Castiel had been young when Gabriel had been captured, his wings hardly able to carry his own weight. Gabriel had been careful, at least ensuring Castiel was well hidden from sight, kept away from the dogs that searched the undergrowth, curled in on himself on the wide branches of some ancient tree and hidden from view by the dense green leaves. Gabriel had promised to be back soon, with food and water and then they'd practise flying some more. Castiel didn't care so much for flying, but he nodded and peered down as Gabriel glided back to the ground, and disappeared between the trees.
Castiel had waited there for hours, until the sun was ready to set and Gabriel didn't return. Sometimes hunts took longer though, or because there were dogs and humans prowling about and you just had to sit still and wait for them to go. So Castiel waited a little longer. And by the time the sun had fully set and the stars were twinkling down, Gabriel still wasn't back. That was when Castiel half-climbed, half-fell out of the oak, his feathers all out of alignment. He'd find Gabriel and they'd groom them back into place though, and it'd be fine. Gabriel had probably forgotten what tree he'd left Castiel in. He wasn't very good at things like that.
He waited for three days back at the cave they called home before he accepted Gabriel was not coming back. Angels didn't have natural predators, so... Gabriel was alive, at least. It wasn't enough to stop the tears falling down Castiel's cheeks, but it was comforting enough. Gabriel was just... with the humans now.
From that day on, Castiel had been alone. He'd learnt to find his own food, what berries made him sick and what tasted good and which tasted horrible but he could at least keep down. He learnt where to find water. He learnt what wood made good, hot fire and what wood made too much smoke and what foods he had to cook first. Everything Gabriel had begun teaching him, he built on. He ventured as close as he dared to the edge of the forest, to the places where the humans made caves of glass and clay, he stole cloth from their gardens when he could, to wrap himself in when the winters were cold and there was no more dry wood. And he grew. His wings got stronger, he got taller.
And once, just once, he thought he saw another angel. Heard, rather. He heard the flapping of winds through leaves, like the noise Gabriel had made as he went from tree to tree, or even above the canopy, into the clear sky, twisting and turning and showing off. Castiel had moved as fast as he could, located the sound and he didn't care about the noise he made as he trampled through the bushes and ferns, or the loud beats of his wings as he tried to go faster. But by the time he'd got there, into a clearing by a stream, there was nothing. Nothing but a gleaming white-gold feather.
He frowned at it, stilling and waiting. But there was no doubt but the rustle of the wind in the leaves and the rush of the water as it bubbled over the stones and, maybe, the angels would come back. So he kept forwards, and knelt down, fingers reaching for the feather.
That was when the flash happened, the bright, intense light that made his head hurt and his eyes burn. He screamed, or at least, he thought he did, but he heard nothing and felt nothing after his body hit the dirt.
He woke up aching. His chest hurt, an ugly purple bruise square in the middle of his otherwise pale skin. His head hurt, the white-hot light still burnt into his retinas, and his ankles and wrists felt sore. None of that compared with the solid weight on his shoulders though, on his throat that seemed to pull him down.
It was hard to lift his hands, a heavy chain connecting them, but he managed it, fingers finding the offending object at his neck. A collar. Thick, solid, cold. His wings at least were free, even if the feathers were filthy from the floor of whatever room he was kept in. It was too dark to really see any other details, but the floor seemed gritty with dirt, and it vibrated under his feet, like it was carried on the back of a million angry insects. There was a rumbling sound too, an unpleasant noise that hurt his ears. Covering them did little to help. Nothing helped, really. He didn't know which way was out, he didn't think he could stand as yet, and he hurt too much to try.
The only thing to do was rest, to gather his strength and as soon as an opportunity presented itself, he would take it.
"You actually got one?"
"Of course I got one. What do I look like to you, Elma Fudd?"
"Alright, alright. Let me see it."
The voices were distant, distorted, but the vibrating had stopped, and so had the roaring noise. He ached, but he had slept, badly, for a little while. This was his chance, his only chance, because now there was noise, scrapping and banging and then, suddenly there was a thin line of light in the darkness, cutting it from top to bottom and Castiel forced himself up onto his feet, gathering what force he had, and charged at the light, his wings opening as best they could in the cramped conditions.
There was the sky. And the sun and clouds. There were trees, tiny things in comparison to how Castiel knew them, but he only saw them for a split second as he leapt, wings as black as crow feathers unfurling fully and for a second, a glorious second, he soared over the heads of the two human men.
And then he fell, rolling on the grey dirt that felt like rock, his shoulders and knees and wings taking the brunt of the impact. They hurt, fresher and more intense than the pain in his chest, and he sobbed out a pained noise as through swimming eyes he saw boots approach him.
"Pretty, but stupid, aren't they? Would have thought they could feel half their feathers gone."
And then he was dragged up, off the ground, and into one of the clay caves, where the light didn't come from the sun but from a flickering white box on the ceiling.
There was a man there, a short man in a suit with little hair who watched him after he handed a pile of strangely shaped leaves to the two other humans. Castiel didn't like being watched, didn't like to be the focus on the human's attention, but it seemed he had no choice. The human didn't speak, didn't try to address him, just... looked at him. All over him, over the cuts and scrapes that covered him, over the bruise and then over his wings, tutting softly as he stretched them out and Castiel winced. He couldn't see his wings, but Gabriel's had been beautiful. Michael and Anna, they had wings too, like light and gold and copper and water. He couldn't imagine how horrible they would look now, with half the feathers gone as the human had said. Like trees in winter, black and skeletal. He didn't want to see them.
"Well, you're a very sweet thing, aren't you, kitten?" The man said, reaching for a glass that he had set down earlier. "Very nice, once you've been tidied up a bit. Should fetch a pretty penny. Maybe we'll set up a little auction. In a week or two."
Castiel didn't know what half the words meant. Gabriel had only taught him a handful of human words, and he'd never had to use them. They'd just been passed down to him. "Home. I go home."
That made the drinking man laugh out loud. He slipped from his stool, and towards a window, pulling open the blind. Outside there were more clay caves than Castiel had ever seen before, taller than trees, some taller than hills, stretching out as far as he could see, lined up one after the other. "Sparkles, if you think you can get back, you can go."
Castiel didn't need to understand those words. The meaning was evident. He was in the middle of a human place. He wasn't about to get home.
He had been with the suit-wearing, drinking man for two weeks, and in those two weeks, he had learnt few things. One was that drinking man did not often touch him. But there were others who would. The man in the coat that had touched him all over and made notes had frightened him. It wasn't just the way he prodded at the bruises and forced his mouth open and had shone a light into his eyes, but the way he'd undressed him, forced his legs apart and touched him there too that had sent Castiel's stomach clenching and for the rest of the day he had refused to move out of the corner of the crate he slept in, shying away from drinking man's hand or the offer of food.
Baths were slightly better. But they were still unpleasant, not at all what Castiel remembered. They were not cool and refreshing like pools of water in the forest had been. Baths were hot, cramped, and the water tasted wrong. Stale. He struggled, thrashing about until water soaked everything; the floor, the walls, the towels on the shelf, and the suit of the human who was now brandishing some sort of stick with a soft end as if he was going to beat Castiel with it.
"That's it! That is it, Angel!" He growled, dropping the stick with a clatter to the floor. "You wash yourself I do not have the time to get changed again."
And once drinking man was gone, Castiel did try to wash himself. But the collar was still on his neck, rubbing the flesh raw as he moved and even water made it more tender. It was impossible to clean his wings too, at least when it was wet. He got himself out, wings trailing along the floor as he found something to soak up most of the water cascading off of him. There were clothes, because the drinking man insisted he had to have them, at least most of the time. There were times when the clothes were taken away though, like the time after the bruises had faded when people had arrived, had asked Castiel for his name and had fussed over him and poked him, done things to his hair and made him stand in certain ways. That was when they had used the flashing box on him, and Castiel had flinched expecting pain after every flare. None came though, and while it confused him, there was no pain. Not that day.
He put on the clothes he had been left, dark trousers like the drinking man had. There was normally more than that, but not this time. This time was much different to the others. He had to dress, Crowley had told him, he had to groom, and then he had to go 'out front'. That meant to the place where the seats were, long and comfortable and soft, where the flashing box had been used on him. Not that it looked the same today. There were no pictures of angels on the walls this time, there were no soft chairs. Just lots of hard, spindly looking things, most of them already taken by humans. They were talking, carrying glasses like the drinking man, dressed in suits of dark shades and sudden Castiel wished he had not come out of the bathroom at all. The light was brighter, hotter today, the water evaporating from his bare skin and his wings twitching nervously. He was glad of the curtain that divided the room into two, hoping at least he could remain there until whatever happened was over. But of course, that was not about to happen.
"Kitten, don't you look good enough to eat." Drinking man had muttered, fetching a cord to fasten around the loop on the collar, smoothing at Castiel's wings and hair, and stepping back to admire him. "Very nice." He'd finished, and then his expression changed. "Show time."
The noise stopped abruptly when they emerged from the curtain. It was as if a summer storm had ended, leaving only the taste of rain on the air and nothing else.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Drinking man began, "I'm sure you've all been doing your homework and you know how exquisite the offering we have for you today truly is. Crowley's Angelic Emporium has always sought out the finest examples of Divine creatures but this, I'm sure you all agree, is the pinnacle of those offerings. A young, breed-ready Reine aile noire. I'm sure you've all taken the time to go over the notes provided by the expert that examined him last week. He is in perfect condition, with excellent temperament and will make a fine show-angel, breed-stock or companion. So, without further ado, shall we get down to business?"
What happened next baffled Castiel. There was little talking, but the occasional nod, cough or raise of a card, and at each movement, drinking man would utter something. It was strange behaviour, and Castiel could only watch, tipping his head from one side to another as different hands would raise, other people would nod. Sometimes the same two humans would nod one after the other, until a third joined in, but then stop. It was a strange, strange ritual, one that Castiel did not hope to understand.
But it was dark when it seemed to be finished, the stars-on-poles outside shining bright pools of light down onto the not-earth, and drinking man's voice, a constant for the last hour or so, was suddenly quiet. Castiel wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but there was a shuffling now amongst the humans, chairs scraping back and the cord on his collar was suddenly held by someone other than drinking man.
The man that tugged at the cord now was thin, with a patchy red beard and sharp features, and Castiel felt fear settling in his stomach. "Hello, Castiel." The human said, and grinned, showing off predator's teeth.
The man was called Alistair. Castiel learnt that the first night, when he was made to kneel and his feathers, almost all re-grown, were plucked out again, one by one. He was made to sob out the man's name over and over, until he could not say anything else, until his voice went hoarse and broke altogether. It hurt at first, but as the floor around them began to disappear under the carpet of black, the pain began to dull. Alistair was not a man who excelled in one sort of pain, however. He knew how to hurt and angel, where their bodies were softest and most sensitive, where the scars would take years to full heal and where they'd never fully heal at all.
With Alistair, Castiel learnt how to hate humans, he learnt that there was only so many tears could pour out of you before a body shut down. He learnt that glass cut and shredded skin, that without his wings he fell like a stone from high windows and he learnt that Alistair could be very inventive once he was forced to pay expensive bills to put Castiel's shoulders back where they ought to be. In fact, the human seemed to delight in undoing the veterinarian's good work as soon as they were back in his apartment.
But Castiel also learnt that Alistair was stupid. Castiel had tried to escape before. He would try again, and a dislocated wing and fresh scars across his ribs were no reason for him not to try as soon as Alistair was gone. The balcony was not locked. The balcony was never locked, and perhaps this time, if he leapt, then he might not simply hurt himself. He could land badly; break his spine or his neck. But even that would be an escape, of sorts.
He climbed onto the rail, toes curling for some sort of grip. His wings were of little or no use- one bound to his back with bandages, and the other almost bare of feathers. He tucked them close to his back, and took a breath. He'd never looked at the human place before. But it was like a forest, with tall clay caves instead of trees. It was a dangerous place, but not because of poisonous berries or dogs. He sighed, wishing the air tasted of home, and let himself fall forwards.
It was almost like flying. But he had never flown this fast, never had the wind tug at his hair and sting his eyes or the ground rush up to meet him like this. He wanted desperately to open his wings, to catch himself, but there was nothing he could do.
"Hey. Hey! Come on. Oh god, come on! Open your eyes, just... do something!"
Castiel groaned. There was no pain, but he knew there should be. If he was awake, there should be pain. There had been before, in his hazy memories of movement and jolting and light.
He tried to move, and found that he couldn't. Not well. There were no restraints, not even the collar on his throat, but he was wrapped up in some sort of large cloth, on something comfortable and flat, but not unlike the chairs 'out front'. It was... it was not what he had expected. But it felt good, and there was a smell that permeated the air that made him feel better. It was no of blood or bile, and it was not of drinking man's drink, and it was not unpleasant.
"Are you awake?"
That startled him. He hadn't heard anyone enter, but that was because no one had. He turned his head, blue eyes wide and there was another human. A human that did not look like the others he had known. He was... he was not unlike how Michael had looked, years ago. Dark haired and strong, but patient and concerned. He made no move to come closer, but unlike drinking man, he did not try and get the measure of Castiel with his eyes.
"You have a pretty bad fall. Christ, you probably know that. I... I fixed you up as best as I could. But Sammy thinks you're going to need to rest a lot before you're really better. I... I guess someone must own you, right? I just... I saw you fall. Jump. So... my guess is you don't want to go back. That's okay. No one's going to make you."
Castiel blinked. More of the words were familiar, but even the ones he did not fully hear, or even comprehend, lulled him. The deep voice was nice, there was no anger there, only concern and reassurance and despite everything, he slept.
He woke several times, mostly when his bandages were being changed and the dry-blood tugged at his skin. He woke once when a needle sunk into his arm, but he didn't react until it was pulled away and the pain that had begun to wake him faded. But mostly he woke for food and water. It was good food, although the water was still stale. It made him feel better, and the next time he was awake when the human brought food, he reached out for the man before he could leave again.
"Castiel." He said, voice hoarse and he nodded gratefully as the cup of water was handed over.
"Dean." Castiel repeated, watching a slow smile appear on the human's face. It was a good smile, honest and Castiel was glad of that then.
He was out of bed within a week, wrapped up in one of Dean's shirts and in a pair of jeans that Dean had handed to him. The clothes smelt good, comforting and even once he'd shed them in the evening, he added them to the sheets on the bed, inhaling the smell and the safety they offered. Dean raised his eyebrows when he found out on laundry day, but there was no reprimand like Castiel had expected, no beating or shouting. Castiel relaxed after a long moment, Dean's green eyes looking at him sadly, and then, slowly, the human brought his hand to Castiel's shoulder, before moving up into his hair and stroking at it. "Not going to hurt you, buddy. Never."
A week after that Castiel knew Dean's home well. It was not in the middle of all the clay caves, but closer to the edge. There were hills, on the horizon, and tree, many more trees than Castiel had seen since he had left the forest. It made his heart skip a beat and it was all he could do to restrain himself and not run out to them. Dean was working on his car, a strange box on wheels that seemed to be a substitute for wings, and he would not notice Castiel was gone for some time. But even so, the angel's legs would not carry him. He just stood on Dean's lawn, and looked at the trees.
"Cas?" Dean's voice had his attention immediately, even as he came out into the garden. "What? You've been out here almost all day." And then he frowned, looking up, following Castiel's line of vision. "We can... we can head up there, if you want."
All Castiel could do was nod.
But they didn't go straight away. Castiel knew he was not healed yet, although he had less bandages and he did not wake up sore. In fact, it was soon after the last bandage was removed, and Castiel and Dean sat, on the edge of the bed for some moments, in comfortable silence. And then Dean cleared his throat. "I think those wings... need a bit of attention."
Castiel felt a heat on his face, an unfamiliar feeling that made Dean laugh. He had tried to get the dead feathers out, to try and get rid of the matted blood and dirt but there was only so much he could reach, and the fact Dean had noticed how bad they were... bothered him. He squirmed slightly, wishing he could clean them himself but then stopped. He had never been embarrassed when Gabriel had cleaned his wings. He had been a fledgling then but...
"Thank you Dean, yes, please."
There were still feathers growing in, new feathers that were sensitive and soft, like velvet against Dean's finger-tips, and Castiel seemed to shiver each time they were touched. They were fantastic things, they were just... unbelievable. Yes, angels might look like people but the wings set them apart. They were mesmerising, shifting under his hands as he washed them, straightening out each in turn. The shivering hadn't stopped, growing a little more intense, Castiel's breathing changing too and for a moment Dean thought the angel was in pain. When he stopped though, Castiel made an irritated sound until Dean's hands were petting at his wings again, racking through them.
He didn't stop when Castiel groaned, low in his throat, or when the angel squirmed and lifted his hips. He leant forward then, hands tightening on the curve of Castiel's pitch-black wings and kissing the bare skin between, sending Castiel into spasms and then, after minute, the angel flopped back, nuzzling into Dean and trying to climb into his lap, anything to be closer.
That was the first time they ended up in bed together. Castiel wanted to be held, and there was nothing wrong with that. There wasn't anything wrong with it when he wanted Dean pressing up against him, rocking up against him either.
It didn't stop Castiel staring up at the hills. He didn't just stand on the lawn and do it now. He stood at the window in Dean's bedroom and watched the sun move across the sky, watched the light reflect off the distant greenery.
Dean would wake up in the night, aware that the space next to him in the bed was suddenly empty, and Castiel would be at the window. Dean didn't mention it. He once slid out of the sheets and tried to coil his arms around the angel, but he was always shrugged off. He didn't climb out of bed again, pretended he was still asleep.
But once Castiel was healed, all the bruises gone, the cuts faded, the sore marks around his neck from the collar didn't look so raw, Dean drove him up to the hills. There was only so far they could take the car, but Dean parked her up and they walked the rest of the way, until the sounds of the city were lost and there were trees and trees and trees, and nothing else.
Castiel was glowing, more alive than Dean had ever seen him before. Those wings were trembling again, but not because they had been over-stimulated, but with barely suppressed tension. And then, suddenly, without warning, the angel was gone. Off the ground and tearing through the air, spinning and twisting between trees and Dean's eyes could hardly follow him.
He watched, as best as he could, for longer than he realised. Castiel was a wild thing, free and beautiful, and Dean, like the others before him, had tried to cage and tame him. It couldn't be done.
He'd wanted to say goodbye, at least. But Castiel was long gone. He stayed as long as he could though, through the sunset and moonrise, as the stars turned above him and then sank again as the sun chased the moon from the sky. And still Castiel did not come back.
That was when he headed back to the car.
He had the key in his hand when something touched his shoulder.
It was Castiel, leaves and bits of twigs in his hair, and his eyes were bright, as if he had been laughing and smiling until only seconds ago. Now he looked hurt.
"Where are you going?"
"Home, Castiel. You're home now, and I... I need to get back."
The angel blinked at him, and then shook his head, his fingers closing on the front of Dean's shirt. "I stay with you, Dean. I... I just wanted to come back. But it is not my home. My home is with you."
Castiel had never met Dean's brother. He mentioned it, as he picked at the meal he'd made. He had no family, only Dean, and he wanted... more. He did not want to be isolated. He liked Dean, he knew he would like Dean's brother.
"I guess Sam can come over. He has... an angel too. We can invite them both?"
Castiel, for a second, looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Another angel. An angel in a collar, an angel who did tricks and was groomed and taken to shows and might be very happy with that life. "I would very much like to know them both" He managed, and even if Dean didn't exactly believe that, he nodded anyway.
They were due to come over on Friday. And that gave Castiel two full days of fretting. He even asked if Dean would buy him a collar, so he would not seem out of place. But Dean refused, pulling Castiel into a kiss.
That settled the argument, but not the butterflies in Castiel's stomach. He didn't sleep the evening before, but it didn't matter. He knew how to make coffee now and that was all he needed to get himself through the day.
And then, suddenly, before he could back out of it, it was seven pm, and there was a knock on the door. The tallest man Castiel had ever seen stepped in, grinning widely at Dean and passing him over a pack of beer, before turning back to the open door.
"Would you get in here? It's freezing. No! No, don't you leave that there!"
The tall man sighed, coming into the house then and shaking his head, as if at wit's end. "Your neighbours are going to find an empty milkshake carton in their letter box tomorrow morning." He warned, slumping down into the sofa.
Castiel didn't know what to make of the man. He seemed happy and exhausted all at once, too young to be as worried looking as he was. But the reason for that turned up soon enough.
"Sammy, Sammy, Sammy-" A sing-song voice called out, and Castiel didn't believe what he was hearing. It wasn't possible, it couldn't be.
And it was. A little rounder than he had been, but with the same golden eyes and easy smile. "Castiel? Oh god, Castiel! What, why- Oh god. I don't even- You have got to try one of these candy bars."