Bright as a Gorgon’s eyes.
a March-Stalkers Mighty extra
Written: 15-19 March 2013.
Genre and tropes: Domesticity, some fluff, some h/c, virginity, oral sex, cuddles, cookie-dough fights, fairy tale.
Word count: 13k.
Spoilers: Plenty for March-Stalkers Mighty, none for the show.
Summary: Dean had always looked at him like that. He’d always looked at Castiel and made him into something new, something that Dean believed in so strongly that it became reality before Castiel had even noticed he was changing.
Warnings: Grief, and mention of character deaths that took place before the story opens.
Notes: Timestamp to March-Stalkers Mighty: key scenes and sequences during the action of MSM and after it, from Castiel’s point of view. Given this retells parts of that story but doesn’t detail the action in between, will make very little sense without having read the main fic.
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth.
Sonnet XX, William Shakespeare.
Look not upon me, for thine eyes are wounding:
Yet do not go away: come, basilisk,
And kill the innocent gazer with thy sight.
Henry VI part 2, William Shakespeare (III.ii).
[Love] adds a precious seeing to the eye:
A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind.
Love’s Labours Lost, William Shakespeare (IV.iii).
... with Hector’s eyes glaring bright as a Gorgon’s eyes or Ares’, man-destroying Ares’.
Homer’s Iliad (Book VIII.
“You gotta open your eyes, Cas,” Dean whispered in his ear, breath huffing distraction down the side of Castiel’s neck.
“My eyes are open,” Castiel grumbled at him, and promptly made a liar of himself as Dean tucked his nose into the crook of Castiel’s neck and laughed, as Dean’s hand on his waist shifted with the horse’s movement and brushed warm against Castiel’s skin through the loose ties at the side of his tunic.
“This horse is too tall,” Castiel complained when he opened his eyes again. He tried to scowl down at the smelly, inelegant beast between his thighs, with its coarse mane and the steady thud-thud-thud of its dish-plate hooves over the soft sod. It was hard, though, to build up a good scowl with the heat of Dean’s body pressed up warm against his back, nestled snug between his wings.
Dean’s mouth broadened into a grin against Castiel’s shoulder. Castiel knew exactly what that one would look like on his face, but he’d never felt it pressed into his skin before. “My angel, scared of heights?”
“I am not scared of heights,” Castiel said with dignity, and generously refrained from mentioning what had happened the one time he’d offered to take Dean up into the air. “This horse is too broad. Why am I riding a beast too large and heavy to run when your panegyric on these creatures emphasised their speed and agility in dangerous situations? This behemoth could hardly dodge a stone circle.”
Dean wriggled in closer behind him, and Castiel was promptly distracted by the warm bulge pressed in against the base of his spine. Not quite hard, he thought, but he was still learning how it felt to have another person moving against him like this, and through several layers of clothing it was hard to tell. An enthralling train of thought, and one that held him long enough that he took some time to realise Dean was adjusting his grip on the reins.
“‘Cos it’s impossible to fall off a carthorse. Every kid learns to ride on one. Dude, use your left hand, you’re grabbing these like it’s a sword hilt or something.”
“You told me I could only use one hand,” Castiel retorted, bundling the reins up between his palms. They tugged a bit at the horse’s head, but it plodded amiably on and ignored Castiel entirely. Which was probably for the best.
“Mm,” Dean agreed, and rapped gently on the back of Castiel’s right hand until he let go. His voice was low and lazy with the summer sun, and with what Castiel thought might be the early rumblings of lust. More than enough to chase a warm shiver over Castiel’s skin. “You’re always gentler with your left. ‘Sides, if you’re fighting you’ll want your sword in this one.
“If I’m fighting,” Castiel pointed out tartly, leaning back into the heat of Dean’s chest, “I’ll be using my own feet and wings so that I can move.”
Dean propped up his chin on Castiel’s shoulder (a glimpse, at the edge of his vision, of eyes gleaming mischief, fixed on Castiel’s face as if there was nothing in the world more worth the study). “What,” he murmured against the softest curve of Castiel’s ear, and yes, definitely a tease this time, “and leave your poor confused horse to get torn up by goblins or whatever?”
“Why am I learning to ride a horse,” Castiel complained to the unfeeling sky, and tried not to smile too obviously because it was bad for Dean’s ego.
“Because you keep getting your wings ripped up and I’m not carrying you next time,” Dean declared cheerfully, and slid his hands snug around Castiel’s waist to knot together over his stomach. “Gee up, soldier. I want lunch.”
Dean’s eyes were a powerful weapon, and Castiel had never really had any defence against them.
“Just poison them, Castiel.”
“It would be quicker, and surer. If this spell of yours doesn’t do its job you’ll have risked yourself for nothing. And more angels will end up as Balthazar did.”
There was a dark, ferocious part of Castiel that stirred and hackled its feathers at that, the part that he was very careful to keep hooded and leashed. The dogs were beasts, and vicious, and the idea of wreaking vicious bloody havoc right back at them until their deadly voices choked in their throats was - was far too tempting.
Balthazar would have done it, if their positions had been reversed. Balthazar would have killed them all, and poisoned the humans’ food too if he could. But Castiel couldn’t, because he couldn’t hate the humans.
Much as he might like to, some days.
“Rachel. If there is the smallest chance that humans feel about their dogs the way you feel about your gyrfalcons, would you do it.”
Rachel had been a woman of few words, even before the deaths of her husband and her son. Few words, and to the point. And often hard.
“Monsters can’t love, Castiel.”
Castiel looked down at his hands, and at hers, knotting the reed baskets that would contain the powder. A technique he and Balthazar had perfected, as children, for scattering the essence of a spell (harmless ones, back then) over large amounts of food. Her fingers looked too short by comparison, too browned. Too practical.
Of course Castiel hadn’t wanted to be the one to creep into the human territory. It was dangerous, he knew that; and he also knew, even if Rachel always swore he forgot, that his continued survival was important to the garrison, maybe to their entire nation, if they were to pull themselves back from the edge of extinction.
It was a plain fact, however, that none of the other angels had any familiarity with the human lands, or with the layout of their town, or how a feed shed might differ in appearance from a farm house. Castiel had a far better chance of finding what he needed to find, doing what he needed to do, and getting out alive, than any other angel they had left.
And that was the problem, the problem that he was trying not to think about. He had memories.
Even the scent and texture of the air in these valleys did strange things to his heart, and stirred up restless old dreams of things he’d kept folded away for many years. Careless things - simple, warm, childhood things. This entire land was haunted, for Castiel, and if he once crossed those walls the ghosts of the past would come flooding thick and poignant. He knew best one quiet oak grove near the Wall - had only ever seen the buildings of the town from a distance - but there was barely a field or a grove in the more isolated parts of the human territory that his own younger feet hadn’t trod. Hadn’t been guided through.
He stamped down on the annoying little flutter in his stomach. It was becoming dismally familiar lately: the irrational terror that it would not only be the land and the air singing their sweet siren song of memory. That the ghost of a boy would rise up with them, gap-toothed and fair with the summer sun sparkling out of his eyes, grinning like nothing could ever go wrong, and would reach out his hand to still Castiel’s heart.
Which was ridiculous. Castiel ought to be able to get in and out without meeting a single human; and if he did meet a human it would surely not be Dean; and if it was Dean... well, it wouldn’t be Dean anymore. Just another human.
Dean wasn’t a boy, by now.
If he was still alive.
But even vague childhood memories were better than nothing. At least Castiel had a fairly clear idea of the structure of human society and agriculture, because Dean had always talked (in depth, incessantly, about everything and everyone he knew), and Castiel had always listened.
“And yet they protect each other with their lives,” he said quietly, and realised when he heard his own voice that the silence had stretched out into minutes, and Rachel was no longer waiting for his answer.
There had been a human amongst the hunters, a grown man, who could have been Dean. Castiel had seen his hand, squeezing the scruff of one dog’s neck, a little rough affectionate shake to the loose skin. His hand, hauling a younger taller man (Sam?) out of Balthazar’s way. His hand, doing Castiel’s brother to death, while the noise of the dogs kept Castiel helpless, too far away.
Castiel hadn’t seen that man’s eyes then. It could have been Dean, or it could have been any other man grown up like him. A brother, a cousin. Or nobody at all - it could be that the resemblance was only due to the ghosts of memory, stalking Castiel as closely as they had since he’d entered these valleys. Making his eyes hunt the seething mass of humanity, even from so far above, looking for something he’d know.
That man was barely a glimmer of trouble. Castiel could have ignored that man, called him a phantom, and kept the past locked away where it belonged.
It was when he met Dean’s eyes in the feed shed that he knew him, and knew he couldn’t avoid knowing him.
Castiel had been twelve when the first murmurs of the war had begun, thirteen when the violence broke out, and fourteen when his oldest brother had been killed.
If Gabriel could be killed - invulnerable golden Gabriel, everybody’s darling, and an archangel to boot - if he could die so messily there was almost nothing left to identify, then nobody was safe. There was no middle ground, and no holding back. Every angel knew that. Things changed after that, and not for the better.
It had been necessary to grow up quickly. So Castiel had done it. Everything superfluous, all the indulgent trappings and luxuries of childhood, he had shorn off and left behind him.
There were no more long hunting trips that took up the whole summer in faraway lands, of course. There hadn’t been for some years, because nobody wanted to be gone so long, just in case. But it was after Gabriel’s death that Castiel began to dream of them again. Not sleeping dreams, or not most nights. Just deep, drifting thoughts in the quiet of his own mind, in moments when he could be peaceful. He went back to that world, with its dappled shade and the rich warm touch of the sun on the back of his neck and the smell of hay and herd animals in the distance and the safety of knowing your parents weren’t far away, and he built it, carefully, detail by detail.
He never quite imagined himself living in it. That was impractical, and he had more important things to do in the waking world, for those angels that he could still call family and friends. But he did imagine Dean into it, and Dean would reach out from it to speak to him. Dean would laugh, and bite down on a fishing line to tie off the string, and skin his hands sliding too fast down a tree, and tackle Castiel to the ground to show him an interesting new bug, and tell story after story about anything at all. And sometimes Dean was quiet in his head, watching what went on in Castiel’s world; and sometimes, when things were bad, Dean would dig his knuckles into Castiel’s ribs and mutter something that made it easier.
Dean wasn’t real.
It was only a dream, a wistful fantasy to make the worst hours easier. It was a dream entirely of Castiel’s creation, painted and decorated with the trappings of a memory. Castiel knew that. He knew it.
It would be much easier to remember that if Dean-the-man, here in the barn in the human territories with one of the dogs that Castiel had come to poison waiting obediently outside the door, hadn’t looked at Castiel with his eyes so wide and charmed, like Castiel was a dream of his as well.
And so Castiel pressed his fingers into Dean’s throat - tried to remind him that this wasn’t real, had to stay a dream - but Dean only grinned at him, eyes shining with delight, and laughed like he knew him.
The water sluiced off Castiel’s wings as he hauled himself out of the river, and clung to his hair and clothes as if it couldn’t make up its mind.
Rachel stayed where she was, her hair and wings a pale shadow under the black wall of the tree line, as Castiel stripped off his wet clothes and wrung them out, fluffed out his wings and shivered them to send stubborn droplets scattering. He could feel her eyes on him, scanning for weakness or hurt or stiffness; but the touch of them seemed strangely muted after the intensity of -
She approached, once he was done flinging water about, and handed him dry clothes.
“What went wrong?” she asked, as soon as she saw his face.
A dream looked at me. It looked into my eyes and saw all of me, everything that I wish was still there.
“Nothing.” The fawnskin of his pants was stubborn, reluctant to be tugged up over damp skin, so he didn’t meet her eyes. “It is done.”
“Pigeon guano,” she shot back flatly.
Apparently Castiel needed to work on his poker face.
These weren’t thoughts he was eager to examine, still less to share. But Rachel deserved to know something, at least. And they had all learned what happened when secrets and loyalties, kept hidden through even the best of intentions, were left to fester. Their discovery usually erupted into violence, and betrayal by one party or another.
“I met a child I used to know,” he offered once his pants were tied. As if there was nothing more to it than that.
She was silent for long enough that Castiel had laced up the front and one side of his tunic before he heard her voice again. It was cool, but very steady. “A human.”
He looked up. Rachel hardly ever showed fear, but sometimes, as now, she looked shaken. It was all in wideness of her eyes, the rigidity of her hands by her sides.
Castiel reached out, and wrapped his fingers around the hard knot of her hand for a moment. Warm against his skin as Dean’s had been.
“Yes,” he said, and heard a shadow of bewilderment in his own voice. Human, or ghost, or just Dean. Human meant so many things that Dean didn’t, after all. It was strange to speak of them as one and the same. “Yes, I suppose he must be.”
“And you left him alive.”
Castiel looked down again, because his fingers were stumbling over the laces on the open side of his tunic. They were shaking, he found; so frowned at them until they stopped.
A dream looked into me. And I did nothing to stop it.
If it was possible for a human to be a good man, he believed that this grown-up Dean was. Either that or delusional.
A smile tugged at the edges of his mouth.
“He is very fond of his dog,” he murmured ruefully, caught up his wet clothes, and turned to go.
“Captain,” she said behind him.
Castiel had determined, early on, that if he had to lead he would not lead after the model of the archangels: I am the leader because I am the leader. Easier decided than done: too many angels nowadays preferred blind obedience, to keep from thinking about the choices they’d made during the war. Rachel was one of the few who would question Castiel’s decisions. It had ruffled him, once; but they had settled into leadership together, and he valued her.
Of course, until two weeks ago there had been Balthazar as well.
“Lieutenant,” he acknowledged.
“Is this going to be a problem?”
Castiel gave the question due consideration. “Yes,” he decided after a minute. “Everything in these lands is.”
Rachel fell in beside him and made one of her little ‘humph’ noises, the one that meant ‘that isn’t a real answer and you haven’t heard the last of this’.
Castiel sighed to himself, let his eyes slide along the great looming bulk of the Wall beside them, and reached out to bump the leading edge of his wing against hers. “If it were simple, Rachel, the last garrison would have defeated them long ago.”
“Are you compromised?” she asked bluntly.
And she was right, because that was the only question that mattered, surely. This couldn’t be about Castiel any more than anything else had been for the last decade.
It would have been easier to believe that this - that seeing him, hearing the child’s voice in the cadences of a man’s - changed nothing. That Castiel (that all of them) could go on as before. But it wasn’t simple, and Castiel wasn’t pure, because purity was inflexible. He wasn’t a hammer. And whether he was compromised or not, he would compromise, if it would keep his people alive.
Had compromised already.
And if he went too far, Rachel was the one he would trust to stop him.
“No more than I was three hours ago,” he settled on finally, as they emerged into the clearing wide enough for takeoff. And then, when she turned her head to study him with something a little gentler in her eyes, he surprised himself by blurting out, “He looks at me like a man who has never known war.”
“How lucky for him,” she muttered darkly, as she spread her wings; but Castiel barely heard it.
He was lost in the memory of those clear open eyes, the sheer wonder in them. Their shy delight, and the utter confidence in Castiel - in Cas, in the child he’d known. As if nothing had changed since.
But Dean had always looked at him like that. He’d always looked at Castiel and made him into something new, something that Dean believed in so strongly that it became reality before Castiel had even noticed he was changing.