“You don't mind if I turn the camera back on, do you?” Dean asked, holding the camera up to chin height and giving it a little shake for emphasis. “Only, I came in here for a dare, and my friends really want to see what the inside of this house looks like …”
Cas scrutinised him for a moment, his brows pulling together as though he were wondering what kind of silly creature Dean was. “I suppose it is alright,” he said. He watched as Dean fiddled with the camera, turning it on and holding it up.
“I'm ready,” said Dean. “It's recording.”
There followed a few seconds of quiet.
“Okay,” said Dean awkwardly. “To everyone watching, this happens to be Castiel Novak. Say hi to the people watching at home, Cas.”
Cas tilted his head further. “There is nobody here but you and I.”
“No, I mean people are going to be watching this in the future,” said Dean. Just how far out of the times was this man? “The camera records what's happening now so that I can look back on it whenever I want. Want to try again, Cas? Say hi.”
Peering into the camera, eyes narrowed to near slits, Cas said, “Hello, future people.”
Unable to help the chuckle that burst through his lips, Dean said, “I think that'll have to be good enough.” He jerked his head at the doorway. “Can I see what's through there?”
Cas looked behind him, then back at Dean, his expression calculating. “I do not see why not,” he said. “Follow me, please. And stick close. Not many of the ghosts in this house like the presence of strangers.”
A cold chill shot up Dean's spine. He almost forgot to turn on the night-vision, and when he remembered he almost dropped the camera in his haste to do so. Castiel turned back to him, confused once more, but didn't speak, instead waiting for Dean to catch up to him.
“Sorry,” said Dean somewhat breathlessly. “I had to turn on the night-vision on the camera; the screen would be black without it. I wouldn't be able to see a thing.”
“Alright then,” said Cas dryly, just a glimmer of amusement in his eyes. “But please no more distractions. I would like to show you my favourite place quickly.”
“Okay, Mrs. Tour Guide. No more distractions, I promise. Where is your favourite place?”
“I believe this is where I would tell you that it is a surprise. For me to know, you to find out. That sort of thing.” When Dean tripped over a loose floorboard, Cas grabbed him by the arm and steadied him with shockingly quick reflexes. “It is not every day that I get the opportunity to show guests around. They tend to get to the gates and then turn around and leave.”
“Ever think it was the creepy topiaries on the front lawn?” Dean asked. “Hell, they scared me. And I am not the kind of person that gets frightened easily, let me tell you.”
Cas gave Dean one of those knowing looks, like he knew more than what Dean thought he did. It gave Dean even more shivers. He couldn't suppress the feeling that maybe, somehow, Cas was looking into Dean's thoughts, his memories, and seeing him for what he truly was.
“Of course not,” Cas said.
He turned away again without another word, slowing down so that Dean could keep up with him. To help himself get over the feeling of being terribly exposed, Dean held the camera up higher and moved it slowly from side to side, hoping to catch something that the naked eye couldn't see. He didn't notice Cas stopping until he ran headlong into him.
Dean gave a tiny, startled (manly) cry. “Dude, you're going to have to tell me when you do that,” he said with a hint of exasperation lacing his tone, his heart hammering a mile a minute inside his chest. “What's up?”
“More stairs,” said Cas, pointing. “I just thought you ought to know before you trip on them, being so absorbed in the camera as you are, you might have missed them.”
Dean pulled a face at Cas's turned back.
“Do not think that I didn't see that,” said Cas smartly.
Feeling suitably chastised, Dean ducked his head and followed Cas quietly.
Dean followed Cas down another hallway that had cobwebs collecting on the corners of the ceiling, around a corner and up four steps that stopped right beneath a trap door. Cas turned to Dean, as though checking he was still there, then nodded and pressed his hands to the wood and pushed. The hinges groaned in protest. Cas stepped inside and held the door open with one hand, grabbing Dean's hand to help haul him inside. When the door was released, it fell back into place, stirring up dust.
They stood in a bare attic that looked as though it hadn't been cleaned in centuries. Dean figured if he ran a finger over some of the thick piles of dust, his finger would come away black.
“This is my favourite place to come,” said Cas, smiling. “It makes me feel safe.”
Dean scoffed. “How?”
Sighing, Cas gestured for Dean to come and sit near the window. They sat, Dean wincing at the thought of how much dust and dirt he was getting on his pants.
“You do know what happened to my family—the Novaks—all those years ago?” Cas began hesitantly.
Dean shrugged his shoulders. “I've heard stories.”
“Then most likely those stories are not true.” Cas glanced at the camera, looking unnerved by it as it pointed right in his face. “Do you think you could put that down for a while?”
“Um. Sure, I guess.” Brushing off a spot on the floor next to him with his hand, wiping that on his pants straight after, Dean put the camera on the floor, manoeuvring it around, hoping that it would still capture some of Cas in the frame.
“I shall not bore you with all the details,” said Cas, waving a hand through the air in front of his face. “It is quite a long story, and not even I know all of the facts from when I was a child. After all, my parents did not share everything with me.”
“So your family were a bunch of witches?” Dean interrupted. He had a feeling that Cas would take too long justifying everything than telling the story.
Cas took a deep breath. “Yes. But the way everyone back then saw witches … We were the reason for their storms and their crop failures, in their eyes. Naturally anything that went wrong in the town, they blamed it on my family instead of mother nature doing her work.
“One day, after many years of putting up with us, they'd finally had enough. Before we knew it, they were busting down the door, holding pitchforks and burning sticks.” Dean pretended not to notice the tear running down Cas's cheek. “I remember my mother screaming at my older brother Gabriel to bring me up here. I couldn't have been more than twelve at the time. Gabriel swept me up into his arms and ran. The last thing I saw was my mother and father fending off our attackers.
“Mother died that night. Stabbed through the heart three times with a pitchfork. One to kill her, two more to make sure she was really dead.”
Dean winced, his hand twitching with the urge to take Cas's hand to comfort him. “I'm sorry.”
“It was a long time ago,” said Cas, shaking his head. “My father, in a fit of rage and grief, killed everyone who had attacked us, everyone who had killed his wife. Eventually he was caught and … and burned at the stake.”
There was a few minutes pause as Cas tried to regain his composure, his eyes growing brighter with unshed tears. Dean waited patiently for him to regroup, unable to stop thinking about how it must have hurt to have both parents killed. He couldn't imagine the pain; it far outweighed the pain of a couple bloody knees and a few rejections, which had to be the only time he'd every felt pain, as far as he could recall.
“Gabriel left too, not long later,” said Cas finally. “He just … he couldn't handle being here. In this house. He sends letters every week; I have them stashed in a box beneath my bed. He wanted me to go with him, but I just—I couldn't leave. This is where my family has lived for centuries. Believe it or not, but witchcraft had not always been rejected and feared by the rest of humanity; a long, long time ago it was practised freely, and many people respected and honoured the strong-willed souls that were able to perform spells.”
“Where's your brother now?”
Cas shook his head. “I don't know. He never tells me in case his letters are intercepted. He just won't take the risk of having someone come after him and kill him. Gabriel is … He's not the kind of person who would kill someone with magic, so he tries his hardest to avoid it coming to that at all costs.”
Dean looked down at his lap. All of a sudden he felt incredibly lucky; he still had his parents, still had his brother, still had his friends and his freedom. All of that, Cas didn't have. The last thing he had been expecting when he'd walked into the house was to sympathise someone from the hated and reviled Novak family.
“You don't have to keep talking about it … if it hurts too much,” said Dean. “We've only just met. You don't owe me an explanation on your family history.”
“I'm not telling you any of this so that I can bond with you, Dean.” Cas leaned forward. “I am telling you this in the hopes that you can make a difference in the world. Help me leave this house. I am not able to go anywhere without triggering spells put up to stop me from leaving.” Cas snorted. “After my brother left, the humans that condemned witchcraft were not above using it themselves to keep me trapped in here. I have not been into the town for many years. I do not know how much time has changed it. When I was free, there were carts down there. Are there still carts?”
“No,” said Dean, and for the first time he wondered just how old Cas was. “No, there are things called cars that people drive around. It's actually a lot easier.”
“Would you … use that thing to take pictures to show me?” Cas asked, pointing down at the camera. He gave it a wary look again, as if waiting for it to jump up and bite him on the nose. “I would like to see it.”
Dean smiled and nodded, running a hand through his hair. “I will. You know, when morning comes. I kinda can't leave until 7.” His stomach growled. Sheepishly, he asked, “Do you have anything to eat?”
Cas let out a tiny chuckle. The act of laughing changed his face entirely; he looked younger, carefree. A different, less haunted, version of himself that was utterly beautiful that Dean's heart caught in his chest, and all the breath just whooshed out of him.
“Of course,” said Cas. “Follow me. Remember, keep close.”
Dean picked up the camera, pressing his other hand to his growling stomach, eager for food. “Yeah, yeah. Of course. Let's go.”
The kitchen happened to be on the bottom floor of the house, which Dean suspected was underground. Without Cas, Dean felt as though he would have lost his way in the labyrinth of corridors and doors. It all felt twisty-turvy until he found himself in the kitchen. To Dean's surprise, when Cas opened the pantry, it was full.
“Wait, if you can't leave the house, how is the pantry still full?” he asked.
Cas huffed a laugh. “Magic, Dean. The food comes fresh from the market down in Winter every day, and the people who sell these are still none the wiser.” He levelled Dean with a serious gaze that made Dean uncomfortable. “This stays between us, got it? Even a witch like me wouldn't survive very long without food.”
“You got it,” said Dean. “I'll just edit this out in the morning. Better stop talking about it.”
“Thank you, Dean.”
“No worries, man.”
Cas pulled out a loaf of bread and a couple of spreads, putting them down on the table. Quickly, he made both himself and Dean a sandwich. He'd only taken a bite while Dean had already gotten through half of his own.
“So do you think you could give me a tour of this place?” Dean asked hopefully. “Wouldn't want to disappoint the lovely viewers.”
“There's a limited amount of rooms I can go into,” said Cas seriously. “Trust me, we do not want to enter the rooms that I am not permitted to be in.”
A shiver ran up Dean's spine. “Of course,” he said, clearing his throat. “Wouldn't want to bring … uh, bad luck down on us or something. You know, like breaking mirrors and shit like that. Dean Winchester and bad luck just don't mix.”
Dean really felt the Gothic vibe as he followed Cas through the house. He had no idea what the time was, knowing only it was still dark thanks to the windows he passed. He'd seen more rooms in this house—or mansion—than what should be allowed. -The paintings on the walls in some of the rooms managed to creep him out thoroughly. Women and men in formal attire staring at the photographer—or artist, whichever one—with that imperious stare that screamed wealth and pride. Dean just wanted to punch that look right off their faces, while also feeling like they were examining his brains.
After what felt like an hour and a half, he was about ready to collapse; his legs felt like they were on fire, and were about ready to give out underneath him.
“Cas,” said Dean, groaning, bending down to massage one of his calves. “Could we take a rest, please? My legs and feet are absolutely killing me.”
Cas put a hand on Dean's shoulder, looking worried. “Are you going to be alright?”
“Yeah, I just need some rest,” said Dean. “Haven't walked that much in ages.”
“The sitting room is closer,” said Cas decisively. “I'll take you there. Think you can walk twenty more steps, or do you need me to carry you?”
Just like that, Dean's pride kicked in, feeling more than a little insulted at the thought of being carried around like a girl.
“No,” he said. “No, I can walk that far.”
Cas's lips twitched. “Good.”
Just as they were walking past a large mahogany door on the left side of the hallway—the only door in this hallway—a roar of rage hit the air and the door started to shake until it was in danger of coming off its hinges. A bright white light started leaking out through the edges.
With a gasp, Cas threw an arm out and caught Dean in the chest, pressing him up against the wall and using his own body as a shield.
“Just keep quiet,” Cas whispered. “It'll stop in a second—”
Quickly as it all happened, it stopped, leaving an eerie silence in the air. Cas grabbed Dean's arm and hauled him away, his grip too rough and too strong for Dean to even think of breaking.
“What was all that about?” Dean gasped when they were in the sitting room. He allowed Cas to push him down on the moth-eaten lounge. “What happened?”
Cas looked pained. “That was the spirit of my father. Gabriel managed to lock him away inside his old study, because he was just too violent to be allowed to roam free. He used to float through the house rubbing his hands and plotting murder, making things rattle on shelves or fall over. It was quite scary.”
“Why does he haunt the house?”
“Because it was where mother died. When she died, it's almost as if a piece of him died too, and when he was finally killed, instead of moving on his soul latched onto this place. He's never known peace and I don't have the materials inside this house to give it to him.”
“You know,” Dean began, “if you need me to get things for you, all you have to do is ask. I mean, it must suck to be trapped in here. I could get you anything you want.”
Cas shook his head violently, sitting down beside Dean and placing a hand on his wrist. “If you get too involved in my business and get caught, you could be killed … Or stuck here, just like me. It wouldn't be fair to you. I cannot ask that of you.”
“You never asked; I offered. This my life, and I plan to do what I want with it, and I want to help you,” said Dean. “Normally I'm not so trusting of strangers, but … you're different. I can tell that you're different. So, whatever you need to put your dad at rest, I'm going to help you.”
“Wouldn't it be nice to know that your dad was at peace up in heaven with you mum?” Dean asked sharply, cutting across Cas. “He's been stuck here for years. He's been angry for years. Don't you think that after all that, he deserves to be set free?”
Cas's shoulders slumped as the argument just fell right out of him. “You're right. Thank you, Dean. I'll construct a list of everything I'll need you to get before the night is through.” He squeezed Dean's wrist tighter. “But you have to promise me something.”
“Depends on what it is.”
“If anyone starts to suspect your involvement with me, I want you to sever all ties you have with me. Deny everything, and then forget about me. I am not worth losing your life over.”
Dean couldn't promise that, so what he said was, “No problem.”
He got a knowing smile in return.