“You can’t just kidnap a man of the cloth, Dean,” hissed Sam, while he sent a measuring look over his shoulder to where the preacher in question sat calmly by the window of their rented room.
The preacher glanced up at Sam; he frowned at their hushed tones but otherwise remained still. Dean grabbed his brother’s shoulder and pulled them both further away from the man whilst angling their backs to hide their conversation. There was something about the collared man’s stare that made Dean uneasy.
“It’s not really kidnap if he came with us willingly,” he answered smugly.
“You know what I mean,” said Sam, sounding tired and reluctant to pander to Dean’s games. “It’s not safe for him to be here. We should have left him at the church.”
When no one had been willing to speak in the church, Dean had taken over. Using some of the remaining holy water and an already soiled handkerchief, he had wiped away or at least smeared the sigils until they were unrecognisable messes.
After that, he had broken the salt circle with the side of his boot and checked to see if Sam was okay. When he had done everything he could he turned back to the priest; the battered down door and the litter of unconscious bodies would have to be left behind.
The final words from the demon’s mouth before he had smoked out were still playing through Dean’s head and he knew then that they couldn’t leave the preacher here. So Dean had ordered him to come with them, not even bothering look back to see if the man was following as he stepped around the bodies, over the door and out into the sun.
Now, they were back in their dark, claustrophobic room overlooking the main street; two men and a preacher. There was a punch line to this line of thought, but Dean had yet to think of it.
He roughly shook his head back and forth to ward away his straying thoughts and instead tipped his head to the side, gesturing to their odd man out.
“Do you really think he would have been safer if we’d left him out there?” Dean argued. “You heard what that demon said. I don’t how, why or when but he’s somehow involved in all this and I’m not going to just let him get himself killed until we know why.”
Sam slowly nodded. He then pulled away from their impromptu huddle and began pacing the short distance of wooden flooring that the room had provided.
Dean made a mental note, while watching his brother cross the room in a few simple steps, to stop paying for these rooms. There was barely enough room for the two threadbare cots, let alone three men who were prone to pacing and plotting. Maybe a few nights camping under the stars would be good for them; it would certainly keep their pockets from getting any lighter than they already were.
Sam reached the window, halting for a second by the preacher’s feet and then turning sharply on the spot to re-tread over his short path. Dean would have continued to watch his brother aimlessly pace but he could feel the unsettling sensation of eyes burning into the side of his head.
Any normal man would have turned away, averted their eyes and pretended that they were not staring, but when Dean met the preacher’s gaze nothing happened. The man just stared back, looking like a child who was waiting to be scolded by its parents for something it didn’t understand it had done wrong.
“Okay, first things first. What’s your name?” Dean began, making Sam stop and face the preacher. Without looking away, the man answered.
Dean repeated the name, testing its taste on his tongue.
“Just Castiel? What, no last name?”
The preacher, Castiel, ducked his head and appeared to be thinking deeply about what he was going to say next. Once he had decided, he returned to staring unnervingly at Dean and Dean alone, Sam disregarded in the periphery of his vision.
“I do not know. I do not remember,” Castiel spoke almost reverently.
Dean’s mouth formed a ‘oh’ shape until his face collapsed into a look of confusion. Sam brushed past him and sat down on a corner of one of the cots. He looked enraptured already and Dean scowled at his brother’s predictability. Apparently, being ignored did nothing to dampen his rampant curiosity.
“How can you not remember?” Sam tried first and then paused to restart when he had rethought his strategy and his need to be polite. “Did something happen to you? Did the demons do something to you and that’s why you don’t remember?”
Castiel turned his sharp blue stare on Sam instead and Dean took a deep breath in relief.
“I do not remember,” repeated Castiel in an apologetic tone this time.
“Well, what’s the first thing you do remember?” Sam prompted Castiel.
For a moment, Dean thought Castiel had dropped his head in thought again, or even in prayer knowing what the man was, but when he moved closer he quickly realised that he wasn’t speaking to God but staring intently at his hands splayed out over his knees.
“The church found me four years ago.” Castiel spoke as though he was years older than he looked; his gravelly voice was surprisingly fitting for what Dean realised was going to be a long tale. “And I don’t just mean religion. Members of the church literally found me unconscious in the dirt just north of here. My hands were coated in blood that couldn’t have been mine and I was dehydrated to within an inch of my life and, although they had faith, there was very little they could do for me.”
Castiel looked up, face blank as he calmly described how close he had once come to death. He wasn’t fidgeting in his seat and his voice was completely level. This strange, almost detached, retelling just didn’t sit right with Dean, who was feeling more and more uncomfortable the longer the preacher spoke.
“However, I surprised the other Fathers by somehow pulling through. For the first few days my speech was limited to merely groaning and whispering for water and it wasn’t until later, when I had begun to regain my strength that the other Fathers realised just how clueless I really was.
“Even to this day I couldn’t tell you how I came to be in that state, just that from that day onwards, I was basically a blank slate with no memory of anything besides my name. I’m suppose I’m grateful I have that much at least.”
Castiel paused for a moment and Dean took that as a chance to chime in.
“Okay, so you woke up as Mr Clueless and the church took you in? Why?”
“Why would they care so much about a man they didn’t know but who clearly has some sort of suspicious background?”
For the first time, Castiel looked genuinely surprised and even slightly puzzled. He levelled an expression on Dean that could only be described as indulgent.
“You’re asking me why the Fathers decided to help a defenceless, dying man with little to no memory and nowhere to go?”
Dean had the decency to look sheepish, at least, at Castiel’s carefully measured question. He ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck, wondering how he could have worded his thoughts better.
“When you say it as blunt as that of course it’s going to sound bad, but you know what I mean,” said Dean, while glancing at Sam to get some back up. Sam sighed and rolled his eyes in answer.
“What my devoid of tact brother was trying to say was, don’t you find it a bit suspicious that the fathers then kept you around for so long even after not knowing who you are and what you might have done in the past?”
Dean nodded rapidly and gestured at Castiel; his skilfully haphazard hand gestures meaning to showcase that what Sam had said was what he had been meaning.
“Yeah,” he smiled.
Castiel’s face hardened and his resolve had clearly doubled.
“Those men saved my life and took me in without hesitation, whereas most people would have left me to die. I don’t owe them questions, I owe them gratitude.”
Both Sam and Dean had trouble coming up with a response to that, so they didn’t bother. They simply unsubtly changed the subject and moved on.
“Why weren’t you more surprised to find actual demons in your church?” asked Dean, remembering how easily the preacher had faced the rancher without shrinking back in fear.
“The other Fathers told me about the evils in the world,” Castiel sighed heavily. Almost as an afterthought, he added, “Thinking back on it, I still don’t really know if they were simply trying to warn me or if they were in fact attempting to lecture me. Maybe they didn’t trust me.”
“So you’ve seen their kind before?” asked Sam.
“No. Never. I’ve heard many stories over the years but today was the first time I’ve ever seen them with my own eyes.”
Dean huffed in annoyance and finally dropped onto the other cot, today’s exertions finally taking their toll.
“Then what the hell did they mean? All this ‘something special’ bullshit? They were talking to you as if they knew you,” he groaned towards the ceiling, head lolling back with exhaustion.
“I must admit I’m as clueless about their words as you are, I’m afraid.”
The room was silent. Outside, there was a hushed air of daily routine and business but it wasn’t loud enough to carry up and into the room.
Surprisingly, it was Castiel who broke the quiet atmosphere.
“The demons seemed to be rather focused on you two, though,” he said as uncertainly as his strange voice would allow him. “What exactly are your connections to the demons?”
Dean sought out Sam’s eyes from where he was sprawled out on the bed. Sam shrugged but Dean narrowed his eyes. He didn’t want the inevitable looks of pity that would follow the truth.
“We hunt them,” said Sam, as though the idea of hunting down what was essentially evil incarnate was a completely normal line of work. “Well, one in particular.”
“Why would you ever want to seek them out?”
“Well, we don’t want to. It’s just…” Sam trailed off weakly.
“We have to,” finished Dean, effectively ending the conversation.
Surprisingly, Castiel nodded as if he understood. Dean begrudgingly thanked him in his mind for not enquiring further into the matter.
Abruptly, Sam stood up and approached the door. With his hand on the handle, he turned to smile politely at Castiel and then addressed Dean.
“Can I talk to you? Outside?”
Once the door had been shut behind them, Sam smiled again. Dean was immediately suspicious.
“I think you were right. We should take him with us.”
Dean opened and closed his mouth wordlessly a few times before he finally managed to find something to say.
“Wait a minute, Sam. I never said he should come with us permanently” he argued, already a bit unnerved with the idea of having the preacher join them for good. He appreciated the guy’s ability to calmly accept the weirdness of the world but that didn’t mean he fine with the preacher tagging along with them indefinitely. “It just didn’t feel right to leave the guy there after that.”
Sam shook his head, that stupid goofy grin still on his face.
“No. Think about it, Dean. The demons definitely knew him. They seemed to want him dead as much as they want us dead, which says a lot. He said himself that he has no memories of what happened to him four years ago and that’s right around the time Dad died. It can’t just be a coincidence. He’s involved in this somehow.”
Sam was pacing as his brain worked swiftly and Dean fixed his long-legged gait with a calculating eye. He had to admit, everything did fit together rather well; Sam’s argument was hard to refute, but maybe that was the problem. It was all a little too perfect.
Dean wasn’t in the habit of visiting churches in the towns they rode through. Today had been a fluke; a variation in their normal routine. What exactly were the chances that they’d stumble on a man that was somehow linked with them and their admittedly strange lives? Pretty unlikely, Dean wagered.
He still wasn’t completely sold on the idea.
“How do we even know that this coincidence is a good thing?” countered Dean, halting Sam in his steps. “It wouldn’t be the first time those dicks have tried to mess with us.”
“I guess we can’t be sure,” admitted Sam, albeit reluctantly. “But, come on Dean, how often does something like this happen?”
“All the more reason to be suspicious.”
The brothers stared at each other, Sam already sure of his decision and Dean still on the fence. Sam raised his eyebrows in question and Dean sighed. Sam knew he had already won.
Trying to stifle a smug grin, Sam pushed open the door to their room and stepped back inside. Dean followed slowly behind with his head held high; just because he wasn’t completely sold on the idea didn’t mean that Castiel had to know.
Castiel was sitting exactly where they had left him, only turning his head in their direction when Sam’s heavy boot steps announced their re-entrance.
“We think you should come with us,” announced Sam brightly.
Immediately, Castiel looked panicked.
“For what reason?”
“We think you might be in danger. You’d be safer if you came with us,” Sam continued, toning down his voice until it conveyed his solemnity.
Hearing this, the panic quickly drained and Castiel was left mirroring Sam’s expression.
“I don’t know who or what you two think I am, or what kind of life you think I lead, but there is really no need for such concern. It was you who brought the demons to the church not me.”
“Regardless of that, they still knew who you were,” Sam tried again.
“They could have been lying,” Castiel reasoned. “They knew their time was up and wanted to scare me, maybe shake my faith a little before they went.”
Dean found himself agreeing with Castiel. It definitely sounded like something they would do. Hell, they had done similar things to both of them throughout the years. It didn’t necessarily mean anything.
Sam, however, wasn’t backing down.
“But what if you’re wrong? You’d be putting yourself through a lot of risk for an assumption.”
Finally, Castiel seemed to deflate. His shoulders dropped in submission and his hands loosened into a gesture of defeat. When he looked up, his eyes were missing their steely assurance.
“I do not want to leave my home,” he exhaled weakly.
Straight away, Dean understood. It was like a light had flicked on in his brain and he suddenly recognised what he was looking at; that world weary look that you had no control over, Dean knew it only too well. He knew what it was like to be forced out of the place you had the most memories of and he knew what he had wanted to say to the person forcing him. Looking at Castiel, sharing that same expression, Dean realised how important it was to get him out of there.
“You’ll regret it if you stay. Sooner or later,” Dean offered slowly and sincerely, while making sure he had Castiel’s full attention.
Sam was mildly shocked to hear Dean attempting to help, but quickly hid it before either man could notice.
“You may not care about yourself but you obviously care about the church,” Dean continued. “If you stay and the demons come back, it’s their lives that you would be putting in danger. You saw them today, they don’t care if you’re innocent or not.”
Castiel nodded in understanding and even possibly in agreement.
“We’re not forcing you to come with us. It’s completely your choice,” Sam added.
And then there was silence again. Sam spent the time nervously glancing between Dean, who was now staring intently at Castiel, and Castiel, who was staring intently at a spot on the wall over Dean’s shoulder. When Castiel spoke again, Sam was almost sure that they had lost him.
“I cannot just leave them,” Castiel said diplomatically and Dean sighed noisily at the statement but quickly held his breath when Castiel carried on. “I would have to let them know I was leaving.”
“Of course,” answered Sam quickly before Dean could have the chance to say something that might change the preacher’s mind.
Like liquid, Castiel then rose gracefully from his chair, crossed the room and held his hand out to Sam. Sam stared at for a second, completely forgetting any remnant of social grace he had left, but shook his head and grasped the offered hand in a strong grip before Castiel could take it away.
Once they were finished, Castiel turned his hand to Dean. Dean didn’t hesitate; he just clapped his hand to Castiel’s and held it in place.
“I hope I’m not making a mistake,” said Castiel, voice deep and grave.
“Honestly…” as Dean trailed off he shrugged his shoulders, jostling their clasped hands. Dean smiled and was surprised to find a small, almost invisible smile tugging at the corner of Castiel’s lips. “We’ll give you the night. Meet us tomorrow, early, just out front.”
Castiel nodded and then he was gone, shutting the door behind him softly and without a sound.
“He’s linked to this somehow, Dean. We just need to find out how.”
“He seems like a nice guy. I don’t want to get him killed,” Dean reminded Sam as he dropped onto one of the cots again.
“Well, he has a better chance with us than he does on his own,” was Sam’s argument as he also settled onto the other cot.
Dean would have argued back about the safety of travelling with two demon hunters but he fell asleep before the words could form.
The unpleasant aroma of horses permeated the early morning air and, when Dean yawned for what must have been the one-hundredth time, he came to the decision that he hated mornings. The streets were empty and resembled a ghost town with its dusty floor, dark wooden buildings and eerie silence and as Dean used his hitched up horse as a means to stand up straight, he came to the decision that he really hated mornings.
A chunk of bread appeared in front of his eyes and Dean blinked uselessly for a few seconds. Once his brain had processed that it was indeed just bread, he let his eyes travel up the arm holding it to find Sam struggling to hold back laughter.
“Breakfast,” he announced, far too loud for this time of the day.
Dean took the hunk of bread without complaint and bit into it. Hopefully chewing would keep him awake.
“Where did you get bread from? It’s barely sunrise,” he asked through a mouthful of dough.
Sam frowned at Dean’s lack of manners and, instead of answering, gestured with his head down the road.
“So, he hasn’t shown up yet?”
Dean tore another chunk off the bread deliberately before he spoke.
“No. Not yet.”
They waited another minute, both alternately taking bites of their meagre breakfast. After the third minute, a figure materialised on the horizon.
Even from this distance, Dean could tell it was Castiel. The man had a distinct walk; he didn’t slouch like most men, young or old, and if anything seemed to be gliding effortlessly towards them. Another thing that stood out about the man was his clothes. Dean wasn’t surprised that the preacher had kept to his cloth; the white collar was particularly eye catching, but he knew that they couldn’t go around with their own personal man of God for long. It would attract too much attention. Thankfully, the streets were bare at the moment but that would soon change.
Once he was within speaking distance, Castiel nodded at the brothers in greeting, looking far more awake than anyone had the right to be. Sam smiled politely back and pushed his weathered hat up out of his eyes.
“We were beginning to think you’d changed your mind,” he joked light-heartedly.
“It took longer than I thought it would to say goodbye,” explained Castiel with a slight grimace.
Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out a third chunk of bread and offered it to Castiel.
Although Castiel appeared grateful for the gesture, he lightly shook his head back and forth. Sam shrugged, ripped it in half and tossed one side to Dean’s awaiting hands.
“So what did you tell them?”
Sam glanced over at Dean and was immediately thankful for the fact that Dean had bothered to swallow his mouthful before he addressed the preacher.
Castiel stared at Dean for a few tense seconds before he decided to answer.
“I told them that I had found a path or, more precisely, a path had found me.”
Dean snorted, not even tactfully trying to hide his distaste for such religious sounding mumbo-jumbo.
“And they were fine with that?” he asked, cynicism almost dripping from his tongue.
“The other Fathers admitted they did not understand but they wished me happy nonetheless.”
Where most men would have felt scolded, Dean felt no shame. He simply waved off Castiel’s answer and turned his attention to his horse. Castiel was left scowling at his back.
Sensing the tension, Sam cleared his throat. The noise reminded Castiel that there was someone else behind him and he stepped back, his normal blank mask back in place.
“If it’s any consolation, we think you’re doing the right thing,” Sam offered with a weak smile. Castiel only nodded in his direction to prove he had heard him and Dean made a quiet noise of mumbled acceptance.
Sam finished off the last of his bread and approached his own horse, straightening various things while tightening others. Dean was doing the same to his left and Castiel stood awkwardly in the middle, eyeing both horses with something close to unease.
Dean had a small bit of bread left which he fed to his horse, smiling while he patted its nose. He and Sam had already spoken about the specific logistics of their travelling earlier this morning and, although Dean was tired enough for it to have made a modicum of sense then, now that he was a little more alert he was beginning to re-think their strategy.
Almost as if Sam could read his mind and somehow already knew that Dean was having doubts, he finished readying his horse and turned back to Castiel.
“Um, we can’t really afford another horse at the moment,” he gritted out apologetically over the back of his horse. “Demon hunting doesn’t exactly pay well,” he added with a laugh afterwards as a way to lighten the situation. “So, we’re going to have to share for a little while until we can spare the money.”
Judging by Castiel’s expression, the idea of sharing bothered him very little, it was the idea of merely getting on a horse in the first place that was making him shuffle from foot to foot.
Over by his horse, Dean had noticed Castiel’s reluctance and was smirking at him in amusement.
“And, this morning, we decided that it would be cruel to expect Sam’s horse to carry any more weight, so I guess you’ll be stuck with me for a while.”
Dean ignored Sam’s quick indignant cry of ‘hey’ at the insult and instead kicked his foot into a stirrup and swung himself up onto his horse with a well-practiced motion. Once he was comfortable, he arced around and stopped next to Castiel, who stepped back slightly as the horse snorted and waved its head.
Smirking all the while, Dean held down his dirt stained hand and, after a moment of nervous eyeing, Castiel gripped onto it with his own clean hand. Simply mimicking what he had just seen Dean do, he placed his foot in the stirrup and allowed Dean to pull him up and around, until he sat unsteady, and unhappy, behind him.
The horse bridled a bit at the extra weight and Dean felt Castiel flinch and awkwardly clench his fingertips into Dean’s shoulder. They weren’t going to get very far if they couldn’t move without Castiel clinging to him thought Dean with an inward sigh.
“Just hold onto my waist if you think you’re going to fall off, preach. I can’t ride if you’re pulling on my shoulders.” Dean’s tone was equal amounts teasing and practical.
Castiel dropped his hands to lightly grip Dean’s sides but still felt overly tense. He leant forward slightly and spoke into Dean’s ear.
“I’ve never been on a horse or, at least, not since I can remember.”
Castiel’s voice sounded even rougher to Dean when it was almost touching his ear and his breath was moving the hair on his neck. Ignoring the shiver that ran through him, Dean jostled his shoulder to knock Castiel back but instead of getting the message and moving away, Castiel panicked and gripped tighter to Dean.
Dean made a noise between a groan of annoyance and a chuckle.
“Preach, you need to relax,” he whispered, and as though Castiel had only just understood how uncomfortable he was making him, he quickly pulled back and loosened his fists, muttering a soft apology.
When both men were as settled as they were ever going to be, Dean looked over towards Sam to find that he had been watching them the whole time, an eyebrow raised and a hidden smile on his lips. Dean frowned at him.
“Ready Sam?” he asked harshly, trying to wipe the humour off his face.
“Yeah. You?” Sam answered, not even trying to hide the smile now.
Dean rolled his eyes, clicked his tongue at his horse and gently dug his heels in to start a slow trot down the rapidly brightening street. To his credit, Castiel only flexed his fingers when Dean pulled on the reins to correct the horse’s gait, other than that he sat remarkably still and straight, surprising Dean.
They eventually reached the end of the street are the buildings became few and further between.
“Where are we going?” Castiel asked with genuine curiosity.
Dean was about to shrug when he remembered how that would probably end with a nervous rider behind him and instead mumbled, “South.”
Digging his fingers into Dean’s jacket, Castiel twisted as far as he dared to look back at the town that had been his home for the past four years. Dean followed his eye to see he was staring at the barely visible peak of the church and remembered something he had planned to ask the preacher.
“So how exactly did you explain the state we left the church in yesterday?”
“I didn’t,” he admitted plainly. “The ranchers were gone by the time I returned so I just feigned ignorance.”
Dean was shocked into laughter at Castiel’s admittance. “And they believed that?”
“I doubt it. It’s probably the reason they let me go without much of a discussion.”
For a moment, Dean recognised a bitter hint in Castiel’s voice and wondered further about the man they had talked into joining them.
Sam was noisily moving behind them, hopefully practising Latin over and over again in his head like Dean had proposed this morning as a joke.
“I know they must have cared for me a small amount, otherwise why would they have let me stay for so long,” Castiel continued quietly. “But, at times, they acted as though – as though they were afraid of me.”
Silence followed. Dean didn’t know how to respond to that in a way that wasn’t laughter. He nudged his horse with his boot and pulled it sharply to the right; a gust of air left Castiel’s lungs and he must have almost bruised Dean with the ferocity in which he grabbed onto his waist. In his mind, Dean felt better about the plan to bring the preacher with them. How anyone could be afraid of a man that startled that easily, he’d never know.
The three men settled into a routine rather quickly, surprising the brothers who had never travelled with someone else before. Castiel didn’t exactly agree with their lifestyle but he never complained either. Both Dean and Sam soon got used to his presence.
Without a destination in mind, they simply chose a direction and moved. They rode during the day, through the sweltering sun and rested once the heat had evaporated somewhat during the night. On nights that they were in-between towns, they slept under the stars with only a campfire for warmth and light.
Dean would be unlikely to admit it, but he was actually beginning to enjoy the preacher’s company, despite his total lack of basic social skills and his stunted sense of humour.
The only thing that made them uncomfortable was the distinct lack of anything else. Over the fifteen days that they had been travelling, not once had they caught the trail of any demon and it was beginning to worry both Sam and Dean, who had never gone so long without some form of an attack. Castiel, one night, had voiced a thought that maybe they had given up and moved onto someone else. Sam and Dean had both remained quiet, neither wanting to say what they really thought.
Sam and Dean took shifts each night to watch over their makeshift camp and, after a few days of travel and almost constant insistence from the man, they finally allowed Castiel to take a shift. He offered to do the whole night once and Dean had laughed at his enthusiasm and told him it wasn’t necessary. Castiel had frowned and acted as though he hadn’t understood the joke, which just made Dean laugh harder.
Food wasn’t abundant but they made do. They stocked their pockets every time they passed a town and when that ran out they hunted what they could. Unsurprisingly, Castiel often offered his share to either Sam or Dean when food was low, seemingly not understanding that he needed to eat as well. Occasionally, and when Sam wasn’t looking, Dean accepted Castiel’s food just to see the man’s face light up when he thought they’d realised he was being sincere and, well let’s face it, he was hungry. Sam soon put a stop to though, once he noticed Dean hadn’t complained about being starving in a while. He’d attempted to explain to Castiel how his extreme politeness and bribery weren’t needed and that they weren’t going to just change their mind and abandon him if that’s what he was worried about. Dean still sometimes chuckled to himself when he recalled Sam’s overly earnest face and Castiel’s blank confusion.
Their life wasn’t ideal but it had become an acceptable routine.
On their eighteenth day travelling, huddled around their small campfire, Dean was woken up from his evening doze by Castiel’s quietly questioning tone. Sam had disappeared a while ago to see if he could find them some dinner, so Dean knew he couldn’t just ignore Castiel, who had lowered himself almost silently onto the ground next to him.
Dean groaned and struggled to sit up straight, his muscles aching from the constant riding. Once he was up and had pried his eyes open he looked over at Castiel.
He was sitting cross legged on the ground wearing tattered jeans and a chequered dirt stained shirt. Dean had finally convinced him to change out of his usual black priestly attire when he noticed how warm the material must have been in this kind of heat. Castiel had just shrugged and taken the offered clothes, not seeming to notice or care that they had come from Dean’s bag.
The man definitely looked different wearing clothes that didn’t remind Dean of God. He looked more human, mused Dean, noticing that Castiel even had a cover of stubble on his face now.
Dean was forced out of his analysing stare when Castiel drew attention to what he had in his hands.
“Where did you find that?” Dean asked gently, trying not to show how much he wanted to lean over and grab the object out of Castiel’s hands.
“I didn’t mean to pry. I was looking for an extra blanket and it just sort of fell out.” Castiel ran his fingers over the leather cover of their father’s journal. He touched it with respect like he knew how important it was to Dean. “What is it?”
Dean blinked. Castiel hadn’t even opened the book and he was running his fingers over it as though it was instinctively precious to him. Dean still wasn’t sure what to make of this man.
“You didn’t open it.” It wasn’t a question, more of a statement. Castiel looked up and caught Dean’s eyes straight on.
“I didn’t want to pry,” he answered naturally.
Dean smiled at the child-like sense that made and reached over to pluck the book out of Castiel’s hands.
“It’s a journal; it was our father’s,” explained Dean as he flipped open the cover and tilted the book towards Castiel and the light of the fire to show the initials sketched in the corner. “Sam and I weren’t born with the knowledge of demons and of basic Latin, hard to believe I know. Everything we know, we learnt from this.”
“You father also hunted demons?” Castiel was either shocked or in awe, Dean couldn’t really tell by his voice.
“Yeah, except it was more like just one demon. The rest kind of got in the way.”
“I seem to recall Sam saying something similar when we met.”
Castiel held out his hand in a ‘May I?’ gesture and Dean realised he felt completely fine handing the journal over to him. Castiel carefully leafed through a few pages, stopping to read at random intervals and tilting the book where their father’s writing skewed off in different directions.
“I don’t remember my father,” whispered Castiel.
Dean spent the next few seconds debating over whether or not he was supposed hear it or if he was supposed to react.
“I thought God was your Father,” he said finally and immediately regretted it.
Thankfully, Castiel didn’t seem offended; he smiled at Dean fondly, his expression resembling something a mother would send her small child.
“It’s not quite the same,” he admitted softly.
Castiel continued to quietly turn the pages of the journal until something caught his eye. His brow furrowed as he brought the book closer to his face; the fire only gave off a dim light and made reading rather difficult.
“Exorcizamus te…” he spoke fluently and without hesitation only trailing off at the end to look up at Dean. “This is the Latin that Sam used to exorcize the demons.”
Dean nodded absentmindedly, too busy watching Castiel skilfully juggle the Latin wording and pace with a kind of ease that Sam would never achieve.
“Have you come across it before?”
Frowning, Castiel shook his head. “No. Why?”
“You read Latin like a natural,” confessed Dean.
Castiel tilted his head in understanding and lightly shrugged his shoulders. “The church insisted.”
A slow, creeping smile dawned on Dean’s face and Castiel leaned back a bit in subtle alarm at its appearance.
“Do you think you could memorize it?” Dean asked, his voice hopeful.
Castiel dropped his stare back to the book in his lap and scanned the many verses of Latin script that covered more than one page. Looking over it again, Dean had a thought that it was impossible to think anyone could be expected to remember such nonsensical rubbish and already regretted asking Castiel to try. Knowing the man as well as they did now, the man would probably cut out both eating and sleeping just to work on the script.
“It shouldn’t be too hard. I’ve memorized longer passages for the church in the past,” declared Castiel as though the feat was nothing.
“Really?” Dean was still doubtful.
Again, Castiel looked up from re-reading the Latin to stare at Dean. For a second, Dean wished that Castiel had put a bit of space between them before he had decided to sit down because, when he then showed how little he knew about social boundaries, it made Dean slightly uncomfortable to have Castiel staring at him from such a close distance.
He soon forgot about it though when Castiel closed the book, keeping his thumb in the pages to hold his place and started reciting in perfect Latin.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus…and so on.” Dean stared back at Castiel, wide eyed and impressed. “As I said, it shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“Wow, Castiel, your Latin puts mine to shame,” echoed Sam’s voice somewhere to their right, startling both men who whipped their heads around at the noise.
As Sam was stepping over into their campsite, Dean edged away from Castiel, putting a respectable distance between them. He knew how much of a bastard Sam could be when he wanted to and he either hadn’t noticed Dean’s proximity to the preacher or he was saving up the comments for later. Regardless, Dean was still keen on removing the fuel from that fire as quickly as he could.
Once he had dropped onto the ground with an exhausted sigh, Sam caught Dean’s eye and sent a pointed look towards their father’s journal. Castiel already had his nose buried in it again so Dean merely shrugged.
“We have a preacher on our side now, Sam. Who better to do exorcisms than a bona fide priest?”
Sam quickly held up his hands in mock surrender. “Hey, I’m all for it. The sooner I can stop learning Latin, the better,” he argued.
Without looking up, Castiel added, “Thank you, Sam.” He still wore his wooden rosary around his wrist and as he continued, he began fiddling with some of the beads. “I find Latin to be…rather soothing.”
Dean’s face formed a mangled expression of many emotions at once, ranging from harmless disgust to a strange fondness. Sam held a very similar look as they both stared at Castiel.
Eventually, they shook themselves free from the feeling and Dean began scanning the area around them. Seeing nothing, he glared back at Sam.
“I take it you couldn’t find anything,” he said, knowing full well that he would be going hungry tonight.
Guiltily, Sam shook his head. “I tried. I guess we’ll just have to make do with stale bread and dried meat again.”
Dean groaned dramatically and Sam was forced to roll his eyes at his childish behaviour. He reached behind him and dragged a bag across the dirt until he could delve his arm inside. When he brought it back out, he was holding a parcel of wrapped up cloth. Inside, there were the last of their rations. As Sam began doling out food, Castiel held up his hand and, without fanfare, said his line.
“If we are running low, feel free to take my share,” he offered gracefully.
The offer happened so often now that both Sam and Dean ignored it. Sam handed Castiel’s ration over to him and settled back with his own.
Scowling, Castiel held the food out in front of him. “I’ve soon come to realise that you two think I’m joking, but I’m really not.” He glanced between the brothers looking vaguely dismayed.
“Just eat it,” ordered Dean as he tried to enjoy his own small meal.
“But I’m not hungry. Surely, it would make more sense for you or –“
“Cas!” Dean interrupted abruptly before Castiel could argue further. “We’re not discussing this anymore. You’re hungry. Eat it.”
For a split second, Castiel looked upset; not at Dean but at himself. The food still sat in his hands and Castiel stared at it in distaste before he silently began eating it as ordered. Dean sighed in relief and turned to Sam to gesture ‘What the hell?’ at him but found him mouthing something back at him instead. Dean watched for a moment but couldn’t make out what it was over the dim fire. After a few useless seconds, Sam gave up, shaking his head and tilting his palms to the sky.
Turning back to his food, Dean rolled his eyes and tried to ignore his travelling companions, who were starting to grate on his nerves. He stuffed the last bite into his mouth, internally relishing the feeling of food in his stomach while also lamenting at the fact that it still wasn’t nearly enough.
Dean was mindlessly chewing when his brain sparked something close to recognition. Cas. He recalled the image of Sam mouthing silently over the fire and groaned at the realization that he was saying the word ‘Cas.’ Since when did he refer to their preacher by a nickname? Apparently, since ‘Cas’ had become so predictable and consistent in their lives that Dean could already predict what he was going to say.
Hoping that, for once, Castiel wasn’t doing his creepy staring thing, Dean snuck a look over at him. Their father’s journal was open across his knees, a few pages from the beginning as Castiel had decided to read everything over from the start. With a grimace every now and then, he bit off a chunk of bread but chewed it without complaint. The sight had soon become familiar and Dean surprised himself by thinking it was almost comforting. The only other time that he felt that content was when he sometimes just caught sight of Sam out of the corner of his eye, looking arguably happy but undeniably healthy. It was a friendly, family orientated feeling.
When had that happened? When had they become family? Dean asked himself with a frown.
Sensing that someone was watching him, Castiel raised his head and before Dean could swiftly shift his gaze away Castiel smiled warmly at him forcing him to smile back. It had been only him and Sam for so long that Dean had almost forgotten how to deal with anyone that wasn’t serving him silent shots of whisky or were not in fact his brother.
The strangest thing was that it had come naturally with ‘Cas’. For being an amnesiac ex-priest, he was surprisingly easy to talk to, Dean often jokingly thought to himself.
So when they finally settled down to sleep, circled around the meagre campfire, Dean simply overlooked Sam’s incessant snoring because he was his brother and they were family. And if the, stark against the relative silence, rustling coming from Castiel as he turned the pages of the journal kept Dean up longer than he would have liked, it was fine because it was just Castiel being ‘Cas’. He could overlook that too.