La vallée de la Vézère, France
43,000 years ago (the Upper Paleolithic)
Cas stumbles through the billowing brush and undergrowth, rain dripping down his face and pounding his back as he hunches to protect himself from the flying debris.
He’s alone, limping on his injured knee, freezing and blinded by the storm around him—easy prey for any hungry meat-eater willing to brave the lightning. His clan is long gone, having abandoned him when they saw the dark clouds on the horizon. Better to lose one and reach the shelter of the distant cliffs than to slow their pace and risk everyone’s lives.
Even after doing his best to follow them, Cas is still barely out of the open ground, too close to the flooding river and the danger of breaking and falling trees to be safe. He thinks now he may have gone the wrong way, taken the wrong fork in the valley, stayed to the left of the river when he should’ve crossed it, but there’s nothing he can do. They must be miles away by now. Even tracking them come morning will be impossible with the storm destroying every trace left behind.
And reluctant as he is to believe it, deep down he knows the cousins he joined this migration won’t be coming back to look for him after it’s safe. He might as well be dead as far as they're concerned.
A lightning strike not thirty yards to his left shakes the earth under his feet, and it’s all he can do not to piss himself. Blinded and deafened, he leans heavily on a boulder and fumbles ahead in the direction of the cliff. He has to find some sort of shelter, now, or he might not live to see the sunrise. His fingers ache with the cold. He’s lost all but the furs he’s wearing, and if the lightning or the river or the flying tree branches don’t get him, the freezing overnight temperatures will.
As his vision clears, he can just make out a shadow in the white limestone rock face through the curtain of hail and rain. A cave, or at the very least, a hollow, partway up the cliff. A tremor of hope runs through him. If he can get there, he can huddle down ‘til morning.
Taking as much weight on his hands as possible to spare his knee, he hauls himself, wincing, up the steep bank of broken stone to the mouth of the cave. It’s large and more welcoming than he’d thought it would be.
He limps in a short ways and then collapses to the sandy floor, drenched, shivering and exhausted, but momentarily safe. His relief cools, though, as his thoughts turn to the morning to come.
Subsisting long-term on one’s own is risky enough; being abandoned while injured is a death sentence. Even if he makes it through the night, with his knee so damaged, he has nothing to look forward to but malnourishment and eventually death. He can’t hunt, he can’t run, and he can’t defend himself when he’s inevitably attacked.
Not two seconds after that thought, he hears it.
The sound of a soft scrape over the constant drum of the rain outside.
It’s coming from inside the cave.
He freezes in place, not daring to breathe. A bear? A cave lion? If it is, he’s done for. He’s in no state to fight.
His eyes adjust to the darkness and he can make out the shape of a man. His shoulders lose some of their tension. Strangers are dangerous, still, but a man can be reasoned with. A man won't kill another without cause. Castiel is injured, cold, and helpless in his position on the floor. He hasn’t taken anything, and it’s obvious he’s no threat.
The man draws closer as Cas’ eyes continue to adapt to the dim light and his face comes into view. Cas stiffens at what he sees.
The large eyes, strong nose, and more pronounced brow ridge.
The hair color lighter than any Castiel has ever seen.
The wide shoulders, bulky chest, and shorter, faintly bowed legs.
This isn’t a man.
This is one of the Others.
The Other stares back at him, equally wary, muscles coiled and tense as he waits for Cas to make a move. His arm twitches at his side like he’s ready to reach for one of the nine-foot long spears propped farther back along the wall, but he doesn’t want to take his eyes off the intruder long enough to look for them.
Cas, meanwhile, can feel his heart pounding hard and quick, but doesn’t have the strength left in him even to stand. He remains kneeling on the cave floor, frozen with his weight on his knees in the worst position possible.
The motionless showdown lasts an eternity, neither man moving except to breathe, the only sound the howling of the wind and the pounding of the hail outside.
The Other has the advantage here in every respect—he has weapons, which Cas does not; he is stronger; he is already on his feet.
And Cas has heard stories.
The Others are not like regular men. They are beast in men’s form, ugly and ungainly on two legs, the hideous animal that results when a lion lies with a human. They cannot speak as men do. They cannot be reasoned with. They attack at the turn of the wind.
Fear and adrenaline aside, Cas can’t stay upright much longer. The pain in his knee is excruciating, and if he doesn’t uncurl it, take the weight off it now, it won’t matter if the beast lets him go. He won’t be able to even limp away.
He tries to subtly shift his weight off the injury without the Other noticing, and the movement sends a jolt of bright pain lancing throughout his leg, shooting from ankle to hip. He folds forward off it with a poorly smothered cry. The Other leaps back, startled.
In less than a second, he’s kicking Cas over on his back with a foot and pointing a spear right at his throat, the other two weapons clattering ignored to the rock behind him.
Castiel flinches and holds up his hands over his face defensively, good knee pulled to his chest in an instinctual move to protect his vital organs. The blow doesn’t come, however.
“Ámeikā awti nemots.”
So they do have language. Cas stares at the Other, uncomprehending. The Other tightens his grip on the spear with his dominant hand, and then, without breaking wary eye contact, slowly bends forward and gestures over Cas’ injured leg with the other.
Cas jerks away. The Other straightens abruptly, scrubbing a hand over his jaw.
Neither of them moves for a long moment.
The Other relaxes bit by bit, looking at Cas, then away at the far wall, and then back at Cas, seemingly indecisive.
Finally, he walks away and sets his spear on the ground with the others. Stepping carefully, he turns back to Cas, hands upheld, spread and empty in the universal sign for truce.
He slowly approaches and kneels down only a few feet away. He points to his own chest, expression open and eyes locked on Cas’.
Cas stares at him.
The Other makes a vague gesture in Cas’ direction and then waits expectantly.
Cas’ eyes slide over to the pile of spears.
The Other reaches for him with one hand and Cas immediately jerks back, slamming into the cave wall and leaving a dripping puddle of freezing rainwater where he was sitting on the floor.
The Other drops his hand and then scrubs his face again, resigned and guard fully lowered.
Knee throbbing painfully, Cas raises his hands in response.
“I have no weapon.”
The Other looks at him in surprise. He moves his hand to his own chest again, taps it, and repeats his word from before.
He reaches out toward Cas, slowly so as not to startle him, and lifts his eyebrows.
It’s an inquiry.
“Cas. Castiel,” Cas says after a moment.
“Cas,” the Other repeats, and smiles. “Dean. Cas. Bhilis.”
It was an introduction. He’d been asking his name. The Other has a name, like a man. Dean is not beast-mad; he does have reason like a man.
Having determined Cas is no threat, Dean stands up and heads over to a hearth circle of stones and embers further inside the cave. He kneels down and blows gently into the ashes, adding grass and dried twigs from a stack a few feet away to get the fire going. Once it’s lit enough to grow on its own, he ducks his head under the low rocky overhang and moves deeper into the darkness, returning after only a moment with an extra set of well-worn furs.
He tosses the furs at Cas, who barely catches them in his surprise with his cold-stiffened fingers.
Dean gives the puddle of icy water a significant look, and points back to the furs. Then he turns away and goes back to where he must have been lying when Cas first came in, a sandy, fur-lined hollow scraped into the floor by the fire.
He lies down with his back to Cas.
Nothing else happens.
It’s a long few minutes while Cas waits for the other shoe to drop. When it finally seems like the Other isn’t going to move, he changes out of his soaked animal skins and puts on the dry furs given to him, shivering all the while.
Dean just stays lying on the other side of the fire with his back to him, not moving, not even making a sound. Is it a demonstration of trust? Or is he just so confident he could win in a fight that he doesn’t even consider Cas a threat?
Hesitating a few more moments, Cas scoots over closer to the fire to let his skin and hair dry and maybe sleep through the night.
Dawn breaks with the brightening of the mouth of the cave and the sound of birdsong outside. He opens his eyes blearily to stare at the rock wall only a few feet from his face.
The rough, white-brown rock is dotted with half-excavated flint nodules—one particularly large mass near his makeshift bed has been dug out and smashed near where his head lies, a pile of gray, glassy, waxy cores and shattered flakes on the ground that the Other has clearly been shaping for tool work.
Speaking of whom… Cas looks around until he spies Dean sitting on the rocks just outside the entrance, re-lacing the old ties between two skins with new sinew.
Still cautious but no longer afraid for his life, Cas takes the opportunity to study his host in the morning light. The differences between the Others and his own people are notable in number, but not in degree. Dean's forehead slants slightly more than Castiel’s, his chin is slightly gentler, his cheekbones swept back, but as a whole, he doesn't look particularly alien to him now in the welcoming sun. Different, unmistakably, but in no way hideous as the stories say. What's more unusual is his freckled skin, paler than Cas' deep tan, and his lighter hair, glinting the color of wheat where the light catches it. He’s both younger and more muscular than Cas.
Cas is struck for the second time by how fortunate it is that it didn't come down to hand-to-hand combat last night.
Finishing his repair, Dean strikes a flint with a chunk of pyrite to get a fire started in the dug-out, rock-encircled pit on the ledge outside. The ground has got to be damp after the rain last night, but the grass and wood catches, and Cas figures Dean must have had tinder and firewood kept dry in the shelter of the cave somewhere.
He slowly eases himself into a sitting position, painfully aware of his knee, and earns a quick glance at the movement and a wave from Dean before the not-man goes back to feeding the fire and arranging the inner smoke rack with a handful of tubers wrapped in wet leaves. Then he covers the pit with a wet buckskin rack to trap the heat and sits back to let the tubers cook.
A test of his knee shows that walking, as Cas had suspected, is not even in the realm of possibilities. Instead, he gingerly scoots himself to the mouth of the cave, being careful of his leg, and looks out over the valley in the dawn light.
It’s a good vantage point, high enough to see anyone coming a few miles away. The river, already swollen with summer glacial melt, has flooded over its banks with the downpour from the night before, the birch and willow around it swamped to their mid points. The strong current still carries the occasional uprooted full-grown tree from upstream.
Beyond the river, he can see the intermittent patches of grassland and shrub-spotted mountain slopes he crossed yesterday, bushes and spruce saplings glistening bright with dew. Tiny white stitchwort speckle the lowland, alpine rockcress and the occasional yellow cabbage flower along the cliffs. The meadow looks promising for summer onion and thistle foraging later this morning, if he can get himself down the rockfall again on his leg.
A cursory inspection reveals his knee is swollen and purple, alarmingly so now that daylight allows him a good look at it. He experiments with straightening and bending it, and digs his fingers into the rock below him as he bites back a hiss of pain.
Dean gives him a sidelong glance as he checks on the firepit, but says nothing.
This is going to be a big problem. He can't forage for himself if he can't walk, let alone look for the rest of his clan. And he's alone here—he has no allies, no group to fall back on for assistance while he heals. Dean's kin will surely come back from wherever they are soon and he'll be driven out, at best, or even killed as an outsider, eaten as their prey. Dean seems intelligent and welcoming, certainly, but Cas hasn't forgotten the stories. Sired by lions. There's no way that blood doesn't tell in some way.
Dean hands him a hot wrapped tuber from the rack, and nods meaningfully.
Cas stares at him and wonders if this kindness is part of some trick.
Dean raises his eyebrows, lifts his own tuber to his mouth and mimes eating it, as if context alone wasn't enough to communicate over the language barrier.
Scowling in frustration at his own helplessness and vulnerability, Cas peels the hot leaves back and takes a bite. It’s well-cooked and satisfying. Dean grins.
As the morning warms from frigid to merely cool, Dean kits himself out with two spears and a foraging bag and goes out hunting. He makes a point of gesturing at Cas' leg before he leaves, making flat-handed pushing motions at the cave like he means for Cas to stay put in there.
Cas watches from the cave mouth as Dean heads down the broken limestone slabs and turns parallel to the river, meandering out into the waist-deep grasslands and disappearing from sight altogether over the course of an hour or so. It’s a long, boring wait after that. The tuber doesn’t keep him filled for very long, but it’ll be enough to sustain him for one day, at least, and it’s better to let his leg rest than to worsen it by looking for more. The farthest he moves is at midday, a shaky, three-limbed creep down to the river to drink and then back up to collapse on the cave ledge again.
Dean comes back in the late afternoon with a small hind draped over his shoulders and a tired look, but breaks into a proud grin when he sees Cas waiting for him.
He bleeds it out over a low tree branch by the river, strips the hide, and then butchers the meat, bringing up the haunches and choicest cuts for him and Cas to share over the fire.
After gorging themselves on the fattiest bits and covering the rest to smoke in the pit, Dean rests for a bit and then heads back down in the cooling evening light to scrape the hide and carry it off to another cave downwind. When he returns, he’s carrying a stiff, older rawhide which he soaks in the river.
Cas watches the entire process from the ledge on his stomach with his chin propped up on his hands, lazy and content. The brains from today’s kill are mashed and watered down, then rubbed into the soggy hide to soften the skin. Cas helps with the stretching phase over the dying heat of the embers until it’s dry. It’ll need to be smoked too before it’s done, but that can wait for tomorrow.
Lying in the cave by the small hearth fire that night, Cas listens to Dean’s steady breathing and gazes at the paintings on the walls as he waits to fall asleep. There’s artwork here from dozens of people, probably over multiple generations. Bison, deer, ibex, mammoth, horses, lions, and bears dance over the limestone, spanning the ceiling in white, red, and black.
A plenitude of hand tracings in a variety of sizes cover the walls deeper in—most of them look years old, scratched and fading. Two small red handprints are the only exception, circled reverently in a thick band of black and carefully retouched, judging by the unusually bright color and the not-quite-dry red pigment crumbling on the stones beneath. This painting is the only one kept far from Dean’s fur piles and tinder stores, a protective rock barrier arranged beneath it on the floor.
Cas wonders who these particular hands belong to. They’re much smaller than Dean’s or Cas’, certainly. A young woman’s, or a child’s, perhaps.
It’s strange that despite the number of artists represented on the walls, Cas has seen no one but Dean in the day and two nights he’s been here. It’s stranger still that Dean puts so much time into stocking firewood and extra furs, and protecting the art on the walls as if he plans to stay in this place long-term.
Cas’ kin groups, both the cousins who left him and Michael’s tribe before that, have always been migratory, traveling with the game and wintering by the southern sea. They take advantage of caves or convenient rock formations when they find them, but mostly rely on quick shelters of branches and skins, or at most, wooden huts with dugout floors when they plan to stay a while.
It’s kind of nice to think that Dean’s family has found a shelter here that they can rely on and return to year after year. Any improvements he makes to the place probably add up over time. It makes the place seem… comfortable.
Eyes drifting closed, he falls into the first restful sleep he’s had in weeks.
It turns out Dean uses his 9-foot wooden spear primarily as a lance, and resorts to throwing it only rarely.
Cas only realizes this when a herd of red deer migrate through the area, drinking from the river just below the cave each morning. In the eight days the deer spend in this part of the valley, he sees Dean make two kills, both within a few hundred yards of the limestone cave ledge. Cas looks on from above with interest as he stalks the animals.
When Dean makes a lunge for a target, he puts his solid weight and muscle strength into the blow. He gets kicked in the ribs for his troubles on the second kill, but the stone spearhead is lodged deep in its prey.
The spear has to be repaired later, shaft replaced and stone head bound and fixed with a wrap of sinew ties and a reinforcing layer of bitumen. Cas nurses his injury and watches this process too, using his downtime off his bad leg to shape his own 2-foot long wooden dart thrower and a couple of 8-foot wooden throwing spears. He borrows Dean’s hand axe for this, and ignores the curious look he gets.
After four weeks of relying on Dean’s generosity, whittling or helping with small item repair in the cave, his sprained knee is healing well, still tender but able to bear some weight. By the time the monkshood blooms, he’s well enough to accompany Dean on foraging forays. He takes the finished spear thrower with them.
The freshly carved weapon is an arm-length wooden rod with a cup on one end that fits the butt of the base of his spears. The darts themselves are weighted for throwing, thicker and heavier toward the tip to ensure greater aim. With these, he’ll be able to throw from up to a hundred meters away.
He’s a little out of practice after his long recovery, so he figures twenty meters is a good place to start.
The first time Dean sees Cas practice with the newly carved spear thrower, he’s idly chewing on a tooth-cleaning stick, watching with fond amusement in his eyes as the man flexes the shafts and weighs the balance on one hand. When Cas hits a target tree fifty yards away, however, Dean raises his eyebrows, impressed.
And after Cas goes with him on the next hunt and downs a bison in the middle of its herd from seventy yards away, he looks at Cas with something akin to awe.
Going after a herd alone is an act of suicide with a lance; bison in particular are more likely to attack a lone predator than they are to run. From a hundred yards away, on the other hand, hunting from a herd is as easy as breathing. Especially if the hunter has the advantage of having first climbed a particularly tall boulder or tree.
They celebrate the first kill with a rough hug and tumble back down the sides of the rocky outcrop, followed by a meal of bison meat and berries so large they’re left with bellyaches well into the next day.
They go foraging every day, gather berries and nuts, the leaves of certain plants and tubers of others. Dean goes spear fishing in the river and is very good at it. No Others have ever joined them in the six weeks he’s been here, and Cas is starting to feel safe in the conclusion that no one ever will. Impractical as it may be, Dean lives here alone.
Dean collects ridiculous amounts of wood and grass each week and treks it all up into his storage caves, making small loose piles of straw and propping sticks and branches against the walls to dry. He manages to communicate, with a combination of sand sketching and gestures, that this will eventually be used for hearth fires when the snows set in for winter. Cas helps, but is a little dubious about the whole storage thing.
There are other oddities to the long-term, non-nomadic lifestyle, too. Dean prunes and weeds out competing plants from the most prolific tuber patches, and limits Cas on how much they take from there at any one time. Cas is a little amused by this level of care, since he and his clan would just move on if the food source ran out, but Dean seems committed to staying, and Cas is willing to bow to his preferences.
One rare day in late summer, the weather is unusually warm, and they take the opportunity to bathe in the river, lazily chewing tooth-cleaning sticks and laughing as they splash each other. Afterward, Dean cuts Cas’ hair with a sharp flint flake and Cas does the same for him. His beard’s getting long enough to hold moisture again, almost half the length of his thumb, so he follows this grooming session up with a shave, knapping a few fresh flakes until he gets the sharpest edge and scraping it along his chin on the river bank. Dean imitates him despite the periodic wincing and accidental bloodletting it involves. Cas likes the look of Dean without the beard. He looks young, honest and trusting.
Cas runs his fingers through his own hair and around the smooth angles of his chin every couple of hours after that, enjoying the freshness of being groomed again. Dean keeps catching him in the act and grinning at him, so Cas tries to pretend he wasn’t preening. After the fifth time, Dean teases him by coming up behind him and rubbing his knuckles all over Cas’ clean shaven jawline, making appreciative, impressed-sounding noises, and then runs away laughing when Cas takes a swing at him.
Summer passes into early autumn. There’s another rainstorm and they’ve brought down a horse, which has been a heavy pain in the ass to get all the way back and up the cliff. With all the rain pounding on their shoulders, there’s no chance they’ll get the fire pit going on the ledge outside, but Cas is damned if they’re going to let that much meat go to waste. The only thing to do really is to build up the stone walls of the small hearth circle inside the cave into a something tall enough for a rack and smoking tent to go onto.
Dean’s still outside prepping the skin, so Cas decides to get started on his own. He looks around for the easiest stones to move. Most of the inside of the cave has been pretty smoothed out over the generations, but there’s a pile of rocks at the back, a few feet beyond the handprint wall where the ceiling starts to get low.
He goes for the largest ones first, dragging and levering them out of the pile and into the center of the cave, where he’s disassembled out the current hearth stones and left gaps to fill in with the heavier pieces.
Dean is walking back in from bringing the latest drying hide inside to avoid the damp of the rain when he sees Cas dragging his fifth or sixth rock over to the center hearth area.
He immediately freaks out.
“Stāwō, stāwō! Nē, elkós, Cas! Bhrātēr alkejō! Bhrātēr alkejō!”
They’ve gotten used to communicating with looks and gestures, but this is more words than Cas has ever heard Dean say at once.
He backs off, blinking and confused, as Dean hurries into the hearth circle, leaving the hide forgotten on the floor by the entrance. Shakily, he starts grabbing the largest stones and putting them back one by one, clearly in a great deal of distress.
Cas stares at him, bewildered as to why he’s so upset. Dean is whimpering softly under his breath to the rocks, carefully piling them higher than they were before, as if Cas’ rearrangement has so unnerved him that extra mounding is necessary to protect the pile from future interference. When Dean moves back to the front of the cave for more large stones to bring inside, Cas catches a glimpse of white at the base of the pile, smoother than the limestone surrounding it, and his eyes widen in sudden understanding.
It’s a set of finger bones, human—or Other, now that he thinks about it—but the size is very small. Like that of a child, no more than ten or eleven.
Dean comes back in with a stack of two rock slabs, panting and sweating with the exertion of lifting a weight that Cas couldn’t even attempt. He fusses back and forth by the pile in the near dark until he locates the hand, then lays them in place over it, heavy but so gentle, careful not to smash the small bones underneath.
Worn out, he leans against the repaired cairn and lowers himself to the ground, one hand still resting over the slab above the tiny body, and bows his head. He’s calmer now, no more sad sounds, but the defeated listlessness is worse. He hasn’t looked Cas in the eye once since he came back in.
Cas waits in silence, sorry and pensive over what he hadn’t realized he was doing until now. It occurs to him that this is probably why Dean doesn’t leave. This is why Dean lives alone in this increasingly drafty cave year-round, even through the winter, even after all his kin and clan are gone.
He waits and wonders at whether this will have damaged everything. Whether the easy camaraderie they’d developed will be over now, whether this means Dean will finally want Cas to go.
“Sam.” Dean finally speaks, his volume indicating that he’s speaking to Cas, despite the fact that his eyes still haven’t moved from the cairn. Cas watches him, listening intently.
Head still bowed, Dean waves a hand at the tiny hand prints on the wall, the circled ones that Cas had noticed when he first moved in. “Sam.”
That’s all he says. They can’t speak the same language, there’s no exchanging of details or timelines, but it’s enough.
Cas waits for another minute, and then walks out the mouth of the cave.
Dean sits alone in the dim light, bent over the mound of rocks, motionless, lost in the grief and the memories. He doesn’t look up even after he hears Cas come back in minutes later, not until Cas’ shadow stands close to him only a scant distance away, feet braced apart for balance. Dean looks up.
“For Sam,” Cas says, large rock weighing heavily between his arms.
He waits for permission, for Dean’s head nod to a particular part of the mound to place his rock there. Dean watches the dust settle and nods, then gets to his feet. His eyes meet Cas’ again, clear and considering instead of lost in grief, and Cas feels an unexpectedly strong rush of relief. He tilts his head to the cave opening, and waits for a response. Dean nods and goes out for another load, Cas following him no more than a foot behind.
They spend the rest of the afternoon carrying stones in and adding to Sam’s burial cairn. By the time they eventually eat their dinners and settle in their furs for the night, huddled closer than the need for warmth requires, the pile in the back of the cave reaches all the way to the ceiling.
Weeks go by much as they have been. Dean hunts and fishes, Cas throws his long darts, they scrape hides and cook what they forage and help each other with grooming by the fireside at night.
One cold, bright day in mid-autumn, they’re sunning themselves on a rock over the river, lounging on extra furs and eating lingonberries plucked from the shrubs along the bank, amusing themselves by making faces over the tart taste. They watch the reindeer in the distance, already this far south for the winter, and they keep an eye on their direction so they can track them for meat tomorrow.
Suddenly Dean turns his head, something to the west catching his eye. He points and knocks Cas’ knee with his own.
Cas looks and sees a group of people in the far distance, maybe twelve or thirteen adults and about twenty children of varying ages, migrating south across the open grasslands on the other side of the river. Humans—built like him, not like Dean. They won’t come near Dean’s cave at that trajectory, but they aren’t too far yet if he wants to run after them to catch up.
Cas could go leave and join them. He could take some extra furs, his newly made weapons, and gift them to the group in exchange for acceptance among them; to do so is very common among his people. He could speak with those who understand his words again. Have more allies around to ward off predators, to take on bigger game. He could find a woman and sire children. Teach them to hunt and to build, to cook and swim. To cut hair and shave with a minimum of self-injury.
He turns back to Dean, who is watching him with a strangely guarded, neutral look on his face.
“Your beard is getting scruffy again. We should take care of that when we get back.”
Dean doesn’t understand, but the teasing tug Cas gives his chin is translation enough, and he almost imperceptibly relaxes.
They watch the outsiders go, lazing in the last of the autumn sun until they’re nothing but dots in the distance, throwing berries at each other a little after the taste becomes too much to bear. Then they grab their furs and head back to the cliffs, the passersby completely forgotten.
The nights are colder now, and darkness falls early. They hang around the hearth fire, wrapped in piles of furs, sketching idle drawings in the ashes. Cas’ thoughts have been circling the past all day; he is reminded of his old clan, wondering where they are right now, whether they’re migrating like those people they saw earlier or settled in the south along the coast for winter. Thoughtfully, he sketches a family of figures: himself, Michael, Hannah, a few others, the ones he remembers from a happier time, before the split and everything fell to pieces.
Dean raises an eyebrow at the doodle, and Cas shrugs a shoulder, self-conscious. He points at the bottom figure with a stick.
“That’s me. Cas.”
Dean looks attentive, interested, so he continues pointing.
“Hannah. Michael. Gabriel. Balthazar. Hael.”
He hesitates on Hael, then makes a small cut through her leg, follows it with a slow X drawn through the figure, obscuring the whole thing. Hael died, not yet a full year ago. A mild fall, a deep cut on her leg. It shouldn’t have taken more than a few weeks to heal, but instead it went septic.
A hand on his ankle brings him from his reverie, and he sees Dean is looking at him with soft eyes.
Dean points to two more figures, those above Cas and his brothers.
“My father. My mother. Mother, she…” He draws a line through her, too. Then he pauses, circles his father, and draws a line leading far away to show him leaving. No one ever knew what happened after he went into the woods. Though it’s a good guess he’s dead by now, too.
“Michael.” He continues, erasing the two parents at the top, and drawing a line from Michael to the head of the clan. Michael took over as leader, and that was when things really started to go wrong.
“Lucifer.” Another figure, their cousin in the clan on their father’s side. A spear thrown at Michael, the feud growing between the two.
“Gabriel.” A line into the wilderness, another clan. Strangers. They welcomed Gabriel, new blood in the gene pool, a dozen new children in as many years. Cas hasn’t seen him since the last time they coincidentally crossed paths at the eastern mountain pass, but he seemed good.
More spears. More relatives. War. One large tribe ripped in two.
Castiel keeps sketching, intent on the story coming alive beneath his fingertips.
Then he gets to the day of Lucifer’s death.
Uriel and Azrael, former friends now on Lucifer’s side. Anna and Joshua sent by Michael to meet them, to draw the other leaders to an ambush point, a narrow pass. Lucifer’s arrival as predicted.
A rain of boulders pushed down from above. Joshua’s brains splattered along the ground. Anna’s cursing them all with her dying breath.
Michael’s victory, but at an unacceptable cost.
Cas couldn’t stay after that. The war was over, but the clan split was irreparable.
His cousins, the kin who’d followed Lucifer, left for the west, putting the mountains between them and the memories of the war and migration routes they’d lost.
Castiel went with them.
He draws the mountains, the long trek over them, the encounter with a boar that went wrong and the sprained knee that made him an unwanted burden on the others.
He draws himself, limping in the rain, the others ahead of him, the storm in the distance.
He adds gestures, land features, words he knows his listener won’t understand.
Then the last thing he draws is Dean.
When he looks up, he’s startled at first by the shock and righteous anger on Dean’s face, until he realizes it isn’t directed at him. Dean points to the cousins, to the family who left him behind.
He erases them with a rough wipe of his palm, swiping at the ash with contempt, and then draws two figures close together in the blank that remains, and a circle around the two, binding them; a second circle and a third for emphasis around that.
“Cas. Dean,” he says firmly, pointing.
Cas takes a minute to see it for what it is. It’s a promise. Dean would never leave family like that.
“Like Sam,” Cas whispers, knowing Dean won’t understand him. He adds a third, smaller figure next to Dean’s drawing, then hesitates.
“What happened to Sam?”
Dean gets the topic, if not the exact nature of the question. He looks away, hesitant, eyes lowered, and Cas wonders if bringing it up was a mistake.
Finally, Dean reaches forward with a finger, tracing another two figures above his and Sam’s. A male. A female. Lines connecting them, lines leading down to the other two.
“Brothers,” Cas murmurs.
Dean points at the man, then the woman. “John. Mary.” He crosses out Mary.
He adds another figure. “Bobby.”
Three more. “Ellen. Charlie. Jo.” By the time he’s gone through a dozen more names and figures, Cas has a pretty good idea of the number of the cave’s original inhabitants. Surprisingly, only a couple have lines through them.
Cas wonders where they all went. He tentatively points to the closest figure, Charlie, and then back to the cairn that covers Sam. Dean shakes his head, but doesn’t seem inclined to talk about it further than that. He avoids Cas’ gaze, looking at the fire, the ash, and the far wall, and then pulls another quilt of furs over himself, curling up on the floor with his back to Cas.
Then, seeming to think better of it, he reaches back over and pats Cas’ knee.
Satisfied, he pulls the covers over his head and for all intents and appearances, goes to sleep. Cas is left wondering again exactly what happened that could lead someone so devoted to family to be living here all alone.
One day months later, when the relative abundance of autumn has long been replaced by the hard earth and barren browns and grays of early winter, they go out on a routine foraging foray and come across the first signs of mammoth.
With most edible plants in hibernation, they’ve had to travel farther and farther each trip, to the edge of the valley and into the hills for Dean’s favored parsnips and scraps of winter kale. The weather is dry and just above freezing, with a few snow flakes dusting down on occasion throughout the day. Dean’s obsessive habit of harvesting the skin from every kill has paid off. They’re bundled up in thick leggings, boots, and multiple layers of hooded furs.
Dean is stoked to see the dung heap, knocking his shoulder against Cas’ and looking excitedly around for prints or broken twigs to tell them which direction the creature has gone. He probably hasn’t taken on a mammoth since the last of his clan disappeared.
Cas is more reserved with his enthusiasm—he’s hunted mammoth before during migrations to the northeast steppe each year. A normal mammoth hunt takes fifteen or twenty people, plus ideally enough diggers for a really massive pit trap. They have two. Attempting it on their own would be insane.
And anyway, the question of whether to hunt it isn’t what worries him the most. It’s rare to see mammoth venture this far into the valleys. They prefer the colder, dryer climate of the north except when the deepest freezes drive them south.
If the mammoths are in this area, it’s probably a sign of even more bitter weather to come.
A shout grabs his attention and he looks up to where Dean is gesturing on the hill. He’s found a second, smaller pile of dung that indicates a calf, as well as the herd’s general bearing. The irrepressible grin on his face shows no hint of cynicism or fear, and he looks almost deceptively free of burdens in a way Cas rarely gets to see. He’s like a kid on his very first hunting trip. It’s really quite endearing.
He wonders, not for the first time, about what happened to Dean that left him so lonely and devoted to staying with his brother’s buried remains. Why would someone with this much vitality and joy in their natural state be made to live alone? What family could leave him behind the way Cas was?
He knows his own history is not really that rare, and that people do voluntarily split off to join other tribes. It happens on occasion or there wouldn’t be enough inter-tribe mating for healthy children. But Dean’s situation doesn’t match that, nor his temperament, and from what Cas can tell from cave paintings and dropped hints, Dean’s been on his own for two winters at least—an unnaturally long time. With Dean being so naturally friendly, so loyal to family, it seems exceptionally cruel that any group could up and leave him.
Dean still won’t tell him what happened to drive the others away from the cave, and Cas suspects sometimes that it may be because it hurts him to think about it. Or perhaps Dean is ashamed and doesn’t want Cas to know.
He wishes he could tell him that it wouldn’t matter. Cas could know anything about Dean, and it wouldn’t change a thing.
Cas would always choose to stay.
A pine cone bounces off his shoulder and Cas looks up to see his friend staring impatiently at him again, Cas’ mind having clearly wandered from the important matter at hand.
Cas narrows his eyes and returns fire with a piece of the dried dung, causing Dean to squawk and run pell-mell up the hill in an attempt to escape. As he watches him run, grinning, he rethinks his initial instincts about the mammoths.
If there is a blizzard or a deep freeze on the horizon, a successful hunt could be even more valuable than usual. With foraging hauls so meager this time of year, they rely on the meat they catch to go a long way. A freeze would make it harder to find good prey, but easier to keep an older kill fresh even up to a few weeks; plus, they could smoke a great deal for long term storage before the snows really set in. A single mammoth could mean up to a month of steady food.
Attempting the hunt with only two hunters may be insane, but so is staying in one place for over a year, facing the winter head on instead of migrating, living together with a human when one is an Other, and choosing to remain with one’s deceased brother even when that means going without a clan to rely on. And how long has Dean been doing all that and getting away with it?
Impossible odds seem to be Dean’s preferred mode of life, and looking at the eager optimism shining on his face, it’s hard not to share in his ambition.
They’ve exchanged a series of gestures and face expressions, communicating in rough strokes and sketches over long hours around the hearth fire until they hashed out a basic plan. The first step is to track the animals, and choose the smallest or sickest that they can to minimize the danger when they have to get close. Next, they’ll wait ‘til it’s alone or separate it from its herd, and then drive it into a chosen gully where they can try to block it in and throw spears at it from a safe height until it bleeds out. They’ll need to set up a rock fall and as many projectiles as they can prep for this, and they’ll need a lot of patience to wait until the positioning is just right.
Once the gully prep is done, they pack up their weapons and track the animals for two days. Miraculously, the herd has settled in not far from the limestone cliffs they call home, but there hasn’t been a good opportunity for isolating any of them yet, and if the situation’s not perfect, they’re not doing it. There’s no sense in going after a few weeks of extra meat if it’s going to end in one or the both of them dead.
Cas lies on his stomach on a rock overlooking the herd while they drink from the low levels of the river, his skin protected from the thin dusting of snow by his many layers of thick furs. Dean’s out of sight digging up parsnips from the hardened ground, but Cas can hear the soft scrape of pebbles behind him that indicate he’s coming back.
Keeping his eyes on the mammoths below, he gets up on one knee and holds a hand out for his portion.
Instead of the root vegetable he’d expected, a full body blow and sharp gouging pain slams into him from behind and knocks him to the ground.
A rippling growl sounds next to his ear. Claws dig deep through his furs into the muscle of his shoulders and back. Jaws lock around his triple set of hoods and rip sideways, a move that just misses his flesh but is intended to break his neck. The pull on the collar of his clothes yanks him sideways, and the blood from the slashes pours down his back, but he hardly notices it in the terror.
It’s a cave lion, and it’s going to kill him.
Cas cries out in shock and horror, even as he knows there is nothing he can do; the lion is too heavy, too strong and viciously determined. Its coppery breath blows hot against the side of his face. He scrabbles at the dirt and rock, frantic to get out from under the predator, instincts screaming at him to curl up, to run, but the creature’s torso alone is a foot longer than he is and weighs three times as much.
It rips the hoods off, popping the sinew lacings like spider’s thread, and is just repositioning its jaws to bite at his neck when something slams into its face, driving it backwards and off Castiel with a shuddering growl.
Dean stabs again at its snout and face, his face white, cold, and furious, throwing his whole weight into the spear thrust just as he does for any half-size doe. The lion snarls and bares its teeth at him, smacking the end of the spear down with one widespread paw.
Weapon pinned, Dean lunges anyway, leaping over Cas and throwing himself between them, striking at its wounded eye with his fists and then bringing up the spear to stab again the second the cat steps off it. It’s backing up, amazingly, and Dean presses right after it with a ferocity that alarms and dissuades the predator even at twice his size. It snarls again, but it’s like Dean doesn’t even register a threat. He stabs and swings and screams at it in rage.
Heart pounding with adrenaline and fear, Cas shoves himself up and scrambles to his feet, barely conscious of the searing pain and blood pouring down his back. Dean is chasing it now, driving it back against the cliff face in a suicidal, single-minded fury.
The lion swipes at Dean again, trying to push forward and get away from the wall, but Dean dodges and rushes with his spear, ripping deep into the flesh of its neck. The animal tries to retreat, but Dean follows it, stabbing again and then again, opening a gouge in its jugular, a bleeding hole in its gut.
Cas picks up his own fallen spear and shakily follows after them. His body still wants to run, but he can’t leave Dean to fight the beast on his own, and the man is in a frenzy; it’s clear that he’s not going to stop.
Wounded and cornered against a pile of boulders, the massive predator realizes it has nowhere else to go.
It leaps for Dean’s throat in one last desperate charge.
Dean impales it as it falls on him, a fatal blow but not instant enough to save him from the lion’s last efforts to maul him. He goes down under its weight, five hundred pounds slamming him to the dirt, spear snapping in two and clattering away to the side. The jaws close tight around his windpipe, cutting off his air, even as he tears with his fingers at the beast’s bleeding eyes and beats its snout with his fists.
Cas reaches them running and throws himself forward with the spear, relying on every last ounce of momentum he can get. The blade goes in, knocking the lion off its victim and rolling it over onto its side, dazed and half dead with the injuries already.
He whirls to check Dean, but the man’s already up on his knees, gasping and wheezing, blood running freely from the side of his neck and his face. He gropes for a great piece of broken slate on the ground next to him, lifts it up and slams it down on the lion’s head.
The skull crumples with a wet crunch. Dean straddles the creature and lifts the rock again, slamming it down again, then again and again, long after the beast has stopped twitching, pounding the snout and the cranium until there’s nothing left but a misshapen, pulpy mush of blood, bone, and fur.
Cas kneels beside him and reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder as he slows, eyes wide and all his nerves singing.
Dean breathes hard for a minute or two, still sitting on the body, and then shakily gets up and steps over to check on Cas, red-stained hands gentle as he turns Cas’ head and neck this way and that, holds his arms out to check where the blood’s coming from, inspects his legs carefully for cuts and abrasions.
Cas lets himself be maneuvered about, more immediate priorities taking his attention. He concentrates on pulling at Dean’s tunic collar to reassure himself that the bite around Dean’s throat isn’t that bad. It doesn’t seem to have pierced the skin, he realizes with a flood of relief. He wants to check further for any broken bones or bleeding, but Dean’s finished with Cas’ front and is trying to check his back, and this leads to a brief, careful tussle while they both try to turn each other, and results in Cas being pinned with his hands between Dean’s knees while Dean peels his bloodsoaked buckskin tunic off to look.
It hurts like a bitch and it’s not like Cas can see the extent of the damage, but he’s able to move alright, and Dean’s quiet murmurs of discontent seem overly anxious considering they both just survived a cave lion attack and walked away breathing. The blood loss and adrenaline comedown are starting to get to him, though, so he doesn’t protest when Dean insists on supporting him on their immediate return to the cave.
Together, they pick up their spears and leave the area of the stakeout, tottering back to the riverbank below the cave to drink and wash their wounds, wincing the whole while, before helping each other gingerly up the rockfall and into the shelter of their home.
Dean insists on going out right away for herbs to staunch the bleeding, and none of Cas’ frustrated gestures or expressions of displeasure can persuade him otherwise. It isn’t long before he’s back and they’re able to retire and clean up.
Dean brings up a small amount of water in a skin, and they both strip their skins off and mop the drying blood off each other by firelight.
Cas’ wounds are rather more dire than Dean’s, despite the deep bruise already purpling around Dean’s throat. They make poultices out of yarrow leaves to slow the blood flow and fight infection. Dean’s touch as he handles the cuts on Cas’ back and shoulders is tender, gently soothing the hurt and lingering around his collar, jaw, and elbows like he wants to reassure himself that Cas is alive.
Afterward, they curl up for the night together under a meter-thick pile of furs.
Dean positions himself a few inches behind Cas and puts his arm over him, taking care to keep a warm, narrow protective space between them for Cas’ poultice-covered wounds. His hand settles over Cas’ wrist at his chest, legs threaded between his and ankles hooked possessively around Cas’ own as if to keep him from disappearing in the night.
With the stinging in his back, sleep is a long time coming, and after more than an hour of stillness, Cas is still awake. Despite the constant ache, he doesn’t shift, not wanting to wake Dean, but then Dean moves carefully and Cas wonders if he may not be asleep after all.
Whispered words, muffled in the hair at the back of his neck, tell him Dean thinks he’s asleep and doesn’t want to wake him either.
Finally there’s a light touch like a press of lips on the nape of his neck, and then Dean’s forehead, and a bit of damp he knows to be tears.
Cas lies quiet and awake in the darkness, still unmoving, and thinks it all over until long after Dean has finally fallen asleep.
Late the next morning, Cas wakes up before Dean, the ache in his back faded to a dull occasional throb. He’s rolled over unconsciously in the night and disturbed the cuts—he can feel them stinging and stretching where the skin has gone stiff—but he’s good, it’s all very good, warm and sleepy and wrapped up with Dean in a mutual embrace.
Dean is clinging to him like a child in his sleep, head nuzzled devotedly under Cas’ chin, and Cas can feel the other’s bare chest rise and fall, steady and toasty warm under his hand.
He watches him sleep up close for a while, listening to him breathe. He thinks about their old tribes and families, and how Dean deserves more than the isolation he got.
He thinks about the kindness and self-sacrifice it takes to let in a stranger from an alien race, to share food with them and turn your back on them and trust they won’t stab you in it.
He thinks about sunning on the river rocks, about planning ahead for winter, about what Dean looks like with lingonberry juice on his face, contrasting brightly against his clear green eyes.
He thinks of how miraculous it felt when the lion backed off him, when Dean forced it into retreat with nothing but a spear and his own two hands.
He thinks of Dean going berserk in his desire to protect. Dean sticking to his brother even through years of living alone. Dean lying all cut up and bruised, breathing hard, and drenched in the blood of the lion he killed with his own hands.
Dean’s strength. Dean’s fearlessness. Dean’s loyalty.
Dean’s natural inclination for joy.
Dean wakes up and blearily startles at Cas’ quiet, up-close inspection. Quirking an eyebrow at him in gentle mocking, he makes a single noise of greeting.
Cas ignores the distraction, brushes his hand over the side of Dean’s face where the stubble is just starting to grow in again, and leans his head forward.
He kisses him.
Dean’s eyes widen and he freezes, but it’s only a second or two before he melts, lids drifting closed, and he pushes back into the kiss with interest, quickly overwhelming Cas and rolling over on top of him. Cas makes an affronted, pained squawk as his cuts hit the fur covering beneath them, and Dean immediately backs off with a wince and soothing, apologetic kisses to Cas’ chest and belly instead.
Cas props himself up on his elbows to get his upper back off the floor and forgets his intention to glare, distracted instead by the mouthwork meandering lower and lower down his torso, the hands pushing furs aside and working their way between his legs.
Dean pulls the fur quilts over his head and disappears under them, leaving Cas submerged up to his neck, and continues on underneath the mound out of sight. Tiny licks and kisses explore Cas’ body as he goes, buried under furs like a mole, making pleased little noises of discovery. Cas fidgets, arousal heightening, and Dean nips him on the hip.
Dean huffs a laugh and continues, murmuring more pleased little noises as he gets closer to his cock and then abruptly shifts sideways to the joint of his hip and thigh instead, moving down and past it. Cas makes annoyed growl of frustration. Dean rubs his scruff over the inside of Cas’ thigh obnoxiously and then ‘discovers’ his cock with an exaggerated “A-ha!” Both hands circle around the base of his dick like he’s found a trove of untouched parsnips. Cas can’t help but laugh.
A warm wet mouth closes around his cock and his laugh stutters, turns into a tiny gasp. Cas breathes out, shuddering and arching into Dean’s mouth automatically.
Hidden from view beneath the pile of furs, Dean lets out a muffled snicker and pins Cas’ hips firmly to the fur-lined floor beneath them. He sucks and pulls, tugging Cas’ balls teasingly while Cas makes noises of need and annoyance. Dean swallows around him and Cas groans at how good it feels. Brushing a finger over his hole, Dean pops his mouth off the cockhead, and Cas comes all over his own stomach.
He lies out of breath for a little while, sated and sprawled, loose and boneless, simultaneously broiling under the furs and freezing where the cold cave air hits his damp, sweaty shoulders and neck.
Dean splashes up out of the furs like a surfacing whale, hair going in all directions, drawing in a deep, refreshed sounding breath and scattering the warmth and letting in a blast of icy air that forces Cas to voice a loud affronted noise of protest and kick him in the ribs.
Dean laughs again and falls forward, pinning Cas with his body weight, careful to stay low on his torso to avoid pressing on his shoulder cuts.
He’s still obviously hard, and waiting to play.
Cas stays lazily limp as he’s maneuvered, Dean using his beefy arms to push Cas’ legs together. He doesn’t help until he feels his thighs close around Dean’s impressive erection and Dean starts to thrust slow and deep between them. Despite the sweat still trailing down his skin, it’s a little dry, but Dean uses one hand to scrape up Cas’ cum off his stomach for added lubrication.
He presses them together again, now slick and hot, Cas squeezing his knees underneath him and running his fingers over Dean’s scalp, scraping and massaging the back of his shoulders and neck. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes of rocking and pushing before Dean comes, too.
The winter flies by in a tangle of sex and sweetness.
Their mammoth strategy is a massive failure. They attempt to drive a young calf away from the herd, but only result in angering its mama into a charge that leaves both of them stuck at the top of a pine tree for most of the night. Coincidentally, this distraction leaves the infant unprotected long enough that a couple of wolves savage it, and the mama leaves the base of the tree to kill one and chase the other off.
The wounds from the wolves slowly accomplish what Dean and Cas could not, and the infant succumbs to its injuries in less than a day. From there, it’s only a matter of waiting until the mama walks away, and the two hunters are able to scavenge a good bounty of meat and fat from the carcass left behind.
They also go back to scavenge from the lion they killed, stripping its pelt so Dean can turn it into a particularly impressive wrap. Cas insists they take the paws, too—once cleaned and stripped of flesh, the bones and claws hang nicely over the entrance of the cave as a sign of the prowess of the hunter inside.
Dean starts talking more these days than he used to, never as a way to convey information, but rather, Castiel thinks, as some very strange form of seduction.
For example, eyes sliding up the length of Cas’ body, Dean will sometimes give Cas a crooked smile and leer at him as he drawls, “Egō amāyō keubō juwes klounis. Awējō agō upo me, dheimi qe linghō teni juwes waplājō.”
Then later, as Cas sits outside, shaping the shaft for a new throwing spear, Dean will walk by and squeeze the end of it suggestively.
“Egō bhṉghus immō kartús id,” he says with a wink. Cas doesn’t know what he’s saying, but he doesn’t have to to get the gist. He feels his face heat up pleasantly and he speeds up his carving pace.
At other times, late at night, Dean’s voice gets softer, lower, and he whispers long strings of sentences into Cas’ ear, holding him tight from behind.
“Juwes oqos ghlastos smlis mari ad médhidjōws mbhros. Juwes cemjō wetos egō neu qisqis qidqid, neu spes. Apo egō plēnós prnos edunā, juwes krēmi drktā. Egō amāyō juwes, amāyō juwes, amāyō juwes.”
Cas turns and looks at him, half-suspicious he’s being teased. But Dean doesn’t look playful or pleased with himself as usual. He looks softer, serious. Vulnerable, even.
Cas draws in a breath. He is besotted.
“Egō awējō esmi en juwes.” Dean buries himself in Cas’ limbs, in his hair and the crook of his neck. Cas wraps his arms around the solid, compact muscle in Dean’s back, the smooth skin running down to his waist, and kisses the long lashes that cover his clear, trusting eyes.
“Egō awējō eibhō juwes.”
Dean’s fingers trail along his ribs, draw lazy circles on his hips, before sliding back behind him and tracing along his crack from back to perineum and up again with the faintest of teasing touches. Cas squirms and grinds into him, forcing attention to his much neglected bits.
Cas has learned very few words over his three seasons living with Dean, but you, ‘juwes’ is one of the ones he’s sure of.
Dean’s voice is thick with lust, gravel-low and murmuring into the skin of Cas’ clavicle. The words wash over him with a swell of warmth and intimacy. Cas shudders and tries to thrust his hips up, held firmly in place by Dean’s thumbs.
Dean palms two large handfuls of his ass, deeply massaging the muscle in his hard grip, then slides the fingers of both hands down the center and parts his cheeks.
Keening with need, Cas pushes his own hands between them and pumps Dean’s cock in his hand in encouragement.
“Juwes… wrdjā ghelwos…” You root vegetable.
Cas bites him in annoyance, and Dean yelps and doubles over, laughing. He knows exactly which words Cas has learned, and has been stringing him along with them on purpose.
Cas swats him in the back of the head, and then rolls over him and humps him rudely for revenge. He’ll just have to get his own pleasure out of the useless, giggling body, since it seems his partner is too otherwise distracted to attend to him. Enjoying each other’s grumbly bitch-faces by turn, they tease and torture each other until passing out, exhausted and happy, inextricably tangled in each other’s limbs.
They wake up thus entangled one morning in late spring to see a female Other with red hair leaning over them, peering at them intensely from less than a foot away.
Cas jerks in shock, waking Dean, and immediately there’s chaos as Cas scrambles up and sees the whole cave is filled with Others. Dean is talking rapidly, but they don’t look like friendly faces; someone grabs him and hauls him away from the warmth of their joint fur pile and Dean shouts something in anger and dismay, reaches to grab Cas but they’re pushing him back, herding him away from Dean and toward the mouth of the cave.
He’s shoved out the entrance and onto the ledge, knocked to the ground almost too fast to roll back on his feet. He isn’t bad in a fight, having put on some muscle weight over the winter, but fighting isn’t a workable plan here. There’s twelve of them, at least, and he’s backed up onto the steep rockfall rubble, loose stones sliding downwards beneath his feet. They loom in a group above him, fully armed with spears and obsidian blades, and he has nothing but the furs he slept in, and an unhappy lover that he can hear but not see.
The tallest one, who almost resembles Michael if he’d been an Other, raises his spear over his shoulder like he’s about to skewer Cas as easily as a fish in the river. Cas tries to dive sideways but there’s no leeway on the cliff rocks, and he’s forced to jump several feet down, landing awkwardly at the bottom of a six-foot drop, slipping to his hip and catching himself on his hands. The spear clatters down next to him and he can feel the wind of it as it passes, just missing him by a matter of inches. He goes to grab it but is forced back by another man with a blade at his neck.
Dean bursts out of the cave above, having fought free of the others and throws himself on the Michael-guy’s back, pulling the second spear down and pinning it to the floor.
There’s more shouting. Half of them are grabbing Dean, the other half sliding down the slope after Cas, and they’re all armed, all of them.
Cas bolts but doesn’t get very far before a blonde woman and two men in deerskin tackle him, blades in their fists. He rolls on his back under them, hands flying up to defend himself from the spearhead in his face, only to have both wrists grabbed and pinned. In the background, Dean is fighting and yelling, desperation in his voice; the Others are all shouting too.
A middle-aged woman and a man with a short beard and buckskin hat bellow over the top of it all, and the blonde woman with the spear at Cas’ throat pauses with a growl of impatience. The two men holding him down settle into just restraining him with equal reluctance, not killing him but clearly waiting to do so any second, while the bearded man marches down the cliff slide and starts to speak to everyone authoritatively.
Dean pipes in, sounding both stressed and relieved, and the others shove him back and snap at him to shut up. Another order’s given by beard-man and Cas is hauled to his feet, one behemoth on each arm to hold him up, then dragged away in the direction of the willow copse.
It isn’t long before he realizes they’re heading for the old pit trap that has been there since before Cas arrived.
The Others clearly know about it, and it occurs to him that they’re probably the ones who dug it in the first place. Dean is irritated and dismayed, but he doesn’t seem afraid on his own behalf. These must be the family members, the kin clan that left him here after Sam died.
They drop Cas into the pit, grip firm on his arms but steady enough to let him land on his feet instead of just shoving him over the edge so he breaks his neck on the bottom. The hole is nearly eight feet deep, and smooth-sided to prevent the animals they hunt from climbing out.
A mullet-haired guy is stationed at the lip with his spear to watch him, and then the heads of the others disappear over the lip, out of his sight except for the very top part of his guard’s spear.
The other voices retreat farther away, and after many minutes of nothing but the wind in the trees and the occasional shuffling of his guard, he supposes they’re probably back at the cave again. He hopes Dean is okay—they’re his family and clan, but they’ve been separated for at least a few years and Cas still doesn’t know why.
He also hopes they don’t kill him here in the pit, though he suspects they probably will. Experimentally, he walks the edges of the enclosure, looking and feeling the walls for soft places where he could dig in hand and footholds, but finding none. Mullet-head’s eyes follow him watchfully, spear always at the ready. Cas figures he’d be skewered before he could climb out even if he did find a way.
Hours crawl on without any more voices or noise from the group, and Cas stays seated on the frigid ground, leaning against the rough limestone wall behind him, head bowed and arms crossed over his knees.
Midday passes, and the late spring sun directly overhead temporarily warms the air around him. Around mid-afternoon, the redhead from the cave that morning shows up, lying on the ground on her stomach with her head propped on her arms so she can look down at him from the edge. Her expression is cold, closed off and full of mistrust.
“He say you are Cas,” she says in a thick, mulish accent.
He’s shocked, somehow, that one of the Others could possibly speak his language. He’s grown so used to Dean, made Dean the epitome of all things Other, that he forgot there could be any variation.
“You take our brother.”
“No. He saved me. We live together.”
“You take his heart. Change—Break him. He fight family. Want you.”
Cas doesn’t know how to respond. He hopes that’s true, but doesn’t want to say so if it’s only going to piss her off more.
“Bobby give…” she thinks for a word, changes her mind. “No want hurt Dean. No kill you.”
The tension that leaves his body is more than he thought possible.
“I want to stay with Dean.”
Her face hardens. “No. Dean has family.”
“Then where were you, his family? You left him behind!”
He thinks of his cousins leaving him in the lowlands with nothing more than a few pitying looks, caring enough to feel bad for him but not to save his life.
He remembers hurrying to keep up, watching their backs as they moved farther and farther ahead of him, out of shouting range. Them disappearing into the distance while he called and begged for them not to leave him. Pushing himself, limping and staggering as fast as he could, worsening the knee damage even further.
The redhead grows colder if that’s possible. “We no leave Dean. Dean choose to stay. Family hunt south, follow murderer, man murder Mary. Azazel. Like you. Wīrós. Wīrós like you.”
Shit. That explains so many things. That explains why Dean didn’t want to tell him about what happened to his mom, and about where the rest of his family were.
But then why, why did he take Cas in in the first place?
“Family follow him and hunt him. Catch and kill many wīrós, catch and ask his name. I ask wīrós where Azazel,” she adds proudly. Cas forces his attention back to her. That explains the language skill, then. She’s their interrogator, their translator.
“Now he dead. We kill him. We kill all murderer, all like you. And you come live with Dean.”
“I haven’t murdered anybody. Dean can see that. Dean knows me.”
“Dean confused. Dean want to see, to see… Dean hurt because of Sam.”
“Sam?” Cas repeats in surprised recognition. The redhead nods, already aware that he knows.
“Sam half, half wīrós. Mother Mary. Father… no. Not family. Like you. Dean promise Sam won’t leave, won’t leave. Sam sick, scared, Mary dead. Sam say no leave, Dean promise never leave. Dean never leave. That’s Dean.”
She looks softer, sad for a moment. More human.
“Dean break. We hunt, Dean stay here. But family. Family, we come back.”
Cas stares in dismay, in sympathy for Dean despite the more timely danger to himself. But Dean isn’t broken. Cas has seen that, Cas knows it deep in his bones, even without ever being able to speak a word to each other.
The redhead’s face grows determined again.
“You hurt Dean. Dean confused, you like Sam, but you no Sam. No family. You leave in morning. We give one day. One day, you here, we kill you.”
With that promise, she disappears back over the lip of the pit and Cas is left staring up at nothing but clouds and blue sky.
Overnight is freezing with no cloud cover, ice crystals forming in the dirt of the far corner where earlier he had to urinate. Teeth chattering, Cas curls himself up into the smallest ball he can, buries his face in his collar, and covers his toes to try to stay warm. He has nothing with him but the furs he was wearing when they threw him in.
Dean’s voice periodically rises in the distance, angry and arguing, and it’s a fair bet he’s trying to bring Cas food or clothing aid. But like before, there’s no overpowering an entire clan all by oneself, and eventually those noises cease, too.
He can’t sleep with the cold, so he bears with the fatigue and weariness, the worry and exhaustion over tomorrow. He hopes Dean can change their mind, but he doubts it. He thinks about where to go, about what chances he might have to see Dean one last time and say goodbye.
He shivers, and he waits.
The next morning, Dean and several others come back to the pit. Dean looks like he slept badly, his mouth a moue of concern, eyes lined with strain, checking over Cas for any injury or hurt. The Others keep a hand on his shoulder to keep him back, stern and watchful.
The blonde one brings the wooden rack used to access prey in the pit, and Dean takes it from her and lowers it down, bracing it between the floor and the ledge. The bearded man touches his elbow to draw him back, but Dean shrugs him off angrily with a word, and reaches a hand down to help Cas out. Cas hesitates, glancing at the spears still pointed at him from above, but puts a foot on the rack step and gripping Dean’s forearm, climbs out of the pit.
The valley looks much the same as it has every other day, but the sense of familiarity and security Cas had been developing here is completely gone. It’s like it was never really there, the permanence an illusion, a stupid dream that seems real while you’re living in it but becomes obviously ridiculous the moment you wake up. Cas was never really part of a home here after all; he’s a nomad by birth and by fate, making use of what he can and then moving on, always just passing through.
Dean stands before him only a foot or less away. His hand hovers at Cas’ bicep like he wants to pull him in, hold him close, but doesn’t quite dare. His eyes are full of sorrow.
“You go now,” the redhead interrupts. She points, east, south, wherever. “One day. We find you, we kill you.”
Cas looks at Dean again, and they meet each other’s eyes. Beside them, the man who looks like Michael shifts his spear.
Cas takes a step backward and away.
Tightness in his throat, Cas presses his hand once over his heart and raises it in farewell to Dean, and then turns and jogs away into the brush. He can hear Dean start after him, reaching out, calling his name, but the others intercede again and hold him back, herding him away back towards the cave.
Cas runs full tilt, heedless of where he’s going, to get away from the lonely anguish in Dean’s voice, the call repeating in his head even after he’s traveled far enough that hearing it anymore is impossible—Cas, Cas, Cas.
He heads south, eventually, because that’s where the weather’s milder, and now that he’s alone once more, he’ll need every advantage he can get. Maybe eventually he’ll come across another group like his own and be able to join them.
The night is cold again, as always, but he makes a basic nomad’s shelter of boughs and rocks the way he used to, and makes up the sleep he lost the night before with miserable, troubled dreams.
In the morning, he forages along a new river, and spends half a day walking to ensure he’s well out of Other territory before he makes the time to slow down and look for new flint.
He comes up with three chunks that have mediocre potential, and ties them inside his clothes for later knapping. He’ll also keep a look out and pick up promising sticks and uproot saplings as he walks for replacement weapons. This time, he won’t have the luxury of taking his time before he’s ready to hunt again. He needs to be armed enough to hunt right away. He needs to be stronger. More self-sufficient.
He needs to stop expecting that he’ll ever be able to stay.
He makes it to the far mountains by nightfall, where he stops and builds a simple shelter again. If he keeps traveling this direction, he’ll eventually find a river, and that will take him to the sea.
There’s always people to be found along the coastline, people like him, not the Others, people who share his language and who will accept him among their number.
It doesn’t matter that he’ll go back to being the outsider until he can work his way in via his contributions to the group. They’ll let him in, and that’s enough to survive.
Eventually, he’ll ingratiate his way into the group with the extra time he’ll spend hunting, with the best kills and the most meat brought back, and with the finest, most meticulously perfect tools anyone’s ever seen. They’ll welcome his fresh blood as a matter of practicality, good for future generations. His people are predictable like that.
After a few years, he may even sire some children, tie himself to the clan by blood, and then his position will be as secure as it can get.
He’ll have company. He’ll have allies, just like himself.
He’ll be better off that way.
He knows with a certainty that he’ll never again find the level of happiness he so briefly shared with Dean, but by one narrow definition, it’ll be better that way.
At least if he doesn’t care, it’ll stop hurting when he it all inevitably falls apart again.
It’s been a week since Cas left the cave at the river, and things are much as they used to be pre-Dean, though somewhat quieter.
He’s skinning a rabbit he caught, setting up a very basic camp in the windbreak of a rocky outcrop when he hears scrabbling stones and rustling a little ways away in the bushes.
Picking up his recently made spear, he moves warily into a crouch. If this is a predator, he hopes it’s a single one and not a pack, so he stands at least something of a chance. He strains his ears for more sounds in other direction, some forewarning if it turns out he’s surrounded.
What he hears is not what he expects.
The familiar voice makes him freeze, unsure that he isn’t imagining it. It comes again.
The rustling gets louder now, the speaker running toward him through the bushes. Dean comes bursting out between the shrubby branches of a gorse bush and a lilac.
Cas immediately drops the spear and reaches for him. Dean tackles him backwards with his momentum, hugging him tight, hand on the back of his head pressing his face into the crook of Dean’s neck, rocking them both in a way that is clearly for self-reassurance.
“Cas, Cas, Cas, Cas,” he rattles off into his ear. “Egō spekjō dḻnghos daitis, sntējō neqom welō juwes ati. Seqai gnōtlom qe pedom, mō juwes terō dānus. Sntējō nē wermi. Juwes mlākós kūlos. Eibhō.”
It’s a torrent of words and he follows none of them, but even despite that, he’s sure of what he means. Dean’s been tracking him and looking for him this whole time.
“You left… left Sam,” he gasps between kisses. “You… you came for me?”
Dean latches onto his throat, sucking a mark there, and slides his hands down right under Cas’ ass cheeks and hoists, shoving him up against the boulder wall, lifting him like it’s nothing.
Cas wraps his legs around Dean’s waist without a second thought. Dean came for him. His exceptional muscle strength, the familiar smooth skin of his chest and back under Cas’ hands speak to him in ways he never thought he’d hear again. The open desire in his mouth and kisses, tongue meeting tongue before he dropping back to the corner of his jaw, under his ear, hands gripping Cas’ ass and hoisting him up higher to give Dean access to his neck. He clings to his shoulders and throws his head back as Dean’s hips grind into his, stirring the heat back into his neglected groin, the first stirrings of desire he’s felt since he left.
“Juwes linqō klopnis qe eimi neu stāwō,” Dean pants into his neck. The brokenness in his voice startles Cas momentarily out of his haze. “Neu kenkai wesō teni me. Juwes sntējō egō ghawōd seqai? Juwes sntējō egō ghawōd awējō cemjō kom juwes?”
Dean’s hurt that Cas left. That he didn’t wait for him. Cas’ heart sinks in grief.
“I didn’t think, I didn’t think you could leave them. I wouldn’t ask you to leave them. You left Sam.”
Hot kisses climb his throat and he rocks into Dean’s grip, Dean’s hands sliding along the backs of his thighs, hooking behind his knees and yanking him even closer. His dick is insistent, but more than that, he needs to explain to him. He needs Dean to understand.
“I wanted to stay, I want to be with you, but they wouldn’t let me, and you already lost everything once, gave up your whole family for your promise to Sam—”
For the first time, he curses the difference between them, which led to their speaking different languages and prevents him now from soothing a wound he never intended to inflict. He curls his fingers deeper into Dean’s back, scratching his waist and his neck, pulling his buttocks in with his heels as if the only way to show him how much he wants him was to stick permanently to him by sheer force.
“Sam kom wenjā, egō nē moghō jewō immō.”
Dean murmurs the words into his skin as if to reassure him, but Dean’s the one who lost out here, and he’ll realize it, he’ll regret it if he chooses Cas now. He’ll regret it and leave. Cas pulls back.
“But I’m not—and I cost you Sam—”
Hands taking hold of his face, Dean meets his eyes, intense and sincere.
“Juwes nkējō me.”
Cas gulps air, hoping against hope that he might actually mean it. That Cas gets to keep this one, just this one person, who he wants more than any other he’s ever wanted.
“Juwes nkējō me. Qe egō awējō juwes.”
Dean reaches into Cas’ already loosening clothing and wraps his hand around his cockhead, slowly smearing the tiny dribble of pre-cum down the shaft. Cas shudders and bows his head forward over Dean’s shoulder. He bucks into the tunnel of Dean’s warm calloused hand, and decides he can’t get to the crux of this fast enough.
Taking control of the kiss with one hand on the back of Dean’s neck, Cas manhandles him down the boulder and onto the ground, rolling him over underneath him. Straddling him, he yanks Dean’s leggings and tunic out of the way, wriggling and forcing his hand inside the tightly bound clothing until he gets a good handful of cock.
Dean groans under his ministrations and goes pliant underneath him.
“Áiwesi,” he rasps as Cas strokes him up and down, pausing only to lick him wet and then sit up and lean forward over him again.
Dean’s hands crawl up the back of Cas’ now loose-hanging tunic and keep climbing, up past his shoulder blades and pulling the entire ensemble off over his head. It ends up between them, still encircling Cas’ arms since his hands are otherwise occupied and he’s not willing to let go.
Dean doesn’t seem to want him to let go either.
He arches his hips up, lifting Cas’ weight along with them, and rubs the sweat and the dust of travel into the bare skin of his back, now cruelly exposed to the chill evening wind.
“Egō amāyō juwes. Áiwesi.”
Cas lets go and grabs the stripped off clothing between them, throws it blindly to the side, and then forces Dean’s leggings down beneath his cheeks so their bare hips can line up with each other. He falls forward, covering Dean’s body with his own and pushing himself into the warm, tender space behind Dean’s balls, Dean’s dick trapped and pressed between their stomachs.
Hair tugging fingers scrape along his scalp and drive him into a fast-paced grind, slamming his hips hard into Dean’s and making him whine with his inability to cross that threshold into the tightness he wants, the closeness; he wants to bury himself inside. Dean squeezes his thighs together and reaches behind himself, spreading his cheeks so that Cas is wedged in between. He slides against Dean’s hole and Dean moans, bucking up and gripping him tight around the hips.
Cas reaches down his sides again, grabbing a full palm of ass and squeezes. Dean pants his pleasure and squeaks.
Squirming under Cas’ solid weight, Dean pulls his shoulders against his face and nuzzles him.
Dean comes all over his stomach, and Cas drives hard, pining and reveling all at once.
With a shuddering exhale, Dean rolls him over and takes him back in hand, pumping furiously. Cas writhes, having lost all control, and clings to the man above him.
His release spills over Dean’s hand, smears into his thick thighs and with it, bleeds him of all his remaining need and energy. Voice gravel-rough, Dean keeps murmuring the same two words in his own language on repeat, the exhaustion of his own post-orgasm phase catching up, as he sleepily rests his head down on Cas’ chest.
Cas lies fucked out and boneless in the warmth under his Other, breath deep and satisfied and swollen over with emotion.
He lifts his hands to the sides of Dean’s face, raises his forehead to his mouth for a slow, gentle kiss, and murmurs the words back into Dean’s hair, meaning every bit of them.