Masterpost: Supernatural: Redemption Road (for full series info, warnings, and disclaimer)
Characters/Pairing: Dean/Castiel, Sam, OCs
Rating: PG-13 for this part
Word Count: ~10,400 for this part
Beta: nyoka and zatnikatel
Notes: Due to size this episode is being split into two parts, the first airing here tonight and the second airing on 6/21.
Art: Chapter banner by geckoholic; digital drawings by kuma_la_la, which you can also find here, digital drawings by usarechan, which you can also find here, and digital drawings by ammo, which you can also find here (art contains spoilers for the chapter).
Summary: Team Free Will travel to Brazil in order to search for an artifact that might help to defeat Cthulhu. Arriving at the Green Coast, the team finds itself clashing with Cthulhu cultists, and Dean has to deal with an unexpected case of jealousy when their local contact, former-priest-turned-hunter Jonas Harper, falls for Cas.
Galeão International Airport, Rio de Janeiro
Dean had spent ten hours on a plane from New York to Rio de Janeiro, humming Whiskey in the Jar for two thirds of the flight and clutching a barf bag for the rest. On landing, the captain had congratulated the passengers for making it through one of the most turbulent flights in his career. If Dean had been packing he would've shot the joker at point blank range.
Fifteen minutes after deboarding, Dean found himself in the men's room of Galeão International Airport, clutching the sink in front of him with both hands. He had firm ground under his feet again but the message hadn't reached his stomach yet. Exhaling a deep breath, Dean looked up and met his pale reflection in the mirror. Maybe he imagined things but he did look a little green around the nose and the taste that lingered in his mouth...no, he didn't want to think about that.
"You okay, man?" Sam asked as he joined Dean by the sinks.
"I'm awesome," Dean muttered. He twisted the faucet and let the cold water run over his wrists before wiping his face with damp hands.
Sam snorted. "Whatever you say, tough guy."
Dean sucked up a palmful of water, rolled it around his mouth and spat it out again. "Guess I prefer flying angel airlines."
"Sure you do," Sam shot back with an asinine grin, and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Just shut up."
The airport's arrival hall was a huge glass construction with white steel girders arching at least thirty feet above the floor. At this time of day, the terminal was soaked in golden afternoon sunlight. People milled about the lobby, business men in suits, tourists in polo-shirts, welcoming committees with signs, promoters offering shuttle services into the city.
Castiel stood like a rock amid the shifting crowd, gazing up at the steel lattice work with his arms hanging lose at his sides. Three bags and a backpack rested at his feet, all of them containing books, clothes, and other non-lethal equipment. No way could they've taken any of their weapons onto the plane. Tamara and Mira's South American contacts would provide replacements, but Dean still felt ill-at-ease without his familiar arsenal. For the last couple of years, he'd never gone anywhere without at least one blade in his boot, not even when he'd stayed with Lisa and Ben. Now he felt naked. Dean hunched his shoulders, more aware of the people cluttering around him as they made their way toward Cas.
"Thanks for babysitting the bags," Sam said as they reached the angel.
"Yeah," Dean added. "We might've caused an international incident if we'd left our library unattended."
Castiel shot him a searching look, but thankfully didn't ask if Dean was feeling any better. As Cas bent down to pick up the backpack, Dean watched him from the corner of his eye. Cas was wearing a faded gray AC/DC t-shirt, unwittingly reminding Dean of his resolution to get Cas more clothes of his own, never mind that Cas seemed comfortable wearing Dean's cast-offs.
"That hunter contact of Mira's is supposed to pick us up at the taxi strip," Sam said. "You guys want to roll?"
"Wonder if we get a sign, too," Dean said and shouldered his duffel bag. "Welcome those who are about to die."
"Funny," Sam commented.
"Accurate," Cas corrected.
According to Tamara, their South American contact was an ex-priest turned hunter. The guy sounded like a bad movie with a Carpenter script. Dean could imagine the tagline: In a time of EVIL one man put down the BIBLE and picked up a SHOTGUN. Dean smiled.
Sam led the way to the terminal's exit, and the three of them all stepped out of the sliding doors into stifling heat. Dean winced at the wave of humid air that rolled over him, carrying the scent of car exhaust and sweet flowers. He looked around, taking in the multilane driveway and the palm-trees that drooped on a traffic island. How many times had he fantasized about traveling to Brazil for a break, picturing himself on a white beach with a cold beer and a BLT, watching tanned girls walk by with sand clinging to the soles of their feet.
Shit, if you wanted to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
"I think that's him," Castiel announced and headed for a guy leaning against one of the columns that supported the roof above the taxi strip. Dean followed, shifting the strap of his duffel as he tried to get a better look at their liaison. The guy watched their approach with the butt of a cigarette pinched between his fingers, his eyes hidden behind a pair of aviators. Okay, not quite what Dean had expected. He'd imagined they'd be working with the mopey priest from The Thorn Birds, but Jonas Harper looked like he'd just climbed off a Harley Davidson. He wore cargo pants and a red t-shirt, had a shock of auburn hippie hair that had to make Sam jealous, and sported a tattoo of what looked like the Virgin Mary on his right bicep. A three-day-old stubble shadowed his jaw and a thin scar parted his left brow.
"You're the Americans," Harper stated once they finally reached him. "Mira and Tamara's friends?" He spoke with an accent Dean struggled to place until he remembered the Scottish brogue he and Sammy had encountered on their short trip to a cemetery near Loch Ness. So Harper was a fellow-countryman to Crowley? Fantastic.
"Sam Winchester," Sam introduced himself. "This is my friend Cas and my brother Dean." They shook hands all around, Harper crushing his smoke under his boot when they were done.
"So," Harper said. "The end of the world."
"It's not as unprecedented as it seems," Castiel supplied, and Harper shot him a smile. Dean's mouth twitched too. He'd never not appreciate Castiel's deadpan humor.
"Shite's got to rain down sometime," Harper shrugged. "Should we get a move on, then?"
Harper drove a soft-top jeep that seated four and carried a camouflaged case with all kinds of guns and knives, which made Dean feel better. They all piled into the vehicle, Sam calling shotgun, Castiel and Dean occupying the backseat.
Back at Missouri's place, Tamara had forwarded them Harper's email which said the hunter had picked up the trail of a sword that could be one of the three Cthulhu-killing weapons. Apparently Harper had tracked the artifact to a town on the Costa Verde, but there the trail melted away. Which meant legwork and a long drive.
"Paraty's about a hundred miles down the coast," Harper said as he climbed behind the wheel. "Water and sandwiches are in the back if you're hungry."
"Awesome," Sam said, while Castiel bent back over the seat to get to the provisions. He divided out the food, but Dean stuck to a bottle of water and tried to ignore the wet smell of tomatoes and ham from Sam's sandwich. Of course this was the time Dean's brother decided he had a lead-lined stomach.
Fortunately, Castiel wound down the window on his side, and the fresh air that purled into the jeep made Dean feel a little better. He wondered if he should thank Cas, but the angel didn't look his way so maybe he hadn't opened the window for Dean's benefit. They hadn't talked much since they'd left Missouri's, but Dean was almost grateful for the silence. He'd decided to give Cas some space. A bit of healthy distance would do both of them good.
As they drove out of the airport grounds, Dean opened his own window a crack and closed his eyes as the slipstream brushed over his face. He put on the headphones of Sam's iPod and five minutes later, fell asleep to the dulcet sounds of Steppenwolf.
Paraty, Casa Verde Hostel
After the aerial rollercoaster of the previous twenty hours, Dean slept through the whole drive, waking up only when the jeep's door opened and Castiel placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Dean, we're here," Castiel said. Dean opened his eyes and saw Cas crouching in front of him, the squint-lines around his eyes softened with worry. His hand was warm on Dean's shoulder and when Dean pushed off the seat's backrest with a groan, Cas touched his cheek. It was just a small gesture but intimate enough that Dean leaned into his palm before he remembered his resolution to back off. Flinching fully awake, he jerked his face away from Castiel's fingertips, only to regret his reaction the second it happened.
It was too late, though. Castiel's face froze, his mouth pinched into a tight line, and he was up on his feet and walking away before Dean got a word in. Not that he would've known what to say.
Thing was, he hadn't exactly informed Cas about his decision to give him a little room to breathe. Would be fairer if he did, wouldn't it? He just had to find a way to bring it up. Easy as pie.
Dean rubbed his eyes, swung his legs out of the car and looked at the place where they'd stopped for the first time. Harper had parked the car outside a long, square house almost choked by banana trees and wildly flowering hedges. The place had two stories with an external staircase and a balcony connecting the rooms on the upper floor. The sign at the front door read Casa Verde Hostel.
A hostel? Dean thought. He hadn't slept in a hostel since he was fourteen. That had been the summer he had to grab Sammy and run because something had broken into the apartment John had rented for them. Dean had come home from school, found the place ransacked and didn't hesitate, just snatched his emergency duffel and bolted, Sam's small hand in his. John had been on a hunt and not for the first time, he hadn't answered his messages. It had scared the hell out of Dean, even so. For five days he and Sammy had bunked at a youth hostel living off the spaghetti a Swedish hitchhiker made for them. Bobby had picked them up on the sixth morning, angrier than Dean had ever seen him. John had joined them at the salvage yard a week later, and Dean could still hear the two men yelling at each other, Bobby tearing John a new one for leaving his boys to fend for themselves.
John had taken on no further hunts for six months after that.
By the time Dean got out of the car, Sam, Castiel, and Harper had already unloaded the jeep's trunk.
"Doesn't look like much, I know," Harper said as he caught Dean's gaze. "But it's out of the way and the owners are friends. They'll make sure we're not bothered."
Dean looked back over his shoulder and saw that the hostel stood beside a cracked, single-lane road. Forest loomed to the left, and the roofs of other houses were just visible above lush garden greenery to his right. Telephone masts lined the road, and Dean heard the distant sound of a water sprinkler. They had to be somewhere on the edge of town.
Castiel was already at the hostel's front door, and Harper followed him inside. Cas didn't look back to check if Dean was coming, and Dean couldn't blame him. With a pang he remembered how Cas had almost-fucked him on the hood of the Impala, and the way he'd kissed Dean's nape afterward. It had been too much, the intensity of what they did and what they hadn't done yet, the massive fear that had twisted Dean's stomach not even attached to any single worry anymore.
Dean had pressed his forehead against the car's hood, his heart hammering in his chest and his body so damn heavy he couldn't even turn around to look at Cas. He'd felt Cas hesitate, his mouth soft against the top of Dean's spine, but Dean didn't react, couldn't. Castiel's fingertips had ghosted toward Dean's shoulder, but hadn't touched the handprint scar. Another second, then Cas had moved away and walked out of the garage.
Easily one of his finest moments, Dean thought. He really hadn't been kidding when he told Sam he was messing everything up.
Dean picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder, scratching at the sweat-slicked small of his back. He hoped the hostel had private showers at least. And a deli, he mused, wincing when his stomach grumbled loudly. It seemed the flight's aftereffects had finally worn off.
He was about to walk up to the hostel when Sam bumped into his shoulder, dropped a cellophane-wrapped sandwich in his hand and smiled.
"Saved you one."
Dean turned over the squished sandwich that looked like someone had sat on it and felt nothing but grateful. Sam taking care of him never failed to rock him off balance.
"Dig in," Sam invited. "And maybe when you finish that you can pull your head out of your ass."
"What?" Dean blurted, fingers digging into the sandwich.
Sam squinted at him, his face pinched with disapproval. "Are you embarrassed of Cas or something?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Dean demanded.
"That little stunt there in the car just now?" Sam said. "Please tell me that wasn't for Harper's benefit."
"Harper's…" Dean echoed. Wait, did Sam think he'd shaken off Castiel's hand because he was afraid Harper might recognize them as a couple? Sure, they'd had to tone it down at Greg's farm, but that isn't what's going on here now. "It's not…" Dean began, and felt the heat climb into his cheeks. "Jesus, Sam. I've never been embarrassed of this thing with Cas, okay. If you're referring to what happened back at the farm, we both agreed to not be too obvious because we didn't want to have to kick every hunter's ass who came through the door to help us. We were being practical. That's all. I'm not ashamed of him."
"I know you aren't," Sam said with a soft smile, and waited as if he expected Dean to elaborate.
"Good. Because I don't give two shakes of a rat's ass what that priest thinks," Dean muttered. "If Cas and I offend him he can go file a complaint with Jesus or something."
Sam snorted, picked up his travel bag and walked with Dean toward the hostel. "I doubt he'd care."
"What?" Dean asked, perplexed. "Who are you talking about?"
"Jesus," Sam clarified. "Far as I know, he didn't care about gay dudes one way or another. He did have a few choice words to say about divorce though."
"You—" Dean began, then shook his head. "Sam, seriously, you read too much."
Sam smiled and shrugged. They walked into the hostel, and it seemed Dean's answers satisfied Sam, since he let the topic go. Dean was pretty sure he'd meant what he said: he didn't care about other people's opinions. Or did he? Dean frowned, shaking the thought out of his head.
When they walked up to Harper in the lobby, however, Dean couldn't help wondering what the other hunter might have seen in the jeep and what he made of it.
An hour later, Dean, Sam, Castiel, and Harper were seated on the hostel's back porch. The deck looked out at a lawn with stunted palm trees, guavas, and more flowering shrubs that Sam identified as hibiscus. A couple of small, green-and-red parrots hopped about in one of the trees. Dean liked them; they seemed to be as commonplace as the sparrows at home.
Someone had tied a hammock under the porch's roof and put up a few tables with mismatched chairs. A length of Christmas lights spangled the eaves, and as the sun set beyond the garden the little bulbs flickered to life. Harper had claimed one of the tables and unpacked his research, handing out books and maps from his bag. Sam had organized a couple of cold beers and everyone helped themselves to a drink. Dean had caught a glimpse of the hostel's other guests in the common room, but like Harper had promised, none of them interfered with their sit-rep.
Beer in one hand, Dean leaned over a map of Paraty, studying the layout of the districts and the curve of the bay. Once a Portuguese colonial town, Paraty had been spruced up to attract tourists and honeymooners. Lately, it had gained fame as a shooting location for one of the Twilight movies, a factoid that didn't impress Dean in the least. According to Sam's travel guide, Paraty had also served as an export port for gold diggers in the 17th century, and it had a rich history of missionaries plowing through the area. The latter made it interesting for their Cthulhu research because apparently one of the first wave Jesuits had come into possession of a peculiar sword.
"I got this story from a priest in São Miguel das Missões," Harper said. He'd taken off his sunglasses, and he'd placed a packet of Marlboros on the table but didn't smoke. He'd also opened a scuffed Moleskin to show Dean and the others the intel he'd collected. "He keeps watch over this ancient library that archives journals, letters, and travelogues of the Jesuits going back – well, probably all the way to Cabral, I wouldn't be surprised." He smiled. "It's quite the mess, though. They don't have the money to preserve the documents and a lot of it has gone to rot. Some of it's been sold too. Or pinched."
"Cabral?" Sam asked.
"A Portuguese explorer who reached Brazil in 1500," Castiel filled in as he leaned over a small, tattered book.
"You know your history, mate," Harper complimented. He turned a page in his notebook and shoved it toward Dean. "I've been to that library before. They stock records of missionaries encountering mapinguaris and some transcription of native lore on all sorts of nasties."
Another window to the past, Dean thought as he perused Harper's notes. He didn't show it, but Harper's findings excited him. Sam always appreciated good resource texts but so did Dean in his way. He valued books like Samuel Colt's diary because in them he found the heritage of the generations of hunters who'd come before him, men and women who fought the same battles. The knowledge that his profession had a history made him feel less insignificant.
Dean often wondered how many collections like the Campbell library existed, how many troves of knowledge hidden by hunters all over the world. It was a shame hunters failed at networking; they either died before they could pass on their expertise or they flipped their shit like Gordon. A real hunters' alliance though, that would be something to reckon with.
Dean looked at Harper's journal and Tamara's telephone number jotted down in the margin. It dawned on him that the alliance he'd been fantasizing about might be in the making this very instant. Bobby had touched base with his old contacts in Japan, Tamara and Mira had put Castiel and the Winchesters in touch with Harper, Missouri was rallying the psychics she trusted. Tamara and Mira also had their other connections across the globe and were steadily convincing them to pool their resources. None of Dean's other End-time battles had ever triggered that kind of teamwork.
Dean didn't know what baffled him more, the fact that he needed to know the plural of apocalypse or the support from so many corners.
Harper tapped the open page of the Moleskin, indicating the sketch of a sword he must've copied into his notebook. It looked a lot like the sketch Mira had shown them back at Tamara's cabin. The sign of Hastur was painted above the sword. "I saw this on an earlier visit," Harper said. "Came back to double-check when Garth and Mira contacted me for information."
Dean nodded, closely eyeing the image of the sword. With all the messenger birds passing back and forth, he prayed they'd been stealthy enough so that Cthulhu's followers wouldn't catch up or worse, wait for them somewhere down the line.
"Looks legit," he commented and held up the sketch. "Cas?"
"It's identical with the symbol I saw on the dagger Crowley used on Claire," Castiel confirmed. "You think it's hidden around here somewhere?"
Harper nodded. "I copied the sketch from a merchant's journal. Going from his notes, there were two Jesuits in this area in 1657. They were supposed to search out a location for a Reduction, but somewhere along the road something went wrong and one of the missionaries went nuts. Gathered acolytes and fashioned himself the leader of a ‘deepwater' cult. I assume that was Cthulhu-related."
"Makes sense," Sam cut in. "Cthulhu uses dreams to unhinge his worshippers-to-be."
"Charming," Harper said. He folded his hands on the table before he continued. "It must've got pretty gruesome for a while, lots of people died. That merchant describes some rites that make crucifixions sound like child's play. Makes a man wonder how he witnessed them and survived to write his journal."
"He probably didn't survive long," Sam said. Harper raised a brow.
"Everyone who catches a glimpse of the Cthulhu cult buys it," Sam explained. "The deaths look like accidents but—"
"One guy died of a heart-attack because a bunch of papers dropped down next to him," Dean cut in. "Sounds to me like someone or something perfected the art of silencing eyewitnesses."
"Everyone?" Harper asked.
"Everyone we know of," Sam said.
Harper looked at him and pulled a cigarette from the box of Marlboros. "Wish I'd known that before I dug deeper."
Dean huffed out a laugh. "Welcome to the club. What else do you know?"
"Not much," Harper said and lit his smoke. "A couple months after his partner went over to the dark side, Nunes killed him."
"Nunes?" Sam asked.
"Father Manuel Nunes," Harper explained. "The Ben Kenobi of the pair."
Sam snorted. "What about the other guy?"
"His name's not mentioned," Harper said. "Get this though: Nunes vanished after he smoked his partner, but the merchant says Nunes buried him 'with all the symbols and tools of his ungodly cult'. Odds are the sword went six feet under too."
Harper took a drag on his cigarette and scratched at his stubble. To his left, Castiel closed his book and looked up. "You didn't find out where that missionary is buried?" he asked.
"Afraid not," Harper said. "Maybe the merchant didn't know."
"Or he didn't want to give away the location to other cultists," Sam suggested and Harper nodded. Dean picked up his beer. "So we're back to a good old grave hunt," he said. "Got to appreciate the classics."
"How big are the chances Nunes buried cult-guy in an unmarked grave?" Sam wanted to know, voicing a fear Dean harbored too.
"Big," Harper admitted. He crossed his arms on the table. "Unless he hoped consecrated ground would keep away the followers."
"Which leaves us with churches and cemeteries," Dean said. "How many of those?"
"Four churches in town, two of them built on old foundations," Harper said. "There are also a number of small chapels in the larger area. Two cemeteries, but they're fairly new. They wouldn't reach back to the 17th century."
"We should go through the local archives in case they have more records of the incident," Castiel suggested. Dean watched him raise his beer and got sidetracked by Cas licking his lips after he'd swallowed two mouthfuls. It still caught Dean off guard sometimes, the way Cas had become so casual about human routines like eating and drinking.
"At the least we might be able to pinpoint the location of earlier cemeteries," Sam agreed.
"That'll be easy," Dean said. "Considering any document we find will be in Portuguese."
"Well," Harper said with a smile. "You're lucky you've got me then."
"And me," Castiel added.
"Really?" Harper looked at Cas with new interest, and Dean couldn't help the wash of pride. Cas was one competent son of a bitch. He might get as thirsty as the other baselines, but he still knew how to speak dirty in about seven thousand languages. Smirking, Dean took another sip of his beer.
Sam looked from Cas to Harper, drummed his fingertips against the side of his bottle and rocked back in his chair. "So," he said. "Where do we start?"
Later that evening, Harper and Fausto, one of the guys who ran the hostel, made dinner. They threw together a stew of beans and beef with tomatoes and other vegetables and cooked enough to feed an army. As a result, more and more of the other lodgers drifted into the common room until the place was packed with a small crowd of maybe twenty people. Bowls of stew were passed from hand to hand, and different sorts of alcohol found their way onto the tables and into mugs and glasses.
Dean had thought the proximity of so many strangers would unnerve him but in truth the atmosphere was kind of soothing, like an open barbecue in a friendly neighborhood. Not that Dean had any experience with that sort of thing but it didn't take much to go with the flow. As the evening wore on, Sam was deep in conversation with a dreadlocked surfer dude, and Dean had been roped into a card game by two backpackers. Felix and Moses were in their late twenties, had left for a tour around the world in their gap year, and somehow never made it back home. They'd met in Goa and told a couple of outrageous travel stories that were right up Dean's alley.
The common room opened up to the backyard, giving Dean a good view of the porch. Two girls had taken over the hammock, one of them wrapping her arm around the other as the hammock swung to and fro. Fausto, Harper, and Cas had gathered around a table and were chatting away in Portuguese.
Watching them, Dean itched to put down his cards and join them. He could've picked up a fresh beer for Cas, pulled up a chair, and maybe tilted his leg against Castiel's under the table. But he'd decided to hang the fuck back so he stayed put.
Anyway, it looked like Castiel was making friends out there, so all the better if Dean didn't intrude. They would have little enough chance to socialize in the upcoming days, and it didn't hurt to know the faces of the people they tried to save.
"Dude," Felix said, interrupting Dean's train of thought. "Who taught you to play cards?"
Dean looked down at the table and realized he'd put down another Royal. Damn, he'd planned to let one of them win that time. He switched on his most radiant smile. "It's just dumb luck, man."
"Yeah sure," Moses snorted, but he shuffled the cards for the next round without hesitation.
"Seriously," Felix insisted. "Who plays like that?"
"The devil," Moses deadpanned and started dealing.
"Yeah?" Felix grinned. "I don't see any horns on the brother."
"Maybe you're not looking hard enough," Dean suggested. Picking up his cards, he couldn't resist. He slid an ace into his sleeve, once slow so Felix and Moses could follow and once fast enough Felix raised his brows.
Dean shot another look at Cas outside on the porch, satisfied to find him lounging in his chair with his arm slung over the backrest, then turned back to Felix and Moses. "You guys want to learn a few tricks?"
Climbing the stairs to their room in the small of the night, Dean started to regret his decision to mix beer and cachaça. If he hadn't known better, he could've sworn he was back on the plane with the floor rolling under his feet. Stupid idea, getting drunk on the job, but at least tonight he wasn't the only idiot. Sam stumbled along in Dean's wake, cursing under his breath when he hit his head on the doorjamb.
They slipped out off their shoes on the doorstep and tiptoed into their room. It was basic: three beds, a dresser, and an open doorway that led out onto a balcony connecting this room with the one to its left. Coming in, Dean smelled a whiff of cigarette smoke and a quick look outside showed Harper sitting on the balcony's floor, his legs dangling over the edge and another coffin nail sticking from his mouth. Dean assumed all the news he got today kept the ex-priest awake.
Back in the room, Sam dropped down on his mattress and Dean turned in time to watch him bury his face in his pillow. Pulling his t-shirt off over his head, Dean made a mental note to leave their bottle of aspirin on Sam's nightstand in the morning. For himself, he picked up a water bottle from their bag of supplies, emptying half of it before he scanned the rest of the room.
Cas, who'd turned in a few hours earlier, had stretched out on the bed by the window. The moon was almost full, its light bright enough for Dean to pick out the curve of Castiel's ass under the thin sheet. He lay on his side, his lean body curled like a question mark.
Bottle in hand, Dean stood very still, his first instinct pulling him toward Castiel's bed. He'd become accustomed to sleeping with Cas, so much so that it felt weird to have a bunk to himself. Dammit. Surely sleeping alone was taking the whole breather thing too far.
And yet Dean hesitated, his eyes drawn to the hostel's open doors and windows. The smell of Harper's cigarette teased at his nose.
Try as he might, he couldn't deny that the exposure bothered him. People's opinions might be irrelevant, but Dean didn't like to flaunt his private life before strangers. It felt too much like taking off his armor. In the end, the idea that Harper might walk by and see him and Cas clinched it.
Dean settled down on the third, empty bed, refusing to analyze why he made that decision. The alcohol in his system made him queasy like it hadn't in a while, and he had trouble breathing through the twists and turns of his stomach. He turned his face into the pillow, silencing the part of him that wanted to curl up with Cas and rest his forehead in the space between Castiel's shoulders.
Paraty, Old Town
Dean, Sam, Castiel, and Harper spent the next day in the town archives getting paper cuts and breathing dust. Harper secured reading concessions by passing their group off as Harvard research fellows, and they searched the historic collection on display before taking a detour into the archives' cellar. Down there they found books and documents that were hardly indexed and randomly shelved, containing everything from the mayors' letters to shipping logs. Harper and Castiel went over as much as possible, skimming texts and handing over pages and books for Sam and Dean to copy. At the end of the day their efforts had yielded diddly with a generous side of squat.
Maybe they shouldn't be surprised, Sam suggested gloomily, considering that any substantial Cthulhu information had a tendency of vanishing into thin air.
One book gave them hope, though: a history of the region's missionaries mentioned the priest-on-priest murder in 1657. The author was a local so perhaps he might be able to tell them more. Harper took off as soon as they left the library, hoping he'd be able to get in touch with the guy.
Left to their own devices, Dean, Sam, and Castiel roamed around the town's historic center. They ended up at the harbor, where they bought some takeaway food at a tiny place next to the wharves. The menu had been chalked onto a blackboard, listing a variety of Spanish paellas, nearly all of them with some kind of fish.
"It's a good year," the vendor told them. "Plenty of fish in the sea."
Sam and Castiel picked a regular paella with seafood, but Dean went for the vegetarian option. After the pictures he'd seen of Cthulhu, the idea of eating squid put him off. Too many tentacles.
As the afternoon drew to its close, Sam and Dean sat on a low wall near one of the town's churches. The Igreja Matriz da Nossa Senhora dos Remédios looked out at a paved square surrounded by white-washed houses with yellow doors. Large trees dominated the churchyard, their branches weaving together in a natural roof.
Dean welcomed the shadow. He'd spent most of the day indoors, but even their short walk through the old town had been enough to make the skin on his face itch with the beginnings of another sunburn.
Castiel had excused himself a while ago, saying he wanted a look inside the church. Sam and Dean, both slowed down by the heat they weren't used to, decided to wait in the square and move as little as possible.
Relief came in the form of a mild breeze that ruffled the trees over Dean's head before it grew stronger. At the far side of the square, white clouds climbed above the roofs.
"Looks like the weather's going to change," Sam said. That morning, he'd put on knee-length cargo shorts and Dean had ribbed him for it without mercy. Now he couldn't help but envy Sam a little because, damn, his calves looked superbly unencumbered and ventilated. In comparison, Dean's heavy jeans were about as sensible as a ski suit. Not that he would ever admit it. He did wonder, however, if the heat might tempt Cas to lose some layers too. Clearing his throat, Dean focused on his paella and told himself he was not fantasizing about kissing Castiel's bare calves.
Sam chuckled, and Dean, feeling like he'd been caught red-handed, ducked his head. "What?"
"You realize this is the closest we've got to a vacation in, what, four years?" Sam asked.
"More like ten," Dean grumbled. Sam was right, though – the blue sea, the open sky, and the relaxed atmosphere of the town made it easy to forget their reasons for being here.
Perhaps if they survived the latest cataclysm, they'd find a way to come back, Dean thought suddenly. Do this whole vacation thing for real. Rent a place with a pool, throw their own barbecues. If he could swing it, Dean would take his whole chosen family. Those who wanted to come anyway.
Dean looked back over his shoulder, gaze lingering on the church's door. Cas had been in there a long time.
"You're unbelievable," Sam spoke up beside him. "If you want to go to Cas, just go."
Dean turned back, tilted his takeaway box so the rest of the paella tumbled into one corner. He would not get into this. "Give it a rest, Sam."
"Do you think I want to talk about this?" Sam demanded. "Man, you're moping."
Dean continued scraping rice off the bottom of his box while Sam watched him with the frustrated face he always got when he thought Dean should deal with stuff and didn't. Dean waited for the encore and sure enough—
"Enlighten me," Sam said. "It looked like you guys had it all figured out. Why are you keeping him at arm's length now?"
"No, seriously, I want to understand."
"Because I want him to be free to make his own choices," Dean snapped. "I don't want him to stick around just because destiny, some mythical bond thing or whatever, leashed us together."
There was more teetering on the tip of his tongue, facts Sam knew as well as he. Truth was, fate had thrown Sam and Dean together too, had linked them through blood and tragedy, and it had hurt them both, making Sam feel like a prisoner of his family's war, and making Dean feel like his brother's jailer. For a long while, the affection they'd felt for each other had been twisted by their lack of independence. Dean didn't want to live through that again, and he didn't want to push that kind of life on Cas either.
Dean clamped his mouth shut, already regretting what little he had said. Sam sat quietly next to him and probably knew exactly what was going through his head. They'd lived in each other's pockets too long not to be familiar with each other's issues.
He and Sam were good now, Dean reflected. They'd cut the strings of fate and duty and built an equal partnership instead, having each other's backs not because they had to but because they wanted to. But Cas was still new at this whole free will thing, and the ramifications had been on Dean's mind a lot since they left Missouri's. He also remembered that time after they'd rescued Claire, when Cas had said he needed to get an idea of who he was. He recalled, very distinctly, Cas demanding the chance to make his own mistakes.
Dean didn't want to hold Cas back, like he'd probably held Sam back. Dean wanted Castiel to figure out his own way in the world. But he also suspected that the world would spit Cas out raw and bloody, like it did with every single person Dean cared about. So what would be better? Standing back to let Cas fight his own battles? Or putting himself between Cas and harm?
Appetite gone, Dean chewed the rest of his rice without much enthusiasm.
"Did it ever occur to you that sticking around is his choice?" Sam said at length.
Dean swallowed, Sam's suggestion waking a pain in his chest he didn't want to analyze. Yes, it had occurred to him – and Cas himself had said as much after the shit that went down with Claire Novak. But for some reason, the idea that Cas might want to be here was even harder to swallow than the suspicion that he'd be better off elsewhere. Part of it was the disbelief Dean felt when Cas said he loved him, not because he mistrusted Castiel's words, but because he thought he didn't say them to the right person. What did Dean have to offer anyway? A messed-up head and a hard life. Very little to build on.
"You don't fuck things up," Sam said softly, linking back to another conversation Dean now wished they'd never had. "But you do overthink." He smiled and teased, "Never thought I had to tell you that though."
"Can we not talk about this while my brain is cooking at 250 degrees?" Dean tried, even though he knew he couldn't box up this stuff forever. At the very least he had to take Cas aside and talk about where they were going, but for now he'd rather practice the fine art of procrastination.
"I'm sure it's cooler inside the church," Sam countered, and Dean rolled his eyes.
"Jesus, Sam. Dog? Bone?"
Sam didn't reply, just scooped up a sporkful of squid in a real eloquent, pestering way.
"Fine," Dean relented. "I'm going to check out what's keeping him." He got to his feet and nudged Sam with the tip of his boot before he headed for the church. "Jerk."
"Bitch," Sam returned pleasantly and finished his lunch.
The Igreja Matriz da Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, first church of Paraty, had two belfries and a baroque façade. Plaster crumbled from the building's foundations and green paint flaked off the doors, but inside the place looked newly renovated. The walls shone white, the dark pews seemed hardly used and the archways had been painted in soft blues and dove-gray colors. The afternoon light slanted into the nave at an angle, separating the church's entrance from the altar like a curtain.
Dean stopped at the head of the nave. Castiel sat in one of the pews close to the altar. He seemed to be the only visitor, and the arched ceiling and empty benches dwarfed him in a way Dean had never witnessed before. For the first time, he wondered if Cas still talked to God, if it had become a mere habit or if he still waited for an answer.
Dean hesitated, once more unsure if he had the right to disturb Cas. But then again, if Cas felt as lonely as he looked, maybe he'd appreciate the company. He was about to move when the soft sound of footsteps stopped him short.
Turning, Dean caught sight of Harper walking across the atrium. Dean nodded in greeting and Harper stopped at his side. The ex-priest shoved his hands into his pockets, his gaze lingering on Cas.
"Your friend's a believer?" he asked quietly.
Dean made a face. "Guess you could say that." Not that Castiel's family had done anything to warrant the angel's belief but, yeah, he'd been convinced to the end that Heaven would grow into a force of good. Maybe he still believed it, only now he'd never get the chance to go back and find out.
Harper nodded. "It helps."
Dean slanted him a look. "I thought you quit the club," he said, and gestured at his own throat. "No more collar?"
"I didn't lose faith in God," Harper explained. "I lost faith in the Church. There's a difference."
He left it at that and walked down the aisle, stopping to cross himself before he slid into one of the pews, leaving ample distance between himself and Cas. As Harper went down on his knees and folded his hands, Dean blended back into the shadows of the atrium. If Harper and Cas still found comfort in prayer, Dean wouldn't rush them.
He was almost at the exit when he noticed that the church hadn't been empty after all. Half-hidden in the shadow of a pillar, a woman stood in the side aisle of the church and watched Dean with a weirdly static face. Dean frowned, pausing with his hand on the door handle. Maybe it was a trick of the dimming light, but the woman's skin seemed to have a gray hue and a sickly sheen, and Dean felt vaguely disturbed by her appearance. Maybe it was her bulging eyes, but before he could put his finger on it, the woman shuffled off toward the back of the church. Dean had a split second to notice her big feet squeezed into brown loafers, and then she was gone.
Paraty, Casa Verde Hostel
As Sam had predicted, the weather turned before the sun hit the horizon. The four of them made it back to the hostel just ahead of the storm, the first thunder crackling as they left the car. Sam called first shower and disappeared upstairs; Dean sought out a quiet corner to check in with Bobby.
It turned out Bobby had hit the road as well, meeting up with Tamara and Mira in Berkley.
"Berkley, huh?" Dean said. "How do you like them Chai Lattes?"
"Shut it," Bobby grumbled before he added in a tone of pure disgust. "I'm wearing tweed."
Dean laughed. "Got to rock those elbow patches."
Apparently Tamara had tracked down an archeology professor who'd gained a bit of a loony-toony reputation for a paper he'd wrote on Cyclopean masonry some ten years ago. Just the kind of architecture Lovecraft mentioned in his short stories.
"Might be something," Dean suggested.
"Or it might not," Bobby said. "The idjit thinks aliens built Machu Picchu."
"So? With all the shit that's happening that doesn't even sound so strange."
"He also thinks he's one of them."
They swapped a few more tidbits, then arranged to call again in two days. "Don't worry, boy," Bobby said by way of goodbye. "Something'll turn up. It always does."
"Yeah." Dean rubbed a hand over his forehead. "That's just what worries me."
After he'd caught up with the old man, Dean detoured to the hostel's open kitchen. Bree, one of the hammock girls, passed him a cup of coffee, and Dean took his mug to one of the lumpy couches in the common room. Outside, the storm was in full swing, thunder booming and a sharp wind driving sheets of rain through the garden. Despite the weather, however, the sliding doors between the common room and the porch remained wide open, allowing the fresh air to roll into the house.
From his spot on the couch, Dean had a good view of the deck and once again, his gaze fell on Castiel sitting at one of the tables. He seemed to like it out there. Harper also haunted the porch, walking up and down with a cellphone to his ear.
From what Dean could see, the two of them had laid out the spoils of today's research, and Cas was busy studying the documents Dean had copied. He'd crossed his arms on the tabletop, drumming his thumb against the inside of his elbow. Someone had switched on the porch's paper lampions, and the warm light softened Castiel's face, made his eyes look even more stark blue than usual. Watching him, Dean wondered if Castiel's skin was still warm from the day's heat.
The thought zinged directly downstairs, the twitch of his dick reminding Dean how much time had passed since he and Cas had some time for themselves. Coffee in one hand, Dean scratched at the seam of his jeans.
Once again, Castiel wore a t-shirt Dean knew well, a red one that had been washed often enough the soft cotton would slide smoothly up over Castiel's back. Dean let his gaze drift down to Castiel's legs, following the lines of his cargo pants to his feet. His bare feet, Dean noted with surprise.
At some point during the evening, Castiel must've exchanged his shoes for a pair of flip-flops. If Dean had expected Cas to wear anything, flip-flops weren't it, but he did pull it off. They weren't cheap ones with a plastic thong, they had some dark, broad vee of fabric which looked, well, nice on Castiel's narrow feet.
Dean had a feeling he shouldn't sit here much longer. One more minute, two at most, and he'd scrap his give-Cas-some-space resolution and hell, if their room wasn't private enough, he'd hijack Harper's car.
Outside on the porch, Harper switched off his phone and returned to the table. Inside, a couple of hostel guests stumbled into the common room and switched on the TV as if on cue. Dean decided he'd check if Sam had finished with the shower yet.
As he got up, carrying his coffee mug in a strategic position, he shot another look at the porch. Harper had taken up position behind Castiel's chair, one hand closed around the backrest as Cas pointed something out to him. Dean took in the curl of Castiel's fingers as he turned a page, and beat a hasty retreat.
By the time Dean returned from the shower, Castiel and Harper were gone but Sam had moved out on the porch in their place, reading a newspaper in one of the wicker chairs. Dean joined him, and Sam held up a bottle of Budweiser without comment.
The rain fell even harder, rushing down into the garden beyond the spangled edge of the roof. The broad leaves of the banana trees nodded under the raindrops' impact, and the air smelled earthy and green. The temperature had cooled down, making it easier to breathe.
Dean put up his feet on a footstool, screwed the top off his beer and watched the parrots tipple around in the dripping shrubs.
"I like it here," he said.
"Yeah," Sam agreed without looking up. "The people are pretty open-minded."
Dean shot him a glance before he leaned forward to pull the boots off his feet. "About drifters like us? Yeah, it's a nice change."
When Dean came back up, Sam was eyeing him with a weird expression on his face. "Dude," he said. "Sometimes you're as slow as a snail in a wheelchair."
"What?" Dean asked, surprised.
Sam went back to his newspaper, and Dean decided not to prod. He peeled off his socks as well, enjoying the cool breeze on the bare soles of his feet.
"Any idea where Harper and Cas snuck off to?" he asked.
"They headed down the road to a bar," Sam answered. "Harper's set up a meeting with that history buff – you know, the one who wrote that book. He's hoping the guy'll know something about the Year of the Cult." He turned over the last page of his paper, eyes skimming what looked like a bunch of commercials. "You want to catch up with them?"
"In that weather?" Dean asked and crossed his ankles on the stool. "No thanks."
Sam clucked his tongue and folded his newspaper. "I talked to Harper today, you know," he said. "Asked him how he got into the life."
"Bit intrusive don't you think?"
Sam shrugged. "He didn't mind." Bending at the waist, Sam reached for a second stool and copied Dean, propping his freakishly long legs on a linen cushion. "He's got a hell of a backstory."
"I can imagine," Dean said, remembering his original idea. "A priest with a shotgun," he mused. "Makes you think of From Dusk till Dawn, doesn't it?"
"You're not that far off."
"What, it was vampires?"
Sam shoved his newspaper onto the table and picked up his beer instead. "Yeah, a whole pack of them, terrorizing the neighborhood where Harper was working."
"Bet that lowered the real estate prices," Dean joked, although he didn't think it was funny at all. How many monsters established their territory because the general population didn't know, or much less believe, they existed? Sometimes Dean wondered if it weren't better to go public, to open people's eyes to the things that went bump in the night. But then what? If people knew, if the authorities got involved, what would be the consequences? Militarized hunters? City-wide purges? Children growing up in fear from the second they were born? Yeah, that way lay all kinds of Orwellian horrors.
Pushing his hair back from his face, Sam leaned back into his chair. He'd tanned, a strip of paler skin showing when the sleeve of his t-shirt rode up his shoulder. Dean scratched at the sunburned skin on the bridge of his own nose.
"He and another priest ran a youth shelter in Caracas," Sam said. "Vampires set up a nest in the boons, started snatching people off the street. One night they thought it would be a good idea to raid the shelter."
"Harper said when he realized what was happening, he tried to stop them with a cross."
Dean winced in sympathy. To find out in one night that monsters are real, but the weapons in the stories weren't? Hell, what a nightmare.
"They killed a lot of kids, staff, and the other priest," Sam went on. "Harper's archdiocese recalled him after that, put him through a cross-examination and rescinded his commission."
Dean shook his head, took another swallow from his beer. No wonder the guy fell out with the Church. Dean had met a number of decent clerics in his day but not every preacher was as enlightened as Pastor Jim, or as good with a throwing knife. "Let me guess. The Catholic Church doesn't believe in vampires."
"No," Sam said. "I think it had more to do with his partner."
Dean froze with his bottle halfway to his mouth. "His partner?"
Sam shot him a sideways glance. "The priest who worked in Venezuela with him," he explained. "The one who got killed. Harper has a picture of him in his wallet."
Dean raised his beer the rest of the way and said nothing. Here was something he hadn't seen coming.
"The diocese accused them of ‘gross indecencies'," Sam added.
"Sex," Dean clarified.
"Yeah," Sam said. "Which they didn't have, far as I can tell."
"You're kidding me. Then why…?"
"Guess the powers that be didn't believe Harper. Or didn't care. Maybe there had been too much talk about how they close they'd been." Holding his beer by the neck, Sam had begun to peel off the label. He liked doing that as much as denting the soft wax of burning candles. Dean watched Sam's hands and tried not to show how much the news about Harper caught him off guard.
"From what Harper told me," Sam continued, "I got the feeling they were happy working at each other's side day to day. Guess it didn't matter to them if they could've had…that as well." He pulled the Budweiser's label off the bottle and smoothed it onto the tabletop. "Harper went to the mattresses when they refused his friend a proper burial service. He didn't deny he'd been close to him either."
Dean shifted in his chair. He struggled to connect the picture he'd formed of Harper with the backstory Sam laid out for him. The combination of homosexuality and priesthood didn't surprise him; plenty of men were gay or bi or any color of the spectrum and of course some of them would become priests. Harper just hadn't seemed the type. Dean grimaced, irritated by his own thought. Type, he scolded himself. What type? Was he really expecting people to be alike, to be stereotyped, just because of their sexual orientation? He knew better than that.
"I can see why he quit," Dean said. When Sam raised his brow, he added, "Shouldn't support the system if it doesn't support you."
Sam scratched at the nape of his neck, a deep line forming between his brows. "That guy survives a massacre and all they care about is whether he had feelings for another guy?" he asked. "That's all kinds of messed up."
"Yeah, I agree with you there," Dean muttered. "But the world's full of prejudiced douchebags, Sammy."
"Doesn't mean we have to accept it."
Touché, Dean thought. The more he rolled it over in his head, the more he admired Harper's integrity. He'd remained loyal to his friend, and Dean respected him a lot for that. He could even imagine the life they'd had together, working the same gig, looking out for each other. Sam was right, sex didn't define how much two people meant to each other. If the zing was strong enough, however, Dean found it hard to imagine abstinence.
"I don't know, man," he said eventually. "Harper must've known about his church's crap policy on sex and stuff. Why did he even follow the rules in the first place?"
"Maybe he thought he'd be able to focus his attention on his work by honoring the clerical celibacy rule," Sam ventured.
"I bet that didn't cause any undue tension," Dean said. "I couldn't do it. Being celibate."
Sam nodded. "Yeah me neither."
"Look at you," Dean grinned. "A few weeks with a new girlfriend, and you're already preaching the gospel of the bedroom."
"Shut up, asshole."
They sat in silence for a bit, Sam picking up the beer label and folding it into a tiny square. After a while he said, "Of course, that's one problem Harper doesn't have anymore."
"Come again?" Dean asked.
"No more celibacy," Sam specified. "He left the Church. Must have its perks."
"Guess so," Dean agreed. Of course, Harper's career change meant that he could get his guts ripped out any day of the week but at least he could go out with whoever—
Dean stopped, the memory of Harper in the church's atrium flashing back to the forefront of his mind.
Your friend's a believer?
It all clicked into place then, the smile Harper had shot Cas when he'd found out Cas spoke Portuguese, the time he and Cas together spent over Harper's research, the fact that the two of them were at a bar right now.
"You all right?" Sam asked, enunciating the words in a way that had Dean jerk up his head to meet his brother's gaze. Sam looked at him steadily, leaving no doubt that he waited for the coin to drop. Dean realized then that Sam had told him all of this on purpose because he'd been too blind to catch a clue.
Harper was hitting on Cas.
Gravity vanished for a second there, making Dean feel like his stomach floated free in his belly, turning over and over like a balloon.
"Yeah, I'm good," Dean said and forced down another swallow of his beer. He'd rather bite his tongue off than acknowledge the unease that spread in his gut like a flashflood.
Sam said nothing, but Dean didn't doubt for a second that his brother had his own thoughts on the matter. The kid was way too observant. How long had Sam known? More importantly, what else had Dean missed? His mind went back to the picture of Harper and Cas once more, with Cas leaning over Harper's journal and Harper reading along over Castiel's shoulder. They were friendly. Too friendly. Dean clenched his jaw. Yeah, that definitely helped calm him down.
"I'm going to get some food," Dean announced, well aware his abrupt departure was a dead giveaway but suddenly unable to sit still. "You hungry?"
"Nope," Sam said, leaning over to grab a book from a basket full of paperbacks. "I'm good."
Repeating Dean's exact same words with an emphasis, the little shit. Dean crossed the porch, telling himself he wasn't running, that he was walking to the exit in an orderly fashion. He even thought for a moment that perhaps Sam had got it wrong. If Harper had put the moves on Cas, Dean would have noticed, wouldn't he?
By then he'd reached the threshold to the common room and spotted for the first time the sticker of a rainbow flag in the corner of the sliding door, labeling the place as an LGBTQ-friendly establishment.
"Right," Dean muttered. Slow as a snail in a wheelchair. That had been the understatement of the year.
Next: DVD Extra: Small Hours