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Of Twists and Turns

Chapter Text

 

Winter, 1702 

The wind slams rain and sea water in Dean’s face, momentarily blinding him, but he presses forward through the night. The roar of the battle vibrates up his spine. 

His sword is steady in his hand as he swings at the man in front of him. A clean slash across the man’s chest, and he falls to the deck with a surprised gasp, a red stain blossoming over his linen clothes. Without any time to think about having claimed another life, Dean steps over the body and the blood pooling on the deck, raises his blade and in less than a minute another man is lying dying at his feet.

Dean runs through the clash of steel and gunshots, tasting salty air and blood with every step he takes, teeth chattering as rain and seawater weigh his clothes down. Cold creeps under his clothes, crawling under his skin and chilling him to the bone. Above the ships, the storm rages on, dark clouds hiding what little light shines from the moon. The wind is unrelenting in pushing angry waves against Mary’s Revenge , her hull protesting under the onslaught. The flash of lightning briefly illuminates the torn sails above Dean, before the world is plunged into darkness again. Then comes the crack of thunder, drowning out the cries of the men fighting.

Come on, come on, Dean thinks, bypassing two men struggling to overpower each other, their faces lost in the shadows. 

A man appears out of nowhere, hand raised, gun pointing right between Dean’s eyes. 

Dean has enough time to think, not now, not like this, before a gunshot slices through the storm.

The man falls dead, like his strings have been cut. His blood is splattered all over Dean, catching at his eyelashes, dripping down his nose.

“This ain’t the time for sightseeing, ya idjit,” Bobby yells, grabbing Dean from the shoulder and spinning him around with the hand not holding his gun. He smells like gunpowder and death, and if he’d been a second late, it would have been Dean bleeding out on the deck instead of the other man. “Did you get it?”

The roll of paper weighs Dean’s pocket down, reminding him why they’re here in the first place. “Where’s Dad?” Dean asks, shouting to be heard above the howling wind and the battle.

Bobby shakes his head, lips parting to answer, but his eyes widen, and that’s all the warning Dean needs. He whirls around, blade already swinging out at the man coming for them. At the same time, Bobby aims his gun at the second assailant. They’re both dead before they reach the rain-soaked deck.

Back to back, Dean and Bobby prepare for the next wave of opponents. 

“Where’s Dad?” Dean asks again, his eyes never leaving the enemy. His blade flashes before he brings it down on the man in front of him—no, boy, he’s just a boy, his eyes widening before the life fades from them. Dean swallows down the bile quickly rising at his throat and tightens his grip on his weapon.

“Last I saw him, he was going after Alastair,” Bobby says between grunts and slashes. “He’s on the Devil’s Trap .”

“I’m going to get him,” Dean declares, as another body falls before him. 

The earth-shaking blast of thunder echoes around them, except it’s all wrong, and it’s only after Dean has regained his balance that he realizes that Mary’s Revenge really is shaking, creaking and trembling. There was no lightning, Dean thinks, a split second before the cannon’s second boom seals their fate.

“She’s goin’ down,” Bobby growls, reaching over to grab one of their men and start yelling directions to him.

The battle freezes for a second. The men scramble to understand what is happening. Then, Bobby’s voice above the roar of the storm: “Abandon ship! Abandon ship!”

Men of both sides abandon their fights, now running for their lives. Dean is shoved to the side when a blond crushes into him in his struggle to get off Mary’s Revenge as soon as possible. He regains his balance and grabs Bobby by the elbow. 

“I gotta find Dad.”

Bobby’s eyes widen. “Boy, have ye lost yer mind? She’s a lost cause.” 

Men rush around them, some jumping on the Devil’s Trap , others using ropes to swing for the Black Impala

“If ye don’t leave now, ye’ll be trapped with the enemy,” Bobby growls.

Dean knows it’s a lost cause, he knows it. He can feel Mary’s Revenge becoming heavier and heavier under his feet as the ocean water rushes inside her. 

Alastair has two more ships apart from his flagship, the Devil’s Trap , and that’s already one ship and three dozen men more than what they have. Their only chance of survival is leaving now and hoping the Impala can live up to her name as the fastest ship to sail the Caribbean and outrun both their enemies and the storm.

But Dad .

“Bobby, I have to try,” Dean says, shaking his head. With trembling hands he reaches for his pocket, fingers closing around that precious piece of paper they’ve been looking for all these years. 

Bobby swears when he realizes what Dean intends to do. He grabs Dean, determined to take him off the ship by force. “Ye’re not dying on me, Dean. So keep that map on ye n’ run for yer life. Now.”

“Aboard the Impala !” a voice says. 

Dean’s ship is now close enough to Mary’s Revenge for the men to jump directly from one ship to the other. Their men are quick and well-trained, recognizing the irreversible damage on Mary’s Revenge even from afar and rushing to save their subordinates. It’s now or never. Live or Die.

Then, between the smoke and the rain and the men running, a dark figure appears, eyes trained on Dean. 

“Dean, get out of here,” John Winchester orders, jumping from the deck of the Devil’s Trap back to his own ship, favouring his left leg. Half his face is covered in blood, and there are at least three gunshot wounds that need immediate treatment just from the quick look Dean manages to steal. “Now.”

There is half a ship and too many men between them, but if Bobby would just release Dean, he’d be able to get to his dad and help him, save him, something. But Bobby’s hold is like iron around Dean. 

“Dad,” Dean chokes out, his voice lost in the gust of wind. Too far away, he is too far away.

“Alastair’s dead. I’m going to finish this,” John says, sparing a moment to nod at Bobby. “Now leave.”

Bobby’s resolve only hardens in dragging Dean with him. With a grunt, he tightens his hold and starts towards the Black Impala again. Despite all his protests and yelling, Dean can’t break free. Soon he is being thrown on the deck of his own ship, his chances of saving his dad plummeting to almost zero. 

“Thirty seconds,” Bobby warns, one knee on Dean’s chest to keep him down as men still try to board the ship.

“Let me go, let me go,” Dean cries out, fighting against Bobby with all he has. 

More men appear to hold him, hands grabbing him, pressing his back against the deck, pinning him down. 

“Dad!”

“Cut n’ run!’ Bobby orders, and men scramble to comply, cutting the ropes that are connecting the ships. Only half a dozen of Alastair’s men were on board the Black Impala , but they’re either quickly killed or thrown overboard as the ship breaks free from the tight embrace of her sister. At Bobby’s command she is maneuvered away from the battle.

When it’s too late for him to do anything—too late to protest, or fight, or do something stupid like jump off the ship and try to swim his way through the storm back to his father’s ship—Dean is finally released. From the waist of the Impala , he watches his father’s figure as he disappears below deck in a ship already doomed to take him with her to a watery grave. He knows what John Winchester is looking for even before he sees the galleon explode. 

Flames engulf both her and Alastair’s ship, that is still too close to be saved. 

They may have been outnumbered in hands, but John Winchester has always been a man to carry enough gunpowder to destroy a little island if need be. 

The rain pounds against the fire, but the damage has already been done. The Devil’s Trap will soon follow Mary’s Revenge to their final resting place.

White knuckled grip against the rails, Dean stares as the two ships become smaller with the growing distance between them. Mountains of waves rise time and time again. It’s only a matter of time before one of them grows big enough to swallow the ships down. And still, Dean watches, tuning out the thunder and the shouting of the men around him.

There’s no sign of his father’s ship on the horizon when Bobby comes to stand next to him. “What now?” Bobby asks in a soft voice. “Captain.”

What now?

With his father dead, half their men lost, and their flagship sunk, the road ahead looks grimmer than ever. Dean knows that voting for the next captain is going to be only a formality. With Bobby’s support all the other men are sure to look to him for direction.

The rolled paper in his pocket feels heavier than a cannonball. He knows what he has to do, but he doesn’t know if he can do it. Not alone at least. 

“We go to Ellen, reorganize,” Dean finally says. “Then we head for Jacksonville.”

 

Chapter Text

March 12th, 1703

The Queen Anna’s sails blossom under the bright sun of the Caribbean. Τhe Royal Navy flag dances with the wind. The sky is clear and bright, no cloud in sight to stop the sunlight from casting long shadows on the deck this early in the morning.  

Castiel stands under the main mast, trying to ignore the way his skin itches and sweats under his blue wool coat. 

Winter has already crawled its way into warm spring—if one can call winter the mild temperatures that remind Castiel of the long summers he spent in London studying—and by now there’s no need for such a heavy uniform, except for the insistence of Captain Michaels to stick to uniform regulations. Insistence that only applies to Wardroom officers apparently, because none of the men waiting for morning sick call wear as many layers as Castiel and his assistants.

He sighs, fighting against the urge to tug at his collar in search of some reprieve from the heat, and calls the first man forward. 

Most of the sailors are here to complain about minor problems—bruises and cuts, as well as the occasional upset stomach. Castiel is grateful to be dealing with issues so easily solvable. He’ll take drunken accidents and skin burnt from running rope any day over fevers that spread faster than lightning and could kill all of them in a matter of weeks. He listens to everyone, hand never pausing from writing down everything in detail in his surgeon’s log. He bandages wounds, and he gives them salves to put on their lesions, and he calls the next one forward.

His assistants, Alfie and Indra, wait patiently by his side, darting to grab whatever Castiel needs from his dressing box without the need for many words. Just a gesture of Castiel’s head is enough for the boys to know what they have to fetch. 

By the time they are finished, the sun has climbed higher in the sky, and sweat beads on Castiel’s forehead. He misses the coolness of the lower decks. Down there, low in the belly of the ship, the sea water surrounding the hull keeps the temperatures comfortably nippy. The darkness and the musty air he could live without, but he’ll take what he can get. Living on a ship with no land in sight for weeks at a time doesn’t exactly leave him with much of a choice. 

He writes down a list with the names of the men that need to be exempt from work for a couple of days and sends that to the captain. With a groan, he pushes himself up. His back gives a satisfying pop when he stretches, before heading down to the sick bay.

The sunlight never reaches so deep inside the ship’s body, and Castiel has to rely on the few oil lanterns scattered here and there to see where he is stepping. The men look up when he lifts the sheet that separates the sick bay from the rest of the orlop. 

He’s already checked on them before dawn, making sure the loblolly boys brought down breakfast and water for the sick and injured, but now that he’s had some food in him, too, he wants to do a more thorough examination.

“What’s the news from the outside, Doc?” Ion asks.

“The men miss you,” Castiel says, pulling a barrel close to his bed to use as a stool.

“Liars,” Ion proclaims, and Virgil bursts out laughing next to him. “I didn’t see any of them visiting.”

“They’re busy,” Castiel hums. He presses the back of his palm against Ion’s forehead, nodding satisfied when he finds that his temperature is normal. He’ll probably be good to go by tonight.

He moves to Virgil, checking on his broken arm with gentle fingers. Next are Daniel and Isaac. He gestures for Ezra to lie down, and instructs Alfie to prepare a tea that will help with his stomach, before turning to Elias, who can barely put any weight on his left foot. The men chatter around him— God I can’t wait to get out of here and when do you think we’ll make land? —and Castiel listens with patience to it all.

“Forget making land,” says Ion, who has spent close to a week in the sick bay and is now antsy to move and smell the fresh air. “I’d settle for some action. We’ve been sailing without any purpose for what? A week now?”

“Hear, hear,” Virgil agrees with a sigh.

“We’re patrolling,” Castiel points out, not looking up from Elias’ swollen ankle. He uses his palm to press against the ball of his foot and pushes upwards. Elias takes a sharp breath but the foot moves fine. Not broken, then.

“Patrolling my ass,” says Virgil, and Daniel jumps in to add, “We haven’t even had a good battle in more than a month.”

Isaac shoots him a dirty look. “Hey, if we get attacked by fucking pirates because you jinxed it, I’m gonna throw you overboard.”

“Oh, don’t be a pussy, Isaac,” Daniel says, grinning. 

Castiel shakes his head, half-amused. At least they are high in spirits. He knows he wouldn’t be as cheerful if he’d been cooped up in here for as long as most of them; the air in here tastes sour and stale—too many men in too small a space crowd the atmosphere with sweat and an unpleasant odor. 

Unlike Daniel and Virgil, Castiel is not looking forward to any confrontation, whether it be pirates or privateers. He’d rather get his crewmembers healthy and walking again than have to squeeze more patients down here.

It’s been a surprisingly busy week for Castiel. The men have become careless, either grown tired of being on a ship or too drunk to perform their duties properly now that fresh water is running low. Officers' prerogative means Castiel still gets his share, but for most crewmembers that means all they have to drink is old beer and rum. 

He thinks he ought to do something to cleanse this space. Burning some brimstone after most of the men have returned to their normal duties should do the trick. And then he can have the loblolly boys scrub the floors and air the hammocks.

Finished with the examination for now, he turns his attention to his log. He needs to go over the notes he kept this morning, write more precise entries under the name of every man, then transfer that to a report for the captain, and he’d like to find some time to finish a few drawings of roots he’d started for the plant encyclopedia he’s working on. And all that provided that nobody else gets in an accident that requires his immediate attention.

At least, he has lunch to look forward to in a couple of hours.

**

The cry comes down to them muffled from the wind, but the men hear it clear as day: “Ship ahead! Black sails! Black sails!”

Castiel’s blood runs instantly cold. From the main deck, the ship is still too far away to make out any details, but Castiel presses himself against the rail all the same, squinting his eyes against the reflection of the sun on the water to look for the skull and crossbones. 

It looks like a small ship, maybe a frigate, and chances are they don’t have as many men as them. Maybe it’ll be an easy battle or maybe the pirates will change course once they realize they are headed straight for a Royal Navy ship.

The crew abandon their work and instantly run to their positions, preparing for the oncoming battle, the dark frigate approaching them fast and steady. 

Tearing his eyes away, Castiel does the same. First he runs to the sick bay, where any man that can walk and hold a weapon is sent up to help in the fight. Meanwhile he grabs his dressbox and heads for the cockpit—one deck up and directly above the sick bay—where they can set up in preparation for the battle.  Alfie and Indra are already there, pushing a table in the middle of the room to receive any injured men that come down.

Through the door, they can see men yelling orders, running up and down the gun deck as they prepare the cannons and fetch gunpowder from the hold. 

Castiel ducks his head and concentrates on his work. 

Loblolly boys and servants rush into the room to keep away from the worst of the battle and assist him if the need arises. They push chests and boxes out of the way, they pile around the walls, and they hold their breaths.

Voices rise above them. The sound of heavy boots echoes down as men rush about on the main deck. Dust falls like rain with every footstep, and Castiel waits. 

It feels as soon as a heartbeat, but he’s sure it must have been at least a few minutes, and the first warning shot of their main cannon vibrates through the bones of the ship. It almost knocks them off their feet, but they’re experienced by now, and they keep their balance.

An eerie silence spreads through Queen Anna , as every man holds his breath, waiting for the pirates’ answer. It comes in a shrill battle cry that sends a chill down Castiel’s spine, and a cannon shot that luckily doesn’t hit them. 

Daniel got his wish for some action after all. 

Chaos erupts.

Orders come down from the main deck. The gunners prepare the cannons, their movements feverish as more cannonballs are brought up, men lined across the starboard side. 

The younger of the boys in the room with Castiel huddle together, trembling and shaking. Castiel can’t remember how long they’ve been on Queen Anna or if they’ve served on another ship before. This could very well be their first battle. However, he doesn’t have the time to offer a sympathetic look or soothing words, for Michaels’ voice carries strong and steady down to them, and the answer rises from the men— Fire in the hole!

The cannons shoot. 

The world tilts on its axis for a horrifying moment, the recoil from the three consecutive shots jolting Queen Anna . The boys that haven’t gotten their sea legs yet stumble and fall. Castiel doesn’t want to think what would happen if all the heavy cannons shot at the same time. 

A second round of cannon booms, and then the cry for the men to prepare rises above the cacophony. 

A cannonball hits the starboard side of Queen Anna , piercing the hull with a deafening crack that rains broken splinters on them and sends the cannon closest to the impact site toppling on top of one of the men manning it.

Indra is out of the room and to his side immediately, a couple of the gunners lifting the cannon to drag the injured sailor away, as he groans and cries in pain.

Castiel feels the moment the first pirates land on the deck above them more than he hears it, the thuds pulsing through the wooden decking and walls all around them to the steady soundtrack of gunshots and orders yelled hoarsely. Gunners abandon their position, grabbing swords and guns instead to run to the main deck. The only men who remain on the gun deck are Indra, who brings the injured man to the cockpit to take a better look at his leg, and the shipwrights who fight to patch the hole in the hull.

If the pirates won’t be intimidated by cannons then at least they can catch them alive, get them to mainland and let them be tried and hanged.

The air is filled with screams and gunshots, and soon the first injured man stumbles inside, half-supported by a sailor who only lingers long enough to drop his subordinate in Castiel’s and Alfie’s waiting arms, before rushing back to the battle.

They drag him to the table, blood quickly spreading all over his linen shirt. Alfie grabs a scissor from one of the chests closer to them and rips the man’s clothes away. An angry slash cuts his abdomen in the middle, blood oozing from the gaping wound. 

Castiel immediately grabs gazes and rags. He cleans as much of the blood as he can, trying to assess the wound. The sword went deep in, hurting the organs just underneath the soft skin of the lower belly. 

The man, pale and shaking and clearly going into shock, grabs on Alfie and tries to lift himself up, but the movement causes his guts to spill out.

One of the boys vomits.

Castiel tightens his mouth. Two of the older loblolly boys are to his side immediately, passing over whatever supply he and Alfie ask for as they work on the man, fighting against time to stop the bleeding. Behind Castiel, Indra speaks to the man with the broken leg in soothing tones as he resets the bone.

Two more men are brought down, Ion and Billy, and it’s obvious Castiel and his mates have their work cut out for them. There’s no more space on the table, so the men are spread on the floor with dirty sheets underneath them to catch as much blood as possible. A futile attempt. Castiel can already see it seeping into the wood, staining the boards and escaping through the cracks.

They lose Ion almost immediately, his chest crushed with wood splinter and pieces of broken banister, a half-uttered curse behind his lips. 

Castiel doesn’t have the time to mourn. The body is pushed to the side, secured against the movement of the ship, and they move on to tend to the others. He shouts orders, sweeps sweat from his forehead and digs into the wet flesh of Billy’s arm to find the bullet lodged there and pull it out. 

“There ye‘re,” a heavy voice says.

Castiel looks up to the two men standing in the doorway. Confusion makes him pause, crouched as he is above Billy, because one of them has a beard far longer than what is allowed in their ranks, and the other wears a coat two sizes too big for him. Then it registers that from the two hundred something men currently serving on Queen Anna , these two Castiel has never met.

Impossible, considering that he is the only surgeon currently on the ship, and he keeps accurate logs of every officer, sailor, cook or servant and their health condition. 

The younger of the two grins. “That wasn’t so difficult.” 

Beard takes a step forward, and Castiel watches as the same chain of emotion flicks across Alfie’s face, before realization dawns heavy on him.

There are ten of them in that room, but barely half are old enough to fight, and if they’re anything like Castiel they’ve never so much as touched a sword in their lives. The two pirates in the navy uniforms, though, are a completely different story. Now that they are closer it’s easy to see the silver earrings hanging from their ears, the belts that are all wrong and hold more guns than they should. 

Billy’s eyes roll back into his head, but Castiel doesn’t have the time to do anything about it, because Beard and Baggy Coat stalk inside the room, drawing their swords. 

“Strike yer colors and no one gets hurt,” Beard warns, his eyes searching every face inside the room—from the terrified boys that press against the wall as if hoping to disappear through it, to the man on the table that Indra is in the middle of stitching up, to Billy dying on the floor, to Alfie. Finally they land on Castiel. His mouth twists up in a wicked grin. “The master surgeon, I presume.”

Without waiting for an answer, and taking advantage of the temporary stunned lull in the room, the pirates charge forward. Beard kicks Alfie away, while Baggy Coat grabs Castiel and twists his arm painfully behind his back.

Indra is the first to react, but he is no match for Beard, who easily turns his body away from him and hits him on the side of the head with the grip of his sword. A couple of the loblolly boys, faces set grimly, try to surprise the much larger man and use their numbers against him, but they are quickly thrown back, bruised and hurt. 

Castiel fights viciously against his captor, eyes on Alfie, who gets kicked in the stomach as Beard steps above him. With a desperate twist that surely dislocates his shoulder, Castiel breaks free from Baggy Coat’s grip. 

His victory is short lived. 

Baggy Coat grits his teeth and lunges for him, throwing him to the floor and pinning his head down. The man’s fingers dig into his hair, drawing his head back. The last thing Castiel sees is Beard keeping everyone away with his cutlass, and then Baggy Coat slams his head against the floor, and Castiel blacks out.

**

Freezing water hits him in the face. 

Castiel’s eyes snap open, heart beating fast. Every instinct in his body is telling him to jerk away, but his arms and feet feel heavy, his body slow, and there’s a sharp pain through his left shoulder that makes him almost faint again. Gasping for breath, Castiel blinks the water away and lifts his face.

The first thing he sees are the two pirates in the room. One of them, face salt-worn and sour, stands above him, with a bucket in hand. The sleeves of his frock coat are thin and frayed at the edges, but the silver thread that snakes its way around the buttons and down to the hem of the coat speaks of a man that takes the lion’s share of the loot. His leather sash holds at least three guns and half a dozen silver daggers. 

He must be the captain, and judging from the large bed against the stern window and the large cabinet filled with all types of guns, knives—even an axe—pushed next to the large double doors the other man is currently resting his back against, this is the captain’s quarters. 

Castiel had always expected the captain’s private quarters of a pirate ship to be larger, though he supposes the frigate that had attacked them hadn’t been a big ship to begin with, compared to the Navy battleships Castiel is used to. He is tied to a chair, his back against a grand desk that dominates most of the room, separating the place where he and the pirates stand from the bed.

The captain scowls down at him, bending to place the bucket on the bland carpet. “Welcome back t’ the land of the living,” he grumbles. “‘twas ‘bout time ye showed a leg.” He grabs Castiel’s chair and easily turns it around, so that Castiel is now facing the desk, before he takes his own seat behind it. He threads his fingers together, narrowing his eyes at Castiel, deep in thought.

Words are slow to come to Castiel. He has no idea where he is, other than aboard a strange ship. From the bright stars that shed their muted light inside the cabin through the stern windows, Castiel guesses he’s been clocked out for a few hours at least. By now there’s no chance of rescue coming to look for him.

At least he’s not dizzy enough not to realize why the pirates want him. 

It’s not unheard of for pirates to attack ships just to abduct people, though most of the time they target merchant ships that carry more cargo than cannons and whose crews are inexperienced in battle. A Royal Navy ship is a far more difficult objective and more often than not, not worth the risk. But it’s not Castiel’s lucky day, apparently, because this pirate crew did the unthinkable and attacked a battle ship twice the size of their own frigate.

Either they’re too confident or too crazy. 

“Who are you?” he breathes out roughly, for a lack of anything else to say. Water slowly makes its way down his back and sticks his hair to his forehead.

The captain rubs a hand over his greying beard. 

From the corner of his eye Castiel can see the younger man move to stand closer, where he can keep an eye on both Castiel and his captain. His hair is short and spiked, his shoulders broad underneath the light tunic he’s wearing. A pendant hangs from a leather cord around his neck.

“Name’s Singer,” the captain finally says, drawing Castiel’s attention back to him. He reaches to the side of the desk, opens one of the drawers and retrieves a paper. He pushes it towards Castiel with calloused fingers.

Castiel knows what this is even without looking, but he waits for Captain Singer to say what he has to say before he spits in his face—metaphorically, because the desk is too large for him to try and actually spit in the man’s face. 

“We need a ship surgeon,” Singer mutters. “Sign here n’ ye’ll be an official member of our crew.”

“You want to turn me into a pirate,” Castiel corrects, though he mentally applauds the man for getting straight to the point. He’d rather get this over with than spend more time than he has to cold and in pain. 

Captain Singer shrugs. “Call it whatever ye want. I jus’ need ye t’ sign here.”

“No.” The answer is immediate and non-negotiable. He may be a prisoner, but Castiel is not a criminal, and they can’t force him to become one. 

Captain Singer takes the paper back and throws it into the still open drawer. He doesn’t look disappointed. He probably knew it was a stretch to have Castiel sign the papers to begin with. 

“How ‘bout this,” Captain Singer says, leaning back in his chair. “Ye join us, but ye don’t sign anything. We keep no papers of yer work wit’ us at all. Ye’ll be getting—” he shakes his head around, calculating in his head, “—’bout a share ‘n a fourth from every ship we capture. Me thinks that’s a lot more than what the Royal Navy was payin’ ye. And if we’re ever captured, ya walk a free man, since they’ll have no evidence against ye.”

“It’s not about the money,” Castiel interjects. “It’s about the principle of the thing. I’m not going to become a pirate, whether an official or unofficial one.”

“Bobby,” the younger man steps in, and Captain Singer shoots him a warning look. The man ignores it and comes to stand next to the desk, tall and imposing. Every hard line of muscle under his shirt is flexed with threat.

Something like a shiver traces its fingertips up Castiel’s spine, but he juts his chin out in defiance. 

The man narrows his eyes at Castiel, then, slowly, he moves behind him. Castiel feels the hair on the back of his neck stand, but soon the ropes restraining him are untied and fall to the ground. 

The relief lasts only a second. The man grabs Castiel—by his good arm, thank God—and violently hauls him out of the chair and towards the door.

“Dean, wait!” Captain Singer orders, but his words fall to deaf ears. 

The man named Dean throws the door open and drags Castiel across the main deck, protests and orders be damned. Abruptly, he stops, throws Castiel against the rail of the larboard side. His shoulder sends a wave of pain down his useless arm in protest. Castiel is hauled up by the lapel of his coat, Dean’s eyes flashing green and dangerous under the deep silver of the moon, and the pain in his shoulder is the least of his problems. 

The rail bites uncomfortably into his ass, his one good arm flails uselessly for something to hold onto, and Castiel hangs half outside the ship. The only thing keeping him from falling into the dark water underneath him is the hands fisted into his coat.

“Let me make this clear,” Dean growls. His voice drops lower, and Castiel has no doubt that he will go through with whatever threat follows. “You can be a good boy and become our surgeon, or you walk the plank with the first light.”

Castiel swallows, but he forces his body to relax, hands fisted to his side. He stares straight at Dean, putting every ounce of contempt and stubbornness he is capable of into it. “Davy Jones’ Locker is a better place to be than a pirate’s ship,” he spits out.

The hands that are holding him up tighten, and there’s the slightest tremor moving through them. If Dean is going to kill him then Castiel hopes he’ll just throw him over right now and be done with it. There’s no need to prolong the inevitable, because it’s already clear that neither of them is going to back down. The pirates need a surgeon, and Castiel is set on not helping them. 

“Shiver me timbers! Dean, ye stupid swab.” Captain Singer finally catches up to them, the skirt of his coat dancing with the low howl of the wind. 

A few men appear, their heads peeking out from the companionways and from around the capstans they’re leaning against, rum in their hands. They watch curiously as their captain grabs Dean from the shoulder and pulls him back, Castiel falling from his grip back on the main deck. 

“Ye stubborn pig,” the captain mutters, dragging Dean away. “Can’t even let me finish.”

Castiel clutches his left arm close to his body to ease some of the pain. He curls in on himself, becoming as small a target as possible, while the two pirates are too busy arguing to pay him any more mind.

“You weren’t convincing him,” Dean protests, gesturing towards Castiel exasperated.

“Oh, and ye were doing a much better job at it, weren’t ya?” the Captain barks back. “I swear to God, yer daddy should’ve left ye with Ellen. See if ye’d be actin’ like that then...” he grumbles, his words trailing off to an internal monologue.  

He moves towards Castiel, shoving past Dean scowling with his arms crossed. 

“Last offer,” he says, looming over Castiel with enough guns and knives to cut him into bite-sized food for fish. “Ya come with us—” he lifts a finger to stop Castiel’s protests, “—for a year. One year only. And then ya choose a safe port, ‘n we drop you off there. Ye can go back t’ the Navy, ye can become a privateer, ye can retire, do whatever the hell you want. But ye spend one year on this ship as our surgeon.”

Castiel grits his teeth, cocking his head to the side to peek at Dean who is still glaring at him. He assumes the threat of being thrown overboard still stands, but there is an idea forming in his mind. 

A year serving on a pirate ship will be hell, yes, but if the captain makes good on his word, Castiel will be free to leave after their agreement ends, and even if he doesn’t, Castiel has to assume he’ll have plenty of chances to escape every time they make port for the pirates to sell their loot and buy provisions. 

His conscience protests every part of this plan, and Castiel shushes it with the thought that treating pirates is not strictly the same as being one himself. 

“One year only?” he asks, struggling to pull himself to standing. 

“One year,” the captain agrees.

Releasing his left hand to hang uselessly to his side, Castiel extends his right forward. 

Captain Singer grins. 

“Welcome on board, Doc,” he says, squeezing his hand and sealing their deal. He raises an eyebrow expectantly, and Castiel realizes he’s still waiting for something. 

“It’s Castiel,” he offers, and the captain’s mouth tilts up in a ghost of a pleased smile.

Dean huffs out a breath, something close to a laugh but not exactly, and his chin drops to his chest. “Alright, enough of this crap. Everyone get back to your work,” he barks out, heading towards the bow to inspect the men. 

The pirates around them turn back to whatever they’d been doing before, their curiosity satisfied for now, but more than likely not eager to have Dean come after them. 

Captain Singer leads Castiel to sit on a barrel, and with a swift movement pops his shoulder back into its socket, without giving Castiel any time to protest or even flinch away from the pain. 

“There ye go.” He pats him on the shoulder. “This should be better. We’ll find something t’ keep that tied for a couple weeks, and ye should be good as new.”

Castiel rubs his throbbing shoulder, wincing. “Is that doctor’s orders?” he asks drily. He’s not planning on having his arm tied up, not if he can help it. He’d rather have full use of both his hands, even if he’s a little uncomfortable.

Captain Singer raises an eyebrow. “Oh, ye think yer funny. Should fit right in with th’ rest of these idjits.” He turns around to gaze into the night, deep in thought. “Let’s find somewhere fer ye t’ sleep. Ye start your duties first thing in the morning.”

Chapter Text

March 13th, 1703

“Rise and shine, princess!”

Every muscle in Castiel’s body tenses. 

The man slaps a hand over his shoulder and shakes him, making the hammock swing from side to side. How Castiel keeps his balance and doesn’t tumble over is a miracle. Small mercies, he supposes. 

“Come on, we don’t have all day,” the pirate insists, and Castiel reluctantly pulls himself up and rubs his eyes. 

He turns to look at the grinning idiot behind him, who has apparently been sent to make sure Castiel doesn’t try to avoid his duties as the ship’s new surgeon. Baggy Coat’s grin widens, and Castiel feels his stomach churn. Of all the people they could have sent, they went with one of the two who had abducted him. The perfect way to start his day.

Trying not to show any reaction to seeing the man again, Castiel finds his boots, discarded to the floor last night before he’d curled in the hammock Captain Singer had found for him, and pulls them on. His left arm still bothers him, but it’s nowhere near as painful as last night, so Castiel counts that as a win.  The rest of his body, however, is not in a much better condition. Everything feels sore and aching. Spending the whole night wide awake and unnerved by the presence of the other men sleeping around him certainly hasn’t helped.

It’s not that Castiel had expected to be given his own room, but finding himself surrounded by pirates all of a sudden had unsettled him and kept him up all night. His hammock is a little further away from the rest of the men, but he could still hear their snoring and sleepy mumbling all night long. The few hours he managed to doze off were plagued with dreams of raging storms and dark waters waiting to swallow him up.

Baggy Coat leads him through the labyrinth of hammocks and chests that make up the berth deck, all the while chatting away. 

“The sick bay is further down towards the bow,” he says gesturing behind them. “But Bobby said to meet him at the gun deck. I’m Jo, by the way.” He ducks under an oil lamp hanging from the low ceiling, turning his head to glance behind him and make sure Castiel is still following. His face is half-hidden in shadows, but Castiel can make out his brown eyes and a strand of blonde hair peeking from under the red bandana he’s wearing. 

He’s shorter than Castiel, and a lot thinner, but Castiel knows from personal experience that his appearance has nothing to do with his physical strength. He easily overpowered Castiel once and without doubt would do it again if need be. 

“Shoud’ve introduced myself sooner probably, but we were kinda tied up with fighting the Navy and all that.” He shrugs, like he hadn’t been the one to knock Castiel out and kidnap him. 

Castiel tries hard not to think about Ion bleeding out in his hands.

Jo pauses in front of a ladder, the light of an oil lamp catching at the sword hanging from his leather sash. “Galley and mess is in there—” he points towards a closed door from behind which voices can be heard, “—but Bobby has brought breakfast for you up in the cabins today.” He leads the way up the ladder and takes Castiel to the cabins reserved for the higher ranking crewmembers.

The first door they come across is closed, the wall next to it lined with barrels. A pair of milky white eyes blink open above one of them, floating in the darkness. Castiel stumbles, before his eyes can make out the shape of a black cat lounging. 

The cat turns its head as Jo walks by it, unseeing eyes staring in the distance, but its ears follow the footsteps before it tilts its head towards Castiel.

“Are you alright back there?” Jo asks, hand already outstretched and ready to knock on the door.

“I—yeah. Fine.” Castiel passes by the cat, its eyes following him though he’s sure the cat is blind.

Understanding dawns on Jo’s face. “Oh! That’s Luna. Creepy, huh? Dean found her. She doesn’t look like it, but she’s quite the hunter. Solved our rat problem.” 

The cat yawns, eyes closing so only her sharp teeth and rosy tongue are now visible, before settling back down to continue her nap. 

As if on cue, the door they’ve been standing in front of swings open. 

Captain Singer scowls at them, but Jo doesn’t look the least bit fazed by the man towering above him. He pushes past and into the room like he owns the place. And he probably does, Castiel thinks as he watches the young man throw himself on one of the two beds pushed against opposite walls. 

“Ya had t’ wait fer me t’ open the door fer ya?” Captain Singer complains.

Jo shrugs, stretched as he is across the bed, hands behind his head. “You never said to come in.”

He’s loose and relaxed. The same rules that keep the men at attention when their captain passes by in the navy apparently don’t apply to pirates as well. From Dean last night calling the captain by his first name to Jo acting so casual around him, Castiel guesses there’s not much respect for authority around here.

“Yeah, like that’s stopped ye before.” He turns his head, raising an eyebrow at Castiel hovering by the door. “What, ye’re waiting fer some special invitation, too? Get in here.”

The room is longer than is wide, with barely enough space for Castiel to squeeze past the captain standing between the two beds and unsurely make his way towards the desk in the back of the room. Every available surface in here is covered in parchments and books. Piles and piles of them towering around Castiel. Maps of islands and oceans cover every inch of the walls, pinned there by daggers and knives and sharp tools that have all kinds of uses except pinning maps to walls. 

“Come on, don’t be shy. We don’t ‘ave all day,” Captain Singer urges, pushing Castiel towards the chair. 

A steaming bowl is placed in front of Castiel. He eyes the hot broth and the seabiscuit the captain offers him suspiciously, and the older man rolls his eyes. “Yeah, we just went t’ all the trouble of attacking a navy ship fer ya just t’ poison ye on yer first day. I swears young people have no brain inside their skulls.”

The admission that his ship was attacked and his men killed and wounded because a pirate crew needed a surgeon weighs heavily on Castiel, tightening around his throat. All of a sudden, he feels what little appetite he had disappear. He doesn’t think he could swallow a single piece of that seabiscuit no matter how much time he lets it soak in the broth, but the captain is eyeing him expectantly, and Castiel reluctantly takes a bite. It feels like sand in his mouth, though the taste is just fine. 

The captain nods his approval, leaning with his hip against the desk. “Ye’ll find all th’ equipment ye need down in th’ sickbay, ‘n I’m sure there are chests with medicinal herbs down there, too. Our previous surgeon was very well organized. I’m sure ye’re going t’ appreciate that.” 

Once again, straight to the point. 

Castiel can’t complain. He appreciates bluntness and clear expectations over pretty words. He appreciates that there are supplies for him to use on the ship as well, his own dressbox and belongings left behind on Queen Anna. 

“How long have you been without a doctor?” he asks, swirling his spoon in the broth.

Captain Singer and Jo exchange a look, too fast for Castiel to decipher it, but the captain’s shoulders pull back with tension. “Less than six months,” he answers. “We were in a rough battle a few months back. Lost lots of good men.”

“What, tried to go up against another Royal Navy ship?” Castiel asks, deadpan. 

It’s stupid to antagonize his captors, but Castiel is emboldened by the knowledge that they need him, and that, at least for the foreseeable future, they’re not going to kill him. He agreed to help them because he had no other choice, but he’s decided he is not going to be nice about it. 

“Actually, no,” the captain says, crossing his arms over his chest. “Something far worse. Tell me, how much d’ye know about sea monsters, Castiel?”

Castiel blinks, his spoon frozen in the middle of another circle around his bowl. “Sea monsters,” he repeats, incredulously. 

Jo pushes himself up so he is resting his weight on his elbows. “You know, mermaids, sirens, sea sprites, sea serpents,” he lists off.

“Legends,” Castiel says immediately.

“Or so ye think.” Captain Singer searches among the piles of books around him, until he comes up with a leather bound tome. He sweeps the back of his palm across the cover and a rain of dust falls away, but when he places it next to Castiel’s bowl, the title sticks out in plain all capital letters against the worn leather: Monstrum Marinum - Vicipaedia. 

Castiel doesn’t dare touch the book, but the captain opens it to a random page and taps his finger at it. “Real,” he says. “They’re all real.”

The page is a drawing of a creature half octopus and half snake with six heads and razor sharp teeth. Its tentacles unfold underneath it in the same color as cuttlefish ink, their edges lost in the darkness of the abyss. 

Castiel stares down at it. 

“Of course, most of the stories ye’ve heard are bullshit,” the captain continues, “but there’s always fire where there’s smoke, ‘n more often than not th’ truth is far more terrifying than th’ myth.”

Castiel looks up at him, and the words spill out of his mouth before he can stop them. “You’re crazy.”

“Crazy?” the captain questions. He doesn’t look offended. No, he looks like he expected this reaction from Castiel. With a small shake of his head, he asks, “The ocean’s far bigger than any land discovered, 'n deeper than any human could hope t’ reach with his breath. Why d’you think ye know of everything that lives down there?”

“Somebody would have seen something,” Castiel insists. “Monsters don’t just go unnoticed.”

“Monsters kill people,” Jo jumps in. “You’ve never met anyone who’s seen a monster because no one survives to tell the story. Well, most people don’t survive.” He pushes his chest out, head held up proudly. “But we hunt them down and kill them. We save people.”

“You’re criminals,” Castiel shoots back immediately.

Jo narrows his eyes at him, mouth tight.

Criminals and crazy, he adds to himself. These two look like they genuinely believe in monsters, and creatures, and fairy tales. Sailors are superstitious folk, always have been and always will be, but this is teetering on the edge of madness.

With a dejected sigh, Captain Singer drops the subject. “I won’t try to convince ye. Jus’ be warned and be ready fer whatever comes next. We have one final hunt t’ do, and then we’re done. Hopefully ye won’t be th’ only one leaving the pirate life behind him in a year.” 

He gestures towards the broth going cold in Castiel’s bowl, before turning to gather a couple of parchments and a compass in his arms. “Eat up. Ye’ll need energy to deal with all the idjits at sick call. Don’t let ‘em intimidate ye, they’re just a bunch of shark bait. If ye need me, I’ll be by the helm. Oh—” he turns around one last time to throw a warning look at Castiel over his shoulder. “Don’t be late. Captain doesn’t like to wait.”

Castiel jerks his head around to stare at the door swinging closed with bulging eyes.

If Singer is not the captain on this ship, who is?

***

Dean stands next to the main mast, a deep green waistcoat thrown over his tunic and sleeves rolled to the elbows to expose freckled skin underneath. He holds a small, clay pipe, bringing it up to his lips every now and then. His hair looks almost blonde under the sunlight.

Castiel feels a sense of foreboding just by walking towards him. 

Jo, on the other hand, grins brightly and lifts a hand up in greeting. “‘Morning, Captain,” he says, tongue in cheek. 

Dean rolls his eyes. “Come on, we don’t have all day,” he says, eyes gliding over Jo to rest on Castiel. “You’re late.” 

It’s just like Castiel’s luck that the captain of the pirate ship that abducted him tried to kill him last night.

About twenty pirates are waiting around. They watch Castiel curiously as he walks towards the main mast, where Jo pats a small wooden stool for him to take a seat. 

Dean looms above him, hands clasped behind his back. 

For a few seconds nothing happens. Castiel’s throat comes up dry as he stares at the pirates, and they shift their weight awkwardly as they stare back. 

Dean glances towards the sky in a silent plea to God for help, if his tight expression is any indication. “Harry,” Dean decides. “You first.”

A man in a mustard knitted cap steps forward, bare feet dragging across the main deck. He clears his throat. “Hi, um, Doc,” he begins. 

“Hello,” Castiel replies. He opens the surgeon’s log Jo helped him find in the sick bay, and squints down at the loopy handwriting. “Harry Spangler?” He lifts his eyes to look at the man in question.

Harry nods hastily, removing his cap to tug at it nervously. 

“Go on,” Dean urges.

Harry licks his lips. He extends his hand out for Castiel to see and rolls the sleeve up. There’s a rag wrapped around his forearm, wet and red with blood. “It’s just a cut,” Harry says. “But it won’t stop bleeding.”

Castiel nods, unwrapping the rag to see the deep slash hidden underneath. He’ll have to wrap it for now and send him down to the sickbay so he can stitch his arm later. He’ll prepare a St. John’s wort ointment to help with the healing, and Harry will have to take it easy for a week or so. At least Castiel knows how to do this. He focuses on his work and almost forgets he’s a prisoner—almost being the keyword, because it’s kind of hard to forget when to his right is someone who knocked him out and abducted him and to his left a man that threatened to have him walk the plank a few hours ago. 

Emboldened now that the beginning was made, more pirates come forward, though it quickly becomes apparent that most of the men have gathered to see Castiel, rather than because they have a real problem. 

After the third pirate complains vaguely about feeling unwell, Dean has had enough. “Next person that comes forward without a good reason will be holystoning the main deck for a week. Alone.”

The dozen men that remain smile sheepishly, weak protests rising— you got it all wrong, and don’t be so hard on us, Captain— but most of them hurry back to their work. 

“You shouldn’t bully the crew, brother.” Beard walks towards them laughing. Like Jo, he’s changed out of the Navy uniform he was wearing yesterday. In his breeches and bright scarf there’s no mistaking him for anything else but what he really is: a pirate. 

“They’re idiots,” Dean huffs, but he doesn’t sound nearly as annoyed as he pretends to be. “What are you doing up here, Benny?”

“Just left breakfast for ye in the cabin,” Benny answers, pointing towards the captain’s quarters.

Dean smiles gratefully, his face softening. “You’re a lifesaver. Hey, have you seen Sam today?”

Jo takes a deep breath next to Castiel, his posture stiffening. 

Benny rubs a hand down his beard—braided with a dark ribbon like a viking—thinking over the question. “No, not really. I don’t think he came down for breakfast either.”

Dean’s relaxed posture changes immediately, shoulders pulling back, spine straightening. With a curse under his breath, he hurries away, towards the companionway and down to the lower decks. 

Castiel is left with Benny and Jo, and though the main deck is fairly large and they are by no means alone, Castiel feels trapped, panic rising up his throat. His left arm is still throbbing from when he tried to break free from Jo’s grip, and the image of Benny kicking Alfie is burned behind his eyelids. He’s almost shocked when he looks down and finds his hands clean of Ion’s blood.

“What’s up, Doc?” Benny asks. 

He’s only trying to be nice, Castiel is sure. Jo has been nothing but friendly since Castiel woke up today, and none of the pirates on the ship have shown any cruelty or hostility towards him. But Castiel can’t stomach sitting here and making merry with his abductors. Since no one is left waiting for sick call, Castiel springs up.

“I have to get to the sickbay,” he says, head lowered. He clutches the logbook against his chest, his other hand tight around the handle of the dressbox Jo retrieved for him. “Excuse me.”

He climbs down the ladders that lead deeper inside the hull, pushing past pirates carrying boxes, and past two men playing cards in a corner. He finds Harry and another man waiting for him in the sick bay, and he does what he does best. He buries himself in work.

***

The sun has long since set by the time Castiel emerges back outside. 

Some men are still walking around, checking ropes and climbing up the ratlines, their voices reaching Castiel over the warm breeze of the night. He can see Singer up by the helm, a map in one hand and an astrolabe in the other. He tried to get Castiel to tie his wounded arm a few hours ago, and Castiel’s not in the mood for another argument. He ducks his head and moves where he’s out of Singer’s line of sight and directly into a solid mass of muscle.

“Shit, I’m—” the other person starts, at the same time Castiel jerks back embarrassed, muttering, “Sorry, I didn't—”

He looks up to find green eyes looking back. 

“Cas,” Dean says, surprised.

Irritation flares inside Castiel. To say that Dean is the last person he wants to see right now, would be an understatement. Sure, Benny and Jo are not exactly his favourite people either, but Castiel knows who gave the order for the attack on his ship, and he still remembers Dean’s fingers curled into his shirt. 

Ignoring the nickname falling from Dean’s lips, he tries to push past him. “Excuse me.”

“Wait.” Dean doesn’t touch him, but his voice is commanding, and Castiel freezes on instinct. His time with the Navy has beaten obedience into him, apparently. His father would be proud. Then again, his father would have killed himself rather than be taken by pirates. Another way Castiel is a disappointment.

He wonders when news will reach his parents. Will his mother cry or will she carry on silently, like she did when she sent her only son out to the sea? 

“I talked with Harry and Garth,” Dean says. “They said you did a good job patching them up.” He pauses, thinking over his next words. “I want to make this as comfortable as—”

Castiel spins around, chin held high, hands fisted at his side. His voice is steady as he cuts Dean off. “A prisoner can never be comfortable in his cell.” 

Dean’s eyes widen, then harden. “You’re not a prisoner.”

Castiel scoffs. “You held me above the sea just last night. How am I not a prisoner?” he asks. “If we make port will I be free to go?”

A muscle vibrates under Dean’s jaw, but he doesn’t answer. He is all broad shoulders and authority, and Castiel would hit him if he didn’t have better control of himself. He shakes his head, instead. 

“I didn’t think so.”

He turns to leave, this time intending to not let Dean reel him back in. His plan fails almost as soon as it starts.

“You talked with Bobby,” Dean says. “You know why we need you. You know about—”

“About monsters?” Castiel challenges. He keeps his back to Dean. “The only thing that I know is that you are all either delusional or stupid if you think I’d buy a lie like that.”

“It’s not a lie,” Dean insists, raising his voice.

A couple of men turn to look at them, but Castiel can’t make out faces in the night. At least that means they can’t see him either.

“Delusional, then. Good to know.” This time he walks away. 

Dean doesn’t try to stop him.

 

March 15th, 1703

Turns out there’s not much difference in the life of a pirate and a sailor. Except pirates are drunker and louder. And dress more colorfully. In his dark blue suit and golden buttons Castiel feels like he sticks out like a sore thumb among the pirates. Spending most of his time on the lower decks helps a little, because the faint light of the oil lamps obscures the differences between him and the other men.

His own duties are pretty much the same, so Castiel finds himself walking among the cannons to give a list of hastily scrawled names on a dirty piece of paper to Singer—the quartermaster, as he’s found out by now.

Luna lurks in the darkness again, milky white eyes blinking open in greeting, but otherwise remains curled in her corner as Castiel passes by.

The first door of the private cabins is closed as always, except this time voices can be heard from inside. A very familiar one actually. He can’t make out any words, but that is unmistakably Dean’s voice, rising and falling in an argument. 

Castiel is tempted for only a second, but he keeps walking, and he knocks on Singer’s door. He waits for the old man’s gruff tone to give him permission before stepping inside.

Singer stands by his desk, papers and notes scattered all over it, and he barely lifts his eyes to motion Castiel further inside. 

“A couple of men are down with the gripes.” Castiel steps forward as he extends his hand to pass over the list, ignoring the argument that is louder in here. “I’ll prepare lavender water for them, but I’d suggest they take it easy for the rest of the day.”

Singer scans the names, before tossing it on his desk to join the rest of the papers with a grunt. There’s got to be method to the madness, because Singer never seems to lose anything, but Castiel can’t see it.

“— live your life like that, Sammy!” Dean’s voice becomes louder, reaching them clear as if he were in the same room as them.

“As opposed to what, Dean?” the other voice answers.

Castiel lowers his head, pressing his lips together and trying to keep his expression from changing. He’s not sure what’s the protocol on a pirate ship, but in the Navy when something like that happened the correct reaction was to pretend that it was not happening.

Singer rolls his eyes. “Damn Winchesters,” he curses, walking to the thin wall that separates the two cabins and banging on it. “Shut your traps, ye bilge rats! Or I’ll come over and put the fear of God in ya.”

The voices stop immediately.

“Arr, let’s see if they’ll start yelling again. Idjits,” Singer mutters to himself. He turns his back to Castiel, who takes it as his cue to leave.

He’s carefully closing the door behind him, when the other door bangs open, and Dean comes barging out. He’s still arguing, but this time he keeps his voice lowered. He doesn’t notice Castiel immediately, not until another man steps out of the room, hissing his own answer back. Then Dean rolls his eyes, a whole body movement that throws his head to the side, and his gaze finally lands on Castiel.

The instinct to run is the first thing on his mind, but Dean is faster, the frustrated frown on his face melting into determination. He snatches the other man’s wrist and drags him towards Castiel in two wide strides.

“Time for you to socialize, Sammy,” he throws over his shoulder, before turning to Castiel. “Cas—” he begins, making Castiel wonder if maybe Dean can't remember his full name, “—meet Sammy, my little brother. Sammy, this is Cas, our new surgeon.”

‘Little brother’ feels like a poor description for the man standing in front of Castiel. Sammy is a giant even compared to Dean, who has just  enough height on Castiel to force him to lift his chin to look him in the eye. A fact that frustrates Castiel endlessly. 

“It’s Sam,” he says, slow to lift his flushed face to take in Castiel. All the fight seems to have gone out of him now, anger replaced with tiredness and drooping shoulders, chest lifting with every slow breath he takes. There's a rash crawling its way up his chest and neck through the half-buttoned shirt he’s wearing, his eyes red rimmed and pupils constricted to the point of almost disappearing, even though they have the oil lamps to see by. Judging by his appearance, pirates don't limit themselves to alcohol. At least that might explain all the crazy talk about monsters.

The answer comes naturally to Castiel and wins him a frustrated twist of Dean’s mouth. “It’s Castiel.”

Sam lifts an eyebrow, before turning to his brother. “Is this the guy you abducted?” 

Dean slaps Sam across the chest with the back of his hand. “Borrowed! We borrowed him!” 

Sam waves his brother's hand away, turning towards his cabin again. “Keep telling that to yourself, Dean.” The door closes behind him, leaving Dean and Castiel alone—again.

Castiel doesn't comment—his own opinion on the matter was made clear a few nights ago—but he does revel in the satisfaction of Dean flushing with irritation.

“Shut up,” Dean grumbles, maybe to Sam or maybe to Castiel, before he stomps away.

***

For the most part, the pirates are polite at their worst, friendly at their best. Even though Castiel definitely doesn’t trust any of them, he’s mostly sure they are not going to tie him up and keelhaul him.

Jo has taken him under his wing, saving him a seat at every meal. Maybe he thinks Castiel is his responsibility out of some twisted form of guilt, but more than likely he just wants the company. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Jo doesn’t get along with most of the men on the ship. He sleeps in the private cabins with Singer, and Castiel has only ever seen him talking with a handful of the crew—Benny and Dean, more often than not. Maybe it’s because he’s the youngest of the crew, or maybe because he’s the smallest physically—definitely not the weakest though—but the point is that Jo keeps his distance.

Castiel keeps his distance, too, so by default, and against every survival instinct ingrained in Castiel's brain, the two end up sitting together again for lunch, Castiel squeezed between Jo and a man named Garth at one of the long tables that take up the mess. Benny is standing behind a wooden counter, a dirty apron around his waist that doesn't inspire much trust, but the food he’s serving is steaming hot, and Castiel's mouth waters at the smell. 

Harry pats a hand on Castiel's shoulder as he passes by to ask if Castiel will take a look at his stitches later, and Eddie, a pirate Harry seems to be stuck at the hip with, pushes him forward, complaining that there won’t be any food left for the two of them if they don’t hurry up.

“Doc’s quite the popular lad,” Garth says, cheeks full with salted meat.

Jo shrugs. “People love to gossip." He elbows Castiel under the ribs. “I bet everyone's been down to the sick bay at least once to meet you.”

“Probably,” Castiel agrees. By now he knows it’s no use trying to ignore Jo. He'll just go on talking, or worse start sharpening his knife to fill the silence. Castiel will take talking over knives every day. He takes a bite of his lunch, chewing slowly as he tries to plan his next words. In the end, he decides to hell with it, and just says exactly what's on his mind. “I met the captain’s brother today.”

Jo pauses with a spoon lifted half way towards his mouth. “Sam?”

“Did he finally come out of his cabin?” Garth adds, using the back of his hand to wipe the corner of his mouth.

“For less than a minute,” Castiel says. “He’s… interesting,” he settles for at last.

Jo’s face tightens. “Sam’s had a difficult time lately,” he says slowly, like he’s testing the words in his mouth before letting them out. “And for all of Dean’s good intentions, I don’t think Sam being here does him any good.”

Now, Castiel has a lot to say about Dean’s good intentions and how they’re a load of crap, but he taps that instinct down. It’s neither the time nor the place, on a pirate ship surrounded by his captors. He keeps the conversation to a safer topic. “Sam doesn’t want to be here?”

“He says he does,” Jo says, playing with his food. “Certainly doesn’t act like it.”

Garth has gone suspiciously quiet, his eyes glued to the plate in front of him. 

Gordon Walker, seated further down the table, finds the opportunity to jump into the conversation. “That bilge rat is good for nothing except eating our food and getting high. A wench would’ve been more useful on the ship,” he growls around a mouthful of stale bread.

Jo narrows his eyes at the other pirate, his grip on his fork turning white-knuckled. “Shut your hole, Gordon.” 

Gordon lifts his hands up in surrender. “Just saying the truth.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Victor Henriksen cuts in from the other side. “Gordon’s grouchy because we’ve been sailing for too long.”

“Yeah, Sam’s not that bad,” Garth laughs awkwardly, trying to smooth things over.

“Sam? Who cares about Sam?” Victor cackles. “I meant about bringing a wench on board. Damn bitch’s gonna be more trouble than she’s worth.”

“No women aboard,” another pirate says, and murmurs of agreement rise all around them. “A wench is worse luck than fucking sharks following the ship.”

“Y’all better shove it where you know,” Jo warns.

Arthur Ketch, sitting across the table from him, points his knife in warning towards Jo. “Me thinks ye should be more careful of what comes out of that pretty mouth. Being Singer’s son and the captain’s favourite will only get ye so far.”

“Shiver me timbers,” Benny exclaims, letting his plate fall on the table as he takes the seat next to Ketch, stretching his legs on purpose to crowd him. “One’d think ye’re all enemies instead of crew mates. I’d rather me hearties are nice to each other.” He smiles around him, but there’s a tightness to his eyes that spells trouble for anyone that dares to speak another word.

“Go on,” he urges. “Don’t let the food get cold.”

The men turn their attention back to their food, though the tension is thick in the room. 

Castiel ducks his head and tries to finish eating faster.

 

March 26th, 1703

Castiel looks up from the dressbox he’s trying to organize to find Dean leaning against a stack of crates. His expression is hidden under the flickering shadows of the oil lamp behind him.

“What are you doing here?” Castiel asks through gritted teeth.

It’s not enough that he has to deal with all the pirates all day, everyday, it seems harassing him during the few moments he has to himself is a new favourite pastime for Dean.

“Just thought I’d check up on you. See how you’re adjusting to a new ship.”

“I’m fine. You can go now.” 

He turns his head away, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge Dean’s presence in the sickbay any more. It seems that Dean has other plans though. He shuffles forward, boots dragging on the floor, and plops down next to Castiel. They’re close. Close enough for Castiel to hear Dean’s breathing, but not close enough that there’s any part of them touching. It’s still too close for Castiel’s liking. He won’t give Dean the satisfaction of scooting over to make more room for him. He won’t stoop as low.

They sit in silence. Dean watches Castiel, and Castiel keeps his eyes on the dressbox in front of him, hands flying from one side to the other as he rearranges the bottles inside. 

Finally, Dean sighs. “Look. This isn’t going to work. You giving me the silent treatment, I mean. You took the deal, so at least pretend you’re doing your job.”

“I am doing my job,” Castiel says, gesturing at the assortment of things lying around his feet. “Which isn’t to speak to you.”

“You speak with Bobby.”

Castiel’s grip on one of the jars becomes tighter. Conscious of the weak glass beneath his fingers, he places it on the floor and finds something less prone to breaking to fiddle with. 

Singer is not the reason I’m here, is he? he wants to say. To scream. 

He says nothing. 

Sometimes he still dreams of Dean’s fingers tangled in his shirt, his arm desperately looking for something to hold onto, the sea dark and menacing under him. His stomach clenches anxiously. Though the captain hasn’t shown any other signs of hostility towards him, Castiel still doesn’t trust him. Dean is friendly and protective of his crew mates, attending every morning sick call to check on them personally, something Captain Michaels never did while Castiel was still on the Queen Anna . He’s not sure the same terms apply to a prisoner though. Keeping his distance is safer. 

When it’s clear Castiel doesn’t have anything else to say, Dean pushes himself back up. “Suit yourself.” He heads away, hands in his pockets. “I’ll see you for morning sick call, I guess.”

 

March 28th, 1703

The Jolly Roger flutters on the main mast. 

There’s the outline of an island on the horizon, and with their proximity to land, the number of gulls perching around the ship has increased. There are five currently sitting along the yards of the masts, completely unbothered by the pirates climbing up and down the ratlines.

Their chances of coming across another ship have also increased, and as they sail towards the merchantman, Castiel suspects that was their goal to begin with. Singer has ordered him to stay on the main deck—they don’t expect much trouble from a merchant ship, and his services will probably not be needed.

The pirates unsheath their cutlasses and cheer loudly as the Black Impala lets a warning cannon shot. The wind is in their favor, and the merchantman doesn’t even attempt to escape. The Impala easily catches up to her, her black sails billowing.

Standing with his hands clasped behind his back, in a brilliant deep navy doublet that makes Castiel almost ashamed to be wearing a similar shade, Dean grins against the sun. His eyes are shining. He nods, cocked hat moving along with his head, and gives his men the signal to board the other ship. 

The Impala and the Hermes —as the other ship is named—are tied together with ropes and hooks. Planks are placed on the railings, and the pirates cross to the other ship one by one, bare feet thumping on the main deck when they land. Dean is the last to cross, his leather boots dragging across the plank as he makes his way over.

“Surrender, and you get to live,” he says, a cheeky grin spreading from ear to ear. The noise of the black flag behind him echoes that promise.

The other captain only has to glance to the couple dozen men behind him to make his decision. “Take anything you want,” he says.

Dean makes good on his promise. 

Victor and Garth are left to guard the men on the deck while the rest of the pirates search the ship for anything valuable. 

Sam is nowhere to be found. Castiel assumes he didn’t bother to come out of his cabin.

“Cas,” Dean calls. “Come over.”

Castiel looks up surprised. 

“Don’t be shy, lad,” Singer growls, giving him a push. “The captain’s waiting.”

His legs are shaking as he walks across the plank, and he feels every pair of eyes trained on him. The Navy uniform, what had kept him stubbornly believing that he’s going to get out of this situation and back to his normal life, now feels like a proof of his betrayal. He’s sure the captain and the crewmembers of the Hermes look at him and see a greedy deserter that chose money and loot over his country and justice. The fact that he’s matching with Captain Dean Winchester of all people certainly doesn’t help.

When he lands on the main deck of the Hermes and he’s close enough to put all his hatred for the man into a single glare, he asks Dean, “What do you want?” 

“Find where they keep their medicine cabinet,” Dean instructs, ignoring the daggers Castiel’s shooting at him. He squints around him, before he lands on Ash. “He’ll help you.”

Ash drops the barrel of water he was carrying immediately, and pats his hands against his hat. “Aye, aye,” he says and moves back towards the lower decks. He doesn’t even wait to see if Castiel will follow him.

Castiel is furious. It’s one thing to keep him on the ship to look after the men and a completely different deal to ask him to participate in thievery. He doesn’t have much of a choice, though does he? “Aye, Captain ,” he hisses, putting emphasis on the last word, just to watch Dean’s hands fist at his sides. 

He deliberately bumps his shoulder against Dean’s as he passes by, but Dean grabs him by the forearm and stops him. He turns his head, and they are so close together he could count the freckles across the pirate’s nose if he wanted to. 

His breath is warm against Castiel’s skin when he says, “We’ll make port in about a week. Take only what’s absolutely necessary. They might need it more than us.”

Something tightens inside him, but he’s too surprised by Dean’s… kindness—that’s the best word he can come up with—to pay much notice. His arm has stopped hurting, but his skin is burning under all the layers where Dean is touching him. He’s dead set on not letting Dean see the effect his words have on him, though. 

“What, like for another run in with pirates?” he snarks, snatching his arm free.

Dean shakes his head, but he looks more amused than anything else. “Keep this attitude and someone might cut your tongue out.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Come on, Doc! We don’t have all day,” Ash shouts, breaking Castiel out of his trance. 

At the same moment he realizes that even though Dean’s not holding him, they are still standing far too close and into each other’s personal space for what he likes. He steps back and neatly past Dean.

In the end he doesn’t take anything from the merchant ship. Neither Dean, nor Singer comment on it when he returns to the Black Impala empty handed.

The pirates carry crates of food and barrels of rum back to their ship before Jo and a couple more men come back with their hands filled with silverware and surprisingly an assortment of iron utensils. 

It’s not much, definitely not enough to be distributed among the fifty something pirates that are currently sailing under the Winchester flag, and definitely not enough to justify robbing another ship for it. But at least as soon as the pirates have taken everything they wanted, the Hermes is released back to her captain, and the Winchester pirates leave without any confrontation or casualties. 

They’ve taken much less than Castiel had expected as well. He’d seen how much food there was on the Hermes , and the pirates have only taken what they really need, leaving enough to sustain the merchantman for at least a week. 

Castiel doubts the Hermes will be sailing for that long. She’ll probably head for the nearest island, less than a day from where they left her.

He watches the black flag with the skull and crossbones—black, not red—and hopes that Dean will make good on his promise to him as well.

Chapter Text

April 5th, 1703

The town of Port Royal stretches back from the port where a handful of ships are moored. None of them Navy ships though, from what Castiel can see. 

The Black Impala has sailed as close to the port as possible without actually reaching it. Instead, Dean has opted to lower the Jolly Roger and drop anchor where they can just use their jolly boats and row the rest of the way. As far as anyone else is concerned, they’re just another merchant ship, coming to trade goods and buy provisions.

Boxes of loot are lowered on the jolly boats—the silverware was never distributed among the men after all, and the food was sent directly to the galley and the hold. The only thing that had really counted as loot was the alcohol, and at least of that Castiel has taken his fair share, as Singer had promised.

Watching the men loading the two jolly boats from the waist of the ship, Dean and Singer tick off a list on an old paper. “Alright, take these to Rufus,” Dean is saying, his voice carrying over to where Castiel sits atop a barrel on the other side of the deck, “and ask him to be faster than last time.”

Singer’s eyebrows reach almost the edge of his cocked hat. “Ye try ‘n get that old dog to listen if ye dare. I’m in no mood to find meself on the wrong end of his gun.”

“Fine, fine,” Dean recedes. “I’ll go talk to him. You head down to the tavern behind the fish market, see if you can dig up any hunts.”

Bobby rubs a hand over his beard, looking up from his papers. “The fish market was destroyed in the fire a couple of months back. I don’t know if the tavern survived.”

“Just take Jo with you and go see what you can find,” Dean sighs. 

Singer doesn’t look impressed, but he passes the papers to Dean and leaves to track down his son. That leaves Dean to supervise the last of the men.

A shadow falls across the deck in front of Castiel. He doesn’t bother to turn and see who it is.

“You’re grounded, too?” Sam asks, leaning against the rail, hands in his pockets..

A bitter laugh claws its way up Castiel’s throat. “I don’t think your brother was ever intending to let me off this ship.”

Sam’s face twists in a pained grimace. “Dean’s a good man. I know he’s made some mistakes, but cut him some slack. He’s trying.”

“You brother is responsible for the death of at least two of my crewmates. Forgive me if I don’t have any sympathy for him,” he says dryly, bringing one knee up and wrapping his arms around it. 

He examines Sam carefully, the breeches and the lightweight boots that are better for walking around the ship than on land, the light shirt he’s always wearing. He’s not high, but his face has the eternal rosy colour of an addict, the hollow eyes and the tired slouch of the shoulders. 

“You’re not allowed off the ship either.” It’s a statement, not a question.

Sam answers it all the same, with a jerk of his shoulder that is as close to a shrug as he can manage. “Dean doesn’t want me to smoke.”

“And yet you do.”

“I need it.”

“That’s what everybody says,” Castiel observes, turning to watch a couple of seagulls flying above them. One of them dives sharply, head first towards the water, and a couple of seconds later rises again, fish in its mouth. “Where do you find it?” he asks out of the blue. 

Castiel has been aboard the Black Impala for close to a month, and he assumes Sam’s stash has finished. His brother doesn’t allow him to go to the town, and yet he doesn’t look in the least worried.

Sam cocks his head to the side, mulling over the question. “A couple of the men buy it for me when we make port. I give them my share of the loot in exchange.” He doesn’t sound embarrassed, or even defensive.

Castiel is not surprised. He’s not surprised when Harry and Eddie approach them with twin smiles either.

“Well, mateys,” Eddie grins, “looks like it’s just the four of us left.”

Sam pulls himself up, offering the two of them a strained smile. “You know what, guys? I’m feeling a little tired. I think I’m gonna get some rest.”

“Oh, but we’re supposed to…” Harry trails off, eyes glued to Sam’s retreating back.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Eddie reassures him, patting him on the shoulder. He sends a wink in Castiel’s direction. “We’ll hang out with the good doc.”

Great. Castiel is stuck with babysitters. Dean still finds creative ways to make his life miserable. 

He tilts his head to the side, an idea forming in his head. He can’t suppress the smirk that splits his face when he says, “Wonderful. And I was planning on cleaning the sick bay today. But since you two are available, I’ll take this time to organize the medicine cabinet, while you scrub the floor and dust the shelves and air the hammocks.”

To their credit, they are still smiling, though it becomes more and more forced with every passing second.

Then, because Castiel is a little shit, and just because he can’t get back at Dean doesn’t mean he won’t stoop low and take it out on his men, he adds, “I think all the hammocks could use a good washing, actually. Let’s start with the sick bay and then move to the rest of the berth deck, how does that sound?”

It’s a bit disconcerting, how every thought Castiel has somehow relates back to Dean. He chooses to believe it’s because he needs someone to channel all his anger and frustration at, and who better for that job than the man actually responsible for it. Yes, if Castiel’s eyes sometimes linger on Dean’s figure while walking around the deck or bending over to check knots, it’s only because he’s looking for a good chance to trip him and send him tumbling into the sea.

 

April 6th, 1703

The pirates spend their nights on shore, only a handful of them returning to keep an eye on the ship, Dean included. 

It suits Castiel just fine, because it means that at least for a couple of days he can ignore his duties as a ship surgeon and put all his energy into something more creative. He’s feeling a little guilty for torturing Harry and Eddie, since the two of them have proved themselves too tolerant to refuse anything Castiel asks of them, but only a little, and anyway the hammocks really did need a good washing.

Sam comes out of his cabin only in search of food.

On their second night in Jamaica, Dean asks the few men still on board to gather at the mess.

“We’ve gotten word of a hunt near the Virgin Islands,” he says, face solemn and focused.  “Find everyone and make sure they’re back by lunch tomorrow. Bring back what Rufus has ready and we’ll return for the rest another time. We set sail as soon as possible.”

 

April 14th, 1703

It’s a moonless night, and Castiel helps Jo put up more oil lamps to keep the main deck adequately lit. Most of the men have retreated back to the berth deck for the night, with only a few of them left making the rounds.

Dean has been pacing the main deck for at least an hour now. For once, chatter dies out wherever he goes in a way it never does when Dean appears. Truth be told, Dean himself is the source of the louder discussions most of the time, his position as captain not deterring him in the slightest from socialising with his men, or seeking out Castiel just to check on him. Or annoy him, as Castiel likes to think of Dean’s trips to the sickbay. Singer is more distant, but he is also one of the oldest members of the crew, while Dean, for all his big talk and threatening glare, is on the younger side. Younger than Castiel, he suspects. 

But tonight Dean’s in a pissy mood, and most of the pirates steer clear from him.

“—utter stupidity is what it is.” Arthur Ketch is kneeling by the rail of the starboard, checking on knots. “I’d rather be well rested for tomorrow than walk by meself till sunup.”

Pipe caught between two fingers, Benny exhales, silver smoke curling away from his lips. “You’re lucky you can sleep knowing what swims around us tonight,” he says, voice gruff and hoarse. His eyes follow his captain as he takes the stairs up to the poop deck.

Castiel never hears what Arthur says in answer, for Jo finishes tying the oil lantern above the captain’s cabin door, and they move to the next hook on the wall. Dean’s footsteps, heavy and frustrated, keep time to Jo’s deft fingers tying a knot to keep the lamp securely in its place.

“What’s going to happen tomorrow?” Castiel asks, his mind stuck to the deep frown edged on Dean’s brow. Which is a stupid thing to be thinking about, because he’s sure there’s nothing to worry about, and he doesn’t care about Dean. At all.

Jo looks up sharply, face tight. “We’re going to kill a sea monster,” he says.

“Right.”

Jo shakes his head. “You don’t believe me.”

Castiel hands him the next lantern, huffing, but he doesn’t answer. They keep working.

 

April 15th, 1703

They’re sailing without a flag again.

The sun has climbed to the highest point in the sky, its rays burning their way across the men’s exposed arms. Today every single member of the crew—Sam excluded—has gathered up on the main deck, tense and jittery. They’ve been drifting around the same spot since dawn seemingly without any reason, and Castiel is almost bored enough to just give up and go back down to the sickbay. At least there he can find something useful to do. 

The call comes from the crow’s nest on the main mast first, before it’s picked up by more men, interrupting his thoughts. 

“Sail, ho!”

“Sail, ho!”

“Sail, ho!”

Dean steps forward, a spyglass in hand. “Blimey,” he curses as he spots the merchant ship. “They’re coming straight towards us. Get the jolly boats ready.” The last part he speaks loud and clear, and the men scurry to obey his orders.

A hand lands on Castiel’s shoulder, and Singer passes by him saying, “I hope you’re ready,” before following Dean to the bow of the ship.

Everything is a blur of movement, men rushing from one side of the ship to the other. Ropes are loosened, cannonballs are carried up from the hold, while Gordon and his gunners move to the gun deck, where the cannons have been waiting since last night for some action. Jo, hips weighted down with his cutlass and at least four guns that Castiel can see, leads a dozen men to the stern to board the jolly boats.

Castiel keeps out of the way. He’s half disappointed that the ‘monster’ the pirates kept talking about was just a euphemism for plunder , but it’s not like he wasn’t expecting something like that. Hands in his pockets, he decides men preparing for an upcoming battle is his cue to retreat to the cockpit, but Dean spots him before he reaches the companionway.

“Cas, come up here.”

Gritting his teeth, Castiel changes his course. If he’s going to be forced to be here and help the pirates, the least Dean can do is let Castiel do his job. Alas, things are not so simple when one sails on the Black Impala .

“Asked for me, Captain ?”

As usual, Castiel uses Dean’s title as an insult, but this time Dean brushes it off without so much as a twitch.

“I want you to stay up on the main deck,” Dean says, eyes trained on the ship quickly sailing towards them. “It’s going to be a difficult hunt.”

Castiel resists the urge to roll his eyes. Like the good, dutiful surgeon he is—and he tries hard not to gag as he thinks that—he retrieves his dressbox before finding Dean and Singer on the bow, just in time to hear them give the order: “Run a shot across!”

The chase gun fires with an earth-shaking roar. It’s a warning shot, the ball whistling above the calm ocean and landing a few meters in front of the other ship. Water rains down on the merchantman with the dove-gray sails. 

“They’re stopping,” one of the pirates calls from the main mast. “They’re trying to change their course.”

It’s only a minuscule change, a twitch of the corner of his lips, but Dean is almost smiling. Like he wants the merchantman to run from them. Maybe this is a game to him after all. The pursuit of a ship and the following bloodshed. The hunt .

Castiel’s blood boils with rage, but Dean whips his head around, as the lookout sees something else. 

“Avast! Avast ye!”

The pirates grow pale. Their hands work faster. Their foreheads are shiny with sweat, their arms red with the strain of keeping the Black Impala under tight control. Bring ‘er up! they call, and the heavy ropes hiss against the capstan as they are pulled taut.

Sails are lowered, billowed with a warm breeze that builds up and up, until it’s ringing. It’s not just Castiel’s blood that is boiling now, but his skin, too. His whole body. 

“Blow me down! We’re too late.” Singer spins around, yelling orders that Castiel can’t hear, for the ringing is too much, too much. Loud enough now to make his ears bleed. The air he’s inhaling burns hotly through his lungs. This can’t be normal. 

Dean shoves a wet rag in Castiel’s hand. The order is clear: Put this over your mouth. A sweet, though short-lived relief, but at least now Castiel can breathe again. Tears gathering in his eyes, he turns towards the merchantman. He almost drops the rag.

The ocean around the other ship is bubbling and steaming. The very air around them is simmering, and the ringing— the ringing! It grows louder with every passing second. 

Castiel stumbles. He hits the rails. Taking a hint from the pirates, he ties the rag around his face, tight and secure. He turns around. Wants to find Dean, wants to ask what the hell is going on, but Dean has a Jacob’s ladder thrown over the waist of the ship and is climbing off. He’s already inside one of the jolly boats when Castiel is forced to tear his eyes away.

A shadow looms under the merchantman, growing bigger and bigger and bigger, and the ringing grows impossibly louder with it. It’s loud enough that Castiel almost drops to his knees, hands covering his ears; but he can’t look away, and the shadows break through the surface in a colossal explosion of waves, and water, and black.

The ringing turns into a screech, the wail of a—of a—God, have mercy on them—of a monster. Black tentacles rise up, high enough to almost cover the sun, caging the merchantman between them in a deathly trap. The water spins and boils and caves, until the ship is barely hanging on for dear life against the vortex forming underneath it. The current is so strong that even the Black Impala , though half a mile away, is dragged slowly but surely towards the whirlpool, turning so that the starboard is now facing the battle.

Castiel’s fingers move on instinct, crossing himself in a silent prayer, but everything else inside him is frozen in terror. 

The monster screeches, and Singer yells orders.

The monster’s tentacles curl towards their target, and the jolly boats Dean’s leading row steadily towards it.

The monster wraps itself around the merchantman, and the call comes from Gordon first— Fire in the hole! —before being echoed from half a dozen more gunners.

The thundering blast of half of the Impala’s cannons going off almost simultaneously covers the screeching for a split second. The recoil shakes the ship to her core, but at least their desperate descent towards the vortex stops for a single moment. 

The monster’s tentacles explode in a rain of blood and flesh. The shrill, pained cry that rises pierces straight through Castiel’s skull. Its attention moves away from the merchantman. The vortex loses some of its power, but the temperature becomes even higher, to the point Castiel fears his skin will start blistering and melting. 

The two jolly boats continue their route undeterred by the gore and heat storming around them. Dean raises his cutlass in the air. The signal for the beginning of the counter attack has been given. 

Harpoons and hooks fly from the tiny boats, over the water and straight into the tentacles. Half the men pull; the other half unsheath their swords. 

Pull and cut.

Again.

Pull and cut.

To Castiel they look like ants fighting with toothpicks against a giant, but they don’t give up. They slash their way through a tentacle that is twice as thick as a man. The boom of the cannons pierces the air again, and the cannonballs slice right through the tentacles. 

The merchantman crew, realizing this is their chance to escape certain doom, have started running around, tightening ropes and changing sails, and they ride the waves the monster creates as it thrashes, trying to destroy everything in its reach.

With a swift movement Dean and his men use the hold they have on the tentacles to ground themselves long enough to grab barrels from the bottom of the boats. A greasy, honey-like liquid spills from the bungholes and straight onto the tentacles. Dean guides his men to spread as much of it as they can on every part of the monster they can reach. It takes but a single spark for the whole thing to be set ablaze.

“All hand hoy!” Singer is almost hoarse, but his voice still carries strong to his men. 

Castiel holds onto the rail and watches as Dean and Jo now start spilling the oil on the surface of the sea. Τhe fire rapidly spreads, engulfing them and the merchantman together with the monster.

With a final spin that sets her back on course, the Impala now sails confidently towards the heart of the battle. Hands heave and groan. Castiel is pushed to the side. Singer clears the bow just as Henriksen appears, carrying a heavy harpoon, twice as long as he is tall, its tail supported by Eddie and Harry, their faces red with effort. 

“Watch your toes, Doc,” Victor grunts.

They place the harpoon inside what Castiel had thought up until now was a weird, large spyglass. He clearly was wrong.

Ash takes his place behind the harpoon, lifts, and aims, and Singer slaps a hand on his shoulder. “Keep ‘er steady!”

Through the smoke, and the tentacles, and the fire, the two jolly boats appear. The men work frantically to row away. The merchantman fights desperately against the tide. 

Without a warning, the monster gives a final growl, and the tentacles retreat back into the water. The shadow shifts, and turns, and grows smaller.

For a moment, everything is silent. But Castiel doesn’t dare to hope yet. Dean still has his men working hard to get away. 

For good reason, too. When the monster reappears, it’s the head that comes up for air—first its teeth and then its jaws, then sharp fins, and eyes as black as the depths of the ocean. Castiel looks straight into the cavernous throat of it, its opening large enough to swallow both jolly boats without need for chewing.

It thrashes upwards, mouth thrown open in a terrifying howl.

“Now!” 

Singer drops his hand.

Ash pulls the trigger. 

The harpoon launches into the air, passes right between the jaws, strikes through the roof of the monster’s mouth and breaks out through the back of its skull with a sickening crunch. A splatter of cartilage, blood and brain matter is the last they see of the monster. It sways and tilts, and finally crashes into the water. 

Blood blossoms under the surface, like an ink stain on paper. 

Castiel exhales roughly, too stunned to speak. It’s only when he tries to breath back in he realizes that he’s no longer suffocating with heat. He grabs the rag and yanks it away, panting hard. 

The celebrating starts from the jolly boats, before spreading to the Impala and soon all the men are yelling and throwing their hats in the air.

Singer holds his belly through a whole-body laugh.

“Shit. Did ye see that?” Ash asks Castiel, half collapsed over the harpoon launcher. He shakes his head, like even he can’t believe they actually did it. 

Castiel drops to kneel by the rail. His hands are shaking. He throws his head back, greedily gulping in the cooling air. 

***

“—enough provisions to last them a week.” Dean is bent over the rail of the larboard, where ropes have tied the Black Impala to the merchantman. Pirates jump from one ship to the other, carrying crates and barrels. Since Dean and Singer decided that they’d be heading to the nearest port, they carry excess food and water to the merchantman, in an effort to help the sailors finish their journey and reach their destination. The only thing they ask in return is iron and silver, which the crew gladly surrenders to them.

Thankfully, the damage to the ships is minimal. Though shocked, the sailors are mostly fine, with the exception of minor burns here and there. If Castiel thought the heat was bad enough from the main deck of the Impala , he can’t even begin to imagine what it felt like near point zero. Jo and Dean returned to the ship with their faces bright and red, their hands blistered, but their moods are at an all time high, drunk on adrenaline and victory.

When Castiel had first gone through the old surgeon’s stuff, he’d assumed all the aloe extract he’d found was for sunburns, but its actual use becomes apparent as more and more pirates come looking for him, and Singer sends the merchantman sailors his way as well.

Though his hands are confident and sure as they treat person after person—clean wound, apply aloe extract, wrap loosely, next—Castiel is numb. It’s not everyday that his worldview changes so drastically. His only consolation is that the sailors look just as lost as he feels.

One of them—a young boy with dirty red hair and bony shoulders—peers at Castiel while he searches through his dressbox for a new jar of aloe extract and asks, “What was that thing?”

Castiel glances at him, his hands faltering for a second. “I don’t know,” he admits.

“D’ye guys, like, do this a lot?”

“I— I guess so?”

Singer had tried to warn Castiel from day one, and Dean and Jo had told him repeatedly about what they were really doing. It was Castiel who had refused to listen to them, and here he is now, faced with the reality that he was wrong all along.

With a grunt, Dean plops down on the floor next to Castiel, waistcoat discarded sometime ago, hair still dripping with seawater and monster gunk. 

“You guess so what?” He steals the jar right from Castiel’s hand, before liberally applying the soothing lotion all over his face and hands. A content sigh escapes his lips.

The boy turns his attention to Dean. Not the slightest apprehensive at finding himself face to face with the pirate captain, he answers for Castiel: “D’ye often kill giant octopuses?”

“That was a lusca,” Dean says without missing a beat. He hands the jar back, and his fingers are sticky when they brush against Castiel’s.

The boy nods. “So. D’ye go around killing lus—luscas?” 

“Luscas, sea sprites, sirens, you name it,” Harry jumps in from the crowd gathered around them.

“We killed a leviathan once,” Garth brags, and Gordon adds, “We think it was a baby, though.”

Eddie drapes a dramatic hand over his heart. “Oh come on, matey. Don’t tell ’em all our secrets.”

“Aye, let ‘em think we’re fierce and strong,” Harry says, solemn faced.

Laughter erupts all around them, the good mood of the pirates spreading to the sailors as well. It’s only Castiel that can barely utter a word.

The boy’s eyes widen with wonder. “Can I come, too?”

The laughter dies out.

“Come where?” Harry asks, confused, but Gordon shakes his head.

“This ain’t the ship for landlubbers.”

The boy raises his chin, a dimpled grin splitting his face in half. “I’ve been sailing since I was old enough to walk.”

Pursing his lips, Dean squints at the boy. He sizes him up, and even Castiel can tell that his thin frame and short stature don’t exactly work in his favour. “No,” Dean says flatly. “Hunting is not the same as sailing. It’s dangerous.”

“But I can fight,” the boy insists.

“You think you can fight…”

“Charlie,” the boy says, quickly.

“Charlie, right.” Dean shakes his head, elbows resting on his knees. “We were lucky this time. We killed that thing without anyone getting seriously injured, but usually that’s not the case. People die in this line of work. We’ve lost enough good men already, I won’t have a boy’s death on my conscience.” 

“And he’s a ginger,” someone chimes in. The pirates murmur their agreements.

Charlie hunches in on himself, mouth twisting down in a disappointed frown. He rakes a hand through his fiery hair self consciously, and Castiel can only imagine what people must be telling him. ‘Bad luck’ and ‘no soul’, come to him the easiest, but he’s sure there are more. And now Dean and his crew add more salt to the wound.

The words are out of his mouth before he’s even decided to actually speak them. “I think that if Charlie wants to come with us, we should let him. We need more hands on this ship.” Several heads turn towards him, but he goes on talking, before anyone can complain. “Really it’s his life and his choice if he wants to start hunting. You can’t force your will on everyone.”

He stares right at Dean when he says the last part. 

It’s hard to tell, but there might be a blush making its way up Dean’s neck under the burn. At least he got the message, loud and clear. Castiel can’t do much for his situation, but if he can use it to help Charlie, then he damn right will.

“Fine,” Dean relents, and the pirates look horrified. “But it’s a trial period. If you can’t look out for yourself we’ll dump you on the first island we find.”

***

Yo, ho!

Rum sloshes, spilling on every surface and man, as wooden tankards clink together. Pirates celebrate as they do everything else, with infinite alcohol and merry songs. The melodic notes of concertinas and accordions fill the mess, off-key voices accompanying the music to songs Castiel has heard in a different life. He is squeezed in the corner of the room, an elbow pressed to his side, a forearm brushing against his temple. A bowl of bone soup stubbornly balances on his lap against the push and pull of the festivity; it’s not the most hearty of foods, but it’s warm, and the alcohol helps wash down the bland taste.

Jo and Garth are lost somewhere in the crowd, once again taking it upon themselves to welcome the new member of the crew. Castiel is glad to be left alone, his head too filled with dark thoughts to actually enjoy the party currently happening around him. 

The long table rattles with every jumping step Eddie and Harry take as they spin around on it, elbows linked, their dance completely out of beat, and Castiel feels it vibrate through the wooden floor and up to his knees. It’s a miracle Sam still hasn’t crawled out of his cabin. Even if the mess hall weren’t situated directly beneath the private cabins of the gun deck, the noise is loud enough to wake the dead.

Eddie and Harry are shoved off the table, and a man covered in an old rag stained with dirt and grease takes their place, as a re-enactment of today’s battle begins to the sound of fast and full-bodied music. The men cheer loudly when Ketch steps up, a spoon in his hand instead of his sword, grinning wildly. The man under the rag howls, and Castiel pushes himself up, bowl of half-eaten soup left for someone else to finish.

The night is warm and silent, with no clouds to hide the stars, but the moon is still young, its light too weak to illuminate the deck. Castiel walks in the darkness. 

Soft footsteps echo behind him. He doesn’t linger to see who is following him, but he’s not exactly surprised when Dean comes to stand next to him. They stand side by side on the stern, both facing the silver trail left on the water as the Black Impala drifts into the night.

For a moment, neither of the two speaks. 

It’s Dean who breaks the silence first.

“You stood up for the kid back there.”

“Not every member of your crew has to be abducted to join you.”

Dean snickers. “Would it surprise you if I say that you are the only member of the crew we’ve ever abducted?”

“Would it surprise you if I say that I don’t care?” Castiel shoots back without missing a beat. Then, voice lowered, he adds, “You were telling the truth. About… about monsters.”

“It may be shocking to you, but I tend to do that a lot,” Dean says, pushing his hands in his pockets. 

They’re still facing away from each other, but from the corner of his eye, Castiel can see the gauze that covers Dean’s hands. It looks tied properly. Loose enough to allow the skin to breathe without the gauze slipping off constantly. Dean refused any kind of help, choosing instead to take care of all of his wounds and burns by himself. Castiel suspects he does that more often than not.

Castiel’s exhale is as loud as a rock dropping into the water. “How does one even become a...” He gestures vaguely. 

“A hunter?” Dean provides.

Castiel was going to say monster-killing pirate, but this works, too, he guesses. He nods.

“It depends,” Dean says, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the railing. “Most of the people here are survivors. Their ships were at the wrong place at the wrong time, and they were the lucky sons of bitches that made it out. Some we saved and they decided to join us, like Charlie.”

Finally, Castiel turns to face him. For once, he is standing taller than Dean, and it's easy to let his eyes follow the line of his nose, the furrow of his brows. In the dark, Dean’s eyes have the color of the forests Castiel used to see through his windows back in England. “And you? Are you a survivor, too?”

Dean shoots him a sidelong glance. “Not exactly.” He doesn’t explain anything else, and Castiel feels that he won’t say anything more on the matter even if he asks. 

So he changes the subject. “Why don’t more people know?”

Dean shrugs. Somehow he has produced his clay pipe, and he fills its bowl with tobacco  from a leather pouch that hangs from his sash. “Monsters are not as common as you might think,” he murmurs, pressing the tobacco with his finger, then adding more and pressing it down again. He puts the pipe to his mouth and takes a test draw, nodding satisfied. “We find a lot because we are specifically looking for them. Hell, they used to be less than rare back in the day. It’s only been in the last twenty years or so that monsters have become a real problem.”

Dean says it in the same way Castiel counts in his head how long it’s been since his father sent him to join the Navy and Castiel joined the Company of Surgeons instead; Oh, it must be about ten years now, when in reality he knows he still has three months and two days until the tenth anniversary. Three years later he boarded a ship as a Wardroom Officer anyway. 

Using a flint and steel to light his pipe, Dean inhales, lets the smoke sit inside him for a long moment, exhales a silver cloud. “Most ships are unprepared for an attack like that. More often than not, there are no survivors. That’s why it’s our job to kill as many monsters as we can.”

“You’re still pirates,” Castiel says. “You attacked a ship.”

Dean’s face twists in a pained grimace. “It’s not like we have any other way of finding what we need to survive. We can’t exactly start trading goods in between hunts.”

It’s not like they could just hire a surgeon like a normal ship, is what he doesn’t say, but Castiel can read between the lines.

Time stretches out in thin curls of smoke and distant songs. When Dean straightens up and empties the leftover tobacco into the sea, his voice is rough. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for dragging you into this life. But I’ll make good on my promise. One year, and you’re free.”

Mechanically, Castiel lifts his hands, turns them so he can examine his palms. For the first time in a month, he doesn’t see the phantom shadow of crimson stains.

He’s not sure what Dean is asking from him. He’s certainly not asking for forgiveness for attacking the Queen Anna . Even if he were, Castiel doesn’t know if he could give it. But opening Castiel’s eyes to the dangers lurking out there… Castiel is not exactly grateful, but he’s not rueful either. At least now he knows, and he can be better prepared. 

“What kind of monster are you hunting?”

His question is not clear—it can’t be when Castiel himself is still trying to puzzle out everything that has changed—but Dean seems to understand.

“It’s a man I’m hunting, not a monster,” he says.

Standing side by side with the man that ordered his abduction, attacked his ship, and threatened to make him walk the plank, Castiel wonders if a man can be worse than a monster.

And what does it mean for him when all he can think about is that man?

Chapter Text

April 17th , 1703

“The town is tiny, Dean. I’m pretty sure the only thing I can buy here are books.” Sam has finally emerged from his room, pale and tired-looking and clearly easily irritated.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I can get you whatever damn books you need.” Dean shrugs on his dark navy doublet over the tunic with the wide sleeves that he prefers when he is on land. His eyes fall on Castiel, watching the other men climb down to the jolly boats, and he falters. Uncertainty crosses his face before he can school it.

Castiel pretends he hasn’t noticed.

It’s not like they’re friends now, but Castiel has toned down his attitude. Where he would normally roll his eyes and throw a sarcastic comment, he now obliges and carries on doing his work without complaint. When Dean finds his way to the sickbay, Castiel no longer pretends not to see him. He even offered to make Dean some tea once, which the captain happily, if a little surprised, accepted. Sometimes the pirates almost forget he’s not one of them, and even now, Dean is clearly tempted to let him off the ship. 

They are anchored near an isolated beach, a couple of miles from the port of the island. The sand is an idyllic primrose shade, stretching along the edge of the water like a carpet. They’re close enough that Castiel could swim there. The town near here, though tiny as Sam pointed out, has a certain small-village charm. The stone walls and clay roof tiles are a pretty backdrop to a street market Castiel saw from the waist of the Black Impala while they sailed by. It’d be perfect for winding down and spending a couple of days hiking around the island in search of herbs and plants.

But that’s not Castiel’s life anymore.

He takes the decision out of Dean’s hands. “I have to take care of the injured men,” he says. “Garth offered to stay and help me.”

There are only two men that are currently staying in the sickbay, both with burns from the lusca hunt up their sides, but they’re making a speedy recovery and keeping them on the ship is just a precaution. Castiel could take advantage of this moment and ask to be let off the ship, but he’s still trying to process monsters being real and a pirate crew hunting them—a pirate crew that is currently under Castiel’s care—and he’s not in the mood to test the still fickle trust between him and Dean just yet. 

Dean eyes him carefully but doesn’t comment. The way he looks at Castiel makes something stir inside him, something that he’d long since forbidden himself to feel. He’s long since trained himself to keep his head low and hide his… preferences from the other sailors. If men can be cruel towards women and gingers, against someone like Castiel they are downright dangerous. Captain Michaels and his officers were very clear on the matter, though an official discussion was never made. Be what we want you to be or be measured for your chains was the general attitude in the Navy.

The flutter in his stomach every time he thinks of Dean is dangerous, and even more so because it’s Dean that makes him feel this way, so Castiel stomps it down and pretends it never happened.

***

Garth is nice to hang with, much friendlier than the majority of the crew, even if a little goofy from time to time. He helps Castiel wash the burns and apply a fresh coat of aloe extract before wrapping them and letting the two injured men rest, all the while chatting about anything he can think of. Castiel learns he used to be a fisherman, before his father was lured away by a siren during a storm, the first of many in his village. It was Bobby Singer who’d killed the creature and later recruited Garth.

When they are finished, Garth stretches with a content sigh. “I’ll go and see if Benny left anything for us to eat.”

Castiel nods absently, all his attention on the old surgeon’s log book. His handwriting is hurried and too decorated, most of the pages written in shorthand, which isn’t like anything Castiel has seen before. Half of the log is useless to him, but at least it has all the members of the crew listed, and that helped Castiel immensely on his first days here. Now he doesn’t need it much. He has met everyone and has treated them all at least once, but he lets his fingers trace the curved letters of the list anyway.

There are more than a hundred names written in the book, but only fifty something men live on the Impala . The rest must have died during that battle Singer told him about on his first day.

He reads the names one by one. Some of them he’s heard before, thrown into discussions or as part of some anecdote the pirates were sharing among themselves, but others he’s only ever seen written here.

The first name on the list is John Winchester.

***

The Black Impala is a medium sized ship, but with only five people aboard, one would think it’d be nearly impossible for their paths to cross on accident. Which is why Castiel doesn’t think it’s an accident when Sam finds him in the hold.

Before he steps near the lamp light his figure is hidden in the shadows, and it’s easy to mistake the way he walks and the tilt of his shoulders for Dean. Physically, the two brothers don’t look much like each other, but there’s a familiarity to their gestures and their expressions, the way they hold themselves, that is unmistakably that of close family members.

“Hey,” Sam says as a way of greeting. Luna comes trailing behind him, tail standing tall and proud. 

“Sam.” Castiel nods, looking up from the box he’s trying to tidy up.

“Haven’t gotten your fair share of darkness yet?” 

It might be the first time Castiel has heard Sam say anything close to a joke. “I could say the same thing about you.” He gestures to an upside down crate near him, and Sam lowers himself onto it, awkwardly pulling his too long limbs close to his body. 

Luna takes the opportunity to jump into his lap, curling there and promptly falling asleep.

A hand caressing the soft spot behind her ears, Sam takes note of the dirty paper Castiel has pressed on his thigh and the old surgeon’s log open on the floor by his feet. “Doing inventory?” 

“Yeah. Singer wants to see if there are any medical supplies we need to buy before we leave port.” Castiel doesn’t notice the we until he has said it, and by then it’s too late to correct himself. 

It’s weird. It’s only been three days since the hunt, but it feels much longer. His old life is more like a distant dream than a memory now. He has to recount the past month and a half every night before he falls asleep or else he’s afraid he’ll lose himself. He’s not a pirate, he’s a captive. If he plays his cards right, he’ll be a free man again, but he needs to stay focused to do that.

Mentally, he shakes himself, clears his head. “What are you doing here?”

Sam shrugs. “Needed a change of scenery.”

“Got tired of your room?”

“I guess.”

The hold is not an improvement of scenery compared to a private cabin, but Castiel suspects Sam is not open to commentary. So he ducks his head and keeps counting.

Luna stretches in Sam’s lap, twisting her body to guide his fingers on her belly.

Barely five minutes have passed when Sam clears his throat. “So, you went on your first hunt.”

“I was merely a spectator,” Castiel says, voice neutral. “Didn’t see you there.”

It’s very faint, but a blush creeps up Sam’s neck. “I was—I wasn’t…” he trails off, mouth left open as he tries to find the words.

Castiel drops his pencil, faces Sam full on. Jo’s words are clear in the back of his mind. “Why are you on this ship, Sam?” 

That seems to be an easier question to answer, and Sam jumps at it. “Dean asked me to.”

“And you came just because Dean asked you to? The way you two have been acting I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d abducted you, too.”

Sam arches his back, curls in on himself so he looks smaller. “It’s not like that. It’s complicated.”

Castiel hums, spreading his palm on the paper he has on his knee. “Yeah, families tend to be like that.” A pause. Then, “What were you doing before Dean asked you to become a pirate?”

“Oh.” Sam looks almost surprised to be asked that. He tilts his head to the side, eyes going glassy, and for a moment, he’s in a different place, a different time. “I lived in Jacksonville. I was… I was a bookbinder. I had a fiancée.”

He reaches into his tunic, pulls out a silver locket. With slow motions he pulls it over his head and hands it over to Castiel. The back side is a perfect mirror, but Castiel’s face appears distorted when he turns it in his hand to examine it. Inside is the ink sketch of a woman, young and full of life. Her hair curls around her heart-shaped face and disappears off frame down her shoulders.

“She’s beautiful,” Castiel says. 

A normal life. Did the opium addiction ruin that for him or did Dean?

“Her name was Jessica.” Sam’s voice breaks.

“Oh.”

Was.  

Castiel’s heart goes out to the man in front of him, who normally looms over everyone and has to walk with his shoulders hunched in the low passages of the hull. Who, right now, reminds Castiel more of a small, scared child. He’s younger than Dean, he reminds himself. Probably younger than Castiel was when he joined the Navy.

“I’m sorry,” Castiel says, passing the locket back to him. “What happened to her?”

Sam’s fingers close protectively around it. 

“She got sick,” Sam says, looping the silver chain around his neck again. “And she just never got better. And after—I don’t know. I don’t remember much. I remember that it hurt. It fucking hurt, and I tried everything, but I—I couldn’t…”

Castiel slowly nods his head. He can guess the rest of the story, but Sam confirms his suspicions when he continues. 

“There was this doctor. He said it would help me. And it did—it does. When I smoke, I don’t have to think anymore. Everything fades away.” A bitter laugh escapes his lips. “God. D’you know, I always hated my father for what he became after Mom died, but I turned out so much worse.”

Castiel tilts his head to catch Sam’s eyes. This isn’t the time to press for more information on Sam and Dean’s family, but it does feel like a good moment to do his job. “Sam. Who’s helping you?”

Sam bites his lip. “Are you going to tell them to stop?”

“If that’s what you want.”

Sam wraps his arms around his knees. “It hurts.”

“Your brother hurts, too,” Castiel says, remembering the frustration twisting in Dean’s face just a few hours ago. “Every time he looks at you.”

His lips pressed together in a thin line, Sam closes his eyes. “Dean is so strong,” he mumbles. “He’s so strong. He put up with Dad, and he—he still keeps fighting.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow. “Hunting monsters is a noble cause,” he agrees carefully, though he doesn’t expand on his opinion. 

“It’s the family business.”

Dean is too young to be the captain of a pirate ship.

The name John Winchester is written on the top of the page with the names of the pirate crew. It’s not a coincidence that Castiel had thought Singer was the captain at first, but if John Winchester used to be the captain, then maybe his son would have been elected after his death. The family business, indeed.

Castiel is lost in his own thoughts, so Sam’s next words don’t register the first time.

“Hm?” he asks, blinking back into the present.

“I don’t know if I can do it,” Sam repeats. “I don’t know if I can quit.”

It’s really none of Castiel’s business. He has to keep his focus on his end goal, keep his head lowered and do his job until he’s free again. But he’s also a doctor, and Sam needs his help. “It’s going to be hard. But I can help you, if that’s what you want.”

Sam’s eyes drop to stare at his feet. He has stopped scratching Luna’s belly.

For a long moment neither of the two speaks, but Castiel waits patiently. When it’s clear Sam won’t talk to him, he finds something to fill the silence. “I used to write. I never really wanted to join the Navy, but after I did, I saw the opportunity to use all the traveling and the new lands I was visiting to expand my knowledge. I had started collecting notes for a plant encyclopedia, with all the herbs and medicinal plants I knew.”

Sam doesn’t answer, but he shifts just so that he’s leaning closer to Castiel now. 

Luna yawns, sharp teeth catching the light of the oil lamp above their heads.

Castiel keeps talking. “I’d made great progress actually. One time we were—”

 

April 19th , 1703

The mess is filled with the chatter of the crew and the smell of eggs. One of the things the pirates brought back from the town were chickens, and even if Castiel doesn’t exactly appreciate their smell or their pooping everywhere, he does appreciate the cackle fruit. Luna had been apprehensive of the hens at first, but she’d quickly taken to them, creeping in dark corners and behind barrels, waiting for an unsuspecting chicken to pass by so she could jump out and chase it around the deck. 

Right now, she’s lounging on Charlie’s lap, eyes closed, and purring. Any suspicions or prejudices the pirates may have had about the young boy were all destroyed the first time Luna approached him and started rubbing against his leg. A cat’s opinion is more important than any old superstition.

“—and I swear the bosom on that wench,” Arthur Ketch is saying, and the men around him erupt in loud laughter.

“Somebody fell in love,” Victor teases, and Ash jumps in to add, “Arthur falls in love in every port, what’s new?”

“I don’t think cracking Jenny's teacup counts as falling in love,” someone else says.

They’re sitting further down the table, but their conversation carries over everyone else’s. 

Across from Castiel, Singer and Dean are deep in conversation about a rumour they’d heard of mermaids a few islands over. Singer is shaking his head, but Dean is convinced it’s worth checking out, roping Benny into the discussion to back him up. Charlie and Jo are having a conversation of their own, but Castiel is unfortunate enough to be sitting between them, so when Jo leans forward to grin at Charlie, he knocks Castiel’s elbow and the piece of egg he was lifting to his mouth flies out of his hand.

The door opens and closes.

All conversation dies out.

Castiel turns around, and Sam is standing there, shoulders drawn forward, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. 

Dean is stunned for only a second. Then he jumps up, clearing the seat next to him. “Don’t just stand there, Sammy. Your eggs are gonna get cold—Benny, get him some eggs.”

Sam shuffles over, lowering himself on the seat like he’s trying to hide himself from all the staring. He looks to Castiel, eyes wide, and Castiel gives him an encouraging smile. It’s not the first step to recovery, no, Castiel’s nose can still pick up the traces of opium hanging to his clothes, but it’s the promise of it. 

“Don’t procrastinate, ye bilge rats,” Bobby growls, hitting the table with his fist. “Eat up ‘n go back t’ work.”

The men lower their heads, start gulping down their food, and soon the atmosphere inside the room is almost back to normal. It might be Castiel’s imagination, but Singer smiles, satisfied. 

***

“Hey.”

Castiel looks up from where he’s sitting cross legged, tucked between two barrels on the port. The old surgeon’s log is left open in his lap, while his mind still tries to figure out the mystery of the Winchester family. The final hunt.

“Hello, Dean.”

Dean comes to stand next to him, casually leaning with his hip against one of the barrels. Crossing his arms over his chest he stares at Castiel, long and hard. It’s a little uncomfortable, to the point a goosebump trails its fingertips up the nape of Castiel’s neck, but it’s not exactly unpleasant. 

“Can I help you with something?”

“Look,” Dean says, and the words come out of his mouth fast, like if he hesitates he won’t get them out. “I don’t know what you told him, but thank you. He’s never had breakfast with us before.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow. “How do you know it was me?”

Dean shrugs. “I doubt it was Ed.”

“Could have been Garth.”

“Cas…”

“Dean, stop.” Castiel’s single word is as effective as if he’d put a hand over his mouth and silenced him. “You’re welcome.”

A smile spreads across Dean’s face—an actual smile, not just a cocky smirk—and his eyes soften. He looks incredibly young and freckled with the warm, golden light of the sunset bathing him. He looks… handsome.

Handsome is the word Castiel was looking for.

Castiel’s stomach flutters, and he thinks it’d be a shame to ruin Dean’s good mood. He closes the surgeon's log and leaves his questions for another day.

 

April 20th , 1703

The sunrise spreads the first warm rays across the surface of the water, and the Black Impala is cast in crimson. A gull, perching on the main mast, ruffles its feathers. 

The men are slow to wake up today, made lazy from a free weekend to roam the town, eat and drink to their heart’s content and sleep with whatever woman they could sweet talk that night. It’s almost too late for breakfast by the time all of them have shown a leg, and even then, they hang around in small groups, smoking and talking in hushed voices.  Morning sick call lasts less than a couple of minutes, as no one steps forward to bring any problem to Castiel. 

Dean, always present for morning sick call with his hands loosely held behind his back, squints against the sun. “I guess that’s that, then,” he says and dismisses Castiel for the rest of the day.

It takes longer than usual to prepare the ship for departure, but it looks like even Singer has decided to take it easy today. He lets the men get away with procrastinating and only curses at them once, when someone almost slips and falls off the crow's nest. 

By the time they raise anchor it’s midday, and the Impala is more than eager to get back out to more open waters. 

She’s barely out of the bay when everything goes to hell.

“Sail ho!”

All heads turn towards where the lookout is pointing, but it’s Singer that sees the ship through his spyglass. “Shiver me timbers! Th’ Navy. In yer positions,” he roars.

The men don’t need to be told twice. 

The Navy ship sails with the wind behind her, and is approaching the Impala fast. In a matter of seconds a second galleon appears around the headland. 

The pirates try not to panic, but they can’t work fast enough, and they know that they are vastly outnumbered. Even one of those galleons carries more than twice the men the pirates have, and it’s not like when they attacked the Queen Anna , where they had the advantage of surprise and only needed to keep up with the Navy until they could get Castiel. This time, unless they get away and do it fast, they are royally screwed.

Dean bursts out of his private quarters, probably alerted to the trouble by all the noise, Sam right behind him. It takes exactly two seconds for him to realize what’s happening, and then he’s shouting, “Turn ‘er around! Haul the wind!”

“Aye aye, Captain!”

Barefoot men climb up the ratlines. Ropes are loosened and some are tightened and the sails billow with wind, but they are not fast enough, and the current is not running in their favour. The two Navy ships are hot on their tail. 

It’s a clever ambush, and one that had to have been organized from the moment they first set foot on the island, though Castiel doesn’t remember seeing any Navy ships in the port. They circled the island and came from the other side to catch the pirates in their sleep, using the small space of the bay to trap them. There’s only one way for them to go if they want to escape, but it’s quickly closed off as the two galleons surround the Impala .

The first cannon shot is a warning. The second hits them through the port, completely destroying the rail on that side. Wood splinters fly out, piercing through meat and bone, and two men go down.

Castiel reacts on instinct. He’s next to them in an instant, the rest of the fight fading away as he pulls the first man away from the destroyed side of the ship and towards the stairs that lead to the poop deck. He’s got two holes in the stomach, blood oozing out with his every heartbeat. 

Garth comes rushing next to him, and his dressbox is unceremoniously shoved into Castiel’s hands. “Thought ye might need this,” is all Garth has the time to say, and then he’s off again to retrieve the other injured man. 

Castiel doesn’t look up. He presses a rag against one of the holes, while he takes the splinter out from the other. His fingers dig through muscle and blood, but it’s not very deep. He yanks the splinter out, and the man under him howls in pain. He’s shivering now, his face turning pale, and Castiel doesn’t have enough time. The second splinter is removed just as quickly, and then Castiel is ducked over him, lips pressed together, sweat forming on his forehead, and he’s dressing the wound as fast as he can. 

“They’re almost onto us,” Dean yells, and Castiel lifts his head from where he’s trying to hold the lips of the gash on the second man’s thigh together long enough to see that the Royal Navy ship is now sailing to their starboard. The other ship is catching up to them fast, too.

“Get ready fer battle,” Singer orders, drawing a pistol from his sash. Any attempt to escape is abandoned as they realize that the only way out of this is through it. 

It’s impossible to win, Castiel thinks, even as the first tar lands on the deck of the Impala , sword drawn. Two pirates are onto him immediately, but more and more sailors swing with ropes across the two ships, and soon enough the pirates have their hands full.

“Quickly, let’s bring ‘em up,” Garth says, throwing the arm of one of the injured men over his shoulder and carrying him up the stairs. Castiel follows his lead. The helm is the safest place to be right now, but they can’t stay there forever. 

The cries of battle rise up, as swords clash and gunshots fill the air with the smell of sulfur. Castiel watches as Gordon goes down, the knife of one of the tars going right under his ribs. Castiel is down the stairs before he knows it, and soon he’s dragging Gordon away from the heat of the battle. 

A few feet away, Dean twists, and turns, and ducks. He strikes out and a man falls dead in front of him. 

Sam kneels by Castiel, grabbing Gordon’s arm to haul him up. “Let me help you.” 

Gordon whimpers. 

Castiel grits his teeth. 

A tar appears out of nowhere, sword raised above his head. Sam has a pistol on him, but he freezes, eyes widening. Castiel drops Gordon, and jumps towards Sam to shove him out of the way, even as he realizes that the sword will cut him instead. He crushes on Sam, eyes tightly closed as he waits for the piercing pain that never comes. 

Sword hits against sword with a clink and clank. Dean is standing above them, fighting with the Navy sailor. He’s fast and determined, and he pushes the man back. He throws him to the deck, and he has his sword raised, ready for the final strike—the words wait, don’t, get stuck in Castiel’s throat—but another sailor steps up, and this one has a gun instead of a sword. 

Dean jerks away on instinct, and that’s the only reason the first bullet hits him in the arm, but the second hits him somewhere above his right clavicle, and he’s down. 

The sailor steps forward, a grin spreading across his face. Benny wraps his arm around him out of nowhere. His blade slashes cleanly through his throat. Blood rains down on Dean, and soaks through the wood. The man’s eyes are already empty when he collapses.

Another cannon shot booms around them, but it doesn’t sound close enough to be from either of the two Navy ships, and it doesn’t hit the Black Impala . The galleon furthest away from them is hit instead, as her stern explodes in a storm of wood and heat. 

Orders are yelled from the two galleons, and the sailors falter for a second as they try to understand what they have to do now. It’s enough for Dean’s men, who push back harder than ever. Jo leads the counterattack, sword raised with a cry of encouragement. 

More cannon shots land on the two galleons, and Castiel can now see the five ships that have appeared behind the galleons. Red flags are raised on all of them. 

Castiel’s blood runs cold. 

The five new ships quickly join the battle, using the Navy’s plan against them. They are all trapped together now, and the tars are desperately hopping back to their own ships. But two ships against five is suicide, and the new pirate crew that has appeared is merciless. 

Without any time to consider whether the other pirate crew are friends or foes, Singer takes over for Dean, yelling orders as he releases shot after shot. Eddie kicks a tar over the side and sends him into the ocean, Ketch has his cutlass through the stomach of another, and Charlie is on the floor, beating a young lad with his fists, for his sword has been lost. 

The Navy goes all out on them. Castiel thinks they had wanted to capture as many of them as they could alive, to have them tried and hanged, but now that their lives are on the line they are ruthless. Even as they retreat, and their ships are destroyed by cannon shots, they draw their pistols and their swords.

Garth steps back just in time for a knife to graze the tip of his shoulder, but Charlie is not as lucky and falls over with a startled cry that gets covered by the gunshot that hit him.

Castiel has Dean’s blood on his hands but only one of the bullets out. It’s kind of hard to treat someone when they’re using all they have to get away from him, and it takes two more men to hold Dean down. Still in shock, Sam lays trembling a few feet to the side.

The galleon furthest away takes a cannon shot straight through the waist, and the gaping hole left behind starts growing, expanding, the ship coming apart as if it were torn at the seams. It takes less than three minutes for her to sink. Meanwhile, the second galleon is being overrun by the Red Flag pirates. They outnumber the Navy by far, and the main deck is bathed in blood before long. This ship they light on fire, before their attention turns to the Impala .

Dean and his crew are surrounded once again, but this time there are no warning shots. The Red Flag pirates stand on the decks of their ships, and only their flagship, a full rigged ship named the Hellhound , comes close enough for the two ships to be tied together. 

A plank lands on the side, connecting the Hellhound with the Impala .

The captain saunters over in heeled leather boots and silk stockings that have no place on a ship. Under his tri-cornered hat he wears a curled wig, the ends of the hair tied with black ribbons that match the colour of his waistcoat. 

“Well, well, well,” he says, still standing on the plank so he’s towering above everyone else. “The Winchester pirates, I assume?”

Bobby Singer steps forward, pistol still in hand. “Aye. And you are?”

“Name’s Crowley. Are you the captain around here?”

“I am.” It takes all of Dean’s strength just to stand with his back straight. His breath comes out in short, pained huffs. He waves Castiel away when he tries to come and apply pressure on his still bleeding wounds.

Crowley’s dark eyes light up. “Lovely.”

***

“I was very sad to hear about your father. He and I crossed paths a couple of times over the years.” Crowley sits with his legs crossed at the knee, a crystal glass resting on the palm of his right hand. One of the men that followed him on the Impala pours whiskey in it every few minutes. “Your reputation precedes you, too, of course. They say you’re quite the soft boy.”

Dean jerks ever so slightly under Castiel’s fingers. He’s lucky Castiel is still busy cleaning the wound, otherwise he might have messed up the gauzes and forced Castiel to rewrap his dressings.

“Avoiding battles when they aren’t necessary is common logic,” Dean says through gritted teeth. His tense muscles have more to do with the obnoxious captain who has claimed Dean’s chair in his private quarters—leaving Dean to sit in the same chair Castiel had been tied to his first night on the ship—and less with Castiel prodding and poking at his injuries.

Even though Castiel had never heard of the name Winchester before meeting Dean, Crowley’s name is well known among the ranks of the Navy. His cruel tactics and high numbers of ships he’s completely obliterated saw to that. There are men who turn to piracy to bring bread to their families, and there are men who do it out of some twisted enjoyment of living outside the law. And then there are men like Crowley, for whom piracy is a business, and a very profitable one at that, if Castiel judges from the expensive silks and heavy jewelry the man is covered in. 

And there’s Dean, who clenches his jaw and tries to shoo Castiel away, only to get a defiant glare in return. He can act as a spoiled baby as much as he wants, but Castiel won’t let him bleed to death out of stubbornness.

Crowley takes a sip from his whiskey. “That’s one way to put it.”

Singer, standing with Arthur by the door, grunts, offended. One of the Red Flag pirates moves his hand to rest on the hilt of his cutlass, and though he scowls, Singer doesn’t make another noise.

“So, let’s see what we have here,” Crowley says, eyes sliding from one corner of the room to the other and back. “Not much. You lot are very fond of books and rum and not of anything else.”

“Is that a problem?” Dean asks, and his muscles flex where Castiel is pressing a towel over the wound until he can retrieve gauzes to dress it properly.

Crowley waves his hand. “No, no, of course not. Then again—” he cocks an eyebrow, “—there is that small, tiny, little matter of what you owe me.”

Dean’s face darkens. The atmosphere in the room turns heavy and stifling in the same way the sky does before a storm. “We don’t owe you anything.”

“See that’s where you’re wrong,” Crowley says, extending his hand out, and his manservant pours him more whiskey though he’s barely drunk any of it. “If it wasn’t for me, you lot would’ve been dancing the hempen jig right about now. I’d wager that’s worth, hmm, two chests of gold? Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Castiel glances up at Dean, sees the way his eyes are hard and cold, his brows furrowed. There’s no gold to be found on this ship, only silver—silver the pirates have melted and turned to weapons and bullets as he’s found out since their run in with the lusca—and Castiel isn’t sure it’s enough to satisfy Crowley.

“Seems like it’s not your lucky day,” Dean says. “We ain’t got any gold around here.”

“But, you do have a treasure map. Or so my little birdies tell me.”

The change in Dean is immediate. Where he was careful and defensive, now he’s downright pissed off. He shrugs Castiel off, and this time he won’t take no for an answer.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he insists, though Castiel hasn’t had the time to wrap his shoulder yet. “Cas, why don’t you go and check on the rest of the men?”

“But I—”

“Get out, idjit,” Singer growls.

Crowley turns to him with a smug expression, tapping two fingers on the desk like he’s counting down the seconds until Castiel disappears from his sight. He doesn’t have to count for long.

Men of both crews are scattered around the main deck, though they keep a careful distance between them. Castiel doesn’t want to admit it, but they were lucky Crowley showed up with his ships when he did. As it is, they already lost two men. Richie, who got shot through one eye, and Christian, who didn’t lift his sword up fast enough. At least the rest of the casualties are only minimal, grazes and cuts that for now, Castiel can deal with.

Ash and Garth have been great help, bandaging up wounds and keeping men calm while they wait for Castiel to come over and treat them. He suspects the two were acting as the ship surgeons before Dean abducted him. 

“Here, kitty, kitty.” A Red Flag squats, extending his hand out.

Luna who has just crawled out of whatever hiding corner she’d found during the battle, lifts her head, sniffs the air. 

“Come on, ye filthy thin’,” the man insists. He tries to reach for her, but at the sound of movement, Luna raises her hackles up, tail stiff and proud. She hisses in warning once, before dashing away and straight into Harry’s waiting arms. 

Sam’s nowhere to be found.

Castiel carries his dressbox back to the sickbay, already lost in thoughts of supplies they’ll need, and the men that will need his attention in the coming days. Dean is of course top of the list, but Gordon won’t be able to move for at least a week, and Eddie will have to keep his arm bound for the foreseeable future, and then there’s—

A soft groan cuts through his thoughts.

Whipping his head around, Castiel’s grip on the dressbox handle tightens. There’s only one oil lamp in the sick bay, sitting atop a crate Castiel uses as his desk. The light dances around the walls of the room, flickering weakly every now and then. Another whimper, and something moves among the sacks in the corner of the room.

Castiel approaches carefully, but whoever is curled between the sacks turns around, and a shock of bright red hair startles Castiel, at the same time he realizes there’s an equally shocking red stain spreading on Charlie’s shirt.

“Charlie. What are you doing here?” He drops to his knees, trying to wrestle the boy on the floor and take a better look at his injuries, but Charlie moans and twists away, arms curled over his torso.

“Please,” he says, voice cracking.

“You’ve been shot. Let me help you,” Castiel pleads with him. 

Charlie resists, but he’s lost enough blood already, and Castiel is able to manhandle him in a position where he can pat him down, despite the struggling. No more injuries that he can see, just the one on his left side, but Charlie is stubborn and panicked, and tries his hardest to fight Castiel away.

“Stay still,” Castiel instructs through gritted teeth, fighting to get the shirt off Charlie. With a final tug, the shirt comes off. 

Charlie hugs himself tightly. “Please, don’t—”

Castiel stares down speechless, the shirt hanging uselessly from his hand. There’s a bullet wound under Charlie’s rib, but what has Castiel frozen is the bandage wrapped tightly around Charlie’s torso, that without the shirt does little to hide his— her breasts.

Chapter Text

April 20th, 1703

Castiel helps Charlie back into her clothes after he finishes treating her. 

Jesus, he still can’t believe he didn’t notice sooner. It’s so obvious now that he knows, from her narrow shoulders to her slim fingers. Castiel dutifully avoids looking at anything but the wound, and Charlie keeps her face turned to the side to hide her blush. It’s a little awkward between them, but they manage. Castiel briefly considers telling her that he is not attracted to women, but he doubts this piece of information will calm her down, so he keeps his mouth shut.

It takes him promising three times before she’s convinced that he won’t reveal her secret to the others, and several minutes more before she drifts off to sleep on the hammock, but at least by the time Gordon and a few others come to claim their own hammocks in the sick bay for the next couple of weeks, Charlie looks like a young boy again. Just to be sure, Castiel hangs a sheet from the ceiling, separating her from the others.

“He’s got a fever,” he says when asked. “Don’t want the rest of you to get sick.”

When Castiel makes his way upstairs—despite all his promises, there’s at least one person that needs to know about Charlie—he comes almost face to face with Crowley. 

“The good ol’ doc,” the slimy captain observes. He looks smug and pats his pocket, self-satisfied. From the way Dean fumes with anger a few steps behind him, it’s easy to guess that Crowley got what he wanted after all. 

“It was nice working with you, Winchester,” Crowley throws over his shoulder, before leading his men back to their ship.

“Fucking scallywag,” Dean curses, storming back towards his cabin. Bobby and Castiel hurry to follow him, while the rest of the men stand bewildered on the main deck.

“Fucking pig!” Dean slams his fist against the wall, then attacks the chair closest to him. His tantrum pulls at his wound, and a fresh river of blood starts running down his arm and chest. He drops on the bed, head held in hands, and though he’s still furious, he doesn’t look like he’ll attack anyone who comes close to him.

“Are ye done, princess?” Singer asks.

If looks could kill, then Singer should have dropped dead the instant Dean lifted his head to glare at him. His face is twisted with animosity, eyes clear and focused but threatening.

“Ye can whine all ye want, but giving Crowley the map was th’ only choice. Th’ man gives no quarter.”

Privately, Castiel agrees with Singer. He’d rather give up a treasure map than see a whole ship slaughtered. Crowley sank two Navy ships and killed every man he could get his hands on, and the only thing that spared the Black Impala and her crew from the same fate was that treasure map—which Castiel still is baffled about. Since when did Dean have a treasure map?

“Everything is ruined,” Dean says, hands curling into fists.

“Nothing’s ruined,” Singer counters, raising an eyebrow. “We do wha’ we always do. Save people—”

“Hunt things? Bobby, we had to hunt Alastair down for this map. Dad died for it. And we just handed it over to a man that doesn’t even know how to read it.”

Castiel takes a sharp breath. The news of Alastair’s defeat had shook the world to its core when the first reports had arrived. A notorious pirate that had terrorized the Caribbean for over two decades and had won battles against the best officers the Navy had sent after him was killed in a battle with a small pirate crew no one knew anything about. Navy and common folk alike were terrified. A crew strong enough to go after one of the most wanted men, just what would they do next? And to think that pirate crew has been the Winchester pirates all along.

Singer’s face twists with anger. “Yer daddy died t’ protect ye. Show some goddamn respect.”

The door slams closed behind Singer. The atmosphere in the room is charged with fury and thick pressure, like the seconds leading up to a thunderstorm. A needle falling to the ground could make Dean snap at this point, but Castiel is not afraid of him.

“Still here?” Dean scoffs, deciding that Castiel is as good a target as any to blow off some steam.

“You’re bleeding,” Castiel points out, sighing. “Again.” He feels newfound respect grow inside him for Dean, along with curiosity, but it’s not the time for questions yet.

Dean glances at his shoulder, pressing against the wound with the heel of his palm. It must sting like a bitch, but he doesn’t let go. “It’ll stop eventually.”

“Let me rewrap it at least. Get on the chair,” Castiel orders.

Reluctantly, Dean obliges him. He allows Castiel to pat his wounds with a rag until the bleeding almost stops, then holds still while he works bandaging them. The muscles are firm and toned under Castiel’s hands. He has freckles across his shoulder blades.

“A treasure map is not more important than your crew’s life,” Castiel says after a while.

Dean has his back to him, so Castiel can’t see his reaction, but he tenses visibly. Head hanging, Dean says, “It’s not a treasure map. Jesus, who cares about treasure?”

Castiel cocks his head to the side, tries to catch Dean’s eye. A treasure map they stole from Alastair that doesn’t lead to a treasure. Just what has Dean gotten himself into? “And you didn’t tell Crowley that?”

“I did. He didn’t care.” There’s the edge of a hysterical laugh at the end of Dean’s sentence. “Fuck. We needed that map.”

“For what?”

“For the hunt. For Azazel, for—shit.” Dean rubs a hand down his face. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“You’re not making much sense,” Castiel observes dryly. His fingers are steady as he loops the bandage one more time around Dean’s shoulder, though his heart feels ready to jump out of his chest. If Alastair is notorious among pirates, then Azazel is a legend. The most dangerous and wealthiest of the captains sailing the Caribbean. If that’s the man Dean is hunting then Castiel doubts the Winchester pirates will live to walk away from this way of life.

Dean finally snaps. “We lost half our men for that map,” he yells, hitting the desk in front of him with enough force to send an ink bottle tumbling to the ground. A black stain grows around it on the floor. “Christ, do I even want to know how many we lost today?”

“Just two,” Castiel answers calmly, hiding the storm inside him. Dean needs him to keep his head straight for both of them now. “The rest will pull through.”

A sudden clarity washes over him. He cares about these pirates. He cares about Dean. When he obsesses over him these days there is not a part inside him that resents Dean for everything that happened. When Castiel’s mind drifts to his captain it’s with a warm glow just behind his chest. The fact that he thinks of Dean as his captain is telling enough of how deep Castiel has been pulled in. 

Dean turns to face him. With the way Castiel is bent over his back to get closer to his injuries, their noses are only inches apart. He can feel Dean’s breath against his skin, and his eyes drop to Dean’s mouth, plush and soft, slightly open to mirror the wonder in his eyes. Dean’s tongue darts out to wet his lower lip, and Castiel feels his throat come up dry in response. He’d only have to drop his chin a little to close the gap between them. 

Panic curls in his stomach, but it’s far more tame than the excited beat of his heart. The only reason he doesn’t do anything stupid is because Dean’s next words pull him out of his trance.

“Cas, you stayed. You helped us.” Dean looks at him like he’s seeing him for the first time.

Castiel jerks back. Away from Dean and the temptation. Away from what he’s implying. He doesn’t want to think about it, and certainly doesn’t want to hear it, but Dean doesn’t give him a choice.

“You could have stayed out of this,” he insists. “You could have let them capture us. The Navy would've taken you back in a heartbeat. But you didn’t, you helped us. You saved my men.”

“I didn’t—” The denial is a knee-jerk reaction, but Castiel is not sure who he’s trying to convince here—Dean or himself. In the heat of the battle he didn’t have a moment to consider who he was helping. His captors. The people who attacked the Queen Anna , that murdered Ion, that are keeping him a prisoner. Gordon would have died if Castiel hadn’t helped him. Would his life have been enough to pay for Ion’s? 

Logically, Castiel knows that’s not how the world works. He saved Gordon because that’s what he does. He never wanted to take part in battles, but coming in and saving people after was a good compromise between what he wanted and what his father did.

“I’m not one of you,” he says, and the panic welling up inside him must show on his face, for Dean reaches a careful, soft hand and touches his elbow. Just two fingers, but they steady Castiel like an anchor. Without realizing it, he’s come to think of the Winchester pirates as his crew. His friends. His… family even. He did exactly what he’d promised himself he wouldn’t do. He forgot. 

But it’s hard to find a fault in all that when Dean looks at him with his mouth soft, his hands warm where they touch him.

“I know.” Short and simple. There’s something like regret in Dean’s eyes. “But thank you all the same.”

“You killed my crewmembers.” The accusation falls from Castiel lips like a gasp. Even to his ears it sounds weak. Hating Dean is a battle Castiel only now realizes he lost long ago. 

Dean’s fingers curl into the thin fabric of Castiel’s sleeve. He doesn’t pull him closer. He only holds on. “I’m sorry.”

Castiel deflates, like sails without wind. Something inside him comes loose. It shouldn’t be enough, but it’s all Dean has to offer. The question is if Castiel will accept it.

He drops his head, unable to look at Dean any longer. “You need to rest.”

Something like a smile tugs at the corner of Dean’s lips. He pats the offending shoulder. “What, for this? I’ve had worse, I’m fine. Why don’t you go check on the others? I’m sure you’re busy.”

“Actually,” Castiel says, remembering the reason he came up here in the first place, “there’s something I need to tell you.”

Dean is surprised to learn about Charlie, but he’s not as shocked as Castiel expected. He takes a couple of seconds to let the new information sink in, then springs into action. Their moment is lost to the problem at hand. “Right, let’s see. She’ll have to stay at the sickbay for at least a couple of days right?”

Castiel nods. Dealing with this is far easier than the conflicting feelings inside him. “I’ve hung a sheet to keep her separated from the others.”

“Good thinking.”

“Are you going to turn her away?”

Dean glances up, raising an eyebrow. “What, you think I’m going to maroon her for pretending to be a guy?”

“I’ve heard of pirates doing much worse for far less,” Castiel admits, even though he knows Dean is nothing like those stories. He’d believe it for Crowley, but not for Dean.

Dean rolls his eyes. “Aye, I’ll have her measured for her chains for the crime of having tits,” he says, voice dripping with sarcasm. “But seriously, I think it’ll be safer if I just moved her to Bobby’s cabin. I think there’s space in there to hang another hammock.”

“How is Bobby’s cabin safer than sleeping with the other men?”

Dean waves a hand. “Well, for starters there’s the matter of Jo not being a dude either,” he says, as-a-matter-of-fact. “It’s fine. Bobby and Jo are good people. They’ll take care of her,” he adds when he sees Castiel’s mouth hanging open in surprise.

“Jo is not Singer’s son?”

Dean purses his lips in thought. “She’s his adopted daughter.”

“Why?” Castiel chokes out.

“Why'd he adopt her?” Dean asks. “Beats me. Girl’s more pigheaded than anyone has the right to be, but I suppose Bobby can’t say no to Ellen.”

“No, I mean why do you have a girl posing as a guy on your ship,” Castiel clarifies, his brows still furrowed.

“Women are not exactly welcome on a ship, Cas,” Dean points out, narrowing his eyes like Castiel should have already known that. 

Which he did, Castiel knew that.

The Black Impala pirates, for all their good intentions, heroic actions and gentle manners—compared to other pirates—are just as superstitious as any sailor out there. Benny had thrown a fit one day because he thought he saw a shark fin in the water, and most of the men had been wary of Charlie the first few days just because her hair had been red. He can only imagine the uproar finding out her true gender would cause.

At least now he knows why Jo keeps to him—herself, and a few of her closer friends. The comments the men make about women are especially nasty most of the time. In Singer’s shoes, Castiel isn’t sure he’d want his daughter on a ship.

Dean doesn't seem to care much for that kind of stuff though. No, Dean’s different. Not perfect—God, he’s nowhere near perfect—but he’s different.

 

April 23th, 1703

They set sail for Homestead, Captain’s orders. Singer’s mouth presses into a thin line when Dean makes the announcement, but he doesn’t argue.

Homestead is a ten day trip from where they’re currently at, and though the men are tired and hurt, they work as hard as any other day to command the ship and keep her sailing smoothly. The holes are patched up as best as they can for now, and the work is redistributed to cover for those like Gordon, who have to stay in the sick bay. There’s no talk about hunts for now.

Castiel knocks on Dean’s door—his daily reports go to him now that Singer has taken more of Dean’s duties around the ship to let him recover, and so Dean has to deal with all the paperwork instead. A tragedy, according to Dean, who told Castiel once he’d rather clean the entire hull of the ship in the middle of a storm than have to stare at papers all day. Castiel had, of course, rolled his eyes. The only paperwork Singer and Dean ever have to deal with are his own reports. Some habits are just hard to break, even if it’s been almost two months now since he first met the pirates.

The door opens a little. Sam appears behind it. “Hey.”

“Hello, Sam,” Castiel says. “Is Dean not here? I thought he was supposed to be resting.”

“He’s sleeping.” Sam opens the door wider, stepping to the side. “Come in.” 

Every candle and light in the room has been turned off, and the stern windows behind Dean’s bed have been covered up to block the sunlight. A single ray has sneaked in, where the corner of the sheet hasn't been tucked into the window tightly enough. It casts the outline of Dean's sleeping form in hazy gold.

Castiel hasn't seen Sam much since the Navy attack, but even in the dim light, the hollowness of his face is evident.  He looks tired and thinner than before, and his hair is dirty and matted around his forehead. But at least he’s not high.

“How are you, Sam?” He keeps his voice low, as to not disturb Dean in his sleep.

Sam hesitates. He rubs the back of his neck. “I—honestly? Not good.”

Castiel curses at himself inwardly. He should have checked on Sam more often, but after he'd made sure he was unharmed, he'd decided that giving him some space might do him some good. Clearly it was a stupid decision.

“Sam...”

“Cas, I almost lost him,” Sam says, the end of his sentence lost in a silent sob. “My brother almost died because I—I couldn't…”

Castiel squeezes his shoulder, trying to comfort him. It’s a little awkward, neither of the two have ever been as touchy-feely as Dean seems to be, but it's something Sam needs right now.

“Don't think about that,” Castiel whispers. “He's strong. And he's going to be just fine.”

“The only reason he's going to be just fine is because that tar’s aim was shit. And he wouldn't even have been there if I wasn't so useless. Jesus, I need a smoke.”

He's still so young, Castiel reminds himself. Barely twenty, and already he’s been through more than any man ever should in his life. 

“Come on, help me write down your brother's injuries in the surgeon’s log.” There isn't anything that he really needs to write down, he saw Dean just last night to change his bandages, but he wants something to distract Sam, and work is always a good idea.

Sam shakes his head but follows Castiel to the desk. Dean's expression shifts ever so slightly when they light a candle, nose creasing with the beginning of a frown, but he turns to rest on his back, uninjured hand thrown over his face, and soon his breathing deepens again.

Deciphering the old surgeon’s handwriting is still an exercise in futility, the names of the men the only real information Castiel can make out. He still squints down and tries.

“Shit, that’s a lot of shorthand,” Sam observes, looking over Castiel’s shoulder.

“Tell me about it.”

“Do you understand it?”

“For the most part, no,” Castiel admits. He finds the page he used last time to note down everything about Dean’s conditions. He doesn’t really have anything to add, but he makes a small note about ‘extra rest’.

“You should start a new surgeon’s log,” Sam says. “Keep the old one for reference only.”

That Castiel could actually do. He had thought about it, but back then a new book meant a certain kind of permanence that Castiel didn’t want to admit. This was supposed to be for a year only. 

He isn’t so sure anymore.

“You should also start working on that encyclopedia again,” Sam continues. Behind them, Dean murmurs something in his sleep, grumpy and demanding. 

A new encyclopedia, huh? Castiel worked hard on his old manuscript, collecting samples and painstakingly drawing them with their descriptions and uses in neat cursive for over five years while he travelled the Atlantic Ocean and later the Caribbean with the Navy. He was supposed to go to India next year.

“I haven’t been off this ship in two months. Where am I supposed to get the references?”

Sam’s face breaks into a mischievous grin. It’s an expression Castiel has seen a hundred times on Dean’s face, but it’s not as obnoxious on the younger Winchester. It’s not as charming either.  

“We could ask Dean to get you some flowers,” Sam says. “He got me a couple of books.”

Castiel turns to glance at Dean, still sleep-soft and untroubled. He looks too young to be putting his life on the line for other people. The beginning of a smile tugs at Castiel’s lips, and he bites it down. “I’d like to see that.” 

 

April 26th, 1703

“I asked Victor to stop buying me opium,” Sam says from across the crate they’re using as a makeshift desk.

Castiel looks up from where he’s making a new entry about Charlie’s injuries. She’s young and strong, and she’s bouncing back from the bullet wound faster than he’d expected. Maybe it’s time to discuss moving her in with Jo and Bobby. “It’s going to be hard.”

Sam’s face is set in determination. “I know. Will you help me?”

“Of course. Anything you need.”

 

April 29th, 1703

The men are making speedy recoveries, and Castiel is confident that by the time they make port, only Gordon will still need to stay in the sick bay. 

A weird sense of calm has fallen over the Black Impala in the last few days. The never-changing routine has lulled the men into mostly forgetting about their big defeat and the lost map. They are still joking and gambling their tobacco away, roaring laughter echoing through the decks once again, along with the merry songs that keep time to their work.

Yes, life has found its course once more. 

Castiel spends a lot of his time with Sam, putting wet compresses against his forehead while he sweats the opium out of his system and carrying extra blankets for him when he’s trembling from the cold.

On the fourth day, Dean appears and takes over looking after his brother. His face is still pale and tight, but helping Sam through the withdrawal gives him a tangible goal, something solid to hold onto while he coaxes Sam out of his bed to feed him soup. 

Castiel comes and goes, checking on Sam, but more importantly, making sure that Dean is looking after himself, too. It’s not rare for Castiel to pass by Sam’s cabin before going to bed, only to realise that Dean hasn’t had anything to eat the whole day. It’s not rare for Castiel to sit with him until Dean has eaten everything on the plate brought to him either.

“He’s strong,” Castiel says, pushing a plate towards Dean. “He’s going to pull through.”

Hollow green eyes turn to look at him. A bitter smile tugs at the corner of Dean’s lips. “I know he’s strong. But it’s still hard to see him like this.”

“You’re doing everything you can to help him. Sam can’t ask for more.”

Dean shakes his head. He’s sitting on the floor by Sam’s bed, arms resting on his knees. “Sometimes I think that if I was a better brother he wouldn’t have to go through this at all.”

Castiel bites his lips. The image of a young girl inside a silver locket comes to his mind, but he’s not sure he’s allowed to speak of that. “It’s not your fault,” he says eventually.

“But I wasn’t there for him,” Dean says. “Not when it mattered. I was off sailing and hunting a man that I’d never even met before in my life while Sammy was losing his whole world.” He hangs his head with a defeated sigh. “He was right. When he fought with Dad and left to live in Jacksonville. A normal life was far better for him than… this.”

Sam says he wants to be here. Certainly he doesn’t act like it, Jo told Castiel once. From fragments of discussions and a few throwaway lines he heard here and there, he also knows that it was Dean that had dragged Sam into this life. 

“Him being on this ship is the only reason he’s trying to get better,” Castiel says, trying to comfort Dean. “You made the right choice to get him out of there. Give him a purpose again.”

“You make me sound so selfless when you put it like that. It’s almost a compliment coming from you.”

“Credit where credit is due.”

Dean’s eyes fall to the plate Castiel has left for him, and he untangles himself to grab it and bring it to sit on his crossed legs. He takes a small portion between his fingers and examines it before putting it in his mouth. “Not to let you down, but me bringin' Sam here had everything to do with my issues and nothing with his,” he says, still chewing. He swallows, and Castiel’s eyes involuntarily fall to where his Adam’s apple bobs.

Mentally shaking himself, Castiel focuses back on the topic they are discussing. “It’s not like my opinion of you can go any lower.”

Castiel has been reliably informed that his dry sense of humor more often than not falls flat, but Dean seems to get it. Something brightens in his eyes, his features softening.

“You’re right. I’m the worst scoundrel of the sea after all.”

“Exactly,” Castiel agrees, face serious, and this time Dean chuckles.

“At least it’s good to know that I live up to someone’s expectations around here.” He scoops up another piece of his food and falls back into silence while he eats. It’s not new. These days Dean only speaks to answer questions, never on his own.

So Castiel keeps talking to encourage him. “So why did you go back for Sam?”

“I…” Dean hesitates, playing with the food left on his plate. “I guess I just needed someone with me. After Dad died, I had to keep on going, finish the hunt, but I couldn’t do it alone. And I know I had Bobby, and Jo, and the others, but it wasn’t the same. So I… I went back for Sammy. I thought I could finish what Dad started if I had my brother with me.” He shakes his head, laughing again, but there’s a sour edge to it now. “Turns out I can’t do it after all.”

“Don’t say that.”

Dean shrugs. He looks at Castiel like he’s waiting for him to go on, try to convince him for the opposite. But Castiel doesn’t know what to say. It’s not like he can tell Dean I’ll be there to help you finish this. Castiel is a prisoner, not a pirate. No matter how much the lines between the two have become blurred lately.

 

April 30th, 1703

Castiel is slipping out of Sam’s cabin with an empty plate in his hand and finds Bobby waiting for him.

“Jus’ a second, lad. I needs t’ speak t’ ye.”

Castiel pauses. Turns to him, frowning. “Everything alright? Are Jo and Charlie okay?”

“Jus’ peachy,” the older man grumbles. He brushes a hand over his beard, thinking. “Dean ‘n I’ve been talking,” he begins. “When we reach Homestead, ye’re free to go.”

Castiel hears the words, but their meaning doesn’t register immediately. “What?” he asks, blinking.

“As of today, consider yerself a free man,” Bobby says, turning to disappear into his own cabin.

Chapter Text

May 3rd, 1703

Homestead is a town of tall houses and wide streets, a town that flourishes from all the merchant ships that come and go through its port everyday. There’s a Navy office overlooking the town up on the hill, but the Black Impala changes her colors to a French flag and drops anchor inside the port without much problem. 

For the first time in months, Castiel steps foot on dry land. It’s weird. His body still wants to sway in the sweet rhythm of the ocean’s waves, but he grits his teeth and takes the first steps on cobblestone.

Sam is on his slow journey of recovery, still breaking out in cold sweat every now and then, and definitely still very much craving a smoke more than anything, but Dean asked him to take Castiel to Ellen's tavern, and his determination to not let his brother down chases away any thoughts of heading to the shadier parts of the market. 

He leads Castiel to the west part of the town, where the buildings are low and sit closer together. Cats roam the streets in search of food, and Castiel wonders if Luna is ever let off the ship. She’s certainly been on the ship as long as he has, but the Impala has never dropped her anchor as close to a town as today.

They enter a narrow building made of bricks, a bell announcing them when the door opens and closes. Ellen’s tavern has tinted windows and only a few oil lamps inside, but the place smells amazing, and it makes Castiel’s stomach growl. Ash is already sitting at one of the tables, tucked in the corner furthest from the door. He has two plates overflowing with food in front of him. 

“Sam Winchester. I’ll be damned.” 

Ellen Harvelle has darker hair than her daughter, but the same straight nose and spark in her eyes that spells trouble for anyone that dares get in her way. She pats her hands clean of flour on her apron, a curl escaping from her loose bun, and rushes to envelope Sam in the kind of hug Castiel remembers his own mother squeezing him in when she hasn’t seen him in a long time. 

She pulls back just enough to take the tall man in, tsk-ing disapprovingly. “You’ve lost weight. I should have a talk with Bobby, they’re not feeding you enough. Where’s your brother?”

“Stayed back to make sure the ship is secured. Should be here in a couple of hours.” Sam’s smile is soft and genuine, in a way Castiel has never seen on him before. “Did Jo come by?”

“Sure did,” Ellen says, shaking her head fondly. “Dragged that new friend upstairs to change into more—” she eyes Castiel suspiciously “—appropriate clothes.”

Sam motions Castiel closer, a reassuring hand on Ellen’s shoulder. “Ellen, I want you to meet Castiel. He’s our new surgeon.”

“Is that the boy Dean abducted?” Ellen asks, narrowing her eyes. Directness is a trait both she and her husband possess, apparently. Then she turns to Sam, who’s gaping at her. “What? You think Bobby’s not sending me letters from every port? You have a lot to learn yet, lad.”

“Right.” Sam rubs the back of his neck, shoulders hunching. “Should’ve thought of that, I guess.”

“You should have come straight here after Jess, is what you should’ve done,” Ellen chastises, but her voice is not nearly as demanding as she tries to be. Her hands are gentle when she pushes him towards a door in the back of the tavern. “You look tired. Bobby says you’ve had a tough time lately. Why don’t you get some rest? I’ll prepare something for later. We need to get some meat in you—a pie for your brother, too.”

“Ellen, you’re an angel,” Sam grins, squeezing her in one more hug.

“God knows you lot need someone to look after you. At least let me do it while you’re here.”

To Castiel, Sam says over Ellen’s shoulder, “Get something to eat, too. I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah, sure.” Castiel is not sure when later will be, considering how many hours Sam spends sleeping through the exhaustion and the nausea, but he doesn’t have anywhere else to go, or even knows where he’s supposed to go after—well, after. 

He’s a free man now. He could do anything he wanted, walk straight to that Navy office and tell them everything, or turn his back to the sea and go back to his mother’s house. He could do literally anything, and go anywhere he wants.

Castiel sits at one of the tables. 

Ellen joins him a few minutes later, bringing fresh vegetables with her and a piece of meat pie that makes Castiel’s mouth water at the sight. Two tankards filled to the brim with beer are placed on the table. One for him, one for her. 

Jo and Charlie come crashing through the door just then, wearing dresses, hair loose and curled, and giggling like they’re drunk already. 

“Be careful out there,” Ellen calls as they step outside and rush down the road.

She eyes Castiel carefully, her expression tight. 

She doesn’t know Castiel is already aware about Jo and Charlie being women, he realises, and he’s quick to reassure her. “It’s fine. Their secret is safe with me.” 

Ellen nods. She follows Castiel’s line of sight, and chuckles. “Ash knows, too. He’s family.”

Castiel needs to start catching up on who knows what on this ship. It seems like he still has so much stuff to learn, but when living on a ship with men that have made hunting monsters that nobody else knows about their job, it’s to be expected, he supposes. There are still so many things he wants to ask, too.

“So you’re the new surgeon,” Ellen says, tankard held between her palms. “How do you like it on the ship so far?”

“It’s certainly an enlightening experience,” Castiel observes. He takes a bite of the meat pie and nearly moans. Maybe it’s because Castiel hasn’t had anything that is actually fresh other than eggs and the occasional fish, but the pie is excellent. Not that Benny’s cooking isn’t good, but ship food is always old and seasoned with too many spices to cover the sometimes decomposing taste of it. God, food might actually be what he missed the most while he was not allowed off the ship. 

The edge of Ellen’s lips curl up. “I’m sure it is,” she says, watching as Castiel gobbles down the food. “Are they treating you alright?"

"Honestly, they're treating me better than I expected pirates to treat a prisoner."

Ellen clicks her tongue, taking a sip from her beer. "Look, I'm not going to make excuses, I'm sure you know they had their reason for kidnapping you."

"It's still wrong though," Castiel says, washing down the peppery meat with some beer of his own. 

"It is wrong," Ellen agrees. "But it's also necessary. Life isn't fair, Castiel, and you can't look at everything in black and white. The Winchester pirates have killed people—sometimes they deserved it, and sometimes they didn't, I admit that—but I think all the people they've saved outweigh all the bad they’ve done."

"You can't use people's lives like they are coins to be stacked on one side or the other—we lost this many, but look how much we earned," Castiel argues. "People are not like that."

"Sure they are. Sacrifices are made all the time for the greater good.”

Castiel is stuck in the same argument he has with himself every single day since the lusca hunt, only this time he has only one role to play, instead of being trapped between being both the accuser and the lawyer. He asks the question he asks himself every time: "And why does it have to be you that decides what's the greater good?"

Ellen stares straight at him. "Because nobody else knows." 

Chatter drifts into the tavern from the street, and Ash's cutlery against the metal dish, a constant background noise to their conversation, is the only thing that can be heard in the room now.

"When you meet a monster out there, either you die, or you live long enough for people to call you crazy," Ellen says. "We are the only ones that can protect ourselves as well as others."

Castiel winces. His own first reaction was to think that everyone on the ship was suffering from mass hallucinations. "How did you find out about monsters?"

"My first husband—Jo’s father—he was in the Navy with John Winchester and Bobby before they became hunters. I was still pregnant when Bobby came back with the news of a hunt gone wrong.” She takes out a locket from her pocket and opens it to reveal two short tufts of hair, each tied with a ribbon. She shows the darker one to Castiel. “The only thing they brought back.”

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, eyes locked on the lighter hair, which surely belongs to Jo. It must have been hard, to be a woman living alone and pregnant and then to discover that her husband has died. 

Castiel feels a little humbled sitting in front of her. In comparison he’s had a relatively easy life, his path predetermined from the moment he was born. Father in the Navy, son in the Navy. It was that simple for him, no matter how much he fought it. Clearly, he didn’t fight hard enough.

“And John Winchester is…” he trails off, not sure if this is the right moment to ask, but he’s tired of keeping his tongue tied. He finally needs some answers.

“Sam and Dean’s father,” Ellen nods. “He’s… I guess you can say he is the beginning of everything.”

“He was the first hunter?”

“That, too,” Ellen hums, bringing her tankard to her lips. “Tell me, do you know about Dean’s final hunt?”

“Only that he’s after a man,” Castiel admits, pushing a carrot around on his dish. He’s guessed a few more things from what Dean has told him, but the full picture still escapes him. 

Ellen’s expression tightens. “He’s not a man, not anymore at least. I’m not sure he was a man to begin with, except back then he still bled like the rest of us.”

“And he is…”

“Azazel. He was in the Navy, too. I remember Bobby and Bill drinking with him in my tavern from time to time before he left to command his own ship as a privateer. These days he goes by the name Yellow Eyes.” 

Castiel knows that already, of course. Azazel’s fleet is one of the strongest among pirates, and he as a captain has had a career far longer than any man usually lasts at sea. He holds his tongue, suspecting Yellow Eyes’ tales of plunder are not the stories Ellen wants to tell him.

Her eyes turn distant as she loses herself in a time that has already passed and can’t be changed. “We hadn’t seen him in almost six years, and by then Mary had had Dean, and John had found a job in town to stay with his family. Azazel came back a few months after Sam was born, but it was too late to stop his plans, even if we’d known.”

“What were his plans?” Castiel asks, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table.

"To kill Mary Winchester."

Castiel takes a sharp breath. Even Ash has stopped eating, though Castiel guesses this is not something he's hearing for the first time. This is one of the secrets that only the pirates of the Black Impala share. And now him, too.

For all her tough demeanor and cold facade, Ellen grabs his wrist and squeezes. “This is not a story of monsters and heroes, Castiel—or at least it’s not just that. This a story of jealousy and revenge.”

Castiel quirks his head to the side, confused. "What did Mary Winchester ever do to him?"

"Married John Winchester," Ellen says, bringing the tankard to her lips. "Azazel had asked old man Campbell for Mary's hand, but she ran away with John instead, came here and started a family. But killing Mary was just convenient for him. You see, Azazel met a witch on his travels, and with her help, he cast a spell, using Mary’s death, that brought him as close to a god as a man can be.”

The meat pie sits heavily in Castiel’s stomach, a nauseous feeling curling inside him. “What kind of spell?”

A deep frown forms on Ellen’s forehead, her grip on the tankard tightens. “Azazel became the master of all the sea monsters that roam the oceans. Krakens, luscas, sirens, they’re all bound to him in one way or another. He’s the key that allows them to pass from their realm into ours. He’s the one who set them free to kill and terrorize unsuspecting ships. He used his power to make even the most dangerous of enemies bend the knee before him, turning pirates to his admirals and sending them to kill and steal more in his name. He’s nearly immortal now.”

“But John Winchester set out to find a way to kill him and any monsters in his way, too,” Castiel finishes for her. 

She nods. “Alastair was Azazel’s right hand man. A trusted partner in crime you could say. He was the only one Alastair trusted to keep the secret to his only weakness.”

So many pieces of the puzzle fall into place with her story, so many questions are answered. Why the pirates are so obsessed with this last hunt, John Winchester dying. Even the map Crowley took must be connected to this story somehow. John and Dean found a way to kill Azazel and rid the world of all the monsters in the process, he is sure of it.

Their conversation dies out after that, but Ellen insists on getting Castiel a second plate of food—“You deserve it after spending so long at sea,” she tells him with a fond pat on the back—and so by the time Dean and Bobby show up he’s clutching his belly, scared he might explode with the amount of food in him.

Their welcome to the tavern is as warm as Sam’s had been, and Castiel averts his eyes to give the family some sense of privacy while they catch up on their news. Ellen and Bobby don’t cry—not that Castiel expected that from either of them—but their features relax, like a weight is lifted now that they are together and safe again.

“How’s the food, Doc?” Dean asks, taking the seat next to Castiel, even though Ash is sitting—napping—a few tables over. He’s wearing that dark blue doublet again, that so reminded Castiel of his own uniform. It must be his father’s coat from his time in the Navy, Castiel realizes, with a few modifications of course. It’s a well-cared for coat, obviously loved, with no holes or patching up even in places Castiel’s own uniform has needed a few stitches throughout the years. 

The color suits Dean immensely.

“An epiphany,” Castiel says, rubbing a hand over his stomach. “Maybe the best meat pie I’ve ever eaten.”

“Oh, and you still haven’t tried the cherry pie,” Dean grins, though it barely reaches his eyes.

A hand smacks Dean on the back of his head as Ellen passes behind him, carrying trays of food for him, Bobby and the couple other pirates that have found their way here for lunch. “Food first, dessert later.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Garth, Eddie and Harry are already draining their tankards next to Ash—who isn't bothered at all and just keeps snoring away—while Benny has dragged a beautiful brunette with curly hair to the table by the windows and doesn't let go of her even when Ellen strolls by to say hello. 

“That’s Andrea, Benny’s wife,” Dean stage whispers, leaning towards Castiel.

Castiel turns to him, frowning. “Benny’s married?”

Dean raises an eyebrow at him. “Why are you so surprised?”

“I’m not,” Castiel says, making space on the table for the plates Ellen brings over with more food. “Does every single person in your crew come from Homestead?”

“Well, no, but we come here pretty often, so many of them relocated their families. Others didn’t have any family so it’s just convenient for them to stay in one of Ellen’s spare rooms,” Dean shrugs, tucking a napkin into the collar of his blouse. “I’m sure there’s a spare room for you if you’re not in too much of a hurry to leave.”

Castiel hasn’t had the time to think about where he would stay while he figured what to do next. He doesn’t think his father will be happy to have him back—probably he’ll consider him a deserter—and for all of his mother’s good intentions, she’s never been good with standing up to her husband. If Ellen will have him, he’d like to take the time to consider all his options.   

Dean keeps his eyes lowered to his food, stabbing at the meat pie with more force than is necessary. He’s obviously still bothered by the whole Crowley incident, and really, just the fact that he’s talking to Castiel without being prompted—and with full sentences, too—is a miracle all on its own. The other men have long since given up trying to talk to him, though Dean has made an effort to answer Castiel’s questions most times. Maybe some time on land will do him good. 

“And you grew up here,” Castiel enquires, stealing a piece of boiled potato from the plates. 

“Sure did. Ellen took me n’ Sammy in when I was… about five, I think,” Dean says around a mouthful of meat pie. “Took care of us along with Jo while Dad was out fighting the good fight."

Castiel hums, allowing Dean to dig into his food without having to pause and answer questions every few seconds. 

It's a nice town, a good place to grow up in. He can just imagine Dean, Sam and Jo as children running between the tables of the tavern, terrorizing Ellen's customers. He wonders how old Dean was when he started hunting and how long it was before Jo followed him. Did Sam ever hunt with them or did he seek a new life, a normal life, away from here, until he was forced to join them by his brother and fate?

 

May 6th, 1703

The room Castiel shares with Ash is empty when he returns for some rest after dinner. The moonlight shines through the window, casting pale shadows across the thin mattresses crammed inside the room, and painting the desk in front of the window in silver hues. 

Castiel pauses, his hand still on the door handle. 

There’s a package left on the desk. 

When he finally manages to close the door and take the couple of steps that bring him right in front of the desk, he sees the stack of papers left there, tied with a string of rope. He lets his fingers graze the grainy texture and follow a path parallel to the string that keeps the stack together. It’s high quality and surely very expensive. Castiel was never able to afford such paper, instead turning to cheaper alternatives made of recycled rags.

This is not paper for his notes, this is paper for a manuscript. Paper that will look beautiful once bound together with a leather cover.

There’s a note tucked under the string.

Figured you’d like this better than flowers -D.   

 

May 8th, 1703

Castiel takes the opportunity of this extended vacation to follow Sam’s advice: He starts working on his encyclopedia again. So far he only has a list of plants and preparations he knows he wants to include, as well as a couple of books he found in the market that will help him with his research, but it’s a start. Garth, probably feeling a little lonely now that Jo has basically disappeared with Charlie, joins him daily as Castiel walks up the hill and around the city, gathering samples, writing down notes and making drawings of roots and buds. He’s a lot of help and good company, and proves to be as eager to learn about medicinal plants as Castiel himself. 

Days are spent out in the field doing research, or at Ellen’s tavern, eating and drinking with the pirates. Sam will appear occasionally, still pale and tired, but Castiel is pleased to see that in his every excursion he stays clear of the shadier parts of town where opium merchants frequent. He works hard to stay clean. The men enjoy Sam’s company now that they’ve gotten to know him better, and they call him over to their tables for drinks almost as often as they do his brother, though Dean prefers to keep to himself. Most of the time he can be found at a tiny table, sulking with a beer in hand, when he’s not spending his time by his brother’s side. Only seeing Sam slowly get better, gain weight and get a healthy glow to his skin again seems to motivate him these days.

Castiel gives him his space. 

He needs that space, too, to make sure his decision is his own, without Dean distracting or influencing him. It’s not everyday that he gets to choose a new path for his life.

Besides all the work he does with Garth every day, he’s realised that there’s something else he should be researching, and so his nights are spent bent over books that he borrowed from Bobby, and Castiel starts learning about monsters.

Bobby scratches his head, but gives him more books when Castiel returns the first two and asks for more. “Not that I’m complainin', but ye won't need all that if ye go back t' th' Navy,” he grumbles.

"I've been thinking about that, and maybe we're gonna need that contract you offered me before," Castiel says, hands weighed down by tomes. "No prey, no pay, right?"

Bobby's eyebrows almost disappear into his hairline. "Aye. I'll see if I can find that ol' paper."

 

May 9th, 1703

Castiel has spent lots of days thinking about this, but he feels confident asking Bobby to make him an official part of the crew was the right choice. Deep down he always knew he wasn't going back to the Navy, but he can't return to living a normal life now that he has seen with his own eyes what's out there, either. He's not a good soldier, to his father's dismay, but he always wanted to help people. Back when he was still a boy, becoming a surgeon had seemed like the right choice. It was a compromise between what he wanted to do and what his father expected, but he knows that there's another path he can take now. Ellen is right, not everything is black and white, and Castiel finds that he can live with the darkest shades of grey, if it means he's doing something that makes a difference. And killing monsters certainly makes a difference.

He's with Bobby, asking about a part in mermaid lore that doesn't make much sense to him, when the door to the room creaks open, and Jo peeks in.

"Hey," she says. "Bobby, can I talk to you for a second?" 

It takes only one look at his adopted daughter for Bobby to nod and send Castiel on his way. 

Charlie is waiting outside in the hallway that separates the apartment where Ellen lives from the few rooms she rents out to pirates and travellers.

"Fancy seeing you here, Cas," she says brightly. Her dress sweeps the floor as she turns to grin at him. "Thought you'd have skipped town by now." 

"Haven't you heard? You're stuck with me for the foreseeable future." He leads her towards the room he's been sharing with Ash and Garth while staying here. 

He's not sure if Garth knows about either Jo or Charlie, but when they're dressed as women most of the crew don't spare them a second glance coming and going. The thought that the two young ladies that stroll the market everyday with their arms linked are their crewmates doesn't even cross their minds.

"So I've heard." Charlie walks with her hands loosely clasped behind her back. "I'm glad. I kinda like you."

"You just like having someone around that knows your secret and can patch you up if you trip and fall from a mast," he argues, opening the door to his room and letting her in first. 

Ash is sitting on one of the beds, and grunts a low hello to them. These days he’s been focused on trying to make a flamethrower based on mentions of similar machines used by the Roman Empire. Castiel stopped paying attention when Ash went on a long monologue about how the prototype might have originated in Asia. 

Charlie pats Ash’s shoulder in greeting, before plopping to the bed next to him. “I won’t deny it. But Dean’s keeping my secret, too, you know. Jo, as well.”

Castiel rolls his eyes. “I’d be worried if Jo wasn’t keeping your secret.” He drops the books on the bed he’s claimed as his own, before dropping there himself. “Is she okay, by the way? She looked a little off back there.”

Charlie tilts her head to the side, thinking. “She’s fine, she’s just… Do you know how we hang around places that sailors and pirates frequent? Try to see if we’ll get a hint of a new hunt?”

Castiel does know that. Plenty of their men do it, though he himself has never tried. He’s not confident enough in his knowledge yet to be sure he’ll identify a genuine hunt from a sailor coming up with tall tales.

“Well, we came across one of Crowley’s lieutenants,” she says, and even Ash drops his plans and turns to pay attention to her. “At first we thought that if he’s here, then Crowley might be here, too. It’d be a good opportunity to steal Dean’s map back, but the lieutenant was drinking his share away, talking with another old man about Crowley going missing along with three of his galleons.”

“Well, shit,” Ash says. “Crowley’s missing.”

“And so is the map,” Charlie finishes for him.

No wonder Jo wanted to tell Bobby as soon as possible, Castiel thinks, gaping at her. And he knows someone else that won’t be happy to hear this news.

 

May 10th, 1703

Dean is drinking himself into oblivion tonight. 

Castiel has been watching him for the better part of two hours, and neither Ellen nor Sam have been able to move that beer away from his hands so far. Pleading doesn’t work, and threatening doesn’t work either. It only makes Dean cranky and ends with Ellen storming away.  From the Black Impala pirates, only a few men have come to spend their night eating and drinking at the tavern tonight, for most of them have sought entertainment elsewhere. Their reactions to watching their captain down one tankard after the other range from complete disinterest, in Arthur’s case, to a raised eyebrow that hides a lot of comments behind, in Gordon’s. Benny just threw his hands up after their second fight.

Castiel sighs, grabs his tankard and does the unthinkable: He claims the chair across from Dean.

“Cas, still here?” Dean’s voice isn’t unkind, but he’s just a hair on the wrong side of tipsy, and his words come out whiny.

Castiel tilts his head to the side, considering him. “Are you tired of me already?”

“Aren’t you tired of me already?” Dean shoots back, pointing an unsteady hand towards Castiel. 

“No, not yet. Haven’t seen you around a lot these days. At least not when you’re in the mood to talk,” Castiel says and watches as Dean’s face flushes.

Dean drops his eyes, the table in front of him suddenly very interesting to him. “Yeah, well, I’ve been busy.”

Castiel places his arms on the table, leans forward and lowers his voice. “Busy drinking? Dean, you’re better than that.”

“Apparently, I’m not.” Dean downs the rest of his beer in one go. The tankard drops to the table with a thud, as he wipes his lips with the back of his hand. He’s missed a drop at the corner of his mouth. “But you’ve been busy as well. What’ve you been doing all day anyway?”

“I’ve been working on my encyclopedia with Sam’s and Garth’s help,” Castiel admits. He eyes Dean carefully, trying to predict his reaction to his next words, but he’s never been good at that. “I’ve also been working with Bobby lately. He’s been teaching me everything I need to know to become a hunter.”

Dean drops back in his seat, nose wrinkling with confusion. “You’re not a hunter.”

Castiel takes a breath. “But I will be. Bobby’s preparing the papers for me to sign.”

“Papers,” Dean says, shaking his head to clear some of the alcohol induced sluggishness. “To become a hunter?”

“Yes. A pirate,” Castiel says, trying to make him understand. 

Dean’s eyebrows almost reach his hairline, as realization finally dawns on him. “You’ll stay with us.”

Castiel has to bite back a smile, but it’s hard not to let his expression change when Dean looks at him with eyes filled with hope and childish innocence. He raises an eyebrow at him. “Someone has to take care of all of you idiots.”

“That’s… good news,” Dean says, the end of his sentence rising like it’s a question. Like he’s not sure he and Castiel are on the same page.

“It is,” Castiel agrees, quick to reassure him. He’s not doing this for Dean, he’s not, but it still fills his chest with warmth to be able to give this to him. It might make the bad news Castiel has to deliver a softer blow. 

He clears his throat. “Have you talked with Bobby at all since yesterday?”

“No, not really,” Dean says, sniffing. He rubs his nose with the heel of his palm, drops his hand on the table by the now empty tankard.

“Right.” Castiel hesitates. It’s not really his place to tell him about this, but with the way Dean spends all his days personally working on repairing the Black Impala and all his nights drinking himself to sleep, everyone avoids the subject as much as possible.

Castiel figures it’s better to just get it over with. “Crowley’s missing. Disappeared along with three of his ships.”

Dean’s mouth falls open. He blinks once, then drops his face in his hands. “Shit. Fucking scallywag went and got himself killed, didn’t he?”

“We don’t know that,” Castiel says.

“Does it matter?” Dean sighs, posture small and defeated. “We have no chance of tracking him down and getting the map back now.”

The room is filled with drunken songs and loud conversations, the other patrons of the tavern as drunk—or even more so—than Dean. 

Castiel wants to reach out and touch him, hold his hand to show him that he’s not alone, not anymore, and Castiel will support him no matter what, but there are too many people around. Even if Dean didn't mind, they sure would. Captain Michaels would have hanged him if he knew what Castiel thinks about when he touches himself, and most men would do the same. Whatever it is that coils hot and urgent in his belly every time he sees Dean is dangerous. Castiel can't let them see.

He catches Dean’s eyes instead and holds them. Pours everything he feels in the gaze they share, trying to make Dean understand. “We’ll figure it out. It’s not the end of the world. We can still go on—how did Bobby say it?—killing things?”

“Hunting things, ” Dean corrects. There’s the beginning of something like a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth and for the first time in weeks it’s not from the rum. “Saving people.”

Castiel feels a grin spreading on his own face in return. “What you’ve always done.”

Dean curls his hand in a fist, bumps it against Castiel’s shoulder, but his touch lingers just a second too long. “What we always do.”

“I’d drink to that,” Castiel says, ignoring the way his whole body begs for Dean to come closer.

Dean’s nose scrunches up as he laughs. “I thought you didn’t want me to drink.”

Castiel shrugs. “I didn’t say anything about me having to abstain as well.”

Men come and go around them, drinking and eating and making merry. They have less than an hour before Ellen kicks most of them out for tonight and blows out the candles that shed their light in the tavern. Castiel is content to sit with Dean even after that.

 

May 13th, 1703

Their sails stretch above them as the Black Impala wakes up again. Any damage done to her has been fixed during their stay in Homestead under Dean’s watchful eye, and now it’s impossible to tell where she’d been hurt during their last battle.

Two gulls fly alongside them as they exit the port, salty air ruffling their feathers.

Castiel never thought he’d say this, but it’s good to be back on the ship. As freeing as it was to stay on land and be able to go wherever he wanted, his whole life has been an endless series of sailing from island to island in the last few years. And the Impala has been kind to him, even if they had a rough start.

Morning sick call is not obligatory today—it’s not even really morning any more, and the men haven’t been sailing for a full hour yet—but Castiel spent the previous day cleansing the belly of the ship and making sure everything was ready for today, and so now he has nothing better to do than to stand under the main mast and wait for anyone that might want to talk. Most of them are too busy running up and down the deck to guide the ship, but it’s nice just to sit and watch them with the sun warming his face. 

Dean's mood has improved since their talk that night, and he is back to being the captain he usually is. Authority looks great on him, and he wears it like an expensive suit that has been tailored just for him. Gone are the dark circles of despair and the slouched shoulders, and Dean walks with his spine straight now as he inspects the work of his men. 

It’s inevitable that he crosses paths with Castiel, but his smirk is only teasing when he says, “Look at that. Doc’s on his way to becoming a real pirate.”

“Wait till it’s time for me to claim my first real share,” Castiel says, holding up a hand against the sun. With his other, he holds the new surgeon’s log Sam helped him pick out one day at the market against his chest.

Dean’s eyes inevitably fall on the new, leather-bound tome. “Fancy,” he comments. “What happened to the old one?”

Castiel’s thumb circles the soft leather. “I thought we could use a fresh start. New crew members and all things considered.”

Dean’s smile is all teeth and creased nose, and, at least to Castiel, is brighter than the sun.

Chapter Text

June 8th, 1703

Castiel’s baptism as a real hunter starts with salt and ends with rum. In hindsight, he should have guessed it would go somewhat like this.

Their first hint about the hunt is a rumor Victor hears at Port Royal while they’re bringing special firepower back to the ship—silver bullets and cannonballs rich in iron, Dean explains to Castiel, specially made by one of Bobby’s friends, Rufus. 

That little piece of information takes them to the Bahamas, where they sail around the islands, until finally the night grows cold, and their breaths come out frosty. Fog is not usual in those parts of the ocean, but tonight, the ship is lost in the smog surrounding them, a deathly silence falling on the ship. 

They hear it, before they see it.

It begins as a song they all know and have sang themselves on occasion.

Yo hohoho, yo ho ho ho

Yo hohoho, yo ho ho ho

The air dies all around them, leaving their sails to hang uselessly from the masts, but there, under the song approaching, is the sound of waves against a ship’s hull.

— home'ard bound — blue sea — 

The chill raises goosebumps on Castiel’s skin, and his heart picks up as the outline of a ship starts appearing through the fog. It’s bigger than the Black Impala , its sails torn and destroyed, its main mast broken. And still her crew sings.

— 're home'ard — to the old counterie — 

“Get on th’ jolly boats,” Bobby growls, the only sound to break through the song. The men hurry away, and it’s only Sam and Harry that return a few moments later, their arms full with boxes and jars.

Yo hohoho, yo ho ho ho

Yo hohoho, yo ho ho ho

An iron fireplace poker is shoved into Castiel’s hands. “It should slow them down,” Dean tells him, a gun in his own hands. 

The first sign that something is wrong is when the ship flickers. It’s a blink and you miss it moment, but the ship definitely disappears for a split second. And again.

Good-bye fare-you-well

The song ends abruptly, leaving nothing but their own breathing and heartbeats to echo through the night. The other ship stops moving. 

The hair at the back of Castiel’s neck stands at the same time Dean pushes him out of the way and fires his gun at a pale figure that fades away with the gunshot. 

All hell breaks loose. 

Sprites appear out of nowhere, all broken bodies and heavy chains, and they lash out viciously to anyone they can get their hands on. Charlie is hit in the shoulder by one, its nails passing through her body, but she screams before Sam hits it with a spade. Again the sprite dissolves, its fickle body weak against the iron Sam is holding. 

More sprites appear. They surround the pirates, faces rotting right off their skulls as they extend their hands, trying to grab them.

“Into positions,” Dean orders, men scurrying all around him.

Castiel is pushed and shoved, then pulled back by Dean who grabs his elbow and keeps him close. “Stay in the circle,” he says, eyes trained on the sprite closest to them, “and hit anything that comes too close. It'll take them a while to regain their strength and attack us again."

"What circle?" Castiel yells back, stumbling as he crushes into a pirate rushing about.

"Cas, to your left," Sam shouts, and Castiel whirls around, poker already raised just in time to go through the head of a sprite that gets whipped away with an eerie cry. 

Ash has a bag of salt in his arms, and he's hurriedly pouring it on the floor. There's the circle Dean was talking about. A sprite with torn clothes and a bullet hole through the left eye appears, lunges for Bobby, but bounces off of thin air.

They can't cross the salt line. Castiel exhales in relief. There are some parts of the lore that one doesn’t believe until he sees it with his own eyes. Grip tight around his weapon, he stands his ground between Sam and Dean. The circle is big enough for all the pirates left on the ship to stand inside, and there's still enough space for Bobby, who is now on his knees with Ash drawing symbol after symbol onto the deck with chalk. 

A sprite appears and Dean fires. Another tries to lure Benny out of the circle and gets whipped through the throat. 

The wind picks up with a ferocity that Castiel has never seen before. The ghost ship's sails billow, holes filling and opening, and her head speeds towards the Black Impala with lightning speed.

"Hold on, hearties," Benny shouts.

Castiel braces himself, but he still gets knocked off his feet when the two ships collide, the ghost ship hitting the Impala's stern with a screech. He hits the floor, grazing his cheek and slamming his shoulder on the deck, but Dean is on him immediately, gun ready for the oncoming attack. The wind has broken their circle, and now the sprites are approaching from every direction.

"Shit, Bobby, do something," Dean barks, pointing his gun and firing. Lower, load, aim, fire. Lower, load, aim, fire.

"Don't look at me. I'm ready," Bobby growls, standing in the middle of the circle. He has a bowl filled with herbs and weird ingredients in front of him, flint and steel ready in his hand. 

Castiel scrambles to get back up, swinging the poker out at a sprite to his left, then stumbling back as another makes a move towards him. "Dean," he shouts, fighting through the endless horde of sprites. 

“Hold on,” Dean instructs. “Jo should be ready any moment now.”

“They’re too many,” Benny says, getting two sprites with one attack, but another jumps on his back, and he goes down. Sam is at his side immediately, sprites surrounding them, and Benny has blood running down his chest and his throat. They are too many.

Castiel can’t see anything except for ghostly faces and pale hands, eyeballs hanging out of their sockets and ribs poking out of rotting flesh, and still he pushes through, swinging at anything that he can see, whether his hits land or not. More men are going down around him, and Dean can’t load his gun fast enough anymore. 

Then, the night lights up. Flames spread all around them, climbing high up, until Castiel is sure they must be taller than the ships inside them. 

“Bobby, now,” Dean shouts, gun already dropped and fighting with a crowbar now. He has his back to Castiel, shoulders bumping together every time one of them has to take a step back before lunging for the next sprite to come at them.

Bobby doesn’t lose a second. Ash standing above him as a guard, a series of foreign words fall from his mouth, hasty but clear. He strikes the flint and steel, sparks falling into the bowl in front of him, where the herbs catch on fire, and with them, the sprites burn, too. They go up in flames, their pale bodies burning to ash, before the wind sweeps away the last evidence of their existence. Behind them, the ghost ship goes up with them, the flames licking their way from the hold to the main mast in a matter of seconds. Soon, there’s only the trembling light of the fire circle on the sea left to cast shadows on the deck.

Cheering erupts all around Castiel. Dean pulls Benny up, grinning and patting his shoulder, and Ash drops his weapon to join the rest of the pirates in their celebration. They have the alcohol served before Jo returns with her team, and they celebrate till the last of the flames go down and even after that, wounds are quickly cleaned and wrapped to be looked at tomorrow. 

There’s music, and stale bread with bone soup served that tastes a hundred times better after the high of a battle won. Dean throws an arm around Castiel’s shoulders and squeezes, singing off-key, nose brushing Castiel’s skin when he leans in to shout the next verse right into his ear like the insufferable asshole he is. 

Castiel wants to stay in this moment forever, bask in the glow of the celebration, let Dean’s warmth soak right into his bones.

They did it.

 

June 10th, 1703

The merchantman doesn't stand a chance against the Black Impala . Her captain surrenders without even trying to flee, eyeing the black flag that promises them safety if they just go along with the pirates' plan.

"Alright, guys. You know the drill, go for the usual stuff." Dean stands with his hands behind his back, sweat slowly forming against his temple, gold buttons shining under the sun.

This time Castiel doesn't hesitate to go through the medical cabinet on the ship, though he tries to leave behind a little bit of everything just in case. He stands on the deck and shows Dean today’s loot, explaining what else they’re going to need to buy from the next port they stop at.

The merchantman sailors are uneasy, murmuring and moving constantly, even when Benny and Gordon keep their cutlasses in plain view. 

Eddie and Harry are carrying a box of soap bars back to the Impala , when Eddie trips, falling forward and pushing Harry down along with the box. The surprised cries and the thud of the box breaking as it hits the deck get Benny's and Gordon's attention, and it's all the sailors need.

Four of them lunge at Benny and Gordon, despite their captain shouting at them to stand down. Two of them have Gordon on the ground in a matter of seconds, and the other two land a few punches on Benny, even if he's not as easy to defeat.

"Hey, get back down," Dean shouts, starting towards the commotion.

One of the sailors has Gordon's cutlass and the other is wrestling his gun away, despite the fact that their crewmates still haven't subdued Benny.

The pirates abandon their loot and draw their weapons. 

The sailor with Gordon's sword waves it around, trying to keep the pirates away, but his friend is not as hesitant. He hits Gordon again, knocking him out, and now that he has his gun, points it towards Benny.

Ketch doesn't even warn them. There’s a gunshot. The man with the gun falls dead in a matter of seconds, and the second soon follows him, and Dean goes pale.

"Anybody else who'd like to try and escape?" Arthur asks, raising an eyebrow. Both his hands are full with two smoking guns.

The merchantman captain curls his hands into fists. His men huddle close together, stepping away from where their mates' blood pools on the deck.

"Didn't think so," Arthur spits.

"Come on, we don't have all day," Dean says, face tight. 

Harry and Eddie gather as many soap bars as they can in their arms, carrying them over with a constant apology on their lips— Sorry, Dean, and It won't happen again, Captain.

"Yeah, well it better not happen again," Dean says through gritted teeth, and it's only chance that Castiel is passing by him at that moment to hear it. It's only chance, too, that Castiel pauses long enough to notice Dean's hands shaking when he returns to the Impala .

 

June 20th, 1703

New Providence is a paradise. And not just for the beautiful town and sapphire blue beaches, but also for the forest around the town that is an endless source of medicinal plants for Castiel. He has spent the last two days from dawn till sundown knee deep in dirt, and he has never enjoyed it so much. Garth joined him the first day, but drinking and gambling have won him away for the rest of their stay in Nassau. It’s fine, though. Castiel doesn’t mind being alone. Most of the time he doesn’t even notice. 

Today, however, he has to end his excursion earlier, since he has an appointment with Sam in the town. It’s not hard to find him. He’s a good head taller than everyone else wandering the market at this hour of the day. He has a paper bag in his arms.

“More books?” Castiel asks, pushing through the people to get closer.

Sam grins widely. “Fruits, actually. They have some here you can’t find anywhere else. Did you have a productive day?”

“I’ve had more than a productive day. It’s refreshing to be honest. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy being covered in mud,” Castiel says, showing off the stains on his clothes proudly.

Sam wrinkles his nose. “God, nobody will allow us to sit at their tavern and eat when you look like that. Should we get back to the ship and change?”

“Won’t that take too long?” Castiel is not even that dirty. He’s had days where he had to soak his clothes in water for several hours to get all the dirt off, and today he was extra careful to keep himself looking presentable. Some of the pirates walking the streets of the town wear clothes in worse condition than his.

“Bite me, you two are being dweebs together even when we’re on a break.” Dean lifts his head to smirk at them. He and Bobby come walking from the direction of the port, both wearing the full-sleeved tunics that they favor when they’re on land. He bites his lower lip to keep his smile from spreading, teeth leaving marks on the soft, pink flesh, but it’s hard to hide his joy at watching his brother healthy and interested in life again.

“Hey, you guys made it off the ship finally,” Sam greets, lifting a hand to wave them over.

"I'll have you know that just because I don't go around shopping for fruits doesn't mean I haven't been off the ship," Dean scoffs, even though he's been sulking in his cabin for the last few days. 

Bobby rolls his eyes at them, having heard a similar argument between the brothers innumerable times throughout the years. "Y'all can keep on shopping for fruits and vegetables. I still have t’ find me kid and her friend." He pats Dean on the shoulder as he continues walking down the road. "Damn idiots keep disappearing t’ God knows where," he mutters under his breath.

Castiel squints at him walking away. "Does he do that a lot?" he asks Dean. "Go around mumbling to himself."

Dean glances up from the bananas he was inspecting in one of the stalls. "Oh, yeah. Don't mind him. Old people, you know."

"I wouldn't mumble t’ meself if I didn't have t’ deal with a buncha idjits every single day," Bobby shouts back without even turning towards them, and Dean bursts out laughing.

"Yeah, keep complaining, old man," he yells over the heads of the people around them. Then, noticing the slight blush on Castiel's cheeks, he adds, "Don't mind him, he's only joking."

"Well, mostly," Sam adds.

"So," Dean crosses his arms over his chest. "What have you two planned for today?"

Sam and Castiel exchange a look. "Not much," Castiel admits. "Taking a look around the market, maybe grab something to eat."

"Huh, food. My favourite word," Dean exclaims, face lighting up. "I'm down for that. Actually, I know a little tavern a few blocks from here. Makes the best fried conch you guys have ever tried, I promise."

"Is that the one you and Dad went to all the time?" Sam asks, interest piqued.

"That's the one," Dean grins, wrapping an arm—or at least trying to—around his brother's shoulder. He does the same with Castiel, squeezing both against him as he asks, "Come on, Cas, what do you say? It’s my treat."

"I—sure, why not," Castiel stammers, heart missing a beat. The blush on his face deepens, and this time it has nothing to do with old man Singer.

"Excellent," Dean says, giving him a quick squeeze before releasing both him and Sam. "Follow me."

The tavern is tiny and built right on the edge of the port, so that some of the tables are barely a few inches away from the sea. The conch really is delicious, one of the best Castiel has ever tried so far, as a matter of fact, though what Castiel enjoys most of all is the Winchester brothers, loose from the alcohol and relaxed. It's easy to forget they're both pirates when Castiel watches them bicker over ordering more peas n' rice. They finally look their age, carefree and untroubled. Or at least for the most part, for a dark shadow still passes over Dean's face from time to time when he thinks no one is looking. 

It's because Castiel is always looking that he catches those moments at all. Then Dean will catch his eye, a cocky grin twisting his mouth, and the teasing will extend from his brother to Castiel. It's then that Castiel has the most trouble keeping his chest from filling with warmth and fondness. 

With a swift movement, Dean’s hand darts out and stabs the last piece of conch from Castiel’s plate. He throws it in his mouth, immensely pleased with himself. “If you’re too slow you lose your food around here, Cas. Try to keep up.”

Castiel shakes his head. It might be worth it to order one more plate just to see if Dean will try to steal more. “It’s not my fault you inhale your food as soon as it touches the table,” he observes.

Sam looks over to him conspiratorially. “Yeah, Dean. Are those the manners Ellen taught you?”

Lifting his hands up in surrender, Dean laughs. He wiggles his eyebrows in Castiel’s direction. “Wow, ganging up on me. Is that a tactic the Navy taught you?”

“Actually it is,” Castiel admits, bringing his tankard to his lips to take a sip of beer. “Divide and conquer and all that stuff.”

Bringing a hand to his chest, Sam fakes at being offended. “Does that mean that I’m your next target?”

Dean elbows him in the side, a smirk in his face. “Don’t let him intimidate you, Sammy. He’s not a real officer, just a surgeon.”

“But you did train with the Navy, didn’t you?” Sam asks, raising an eyebrow in Castiel’s direction. “You do know about the strategies the Navy uses and their drills.”

Castiel shakes his head. “I never went through any official training with the Navy. I studied in the Company of Surgeons, and after that I worked in a hospital in London for a while. The Navy job was never in my plans.”

“Cas, tell me you didn’t join the Navy by accident,” Dean says, pointing a finger in his direction.

“It wasn’t an accident,” Castiel answers, wincing. “More like a necessity.” When both brothers turn curious looks on him, he continues. “My father was a Naval officer for years. He assumed—no, he demanded that I follow in his footsteps, but fighting was never my thing. Becoming a surgeon was my own way of rebelling I guess.”

Dean claps his brother on the shoulder. “The rebel of the family. Sammy can relate.” 

“How did you end up in the Navy anyway?” Sam asks.

“Living in London was expensive, and working at the hospital didn’t exactly make me enough money. My dad had washed his hands of me from the moment I disobeyed and left the house. Back then he wouldn’t even let my mother talk to me. So in the end I gave in. Both because being on a ship meant that at least I didn’t have to pay rent and because I could keep some contact with my mother.”

“Cas, no offense, but your dad sounds like a douche,” Dean says, a disgusted grimace on his face.

And Dean doesn’t even know half of it, Castiel thinks. It’s been a while since his parents last crossed his mind, and he finds it doesn’t sting as much anymore as it used to. He’s still bitter, yes, and he misses his mother, but he’s a pirate now. Which means that at least he’s free. 

“Dean, that sounds kind of like our dad,” Sam cuts in, pulling Castiel out of his thoughts.

“Oh come on. Dad wasn’t so bad. Sure he could be a bit hard on us sometimes, but he only did it because he wanted us to be as prepared as we could be for hunting monsters.”

“No, he wasn’t hard on you , Dean. Because you wanted to be like him, and you wanted to become a pirate and a hunter and all that. I wanted a normal life.”

“And he let you go, didn’t he? He even let you stay with Ellen for six years after I went out to sea with him,” Dean says, waving his fork around. He searches the tables around them and gestures at the server to bring them more peas n’ rice. He’s been eating a lot today, his mood slowly but surely improving. “Just because he asked you to try being a pirate first doesn't mean he forced you.”

“He should have taken Jo to begin with. She actually wanted to be on that ship.”

“Which is why you have a lot of catching up to her to do,” Dean points out, eyes still following the server going from table to table. He looks like a puppy, waiting for his owner to bring the food. It's endearing. Makes something warm settle behind Castiel's ribs.

The brothers are not arguing but there's been a shift in the mood between them. Like this is something they've talked about plenty of times before and never came to an agreement.

“But you still came back, Sam,” Castiel says. “You became a pirate after all these years. You still are.”

Sam's face softens, and he turns to look at his brother. “Gotta stick with the family right?”

“Damn straight,” Dean answers and hits his hand on the table.

“Plus, it's not like I have anything else to do,” Sam continues, ignoring his brother. “Except staying with Ellen I guess, but serving and cooking is not really my thing.”

“Don't sugarcoat it, Sammy. Just tell Cas you can't cook to save your life.” Dean starts with the teasing again, sending a wink in Castiel's direction, too. He always does that. Makes sure Castiel feels included. Dean is thoughtful like that. Though, Castiel is sure the change of subject, and the following protests Sam raises that lead to more jesting between the two of them, had another purpose, too. Dean is still overprotective of his brother, and him wanting to keep an eye on Sam is as much to blame for Sam's presence on the ship as anything else.

Watching a mischievous grin spread on Dean’s face, Castiel lets himself be pulled into the brothers' fake argument. This time he takes Dean's side, and Sam bursts out laughing.

When Dean's gaze lands on Castiel, he mouths a soft thank you, and Castiel's heart skips a beat.

***

It’s later that night when all the other men have gone to sleep in their hammocks and Castiel has a single candle by his notebook to help him while he transfers his notes to a clean page, that his mind keeps drifting back to Dean. 

Dean, who became a hunter far too young, and who has too many things on his mind. Who keeps a smile on his face for his brother, even when he's still all torn up about losing that map. Dean, whose hands trembled when one of his men killed someone in defense of another.

It starts out as a doodle, simple lines Castiel draws on the edge of the paper while he tries to get his thoughts in order, but the lines start crossing. They join together to form the familiar curve of a jaw, a straight nose, a brow soft in the way Castiel has only ever seen it when Dean is asleep. He thumbs the corner of the page, where the neck fades away, and something twists in Castiel's gut.

It does that a lot when Castiel thinks about Dean lately.

 

July 13th, 1703

“Hey, come check this out.”

“Look, look. They’re following us!”

“Wow, I’ve never seen so many.”

The men grin like small children as they squeeze together on the stern, pushing one another to get a better look at the dolphins jumping and dancing through the ship’s wake. There’s at least a dozen of them, some small and some bigger ones, all of them shiny under the bright sun.

Castiel doesn’t do it on purpose, but he still ends up pressed from shoulder to elbow next to Dean, while he gazes at the way the dolphins’ bodies arch and twist in the salty air. Dean leans closer, bumping their elbows together firmly. “Beautiful, right?” 

Bright green eyes meet Castiel’s. It’s hard to form words when Dean is so excited and soft, and all Castiel can do is nod in agreement.

It’s a much needed boost to their mood as well. Even after the dolphins are long gone, the men sing louder and do their work with a spring to their step that Castiel has rarely seen on sailors. Even Dean seems genuinely happy after a long time of brooding.

 

July 15th, 1703

Castiel carefully loops the last letter, the ink still shiny against the paper. 

“Looks good,” Sam observes over his shoulder, counting the pages Castiel has already written. 

“It’s going to take years to rewrite everything,” Castiel sighs. It’s less than a dozen entries, not even a tenth of what Castiel had in his previous logbook back when he was still sailing with the Queen Anna , but he’s writing again. It’s a start, however small it is. The new paper he has to write on now is a good motivation, too.

Sam wrinkles his nose, deep in thought. “I don’t suppose the Navy would have kept your old book?”

“No, I don’t think they would have.” He chews on the end of his pen, worrying the tip between his lips. He doesn't count on them sending it back to his parents either. “At least starting fresh means I can write everything in the same format. You know half of the pages I had needed to be rewritten because I decided halfway through that I wanted the drawings and the descriptions on separate pages instead of on the same.”

Sam chuckles. “Just stick to doing the same thing for every plant you have this time around and you’re golden.” 

Castel turns around to face him. “Do you miss it? Working with books?”

Sam’s eyes soften, his lips pulling up in a sad smile. “Yeah. I mean, I loved working with books, but… I don’t think I could do it after— after Jess. At least not while I was getting high every day.”

“You’re not getting high right now,” Castiel points out.

“Yeah, but so far, you’re the only customer I have and honestly—” Sam lifts the pages he has in his hands, “—you still have a long way to go before you even start thinking about book binding.”

"What about writing a book?" Castiel asks. "You could write a monster encyclopedia. The books I borrowed from Bobby were all very helpful but full with Bobby's notes and corrections between the lines. Why not write one that fixes everything that is wrong with the others?"

Sam's mouth hangs open for a while, head tilted as he considers that. "That's not a bad idea, actually. Bobby doesn't have the time to do it because he has to help Dean run the ship, but he could just check that I have everything right."

"It'll be like a hunter's handbook."

"Exactly. And I could add a section just for the spells and potions a hunter might need."

"Oh, what about a list of the basics someone would need to begin hunting? Salt, holy water, that kind of stuff?"

Sam claps his hands together, delighted. "Yeah, yeah. But I could also have a section—"

 

July 18th, 1703

The rumors talk about ships disappearing near Bermuda, and so that's their next destination. They sail around the smaller islands for a couple of days without any sighting, until Bobby starts having second thoughts about this really being a hunt. 

"Let's just give it a few more days," Dean argues. "Worse comes to worst we get a couple more days of vacation."

It's hard to say no to Dean when he's finally genuinely interested in a hunt again, and the rosy beaches they've been seeing from the deck for the last days are reason enough for the pirates to stick around a little longer. Bobby relents.

They widen the area of their search, until one day they reach the islands at the outermost part of Castle Harbour. The word islands might be a little strong, Castiel thinks, as most of them are more like giant rocks dropped in the middle of the ocean. 

But the weird part is when they try to sail past the islands and deeper into the Harbor. The water goes from crystal clear and dreamy green to murky and dark. Α foul smell floods the Black Impala , reaching even deep in her belly, where Castiel has been re-organizing the sick bay. It's suffocating. Bad enough that Castiel and any man that was in the lower decks, hurry up to try and get some fresh air into their lungs.

Sam finds Castiel on the gun deck, a wet rag pressed against his nose and mouth, and really, why didn't Castiel think of that?

"We gotta find Dean," Sam says urgently.

"What the hell is that smell?” Castiel asks while being dragged to the upper deck.

Dean and Bobby are already there by the helm, trying to navigate the Black Impala through a rock formation that creates narrow passages through the sea. Their faces are gloom, their shoulders tight.

“Dean,” Sam says as soon as they’re up the stairs. 

“I know, Sammy,” Dean answers, looking through the spyglass. “It looks like it’s sleeping.”

It? Castiel frowns, holding his shirt up to his nose in a useless effort to fight off some of the stench. He walks to the railing, looking closer at the rocks surrounding them. He tilts his head to the side. Οne of the rocks catches the light in the right way, and something glimmers. 

Scales.

All these are not rocks at all.

Immediately, Castiel remembers the chapter about sea serpents he’d read not too long ago, even the drawing of one still ingrained with great detail in his mind. He should have realized it sooner. If anything, the poisonous fumes and the contaminated water are a dead giveaway.

Jo comes running up to the deck, a wet rag tied around her face. They don’t have long before the fumes start having their effect on them and the hallucinations set in. “We’ve got it,” she pants. “The main head is just ahead of us.”

Dean jerks his head, something close to a nod but not quite. “Get the jolly boats ready,” he orders. “If it’s still sleeping we might catch it off guard and finish it off without any casualties. I’ll meet you at the stern in two.”

“Aye aye,” she says, fingers brought to her temple in a parody of a salute before she runs back down to get the men ready.

“Cas” Dean starts, but Castiel cuts him off.

“Get the antidote for the poison ready, keep fresh water at hand and aloe extract for the burns and keep watch from the bow. Got it.”

“Someone has been taking their studies seriously,” Dean teases with an eyebrow raised, but he looks pleased. “You should be safe up here with Bobby,” he adds in a lower voice, coming to stand closer to Castiel, so that he has to tilt his head a little to look him in the eyes. “Sea serpents are not big enough to sink ships, it’s mostly their poison that is trouble for us. If worse comes to worst, you guys take the ship and run.”

“Dean, we’re not—”

“Hey,” Dean stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “Bobby won’t want to leave us behind, but you have to convince him.”

Castiel shakes his head stubbornly. “I’m not leaving without you,” he insists, barely noticing how close to his real feelings these few words are, because Dean’s face softens, something bittersweet behind his eyes as he looks at Castiel.

“Stubborn pig,” he accuses, shaking his head. “Fine, I’ll just have to kill it faster then.”

“Suck it up, Winchester,” Bobby notes, hands tight on the helm. “We hava sea serpent t’ hunt, no time t’ waste.”

This time there's nothing for them to do from the deck of the Black Impala but to watch. Bobby keeps the ship on her course, expertly avoiding the sea serpent around them, while Castiel and Garth prepare everything for the upcoming battle. Their limbs feel heavy and sluggish from the poison permeating the air around them, but the rags tied around their mouths keep the worst symptoms from setting in. They are slow but still lucid. If they want to remain like that, however, Dean has to act fast.

Two jolly boats row out, oars gracefully moving in and out of the surface in an effort to make as little noise as possible. One has Sam and Jo at the head, the other has Gordon and Dean.

Sam's team diverges from the straight path Dean's boat follows. They move further out, holding axes made of silver tight in their hands. They stop without dropping anchor, instead letting the boat drift slowly parallel to one of the sea serpent's tails. Lady Luck is with them. The monster doesn’t so much as stir while they are working.

Dean’s boat stops moving, the oars lifting out of the water in a single fluid motion. Gordon lifts his hand up, palm open. On the Black Impala they hold their breaths. For a second nothing moves, except a seagull flying above their heads.

Then Gordon closes his fist, drops his hand, and the pirates on Sam’s boat lift the axes above their head. The first hit on the tail lands with a thud that reaches the ship, red blood oozing slowly out of the cut, and Jo has her axe out and above her head again as the other axes drop one after the other. 

The sea serpent moves. It draws its hurt tail back before they have the time to cut it off, the rest of its tails coiling towards it body. A dark shadow appears underneath Dean’s boat, growing bigger and bigger, until the head breaks out with a roar. It lifts up on its tall neck, Dean's boat staying upright against the waves only by chance.

"Come on, come on, come on," Bobby mumbles next to Castiel, eyes glued to the monster drawing its head back before lunging for an attack.

Dean and Gordon don't lose any time. The men are already rowing as fast as they can, closing the distance between them and the monster, and just as the neck extends above them, jaw opening towards Sam and Jo and the others, axes lift and hit and chop at it. They grunt and pant, and the monster screeches, flinching away from the attack.

It lifts its head out of reach, its tails coming out of the water now to join the fight. One of them drops with enough force to raise water higher than the pirates stand, and it's only a miracle that they jump out of the boat before the tail crushes it into two separate pieces.

Dean yells something that is lost to the deafening roars of the serpent as he watches his brother go under, but Gordon leads their own boat on a counter attack as the monster comes for them now.

Castiel watches with his heart in his throat. Where are they? Where are they? 

Jo breaks through the water first, gasping for breath. Soon Sam follows her, then Victor and Charlie, and further away Eddie is trying to swim away from the monster.

Castiel is on his feet and down the stairs before he knows it. "Where are you going?" Garth shouts, scrambling to keep up with him.

"We need to help them," Castiel yells over his back. He loses sight of the battle for a couple of minutes. Only long enough to grab the rope ladders from the deck floor and drop them over the rail. He bends over the rail, extends his hand and grabs Sam’s wrist, pulling him up.

Jo is the last to collapse on the deck, skin raw and red from the poisoned water. Her eyes are blown and she mumbles hysterically as she tries to keep her grasp on what is real and what is a hallucination. Sam and the others are not any better. 

Garth and Castiel don’t lose a single second. 

They bring them water and even encourage Eddie to throw up to get the poison out of his system. Liberal amounts of antidote are rubbed all over their bodies, and thankfully, Charlie is lucid enough to understand that she and Jo can’t stay here. They have to get where someone won’t find them while they try to treat their burns. 

Bobby seems to have reached the same conclusion, because he throws his daughter over his shoulder and drags Charlie towards the gun deck, where they can hide in their cabin until they recover.

When Castiel turns to look at the battle again, the sea serpent has blood running from the base of its neck. Gordon and Ash have hooks buried into its meat, chains wrapped around it and are holding it steady while Dean and the others finish the job. The neck snaps in two when one of the blades finds bone, cutting straight through, and the head collapses under its own weight.

Gordon and Ash release the chains, but their work is not done. The serpent’s flesh is bubbling and festering, and two deformed bulges start sprouting from where the head used to be. Dean has a torch lit already, and shoves it on the bulges, burning them until they are black, and the smell of charred meat floods the air.

The tails drop lifelessly into the water, and the serpent is left to sink to the bottom. Soon the smell of its blood will have enough sharks gathered here to devour it in less than a day.

They drop anchor by the beach of the smallest island, though they don’t actually set foot on land until the next day. That night they’re too busy treating the burns from the poison and recovering to do anything else but to congratulate each other with a pat on the back.

Castiel stays with his men until the early hours of the morning, waking Ash every few hours to re-apply antidote over the extensive burns on his arm, but they are lucky enough that this is their heaviest casualty.

 

July 20th, 1703

The men are all feeling better, and the water is slowly but surely returning to its former emerald glory as the last remnants of the serpent’s poison start disappearing. Castiel can finally steal some time for himself away from the ship without feeling like he’s abandoning his men.

Garth of course comes with him, and they keep a lighthearted topic while they make their way through the trees and the bushes.

"Eddie thinking I was his mother was hilarious," Garth is saying, a couple of steps behind Castiel.

Castiel chuckles. "You are never going to let him live that down, are you?"

"Never," Garth promises wholeheartedly. He pauses, hand on a branch he was holding out of the way as he squints to their side. "Hey, is that…?"

Castiel turns to look where he's pointing, but nothing sticks out to him at first. Then he notices the rock laying under the thick shade of a tree better, and— shit! It's not a rock at all.

They step towards the body on the ground carefully, Garth with his cutlass ready for any sign of danger. The man on the ground doesn't move.

"Is he… dead?" Garth whispers when they're only a few inches away from him.

Instead of answering, Castiel finds a long stick and pokes the man's belly. A groan comes out of him, weak and raspy. Fingers twitch just barely. The man is still alive.

Caution forgotten, they grab the man and roll him on his back. His skin is swollen and blistering, his lips cracked and dry, and he's lost his wig, which is why Garth and Castiel don't recognize Crowley until he opens his puffy eyes to gaze at them.

They sit by his side stunned to silence while broken curses fall from Crowley's mouth with every wheezing exhale. He's looking at them but he's not seeing them, too weak to understand what is going on around him.

Then his eyes roll back, and he passes out.

Chapter Text

July 22nd, 1703

It’s two days before Crowley’s fever breaks. 

The ship is eerily silent, as all the men are fast asleep by now, and it’s only Castiel who is still awake in the sick bay. A soft moan from one of the hammocks draws his attention away from the papers he's studying, and Castiel squints through the darkness to make out who it is.

Ash sleep talks from time to time, but that didn't sound like mumbling. The hammock furthest away from him moves, and another moan escapes from Crowley's mouth. Castiel is at his side immediately, lifting a lantern to his face. Crowley jerks away, the light too bright for his tired eyes.

"Sorry," Castiel whispers, but he forces Crowley's eye open with his fingers, checking him over. He looks good, better than he has in the last couple of days, and for the first time since he was brought on the ship he's not burning up.

Crowley narrows his eyes at him, confusion melting into panic across his face. "You are— you were with the Winchester boy. What the...? Fuck."

The other men around them stir, but no one wakes up. 

"How do you feel?" Castiel asks, fetching a flask for Crowley to drink some water.

He gulps it down greedily, though too fast, and he ends up choking before coughing half of it back out. Castiel pats him on the back, trying to keep his face from twisting with disgust as spit and drool still hang from Crowley’s chin.

“Stay here, I’ll be right back,” he instructs, grabbing the lantern and rushing through the berth deck.

Bobby answers his door after the tenth insistent knock, tired and grumpy and ready to tear Castiel a new one for bothering him this late in the night. “This best be important, boy,” he warns.

"Crowley is up,” Castiel says without missing a beat.

The change in Bobby’s face is immediate. Sleep vanishes and his mouth tightens behind his greying beard. “Go wake up Benny 'n have 'im help ye bring Crowley up to th' cap'n's cabin. I'll wake up Dean,” he orders, before slamming his door closed.

***

Dean is pacing his cabin, a pipe hanging from his lips and several more stubs discarded in his ashtray. He has dark circles under his eyes, but he's focused and determined when Castiel and Benny drag Crowley in.

Bobby gestures to the chair in front of the desk, and they drop Crowley there, standing a few inches behind him. It's a parody of Castiel's first night on the ship, except he's part of the crew now. If someone had told him four months ago he'd have laughed in their face.

"What am I doing here?" Crowley growls. He looks far less intimidating stripped down to his night shirt and breeches. Gone are all the jewels and rings, and without his fancy wig there's no hiding the bald spot on the crown of his head. 

Dean catches his pipe between two fingers, long curls of smoke obscuring his face. "Why don't we start with how you ended up marooned on this island."

Crowley glares at Dean, but it doesn't have the same effect as it used to when he's pale and stick thin. "I wasn’t marooned, Winchester. I was stranded.” He sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. His whole body is trembling, still weak from the sickness, and it's obvious that even keeping himself upright on the chair takes a lot out of him. "We were sailing through some weird rocks, and there was this—this—this God awful smell. And the next thing I know my men are going crazy and I—Everything goes a little hazy after that. I think our ship crashed on something. There was a snake—or something like a snake."

Dean and Bobby exchange a look while Crowley shakes his head, trying to get his thoughts in order. 

"I don't know. I had three ships with me," he says. "And I woke up alone, floating on a piece of driftwood close to this island. I don't even know how long I was there."

"I think we need to have a talk," Dean says, voice neutral. He brings the pipe back to his lips, inhaling deeply before letting it rest on his desk. 

Bobby brings his books. 

His speech is pretty much the same he gave Castiel on his first day, though Crowley has already encountered a monster and is more easily convinced. He goes pale when Dean explains how a sea serpent uses its poison to make its victims easier targets.

"Fuck,” he curses. "I need a smoke."

Dean rolls his eyes but tosses his tobacco pouch and a spare pipe at him over the table. He remains unaffected by Crowley's tenuous grasp of composure. Castiel guesses Dean has had the same conversation with plenty of people before and with varying reactions. Between Charlie's easy acceptance and Castiel's own blatant rejection, Crowley is probably doing okay.

“Alright then, why don't ye lads go 'n get some sleep 'n let us talk?” Bobby says, raising his eyebrows at Benny and Castiel.

Castiel glances at Dean, trying to see if this is a suggestion or a dismissal. Dean smiles at him, small but it’s there. 

“Uh, sure. Just wake me up if you need anything," Castiel says.

 

July 23rd, 1703

“Got room for one more in here?” Dean plops down right next to Castiel. His question is rhetorical, for the sick bay is empty now. All of the injured men have recovered enough to not need to spend all their day here. It’s just Castiel and his dressbox and too many rolls of gauzes that need to be tidied up. 

“You’re the captain, I can’t tell you what to do,” Castiel says, watching from the corner of his eye for the smile that spreads on Dean’s face. Something warm and soft blossoms inside him.

“Aye, like you’ve ever cared that I’m the captain,” Dean teases, stretching his legs out in front of him. 

“Where’s Crowley,” Castiel asks conversationally. “He never came back down here.”

Dean scratches the back of his neck. “Oh, yeah. We sent him to Sam’s cabin. Should’ve told ye that.” 

Castiel pauses in the middle of re-rolling one of the gauzes. He raises an eyebrow at Dean. “And what about Sam?”

Dean shrugs. “He said he’s just gonna sleep in the berth deck with the rest of the guys for now.”

“Sam? In the berth deck?” 

 A grin spreads on Dean’s face, eyes shining, and it’s almost physically painful for Castiel to sit next to him without touching. 

Dean ducks his head, trying to hide his glee. “I know, can you believe it? And just a couple of months ago he wouldn’t even come out of his cabin.”

At least that explains Dean’s good mood, Castiel muses. “He’s doing better,” he comments. 

“He is,” Dean agrees. “I know it’s still hard for him sometimes, but he’s really fucking better. Fuck. I can’t believe this.” He bumps his elbow against Castiel, drawing his attention back to him. Like Castiel could ever look away. 

“Hey, I still—um… Thank you,” he says, and a faint blush paints his cheeks. “I know Sam wouldn’t have been where he is without you. So. Thank you.”

His heart skips a beat, and Castiel feels his own face burning up. At least it's easy to hide it in the dark of the Black Impala's belly by turning his face away from the lantern. “You don’t need to thank me, Dean. Sam did this all on his own. I was merely there to cheer him on.” 

"Still, thank you."

They sit in companionable silence for a moment, Dean tapping his fingers against the floor in a never changing rhythm. Castiel keeps rolling, going through the pile of gauzes in front of him. When Dean pushes a paper in front of him, Castiel almost flinches back in surprise.

"What's that?" he asks, taking the paper in his hands to examine it. There are several dots and lines drawn on the top part, while a passage in a language he doesn't recognise is written underneath.

Dean has to bite down a smile. His hands are shaking with excitement. "Crowley still had it on him."

Castiel turns sharply to him, mouth hanging open. "Is that…?"

"The map," Dean finishes for him. "We have the map again."

Castiel frowns down at it. It certainly doesn't look like any map he has seen so far. "How do you read it?"

"I can't read it, but Bobby can." Dean presses closer to Castiel, so that their arms are touching, elbows brushing against each other when he traces a finger on the top part of the map. "These are stars and constellations," he explains, hand moving to point at the words. "And these are the instructions."

When Castiel turns to look at him, Dean is already looking back. With the way he's bent over Castiel's shoulder to look at the map, their faces are only inches apart. Castiel could count every single freckle on his nose, except his treacherous eyes slide lower. 

Dean licks his lips, tongue darting out, leaving them moist and pink. It would be so easy to press closer.

Castiel turns away. Fuck, what is he thinking? He clears his throat. "And where does it lead?"

"To Lilith," Dean says, pulling away. 

Castiel misses the weight of Dean’s body against his immediately.

"Lilith is the witch that—"

"That made Azazel immortal," Castiel cuts him off. The map feels much heavier in his hands already.

Dean raises an eyebrow at him. "You have been studying."

"Ellen told me," Castiel says quickly. 

Dean waves him off. "'S fine. It's better that you know everything now that you are in this for real."

"And this Lilith, can she kill Azazel? Does she even want to kill him if she is the one who gave him the spell?" Castiel questions, cocking his head to the side. Dealing with the hunt is much easier than dealing with the nest of insects he has in his chest.

"I don't know, letting her monsters free to roam the Earth must have been a pretty sweet deal for her," Dean shrugs. "It doesn't matter if she wants to kill him or even if she can. She has a gun that we know can kill him, and that's what we're after. The Colt."

Castiel feels his eyebrows draw together. Witches and monsters and magic guns. What has his life become? "We're going after a witch that can control sea monsters and who has a gun that can kill someone nearly immortal."

"Should be fun, right?"

"Jesus Christ. I still can't believe this is all real,” Castiel confesses. "And I've been on several hunts already."

"You've been on a handful of hunts," Dean corrects and grabs his shoulder, squeezing. "We'll drop Crowley off at New Providence in a few days. You can get off the ship then, if you want."

Dean's offering him an out. Again. Only this time Castiel doesn't need any time to think about it. "I'm contract bound," he says, fake-wincing. "Wouldn't want to risk angering my captain. He might have me walk the plank."

Dean bursts out laughing. "Oh yeah? He sounds like a real asshole."

"He's a handful," Castiel says. 

"No, but seriously, Cas," Dean cuts in, sobered up all of a sudden. " I really was an asshole back then. Everything I did—it's inexcusable, and I'm sorry. I was in a really bad place back then with Dad and—and Sam—"

"Dean, you don't have to—”

"—and I know that's not an excuse, but still I'm sorry. For everything." The flame of the lamp is reflected in Dean's eyes, shadows dancing across his face and it’s hard to look away.

Castiel has to swallow around a lump in his throat. Dean Winchester may be a lot of things—pirate, brother, hunter, ridiculously insecure and endlessly flawed—but he is not a monster.

"Thank you," Castiel whispers, hoping that Ion can forgive both Dean and Castiel, for he's already falling, and his treacherous heart thinks that maybe Dean is not so out of his reach after all.

 

August 22nd, 1703

The map leads not only to a location but a specific date as well. They need a summer full moon to reach Lilith, the sea witch. 

They spend the night awake, but the men are relaxed, scattered on the main deck, smoking and playing cards. They don't expect to reach the witch till dawn, Dean explains, spyglass in his hand as he checks the horizon from time to time. It's a long night.

The first rays of the sun break over the surface of the sea, painting the sky in bloody colors. The pirates gather at the waist of the ship. Everyone has their belts weighted down with weapons, holding their breath as they wait for the change. Castiel lifts his hand to cover his eyes and squints at the sunrise. 

The sun’s outline is almost blinding, burning orange hot, but something emerges from inside it. There’s a green spot right at the edge of the light, and though Castiel has seen green flashes before, this is different. It grows bigger with every passing second, brighter, to the point that even Dean’s eyes look dull compared to it. Soon the green overtakes the red, paints the sky and the clouds and turns the sea an emerald color so brilliant Castiel is left speechless. 

The green light reaches the ship, climbs up the hull, covers them. It burns so bright they have to cover their eyes. 

They’re falling.

Or maybe the ship is falling.

Castiel feels his feet lose their purchase on the ground. His body lifts up in the air weightless in its descent, but it’s too bright to open his eyes yet, and a ringing noise beats with his pulse inside his ears, covering his cries. He doesn’t know what’s happening with the others. He can’t see them. He can’t hear them.

Castiel hits the floor.

The green light is gone, replaced by a murky fog that hides most of the early sunrise. He’s not so sure it’s early morning anymore, however. Actually, he can’t be sure they’re still at the same spot they were before at all. It looks more like they’re floating somewhere under the surface of the water, but it can’t be, for Castiel can still breathe.

And yet the air feels heavy and damp around him. It sticks his hair against his forehead in thick curls. Fish swim in the sky and under them, but they’re unlike any fish Castiel has ever seen before. They have mouths larger than their wrinkly, bony bodies, mouths filled with row after row of razor-sharp teeth. Their white eyes and the graceful movement of spiky fins remind Castiel of Luna, and in the back of his mind he hopes she has found a good hiding spot in the belly of the ship.

Dean and his crew push themselves up, none having fared any better than Castiel with their sudden dive. 

“Everybody okay?” Dean asks, waving Sam away, who kneels by his side trying to help him up.

Aye, aye, comes from every possible direction. Nobody looks hurt.

"Mortals. It's been a long time."

The voice echoes around them loud and powerful. 

They scramble to their feet, swords drawn. The witch stands at the bow of the ship, and they all stare at her stunned.

She has long, blonde hair that frames her heart-shaped face and thin, delicate fingers. She doesn't look a day older than ten.

"What brings you to my realm?" she asks, pink, full lips not moving. 

Dean pushes through his men until he can stand in the front and center, back tall. "We are here for the Colt."

Lilith blinks, icy blue eyes sliding over every face that stands before her. She doesn't look impressed. "And what business do filthy pirates have with the Colt?"

"You made a deal with a man, long ago," Dean says, "and now I'm going to kill him."

Lilith's face remains an unreadable mask. "I don't want Azazel dead," she observes cooly.

"Shucks, 'cause you don't get much choice in the matter." Dean draws his gun with a swift motion, aims and fires. 

The bullet lodges itself right between Lilith's brows, and a crack fans out across her skin, like broken porcelain. There’s no blood.

“That was a mistake, mortal,” she hisses. She takes a step forward, and the ship trembles. “And you’re going to pay for it.”

The very air ripples around them with energy and threat. Another step and the crack across Lilith’s brow spreads. Pieces start falling off, chipping away like paint from an old house. Or like a snake shedding its skin, Castiel realizes as another piece of skin peels away and falls to the ground. Her face glimmers underneath, covered in iridescent scales that catch the muddy glow of the world. She opens her mouth, and an otherworldly screech comes out. Teeth become longer and sharper. Her cheeks are ripped apart as her jaw becomes wider and wider. She is growing taller. Her limbs are elongating, changing shape, until she’s a head taller than even Sam, and more heavily built, clothes hanging in shreds from her lithe body.

Her hair turns into snakes.

“Cover yer eyes,” Bobby shouts, grabbing Jo and forcing her face away. 

Castiel doesn’t waste a single second. He drops his eyes, faces away. But not everyone is as fast as he is, and from the corner of his eye, Castiel sees Victor falling to the ground, his body petrified. His shoulder breaks when it hits the floor, his face eternally frozen in a silent scream. More men turn to stone, but Castiel can’t tell who. He can only cover his head and hear the thud thud thud as their stiff bodies fall one after the other. And that’s when he sees them. What they should have been looking for this whole time. 

A milky white hand grabs the rail, hoists the rest of the body up as a sea monster unlike any Castiel has seen in the books he’s studied jumps on the deck. It could be a human, but for the smooth, hairless skin, the arms that have two elbows, the face that has no eyes. It’s a body that has claws and teeth and not much else.

And it’s not alone.

More and more of them climb οnto the main deck. With a shrill cry from Lilith they attack.

Castiel draws his cutlass, its weight foreign in his hand, but he doesn't have the time to think about that. The first one is already charging towards him. He slashes at its neck, and the silver does the trick, burning the monster’s skin at contact. The monster is pissed off, throwing its head back with a cry. It pushes back, jaws open, teeth aiming for his neck, and Castiel stabs right through his jaw, pushing with all his weight until the blade breaks through its skull to the other side with a rain of yellow blood and broken bone.

He doesn't have any time to breathe. The next one is already coming. The men have their hands full trying to fight off the monsters’ endless numbers. For every one they kill, two more take its place. 

Three have Charlie surrounded, and Jo jumps on the back of one to slash its throat open, hitting bone. The monster falls to the ground, and Jo turns to the next one.

Fighting them off becomes more difficult when more of them appear from where Lilith is standing, but the pirates can’t turn towards them or they risk instant death at the sight of the witch. They are all going to die.

“Dean!” 

Castiel sees Sam throwing something from the corner of his eye. Something that catches the light, small and silver. His pendant, he realizes at the same time Dean guts one of the monsters and spins around to grab it in midair.

Castiel doesn’t have the time to watch anymore. He swings at the next monster, now fighting side by side with Ketch, and can only grit his teeth when one of the younger pirates, Nate, trips and falls. A monster is on top of him immediately, teeth sinking into the soft flesh of his throat and tearing everything away.

“No!” The witch’s cry slashes through the fever of the battle, and the monsters pause. They stop their fighting and leave the pirates to focus on their new target: Dean.

Castiel can't turn to look, but he follows Ketch’s example and attacks blindly, cutting away at the monsters that try to move past them. 

On his sword he can see Dean’s reflection. He’s using the pendant as a makeshift mirror to attack the witch without looking at her, and has already managed to land a hit, judging from the blood running down her arm. 

She pulls back, out of Dean’s reach, her hand finding the bow cannon and lifting it off the floor. 

It misses Dean, but it crashes on top of monsters and pirates, and Castiel forgets about everything else, as he makes a run for the injured men. He kills any monster that is close to the cannon, and pushes through their bodies to find Bobby, lying with the cannon on top of him, pale as a dove’s feather. Next to him, two more men are lying on the floor, but their heads are crushed in, their eyes unseeing as they stare out into the empty.

“Help me out, Doc,” Benny grunts, dropping his sword to grab the cannon and try to lift it. Castiel does the exact same thing, trusting that Gordon and Ash, who’ve come to their aid, will kill any monster that strays from its path.

He can’t see Dean, but he can hear the witch’s cry, and he can see the monsters still making a beeline for the pair.

Jo comes crashing through the monsters, dropping to her knees to hold Bobby’s face between her hands and mumble promises as she tries to keep him awake. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay,” she repeats even though tears are running down her cheeks. Bobby cries out in pain with every failed attempt to lift the cannon off. “Just stay with me.”

Sam reaches them, and he drops everything to grab the cannon. It’s difficult even with the three of them, but this time the cannon moves, and lifts, and with a grunt it rolls away, releasing Bobby and the two bodies.

Bobby’s left lower leg is broken in half. The bone sticks out, sharp and bloody.

Jo’s hands are trembling, but she keeps Bobby’s face in her palms, gently guides him to look only at her.

Benny stares at Castiel, eyes wide.

“Give me your belt,” Castiel orders and Benny hurries to comply.

The battle is going strong around them, but Castiel has to tune everything out and focus on saving Bobby. He wraps the belt around his thigh, right above the knee, finds a knife and twists the fabric tight before tying it together. That should stop some of the blood flow. 

He has Bobby’s leg in his hand, instructing Benny how to help him, when Sam cries out: “Dean, look out!”

Sam is using his sword as a mirror, and Castiel doesn't have any free hands to do the same, but he does see a limb roll towards them. It’s Lilith’s, he realizes, relief washing over him, and he turns to Bobby with renewed focus.

He snaps the bone back into place with a sudden push and a shove. Bobby cries out, going white from the shock before his eyes roll into his head. Jo is sobbing above him now, but Castiel has to tie the leg, keep it stable until this nightmare is over.

“They’re stopping,” Benny says.

Castiel follows his line of sight where the monsters have stopped moving, an easy prey for the pirates who slaughter them now. But why did they stop? 

He grabs his cutlass, turning it to find Dean, and his heart jumps at his throat.

Lilith is on her knees, one hand hanging uselessly from her shoulder, the other missing completely. She has her head thrown back, eyes narrowed as she glares Dean down, who stands tall above her, his blade at her throat.

“About the Colt,” Dean says, and Lilith’s eyes flash with anger.

“If I give you the Colt, you’re going to let me go,” she hisses, snake tongue darting out between her stretched lips. 

“Give me the Colt,” is the only thing Dean says.

Lilith doesn’t answer, but a tentacle rises from the bottom of the ocean, uncurls to reveal a wooden box held at its end. It drops the box by Dean’s feet before descending back to the deep sea.

“Now leave,” Lilith hisses. “And never come back to this realm.”

Dean flashes her a cocky grin through the pendant. “About that.”

With a swift swing, Lilith’s head falls from her body and rolls away. 

A flash of green light engulfs them all. This time it doesn’t feel like a fall. It doesn’t feel like anything, but when the light clears, they are back at the surface. The monsters have disappeared, as has Lilith, and the only proof that this battle ever happened are the men turned into stone and the dead bodies of the pirates. And the Colt in Dean’s hand.

But Dean is not looking at the Colt. He’s running towards them. “Bobby,” he shouts, kneeling by Jo’s side. 

"We have to get him inside," Castiel says, grabbing one of Bobby's arms. "Jo, keep his foot stable, we don't want the bone to move again."

In a flurry of movement and curses, Castiel, Benny, Sam and Jo carry Bobby inside Dean's cabin. They place him carefully on the floor, as the rest of their crew watches from the door.

Jo has her hands on Bobby's face, sobbing. 

Every single pair of eyes is on her. And Castiel knows what everyone is seeing. Not a son, but a daughter grieving for her father. 

Dean is still holding the Colt with shaking hands as he steps inside. "Is he going to be okay?"

"I don't know," Castiel admits. They've used Benny's overcoat as a makeshift dressing to keep Bobby's leg wrapped in, but blood is quickly soaking through. "I'll do what I can."

"You'll help him," Dean insists, coming closer, tall and imposing. There are tears threatening to spill from his eyes.

"I'll do what I can," Castiel repeats. "But his leg—it's too damaged. I don't know if I can save it."

"What are you talking about?" Sam asks, face pale.

Castiel swallows. "We might have to perform an amputation."

"Oh my God. Bobby, no. No, no, no," Jo sobs throwing herself over her adopted father's body. She clutches him tight in her arms, presses her face into his grey hair.

Sam is left speechless, but he reaches a hand to her shoulder, squeezing. He catches Castiel's eye and nods. He understands.

Dean is a different matter altogether. He's furious. "You are not going to cut his leg."

"I don't have a choice, Dean," Castiel snaps. "If the bone doesn't heal correctly the wound might go bad and start rotting. It will kill him."

"You're not—”

"I am! I am the ship's surgeon, and you will not tell me how to do my job."

The silence that falls over them is filled with tension. Jo is still sobbing somewhere behind him, and Castiel is acutely aware of the men standing at the door.

"Get out," he says and watches as Dean's brows rise up to his hairline in surprise.

"I—" Dean starts, the beginning of an argument at the tip of his tongue.

"Get. Out." Castiel doesn't leave room for negotiation as he stares his captain down. He turns to look behind him. "All of you. I want only Benny, Ash and Garth in the room."

Dean sets his jaw, widens his stance. "If you think that I—"

"Dean," Sam cuts in. "We have to go. There's nothing for us to do here, but we have men out there that we need to… we need to…" 

Words fail him, but Castiel knows what he means. They've lost many men already, and while Castiel has to do his best to keep Bobby with the living, someone has to deal with the dead.

"I'm not leaving Bobby," Dean says, but the decision is already taken.

Gordon and Ketch grab each one of Dean's arms and drag him away despite all the protests and curses. 

Sam is more gentle when he pulls Jo off of Bobby to take her outside, where Charlie is waiting with her arms open. The men watch them but don't say anything. At least for now.

Garth appears with Castiel’s bag in his hands and closes the door behind him.

Taking a deep breath, Castiel kneels by Bobby’s side and begins unwrapping his leg. The blood stains the rag underneath them, but the leg is still deformed. Castiel can see the edge of the bone inside the wound, the bruising that spreads over his lower leg where his skin is not covered in blood. They don’t have a choice.

“Get me a box or a shallow barrel,” Castiel instructs, and Benny is on his feet immediately.

Bobby stirs, his eyes moving behind his lids as he regains consciousness. 

“And get me some rum, too,” Castiel yells after Benny.

They are ready in less than two minutes. Ash helps Bobby down half a bottle of rum in a matter of seconds, while Benny moves to hold his left leg down.

“Get on with it then,” Bobby growls, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. 

Ash turns to Castiel, and Castiel nods.

He has to be quick about it. Ash finds a leather pouch for Bobby to bite, then presses his arm against his chest, pinning him down.

Castiel grabs his knife, moves his hand to hover over where Bobby’s knee ends. He makes the first incision, slicing through skin and muscle. Bobby cries out in pain. Without losing a second, Garth dives in, holding the incision open with his fingers, blood running down Bobby’s leg. Castiel can now see the bone. He exchanges his knife for a saw and he starts to cut. Bobby thrusts under him, his screams getting louder and louder, but Benny and Ash keep him down. Castiel cuts as fast as he can, and suddenly the leg falls off, supported only by Benny who turns and drops it into the box. He covers it with a sheet, but Castiel doesn’t see it. He’s too busy working to stop the bleeding, stitching and tying. He douses the wound with rum when he’s done, though he’d have preferred to cauterize it.

It takes less than a minute.

Bobby slumps down, panting and exhausted, while Castiel and Garth work to wrap the stump with clean gauzes. It’s done.

Castiel looks up, finding Garth already staring back. They’re both covered in blood.

“No offense, Doc,” Benny drawls. “But I think I’m going to throw up.”

“Not on my patient,” Castiel says. His hands are trembling, his whole body shaking from the adrenaline rush.

Bobby grunts in agreement, then he passes out again.

Benny and Ash carry Bobby back to his cabin, while Castiel and Garth try and clean up as best as they can. There’s no saving the rag, which is rolled and left to the side to be discarded over the railing along with the amputated limb, but with a good scrub, all the blood comes away from the wooden floor. 

He’s happy to find barrels of water waiting for them at the sick bay when he makes his way there. It’s sea water, but it’s better than nothing, and he only needs it to clean the blood off his face. His bloody clothes go straight into a box away from prying eyes so he can toss them later. He’ll never wear a naval officer’s uniform again, he realises, but he feels numb. It doesn’t even matter anymore. That connection was severed long ago.

The linen tunic Garth finds for him smells of fish and sweat but it’s better than nothing for now. He can get new clothes next time they make port.

Dean is standing at the door of his private quarters when Castiel goes back. He’s staring at where his rag used to be.

“How is he?” Dean asks with his back to Castiel.

“Resting.” Castiel checked on Bobby a few minutes ago. He found him sleeping, while Jo and Charlie sat on the other cot watching him. 

Dean nods, stepping inside and keeping the door open for Castiel. He hesitates. “Did he…?” Bobby’s cries were probably heard all over the ship. 

Castiel still wants to reassure Dean. “It was quick. He was in pain, but he didn’t suffer.”

“Thank you,” Dean says, eyes cast low. “And I’m sorry. I know you did your best.”

Castiel steps closer, letting the door close behind him. He lowers his face, catches Dean’s eye. “It’s okay,” he says. “I understand. He’s like a father to you.”

“Enough people are dead already. And if Bobby… And Jo was…” He shakes his head helplessly. “I try to keep everyone safe, but I feel like I keep losing. I’m not a good captain. I'm weak, and people keep paying the price for it. Bobby lost a leg for it. Dad died."

“Bobby's going to be okay,” Castiel tells him. There's nothing else that he can say at this point, no matter how much he wants to touch Dean and comfort him.

“I know that you hate that we abducted you,” Dean says out of the blue, voice low and unsure. He lifts his head, gazes straight back. "But if you weren't here Bobby wouldn't have made it. So, I know you hate it, but I don't regret having you here."

They've drifted closer, breathing the same air. Castiel can't hear anything else but his pulse speeding up. He regrets a lot of stuff, but meeting Dean is not one of them. Not anymore.

"Dean, I don't regret it either," he breathes out, sees Dean's eyes widen before they fall to his lips.

Castiel shifts his weight forward, and Dean tips his head lower. They meet in the middle, lips brushing timidly at first. Then Dean brings his hand up to cup Castiel's face, and Castiel presses closer, and they're kissing. 

It's soft and slow. Tender. 

Castiel loses himself. 

The only things that feel real are Dean's lips against his, and Dean's thumb, rubbing circles over his cheekbone. He tilts his head, opens his mouth and guides Dean to deepen their kiss, desire simmering low in his gut. He lets the tip of his tongue brush against Dean's lower lip, tasting the rum and tobacco in his breath.

Dean pulls away. He drops his head, this time unable to meet Castiel's eyes.

"I'm sorry. I think you should go," he says, face beautiful and flushed.

"Dean." Castiel tries to reach for him, make him look back, but Dean doesn't let him.

"I'm sorry, this was a mistake."

He turns his back, shoulders slumped, and walks to his bed. He collapses there without even taking his boots off, then turns to face the stern windows. 

Castiel can't breathe. But he leaves.

Chapter Text

September 3rd, 1703

Ellen's tavern is closed. The only people coming and going are the ones who are staying here, the Winchester pirates.

Bobby spends a lot of his time in bed, but he complains and grumbles a lot, so Sam tells Castiel he's probably fine. They should worry if he isn’t complaining.

The atmosphere in the tavern is thick and heavy. It's not that they had expected going after Lilith to be a piece of cake, but they hadn't expected to lose a dozen men either. Saving Bobby's life provides what little comfort Castiel can take. 

Ellen has been at Bobby’s side day and night, tirelessly taking care of him. Castiel tried to apologize to her for not being able to save his leg, but she had just fixed him with a hard stare. “I don’t care about his leg,” she said. “I’m just happy I didn’t have to bury another husband.” 

Then there's the matter of Jo and Charlie. 

It was not difficult for the men to realise Charlie is a woman, too, after finding out about Jo, though Castiel thinks everyone is taking it relatively well. If by well he means shutting both girls out and not even acknowledging their presence in the room. Garth took the reveal in stride, and Benny was one of the easiest to come around—his Andrea is a force of nature, after all, and the girls have proved themselves more than capable of holding their own on a ship—but for some it's more difficult. Like Arthur Ketch, who almost got in a fist fight with Ash when he first found out Ash knew all along.

Jo’s been a little too busy with Bobby to notice, but the dirty looks and snide comments have taken their toll on Charlie. These days she just keeps to herself, staying in Ellen’s three-room apartment.

And then there's Dean. Sulking, brooding and burying himself in rum. 

And avoiding Castiel.

Very obviously doing so, too, because Castiel has been nothing if not persistent in trying to get Dean alone so they can talk. It was more difficult while they were still sailing back to Homestead, what with Dean having to take up all of Bobby's responsibilities and reorganize the jobs so the ship could keep going with fewer men, and then spending all his free time in Bobby's cabin. But he's been consistently coming up with any excuse he can manage to stay away from Castiel even after they made port.

It's frustrating Castiel to no end, to say the least.

And it's not even the rejection that hurts the most. No, Castiel had convinced himself he had no real chance with Dean Winchester long ago, so being rejected was just a slap to the shoulder compared to being pushed away completely. 

Sam has noticed, too, but Castiel hasn't told him about kissing his brother. Since Sam himself hasn't said anything, Castiel can only guess that Dean hasn't told him either. 

But now it's late in the night, and almost everyone has gone to bed. Except Dean, who is still in the dining hall drinking, and Castiel, who stayed up for this exact purpose. There is nowhere for Dean to hide now.

"Haven't you had enough already?" Castiel asks, taking the seat across from Dean.

Dean looks at him with wide eyes. "You're awake."

"And you've been drinking non-stop for the last couple of days," Castiel points out, crossing his arms.

Dean drops his eyes, swirls the rum in his glass. "I'm not drunk."

Castiel squints at him.

"I swear, I'm not drunk," Dean repeats through gritted teeth. 

He doesn't look drunk, that's for sure. His eyes are clear, and his skin looks thin and pale instead of flushed with alcohol. Castiel can't decide if Dean being sober makes this discussion easier or more difficult. 

"We need to talk," he says.

Dean drops his head into his hand, sighing. "God, I wish you wouldn’t do this."

"You've been avoiding me."

"No, I've been avoiding this discussion."

Castiel leans forward, checks over his shoulder before lowering his voice and saying, “You kissed me.”

“I know. Christ,” Dean says. “I said I’m sorry already.”

Castiel doesn't need Dean to be sorry. He's had enough apologies to last him a lifetime. "Why did you do it?"

"Look, I was not in the best place back then, and it was shitty of me to do that to you. I––"

He's drawing away again, glass abandoned on the table, eyes avoiding Castiel's. 

Castiel won't let him. Not this time. His hand darts out, grabs Dean's wrist, and he holds on. It feels too easy after all the time Castiel has spent denying himself of it.

"I don't need you to be sorry. And I don't need you to make up shitty excuses to get out of this. Be honest with me."

Dean licks his lips, but he lets Castiel hold his hand, keep him there. When he looks up, his face is set with determination. "It was my last chance to do it. And I took it. And maybe that was selfish of me, pushing this on you, but it's done now. I can't take it back."

"You weren't the only one responsible for this kiss, Dean," Castiel points out. It's stupid, but he still holds onto the hope that maybe, just maybe, Dean really cares for him that way. Maybe he doesn't have to hold back anymore.

"I wasn't," Dean agrees. "But I am responsible for keeping you safe."

Castiel tilts his head to the side. "Is this about Azazel? Dean, we're going to pull through. We're going to be fine. We always are."

Dean moves his hand, turning his palm up so instead of Castiel holding him, they’re each holding onto the. It should feel reassuring, but a dark pit forms inside Castiel’s stomach.

“You’re going to be okay, because you’re not coming.”

Castiel’s mouth falls open. “What?”

Dean’s grip tightens briefly before letting go entirely. Castiel is too stunned to stop him. “I don’t want either you or Sam on that ship. I won’t lose more people I care about.”

Castiel is left in the dining hall, a flickering candle and a half-empty glass of rum his only companion.

 

September 4th, 1703

Dean is a pigheaded idiot, which shouldn’t surprise Castiel in the slightest, considering the few months they've spent living out of each other's pockets. Still, life would be so much easier if Dean could stop acting like a martyr and as if everything is his fault and just fucking let Castiel help him. 

Seeing as that is not an option, Castiel is forced to play his ace up his sleeve. He will not stand by and watch as his men go into battle while he's not there for them. 

He finds Sam.

He's keeping Bobby company, both their heads bowed over a leather-bound tome, while Ellen has enlisted Jo and Charlie's help down in the kitchen. Sam lifts his head to look at Castiel when he walks in.

Castiel nods at both of them. "We need to talk."

***

Cornering Dean for the second time in a day is not an easy feat, but between Castiel and Sam, Dean doesn't stand a chance. They track him down at the Black Impala , hiding in his cabin just as the sun sets for the day.

Dean’s eyes narrow in assessment at Sam’s form filling the door frame and effectively blocking his only route for escape before landing on Castiel, arms folded in front of his chest. “You two look serious.”

“Cas told me you don’t plan on letting either of us come with you,” Sam says, cutting straight to the point.

Dean sighs, letting the papers he’d been studying drop on his desk. “I guess I should have seen this coming. But you have to admit, teaming up against me is an asshole move.”

“You didn’t leave us another choice,” Castiel says, voice steady in spite of the nervousness fizzing underneath his skin.

Dean’s eyes fly between his brother and Castiel, assessing which one is the easiest to convince. Unfortunately for him, both have already made their decision. They’re going to be in this battle whether Dean likes it or not. 

He shakes his head. “You’re not coming. That’s that.”

“You can’t play favourites with people, Dean," Castiel protests.

"Of course I can play favourites," Dean snaps. "That's the whole fucking point of me being the captain, and I'm not going to let the people I love walk into a suicide mission."

Castiel is acutely aware of Sam's eyes on him, but he's a little bit busy trying to calm his heartbeat down so he can hear something else other than his pulse inside his ears. Dean considers him someone he loves, and even if his brain realizes that could very well mean he cares about him as much as he does for his brother, his treacherous heart clutches desperately at the words and twists them into something else entirely. Maybe Dean valued that kiss as much as Castiel did.

"And what about everyone else?" he challenges, ignoring the flush creeping up his face. "How will they feel about this, huh?"

Dean's mouth twitches before he can stop himself, a muscle pulses at his jaw. 

Castiel is a second too late to read that expression for what it really means, but Sam—having years of experience on seeing right through his brother's lies—sees it for what it is immediately.

In three long strides he reaches the desk that stands between him and Dean, brings his fist down on it, bitter and fuming. "You asshole! You fucking—You're not going after Azazel alone." He looms above his brother, shoulders broad and threatening, waiting for an answer that never comes. "Tell me you're not going after Azazel on your own."

"Dean." Castiel's voice comes out as a broken plea. There's a part of him that desperately clings to the hope that Dean will deny this. He's not going to leave everyone else behind to go die. But the words never leave Dean's mouth.

Rolling his shoulders back, Dean stares straight back at them. “This is my fight.”

“But it’s not,” Castiel tries to say. He can still remember Dean in the darkness of Sam’s room a few months back. Head low as he told Castiel he couldn’t do this alone. He needed Sam back then, and he still does. He needs Castiel and his men, and all the help he can get, even if he doesn’t want to see it.

“It is!” Dean insists. His face hardens. “Dad started it, and now I’m going to finish it.”

“Stop thinking about Dad,” Sam explodes, throwing his arms in the air. His voice is sharp when he says, “Just because he died alone doesn’t mean that you have to do the same,” before storming out.

Dean keeps his eyes on the door closing behind his brother for a moment. He swallows, turns his attention to Castiel. “You’re not going to change my mind.” 

Castiel exhales, long and hollow. All the fight has gone out of him. It’s hard to argue with Dean when he looks more hurt than Castiel feels. He takes a few careful steps forward, testing the waters. “Can I try?”

Dean's mouth twists in a pained grimace, but he lets Castiel come closer, keeps his ground when there are only inches of air between them. The faint, flickering light of the candle on his desk dances in his eyes, brings out the gold in the green.

"You don't have to do this," Castiel says—begs him.

When Dean brings his hand up to cup Castiel's face, careful as if there was a chance he wouldn't be allowed to, Castiel leans into it. 

"But I do." His thumb rubs a comforting circle over Castiel's skin, slow and affectionate. It's hard to stay focused like that.

"I meant what I said," Dean says. "About you… I do..." he trails off, the words stuck in the air between them now that the heat of the moment doesn’t force them out of him. 

Castiel understands what he’s trying to say, anyway. It's everything he wanted to hear and everything he didn't. His hands are shaking so he grabs Dean's shirt to steady them. "You need help Dean. You said it yourself first. It’s why you went back for Sam, it’s why I’m here, it’s why everyone is here."

Dean's face twists with regret. "I'm sorry. I have to—"

"Kill an immortal murderer all on your own, I heard you," Castiel says, but he's tired of this conversation. He's tired of talking and trying to get closer to Dean only to be pushed away every time. He's tired of waiting for Dean to give him whatever he thinks is best for him.

Castiel knows what's best for him. And he's going to take it.

He uses his grip on Dean's shirt to pull him in, crushing their lips together before Dean has a chance to react. He doesn’t give himself time to second guess this. Ηe just presses closer to Dean, licks his way into his mouth. Dean’s hand slips from his face. Slides to the back of Castiel’s neck, fingers tangling in his hair.

It’s hurried and sloppy. The complete opposite of their first kiss just a few nights ago. But Castiel’s whole body is burning with urgency, heart beating right under his throat, and Dean is kissing him back.

Noses bump together as they fumble to get closer, and Castiel releases Dean’s shirt to grab his hip and squeeze. 

Dean slides an arm around his waist and holds him there firmly. 

A noise of relief forms deep in Castiel’s throat, but it never makes it out, for everything is lost in the heat of the kiss.

Dean sucks Castiel's lower lip before letting his tongue slip out to soothe the tender flesh. Castiel easily grants him access, letting Dean manhandle him towards the bed. They land with a heavy thud, in a pile of lips and caresses and clothes that can't be shoved aside fast enough. A hand finds its way under Castiel’s tunic, fingernails scratching up his ribs. He can’t help the moan that escapes his lips this time. 

Dean moves to trail wet kisses down the line of his jaw, following the curve of Castiel’s throat until he finds that sweet spot just where his shoulder begins. He bites down. 

Castiel's hips involuntarily thrust up, the growing bulge in his breeches pressing against Dean's thigh. The pressure makes a spark run up his spine, and Castiel rolls his hips, chasing the friction. They’re so close there’s no air between them. Only heat and need.

Dean lifts up long enough to tug at Castiel's shirt, pulling it off him and tossing it to the side, and then he's on him again, kissing Castiel's breath away. There's the slide of tongues together, and the brush of fingers over sensitive skin, and Castiel wants to touch, and kiss and watch Dean come apart, but his mind is slow and foggy. All he can do is hold on.

Nimble fingers work to untie Castiel's belt, loosen his breeches, and then Dean has his palm pressed over Castiel's dick, and everything else fades away.

"That's it, baby," Dean murmurs, moving to tease at Castiel’s earlobe with his teeth, sucking the soft flesh in his mouth, hand rubbing Castiel’s length. "That's it, let me take care of you."

"Dean, Dean," Castiel pants, and all he can think about is how Dean is still dressed, and that offending shirt is in his way, so he grabs it and pulls, and Dean has to release his dick to help him take it off. But now they are skin on skin, and all Castiel can see is freckles and green, and he needs more. His hand moves lower, from chest to belly, until it reaches Dean’s cock, hard and straining inside his pants. 

Dean takes a sharp breath, and Castiel takes the opportunity to graze his teeth along Dean's pulse point. To drag his palm over Dean's cock. To press his fingers on Dean's back, between the shoulderblades, and feel him trembling under the touch. Dean's skin tastes salty, and Castiel chases sweat down his throat to the dip between his clavicles.

He works the buttons open slowly, pushes the worn material to the side and his hand slips inside, knuckles brushing against Dean's length.

A palm is on Castiel's chest, fingers spread, and Dean pushes him down, forces Castiel to press his body against the soft pillows underneath him. Then they're kissing again, open mouthed. Dean finds the tip of Castiel's tongue, guides it between his plush lips and sucks, at the same time he wraps his hand around Castiel's dick and jerks him once. Slowly. His wrist twists when he reaches back to the base, his hold tightening, and something threatens to snap inside Castiel.

Dean kisses him filthy and breathless, his hand still following the same, agonizingly slow rhythm. He brushes his thumb over Castiel's slit. Lets his fingertips trail over a vein on the underside. He sighs into Castiel's mouth when Castiel does the same for him.

Castiel releases Dean, which earns him a whine, deep in Dean's throat. But his hand slides to cup his balls instead, to massage them and roll them, and Dean's hand supporting him nearly gives out.

Dean breaks away, far enough for Castiel to have to lift his head off the mattress to kiss him but close enough for their noses to brush.

"Let me," he says. 

His hot breath makes Castiel's skin tingle.

Castiel doesn't know what he's agreeing to, but he agrees all the same.

Dean smirks, eyebrow raised, before he crawls lower on the bed, leaving behind a path of kisses and bite marks on Castiel's chest.

Castiel’s boots go first. Then Dean tugs at his breeches, guiding him to lift his hips so he can slide the pants off, before completely removing them and tossing them aside. Castiel's erection stands red and aching between them. 

Dean looks down at it and licks his lips, but again he takes his time. His palm slowly moves up from Castiel's calf to his knee. His thumb traces the curve of his inner thigh. Then his hand comes to rest on Castiel's hip. He leans over, holds Castiel's gaze. With his every exhale, Castiel's dick twitches, asking for attention, but all Castiel can do is watch, enthralled as Dean opens his mouth, dips down, and closes his lips around the head.

Dean sucks.

Castiel's toes curl into the mattress.

Dean lets his tongue trace his foreskin.

Castiel has to fight to keep his hips from fucking up into his mouth.

Dean takes him deeper, until he has his nose pressed to Castiel's groin. Eyes closed, he groans around his dick, the vibration traveling under Castiel's skin, escaping through his mouth in a low moan, and Dean starts moving his head up. Teeth tease, tongue soothes. He reaches the tip, lets it almost all out, but it's still pressed against his swollen bruised lips. 

Castiel breaks. 

He thrusts up, just barely, but his cock slides between Dean's lips again, and Dean eagerly swallows him down. He bobs his head. He hums when Castiel tangles his fingers in Dean's hair to guide him.

It's slow. Torturous.

It keeps Castiel on edge until there are tears in his eyes and curses behind his teeth.

It's everything Castiel dreamed it would be.

Dean slowly takes him apart, using his mouth and his hands. He looks up at him under thick lashes every now and then, and that's when Castiel feels the pressure at the base of his spine coil tighter and tighter. His hands fist the sheets, twist them and tug at them, because he wants to tug Dean closer, but he doesn't want him to stop what he is doing either.

Dean hollows his cheeks, and Castiel is so close. So close to the edge. Thighs burning from the self-restraint it takes to keep them from closing around Dean's face, to press his mouth closer, guide himself deeper.

Dean takes him as deep as it goes, lets his palm slide between Castiel's ass and the mattress. A comfort and encouragement at the same time. He gives a squeeze, fingers digging into the firm muscle, and he swallows around Castiel.

Castiel tips over the edge, coming inside Dean's mouth, Dean's name falling from his lips like a prayer. 

His mind is fuzzy around the edges.

He's floating.

Dean crawling back up the bed barely registers, until he leans to press a kiss to Castiel's mouth, and he tastes bitter.

Castiel opens his mouth, letting Dean inside. He tastes himself on his tongue.

Slowly he comes back down.

He has a hand on Dean's nape.

His whole body is sticky with sweat.

Dean's cock is heavy against his belly.

He pushes himself up, puts his weight on his elbow, and Dean breaks their kiss to grin down at him.

"Somebody enjoyed himself," he teases.

"You don't know the half of it," Castiel says.

Dean's body fits perfectly between Castiel's thighs. So it's easy for Castiel to wrap his legs around him and flip them over. Now it's Dean on his back, hair askew, and Castiel straddles his hips.

"My turn," Castiel says.

He tries to lift himself, move lower, but a hand to his wrist stops him.

"Don't move," Dean says, eyes blown. "Just like that. Just use your hand. I want—I want to look at you."

Castiel complies.

Dean's pants are barely down his knees, but neither bothers to correct that.

Castiel wraps his hand around Dean, and starts jerking him, using the same movements Dean had used on him before but faster. He sweeps his thumb over Dean's slit and spreads the precome he finds there down Dean's shaft.

Dean's whole body is tense under him, muscles clenching to keep from moving, but he just stares up at Castiel, eyes roaming over every inch of naked skin they can find. His mouth opens in a silent moan, nostrils flare, and Castiel has never felt more powerful. Dean can't move. He can't look away. He can only give himself over to Castiel to do what he pleases.

And Castiel touches him. Pours all his feelings into his fingertips, hoping they reach Dean. Hoping Dean understands. Hoping it's enough to keep him here.

It’s only a couple of minutes before Dean comes, eyes fluttering closed and semen spilling all over his abs. 

Castiel releases him. He watches as Dean gasps for breath, lets his fingers spread on the mattress as every ounce of tension leaves his body.

Green eyes blink open to look at him.

"Hello," Castiel says.

"Hi," Dean replies, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He grabs Castiel's hand and pulls lightly. "Come back to bed."

"You're dirty," Castiel points out, feeling the beginning of a grin spreading across his cheeks.

Dean pouts. "Fine," he says. "There's a wash basin under the bed. But you get back in here right after."

Castiel climbs off, bends to look under the bed. "Aye, Captain."

The mattress shakes with Dean's laugh.

***

Dean thinks he’s smart. He thinks he can wait for Castiel to fall asleep and then sneak away.

Which is why Castiel only allows himself to doze, spread as he is in his captain’s bed, head pillowed by his heartbeat. He pretends to be asleep when Dean moves. He lets him untangle himself and draw away.

Maybe Castiel is just paranoid. Maybe Dean just needs to piss.

He watches through half-lidded eyes as Dean fumbles in the darkness for his clothes. He watches as Dean gets dressed. The light of the moon paints his silhouette in silver, catches at the amulet hanging from around his neck and at the gun he tucks in his belt.

Dean leaves on silent feet, boots in his hand.

Castiel rolls on his back and sighs.

Pigheaded jackass.

Pausing only long enough to wrap the sheet around his waist, Castiel goes after him.

A clear mistake, he realizes after he has opened the door and it’s too late to go back inside and cover himself.

In front of him is Dean, back turned to him, and across from him stands Sam, arms crossed, and almost every remaining crew member of the Impala —girls included, cat excluded. The moonlight picks out their forms one by one, as they face their captain ready to abandon them. Sam quirks an eyebrow at Castiel’s appearance, but he doesn’t look surprised. There’s grins bitten back, and elbows shoved to sides from the others, and even a murmured "told ye" from someone in the back, and finally, Dean looks over his shoulder. He locks eyes with Castiel, and his shoulders drop.

Castiel watches with his stomach twisted in a tight knot. This is the moment. The moment someone grabs him and puts a knife to his neck. It’s what Captain Michaels would have done. It’s what everyone on the Queen Anna would have done. If Castiel is lucky, the end will be painless. 

But the pirates don’t move. Not against Castiel at least. 

When Benny and Gordon move forward, they make a beeline straight for Dean. They grab him before he has the time to react, Benny on his right and Gordon on his left, and drag him towards the main mast. 

“What the hell, man?” Dean thrusts and jerks, tries to get away, but his protests fall on deaf ears. 

Harry and Eddie bring one of their heavier chains. They mumble apologies as they help tie Dean to the mast under Sam’s watchful eye. Dean is trapped in a matter of seconds, but still he fights back. Even from half a ship away, Castiel can see his muscles tensing, chain digging into his skin.

Sam eyes Castiel, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Maybe you should put some clothes on for this talk.”

His hold tightening on the sheet around his waist, Castiel ducks his head. “I’ll be right back.”

He hurries back inside Dean’s cabin, sheet discarded on the floor the moment the door is closed behind him. His clothes are thrown in every direction, but he shoves his legs in his pants, pulls the tunic over his head and forgoes boots completely. He’s still tying his breeches when he returns to the main deck. By then the pirates have gathered in a loose circle around their captain. Dean has stopped struggling, but he gives the evil eye to anyone close enough to him.

“—stupid plan,” Sam is saying, gesturing with his hands exasperated.

“You think tying me up is going to change anything?” Dean growls, head lowered. He doesn’t look at Castiel when he comes closer. 

Jo steps forward, hands crossed in front of her chest. Most men keep their distance, Castiel notices. Both from her and Charlie. “I think it might make you a little less of a bitch.”

Ketch snorts, and Charlie shoots him a death glare.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur says, not bothering to hide his amusement. “But when a wench calls ye a bitch then ye know ye’ve fucked up.”

Jo spins around, steps right into Arthur’s space. She is shorter and thinner, but she stands with all the confidence of someone who has easy access to all of Ketch’s vital organs. Castiel doesn’t doubt for a second she could easily gut him if she puts her mind to it, and judging from the way Ketch rolls his weight back, seeking distance without wanting to stand down, he knows that as well.

“Call me a wench again, and I’ll cut your dick off while you’re sleeping,” Jo threatens through gritted teeth.

“Okay, that’s enough, maties,” Benny declares. He puts his hand on Jo’s elbow, and she just shakes him off. But she does back away from Ketch.  

Benny shakes his head. “This is not what we’re here for.”

“Right, can we please focus for one moment?” Sam rubs the bridge of his nose and sighs. “I’m sorry, Dean, but I can’t let you go until you listen to what we have to say.”

“Nothing you say will change my mind,” Dean says, glaring at everyone and no one in particular. He still refuses to look at Castiel.

“You’re not going alone,” Sam says.

“You can’t stop me, Sammy,” Dean shoots back.

Seeing the way the crew scowls at his words, Castiel decides it might be time to step in, before Dean finds himself a prisoner on his own ship. “Dean, I understand you’re doing this to protect us, but we don’t need protection.”

“That’s right,” Harry says. “Tell ‘im, Doc.”

“Oh, I think the Doc told him something alright,” Ash grins, a hand thrown over Garth’s shoulders. He wiggles his eyebrows when Castiel turns to glare at him. This is not the moment for these kinds of comments.

Trying to forget that pretty much everyone has now seen him half naked—and that they know he’s slept with Dean, which is all kinds of horrifying—he says, “We’re not children, Dean. And no one on this ship is going into this blindly. We know what we’re going to face.”

“We know you just want to keep us safe, but so do we,” Charlie jumps in, and she gets a few hums in approval. Emboldened she presses on. “We know what’s out there and what it’ll take to go up against Azazel.”

“But you don’t,” Dean protests. “You’re just going to get yourselves killed.”

Gordon rolls his eyes. “Because you’re so strong you’re going to kill Azazel, and his crew, and his monsters all by yourself.” He narrows his eyes. “You’ll be dead before you even reach his ship.”

Dean slumps back against the main mast. “Better me than all of you,” he mumbles.

“Oh my God, Dean. This is what you don’t get,” Sam says. “We’re willing to stand with you. Me, Jo, Cas, Bobby, all of us. We’re all on this journey with you, so let us fight, too.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Dean,” Garth says with a soft smile. “You’re a good guy, but it’s not like we’re going to walk into the lion’s den just because you’re a good captain.”

“Which by the way, I have a few pointers if ye need them, because honestly, ye could do better,” Ketch cuts in. Everyone ignores him.

“We’ve lost people we loved, too,” Garth continues. “We’re doing this as much for us as we’re doing it for you.”

Sam squats in front of his brother, grabs his shoulder and shakes him lightly. “I’m coming with you whether you like it or not. We’ll do this together.”

“Idiot,” Dean growls, but he has defeat painted across his features. “I guess the same goes for the rest of you, huh?”

The cry of "Aye aye, Captain," comes back to him almost instantly, men pushing their chests out and shaking their heads.

“You haven’t been able to get rid of me all these years, and you thought you’d do it now?” Jo grins.

Gordon raises an eyebrow at her. “No wen— lasses, I meant lasses, aboard.” 

“Oh, screw you, Gordon,” Jo complains. “You’d be dead if I hadn’t killed that siren before she drowned you.”

“It’s been four years, just let it go already,” Gordon says.

“No, I’m not letting it go,” Jo insists. “Because I’m a damn good pirate and an even better hunter, and none of you would have argued about that a few weeks ago.”

“We’re coming. It’s final,” Charlie insists, her jaw set.

From the two dozen men left of the Black Impala pirates, about half of them don’t look happy to have women travelling with them, and even less happy that they’d been fooled for so long. But Castiel knows just as well as they do, that if Dean says they can come, the rest of the crew has no other choice but to obey.

“What about you, Doc?” Ash asks, effectively turning everyone’s attention on Castiel instead of Jo and Charlie.

Dean, finally, meets his gaze. 

“Of course. You guys wouldn’t last a day without me,” Castiel says.

Benny tilts his head from side to side in consideration. “We did last a few months before kidnapping you.”

“Yeah, barely,” Castiel jokes, looking for the beginning of a smile tugging at Dean’s lips. 

“Actually, that’s true for some of us,” Eddie says, rubbing the back of his neck, and laughter erupts all around them.

Chapter Text

September 8th, 1703

Dean had wanted to leave immediately, but now that the whole crew is involved, his plan has inevitably been replaced by a more thoroughly thought out one. It’s a plan that has more steps than just go against Yellow Eyes and hope they can kill him before he kills them—which was Dean’s original plan, as he’d admitted after Sam untied him from the mast—and that makes it as good a plan as any in Castiel’s book.

But his involvement means that Castiel has to inevitably face an obstacle he has managed to avoid so far in his career on ships. Namely, this time he can’t be a bystander. This time he has to take up weapons and take lives. Not monster lives, though Bobby has warned them that they should be ready for that as well, but human lives. People. 

He’s not sure how he feels about that. Castiel became a ship's surgeon to avoid this in the first place, but it seems inevitable now. If he wants to help Dean stop Azazel, this is what he has to do. 

Castiel is ready to kill someone.

First, he has to learn how to fight. 

He’s sure that the best course of action would be to just go to Dean himself, or Gordon, seeing as he’s the one who was elected by the crew to become the Quartermaster now that Bobby has to stay with Ellen, but Castiel still remembers everyone staring at him when he came out of Dean’s cabin with only a sheet around his middle. They all know. They all know about Castiel sleeping with Dean. No one has made a comment yet, or outright threatened him, thank God, but it’s still awkward to be around the men Castiel has come to think of as his family in the last few months. 

So Castiel resorts to a tried and proven method: he sticks with Jo.

Tensions are still running high between her and most of the men, so by asking Jo to help him, Castiel gets his training and still manages to avoid pretty much everyone.

His plan turns out to work better than he expected, at least for the training part; Jo is a ruthless teacher and refuses to go easy on him, even on his first day. More often than not, their training sessions end with Jo looking mildly inconvenienced as she stands above Castiel and him bruised and bloody on the ground. But he’s getting better. 

When Jo brings in Charlie to train with them, too, Castiel is only slightly worse than the redhead, and he even manages to disarm her one time. From the side, Garth claps, excited, while Jo nods her approval. 

She is hard to please, and now that she’s taken on the role of a mentor, Castiel can see all the ways growing up with Bobby as her father has shaped her into the woman she is today—from the way she tears them a new one every time they mess up to her muttering under her breath about "these damn skallywags" the fifth time she has to correct their form.

"Alright, time for the big test," Jo announces, standing in front of Charlie and Castiel. She raises an eyebrow at their flushed faces and sweaty foreheads, before moving towards the backdoor of the tavern.

They've been using Ellen's backyard as training ground, which often results in one or both of them tripping on a stray chicken, but Jo insists they'll be lucky if it's a chicken and not a tentacle that trips them in a real battle. So far they've sparred using wooden swords, but now Jo grabs cutlasses she has kept by the door all these days.

She passes one to Garth, one to Charlie and one to Castiel. The last one she keeps for herself.

"Get ready," Jo says, throwing her hair behind her shoulder. She walks to the other side of the yard. 

"Two against two?" Charlie asks, eyeing Garth's blade.

Jo snorts. "How cute, the ducklings think they're ready for that," she grins, an eyebrow raised in challenge. "It's all three of you against me."

"How about three against two?"

Dean is leaning against the door frame, head cocked to the side as he takes in the scene in front of him. His eyes linger on Castiel.

After that one night they spent together, Castiel has tried to keep his head low, as much to keep the other crew members from paying any more attention to Dean and Castiel’s relationship than they have to, as to give Dean some space. It’s not that Castiel doesn’t want Dean, it’s that he wants Dean to want him even when he doesn’t think he’s about to die.

“Grab a sword,” Jo says, simply.

Dean lets his eyes fall from Castiel’s and hurries to do as Jo instructed. Soon he’s standing by her side, sword held with both hands, and Charlie, Garth and Castiel mirror his stance opposite them.

They weigh each other up for a second, both sides hesitating to make the first move. Then Jo lunges forward. She aims for Charlie, blade raised above her head. 

Charlie manages to block, face set with determination. Blades clink together, but her hold is not as firm. Jo easily pushes her back, uses her confidence to overpower the other girl.

Garth jumps in, mouth tight and muscles flexed. He’s good and has managed to win plenty of fights against Castiel so far, but clearly not nearly as good as Jo. He aims for her side, but she dances out of his reach, swirls around with her tongue sticking out at him, blades meeting once, twice. In the next breath she’s swinging back towards Charlie, missing her target, but succeeding in intimidating her back. “Too slow,” Jo taunts, a lopsided grin spreading across her cheeks.

It’s Castiel’s turn to join. His fingers tingle with anticipation, heart rate already going faster. He takes a step forward, uses his right hand to swing his sword and goes for Jo’s leg. 

“Not so fast.” It’s Dean’s sword that stops him, blades crossing low between them, the blow vibrating up Castiel’s arm before Dean rolls his wrist and manages to knock Castiel’s sword away. “Keep your wrist flexible or you’ll lose your weapon the next time,” he instructs, eyes bright and amused. This is clearly more a game for both him and Jo than the frustration it is for the other three.

Garth is on Dean now, too. He tries for a diagonal cut, and Castiel’s heart jumps at his throat at the idea that his hit might find its target, but Dean sidesteps. He lets the blade slide parallel to his body, before swinging his arm back, the blunt edge catching Garth just above the ear. Αt the same time Dean shifts his weight to his right leg and kicks Castiel right under the ribs, knocking the air out of him. 

Garth falls back, sword falling from his hand with a surprised grunt of pain. “Shit.” 

Castiel curls a hand over his side on instinct, where his ribs throb. Dean doesn’t give him a second to recover, but Castiel stands his ground, grits his teeth and gets ready for the next attack. He already knows that he won’t have the time to block.

It’s only Charlie jumping on Dean’s back that stops Dean from finishing this fight.

“And you’re dead,” Jo says, her blade pressed against Charlie’s back.

“So is Dean,” Charlie huffs, pouting. She is still holding onto him, her own sword pressed against his throat.

Jo rolls her eyes. “You got skewered before you had the time to get your sword anywhere near his neck. Go play dead somewhere to the side.”

Charlie drags herself reluctantly by the door where she is out of the way, and the other four take position again. This time they naturally pair off. Jo against Garth, and Dean against Castiel. 

If they were unevenly matched before, now Dean and Jo are destroying them. 

Though neither makes a move to help the other, Dean and Jo keep their backs to the other, instinctively rotating when the other moves, so they are always covered. They guide their opponents in a chaotic dance that only the two of them know the steps to. They have been fighting side by side since the moment they were old enough to use sticks as swords and it shows. Their coordination is unparalleled, the way they mirror each other’s stance and moves on instinct rather than planned a distraction.

Garth is at least able to keep up with Jo, blocking most of her attacks now that he only has to focus on her instead of trying to get Dean as well, but Castiel is hopeless. He’s never fought Dean before, so he knows none of the tells he’s managed to learn about Jo in the last couple of days. 

When Dean fakes an overhead attack, Castiel falls for it. He holds his sword vertically, ready to parry, but Dean shifts his weight, moves to the side and in a single fluid motion that draws all of Castiel’s attention to the flex of his bicep, he brings his sword down on Castiel’s foremost leg.

“Somebody just got mortally wounded.” Dean smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners, and that’s more distracting to Castiel than the adrenaline rushing through his veins. 

The next thing he knows, Dean has his cutlass raised, the tip of the blade right under Castiel’s jaw, pressing with just enough force that Castiel has to raise his chin, has to look Dean in the eyes. 

“And now you’re dead,” Dean says, but the humor is gone from his voice.

Castiel swallows. He stands frozen, sword still in his hand.

Dean makes no move to release him.

Jo grunts, parrying one of Garth’s diagonal cuts, then she pushes back, her smaller frame giving her the advantage of speed against her opponent. “Dead people don’t just hang around,” she says, without ever taken her eyes away from Garth.

“Right,” Castiel says, and finally, Dean lets his sword fall back to his side.

To Garth’s credit he lasts almost half a minute on his own, but with both Jo and Dean focused on him this time it’s a matter of seconds before his sword clatters to the ground in defeat.

“You’re still awkward when defending your left side,” Dean tells him, patting him on the shoulder. “You should work on that.”

Garth shakes his head. “I’m right handed, what else can I do?” 

“Keep training,” Jo says. “I’ll tie your right hand behind your back and force you to use your left if you want.”

“Does that work?” Charlie asks, walking alongside Castiel as they join the others in the middle of the yard again. Now that the only noise around is their panting and their voices, the chickens crawl back out from where they’d spent the last half hour in hiding. One with reddish feathers wanders by Dean’s leg, pecking the ground in search of food.

“It’s how Dad taught me,” Dean says, eyes on Castiel only.

"And that's why you're second best in our crew," Jo says, gathering the swords back and throwing them inside a barrel by the door. "Come on you guys. I'm sure Mom has something for us to eat."

Charlie and Garth follow her inside grateful for the break, as they rub the sore muscles of their shoulders. Castiel would make a move to follow them, but Dean is still staring at him, brow relaxed, eyes soft, and Castiel's stomach is filled with butterflies. It’s hard to resist when Dean’s right in front of him, and he'd rather stay with him than have lunch any day.

"Hey, stranger," Dean says, gesturing for Castiel to follow him to the far corner where empty crates and an old stool have been left out. Dean lets Castiel sit on the stool, claiming one of the crates for himself. "Haven't seen you around in the last few days."

Dean is playing with a thread hanging from his sleeve, but he stops when Castiel's eyes fall to follow the motion. He clasps his hands together instead, fingers twitching. He's nervous, Castiel realizes. 

"I've been busy," he says, trying to hide the surprise in his voice. Dean has never been nervous around Castiel before. Checking over his shoulder to make sure they're alone, he adds, "And I wasn't sure my company would be welcome."

Dean jerks back, eyes wide. His mouth hangs open for a while, throat working uselessly to produce a sound. "What?" he finally sputters. He leans forward, and his voice comes out strained. "I thought I made it clear that—that your company was more than welcome. " He raises his eyebrows, putting emphasis on the last word, as he waits for Castiel's answer.

Castiel clenches his hands into fists, keeping them stubbornly by his side because he doesn't trust himself not to do something stupid like reach for Dean where someone could see them again. His heart flutters with hope, but he stomps it down and forces himself to think logically. "That was before," he says. "The circumstances were different."

"How were they different?" Dean asks, brows pulling together in genuine confusion. “I—I mean, I said—”

“Dean, you thought you were going to walk to your death in a few hours back then,” Castiel points out, voice too calm for the storm raging inside him. It’d been physically painful to stay away from Dean after spending a night with him, no matter how necessary Castiel thought it was. Being with Dean was like every single string holding his world together had been cut and rearranged into a new reality, something Castiel can’t just walk away from. But he needs to be sure first, before he lets himself fall too deep—deeper than he already has—before he can’t walk away anymore. Now, yes, it’ll be hell to live without Dean, but Castiel thinks he can come to accept it. If he lets himself hope for more…

“And you asked me to stay,” Dean says, drawing Castiel’s hand between his palms. When Castiel makes a move to turn his head and check their surroundings again, heart beating anxiously right under his throat, Dean cups his cheeks and pulls him back. “Hey, look at me. Cas.”

“Dean, someone might see.”

“No one’s going to see,” Dean promises, his hold on Castiel’s hands becoming firmer. A weird sense of calm spreads through Castiel. He wants to believe Dean, he really does. “The walls are tall, no one’s going to see us,” Dean says again.

“And what if someone comes from the tavern?” Castiel asks, eyeing the door Jo left open behind her. If someone comes looking, Dean and Castiel would never even know.

Dean follows his line of sight. “From the tavern? It could only be Jo or Ellen. Why would you care if they see?”

“And what if it’s not just Ellen or Jo?” What if it’s Gordon, or Arthur, or Sam?”

Dean laughs. He actually laughs, eyes wrinkling, nose scrunching, and he’s beautiful enough like that, that Castiel almost forgets to be nervous. “Why would I care about Sam coming here?” he asks, head thrown back. “Or Gordon? And especially about what Arthur Ketch might or might not see us doing?”

“Because…” Castiel trails off. Surely Dean doesn’t need this explained to him. Two men being together is wrong. Everyone thinks so. Every officer he has served under has said so—his own father, too—and dealt heavy consequences to any hint of such activity on the ship they were commanding. 

“Cas, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Dean insists, holding Castiel’s eyes. “We’re—Nobody cares.”

“That’s not true. There are rules, Dean,” Castiel says, but he clutches Dean’s hand in his own. He holds ον as tight as he can.

Dean tilts his head from side to side, considering that. “I mean sure, there are rules for normal people,” he says. “But we’re not normal. We’re pirates. Hell, we’re hunters, I don’t think that it gets any further away from normal than that.”

Something tight in Castiel’s stomach starts to unknot. “And you—your men, they don’t care?”

“Cas, my men—any pirate out there doesn’t care.”

“Why?” Castiel asks, trying to wrap his head around what Dean is saying. How can somebody just not care?

Dean shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s our normal, I guess. I mean we are so long out at sea, it’s just… it happens. There are men that like to bed women at every port we stop at, there are men who like to bed women at ports and men while on the ship. It’s just how people are.”

“And… on the Impala , too?” Castiel asks unsurely. He’s sure he would have noticed if something like that was going on after all these months. Then again, Castiel had spent as much time as possible away from the rest of the men at first, and even later had stuck pretty much to himself and the sick bay, with the exception of Garth and Jo. The Black Impala is a big ship. He certainly couldn’t have known what was going on everywhere at all times.

“Sure,” Dean nods. “I mean, I know Harry and Eddie help each other out from time to time.” He makes a face. “Which is weird, considering how often they antagonize over the same girls. And Benny has Andrea now, but he never cared about who was keeping his bed warm before. I’m sure there are others.”

Castiel swallows. “I—I only like men,” he admits for the first time in the twenty-eight years he’s been alive. Dean smiles, leans forward to press a chaste kiss to his lips, and Castiel sighs into it.

“Well, I like you,” Dean murmurs against Castiel’s mouth, and it’s like a heavy weight lifts off of Castiel’s shoulders. “And you shouldn’t care what other people think of us, because it doesn’t matter. Maybe I can’t kiss you when we are on land, because you know, I’m not exactly looking forward to being lashed, but the ship is safe. The tavern is safe. There are so many places where you can just be you, Cas.”

“I like you, too,” Castiel breathes out, stealing one more kiss from Dean. “I—I think I love you.”

Dean pulls back, grinning, but there’s something bitter behind it. “You sure made me wait a lot for that.”

Castiel can feel his hands trembling, all the nerves that had held his muscles tight all this time, finally relaxing. But he doesn’t want to let Dean go. Ever. "I made you wait for it?"

"Sweetheart," Dean says, and the endearment falls from his lips like Dean has been saying it all this time and Castiel just didn't listen, "I believe I said I loved you days ago."

Castiel rolls his eyes, but it's hard to hide his smile when everything inside him glows warm and happy. "I believe you said you weren't going to let the people you love die. Which you said to your brother. And could easily mean your whole crew."

"But you knew what I meant," Dean protests.

"No, actually, I didn't. Thank you for clarifying though. And it was you who waited months before even trying to kiss me," Castiel says, half-joking and half-accusing.

Dean's face reddens, his freckles almost lost to the blush that blossoms across his cheeks. "Oh come on. It was complicated. First you hated me—"

"Because you abducted me," Castiel cuts in, but there's no heat behind his words anymore. He's forgiven Dean for all that already.

"—and then you stayed but I couldn't be sure— I couldn't just put that on you. It wasn't right," Dean finishes.

"And you changed your mind because…" 

Dean licks his lips. "Because—Bobby almost died, and I thought I was going to die soon, so. I did it."

Castiel cocks his head to the side. "You kissed me because you knew you were going to run away and try to kill Azazel on your own, and then you didn't want to kiss me again because you knew you were going to run away and try to kill Azazel on your own."

"Pretty much." Dean's blush deepens, and the shade looks lovely on him. Castiel goes weak at the knees.

"How does that make sense?"

"In my head it does, okay?" Dean says, pouting. "Or it did. I don’t know, it's complicated."

“You don’t make much sense now either,” Castiel says.

“The point is that I did it in the end,” Dean answers. He pulls Castiel in to rest their foreheads together while he looks down at their connected hands. “And there’s still the possibility either of us might die so I don’t see why you’d want to stay away.”

Castiel pulls back slightly, puts his finger under Dean’s chin to make him meets his eye. “Are you still worried about that?”

“You’re not?” Dean asks, incredulous. “This is Azazel we’re talking about. He could kill all of us.”

“But we have a plan,” Castiel says. “It’s a good plan, have a little faith in your crew.”

Dean shakes his head. “There are too many things that might go wrong, too many things that we might not be able to pull off.”

“Or everything might—”

“I just,” Dean says. He swallows. “I’d really feel better if I knew at least you were safe.”

“Dean, I’m not staying here,” Castiel says, bracing himself for the inevitable fight. It feels like they have been going around and around in circles with this topic. Castiel won’t change his mind. He’s going. He’s training for that.

“I know,” Dean says, though frustration makes his mouth curl. “I just—At least promise me you won’t do anything stupid. You’re not exactly used to fighting.”

“I’m training,” Castiel points out.

At that, Dean smiles. “And Jo is a good teacher, and you’re improving. But I think I’ll take over for her. If you don’t mind.”

“You want to train me?” Castiel asks, feeling his eyebrows reach his hairline.

“It’s not that I don’t trust Jo,” Dean hurries to explain. “I’d just feel safer when we’re out there.”

“Okay, ” Castiel says slowly. It’s not like he’d ever say no to an opportunity to spend more time with Dean. “I’d like that.” 

 

September 15th, 1703

Time passes in a blur. In the mornings there is training with Dean, then Jo and Charlie will join them, and the day will pass by without Castiel realizing it. They have dinner together, tired and bruised, but Ellen’s food more than makes up for all the energy they’ve lost while sparring. In truth, Castiel can’t remember how long it’s been since he ate so much good food for such a prolonged time. Maybe the last time was when he was still living with his parents, before leaving for his studies, but his father would never allow his mom to cook such hearty food on a daily basis, so probably, this is a first.

In the evening there is Bobby and a lot of grumbling. His leg is healing as well as Castiel could have hoped for, and the older man doesn’t complain much from pain, though Castiel suspects it’s mostly out of stubbornness. Bobby has taken the loss of his leg in stride, and with Ash’s help, Ellen has been trying to change the house to better accommodate her husband’s needs. For now, he’s secluded to the first floor and the few rooms his new wheelchair can fit through, but the long term plan is to change the layout of the tavern to allow for the apartment Ellen uses to be moved to the ground floor, and the dining hall to expand in the upper level, or, if possible, in the empty shop next door. But for now, there are more important matters to focus on, such as the upcoming confrontation with Azazel, for which Bobby spends day and night poring over every rumor about his moves, whether real or not.

In the nights, there is Dean. There is heat, and muscles sore all over again, and sweaty skin, and there is Dean smiling down at Castiel before dipping to kiss him, to set his blood on fire and make his insides twist in a golden knot that he never wants to untangle. There are sleepy promises murmured into the early, blushing hours of dawn, and there is a hand wrapped possessively around Castiel’s middle when he finally falls asleep.

To Castiel’s relief, what there is none of, is snide comments and sneers directed his way. At all. The Black Impala pirates seem to truly not care about what is going on between Dean and Castiel.

Castiel had been careful in sneaking in and out of Dean’s cabin the first couple of nights, earning himself several eyerolls from his lover, but the more people acted like this was normal, the more Castiel realized that maybe it was. Or it could be while he is a pirate. 

There are a few teasing comments, all made to Dean, and which, when asked, Benny seems apologetic for. 

"Don't let it get to ye, mate," he says, a beer in front of him and an arm around his wife. "We're just surprised with how gone Dean is on you, is all."

Andrea sighs, chin resting on her fist. "He looks happy."

Castiel feels his face redden in response. He certainly hopes he makes Dean happy. Just as he hopes they make it out of the coming battle alive so they can still be together.

They are in the tavern, sitting at one of the tables by the window. Their plates have long since been cleared, and the street outside is empty now, though some of the pirates hang around till late into the night these days. A couple of hours ago, Ash found Dean and Castiel still training in the backyard. "Rufus just got here," he'd said. "He's upstairs with Bobby."

Rufus, Dean had explained to Castiel once, is an old friend of Bobby's, and also the one who uses all the iron and silver the pirates steal to make weapons for them. He lives in Jamaica, though, so him making the trip to Homestead must mean Bobby is planning something. Unfortunately Dean didn't have the time to explain what that something is before kissing Castiel goodbye and running upstairs to meet the two older men.

And so Castiel found himself wandering inside, and Benny quickly waved him over and asked him to join him and Andrea for dinner. At first he was reluctant, sure that the two would rather spend their last few days together alone, but when Andrea grabbed his hand and practically dragged him to their table, he relented. 

The next day, Dean and Jo take Castiel and Charlie to the Black Impala for training. “Rufus and Ash need the backyard,” is all the explanation they get, and then they’re too busy trying to keep up with Dean’s and Jo’s skills to ask any more questions.

 

October 6th, 1703

They are finally ready to set sail.

All the chickens they were keeping on board have joined Ellen’s coop, and Luna has moved permanently with Bobby and Ellen into the tavern. Something tugs at Castiel’s heart as he watches Charlie carry the cat away. He doesn’t want to admit it, but even he had thought of Luna as a good luck charm, and not taking her with them makes something heavy sit over him. 

Anything that is not useful in the battle is moved out as well, and Castiel packs his notes and what little progress he’s made with his manuscript and adds it to the crates the pirates carry back to the tavern or their houses for safe keeping.

Cannon balls and swords are brought onto the ship, as well as silver bullets and parts of a machine that looks like a bastardised version of a cannon. Ash proceeds to isolate himself on the gun deck, measuring and asking men to help him move cannons in preparation for… for whatever that new weapon is.

***

Their last night at Homestead, Castiel presses himself close to Dean as they lie in bed, watching the stars through the stern windows.

Dean turns his head, burying his face in Castiel’s hair. “Still awake?” he murmurs.

“I don’t think either of us will get much sleep in the next few days,” Castiel says, tracing random patterns on Dean’s bare belly with his fingertips.

“It’s going to be fine,” Dean lies. He hasn’t been sleeping in the last couple of weeks, and the closer they’ve been getting to setting sail, the tighter his shoulders seem to sit, the easier he snaps at his men for their mistakes. Castiel understands. This has been Dean’s goal—his father’s goal, Bobby’s goal, everyone’s goal—for as long as he can remember, probably. This is the only thing Dean can focus on for now.

Castiel chooses to focus on something else. “What are you going to do? After.”

“After?” 

“After we kill Azazel,” Castiel clarifies. 

Dean takes a moment to answer. Then he draws Castiel closer, holds him tighter. His every exhale grazes Castiel’s skin. “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about after. I guess I could retire, but I don’t know if I can be anything other than a pirate.”

Castiel nuzzles into the side of his neck. “You can be whatever you want. And I’ll be there, if you still want me when we return.”

He feels Dean’s laugh vibrating in his chest. “If we make it out alive I’m afraid you’re stuck with me,” Dean says. A beat. “What do you want to do?”

Castiel has had plenty of time to think about what he’s going to do if he makes it out of this alive. Going back to the Navy hasn’t been an option for a long time now, long before he signed that paper that officially made him a pirate, but he still wants to travel the world. He wants to explore the islands of the Caribbean and then head to India and China, and maybe, if he’s lucky enough, back to Europe. He wants to finish his encyclopedia, and he wants to be with Dean for all of those things. But all those are long term dreams. There’s something else he needs to do first.

“I think I’m going to visit my parents.”

“Oh?” 

Castiel swallows. “My father—I don’t think he’ll like the news that I’m a pirate now, but I want them to know that I’m alive at the very least,” he says. “I want them to know that I’m happy, and I want—maybe Mom will want to keep in touch. Maybe she’ll read my letters if I promise to send them.”

Dean pulls away, heartbreak written across his features. “Shit, Cas. Your parents think you've been dead all this time?”

“I have to assume the Navy informed them I was abducted by pirates,” Castiel says.

“I—Fuck,” Dean stammers and squeezes Castiel in his arms just a bit tighter. “I’m so sorry. So fucking sorry. I should—I should have let you send a letter a long time ago, I should—”

“Dean, it’s fine,” Castiel says, though warmth fills every crevice of his body. Dean is kind and loving, and Castiel thinks that if he falls any more in love with him he’s going to burst. “I didn’t send a letter when I was free either. It was my choice.”

“But you…”

“I think my father would rather see me dead than a pirate,” he confesses. “Or with a man.”

Dean’s jaw clenches, fury painting his handsome features before he can school his expression. He doesn’t promise him that it’s going to be okay, and for that Castiel is eternally grateful.  “I’ll come with you,” Dean says instead. “And you know, even if your mom doesn’t want to—You’ll still have me. And Sammy,” he decides, nodding. “Bobby and Ellen will love to have you around, too. Jo might complain but she’s only joking. And you know you’re pretty much stuck with all the guys right? We’re your family, too, Cas.”

Castiel smiles, despite the bitterness souring his mood. “Thank you, Dean.”

 

October 7th, 1703

Early on a Sunday morning, Dean gives the signal. 

“Raise the anchor and hoist the sails,” he orders in his brilliant navy coat and tri-fold hat. “Lets get her out, lads.”

Chapter Text

October 18th, 1703

The Black Impala makes good time in travelling through the vast ocean. Her sails billow with the cool wind that pushes them towards their goal day after day as gulls fly above their heads.

They make as few stops as possible and buy the bare necessities. Food, rum, and water is the only thing they make sure they have plenty of on the ship other than weapons and cannon balls. They have to be in their top shape to pull through.

Dean says that Azazel has claimed a tiny island off the coast of Panama as his base, and that monsters are especially active in those waters. They don’t know what Lilith’s death means for all the monsters yet, but Bobby theorised that the only advantage they gained was that since the witch is dead, Azazel’s control on the monsters must have dwindled in the past few weeks. He’s sure they are still around and terrorizing ships and innocents, but he’s not sure all of them will answer Azazel’s call for help when the time comes. 

Castiel hopes none will—it will make their life so much easier if Azazel and his crew are the only threat they have to face—but Dean takes precautions for every case. While they travel, the Impala’s hull is reinforced with spells, and sigils are carved on every wall and beam inside the ship. Warding Castiel didn’t even know was there is strengthened, and spells are repeated daily to make sure the ship is as impenetrable to evil as possible. Cutlass swords and oil are carried to the jolly boats, and Gordon leads the men through drills of getting the small boats ready and into the water as fast as possible.

They’re as ready as they’ll ever be.

They reach a small port only a day away from their destination without trouble—no monsters attack them, and no Navy ship chases them, and the calm gets on Dean’s nerves. The waiting is the worst part of this mission, but their plan relies heavily on the timing of their attack, and so wait they must.

 

October 19th, 1703

It’s a moonless night when they make their move. They rely on the absence of light to cover their approache of the small islands where the Yellow Eyed Pirates are based, and hope the element of surprise is enough to give them the upper hand.

The Black Impala drifts under the cloudy night sky, the pirates on alert as they patrol the main deck. The island has only one port deep enough for ships to sail into, and it’s there Dean leads his ship. They sail parallel to the coast, constantly keeping an eye out for any sign of life on the island that might notice them and send a message back to Azazel warning of their approach, but so far they’ve been lucky. It seems Azazel is confident enough in his power to keep all his crew concentrated in one place.

The Impala follows the shape of the island, until the headland that separates the port from the Caribbean is just ahead of them.

Dean is up on the poop deck, having taken over the helm for today, and Gordon is by his side, spyglass glued to his hand. From the waist of the ship, Castiel watches as they approach the point of no return with steady speed. His heart dances nervously behind his ribcage, and it’s hard to keep the panic clawing its way up his throat from bursting out.

Soft footsteps come up to him, and Sam leans on the rail by his side. “This is it,” he says.

Castiel swallows, eyes glued to the dark. He tries to make out any movement among the trees they pass, or even the suggestion of a light, but everything is hidden in the shadows. “Do you think we can make it?”

Sam’s mouth presses into a thin line. It takes him a moment to answer. “I guess we’re going to find out soon.”

The call travels through the ship in hand signals and whispers that are barely audible over the sound of the waves. Get in positions. Be ready.

It’s like the world holds its breath. Time ticks by slowly, every second stretching out long enough to make the dull beat of Castiel’s pulse feel louder than a cannon shot. 

The Impala travels past the last stretch of land and rounds the corner. 

The bay stretches out in front of them, calm and serene. The shadows of Azazel’s fleet are barely visible in the darkness, but Castiel thinks he can count a few masts that have oil lanterns hanging from the crow's nests. They’re about a dozen, but to his great relief, all of them are small vessels, better suited for fast travel and shallow waters, and not war ships. Most of them look about three times the size of their jolly boats, with the largest one being no larger than Dean’s frigate. Azazel must be there.

Castiel can’t hear Dean’s hissed orders, but the men scramble to comply, tightening ropes and climbing the ratlines. No one has seen them yet. The quiet becomes like a chill that spreads through Castiel and seeps into his bones. Every gentle gust of wind brings them closer to their target.

The light on one of the crows nests moves. The Winchester Pirates freeze, all eyes following the light as it dances across the mast of the ship.

“Avast! Avast ye!”

The cry wakes up the ships, and spreads through the bay like fire on oil.

“Ship ahead!”

“All hands hoy! Ship ahead!”

“In we go!” Dean calls from the helm. Now that they’ve been discovered there’s no reason for them to keep quiet.

The night lights up in an instant, oil lanterns appearing on every ship, casting a warm glow over figures that rush about on the decks. Gun ports opening echo all around them, the steady thud thud thud of the lids hitting the hull of the ships drowning the rattle of the chains as they hurry to raise their anchors.

Gordon comes running down the stairs. “Full canvas,” he says, walking among the men. “Come on, do yer job, ye scallywags.” He stands on the bow of the Impala , just a few feet away from where Sam and Castiel are.

The men are running around, adjusting the sails as fast as they can, and Dean turns the helm with a swift motion that changes the ship’s course. They sail straight ahead, their sails filled with wind, their target being the largest ship in the bay.

“Ready on the guns,” Dean orders, and Sam breaks away from the railing. He joins the men running to the gun deck, leaving Castiel to tighten his hold on his sword and search for Jo among the chaos.

Azazel’s fleet hasn’t moved yet, but some of the ships have already started unravelling their sails, chasing the wind even as their anchors have yet to break the surface of the water. The smaller ships have all their guns on their sides, and as the Black Impala sails straight to them, her bulk hidden from them, they can do little but wait until the Winchester pirates are close enough to dare a shot.

Dean is not about to do the same.

“Fire,” Dean yells above the howl of the wind.

“Fire!” Gordon picks up the call.

“Fire!” Ash agrees, slapping his hand on Harry’s back. Sparks illuminate Harry’s pale face when he strikes the flint and steel. Castiel counts two heartbeats, and the chase gun fires, its boom filling the night with sulfur and burnt coal.

The cannonball hits the ship closest to them straight through the bow. Debris and splinters rain on the men of the smaller vessel, as they fight against time to turn their ship, keep her steady against the rocking of her hull that threatens to throw them overboard.

“Come on, maties,” Gordon says, urging Ash and Harry to ready the cannon for the second shot.

But now Azazel’s men have finally caught up with the Winchester pirates. Their ships have raised their anchors and are sailing straight for the Black Impala . They’re going to surround them, and if Dean doesn’t do anything to change their course, soon they’ll find themselves trapped between the enemy fire.

“Castiel!” Jo waves him over, pushed to the side as she keeps the path open for men to run towards the stern. “Are you coming?”

Castiel glances towards the poop deck. Dean is too busy commanding his men to spare a moment for him, but Castiel watches him all the same. He watches the long line of his neck, the way his eyes shine with determination, his fingers around the helm.

“Castiel,” Jo says again, and Castiel tears his eyes away. 

This is not the last time he’ll see Dean Winchester, he decides, before running after Jo and following her to the jolly boats. He boards one of the two boats along with Garth, Jo and Charlie, while the other boat has Arthur as her commander. 

“Good luck, me hearties,” Benny says and then releases the ropes that keep the boats hanging from the stern. Their descent is controlled but fast, and they land on the water with enough force that Castiel has to tighten his grip against the boat’s side or risk falling into the sea.

He barely has enough time to recover, or even feel the bite of the cold water as it rains on him and seeps under his clothes. He rows with all his might, Charlie keeping time for him and Garth, a relentless heave ho, heave ho , that is much faster than Castiel thought possible, and yet they’re keeping up. 

The two jolly boats follow different courses, separating to surround the Impala from both sides. On their boat, Jo hangs from one of the new guns Ash brought on the Impala . Four guns in total were built, two on the gun deck, and one on each of the jolly boats, each almost as large as a man. At first Castiel had thought it’d be impossible to have a weapon on such a small boat, but this one is slimmer and lighter, and needs no cannon balls. If everything goes according to plan, this new weapon might be what gives them the advantage over Azazel.

“Faster, faster,” Jo urges, and Charlie picks up the pace.

Castiel grits his teeth, ignores the burning of his muscles and pushes on faster. Next to them, the Impala loses some of her speed, allowing them to gain a head start so they quickly catch up to her bow. 

Waves hit them from both sides as ships come at them from every direction, and Charlie is now struggling to open the barrels they're carrying.

"Do you need help?" Garth asks between grunts.

"Just keep doing your job," Charlie says, grabbing a knife she keeps hidden in her boot and jamming the end of it under the tap. The barrel opens with a pop , and she pushes the pipes that hang from the gun inside.

"Ready?" Jo asks over her shoulder, pushing the length of the gun around to aim at the ship coming straight at them.

Azazel's pirates bring their guns out, waiting for the moment they'll be close enough to aim. They curse and run up and down the ship, their antics as much to intimidate their enemies as to hype themselves for the battle.

Charlie grins. "Fire in the hole!"

Jo presses her foot on the pump on the base of the gun that keeps it screwed to the front of the boat, and the world becomes illuminated in one hot, brilliant moment. Fire bursts out of the muzzle of the gun, accompanied by thunder and black smoke.The flames roll outwards and engulf the hull of the ship twenty yards ahead of them.

The heat is stifling, and the smoke burns its way down Castiel’s throat, but he keeps rowing. He ignores the way his skin stings and his blood boils, and doesn’t think about his eyes watering against the bright explosion in front of him. 

The fire licks its way up the hull of the ship, quickly spreading across the port, as a gust of wind carries embers and cinders, makes them whirl about high in the sky until some of them land on the sails, where the fire starts anew. The Yellow Eyed pirates yell and scream for their lives even as they abandon their burning ship. 

Through the smoke and the smoldering flash of the fire gun turning its fury against the next target, Castiel sees figures almost completely engulfed in flames jumping to the sea. But as soon as a burning body hits the water, the fire, instead of disappearing, stays floating on the surface. There’s a fire path on the surface of the sea, too, signalling the direction from which the blaze attacked the ship the first time Jo used her weapon. Anyone that will try to get through will only manage to join the fiery pillar that is Azazel’s small ship. Ash used the same honey-like oil they use for hunting as the fuel for his new weapon, making it as deadly as possible.

An explosion of fire and smoke lights up the sky on the other side of the Impala as Arthur puts his own gun to use, and the Winchester Pirates break out in loud cheers. Even as Jo and Ketch spread disaster to any ship that tries to get close to them, Dean leads his frigate through the carnage, pushes her to go faster. The chase gun fires again and hits the ship ahead straight through the main mast, sending it tumbling down and crushing any man not quick enough to get out of its way. 

The smaller vessels use their size to navigate through the flames, and three of them manage to surround the Impala . Their cannons are ready for use, and they aim to sink the frigate as soon as they can. 

“Fire all!” Gordon yells, and the men pick up the call, until the whole night echoes with the voices of the Winchester Pirates.

The fireguns on the ship—each twice the size of the ones they have on the boats—go off at the same time. The flames fly above Castiel's head, casting the whole world in red-hot shadows and orange light that drowns out everything else, as smoke hides the dark sky above. The whole world is on fire; the very air that Castiel is breathing is boiling. 

Azazel's fleet has fallen for the same trap they tried to use on the Black Impala , and as the small ships go up in flames and smoke, Benny gives the call for the cannons to go off and finish the job. The earth-shaking blasts ring in Castiel's ears long and drawn out, even after the cannonballs have found their targets, and the ships are quickly taking water in.

Charlie has dirt and oil smudged across her face from changing the barrels that feed the fire gun, and she spins around, hair tousled and scorching even against the fiery backdrop, to yell above the roar of the fire and the cannons: “Turn the other way!” She points towards the Impala , which has now changed direction to avoid the fiery paths and is coming straight at them.

“Fuck,” is all Garth has the time to say before inhaling too much smoke and choking on it. 

“Heave ho,” Castiel counts, and their endless rowing starts anew, swift and desperate to get out of Dean’s way, fighting against the thick wall of smouldering heat that threatens to burn their lungs. 

The fire blazes across the bay, licking the bottoms of the ships unfortunate enough to have been caught in its clutches, hungrily climbing up ropes and masts and sails. With his heart in his throat, Castiel watches as the world cracks and melts, and the embers reach higher and higher, until he’s sure people in Panama can see them. And still he keeps rowing.

They row through the smouldering hell, follow the path Dean sets with the Impala , them by the starboard, Ketch by the larboard, and together they push through to the center of the Yellow Eyed fleet. Or what’s left of it. Half of the small vessels are nothing more but empty carcasses consumed in the flames left in the wake of the Winchester Pirates. Their liquid fire worked exactly as it was supposed to, and for the first time since they’d gotten the map back from Crowley, Castiel allows his heart to unclench just a bit. Maybe they really can pull this off without casualties.

Azazel’s four remaining ships reorganize themselves. They change course and put themselves directly between the Impala and Azazel’s Flagship, her name written with gold, loopy letters on both sides of her stern—the Prince of Hell .

The Prince of Hell keeps her ground, all cannons ready to aim and fire, as the smaller ships let their sails billow and start their attack head on. 

The Black Impala fires her chase gun, but in her maneuvering through the fire she misses, the cannonball flying too high and to the left, hitting the surface of the water and disappearing in the murky depths of the bay.

The Yellow Eyed fleet's plan becomes apparent quickly, as the ships separate into two teams of two, trying to sail on either side of the Impala and surround her, much like the other ships have done, but this time, the ships sail parallel to each other, so that one remains always hidden from the Impala's fireguns on both sides. They'll sacrifice their ships and their men to send the Winchester Pirates to Davy Jones' Locker.

Gordon raises a black flag from the stern, and Jo turns to them as soon as she sees the signal. "Break away from the ship," she says, coughing through the smoke. "Don't let them trap us, we have to go all the way around them."

"We'll never make it," Charlie says, her face a mirror of the desperation on Garth's and Castiel's faces.

"We will," Jo insists, grabbing her from the shoulders and spinning her around, pushing her towards the others. "Grab the extra oars and help them."

It's a fight against time and wind. Azazel's ships are larger and faster, and they lose none of their time trying to attack the Black Impala when they know they have to take out the jollyboats as well. Cannons turn in their direction, and it's only by chance that the first hit misses them. The waves crash relentlessly against their small frame, rocking their boat from side to side and making it almost impossible to use their oars to escape. 

Jo twists the fire gun and pushes her foot on the pump.

"What are you doing?" Garth asks, horrified, eyes glued to her low aim.

"Watch and learn," she says, gritting her teeth, as she guides the fire towards the water instead of towards the ships.

Castiel wants to yell at her, shake her and point towards where the enemy really is, but then the fire floats on the water, and fueled by Jo’s gun, grows taller and larger and hides them from their enemies. Jo hides them behind a wall of flames and heat, and now Azazel’s men are firing blindly. The cannonballs keep raining down on them, but they’re too far away to cause them any trouble.

Cheering, Jo keeps the fire burning in front of them, as the other three push their muscles to their limits and row faster and faster. Unlike the larger ships that can only fire from their sides, the fireguns on the jollyboats are fastened on a flexible joint that lets Jo direct the flame at whichever direction she wants. They don’t need to outrun the ships by much, only get close enough to start their attack.

The boom of thunder fills the night as the fireguns on the Impala fire again, but it seems Dean is not about to sit and fight with the small fry. He keeps the Impala steady on her course and sails straight towards the Prince of Hell . They’re going to sail right through the other ship unless Dean slows down or Azazel starts firing his cannons.

But Azazel has other plans.

Castiel rows and rows, sweat beading on his forehead, skin blistering under the blazing heat of the fire all around him. He has no time to look where he is going apart from keeping an eye on the ships around him. Their boat falls head first on something solid and small. The crash makes the boat jerk, makes Castiel stumble and fall forward on Garth, his hold on the oar loosening. The oar slips from his hand and falls into the sea, but that’s the least of their problems.

Castiel pulls himself up, a palm pressed to the side of his head where he can feel a bump forming, and he sees Jo, bruised and fallen as she is over the fire gun, gaping at something behind him.

Castiel turns to look. Through the curling smoke, he can make out the shape of it, twisting and rising, long and lithe, a dark shadow that emerges from the water. 

"Shit," Charlie curses somewhere behind Castiel, as Jo fumbles to turn the gun around.

The shadow attacks. The teeth break through the smoke first, followed by the jaws and a scaly head, lightning fast as it charges for them. 

They all jump to the side of the boats, colliding against the railings as they try to run away from the sea serpent, but they are not fast enough. The sea serpent sinks its teeth into Garth’s ankle, a pained sob escaping him as he kicks with his free leg, trying to get free.

Castiel has his cutlass in his hands before he realises it. He brings it down on the sea serpent’s neck, slicing cleanly through it, and the severed head releases Garth. Their victory, however is short lived. In the place of the old head, two more sprout out, their necks longer, their heads bigger than before. Its eyes spark with threat as it opens one of its two mouths and roars.

More serpents appear out of the water. They're everywhere now—all smaller than the one they'd faced in the Bermuda, but still just as threatening.  

Castiel raises his sword again, but this time his arms feel heavy and slow.

The poison, he realises. The smoke must have covered the foul smell and kept them from realising Azazel called the sea serpents to his aid, but more importantly, it made them forget about the poison. The monsters haven't been around long enough for it to be potent, so hallucinations are still not a threat, but Castiel feels drowsy, like a cotton blanket has been thrown over his mind. 

Next to him, Garth and Charlie are no better. Only Jo is still lucid enough to manhandle the gun to the right direction. But her movements are tired, and the monster attacks before she has the time to press the pump. 

Castiel jumps towards Garth, pushing him away as the head hits the bottom of the boat. It rises again, shaking but angry. Castiel prepares his sword, praying he’ll be fast enough to kill it.

Both heads attack now. 

Castiel leans back, no time to see how Garth fares with the second head, its teeth barely scratching his shoulder as the bite misses its target, and the neck extends thick and muscular in front of Castiel.

Castiel slashes at it, but the awkward angle means the sword doesn't cut through the bone. It only succeeds in pissing the serpent off.

"Heads down," Jo says, and Castiel drops to the bottom of the boat on instinct. Smoke and thunder overwhelm all his senses, before he feels the fire above him, flames licking his skin, burning the tiny hairs on his forearms when he throws them over his head to try and protect himself. Trembling and blinded by the bright flash, Castiel curls in on himself and counts his shaky breaths. He reaches twenty before the blazing heat above him eases, and the next mouthful of air he takes in doesn't try to melt his insides.

He raises his head.

The monster tosses and turns, tries to shake the fire off, but it keeps burning. The smell of burnt flesh fills the air. The monster collapses into the water.

Somewhere behind him, Charlie cries out. "Holy shit!"

Castiel turns around, just in time to see part of the Black Impala's poop deck being destroyed by a cannonball. His blood runs cold. 

Dean was up there. 

He scrambles to the side of the boat, hands clutching the edge of it in white-knuckled terror. This can't be happening. It can't be.

Jo pushes the oars back into Garth's hand. "We have to go."

Castiel can't tear his eyes away. He watches what remains of the poop deck, trying to make out any figures up there, cursing himself for not remembering how far back the helm was. The front part of the deck and much of the back is intact, so there's still a chance…

"Castiel," Jo says again. "They need us. Look."

As if in a dream, Castiel lets his eyes glide over the Impala , over the men running to keep her going, over the fire guns he knows are operated by Sam and Benny, and finally he sees what he should have been worried about all along: red tentacles climbing up the hull of the ship, making her creak as they tighten their hold and threaten to break her in two.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," Garth chants, panting in his haste to row back towards the Impala , but one of Azazel's ship is in their way. 

Castiel steps over Garth and Charlie rowing for their life and grabs Jo's elbow, desperate. "We have to help them." They can't let the kraken sink the ship. As long as the ship is still floating Dean has a chance of being alive. They have to get to them. They have to kill the kraken.

Jo's mouth is a tight line as he directs the flame to scare the other ship away. "I know, Cas, I— "

Her sentence is cut short by something breaking the surface of the sea with a splash, water raining down on them. A three-headed serpent stands before them, roaring, its poison tainting the water around it. Jo turns the gun towards it, but it jumps into the water and disappears.

All four of them stand still, swords ready, trying to make out its shadow through the smoke and the poisoned water. When Castiel sees it, it's too late.

It's tail comes up, curling above their heads before coming down on them, hitting the boat and splitting it down in the middle. The two parts are thrown in the air with the force of the impact, and he loses the floor under his feet, falling into the poisoned sea.

Castiel goes under.

Chapter Text

Castiel is sinking. 

The water is pitch-black around him, the surface lost to him as he kicks and struggles to push himself back up. He doesn’t know which way is back up. The water closes in around him, chills him to the bone, fills him with dread. His entire body throbbing, desperate for oxygen, Castiel swims against the tide pulling him in.

Panic blinds him. 

He can't see the surface. He can't see the boat. He can't see the others either. And he needs to breathe. His lungs are burning. The poisoned water makes his skin itch, sting. He needs to get out of it. He needs to get away from the poison. 

He kicks again, feeling the water pushing against him, trying to slither its way inside his mouth and his nose. He won't inhale, he won't.

With a final kick, his head breaks out of the water, mouth open, hungrily gulping the air in. The roar of the battle engulfs him again, the fire blinds him, and the smoke makes his eyes water. He's alive. But he can't stop swimming, not yet.

What remains of their boat is floating to his side. He can reach it easily, but Castiel stays where he is, looks around him, tries to make out any heads poking out of the water close to him. Where are the others?

"Cas?" 

The voice is weak. Tired.

Castiel swims towards it, towards the boat, trying not to think about all the serpents that are prowling in the waters around him. The dark waters both unsettle him and reassure him. He can't make out anything under him so there's no point in trying. He has to focus on getting to the boat, but anything could be right next to him and he'd never know.

By some miracle, he reaches the boat without anything biting him or yanking him to the bottom. Clinging to it, wet and shaking, is Charlie, her hair fanning out in the water behind her. "Cas, thank God. Where are the others?"

Throwing a hand over her, Castiel pulls them both against the boat. “I don’t know.”

They’re alone in the middle of the battle as far as he can see, too far away from the Impala to help them, or ask for help, and Arthur’s jollyboat is nowhere to be seen. The poison in the water and in the air makes him sluggish and tired, but he has to stay awake.

The Kraken still has its tentacles around Dean’s frigate, using its hold to climb up the hull, its giant head just now peeking out of the water. The Impala is not going to hold on for much longer, Castiel can see that even from where he is.

Dean. He needs to get to Dean.

A series of cannon shots join the thunderous cacophony that fills the small bay—warning shots that fly high above their heads and even further back from the Prince of Hell . Four galleons come rushing to join the battle, their waists weighed down with men swinging their swords and guns high in the air.

Red flags dance through the smoke.

"We have to move," Castiel says, even as Charlie is turning her head around, searching for somewhere safe for them to swim to. There's nothing but fire and enemy ships around them, serpents and monsters probably under them. 

And then Castiel sees them—Jo and Garth, kneeling on the carcass of a serpent that floats a few yards away from them. They both have their hands cupped around their mouths, lips forming words that can't reach Castiel. The message is still clear. Get out of the water.  

"You think you can make it?” 

Charlie swallows. “Do I have a choice?”

On the count of three, they push away from the boat, swim as fast as they can. Charlie is right next to him, but she’s not as fast a swimmer as he is, and Castiel has to slow down to make sure she’s following. With a startled cry, Charlie is yanked into the water.

Castiel dives after her. The darkness envelopes him again, but they’re close to each other. He can make out her hand, extended upwards, a plea for help. Castiel grabs her wrist and pulls, but he’s not strong enough, he can’t hold her. The monster will drown both of them.

Their descent abruptly stops. Castiel doesn’t realize the monster has released Charlie until it’s her pulling him towards the surface. He swallows water on his way up, the poison burning its way down his throat. There are figures rippling through the murky water, but he can’t be sure if they are monsters or hallucinations any more. 

He can't move his arms. He wants to, he wants to help Charlie and swim to the surface, but his body refuses to cooperate. He's deadweight, and yet, Charlie wraps an arm around his torso, pulls him tight against her and kicks harder. When they make it out, she holds his head high above the water. 

Everything burns. The ships, the sea, the world, Castiel. And there are hands on him. Not just Charlie's, but many hands. They tug at him, pull him and lift him up until he's out of the water. 

Is he okay?

The voices are distant.

How much water did he swallow?

The sky's swimming.

Help me turn him over.

The hands are on him again. They pull him, roll him to the side. Castiel doesn't fight them. There are shadows dancing at the edge of his vision. He wants to see Dean.

Someone forces his mouth open, fingers are shoved deep into his throat until Castiel is retching, now pushing himself around on his own to help his stomach empty its contents. 

It feels like an eternity has passed. The next time he blinks his eyes open, Jo is frowning down at him. "Are you back with us, Doc?"

"What— ?"

"Drink this," she says, shoving a small vial in his hand. "Go on."

His hands are trembling, and Garth has to help him open the vial, but the golden liquid runs down his throat cool and soothing. The fog covering his brain eases its hold.

"You carry—ser—serpent antidote with you?" Castiel asks between fits of cough.

"Of course I do, I'm a hunter," Jo says, tossing her hair over her shoulder.

They are on the back of a dead serpent, Garth rubbing circles between Castiel's shoulder blades, Charlie kneeling next to him. The scales feel cold and rough under Castiel’s hands. 

They watch as one of the galleons fires another shot, and this time it finds its target, hitting the kraken straight through the head. 

The monster untangles its tentacles, blood quickly blossoming in the water around the Impala , but it’s not dead yet. The round shot was not made of iron, and though it managed to piss the kraken off and wound it, it won’t kill it. 

The Winchester Pirates see the opportunity and seize it. Their fire gun, now unhindered, loads and discharges, the flames raining down on the kraken. Fire is good, but again only a distraction, and soon it’s the cannons’ turn. Round shots hit the kraken, red-hot and blazing, all heated before being loaded into the cannon. It’s the Winchester Pirates’ ultimate weapon—iron and fire.

The distressed howl of the kraken going down still rings in Castiel ears long after its body has sank to the bottom of the bay. And it’s not just the kraken, but plenty of serpents and men, too, all lost to this battle. Soon, the waters will be too overrun with scavengers to even try swimming. 

Castiel glances at Jo and the deep frown etched between her brows. She gazes back, eyes tight, and just like that, Castiel knows they are thinking the same thing. They need to find a way off this corpse and fast.

Azazel’s smaller ships have almost been entirely destroyed by now, with a lone survivor trying her luck against one of the newcomers, but it’s clear the countdown has already begun for her. A chain shot wrecks her main mast, but Castiel doesn’t know what happens to her, for one of the galleons sails close to them and obscures her from his view.

The serpent's body rocks with the ship's wake, almost turning over and tossing all four of them back into the water. They hold on, wet and exhausted and still too far away from the  Impala and Dean.

Before Castiel has any more time to think about all the ways Dean could be hurt—or worse—by now, a ladder drops from the waist of the galleon sailing by them.

"Come on then," one of the pirates calls. "Don't be shy."

Jo hesitates, and she's right to; just because these pirates have the same target as the Winchesters doesn’t mean they won’t kill Castiel, Jo and the others just as readily as the enemy. There's no time for thinking, though, and Castiel is desperate enough to get back to the Black Impala that he will grasp any hand that extends his way.

He grabs the ladder and is the first to start climbing, Charlie right behind him. Jo and Garth have no choice but to follow—with all the fires around them, the back of a floating corpse won't be safe for long.

“Hello, boys.” 

Crowley has recovered his ornate wig, and numerous jeweled rings cover his fingers as he stands before them. He raises an eyebrow at Charlie climbing over the railing behind Castiel. “And lasses, I suppose,” he adds. 

“Crowley,” Castiel acknowledges him, but he’s already pushing past the captain, eyes glued to where the Impala has left behind her nothing more than burning shipwrecks and is about to engage with the Prince of Hell .

Jo’s voice sounds more distant to him than the chase gun of Dean’s frigate. “Crowley, what are you doing here?”

Azazel is not ready to go down yet. Serpents start gathering between the Impala and the Prince of Hell , hitting their bodies against the belly of the ship and under it, rocking her with every blow and threatening to capsize her. 

“I owed Winchester a favour,” Crowley says, somewhere behind Castiel. “And that old man called it in a few days ago. You should be thanking me, really.”

“Turn her around,” Castiel says, spinning to face the shorter man. “Turn her around, we have to help Dean.”

“It’s what we’re doing,” Crowley points out, gesturing to his men running up and down the deck, ropes hanging from their shoulders, hands weighed down with cannonballs. And yet each of them has a moment to spare to turn his head and stare at the newcomers. Specifically, Jo and Charlie.

Castiel doesn’t have a moment to spare, however. Dean needs his help. “Take us to the Impala .”

“Impatient much?” Crowley asks, head cocked to the side, but  the next moment he’s turned around and barking out orders for sails to be released and their course to be changed. Slowly, torturously slowly, the galleon—named Juliet —turns, her bow now pointing to the Prince of Hell . If nothing gets in her way, Juliet will sail right between the Black Impala and Azazel’s flagship.

All three of Crowley's galleons have a single target now, all other ships destroyed but for Azazel's flagship. It seems almost unfair, the entire power of the Winchesters and Crowley against a single ship, but Castiel knows that destroying the Yellow Eyed Fleet and sinking the Prince of Hell is not enough. They have to kill Azazel, and there's only one way to do that.

While the Impala is busy fighting the serpents, the Prince of Hell moves at last. Cannons ready, she sails to the Impala's starboard. If Castiel closes his eyes, he can almost see the men on both sides fighting against time to be the first to fire. 

It's the Yellow Eyed Pirates that grasp the advantage right out of Dean's hands. Their guns fire a split second sooner, and the main deck on the Impala explodes with smoke and debris.

Castiel yells himself hoarse: for Crowley to hurry up, for his men fighting to their death, for Dean to still be alive. Around him, people run. Jo, Garth and Charlie have joined Crowley’s men, giving their all for the fight, yelling directions on how to best deal with the serpents all around them. All Castiel can do is stand rooted by the bow. And wait. Wait for them to get close enough to be able to be of help.

Under Crowley’s command, Juliet is the first of the three galleons to reach the battle. They use their size to trap the Prince of Hell , so that Azazel can’t escape without having to fight all four ships, but by then the Black Impala is bleeding— her starboard is peppered with holes, her mizzenmast hanging halfheartedly off the ship. The poop deck and the captain’s quarters are completely gone now, and something heavy coils inside Castiel.

But the Winchester pirates are not ready to give up the fight yet. They push their ship, bloodied and broken, and they bring her closer to the Prince of Hell . They use all they have, though much of their ammunition has already been spent. And then the ropes unfurl.

“Ready the guns,” Crowley is ordering.

Castiel’s mouth comes up dry. He realises what’s going to happen at the same time Crowley raises his hand, calling, “Fire all!”

“No!” Castiel yells, desperate, throwing himself on Crowley.

Hands grab him. They pull him off, throw him on the deck. Castiel lifts his head to find a dozen swords pointed at him. But the cannons haven’t fired yet.

“You can’t fire at Azazel now,” Castiel says.

“They’re boarding the ship,” Jo says, a hand over her mouth, eyes fixed on the Winchester pirates as they use hooks to tie the two ships together. The pirates climb boards, swing across and jump when they think they’re close enough, while from the starboard of the Prince of Hell , Arthur’s boat tries to get close enough to climb up. “You’ll kill them if you fire at Azazel now.”

Crowley’s mouth curls, but he gestures for his men to step down. “We’re going to overrun them, then,” he decides, and new orders are being thrown around in a matter of seconds.

Juliet follows the Impala’s example. Crowley’s men use ropes with hooks attached to their ends to get a grip on the other ship. They unsheath their swords and wave their guns around, ready to join the Winchester pirates already fighting on the Prince of Hell’s deck, but Castiel sees a figure in a familiar navy doublet push through the chaos and the bloodshed, watching as the man disappears down a ladder, deep inside the ship’s belly. He can’t wait any more.

It’s still too far, but Castiel grabs one of the ropes Crowley’s men have hung from their mast. He runs with it in his hand to the other side of the ship. Takes a breath. Then he runs back towards the railing, never stopping, never slowing down, and he jumps over. Over the rail and over the crimson sea. He swings over, the rope burning his palms as he tries to hold on, the cries of Jo and Charlie left behind him.

For a moment he is blind. Smoke and ashes makes his eyes sting, but then he’s through. He sees the deck coming closer, sees the battle, a blur of swords and blood. In the next second, he’s no longer holding onto the rope. He’s flying through the air, fingers grasping for something to hold onto.

He barely makes it, but his feet find solid ground, the impact vibrating up to his knees. He’s on the Prince of Hell .

A pirate is on him. His sword flashes with the light of the sails burning above them. Castiel doesn't have the time to dodge. He raises an arm above his head on instinct, eyes closed, the thought not yet, not like this, and I have to find Dean replaying in his mind.

Blade clashes with blade. The ringing sound of metal hitting metal again and again forces Castiel to open his eyes. 

Benny is in front of him, grunting as he meets each of his opponent's attacks with his cutlass, pushing him back. "Nice entrance there, Doc," he says.

Castiel unsheathes his sword, side steps Benny. He dances out of the Yellow Eye pirate's reach, who is too busy trying to keep up with Benny to really defend himself against a second opponent. Castiel's blade slides into his belly with little resistance, too easy for Castiel's comfort, like the man is made of butter instead of meat and bone and everything that makes him human, but then the sword is sliding out, blood dripping from its edge, and Castiel doesn't have the time to think about how he's a killer now. 

Behind him, more pirates use the ropes to land on the deck. Jo, Charlie and Garth are among them, Castiel is sure, but he doesn’t have the time to linger. There are more pirates coming for them, and he still needs to find Dean.

It's hard to tell who is who in the chaos and the darkness, and even harder to tell the Yellow Eyed Pirates apart from Crowley's men. Castiel just keeps his sword ready and only defends himself, never attacking first. He pushes through the fighting, steps over the bodies and the blood pooling on the deck, and there! The ladder Dean used. 

He’s almost there when a hand lands on his shoulder, and Castiel is spun around.

“Cas,’’ Sam says.

He has blood spluttered across his forehead and a deep cut high on his forearm that is still bleeding, but he’s alive. Castiel would hug him right now if he didn’t have to go. 

“Dean is down there,” he says, struggling out of Sam’s hold.

Sam nods. “I know.” He releases Castiel and leads the way.

The belly of the ship is suspiciously empty, the gun deck abandoned. The lamp lights are scarce, but the Black Impala managed a few holes on the hull of the ship and light comes pouring in from the fires still burning outside. Orange shadows dance across cannons and barrels. They stretch over dropped ropes and overturned crates.

“They’re all up on the main deck,” Sam says, voice lowered. He walks ahead, steps carefully among the bits and pieces left on the floor, his blade always ready.

Castiel nods. “They’re being overrun by two different crews; they don’t have the manpower to hold the main deck and operate the cannons at the same time. Lucky for us.”

They walk through the gun deck, and though neither of the two says it, they both know where they’re headed. The captain’s quarters.

Unlike the Impala , the main deck of the Prince of Hell is all flat, with no poop deck to house the captain. So the captain's quarters have to be on the gun deck, in the stern, just ahead of where they are. That was Dean’s goal most likely.

There’s a strip of light on the floor, stretching out before them. They step around it, careful to keep quiet as they head deeper inside the belly of the ship. A door is left half-open.

Something crashes inside the room. The groans of a fight travel down to Castiel and Sam.

Sam is the first through the door, his large frame hiding much of what’s going on inside the room, but over his shoulder, Castiel can see the stern windows broken. A jolly boat, hanging from ropes behind the windows, rocks gently with the movement of the ship. 

Sam yells, “Dean!” while he rushes through the door, and Castiel is right on his heels. 

There is Dean, dirty and bloodied but alive—Castiel’s heart skips a beat—standing between the stern window and a man—Azazel. Dean stopped him before he could escape.

Azazel checks over his shoulder with eyes the color of jaundice, lips curling up in a smirk under his long beard. “So ye’ve got company,” he says to Dean, facing Sam as he circles the room with his back to the wall. “Good.” His eyes fall briefly on Castiel, but he doesn’t look in the least bit worried. He stands with his shoulders squared, hands relaxed at his side, nowhere near the four guns he has strapped on the sash he wears shoulder to hip over his heavy woolen coat.

Dean spares a glance for his brother and Castiel. He swallows. He didn’t want them here, Castiel already knows that, but he’s not going to let Dean face the strongest man alive on his own.

Azazel opens his arm in a "well" motion. “Let’s see what ye’ve got.”

Dean moves first, hand moving to the gun strapped to his hip—the Colt. “Bite me,” he growls.

At the same time, Sam lunges at Azazel, firmly holding his sword over his head. He goes for a diagonal cut, teeth bared.

Azazel snorts and easily dodges, sliding away, and uses Sam’s momentum against him to land a punch to his stomach that makes him double over. 

Dean has the Colt ready, but Sam’s in the way now. “Sammy,” he yells, glancing between his brother and his lover. 

Castiel sees the indecision in his eyes and jumps into action. Adrenaline making his fingers tingle, he swings his sword at Azazel, who draws his blade lightning fast and matches each and every one of Castiel’s hits with ease. 

“I’m bored,” Yellow Eyes complains, faking a yawn, then steps forward, pressuring Castiel with his speed and force. He’s playing with them.

But Castiel’s goal is accomplished. He’s pushed Azazel away from Sam, and Dean has a clear target now.

The gun cocks with a clack. Dean smirks with a devilish grin.

Azazel’s eyes widen. 

Dean fires, the gunshot like thunder inside the cabin, but he misses. Azazel spins out of the way at the last moment, the bullet only grazing his shoulder. A shot wasted. Castiel doesn’t dare to think how many they have left.

“Bilge-sucking fucker,” Azazel curses, mouth twisting under his beard.

Sweat forming on his forehead, Dean has the next round in his finger and is fumbling to load the Colt again. But he needs time.  

Sam, recovered from the blow that almost brought him to his knees, twists around and attacks with a cry. He extends his sword in a stab with all the stupid bravado of his age.

Azazel is already waiting for him. “Not so fast, ye scallywag.”

He meets Sam’s blow with the flat of his blade, pushes back with enough force to throw Sam on Dean and send them both reeling to the floor, before spinning and slashing at Castiel, first high, then horizontally. It’s a dance, fast and unrelenting and unpredictable. 

The Colt falls from Dean’s hand. It slides away, almost to the edge of the room where floor becomes air. Sam and Dean both scramble for it.

Castiel barely avoids Azazel's slashes, the exertion of the fight finally catching up to him. His legs are heavier, his breaths panting. But he can’t let it get to him. He keeps bringing his sword up every time, blades bound together in an endless battle for dominance.

Pirates don’t play fair, though. Azazel draws his gun with the left hand, fires at Castiel, who drops to the floor to dodge it, before turning to aim for Dean.

"Dean, look out," Sam says, pushing his brother out of the way, but Dean is struggling to get in front of Sam, take the bullet if it means keeping him alive.

“Just stay down, you idiot,” Dean says, pushing his chest out, a hand thrown in front of Sam desperately.

Castiel barely reaches Azazel in time, wrapping an arm around his feet and throwing his balance off.

The bullet ricochets off a lantern hanging by the window, hitting the wall.

“You take care of that!” Sam gets a good grip on Dean's clothes, pulls him away and towards the Colt. 

“Enough.” Azazel kicks Castiel away, and Castiel can taste blood in his mouth. His head is swimming.

Yellow Eyes grabs another gun from his sash, but Sam is on his feet. He has a knife in his hand, plunges it into Azazel's chest, putting all his weight behind it until the hilt touches skin.

Castiel watches with horror as Azazel raises an eyebrow at Sam. There’s not even a hint of sweat on his forehead. Or blood on his shirt.

Sam’s face falls, determination melting into horror. Then pain. And a rattling grunt. 

Azazel’s sword comes out Sam’s back, crimson and wet.

“No!” Dean yells, torn between reaching for his brother or reaching for the Colt. 

Yellow Eyes pushes Sam off his sword, tosses him to the floor like a broken rag doll. He uses his sleeve to clean the blood off his blade.

“Now. Where were we?” he asks Dean, yellow eyes shining with amusement. 

Castiel is on Sam’s side immediately, examining the wound low on his stomach. “It’s okay. Let me see. Just let me see. It’s going to be okay,” he tries to reassure him, but his heart drops to his stomach when he finally manages to pry Sam’s hands away.

Sam needs surgery, and he needs someone to keep constant pressure on his wound until then to keep him from bleeding out. He doesn’t have much time. 

But Dean has even less. He’s too far away from the Colt, and Azazel is already raising his gun.

“No,” Sam manages, eyes stuck to his brother. Then to Castiel, pleading. 

Castiel has Sam’s blood on his hands, Sam’s ragged breath stuck to his ears. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t do this again.

Dean needs him. 

He tears himself away from the younger Winchester, no time to think about the pool of blood that is quickly forming under him, no time to think about another young man whose life ended on Castiel’s table so many months ago, and he jumps on Azazel’s back. 

“What the—?”

The angle is awkward, and he’s forced to strike with his left hand, but his aim is true, and his sword plunges into Azazel’s shoulder. He twists, feeling the ligaments and muscles being torn apart.

Azazel growls, contorts his body in pain as he tries to wriggle free of Castiel’s grasp, tries to pass his gun to his other hand and finish the job. Castiel’s blow won’t kill him, not even slow him down that much. But it slows him down enough for Dean to dart towards the edge of the ship, grab the Colt and turn it on Azazel.

Castiel feels the gunshot in Azazel’s surprised step back, in the way his head snaps back as the bullet is lodged between his brows. He feels the last, wet breath that leaves Yellow Eyes’ chest before he collapses on the ground, taking Castiel with him.

It’s then that Castiel realizes that the ringing in his ears is from Dean crying out for Sam, and not from the gunshot.

Empty yellow eyes stare up at the ceiling, and Sam Winchester is dying in his brother’s arms.

Chapter Text

"Sammy. Sammy!" 

Dean is on his knees, both hands cupping Sam's face. When he pulls them away to twist around and search for Castiel, they leave bloody handprints behind.

“Cas, you have to help him, you have to— Cas—“

The Colt is left abandoned on the floor, Azazel growing colder and colder with every passing second a few feet away. Above them and all around them, the battle rages. The world has changed and no one has realized it yet. And for Dean and Castiel, the world might change yet again, unless Castiel can pull a miracle out of his ass.

He crawls to Sam, though he already knows there isn’t much he can do. Not without help and certainly not without his dressbox with his full equipment. Which is still on the Impala .

But this is a ship, too, Castiel realizes, with a sick bay. A plan forms in his mind. It’s crazy and depends purely on luck, but Sam’s skin is now a worrying shade of grey, lips blue around the edges as shock sets in. Castiel has to hurry.

And Dean needs to keep pressure on the wound while Castiel tries to save his brother.

“Here, help me,” he says, shedding the light coat that replaced the old Navy one and shoving it in Dean’s direction. “Keep it on the wound until I come back.”

He bursts out of the room, but before he starts searching for the sick bay, he heads back towards the main deck. He climbs up the ladder, and there! Harry is fighting with a man just a few feet away.

“Harry!” Castiel calls. And again. “Harry, over here!”

Harry catches a glimpse of Castiel from the corner of his eye, brings his sword down on his opponent and finishes him off. Then he’s running towards Castiel. “Doc, what’s wrong? Where’s Dean?”

“I need you and one more down in the captain’s quarters. The gun deck is empty, so hurry up,” he says, without any time for explanations.

But Harry gets it. He nods, before dashing through the bloodshed and the darkness of the night to find someone to help them.

Then it’s back down to the belly of the ship and searching. He’s lucky. Their sick bay is in the same position as the one on the Impala , and after a quick look around, he finds the surgeon’s dressbox tossed in a corner, presumably in the haste to get on the upper decks as the Winchester pirates boarded the ship.

Heart hammering inside his chest, he finds Dean still clutching that coat over the wound. Harry and Benny are by his side, hands hanging uselessly by their sides.

“Where were you?” Dean asks panicked.

Castiel ignores the question; the dress box that is dropped between them is answer enough.

He rummages through it, cursing at Azazel's surgeon for not keeping his salves and ointments organized alphabetically, but he finally comes up triumphantly. He pushes Dean out of the way.

There's no water to clean the wound, and so Castiel does his best by having Benny wipe the blood away with his bandana every now and then. 

First the scalpel in his hand. A deep breath. Castiel makes the incision bigger, and Harry has to physically restrain Dean from trying to stop him. 

Castiel understands. Dean only sees Castiel further hurting his brother. He doesn't know that Castiel needs space to see what needs doing. 

He goes to work, hands glistening with blood. Benny wipes, Castiel checks, stitches and stops the bleeding where he can. He treats the wound as quickly as he can, instructing Harry to find something they can use to dress it. Dean volunteers his tunic, shredding it to long pieces. There are salves and ointments and binding the wound tight. And then the only thing left to do is hope.

"Is he going to be okay?" Dean asks, checking over his brother who passed out a few seconds ago.

"I don't know," Castiel admits. "But we need to get him out of here." He gestures for Harry and Benny to help him, and they lift Sam between them. 

"Brother, we can't carry him through the battle," Benny points out.

Dean swallows, looking around them, and he finds the solution before Castiel can offer it. "So we don't," he says, and nods towards the boat Azazel wanted to use to escape. 

Castiel and Harry are the first to get in, before Dean and Benny manage to lift Sam high enough for them to pull inside the boat.

Castiel turns to offer his hand to Dean, help him in, too, but he shakes his head. "I need to finish this."

"You already did," Castiel says, extending his hand out stubbornly. "We won."

Benny and Harry don't seem as alarmed about Dean’s words as Castiel feels. “You won the battle, brother,” Benny says, a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “Now it’s time to win the war.”

Castiel looks between them, mouth hanging open. “Azazel was the war. He’s dead. We won.”

Dean shakes his head, regret etched into every line around his eyes. “We still have to deal with his men. I’m sorry.”

“But—” Castiel tries to protest, but Harry stops him with a gentle hand on his elbow. 

“Come on, Doc, we have work to do.”

Castiel feels like half of his brain has gone numb, and with it, any control he had over this situation. Any plan he had just minutes ago is completely forgotten in the face of another catastrophe: Dean is leaving him after all. Him and Sam both.

At least the others still have their wits about them and take over with everything that needs to be done. 

“I’ll go to the Impala , have a rope waiting for you when you reach her stern. Tie it on the boat and I’ll help lift it up,” Benny says, eyes at Dean for confirmation.

Dean gives it with a quick jerk of his head, something close to a nod but not quite. “Get the men on the Impala , too. You have to get her as far away from the Prince of Hell as you can. Crowley’s ships, too.”

“Should we wait for you?” Benny asks, and Castiel’s stomach drops.

Dean’s voice is grave when he says, “Give me ten minutes. Leave if I haven’t made it there by then.” 

Benny visibly steels himself, shoulders pushed back, but he doesn’t try to stop Dean. “Aye, Cap’n,” is all he says before turning and leaving the room to follow through with his orders.

Dean turns to Castiel.

Castiel feels his mouth turn into an ugly curl, no matter how much he tries to conceal his feelings. “You’re an ass.”

Dean huffs, something like a chuckle. “I didn’t think you’d understand.” He pushes forward, leaning out of the broken stern windows enough to make Castiel’s knees shake with fear, hands braced on the jolly boat’s side. 

He wants to tell him to go back in, where he’s at least safe from the cold water beneath them. He wants to pull him even closer and never let him go.

“Cas,” Dean says softly, like a single word can fix everything.

“You don’t have to do this, Dean.”

“You know I do. You just don’t want me to.”

Castiel’s eyes are stinging, tears threatening to fall, and this time it has nothing to do with the smoke. He lowers his head, hoping he can hide behind the trembling shadows. Next to him, Harry bends over Sam, pretending to check over him. Castiel is glad for the illusion of some privacy when Dean reaches with a hand, cups his cheek and forces him to gaze back at him.

“I have to go.”

Castiel brings his hand up, touches the back of Dean’s hand on his cheek. He slides his fingers under his palm and holds on, firmly. “You’ll come back.” Not a question, but an order. “You will come back to me.”

Dean grins, eyes shining. “Aye. I will. You just keep Sammy safe for me.”

And so Castiel surges forward, kisses Dean hard enough that Dean has to push himself back a bit. It’s fast and painful, lips against lips in a bruising embrace, and Castiel takes it, breathes Dean in like it’s the last time. For all he knows it might be. 

He’s the first one to break away, taking a deep breath to brace himself. Dean’s eyes are as green as ever, and Castiel could lose himself in them if only he allowed himself to. But he can’t. There’s Sam holding on to life by a thread behind him, and soon there’ll be Benny waiting for them at the Black Impala .

“I have to go.”

Dean nods, pushing away and back into the ship. “I’ll see you later.”

“Stay safe,” Castiel calls, as he and Harry lower the boat towards the sea, the pulleys that hold it up rolling ceaselessly to loosen the ropes.

They’ve barely touched water when they hear the call, spreading fast, louder and louder with every repeat until it overshadows the bang and clunk of the fight: “Abandon ship! Abandon ship!”

The waters seem eerily empty. No monster appears to cause any trouble, and Castiel guesses Azazel’s death must have played some role in that. They make it back to the Impala in a matter of minutes, muscles straining as they row as fast as they can. Benny’s already waiting for them when they reach the stern, and throws ropes for them to tie to both ends of the boat. Soon, they’re being hoisted up, thanking every God that might listen that the pulleys on the Impala were not destroyed in the kraken’s attack.

The poop deck has a large, gaping hole on the port side, through which Castiel can see the captain’s quarters, rubble and debris littering the floor. He swallows, fixing his grip on Sam’s feet, and lets Harry lead the way as they carry the injured man to the sick bay. He’s supposed to stay there and keep an eye on him, but Castiel can’t bear to wait around and not know if Dean made it out or not. Checking on Sam’s wound, he finds it still bleeding, though not as heavily as before. He makes his way up to the main deck again.

Chaos.

The Winchester pirates are scrambling back on board every way they can. Gordon has a hand on the ratlines, a foot on the rail and is screaming himself hoarse to get the men to move their farrgin’ asses. Anyone that makes it back starts providing cover for the others, pistols going off one after the other to keep the Yellow Eyes pirates’ heads down long enough to make their escape.

Castiel pushes through the crowd. He finds Benny with a gun in each hand, cursing at their enemies. He grabs Benny's shoulder. "Is he back yet?" 

Benny eyes him for a second, before turning his attention back to the battle. "D'ye see him anywhere?"

Pulse drumming inside his ears, Castiel walks alongside of the ship, eyes scanning the anarchy on the Prince of Hell . Very few of Crowley’s men are still fighting their way back to their ships and even less of the Winchester pirates. Dean is nowhere to be seen. How long has it been since Castiel left him in Azazel’s room? It can’t have been ten minutes yet. Maybe a little more than five?

Walking brings him back to Benny, who drops back, allows for Jo to take his place while he works to reload his guns. “He still has a few minutes. Don’t lose hope now, me matie.”

But it’s hard to keep his hopes up. Especially as with every passing second, less and less of their allies stay on the Prince of Hell . Soon, the Yellow Eyed pirates swarm to the sides of their ship, emboldened by the illusion of their victory. Why else would their opponents start pulling back all of a sudden? Castiel counts a minute and a half more, and now the Yellow Eyed pirates are trying to board the other ships to continue the massacre. 

Crowley’s galleons start moving.

They drift away, sails billowed by the night breeze and quickly gaining speed. The Winchester pirates are left to deal with Azazel’s remaining men on their own, vastly outnumbered and exhausted.

Gordon’s mouth tightens, and he looks over to Benny. They can’t wait any longer. 

Castiel wants to scream. He wants to grab them both and shake them. Dean’s ten minutes are not over yet, but even in his desperation he can see that the Black Impala won’t last long enough to wait out that ten minute mark. 

With a curt nod, Benny heads towards the helm.

“Get ready!” Gordon orders. “Cut and run!”

Jo whirls her head around, eyes scanning her crew. “Where’s Dean?”

“We don’t have time,” Gordon shoots back, already going down the deck, instructing the men to hold their position, keep it up long enough to get the ship ready to sail away. 

Castiel can taste ash in his mouth. 

There’s Jo’s blonde hair as she swirls around to go after Gordon. There’s the shrill cry of the Yellow Eyed pirates as they attack again. There’s Ash knocking into Castiel in his haste to get to the front, guns in his hands. 

There’s Charlie, locking eyes with him, then opening her mouth, and her desperate cry: “Wait! Wait!”

She is pointing somewhere on the other ship. Somewhere behind the pirates trying to murder them all. It’s Dean, dusty and stained, and making his way over.

The Winchester pirates rejoice. Until they realise that their captain is trapped on an enemy ship alone. Castiel is the first to start moving, but it’s Charlie who jumps back onto the enemy ship, cutlass swinging wildly around. Soon half of their crew is using every rope they haven’t cut to go back to the Prince of Hell , fight the Yellow Eyed Pirates and get their captain out of there.

Castiel lands on the deck with a thud, two men on him immediately. He leans out of the way before pressing back in, stabbing one through the stomach and then swiveling around to slash through chest and belly, his blade cutting easily through the second man. Garth is next to him, and they turn so they’re fighting back to back. 

It’s the Winchester pirates’ turn to use their newfound energy to corner their enemy. They fight with more force than before, encouraged by knowing they only have to hold on just a few more minutes. Just a few more. Only until Dean makes it back to their ship and they can get the hell out of here.

“We have to hurry up,” Dean calls as he goes on a path straight to Castiel instead of to the Impala . “I thought I told you to keep an eye on Sammy.”

“I only left him for five minutes,” Castiel answers, dealing the finishing blow to the pirate lunging for him. Dean side steps, a sword sliding down where he stood just seconds ago, before turning around and slitting the man’s throat. 

“We have to go.”

Garth stumbles, and Castiel grabs him by the arm, yanking him back up. They pull back, a mess of bodies crashing into each other in their haste to leave while still having to fight. Swords clink together, men scream, and they run.

Castiel crosses over first, Dean pushing him from behind to get him to hurry up. He turns around, extends his hand, waiting for Dean to follow him, but Dean hesitates. He glances behind him, and Castiel is ready to curse at him for not following his own orders, except he sees what stopped Dean in his tracks.

Garth has fallen, blood flowing from a slash over his ribs. He's squirming away from the pirate above him. Castiel can already see he's not fast enough. The pirate grins, a golden tooth flashing, and he brings his blade down.

Garth flinches back. 

Metal hits metal. 

Castiel exhales in relief, watching the pirate's sword bound with Dean's. It's a quick match, Dean easily disarming the man with a flick of his wrist before finishing him. And then they're running again, Dean dragging Garth along with him.

They're the last ones to cross over to the Black Impala before Gordon gives the call for the ship to sail away. 

Castiel has his arms around Dean the second his foot touches the main deck of the Impala . They don't have time for reunions, though. With one of their masts destroyed, the crew has to work extra hard to guide the ship away from the Prince of Hell , and they need their captain to guide them.

"How do we know they won't come after us?" Castiel asks just as Dean is pulling away.

Dean turns around, rolling his shoulders back, all confidence. "Because soon they'll realize their captain is dead, and they'll be like a headless chicken running around. But we still have work to do." 

Castiel lets Dean and the rest of the crew guide the Impala away from their enemy and far from the still-burning fires on the sea. He has work to do, too.

Sam is still unconscious when he gets to the sick bay, the smell of gunpowder and death clinging to his nose. With careful hands, he checks him over, making sure the wounds aren't still bleeding and his pulse steady. Sam lost a lot of blood, but Castiel hopes he'll pull through.

Now that he has his own dressbox, he can get to work again, make healing salves and a mixture of honey and plantain leaves that he can use later to help keep the wound from becoming infected.

He has the honey jar in his hands and is ready to open it when there's a thunderous explosion, and the world shakes all around him for a horrifying moment. With a quick glance at Sam—still breathing, still out cold—and he rushes back to the main deck.

The sight makes him almost miss a step. The Prince of Hell has gone up in flames, the whole ship standing out amidst the blazing sea like a pillar among pebbles. The last of Azazel’s men burn with it.

Stunned, he turns his face to find Dean standing just a few feet away. 

“What did you do?” he asks, approaching. 

Dean shrugs, flames reflected in the green of his eyes. “I ended it.”

“How?”

“With a long rope dipped in oil and all the gunpowder barrels I could find in their hold.”

Idiot, Castiel wants to tell him , what if we had left without you?

But he doesn’t say anything. He stands with Dean and watches the flames reaching for the sky.

 

October 20th, 1703

Dawn comes with a rosy dew that makes Castiel's skin feel sticky and irritates his nose.

Then comes the ash. Tiny grey particles, cotton soft, swirling with the morning breeze, like the first snow of early winter in England. It rains down on them, a constant reminder of last night. Like they could ever forget.

Last night is etched into every broken board of their ship, swings with all the empty hammocks Castiel passes by on his way to the sick bay to check on his men. The Winchester pirates arrived on this small island with a crew of almost thirty, and less than a dozen will be making the trip back.

He clutches the surgeon's log tight in his hand. He crossed out all the names just hours ago, when the pirates came to him with bleeding wounds and bullet holes in their bodies. He treated them all, thanking God that none of them were as critical as Sam, and praying that those that didn't make it can now rest in peace, knowing that the vast ocean is just that bit safer thanks to them. It'll take time, but they'll slowly heal.

The Black Impala couldn't make it far with all her damage, but the men pushed her until she sailed out of the bay, and let Crowley lead the way to a nearby beach where they could anchor and recover. With the high tide, Dean guides the ship towards the beach and lets her be grounded. When the tide falls away, the slow process of repair starts. 

The Winchester pirates move into one of Crowley's galleons for the time being, which he keeps anchored, along with the second one. The third he sends to the nearest town for provisions and materials. 

The day is lost to the whirlwind of work, as men climb up and down the hull of the ship inspecting her and patching up everything they can until Crowley's ship returns with what they need for the heavier damage. Crowley's surgeons take some weight off of Castiel's shoulders, helping him look after his men alongside theirs, and setting up a schedule so not all of them have to be down there the whole day. They give him time to rest and eat—if you can call resting and eating the few minutes of shuteye he gets while sitting by Sam's side around midday, and a plate of barely touched food going cold next to him.

He blinks awake to the sound of approaching footsteps. 

"Hey," Dean says softly, a gentle finger touching Castiel's skin. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's fine," Castiel says, trying to rub a knot out of his shoulder muscles. "How are things out there?"

Dean lowers himself on his heels, until they're eye to eye. The press of his finger becomes firmer, before falling away. "No monster in sight from what we can tell. Arthur took a jolly boat out to the bay to search for survivors but if there were any they've probably had enough time to swim back to the beach."

Castiel hums, nodding absently.

Dean's eyes fall away, gazing at his brother, still sleeping. "And how's Sammy?"

"I'm still worried," Castiel admits. "His wound was serious, but we keep his gauzes clean and his pulse is steady. We've done all we can."

Dean exhales, shoulders slumping. He drops to sit across from Castiel, feet crossed. 

"He's strong, Dean," Castiel says, the only comfort he can offer right now. "Put some faith in him."

"Yeah. I guess you're right." Dean takes Castiel's hand in his own, holds it between them, thumb tracing circles on the back of his hand. "And you? How are you?"

"Exhausted," Castiel says honestly.

Dean rolls his eyes. "That tends to happen when one sleeps sitting up against a wall."

Castiel scowls at him. "What do you want me to do? I have to be here in case something happens."

"Fine, fine," Dean chuckles as he scoots closer, the sound a sweet relief to Castiel's ears. They're now sitting side by side, and Dean wraps an arm around Castiel and pulls him closer, until Castiel's head is resting on his shoulder. "How about this?"

Castiel smiles up at him gratefully. "Better."

Dean's eyes soften, and he leans down to press a chaste kiss to Castiel's lips. "Thank you," he whispers, their breaths mingling. "For everything."

Instead of an answer Castiel kisses him again, slow and careful. There's no need to rush anymore. They're safe now. They have all the time in the world. 

Letting himself be cuddled, Castiel presses against Dean, buries his face in the crook of his neck. "Will you stay with me?"

"Of course."

Castiel lets himself drift off.

 

October 21st,1703

Sam wakes up with a groan. He tries to sit up, but the pain is too much, it forces him back down.

Castiel is at his side immediately. “Sam?”

“Hey,” Sam says, blinking his eyes slowly. “What happened? Did we… did we win?”

“We did,” Castiel reassures him, the back of his palm against Sam’s forehead to check his temperature. Cool. “Azazel’s dead, and your brother blew up his ship.”

At the mention of Dean's name, Sam's energy seems to come back. He pushes himself up, supporting his weight on his elbows. He hisses with the pain, before forcing his eyes open again. "Where is he? Dean I mean?"

"With Crowley," Cas says, fighting against the urge to push him back down. "Take it easy, Sam. We had to move you around a lot which isn't ideal for your recovery, and I'd rather you didn't pull at your stitches."

"Okay," Sam says, but stubbornly doesn't lie down. "How long do you think before I can get back up?"

"A few weeks at least."

"God," Sam groans. There's sweat forming on his forehead, and his arms have started shaking. He's still weak, and this time Castiel doesn't take no for an answer when he helps him back down onto the mattress.

"I'll get you some rum if you want."

"I need a smoke," Sam says, face pale and thin. He laughs, but it comes out hollow. "Jesus, I need a smoke."

Castiel looks at him carefully. "It doesn't hurt that bad."

Sam's brow furrows, but he nods. "No, it doesn't. It doesn't hurt that much," he repeats, as if he says it enough times it'll become true. Under heavy eyelids he gazes at Castiel. "And you wouldn't get it for me even if it did, would you?"

"No, I wouldn't," Castiel says.

Sam sighs, a long exhale. "Okay. Okay."

"Get some sleep. You're still recovering. I'll wake you up when Dean returns."

He stays by his side as Sam drifts off. It’s going to be a long and hard road for the recovery, but he promised Sam long ago he’d be there, and he’s not planning to go back on his word now. Not when Sam needs him most.

 

October 22nd, 1703

All of the damage on the Black Impala is between water and open air, thank God, meaning that just patching the holes to keep her afloat while they travel back to Homestead is a feasible option, but a slow one nonetheless. Dean thinks they’ll be here for a week at least, though Gordon wants to push their men to work faster on repairs.

“You could always leave that old ship here. I’ll take you all back to your hometown,” Crowley says standing next to Castiel, gazing over to where the Winchester pirates work tirelessly. “You were going to retire anyway after Yellow Eyes. Or so Singer told me."

Dean is on the beach with Benny, a list of work finished and tasks that still need to be done in one hand.

Castiel squints against the sunlight, never taking his eyes off of his captain. He gives the answer Dean has probably already given to Crowley. "We aren't leaving without the ship. She is as much a part of our crew as any of us."

Crowley gives him a sidelong gaze. "Interesting lot, you Winchesters. First you bring lasses aboard and then you get sentimental over a ship."

Castiel shrugs. The Winchester pirates have never been what others expected. He doesn’t see why they should start now.

 

October 25th, 1703

It feels weird coming to Bobby’s cabin now that it’s no longer Bobby’s. Gordon keeps the place much tidier, and the walls are empty of all the maps and sketches the old Quartermaster kept in view at all times. It feels bigger now, especially with the second bed and hammock moved out of the room. 

It’s even weirder when Castiel knocks on the door and enters that day to find Jo leaning against the desk, head bent over the papers Gordon is showing her. 

Castiel stops dead at the door. Gordon is not the most outspoken of the Winchester pirates, but he’s made his opinions about women aboard quite clear several times, even before he knew about Charlie and Jo. Or should Castiel say, especially before he knew.

“—We could put Ash,” Gordon is saying just as Castiel steps inside.

Jo shakes her head. “Ash? For morning watch? No way, he’ll fall asleep. How about Eddie?”

They’re trying to reorganize the daily chores to keep the ship sailing with fewer men than normal, Castiel realises. That’s why Jo’s here. Gordon has asked her to help him. It makes sense, Castiel supposes. Gordon is very new at his post, and for all his leadership skills, organizing and looking after the men is a job he’s not terribly familiar with yet. Jo on the other hand used to do it daily with Bobby.

“Actually,” Castiel cuts in, walking further into the room as both heads turn to look at him, “Eddie can’t climb up the ratlines. He’s still having trouble putting weight on his left leg and I’d rather not strain his shoulder.” He hands his report for the day over.

Gordon frowns—he likes reports no more than Bobby did.

Jo looks over at Castiel, too quickly for him to read her expression but it’s easy to see the nervousness in the way she knits her fingers together tight. “We could… we could always have Charlie do it.”

Gordon keeps still, eyes still on the paper Castiel just handed him, and Jo’s face reddens.

“I think—” Castiel starts, reading the moment as an upcoming rejection of Jo’s suggestion, one she swallowed a lot of pride to make, too. Since they killed Lilith, most of the men on the crew not only have consistently avoided both Jo and Charlie, but have pushed them away time and time again, to the point they were left with nothing else to do but help Benny out in the Galley while they were sailing towards Panama.

Gordon surprises both of them, though. “Good idea,” he says. Then, reading their stunned silence for what it is, he looks between them. “What?”

“Uh… That was easy?” Jo chuckles, raising an eyebrow in Castiel’s direction. “You so desperate for hands that you don’t mind help from wenches?”

“Yes, actually I am,” Gordon says, wincing. “It sounds bad when you put it like that.”

“It’s your friend Ketch that puts it like that, actually,” Jo points out, holding a hand up in front of Castiel’s face when he tries to cut her off. Clearly, she’s not in the mood to be the biggest person in this argument anymore. “Or have you forgotten about all the times he called us useless cunts? Because I haven’t.”

Sighing, Gordon lowers his head. He rubs his forehead, mouth working to find his next words. “Look, you’re right to be angry.”

“Of course I am,” Jo explodes. “I spent years on this ship proving time and time again that I’m one of the best members of this crew just for all of you to sneer at me when you realised I don’t have a dick.”

Really, at this point Castiel is very tempted to just slowly back away and start running. He’s not a part of this conversation, and he doesn’t want to be. Maybe Sam needs him? Dean will be happy to see him for sure. Anything to give him an excuse to get out of there.

Jo’s not slowing down anymore. “I thought being a pirate was different. You guys…” Her voice trembles, and she has to take a deep breath to regain her composure. “We were supposed to be above rules and restrictions. We were supposed to be the freest people in the entire world.”

“Free is a relative term,” Gordon says.

Feeling sorry for him, though deep down Castiel thinks he deserves this, Castiel says, “I don’t think you can put all the blame on Gordon.”

“I’m actually putting most of it on Ketch, but I didn’t see Gordon disagreeing with him,” Jo says.

“Ketch,” Gordon cuts them both off, “is the only one who came alive from his boat. While you, on the other hand brought back your whole team, even though your boat sunk. Now, some of that is down to stupid luck, but mostly is skill. I know that, the men know that, and Ketch knows that. Maybe he doesn’t like you, but he does respect you. We all do.”

Eyes narrowing, Jo pushes off the desk and into Gordon’s personal space. She looks threatening enough that even Castiel is tempted to take a step back. He can’t imagine how intimidated Gordon feels right now. 

“Nice way ye all have to show your respect,” she says through gritted teeth.

Placing a hand on her shoulder, Castiel pulls her gently back. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he tells her. “Change is difficult.”

Gordon smiles thankfully at him. “Especially for stupid scallywags like us.”

Castiel nods. “Give them time.”

“Give us some real work to do around here, and I’ll think about it,” Jo huffs.

“Deal,” Gordon says, offering his hand to her.

Jo takes it and shakes it once. 

Truce has been made.

 

October 31st, 1703

The Black Impala floats proudly next to Juliet again, her black flag dancing with the wind. The whole crew is gathered on the main deck. Two gulls are flying high above their heads, and the atmosphere is heavy with the promise of rain later in the day. But for now they stand there, watching while Dean shakes hands with Crowley.

“Consider my debt paid,” Crowley says. “The next time we meet in this ocean don’t expect me to bow my head.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Dean answers.

Crowley’s galleons set sail less than an hour later, and the Winchesters are quick to follow. They have a long way ahead of them until they reach Homestead.

That night, while lying on the floor of the sick bay with only a blanket to soften their makeshift bed, Dean wraps an arm around Castiel's middle and pulls him closer. When he speaks, his breath raises goosebumps on the nape of Castiel's neck. "This is our last trip as hunters."

Castiel doesn't feel the old panic of being discovered like that. This is his home, and the people sleeping all around them are his family. Maybe he doesn't get along with all of them, but he can count on the rest to have his back. And he's not going to waste another precious moment with Dean. Not after he almost lost him.

He lets Dean hold him. "Are you sure it's the last?"

Dean rubs his nose into his hair, slow and soft. "It looks like it. We stayed close to that bay for almost two weeks and we saw no serpents."

"Do you think they died? When you killed Azazel."

Dean pauses, nose buried in Castiel's hair. "No," he says. "But I do think that Azazel was using what control he had over them to keep them in the Caribbean so they'd always be nearby when he needed them. Now that he's dead most of them will swim away."

"To start terrorizing the rest of the world," Castiel interjects.

"The ocean is huge. If they're not all gathered in the same place how often do you think they'll come across a ship?" Dean shoots back, lifting his head a bit off the pillow to peer at Castiel.

Castiel gazes back. "I guess that's true."

When Dean places a kiss low on the back of his neck, Castiel can feel him smiling. "Stop worrying. Things are finally going to get better."

Dean has been in high spirits since yesterday, when Sam managed to get out of bed on his own for the first time. Seeing his little brother recovering helped take his mind off of all the other people they lost, even if just for a bit. 

Castiel doesn't want to ruin his mood. He's slowly letting himself heal as well. He won't forget, but it will hurt less with time. Just like it does with Ion.

 

November 12th, 1703

The Black Impala enters the Homestead port under a grey sky and a hidden sun. The waves hit her body from every side, rocking her, but she pushes through, her sails heavy with rain.

Wet and freezing cold, the pirates come crawling out of her belly. They gather on the deck, arms brushing, bodies squeezing close together, necks craning to catch the first glimpse of the harbor. There’s the hint of copper as the roofs of the houses come into view, and the clock tower of the Navy office stands tall up on the hill. The wide pebble roads that lead deeper into the town stretch before their eyes.

They’re finally home.

“Alright, get back to work,” Dean orders, the last of the raindrops running down his face. Castiel stands to his right, a woolen coat thrown over his tunic to ward off the chill of the storm, and Sam is on his other side, a hand on the rail for support, as his injury still hurts him when he walks around.

They’ve changed their colors, but there are still many preparations to be done before docking, and so the crew scatters away. Gordon follows closely behind, shouting instructions from time to time. 

They come closer and closer, and now Castiel can pick out more details—the windows of the shops close to the docks, the trees, gently swaying in the wind, several figures gathered and waiting, some hands thrown in the air to wave.

By the time they have the ship docked and are climbing off the ship, the clouds have started parting above them, sunbeams breaking through the openings that have appeared. The figures have approached the Impala , three of them standing out from the rest.

Bobby sits in his wheelchair, a smile hidden under his heavy beard. Next to him, Ellen covers her mouth with her hand, eyes glued to her daughter as she runs ahead of the others to meet her parents, Charlie close behind her. Andrea breaks out in tears when Benny lifts a hand to greet her.

More and more people break out from each group, the pirates finding their families again, some comforting sobbing women when they get the news about those that didn’t make it back. It’s a bittersweet welcome.

Castiel hangs back, letting Dean and Sam be enveloped in the arms of their loved ones, Ellen scolding both of them and Jo for making her worry. Then, Dean turns and looks for him, finds him among the crowd and waves him over.

“Hello,” Castiel says, walking towards Bobby and thinking that maybe a handshake will be an appropriate greeting.

Ellen beats him to it. She steps forward and wraps him in the kind of hug she reserves for her children—both born and adopted. “We’re so happy you made it back,” she says, squeezing him. “All of you,” she adds quickly, her voice just a bit higher than usual.

Bobby looks up at them. “Ye did it.”

Sam grins, an arm wrapped around Charlie’s shoulders. “We did it.”

“So, what are ye goin’ to do now?” Bobby asks, eyes wandering over them all.

Dean shrugs, a cheeky grin spreading over his face. “Rest, eat. Enjoy the privilege of sleeping in a real bed after a long time.” He sends Castiel a wink that makes him blush all the way to his hair roots. He doesn't touch him, or even stand too close while they’re outside where anyone might see them, but Castiel feels like they’re alone already with the look Dean’s giving him.

“And after that… I don’t know,” Dean continues. “Travel I guess. Cas wanted to go visit his family anyway. After that we’ll see. The world is big. Maybe we’ll find a couple of monsters to kill.”

“I thought you were retiring,” Ellen points out, an eyebrow raised.

“We have to use the ship somehow,” Dean says. “And it’d be a shame to let those flamethrowers go to waste.”

“Hear, hear,” Ash agrees from somewhere in the crowd. 

The warmth of the sun slowly seeps under their clothes and into their skin. There are a lot of decisions to be made and plans to be discussed. But it’s not time for that yet. The only thing they have to do now is enjoy the days that are just the beginning of their new life.

THE END