Beauty and the Beast (1/3)

Title: Beauty and the Beast
Author:
Fandom: Supernatural
Pairing: Castiel/Dean Winchester
Warning: None.
Word Count: 11,500
Rating: PG
Summary: Who is the mysterious creature who lives behind the high walls of Messenger Manor? Dean Winchester, an apprentice hunter, is determined to find out.
Notes: Written for the AR/Fusion Challenge, prompt #29: “SPN/Beauty and the Beast: Would prefer Castiel to be the ‘Beast’. Slash, please.” Thanks to for beta. The Beast’s appearance is inspired more than a little by this fanart by .

There was once a world full of magic and wonder. It was a world of great beauty, but also of great horror, because wherever there is power there are also those willing to use it and be corrupted by it. To protect ordinary people from malevolent magical beings, there came to be a guild of hunters. Hunters studied magic, languages, history, weaponry and religion. Many hunters thought this education prepared them to deal with any sort of creature that might cross their path.

This was not always true.

One of these hunters was a man named John Winchester, who had two sons. The younger was named Sam and the elder was named Dean. Their mother had died when they were quite young, and so John had trained them since they could walk to follow in his footsteps. Sam took to it like breathing, but Dean always felt he had another purpose in life. He had no idea how to discover this other purpose, however. And so he traveled with his father and his brother, fought evil and looked at the horizon as if something were waiting for him just beyond.

The family crisscrossed the vast and wild country many times and rarely encountered problems in the same town twice. Some towns were large and civilized, and some were small, hardly bigger than a watering trough and a pub. Whenever the Winchesters came to a new town, the first thing they did was visit the local public house. Pubs took the place of the post office, sheriff’s office, wise woman’s office, newspaper, all the places you would find in more populated areas, and only slightly less central to every town than the church. Since most preachers regarded hunters with suspicion if not outright hostility, pubs were better sources for information.

They were recognized as hunters at once, what with John’s official Hunter’s Guild medallion pinned to his coat and the look all three of them had — even Sam, who to Dean was still just a lanky fourteen-year-old growing too fast for his clothes to keep up, looked like he could hold his own in a fight. According to the placard that hung from the pub’s sign, the owner was named Bill Harvelle, and the gentleman himself came out from behind the bar to greet them. He and John shook hands heartily. “Ellen,” he said to his wife, “beer and stew for these men. Joanna,” he said to his daughter, “let people know hunters are here.” His daughter hurried off obediently, giving the Winchesters a curious look as she passed. “Ash, see to their horses,” he said and the hired boy ran outside to attend to them. Mrs. Harvelle dished up their suppers as John took off his overcoat and all three got comfortable at a table near the stone fireplace.

“So,” said Bill, pulling over a chair for himself. “Are you hunting something in particular, or are you passing through?”

“We’re passing through,” said John. “Are there troubles we should know about?”

“No demon sign,” said Harvelle, and rose to help his wife bring over bowls of stew and plates of freshly-baked bread and new butter. The boys thanked them politely, as they’d been taught, and this made Ellen smile with approval at them. “We do have a mystery, but I don’t know if it falls under the bailiwick of hunters.”

“We’ll hear the story,” said John and picked up his spoon to eat.

As they ate, Dean noticed people trickling into the pub: a staid-looking gentleman with a look of authority, store owners in their aprons and shirtsleeves, the school mistress, the town’s wise woman, even the preacher. Dean muttered to Sam, “I think they haven’t had hunters here for a long time.”
“I hope Father will let us come with him on the job,” Sam whispered back. “I’m tired of being left behind.”

Dean shrugged at that. It took a lot of time and training to qualify as a hunter. Some apprentice hunters didn’t earn the title of master until they were well into their thirties, if they lived that long. If Dean achieved his mastery in the next five years, he would still be one of the youngest hunters alive.

The townspeople waited for them to finish eating and for John to push back from the table. “I heard there was a mystery,” he said, addressing the question to the company in general, and Sam got out a notebook to write down what they were told.

“Robert Singer,” said one of the older men. “I’m the town steward. If you came in on the north road you might have noticed a house — a manor, surrounded by a high brick wall. That’s our mystery.”

“Is it haunted?” said John.

Several people exchanged glances. “We’re not certain,” said Mr. Singer. “No one has gone into the manor for several years, and as far as we know, no one has left it for just as long.”

“Best tell me this from the beginning,” said John.

“The manor belonged to a family called the Messengers,” said Mr. Harvelle. “They’ve owned half the businesses in town and acres of land surrounding it since time out of mind. They were good people, too, given to philanthropic works — they created the Messenger Library, the Messenger School, the Messenger Public Park. They even donated the statue in the town square. And then there was the last generation, Zachariah Messenger and his wife, Anna.” There was a pause as again the glance traveled from person to person. “They had a son. They gave him the strangest name — Castiel.”

“Castiel,” said John. “That’s an angel’s name.”

“That’s probably what they wanted for him.”

Mr. Singer added in a growl, “That’s not what they got.”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead,” said Mr. Harvelle, in the tired tone that said this was an old argument.

“They need to know the truth. Castiel Messenger was a vain, arrogant, self-absorbed bas –” Mr. Singer stopped himself and looked apologetically at the ladies, though only the schoolmistress had dropped her eyes. The other women just looked amused. “Boy,” he finished.

“He raised some hell when his parents where alive,” said Mr. Harvelle. “It was even worse after they passed. Gambling, drink, parties that lasted for days at the manor with people of questionable character from who-knows-where . . . most of the property his parents had left him had to be sold to pay his debts.”

“The Messengers died in a flash flood about ten years ago,” said Mrs. Harvelle. “About five years after, something happened at the manor that no one can explain.” She paused and her husband reached back to take her hand, which had been resting on his shoulder. “Walls,” she said. “Overnight, all around the manor’s lands. No local workmen were hired –”

“No workmen of this Earth could work that fast,” said Mr. Singer.

“But the walls were built, and no one has seen Castiel Messenger since. Men have gone to the manor and tried to climb the walls, and when they returned they could tell us nothing of what they found.” Mrs. Harvelle stopped and Mr. Harvelle squeezed her hand. “It was as if they had forgotten even why they’d gone.”

“The only thing we’ve heard,” said Mr. Harvelle, “is a black coach during the night sometimes. No one has seen a passenger inside or driver outside.”

“We tend keep to our doors locked and our windows shuttered when we hear it,” added Mrs. Harvelle.

John frowned, thoughtful, and leaned his chin on his hands, his forefingers to his lips. “So either the boy is possessed and the manor has been taken over by demons, or the boy is dead and the manor is haunted.”

“It could be something else entirely,” Dean said to him softly. “There’s been no demon sign, Mr. Harvelle said.”

“The simplest explanation is usually the right one, Dean,” John said, just as softly. “If we find evidence of something else, we’ll have a better idea, but for now I think demon or ghost. I’ll go out tonight,” he said to the townspeople. “I’ll have a look around and get a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”

There was a collective sigh of relief, and several men came over to shake their hands. John accepted their effusive thanks grimly — he was not, in general, warm — and quietly asked Mr. Harvelle for a room for him and his sons.

“So when are we going?” said Dean when they were alone.

“We are not,” said John as he packed up a bag with salt rounds and holy water. “I’m going alone. It’s just a fact-finding mission. I’ll be back before morning.” He looked at the boys, one to the other, and said to Dean, “Look after your brother,” as he shouldered his shotgun.

“Yes, sir,” Dean muttered and made a simple protection spell on the door after John shut it.

Sam sighed, sounding just as frustrated as Dean felt. “Poker?” he said, taking a deck of cards out of his bag.

“Sure,” said Dean, and they sat cross-legged on the bed to play, using bullets for chips.

***

Dean woke with the sun. He saw Sam asleep in one bed, but the other bed was empty. Dean dressed hastily and went down to the main room of the pub. Joanna Harvelle, her shining hair tied back from her face, was building the morning fire, but stopped when she saw him. “My mother is making breakfast,” she said, hands twisting together nervously.

“Thanks,” Dean said. “Have you seen my father? His bed hasn’t been slept in.”

“I haven’t. I could ask Ash if he bedded down his horse last night.” She paused. “Your animals are beautiful.”

“Thanks,” Dean said again and returned her tiny smile. Girls tended to like hunters, even hunters in training, but Dean had found that while he enjoyed when they smiled and flirted with him, they tended to want more than just a smile. Sam was young enough not to have these concerns yet, but Dean was almost a man, and he knew his father was starting to wonder why he hadn’t brought a single sweetheart to meet the family. “I’ll find Ash. You’re busy.” He ducked out of the pub — these old building were made for shorter men — and found the stables.

Ash had not seen his father since the night before and wanted to talk to Dean about how to become a hunter. He was disappointed when Dean said the training started in childhood and that he was still an apprentice.

Dean went back into the pub and found Sam at a table, a book propped open in front of him as he ate porridge and toast. Dean didn’t disturb him since he was studying and just sat opposite him at the table. He thanked Mrs. Harvelle for the food when she brought his breakfast out.

“No sign of Father,” he said when Sam finally closed the book and put it aside. “We should go out to the manor and have a look.”

“Father said we should stay here,” Sam pointed out. “We’re not qualified to hunt on our own yet.”

“It won’t be hunting,” Dean said. “It’ll just be looking around.”

“And what will Father say when he comes back and finds us gone?” He looked triumphant and Dean wanted to flip a spoonful of porridge at him.

“Fine, here we stay.”

He supposed he should study, since they had the time, but he couldn’t keep his mind focused on his books. Sam tried to quiz him on exorcisms but gave up when Dean couldn’t remember past Spiritus mundi. “You’re hopeless,” Sam said and Dean said, “I’m going exploring,” and escaped.

The town would not pay the hunter’s fee if there was no evidence of a hunt, but Dean was not worried about money: John left Dean in charge of their cash in case anything happened to him while they were separated, and he knew he had more than enough to cover their bill. He was more worried about his father. If it were a simple fact-finding mission, why hadn’t he returned before sunup, as he expected?

Dean walked from the pub to the town square. He got a drink from the well and sat on the edge of the fountain for a while, to watch people come to fill their buckets or splash their faces.

It wasn’t long before Joanna Harvelle came to the well, bearing two buckets to fill for the pub, and Dean stood to help her. “Your father hasn’t returned yet,” she told him. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not worried yet,” Dean lied, and took both the buckets to carry them back for her. It did not escape his notice that Joanna walked back a little more slowly than she’d walked to the well.

“It must be an exciting life, hunting,” she said. “Traveling all the time, meeting so many new people . . .”

“It’s all right. Sometimes I wish we could stay put for a while.”

“Doesn’t your mother miss you?”

Dean tightened his fingers on the bucket handles. “She died.”

“I’m sorry,” Joanna murmured, dropping her head. “Was it . . . recently?”

“Fourteen years,” Dean said, though he knew the exact day, the exact minute. “Sam was just a baby.”

“You must miss her very much.”

“Every day.” He followed her into the kitchen with the water and poured it into the cistern for her. It sounded full already, but he supposed if she wanted a reason to get out of the kitchen going to the well was as good a reason as any.

“Thank you for helping me,” Joanna said.

“You’re welcome,” said Dean, and they looked at each other. Dean knew, objectively, that she was pretty — and she was about his age, maybe a year or two younger — and she was the kind of girl his father wished he would court — but he didn’t know what to say to her to even start a courtship.

Joanna was about to speak when they heard footsteps pounding up the stairs from outside and Ash stopped in the doorway. “Master Winchester, I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Your father’s horse has come back.”

“Just the horse? Where’s my father?”

“I don’t know, Master Winchester.”

“I’ll get your brother,” said Joanna and sprang up the steps to the rooms. Dean followed Ash out to the stable — sure enough, there was Creedence, his glossy black coat damp with sweat and splashed with mud. Dean put his hand on his muzzle and rubbed his jaw a moment before carefully taking off his bridle. He chuckled when Creedence nudged his shoulder with a soft whinny.

“I don’t think he’s been fed or brushed,” he said and felt tears sting his eyes at the implication. His father would never let Creedence suffer, not willingly.

“We’ll look after him,” said Ash with surprising gentleness.

Sam burst into the stable and gasped when he saw Creedence. “Where’s Father, Dean?” he wailed. “What’s happened to him?”

“He’s just delayed, Sammy,” Dean said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Joanna had followed Sam, and put her arm around his shoulders now. She had to reach up to do it and it struck Dean, as it did every time he looked at his brother now, how tall Sam was getting. “Come back to the kitchen with me, Sam,” she said. “Help me, um, help me knead some bread. Come on, Sam.”

He gave Dean a despairing look, and then nodded and went glumly back into the pub.

***

It was a somber supper that night, even though the Harvelles invited the boys to eat with them as a family. Sam could hardly lift his head without tears starting to fall again, and Dean didn’t know how to comfort him in front of all these strangers, no matter how kind they were. He supposed the others thought they should be used to their father not returning right away, but the truth was, John always came back when he said he would. Always.

And it had just been a fact-finding mission. Not even a real hunt.

Sam went to bed right after supper, too unhappy to do anything more than sleep, but Dean felt too restless to sleep. When Mrs. Harvelle asked him to help her wind yarn, he said yes. At least it gave him something to do: he held the unwound skein as she wound it into a ball, and Joanna read to them from a book of poetry while Mr. Harvelle listened with his eyes closed.

They all started up when they heard the thundering sound of an approaching coach. Dean yanked the yarn off his hands and ran out into the street to meet it, dodging aside at the last moment when the great black coach nearly ran him down.

It screeched to a stop in front of the pub and the door swung open, and out came John. “Father!” Dean cried, unable to help himself, and John wrapped his arms around him tighter than he had hugged Dean for many months. “I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”

“We’ll talk about that later,” said John. “Where’s Sam?”

“Inside, asleep.” He followed John into the pub. The Harvelles were waiting, Mrs. Harvelle’s hands clasping each other tightly, and she breathed, “Oh, thank God,” when she saw John. Mr. Harvelle closed the door and Dean glanced back at the coach, wondering why no one had asked the driver inside.

He felt a chill when he saw there was no driver, and as he watched the coach slowly turned and clattered back up the road from whence it came.

Mrs. Harvelle poured a cup of hot coffee for John, which he drank gratefully. “Did you see him? Castiel Messenger — is he alive?” she said, anxious.

John shook his head. “I saw only one — creature. He is no demon and no ghost. I’m not sure what he was. The manor is not haunted but it was a strange place, the strangest I have ever seen.”

Sam ran down the stairs, stopped at the bottom, and then threw himself at his father. John held him and patted his back. “I’m all right, son,” he said gently. “I’m just fine.”

“Don’t leave us again, Father.”

John sighed and patted Sam’s hair, and said to the Harvelles, “I would like to be alone with my sons. All I can say is that you have nothing to fear from the manor, so long as it is left alone. Let the people know, they must simply stay away.”

Alone in their room, Dean said, “What really happened? Creedence came back without you and I thought –”

“I’m leaving again in the morning,” said John and Sam looked like he was about to weep again. John held him closer a moment. “He only allowed me to come back to say goodbye to my children.”

Dean felt like he couldn’t breathe. “What are you talking about? Who’s at that manor?”

“A creature,” John said. “A very powerful, very angry creature. The coach is coming before sunrise to take me back and I must stay for the rest of my life.”

“But why?” said Sam, miserable, and Dean gave him a handkerchief to wipe his nose. “Why can’t you stay with us?”

John sighed. “I climbed the walls of the estate and broke into the manor. I saw no one, no servants, no master. I did find food freshly prepared and a great fire burning in a vast dining room, and I ate my fill. When I looked around the manor, trying to find Castiel Messenger, I found an amulet like the one you lost, Dean, do you remember?”

“I do,” Dean said. It had been just a little head on a leather cord, made from a red stone none of them knew, and Dean had loved it. He wore it always until some monster or another clawed it from his neck.

“I thought, since the manor was empty, that I would bring it back for you.” He stopped and sighed heavily. “And that’s when I met the Beast.” He swallowed.

“Father,” Sam whimpered.

“I violated his hospitality,” John said gently. “It was generous of him to let me come back and say goodbye. I don’t expect any further generosity. Dean,” he said more firmly, “you’re a man now. You’re in charge of your brother. Go to Preacher Jim to finish your apprenticeship. He’ll train you well.”

“Father, I won’t let you do this,” said Dean, his eyes wet.

John got to his feet and said sternly, “It is not your choice. This Beast is powerful enough to build walls around the Messenger property overnight, powerful enough to command invisible servants. God only knows what else he can do.”

“But Father –”

“You have enough money to get back to Preacher Jim. Study hard. Work hard. Do me proud.”

“Yes, sir,” Dean said, filled with despair.

***

None of them could sleep at first.

Dean wished he and Sam were still small enough to sleep in the same bed without people looking at them askance — he longed for the comfort of a familiar body tonight. He smiled a little to himself. Joanna Harvelle would be willing to warm him, but as pretty as she was the thought had no appeal. He was not his father’s son that way.

Sam didn’t stop sniffling until Dean ordered, “Sam, quit crying and go to sleep.” John stirred and Dean expected to be scolded, but John merely shifted his bed, making the wood frame creak.

Dean found it no easier to sleep when Sam was quiet than he had before. He watched the window and wished he were young enough to cry himself to sleep too. It felt too big, too much — John just expected him to step into his place, as if he were trained, as if he were ready.

But he wasn’t ready. He was a few months shy of his nineteenth birthday, he was an apprentice hunter, and he had never performed a hunt on his own. He couldn’t even remember a basic exorcism spell without prompting.

Slowly Dean sat up, trying not to make any unnecessary noise. He couldn’t take his father’s place out in the world, no — but he could in the manor. It would be better if John continued training Sam, if John saved the lives he was meant to save, rather than rot in a prison as the captive of a beast.

Sam would be the best hunter of his generation under John’s tutelage, and Dean would placate the beast.

It was almost sunup. Dean got out of bed and dressed, packed his meager belongings and put their money in Sam’s bag. He went to Sam’s bed and lightly touched Sam’s head to say goodbye. He looked at his father but didn’t dare approach him — John woke too easily even on the most peaceful of nights.

He slipped out of the room, and cast a spell on the door to lock them in until someone came to let them out. He knelt on the steps and wrote a quick note, explaining, apologizing, telling them not to fear for him. “It’s better this way,” he wrote. “I love you both with all my heart. Go, go away fast and far, and don’t return.”

He slipped the note under the door and wrote another for the Harvelles, telling them what he planned to do and asking that they release his family as soon as they were awake. This note he left in the pub’s kitchen, though he suspected someone would hear John pounding on the door long before they began cooking breakfast.

4 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast (1/3)

  1. From what I’ve read here, the carriage sounds a lot like the Coach-A-Bowers from Irish folklore, only without the need to ear the banshee first and the headless horseman

    1. @crabbyjustice4eva, I was trying to allude to older versions of the story than Disney, and invisible servants are part of it. That’s why the carriage has no driver.

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