Something there is in Beauty
iSomething there is in beauty
which grows in the soul of the beholder
like a flower:
for many are the blights which may waste
for the beholder --
and imperishable --
for the beauty may die,
or the world may die,
but the soul in which the flower grows
bStephen Donaldson 1977/b
Dean Winchester's hair, Castiel notices with the yearning need to touch, is over a hundred defined colours, of gold and copper and sand. Castiel has watched his hair with a strange hunger for a very long time, watching as it shifted from black to blonde to red to brown and million colours in between.
Dean doesn't care about this. If you ask him it's brown. But Dean will never know the wealth of colours that the sunlight catches, and even if he did he wouldnt' care. For the first time in history Castiel sits within touching distance of his charge, this soul he has followed for so long, and all he wants to do is reach out and touch his hair.
He sits on the edge of the uncomfortable motel bed with his hands, Jimmy's hands, clasped awkwardly between his knees as Dean talks and he listens, of course he listens, but all he wants to do is to reach out and touch.
It's all he's ever wanted, to touch her hair.
But Castiel has never been worthy to touch, and now is no different, as Dean wraps his arm around him to pull him aside, a hand on his chest to push him away, Dean touches, Castiel does not. Castiel watches, always watches as the wind and the sun paint a million colours through Dean's hair.
One of the very first things he did on getting a body was run his hands through his own hair, stiff and crunchy with some sort of stuff. Claire had come out, her own tied back, and he had no urge to touch her, just walked away, leaving her behind with the admonition that he was "not her father" because she was not his charge, Dean was, had always been.
Castiel was not the first, he knew that, the first had fallen, perhaps they too wanted to touch his hair he wondered, but they had fallen and Uriel had taken a piece of the grigori and created Castiel to watch over this one human as a symbol, knowing Castiel would love him, and that Castiel would be true.
Angels weren't meant to want things, Castiel knows, but he just wanted to touch his hair. Instead, tucked away in a pocket of these restricting clothes was a single strand, white with worry, left behind on a pillow.
Maintain the curse, Uriel says, watch, but do not act unless you are told, protect him that the curse may be enacted, that he may be punished for his sin. Those are the words Castiel has etched into his very core, and every time he might cast them aside, that he might break under the need, the want, the yearning to touch, to simply touch, Sam comes in with his wide wolfish grin and Castiel is reminded Angels don't want, Angels don't need. Angels are and that is enough, has to be enough, is never enough.
This is how it has always been, how it will always be. He sinned and he must be punished. Though Castiel has never known what sin it was he committed to be punished so eternally.
Dean is just this incarnation, there will be others after him, as there were so many before. Dean will die soon, Castiel knows, violently and painfully and he will be reborn and the cycle starts again, and Castiel will watch over it again, and again and again. He always has.
Her hair is unbound and she holds it aloft, pulling the comb down through it's inky blackness, smiling to herself. Her reflection in the mirror shows her at advantage, look like a girl on the eve of her wedding. She is loved and it shows in her eyes and the colour of her skin. She has eyes the colour of honey and her hair is a fall of ink from her hand.
She does not know the angel that watches her.
She taps her bare feet against the stone floor at her dressing table. The moon falls through a lattice to carve diamonds and flowers upon the floor.
She is naked, her skin coffee coloured and bruised by over eager hands and caught by bitten nails. Around her neck is a collar of diamonds and twisted gold.
Castiel stands in the shadows, invisible but still hiding from her beauty, from her magnificence, as she sits there, naked but for her jewels and brushes out her hair.
Behind her her lover lies on her pillow, arm over the blanket gathered up in his powerful arms, and sleeps the sleep of the sated and beloved.
He only watches.
"You are mistaken," Castiel tells Sam that afternoon, sitting around a motel table, Sam is translating old books, "there is no gender distinction in Enochian, but if there were then all would be she, not he, as those who can create life."
Dean might not understand the ramifications of these words, of what it means exactly, but he knows that Castiel has just proved Sam wrong and Sam doesn't like it. So with older brother schadenfruede Dean snorts a laugh, "God's a woman," he crows, "the beer's on Sammy."
Sam pulls a face but corrects his translation. "What is this, pick on Sam day."
"No," Dean says, "that's the third of every month, today's take a pot shot at Sam day." Sam pulls a face but Dean knows it's made with love and just grins back. Castiel watches all this without comment. He's watched these two before after all. He's watched them practically since time began. He knows these games they play, and he watches them, just watches, from the side.
She is cursed, Uriel says and he cannot look at Castiel, they have no eyes with which to see but yet Uriel looks everywhere but at him. She has sinned and she must be punished. She will live in great beauty, and she will be loved and she will love, and she will die for that love in great pain, for that is what love is, and you, Castiel knows that this is the part of the curse that matters, the part that even Uriel cannot stomach, you will watch so the host can be spared. Again and again she will be born, she live in beauty and she will love and be loved, and she will die young for that love and you will watch so we don't have to, because that is her punishment. That is what she must do to atone.
Castiel nods though he wants to ask why, to ask what it was that she did, instead he sees her, a spark growing under the heart of a simple woman, a twist of flesh that he will spend eternity guarding.
I will watch, he says, I will not interfere.
He wants to ask will she ever be forgiven, but he knows the answer anyway, Angels do not forgive. Angels are absolute. Failure is just another form of betrayal.
So Castiel does not ask.
Dean doesn't know it but singing is a prayer, even the songs he sings. He raises his head, throat stretched, adam's apple bobbing, mouth open and pours his heart into his voice and how could God not hear, even if it's only "exit light, enter night" with the windows rolled down and the wind blowing, blowing.
The lights of other cars flash by the windows, illuminating him briefly, throwing him into noirish relief before plunging him back into darkness. "Come on, Sammy," he urges the other body in the car, "how can you not sing along?"
"I don't know the words," Sam answers.
Dean just shrugs his wide shoulders and grins a little more, in a way that suggests he will know the words soon enough, and continues to sing, loud, long and off key to the cacophony coming from the speakers. His hands are tapping on the steering wheel beating out a tattoo on the leather. Then he reaches down and pushes a button. The cassette pops out and he replaces it without looking at the road, "I know you know this one," he says and Sam shakes his head as the music starts and Sam does know it. He'll sing along with this one because Dean won't give him another choice.
"All our times have come," they choral together and castiel wants to raise his voice, to sing with them, "we can be like they are," they sing, "come on, baby, don't fear the reaper."
With a beat of his almighty wings Castiel leaves the car and hovers above, he opens his mouth and sings, sings with all his might and heart, sings so loud and so hard that if he had eyes he would be crying, and he sings, not the song in the car, but that he might be saved, that this time, this one time, it will be different.
Underneath him, through the hot summer night, through the wind as it blows, blows, hot and burnt through the car as the swaying two men sing "come on, baby, don't fear the reaper." And if Castiel had a heart, if Castiel were not an Angel, it would break.
The soldiers ride on in their armour, horses side by side, infantry marching in phalanx through the snow and mud. They talk amongst themselves despite their vaunted discipline.
The slave is bent over against the side of the carriage, hands splayed on the front wall as his master pushes inside him with not enough oil and too much force. He grunts but takes it.
He always takes it.
And Castiel watches, as the other, the one who is always there, the one who is loved and who loves, reaches up to stroke one hand down the bunched muscles of his back, over the wool cloak he wears, rucked up at the small of his back and falling down his sides.
He thrusts into the body, smaller than his this time, younger, but strong, so strong, and beautiful, one hand on his hip and the other stroking his back, and his hair, dark brown and chestnut, sweat slicked and stuck to his neck.
Outside the soldiers gossip, they talk about what is done under their standard, and how some of them aren't under the standard.
Castiel watches all of this. He watches a wooden cross batted back and forth as it strikes a thin chest. He watches as the boy takes it, always takes it.
Dean explodes with laughter at the red and blue blob on the television screen as it explains that ginger people have no soul. Dean has explained this, it is simply because the blob is so odious that it is so funny.
Castiel is not amused, neither is Sam who is sat at the table reading a novel which apparently is quite funny, and that is why he laughs.
Cas sits on the end of the bed next to Dean, close enough to almost touch, but never do, as Dean gives him another lesson on humanity, this one involving braying laughter and beer. The beer is bitter and he can find no humour in the vile things that this blob, apparently a child, is saying about pirates.
Dean is laughing though, loud and free and genuinely happy.
Outside, as winter settles over middle America Hell stretches it's borders with fists and feet and claw and tooth, but in this room, on this bed, Heaven's champion, chosen, punished, loved, is laughing and Castiel has never felt more that he was untouchable, that despite the centimetres between them, that he could never touch. Instead he watches the reflection on the screen of his charge laughing and hopes that when he falls, when Dean falls as he always does, that Castiel will remember that and not the blood and the pain and how at the last, it won't be Castiel beside him, it'll be Sam, because it's always been.
So Castiel watches, just in reflection this time.
She is beautiful despite the grime on her face and the scar across her nose, beautiful with a smile like a thousand suns bursting into life. One of her teeth is missing. Her feet are bare and there is mud up along her shins. She leans on a staff as she watches the goats on the mountain, her hair tucked up under a cloth but still tendrils the colour of fire and whiskey bounce about her face in the summer wind.
The air is velvet with the smell of aster and rockrose and toadflax, goat, mud, grass and her own sweat. The sky is the colour of gentians and clouds like fluffy white sheep scud across it.
From the valley he calls her back, and Castiel sits on the grey rocks of the mountains and watches as she runs to him.
He idly wonders as she skids and slides down the grass and mud, her goats bleating about her, what it will be this time, will she burn as a witch, will her lover become jealous, will raiders come to the town?
She is swept up into her lover's arms, and a goat looks at Castiel idly, although she could never see him. Her head scarf falls back to reveal all the colours of autumn falling free in cork screws and spirals as her lover lifts her, hefting her into thick strong arms.
Adultery, Castiel decides watching the scene. He knows it will be soon and that doesn't make it hurt any less, but he is an Angel and Angels do not feel.
Its the lie he tells himself.
I do not feel. He says. I do not care what happens. I watch so the host may not. I watch.
One day it might even be true.
For now, unable to act as an Angel, because he is an angel, Castiel watches.
"Hey," Sam says looking up from the book in his lap as Dean drives, he is most at home driving, moving towards something, anything, "look at this."
"And crash my baby over your book, I don't think so," Dean says.
"And lo," Sam reads, "there was a war and all of heaven was split in twain, and Michael smote his brother."
"Yeah," Dean says tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time ot the music from the speakers. Outside in the dark it is raining and the windows are closed, giving the car a small claustrophobic feel and Sam's little bubble of book light isn't helping. "And Lucifer was cast down, we know this, Sammy."
"No, no, no, no, no," Sam protests, "let me finish. And thus it was that Michael too was spurned, for he alone had raised arms against the host, even those who had turned, I can't read that word," Sam huffs, "and as one brother was cast down the other was cast out."
"That sucks," Dean says and Sam agrees and in that other place that Angels inhabit, in the back of the car but not, Castiel agrees. Angels are absolute, he knows, there can be no betrayal or failure.
"Do you think that they just kicked him out and left him to get on with it?" Dean sounds sorry about it, as if he would have done something different in their place. Castiel thinks that he might have.
"Maybe he asked for it," Sam answers, "I mean, he did have to fight his brother, that really sucks."
Dean takes a deep breath and agrees, watching the car swallow up the road as it appears in the headlights. "Still," he says but doesn't continue... he leaves it open, and then concludes, "sucks," he's quiet for a few moments, "they probably do watch, it's like Lost or Big Brother or something to them, Angels are dicks like that."
And Castiel wants to reach out to say no, they couldn't bear it, it meant facing their failure- facing their betrayal so they created someone to watch so they wouldn't have to. Don't you understand Castiel wants to say so badly, you are the angel cast out for turning on your brother though you had no choice, don't you understand I watch you so they don't have to, you are our champion, our brightest star, and this is the punishment they gave that it might never happen again. And I am the Angel created to watch you in their place.
Instead Castiel remembers that he is an Angel and he does not feel, he does not chide, he does not entreat. He watches.
Castiel watches as the young man, bright eyed and gallant is brought into the small room. There is a brazier and over it pieces of metal burn hotly.
The young man does not hesitate, he does not spit in defiance he raises his head and grins. He is handsome, young and arrogant though he knows how this goes. He's not stupid after all.
"Do you renounce her?" the man in black asks so softly.
"No," the young man answers.
"We can make you." The torturer says and it sounds almost sad.
"No," the young man answers firmly, "you can't."
A flicker of light like a firefly runs across the blade of the axe in the corner and for the first time Castiel wishes he could look away.
So he watches the man in black with his hot pieces of metal. He watches the young man sweat and bleed and burn. He watches the instruments he has no name for. He watches the rats and the way the firelight catches the skin and the smell of it.
He watches for hours.
That is the first time, as the firelight catches the blonde strands, wet and dirty, falling across his forehead that Castiel yearns to touch, to sweep those hairs away. He wonders at the feel of them, of the weight of them on human skin. He doesn't move, he just watches.
He watches as he is asked again, on his knees, head on a stump of a tree, brought in here for this purpose, hands, useless but tied behind his back. "Do you renounce her?" and again the young man shakes his head. He does not struggle to rise, he looks ahead, into the fire and whispers her name under his breath.
So Castiel does not reach out to touch the blonde hair that covers the young man's face. He does not whisper soothing endearments into the young man's ear.
He just watches as the axe falls and there is one thud, then a moment later the second.
Dean sleeps, on his side, blanket balled up at his feet and he twitches in his dream. Castiel tilts his head as Dean snuffles, rubs his face with the side of his hand, and smiles. He opens his mouth, licks his lips once, twice, a third time, closes his mouth, burrows into the pillows another time.
It has been eternity and he has always slept the same way.
At peace Castiel watches.
Amelia is defiant as she stands aloft the pedestal, the wood packed tight about her feet. They have taken her gowns, and her jewels, cut away her hair but they can't take the colours from her skin or the sparkle in her eyes. Barefoot in a chemise she is as beautiful as in heavy velvet and pearls.
Even now she shows no remorse for what and who she is.
The witch finder stands holding aloft his torch but she is defiant, educated and dangerous, "When we too are armed and trained, we can convince men that we have hands, feet, and a heart like yours; and although we may be delicate and soft, some men who are delicate are also strong; and others, coarse and harsh, are cowards. Women have not yet realized this, for if they should decide to do so, they would be able to fight you until death; and to prove that I speak the truth, amongst so many women, I will be the first to act, setting an example for them to follow." She calls the words to the sky.
"Claim your sins," the witch finder says, "and we will strangle you and save you the pain of burning." The others were cowed, they look at her in horror, but she will not give. "Give yourself and your sins to God and we shall grant you a quick death."
She smiles, full lips though cracked and says "I have loved and I have been loved, this is no crime."
Castiel is proud of her as the witchfinder lowers the flame to the wood. He watches, but as the flames rise higher, stretching for the hem of her chemise as another screams and screams, her eyes closed tight and defiant, unwilling to give them this, something within Castiel breaks.
He doesn't think, but suddenly she is dead, quickly, without pain and Castiel knows, as he watches the smile on her face as the skin begins to melt under the onslaught of fire, that he has her done her wrong and he should have only watched.
Love, Castiel knows, is a prelude to pain and death every time so when Dean looks at his brother he sees a person that Dean is doomed to damn himself for, as he always has, as he always will, and Castiel wants to break, he wants to fly apart into a million pieces but he can't because Angels don't do that. So he watches.
The hounds are ruthless and quick. It is probably the quickest he has ever died, and he has died. And Castiel is flying apart and he just wants to touch, just once, just once to hold those strands of hair, to know the way they feel, the weight of them, the way they smell. As Dean gurgles breaths through lungs torn like tissue paper over the wooden floor as Sam cowers in the corner and Castiel is full of rage, of pain, how many times, he screams into the aether, must he die for you? How many times?
He steps between him and the demon, taking the blow intended for Sam. It is Castiel that Lilith sees and flees from. Then he turns as Dean finally dies and Castiel chases his soul into Hell.
"Hey, Cas," Dean asks and leans forward to ruffle his hair. "If this was our last night on earth, I mean really this time, not the other ones we've had and survived." His grin is full of teeth and bright as the milky way across the mediterranean sky, "if you were on death row and I could give you one last request what would you want, just us, you and me, and a brand new card with a really high limit. What do you want?"
Castiel stops for a moment, he considers his words carefully. "I just want to touch your hair."