Marble is cold. Hard. Blank. Unfeeling.
Castiel has gotten a reputation for being the same.
It’s hardly his fault. What does he care of the minutiae of life. When he goes to the market, he buys what he needs and nothing more, no matter how much the vendors holler and screech their wares and prices.
He buys the essentials. He has no skill in the kitchen, nor desire to learn. It all tastes like dust to him.
He wonders, sometimes, if he should try to sustain himself with the rocks he carves, like the gossip of those in town claim. He feels sure that if he did, he would turn to dust himself. He wonders if that would be so bad.
He sharpens his chisels and gets to work.
Sometimes his brother, Gabriel, stops by. He doesn’t mind that Castiel doesn’t respond, knowing that is just his way, and carries on talking enough for the both of them. Castiel knows he is fond of the sound of his own voice, and indulges him. Sometimes he even bothers to listen, which is how he learns what the gossips think of him. He doesn’t bother himself with it, but it sticks in his mind like a particularly stubborn pebble in machinery.
Gabriel’s learned to talk loudly if he wants to carry on the illusion that he’s being listened to. The sound of the hammer hitting the chisel echoes, and the crack of the marble splits the air like lightning, the rubble hitting the ground like thunder. Sometimes Castiel doesn’t listen to Gabriel because he has filled his ears with candlewax to save them from harm, but he was too late to the practice to stop the incessant ringing that fills his ears in the silence.
The ringing makes him grateful for Gabriel’s voice, sometimes. When he’s not there, he blocks it out with more hammering and chiseling.
He wishes he could sit and watch the bees. But years ago, when he first began his craft, he was too busy. Now, all he hears is the ringing reminder of his work.
Castiel loves his creations.
Not every one is a masterpiece, but that hardly matters to him. What matters is that each of them hold a piece of his heart, because he puts a piece of it into each work he completes.
(in that sense, perhaps not masterpieces but pieces of their master)
And he would protect them with his life. They are his life, in a way. He remembers walking through fields of flowers and butterflies and bees, under trees and over small creeks where he cools his feet during the summer. But now, it’s all marble. All stone.
Just like the eyes in front of him.
Michael is a powerful man in town. Castiel is not quite sure how he is powerful, but he knows that he is. It is unquestioned, just like the man himself.
Castiel almost wonders if Michael is fashioned from stone, just like Castiel is claimed to be. If he were, no one would dare to say so in public.
He wants a statue.
Specifically, a statue of his beautiful husband, Dean.
Dean is the son of a poor huntsman who dealt away his beautiful son to pay off his debts. Everyone knows John is a scoundrel and a drunk (so sayeth Gabriel). Apparently, Dean’s beauty is so profound that Michael wants a statue to commemorate it.
Castiel wonders how a powerful man like Michael might react once poor Dean is no longer as young and beautiful as his statue. He pities Dean.
But he also needs to be able to pay his dues, so he agrees; one life sized marble statue of Dean for Michael.
Dean must pose for him in order to get his likeness.
Obvious though it may be, for some reason or another it doesn’t strike Castiel that this is the way it is to be until the man shows up at the doorstep of his shop.
When he sees him, Castiel has to admit that he understands now, why Michael would want to make a marble statue of such beauty. His hands itch just looking at the soft lips, the broad shoulders, the strong hands, the cut of his jaw. Whether the itch is for his hammer and chisel or something else, he doesn’t know, but he feels fear and awkwardly beckons the man inside.
The man is hesitant, but one wouldn’t know it by the way he speaks. His voice is gruff and his demeanor guarded, and all Castiel can think of is how beautiful he is, even as hidden away as he has made himself.
“So uh. You’re the sculptor?”
Castiel watches those soft lips move for a moment before realizing he’s been asked a question. “Stonecarver.” He corrects, moving to his tools. “Please pull the chair in the corner over to the sunlit spot and have a seat.”
“Sit?” Dean asks, an odd tone in his voice.
Castiel turns and sees Dean looking at him with an equally odd look. “Unless you’d rather stand? This will not be a quick process. I thought you would prefer to be seated.”
“No, yeah, I get that I just---” Dean cuts himself off, lightly exhaling through his nose. “Thanks.”
Castiel just nods, and collects his tools. Then he turns to his marble.
Never before has it seemed so impossible to turn a hunk of rock into something stunning, but Castiel is a professional and a skilled artist. He takes a moment to collect himself before moving over to Dean to look closer at his subject.
Taken aback at the sudden attention from much closer than expected, Dean rears back. “Woah, buddy. Personal space?”
Castiel squints at him. “I need to get a better grasp of your features. Do not mind me.”
Dean laughs almost involuntarily, incredulity in the curve of his mouth and fear in the glint of his eyes. “Kinda hard to do when you’re staring at my face from this close.”
The artist blinks. “I’m making you uncomfortable.”
Not expecting a response to what was not a question, he moves to find a second chair and places it in front of Dean, but not as close as he was before. He takes a seat, and turns expectantly to Dean.
“Tell me about yourself, Dean.” He prompts, a pad and a pencil in his hands.
Dean jerks slightly, the lines of incredulity becoming deeper, creating a crease between the eyes. “What?”
Castiel sketches a few lines, but looks immediately back up at the other man. “Tell me about yourself.”
His model blinks hard a few times. “Is that relevant?”
Eyes like emeralds flick up and down Castiel’s seated form for a moment, and Dean licks his lips.
He starts talking.
Dean is twenty six, with a brother four years younger. Samuel, Sammy, Sam. He’s a scribe at the local parish, training to be a priest. He visits his brother “as often as he can,” Dean says, but by the twitch of his cheek it is not as often as Dean would like. Castiel’s pencil flicks almost absently.
John is not mentioned. Castiel doesn’t blame him for it.
Dean is skilled with his hands, having been responsible for cutting firewood, grinding plants to paste for medicine, stirring pots of food, and tending to his infant brother. He doesn’t have to use his hands very much anymore, living with Michael. Michael thinks it is beneath them. Dean’s dimples deepen at that, and it is disagreement. Swirls on the paper.
A local fisherman, Robert (“Bobby”, Dean calls him, eyes warm) is an old friend of Dean’s; when John was too long on his pursuit after some beast or another, or seeking comfort at the bottom of a bottle, Bobby was there to give Dean first pick of the fresh fish before it was taken to the market. Dean doesn’t see him as much anymore, a realization he makes in Castiel’s shop, and one that turns the warm hearth in his eyes to cold ashes. Castiel traces the lashes of Dean’s eyes from the comfort of his paper.
Dean speaks of the local children, claimed and orphans alike, with equal fondness. Krissy, Kevin, Charlie, Ben, so many that Castiel in his excellent memory cannot keep track of. He sneaks them bread made by the baker Donna, and little trinkets from the blacksmith Jody. Jo and Claire, huntress and huntress-in-training, Ellen of the tavern, Rufus the brewer. Names and faces of people Castiel has never met, described in such detail that he feels as if he has known them his whole life. Castiel’s hand flies across the page, eyes never leaving the suddenly vibrant young man in front of him who loves so fiercely.
Soon the sun is falling, and so does Dean’s enthusiasm once he realizes how much time has passed. He seems…unbalanced, by the shifting of the sun, almost as if he has just realized that he is running out of time.
His face falls. “I suppose you got all you need out of me, huh?” He says with false flippancy.
Castiel looks at him, eyes flicking to his notes and then back up. “I…No. This is only to get an idea of what I am to do. I still need you present for the actual carving.”
Dean’s face brightens. Castiel never wants to see it dim.
He is escorted home by a stern man by the name of Victor, but Dean seems fond of him. They banter and Dean offers a sincere farewell before leaving for the day. Victor gives him a long look, but turns away at the prodding of his charge.
After that, the days are filled with carving and Dean’s chatter at Castiel’s silent form.
Or, at least, that’s what he thinks will happen.
What actually happens is, in the middle of a hammer swing, Dean speaks up.
“So tell me about yourself.”
Castiel nearly ruins his block of marble.
He turns his head to his model. “Beg pardon?”
Dean gestures at him with a careless flick of his hand, reclined on his chair like it’s a throne. “I told you all about myself. Tell me about you. It’s only fair.”
Fairness, Castiel thinks distantly, is the form of a blind woman holding scales that he once carved for a local judge. Said judge was found accepting bribes and throwing innocent people into prison, and was hanged for his corruption.
It’s certainly never applied to him. He’s done this many a time, listening to models tell him tales and making notes in his sketchpad. Never once has any asked after him in return, not even Gabriel.
But Castiel hesitates for only a moment before indulging this unusual request.
He tells him that he was an orphan on the streets with Gabriel, but was taken in by the generosity of the late master artist Annael. She had shown him everything he ever needed to know about the art of stonecarving, had gifted him his first chisel and hammer. She first trained him with cheap rocks and concrete before he was allowed to take a chisel to marble. He took to it like a duck to water.
Annael was teary-eyed with pride and had given him his first hug from anyone beside Gabriel. She gave him a great dinner of duck and vegetables and bread, with his first ever glass of wine. She bid him to bed and told him how proud she was of him.
The next morning, he went to her room and found her body in the tub, water stained a rusty red.
After that, he told Dean dully, he never really had a taste for anything but oatmeal, bread with butter, and dried meat strips.
Dean is silent for his entire story, which takes the entirety of the session. It leaves Castiel with a tightness in his throat and a pressure behind his eyes, and he realizes that he hasn’t told anyone that story since the day of her death. He doesn’t look at the model, telling himself it’s because he needs to focus on the stone in front of him.
Before leaving the studio, Dean stands and moves over to the artist, and before he knows it, Dean has wrapped his arms around him, hold gentle but firm.
Castiel is stiff for a moment, but melts into the embrace after a moment, arms coming up to the other man’s back, gripping his clothes. If Dean’s shirt is a little more damp on the shoulder than it was before the hug, neither will ever tell a soul. What Castiel never tells Dean is that that was the first time in his memory that he had ever cried.
Dean leaves with Victor and Castiel grips his own shirt over his heart, and insists that it doesn’t need to beat as hard as it is. But it keeps beating on.
Dean returns, and carving resumes. The pattern continues for weeks, with the two coming to an unspoken agreement to alternate which one speaks on any given day, and Castiel feels the vulnerable sensation of being seen for the first time in his life as something other than the very marble he carves.
He feels like a butterfly in a meadow that he would observe as a child. Fragile, beautiful, sipping the sweet nectar that the universe had thought to bestow upon him in the form of something beautiful, and nervously aware that something much bigger and stronger than he was, was watching his every move.
Castiel, ever the gentle child, was the type to pick up worms trapped on stone and return them back to the soil when the sun had trapped them after the rain.
But in this metaphor, the child watching his fragile insectoid form was Michael, and he struck Castiel as the type to smash anthills under his shoes just to spite the ants for existing.
The man would stop by to check Castiel’s progress once a week, and every time Dean would wither into a husk of his vibrant self. Silent, meek, nothing like the opinionated and cheerful man that he knew.
Castiel had lived on the streets long enough to know what that meant, and a blaze grew behind his ribs and smoke filled his eyes.
Thankfully, either from Castiel’s marble exterior or Michaels lack of concern for the artist himself, the blaze of his emotion went unnoticed by the powerful man. Dean, however, saw the red smoke filling Castiel’s eyes, and was quick to charm his husband into leaving, using gentle touches and an even more gentle voice to urge him to believe that all was well.
Once Michael would leave Dean would only have to look at him with fear and the fire in his chest would be doused.
“Don’t,” was all Dean said, and Castiel nodded. He understood. Michael’s hands may or may not reach the artist, but would certainly reach the model.
(Castiel had referred to Michael as Dean’s husband, and Dean scoffed and insisted he was his fiancé. Something in Castiel eased, and he feels queasy for it.)
Eventually, Castiel notices something odd.
He catalogues Dean’s expressions and tells as a point of professional pride.
(“Human emotion is vital to the artistic process, Castiel,” Annael had told him all those years ago. “Any artist can carve. Only you can bring it alive.”)
But Dean started to do something…new.
He would look Castiel in the eyes. Then his eyes would flick down ever so slightly. He would lick his lips, and then his eyes would return back to his.
He repeated this, again and again, leaving him baffled until Gabriel joined him for dinner to give him news from the market.
“That Andrea! She doesn’t realize that Benny the fisherman fancies her!” Gabriel crowed, ever so entertained by his own stories.
Castiel didn’t look up from his notes of Dean’s face, perched next to his bowl of stew. “And how should she possibly know that?” He asked absently.
“Why, he looks at her lips almost as often as he looks into her eyes! Unless you are dear Eileen from the tannery, who cannot hear a thing, no one needs to look at one’s lips as often as he does to her!”
Castiel blinks at a sketch of Dean’s lips, and the final piece clicks into place.
The next day, Castiel is filled with anxiety and anticipation. Dean takes a seat as usual, and talks about Benny the Fisherman, same as Gabriel. They are friends, the fisherman having worked on Bobby’s vessel for a while.
He tells the same story, of how ridiculous that Andrea doesn’t know that Benny wants her. He looks Castiel dead in the eyes as he says it, before his eyes drop lower (to my lips! Castiel thinks deliriously) and flick back up.
Castiel doesn’t even drop his tools before he moves over to the model, who stands as Castiel walks over, and they meet in the middle, Dean’s hands on his face and Castiel’s arms wrapping him close.
It’s warm, it’s wet, and it’s unfamiliar, but Castiel decides quickly there’s nowhere he’d rather be than right here in Dean’s arms, his lips against the model’s, just as soft as he always thought they were. Breaths shared, warmth blending together, just feeling each other click together like two magnets finding each other and drawn irresistibly into the other.
Castiel thinks that nothing could ruin this moment.
He is wrong.
His blood freezes, and Dean does the same in his arms, their head whipping around to the door of the studio to see Michael, tall and strong and furious. In Castiel’s frazzled mind, he had forgotten that it was his weekly day to visit to see the progress on the statue.
(he had long since stopped paying any attention to the statue, but it was exquisite. It was the best work that Castiel had ever done, bar none. But he had no eyes for anything but his model)
Michael draws his blade from his belt, advancing as he did so, and the lovers split in separate directions. Michael follows the artist, his ornate blade slamming down against Castiel’s humble metal chisel.
The force of the blow forces Castiel back and he stumbles, tripping and falling by the statue, but he kicks out and knocks Michael’s legs out from under him, with the man falling on top of him. Both of their weapons knocked from their hands, Michael resorts to wrapping his hands around Castiel’s neck.
“How dare you attempt to steal what is mine!” He roars, fingers squeezing tighter. Castiel sees dark spots in his eyes. “You dare steal my husband? Mine?”
The world starts to fade out around Castiel. He can’t breathe.
Suddenly, Castiel hears a crack. The crack of lightning. Of chisel against stone.
Startled, Michael’s grip loosens, and they look up.
In Dean’s hands was the head of the statue, his eyes aflame and teeth bared in fierce triumph, so at odds with the serene expression of his marble copy. Castiel thinks it suits him better.
He slams the marble against Michael’s head with a mighty crack of thunder.
The man drops. And he doesn’t get back up.
Dean drops the marble head next to the body of his (ex-, Castiel thinks dumbly) fiancé, moving to cradle the head of the artist gently.
“Are you alright?” He asks urgently, looking into his lover’s eyes like they will fade at any moment.
Castiel nods, never once looking away. “I’m fine. I love you.”
He doesn’t even realize what he’s said until green eyes well up with tears and he has the very breath squeezed from his lungs in a hug.
They stay like that for a while.
Castiel doesn’t know how Dean deals with the body of his ex-fiancé. He just knows that Dean takes care of it, and that they are never plagued by his presence again.
The townspeople, Dean’s friends and family, are so pleased at Dean’s change in fortune that they celebrate for a whole day in the tavern.
And in between the well wishes and the drinks, the lovers drink and kiss and Castiel promises Dean a picnic in the summer sun in the meadow of his childhood where the flowers grew.
Dean kisses him again and again.
(And years down the line when Dean is no longer as youthful as he once was, Castiel makes a point to remind his husband every day that he’s the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, because unlike marble, Dean only grows more beautiful and loved in his eyes every day he lives.)