When he’d gone to visit the main nest, Dean had noticed many harpies weaving baskets or doing other detailed crafts work that definitely required fingers. At the time, it looked like they used their wings to do everything but now he could see that they had been using the hands they had tucked within the wings themselves.
“That’s awesome, dude,” Dean whispered, returning back to his task. Once the wing was cleaned, Dean made sure to groom it thoroughly, tugging out any broken feathers so that new ones could grow back. He combed his hand through the tangled ones, making sure to salvage as many feathers as he could. He didn’t want to pull out too many.
Finished with the cleaning, he grabbed the salve he’d brought that would help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Slowly, he rubbed it over the wing. It was rather difficult to get to the membrane underneath due to the feathers, but Dean tried his best. Mostly, he focused on the edge of the wing, knowing that was where the bone structure lie.
Castiel didn’t make too many noticeable sounds, but his breathing stuttered at times and his lips were pressed into a tight grimace. It was clear to see that he was injured more than he’d let on.
Still, Dean gentled his touch as much as possible. Once the salve was on, he splinted the wing by laying all of the wooden pieces along the upper edge, clamping the bone in between two wood pieces. He grabbed the bandages and wrapped the wing with them. Castiel had tried to help by lifting up his injured wing, but after the cry of pain it brought, Dean refused to let Castiel lift a single muscle.
Thankful for the fact that, as a hunter, he kept fit, Dean gently lifted the heavy wing and wound the bandages around it, making sure to wrap up the wooden pieces as well. Castiel let out strained whimpers, the press of the wood on his broken bones a little too harsh. Dean made soothing noises and tried to speed up. He didn’t want to put Castiel through unnecessary pain. He’d applied the salve to help numb the wing but even with the medication, it seemed the ache was too much.
Finally, he smeared a paste on the end of the bandage and stuck it onto the wing, making sure that it wouldn’t unravel. They were both sweating after the ordeal, one from the agony of broken bones and the other from sheer exhaustion. Wings were heavier than Dean thought.
Dean cleared his throat, speaking up after they both took a quick break. “You okay?”
Castiel was too tired to glare at Dean for those words, but he did scowl at him. “I have a broken wing that’ll take ages to heal and I have a headache from all the pain. What do you think?”
Dean didn’t expect the petulant snark from the harpy and he let out a startled laugh, standing up and stretching as he did. His eyes were shining with mirth and when Castiel looked up at his face, the harpy’s annoyed frown seemed to soften.
Castiel looked down again, muttering under his breath. “Sorry. You’re helping me and I’m being an ass-butt.”
“Well, I don’t know what an ass-butt is, but I’m sure you’re not that bad,” Dean comforted, resisting the urge to pet the harpy and run his hand through those unruly locks. “You’re probably starving and thirsty. I’ll go grab us some food and water okay?”
When Castiel gave an enthusiastic nod, Dean pulled the furs a little higher around Castiel, carefully avoiding the injured wing. Castiel let out a contented sigh, his smile soft and open. It made Dean’s heart clench, knowing that this harpy trusted him for some inexplicable reason.
Leaving the room, Dean headed over to the kitchen, following the delicious smell of roasted rabbit, potato stew and freshly baked bread. It seemed his brother had gone a little overboard with preparing a nutritious meal, not that Dean was complaining.
“How’s the harpy?” Sam asked, his face scrunched in worry as he ladled the stew into three bowls. There was already a basket full of bread, steaming in the cold of the cabin. Dean eyed the rabbits, still slowly roasting in their furnace, with a little too much hunger. He didn’t realize until now how hungry he truly was.
Dean shrugged at his brother’s question, snagging a plate and piling it high with bread and meat cut directly from the roasting rabbit.
“He’ll survive.” He took a bite of the roast, moaning heartily when the flavors burst over his tongue. Sam was a bit of an herb enthusiast. Their dad had disapproved of his hobby, stating that hunting was much more productive. It wasn’t until after their father had died that Sam gathered up the courage to start a small garden next to their cabin.
Dean had, of course, been very supportive and went out of his way to trade the villagers for different seeds. It was nice seeing his brother happy while doing something, it had been years since they were allowed to be so carefree. Sometimes, they walked a little too tense, or were paranoid over the smallest noise; it would take more time to heal from the habits that the hunting life had given them.
The herb garden was a small step, but it was one that greatly benefited them. It allowed them a fresh supply of different plants that could be made into medicine or healing pastes. Not only that, they were excellent for cooking and gave everything a stronger spice.
“Our little guest isn’t up for moving just yet, so I’ll be bringing this in and eat with him in my room.” Dean held up the plate he had in his hands, gesturing to the soup bowls as well to indicate that he’d be back for them.
Sam raised an eyebrow at that, his smirk teasing. “Well, as long as eating is all you guys will be doing in there.”
“Sam,” Dean hissed out, his eyes darting over to the entryway that led to his room. Dean didn’t know how far harpy hearing extended and he could feel himself flush at Sam’s implications. “It’s not like that.”
Sam rolled his eyes, clear skepticism in his voice. “Whatever you say, Dean.” He grabbed the two soup bowls and started walking towards the rooms. “Come on, I’ll help you bring the stuff in. It’s about time I was introduced to your little stalker boyfriend.”
Dean muttered some choice words about Sam and his stupid assumptions. He also denied Castiel was his boyfriend but didn’t bother refuting the stalker comment.
Once inside the room, Castiel lazily glanced up but sat up straighter when he noticed Sam.
“Hello, Sam,” the harpy greeted, looking just a little bit flustered, though his tone was serious. His healthy wing lifted for a moment in greeting, fluttering uncertainly.
Sam raised a brow at the greeting. Dean looked at Sam’s considering gaze before focusing his eyes on a spot on the bed. Well, they were off to a great start. Yeah, let’s just remind Sam of how long Castiel has been stalking him, and by proxy Sam, by knowing Sam’s name before he had even given it to Cas. Not creepy at all.
Luckily his brother was always polite, even in such bizarre circumstances. He shook off his unease quickly and quirked his lips to one side in a small smile. “Right. Well, it’s nice to finally meet you.” Castiel seemed to relax at his words and smiled tentatively back.
“Yes, it’s…” Castiel seemed to struggle with his words for a moment, looking down at his lap before meeting Sam’s eyes. “It’s a great honor to meet you. Dean holds you in high regard.”
Castiel was earnest, his eyes holding that special type of intensity that Dean had learned over time was one of Castiel’s quirks. Sam rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, looking down and letting his long hair fall to cover his face.
“I’m sure my brother thinks otherwise.” Sam joked, and Dean felt weird, like he was in a scenario where Sam was meeting his significant other for the first time.
Dean rolled his eyes, though his smile was soft and fond. Castiel, on the other hand, looked between the two of them with a confused furrow to his brow. Evidently, the harpy wasn’t used to jokes, or at the very least, found them difficult to understand. It only made him more endearing to Dean and the hunter barely held back a chuckle.
“Well, I’ll leave you two alone now,” Sam spoke up in the mostly comfortable silence. Dean didn’t need to look at his brother to know he was smirking in amusement. It seemed Sam had noticed the looks of adoration he’d been shooting Cas's way.
With a self-conscious scowl, Dean moved into the room and set down the plate of bread and meat, giving his brother a playful shove when he tried to put down the bowls of soup. The jostle almost caused Sam to spill the potato soup and he shot his brother a withering glare. Dean put up both hands in mock apology, though his smirk told Sam he was not the least bit sorry.
Castiel, who had been watching this entire interaction with curious eyes, smiled at their brotherly antics, though he hid it with one wing covering his mouth. The mirth in his gaze was clear and Dean didn’t even notice Sam leave the room, mesmerized by the glow of Castiel’s happiness in the flickering candlelight. He’d only seen the harpy grumpy and scared thus far, so Cas's joy was a welcome sight for sore eyes.
“Here,” Dean spoke up, voice quiet and reluctant to break the peace of the moment. He handed the harpy the soup bowl, watching with fascination as, from his point of view, the harpy enveloped it with his healthy wing. He knew logically that Castiel was holding the bowl with the hand he had hidden within the wing, but when he couldn’t see the hand, it was a whole different story.
It was certainly an entertaining sight, watching as the harpy held the bowl and drank from it using his ‘wing’.
They ate in companionable silence, only broken by brief questions and small talk.
Still, Dean’s eyes drifted to the dark spot he knew was on Castiel’s right wing, though it was obscured by bandages. His curiosity had been digging at him since he saw it and now that they had a moment of peace, Dean decided it was safe enough to ask.
“I noticed you had a dark spot on your wing.” Dean started, frowning and putting his bowl down when his comment seemed to make the harpy tense up. He was now less certain of how receptive the harpy would be to his question, still, he soldiered on. “I was just wondering...how did you get it?”
Castiel shrugged, his appetite gone as he avoided Dean’s eyes. He picked at the plate on his lap, nibbling on some of the bread absentmindedly.
“Why do you assume I received that spot? I could have been born with it.” Castiel finally settled, his words slow and measured.
Dean paused for a moment, confused by his own phrasing. He tilted his head to the side slightly, his mouth ticking down into a frown when he realized he didn’t know either. Maybe it was instinct. The way the spot was placed on the wings, it didn’t look like the harpy had molted and the feathers had grown in that way. Instead, it almost looked unnatural, as if it were a drop of ink on his otherwise clean peach cream wings.
Dean shrugged, handing Castiel a glass of water and taking the plate from him to place on the nightstand.
“I don’t know. It just didn’t look natural.”
Castiel didn’t reply. He stared into the candle next to them, his face suddenly looked years older, as if he’d experienced trials and tribulations that Dean couldn’t even begin to fathom.
Dean waited, but an answer never came.
It had been nearly two years since Castiel had first seen the beautiful Dean Winchester. Castiel was thirteen now, and more serious than a boy his age should be. It wasn’t his fault, the flock would say, even as they stared at his peach cream wings a little too long some days. They said he was just a late bloomer, that soon he would molt his light feathers and grow in strong, dark ones just like the rest of the flock. So, Castiel tried his best to act mature, hating the fact that the flock still treated him like a child because of his wings.
He avoided the flock on purpose, opting to stay in the lower woods where the Winchester humans resided. The only one of his kin he didn’t actively dislike, was his brother, Gabriel. Gabriel understood Castiel’s feelings, the way he felt like an outcast and a stranger in his own feathers. The older harpy was treated that way too, though in a different way because of his golden wings. He was revered and treated with the utmost respect, but all Gabriel ever wanted was to be a kid; or at the very least, have more freedom. Instead, there was a massive amount of responsibility on Gabriel’s shoulders, as he was trained to join the Council as a representative of the Hunters when he grew older.
Castiel didn’t have a job yet. The flock didn’t know what to make of him, or what job would suit him the best. So far, Castiel had been helping out in every profession, doing small tasks that the flock gave him when they remembered to do so. Most of the time, he was left to his own devices, forgotten and useless. He knew the flock didn’t mean it, but Castiel certainly felt like he was an outcast.
Dean, on the other hand, was almost always busy, helping out around the house and constantly going out trekking into the woods to gather twigs for their fire.
Castiel didn’t quite understand the need for fire yet. Whenever it was cold, his flock would huddle together in the main nest, their wings wrapped around their bodies providing excellent insulation. However, he could tell that humans were like pitiful naked birds. They didn’t have wings they could hide behind when the winds were strong. They were, in general, less sturdy and well protected than harpies. If Castiel was in danger, he could use his clawed feet to fight back, however, humans had blunt useless nails and squishy bodies.
The harpy probably didn’t need to do it, but the human was his responsibility and he needed to make sure the poor boy didn’t accidentally slip and fall on his own axe. Castiel had heard gruesome tales of accidental impalement from Gabriel and, horrified, he vowed to make sure Dean would never injure himself in such a way.
That evening, it was getting rather late as Castiel waited in his usual tree next to the Winchesters’ house. He frowned, head cocked to the side as he squinted hard, trying to figure out why Dean hadn’t returned to the house yet. He liked making sure his human was safely back home before he returned to his own nest. Gabriel said it was a crush but Castiel always blushed and denied it.
Distantly, he heard the sound of large animals moving through the woods. They seemed to be in a frenzy, as if something had excited them. Curious, he shifted in his spot on the tree, moving until he was upwind to whatever it was that was causing the commotion.
Instantly, Castiel was assaulted with the scent of painscaredtearsblood and Castiel gasped. He knew, deep in his soul, who it was. Before his mind could catch up with his body, he was flying through the air, knocking into trees painfully as he flapped his wings.
Finally, he was able to ride an updraft of wind and it pushed him up, above the copse of trees. The moment he saw the boy, he dove, uncaring of the fact that Dean might see him. He was more focused on the fact that Dean seemed to be unconscious and caught in a bear trap. Castiel landed with a stumble. He let out a hiss and flashed his eyes, the glowing blue fierce in the dying light of the sunset, scaring away the few scavenger animals that were clearly waiting for the boy’s death.
The harpy heard a few whines and growls as the animals around them dispersed, scared of this bigger predator in their midst. Castiel quickly knelt beside Dean, whining low in his throat when he saw how pale the human was. Dean was barely breathing, and his panting breaths were weak. Every once in a while he’d let out a moan of pain, too incoherent and out of it to voice anything else.
Castiel quickly tucked his hands from beneath his wings, cursing the fact that he had cumbersome feathers in the way. His hands hovered over the boy’s body, darting this way and that as if he couldn’t decide where to place them to best help the boy. Eventually, he decided his greater concern was the giant bear trap clamped around Dean’s lower leg.
Castiel winced at the sight, letting out a hiss of distress when he saw that the sharp teeth of the trap had cut deep into Dean’s left leg, practically through the bone. Quickly, he used what strength he had to pry open the bear trap, making soothing noises when the motion pulled a scream from Dean’s throat.
There was now blood smeared on his feathers. It was Dean’s blood and he hated it with a passion, knowing that it was evidence of the boy’s pain.
Dean was still unconscious and growing paler by the second. The wound was now bleeding sluggishly, at a steady enough rate that Castiel knew Dean didn’t have much time left. He didn’t know what to do and the panic had started to set in when he realized there was no way he could carry Dean back to his cabin or his flock in time.
Tears pricked his eyes as he sobbed, the full gravity of the situation hitting him. He was going to lose him.
Dean was going to die.
It was at that moment, when the forest was fully eclipsed in darkness, and the moon shone high above, that Castiel decided he refused.
He refused to let the human die.
Wiping away his tears almost angrily, Castiel gently picked up the human and pulled him into his lap. Castiel laid Dean’s upper body against his left wing, supporting the boy. Dean was so small and this close, Castiel could trace Dean’s almost-translucent features with his desperate eyes.
Castiel didn’t believe in deities. His flock spoke of the Motherbird, the first of them and the creator of the harpies. Harpies used to be a part of her flock, living in the clouds in harmony. They were all birds that didn’t need to stop and rest or even land on Earth. They were celestials. However, a group of them decided to go down to Earth, wishing to explore a world beyond the sky. The Motherbird, in all her benevolence, turned them half human so that they might blend in. They said that was how harpies first came to Earth.
Castiel didn’t believe, but in that moment, he chose to pray to her.
Please, he thought, his tears still flowing, even as he tried to stay strong. Please help me.
Almost too slow for him to notice, Castiel felt his right wing lift up. He didn’t have time to question it, as the moment his right wing stretched out and touched Dean’s bloody wound, a dark spot started growing on his wing.
Shocked, he froze, watching with bated breath as the darkness moved, like ink in water, before settling. Breathless, he lifted up his wing and stared with astonished awe at the now uninjured leg.
He was probably going to freak out about this later, but for now Castiel was too relieved to care. Letting out a breathless chirp, Castiel hugged his human close. He didn’t care how or why the human was suddenly healed. He knew it had something to do with the dark spot that now decorated his previously pristine peach cream wings, but he didn’t care. If it was bad, he didn’t mind. He would pay any price for Dean to be okay.
Castiel pulled back when Dean let out a muffled groan, sneezing because of the fluffy down feathers he had in his face. Flustered, Castiel pulled back. He watched intently as Dean’s eyelashes fluttered, as if he was going to wake up.
Castiel held his breath, tense. This was it, this would be the moment Dean became aware of his presence. Then, they could be friends!
Castiel’s thoughts were cut short, however, when he heard a yell near where they were situated.
“Dean!” The voice was frantic and Castiel knew it was Dean’s father looking for the boy. Castiel carefully slipped the boy off his lap and placed him on the blanket of leaves covering the forest floor.
He heard the sounds of crushed undergrowth growing nearer. He unfurled his wings to their full length and with one last forlorn look at Dean, flew away.
He could feel the thrums of worry from the flock bonds. Most likely they had felt the spike in fear he’d experienced, and now they would demand an explanation. This incident would not be one he could hide. He wasn’t too concerned about how they would react to him healing Dean, after all, the human hadn’t seen him and that was the most important part. His wing on the other hand...
It wasn’t until he arrived home, bloodied and with a black mark on his wing, that he realized the dark turn his life had taken. It was one that would haunt his every step, the decision he made weighed with consequences. He saved the boy, but there was always a balance.
The Motherbird was a kind goddess, but she was one that understood the importance of give and take. For there was always a price to pay.
That day, he learned just how fragile humans could be and it led him to be extra vigilant, making sure to follow Dean secretly as much as he could when he went out alone. Before that incident, it had been less frequent and more just to check on the boy. Now, Castiel vowed he would keep the human safe. It was his duty and responsibility.
Sam walked into cabin’s kitchen area, yawning as he prepared his morning tea. He brought out two more cups, remembering their house guest. It was honestly weird that no one had come for the harpy yet. Sam had expected the flock to come knocking at their door last night, but it had been oddly quiet.
Poking his head into the living room, Sam frowned when he saw that Dean had rolled onto the fur rug in front of the fireplace, sprawled out and snoring. It had been decided, with little protest from Castiel, that Dean would sleep on the bench in front of the fireplace. Dean had argued that there was no way the harpy would be able to fit there with such large wings and Dean was more than willing to lend the harpy his bed.
Shaking his head in amusement Sam called out to his brother, waking him up with a grumbled snort.
“Wha-?” Dean bolted up, blinking bleary-eyed and cracking his jaw with a wide yawn. Smacking his lips together, Dean grimaced at the taste of morning breath and headed over to the restroom to brush his teeth. Once that was done he poked his head into his room, checking on the harpy. Castiel was laid on his back, peacefully slumbering with his right wing stretched out while his left one was tucked under the warm furs.
Dean smiled to himself, loving the odd domesticity of the moment. Eventually, he stepped back out to grab some tea for himself and Cas. Sam didn’t say anything when he grabbed two small loaves of bread and some butter for their breakfast. He only raised a teasing brow at his brother when he saw that Dean was going to be essentially bringing the harpy breakfast in bed.
Just as Dean turned his back to Sam, intent on leaving with his goods, Sam decided to mess with his brother a little. “So, you’re already past the honeymoon stage of your relationship, huh?” Sam commented idly, watching with mirth at the way Dean’s ears turned red, his shoulders hunching up. “Now it’s just full-on domestic bliss.”
“Shut up, bitch,” Dean growled out, little heat behind his words with the creeping embarrassment he felt. It wasn’t that he was ashamed, more that he wished that were the case, but he wasn’t sure Castiel felt that way about him. Sure, the harpy had technically stalked him for decades, but from what he’d heard of the snippets of conversations between Castiel and Gabriel, Castiel seemed to see Dean as his responsibility.
In a way, Dean was nothing more than a pet Castiel was trying to keep alive, and though it rankled him, at least it was better than not having Castiel at all. It was probably unusual for Dean to be so attached to the harpy, but he still had vague memories of a feathered body that smelled like honey and the forest, pressed close to him as he fought through the pain.
That was one of the worst and best days of his life. It had been excruciating and the experience was definitely traumatizing, but in his daze, Dean had sensed the harpy taking care of him. When his father had picked him up, scolding him for sleeping in the forest, Dean didn’t mention what had happened.
He didn’t want to get in trouble but also, a small part of him wanted to keep the harpy safe. Despite his dad’s best intentions, they were still hunters of monsters that went bump in the night.
The boy with those beautiful blue eyes that reminded Dean so much of freedom and the sky right after it rained, the boy with a wild head of hair and a consistent grumpy look on his face, was exactly what Dean needed. Dean was so busy trying to keep his family together, to make sure his father didn’t drink too much alcohol and choke on his own vomit, to make sure Sammy did well in school and was happy, that he didn’t have time to think of himself.
It was almost comforting in a twisted sort of way, knowing there was someone literally watching his back and making sure he was okay. After the incident, he’d noticed the harpy followed him with increasing frequency. Dean knew the harpy didn’t have any bad intentions, Castiel was just awkward and a bit of a mess.
Dean smiled to himself, as he opened the door to his room, balancing food and tea, lost in happy memories of an endearing boy with soft wings and even softer eyes.
Castiel was awake and sitting up, looking quite alert for so early in the morning. The sun had just risen. Although, Dean rationalized, that was probably because Castiel was literally part bird and they were creatures accustomed to early mornings.
“Good morning,” Castiel murmured, his voice a barely audible rumble. He stretched his left wing up, shaking it a bit to ease the kinks that came with sleeping in one position for so long. A few of his feathers fell onto the floor and he frowned, his cheeks slightly flushed at the sight. “Sorry, I’ll clean up after myself.”
“No worries, Cas,” Dean smiled as he set the food and tea on the nightstand. He sat down on the edge of the bed, careful to avoid Castiel’s injured right wing, and handed the harpy bits of food. They ate in companionable silence as the sun rose steadily.
Their moment of peace was interrupted when someone crashed through the window, barely squeezing between the glass and frame and hit the floor rolling. Before Dean fully registered the movement, he had the man pressed against the wall of the cabin, teeth pulled back in a snarl and the knife he always had on him pressed against the intruder’s jugular.
He opened his mouth to demand answers when he realized, with a start, that it was Gabriel, Castiel’s older brother. The other harpy didn’t seem alarmed at all, even as he was literally pinned to the wall. He was grinning widely, wiggling his eyebrows at Castiel when the injured harpy made a bewildered sound at his entrance.
Cursing lowly to himself, Dean instantly backed away from the harpy, sheathing the knife in his belt. Before Dean could apologize, Castiel was bristling, struggling against the furs as he tried to get up. Dean quickly moved to his side, pressing the harpy back into a sitting position, refusing to let him get up and injure himself further.
“Gabriel,” Castiel let out through gritted teeth as he finally relented with a growl and allowed Dean to keep him seated. He huffed a frustrated breath at that treatment, glaring at Dean for treating him like he was incapable of moving even an inch. He didn’t seem to appreciate being treated like he was fragile. Dean gave him an apologetic glance, worrying at his lips with blunt teeth, afraid he’d overstepped his boundaries. Castiel rolled his eyes and turned his ire on Gabriel, the older harpy now leaning against the wall cooly, his wings folded.
“What,” Castiel gestured to the window that Gabriel had dramatically crashed through, his feathers puffed up, “the hell was that?”
“Oh, Cassie,” Gabriel placed his left wing on his chest, looking mock-offended by Cas's anger. “I thought you would appreciate an entrance like that. Something to spice up the probably boring day you’ve had cooped up in this cabin.” Gabriel sniffed his nose delicately in disdain, only focusing his attention on Dean when he stood up and approached Gabriel rather cautiously.
“Look, I don’t know what’s your problem, but it’s common courtesy to knock before you come in,” Dean spoke with tension, the tone harsh enough that his dry humor didn’t cover it.
“Well, clearly we have some misunderstandings here.” Gabriel placed a wing under his chin as if he was thinking hard about something. His smirk was still there, and Dean could tell that the harpy was just doing it to irritate him. “You see, I was under the impression you were holding my little brother hostage. So of course, responsible older brother that I am-”
Castiel twittered at that, his eyes rolling so hard his head practically moved with the motion.
Gabriel’s smirk dropped for a moment, a sheepish smile overtaking his face instead.
“Anyways, responsible brother that I am, I came to save my little brother.” He opened his wings wide in a flourish as if to say ‘ta-da, I’m here to save the day’.
Dean squinted his eyes at Gabriel and clearly, Castiel wasn’t buying it either because the harpy sighed before sinking deeper into the cushions he’d been leaning on.
“Come on, brother, we both know who the Winchesters are. Something that you seem to have neglected to tell me. A treaty, correct? I didn’t know we had one with the humans.” Castiel’s comments were said with nonchalance, but the accusatory glare he shot Gabriel and the way his shoulders tensed told a different story.
It was those words that seemed to affect Gabriel, the subtle guilt in his face appearing for just a moment before disappearing behind a blank mask. Gabriel straightened up as if he’d been slouching over to seem unassuming and non-threatening, suddenly he was serious.
Gabriel’s brows furrowed as he approached the bed and sat on the edge, twisting his body to face Castiel who still refused to look at him. Dean, realizing they probably needed some time alone, quietly stepped out the room, closing the door behind him.
“Cassie, you know I can’t tell you Council stuff. Even if I did know, which I’m not supposed to, I couldn’t tell you without angering the old farts.” Gabriel placed a golden wing over Castiel’s injured one, the touch feather light and gentle. “They already watch me all the time, if the scrutiny got any worse I’d spontaneously combust.”
It was after a moment of tense silence that Castiel finally relaxed. With a tired smile, he pulled Gabriel close with his left wing, hugging him as tight as he could. Gabriel hugged back just as fiercely. Even though they had only been separated a day, it still seemed like a lifetime.
As, the only harpy with peach cream wings, Castiel wasn’t exactly ostracized. He just didn’t have a place he belonged, and the flock knew that. They tried their best, they really did, but sometimes, he could still hear the whispers and the way that the flock almost feared him. Gabriel was also treated differently, but he was revered by the flock. His gold wings marked him as a naturally powerful harpy, the first of his kind in centuries.
They both didn’t belong but in different ways.
It was what created such a strong bond between them, one that many in the flock secretly envied. Their jealousy of Castiel’s closeness with Gabriel brought a lot of ire. Jealousy that manifested in the way no one wanted to talk to Castiel unless they needed something from him, and the way they only gave Castiel the jobs nobody else wanted to do.
The flock would never admit to such petty actions, of course. They believed wholeheartedly in being a community, but Castiel and Gabriel knew better.
And as Castiel stared down at the way Gabriel’s wings almost shimmered in the morning light, his own wings seemed too pale, too different. They twitched under the weight of Gabriel’s powerful, slimmer wing and the pressure on his injured wing caused a twinge of pain.
Sensing his despondency, Gabriel used his other wing to gently ruffle Castiel’s already messy hair.
“Hey, couldn’t you just...heal your own wing?” Gabriel asked, a hesitant smile on his face as he tried to distract Castiel from his thoughts. His question only seemed to worsen Castiel’s mood, a distant look overtook Castiel’s eyes and Gabriel sighed, feeling weary under the weight of all they’d learned and been through together.
“You know I can’t.”
It was just a whisper, a shadow in the otherwise bright room. Somehow, it was enough to make Gabriel shiver, the pain clear in Castiel’s voice. The splint covered up his mistakes but even with those white bandages, he could still feel that dark spot on his wing like a festering wound. No matter how many times he ripped out the feathers there, they grew back a pitch black. It was a stigma and a burden he had to bear, one he would never escape.
There was a legend.
A murmuring down the river’s water and a rustling through the sun-dappled leaves. A legend spoken in a language that not many people understood but one that everyone heard.
They listened, they heard the legend, and they feared it.
In the dead of night, they would tell their young ones.
“You must never Fall. Do not become the next Lucifer.”
When a child would ask why, they would tell the tale, eons old, so old that even the oldest harpy in the flock didn’t know where they’d heard it.
The harpy would then respond, a haunted look in their eyes, as if they’d lived this very nightmare.
“Because, child, many years ago…”
Many years ago, there lived a harpy named Lucifer. He was one of the first harpies, free-willed and desperate for recognition, for attention from his flock. He was brash, prideful.
“Look! I’m the first of my kind to have golden wings! Motherbird has blessed me.”
Look! He would scream, again and again, because truly, his wings were a sight to behold. They shone and shimmered in the sunlight and glowed in the dark. The flock would often speak to him just so they could stare at his magnificent wings, the feathers so soft looking they seemed to be made of silk.
Lucifer wanted their attention, he deserved it. He was the strongest harpy to ever live, and everyone needed to know. Eventually, their awe wasn’t enough, the flock’s praise wasn’t enough.
He needed their fear.
In a moment of irrationality, Lucifer killed one of his own. One of the flock.
It was an unprecedented crime and one that Motherbird did not look upon kindly.
You foolish child. She cried, sorrow and anger in one, the wind harsh against Lucifer’s golden wings. You have sinned and corrupted the beautiful gift I’ve given you. Know that you will never fly again, and your sins will be known to all. I gave you your gift, and I can take it away.
That night, with the rain on his back and the thunder reverberating in his eardrums, Lucifer screamed. He screamed as he was cast down from the nest, crashing and burning as he Fell.
When he woke up, his wings were pitch black. A disgusting, murky purplish black that looked like muddy oil-slicked infections. They seemed to drip with sin, and when he tried to lift them, they barely budged. He shook and cried out in shock at the feeling of heaviness in his wings. They were truly weighed down by the crimes he’d committed.
It was only then, that Lucifer understood the true cost of sin.
And when he screamed, no one looked.
“Hey,” Dean knocked on the door before poking his head in, smiling hesitantly at Castiel. The harpy met his gaze with a tentative smile of his own. Dean, however, looked around in confusion when he noticed the distinct lack of Gabriel in the room. “What happened to the drama queen?”
“Drama…?” Castiel tilted his head before letting out a huff of laughter, the satisfied smile wiping away the furrow in his brows. Dean’s gaze softened when Castiel allowed himself to express his amusement and Castiel flushed, looking off to the side. “Ah yes, my brother tends to enjoy dramatic entrances.”
Dean stepped into the room, new bandages in hand. The salve they’d used was still on the bedside table, so he hadn’t bothered bringing in more.
“Is he going to come back?” Dean asked as he busied himself with replacing the bandages on Castiel’s wing. Dean winced in sympathy at how much the wing had swollen overnight. He muttered under his breath and Castiel could just make out Dean’s distracted mumbling about how, at the very least, Castiel’s wing wasn’t infected.
“No,” Castiel shrugged, forgetting for a moment he had an injury and wincing when the movement sent a throb of pain through his entire wing. “He uh, he said he would notify the Council of my injury and that I’m recuperating at an ally’s residence.”
Dean raised a brow at that, pausing where he’d been unwrapping the wing.
“And I’m guessing that we’re the allied people your brother entrusted you with.”
Castiel let out a low grunt as Dean lifted up his wing in intervals, trying to hide his discomfort as he adjusted and sat a little higher up the headboard.
“Uh huh,” replied Dean skeptically as he used the washcloth from last night to wipe away the goopy salve, “and your Council will be alright with you staying with a pair of hunters? Your brother’s okay with this?”
“The Council may have objections to me staying long term with you two, but Gabriel was enthusiastically on board with the plan,” Castiel grumbled as he remembered his brother saying this was his chance to bag his crush. “I’m hoping that your alliance with my flock will make them more...amiable to this arrangement.”
He most certainly was not going to ‘bag’ any crush. Much less Dean Winchester, a renowned hunter. Thinking about the fact that Gabriel had kept him in the dark on the treaty with the Winchesters, that Dean had obviously been aware Castiel was following him, made him grumpy. It ruffled his feathers, realizing that he’d been unaware of most everything involving the flock. He’d been under the wrong impression this whole time! Gabriel had even explicitly told him not to reveal himself to the Winchesters (not that he would, he didn’t have the courage to approach the beautiful boy and certainly not now, when he’d grown into such a handsome man) and it was all a ploy to mess with him. In fact, outside of saving Dean from life threatening situations, Castiel would have never dared to show himself to the human.
It was almost embarrassing now, knowing the man had apparently been aware but still allowed Castiel to continue stalking him. Castiel thought, with some bitterness, that it was probably out of some misguided sense of pity that Dean allowed his transgression.
Dean gave him a strange look at the pensive pout he wore on his face but seemed to let it go, focusing back on the bandages.
Once Dean was finished tending the wound, he absentmindedly smoothed down Castiel’s feathers, plucking the ones that were falling out and gathered them in a small pile, with his other hand, Dean carefully arranged the feathers until they were lying on the wing comfortably and in the correct position.
Castiel tensed up at the first few touches but slowly melted into the pillows as Dean’s hands worked out all the itches and aches he had in his wings. Grooming was an intimate practice, and it wasn’t the same perfunctory touches Dean had given him the night before when he’d handled his broken wing. Instead, this was curious, the touches gentle with a sort of grace and love behind it that Castiel could feel down to his bones. Castiel let out small purrs of happiness, bathing in the intoxicating scent of comfort and fondness wafting off of Dean. It made him shiver in pleasure, Dean’s actions appealing to the part of him that saw this as a proposition.
Castiel should really tell the hunter to stop, Dean didn’t know what it meant. That thought alone should’ve been a wake up call for the harpy. He couldn’t let this continue but it just felt so good...it was everything he ever wanted. Loving, tender touches from Dean. For the man to look at him and treat him like he was precious.
Eventually, Dean seemed to realize what he was doing, pulling his hands back abruptly and sending a worried look to Castiel. Instead of the admonishment he expected, Dean was met with the flushed gaze of the harpy, a subtle cooing sound filling the air with the evidence of his happiness. Dean watched, captivated as Castiel breathed out in soft pants, his tongue flicking out to lick at pink lips.
It wasn’t until he could feel Castiel’s breath on his own lips, that Dean realized he’d leaned in close enough to kiss the harpy. Dean leaned away immediately, overestimating his perch on the bed and falling with a heavy thump onto the floor. Dean could feel himself flushing, and he wished, with mortification, that he could just sink into the floorboards and disappear. He flung an arm across his eyes, groaning at the ache in his body and refusing to meet Castiel’s amused gaze.
The harpy let out a chirp of laughter, leaning carefully over the edge to look down at the haphazardly splayed hunter. Cas tilted his head, his lips quirking in a fond, soft smile as Dean finally peeked out from under his arm.
“Are you okay?”
“Let’s pretend this never happened.”
Another startled trill was pulled out of him as he stretched out his good wing to help the hunter up.
“Of course. Whatever you need, Dean.”
After some light cursing from the hunter, Dean pulled himself up, taking Castiel’s hand, careful to not accidentally grasp a bunch of feathers. He’d spent a lot of time and effort making sure they were nice and well groomed, he wasn’t about to ruin it with his clumsiness.
Standing by the bed, Dean stared at a spot on the sheets intensely, rubbing hand at the back of his neck as he cleared his throat. Even without looking, he could tell the harpy was getting an inordinate amount of entertainment from his suffering.
“Well, I guess I’ll just leave you to it,” Dean mumbled, waving his hand at Castiel. “I’m sorry if grooming your feathers like that was...offensive or something.” Dean’s lips pulled into a grimace and his eyes crinkled guiltily. “I should have asked before I did that.”
Castiel studied the hunter with his sharp eyes, his gaze taking in every tense muscle on his body and the nervous clench of his jaw. Finally, he relaxed into the pillows sitting upright against the headboard, gently stretching out his uninjured wing to brush the feathers lightly across Dean’s cheek.
The hunter shivered at the sensation, his eyes darting to Castiel’s with a question in his gaze. Softly, Castiel’s feathers ghosted over the freckles he loved so much. Dean held his breath, lips parted, as Castiel slowly traced the features on his face, lingering on his lips. The feathers brushed gently over them, their touch leaving a trail of pleasurable tingles. Dean felt himself sway, as if he wanted to lean in closer and follow the sensations Castiel gave him. All too soon, the harpy placed his wing back down, casually folding it in his lap over the bed sheets.
Before Dean could ask what that was all about, Cas sent him a smile that was breathtakingly beautiful. Dean felt his breath catch in his throat at the fragile pull of Cas's lips, the way his eyes glistened and seemed to pull him into those bottomless blue depths.
“Truthfully Dean, the grooming you did was something that only mated couples do. It’s something that I can never have.”
Dean felt his stomach drop, his face scrunching up into a gutted look, apologies already on the tip of his tongue. However, he stopped when Castiel continued, the harpy’s voice filled with a tiredness and pain far beyond his years. The harpy’s eyes were focused somewhere unseeing, the emptiness in them disturbing.
“Don’t. I don’t need apologies. Never from you.” His voice was warm again, as he met Dean’s eyes. Castiel’s smile wavered, however, at his next words. This time, it was Castiel’s turn to look guilty. “I should’ve stopped you. You didn’t understand the implications of your actions and I was fully aware, yet I allowed it.” His lips pulled into a self-deprecating smile then, his self-hatred evident.
It made Dean wince in sympathy, knowing all too well the feeling of inadequacy, though Dean didn’t know what was causing Castiel to feel this way. After all, the harpy was perfect, he shouldn’t look so sad.
The harpy mumbled some words that Dean almost didn’t catch if he hadn’t been focusing so intently on Castiel’s every move.
“I’ve always allowed myself things I shouldn’t have; that I don’t deserve. I’m familiar with selfishness and the consequences that come with it.”
Dean couldn’t resist anymore. It was enough of a confirmation for Dean that he knew he wasn’t alone in this attraction they felt for each other. He sat down at Castiel’s bedside, pulling the harpy into a gentle one-armed hug, mindful of his injuries. With his face nestled in Dean’s neck, Castiel couldn’t breathe, but he didn’t know if it was because of his position or the fact that he was so close to Dean. There was a barely a moment of hesitation before Castiel pulled Dean in close, using his uninjured wing to wrap the hunter in a hug.
“Cas, I don’t know what you’ve been through and I can’t promise that I’ll understand all of it,” Dean pressed the harpy closer, feeling the way he seemed to be shaking, whether it be from fear or something else, Dean didn’t know, but he wanted to comfort him nevertheless. Castiel had been a part of his life for over twenty years. The harpy had always been in the peripheral of his days and nights, guarding him. He’d longed to know the harpy better, but was afraid approaching would scare Castiel away. Now, he was being offered a chance to know him, to treat him just as preciously as he had treated Dean. “I can promise that if you share your life with me, I will try my hardest to understand you.”
Dean pulled away and when he met the harpy’s gaze he wasn’t surprised that there were tears in his eyes.
“You don’t know what you’re promising.” Castiel sounded so defeated, as if he knew for a fact that Dean wouldn’t want to be with him if he knew Castiel better. It made the protective rage within Dean flare up, his heart already dead set on having some words with whoever made Castiel think so lowly of himself.
“Maybe not. But I want to know you.” Dean searched Cas's eyes, using a hand to cup his cheek and wipe away the tears with a thumb. “Is that alright with you?”
“I-” Castiel paused, closing his eyes and licking his dry lips in a nervous gesture. Dean barely held himself back from kissing the harpy stupid. That could come later. Finally, Castiel sighed, the motion filled with a different kind of resignation.
His flock feared him, though they tried to pretend they didn’t. His place in his community was shaky at best, and he didn’t know what his future held. Everyone seemed to expect him to become just like Lucifer and treated him like a bomb waiting to explode in anger and murder one of them. Castiel wanted to believe he wasn’t like that, but when he thought of Dean’s carefree laughter and the way his eyes shone with mirth, Castiel knew he would burn the world down if it meant it would protect the man he loved.
He’d always been selfish. Maybe it was time to accept that it wasn’t a bad thing.
If his selfishness meant Dean would be kept safe and happy, Castiel could live with it. Maybe, just maybe, this was one thing he could have: one person he could cherish and call his.
Dean started pulling away, already locking down his emotions and preparing himself for rejection. Dean opened his mouth to apologize but the lips that were suddenly on his, threw his thoughts to a screeching stop. The harpy was tentative at first, pressing gently and pulling back in intervals. When Dean finally shook off the shock and responded back, the harpy pulled the hunter to him with his wing, allowing Dean to lay him on the bed and really kiss him hard. They were both too eager for it to last long, the kisses eventually petering out into softer pecks as they panted into each other’s mouths.
“So I’m guessing that’s a yes,” Dean said with a smirk, a breathless groan falling from his mouth when he flicked his tongue out and tasted Castiel on his lips.
Castiel’s eyes crinkled into happy slits, the blue of them swallowed by the dark pupil of his eyes. He kissed Dean’s cheek, tracing the stubble with his lips, the scrape rough as he closed his eyes and inhaled the woodsy scent that was a part of Dean. Castiel slowly made his way back to Dean’s lips, kissing the grin from his face. Dean groaned and Castiel cooed in response, pulling back after a few minutes of bliss. He couldn’t get too distracted.
Dean raised a brow at that, his nerves showing even as he tried to sound confident.
“On what? I’m sure I can handle anything you throw at me.”
Castiel’s eyes glinted evilly, his smirk dark.
“Depends if you can handle heights.”
Dean paled at that, his face falling slack and an audible gulp sounding through the room. As Dean struggled for words and for his bravado to kick back into gear, Castiel let out an unabashed chirp. Deciding to put Dean out of his misery, he pushed until the hunter sat up, Castiel following until he was leaning in close to the seated man.
“I was merely teasing you, Dean, no need to look so frightened.”
Dean spluttered, his tone indignant and a pouty frown showing on his face. He crossed his arms, the stretch of them bulging against the flannel that he wore.
“I am not afraid!”
Castiel rolled his eyes, wondering again why he chose this human mess as his mate.
“You forget I’ve stalked you for years,” Castiel deadpanned, his smirk promising embarrassment for Dean. “I was there the first time you got stuck in a tree and screamed like a child until your father came to fetch you.”
Dean flushed, his eyes darting away and focusing on a point on the floor instead. Still, he tried to argue.
“I was a child!”
“You were sixteen.”
“That’s still a child.”
They glared at each other for a long moment before breaking into laughter, leaning into each other and wiping the tears of mirth from their eyes.
“You’re right.” Dean chuckled, his smile softening at the happiness Castiel exuded. “I’m terrified of heights, I hope you won’t be expecting me to build a nest for you anytime soon.”
“You don’t need to worry about that, I have it covered.”
Dean laughed again before abruptly stopping at the deadly serious look on Castiel’s face.
“Wait, you’re not serious, right? Cas, I don’t want to live in a tree. Cas!”
Yet again, the harpy trilled at Dean’s panicked exclamations. It was with a little sadness that he realized he had laughed more in this one day, than he has in years. It seemed the human always made him happy. Now more than ever, he was determined to make whatever it was they had together work. He couldn’t lose Dean.
Slowly, his laughter faded, noticing belatedly that the human was watching him with a fond expression.
“It’s nice hearing you laugh,” Dean spoke softly, the words full of a fragile, tentative love.
Castiel closed his eyes, pulling Dean close with a wing and nuzzling against the side of his face. It was his kind’s way to show affection and Dean seemed to get it, wrapping his arms around Cas and letting him rub to his heart’s content.
They didn’t speak after that. When Castiel flipped open the furs later that night in a clear invitation, Dean only hesitated for a moment before slipping in. With his back pressed close to Castiel’s chest, the furs pulled over them and the heavy weight of Castiel’s uninjured wing underneath him, he slept peacefully.
Over the next few days, Castiel and Dean drove Sam up the wall with their weirdly domestic habits.
Sam had definitely noticed the distinct lack of Dean on their living room bench, instead, his brother always came out of the room Castiel occupied, ruffled and sleep warm. Sam didn’t comment at first but after a few pointed looks, Dean cracked and admitted without meeting his eyes that he and Castiel were going to try a relationship.
Sam was happy for his brother and Castiel, he really was, but sometimes they were just so nauseatingly cute.
Like right now, for example.
The two lovebirds were sat next to each other at the dining room table, leaving Sam privy to the show as he ate his own food across from them. Breakfast was more entertaining nowadays but even his amusement had its limits. Dean was feeding Castiel little bits of egg. Ignoring the slightly disturbing, possibly cannibalistic aspects of this whole situation, it was adorable. Dean was smirking playfully, chuckling every once in a while at the disgruntled furrow of Castiel’s brows and his perpetual frown.
“Dean,” Castiel protested, shoving the hunter’s hand away gently with his uninjured wing. The bandaged right wing hung down to the floor in a natural position to lessen the strain on the muscles and healing bones. “I can feed myself.”
Dean let out a huff of protest, scowling as he continued feeding the harpy.
“No, you can’t, how the hell are you supposed to use utensils without dirtying your feathers? I put in a lot of effort cleaning them.”
Cas rolled his eyes but gave in with a fond smile, opening his mouth for the bit of bread Dean fed him.
“So, this is all just you being selfish and lazy.”
Sam watched with subtle horror as Dean scoffed before leaning in to kiss Castiel gently.
With a loud clatter and cough, Sam pushed his chair back and stood up, bringing his plate with him. The two lovers startled, Dean looking over at his brother with a shit-eating grin while Castiel looked slightly apologetic.
“If you guys are done putting on a show, we have work to do.”
“My apologies, Sam.”
Dean rolled his eyes, pressing another kiss into Castiel’s ruffled hair, slinging his arm around the harpy’s shoulders.
“Sammy’s just being a prude. Don’t worry about him, he likes you.”
Sam spluttered, turning back around from where he’d been washing his dish in the sink.
“I am not a prude!”
“Ah, but you don’t deny that you like him.”
The two brothers glared at each other, both in a half-hearted teasing manner. Finally, Sam sighed and smiled, relaxing from where he’d tensed up.
“Whatever dude, as long as you guys know what you’re getting into, I don’t mind.”
It was as close to acceptance as he’d ever heard from Sam and Dean hid his smile in Castiel’s neck. The harpy shuddered happily, turning his cheek to nuzzle into Dean’s coarse scruff .
Afterward, the group went off to work on various things around the cabin and to complete the long list of daily chores they needed to do. Even though Castiel was still healing, he insisted on helping out, stating that he wasn’t completely incapacitated and it was the least he could do.
The Winchesters had made a token protest but when Castiel stubbornly insisted, they’d given in. Nowadays, Castiel followed Dean around like an imprinted duckling, helping where he could. The cabin was old and required numerous repairs, especially with the changing seasons. Usually, Dean hunted for the animals that they could dry and preserve but since he was caring for Castiel, Sam had taken up the task.
As they worked together, the harpy had the opportunity to ask Dean things that he couldn’t observe from stalking him, and Dean slowly got to learn more about Castiel.
“So you’re an only child then?”
Castiel smiled, a sad tilt to his lips as he handed Dean the tool he needed, watching intently as Dean started hammering a nail into place. They were trying to cover the many small gaps in the cabin where the wood hadn’t stacked correctly when it had been built. These gaps let in cold drafts of wind and it was high time they fixed it. With a guest around, the brothers could no longer ignore it and soldier on like they’d done every year.
“Not exactly. Gabriel is my blood brother, but for harpies, those born in the same year are considered siblings. In a way, I have quite a few ‘siblings’. But in terms of family...my parents died when I was very young...there was a war with another harpy tribe farther North. They were not raised the same way we were. They liked violence and war, they thrived from it.” Castiel’s lips curled in disgust, his fists clenched tightly as his eyes grew distant. As a child, he hadn’t understood why his parents wouldn’t be coming back to him. Gabriel had clutched him close, sobbing when they’d first received news of their parent’s deaths. He was too young at the time to understand, all he knew was that his older brother was sad for some reason, and he wanted to make it stop. It wasn’t until he’d grown older that he learned just how devastating that war had been and how many of his flock had lost their families.
When Dean stood up and gently placed a hand on his shoulder, Castiel shook himself out of his reverie, looking up at Dean’s understanding gaze and the protective love he could feel there.
Castiel placed his hand over Dean’s, closing his eyes and reveling in the fact that he was allowed this closeness with a man he’d loved since he was a fledgling. It was an honor and a blessing, and it was one he would never give up.
Castiel’s smile was soft when he opened his blue eyes and met Dean’s gaze. The hunter’s mouth was slightly open, soft puffs of air releasing in foggy white clouds. Dean stepped closer and Castiel took the final step so that they were pressed together in a comfortable, warm hug.
“It sucks you had to go through that,” Dean finally commented a little lamely. He’d never been good at comforting others, it was usually Sam who handled that stuff. Especially on hunts when they had to speak to the victims, his brother always seemed to know what to say. Still, this was Cas, and as Dean tugged the harpy even closer, hands gripping the back of Castiel’s tunic, he hoped he could convey his love through his actions rather than his words.
Castiel seemed to get it, relaxing into Dean’s body, loving the solid feeling of safety he always felt with Dean.
“It is what it is.” Castiel shrugged slightly, his movements hindered by Dean’s tight grip. “I had Gabriel as both a sibling and a parental figure growing up. It made everything more bearable.”
Dean pulled back at that, shooting Cas an incredulous look, his mouth hanging open. “Gabriel? He looks like he can barely take care of himself, much less another person.”
Castiel chirped with mirth, somewhat agreeing with Dean’s assessment. “He may act that way, but he’s actually the most powerful harpy in our flock. He’s mature beyond his age and he’s had to carry the burden of leadership even as a child.” Castiel’s look turned contemplative, his gaze focusing on a distant spot as he frowned. “I imagine he acts that way now because he never had the freedom to act like a child when he was one.”
Dean tilted his head to the side, absorbing Castiel’s words as his grip on the harpy loosened enough to step back and give them some breathing room. He rubbed a hand against the back of his neck, feeling a little off kilter. Gabriel’s burden sounded very similar to Dean’s and he didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. “I guess that would explain it. Shouldn’t have judged him so harshly then. Although,” Dean paused, his eyes narrowing at Cas as his curiosity spurred on his next words. “Is there a reason why he’s apparently the strongest harpy you guys have? He’s sort of scrawny looking, I’m surprised your flock thinks so highly of him.”
Castiel sighed, took Dean’s arm, and tugged him along as they made their way to the bench near the fireplace. Castiel lightly pushed until Dean got the message and sat down on the furs covering the bench, watching with interest as Castiel stoked the fireplace and put in a few more pieces of wood. Finally, the harpy joined him, snuggling close and wrapping his left wing around them. It was like a large slightly prickly blanket and it amused Dean to no end that harpies essentially had built in blankets for arms.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed, on the several occasions you’ve visited the flock, that Gabriel is unique.” Castiel started, his gaze unfocused as he stared at the fire.
Dean let out a chuckle, pulling the harpy close until his head was rested on the hunter’s shoulder. “You’ll have to be more specific. I’m pretty sure Gabriel was dropped on the head several times as a child.”
“Dean,” Castiel scolded, but still, he couldn’t help the amused tilt of his lips. “What I meant was, I’m sure you’ve noticed he’s the only harpy with gold wings.”
Dean let out a contemplative hum. Thinking back, it wasn’t until Castiel mentioned it right this very second that he realized the harpy was right. That was interesting. From what he’d seen of the flock, nearly all grown harpies had duo-colored wings. Generally, the wing was dominantly one darker color, patterned with a more colorful hue. He’d seen harpies with chocolate brown wings and neon purple tips, some were a light brown with a bright burnt orange pattern mixed throughout. Gabriel, however, had mono-colored wings. They were gold with no other colors mixed in. It wasn’t even a bright yellow, it was an actual gold color that glowed and shimmered in the light. It had been stunning to watch, the first time he’d seen the harpy when Dean met their Council for a treaty.
But he’d assumed that was normal because Castiel’s wings were all one color as well. It was a color that he’d seen fledglings have but they all grew out of it eventually. Castiel was different though, even as a grown harpy, his wings stayed the same peach cream color. Dean frowned in thought. That wasn’t entirely true, Castiel did have that one spot of black on his wing. It was a type of patterning Dean had never seen on any other harpy.
Before he could open his mouth to ask, Castiel continued, oblivious of the hunter’s confusion.
“We have a legend in our flock, one that all harpies know. The original scripture was lost during the fires and the war, but everyone knows that one of the original harpies had golden wings. Blessed by the Motherbird, he was the strongest harpy in the flock. They have access to magic, superior speed, and strength. Because Gabriel is the first golden-winged harpy in hundreds of years, we don’t know how to use his magic. It is unfortunate. Still, his blessings make him an excellent fighter and hunter.” Castiel’s voice was clearly proud and slightly reverent as he spoke of Gabriel, his tone more excited than usual. Dean sat for a moment in quiet awe at this entire culture he was now learning first-hand.
“So, do you guys have an origin story?” Dean asked, already invested in the fascinating things he was learning about harpies.
Castiel pulled back a little to look at Dean, his face crinkling into a confused frown, “A what?”
Dean gestured a bit excitedly as he spoke. He may not be the huge nerd that his brother was, but new knowledge, especially on the supernatural, always interested him.
“You know, like a story of how you guys came to be, or how harpies first existed, I guess.”
Castiel paused for a moment, deep in thought. “I’ve only heard the story once as a child,” He continued, words slow and gaze distant. He frowned as if he were trying to recall old memories. “And since the whole flock knows the story, we don’t discuss it often. My recalling of it may not be accurate, but I hope it’ll sate your curiosity.”
Dean watched with bated breath as Castiel closed his eyes. He was tense, his face twisted with sorrow, and it was slowly dawning on Dean that if Cas had only heard the story when he was a child...then most likely it was his mother who had told him the legend. If so, it would be one of the few memories he had of her, before the war took her. Before Dean could stop him, hesitant to bring up old memories, Castiel started reciting the story that all harpies knew.
“There once was a time when the heavens were filled with birds. They came into existence when Motherbird shed her beautiful feathers, each bird growing from the fallen rainbow of feathers.
“For a time, they were happy. They flew far above the humans and the land where they lived. The heavens were colored with flocks of them, always dancing like flower petals on the wind.
“Eventually, a flock grew curious, their flights lower and lower until they skimmed the clouds of the human realm. They saw the dreariness of the land the humans lived on and wanted to bless them with birdsong. They wanted to perch in the foggy forests and fly across the lakes of the world.
“Motherbird saw their longing and decided to reward their curiosity. She changed them into a form that was neither bird nor man, instead, it was an amalgamation of what they were and what they yearned for.
“With this blessing, they belonged to the skies and the land.”
Castiel opened his eyes as he finished the story, watching Dean carefully.
“That’s…” Dean looked down slightly, an awed smile on his face. “That’s awesome, Cas.”
Castiel let out a small trill of contentment as he pulled Dean close, his wing wrapping the human in a cocoon.
He pressed chapped lips to the top of Dean’s head, breathing in the scent of woods that seemed to be a part of Dean’s natural musk. It made Castiel miss his family and his home.
He was still hesitant to bring the hunter to his Nest. Not because he thought Dean would be a danger to them, but more because Castiel himself wasn’t held in high regard by his flock. He was afraid that Dean’s opinion of him would change, once he saw just how useless Castiel was. How everyone feared him.
He knew he couldn’t avoid it forever though.
“Dean…” He paused, licking his lips nervously as he gathered the courage to speak. “Would you like to come with me to visit the flock?”
Dean pulled back just enough to look into Castiel’s eyes, a huge grin on his face.
“Wait…really? I’d love to.” Dean cupped Castiel’s face with a calloused hand and pulled him in, pressing a kiss to his lips. “I mean, I’ve been there before of course, but I’d love to see it through your eyes. I’m sure you can show me plenty of cool stuff.”
Castiel let Dean’s excitement settle his nerves, grateful that he seemed agreeable to the idea.
“Yes, I’m still healing, but I think it would be nice to remind them I’m still alive.” Castiel couldn’t help the slight bitterness in his tone, remembering that the only harpy who had bothered to take the time to look for him was Gabriel. Shaking himself out of that rather depressing thought, he flashed a reassuring smile at Dean. “We can leave tomorrow, once we’ve prepared the proper supplies to make it to the main Nest .”
Dean nodded, already mentally planning all they would need to bring for the trek tomorrow. It would be a rather slow journey, as Cas was still injured.
“Come on, let’s start packing then.”
Castiel followed Dean as he bustled around the cabin with manic energy. He was hopeful that the visit would not end badly. At the very least, he wanted to show Dean the place he grew up and share with him a part of himself that way.
They headed out the next morning with knapsacks filled with food and water. It would take them most of the day to reach the nest from the cabin. Dean had suggested taking the brother’s horses, but Castiel had shot him a deadpan look before gesturing to his sharp talons. Any horse that he tried to ride would be shredded to bits by his feet. The jostling would also aggravate his wing, and so they’d settled on walking to the nest. Sam had stayed behind at the cabin. Not only because it seemed that this was almost a meet-the-in-laws kind of scenario, but also because he might be needed. Even though the brothers were retired hunters, sometimes people would come find them when they needed help.
They would regret it forever if they let someone die because of their own negligence.
The trek through the forest was thankfully uneventful. Mostly, they walked in companionable silence. Walking was difficult for the harpy, and it was comical how he had to constantly hop around and shake his feet to rid his talons of the speared bits of leaves stuck on the sharp ends. Castiel had grumbled more than once that if he was fully healed, he could have easily carried Dean up to the Nest, but because of his injury they were grounded. Despite all the quiet grumbling, Dean could tell that Cas was nervous, but he didn’t understand why. He figured it had to do with bringing a hunter into the main nest. Not only that, Cas was basically dating him.
In truth, Castiel was more concerned with what the flock would tell Dean. He didn’t want them to alienate the human. He didn’t want Dean to be afraid of him.
Halfway through the walk, Dean reached out a hand and tucked it into Castiel’s feathers, grasping around until he encountered his hand. Holding on tight, Castiel felt his shoulders relax. He breathed a little easier, knowing that Dean cared for him.
He only hoped Dean would still feel the same after learning the truth.
After a long trek, they reached the clearing that was home to the oldest tree in the forest. It had a magical air to it, as if time was slower there. The sunlight shone gently through the trees surrounding them, casting light on the green grass and the massive tree in the center. Dean craned his head back, his mouth dropping open in awe as shadows danced over the tree. The trunk was so wide it took up a majority of the clearing. It was a magnificent sight, and one that never failed to make him feel insignificant, like he was in the presence of a god.
They were just on the outskirts of the clearing, when two harpies swooped down in front of them. Their wings were rather slim, both of them dark brown with green patterning throughout. Dean found their camouflage fascinating.
Dean shielded his eyes as they beat their wings hard a few times, slowing down just enough so that they could land.
“Castiel,” one of them greeted, a sneer on his face as he spoke, “we didn’t expect you back yet.”
“Oh come on, Bartholomew, loosen up a little.”
The other harpy stepped forward, his wings spread wide as he pulled Castiel into a gentle hug. Cas tensed for a moment, recognizing Balthazar and expecting his usual rough treatment, but when nothing else happened he slowly relaxed.
Dean was glaring hard at the first harpy that had spoken, slightly regretting the fact that he had only brought his small hunting knife as a gesture of goodwill. He didn’t usually go fully armed into the harpy nest. It showed that he trusted them to an extent, which helped lessen tensions between them.
Still, Barf-face’s tone had been less than pleasant.
Before Dean could enact his ten-step plan to murder and hide Barf-face’s body, Castiel broke the hug and moved back to his spot next to Dean.
“I am here to show Dean the main nest.”
Balthazar raised an eyebrow at that, a smirk on his face as he looked Dean up and down in a rather lecherous way.
“Hm…just the main nest huh? Not your nest?”
Castiel flushed at the harpy’s words, his uninjured wing folding around his stomach as he shrunk into himself a little.
“No…” Castiel grumbled, voice so quiet that it was almost inaudible. Dean shot a questioning glance at Cas, one that the harpy ignored. His feathers puffed up, and he was growing increasingly agitated the longer Dean stared. Cas seemed embarrassed but Dean had no idea why. Maybe his nest was messy?
Balthazar softened, his eyes fond as he smiled. “Well, we’re here to escort you up. You have an injured wing and the human can’t fly-“
“It’s Dean,” he interrupted, irritated that he was being largely ignored. “My name is Dean, not ‘human’.”
Balthazar seemed surprised by the way Dean snapped at him, though he recovered quickly.
“Dean, huh?” Balthazar whistled appreciatively, the shrill laughter of a bird call echoing in his words. “You sure know how to pick them, Cassie, this one’s a spitfire.”
Castiel couldn’t help the way he stepped in front of Dean, shielding him from Balthazar’s view with his wing. His face was hard with jealousy and a little tendril of worry slid its way through him. Balthazar and Bartholomew were Hunters, one of the more sought-after types when it came to mating season. They were providers, and often their strong, slimmer wings, made for speed, attracted the attention of many admirers. Wing sizes and colors reflected the potential of the harpy. With their primarily brown wings with dark green patterns throughout, the two harpies in front of them were prime Hunter material.
They weren’t thick and large like the Scavengers whose muscled wings reflected their impressive stamina. They traveled long distances to reach the shoreline where they would catch fish. Their strength was so renown, in fact, that most of the time Scavenger harpies were paired with hunters so they could help carry the large animals and prey they caught.
They weren’t small like the primarily brown winged and purple-blue patterned Craftsmen in charge of making the daily items the flock used. Blacksmiths worked well with metal and usually had primarily brown wings with orange and yellow patterns. Their wings were smaller as well, but strong enough to fly with several pounds of metal in their taloned grasp.
A hand touched Castiel’s back and he rustled himself out of the daze he’d fallen into. His body was tense as he stared into the glare of distaste Bartholomew was sending him. Balthazar, who’d always been less of a friend, but rather, someone who didn’t actively hate him, looked a little guilty for acting like a dick. With a huff, Castiel gestured for them to come close and they proceeded to carry the two into the main nest.
Dean had tried his goddamn hardest not to fight against Bartholomew’s grip on him. He’d had expected them to carry him in something. Last time he’d been there to work out a treaty with Sam, they’d brought them up using a basket of sorts that they held in each taloned foot. Instead, the Hunter harpies leaped up in flight and proceeded to grab them by their shoulders using their taloned feet.
It fucking hurt like a bitch, but after the first surprised yelp and attempt to free himself, he’d quickly held still for fear of falling to his death.
He was pretty sure Barf-face would “accidentally” drop him and call it a day if he could. Even in his less-than-gentle grip, Dean had his suspicions that the asshole harpy was digging his talons in deeper than he needed to, just to spite him.
He’d been worried for Castiel as well, but luckily Balthazar had thoughtfully taken hold of Castiel by his uninjured shoulder. It made the flight a little wobbly because of the unequal distribution of weight, but at least they made it.
From the forest floor, the Nest had looked like a giant bowl at the center of the tree’s tallest branches. Many smaller nests rested on surrounding branches. Though calling them “small” was rather misleading. The smaller nests were large enough to fit three of the Winchesters’ cabins each.
The Hunters had settled them down in the town square without a word, though Balthazar did send Cas a teasing wink as he left. Dean had scowled and flipped him the middle finger, hoping against hope that even with wings as their arms, they’d still understand that gesture. Balthazar had squawked out an amused laugh, so Dean was pretty sure he got the message.
The harpies around them were glancing at them curiously, the murmuring loud as the flock whispered among themselves. It made something uncomfortable prickle to awareness in Dean. He didn’t like the way they looked at Cas. It was almost cold, afraid. He’d noticed that not one harpy had tried to come up and welcome Castiel back, despite him being injured and missing for weeks.
Castiel winced as he moved his shoulder, trying to check if the talons had punctured his skin. Seeing himself unblemished besides a few bruises, he turned to Dean. Castiel frowned when he saw the holes in Dean’s shirt, blood oozing sluggishly out of them. Clearly, Bartholomew hadn’t even tried to be gentle. “Come on Dean, we need to meet with the Council quickly to let them know we’re here. Then I’ll show you around and get you bandaged up.”
Dean sighed, hating the formalities even as he followed Castiel to the Council building. The first time he’d seen the structure it had shocked him. It was a little jarring to see a fully functional building in a nest made of twigs, and supported only by the branch beneath them. It was a large circular structure made of a chalky white stone, and oddly enough, there was no roof, unlike the rest of the buildings in the main nest. The Council building was created with harpies in mind and the inside was completely empty save for one raised podium in the center and alcoves sticking out for the Council members to rest on. Dean always found those alcoves weirdly intimidating, with the way they were etched into the walls in a random circular pattern. Not only that, they were way above ground level so it made whoever was summoned to the Council feel like they were surrounded and being looked down upon.
He had expected the worst, but luckily the Council was largely unavailable. He hated long speeches and he didn’t want to deal with some of the less savory members of the Council. Though they had been cordial with Dean and Sam when the treaties were made, Dean had a feeling they would not be happy to see Cas with him. And not even because they didn’t want one of their own with a hunter. No, Dean was starting to get the sinking feeling that Cas wasn’t wanted here. That they’d be disappointed the harpy had returned.
It was frustrating that even he could feel the animosity towards Cas.
There were only two Council members waiting for them: Gabriel and a quiet harpy named Hannah who greeted Castiel warmly enough. She’d only given Castiel a gentle, pitying smile and a nod of acknowledgment of his presence, but it was still ten times kinder than the way the rest of the flock ignored Cas.
Gabriel, for his part, gave his brother an enthusiastic wave of his wing before shooing him away to ‘go show Dean his nest’. Castiel had flushed yet again, spluttering as Gabriel pushed them out the door.
Dean was starting to suspect that ‘showing someone your nest’ might mean something more sexual than he thought. Or maybe Castiel was just really shy about his nest? Maybe it was nerves, kind of like when you had your boyfriend over for the first time at your cabin.
Dean couldn’t be sure, but seeing Castiel so ruffled was certainly entertaining.
Castiel led him back outside, showing him the many shops they had and the different areas where the majority of their things were made. It was fascinating seeing it all. The other times Dean had visited, it had been for business so he hadn’t had the time to really enjoy the view. Some shops were built into simple square buildings, made from the same material as the Council building. Others were stalls that blended into the nest, made from large logs and branches. Castiel explained patiently, as they walked through the nest. They passed by a group of Educators with large wingspans, useful for herding children and keeping them from running away. There seemed to be two main colors: the women’s wings were a dark teal and the men’s were a burgundy color that resembled the color of rusty blood in the sun. As their name suggested, they were in charge of educating the young.
The Caretakers were in a small building, and Castiel pointed it out to Dean as they passed by. When he peeked inside, Dean could see that it was a daycare of sorts. The men had light pink wings, while the women had light blue wings. They too, had enormous wings spans which they used to swaddle the fledglings.
There were some harpies that had a pretty mix of both the pink and blue. Curious, Dean asked the question that had been itching at him. “So, Cas, for the Educators and the Caretakers, they seem to have shades of red for guys and shades of blue for girls…” Dean trailed off, staring into Castiel’s eyes, feeling too awkward to ask.
“Yes,” Castiel nodded, tilting his head towards another harpy that walked by, clearly on break as they ate their food and talked to a friend. This harpy looked male, yet his wings were a beautiful teal. “That is the case for most of them. There are some harpies that are neither gender and so their wings reflect that. Some harpies were born male or female by mistake, but identify as the other gender. If that is who they are inside, their wings will show it.”
“So, you can choose what color your wings will be?” Dean asked, fascinated. He’d noticed all the children and pre-pubescent harpies seemed to have the same light colored wings as Castiel. Dean had been curious as to why Castiel was the only grown harpy with wings that color. Yet, whenever he wanted to ask, the haunted look in Castiel’s eyes stopped him.
Castiel shrugged, stepping to the side as a group of Hunters flew back in and dropped the few deer they’d caught into a pile. “No, we can’t. Our wings are a reflection of our souls. I guess you could say they are the manifestation our true selves.”
And there was the million-dollar question, the one that Castiel never wanted to answer. Dean took a deep breath before stopping Castiel with a hand on his shoulder. They had migrated to a less populated area, the tree branches around them provided shade from the harsh sun. There was a stone bench and Dean tugged at Castiel’s wing until he sat down beside him rather reluctantly.
Cas was tense, an uncomfortable frown on his lips as his eyes darted to Dean before staring a little past Dean’s shoulder, unwilling to meet his eyes. It seemed the harpy already had an inkling of what he wanted to discuss.
“I know that you don’t want to talk about it…but I have to ask,” Dean sighed as he ran a hand down his face before leaning over and resting both forearms on his legs. Hands clasped together tightly, he stared at the bramble beneath them as he continued. “If your wings are a reflection of who you are inside, why is it that yours are…different?”
There was a heavy silence before Dean heard the rustle of feathers. He knew Castiel was nervously adjusting himself, folding his good wing around himself and settling it on his lap.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
And suddenly, Dean was tired of all the secrecy, of all the lies. “Don’t play dumb with me Cas,” Dean snapped, turning a flinty gaze to the harpy. Castiel flinched back, a grimace on his face as he furrowed his brows. He leaned away from Dean, and it was that small show of unease that forced Dean to reign in his anger. Dean looked away, his jaw clenched tight.
They both breathed for a moment, unsure of how to move on from the tense situation they found themselves in.
Finally, Castiel shook his head, resignation in his eyes as he stared down at the peach cream feathers in his lap. His face was lined with stress, eyes shiny with pain.
“I didn’t want you to know, Dean. I didn’t want you to think differently of me.”
Castiel startled when Dean stroked a hand down his wing, grasping a few of the feathers in an imitation of hand holding. Cas bit his lower lip, still looking a bit flighty as he accepted Dean’s comforting touches.
“I won’t, Cas. No matter what you tell me, I’ll still care about you.”
Castiel looked up, his eyes watery and voice hoarse with emotions. “You can’t promise me that.”
Dean felt helpless. He knew that nothing he could say would make Castiel believe him, not when he was so adamant that whatever it was would change Dean’s opinion of him drastically. This fear was ingrained in Castiel. Dean could tell it was a paranoia and a certainty that had been solidified over the years. It was clear that Castiel had tried, again and again, to tell people his story, yet every time they had turned away from him.
Dean could only hope he wouldn’t do the same to someone as kind and beautiful as Castiel. He would hate himself if he did.
Castiel straightened up after a long moment, his lips pressed in a thin line. It reminded Dean of the look that soldiers wore before a battle, the hardened face of someone about to step across enemy lines. “I do owe you an explanation, Dean. No matter how much it pains me to do so, I will tell you the truth.” Castiel turned until he was facing Dean, his wing twitching with nerves. He took a deep breath, and spoke. “I don’t know how many harpy legends you know of, but there is one that every harpy knows. It’s a warning and a part of our history.”
Castiel tilted his head back, his eyes focused on the sunlight that fell through the canopy of leaves above them. The silence around them was heavy, and Dean swallowed, throat dry.
“Lucifer was one of the first harpies, and he had golden wings. He was extremely strong, with powers that went beyond physical.” Castiel turned to Dean just as his eyes darted back the way they’d come, where they’d last seen Gabriel. “As you suspect, Gabriel seems to be a descendent of Lucifer. Or, at the very least, he inherited some of his strength and those iconic golden wings.”
“That’s amazing,” Dean’s face lit up with interest, amazed that Gabriel had the same wings as someone known only in legends. His smile dimmed when he saw the grave look Castiel wore, his shoulders tense.
“Perhaps. It’s a novelty: having wings that only exist in legends. Yet, Lucifer’s wings didn’t stay gold. He…killed a harpy. A member of his flock. And his wings…they grew dark, a horrible purple-black, weighted down with sin. He never flew again. He Fell. My flock fears and respects Gabriel because he possesses the same wings as Lucifer, before his Fall into darkness. They fear me…because I have already started to Fall.” Dean’s eyes darted over to the unnatural dark spot on Cas's wing, his fingers twitching with the urge to touch and to comfort. What had seemed like a unique and harmless spot of black, now seemed much more sinister.
“Cas…” Dean didn’t know what to say. He refused to believe that Castiel would ever hurt anyone enough to darken his soul like this. Yet, all evidence pointed otherwise.
“I didn’t hurt anyone if that’s what you were concerned with.” A rueful smile twisted his lips as Castiel rested a weary gaze on Dean. “I’ve realized that I can just as easily fall down the darkest path. Even if the way I obtain this darkness is different from Lucifer, it is evil all the same.”
“The Motherbird requires balance. I believe my darkness stems from abusing my powers and using it in ways that nature did not intend. I have the power to heal others. By saving a person from death’s grasp, it takes away a part of me. Sacrifices must be made, and some choices are worth more than others.”
Dean felt his breath quicken as his mind raced, his fists clenched tight in his lap. His eyes were distant, teeth sinking into his bottom lip as he realized just what had caused Castiel’s corruption.
It was him.
He was the one that Castiel saved; the one who Cas had sacrificed a part of his wing for. He knew then that it was also why the flock seemed to fear Castiel. They were afraid of his potential to be just like Lucifer, a murderer and traitor.
Yet, Dean had never met a person as gentle as Castiel. Especially when it came to the people he cared about. Sure, he was moody and grumpy most of the time, but he truly cared. Without thinking, Dean reached forward and pulled Castiel into a tight hug, keeping his grip away from the injured wing. He tugged at Castiel until the harpy rested his face in the crook of Dean’s neck.
Cas let out a shuddering breath against Dean, a sharp puff of warm air. With some hesitancy he raised his wing up and surrounded Dean in it, returning the hug.
“I’m sorry,” Dean spoke quietly, a heavy guilt behind his words. “It’s all my fault.”
Castiel tensed in his arms then, pulling back just enough to look Dean in the eyes. He searched Dean’s face for a few moments before his mouth dropped open in astonishment. “How did you know? Did Gabriel tell you?” Castiel’s eyes darted down and to the side, unable to meet Dean’s gaze. He was practically vibrating with nerves. He slowly retracted his wing, trying to break away from their hug when Dean tugged him back in.
“No, I remember you saving me.” Dean shrugged, a slight blush growing on his cheeks as he gripped Cas's wing a little harder, petting the feathers. “I mean, I wouldn’t have let you stalk me for years if I didn’t think you had good intentions.”
Castiel’s nose scrunched up and Dean chuckled. Cas was probably remembering his many embarrassing and clumsy attempts to protect Dean over the years. He sighed, wrapping his wing around Dean again as he pressed a gentle kiss onto Dean’s forehead. “It wasn’t your fault. I would’ve done the same for anyone.”
Dean knew that Castiel was being honest. The harpy was someone who held strong to his beliefs, and he would never leave someone in pain or dying without trying to help them. Especially since he had the ability to heal someone at will. It was almost cruel, allowing Castiel the power to help others, but taking a part of him every time he did.
“Still…” Dean’s eyes lit up then, something teasing in his bright grin. “I never thanked you for it.” He tugged the harpy flush against him, pulling him mostly onto his lap. Castiel flushed red, putting out a wing to steady himself on Dean’s shoulder. “There are several ways I can think of repaying you…”
“Maybe later, Dean,” Castiel sighed, biting his lip as Dean brushed feather-light kisses down his flushed neck. Although they’d slept in the same bed for some time now, they hadn’t gone farther than some heated kisses. It was frustrating for them both, but Dean had been adamant on not trying anything until Castiel’s wing was fully healed.
“Mm, after you’re healed.”
With one final harsh nip quickly soothed by a warm tongue, Dean leaned back and smirked at Castiel. Cas's feathers were ruffled in arousal, his tunic doing little to hide his reactions to Dean’s kisses. They sat for a few peaceful moments, Dean lightly playing with the silver button on Castiel’s tunic. Again, it felt familiar to him.
Dean let out a hum as his eyes traced over the rest of Castiel’s plain white tunic. “You don’t like decorations, huh.”
It was more of an observation rather than a question, but Castiel answered him anyway. His wing came up to gently cover Dean’s, pressing his palm flat against the button.
“Harpies are allowed to put one charm of their choice on their tunic when they achieve something phenomenal in their job. It can be something as simple as crafting the sturdiest blade, to catching the most animals that week. It’s a way for us to both give credit to the harpy’s achievement but also allow them to flaunt their competence.”
Dean pulled his hand away, staring at the one silver button with a furrow in his brows.
“And this is…”
“Yes,” Castiel voice was a quiet murmur as he raised his wing and brushed the tips of his feathers against the dull silver. It had become weathered over time, and it now held an almost rustic look to it. “I don’t have a specific job, but they categorize me as a Healer. This was the first and last time I ever used my healing abilities.”
Castiel looked up, eyes fierce in a way that immediately shut Dean up. The hunter had wanted to say something again, maybe an apology, probably something self-deprecating about how he wasn’t worth it.
“I don’t regret it. If this is the only charm I will ever receive, I will wear it with pride.”
Dean couldn’t help the way his heart swelled with affection at those words. He pressed one hard kiss to Castiel’s mouth, the harpy making a muffled sound of surprise, before pulling back and carefully moving Castiel until he could stand up.
Dean stretched, a soft smile on his lips as he looked up at the canopy above them. There was a sharp inhale behind him, and he glanced back. Cas’s mouth was slightly parted, eyes adoring as he stared up at Dean. He remembered Castiel had told him once that he loved seeing him outside; that Dean was beautiful bathed in the dappled sunlight, the green-tinted colors painting his skin like a canvas.
Dean turned back to him, an amused squint to his eyes that told Castiel he’d noticed the harpy staring at him in captivated silence. Castiel frowned as he stood up, dusting his tunic off needlessly with his wing.
Castiel spoke before Dean could start teasing him, something he greatly enjoyed doing. “Come on Dean, I have something I wanted to show you.”
Dean tilted his head to the side, his steps light and relaxed as he followed Castiel. “What is it?”
“You’ll see.” his smile a little forced, his nerves twisting it into a faded shadow of what it could be.
“Okay…if you’re sure, ” Dean said slowly, a hint of concern in his voice. His eyes darted around in interest as they once again walked through the main square. It was louder here, more rambunctious and the air was filled with jovial shouted words and shrill chirrups of laughter.
They stopped by the market area to pick up some food. As a community, the flock shared everything so money was a foreign concept to them. Instead, Castiel merely asked for a few bags of food and the other harpies gladly gave it to them. Though many were wary of Castiel, the flock did not treat him rudely. At least not in public. Dean hoped that this was how they usually acted around Castiel, and not just because they were trying to polite in Dean’s presence.
“Hey Cas, we already brought food and water…” Dean pointed out, hefting up the bags that they had almost forgotten several times.
“I thought we might need fresh food as well. We’ll be spending the night here.”
Castiel nodded in thanks to the shop owner and stepped away. Dean had belatedly realized that the “floor” was actually made of a bunch of brambles and various other foliage. It had been pressurized, enough that it was mostly flat, though a lot of the parts stuck up. It made walking for Dean exceedingly difficult, and he was envious of the easy way the harpies could use their taloned feet to get around.
Not only that, if they wanted to, they could just fly everywhere. They didn’t even need to walk. And a lot of them did exactly that. It was a magnificent sight. Harpies swooped in and out of the nest, the leaves around the main nest rustling as the flock moved between their own private nests and the community center.
The leaves gave everyone the illusion of privacy. Here and there, Dean could see glimpses of large nests resting on branches not far from where they stood. He could tell that those were the harpies’ private nests, and there was a certain personalized touch to all of them that made it all the more amazing.
As they made their way carefully away from the main social circle, Dean noticed details of the Nest he hadn't appreciated on his previous visits. There were pulley systems throughout the trees, leading from the market to many of the nests above them or the ground below. When Dean asked, Castiel explained that they were first built for fledglings unable to fly. "Most parents prefer to transport their children themselves," he said, nodding to a mother harpy with her daughter cradled gently in her grip. “But having it as an option allows the fledglings a modicum of freedom. After the war, the system was expanded to accommodate those in the flock who can no longer fly." Castiel gestured to another harpy, this one scarred and missing a wing, as a younger harpy kindly helped him onto the large basket. The younger harpy whistled loudly, and the idly flying members of the flock swooped down to grab the ropes and dive down. Their weight served as a counterpoint to the basket, and it shot up into the branches, disappearing in the leaves.
There were many harpies who had lost one or both wings, and many more who were crippled in other ways. The system had been expanded in order to allow them mobility around the main tree, as well as a way to go back to their own nests.
It served Castiel and Dean well now, and Cas felt slightly off kilter using it when his injury was only temporary, not as severe and permanent as others in his flock. Still, Castiel was grateful for the lift.
He led Dean onto a platform that looked similar to a large basket with one side open. It was held with a series of ropes attached to its handles, stretched up to the top of the edges of the nest. It all converged at a single point, a complicated contraption rested at the top. Castiel let out a shrill whistle.
Almost immediately, several harpies swooped down, grabbing the ropes and jumping off the edge of the nest. Dean and Cas quickly shot up, stopping with a jolt as the handles hit the top of the contraption. They swung wildly before the basket slowed down into a balanced stillness.
Dean had shouted loudly at the sudden movement, grabbing onto Castiel tightly the whole time. When he’d watched it happen, it hadn’t looked too bad but being in the basket was a whole other story. The speed with which they moved was nauseating.
“What the hell Cas! A little warning next time.” He clutched at his pounding heart, still breathless from the shock. He was too damn old for this.
“My apologies Dean,” Castiel was sincere, yet there was a hint of amusement in his tone. It was true he’d forgotten that Dean didn’t know what the pulley was, but the hunter’s almost childish reaction had been cute.
Dean grumbled under his breath as he followed Castiel. The harpy stepped onto the edge of the nest, moving onto one of the thick branches that stretched beside it. This tree was old, and none of the harpies knew how long they’d been here, living in harmony with it.
Dean carefully picked his way across the branch, and Cas tried to help him along as well as he could. They were both wary as they had limited vision in the slowly setting sun. They’d been at the main nest longer than anticipated, and already Dean’s stomach was growling in protest.
Castiel guided them the short distance to his nest. They’d climbed up a set of stairs, carved into the tree branch at some point, and it utterly fascinated Dean.
Not for the first time, Dean was grateful for all the creations the flock had made in order to make it more convenient for their young to travel around the tree. It certainly made it easier for Dean’s wingless self.
Castiel was also grateful, though for a different reason than Dean’s. His nest was close to the main nest because the flock feared him and wanted to keep an eye on him. It wasn’t that bad, at least they had given him some privacy. They could have just as easily cut off all the leaves around his nest, leaving his home exposed for anyone to see. He’d been bitter about it at first, but now he was glad.
He was exhausted, his wings heavy and drooping. His injured wing ached terribly, the salve had dried up and tugged harshly at his feathers underneath the bandages.
Dean bumped his shoulder against Castiel, noticing his quiet pain and offered his arm in support. Castiel took it with a sigh of contentment, resting his body against Dean as they finally made it to his nest.
The nest was a mass of branches and twigs, resting on the edge of a thicker branch. The smaller tree branches far above the nest strategically woven into each other giving the space an illusion of a dome shape. The nest had an open top, much like a normal bird’s nest, and it was placed in the center of the dome. Stepping into the insulated space, the outside world seemed instantly quieter, almost muted in the weak light that filtered through the leaves. Dean glanced around, trying to find some way into the nest without needing to fly directly inside.
“Don’t worry, I installed a set of doors on the side. Most of us do. Sometimes after a long day of flying, we prefer walking.” Castiel raised a foot and, in a move that showed excellent control over his dangerously sharp talons, stabbed them into a part of the nest and twisted.
His talons sank into worn grooves in the brambles, ones that Dean hadn’t noticed. A chunk of the nest easily popped off and Castiel hopped back on one foot, balancing without much trouble even with an injured wing. He tilted his head towards the opening, silently telling Dean to go inside first. He went quickly, eager to see what Castiel’s home was like.
The first thing he noticed was fabric. The entire nest was basically one big mountain of fabric with various other shiny trinkets interspersed throughout. There were quite a few large shiny rocks, and some looked to have been polished by years in a river bed. Behind him, he distantly heard the sound of Cas pushing the door back into place.
Mostly, he was distracted by the fact that he recognized almost everything in the nest. Yup, those were his clothes. Definitely ones that had mysteriously gone missing over the years, and many he had thrown away. Even the small trinkets were items he’d discarded or presumably ‘lost’.
“I hope it’s not too messy, we don’t have chairs and tables like humans do…” Castiel slowly trailed off as Dean turned to stare at him, something indecipherable in his gaze. It was only after a rather confused perusal of his nest that he’d realized his blunder.
Castiel had unthinkingly invited Dean to his nest because he wanted to share the space with him. It had completely slipped his mind that his nest was filled with items he’d “borrowed” from Dean. He hadn’t been able to help himself when he was younger (and he refused to admit that some of the items were from recent months). Dean’s scent made him feel safe, and he’d always loved burrowing himself in mountains of soft fabric. It wasn’t such a stretch then, that Castiel had started taking Dean’s clothes and sometimes shiny items that belonged to him.
It was a part of harpy mating habits that Castiel had never felt ashamed of before, but in that moment, he couldn’t help the way he flushed in mortification, his good wing coming up to cover his face. He felt like he might cry. He’d been building this nest for Dean, for them, but he could see how it was creepy and intrusive to humans. Not only that, he’d taken things from Dean without his knowledge or permission.
It was clearly rude and something that Castiel was slowly realizing might scare Dean away from him.
“I-I apologize…” Castiel haltingly stammered. He didn’t dare look up, his face still hidden in his wings as he tried to squash the urge to run, to fly away. “This must be so creepy to you.”
When there was no answer, Castiel slowly put his wing down, peeking over it to gauge Dean’s reaction. The hunter was still almost expressionless, though he didn’t seem to be reacting negatively.
“Well,” Dean sighed as he ran a hand down his face, his eyes glancing over to his favorite shirt from when he was fifteen and the piece of arrowhead he’d lost years ago. “I can’t say it’s not…a lot to adjust to.”
Castiel was tense, biting his bottom lip as he struggled not to let his eyes water. Dean wasn’t rejecting him, but his less than enthusiastic reaction made his instincts wail in pain, saddened that his mate didn’t appreciate the efforts they’d put into their nest.
“Cas…” Dean had stepped closer while Castiel had been lost in his thoughts and he let out a soft hiccup when Dean cupped his face. “I’m not angry with you.” He pressed a soft kiss to Castiel’s lips and Castiel melted into it, an almost desperate whine breaking out of him as he pulled the hunter closer with a wing. Dean pulled away, his lips quirking up in a smile as he spoke. “I’m just a little shocked, but I think it’s rather cute.”
“Cute?” Castiel paused, thinking it over. He didn’t like being called cute, but at least it wasn’t outright disgust. “I see.”
“You built this for us, right? I like it.” Castiel had anticipated teasing, but Dean seemed to be treating this seriously, a soft smile on his lips and his eyes squinted approvingly.
Castiel preened, his chest puffing up at having the approval of his mate. He relaxed, tugging Dean by his hand as he showed Dean all the shiny items he’d collected over the years. He showed Dean the softest fabrics he had. Those had been randomly tucked into the piles of Dean’s clothes, unique textures and colors that Dean had never seen before. Dean couldn’t help his fond smile as the harpy almost glowed in his happiness. Castiel was almost euphoric with how right it felt to have Dean in his nest and his space.
They settled down on a nice, soft pile of fabrics both grateful for the reprieve after an exhausting day. They had their food spread out between them, both chatting about the things they’d seen on their journey as they ate.
“You know, I knew that button looked familiar.” Dean pointed at Castiel’s chest with the block of cheese he had in his hand, his mouth full and barely coherent as he spoke. “That’s from my favorite shirt.”
Now that he was certain Dean wouldn’t get angry at him, he was grinning widely as he touched the button. “This was my reward for using my powers to heal someone. I chose this button because it was the shiniest and it was yours.” His smile dimmed, eyes distant as he continued. “And it will be the only charm I’ll ever receive.”
“And why is that? I call bullshit on that rule.” Dean frowned as he shoved a piece of bread into his mouth, chewing angrily. He almost looked like a chipmunk, and it took a great deal of self-control for Castiel to not point that out to him. “Couldn’t you just do good in your other jobs and earn another one?”
Castiel shook his head. “It’s tradition. Just like how a Hunter cannot earn an achievement for taking care of children, I cannot earn a charm for something that isn’t my official job. And since I’m a Healer…”
Castiel shrugged, trying to seem unaffected. He always envied Gabriel and his tunic full of charms. It was pretty, and it showed that he was a more viable mate. Castiel had nothing to offer but his company.
“But there’s normal Healers as well, right? Couldn’t you learn how to do that and get charms that way?”
Castiel looked away, appetite gone as he poked idly at his apple.
“I suppose you’re right. But the flock…they don’t want me to treat them. They don’t trust me.” It was a rather sore spot. Gabriel had vouched for him when he’d asked to learn the herbal remedies of the Healers instead of relying on his powers. The Council had denied him, claiming that no one would risk being touched by him for fear of contamination. He held darkness in him, and no one wanted to be near it.
No one except Gabriel and a few select others. He wasn’t entirely alone, and he was grateful for that. There were a few harpies, like Balthazar and Hannah, who thought the legends were baseless, and treated him like any other harpy.
Dean put down his food as well, swallowing his last bite before taking Castiel’s wing in his hand.
“You know I don’t care about any of that right? I know that the charms are a status symbol in your culture, but to me, you’re worth more than a few shiny objects.”
Castiel opened his mouth to thank Dean, but nothing came out. He was speechless, yet again, by just how beautiful of a soul this human had. He was kind, and a little rough around the edges, but at his core he was a good man. He felt his throat close up, emotional as he tried to hold back his tears. By Dean’s look of panic, he hadn’t succeeded.
Dean quickly pushed the food off to the side before fumbling hastily over to kneel in front of Castiel.
“Hey, Cas, hey,” Dean soothed the harpy as he pulled him close, wiping the tears from his eyes. “It’s okay. Sorry I said anything. I won’t mention it again.”
“No, it’s fine.” Castiel sniffled as he rubbed at his eyes until the tears slowed to a trickle. “It was…it’s just no one has ever said that to me before.”
“Well, they should. You’re awesome,” Dean stated stubbornly, his mouth pressed into a thin line. He broke into a grin when his words made Castiel laugh, the sound wet with tears.
They finished their dinner quickly after that, both sneaking glances at each other as they ate. It was a much lighter mood than before, and Castiel felt like a weight was lifted off his chest. Having Dean here, in his nest and treating him like he was special, was like a dream come true. One he hoped he would never wake up from.
They went to sleep that night in a familiar position borne from many nights together. If Dean held Castiel a little tighter, well, no one would know except for the rustling leaves and the cold light of the moon.
Winter was almost upon them, and despite the many weeks they’d spent preparing for it, it still caught them by surprise. The winds were colder, cutting into their cheeks and causing their cabin to creak ominously. After their visit to the nest, Castiel had chosen to spend most of his time with the Winchesters. The flock hadn’t protested, and Castiel bitterly thought that they were probably relieved he wouldn’t be near them for extended periods of time. He was basically living in the cabin now, and he spent his nights in Dean’s bed.
Today was a special day, one that he’d been dreading since Dean first told him of the request they’d received from a desperate villager. Castiel fidgeted anxiously as he watched the brothers pack up their things into sacks and grab their weapons bag.
“Are you sure I can’t come with you?” Castiel asked a little desperately, even though he knew the answer would be no. Dean stepped up to the harpy and placed a reassuring hand on one tense shoulder. After a little deliberation, he sighed and tugged Castiel into his arms, pressing his lips to the wild head of hair.
“It’s not that we don’t want you there-“
“Yes, I know,” Castiel’s voice cut him off, grumpy and muffled. Castiel’s wings wrapped around the hunter and clutched tightly. “I can’t blend in with the humans and they’ll think I’m dangerous.”
It had taken a few weeks of careful healing, but Castiel’s injured wing, though a little stiff, had regained its former health. Dean’s gentle attention and constant grooming had helped his feathers regain their healthy lush, the colors once again a soft peach cream.
Castiel knew that the hunters were semi-retired and still helped whenever the people in the nearby villages requested their skills. It was inevitable that Dean and Sam would need to go on another hunt, but it was a sore spot for Castiel, who wanted to go with them. He wanted to help Dean, to give back to the brothers as a gesture of thanks for the last several weeks in their care.
He may not be a Hunter like Gabriel, but Castiel was useful on a hunt, deadly when needed. His talons weren’t just for show.
But it didn't matter how helpful or useful he could be, in the end, Castiel was a harpy and not all humans were aware that there were peaceful supernatural beings. Most humans didn’t like things that were different from themselves.
“We’ll be careful,” Dean reassured Castiel as he pulled back and flashed a cocky grin. “We’re the famous Winchester hunters for a reason and it’s not only because of our good looks.” The ridiculous waggle of his eyebrows had Sam chuckling and Castiel relaxing further. They would be okay. Most hunters didn’t survive as long as Sam and Dean had, and it truly showed how skilled they were that they’d retired from the hunting world without major injuries.
“Come on Dean, we need to be at the coastal town in three days’ time.” Sam shot Castiel an apologetic look as he stepped in and grabbed his reluctant brother. Castiel shoved down the whine that wanted to break out of him, instead trailing after them forlornly as they walked out of the cabin.
Dean groaned, shivering when the freezing air hit their exposed skin. They were all wearing heavier furs as it was now firmly in the colder seasons. The forest itself was cool even in the summer, so during the late fall and winter it was freezing. It would probably start snowing soon. So far, it had just been spaced out rainy days, but the stormy season was slowly approaching.
“I can’t believe we’re going to the ocean in this kind of weather,” Dean grouched as he pulled his heavy cloak around himself, glancing at Castiel with envy in his gaze. The harpy looked entirely unaffected by the cold, wearing his same thin tunic. Harpies generally had regulated internal temperatures and the cold rarely bothered them. They had to be resistant because they spent a lot of their time in the air where they were constantly buffeted with high altitude winds.
The only addition to Castiel’s clothing was a light cloak. It was a beautiful green-blue that both blended in with the trees and made his eyes stand out. It was a simple cloak, but there were designs embroidered into the bottom edges that looked like leaves blowing in the wind, the wisps and curls of the wind emphasized with silver threads.
The hunters were less fortunate, both in their lack of resistance to the cold and their destination. The ocean was constantly shifting, but it was now cold enough that stepping into it would lead to certain death, even without the current danger. The case had been brought to them by a desperate villager from a coastal town. He had stumbled upon them, half dead and shivering, still wet from his experience. He’d been mad with fear, a wild look in his eyes as he’d sobbed out his story.
There was an unknown creature that lurked in the ocean, terrorizing the town and dragging those who ventured too close into the dark waters. Local hunters had tried to stop it, but none had survived the encounter. The town relied on their fishing to survive. With the creature there, they were forced to rely on their food reserves that were meant to be used during the winter. They were in dire straits and at this rate, they would not have enough food to survive fall.
The Winchesters had agreed to the case easily enough. They would never turn down people in need of their services.
It worried Castiel, but it also made him proud of how courageous they were. The Winchesters were good people, and he was happy to call them his family.
“Dean, if we leave any later we will have to deal with rain and snow.” Sam rolled his eyes, though the quirk of his lips showed that he was used to Dean’s complaining.
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s just finish this quickly.” Dean kept staring at Castiel, his lips stuck out in an almost pout. They had been together for almost half a season now, yet they were still deeply in the honeymoon phase. It was clear to them (and to poor Sam) that they were the type of couple that would be stuck in the honeymoon phase for years, if not the rest of their lives. Sam patted Dean on the shoulder, taking pity on his brother’s obvious reluctance to leave Castiel’s side.
Dean and Castiel continued staring at each other. Probably used to their absolutely weird mating practices, Sam wandered off to get the horses ready and saddle them up.
Finally, Castiel stepped closer, his wing coming up to present something to Dean.
Castiel’s hand slipped out of the mass of feathers (in a way that always made Dean chuckle, it looked both silly and cute) and presented Dean with a single peach cream feather.
Dean took it carefully, turning the feather in his fingers as he watched the way the sun shone through it.
Castiel cleared his throat, a slight flush on his cheeks as he explained, “When our mates leave for a long time, whether it be for war or for a hunt, we give them a feather. It’s a good luck charm, but also a way to remind you that you’re not alone…” Castiel let out a muffled chirrup as Dean dragged him close and pressed a deep kiss to his mouth. He cooed into it easily enough, wings coming up to surround them in warmth. Dean shivered, feeling protected and loved in the cocoon of Castiel’s wings.
“It’s only two weeks, Cas.” Dean teased, once he pulled back enough to thumb at Castiel’s lips. Cas darted out his tongue and the quick swipe of it on Dean’s thumb had the hunter’s eyes darkening in arousal.
Cas buried his face into Dean’s neck, biting hard, laying his claim on Dean. Dean let it happen, tilting his head to the side and closing his eyes as Castiel laved over the spot gently to soothe the pain. He pulled back, eyes tracing the teeth marks he’d left behind with a smug air. It would last those two weeks, and when Dean came back he would leave many more marks on him.
Dean let out a huff of laughter, carefully untangling himself from Castiel’s wings as he held them in his hands. Cas looked up at the sun, his stomach sinking as he saw that it was a bit lower in the sky than before. They would need to leave soon if they wanted to make it to the nearest town by nightfall.
“I’ll be back,” Dean promised, pressing a lingering kiss to Castiel’s forehead. The harpy huffed, rolling his eyes, before dragging Dean down and giving him a real kiss.
“May Motherbird bless you on your flight and bring you back with the winds of fortune,” Castiel spoke quietly, a mantra that was said to every harpy that left the flock and into certain danger. Nowadays, it was used in almost every situation, but Castiel couldn’t help the anxiety he felt knowing that the brothers were heading into a case they knew next to nothing about.
Dean chuckled as he brought up the feather in his grasp and kissed it, throwing a wink at Cas for good measure. “I have your blessing and this good luck charm. I’ll be back in no time, you won’t even notice I’m gone.” He carefully tucked the feather into one of his pouches, patting it almost fondly to make sure it was safe and snug.
With one last hug and a nuzzle of affection, Dean walked over to the horses and expertly threw himself onto the saddle. Sam was already on the other horse, his face showing his unease as he went through the case details in his head.
Castiel gave them an encouraging smile and a small wing wave as they rode out of the forest, the horses gaining speed until the trees swallowed them up.
Castiel sighed, his wings drooping forlornly once the hunters were out of sight. He’d taken to living with the Winchesters these past few weeks, but the brothers had insisted he go live with the flock until they came back.
He stood up straighter, squaring his shoulders as he slowly let out a breath. He could keep himself occupied for that long.
Castiel flew over the main nest with a hint of trepidation.
It was busy, as it always was. A lot of the flock were flying around, preparing for the coming winter season. Fall wasn’t as much of a problem to them, but during winter, the snow piled up in the nests. Logically with the leaves and branches blocking the way they should have less snow accumulating in the nests, but the unfortunate reality was that the snow piled high on the branches instead. Once it was too heavy for the tree to support the weight, it would bend and dump the snow onto the nests and cover both their living space and whichever harpy was unfortunate enough to be there. This sometimes leads to casualties, and in many cases, damages to the smaller structures within the nests. The main nest consisted of many stalls and smaller wooden buildings and though they were sturdy, the steady onslaught of heavy snow usually made them cave in.
Over time, the flock had learned that the best way to solve this problem was to create a temporary wooden cover over the entire nest. They would gather large branches and vines to bind them together, slowly building the structure over the main nest. The community would also help build smaller versions for their private nests. It would be tragic to fall asleep in peace, only to be buried alive by a mountain of snow.
They didn’t like the feeling of being closed off and unable to fly up and away, but there was little choice in the matter. As a result, the harpies stayed inside the nests, waiting out the storms.
The flock’s hunters were the only ones who didn’t help with the building of the dome’s construction. They were instead tasked with stocking up on food to prepare for the winter seasons. Even most of the Scavengers were pulled into the building process, as there was little vegetation to scavenge in the colder seasons.
A harpy flew straight into Castiel, almost knocking him down. He quickly adjusted, landing with a small stumble on a nearby rooftop.
The familiar voice made him groan, and he glared at Balthazar as the harpy once again tried to fly into him and knock him off the roof. Castiel quickly dodged and carefully jumped to the floor of the nest. Behind him, Balthazar crashed into a stall with a curse, before his head popped up enthusiastically.
“Didn’t think I’d see you here again. Thought you were building a nest with that hunter of yours.”
“I already have a nest here,” Castiel shot back, flushing as he walked over to the man and dragged him out of the mess with one taloned foot hooked into Balthazar’s tunic.
The stall owner glared at them and threw her wings in the air, mumbling choice words under her breath as she cleaned up his mess. The flock was used to Balthazar’s destructive ways and had learned to just deal with it.
“Hm, a nest that you haven’t stepped claws in for almost a month now.” Balthazar tapped a wing on his chin, faking a thoughtful posture. “Admit it Castiel, your nest is with that hunter.”
“Well, at least with them I’m welcome,” Castiel snapped back, and something like regret flashed over Balthazar’s face, knowing he’d pressed his teasing too far.
“That’s not what I meant Cassie-“ Balthazar held up his wings placatingly, his head tilted down in a way that was apologetic.
“Didn’t sound like anything but a criticism of who I’d chosen as a mate,” Castiel quietly said back, his wings puffed up in anger and ruffled from the nervousness he felt as the flock watched their argument with interest.
“A mate,” Balthazar repeated, a twitter of disbelief falling from his lips. “Castiel, you may believe that, but does he feel the same?”
Castiel’s eyes were conflicted, darting to the side, away from Balthazar’s concerned gaze. He knew that the harpy was trying to protect him in his own way. Balthazar was one of the few harpies that didn’t care about the color of his wings. He’d always been rowdy and dramatic, dragging Castiel into his many pranks and schemes when they’d been children. He got along famously with Gabriel and they were a source of most of Castiel’s headaches.
“That is for us to decide,” Castiel’s words were firm, but he couldn’t help the way his thoughts turned to Balthazar’s concerns. It was true they could never formally declared their intentions with each other, but Castiel knew that Dean was it for him. He would love only Dean, for the rest of their lives.
But the hunter…
As someone who had protected (stalked) Dean for many years, he was aware of the hunter’s many dalliances with villagers of all genders. It hadn’t bothered Castiel back then, but now that they were romantically involved…it was different.
It was weird, thinking about it. He felt something uncomfortable rear up in his chest, a pain that felt odd the more he thought about the hunter and his popularity. Dean could choose anyone he wanted, yet he’d chosen a cursed harpy from a flock that barely tolerated him. It was an unfair trade-off, Castiel knew that. He knew he was getting the better end of the deal, but he couldn’t let Dean go. He was too selfish for that, and he had wanted the man for too long to just let him go without a fight.
He knew that Dean was loyal to those he loved, and that he loved fiercely. What Castiel was worried about, was how long would he be loved? How long before Dean found someone better?
Still, Castiel had hope. He could sometimes smell the overwhelming emotions that wafted off of Dean. The hunter was an emotional man, though he hid it well. Dean felt all his emotions brightly and to their fullest and they guided his actions. Whenever he was with Dean, the hunter’s emotions were more subdued, in a way that signified contentment and perhaps love.
“Cas…” And it was that name that broke him out of his thoughts. The nickname that only Dean ever used, falling from Balthazar’s mouth. Balthazar had lifted his wing, caressing Castiel’s in a comforting gesture.
He pulled away from it, not rudely but rather in an attempt to settle his nerves. He wanted to be alone.
“Don’t. I’ll be fine.” Castiel turned away from his friend, and ignored the worried frown on Balthazar’s face.
Castiel had pretty horrible luck. He could admit to that. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise to him that his pleas to the gods for some alone time were largely ignored.
He was accosted by Gabriel not far from where he’d left Balthazar. The harpy had immediately thrown a wing around his shoulders and steered him towards the Council room.
“Hey there, Feathers, I would apologize for interrupting that, no doubt, interesting conversation you were having with Balthazar, but you looked like you needed a save,” Gabriel drawled out sarcastically, a smirk on his lips that fell an instant later. “Seriously though, you’ve been summoned. The Council requests your presence.”
Castiel scowled, moving his shoulders pointedly until Gabriel got the message and removed his heavy wing. “I was just going to go check on my nest. I need to start building a cover-“
“Nope, Council says its urgent,” Gabriel gave him an apologetic look at that, a grimace on his face that told Castiel just how much he disliked the orders. “You know how it is, some fake concern, some posturing and then you can go back to your nest.”
Resigned to his fate, he followed Gabriel to the Council room.
The Council room itself was a large building and the only one without a roof no matter the season. It was a symbol of trust, there would be no secrets from the rest of the flock, and that the Council would hold meetings on important decisions where anyone could listen in. Of course, the benefit of that was the rest of the flock kept a wide berth around the hall, respecting the Council and trusting them just as much in return. This usually meant that even though eavesdropping was possible, the flock was polite enough to never listen in.
Castiel could see with some surprise, that the whole Council was at this particular meeting. It wasn’t common for all the Council members to attend a meeting, most of them had their own obligations to tend to. They were perched in alcoves, spread out in the walls of the building and each Council member kept to their designated balcony area. It never failed to intimidate Castiel, being surrounded on all sides instead of speaking to the Council directly in front of him.
His head tilted up as Gabriel flew up to his spot as well, leaving Castiel standing in the middle of the floor.
Once Gabriel was settled, Metatron cleared his throat with a flutter of his dark brown wings, their red pattern a flash of color in the shadows. Castiel cringed, already anticipating the fake concern that Metatron seemed to enjoy using as a method of keeping the flock complacent. Castiel saw right through it, of course, and knew the man was a sniveling bastard who cared little for the people he was in charge of. It was ironic then, that he represented the Educators, tasked with teaching the next generation of harpies.
“The Council has been discussing your…current predicament and we believe that the Winchesters may not be the best influence on you.”
Castiel bristled at that, though he kept his face carefully neutral, his feathers puffed up in agitation.
“Wasn’t it the Council who sealed a treaty between the flock and the hunters? I believe that my private life is none of your concern.” Castiel knew he was speaking out of line, but years of treading carefully around the Council had taken its toll.
He had wings, ones that were cursed and brought him nothing but trouble. He had wings and he could fly anywhere he wanted, yet the heaviest shackles were the ones his wings gave him. With Dean, on the ground, he felt freer than when he’d flown in the skies with a flock that didn’t want him.
“The hunters are dangerous, Castiel,” Hannah urged, leaning closer to the edge of the alcove as she stared down at him. “We believe they may darken you further and drag you into violence. They’re a brutal sort, and they don’t understand the cost of peace.”
Castiel knew Hannah was genuinely worried for him, she’d always been one of the more sympathetic of the Council. She was the representative of the Craftsmen, and many of them had enlisted Castiel as a helper. They didn’t despise him, and his relationship with the Craftsmen kept Hannah cordial and perhaps even a bit fond of him. Yet her words stung. Not only because they passed judgment on two hunters who had been nothing but kind to Castiel, but also because the Council had little faith in him.
They were afraid that the smallest hint of danger would cause Castiel to Fall and become just like Lucifer. Most of them were not concerned about the effects of the Fall on Castiel. No, they were mostly concerned that he would kill the flock, or at least attempt to hurt them.
They were afraid of how powerful he could become.
Fear was a vile emotion, one that had guided them into one too many wars. Yet time and time again, they failed to learn from their past mistakes.
“I doubt that Castiel would Fall for a human,” Anna spoke up for him. Again, the intention to help was there, but they were misguided. Anna was the leader of the Blacksmith harpies. Most of them kept to themselves and believed in strength above all else. She’d seen the strength in Castiel when he’d helped out the Blacksmiths, and she respected it.
Her words hurt because he was falling in more ways than one.
“That human,” Castiel spoke slowly, eyes fiery with anger as he stared them down “is my mate.”
The sudden silence was deafening. While before there had been some chattering here and there, and the errant ruffling of feathers as they adjusted themselves, now it was dead quiet.
“You would give yourself to one not blessed by the Motherbird? Those humans are barely vermin, much less our equals.” Uriel’s words were harsh, disbelief coloring his voice as he balanced on his powerful wings. Uriel was the leader of the Scavengers and they’d seen too much pain in the human world to believe anything but the worst in them. Their travels lead them far and wide, and most came back with tales of humans and their dubious morals. Of their wars and the way they treated their children. Even as a cursed harpy, the flock had never thrown Castiel out because they believed in taking care of their own. Uriel leaned closer, his wings large and imposing as he stared down at Castiel with a steely gaze. “Your choice is not just your own. It could lead to consequences that the flock is not ready nor willing to bear.”
“Then perhaps I’ve overstayed my welcome with the flock,” Castiel’s voice was hoarse, pain lacing his words as he realized this decision was a long time coming. It wouldn’t be the first time a harpy left the nest to seek refuge with other flocks. The flock never threw out anyone, but they certainly pressured certain individuals enough that they eventually left on their own.
“Let’s not be hasty,” Gadreel lifted his wings placatingly, his light pink feathers ruffling in agitation. He was the leader of the Caretakers, and had a softer heart than most of the harpies. He was still young, and his family had been lucky enough to be spared in the war a generation ago.
Castiel’s parents - and many of the flock - hadn’t been so lucky.
“Castiel, we want you here with us,” Gabriel finally spoke up. He’d stayed quiet, letting the Council have their say before stepping in. They always accused him of favoritism and though it was definitely true, he didn’t want to give them a reason to call him out on it. “Perhaps you should think about your choices before making a decision.”
Those were words Castiel never thought he’d hear from Gabriel, considering his infamous impulsiveness. The man was uncharacteristically serious now, however, his eyebrows pulled beseechingly and almost in a pleading manner.
Talk this over with Dean first, he seemed to be saying with his eyes. Castiel sighed, wings losing their tension as he settled back down, pushing back his simmering anger.
“Then we will adjourn at a later date,” Metatron spoke up, a sharpness to his words that told Castiel all he needed to know. The harpy had been trying to get Castiel thrown out or at the very least, force Castiel to leave on his own for as long as he had been on the Council. It was that knowledge that made Castiel stand a little taller, glaring straight at the harpy as he stared Metatron down.
He would not let them win so easily. Castiel had stayed with the flock his entire life, and despite their sometimes harsh treatment of him, he knew in his heart, that the nest was his second home.
His true home, his nest, lay with Dean now.
“Then, if you’ll excuse me,” Castiel words were measured, a heavy veneer of sarcasm over his movements as he threw his wings out in a customary bow.
He left quickly after that, determined to focus on building a covering for his nest for these next two weeks as he waited for Dean and Sam.
The rest of the flock usually helped each other when building their covers, but Castiel knew that he’d be by himself like all the years before. He’d hoped that Dean would help him this year. Usually, mated couples worked on theirs together, with a helping hand from the community. It was a bonding exercise as well as a way to strengthen relations with fellow harpies.
And this year, just like the past thirty-two years of his life, he was alone.
Castiel crowed with effort as he finished twining the last vine on the branches, his clawed feet aching with overuse. It had been two weeks since he’d started on the covering and he was one of the last to finish.
Gabriel and Balthazar would have helped, but they had been tasked with traveling long distances to rivers and coastlines, hunting for fish and deer for the flock’s winter stores. By the time they returned and built their own domes, they were too exhausted to help Castiel with his.
Castiel was thankful that they were hunting on the opposite coast from the Winchesters; he didn’t want his flock to be attacked by the sea monster.
Castiel frowned as he tested the ropes and twines that all converged at a single point in the middle of the covering. Some of the harpies with smaller wings would require at least one other harpy to lift the covering, but Castiel was fortunate that his wings were up to the task. His were strong, and it showed when he clasped the ropes in both taloned feet and started flapping. Dust and leaves blew up around him as he carefully lifted the covering, gaining speed as he rode the gusts of wind whipping through the air.
Once he was high above the nest, he carefully glided down until he could safely place the covering on top. It fit perfectly, and it made his nest look like a round orb with no opening. Of course, he could still get in and out using the doorway system he’d created, but it still looked rather claustrophobic from afar.
Castiel sighed, he wasn’t sure if he’d be staying in his nest or with Dean and Sam through the winter. Either way, he would need to talk to them and come to a decision. Once heavy snow came, he would not be able to fly.
The Healers of his flock usually ran themselves ragged this time of the year. The chill of fall brought with it many rare herbs that they normally wouldn’t be able to gather in any other season. Healers had small wings with primarily white-colored feathers patterned with yellow throughout that were able to cut through the heavy snowfall and allowed them to harvest as much as possible.
Castiel was an anomaly because he had been lumped in with the Healers despite the fact that his wings were larger and not the same color. The difference was that his healing came at a heavy price, and used some sort of mystical powers rather than the old-fashioned herbal remedies the rest of the Healers used. The Healers were just as nervous around him as the rest of the flock was, in awe of his astonishing ability, but still too afraid to teach him anything on the arts of herbal healing.
He hoped that one day he could build up enough trust between them that they’d be willing to talk to him without tripping over their words.
Castiel was perched on top of the covering, crouched as he tried to decide what his next move should be when Gabriel landed next to him.
“Gabriel,” Castiel greeted, standing with a slight trill as he stretched out his aching wings and feet. Seeing Gabriel reminded him that he needed to talk to Dean, and Castiel decided that he should head out to the cabin to wait for the Winchesters. It was the end of the allotted two weeks, and they should be back within the next day or two.
“Cassie,” there was a slight whine to Gabriel’s words as he literally flopped on top of Castiel’s back, almost toppling him over. The harpy was heavy, and Castiel cawed in irritation.
“What do you want now?”
“It’s like you don’t love me anymore. I remember when you were a cute little fledgling who always clung to me,” Gabriel lamented as he let out a loud sniffle, right into Castiel’s vulnerable ear. “I just came by to help you with the cover, but I see you have it done already.”
“Yes, no thanks to you,” Castiel managed to extract himself from Gabriel, turning to face the harpy, a small smile dancing on his lips. Gabriel was annoying, but he had a big heart.
“You wound me,” Gabriel cried out, one wing coming up to cover his mouth with a fake tremble in his feathers. “I was slaving away hunting for us and you dare judge me?”
“Gabriel, we both know you make the other hunters do all the work,” Castiel rolled his eyes, huffing out a subdued trill as he glanced down at Gabriel’s sharp talons. His feet were bumpier and scarred more than most harpies due to the amount of hunting he had to do. Castiel knew that Gabriel did actually provide for the flock more than most, pushing himself to his limits to prove himself and to live up to expectations. It was a running joke between them that Gabriel did nothing but laze around. They both knew that they were shackled down, even if the expectations were different between his golden wings and Castiel’s peach cream ones, they were both cursed because of their differences.
“I’m heading out to the cabin and I’ll be staying there as I wait for the Winchesters to return,” Castiel informed Gabriel as he hopped down to the thick branch and twisted open the doorway.
“Oh, sounds fun. I’ll escort you there.” Gabriel followed him inside, looking around with interest as he was rarely let into Castiel’s nest.
Castiel smiled, though he hid it from Gabriel. Despite Gabriel’s rather brash personality, he was such a big brother sometimes.
Castiel’s nest used to be a symbol of comfort and home. It held pieces of Dean, and it was what he used to hold himself together when the main nest held too much judgment for him to handle. As he watched Gabriel poke taloned feet into his many piles of clothes, he was seeing his nest with new eyes. It was dusty and littered with debris after being untouched for so long.
After all, he didn’t need the safety of his nest anymore, not when he had Dean.
Thinking of the hunter brought a new sense of urgency and Castiel hurriedly gathered some food he’d brought in yesterday, as well as his cloak. He didn’t need much since the Winchester’s cabin was fully stocked for the fall and winter, but having some fresh food would be better than none.
He threw the cloak on and adjusted his pack. He grudgingly let Gabriel fix his cloak for him before they set off. Castiel felt his heart pounding, singing with joy as he soared over the trees through a misting rain, towards a familiar clearing.
This would be just one of several rainy days in these coming weeks. Soon, the storms would come, and they would have to stay inside their nests. For now, it was still light enough that they could travel with only mild inconvenience.
They landed easily enough, and shook off the small droplets of water. Their feathers ruffled up before smoothing again, a shiver going through them as the rain started falling heavier around them.
“Whelp, I’ll leave you to it. Make sure to come back to the nest before the storms hit. It’s safer in the nest then down here.” Gabriel's mouth was tugged downward in worry, his gold eyes flashing as he squinted dubiously at the cabin. “I’m not sure if this cabin would hold up in light rain, much less storms.”
“It’ll be fine, Gabriel,” Castiel rolled his eyes, opening the cabin and letting out the stale air. He breathed it in, smiling when the familiar scent of family and home relaxed his shoulders.
Gabriel was watching him with measured, knowing eyes, a gentle smile on his lips.
“I’m glad you found your mate.”
The words were spoken softly, almost drowned out by the rain falling around them. Castiel didn’t turn around, closing his eyes tightly as he felt an overwhelming emotion run through him. It meant a lot to him, having someone his last remaining family member, and one of the flock, acknowledge his relationship with Dean.
He didn’t realize how much he’d wanted their approval until Gabriel gave it to him.
“I am, too.”
He finally turned around, stepping back into the rain and pulling Gabriel into a tight hug. The older harpy seemed surprised. Castiel had become more subdued and less affectionate over the years. It took a few more stunned moments before Gabriel was wrapping his wings around Castiel. They stood there, sheltered from the rain by wings that belonged in legends, and just breathed.
They pulled apart, but not before Gabriel took advantage of their proximity and gave Castiel a big wet kiss to his cheek. Castiel scowled as he brought up a wing to rub at his cheek, a blush on them as he tried to keep up an annoyed facade.
“Just go already, if you stay any longer I fear that you might cause another catastrophe.”
“It was one time and I only destroyed two buildings by accident,” Gabriel argued back good-naturedly as he turned to go.
With one last well wish, he flew off, wings shining gold in the sky shrouded by dark clouds.
Castiel took a deep breath and stepped back into the cabin. His eyes shined bright in the otherwise dark cabin. Dean and Sam would be back soon. For now, he would clean the cabin and await their return.
Castiel was silent as he stood on the porch. The sun was setting, and the wind was harsh as it rattled the trees. In the distance, there was a muffled rumble, a sound that shook the ground underneath the cabin. It reverberated through his feathers, and he could feel them stand up on end for a moment before settling. His eyes glowed an eerie blue in the near darkness, the sunset hidden by the heavy grey clouds that approached.
It had been two weeks since he’d arrived at the cabin. Two weeks of waiting with increasing worry and a sinking suspicion that the Winchesters were in some kind of trouble.
They were supposed to return two weeks ago. Castiel had waited for one week before flying back to the nest, bringing his anxieties to Gabriel. He was worried sick that something had happened to Dean and Sam. Gabriel had reassured him the best he could and said that whenever the Hunters went out they would keep an eye out for the Winchesters. So far, there hadn’t been any word.
Now, a week later, Castiel decided that waiting wouldn’t help anyone. He’d set out to find them himself. He could only hope that they were unharmed.
The scent of rain hit him, and lightning crackled across the sky soundlessly. A few seconds later there was a loud boom. The birds nesting in the trees shrieked as they flew off into the sky, spooked by the storm.
Castiel pressed his mouth into a grim line as he turned around and stepped back into the warm cabin, closing the door firmly behind him. The fire crackled in the hearth, fueled by a few of the many logs that the Winchesters had stockpiled in preparation for these exact circumstances. The cold outside was almost numbing, and even with his resistance to the colder temperatures, he felt uncomfortable.
His eyes scanned over the supply of food he’d been steadily using up. The Winchesters had kept food in the cabinets as well, meats that they’d dried and cured. If he was to travel to the coast, he must bring supplies with him, light enough to carry as he flew.
The wind picked up speed, howling through the trees and the clearing unsettlingly. The cabin seemed to rattle, and the rain hit it so hard it sounded like rocks were pelting the wooden logs.
Castiel breathed in a shaky breath, clenching his fists as he tried to calm down.
Somewhere out there, Sam and Dean were in trouble. In this weather where a stronger man might die, they were probably struggling right this very moment. Castiel had stayed, cooped up in this cabin, because he had believed that he was more help here than out there, lost in the storm. But enough was enough. It had been far too long, and it was no longer a matter of delayed travel, but quite possibly actual danger the Winchesters had encountered.
Castiel felt helpless as he sat down on the bench in front of the fireplace, the furs cushioning the hardwood. He clasped his hands together and leaned forward, resting his wings on his thighs. He stared pensively at the dancing fire, wishing and hoping that the storm would end soon. They usually lasted for days and weeks. As soon as it was over he would rush out to the coast and-
A loud bang shook him out of his thoughts. He immediately whirled around and jumped back, startled as he kept behind the bench, keeping it between him and the door.
Two men stood in the doorway, both shrouded in darkness. The taller one was leaning over heavily, listing to the side as he carried most of the weight of the second man. He had his arm around his shoulder, dragging the shorter man into the cabin. They were so wet from the rain that water was running in rivulets onto the cabin floor, creating dark pools wherever it touched.
Lightning flashed behind them, and their silhouettes brightened for just a moment, enough for Castiel to see.
Castiel ran over, his talons taking out pieces of wood in his wake as he scrambled, quickly supporting Dean’s weight on his other side, eyes desperate as he gave a cursory sweep of the man’s figure. Dean was slumped over, unconscious. He was extremely cold to the touch and his lips were a worrying blue, his face pale.
Sam panted as he quickly guided Dean to the bench and laid him there with Castiel’s help.
The harpy ran his wings over Dean’s body, taking in the dark stain on the side of his stomach that wasn’t rainwater, but rather a steady flow of blood.
“Sam, what happened?” Castiel demanded as his breath came in quick pants. He knew he was panicking and he struggled to hold on to his composure.
Sam didn’t answer as he ran to the bedrooms. Castiel heard Sam rummaging around, making a mess in his haste. The large man came back quickly, holding on to their small supply of bandages and salve with some disbelief.
“Is this all we have left?”
“Yes,” Castiel’s voice wavered as he pressed his hand over Dean’s wound, trying to put pressure on it. He tried not to notice the way the blood stained the feathers on his wing, the sight of it causing him to keen low in his throat. The man didn’t even flinch. He didn’t wake up. “I…most of it was used on my injured wing and we didn’t have the time to restock.”
“Damn it!” Sam cursed loudly, causing Castiel to wince in guilt. Sam noticed and quickly crouched down next to Castiel, giving him a steady pat on the shoulder. “It’s not your fault. We’re just unlucky.”
Sam paused, eyes distant as he put down the medical supplies. He got up and closed the still open cabin door. There was a moment where he leaned against it, resting his forehead on the door as he tried to catch his breath. His shoulders were slumped, wariness and exhaustion clear in the slight shakiness of his limbs.
“Sam, what happened?” Castiel asked again. He stood and went to the kitchen area; running hot water into a bucket. They would need to use it to clean the wounds. Though the Healers had refused to teach him their skills, Castiel had learned what he could through sneaky observation, but it wouldn’t be enough to save Dean. The wound was too severe.
“We just…” Sam let out a pained groan, stumbling over until he was sitting with his back leaning against the bench. He was by Dean’s legs, and he looked over at his brother, eyes filled with terror. “We should have researched more before attempting to subdue the monster, but we were too hasty. We wanted to come back before the storms started so we jumped right in with only a handful of lore and firsthand accounts. The monster was nothing close to what we’d predicted. It took on the form of the water itself and was near impossible to kill. In the end, we had to rely on an ancient artifact we hunted down and seal it inside.”
Sam sighed as he brought his knees up and wrapped his arms around them.
“But in order to do so, we needed bait. Dean refused to listen and volunteered himself. He rowed out into the waters, but the creature toppled his boat over and he was swept into the ocean. While it was distracted we caught it. We succeeded, but it almost cost us Dean’s life. It still might.”
Sam’s fingers were clenched tightly against his wet clothes, his tears hot against his rain-soaked face.
Sam looked up, face twisted and lips bitten to the point of drawing blood as he met Castiel’s eyes.
“He wasn’t going to make it, the wound was too deep and the waters were too cold. We did everything we could with what we had, and that bought us some time. But before he fell unconscious, he made me promise that I would bring him back to the cabin. He wanted to see you before he…” Sam trailed off and Castiel knew with a sort of distant resignation that Dean thought he was going to die.
“We can still save him.” Castiel insisted, grabbing the heated water and a towel. He was determined. There was no way Dean would die on his watch.
“Cas…we don’t have enough supplies.”
They both stared at the leftover salve, not even enough to cover Dean’s entire wound, and the measly pile of bandages they had.
They looked outside through the windows, heart sinking as they realized they wouldn’t be able to leave this cabin for at least a week. Not in this weather.
Outside, the storm raged on.
It was another grueling day of watching the young hunter, helpless, as the young man had sustained an injury from the animal he’d been hunting in the forest. It reminded Castiel too much of that time Dean was caught in a bear trap, and though the injury was just a minor slash on Dean’s stomach, Castiel had almost jumped out and revealed himself in his panic. He felt so helpless, unable to come to his aid and restrained by his promise to Gabriel and his loyalty to his flock. Castiel knew he couldn’t reveal himself to the hunter, and it was that hesitance that saved him when, moments later, John tore through the woods, helping Dean to his feet and pressing a calloused hand to the bleeding wound.
Castiel left quickly then, bile rising in his throat at his own cowardice and a surge of envy at John, for being able to stay by Dean’s side when he couldn’t.
“Hey Cassie,” Gabriel greeted as he jumped from tree to tree, following Castiel as he steadily walked through the forest, “what are you doing?”
Castiel let out an annoyed sigh, frustrated yet again that Gabriel was constantly shadowing him like an overprotective brother even though he was already twenty.
“I was making sure Dean got home safely,” His reply was a soft grumble, his wings rubbing against each other as he fidgeted. Not that he’d been much help, a fact he was quite bitter about. He was rather protective of his human, but he also understood that his actions were considered invasive. Although only Gabriel knew about his daily excursions, it was still a part of his life he was reluctant to share with others.
Gabriel let out a quiet hum before jumping down from the tree in front of Castiel, blocking his path. Castiel frowned as he stepped to the side, trying to go around Gabriel. Gabriel followed, an infuriating smirk on his face as he blocked Castiel’s path yet again.
“What do you want Gabriel?” Castiel scowled as he lifted one taloned foot, ready to bodily push the harpy out of the way if he had to.
“Nothing, I was just thinking-”
“How rare,” Castiel drawled, raising an eyebrow at Gabriel as he boldly interrupted him.
Gabriel only let out a loud crow at that, probably proud that Castiel had adopted some of his own, sassier tendencies. He continued speaking, ignoring Castiel’s remark.
“I was wondering how exactly you planned to protect that human of yours.” Gabriel had an exaggerated look of concern on his face, the pout ridiculous on him. He leaned in close to Castiel, suddenly serious as his voice dropped lower. “Humans are weak, Castiel. They die and hurt each other without thinking. If you choose to protect Dean, you’ll lose yourself in the process.”
Castiel flinched back, mind flashing to the blood that had spilled out of Dean moments before.
Gabriel took a step closer, close enough that Castiel could see the gold of his eyes, the color almost a perfect match to his wings. Although Castiel was taller than Gabriel now, in that very moment, Castiel felt like Gabriel was towering over him. He realized that this was why Gabriel was the strongest harpy in their flock. Not just because of his wing color, but because his very presence demanded respect and exuded power.
“So, what I’m really asking here is, how much are you willing to give? How much for this human you barely know?”
Castiel listened with bated breath, his emotions hard to identify as they all flew by him within that split second. He knew that Gabriel was just watching out for him, protecting him.
But he also knew his answer. It was the same then, on that fall day that he’d first set eyes on Dean Winchester, and it was the same now, years later.
“Anything,” Castiel whispered, breathless as he realized he meant every word. His heart aching, yearning for Dean. “I would give him anything, and everything.”
And when he met Gabriel’s eyes, all he saw there was pride and felt an almost bone-deep sense of foreboding.
When Gabriel finally spoke, he didn’t seem like himself, an ancient power in his flashing gold eyes.
“And you will.”
It was a promise; it was a certainty. It was a prophecy and a legend.
Castiel watched the unsteady rise and fall of Dean’s chest as he breathed shallowly. His wing covered most of the human as he held his hand. Dean felt so cold, so fragile underneath the warmth of his wing.
He was kneeling on the floor next to the bench, the fur rugs on the floor cushioning his knees. They’d piled furs on top of Dean, in hopes that it would warm him up. Underneath all the furs was Castiel’s wing, in direct contact with Dean’s bandaged abdominal area. His body heat would hopefully help.
He lifted his wing slightly, just enough so he could peek under and check on Dean’s bandages, and pressed his lips together, anxious as he noticed that the new bandages had bled through.
Sam had reluctantly gone into the bedroom to wipe himself down and change his clothes before he caught a cold. There was nothing they could do now, after all, and Castiel would be standing vigil.
While Sam was busy, Castiel had removed the bandages binding the wound closed and wiped off the poultice that aided in clotting Dean’s wound so that it would bleed slower. It was likely the only reason Dean had survived the trip back was through the quick patching up they’d done on his wound, while at the village. The old bandages were dirty enough that there was a risk of infection, so he’d used what was left of the anti-inflammatory salve and bound the injury with the leftover bandages they had in the cabin.
When Castiel carefully ripped off Dean’s shirt and the muddy bandages, he’d almost choked up seeing the wound. It was wide, gaping open in a way that seemed as if Dean was one gasp away from spilling his internal organs. It stretched from above his heart to his right hip, practically stretching across the entire length of his abdomen and creating a diagonal wound.
By now, the salve was all used up and the bandages, too. There weren’t even enough to really cover the whole wound, and the parts that were covered had already bled through. They’d considered using clothes, but most of their clothing were either too dirty to risk it, or it had fur on them which would aggravate the wound.
Dean needed urgent medical attention, preferably from someone who had the supplies to properly heal and stitch up Dean’s wound.
“How is he?” Sam’s voice was almost drowned out by the heavy rainfall, his tone hesitant as he stepped up to the bench wearing fresh clothes. The others had been drenched in rainwater and Dean’s blood. He leaned over the back of the bench, worried as he took in Dean’s unnatural stillness interrupted only by occasional shivers.
“He’s…” Castiel struggled for words, trying to stay positive but failing. Dean was growing stiller by the hour, and Castiel knew that didn’t bode well for his chances of survival.
“He won’t last the night, will he?” Sam phrased it as a question but they both knew it was the truth. He turned away from his brother, the firelight dancing over his skin and highlighting his distraught face. He looked broken, his face weary and lined with preemptive grief. “This is all my fault. If I had insisted harder and stopped him from being the bait-“
“No,” Castiel interrupted firmly, standing up and carefully sliding his wing out from the cozy blanket nest they’d stacked on top of Dean. “You couldn’t have predicted this. It was an accident, and we’ll find a way to save him.”
Sam looked determined then, a fieriness in his gaze as he stomped over to the cabin door.
“And we’ll need supplies to save him.”
“Sam don’t-“ Castiel tried to stop him as he flung open the door.
Instantly, the muffled sounds of the storm that the cabin had protected them from grew into a crescendo. Outside, the world was so dark it was almost black. The only thing that interrupted the empty darkness were the flashes of lightning. Their horses that Sam had tied to a nearby tree, reared up in fear, their neighs loud and panicked.
Sam took one step outside, arm raised up to try to block his face from the rain. Almost instantly he was pushed to the side by the powerful winds. The only thing that stopped him from toppling over was Castiel. The harpy had reached out one angry wing and grabbed him, yanking him back into the cabin with a harsh thump and slamming the cabin door closed.
They both panted, adrenaline running high as they recovered.
Before Sam could get up off the floor, Castiel was on him, both hands snuck out of his feathered wings to grab onto Sam’s shirt, lifting him up into the air until his feet were dangling.
Castiel could smell Sam’s fear, his pain, and his heartbreak, but that was precisely why he needed to do this.
“You absolute idiot,” Castiel growled out, eyes flinty as he stared down Sam. “Don’t seek death just because you feel guilty. Think about how Dean would feel, knowing you’d made such an incredibly stupid decision in an effort to save him.”
Sam grimaced as he avoided Castiel’s gaze, tears gathering in his eyes. Carefully, Castiel set him back on his feet, his wings falling to his sides with a heavy weariness.
“I want to save him, too,” Castiel raised a wing up, hiding his face in those cursed peach cream feathers as he cried. “I would give anything for Dean to live. I understand your pain, but I can’t allow you to hurt yourself like this.”
“There’s nothing we can do then.” Sam collapsed forward and Castiel caught him, slowly lowering them until they were kneeling on the floor, hugging. Sam sobbed into Castiel's shoulder and he tried his best to comfort him. Castiel felt tears streaming down his face as well, his blue eyes shining with pain.
“No,” His voice was hoarse and resigned. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Sam was curled up on the rug in front of the fireplace, fast asleep. He’d cried until he couldn’t anymore, and it seemed the exhaustion had caught up to him. He’d fallen into a deep sleep not soon after, even as he struggled to stay awake to watch over his brother.
Castiel couldn’t sleep. He sat on the floor in front of the bench. He was leaning his back against the seat, his body angled so he could watch Dean. His eyes traced Dean’s features from the bridge of his nose to the eyelids covering those beautiful green eyes he’d always loved.
And Motherbird above, he loved him so much.
Twenty-two years of trying to protect Dean, and what did it amount to? It led to this moment when all he could do was helplessly watch the man he loved slip away from him, every second a step closer to death.
Castiel let out a quiet trill, the tune a familiar one that every harpy knew. It was melodic and shaky because of all the crying he’d done, but it still had a distinct sound to it.
It was haunting, the notes lilting in a pattern that Castiel had always found comforting. It was a bird song, one that the flock would sing together whenever one of their own passed away. It was meant to heal and to guide the harpy’s soul into the next life.
It asked for guidance from the Motherbird and a promise to her that one day they would all return to her flock.
Dean wasn’t a harpy, but Castiel hoped that when he passed, he would see the man with his flock, waiting for Castiel on the other side.
Castiel tilted his head back, resting it against the seat as he stared at the patterned wooden logs that made up the cabin roof.
He remembered the many days he’d spent content with watching Dean from a distance. He remembered when they’d finally met, how scared and elated he’d been. He remembered their first kiss, the way it had felt warm and the smile Dean had pressed against his lips.
He remembered a time when Dean had bled, and Castiel had borne his first hint of darkness without regret in order to heal Dean.
He remembered golden eyes, asking him how much?
How much was he willing to give?
The answer was always, always -
Castiel turned around, wings shaky with adrenaline and determination as he kneeled next to the hunter. His back was to the fireplace, and he thanked the Motherbird that Sam wasn’t awake enough to stop him now.
If Dean was awake, he would see nothing but a dark shadow hovering over him, the orange and red glow of the fire giving the figure an almost ethereal glow.
Castiel took a deep breath as he pulled the furs from Dean’s prone form. He placed both wings on Dean’s wound, staring at them one last time. His wings had brought him nothing but trouble, yet it was what he had been given at birth. It was a part of him, and it hurt that he’d learned to accept the color of his wings a little too late. He burned the soft peach cream color in his mind before tilting his head forward.
And for the second time in his life, he prayed.
Please. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, breath coming out in harsh pants as he felt fear and a small seed of hope take root in his heart. Please save him. Take me, take everything I have. Just save him. Please.
He held his breath as the storm seemed to quiet around them, the world holding its breath with him as he prayed with all his heart.
There was a whisper in the air, a hint of bird song as the wind picked up speed.
There was a light, unnatural in the cabin, warmed by firelight.
Castiel carefully opened his eyes and gasped as he watched with rapt attention. Dean was glowing, a beautiful shifting wave of rainbow colors dancing over him. It reminded Castiel of abalone shells, of the subtle rainbow colors they held in them.
Slowly, the glow sank into Dean. Already, the human was breathing easier, a healthy color on his cheeks rather than the dangerously pale one he wore before.
There was a moment of silence and Castiel didn’t dare move. Just when he thought it was over, his wings started changing color.
As if it was raining ink onto his wings, spots of black were splashed on his once peach cream wings, the ink spreading like water as it traveled down his feathers. They spread until every inch of his wings were covered; not a single feather was spared.
He stared at the pitch-black feathers with tearful resignation. They seemed to shimmer prismatic in certain angles of the light, but he knew that was just wishful thinking. His feathers were now black, just like Lucifer after his Fall. Yet, he did not regret the path he’d taken to save Dean.
Castiel snatched his wings back, standing up hastily as it dawned on him that he was now a danger to everyone around him. His future was uncertain, but he knew he couldn’t stay here. He didn’t know when the darkness would spread to his heart, but when it did, he feared its influence. He would never forgive himself if he hurt those he cared about.
In his haste, he stumbled over Sam, though he caught himself before he fell over completely.
Sam woke up, immediately alert as he sat up and glanced around with a frown.
“Castiel what…” Sam trailed off as he noticed Castiel’s now black wings. His eyes traced over the shifting rainbow colors and his mouth dropped open in awe.
“I know,” Castiel said miserably, his head hung low. “I know it’s ugly to look at.”
“No, it’s-” Sam protested, a breathless awe in his voice, but cut himself off when he heard a faint groan come from Dean. Sam instantly scrambled over to his brother, hands hovering over his bandages. “Dean, are you okay?!”
“I feel like I have the worst hangover in the history of hangovers.” Dean groaned in response as he raised a hand up and pressed it against his forehead, slowly opening his eyes into a squint. He shoved at Sam to back up, as his brother was hovering way too close for comfort. “What the hell happened?”
He sat up and Sam let out a worried yelp. When Dean didn’t seem to react in pain, his brows furrowed in confusion. He grabbed at the bandages, unraveling them quickly. What he found underneath was perfectly unmarred skin, the only traces of an injury was blood still smeared here and there.
Sam turned to Castiel, understanding dawning as his eyes focused on the black wings. Dean had told him the harpys’ myths and he’d told Sam Castiel’s story. Sam had never believed it, not until this very moment.
Castiel turned quickly, intent on leaving before Dean noticed his now ugly wings. However, Sam quickly stood in his way, blocking the doorway.
“Let me through,” Castiel’s voice was a low threatening rumble, his eyes darting around frantically for an escape route.
“No. Stay Cas, we can talk this through-“ Sam tried to placate him, hands held up in front of him.
Castiel froze, his back tense as he curled into himself, folding his wings in front of him so Dean wouldn’t see. He could hear the disbelief in Dean’s voice, the concern.
It made him want to run.
So, he did.
Castiel turned around and ran deeper into the cabin. In his panic, he chose the first available room, opening its door and darting inside before closing it. He could hear Sam and Dean following after him, and he had to think quick. He cursed as he realized he’d holed himself up in Sam’s room, one that had no windows he could use to escape.
He grabbed the wardrobe and pushed until it fell on its side, effectively barricading himself inside the room. They wouldn’t be able to open the door now.
Castiel went to the farthest corner of the room and sank down, bringing his knees up to his chest and folding his disgusting wings over them. He buried his face in his wings, too tired to cry yet too consumed by fear to sleep.
Distantly, through his grief, he could hear Dean and Sam shouting for him, banging on the door. He curled up tighter, barely holding himself together.
What was he going to do now?
“Cas…” Dean leaned forward, letting his forehead rest on the tightly shut door as he breathed heavily. His eyes were clenched shut, tears prickling at his eyes. He turned to Sam, his voice rough as he questioned him. “What happened?” Dean’s eyes widened, remembering belatedly that he had been wounded pretty badly. His hands swept quickly over his stomach, only to find nothing there, not even a scar. In fact, the only evidence that he had even been injured was the dried blood and the ripped shirt he wore.
When he’d woken up, clear-headed for the first time and without the feverish pain keeping him unaware, he’d seen Castiel’s black wings and automatically assumed the worst. He’d been so focused on Cas that he hadn’t even thought to question his sudden return from the brink of death. Sam looked away from Dean, sighing as he ran a shaky hand through his long tangled hair. There was still blood and dirt matting it.
“I don’t know,” Sam confessed, guiltily. “I was watching over you and fell asleep from exhaustion. Castiel he…”
“He healed me, didn’t he,” Dean whispered, his head hanging low as he felt a part of him break. Cas was now cursed and it was all because of him. The fate that Cas had feared so much, that had made him a pariah in his own flock, was now his reality. And Dean was the one who put him there. “Fuck!” Dean bit out as he slammed a fist into the wall. The pain from the impact kept him focused. He couldn’t wallow in self-pity now. Cas needed him, and he also had to make sure Cas was still okay.
“Sam, take a break. You can take my room for tonight.” Dean slid down the door, sitting until he was leaning back against the door with his head tilted back.
Sam protested, crouching down so he could meet Dean’s eyes. “Dean, you almost died. At least rest on the bench.”
Dean stared up at his brother, before giving him a soft smile. Usually, he’d smirk and brush his brother’s concerns off with a well-placed joke, but he could tell that Sam was truly shaken by his near-death experience. “It’s fine Sammy, I can take care of myself. Cas needs me right now, and I’m not willing to let him be alone with his thoughts.” Dean bared his teeth in a grimace. “That stupid harpy has a habit of blaming himself for everything.”
“Well then, you are two peas in a pod,” Sam replied quietly, his eyes seeing right through Dean. “I know you think that it’s your fault Castiel made this choice. But it was his choice, not yours.”
“Maybe,” Dean shrugged, looking down and tangling his fingers together in a loose clasp on his bent knees. “But it was still because of me that he was forced to make that choice.”
“Sam, just go rest,” Dean interrupted, his voice slow and tired. “We can argue about this later.”
Sam let out a slow breath, his brows furrowed in worry even as he stood up.
“Alright, at least try to get some sleep.”
“I will,” Dean nodded, flashing his brother a reassuring smile as he left. Dean waited until he heard Sam bustling around in the bathroom, most likely drawing up a bath to clean himself before Dean knocked on the door behind him lightly.
“Hey, Cas,” There was no reply, but he didn’t expect one. He knew the walls were thin enough that Cas would be able to hear him. “I just…” Dean trailed off, eyes burning as he realized just how much Castiel had sacrificed for him. “Thank you.” Dean finally croaked out, throat tight with emotion. He didn’t know what else to say, brain muddled from the eventful day they’d had. He leaned his head back, imagining that perhaps through the door, Castiel could feel his warmth and his unspoken support.
Eventually, Dean fell asleep, slumped over to the side. He dreamed of beautiful black feathers, with all the colors of the rainbow in their depths. He dreamed of sad blue eyes, filled with tears and a fear that made Dean’s heart ache.
He dreamed, and outside the storm raged on.
Castiel had kept himself locked in this room for a while now. With no window, he couldn’t tell how long it had actually been. Dean had fallen silent after thanking him, and Castiel was worried that the human might still have residual injuries. Castiel had fallen asleep in the corner he’d chosen, had dozed off several times, in fact. Now, he was wide awake but exhausted, feeling worse than before he’d tried to sleep. His wings ached from being wrapped around him in the same fetal position for so long, but he was too afraid to move them. He was terrified that if he tried, he’d be able to feel the weight of his sins, and he would have to face his new reality.
A reality in which he would never fly again.
Castiel shuddered, his already red-rimmed eyes brimming with new tears as he tried to breath through his panic. He was a harpy, and flying was their whole life. It was how they provided for their flock. Without it, he didn’t know who he was anymore.
He desperately wanted Dean. He wanted the comfort of the human and his inane comments. He wanted Dean’s reassurance that everything would be okay. Most of all, he just wanted them to be like before, in love and unafraid. Now, he was too damaged to be with Dean. He was a danger to everyone. He didn’t know what to expect with his new cursed wings. He’d anticipated a rise in violent urges, perhaps the desire to maim and kill.
Instead, he felt the same. He couldn’t trust that though, they had no data to go off of and only the legends from the past as a guide. All the stories ended up the same way. Lucifer killed a harpy and ended up cursed. It was only a matter of time before Castiel committed the same atrocity and he would never forgive himself if he hurt Dean or Sam.
“Cas.” There was a knock on the door again and Castiel jumped a bit in surprise, his heart thumping in his chest. He stared at the door, willing it to hold. “Cas, you’re gonna need to come out of there eventually. Stop sulking and come join us for breakfast.” There was silence, as if Dean expected Castiel to reply. He didn’t, and eventually, he heard Dean walk away, steps slow and heavy.
It hurt, ignoring Dean like this, but he knew it would hurt more if he ended up injuring him. Castiel knew he was being a coward. He knew that the main reason he was avoiding Dean was his fear of rejection. He was afraid that Dean would take one look at his disgusting wings and tell him to leave. He wasn’t sure he would be able to handle losing Dean.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?”
Dean looked up at Sam, chewing slowly and poking at the loaf bread he’d ripped a chunk from. It tasted dry and bland. Dean was so worried, that eating was more of a chore than anything. Usually, he’d be ravenous by now, especially after the injuries he’d sustained, but after whatever healing magic Castiel did, Dean felt completely fine. He felt no residual pain from his injuries, no exhaustion beyond the normal amount from spending the night sitting up against a wooden door.
“We’ll be fine.”
Sam stared at Dean for a long moment before going back to his food. They ate in a heavy silence, both lost in thought.
“Do you think we should tell the flock?”
Dean scoffed, biting into the chunk of grilled deer meat angrily. “Yeah, right. They treated him like shit when he had one dark spot on his wing. Imagine if they saw him now. We’d be lucky they didn’t try to kill or imprison him.”
Sam hadn’t personally seen how the flock treated Castiel, but he knew the harpies were paranoid and believed their legends to be truth and not merely hearsay. He could understand why Dean would want to keep Castiel’s condition a secret. “Alright,” Sam sighed, taking a drink of water as he leaned back, “but we’ll need to call in a harpy soon. We’re no experts, and we can’t help Castiel like this. Our hands are tied.”
Dean let out a grunt, showing that he understood Sam’s point, even if he was irritated that they would have to depend on someone else. He didn’t trust the harpies to take care of Cas.
Finishing up his own food, Dean grabbed a plate and piled it with some meats and a chunk of bread. Sam didn’t comment, they both knew it was for Cas. Dean walked back to the still tightly shut door and knocked lightly, balancing the plate on his other hand.
“Cas? I brought some food for you.” There was no reply, and Dean sighed, clenching his eyes shut for a second as he tried to shove down his frustration. He knew the legend of Lucifer, and he knew what the flock believed. Dean, however, was not one to alienate Cas just because his wings were now a different color. He seriously doubted Cas would try to hurt him or anyone else, for that matter. The only thing he was worried about was the fact that Cas would no longer be able to fly. It was part of the curse, and if it was true…
Dean didn’t want to think too hard on it. He already felt guilty enough.
“Come on Cas, if you don’t come out I might even start to think you’re avoiding me.” Dean joked, his face pulled into a fake attempt at humor. With no reply, his grin dropped, the wrinkles around his mouth pulled taut with worry. “Well, if you decide to come out. I’ll be right here.” Dean slid back down the door, resting the plate beside him as he adjusted himself until he was comfortable. Sitting there, with a door between them, he had never felt more distant from Cas.
Castiel didn’t know how many hours had passed, but he was growing weaker by the second. His stomach gurgled loudly and Castiel looked down, glaring at it for betraying him like this. Dean had tried to lure him out with breakfast a while ago, but it had grown quiet again. Castiel stared intensely at the door, still blocked by the dresser.
Surely Dean would have retired to his own room by now?
He was hesitant to sneak out because he knew Dean was stubborn when he wanted to be. There was a high chance that Dean was just beyond that door, waiting for him. Castiel sighed, pressing his wing to his face. He opened his eyes and flinched back when instead of light feathers, he found nothing but a swathe of darkness as cold as the room he was in.
It hurt, every time he was reminded of what he had lost.
He knew he couldn’t hide here forever though and that eventually, he would have to Leave Sam’s room. Castiel tilted his head to the side, straining his ears. There were no sounds near the room he was in. He could vaguely hear Sam moving around in the living room area, and Dean was probably with him.
Cautiously, he stood up, his feathers rustling nervously as he crept up to the door. He tried hard to be careful and stealthy, his talons lightly resting on the planes of the wooden floor as he moved forward. He frowned down at the wardrobe he’d pushed over. He felt bad, seeing as some of the clothes had spilled out and made a mess. Castiel realized there would be no point being quiet because the moment he moved the wardrobe, it would make such a racket that surely Dean and Sam would come bursting into the room. Even more worrying was the fact that Castiel was unsure if he’d be able to move it himself.
He hesitated for a moment before standing on top of the wardrobe. It was on its side, so he could step on it easily enough. He dug his talons deep into the wood, wincing when he saw the deep grooves it would leave behind. He would apologize to Sam later. Castiel lifted his wings up, ready to fly and hopefully pull the wardrobe far enough from the door that he could sneak out. Castiel tensed suddenly, looking over at his black wings.
He’d almost forgotten he wouldn’t be able to fly anymore. He slowly lowered his wings again, his heart heavy. He shook his head, dark hair flopping wildly as he glared determinedly at the wardrobe. It didn’t matter, he couldn’t give up without trying first. Pushing all doubts and insecurities far from his mind, he took in a deep breath before flapping his wings.
He let out a surprised squawk when, with one flap of his wings, he flew back to the other side of the room, the wardrobe dragged along with him. He had collapsed onto the floor almost immediately, unbalanced by the powerful flap of his wings. Castiel stared up at the ceiling, absolutely bewildered. He had not only been able to fly, but he had moved that wardrobe as if it weighed nothing.
His wings were stronger, and he didn’t know how to feel about that yet. He couldn’t help the wide grin of elation that spread across his face, a heavy weight lifting from his heart.
He could fly!
Despite his joy, he was sure he made a humiliating sight. He was spread out on the ground, but his lower body was tilted up as it rested on the wardrobe. He sighed and wiggled his taloned feet, trying to get back up.
It was in that moment that Dean burst through the door with a worried shout of his name. Cas levered himself up with his wings, blowing his hair out of his eyes with a heavy breath.
Dean gaped at him, still tense and poised for a fight near the doorway. Sam was peeking around him curiously, but when he saw Castiel’s sorry state, he merely laughed and left, giving them some privacy. Dean hurried over to Castiel’s side, grabbing his wing without hesitation and pulling him up. A part of Castiel that was tense in anticipation of a rejection, loosened. He allowed the human to sweep his hands over him, checking him thoroughly and finding him intact except for some light bruises.
“Damn it Cas.”
Castiel stiffened in surprise as Dean pulled him into a tight hug, enveloping Castiel with the scent he’d grown to love. He could smell Dean’s emotions, his worry and his love overwhelming the residual irritation Dean felt. “I was so worried about you. Don’t you ever avoid me again, you hear?” Dean pulled back, both hands on Castiel’s shoulders with a firm grip, as if he was afraid Castiel would run. “We can fix this together.”
“Dean…” Castiel searched Dean’s eyes and saw nothing but support and love there. He raised a wing, hesitating for just a moment before brushing the black feathers down Dean’s cheek. “You’re not afraid of me?”
“Cas, you just fell over trying to move a wardrobe,” Dean drawled out, raising an eyebrow. “I think fear is the furthest thing I feel for you right now.”
“And what do you feel?” Castiel whispered, stepping closer to Dean, closing his eyes and sighing happily as he rested his cheek on Dean’s shoulder. He’d missed this.
“I…” Dean wrapped his arms around Castiel, gripping the back of his tunic. “I feel like a piece of shit for forcing you into using your powers like that. I feel like I don’t deserve you, and that because of me, you’ve lost everything. I feel like a fuck up-“
“Dean.” Castiel pulled back until he could meet Dean’s eyes, though the hunter steadfastly stared at the floor instead of him. Castiel sighed and kissed the corner of Dean’s mouth. It distracted the hunter, and as Dean kissed back, he pushed harder into Castiel’s mouth, licking in with a low coo.
They pulled back after several heated minutes, both panting as they stared at each other. Dean’s eyes were conflicted, his mouth pulled down in a grimace. “I don’t deserve you, Cas.”
“No,” Castiel was firm as he glared at Dean, a growl in his voice as he spoke his mind for the first time since he’d changed. “Do not dismiss my choices because of your own perceptions on what you do and do not deserve. I made the choice to heal you and I would do the same for anyone else. I had the power to help you, and I’m glad I did because if you had died-“ Castiel cut himself off and looked off to the side, choked up as he remembered the terror he’d felt, the loss opening up a hole in his soul.
“If you died, I would have nothing to live for.”
He heard Dean give a sharp inhale, the hunter’s heart racing loud enough that the harpy could practically feel it echoing in the room.
“Cas…” Dean seemed speechless, and Castiel saved him the struggle of having to answer.
“You mean a lot to me, Dean, I care for you. I-I love you.”
Castiel didn’t expect a response, and the passionate kiss Dean pressed against his lips took him by surprise. He let out a muffled chirrup before melting into the kiss, gently nipping at Dean’s bottom lip as he changed the desperate kiss into something slow and loving.
Dean pressed his forehead against Castiel’s and he could feel the hunter’s breath on his still sensitive lips. “Fuck, Cas,” Dean’s voice was hoarse, and Castiel felt heat sear through him, knowing he was the cause. “I love you so fucking much. It drives me insane sometimes.”
“Really?” Castiel breathed out, smiling as he closed his eyes and savored their closeness. Somewhere in their rushed kissing, his hand had snuck out of his feathers and buried itself in Dean’s hair, his other wing coming up to surround them in a shroud of darkness.
In the faint light streaming in from the hallway, his wings shifted, a fascinating rainbow color.
He paused, his attention diverted from his wings when Dean pressed a kiss to his forehead and grinned at him. “Yeah, you’re stuck with me now.” Castiel smiled sadly, knowing it was both a reassurance and a promise. If the flock didn’t want him back, at least he would have Dean. They stood for a quiet moment, sharing kisses.
“Now will you come out and eat dinner with us?” Dean had a teasing glint in his eyes, and Castiel chirped, letting Dean lead him out of the room. The mention of food reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in more than a day, and he was ravenous with hunger.
It was bizarre, stepping into the kitchen lit with lamplight. The warm colors danced across his wings, and though they didn’t mention it, all eyes were drawn to the way his black wings reflected rainbow colors.
“It’s good to see you out and about,” Sam gave him an encouraging smile as he slid the platter full of bread to Cas. Castiel let out an inhuman sound, a shrill chirp of excitement, before shaking his wings until his hands could poke through and grab a large piece of bread. He shoved it into his mouth and Dean got up, getting him a cup of water.
“Slow down there, the food’s not going anywhere,” Dean chuckled, even as he stared at Cas with fond concern. Castiel nodded, slowing down his chewing as he grabbed the cup and swallowed a few mouthfuls of water. It was bliss.
Now that he was aware of his surroundings again, he noticed that the storm was less intense. There was only the muted sound of light rain on wood, and the occasional worrying creak from the cabin as the winds buffeted it. Castiel set down his bread, mouth pressed into a grim line as he brushed his long primary feathers against Dean’s stomach. The hunter paused in his own chewing, looking down with a question in his eyes.
“The wound…is it gone?” Castiel itched to reach out and check himself, but a part of him still couldn’t believe that Dean was alive. That he’d managed to save him despite all odds. Dean pressed his hand against Castiel’s wing, letting it rest against his abdomen.
“Yeah, I’m fine Cas, thanks to you. Not even a scar left,” Dean still had hints of guilt when he spoke, in the way the corners of his eyes tightened almost imperceptibly whenever he was reminded of the incident. Still, the talk with Castiel must have helped lessen his burden because he was quick to shake off the negative feelings. A small smile quirked his lips and he looked into Cas's eyes, gratitude shining in them.
“That’s good,” Castel murmured, relaxing as he stole a piece of meat from Sam’s plate and quickly ate it with a smug smile. The hunter let out a small huff but Castiel could tell it was more fond than irritated. When Dean tried to do the same, but his hand was swatted away without mercy.
Dean opened his mouth to protest, but before he could a knock sounded on the door.
The Winchesters shared a look before reaching under the kitchen table. Somehow Dean had procured an axe and Sam a sword. They nodded at each other before getting up, heading to the door carefully. With how crazy the storm had been, no human would be dumb enough to come here.
Castiel stood up quietly, ignoring Dean’s glare and pointed gestures to stay put. He walked carefully, his talons making soft clicks against the wood as they all stalked towards the door. Castiel stood a few feet away and watched with narrowed eyes as the brothers did some complicated gestures before Dean cracked the door open to see who was outside.
Once he caught sight of who it was, Dean didn’t exactly relax, but he did let out a exhale, clearly confused. He opened the door wide, the axe he had now resting lightly by his side in a non aggressive stance. Sam peeked over Dean’s shoulder to see who it was and Castiel walked closer as well, craning his neck to the side.
“Gabriel?” Castiel’s voice was a whisper, both fear and relief as his wings twitched up in an aborted attempt to hug the harpy.
Gabriel looked absolutely waterlogged but at the sight of Castiel’s wings, his eyes grew wide and his mouth tugged down in horror.
“Castiel, what have you done?”
Castiel looked away, heart pounding. He tried in vain to hide his wings behind himself, and he could feel the Winchesters stepping in front of him protectively. Castiel clenched his eyes tightly shut, and around them, the storm slowly ended.
“Look,” Dean held a hand out placatingly, even as the other one tightened around the axe. “I know you guys have some stupid superstition about this, but Cas is still himself even if he has different wings now.” Castiel glanced at Dean, a hesitant smile on his face as the hunter proved yet again how loyal he was and how much he cared.
“If you’re here to take him, you’ll have to go through us, ” Sam stated, his voice low and dangerous as he flicked his wrist in a well-practiced move, placing the sword between Gabriel and Castiel.
Gabriel sighed, a crow of frustration falling from his lips as he pressed his face into a wing. He looked up, his golden eyes fierce. “You absolute idiots, I’m not here to take my brother against his will. I came to check up on him because the storm was dying down, only to find him in this sorry state. What did you two do to him?” He stepped closer menacingly, and the brothers barely resisted taking a step back. Every instinct inside of them was telling them to run, to get away from the harpy that could, and would, rip them to pieces. Gabriel had always been short for a harpy, and even though the Winchesters were taller than him, in that moment he seemed to tower over them all.
Castiel shouldered past Dean and Sam. He raised a wing but stopped just before it made contact with Gabriel. His hesitance was clear but Gabriel was not having any of his shit. He roughly tugged his brother forward, until they were wrapped up in each other’s wings.
“I’m sorry, Gabriel,” Castiel whispered, his words a low rumble muffled in the harpy’s shoulder. “I have disappointed you.”
“You dumb, selfless bastard,” Gabriel’s voice was tense with pain, and Castiel could feel the tears that fell on his shoulder. “I don’t give a shit about how or why this happened, because I know it has something to do with that brute of a hunter you’re in love with. What pains me is that I wasn’t here to help you through it.”
Castiel let out a sigh of relief, his smile shaky as he pressed closer to Gabriel. He’d been worried the harpy would forsake him as well, but he’d worried for nothing.
“Well, you’re here now.” Castiel felt hands brush his hair and he turned his head, reluctant to let go of the hug.
“Come on, the storm may be over but it’s still cold as balls outside right now.”
Dean gave another brief tug to Castiel’s dark hair before he let go. With another tight squeeze, Castiel and Gabriel let go of each other to step into the cabin.
Gabriel was mostly unaffected by the cold, even though he was still wet. He did, however, let Sam usher him onto the rug next to the fire so that he could dry off. His gold wings shimmered in the firelight and Castiel stared at them pensively before turning his focus on his own slightly shimmering wings. It was something new, and no other harpy’s wings had that effect. The flock’s wings were mostly simple flat colors but his new wings seemed to have a multitude of shades within the black.
Gabriel was of course the exception, and now it seemed Castiel was, too.
“Cassie, you’ve gotten yourself into quite a pinch this time,” Gabriel murmured, his eyes intense as he stared at the rainbow of colors that danced over Castiel’s dark wings. He looked up into Castiel’s eyes, nudging Castiel with his wing until the harpy relented and sat down next to him on the fur rug. “You do know the Council is going to go bonkers over this.”
Castiel pressed his mouth together into a grim line, his shoulders tense. “I know, but I was hoping they could see reason-“
Gabriel twittered, cutting off Castiel with a flutter of his wings. “Since when has the Council been reasonable? They’re a bunch of foolish fledglings too stuck in the old traditions to see reason.”
Castiel felt a small smile overtake his face, amused. “You do realize you’re part of this Council you’re insulting? And that most of them are older than you?”
“Bah,” Gabriel flapped a wing dismissively, “I’m the only council member who knows what they’re doing. And that’s saying a lot considering what people usually say about my competence.” Gabriel sobered up, his brows furrowed as he reached his hand out and brushed it over Castiel’s wings. They still felt the same, but both harpys knew everything would change once the Council discovered Castiel’s new condition.
“Well, the best thing we can do right now is to hide you with the Winchesters. I’ll try to find a way to reverse or remove the curse, and I’ll make excuses about why you can’t come to the nest. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be better than the wrath you’d face right now.”
“Do you really think hiding it from the flock is the best idea?” Dean asked, his arms crossed and fingers tapping nervously on his elbow. Castiel’s eyes were downcast, a sadness in them that had only grown when Gabriel suggested Castiel hide from his flock. They all knew it was the best plan they had right now, but Dean didn’t like the pain it brought Castiel.
“Is there no other way?” Castiel asked, quiet as he stared down at his wings. They were a part of him now, and he knew that in order for the flock to accept him again, he’d have to purge himself of the curse and return his wings to their original peach cream color. He knew that Dean had noticed his melancholy, and had mistakenly attributed it to the fact that he would have to hide from the flock.
That did sadden him, but mostly he wanted to embrace this new part of himself. Dean had shown him that there was nothing to fear, that his new wings were just as much a part of him as his peach cream wings were.
Castiel wondered if facing the Council’s judgment was worth it. It was true that as a harpy, his instincts pushed him towards his flock, flourishing in their presence. He relied on their flock bonds, strained as they were. Yet, over the years, he’d never been truly happy. The flock was his family, but with Dean and Sam he felt a joy and sense of belonging he knew he should feel with his flock, but it was with these two hunters, these brave humans that he felt at home. They had accepted him readily, despite his change.
Would his flock do the same?
“I’m sorry Castiel,” Gabriel sighed, the lines around his eyes deep with stress and worry. “It’s our best chance right now.” Gabriel stood up, shaking himself until his feathers fluffed up then settled back down. Satisfied that he was now dry and warm, he headed for the door. Opening it up, he stepped outside on the porch and faced them, the cold winds rustling his feathers. “Now, make sure you do as I said and stay indoors as much as possible. It would ruin our plans if I told them you went on a scavenging expedition and a harpy spotted you at the Winchester’s cabin.”
“Of course,” Castiel nodded, though he knew it wasn’t very likely he’d obey.
Gabriel squinted at him suspiciously for a second before breaking into a grin and giving him a wink.
“I know you won’t listen, I’ll let lover-boy here know that if you’re seen outside by the flock, best case scenario you’re kicked out of the flock. Worst case scenario? They’ll kill you.” Dean paled considerably at that and quickly pushed Castiel behind him, sticking his head out the door for a quick scan of their surroundings, considerably more wary now. Gabriel trilled, a smug smile on his lips as he met Castiel’s glare over Dean’s shoulder. He had successfully activated the hunter’s protective instincts. Hopefully, this would mean that Dean could help keep Castiel out of trouble.
Gabriel side-eyed the hunter a little dubiously. That was probably a bad idea, Dean wasn’t known for his good track record of following the rules. Gabriel cleared his throat, an innocent smile on his face as Castiel continued glaring at him with puffed up feathers.
“I’m sure you two will stay out of trouble, and if worse comes to worst, Sam is in charge,” Gabriel fluttered a wing at Sam who had been watching the proceedings with concern. He seemed unsurprised that he was put in charge of clean-up, in case shit went down. It was kind of his default position in this rag-tag family they’d made. “I need to return to the flock before they get too suspicious.”
With one last smirk, he flew off. There was silence as the three men absorbed what they’d been told and their new mission of staying under the radar.
“Come on guys,” Sam said placatingly, pulling both Dean and Cas into the cabin as he closed the door firmly. “It can’t be that bad.”
The couple shared a doubtful look before replying.
“Sure Sammy, whatever you say.”
Everything was, in fact, very very bad. The next day, not even 24 hours after Gabriel had given them stern instructions, there was another knock at the cabin door. Dean answered it, mouth open and ready to tell Gabriel to fuck off and that they were staying under the radar. The words died in his throat and his mouth closed with an audible click when he was faced with two harpies, Bartholomew and Balthazar. The door was only opened halfway because he was a hunter and old habits die hard. He was grateful for his paranoia because behind the door, hidden from the harpies’ view, he was holding an axe.
He only hoped he wouldn’t have to use it.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” Dean asked, a charming smile on his face as he stood directly in the opening, blocking them from looking inside the cabin. His eyes darted past them to the cheery looking woods, brightened by the ever-persistent sun. It was unlikely that Sam would be back before nightfall and he’d hunted enough animals to feed them for a few more weeks. Dean was on his own for this.
“Yes actually,” Bartholomew answered with a sneer, shouldering his way into the cabin despite Dean’s protests. “We’re looking for a friend of ours. You might know him. We’re so terribly worried about him, as the flock hasn’t seen him in days.” Balthazar was suspiciously silent as he stepped in much more placidly, an apologetic grimace on his face.
“I have no idea what you’re looking for but you won’t find it here,” Dean replied, straight-faced and stern in a way that left no room for arguments. “Now, you flying freaks just broke into my cabin without permission. You seem to forget that I may be retired, but I’m still a hunter.” Dean hefted the axe up with his left hand and let the wooden handle fall harmlessly into his right with a resounding smack. Dean raised an eyebrow in challenge, a dangerous smirk on his lips. Both harpies tensed at the reminder and eyed his weapon warily.
“Don’t be so difficult-“
Balthazar shoved Bartholomew off to the side, ignoring the man’s indignant squawk. “We didn’t mean to intrude,” Balthazar interjected smoothly, his wings held up placatingly. “But we do have it on good authority that Castiel is here. We were merely concerned about him spending so much time in the company of hunters, and wanted to make sure he was alive.”
Dean bristled at the accusation, baring his teeth in a snarl. “I would never hurt Cas, and you dickheads know that. Cut the bullshit, we both know why you’re here and if you don’t leave, I will send you back in body bags.”
“That’s as good as a confession,” Bartholomew said smugly, turning his back to the hunter and heading deeper into the cabin. “You humans truly are nothing but monkey-brained idiots.”
“Hey!” Dean barked out, furious as he went after Bartholomew. Balthazar blocked him with a regretful look that Dean promptly smacked off his face with the blunted edge of the blade. Balthazar went down like a sack of bricks and Bartholomew cursed before throwing open the bedroom doors, moving fast. Before Dean could stop him, he threw open the door to Dean’s room, and there, sleeping through all the commotion was a sleep-ruffled Castiel.
He sat up with a startled jerk, eyes wide and still bleary from sleep, when Bartholomew roughly grabbed him by his tunic and tugged him out of the bed. Castiel cried out in pain, a taloned foot coming up to defend himself. Before he could, Bartholomew was torn off of him by a snarling Dean.
The hunter threw Bartholomew off to the side and stood in between him and Castiel. “Leave,” Dean growled out, his grip on the axe tightening with barely restrained fury. “Before I send you out in chopped-up pieces for the flock to find.”
Bartholomew let out a trill, throwing his head back even as Dean loomed over him threateningly. “Oh, you won’t have that chance. Did you really think we’d come alone?”
Dean turned so fast he almost twisted his neck, but he was too late.
“Dean!” Castiel cried out as he was tugged out of the window by two taloned feet that dug deep into his shoulders. Castiel was digging his own talons into the wooden floor, desperately trying to resist the powerful harpy tugging him. Dean could see rivulets of blood run out of the gouges in Castiel’s shoulder and felt any calm he had left, rushing out of him.
“Cas!” Dean bellowed as he reached for the harpy, his fingers barely grazing Castiel’s tunic. He held on tight to the edge of the fabric, and for one suspended moment, it seemed like Dean would be able to save Castiel.
Then, with a ripping sound and a feeling of dread running down his spine, Castiel was torn from Dean’s grip. Dean rushed to the window, poking his head out to try and see where the harpy had taken Cas. They were carrying him in the direction of the main nest and Dean felt a murderous rage rise within him. He turned around, ready to murder Bartholomew, but found the room empty. When he ran out to the living room, Balthazar was also nowhere to be seen.
Dean stared down at the drops of blood on the white piece of fabric he held in his shaking grip, his eyes swimming with tears. He clenched his eyes tightly shut, wiping at his face angrily, as he took a deep breath. He headed to his room with the gait of a determined man. He opened the closet, took out all the hidden weapons he had inside, and stuffed them into a bag. He paused for a moment before heading to Sam’s room and doing the same.
They had a friend that needed their help and Winchester loyalty meant that they were willing to fight an entire flock of harpies just to bring Castiel back home to them. Dean didn’t know how they had figured out Castiel’s condition so quickly. The only people who knew were him, Sam, and Gabriel. Only one of them had had contact with the flock, and if Gabriel had betrayed them, there would be hell to pay.
“Dean we can’t just climb the tree, they’ll see us coming,” Sam tried to reason with his brother, a hint of frustration in his hunched shoulders and a harsh frown on his face.
“Well then what do you suggest we do, genius? It’s not like we have wings,” Dean snapped, harsh as he hiked his pack up a bit higher on his shoulders, eyes squinted angrily as he tried to decide where to start climbing up. Sam sighed, running a hand down his face. They were both worried sick, and Dean was being more of an asshole than usual.
“I’m saying that we wait until Gabriel comes to get us-“
Dean turned around with a snarl on his face. “The only ones who knew that Cas had changed are you, me, and Gabriel. Now, who do you think ratted us out?”
Sam shook his head, eyes darting around warily as the trees rustled. The sun was starting to set, and the lack of light made it hard to tell if the rustling was just the wind or one of the flock. “You know as well as I do that Gabriel would never do that to his brother. There has to be another explanation.”
Dean let out a growl, ducking his head to try and control his breathing. He needed to stay calm, this wasn’t going to help them find Cas. “Maybe,” Dean conceded after a full minute had passed. He was grateful his brother knew him well enough to let him gather his bearings. He wasn’t the most rational when the people he loved were threatened, but he could see the truth in Sam’s words. “Either way, we’re going to get Cas back. I don’t care if we have to fight the whole flock for him.”
Sam opened his mouth to respond but cut off with a sharp intake of breath when Gabriel landed between them. Dean yelled out and lifted up his axe, holding it tightly in his grasp as he watched Gabriel with wary eyes. The harpy was uncharacteristically serious, his eyes sharp as he squinted at the two of them.
“Well? What are we waiting for? Let’s go get my dumbass little brother and skedaddle.”
“And how do we know we can trust you?” Dean shot back, though he did lower his axe a little.
Gabriel rolled his eyes before baring his teeth in a grin that looked more like a snarl. “Trust me, I didn’t rat him out and once I get my hands on whoever did it, I’ll pluck their feathers one by one and leave them looking like a naked chicken. Now, hurry the fuck up, I doubt the Council will wait before putting Castiel on trial.”
“Trial?” Sam asked, his posture slowly loosening as he tucked his weapon away and crossed his arms.
“Yeah,” Gabriel grumbled, stress lines more pronounced as he sighed. “The flock doesn’t just kill those that break the law, we put them on trial. Although most of the time it’s just a formality. The Council will make their choice regardless of what we say.”
“Then what’s the point?” Dean scowled as he slid his axe back into the holster at his hip.
Gabriel shrugged, jumping up and flapping his wings until he hovered a little above the ground. Each sweep of his golden wings sent up dead leaves and dust around them, causing both Winchesters to cover their faces and squint their eyes. “Beats me, but I think it’s to keep up the illusion that the flock has more freedom than they actually do. It’s all a crock of bullshit.”
“Aren’t you on the Council?” Sam asked amused.
“Yeah but that’s because I’m the strongest Hunter, not because I actually want to be with the rest of those stuffy old farts. Now come on, we’re wasting time standing here.” Without warning, Gabriel flew high enough to grasp both of them by one shoulder. He dug his talons in and they winced wrapping their hands around his scaled legs as he slowly started ascending, his enhanced strength allowing him to easily carry them up to the nest.
There were other harpies flying around them, most swooping close enough to catch a curious glimpse of the trio before flying away. By the time they got to the nest, the rest of the flock knew they were coming.
Gabriel let them go none too gently, and Dean stumbled as he was dropped down. Gabriel landed beside him and Sam had righted himself with relative ease. They were next to the Council building. This was the first time he’d seen so many harpies in one place. They were all perched in the branches and on some of the rooftops, chattering lightly to each other, gazes curious and a bit fearful as the trio walked into the Council building.
“Gabriel you’re late,” Uriel’s voice was steady, but there was a hint of irritation in his narrowed eyes. “I see you brought guests with you.”
Gabriel twittered before flying up to his spot, perching himself comfortably on the ledge. “Don’t play dumb with me, I know you guys didn’t want me here anyway. You all know what my decision would have been.” The council members shifted uncomfortably, the truth in his words apparent by their averted eyes.
Castiel was standing in the center of the room where the raised podium was. Balthazar and Bartholomew were on either side of him, most likely acting as guards to make sure Castiel wouldn’t try to run. Dean noticed with a hint of maliciousness that both of the guards looked a little worse for wear. There was still blood on their tunics.
Most of Dean’s attention, though, was on Castiel. Though there were obvious bloodied puncture wounds on his shoulders, Castiel stood tall, his head lifted high and a glare on his face as he stared the Council down. It made Dean ache with something like pride and he couldn’t help the smirk that spread across his face. He sauntered over until he was next to Cas, shouldering Bartholomew harshly until he stepped aside. Sam followed, stepping to the left of Castiel, flanking him.
Dean reached out a hand and grasped some of Castiel’s feathers, smoothing his hand down his wing. Castiel relaxed minutely, a slight quirk to his lips as he gave Dean a sidelong glance, the lines around his eyes easing just a little with relief. Dean gave him a confident wink before turning to the Council, his voice hardening as he addressed them.
“I don’t give a fuck why you decided to take Castiel by force. Either way, he’s going to leave with us, and if you try to stop us…” Dean trailed off as he cocked his head to the side, a dangerous grin on his face. “Well, we may be retired but we were renowned hunters for a reason.”
“What the Council decides to do with one of our own is none of your concern,” Metatron responded snidely as he leaned forward. “You two came here unannounced, carrying weapons. This is a clear violation of our treaty.”
“I was under the impression that the flock took care of their own. Instead, a pair of hunters has come to the aid of one of your harpies,” Sam voice was quiet but held an underlying hint of steel, his hands clasped behind his back as he stood straight and tense. “In fact, we had to protect him from the brutal treatment he received from your guards. Ironic isn’t it? That we need to protect him from his own flock.”
It was a hard blow and everyone knew it. The Council had survived thus far, after the war that tore apart the harpies allegiances, by claiming that they worked in the best interests of the flock. By hurting one of their own, they were sending out a message to the rest of the flock, one that could instill uncertainty. This time, it was Castiel they persecuted, but what if next time it was another member of the flock on that podium? Either way, the outcome of this trial was open to the flock, and already many of them had perched on the edge of the building, using the lack of ceiling to their advantage.
“We do take care of our own,” Gadreel insisted, a troubled frown on his face, “but that’s why we needed Castiel in our custody as soon as possible. He poses a threat to the rest of the flock now that he’s changed-“
“He hasn’t changed!” Dean barked out, interrupting Gadreel with an anger that made the harpies tense. “He’s the same as he always was, his wings are just a different color now. I mean, do you see this nerdy dude?” Dean gestured to Castiel, ignoring the slightly offended glare Cas threw at him. “He’s always been devoted to the flock. It’s your actions that have pushed him away and despite the blatant mistreatment, he would never hurt any of you.”
“Dean,” Hannah tried to placate him, her wings lifting in front of her beseechingly. “You have to understand that part of the blame lay on your shoulders. When we realized just how deep Castiel’s bonds with you two were, we stationed some of the guards near your cabin to monitor him at all times. We knew that this would happen, that inevitably the Winchesters would lead to Castiel’s Fall.”
“You guys were spying on us?” Dean was seething, his words hissed through gritted teeth. “That’s low even for you assholes.”
“The risks were too great to allow Castiel outside of the nest unmonitored,” Uriel sneered, clicking his tongue once with disdain. “Clearly our suspicions were not unfound as here Castiel is, corrupted by you hunters, just as we expected.”
“Are you sure he’s corrupted?” Sam interjected, his expression unreadable. “I’ve heard the legends, but none of them describe Lucifer’s Corruption as anything other than a murky purple-black. Castiel’s wings, on the other hand, are more of a rainbow black.”
Castiel lifted his wings and in the waning light, and they shimmered with a multitude of colors. It was truly a beautiful sight, and even the Council took a moment to observe.
“It’s true that his wings aren’t exactly as described in the legend,” Hannah continued, thoughtful, “but the fact that his wings changed colors is already enough of a warning for us.”
“Yes,” Metatron nodded, letting out a sigh as he leaned back on his talons, “and we have decided that Castiel poses too large of a threat. He will be executed at sunrise tomorrow.”
Suddenly, there was a clamor of voices, exclamations of disbelief from the Winchesters and Gabriel, and murmurs of shock from the harpies that were observing the trial’s proceedings. Castiel remained worryingly silent, his head hanging low as he stared at his wings.
“Now hold on here, you can’t execute Castiel just because you’re afraid of something he hasn’t even done yet. You’re going to kill him because of a legend with no proof?” Dean yelled out, his hands reaching for his axe. He was stopped by a wing, and surprisingly it was Castiel’s. He didn’t look at Dean, only staring straight up at the Council, his eyes empty.
“Gabriel is also a living legend,” Gadreel pointed out, though there was a hint of nerves in his fluffed-up feathers. “We have reason to believe that Castiel might become just as corrupted and evil as Lucifer if we let him live.”
“That’s just it, isn’t it?” Gabriel’s voice was just a murmur, but it cut through the noisy sounds of protest around him. The room fell silent. “I have the same golden wings Lucifer had, yet I never showed signs of Corruption. If anything I should have been the biggest threat to the flock.”
“That’s because you’re special,” Metatron insisted with a hint of misplaced pride. Having Gabriel in the flock led to them having a bit of a status boost, and also kept other flocks from ever challenging them for the territory.
“Maybe so,” Gabriel agreed easily enough, and Castiel tensed, knowing that his brother was about to say something monumentally dumb, “but by your logic, I have the same potential for evil. Then, shouldn’t I also be executed with Castiel?”
“Gabriel!” Castiel cried out, the first word he’s said since this had all started. Gabriel met his eyes with a wink, before turning back to Metatron with a straight face.
“Wha- but that’s different,” Metatron spluttered, even as the rest of the Council spoke quietly among themselves, finding some truth in Gabriel’s words. “You haven’t shown signs of Corruption, so you’re not a threat.”
“But I could be,” Gabriel continued, standing up taller and flaring out his golden wings. “I could become corrupted at any moment. Which means that if Castiel, who hasn’t done anything wrong besides upgrading to more fashionable wings, can pose a threat, then I can, too.”
“But we can’t-“ Metatron cut himself off with a harsh glare from Uriel.
They all knew what he wanted to say. They couldn’t lose Gabriel. The Council spoke softly among themselves, the rustling of feathers the only sign of their nerves.
Finally, they seemed to come to a conclusion.
“We see your point and we concede that perhaps our decision was hasty,” Uriel started, face impassive even as his jaw clenched a bit at having to admit defeat. There was a certain glint in his eyes though, that made Castiel tense. “We’ve decided to be merciful and banish Castiel from the flock. From here on out, he is no longer one of us and what he does will be none of our concern.”
Gabriel launched off of his perch with a frightening speed, moving until he was hovering right over Uriel’s ledge. His eyes glowed with anger, and he relished in the way Uriel leaned back with a hint of uncertainty in his eyes.
“You bastard, you know what that will do to him.”
Uriel cleared his throat, eyes never leaving Gabriel’s as he spoke, for fear of the harpy ripping out his throat. He was saved by Castiel speaking up, distracting Gabriel from unleashing his fury. Castiel had his shoulders hunched over, exhaustion in every line of his body. “That’s enough Gabriel.”
“But-“ Gabriel started to protest but stopped when Castiel shot him a truly weary look. He just wanted this to end. Castiel turned to the Council, addressing them for what would be the last time.
With those words, Castiel could feel the bonds to his flock, their constant, distant warmth, sever. He clenched his eyes tightly shut, searching desperately inside himself for something to hold on to. There were still three bonds left, and he was grateful that he recognized them as the Winchesters and Gabriel. Despite being cut off from the flock, nothing would ever be able to break their brotherly bond.
“Awesome,” Dean drawled out, already itching to leave as he backed up until he was at the entrance of the building. He made sure that Castiel and Sam were behind him. He refused to take his eyes off of the Council until they were free to go. “We’ll be on our way now.”
The Winchesters shot Gabriel one more grateful look, one that the harpy returned with a frown, his shoulders slumped in defeat. Dean narrowed his eyes slightly. They were basically home free now, why did Gabriel look like they had lost? Brushing it off for now, the Winchesters led Castiel out of the building. The flock watched silently, almost solemn, as Castiel held onto the brothers’ shoulders and flapped his wings. It was with some surprise that he found he was able to take the weight of them both. Not for the first time, he wondered if his change had also given him enhanced strength like Gabriel. His musings helped distract Castiel from his grief, his instincts already crying at being flock-less. He ignored it the best he could as he flew them to the cabin.
Once there, he set them down and walked straight into Dean’s room, the one that they shared. Sam and Dean shared a concerned look. “You go see if he’s doing alright,” Sam gestured to the room before heading over to the kitchen, pulling out items as he went. “I’ll get dinner ready.”
Dean nodded gratefully before heading to the room. Castiel was sitting on their bed, a distant look on his face as he stared out the window. Dean hesitated before sitting beside him, wrapping an arm around Castiel’s shoulders and tugging him until he tucked his unruly mop of dark hair under Dean’s chin.
“Do you want to talk about it? I thought you’d be happy to be free of the flock.” Castiel shrugged before going still, his breathing shallow. Dean was about to ask again when he realized the wetness on his chest was from Castiel’s tears soaking through his clothes. “Cas…?” Now he was officially worried, he had to be missing something. From what he saw and heard, the flock had always treated Castiel badly. He thought that being free would have been what Castiel wanted.
“It’s hard to explain to a human,” Castiel started, voice rough as he let out heaving breaths. “Harpies are pack animals, and we rely on our flock for security and comfort. Even though my flock was always distant with me, they were still there. I could feel their bonds within me, no matter how weak, and it was enough to keep me going. My instincts rely on those bonds, and to sever them like this is a fate worse than death. I shouldn’t miss it because the bond I have with you and your brother are stronger than my bonds with the flock, but it’s- I still feel…”
Castiel trailed off, a sob breaking out of his throat as he hiccuped a little. “I feel empty. I’ve lived my whole life trying to prove myself, to show the flock that I wasn’t a threat. That I mattered more than just as a potential for evil. But it was all for nothing. The moment my wings changed, they cast me out. I know now that I would never have been enough for them. I could have been the kindest harpy in the flock, and they still would have seen the color of my wings and not my actions.”
Dean was silent as he processed this. It made sense to him in a way. Even if what Castiel felt was apparently some sort of supernatural bond, what he described was something Dean himself had experienced. When his father had fallen into the bottle and cared more for it than his family, Dean’s bond with him had been strained and distant. But when he died, Dean had still mourned him because, despite everything, they were family.
“I understand,” Dean replied, solemn as he closed his eyes and wrapped both arms around Castiel. The harpy let out his pain and Dean held him through it all. “Castiel, no matter what, you’ll still have us. Family don’t end in blood, and you’re our family now.”
Castiel didn’t respond but eventually his crying lessened and he relaxed. Dean slowly maneuvered him onto the bed, wiping away his tears as he noticed the harpy had cried himself to sleep. Dean tucked him in before stepping outside and closing the door quietly.
Sam had set the table for three but when he noticed Dean come out alone, he put away Castiel’s plate for later. “Is he okay?” Sam asked, sitting down and digging into his food as he spoke.
“No,” Dean shook his head, sighing and letting himself show his own exhaustion now that he didn’t have to be strong for Castiel, “but he will be, with time. Harpies are pack creatures and reliant on their flock bonds. I think the only reason he’s not going insane is that he implied that he also has bonded with us, so he’s not completely alone.”
“That’s good,” Sam nodded, as he chewed thoughtfully. He was quiet for long enough that Dean shot him a look.
“Spit it out, there’s something you’re not saying.”
Sam sighed before setting down his utensils, clasping his hands in front of him and resting his chin on them. “Dean, I think I need to go.”
Dean looked up, bewildered, food halfway to his mouth. “Go? Where are you going to go? And for what?”
“I think there’s something strange about this whole legend,” Sam began, gesturing as he ran his hand through his hair with a thoughtful frown. “The harpies had this huge war a generation back that burned a lot of their records. What we know of this legend is only word of mouth and you know how those can become skewed. I really think there’s more to it. Castiel’s wings are nothing like Lucifer’s.”
“Yeah but,” Dean pointed at him with a fork, a little exasperated, “if they’ve all been burnt then there’s nothing left that you can find. Even if you get your little smarty pants fingers into this case, there’s no guarantee you’ll find anything.”
“But we have to try, Dean,” Sam insisted, knowing that Dean was already cracking under his cajoling. “Castiel needs to know the truth. We don’t even know what he’s capable of or what his wings actually mean.” Dean set down his fork, staring at Sam for a long moment.
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, you can’t,” Sam shook his head, getting up and putting the plate in the sink. “Castiel needs you right now, and we both know I’m the best person for this. I can go dig up information from the other flocks, and from any scripture I can get my hands on.”
“And I’m sure the flocks will be dying to give their secrets to a hunter.” Dean continued, dubious as he shoved his food in his mouth. “This seems pointless. We have Cas and he’s safe, shouldn’t that be enough?”
“Maybe,” Sam agreed with a shake of his long hair, already gathering food to serve as rations for the journey. “But will he be happy?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dean frowned, slightly offended. “Are you saying I can’t make him happy?”
“No Dean,” Sam replied with an exasperated eye roll. “I just think that Castiel would like to know what he actually is. And who knows, maybe with some new information, the Council will change their minds.”
There was silence for so long that Sam turned around, expecting his brother to be glaring at him angrily. Instead, Dean was staring down at his plate, a tired look in his eyes. “Okay Sammy, it’s your choice to make. I want Castiel to be happy, I really do. But I feel like this might give him false hope,” Dean met Sam’s eyes, the emotion in them almost overwhelming. “I just want him to feel safe again.”
“And he will,” Sam was firm in his answer, walking over to clasp a steady hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Just tell him that I’m off on hunter business. That way, even if I don’t find anything, it won’t let him down.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Dean sighed before letting his lips quirk up to one side in a playful smirk. “Since when did you get so mature?”
“Since I had to take care of your ungrateful ass,” Sam snapped back, ducking with a laugh when Dean threw a spoon at him.
“You take that back,” Dean hissed out, trying to keep quiet even as his lips struggled to hold back a grin.
“Oh please, we both know I could kick your ass.”
“That’s it, get over here.”
Sam laughed as he ran around the room, letting out an indignant yelp when his brother caught him and ruffled his long hair. They both caught their breath, trying to contain their laughter.
Sam looked down at his map again, scowling at the shitty scrawl and random nonsensical phrases on it. He could barely make out what looked to be a stick figure of him with a shaved head and ‘x’s over the eyes. He wondered yet again, why he thought Gabriel was a reliable source.
When he’d left the cabin, Castiel had been a bit suspicious, but Dean had distracted him in a way that made Sam gag even now. There were just some things he never needed to know about his brother’s sex life.
Sam had contacted Gabriel, who had willingly met him at the base of the main nest. The harpy had been amused by his attempts to figure out the truth and had scribbled out a really rough map that showed him where all the known harpy nests were. Despite Gabriel’s obvious doubt that Sam would be able to find anything, he had been oddly sincere with his words, letting Sam know which nests would have the best chance of retaining their scriptures even after the war.
There was one harpy flock in particular that Gabriel referred to as the ‘boring fucks’, but was more commonly known as the Sapien flock. They had refused to participate in the war, and their neutral stance had cost the lives of many of their allies, including Castiel’s flock. Though the flock despised them and broke off relations after the war, Gabriel understood why they had wanted to stay out of the conflict.
The Sapien flock’s creed was ‘wisdom above all’ and this included any unnecessary conflicts. Their life’s goal had always been to collect information and store it. To protect the scripture and harpy history the best they could. It hadn’t worked, because the opposing flock had still attacked them, but they managed to hold their ground well enough that Gabriel suspected they might have the answer Sam was seeking.
Sam looked at the map again, squinting at the odd drawing of an owl next to a thick forest area far to the north. There was a dot nearby, indicating a small town, but otherwise the Sapien flock was isolated. Sam resigned himself to checking with the five other harpy flocks on his way north and estimated the entire trip, there and back, would take him a month.
Closing the map, he shoved it back into his pack before pulling out his dried deer meat and taking a bite. His horse nickered and lipped at his sleeve and he patted the animal absently as he plotted out the best route.
He’d brought several rare items with him, various things that the Winchesters had collected over the years that they had figured could come in handy. Most were taken off of the vicious monsters they killed, and he could only hope they might be used for trading or to help ease negotiations.
Sam raised his hands up placatingly, his chin tilted up as he tried to move his neck away from the blade digging into his throat, just a hair’s breadth away from slicing the skin. “I come in peace.” He gritted out, teeth clenched as the harpy pressed the blade closer. He could feel a trickle of blood trace a path down his neck.
“You’re a hunter,” the harpy elder’s expression was neutral, his head cocking to the side as he spoke. He fluffed out his dark feathers, his face lined with age. Next to him was one of his guards, the other one was currently busy glaring a hole into Sam’s face as he held a blade to his throat. “Hunters never want peace.”
“That’s not true-“ Sam tried to protest but was cut off when the harpy slammed his taloned feet down, the sharp talons sinking into the ground around his feet, and he knew that it was a warning. Another word and he would slice off Sam’s foot.
“You want peace, but it is never for our kind,” the older harpy sighed as he shook his head, finally showing some traces of exhaustion as he looked down. He was missing a talon, and his scaled legs were scarred. “But your reputation precedes you, Winchester.” He nodded, and the guard reluctantly let Sam go before stepping back to the elder harpy’s side.
“We know you come seeking information.” His eyes were an eerie purple, and it was something that Sam noticed the guards shared too. Each flock had its own unique characteristics and this one was hard to miss.
“How?” Sam asked, rubbing his throat with a wince.
“We have a shared acquaintance. Gabriel sends his regards.”
The tension fled from Sam’s body as he let out a huff of laughter, running a hand down his face in mirth. He took back everything bad he’d said about the harpy, Gabriel had had the foresight to send word to the flocks letting them know that he was coming. It certainly helped negotiations. At least he hoped so. Knowing Gabriel, he had probably offended all the other flocks in this region.
“We know what you are searching for but we can not give it to you.”
Sam frowned. Maybe Gabriel wasn’t much help after all.
“I understand that you wouldn’t want to give information to a hunter, especially information that could potentially be used against you,” Sam started, pulling out his pouch and pausing in his movements when the guards dropped into a fighting stance. He slowly moved his hands back in front of him, palms up. “Please, I just need to reach my pouch. I am a retired hunter, and I promise I don’t want to hurt anyone with the information you choose to share with me. I have a friend and he’s a harpy, and a situation has arisen that we’re trying to find more information about. That’s why I’m searching for any scripture or harpy related history you could share with me. I brought items that may interest you, to pay you for your tim-”
The harpy brought up his wing, gesturing for Sam to stop and Sam snapped his mouth shut, eyes hopeful. The harpy stared at Sam for a long moment before sighing. “It is as you said, you mean us no harm and we can see it. We can smell your emotions and you are truly passionate about helping your friend. However, the reason we can not give the information to you isn’t that we don’t wish to, but simply because we no longer possess any of the knowledge you seek.”
Sam’s mouth opened and closed a few times before he furrowed his brows, stepping forward with a little desperation. “That can’t be, there has to be something left.”
The elder shook his head, purple eyes sympathetic as he idly brushed his wing against his scarred legs. “The truth is, the harpy flock that attacked us, that fought against a majority of us, believed themselves to be the superior flock. They tried to not only erase us, but our history. Many of our parents and grandparents died fighting the war and those of us still alive now barely recall the stories they told us as children.” There was a pause, purple eyes pulled tight in pain as he whispered, “we lost more than bodies in that war.”
“But Gabriel’s flock remembers some legends,” Sam blurted out. “There has to be something…”
The elder shrugged, his lips quirking to one side in a wry smile. “Gabriel’s flock was stronger than ours. What they remember is a blessing and something that we struggle to recover from every year. We no longer know who we are. All we have are baseless legends that we no longer believe in.” His face hardened, looking off to the side, gaze distant as he spoke in a broken whisper. “We were children but we prayed to the Mother Bird, just as we had always been taught to. But nothing stopped the killing, and no magical being came to save us. We can’t believe in a creator that gave us false hope and returned our desperation with nothing but pain.”
Sam wanted to continue protesting, but when he saw the hopelessness in the harpy’s face, he knew he’d dredged up bad memories. Sam’s eyes drifted to the elder’s injured legs, and he winced, realizing with some horror that if he was a child when the war happened then most likely…
Sam knew torture like the back of his hand. The hunter life had led him to be the torturer as well as experiencing torture first-hand whenever he or Dean were captured. He knew that those weren’t normal hunting scars.
“I’m sorry, thank you anyways.” Sam bowed as he left, and he swung onto his horse with ease, his mind miles away. He didn’t turn back as he left, even though he could feel their eyes following him out of the forest. This was only the first flock, and he wanted to hold out hope for the rest, but the farther north he traveled, the closer he got to the enemy flock. They had traveled south during the war, cutting a swath of destruction. It was very likely that it wasn’t skill that had kept Gabriel’s flock mostly intact, but rather distance. By the time the violent flock had reached the main nest, they’d been weakened from all the battles along the way.
Sam shuddered, this time not out of cold but a sudden awareness that Gabriel and Castiel could have died. They could have been murdered as children or tortured, just like the rest of these flocks. He wondered yet again if it was luck or the Mother Bird watching over them that spared their flock from total annihilation.
Sam had traveled the tundras, meeting with flocks that lived in large nests across open plains. He had perilously climbed down cliffs to speak to the harpies that lived within the caves hidden there. Yet every one had told him the same thing. They didn’t have anything left, and they were just happy to be alive.
Sam stared down at his map, exhaustion in every step as he leaned against his equally tired horse and crossed out yet another flock. There was only one more left, and he could rest or he could continue onwards. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept, but he was determined to find something, anything to bring back to the people he held dear.
Mind made up, he clambered onto his horse. He tapped his foot against its side, and it took off in a trot. It would take him a week, and there were no guarantees that the Sapien flock would see him, but he had to try. This was the best lead he had and he wanted to help ease the burden from Castiel’s and Dean’s shoulders. Sam knew the situation weighed heavily on them, and he’d been helpless thus far. Now, he was taking direct action. He could only hope he’d find the flock and that they were willing to share their information with him. If there was any information left.
He had to make several pit stops, otherwise he would have collapsed from lack of sleep and food, but eventually, Sam stood at the edge of the forest, breath coming out in little clouds as he shivered. He was grateful his brother had forced him to take a fur cape. The area here was frosted over in layers of ice.
From what Gabriel had told him, the Sapien flock were all the same wing color. They were very similar to snowy owls, and they took great pride in their beautiful feathers. It was true that Castiel’s flock also had very unique wings. The harpies he’d met along the way had had monochromatic wings that were almost exclusively brown or black, so he was curious to see the snowy white wings of the Sapien flock.
It took almost three hours of walking, and he cursed the dense trees that forced him to tie his horse near the treeline. He shuddered, clenching his eyes tight as a gust of cold wind seemed to cut into his cheeks. He continued walking, blindly using his hands to move from tree to tree until suddenly, his hands met nothing but empty air. He opened his eyes and he couldn’t help his gasp, barely able to understand what he saw before him.
The trees, for as far as he could see, were all burnt shadows of what they used to be. He could tell they had been majestic, but a large fire had decimated the entire area. Many of them had cracked in half, revealing gaping mouths and empty shells, but that wasn’t what shocked him.
If Gabriel hadn’t told him what color the Sapien flock was, he would have mistaken the field of white for snow.
There was nothing but black trees and white feathers. Sam carefully stepped forward, his feet leaving the safety of the green grass behind him and into the layer of ash covered feathers. The winds buffeted the area, and a cloud of white feathers swirled up from the ground before falling back down softly and so, so innocent looking. He was wary, but he could tell that this area had remained like this for years, maybe since the war. He trekked onwards, mouth pressed into a grim line as his heart sank with a growing feeling of dread.
Eventually, he reached what he could tell had been the main nest. He craned his head up, taking note of the large holes within the enormous trunk that had served as homes for the flock. The thick branches were also hollowed out and he noticed remnants of burnt scrolls and books. They had stored their precious tomes in the branches, and now there was nothing left. Sam turned in a slow circle, his shoulders slumped in defeat. There was nothing left here.
Sam couldn’t be sure if this was a recent attack or if it was from the war, but evidence showed that the Sapiens had either been wiped out by an enemy flock, or they had fled. Sam pulled out his map, already knowing without looking at it that he had failed in his mission. He stared at the parchment as his eyes blurred with tears. The map was full of ‘x’s and the only one not crossed out was the Sapien nest. With a heavy heart, he crossed out that one, too. There were no flocks left.
Sam wanted to collapse at the base of the tree and sleep right there, but he had a horse that depended on him for food and water. He started the long walk back to his loyal mount, head hung low as he just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
Dean rapped his knuckles against the wooden door frame, taking in the sight of Castiel sitting at the edge of their bed, his brows furrowed. Castiel looked up at him from where he’d been running his fingers through his feathers. He tried to smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. His face was taut with exhaustion, and Dean knew that he hadn’t slept much these past few weeks.
“Do you want to eat now or later?” Cas shrugged, and Dean shifted his shoulders back, his hands twitching with the need to touch, to comfort the harpy. “You need to eat, Cas.”
“Not right now Dean,” Castiel replied softly. He placed his wings in his lap, a sigh falling from his lips as he seemed to give up on trying to fix his unruly feathers. “I haven’t groomed my wings since the change and I wanted to…”
Castiel trailed off, a far-off look in his eyes as he stared down at his dark wings. Dean took a hesitant step closer before closing the door behind him. It was a futile move since no one was in the house but him and Cas, but it made Dean feel safer somehow, like it was just them in their ‘nest’ as Cas liked to call it. Dean took slow measured steps until he was standing in front of Castiel.
Cas looked up at him, blinking slowly. The wrinkles on his face were more pronounced and Dean indulged his urge to lightly thumb over them. He pressed a thumb to the corner of Castiel’s mouth, wiping away Castiel’s frown. Cas couldn’t help the way his lips twisted up, his eyes shining with a bit more life in them, as Dean touched him.
“What are you doing?” Castiel murmured, bringing up a wing to press Dean’s hand fully against his face. He closed his eyes, his eyelashes brushing gently against Dean’s palms as Dean cupped his face.
Dean gave a quick peck to Cas's forehead, using his free hand to tangle his fingers in Cas's unruly hair. “Do you need a hand with that? I happen to be a human with fully functioning hands and opposable thumbs.” Dean clenched the hand he had dug into Castiel’s hair, tugging the strands as if to emphasize his point. Cas's breath hitched, eyes closed and head tilting back as he went with the motion, letting Dean move him as he pleased.
It had shocked Dean, the first time Castiel had asked him if he’d like to groom his wings. From his understanding it wasn’t something harpies offered lightly, it was a sign of great trust. He’d taken to the task with a certain reverence that he rarely showed, a gentleness in his movements and love in every touch. Both times had been a pleasurable bonding experience for them, and he knew that this time, he would have to be the one to offer. Cas was too wary, still rankling from the stigma his wings brought.
“Are you-“ Cas cleared his throat before opening his eyes, the blue a subtle glow in the dim candlelight. His face was purposefully blank, slack and emotionless, but he spoke slowly, measured and hesitant. “Do you want to?”
“Of course,” Dean grinned at him, and he didn’t miss the way Castiel relaxed, something hopeful in the quirk of his lips. “I’d love to.”
Maybe this way, Cas could love himself a little more, fancy new wings and all.
Cas was already sitting at the end of the bed, his sharp, taloned feet, resting on the wooden floor beneath them. Dean clambered onto the bed, kneeling at Cas's left and facing his side. The window was behind him, and he shuddered at the cold gust of wind that came in. They’d found, after much trial and error, that this was the best position to groom Cas's wings. Dean reached out a hand, and he paused when Cas tensed, fingertips a whisper away from the edge where Cas's feathers merged into human skin. Carefully, he pressed his fingers there, stroking down the wing gently until he felt Cas slowly relax.
“It’s okay, I got you,” Dean murmured. He focused his attention on the wings, fingers straightening out wayward feathers and tugging out loose or bent ones. A small pile was starting to grow next to him, the beautiful feathers laid out like an offering. They glowed in the candlelight, a steady shift of rainbow colors that seemed to change every time he looked. As he worked, Cas slowly slumped forward, his wing twitching occasionally when Dean scratched at a particularly pleasurable spot. There was a constant low purr coming from his chest, with little gasps and murmured encouragements woven in.
Dean hummed, his song blending with the howling wind outside, and the frequency of Cas's pleased sounds increased. When he encountered Cas's hand, tucked away within the feathers, he gave it a gentle squeeze before moving on, intent on grooming Cas's wings to the best of his ability. Once he was done fixing the feathers, he reached towards their bedside table and pulled out the small bottle of oil there. It was one that had a pleasant sandalwood aroma and was usually used for Sam’s hair. Dean had teased Sam about it when he’d first started using it, but after he “borrowed” the bottle from Sam, he was grateful his brother possessed such a useful oil.
Dean poured a small puddle into the palm of one hand, pushing the stopper back into the bottle with the other. He set it down beside him on the bed, confident that the plug on the bottle would stop it from leaking even if it tipped over. Rubbing his hands together until the oil had warmed up, he started stroking Castiel’s wings, teasing the surface with the oil, leaving the feathers glistening with a healthy sheen. If the wings had glowed subtly before, now they practically shimmered with how bright the colors reflected.
Cas let out a small grumble of protest when Dean got off the bed. His eyes half-lidded and lips parted as he scowled at Dean, demanding he get back to work.
“Relax, I’m just moving to the other side so I can work on your right wing.”
Dean smirked when Cas didn’t even twitch in response. He was so out of it he didn’t help Dean move his wing, instead letting Dean manhandle him until he had it spread wide enough that Dean could access it from his position on the bed.
Dean started by brushing his fingers through the fluffier baby feathers. This time Dean didn’t resist. He leaned in and pressed his lips there, the light feathers tickling his lips. Cas jolted under his touch, and he looked up to see the harpy staring back at him with an indecipherable look.
“Too much?” Dean asked, his voice a low rumble. He tensed, hand braced on the bed and ready to move away if Cas wanted him to.
Cas shook his head, breaking Dean’s gaze and staring down at his lap. Dean opened his mouth, intent on asking what was wrong when Cas beat him to it.
“Seeing you here, treating me just as you always have….” Cas trailed off, a soft smile on his lips as he looked at Dean with tear-wet eyes. “It makes me believe that everything can be okay. As long as I have you.”
“Cas,” Dean breathed out before tugging the harpy closer, brushing a gentle kiss on his lips before pulling back just enough to press his forehead to Cas's. With their eyes closed, they rested there for a suspended moment. “You will always have me.”
Dean let out a pleased hum when Cas pressed a smile onto his lips, the joy in them almost palatable. Castiel’s answer was firm, with a trace of awe in it, as if he couldn’t believe he deserved this. That he couldn’t believe he deserved Dean. “I know. And I will endure every trial the Goddess will place in my path because at the end of the road, you’ll be there. To catch me when I fall, to hold me when I break.”
The way that Castiel looked at him was always intense. It reminded Dean of the look someone gave you right before they went in for the kill, the look of such absolute certainty and devotion to one task. Those eyes had followed him for years, and finally, Dean could look back without fear. He no longer had to wonder, each day passing by as he hoped that the harpy would approach him instead of watching from afar, that Castiel would meet Dean face to face, and deem him worthy of his company. He no longer had to speculate, because he was Castiel’s and Castiel was Dean’s.
He flashed Cas a watery smile, giving him one last kiss before pulling away. “Not that I don’t enjoy our little moment, but I do have a job to do and you’re distracting me.”
Cas rolled his eyes, the twist of his lips fond. “Well then, I apologize for the delay. You may continue grooming me.”
Dean threw his head back, a laugh breaking out of him as he gave a particularly vicious tug to one of Castiel’s broken feathers. Cas winced, and Dean pressed a kiss to the spot in apology.
“You’re so demanding,” Dean sighed, shaking his head in mock offense. “I don’t know why I put up with you.”
“You love me.”
Again, his words were said with absolute certainty. That despite the situation they were in, and their uncertain future, Dean’s love was the one thing he believed in. Dean met Cas's gaze, his eyes tracing over the face shadowed by moonlight and illuminated by flickering candles. He traced those stubbled cheeks, the stress lines on his face, his chapped lips, and he’d never seen anyone so beautiful.
“Yeah,” Dean finally croaked out, his voice hoarse and hands unsteady as he gently brushed his fingers through dark feathers. “I guess I do.”
And when Castiel smiled, Dean couldn’t help but smile back.
“Another!” Sam yelled out as he laughed, spilling mead on himself as he tilted a little too far off the bench. Sam had decided after filling his stomach with some food at the nearest town, that it was too pitiful to camp out in the forest and feel sorry for himself. Instead, he was going to get as drunk as humanly possible and then cry when no one but his horse could witness his shame. The bar he’d found had mostly human patrons, but he could see the occasional inhuman individual, drinking mead just like the rest of them. This town was near the Sapien flock’s forest, and it was clear to see that the forest housed more than just harpies. The bar was probably used to all sorts of monsters coming in and out, and treated them much like the rest of their patrons.
This was something he would usually never do. Dean was more the type to drink his sorrows away, but thinking about Dean had made Sam miss his family even more and he’d decided to say fuck it, what’s one drunken night going to cost him? He’d tried his best, and he could deal with the consequences later.
Sam immediately grabbed the mug and took a hearty gulp. It wasn’t until he had drained half that he realized, through blurry eyes, that the person who had handed him the drink wasn’t the bartender. In fact, they had taken a seat across from him, their head tilted to the side as they stared at him with a smirk. Sam scowled, squinting at the stranger.
He was wearing a dark hooded cloak, one that covered a majority of his face and wrapped him up into a formless shape. Sam felt envious of the man’s cloak, it looked very warm. Maybe if he asked nicely the stranger would give it to him? Oh, but he’d forgotten his manners! The nice man had bought him a drink he should say thank you.
“Why are you sitting there?” Sam blurted out, brows furrowing when his brain caught up with his mouth. Okay, that wasn’t what he had wanted to say and now he seemed like a rude ungrateful person, which he wasn’t!
“You seemed…” his eyes darted to the side, before focusing on Sam with a lazy intensity, a smile growing on his lips, “a little lost, so to speak.”
Sam let out a small harrumph, barely refraining from rolling his eyes. “Listen, I’m not looking for any trouble.”
The man hummed, acknowledging Sam’s words, but he made no move to leave. “But you are looking for something, aren’t you?”
Sam straightened out of the drunken slump he’d been in, both palms resting on the surface of the rough wooden table as he tensed, poised to run. “And how would you know that?”
The man shrugged with practiced nonchalance, and Sam was immediately on guard. “It’s always the same people around these parts, and you’re certainly not a local. It was just an educated guess.”
Sam wavered for a moment, but he knew the man meant him no harm, he just seemed genuinely curious and a bit odd. Sam trusted his instincts and relaxed, hand wrapping around the mug yet again. He nursed the drink in silence for a long moment, eyes studying the stranger before him.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
Sam shook his head, careful so he wouldn’t reveal too much information. “This was my last stop, and there was nothing for me here.”
“Ah,” the stranger replied sympathetically. There was a rustle of cloth as he adjusted himself, leaning forward slightly with a dangerous grin. “And what if I told you that I could give you what you want?” Sam blinked at him, clattering the mug down carelessly as he glanced at the open tavern door. There was something unnerving about this man. He didn’t feel like he was in danger, but there was a pressure around him and it was making him twitchy.
“You don’t know what I’m looking for,” Sam finally responded, leaning away from the stranger’s piercing gaze. He bared his teeth, unsure why he was being so hostile, perhaps discomfited by the casual confidence the stranger possessed. “And the fact that you think you do, is very telling. Have you been following me?”
The man burst out laughing then, and Sam recoiled at the shrill noise, his hand reaching to his hip for his sword. When the man didn’t do anything but shake with mirth, Sam relaxed.
“What’s so funny?” Sam gritted out, a grumpy frown on his face.
“Oh, I don’t have time to follow people, I’m much too busy for that,” he sighed, his cloak moving with his heaving breaths. “I come here as a friend. As a local, I am aware of the harpy nest nearby,and I know that they were a central hub for harpy-related knowledge and history. You’re not dressed warm enough for this region, and you’re clearly weary from your journey. You aren’t from around here and there’s nothing here that could attract a hunter….unless it was the harpy flock nearby.”
Sam had become increasingly tense as the man spoke but now he was very alarmed. Sam leaned in, a harsh whisper on his lips as he glared, eyes darting to the other supernatural patrons in the bar, “What do you want from me?”
The man shrugged, annoyingly relaxed at Sam’s looming posture. “The same thing you want, for the truth to be out there.” He looked up into Sam’s eyes, a glint in them that seemed to be full of weariness, “And I have the truth you seek, would you like to hear it?”
Sam knew it was stupid and dangerous, but this was the closest he’d ever gotten to a lead on this self-imposed case. This man offered him everything he needed to know. They were in a crowded tavern, and Sam knew that he could easily overpower the smaller man if he needed to. It was an easy decision to sit back and cross his arms, now sober from all the adrenaline and anticipation. He lifted his chin and the man took it as an indication that he could start.
“I’m sure you already know the original harpy legends, the ones about Lucifer.” Sam nodded, and the stranger smiled, seemingly satisfied that Sam wasn’t completely clueless. “Well, that legend was actually only the first half of a bigger story.”
Sam uncrossed his arms, eagerness in every move as his mouth dropped open. “What do you mean?”
“That legend was Lucifer’s beginning, and how he became cursed as one of the Fallen, but it wasn’t his end.”
Sam listened to every word with rapt attention, and slowly but surely, he was drawn into the story.
“The second part of the story isn’t as well known,” the man sighed, shaking his head slightly and jostling the hood a little off his head. “In fact, I would say that there are scant few who have ever heard of it.” The man paused, eyes distant as he spoke, a heavy weight to his words. “Back then, Lucifer wandered the Earth, filled with pain, weighed down by his cursed wings. He had suffered, and the Motherbird was silent, no matter how much he begged. But Lucifer was fortunate enough to have an older brother, Michael, who had cared for him from infancy and so took it upon himself to save Lucifer.”
The stranger met Sam’s gaze with something inscrutable, and Sam felt weirdly exposed by those eyes as if he knew exactly why Sam was there.
“Michael was born with peach cream wings.”
Sam couldn’t help his shocked inhale, mind racing as he tried to connect the dots.
“The flock didn’t know what he was, or why he was the only one with peach cream wings. They treated him kindly, of course, but even then, there was always a divide between Michael and the rest of the flock. When Lucifer was born with similarly unique gold wings, he’d taken the child under his wing and treated him like a little brother. Lucifer grew older, and with time, learned that he was the only one who truly cared for Michael. They garnered attention in different ways, and many of the harpies felt jealous of the fact that Lucifer clearly favored Michael. Despite that, Lucifer and Michael ignored the others and lived peacefully, as a family.”
The stranger turned his unnerving focus onto Sam, a scowl on his face. “What is it?”
“It’s nothing,” Sam paused before continuing. “Well, okay there is something. From what you say, it seems that Lucifer wasn’t all that bad.” The stranger shook his head, and Sam frowned at the oddly somber look he wore.
“No, this was just the beginning of the end. Lucifer became arrogant and he ignored his brother’s words one too many times. When he was cursed, Michael begged the Motherbird to spare Lucifer. He held vigil and made offerings for many days and nights before she finally decided to give Lucifer a chance at salvation. Her condition was that he needed to repent for his sins, and then he would be forgiven.”
Sam pushed the mug of mead towards the man, but he declined, still lost in thought.
“And repent he did. Michael found Lucifer and they went on a journey to help as many people as they could. They did everything they could, but nothing seemed to work. No matter how many people they saved, it wasn’t enough. It was made worse by the constant pain Lucifer felt from his heavy wings. Eventually, grounded and unable to fly, Lucifer refused to go on. If he couldn’t gain forgiveness, then he wanted Michael to end his suffering.”
“And did he…?” Sam trailed off, his voice a whisper as he unintentionally voiced his thoughts.
The stranger shook his head with a rueful smile. “No, Michael was always too softhearted. As Lucifer lay, broken and weary, Michael forgave his brother. Michael had taken him in a winged embrace, and told him that even if the rest of the world condemned him for what he’d done, he would always forgive Lucifer.”
Sam couldn’t speak, his heart pounding in his throat as he realized with a sinking feeling that he could tell where this was going.
The stranger let out a chuckle, eyes drawn down to the wooden grooves in the table and the white-knuckled grip Sam had on the edge of it. “Michael was always a soldier, a hardened warrior to everyone else except the little brother he loved so dearly. And so Michael forgave Lucifer. Michael healed him, body and soul, and in doing so he purged Lucifer of his sins. Michael willingly took the Corruption into himself, begging the Motherbird to give him Lucifer’s burden. It manifested itself in his wings, until his once peach cream feathers became something darker.”
Sam looked into the man’s eyes, and there was something like understanding there.
“Lucifer could only watch as his wings were restored to their former glory, but at the cost of Michael’s sacrifice. However, it wasn’t until later that both harpies noticed Michael’s new wings weren’t the same Corrupted black-purple that Lucifer’s curse had given him, but rather a gorgeous black that shined rainbow in the light.
“Motherbird is strict, but she is a fair goddess. Michael’s decision was an act of noble sacrifice, and by willingly taking Lucifer’s curse into himself, he had purified it. Michael’s dark wings were not a curse, but rather a blessing, an acknowledgment of his self-sacrificing actions.”
Sam’s mouth fell open, a grin spreading across his face a moment later. If what this man said was true, then every patch of black on Castiel’s wings and his now completely black holographic feathers were a testament to his purity.
They were a blessing, not a curse.
The stranger seemed amused by his happiness and lightly spoke up again. “You shouldn’t blame the flock for how they reacted. The truth has been lost over the years, the scripture forgotten or destroyed and those who knew it are no longer alive.” Sam’s brows slowly met in the middle as he thought long and hard, trying to work his mind around the lingering traces of alcohol. Something the man had told him earlier, and just now, had stuck with him. He knew too much, and it wasn’t normal….was it?
“If that’s true, then why do you know it?” Sam asked slowly, his eyes narrowing at the smirk the stranger wore.
“Because I was there.”
There was a loud bang and Sam jolted, head swiveling towards the source of the sound. He let out a grunt of annoyance when he saw that the bang had been a loud group of locals singing jovially as they danced on the table. When he turned back, the seat in front of him was empty.
There was nothing left, nothing to indicate that Sam hadn’t hallucinated the entire interaction.
Nothing except one gold feather.
Sam picked it up, turning it over in his hand, almost dazed with disbelief as he noticed it wasn’t pure gold, but had traces of black-purple Corruption on it. He clenched a trembling hand around the feather and quickly stood up, now all-too sober from the encounter. He had the information he needed, and the evidence that would help their case.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t go help Sam?” Cas brushed his wings against Dean’s back, leaning close to peer over his shoulder as Dean prepared their food. “This hunting trip seems to be taking a while. What was the case about?”
Dean paused for a second before continuing, voice light as he spoke, “It’s nothing too bad, don’t worry about it. There were sightings of a frost giant in the north. You know how Sam is, he’s a nerd. Frost giants aren’t real, or at least we’ve never seen one before, but Sam insisted that he go check it out anyway, just in case it was something we needed to deal with.”
Cas let out a thoughtful hum that made Dean want to twitch with nerves. It was hard lying to the harpy.
“You know,” Cas drawled out, his voice a low rasp as he rested his chin on Dean’s shoulder. The hunter shuddered as he tried to focus on his knife, skillfully sliding it through an apple. “For a pair of retired hunters, you two hunt a lot.”
He shrugged and Cas lifted his weight off of Dean, walking over to the dining area. Dean finished cutting up the fruit and set it down on the table next to the bread he’d baked and the cured meats.
“You can never really take the hunt out of the hunter,” Dean spoke up, sitting down heavily in his chair as he reached over and started grabbing handfuls of the assorted fruit to shove into his mouth. He never had the patience to cut fruit, preferring instead to just eat the whole thing as is, but they’d learned early on that Cas's hands were tucked pretty far into his feathers and the juices from the fruit would dirty them.
Castiel pressed his lips into a thin line but picked up his fork and started eating as well. Dean threw Cas a playful smile and it eased the tension in Cas's posture. Dean knew that Cas knew something was up, but he was grateful that Cas seemed to let it go easily enough.
His eyes traced the dark feathers now adorning Cas's wings, and he couldn’t help but get distracted by their beautiful glow. Even when Cas didn’t move his wings, the colors seemed to shift on their own, a rainbow that was just bold enough that you could see it, but faint enough that when you looked too hard, it seemed to be nothing but an illusion.
Dean refused to call it a curse; after all, it didn’t seem like Castiel was suffering. Mentally, he was dealing with a lot of internalized feelings about having wings like Lucifer’s but physically, Castiel seemed to be mostly okay. In fact, Cas had confessed to Dean nervously that he felt stronger and faster. That his wings were now more powerful. It was still something to worry about, but for now, Dean didn’t see any downsides to Cas's new feathers.
Cas didn’t share his opinion. He still seemed to hold on to the belief that he was different somehow, and that sooner or later he’d pose a threat to Dean and Sam. Dean frowned, heart heavy as he stared at the patched up tunic Cas now wore. The white had been stained by his blood, but after a few washes, the red had lessened to a faint pink. Dean was grateful he’d practically raised his brother because it meant he was more than adept at making and patching up clothes. The puncture holes on the tunic were all but gone.
Dean had offered to make Cas some new clothes, or let him have some of his, but Cas had quietly refused. The tunic was looking a little worse for wear, but Dean knew that Cas wanted to keep it because it was the only thing left that tied him to his old life and his flock.
Castiel didn’t comment on Dean’s staring and in fact, returned the favor. Dean sometimes forgot that Cas wasn’t human, and the little quirks that would be a faux pas in normal situations, only seemed cute when coming from Cas. The staring had taken some getting used to. Logically, he knew that Cas was used to observing him for hours on end, but having Cas up close, content to do nothing but watch him with half-lidded eyes, made Dean flush. Usually, the staring ended with Dean snapping and fooling around with Castiel for a few hours. He still hasn’t figured out if Cas was testing his lack of self-control or if he truly didn’t have any motives behind his actions.
“Is Gabriel coming today as well?” Dean asked around a mouthful of bread, raising an eyebrow as he looked out the window. It was about midday, the time that the obnoxious harpy liked to drop in. After Cas had been cast from the flock, Gabriel had started visiting almost daily. Dean found him to be a nuisance but he made Cas happy and that was enough for Dean to hold his tongue whenever Gabriel was more annoying than usual. He was grateful, however, that Gabriel cared for Cas, and by extension the Winchesters. One of those visits, he’d pulled Dean aside and let him know in a low whisper that he’d sent messengers to all the surrounding flocks so that it would help Sam in his search. It was touching, and it made Gabriel a little more bearable.
“Not today,” Cas shook his head. “Last time he was here, he had whined about today being a hunting day and that he would be out working.”
Dean’s eyes squinted in amusement, his fingers playing with a piece of bread. “For someone who enjoys his job, he sure does complain about it a lot.”
Cas rolled his eyes, shooting Dean a look full of mirth. “Well, Gabriel likes to complain about anything and everything. It’s in his nature.”
Dean laughed in agreement before they polished off the rest of the food. They were just putting the plates in the sink when the cabin door opened, letting in a gust of cold air.
“Sam,” Cas greeted in pleasant surprise, a grin overtaking his face as he stepped forward to envelop the bigger man in his wings. He pulled back, tilting his head to the side as he took in Sam’s expression. “I am just as pleased to see you again but the manic grin on your face is unsettling.”
“Sammy,” Dean breathed out, crushing his brother in a tight hug. He closed his eyes for a moment before pulling back. He kept moving back until he was a few feet away, his face scrunched up in a grimace. “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but you reek. Take a shower, we just ate and I don’t want that food to come back up again because of your manly stench.”
Sam ignored his words, stepping forward and rolling his eyes at Dean’s exaggerated gagging sounds. “Dean we have more pressing concerns. Look what I found.” With a flourish, he took the feather from his pouch, face split into a wide grin as he gave it to Dean.
At first, he didn’t quite know what he was looking for. The feather was gold, and they only knew one harpy who had that wing color. So, Sam had gone on a month long journey only to come back with Gabriel’s feather? It didn’t make any sense.
Castiel was tense beside him and Dean was about to ask him what was wrong when the harpy brushed his wing over the feather. Castiel rested the tips of his feathers, just enough that it covered half of the gold, over Dean’s palms. It wasn’t until Cas put his wing there that Dean noticed that a portion of the gold feather was black, but in a different way than Cas's.
On closer inspection, the feather was also oddly heavy, as if there was something weighing it down. Sam seemed to sense his confusion because he told them everything, from all the flocks he visited, to the remains of the Sapien flock and how he had met Lucifer himself. Dean and Castiel had sat down on the fur covered bench halfway through Sam’s enthusiastic retelling of his adventure, too stunned to stay standing.
“Wait, hold up,” Dean raised a hand up to stop his brother. “You’re telling me that this feather,” he raised it up into the light streaming from the window, noting the fact that the black parts stayed weirdly heavy looking and didn’t shine beautifully like Castiel’s did, “was given to you by Lucifer himself?” His voice raised up at the end, clearly skeptical. Castiel was eerily silent beside him, eyes focused on the feather. Every once in a while his eyes would dart back to his own wings, looking even more confused than before.
“Yes,” Sam insisted as he carefully took the feather back, “and he told me everything.”
Once Sam had finished explaining the second half of the legend, in great detail, he could tell that they were both hopeful. Cas reached over and Dean tucked his hand into the wing, easily finding Castiel’s hand and holding his fingers in a tight, reassuring grip.
“So, Cas isn’t cursed,” Dean concluded, a wide grin of relief on his face. “These new wings are meant to be a blessing.”
Sam nodded in confirmation before sitting himself down with a loud thump on the rug. “I think Lucifer was trying to help. I don’t know if he was sent by the Motherbird, or if he had seen the injustice you suffered and wanted to put an end to it. Either way, going by the timeline of when Lucifer lived, he’s several thousand years old now, so he definitely isn’t a normal harpy. I wager he’s probably a minor god.”
Cas was still worryingly silent and Dean nudged him with a shoulder, turning concerned eyes to him. “Cas?”
There was a pause before Castiel threw himself at Sam, toppling the hunter over onto the rug. “Thank you, thank you so much.” Castiel sobbed out as he cried into Sam’s shoulder. Dean kneeled beside them, hands hovering awkwardly before they finally settled in between Castiel’s shoulder blades, patting him in comforting strokes. Sam didn’t say anything, but his smile was a little gentler and his eyes were definitely watery as he wrapped his arms around Castiel.
“You’re family now, Cas. And we take care of each other.”
Dean met Sam’s gaze and mouthed a ‘thank you’ at him as well. Even though Castiel had tried very hard to move on and learn to live without a flock, they all knew that he still held a bit of self-hatred in himself. Castiel no longer had to be afraid.
It was two days after Sam came back that they accosted Gabriel during a visit and updated him on the situation. The moment they did, he had dragged them to the Council and demanded a re-trial. The Council had refused at first, but when Sam presented the feather to them they had caved. They would never take a hunter’s words at face value, but Sam offered knowledge of their own history and legends that they no longer had. It was a chance to learn more and connect with their culture as a whole; so much of who they were and where they came from had been taken during the war.
It hadn’t been easy, and the trial had taken almost two weeks of back and forth before they finally reached a conclusion. The Council had sought the advice of the elders, those few harpies that had survived the war. It was took some digging before they admitted that they might have heard the second legend when they were small children. It wasn’t a definite answer in favor of Castiel’s case, but it was enough that the Council decided to allow Castiel a trial period before they would officially let him back into the flock.
Their one demand was that the Winchesters give Lucifer’s feather to them for safekeeping. Castiel suspected that the Council had agreed to letting him back in, solely because they wanted access to that feather. Whatever the reason, they were just happy Castiel was allowed back into the flock for now.
Even though his flock hadn’t always treated him well, they were still family, and Castiel had grown to care for the harpies in his flock. He was grateful for the chance to prove himself, and he had sincerely thanked the Council, despite the previous animosity between them.
It was decided that Castiel would still spend the majority of his time at the Winchester’s cabin, but that he could take up his duties again within the main nest and help out where he could. He could sleep at his own nest, which had remained untouched during his absence, or he could stay at the Winchester’s cabin. It was up to him.
Castiel didn’t hesitate before choosing Dean, and the way the hunter’s face had lit up with joy made it all worth it.
They made the journey back home once night fell, and Castiel realized with a growing warmth, that he now thought of this cabin as his home, his nest. It was where he felt safest, with Dean in his bed and Sam nearby to make disgusted faces at them.
They had retired early, too tired to stay awake but too restless to sleep.
They both lay in bed, Dean on his back as Castiel draped a wing over his torso. Dean was unnaturally tense, and Castiel lifted his head up from the soft pillow, pressing a kiss on the scruff under his jaw.
Dean was quiet for too long before whispering back, “Nothing.”
“Really?” Castiel raised a brow at him before laying his head on Dean’s chest. “Then why does it feel like I am hugging a rock?”
Dean forced his muscles to relax but it was too late, Castiel was already looking down into his eyes with a curious tilt to his head. Dean sighed, running a hand down his face before he sat up and reached into the bedside drawer. Castiel quietly followed and sat carefully still as Dean rummaged around until he found what he was looking for.
Finally, he let out a little sound of triumph and turned back to Cas, his victorious smile faltering as he caught Castiel’s concerned eyes. Dean’s hands clenched and unclenched around something before he bit out a curse and opened his fist, showing Castiel what was on the palm of his hand.
Under the faint glow of moonlight, Castiel could make out a glint of metal. He picked it up with a questioning hum, turning it this way and that as he squinted at it. It was clearly something handmade as the shape of it was a little rough, but there were small gems adorning it. There seemed to be two colored gems, and they were arranged in a pleasing pattern. On closer inspection, the color of some of the gems were suspiciously similar to the original color of his wings while the others were the same color as his current wings. It sent a wave of nostalgia through him, and Castiel looked up when Dean cleared his throat.
Dean was staring down at his own hand, wringing his fingers nervously before sliding something on one of his fingers.
“So, um, I know that everything was a mess for a while and that you forgot, but I didn’t.”
Castiel furrowed his brow, a confused scowl on his lips.
“Did I forget something?”
Even in the dim moonlight, Castiel could see the beautiful flush that traveled across Dean’s face. Dean grimaced as he rubbed a hand on the back of his neck, his eyes darting up to meet Cas's before focusing on his tunic. Dean reached out and lightly touched the tunic, and it took a moment for Castiel to realize he was tracing the silver button he’d attached to it.
“I knew that you were missing your flock,” Dean started, voice soft and quiet as he gave Cas a smile, “and I figured that I could do something that would make you feel more at home. You told me before that whenever a harpy did something amazing that’s related to their job, they got to attach a charm to their tunic. It’s an important tradition.”
Castiel nodded slowly, mouth going dry at the sight of a similar ring on Dean’s finger.
“Well uh, I know you didn’t really have a set job in the flock, but I figured, you know, since you got a charm the first time you saved my life with your healing, that you should get a charm for saving my ass again.”
Dean carefully took the ring from Castiel before reaching into the bedside drawer and producing a needle and thread. Castiel sat, overwhelmed with the need to kiss Dean senseless as the man quickly and efficiently sewed the ring into his tunic, right next to his silver button.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen human unions, but generally we exchange rings when we want to…well, stay together forever, I guess. I know this will be the last charm you can ever get, since it’s not like you can heal anymore, and I’m sorry I couldn’t make you something fancier…but I just wanted to show you that, no matter what the Council eventually decides, you’ll always have a home with me.”
Castiel hung his head low, and Dean couldn’t make out his expression. “Oh, and Sam of course,” Dean rambled nervously, twisting the matching ring on his finger. “I mean, this doesn’t have to mean anything more than just a charm if you don’t want it to-“
Dean let out a yelp as Castiel slammed into him, pressing a fierce kiss to his lips before pulling back with lust blown eyes and a gentle smile that contradicted his harsh kisses. “Yes, I’ll marry you, Dean Winchester.”
Dean’s eyes widened in shock and he couldn’t help the answering grin on his lips. He hadn’t wanted to pressure Castiel into anything, but this was more than he could have hoped for.
That night, Dean worshipped every inch of Castiel, pressing kisses to each and every dark feather, just as he’d been doing for the past few weeks, to reassure Castiel that he still found them beautiful and that he cherished every single one.
When they were sated and exhausted, Dean had pressed a kiss to Castiel’s lips that tasted of them and filled with a love that made Castiel tear up, and for the first time since his change, Castiel felt that everything was going to be alright. As long as he had his love by his side, and his family to support him, they would always catch him, no matter how many times he stumbled and fell.