Actions

Work Header

Out of the Deep

Chapter Text

It is the first thing hatchlings are taught the moment their fans unfurl and they can swim without their parents to buoy them along. It is the first rule, the first law. It is the beginning of every boogey-monster bedtime story told when they settle against the cliffs to sleep.

Never go near the light-beds.

The two tails on their floating-reefs dip hands of woven metals into the sea. They are merciless and indiscriminate. They will pluck from the light-beds any fish or fin-kin who get tangled in their fingers and drag them up into the steady-blue – to a place above the waves where you cannot breathe.

Stay in the deep, where the steady-blue’s bright-pearl cannot cast her touch. Stay in the deep, where the metal hands cannot reach. Stay in the deep and don’t go near the light-beds.

The light-beds are a thing of beauty. They are entrancing to the eye, hypnotic to any creature foolish enough to swim too close. Legend says the lights that mesmerize are the souls of the lost – those taken by the two-tails – calling to fin-kin. But their allure can be explained through science; naturally occurring shine-stones in the reef catch the rays of the bright-pearl and reflect through the waves to create millions of dancing colour-arcs.

Fin-kin stay far away from the shallows where the light-beds lay. These are the hunting grounds of the two-tails. The two-tails and their floating-reefs come from the parts of the world where the sea floor rises above the waves. They seem capable of swimming, though not nearly as gracefully as the fin-kin can. They splash and struggled through the water, disrupting the flow of the sea. The two-tails never swim farther out than the sand-beds where the water is uncomfortably warm. The sand-beds lay beyond the light-beds.

Stay away from the light-beds. Stay in the deep.

x

Even now, the mind-voices are repeating the stories and warnings to the newest batch of hatchlings. From this distance they are soft and difficult to hear unless focused upon. The ever present song of the fin-kin is dwindling into silence. Castiel dislikes the empty space in his mind where the many voices of the fin-kin are dying out the farther they swim from the colony. It is disconcerting to have so much quiet in his mind.

He hesitates, looking back, and laments it immediately as he gets left behind. His nest-brothers are fast swimmers, their slight forms sliding through the currents easily. Castiel is fast too, but his wariness to swim beyond the colony borders where only silence awaits lends pause to his movements. Even his nest-brothers are not speaking in the quiet. They are purposefully suppressing the usually unconscious chirping clicks of their echolocation. They don’t want to risk someone hearing them.

(We should turn back!) He calls to them, flicking his tail nervously as he struggles to catch up. To turn back now, without them, would be cowardice and he does not want to be left alone along the border-reefs.

Neither Gabriel, Lucifer nor Balthazar respond. Balthazar does slow though, the fans along his tail flaring to reduce his speed. A brief noise of scorn flashes through their minds and Lucifer glares over his shoulder, clearly irate that Castiel is slowing them down. Gabriel’s laughter drowns out any complaint he might make. They are too far from the colony to be heard now.

Lucifer leads the way, following the slope of the sea floor. The higher they climb, the warmer the water gets. It makes Castiel’s gills flutter wildly and he clenches his long fingers into a fist, squishing the webbing between them. Balthazar takes his hand and tugs him along, slanting one of his ridiculous smirks at him in a show of confidence.

The steady-blue’s bright-pearl cuts through the murk of the deep. Her shine pains their eyes and they stop by an outcropping of rock where they can adjust. The glow that marks the edges of their fans and dances in designs along their tails dims in the light and Castiel briefly panics, wondering if it will return when they dive back into the dark.

Gabriel digs the pointed tip of his tail into the sand, his colours blending seamlessly with the granules. He lifts his face to the waves far above their heads, and Castiel can see his pupils contract with the change of the light. It is the first time he realizes that his nest-brother’s eyes are the same shiny colour as the many round disks often found in the wreckage of the two-tail’s moving reefs. He quickly looks to Lucifer and Balthazar, curious.

Balthazar is watching him, his head tilted to the side. The black has receded enough for Castiel to see a sliver of colour like the steady-blue. Lucifer’s eyes are similar, but the blue is darker like the steady-blue when the bright-pearl is leaving. He wonders if his eyes have a different colour too.

(Like mother-sea.) Balthazar offers, and all his nest-brothers look to him. His shoulders raise and fall in a shrug and the fan spanning the length of his spine ripples with the movement.

Castiel did not realize he had been speaking his thoughts, but is thankful anyway.

Lucifer rolls his eyes and pushes off from the rock he had curled around. The command to follow is unvoiced. His body arcs above them and Gabriel corkscrews his tail, raising a cloud of sand as he bursts after him. Balthazar grins at Castiel again, baring the fine points of his teeth before dragging him away from the rock face.

The closer they come to the surface, the slower they swim. It is a several leagues before they reach the jagged edges of the light-beds. Gabriel is the first to arrive. He is smaller than his nest-brothers, even though he is second oldest in their group. He slides past Lucifer with a quick burst of speed and draws up quickly to hide behind the crimson coral that marks the edges of the light-beds.

Castiel notices that Lucifer’s tail is almost the same colour as the coral. It is tracked with lighter shades, going nearly as yellow as Balthazar’s tail in some places. He realizes that Balthazar and Gabriel’s tails closely match the colours of their hair, though patterned with varying hues. When he and Balthazar join them, he takes a moment to examine his own tail and is startled at seeing in full light his own colouring.

This is his first time out of the deep. Here in the light of the bright-pearl, Castiel can see their colours are vibrant. In the depths of the colony, colours are dull. The only light in the colony comes from their own glow and the very tiny creatures living on the cliff walls.

His tail is mostly black, highlighted with swirling patterns of blue. Castiel belatedly realizes they are the same designs his glow takes when in the dark. He traces them delicately with the tip of his finger, marveling at the details he can see.

Amusement that isn’t his own comes across his mind and Balthazar tugs his hand to get his attention. They settle alongside their nest-brothers, curled against the crimson reef. Gabriel takes his other hand and grabs for Lucifer’s. It is how they decided to ensure that none of them will swim off unknowingly. Castiel’s heart beats hard inside his chest, nervous and curious and wondrous and too many emotions for him to stop and figure out.

As one, they slide forward and peer over the edge.

The waters are choked with fish of breeds that never swim into the deep, covered in colours startling and marvelous. Colour-arcs fill the spaces where fish do not. Castiel wonders if the colour-arcs would feel different on his scales or the flesh of his chest and arms, if he would be able to taste them. The shine-stones sparkle along the sea-floor. Except they do not shine in the shadows of the floating-reefs.

Castiel can count three from where they hide. He can see their woven metal hands dragging through the water, stirring up the sand in their wake. Even in the warmth from the bright-pearl, he feels cold from the sight of them. He is thankful they are too far to hear the fish screaming when the metal hands are pulled above water.

(Anna wants a shine-stone.) Gabriel reminds them and Castiel reflexively tightens his hold on his nest-brother’s hands. He is scared of allowing any of them to cross over the crimson reef, even though he knows they’ve come for a gift for their nest-sister.

(Don’t be such a hatchling, Castiel. You’re a warrior now. Act like it.) Lucifer chides as Castiel’s fear filters to all of them.

He is immediately contrite. His worry over coming so close to the surface is making him lose his grip on the kin-connection. He hasn’t been a warrior long, his hair only having been cut short in the warrior style once. To allow his emotions to reach his nest-brothers is the error of a child and Castiel is too old for such mistakes. He closes off that part of his mind, determined to keep his feelings to himself.

Lucifer pulls himself over the edge with his free hand. They keep their hold on eachother as they inch farther down the other side. Balthazar keeps them anchored, never letting go of the coral. Castiel closes his eyes and doesn’t watch as they dangle Lucifer closer to the light-beds. Lucifer is the longest of them and he can easily reach the bottom with his tail. Castiel can hear the scratch of Lucifer’s tail point digging into the sand, trying to loosen a stone.

That’s when Castiel hears the song. Balthazar jerks and almost lets go of the coral. Gabriel and Lucifer have gone still, but their surprise flashes through Castiel’s mind. The song doesn’t play in their heads like fin-kin usually sing. It rides the currents, rising and falling mournfully like the call of the whales.

The wordless notes are meant to convey loneliness and desire for companionship. All it does is inspire panic and settle a heavy weight of dread in Castiel’s stomach. A tone running beneath it all screams at them to swim as far and as fast as they can and never look back because the song sounds wrong.

Lucifer streaks past, dragging Gabriel with him. Castiel’s tail beats painfully against the coral as he surges after them to follow. The only one to hesitate is Balthazar. He feels the drag on his arm and looks back. Balthazar isn’t actively swimming and is being pulled along by his nest-brothers. He’s staring toward the light-beds, but anything he might be feeling is hidden from Castiel.

None of them stop swimming until they can no longer hear the song. Their gills ripple wildly along their necks and Castiel’s muscles burn. He’s never swam so hard or so fast in his lifetime. They stop to catch their breath near the rock face from earlier. Balthazar’s face is turned toward the surface, his expression curious.

(Who do you think it was?) He asks.

Lucifer looks at him sharply. (Forget it.)

Castiel tries not to show his nest-brother’s that he is trembling, but all his fans flare at the thought of the song. (We should never have come here.)

Gabriel slaps Castiel on the shoulder and grins, his hair haloing his head in a cloud of soft brown. It had been his idea to come to the light-beds in the first place to get a present for Anna. (Don’t worry about it! At least tell me you got a stone, Luci?) He glances at Lucifer, who frowns at the nickname but holds out his hand and a shine-stone is nestled in the center of his palm.

(Good! Now we can head back.) Gabriel nudges Castiel again, prodding him away from the rocks.

Again, Balthazar is reluctant to leave. Lucifer places himself at the rear of their group, glaring hard at his nest-brother whenever Balthazar looks back. Castiel only does once.

When they dive back into the dark of the deep, he is more than relieved when the only light comes from their own natural glow. The voices and the proper songs of the fin-kin are a balm to the unsettled emotions of their trip and Castiel sinks happily into their comfort as they return to the colony.

x

It is Michael, the oldest of their nest and colony leader, who shakes Castiel awake. The fans on the sides of his head are spread aggressively wide. His glow is bright and almost painful to look at. Michael is angry and his other hand is resting on the hilt of his sword.

(Where is Balthazar?) He demands. Michael is angry, but he is worried.

Castiel doesn’t have an answer. He looks about wildly, towards the ledge on the cliff wall where Balthazar had settled earlier to sleep. It is empty. He should see the dim outline of Balthazar’s sleep-glow, but there is nothing. Other fin-kin are waking, leaning over their shelves or swimming out into the open trench of the colony to get a better look. He can see Gabriel gently twisting down into the space behind Michael. Anna joins him.

Lucifer rises up from below. He touches Michael’s shoulder. (What’s wrong?)

(Balthazar didn’t show up for his sentry duty.) Michael snaps, not taking his eyes off Castiel. (You two are close. Where is he?)

Castiel shakes his head. (I don’t know. He went to sleep and that was the last I saw of him. I swear it.) He pushes his honesty through the kin-connection.

Lucifer frowns and spares a brief look to Gabriel. They both raise their voices in song. Michael joins immediately and Castiel’s mind quakes as gradually the colony wakes and they all sing. Only one question, one word, rings through the trench. It is (Balthazar!)

Castiel searches with his nest-brothers and sisters. He never misses the looks Gabriel and Lucifer keep sharing. It confuses him until he notices that Anna is carrying her shine-stone. He remembers Balthazar’s near obsession with the wrong-song from the light-beds. His insides feel cold, his chest tight and something feels lodged in his throat.

He fetches his sword from his sleep-shelf. No one pays him much attention. Many other warriors are already carrying their weapons. Some are whispering under the call for Balthazar that his disappearance is at the hands of another colony. Castiel thinks they are wrong, and he carefully guards those thoughts.

No one knows that they went to the light-beds. Not even Michael has questioned Anna’s shine-stone. There are so many places shine-stones can be found that are not forbidden. But Anna wanted one from the light-beds. (Knowing where it comes from is all the fun in having one.) Is how Anna explained her desires.

Castiel swims to the lip of the trench, continuing to call for his nest-brother. He does not like lying to the colony. But it would not be only him in trouble if their trip to the light-beds was discovered. Castiel does not want to be the one to get Lucifer and Gabriel in trouble. They cannot come with him this time. Lucifer and Gabriel are members of the colony council. Michael would notice them missing sooner than he would ever notice Castiel’s disappearance.

No one looks at Castiel twice when he slips out into the open ocean. He can see other fin-kin searching the rocks too. His presence here is understandable. He waits until he is sure no one is watching him before he forces his glow to dim. It will be harder for him to find his way without the glow or his echoes. Castiel cannot take the chance that someone will notice. He swims as quickly as he dares.

The light-beds were several dozen leagues away. The trip there and back had taken them all morning. Alone and in the dark, it would take Castiel most of the night. He swims a few leagues before allowing his lights to return. He concentrates on being even brighter, lighting the rocky sea floor. He refrains from using his echoes still.

Castiel is exhausted when he reaches the light-beds. He is certain Michael will have noticed his absence by now. He wonders if Lucifer or Gabriel will explain. He settles against the crimson coral to catch his breath, looking out onto the light-beds for any sign of his nest-brother. The wrong-song rings desolately through the empty sea.

The bright-pearl is gone from steady-blue. In her place is her sister, the pale-pearl. Her light is weak, the water is dim and free of colour-arcs. He is thankful that the two-tails floating-reefs are gone. But he does not see Balthazar. The light-beds are wide and span many leagues. Castiel realizes he will have to leave the safety of the crimson coral to search its entirety. He might even have to swim to the other side. No fin-kin has ever been to the other side. Beyond the light-beds is where the two-tails and their floating-reefs go when night falls.

Steeling himself, Castiel grips his sword tight and throws himself from the coral. His fans flare as his heart beats painfully in his chest. He sinks to the floor of the light-beds and his glow reflects from the shine-stones. He swims close to the ground, skimming over the rocks and sand. He calls for Balthazar with his mind and he risks a song. The notes of his song do not echo back to him. The size of the light-beds is daunting.

He spends hours searching. The pale-pearl dips out of sight in steady-blue, growing lighter as bright-pearl returns. Schools of fish are returning to the grounds, drawn by the colour-arcs. Castiel pays them no attention. The fish don’t understand his song and their minds are too simple to comprehend his questions.

The only response he gets from the sea is the wrong-song. It repeats itself over and over. It frightens him and he raises his voice above it.

Balthazar never answers.

Castiel is tired. His muscles ache and his sword is heavy in his hand. His throat is sore and raw from his singing. He feels like he has swam from one end of the light-beds to the other, but he knows there is still much for him to check. He still hasn’t ventured towards the other side. It is from that direction that the wrong-song comes.

The first of the two-tails’ floating-reefs arrives. Castiel gives it a wide berth, watching from a distance when the woven metal hand crashes into the sea. It is not long after its appearance that he realizes his folly. If Balthazar came to the light-beds because of the wrong-song, he would not avoid it like Castiel is. Balthazar would have gone straight for it.

He curses himself for his idiocy and turns, swimming hard for the other side. His spreads wide the fans on the sides of his head, straining to catch the song so he can find its origin. It sends shivers down his spine. Another floating-reef coasts over the waves a long distance to his right, trailing its own hands. He continues to call for Balthazar.

(Cassie?)

Relief floods through Castiel at the first tentative touch to his mind. He’s never been away from any fin-kin for so long before.

(Where are you?) He asks, coming to an abrupt halt and looking around.

(I… The song, Cassie. I should have forgotten it like Lucifer told me to.)

(I know, Balthazar. We can talk about that later. Where are you?)

(Oh, I don’t know. A cave? It… I followed the song. Then there was a cave-in or something? I… Don’t laugh at me, Cassie, but I hit my head.)

Castiel doesn’t laugh. He tunes into the wrong-song again and raises a cloud of sand when he kicks off after it. It’s louder and the water practically vibrates with it. (I’m coming to find you.)

(Who’s with you?)

(Here? No one. But the whole colony is looking for you. Michael is… worried.)

(He’s pissed.)

(Very.)

(What time is it?)

(Bright-pearl is rising.)

Castiel has come to the edge of the other side. A steep wall of rock rises from the sea-floor, rolling up to the waves. He doesn’t waste time wondering how the floating-reefs get over it. It’s just speculation where they come from. He ignores all of it and follows the song. It’s almost deafening by now, and his side fans fold together and flatten against the sides of his head. He doesn’t need to strain to hear it anymore.

When he finds the source, Castiel doesn’t know what it is he has found. He stops and touches the outcropping from the rock wall. It doesn’t feel the same as the other rocks and Castiel jerks his hand away. A part of the rock is flat and smooth, recessed a little more than the rest. The song is loudest directly above the flat-rock. He touches the flat part gingerly, and it feels like the metal of his sword.

He taps at the metal-rock, curious.

(Cassie, that you?)

(You heard that?) He taps again. This time there are responding taps.

(Congratulations. You’re quite the little hunter.)

(Finding this was the easy part, Balthazar. I have no idea how to get you out.)

Castiel feels along the edges of the metal-rock. He digs the point of his sword into the small crevice. It scrapes against it loudly, violently. Balthazar curses at the sound and Castiel winces. He tried to press the point in at several places. None of them have any give. He moves to the sea floor and digs at the sand. It clouds the water around him and he ignores it, working the edge of his sword under the flat-rock.

It requires a bit of squirming against the sand to fit his shoulder under the hilt of the sword. Castiel presses his tail hard against the sea floor, the powerful muscles coiling and pushing. He grits his teeth against the scraping noise and shoves hard. The blade bows slightly and Castiel spares a moment of worry that it might break. Then the flat-rock shifts with another painful grating sound. It only moves a little, barely more than the width of a finger.

Balthazar’s exuberance fills his mind. (Whatever you’re doing keep doing it, Cassie!)

His fingers scrabbled under the opening, gripping the flat-rock. It rises another few hand spans with their combined efforts. Castiel abandons his sword after that to grab at the flat-rock with both hands. It is heavy and the edges dig into his fingers painfully.

(Can you fit?) Castiel asks, struggling to raise the flat-rock higher.

(I can try… Don’t let it drop on me.) The end of Balthazar’s tail twitches through the opening. He tries to keep helping Castiel hold it up while he wiggles his way out.

Castiel cries out in surprise when Balthazar is no longer helping to hold the flat-rock up. It jerks him down a hand-span and his muscles scream, his fingers ache, and he knows he can’t hold it up for much longer. He knows he’s begging Balthazar to move quickly, but his nest-brother is still worming his waist underneath. Balthazar’s tail kicks up a cloud of sand as it beats against the sea-floor.

With one final push, Balthazar slides out of harm’s way. At his jubilant cry, Castiel lets go of the flat-rock. It slams down violently, slicing through the water. Castiel sags against it, relief flooding his limbs. Balthazar wraps him in a hug, grinning widely and crushing him against his chest.

Their moment is short lived.

Castiel is reaching for his sword when the shadow falls across them. Simultaneously, they look up and Balthazar grips Castiel’s free hand painfully hard. They shrink back against the flat-rock as one of the two-tails’ floating-reefs drifts overhead. Castiel is holding his breath while Balthazar is taking sharp little gasps, bordering on hyperventilating.

(We need to move.) Balthazar hisses, tugging at Castiel’s hand. (We need to move now!)

(Not yet.) Castiel is not curious about the two-tails. He does not want to get any closer than he has to. Too many stories and legends have built them up as monsters in his mind. He’s never seen one in person and he has no desire to.

His training as a warrior of the colony is telling him not to make a target of himself by moving. By moving, they could actually draw attention to them. Neither he nor Balthazar knows anything about the floating-reefs. For all they know, the two-tails could be watching them now. Castiel refuses to allow any course of action that could bring further danger down upon them or the colony should they be followed.

Balthazar has been a warrior longer than Castiel has. He is willing to allow him a little leeway in his reaction. A bruise is mottled purple, black and blue, colours his forehead. It extends under his hairline and Castiel’s head hurts sympathetically just looking at it.

A large hook crashes into the waves next to the floating-reef. Castiel reflexively tightens his hold on the hilt of his sword. Balthazar drags him around the edge of the outcropping of not-rock, placing it between them and the hook. They watch over the top as it sinks to the light-beds and settles in the sand. Belatedly, Castiel realizes that the wrong-song has stopped.

(Cassie, we should go. We NEED to go.) Balthazar tugs his hand again, trying to catch his eye. (We’ll keep to the rocks. Please. I was trapped in that wrong-cave and I’m not going to be caught by two-tails.)

Castiel nods, slowly. Technically, Balthazar is of higher status than he. He is the youngest of the nest and is of a lower rank warrior. If Balthazar gives him an order, Castiel has no choice but to follow. He still thinks it is foolish to move but he follows as Balthazar presses himself to the sand and slithers along the edge of the light-beds, moving away from the floating-reef.

They barely move a few tail-lengths when Castiel hears another splash. He looks over his shoulder and warily eyes the shell being lowered toward the outcropping. It is attached to a twisted something Castiel thinks looks a lot like their ropes of kelp. The shell snaps around a protuberance on the not-rock outcropping.

The water echoes with a painful grating noise as the not-rock is pulled away from the real-rock. Even Balthazar stops and watches with wide eyes as it swings free from the sea floor and is pulled up and out of the waves. Surprise and horror washes through the kin-connection and Castiel is unsure if it is his own or Balthazar’s. If their escape had taken a few minutes longer, Balthazar could have been lost to the world above the sea. The thought terrifies them both and as one they turn and swim away.

Balthazar insists that Castiel return to the colony first. He insists that Castiel will be in less trouble if he arrives alone and claims to have been searching for Balthazar beyond the trench. Castiel refuses. He has been gone too long to be able to use that as an excuse. His absence would have been noticed by now and he would have likely been called for too. A lack of response from him could only have indicated that he was no longer within the colony’s territory.

Their return is met with relief and rage. Balthazar is immediately escorted to the healer and Michael. Castiel is left to explain what happened to Raphael, another colony leader from a different nest. To his surprise, Lucifer and Gabriel come forward with explanations of their own. Raphael’s anger is palpable. Castiel can almost taste it in the water.

He is dismissed with the strict orders to remain on his sleep-shelf until he is called upon by Michael. Castiel leaves Lucifer and Gabriel, both righteously indignant of Raphael’s handling of their nest-brother, to deal with Raphael. They are all strong willed, but their debates will be pointless once Michael becomes involved.

Castiel is tired and he finds it hard to care about much beyond that. His sleep comes fast once he has settled in the shallow groove of his shelf. He dreams of steady-blue.

x

Castiel does not see the light-beds again for several seasons after that. He has devoted himself to serving the colony and his superiors, trying to make up for breaking colony law, twice. His hair has been cut many times and he has climbed the ranks of warriors. He is in charge of his own small garrison now.

The colony is at war. Their territory is being encroached upon by a new group of fin-kin. They are fast and strong, with many characteristics different from Castiel’s own family. He has not lost any of his nest-brothers or sisters, yet, but many members of the colony have died to defend what little of the sea they call their own.

The trench is a prime location. There are many choice hunting grounds nearby and deep at its base lies a smoldering volcanic vent where they forge their weapons and tools. There is plenty of room for both colonies. But these new fin-kin refused the offer to join them and share the trench as one colony and they were the first to spill blood, declaring war over the land.

Castiel is leading his garrison on a mission. Scouts have returned with word of the enemy fin-kin striking out toward the light-beds. His orders are to investigate and intercede should the enemy do anything that could bring the two-tails down upon their home. Castiel wonders if these new fin-kin know of the legends, if they sing the same songs to their hatchlings before bed.

Their colony does not share an immediate kin-connection with these new fin-kin. They choose to speak with sounds from their mouths in a rough, guttural language that Castiel does not understand. He has never heard them sing. He knows that, if pressed, they can communicate with their minds if they open themselves to the connection. He has not yet met one on the field of battle who is willing to do so.

Castiel rests his garrison at the rock-face he and his nest-brothers once sat upon all those seasons ago. Like then, he inspects the true colours of his garrison with a hint of wonder at the vibrant shades and differences from one fin-kin to the next. None of the members of his garrison are from his nest, so none share designs similar to his own.

His second in command, Uriel, is dark-skinned and dark-scaled. He stares stonily up into the brightening waters with his ever-permanent frown. The ribs of his side-fans are constantly spreading and flattening, listening to the currents. Slowly, he turns his gaze to Castiel. (I don’t hear anyone nearby. How close are we going to get to the beds?)

(As near as need be.) Castiel responds, giving the signal for the others to follow. They fall into an easy formation as they continue the climb.

They are seven strong and armed with their swords and several daggers filed to wicked points. Castiel hopes no blood will need to be spilled this day. He hates killing fin-kin, even if they look like no fin-kin he has ever seen before. He knows this is nothing to care about. There are many different breeds of fish who swim in mother-sea. It is inconceivable that all fin-kin look similar.

Castiel’s garrison crests the crimson coral of the light-beds. Bright-pearl rests high in steady-blue and the water is alight with colour-arcs. He takes a moment to appreciate the beauty, unchanged like when he had seen it the first time. He sends a silent thank-you to mother-sea that the wrong-song is not ringing through the waves.

There are no other fin-kin in sight. Castiel sends two groups of three off in either direction. Uriel is in charge of one, Hester – a female with a surprisingly strong will – in charge of the other. Castiel settles against the coral and opens his mind to theirs. He will relay messages between the two teams to ensure everyone stays in contact.

Their orders are to remain outside of the light-beds and ensure that none of the enemy fin-kin enter it. It is a difficult task, considering the ridiculous size of the light-beds. Anna’s garrison should – Castiel hopes – be covering another section of the coral much farther along than where he is stationed. Her garrison had left the night before.

Both of Castiel’s teams have checked in with no signs of the other fin-kin. Hester’s group has made kin-connection with a division of Anna’s garrison. No members of Anna’s teams have seen even a glimpse of the fin-kin they were sent to keep away.

Castiel digs the point of his dagger into the coral, carving designs into it. He is bored and annoyed. The scouts could have been wrong in their interpretation of the fin-kin’s actions. It is entirely possible that they were never headed to the light-beds in the first place. Not that Castiel would ever say anything against Raphael’s orders. He is a good soldier and will follow his orders to the letter. Though that doesn’t mean he won’t complain privately about how much of a waste of time this is.

There are a few floating-reefs above the light-beds again. Castiel checks on them every few minutes. He alternates between scanning the open ocean behind him and the descent into the deep and out into the light-beds. He has as much luck as his teams at spotting any of the other fin-kin. The currents ripple with the movement of fish, but there is nothing even remotely close to the size of the fin-kin nearby.

Castiel spends a few long hours lounging against the coral. Uriel reports that his group is splitting up, leaving one member behind where the kin-connection is growing weak. From there, the rest will continue their search. Castiel gives his consent and sends word to Hester’s, informing her she should do the same, even if they end up overlapping with Anna’s garrison.

It is while he is watching out into the light-beds that Castiel hears a solid thrumming sound. It surprises him and he immediately draws his sword, looking about for the source of the noise. A creaking groan overlaps the pulsing thrum and he twists off of the coral, staring down into the deep and out along the edges of the light-beds. Belatedly, he looks out into the open ocean and up at the waves to the approaching floating-reef.

This floating-reef is smaller than the ones Castiel is used to seeing over the light-beds. A small part of his mind thinks it’s close to the same size as the one he and Balthazar had been close to. The thrumming that makes the water and Castiel’s head throb stops and it shakes him from his slight stupor. The floating-reef is dragging another of the odd shaped hooks behind it, letting it sink deeper into the sea.

He dives over the coral, pressing himself to the other side to shield himself from sight. Castiel sinks to the sandy floor of the light-bed, ignoring how the edges of the shine-stones dig into his tail. He barely suppresses the flinch at the hollow thud of the hook catching on the other side of the coral. The weirdly pointed end of the floating-reef can be seen over the edge of the coral, but it moves no further into the light-beds.

Castiel sends words of warning to his garrison, telling them not to return. He ignores Uriel’s protests, ordering him and the others to stay away. It will be difficult for Castiel to escape notice if he is worrying about the garrison as well. He returns his sword to the loop of kelp around his waist and keeping his movements fluid and calm, he drags himself along the coral and away from the floating-reef.

He never takes his eyes off that pointed-round end. He hears a few splashes and there are ripples of sound that he doesn’t recognize in the water. They’re like pulses of movement similar to thrashing fish. Castiel wonders if the two-tails are dropping more of those rope-shells from before, or if it’s another fake-cave or one of their woven metal hands. He doesn’t investigate, but pauses all the same – just in case.

There is movement out of the corner of his eye. Something long and black is moving at the edge of the coral. It expels bubbles. Castiel’s breath catches in his throat. His gills and fans flare in surprise and his fingers tighten painfully where they grip the coral. Instinctively, the ribs of his fans retract, flattening against his tail and back as he tries to make himself less noticeable. He presses into the coral and sand and prays to mother-sea that they do not see him.

There are two-tails in the ocean.

Their faces are flat blocky and flat. Tubes, thick like some sea plants, sprout from under their flat faces, wrapping around to their bulky backs. Bubbles issue in periodic hissing streams from where the tubes connect to their faces. Their hands are pale and white, like Castiel’s, but their bodies are covered in black. Their odd tails scissor in the water, kicking their flopping webbed fins to propel them slowly forward.

One is significantly longer than the other. Castiel thinks it might be a male. The other is smaller, with more delicate limbs and curves like the females of his colony. The female’s hair is golden and braided. It trails behind her as she swims. The male has hair like Gabriel, longer than a warrior’s cut and floating around his head in a darker-brown cloud.

It’s his warrior training that takes note of all the little details. This is the first that anyone in the colony currently has actually seen, up close like this, a two-tail. Everything they know has been passed down from stories that grew old ages ago. What Castiel sees today will greatly expand upon their knowledge of the two-tails. Granted, that’s only if he escapes.

Uriel and Hester can feel Castiel’s panic. Their questions and requests for updates and orders are a constant stream in his mind. They only stop when he hisses at them (Two-tails!)

Castiel watches the two-tails from the corner of his eye. He won’t move. He can’t move, for fear that they will see him. He can only hope that the light-beds are enough of a distraction for them to not notice the stretch of black and cream against the crimson coral and sand. Castiel prays fervently to mother-sea for her protection.

The male two-tail is holding a long rod with a pointed tip. He waves it around in front of him, gesturing out at the light-beds with his face tilted towards the female. The female is gesturing too and the hissing streams of bubbles increases during the exchange. It occurs to Castiel that they may be communicating and he wonders if they have something similar to the kin-connection too.

It’s a stupid idea. A truly foolish idea. But once the thought is there, Castiel can think of nothing else. He reaches out with his mind like he would if he wanted to speak privately to a member of the colony. He reaches for the thoughts of a creature he’s not sure will even be able to hear him. There could be nothing but silence, like with the forced quiet of the enemy fin-kin.

Castiel can sense the male. He can’t read his thoughts without them being first projected, but he can feel the presence of his mind and a thin layer of emotions. He prods at it, gently touching but giving nothing of himself, no words or feelings.

The male jerks violently at the first brush of Castiel’s contact. He twists wildly in the water, looking everywhere and Castiel immediately withdraws. It’s apparent the two-tails could feel the touch and he curses himself for even listening to the stupid foolish idea. His curses turn profane when the male stills with his blocky flat face turned towards him.

Castiel has been seen. He stares back, unblinkingly, but doesn’t move. The female is touching the male’s shoulder trying to get his attention, but she stops moving when she sees him too. It’s a standoff. Castiel tells himself he won’t move unless the two-tails come toward him or look away. The moment they do that, he’ll take off over the coral and straight out into the ocean. He won’t return to the colony until he is certain that the two-tails are not following him.

The movement is slow, but Castiel tenses when the female brings her hands to her waist. He turns his head fully towards them, eyes wide so as not to miss a thing. She pauses for a moment before continuing. Her white fingers pull at a cube attached to a rope around her hips. Castiel bares his pointed teeth and hisses a soft warning when she pulls it away from her body. She moves even slower as she lifts the block to her flat face.

Castiel can hear a clicking noise, not unlike his own echolocation, but nothing is happening. He tilts his head slightly to the side, his fans spreading to catch the sound of the snapping. The noise increases momentarily when he moves.

(Castiel?) Uriel’s voice echoes in his mind and reminds Castiel of their mission.

(I couldn’t get away before they came in sight. They’re watching me. The first chance I get, I’ll swim. Uriel – if anything happens to me, you take the garrison to Anna and fill her in if Hester’s team hasn’t already. Am I understood?)

(Yes, sir.)

Uriel is good at following orders. Castiel knows he will do as he is told. He tells him and Hester to meet at the rock face from earlier and to take a longer route to it. Dive into the deep and approach from there if they have to. If he escapes – and Castiel can only hope he will – then he will meet them there.

The female has drifted away from the male. She is sinking closer to the sea-floor, but remaining the same distance away. Castiel knows that he can outswim any two-tail any day, but he keeps an eye on her all the same. His eyes dart from the female to the male and he frowns. The male has moved, but not from his location. He has drawn the thin rod up to his shoulder and the sharp tip is pointed at Castiel.

He realizes too late that it is a weapon.

Castiel is sure that he scrapes his hand on the coral when he scrambles at it. He might have bruises on his tail too from how hard it beats against the sea floor when he kicks off in a flurry of movement as he swims away from the two-tails. A cloud of sand rises, blurring him from their sight. Castiel spreads his fans aggressively anyway, hissing and snarling.

There’s a soft whumph of sound and Castiel’s arm jerks suddenly. He feels no pain and ignores it, angling his body along the coral to go up and over. He’s cresting the top when the sea blurs before his eyes, colours melting together and shapes losing their edges. Castiel crashes shoulder first into the coral. He doesn’t even feel when it rips his skin and he can barely see the fine tendrils of blood that dissipate in the water. His throat works around the notes of a song, pitiful, scared and weak. He can’t hear it, he can’t hear anything. And despite bright-pearl resting high in steady-blue, the waves around Castiel turn black.

Chapter Text

Castiel wakes to pain. His palms, his shoulder and his tail all ache and burn. The surface he’s lying against is cool and flat. The ocean smells wrong, something about the water is slightly off. It doesn’t taste right against his tongue and there is no current to move over his gills. His limbs feel too heavy and his arms move sluggishly as he drags them to push himself upright.

When he opens his eyes, Castiel can’t help but cry out. He slumps to the ground again and covers his eyes with his hands. The light is too bright and it hurts, pain ricocheting around in his head. He curls into himself, flicking his tail to wrap over his head as his presses his face into his lap.

There are sounds in the water, soft sounds that whirr and click and tap. There are muffled noises underneath it all, noises that follow no rhythm. They start and stop, rumbling louder and softer in different pitches and tones. There are heavy thumping sounds that start in one direction and end somewhere else. Castiel listens to it all and tries to place where he is without looking. He doesn’t recognize the sounds as parts of the ocean and it frightens him.

Castiel opens his eyes under the safety of his hands. He spreads his fingers and winces against the light pushing against the webbing between them. It nearly bleaches the colour from the black-lined-blue membrane. Castiel doesn’t like it. He stares at the thin veins he can see beneath the skin until he thinks his eyes have adjusted enough. He still squints when he lifts his head slowly.

It takes a moment before Castiel can focus on anything. Shapes and colours swim in his vision, slowly coalescing into something he can comprehend. When everything finally stops moving, Castiel knows what he is seeing but he does not understand. Out of reflex, he jerks away from the alien faces watching him. His shoulder and hands burn with the movement as he scrabbles at the flat floor, kicking away until his back hits another smooth surface.

Castiel twists, looking behind him to a flat wall of grey. He turns back to the faces, distorted by the bending light in the water. He can’t take his eyes off of them for too long, but Castiel needs to explore his boundaries. His hands fumble along the grey wall as he slides along it. Castiel feels when and where it connects to another wall in a sharp corner, but he cannot see it. It takes him too long to realize the invisible wall is made of glass, the same kind of material the artisans use when making fancy baubles.

It takes Castiel only a few minutes to map out the space. Three of the walls are made of glass and the floor is the same hard flat grey of the back wall. If he touches the tip of his tail to the floor and stretches to his full length with his arms above his head, his fingertips just barely brush the surface of the water. Above that are thick bars of metal. His small-sea is twice his length across from glass-wall to glass-wall and nearly one and a half lengths from grey-wall to glass-wall.

This is a cage and Castiel is trapped.

He isn’t surprised to find that his sword and dagger are missing. He can see them clearly, laying on a surface on the other side of the glass. The two-tails move about the space beyond his confinement, carrying themselves on their awkward tails. Castiel identifies the thudding booms of their movement as the echoes in the water. He stares openly, not hiding the disgust on his face as he observes the five of them.

The members of this small group are very different from the ones Castiel saw at the light-beds. They are covered in hanging folds of layered skin and Castiel shudders while looking at it. Their hands and their faces match, and the top most layer of skin is white and drapes halfway down their two-tails. But beneath that, none of their skin seems to be the same as another’s. They all have hair of varying lengths and colours and styles.

Most of all, Castiel notices the faces. The flat-faced two-tails from before must be a different breed because these two-tails all have faces like him. Though their teeth have odd flat ends and instead of side-fans they have weird fleshy shells. It is disturbing and Castiel wants to turn away from them and hide.

A pair of the two-tails are standing at the front glass-wall, watching him. He levels what he hopes is a scathing glare full of hatred at them before he curls into a ball in the center of the grey-wall. His fans spread as wide as they can and Castiel drapes them over his shoulders and head, hiding away from the two-tails and their eyes.

It is cautiously, and without much hope, that Castiel opens the kin-connection as wide as it can go and shouts for his fin-kin. He calls for Uriel, Hester, and Anna. He calls for Balthazar, Gabriel and Lucifer. He calls for Michael and Raphael, and any member of the colony who might hear him. None of them respond, but he doesn’t stop.

Castiel loses track of time. He knows he is curled in that spot for many hours, but he doesn’t know how long he has been missing from the colony. The water tastes wrong and hurts his throat. His mind is tired from calling to his family. He wonders if they will even look for him.

There is a splash and Castiel twitches, jerking his fan out of the way to see. Grey fish, barely longer than his hand, fall from a bucket that a tall two-tails is dumping over the edge of the left glass-wall. Castiel frowns as all the dead fish float slowly to the bottom of his cage. One of the fish is stuck across the bars and the two-tail strains to reach and push it through.

Cautiously, Castiel creeps forward. He drags himself along the floor, barely using his tail. The pair of two-tails standing on the other side of the front glass-wall have tiny sticks in one hand and flat thin-rocks in the other. Their eyes are on him and Castiel knows they are studying him and he hates it.

He hesitates before reaching for the nearest fish. The yellow-haired female puts the stick to the thin-rock and moves it across the surface. Castiel watches her momentarily before prodding at the fish. It flutters a little against the floor, settling a few inches away and Castiel curls his lip at it. The fish even feels wrong to his touch. This time both the female and the male are moving the little sticks across their flat-rocks.

The male is tall and thin. His face is long and his chin is mottled with short, bristly hair. Castiel doesn’t like how smug he looks. The male with the bucket is just as tall and his brown hair hangs loose to his shoulders. The female is shorter than the both of them and her yellow hair hangs over her shoulder in a braid. Castiel frowns, looking between tall-one and braided-one and he doesn’t know why he finds them familiar.

Tall-one puts the empty bucket in a corner of the room. When he moves away, Castiel sees the black rod from the swimming-two-tail leaning against the wall. He hisses and flares his fans, baring his teeth at tall-one. Castiel slaps the fish away angrily and whips his tail across the floor. The disruption in the water sends all the fish scattering to the edges of his cage.

Smug-face is gesturing at Castiel and motioning to tall-one. His lips are moving and that low muffled noise from before comes muted through the glass. Castiel realizes this is how the two-tails communicate. They speak with guttural throat noises like the fin-kin from the invading colony. The correlation between the two is not comforting.

Castiel darts forward and smacks his tail against the glass. He does it hard and on purpose, aiming in the direction that tall-one stands. Tall-one is still too close to the rod-weapon and he wants the two-tails to know he knows what it can do. They all flinch and look to him in surprise. He wants them to know that he is angry and hates them.

Now smug-face is smiling and pointing from tall-one to Castiel. He is saying more words in their fumbling language. Tall-one shakes his head and crosses his arms over his chest. He is not smiling and neither is braided-one. She is speaking too, gesturing with the little stick in her hand. Their conversation has drawn the attention of the other two members of the group.

The other two are sitting at a long ledge running the length of the room on the opposite side from his cage. The ledge is covered in grey and white blocks, oddly shaped things that Castiel has no idea what they could possibly be, and flat glowing things. Many of the things on the ledge have little blinking lights. The seated two-tails are sitting in front of the flat glowing things, but they’ve turned to look at smug-face.

One of them is a female. She has black hair hanging loosely past her shoulders. Her lips are a bright red. The other is a male with skin dark like Uriel’s. He smirks at smug-face and turns back to the flat-glow. Castiel cannot see what he is doing with his hands, but things are moving on the glowing surface.

Smug-face is no longer smiling. He raises his voice at tall-one and his gestures towards Castiel have gotten more jerky and violent. Castiel bares his pointed teeth and slaps at the glass. It makes the cuts from the coral sting. Smug-face falls silent and turns his attention to Castiel. In response, he spreads the spines of his side-fans and the two fans running the length of his back. It is an intimidating gesture that back in the colony would indicate his desire for a fight.

Castiel is the only member of his nest with two back-fans. The others only have one that follows their spine. When he was younger, Castiel often doubted which nest he had been born too. Balthazar had always assured him that he was their nest-brother and that he took after their mother. Castiel’s fans start at his shoulder blades and draw closer as they run down his back, ending just as flesh becomes scale.

A sneer pulls at smug-face’s lips and Castiel mimics it back at him. It is a stupid thing to taunt his captors, but Castiel is angry. They mock him by keeping the weapon they used to capture him in sight. They attempt to feed him with dead fish that feel and smell wrong. They have locked him in a small-sea behind glass walls to stare at and observe him like he is an animal. He is no animal and he will make them see that.

Smug-face’s movements are calm as he puts down the small-stick and flat-rock. He turns his back to Castiel and moves quickly across the room. Castiel follows him, pressing against the glass to keep him in his sight. Tall-one looks wary, then outraged as smug-face shoves his aside and grabs the rod-weapon.

He approaches Castiel’s cage from the left and Castiel glares at him through the glass, pressing his hands against it and baring his teeth when smug-face stops directly on the other side of the wall. Smug-face moves to the side, and suddenly he is taller than the glass-wall and he is staring down through the bars at him. The rod-weapon pokes through the bars and Castiel snarls as it breaks the water and aims at him.

He flattens himself to the floor, but his tail is tensed and ready. Castiel is certain he can twist out of the way of whatever the weapon does. His memories of what it did before are fuzzy. He recalls how his arm jerked and then the ocean went black. His hand moves to feel along his right arm until his fingers brush over a welt halfway between his elbow and shoulder. The muscles are sore to the touch and he feels a tiny hole at the center of it.

Castiel wants to look at it, examine it, but he refuses to take his eyes off the weapon. The pointed tip is less than a tail-length away. Smug-face is saying something to the other two-tails and he looks entirely too pleased with the situation. Castiel dislikes that look almost as much as he dislikes when he is being smug. He wants to wipe that look from his face. He wants to show him that although Castiel is in a cage, he should not be taken lightly because Castiel is a warrior of the colony. He is strong and fast and cunning and the two-tails should know that when he is angry they should be afraid.

Smug-face isn’t even looking at him anymore. He is turned to tall-one, who is standing at his side and shouting in their loud, verbal language. Braided-one is hovering just behind him, she keeps looking from tall-one to smug-face and down to the flat-rock in her hand where she keeps moving the small-stick across its surface.

None of them are expecting Castiel to move.

His fingers close around the rod-weapon and it only takes one quick tug to pull it out of smug-face’s grip. Smug-face stumbles against the glass-wall, his hand and most of his arm dipping between the bars and into the water with the force of Castiel’s pull before the weapon is actually released from his hand. Now that he is touching it, Castiel has no idea what it is made of. He has felt something like this long ago, and he recalls the fake-rock of the cave Balthazar had been trapped in.

The end that smug-face was holding is wider and flatter than the pointed tip. There is a ring of this strange material where the weapon flattens and widens, and where his finger had been resting against there is another thin curve of material. Castiel drives the flat end back up into smug-face’s smug face, sending the two-tails tumbling backwards to the floor. Bright blood gushes from his nose and soaks into the loose white skin covering his chest.

The two-tails break out in an uproar of sound. Dark-skin pulls a large flat-rock from the wall that was covering a hole and he leaves through it. Red-lips and braided-one are helping smug-face to his feet while pressing squares of white to his nose. The skin around Smug-face’s eyes is already starting to bruise and he is glaring hatefully at Castiel. Tall-one hasn’t moved from his spot. He is staring at Castiel and is, surprisingly, smiling slightly.

Castiel jerks his head in a nod and huffs at smug-face, a small smile of his own curling his lips. He is pleased with his handiwork and retreats to his spot at the center of the grey-wall. With his back against it and his tail curled under him, Castiel examines the rod-weapon. With the tip pointing away from him, he places his hands on it like smug-face had been holding it before. He finds that the small curve of material inside the ring can move.

When he presses his fingers against it, there is a whumph of sound that Castiel recognizes foggily from the light-beds and the whole rod jerks in his hands. That is followed with the sound of something whipping through the water faster than Castiel can see. He hears a small thud and he turns his head, following the line the pointed tip – which is now blunt – makes in the water. There is a scratch in the glass wall now, and laying at its base is a small something.

Castiel swims over slowly, dragging the rod with him. He picks up the small something and turns it over in his hands, mindful of the sharp point. A needle extends from a small tube of something Castiel can only think of calling fake-glass. The tube is full of a green liquid that tumbles throughout the tube whenever Castiel tilts it. The whole thing is barely as long as his finger.

He frowns at it and holds out his arm to see the welt. With the needle-tip next to it, he can tell this is what hit him. It doesn’t take much thinking to determine that when the needle pierced his skin on the reef, it likely emptied the contents of the tube into his body and that it is the green liquid that made him fall unconscious. The green liquid must be a kind of poison, like what can be found in the barbs of certain kinds of fish.

A knock on the glass makes Castiel flinch and look up. Tall-one is leaning over so that he and Castiel are face to face with the glass-wall between them. He has a small smile playing on his lips. The only other two-tails in the room is braided-one. She is standing off to the side with her flat-rock and stick again.

Tall-one tilts his head to get Castiel to look to him again. He doesn’t return tall-one’s smile. But he holds his eyes to show him he has his attention. The two-tails only smiles wider and he lifts his hand and waves. Castiel’s brows pinch together in a frown. He doesn’t understand why tall-one is trying to be friendly, especially when he has Castiel effectively locked inside the small-sea. But Castiel raises the hand with the liquid-tube and waves back.

Braided-one is approaching slowly and she is smiling softly too. She waves and Castiel waves back. Tall-one and braided-one talk animatedly to one another, gesturing at him a few times. They’re both looking very happy, despite how Castiel basically attacked one of the members of their group.

Thinking on it now, he realizes that attacking his captors was an act of brashness that will likely bring him problems soon – if not later. But he can’t bring himself to regret it. Not when he thinks of the look of surprise that smug-face had. It had been a lesson to the two-tails and now he must show them another. He must show them that he is not a monster that will hurt them.

Tall-one and braided-one turn to him when he swims up. They watch with wide eyes as Castiel pushes his hand through the bars and stretches his arm over the edge of the glass wall, holding out the liquid-tube. The space above the water is weird and for the first time, Castiel doesn’t feel the press of water on his skin. His arm itches where it starts to dry.

He looks at the two-tails. They are both staring at his hand and he knocks on the glass until they look to him again. Castiel raises his eyebrows and tries to look as sorry as he can for the damage he did to their friend. He keeps the tube pressed to his palm with a few fingers and his thumb and waggles the others in a come-here motion. Tall-one steps forward, reaching up. Castiel drops the tube into his waiting hand.

Next he works the rod-weapon up through the bars. It takes both hands to keep it steady and tall-one takes it as soon as it’s over the edge. He’s smiling brightly at Castiel and keeps looking back to braided-one, speaking words that rumble through the glass. Castiel smiles back, slightly. Nothing more than a quirk of the corner of his mouth. He points at the weapon and at the welt on his arm and shakes his head.

Tall-one bites his lip and a flash of guilt crosses his face when his eyes go to the welt. The guilt doesn’t last long and his expression hardens before he raises his hand and smashes the liquid-tube on the floor. Braided-one covers her mouth with her hand in surprise and Castiel stares as tall-one puts the flat-end of the weapon on the ground and kicks at the middle. He can hear the crack of it breaking through the glass and tall-one throws the pieces aside.

Castiel is grinning at him when he looks back up. He nods and smiles at Castiel, holding his hands up to show that he has no more weapons and nothing to hurt him with. Castiel knows better. He knows they probably have more of those weapons somewhere, that they probably have different kinds that are worse than this one. But they aren’t here and tall-one isn’t going to use them on him.

Braided-one is smiling softly and she puts her hand on tall-one’s arm. She stretches up on the tips of her tails and presses a kiss to his cheek. He turns and smiles at her, then sheepishly runs a hand through his hair to rub at the back of his neck as he looks at the mess he made. He kisses her on the mouth and Castiel tilts his head, pressing his hands to the glass as he watches them talk softly to one another.

He thinks these two are mates. He’s never seen anyone kiss on the mouth who weren’t mates, or planning on being mated. Castiel presses his fingers to his own lips and frowns at the touch. He’s never been kissed. He doesn’t count the times when Anna kissed his cheek. Now that he has been captured by two-tails, Castiel realizes that it’s possible that he might never find a mate.

The thought leaves him sad and he turns away from tall-one and braided-one. Castiel’s stomach is empty and he can feel the claws of hunger pushing at his insides. But he doesn’t want to eat. A heavy weight settles in his chest and he sinks into a corner of his small-sea, his fans folded tight to his body. He folds his tail and draws it against his chest, wrapping his arms around it and he presses his face into his scales.

His mind is as empty as his stomach. The voices of the fin-kin cannot reach him here and for the first time in his life, Castiel feels well and truly alone. This is nothing like the light-beds when searching for Balthazar. Even the tentative friendship he is cultivating with tall-one and braided-one does nothing to help and Castiel feels his eyes sting with tears.

Castiel sits there for many long moments. He ignores all the sounds from the other sides of the glass-walls and he laments the loss of his colony. He cries for the family he will never see again and that they will never know what really happened to him. He cries for mother-sea and her waters that he might never swim in again.

He cries himself to sleep.

x

The two-tails are gone and the room is dark when Castiel wakes again. There are a few blinking lights on the opposite ledge, and the bright lights from above are very dim. Castiel can look directly at them now without his eyes hurting. He can see round orbs, like the bright-pearl or pale-pearl of steady-blue, recessed into the roof of this room. He likes it like this and he runs a comforting hand over the glowing pattern of his tail.

His stomach knots painfully and Castiel realizes it could very well have been days since he last ate. The fish that tall-one dumped into the waters are still laying along the seams of the floor and wall. He can smell them from where he sits and the very stench of them brings bile to sting at the back of his throat. They are clearly fish that have never swam in the sea.

Castiel swims to the nearest one. He picks it up gingerly, pinching the membrane of its tail between his fingers. It floats lifelessly with the smallest of movements and Castiel cringes at the thought of eating it. He really has no choice though and, steeling himself, he sinks he’s teeth into it. The taste is bland on his tongue and Castiel eats quickly, swallowing the meat while trying not to taste it.

He collects all the fish and strips them to the bone. He sucks the delicate pieces of the skeleton clean and places them in a small pile next to him when he’s done with them. When everything is finished, he gathers the bones and piece by piece shoves them through the bars and over the glass-wall. He doesn’t want the garbage to clutter up his small-sea, and the two-tails can deal with it and take it wherever they take their own leftovers.

The next few hours he wastes swimming in circles and stretching. Castiel is frustrated that he can’t get up to a decent speed but he won’t allow his body to weaken just because he’s trapped in this cage.

Castiel stops when the covering over the wall-hole swings open. Suddenly the lights get bright again and he hisses, wincing against the change. Tall-one is standing by the hole and he is wincing too. He raises his hands and shrugs his shoulders. Castiel scrunches his nose at the apologetic look, but returns the wave tall-one gives him.

Tall-one makes a face at the pile of bones outside Castiel’s cage. In response, Castiel gives him the same apologetic shrug. It makes tall-one laugh and Castiel grins at him. He stays near the front glass-wall and watches as tall-one moves around the room. Every time he moves past something on the opposite ledge, he stops and it lights up. Castiel watches, intrigued. He wants to know what those things are, but he can’t think of a way to ask that tall-one will understand.

He remembers that the swimming two-tails at the light-beds had felt the touch of the kin-connection. Castiel wonders if tall-one could feel it too. If he could feel it, would he be able to respond through it? Even if their languages were not the same, being able to share emotions generally allowed for better communication.

Castiel reaches out for the tall-one’s mind. He can sense it before he touches it and it is oddly familiar to him. It’s not like any mind of the fin-kin, but Castiel feels like he’s touched it before. But the only two-tail’s mind that he’s touched previously is the male at the light-beds. Castiel frowns and studies tall-one closely.

Today, tall-one’s loose-skins are different colours under his white-skin. The white-skin is hanging open all down the front and Castiel can see that at his waist the loose-skins change from the dark-blue of his tails to a crisscross of different shades of red over his chest. When tall-one turns to Castiel’s cage again, he makes a face at the bones again before picking up the bucket from the corner.

Castiel isn’t sure what noise he makes, but it must be one of horror to match his expression when tall-one actually removes the white-skin. He tosses it over one of the odd-shaped things that red-lips and dark-skin had been sitting on yesterday. The red crisscross patterned loose-skin covers tall-one’s arms and he puts down the bucket on the surface where Castiel’s sword and dagger lay. Tall-one takes hold of the loose-skin where it rests against his wrist and Castiel makes another noise when he starts to roll it up his arm.

At the second noise, tall-one looks up at him. He has an eyebrow raised in question and then he laughs. Castiel is staring with wide-eyed horror at what tall-one is doing to his loose-skin. Tall-one keeps laughing, even as he cleans up the bones and drops them into the bucket. When he’s done, he sets it by the wall-hole with the hole-covering still hanging open.

Tall-one comes back to stand directly in front of Castiel. His smile is wide, but Castiel can’t bring himself to smile back because tall-one just mutilated himself. His white-skin is still laying across the room and Castiel doesn’t understand how or why and it’s a little frightening.

Tall-one holds out his hand with his palm towards Castiel and he wiggles his fingers. The expectant tilt to his head and the raised eyebrow leave no room for question and Castiel copies the movement. Tall-one points at his hand, and then points to Castiel’s hand. He presses his palm to the glass and Castiel does the same. Tall-one has larger hands than Castiel, but not by much.

His other hand is moving at his chest and Castiel turns his attention to that. Little round-stones are spaced down the front of tall-one’s red-skin. Castiel watches, entranced, as tall-one moves his fingers over them and pushes them through small holes. The red-skin parts when he does that and it reveals another layer of white-skin beneath it. Castiel wonders how many layers of skin two-tails actually have.

Tall-one tugs at the loose-skin and it gets baggier and baggier around his waist until suddenly it is no longer attached to the blue-skin. Castiel recoils and tall-one laughs, his smile crinkling his eyes. He shrugs the red-skin off his shoulders and tosses it over Castiel’s sword. Castiel covers his eyes because it’s too horrible to watch and he doesn’t care that he can still hear tall-one laughing and that he’s not in pain. It’s disgusting and he shouldn’t be showing him something like this.

There is knocking on the glass and Castiel slowly peeks over his fingers. He makes a strangled noise in his throat when, as soon as tall-one can see his eyes, he fists the white-skin and pulls it over his head. Castiel’s spines spread and he closes and opens his fans repeatedly in surprise, but he doesn’t look away because now tall-one’s chest matches his hands and face.

Castiel lowers his hands and swims closer to the glass. He stares hard, trying to understand because he knows now that this is tall-one’s true skin. Tall-one taps his chest and then taps the glass over where Castiel’s chest is. Castiel touches the skin of his own chest and looks between where his fingertips touch and tall-one’s skin. There is a dark mark of sharp lines in a circle with pointed edges over tall-one’s heart – assuming that his heart is in the same place as a fin-kin’s.

Tall-one points suddenly to the top of the glass-wall. He holds out his other arm, angling it so that it is flat in mid-air, and mimes pushing his other arm through it. Castiel understands despite the bad pantomiming and swims to the top of his small-sea. He sticks his arm through the bars and dangles his hand over the edge of the glass-wall. Tall-one holds up the white-skin he just removed and presses it against Castiel’s hand.

He moves his fingers over the loose-skin, feeling how it is soft and not unpleasant to touch, but still rougher than skin should be. The white-skin is pulled away and tall-one presses his wrist into Castiel’s fingers. He feels the difference and suddenly Castiel understands. The loose-skins aren’t skins at all. He doesn’t know what they’re called, but they’re something that the two-tails wear. They are things they put on their bodies like the fin-kin wear braided kelp to carry their weapons or the woman wear trinkets the artisans make with glass and shine-stones.

Castiel understand and he smiles and tall-one smiles back. He steps away and pulls on the white-skin, then his red-skin again. He unrolls the part over his arm and puts the longer white-skin over top of it all. Castiel thinks it’s far too many layers and he muses on how comfortable they must be. He thinks it would feel restrictive to wear so much. But maybe the two-tails need it to keep warm? The air beyond the water feels cool to Castiel’s skin, so this is a concept that he can understand.

Tall-one picks up the bucket and gestures for Castiel’s attention. He points to himself and then to the wall-hole. He does this a few times and Castiel nods, understanding that tall-one is leaving. Tall-one points to himself and then back to the room, indicating that he’ll return. Castiel nods again. He smiles and settles against the floor of his small-sea, leaning his shoulder into a corner and resting his head against the glass. He flicks his fingers in a little shooing motion and tall-one laughs again before leaving.

While he is gone, Castiel thinks about what he just learned. He realizes now that the swimming two-tails are not a different breed, they were simply wearing different loose-skins. Although the black-skin had not been so very loose. It was more like a second-skin. He concludes the reason is because it would produce far less drag in the water while swimming.

But if that is the case, then the two-tails at the light-beds could be the two-tails here in the room. Castiel frowns. The ones at the light-beds had braided yellow hair and the male was tall with longer brown hair.

When it clicks and he understands, Castiel’s stomach turns and he feels sick.

Tall-one returns with an empty bucket. His smile falls slowly when he sees the glare Castiel fixes him with. Castiel points at tall-one and then at the welt on his arm where the liquid-tube had hit him. It makes sense now; why Castiel recognized the presence of his mind and why tall-one had looked guilty when he had connected the weapon to the welt. The same look flashes on tall-one’s face again. He closes his eyes momentarily and nods.

A hard knot settles behind Castiel’s sternum. He shouldn’t feel betrayed by this discovery, but he does. Tall-one is the same two-tails that attacked Castiel on the light-beds. He’s the one who knocked him out and brought him to this small-sea. He’s the reason Castiel is trapped here. And to make it all worse, Castiel had started to like him, had started to think tall-one would be his friend and maybe being caged here wouldn’t be so bad.

Castiel glares harder and his fans flare. He turns away from tall-one with a snort of disgust and swims to the very back of his small-sea. Just like yesterday, he curls into himself and covers his shoulders and head with the fans of his tail. His arms circle his chest and he hugs himself, withdrawing from the only other presence in the room with body and mind.

He stays like that for a long time. Not nearly as long as yesterday, but long enough for the other two-tails to arrive. He can hear them talking and moving about, filling his small-sea with the sounds of their annoying thuds. Castiel puts his hands over his side-fins to try and keep it out, but he can feel the vibrations in the water as it brushes over his skin and he hates it.

He feels homesick and lonely and he is still angry with tall-one and braided-one for capturing him. Castiel closes his eyes and wishes he could hear the songs of his fin-kin. Even if it was just the wrong song singing through the waves, Castiel wants to hear the voices of something familiar. All he has is his own.

Castiel closes his eyes, parts his lips, and sings. He sings the wrong song and he makes it right. He sings it like it was meant to be, without that undercurrent of warning. His throat-voice rises and falls in mournful notes, describing his pain from being separate from his colony. He voices in song the heartache that burns in his chest and the empty space in his head where his family used to be.

The only vibrations in the water now are the ones belonging to Castiel. His song reverberates through his small-sea, reflecting back on him from the glass-walls. Castiel sings until his throat is sore and the tones are little more than croaks and they die out on his tongue. There is only the quiet background hum of something big far below the floor – Castiel doesn’t think about that – that meets the end of his song.

It is quiet for so long that Castiel uncurls and looks up, thinking the two-tails might have left. The five he recognizes are standing off to one side, but there are over a dozen new faces standing squished into the space between the opposite ledge and Castiel’s small-sea. He can see even more faces staring through the wall-hole. No one is talking and they are all staring at Castiel.

The murmuring starts out slow, somewhere at the back of the group. It grows louder and soon they’re all talking animatedly. Some are wiping at their eyes while other are gesturing with wide movements of their arms. His small-sea fills with the vibrations and Castiel cries out, flattening his side-fins and covering them with his hands again. Silence falls again and he watches as braided-one, tall-one and dark-skin motion for the new comers to leave.

There is much pushing and shoving, but finally the space clears and everything is as it was. Except tall-one is hanging back by the wall-hole. He’s smiling and talking animatedly to a two-tails Castiel can only see a hand of from where he rests against the grey-wall, the hole-covering is blocking the rest from view.

Castiel isn’t particularly curious, but he still wants to know. He wants to catalogue all the faces of the two-tails he sees, because it is his training and that is all Castiel has left to him now. He lazily flicks his tail to propel himself across the small-sea until he can presses his hands to the glass and can see around the hole-covering.

This new two-tail is leaning against the edge of the hole and he is not too much shorter than tall-one. He has one hand hidden in a loose fold of the blue-skin over his tails and he’s moving the other one as he talks. His hair is short like Castiel’s and is a lighter brown than tall-one’s hair. His cheeks and nose are covered in a smattering of freckles and Castiel is awed as he studies this two-tails. He has never seen so many freckles before.

The two-tails stops talking, hand frozen in mid-air and his mouth half-formed around one of their words. Castiel lifts his curious gaze from the loose-skins to his eyes and he is amazed because they are so very green. He’s never seen green eyes before and Castiel stares because they’re staring right back at him and neither one of them are looking away.

Tall-one looks over his shoulder at Castiel and then he leans forward and says something to green-eyes. He doesn’t look away, and green-eyes quirks his lips in a little smile and his hand - still hanging in mid-air – twists into a small wave. Castiel tilts his head to the side, removes one hand from the glass and waves back. He won’t smile though, because none of the two-tails deserve his smile anymore. Tall-one turns slightly and raises his hand to wave too. Castiel only frowns at him and turns his face away.

He still sees green-eyes’s laugh and playful shove at tall-one’s shoulder. The way they act is painfully reminiscent to how his nest-brothers used to play. Castiel thinks tall-one and green-eyes may be brothers and the thought only makes the knot in his chest grow. He’s busy watching them talk and it is a foolish thing he does to not pay attention to the rest of his surroundings.

Something hard and cold closes around Castiel’s wrist and he shouts in surprise with mind and voice as it jerks him towards the surface. It’s a braided rope of metal at the end of a long stick. It’s wrapped tight around his wrist, the base of the stick pressing hard against his skin. At the other end is smug-face and he still manages to look smug despite the bruising covering most of his face and the strip of white over his nose.

Castiel is struggling against the braided metal but it’s cutting into his skin and it burns. The stick is being held by dark-skin and smug-face and they pull it until Castiel’s arm is out of the water and his shoulder is pressed painfully against the bars. One side of his neck and head are exposed to the air and Castiel can hardly breathe and he can hear all the noises as they should sound not muted by the water.

He wraps his free hand around the bar and pushes against it, trying to get enough leverage to pull his arm back, trying to get enough slack to get his gills back underwater. Cold hands close over his arm and force it down at the elbow, folding it over the edge of the glass-wall. He thrashes against the hold, his tail breaking the waves and banging against the bars and the glass. And he can hear their words but they mean nothing to him and he can’t breathe.

“Gordon, hold his arm still.”

“I am holding it! Just draw the goddamn blood already.”

“He’s squirming too much, I won’t get the vein –”

“What the hell are you two doing?! Jess, why didn’t you stop them!”

“I told them this wasn’t the right way, that he would probably let us if we just asked him but they wouldn’t listen, Sam –”

“Oh, listen to you two. ‘Ask him’? He’s an animal. You can’t ask an animal any–”

“Alistair, let him go! He can’t fuckin’ breathe!”

“You’re not even supposed to be in here, Dean. Meg, get him out of here.”

“You’re making him bleed, you asshole! Sammy, make ‘em stop!”

“Leave it alone, Dean-o, this is how things go. Come on –”

“I’m not leaving when you guys are fuckin’ attacking him!”

“I’m sorry, did you completely miss that he broke my goddamn nose?”

The meaty sound of flesh hitting flesh rings out and suddenly Castiel is free. He drags the metal hoop and stick to the safety of the middle of the small-sea and clutches his bleeding wrist to his chest. Castiel takes great shuddering breaths, doubled over and his chest heaving at finally being able to breathe again. His heart is hammering painfully against his ribs and he’s not ashamed to admit it’s fear that fuels it.

The two-tails are shouting at each other. Tall-one has his arms locked around green-eyes’s chest, holding him back and green-eyes shouts and waves his fists at smug-face and dark-skin. There is blood on his fists. Castiel thinks it’s his at first, but then he sees smug-face’s lip is split badly. Braided-one and red-lips are standing to the side as the green-eyes yells at the other males, except for tall-one. Red-lips has her hands hidden in the folds of her white-skin and she’s got a twist to her lips that makes a chill run down Castiel’s spine because it looks like she’s enjoying the fight.

Dark-skin steps forward, pushing the loose-skins up his arm and he’s shouting at green-eyes. Braided-one steps in between them and dark-skin shoves her aside hard enough that she falls and tall-one lets go of green-eyes only to strike at dark-skin before green-eyes can. Red-lips is helping braided-one back up when tall-one is suddenly next to her and Castiel can see his concern in every line of his body.

Green-eyes is pointing at the wall-hole across the room and he’s not shouting anymore but Castiel can still hear the low rumble of his voice. It sends another set of shivers down his spine. He can hear his anger, the barely controlled venom in his words. Red-lips helps support smug-face with his arm around her shoulders and she leaves with him and dark-skin. Green-eyes speaks for a moment to tall-one and braided-one before he moves to the edge of Castiel’s small-sea.

Even halfway across his cage, Castiel cringes when green-eyes moves onto the rise that makes them stand taller than the glass-wall. He hunches his shoulders and flares his fans, trying to warn green-eyes away. He’s aware somewhat that green-eyes was helping him and that he fought the ones who were hurting him.

Green-eyes leans over the glass-wall and submerges his arms almost all the way to the shoulders. It’s a very stupid position for him to take, Castiel notes, because if Castiel attacked he could pull green-eyes against the bars and hurt him with claws and fangs. But green-eyes doesn’t seem to care because he’s gesturing for Castiel to come closer. And when Castiel doesn’t move, he gestures by pointing at his own wrist and circling his fingers around it. He acts out removing the fingers from his wrist several times and Castiel understood the first time but he still doesn’t move.

Green-eyes may have fought for him, but Castiel wasn’t going to trust him. He couldn’t trust any two-tails. He thinks maybe green-eyes understands it because he makes recognizable noise of frustration and withdraws his arms. Tall-one and braided-one are standing on either side of him and he talks to them for a few moments.

Tall-one shakes his head, sending his floppy hair flying. Braided-one looks understanding and she’s nodding and touches green-eyes’s hand. He lets her for a moment then pulls his hand away and he’s talking to tall-one with loud, angry words. Tall-one is making distressed faces and gesturing to braided-one. She shakes her head and reaches into her pocket for something that she hands to green-eyes and then tall-one is the one talking with the loud and angry words.

Green-eyes isn’t paying attention anymore. He’s doing something to the edge of the bars. He hands back whatever it was braided-one gave him and then wraps his hands around the bars and lifts. Castiel watches with wide eyes as the a section of the bars is pulled up and angled toward the ceiling. It leaves open air along that entire wall, a space just a little wider than the length of Castiel’s arm from neck to fingertips. He didn’t know the bars could do that. But there had to have been some way that they got him into the small-sea in the first place.

Tall-one is still being loud and he’s pulling on the top layer of loose-skin that green-eyes just shrugs out of. He pulls off the black-skin underneath and now it’s just his own skin. He has the same black mark over his heart that tall-one does and Castiel wonders if it’s a family trait. Green-eyes shuffles oddly on his two-tails and then he’s pulling off white-skins from the ends of his tail and dropping them to the floor.

Castiel retreats to the far side of his cage when green-eyes grips the edge of the glass-wall and climbs over it. Water splashes over the sides of the walls when he falls heavily into the water. He’s kicking his tails to keep his head above water and he’s still holding onto the edge. Now that he’s in the water, when he speaks to tall-one his voice is less muffled and Castiel can barely make out his words – not that he can understand them.

“If you wanna get the tanks then go and get the tanks, Sammy. I’m not getting out until that thing’s offa him and I’m not gonna swim over there either. ----- Of course I’m gonna wait for him to come to me. What? You think I’m stupid. Christ, gimme some fuckin’ credit.”

Then Castiel sucks in a sharp breath because green-eyes is underwater and looking at him from across the tank. He flares his fans and takes a small pleasure that green-eyes goes still and his eyes widen. He breaks the surface again before coming back under. Castiel realizes it’s because he has to breathe and this is new knowledge for him. Two-tails can’t breathe underwater – but when tall-one and braided-one were swimming in the light-beds, they weren’t going up for air. They were spewing bubbles as if they were breathing just fine in mother-sea.

Green-eyes keeps going up for breath and coming back down. He gestures often for Castiel to come closer and Castiel refuses to move. He shakes his head and pulls his hand closer to his chest. The stick is still attached and hits the floor with a sharp noise whenever Castiel moves.

Braided-one and tall-one are standing on the rise. They’re talking to green-eyes whenever he goes up to breathe. It takes Castiel far too long to realize green-eyes is giving him a show of trust. It would be too easy for Castiel to drag green-eyes to the bottom of small-sea where he cannot breathe and hold him there until the water fills his lungs. Green-eyes wants Castiel to trust him to remove the braided metal on his wrist.

Green-eyes is above the water when Castiel moves. He skims along the floor in a quick, fluid motion. The stick scrapes across the grey surface and the noise hurts his head. Tall-one or braided-one must say something because green-eyes leans his face into the water to watch him but doesn’t make any motion to move otherwise. Castiel stays at the bottom, eyeing him warily.

He lifts his head out of the water and Castiel watches as his chest rises in falls with a few deep breathes before expanding grandly. Green-eyes pushes himself under completely and he lets go of the wall. Castiel slips out of his reach, but green-eyes doesn’t reach for him. He’s paddling at the water with his hands and doing strange kicks with his two-tails that sink him to the bottom of the small-sea.

Small streams of bubbles are pulsing out at intervals from his nose and Castiel watches him. He knows, from watching him while he waited, that green-eyes can’t hold his breath for very long. Barely a minute at best. He’s trusting Castiel to not hold him down here, to pin him to the floor or the wall and let him drown. He tilts his head and catches Castiel’s eyes with his own, raising his eyebrows in a silent plea.

Castiel swims in a small circle, edging closer. Green-eyes’s face is going red and Castiel knows he needs to breathe soon. He reaches out with his good hand and presses his palm to green-eyes’s shoulder. The skin is smooth under his touch and he flexes his fingers against the muscle. A thicker stream of bubbles escapes through his lips and tall-one is raising his voice. Tightening his hold, Castiel flicks his tail and drags green-eyes back to the surface.

He lets green-eyes breathe as he tests to see how far he can rise out of the water. He keeps closer to the bars, hopefully out of reach of tall-one and braided-one. Green-eyes has his hand on the edge again and he’s watching curiously. Castiel determines that as long as the gills on his neck are submerged and he dips his lips under to suck in an extra breath or two, he can keep his head above the surface.

Green-eyes is smiling again and his voice rumbles over the water and vibrates down Castiel’s spine. It’s pleasant and rough. “So you ready for me to take that thing offa you?”

Castiel tilts his head and his brow furrows. He wishes that he knew their language and he thinks about trying to touch their minds again. But green-eyes has his other hand out of the water and he’s pointing to himself, “Dean.”

He points to tall-one, “Sam.”

He points to braided-one, “Jess.”

And then points to himself again, “Dean.”

Names. Castiel nods and all three of them smile again. Dean points to Castiel and quirks his eyebrow. Castiel frowns. He doesn’t like voice-speaking. In the colony, voices are used for singing. But Dean, Sam and Jess are giving him expectant looks and this could be his only way to communicate with them. He dips his lips under the waves and breathes a few times.

He lifts his hand and pokes Dean in the chest, “Dean.” The name feels foreign on his tongue and his side-fans flare at the sound of his own voice. It is deeper and rougher than Dean’s and it surprises him as much as it surprises them. He lifts his hand out of the water and points accordingly, “Sam. Jess.”

Their smiles are almost blinding but they don’t say anything when he turns his finger back to himself, “Castiel.”

Dean points, “Castiel.”

He nods and Dean’s grinning, “Hi Cas.”

“Hi Cas?” He tilts his head to the side again because he has no idea what Dean just said.

Sam leans forward and smacks Dean on the top of his head, “He obviously doesn’t speak English, idiot.”

Dean ducks after the fact, which just seems a weird thing to do and Castiel is frowning at that, and Dean is glaring over his shoulder at Sam, “I know that. I was just being polite, Jesus, gimme a break.”

Jess rolls her eyes at the pair of them and then she calls his name. He looks to her and she points to her wrist. Castiel raises his other hand from the water. The braided metal is cutting deep against the skin and blood still bubbles up around its edges. Jess gasps and Sam grunts some words Castiel barely hears. Dean’s face has gone dark.

“I should’ve broke both their fuckin’ faces. Christ, look at that.” He reaches forward but pauses when Castiel twitches and ducks down until the water is over his nose, “Sorry, Cas. I’m not gonna hurt you. I promise.”

Castiel still doesn’t understand the words, but he thinks ‘Cas’ is supposed to be him. It’s his name, only shortened. Like how Balthazar always calls him ‘Cassie’. He flicks the tip of his tail and rises up again, pointing at himself, “Cas?”

Dean smiles and nods, pointing, “Castiel. Cas.”

It is acceptable and Castiel nods. He doesn’t realize he’s smiling slightly until Dean is grinning again all teeth and crinkles around his green eyes. His hair is slicked down against his skull, but it’s starting to stick up in places where it’s drying. Castiel finds it endearing and he wonders if his own hair is doing the same.

He holds out his sore wrist to Dean, the long stick dangling uselessly beneath it.

“Sammy, hold me up. I’m gonna need both hands for this.” Dean lets go of the edge and he sinks a little into the water before Sam leans forward and tucks his hands under Dean’s armpits and lifts him back up.

Castiel hisses when Dean’s fingers touch the raw skin around the braided metal. Dean immediately pulls his hands away, eyes wide like he’s scared to hurt him. Castiel pushes his wrist closer and nods, trying to tell Dean with actions alone that it’s okay. Dean takes hold of his hand and the stick. He does something Castiel can’t see but the stick is no longer digging into his wrist and the braided metal is loose enough to peel from his skin and slip over his hand.

Jess grabs the stick and tosses it haphazardly over her shoulder. Castiel moves to pull away, but Dean is still holding his hand. His free hand is accepting a roll of white something from Jess. Castiel eyes it warily.

Dean smiles softly and makes a soft shushing noise, “Castiel.”

He speaks his name slow and soft, in a calm tone that sooths Castiel’s nerves. He knows Dean is speaking to him like Castiel would a spooked animal or a child and the thought is annoying, but he understands.

Dean unravels the white thing with one hand while he pulls Castiel’s wrist underwater, letting it clean the wound. When he lifts it out again, he wraps the white thing around Castiel’s wrist. He recognizes the texture and his eyes go to Sam. Sam is smiling and he nods, looking down to his own loose-skin, confirming the white-thing is similar. Dean ties the white thing off with a knot and let’s go.

“All finished!”

Castiel examines his wrist. The binding is a simple bandage, like wrapping a wound with kelp to help staunch the bleeding. He brushes it lightly with his fingers and nods. It is acceptable. He wants to say thank you, but he doesn’t know their words for it. All Castiel can say is, “Dean”.

“You’re welcome.” Dean grins and Sam lets him go so he can grab the edge of the glass-wall.

Jess and Sam help him back over until he’s standing next to them. The colour of his blue-skin is darker and he plucks it at, shifting uncomfortably. But he’s looking at Castiel with concerned eyes, “Is he going to be okay?”

Sam pats him on the shoulder, “We’ll make sure Alistair and Gordon aren’t left alone with him. And you can come in here whenever you want. If anyone asks, Jess and I gave you permission because Castiel likes you and we’ll learn more from him if he makes nice with you.”

Castiel perks when he hears his name but Sam is already leaning across the open space, reaching for the bars. He huffs a sigh at them and sinks below, watching as Jess and Dean move off the rise and gather Dean’s loose-skin. He pops up again, before the bars are closed and reaches out to touch Sam’s white-skin. He tugs on it and looks up at him.

Sam pauses in lowering the bars and he looks at Castiel with confusion before understanding slips into place. He plucks at his white-skin then shifts it aside to pull at his red-skin. Castiel nods and tilts his head to the side, asking the silent question.

“Clothes.” Sam answers.

“Clothes.” Castiel repeats and he nods and twists back under.

Dean is pulling on his clothes and Castiel mouths the word at him. He laughs and nods and Castiel smiles because Dean and Sam and Jess are nice, even if Sam and Jess brought him here. But he knows their names and they know his and he has learned a new word. They treated him like fin-kin and it was nice.

Castiel settles against the grey-wall and lets his fingers dance over the bandage around his wrist. He watches as Dean speaks longer to Sam and Jess before he leaves. He stops at the wall-hole and waves goodbye to Castiel. He raises his hand – the one with the bandage – and waves back. Without thinking, he reaches out with his mind like he would to any of his brothers and pushes at Dean’s consciousness.

(Thank you, Dean.)

Chapter Text

Dean comes back to the room only once more that day. He delivers another bucket of the grey fish to Sam and leaves as quickly as he arrives. He doesn’t look at Castiel and doesn’t speak to any of the two-tails. Castiel wants to reach out to him and press his confusion and unease into Dean’s mind like he had earlier with his gratitude.

After Castiel had spoken to him directly, Dean had stumbled head first into the edge of the wall-hole. Sam and Jess had inquired after him worryingly and Castiel had swam to the glass-wall, concerned. Dean had stared at Castiel with a hand to his head and waved off the other two-tails before he fled from the room. Red-lips returned not long after that.

Castiel is worried. Did the touch of his mind to Dean’s frighten him?

Sam seems to notice Dean’s behavior because he’s speaking in a quiet rumble to Jess, his brows pinched together. He keeps looking toward the wall-hole where Dean left, even as he dumps the grey fish into the small-sea. He frowns at Castiel too but not in anger. Castiel knows the same expression is on his own face and he shrugs his shoulders.

Sam repeats the movement and shakes his head. His smile is strained. Red-lips comes over and Sam steps away to speak to her. She gestures at Castiel with one hand. In her other she has a handful of rectangular pieces of colour. She pulls one from the pile and Sam takes it. His expression brightens and he walks over to the glass-wall. Castiel tilts his head, curious, and presses closer to the glass.

He holds up the rectangle for Castiel to see the colours. Castiel squints and then jerks away from the wall, fans flaring in surprise. The colour-rectangle is covered in different shades and colours and they form a still-image of a fin-kin. Castiel recognizes the crimson coral from the edge of the light-beds, and stretched along the seam between sand and coral is a fin-kin.

Castiel moves close again, pressing his nose against the glass as Sam holds the colour-rectangle up for him to see better. Many questions flit through Castiel’s mind and none of them lead him to understand how the still-image could be showing him the ocean when the ocean is obviously not here. And who is the fin-kin?

His confusion must be evident because Sam lowers the colour-rectangle. He roots around in the folds of his white-clothes and pulls out a much smaller colour-square and presses that against the glass. It is another still-image where the colours come together in the shape of Sam and Jess. They are both sitting at the edge of the ocean, tail-tips buried in the sand and wearing very small clothes.

But Sam and Jess are right there on the other side of the glass. They are not sitting in the sand or wearing small clothes. Castiel looks between them and the still-image, frowning in confusion as he tries to understand. Sam puts the small colour-square away and holds up the bigger one with the fin-kin again. He taps the fin-kin and points at Castiel and back to the fin-kin.

Castiel’s eyes go wide because it couldn’t be, could it? The still-image of the fin-kin couldn’t be like the still-image of Sam and Jess where it is them but not them. He looks closer at the fin-kin, squinting. Sam holds up his hand, gesturing for Castiel to wait as he exchanges with red-lips for a new colour-rectangle. He holds that up to the glass and it is an even closer still-image of the fin-kin.

Now Castiel can see better details. He can see that the fin-kin is male and has two fans pressed close to his back. His tail is black and patterned with familiar streaks and speckles of blue. Castiel twists his tail up beside him and runs his hands over his glow-pattern, comparing it to the still-image. They are the same.

The fin-kin is him. But Castiel is right here. He isn’t there. But that is him?

Sam is grinning as Castiel struggles to understand. He exchanges the still-image for another from red-lips and this time it is the face of a fin-kin. Sam taps it and points to Castiel again and for the first time, Castiel sees himself. He sees the subtle dip in his chin, the curve of his pale pink lips and the point of his nose. He sees the dark brown of his hair, twisted and loose in the water and the stubble on his cheeks and chin.

Castiel rubs his fingers over his face absently as he examines the still-image. He feels the rough hairs. He doesn’t have a knife to keep himself clean shaven and he might end up with a beard if the two-tails don’t give him one. But that’s him? That’s his face? Those are his eyes?

A painful knot of longing tightens in his chest. His eyes are the blue of mother-sea. Balthazar had been telling the truth.

Sam smiles and nods, handing the colour-rectangle back to red-lips. She is grinning too. Her smile is not kind. It unnerves him. He realizes he doesn’t know her name. Castiel knocks on the glass until he has their attention. He points at Sam and mouths his name. He points to red-lips and then points to the colour-rectangles, tilting his head in question.

Red-lips looks surprised and confused, but Sam understands. He gestures at the top of the small-sea and Castiel flicks his tail. There is only enough room between the waves and the bars for him to bring one of his side-fans out of the water. He holds himself carefully to keep the gills on his neck underwater.

Sam moves onto the rise next to the glass-wall and points to red-lips, “Meg.” He holds up the colour-rectangle for Castiel to see and he points at it, “Picture.”

“Meg. Picture.” Castiel angles his face out of the water to repeat the words before he sinks down. He mouths her name at Meg and then mouths the new word, pointing at the pictures.

Meg looks suitably surprised, her red mouth hanging open. She starts speaking excitedly to Sam and he stops her long enough to give her Castiel’s name. He recognizes the shape of his name on Sam’s lips. He nods and points to himself, mouthing his name. She grins and Castiel rewards her with a small quirk of his lips. So far Meg has acted on the side of smug-face and dark-skin and Castiel is still wary of her.

She gestures grandly and shoves the stack of pictures into Sam’s arms before she leaves the room in a swirl of her white clothes. Castiel looks to Sam for an explanation and Sam is scowling at the wall-hole. Whatever Meg said, it is upsetting to Sam. Jess is similarly displeased and Castiel knocks on the glass-wall, trying to ask with his eyes about what could be bothering them. He wants to reach out and speak to their minds like he did with Dean, but Sam’s reaction on the reef and Dean’s earlier make him think twice about doing so.

Sam waves Castiel off, shaking his head and pointing at the fish. Castiel makes a face and his gills ripple in distaste at the brush off. He grabs the nearest fish and throws it at the wall. It flops uselessly to the floor and Castiel retreats to a back corner of small-sea to sulk. He would never admit that what he’s doing is sulking. It is the action of a child and Castiel is a warrior and warriors do not sulk.

Jess and Sam sit at the flat-glows and do not move from there until Meg returns. Meg does not come back alone. She is with a female dressed in white clothes that are different from the white clothes that Sam and Jess wear over their other clothes. It is much longer, going almost all the way to the floor, and hangs off her shoulders on thin straps. This new female has rippling yellow hair that hangs past her shoulders and a wide mouth with red lips.

She approaches the front glass-wall and smiles widely at Castiel, raising a dainty hand to wave at him. Castiel waves back purely to be polite. There is something about this female, something off. Like Meg. 

She mouths his name and taps on the glass. Castiel nods and her smile only gets bigger. She is very pretty, but the smile is cold and cruel. Castiel does not swim closer like he would with Sam or Jess or, if he would return, Dean. He folds his tail and closes his arms around it, pulling it tightly to his chest. He rests his chin on it and watches them as long-white turns to speak with Sam and Jess, the both of them are no longer sitting and they are watching this female with trepidation.

Whatever she says to Sam makes his eyes go wide by a fraction and his lips press together in a thin line. Jess mirrors his expression and she looks up at him. Sam only nods, not to Jess but to long-white, and holds out his hand to Jess. She removes the necklace that she had given Dean earlier and hands it to Sam. He moves around the small-sea and onto the rise. Castiel watches from across his cage as Sam lifts the bars like earlier. Long-white takes his place on the rise.

Jess, Sam and Meg wait a little behind her. Jess wrings her hands and shifts from side to side. She keeps looking up at Sam and he shakes his head slightly every time. He comes forward and knocks on the glass even though Castiel is already watching him. He crooks his fingers and gestures for him to come over. Castiel shakes his head and looks away, eyeing the grey fish laying scattered on the floor of small-sea. He barely trusts Sam and Jess. He does not trust this female.

Sam speaks to the female and she is no longer smiling. She turns to Meg, speaking quickly with short and sharp words. Meg leaves as quickly as she did before. Jess is chewing on her bottom lip and keeps rocking back and forth. Now her hands are pulling at the edges of the white layer of her clothes. Sam is looking at Castiel with pleading eyes and Castiel only shakes his head again. He rubs his fingers over the bandage and Sam’s expression grows pained and sympathetic, as if he understands why Castiel is wary of new two-tails.

Meg returns with her hand clamped firmly around Dean’s wrist. Dean is very loud with his protests as she drags him across the room. Castiel can almost make out Dean’s words through the glass and water. He is again pointedly refusing to look at Castiel. It is confusing and if Castiel is honest, it is a little hurtful. Dean had been nice to him from the very start and now he is ignoring him. Castiel hasn’t known him long, less than a day even. But it hurts because Castiel can’t trust any of the two-tails now. They keep on hurting him in new ways.

Dean is taken to long-white and his voice immediately grows quiet. He speaks in low murmurs with his eyes adverted to the floor. His face is a hard mask. Long-white bends over, tucking her thin fingers under Dean’s chin and tilting his face up to hers. She smiles widely and Dean’s expression darkens. He jerks his chin from her hold and nods slowly. It is obvious that Sam, Jess and Dean don’t like this new female.

Castiel lifts his head and his fans flair slightly with pleased surprise when Dean turns to the glass. He waves at Dean and gets a wave and a small, strained smile in return. Dean presses both hands against the glass and jerks his head in a small gesture for him to come closer. Castiel frowns and shakes his head. Long-white wants him over there. She wants to use his tentative new friends to get him to do what she wants and Castiel will not give her that satisfaction.

Dean grimaces and rubs a hand over his face. He shakes his head and looks up at long-white, lips moving. Castiel reaches for Dean’s mind with caution. His first touch is tentative and gentle, but Dean still flinches. He looks away from long-white sharply and stares at him. Castiel looks back steadily and does it again. Dean pushes against the intrusion at first, subconsciously building walls around his mind.

Castiel is persistent. He presses on Dean’s mind with his own emotions and projects images. With the mental image of long-white, he layers it with his wariness of her and his displeasure at her manipulation. Dean’s mind is full of surprise and fear and uncertainty at letting Castiel in. Castiel gets the impression that it is a new sensation to two-tails.

All that he has seen of the two-tails indicates that their communication is based upon verbalization and physical movements of their body. They do not share their minds like the fin-kin. They have no kin-connection. Castiel pities them because they will never share the closeness that the fin-kin do. But he is in awe of them too. Even without the intimacy of the connection, they manage to form relationships without having a firm grasp of the thoughts or emotions of others.

Castiel uses the barest of touches on Dean’s mind. He won’t betray Dean’s trust in him and he gently drags those thoughts along the edges of Dean’s own. He impresses upon him his hope that Dean will accept the connection. It will make communication much easier and Castiel will be able to learn things quickly.

He pushes the image of long-white at Dean again and this time, he gets a response. Dean throws up several thoughts in response. A name, Lilith, and feelings of dislike, fear, and brief, miniscule flashes of respect and gratitutde. Castiel gets the notion that Lilith is of a higher rank than Dean, Sam, Jess or Meg.

Lilith digs her fingers into Dean’s shoulder and her frown is almost frightening. She is tugging at him to make him move onto the rise next to her. She starts pulling at his clothes and Dean shifts away from her. His movements are clearly uncomfortable as he tries to resist while she pulls off his top layer of clothes and throws it aside. The next layer she starts to drag over his head.

It is Dean’s discomfort, vibrating brightly along their thin connection, that brings Castiel to move. Water splashes over the glass-wall when he rises above the waves. Castiel holds his breath, flattening his gills to his neck, and grips the edge of the wall to hold himself there as he reaches out and grabs her wrist.

“Lilith.” He hisses, jerking her arm so she lets go.

She gasps in surprise and pulls away. Sam catches her when she falls off the rise. Castiel lets her go and he reaches to help adjust Dean’s clothes. “Dean?” He asks softly with his voice while touching his mind with cautious pleading.

“It’s okay, Cas.” Dean shoves his clothes back down and starts pushing at Castiel’s shoulders to get him back in the water. His thoughts are calm and thankful, but strained with worry. Castiel drops into the small-sea, breathing deep when his gills are back under the water and Dean’s worry abates marginally.

He stays just enough above the water to hear their words, hoping to learn new ones.

“He attacked me!” Lilith voice is loud, angry and panicked.

“He thought you were attacking me,” Dean replies backs, his voice is rough and barely keeping level.

“How did he know my name? Who told him?”

Dean hesitates and Castiel feels his panic. He realizes that Dean doesn’t want to tell them about the connection. A flash of selfishness sparks across Dean’s mind and Castiel almost smiles in amusement. Dean sends a quick glare at him over his shoulder when Castiel’s feelings trickle back to him.

“It was me.” Sam speaks up and all eyes turn to him, “I showed him photos of the crew and taught him a few names. He’s really intelligent and I think we need to reevaluate our plans regarding the study.”

Jess was nodding next to him, “We could learn so much more about his kind if he’s willing to work with us!”

Dean’s thoughts and emotions are a complex swirl of distaste and hope. Brief images of grey walls, orange clothes and bars flit across the connection. Castiel does not understand or recognize those images, but they are interspaced with thoughts of the open ocean. Remorse floods his mind and Castiel raises his eyes from the heated conversation between Lilith, Sam and Jess.

Dean is frowning at the floor, but he keeps glancing at Castiel. Shame and guilt and all forms of apology choke the connection and Castiel realizes with some surprise that Dean is sorry that Castiel is trapped. Dean is disgusted that Castiel in a cage.

Castiel accepts the feelings, and he does nothing to try and soothe them. He thinks it is right that Dean feels that way. The two-tails should never have captured him. Dean may not have been one of the ones who actually put him, but he is still one of them and has done nothing to try and free him.

Lilith clears her throat, “Dean.”

He flinches and spins around to face her, “Yes, boss?”

“Have you been paying attention?”

“Not even slightly, ma’am.”

Lilith’s red lips pull into a frown and she gestures at Castiel, he perks, side-fans flaring slightly, “Sam says he likes you and he doesn’t like at least half of the research team.”

“Half your research team is Alistair and Gordon. They’re dicks. It’s really not all that surprising.” Dean shrugs, shoving his hands into the folds of the clothes on his legs.

She frowns more, likely at being interrupted, “I want you here.”

Sharp bursts of surprise fill Dean’s mind and his shoulders go rigid. Castiel tilts his head and studies the side of Dean’s face as the surprise melts into annoyance.

“I’m not a scientist.”

“No, but he likes you. You can help keep him under control.”

“No offense, Lilith, but I’m a goddamn mechanic. I keep this stupid tub running.” He gestures wide with both hands as he comes down off the rise, “If you keep me locked up in here with Cas, I’m gonna be next to useless and bored out of my wits.”

Sam cringes, “Oh God, a bored Dean is the worst torture you can inflict on a person.”

Dean lifts his hand in a fist, middle finger raised and sticks his tongue out at Sam, “Shut it, bitch.”

“Jerk.”

Lilith reaches out and cups Dean’s cheeks with her hands, smiling sweetly. Dean’s hand drops and he sucks his tongue into his mouth quickly, eyes wide. Castiel frowns as Dean’s thoughts tighten with discomfort. A low growl rumbles in his chest and Lilith immediately withdraws, side-glancing at  Castiel. Instead, she pats Dean’s shoulder.

“I’m sure your brother will find plenty for you to do here. And if anything does happens to break on this ‘tub’, I do have other mechanics on staff.” She smiles that dangerous smile that makes Castiel’s fans fold close at the sight of it, “It’s nearly dinner time. I’ll have someone bring your rations and we’ll get a cot set up in here.”

Dean’s rage bursts brightly through the connection and his fingers fold into fists at his side, “It’s awesome that you agreed to give me a job in the first place, but I’ve got a contract to work on machines. You can’t lock me up in here too.”

“Well I’m just adding an addendum to the contract.” She pats his cheek and sweeps past, “But don’t think of it like that. You can come and go to use the washroom and stretch your legs, but I do expect you to spend the majority of your time with Castiel. Besides, I figure you of all people are used to being locked up.”

“But why me? I’ve barely spent any time in here!”

“And yet you’ve managed to have the most contact with him and he trusts you the most. Funny how that works, hm?” Lilith replies over her shoulder.

Meg is grinning happily by Jess’s shoulder. She chuckles, ignoring the dark looks sent her way by Sam, Jess and Dean. With a shrug, she follows when Lilith gestures for her to keep up. Dean sneers at their backs and makes the gesture with his middle finger again.

“Dean?” Castiel asks softly, resting his hands on the edge of the glass-wall and lifting himself slightly out of the water. He tilts his head and pushes his concern at him.

He shakes his head, slumping against the glass-wall until he slides down to sit on the rise. Castiel drops underwater and sinks until he is level with Dean. Sam speaks to Dean softly, his voice barely heard through the glass-wall. He puts a hand on Dean’s shoulder and Dean brushes it off. Castiel continues to push at Dean’s mind, wanting to know what’s happening.

Frustration echoes over the connection and it’s followed with images. Castiel recognizes the room and his small-sea. He sees himself and next to it is Dean sitting on a low flat ledge. Thick bars fall over the image and a confining panic flicks through it all. Castiel frowns when he understands.

He shields his own thoughts and feelings from Dean. He doesn’t think Dean will like that he is a little happy that Dean can better understand now how Castiel feels. He is happy because Dean will be nearby, and he will keep smug-face and dark-skin away. But Castiel is also displeased that the two-tails would cage one of their own when he has done nothing wrong.

Castiel settles against the floor, brushing Dean’s mind regularly as Sam and Jess speak with him. He watches with mild interest as Meg returns with four white square containers that she shares with the other two-tails. They eat thin golden things, dark brown cubes, and a pile of flat green things. Castiel eats the grey fish and frowns at Dean when he laughs when he makes faces at the taste of them.

He presses at Dean’s mind with the memories of the succulent taste of fish fresh from the ocean. The joy of hunting and swimming in the open sea. He overflows the connection and takes pleasure in watching Dean reel back at the memories of his family, of the feeling of home and being amongst his brethren and the pain at being separated from them.

He feels the first wash of Dean’s sympathy and sorrow before Castiel severs the connection. Dean is trembling and staring with wide apologetic eyes. His white-square of food has fallen to the floor. Castiel glares back for a few moments before gathering the bones from his meal and dumping them into the bucket hanging from one corner of the small-sea where Sam had placed it earlier.

Castiel curls in the farthest corner of his small-sea. He hugs his chest and flicks his tail over his head, fans spreading over his shoulders. He hears the bars closing over the water and the muffled sounds of talking and movement. Castiel ignores it all as he tries to stamp down the melancholy emotions that rises up with thoughts of his colony. He waits until he falls asleep.

x

The lights are dimmed again and there is a new addition to the room when Castiel wakes. A low ledge has been set up in the empty space to the right of his small-sea. Dean is sleeping on it, curled under a long, wide piece of cloth. At the end, where the tips of Dean’s two-tails lay, there is a taller grey box.

Castiel stretches. He feels much better than he did when he went to sleep. He feels momentary regret at his actions earlier with Dean. Dean is new to the kin-connection and Castiel should never have used it in anger like he did.

He touches Dean’s sleeping mind and smiles when Dean twitches. Dean rubs his face into a thick square of white and frowns, but he does not wake. Base emotions from his dream drift across to Castiel and it is soothing to have them play in the background of his mind. It almost feels like home.

Like the night before, Castiel swims laps around his small-sea. He stretches and practices the forms taught to him as a warrior, keeping himself limber. Castiel is in the middle of a particularly complex pose when he feels amusement that isn’t his own.

(I didn’t know mermaids did yoga.)

Castiel accidentally slaps himself in the face with his own tail as he tries to unfold to see Dean. Dean is sitting on the edge of his sleeping ledge. His hair is tousled and sticking in many directions, but his grin is sleepy and lopsided. The words in Castiel’s mind are nonsense to him and his confusion only makes Dean smile more.

(Dean?)

Dean rubs at his eyes and yawns. An image of Castiel flickers through the connection. It is followed with images of other fin-kin, none that Castiel recognizes, and Dean gives a word to the images. (Mermaid.)

Castiel frowns because that word is not what they are and he shakes his head. He sends back images of his colony and the enemy colony. (Fin-kin.)

(Fin-kin? Huh. Cool. So you guys talk with your minds then? That’s very ‘Charles Xavier’ of you.)

He laughs when all Castiel responds with is confusion. Dean stretches his arms above his head before fumbling blindly at the top of the tall-box. He grabs a small shell-like something and flicks it open. Castiel sends his surprise across the connection when a light from within the shell illuminates Dean’s face. Dean squints and frowns at the shell before closing it and tossing it aside.

Castiel pushes the image of the shell at Dean. Silently asking what it is with his eyes and brushing his curiosity along the edges of the image.

Dean yawns again and scratches at his stomach. He blinks blearily at Castiel. (Phone.) The word is accompanied with several images of the shells and two-tails holding them open to their odd fleshy side-shells. The memories move and the two-tails talk into the shells and Castiel understands the two-tails use them to communicate over long distances. How the shells do that is beyond him and it makes his head hurt a little to try and figure it out.

Instead, he presses against the glass and fixes Dean with a look. He sends his memory of earlier and rings it with regret. Dean shrugs his shoulders and flaps his hand, waving it off because he forgives him. Castiel smiles and Dean returns it before yawning again and lying flat on his sleep ledge, eyes closed.

(Dean?)

(Cas.)

(Are you going to sleep?) He adds images of sleeping, soaked with curiosity to his words.

Dean smiles, though his eyes are closed and he shakes his head. (No.)

Castiel taps on the glass until Dean opens his eyes and looks at him. He shoves images of Dean, Sam, Jess and the others at him. (Two-tails.)

He laughs again. (Humans.)

They spend the rest of the night swapping words and images. By the time Sam arrives, Castiel knows what everything in the room is and what it is used for. He knows the names for smug-face and dark-skin. He knows that the different types of clothing the humans wear have different names. He knows the names humans have for things in the ocean. And in turn, Dean knows the very few names that the fin-kin have for human things.

At one point, Dean had gotten up to get a flat-rock and small-stick. According to Dean, the flat-rock is something called a ‘clip-board’ and is used to hold ‘paper’. The small-stick is actually a ‘pen’ and humans use them to write on the paper. Writing is something humans do to keep records of things. Castiel taught Dean that fin-kin use song to record their history and they pass the songs from generation to generation. Dean made a list of all the words they exchanged so that he won’t forget. Castiel is pleased that Dean is making an effort to share as much as he is learning.

Sam is surprised that Dean is awake when he walks in. Because walking is how humans move from place to place. They walk on their feet, which are the appendages on the ends of their legs. They don’t have tails. Dean grins and nods at Castiel. He shares most of his thoughts with Dean now, and Dean gives as best as he can. This way, Castiel can learn to communicate faster.

Dean is telling Sam about what he’s learned throughout the night. Castiel waits under the moveable bars. Jess is the only one with the key and Castiel has to wait for her to arrive before Dean can unlock the bars and lift them. Castiel is swimming in circles impatiently. He is excited and wants to show Sam what he has learned from Dean.

The moment Jess comes through the door, Castiel knocks on the glass. (Dean. Key!)

Laughing, Dean gets the key and steps up onto the platform next to the small-sea. Castiel likes using his own words for some of the human things. ‘Tank’ or ‘pool’ just don’t sound right to him. Small-sea is nicer. The bars lift and Castiel slips up out of the water. He holds his breath and leans over the glass,  smiling brightly at them.

“Sam! Jess! Good morning!”

They both have the same expression of surprise and Dean laughs. He pats Castiel on the shoulder before shoving him back into the water. Castiel chuckles and flicks water at him before swimming enthusiastic circles around the small-sea. He pokes his head out again to hear their conversation. Dean translates into emotions and images as best he can.

“It’s great that he knows stuff, Dean, but how?” Sam is running his hands through his hair and he sounds worried, “He knew Lilith’s name and none of us told him. And I know you. You don’t have the patience to stand here all night while Cas alternates his ears and mouth out of the water to talk. We let it go yesterday because we were moving you in here, but seriously, man, you have to tell me what’s going on.”

“Dean, if Lilith or Meg checks the tapes, they’re going to know that Sam lied.” Jess is frowning, her hand on Sam’s arm.

Dean bites his lip and looks to Castiel. He shrugs again and rubs at the back of his neck.

“Telepathy.” Castiel says for him and he reaches out to tap a wet finger against Dean’s temple, “Dean. Castiel. Telepathy.”

With a snort, Dean slaps his hand away. But he gives Castiel another lopsided grin before turning to his brother. Sam and Jess are staring at them with wide eyes and open mouths again.

“He… what? Dean, what?!”

“They call it the kin-connection, but it’s basically telepathy. His colony uses it to communicate, but apparently there are other, uh, ‘breeds’ of fin-kin who talk with voices.” Dean shrugs and dips his hand into the water, swirling his fingers absently, “He was in my head yesterday afternoon. It kinda surprised me. S’why I walked into the door frame.”

Sam is rubbing at his face with one hand, eyes darting from Dean to Castiel and back, “This is… wow. Holy shit, this is amazing! Mermaids are telepathic!”

“No, dude. Didn’t you hear me?” Dean points at the clipboard, “They’re called ‘fin-kin’.”

Castiel nods in agreement, pointing at himself, “Fin-kin.” He points at Sam and Jess, “Humans.”

“See? He gets it. Good lil’ smarty-pants!” Dean reaches over and ruffles his hair.

Jerking away, Castiel makes an indignant noise low in his throat and splashes at him, “Dean!”

Dean laughs and jumps down from the platform, “I’m going to go grab a shower and some breakfast. Cas, you hungry?” He pushes images of the grey fish and Castiel eating them.

“Yes. Please.” Castiel smiles and is about to sink into the water when Sam grabs Dean’s arm and gestures for Castiel to stay.

“Can you tell him that we’d like to take measurements this morning? Just with the tape. It won’t hurt or anything.”

Dean shrugs and scratches at the back of his head, “Yeah, sure. He’ll probably be okay with that.” He goes around to the other side of the small-sea and pulls a change of clothes out from the drawers at the end of his bed.

Castiel pushes his curiosity at him and Dean answers with images of a thin strip of white held along Castiel’s tail then along his arms. He gives him images of the same thin-white held along Dean’s arm and his leg, and wrapped around his chest. Dean gives it a name. (Measuring tape. Sam will use the measuring tape.)

“Sam.” Castiel calls, holding his breath and lifting himself by the edge of the glass, “Measuring tape. Yes.”

“Holy shit.” Sam breathes, wide eyes looking between Dean and Castiel, “You really are using telepathy.”

“I wasn’t blowing smoke outta my ass, Sammy.” Dean grins, gathering his bundle of clothes and a small brown pouch, “I’ll be back in half an hour or something. If Alistair or Gordon show up, kick ‘em the hell out or tell them if they even try to touch Cas, I’ll kick their asses into next week. Got me?”

Jess waves her hand, “Don’t worry. We’re more than capable of watching him.”

Dean laughs and waves over his shoulder as he leaves, “See ya later, Cas!”

“Goodbye, Dean.” Castiel lets the connection drop to give Dean privacy during his morning rituals.

He sinks to the floor of his small-sea and watches Sam and Jess turn on all the computers and machines. They’re talking excitedly to one another and pause repeatedly to smile at him. Castiel nods and smiles back, pleased. He thinks of making the kin-connection with one of them, but Dean had seemed unwilling to share knowledge of the link to start with. Castiel decides to wait to speak to Dean about it.

Meg arrives and takes her place at one of the computers. Sam and Jess stop talking then. They share furtive glances with Castiel and Sam presses a finger to the middle of his lips while she isn’t looking. Castiel frowns at the gesture and repeats it. Humans talk with their mouths. To cover the mouth like this must be a signal to remain quiet.

Sam gathers a few items and he and Jess come around to the platform. He steps up onto it and Castiel rises to meet him. Jess has her clipboard and pen ready. Sam is holding the measuring tape.

“Hey Cas.”

He tilts his head, “Sam.”

“Um, so, I don’t know how much of what I’m saying you’ll actually understand. But we’d like to take some measurements now.” He holds up the measuring tape, letting it unroll and trail down the side of the glass-wall, “We’re going to start with your head, if you don’t mind.”

Castiel frowns as he tries to sort through the words for one he recognizes.

“Show him what you want to do.” Jess suggests, poking Sam in the shoulder with the pen.

Sam holds the end of the measuring tape at the center of his forehead and wraps the rest of it around his head. Then he gestures at Castiel, motioning for him to come closer. Castiel huffs a breath through his nose before holding in another and rising up for Sam to wrap the tape around his head. Castiel goes cross-eyed trying to look at the point where Sam is holding it to his forehead.

He pulls it away and says nonsense things to Jess that she writes down. Then he gently tilts Castiel’s head to the side. He holds the tape to his side-fan. Without needing to be asked, Castiel spreads the spines and is rewarded with a pleased smile. When he steps away, Sam taps at Castiel’s shoulder. It is a simple sign that it is alright for Castiel to drop back underwater to breathe.

Through this way, they measure Castiel’s shoulder width, the length of his arms and his hands and fingers. They measure the length and spread of his back-fans and Castiel has to flatten those as tightly to his body as he can when they wrap the tape around his chest.

Dean returns while Castiel is upside down, his waist and tail draped over the edge of the glass while Sam measures the length and width of his tails and his fans. Castiel drums his fingers on the glass and tries to hold his tail still while flaring his fans. It is hard to do when his scales itch with drying sea water.

He curves his body and lifts his head when there is knocking on the glass. He smiles at Dean and rolls his eyes at the amused grin before slumping forward against the wall. Dean knocks again and this time Castiel simply twists to look at him from the corner of his eye. He has a finger to his temple and keeps tapping at it.

Castiel brushes his mind and is surprised to find relief amongst the amusement. His shoulders, held in a tense line that Castiel hadn’t noticed before, relax. Dean sends an image of what Castiel looks like hanging over the edge and his glee at the position. Castiel raises his hand, his fingers in a fist, and lifts his middle finger.

Dean’s laughter echoes loudly through the water.

Castiel is grateful when Sam slips his hands under his tail and lifts him back over the wall. His stomach is sore from where the glass edge was pressed into it. He rubs at it and then touches his scales, smoothing his fingers over them. His tail still feels weird and he wonders how long until it will feel normal again.

(Hungry, Cas?) The words are accompanied with the sensation of hunger and images of fish.

(Yes, Dean. I’m hungry. You’ve only given me food once a day.) Castiel flicks his tail and he is across the small-sea quickly. He gives Dean the impression of two days’ time and only two feedings.

(Sorry, sorry.) Dean frowns, apologetic, but hoists a large bucket into view.

Castiel follows along the glass while Dean carries the bucket around the small-sea. Sam jumps down from the platform to help him raise it above their heads and tilt it over the edge of the wall. Water sloshes out and with it come several small brightly coloured fish. They are alive and dart about the small-sea. Castiel stills, his eyes wide as he watches them.

(Have fun. I’ll give you the dead ones later at dinner time.) Dean grins, supplying the image of the grey fish and the sensation of passed time.

(Thank you, Dean!) Castiel flashes a happy grin at him before setting about chasing the fish.

It is a fun exercise. Castiel is breathless by the time he has caught and eaten the last one. The fish taste like they did in the sea, rich in flavor and memories of home. Castiel stretches out along the floor and sucks lazily at the bones, watching as Dean and Sam talk. From Dean’s mind he gets the impression that Sam is asking Dean more questions about Castiel. Dean is both amused and annoyed by them.

(Cas.) Dean approaches the wall, his hands in his pockets, (They want to take x-rays.)

Castiel tilts his head and waits for the images that Dean provides. He receives thoughts of a machine like a camera that takes pictures of a person’s insides. Dean gives him black and white images of bones and internal organs. And Castiel’s fans flare in surprise as he jerks up from the floor. They want to see inside of him!

(Whoa! Hey, Cas. Calm down!) Dean soothes him while pressing his hands against the glass-wall. (If you don’t want to do it, it’s okay.)

He turns and speaks to his brother. Sam’s shoulders sag. Castiel doesn’t need a kin-connection to know that Sam is disappointed. Meg speaks over her shoulder at them and both Sam and Dean still before looking to each other. Whatever Meg said leaves Dean surprised and thoughtful.

Dean gives Castiel an image of the x-ray camera being pointed at Castiel. He balks at it, but then Dean supplies an image of the x-ray camera pointed at his own chest. He raises questioning eyebrows at Castiel. The images come side by side and then Dean first followed by Castiel.

Frowning, Castiel fidgets with the bones. Dean is offering to be subjected to the x-ray camera too if it means Castiel will do it.

(It’s safe and it’s not gonna hurt, Cas. I promise. Please? It’ll make Sammy happy.)

Castiel wraps his arms around his chest and swims in a tight circle until his back is presented to them. Dean’s disappointment and irritation filters through and Castiel shakes his head. It’s one thing to allow a human into his mind through the kin-connection. It is another thing entirely, too personal and too intimate, to allow them to see his insides.

He pushes those thoughts at Dean, hoping that he’ll understand.

Dean withdraws. (Yeah, okay. I get it, Cas, I get it. It’s fine.)

 

x

Alistair and Gordon return when Dean is getting their dinners. Meg is sitting at the glass with a thick stack of papers. Before he had left, Dean had explained that she was drawing an image of Castiel. Dean had gotten her to show Castiel a few drawings. Castiel is trying to hold still so she can get the drawing just right. But when Alistair and Gordon come through the door, he jerks away to the far side of the small-sea.

All day the humans have left the bars raised so Castiel can speak, however stilted, to Sam and Jess without being uncomfortable. He rises up now, flattening his gills while holding his breath, and peers over the wall at the two who hurt him the day before.

“No!” He hisses, side-fans flaring.

“So it can speak! Will wonders never cease.” Alistair sneers, his tone condescending and Castiel doesn’t need to know his words to know he is being arrogant.

“And we haven’t even said why we’ve come by.” Gordon mutters, glaring hard at Sam as he places himself between the small-sea and the other humans, “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that we work on this project too?”

“You kind of forfeited that right when you treated Castiel like an animal before finding out just how smart he really is.” Jess snaps back, taking her place next to Sam as Castiel sinks low enough to breathe, “What do you want?"

Alistair holds up a hollow tube with a needle point, “Its blood.”

His name is Castiel and you can wait until Dean gets back to ask Cas if he’s okay with that.”

“We don’t need Winchester’s permission to do our damn job.” Gordon’s upper lip curls in a growl.

“Cas refused an x-ray because it was too invasive. I highly doubt he’s going to be okay with you taking his blood.” Sam’s voice is a disapproving rumble.

He pulls something from his pocket that Castiel can’t see and hands it to Jess. She steps away and flips open a phone. She holds it to her ear and glares heatedly at Alistair and Gordon, who continue to snap at Sam just as much as Sam snaps back at them. They use sharp, angry words.

Castiel hisses again, just to get his point across. “No.” He will have nothing to do with these two.

“Dean.” Jess says into the phone, “You need to get back here now.” She flicks it closed and hands it back to Sam.

Alistair rolls his eyes, “Oh no, you’ve called back the convict. I’m positively shaking in my boots.”

“Don’t. Call. Him. That.” Sam hisses, his teeth clenched.

“I horse is a horse, Sammy. And a convict is your brother. Refresh my memory… What did he do again?”

Sam’s response is cut short when a fish hits Alistair in the back of the head. Dean stomps through the door and Castiel reaches for his mind immediately. He isn’t surprised by the tempest of rage that clouds Dean’s thoughts. His face is dark and his body tight with anger.

“You know damn well what I did and you’re going to leave it alone.” Dean snarls. He picks up the fish and forces past Gordon and Alistair, knocking them aside with his shoulders. “And I’m the only one allowed to call him 'Sammy'.”

Now that Dean is back, Castiel sinks beneath the waves. He ignores the fish when Dean dumps them over the edge and he listens through Dean’s impressions of the conversation. Dean is very unhappy that Alistair and Gordon are back. Dean shows Castiel what they want with images of the needle in his arm and drawing out the red of his blood.

(No! Dean, no! No x-ray! No needle!) He shakes his head violently and retreats to the back of small-sea.

Dean shouts loudly until Alistair and Gordon leave. But he can’t coax Castiel away from his corner. The others eat their supper while Castiel lays curled, holding himself tightly. Dean stays mostly quiet, offering only soothing apologies and promises that they won’t do anything that Castiel doesn’t want. Castiel does not respond.

It is a long time before he twists onto his back to watch Sam close and lock the bars. Castiel raises his hand in a lazy goodbye when Sam, Jess and Meg leave. The lights dim and Castiel rolls onto his stomach. He pushes himself up on his elbows and rests his chin in his hands. He watches as Dean shuts the door and goes to his bed.

Dean sheds his shirts, pulling the last over his head. Castiel watches the muscles move across his back as he bends to remove his jeans. He frowns at the jagged scar above his left hip and he brushes the image and his curiosity against Dean’s thoughts. Dean jerks at the sudden touch and he turns around.

(Jeeze, Cas. Don’t do that! I thought you were sleeping.)

Castiel ignores that because it was mostly nonsense words. He only understood one of them and he wasn’t sleeping and neither was Dean. Therefore there is no need for him to mention it. He pushes the scar image again. Dean winces and sits on the edge of his bed to run a hand through his hair. He is hesitant to share the story and Castiel can feel him trying to withdraw from the connection.

He is about to let it drop when the memory surges forth in dark flashes. It sends Castiel’s mind staggering at the weight of it. A younger Dean, fists bloodied, lip split, fighting in a darkened space. Dean’s memories provide the word ‘alley’. Dean’s anger at the ones he’s fighting. His fear because Sammy is there and Sammy is wrong and stupid and he’s going to kick his ass later. There are too many enemies and their hands are on his arms. The flash of silver and a pinching pain in his side that begins to burns. Sammy’s shouting and red everywhere. So much red and it’s all his.

The memory breaks off sharply and Castiel comes back to himself with ragged gasps and the sting of tears in his eyes. He is reminded of battle, where the kin-connection is kept to its bare minimum to protect fin-kin from moments like this. It would be too distracting during a fight to be able to feel the pain of other fin-kin before they die and the connection is severed brutally. He understands why now, better than he ever did before.

(Cas, you okay?) Dean’s eyes are worried and he’s standing at the glass, hands and forehead pressed against it.

Castiel crosses the small-sea with a sharp flick of his tail. He presses his forehead to the glass over Dean’s and covers his hands with his. He feels the phantom pain of the knife in his skin as though it had actually happened to him and he makes soft keening noises in his throat. Dean smothers Castiel’s mind with calm murmurs of his name and hushes him.

(It’s okay, Cas. It’s okay. It was a long time ago and I’m fine now. Don’t worry. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was gonna affect you like this. Christ, you’re crying. Cas, c’mon man. You gonna be okay?)

(Yes, Dean.) He shudders and opens his eyes. Dean is right there and he’s smiling softly.

(Eat your fish and get some rest. Sam wants to do more tests in the morning. No x-ray or needles, promise.)

Castiel looks over his shoulder at the grey fish, still resting dead and bland on the floor of the small-sea where Dean dumped them. He crinkles his nose at them and then sticks his tongue out at Dean when he laughs. Dean laughs harder at that and stumbles back to flop onto his bed. He wriggles until he gets the blanket over himself.

When he looks over, Castiel is sitting in the nearest corner and chewing slowly on the tail of a fish. After Dean’s painful memories, he doesn’t have much of an appetite now. Castiel tilts his head and looks at him. Dean’s eyebrows are drawn together in a frown and his lips are pursed.

(Colony. Tell me about your family.)

Castiel slowly lowers the fish he is eating. At the mention of his family, the same heavy weight settles in his stomach and his chest tightens. He presses a hand to his sternum and rubs, eyes downcast. He lets Dean feel his sadness, but he doesn’t withdraw like he did before. Castiel draws up his memories of his family and he passes them along to Dean, naming his nest-brothers and sisters as he does.

Dean’s eyes are drooping as Castiel starts listing the members of other nests. He slows and stops when Dean’s eyes fully close and his thoughts and emotions fade into dreams. Castiel is no longer hungry. He gathers the fish and puts them in the waiting bucket. They will not keep in these warm waters.

Castiel curls in the corner closest to Dean. He hugs his folded tail to his chest, his shoulder pressed into the corner and his head resting against the glass. He watches Dean sleep and hums lullabies until he drops off too.

Chapter Text

When Castiel wakes the next morning, Dean is gone. The covers of his bed are pulled neatly over its surface and his night clothes are folded over the pillow. There are only two humans in the room. One he recognizes and one he does not.

Meg is sitting quietly by the front of the small-sea, drawing again. She waves when she sees that he is awake. Castiel waves back distractedly as he searches for Dean. He can feel Dean’s mind but the link is weak, distant, and Dean does not answer him when he calls his name. While calling for him, Castiel watches the new human.

The human that Castiel does not recognize is standing on a platform comprised of smaller tiers at the front-left corner of the small-sea. He’s shorter than Dean and Sam and he’s wearing a thing that Dean calls a ‘hat’. His beard is thicker and covers more of his face than Alistair’s or Gordon’s beards do. Bearded-one has his arms in the water, affixing a thick black square against the glass. Meg catches his eye and points to the front-right corner where a similar square is already in place.

Castiel draws away from them, settling in the center of the grey-wall again where he can keep an eye on both the black-squares. He doesn’t know what they are and Dean is not answering. Sam and Jess aren’t here either and something like panic starts to make Castiel’s chest feel tight. His fingers pick at the bandage around his wrist and he prods at the little flicker of Dean’s mind that he can feel.

Bearded-one steps down slowly, one tier at a time. His hands are wet and he dries them on a strip of cloth hanging from his pocket. On open box is resting on the ledge and from it bearded-one takes a thin arch of black. It ends in flat circles and one circle has an attached stick with a bulbous ending. He hands it to Meg and she slips it over the top of her head and adjusts the little stick so the bulb is by her mouth.

She smiles at him and Castiel doesn’t like her smile. It makes him feel cold. Castiel thinks Meg is like a lure-fish, using her smile to bait before she bites. He does not smile back. She picks up a clipboard from the table next to her before she puts her fingers to one of the flat circles. Little red lights blink to life on the black-squares and Castiel sits up straighter, eyes darting from one to the other.

There is a crackle of noise and Castiel’s side-fans flare to catch it. Then it dies away leaving only  the sound of Meg’s voice. It is dampened by the water, but Castiel can hear it clearly over the muted tones of her actual voice coming through the glass. He watches her lips move and matches them to the words in the water.

“Good morning, Castiel. Did you have a good sleep?”

He stares at her, eyes wide. Castiel understands, roughly. He recognizes the greeting and the ‘good’ and ‘sleep’ and the upward lilt at the end of her words as a question. He thinks she is asking if he slept well and he did. With the comfort of the connection to Dean’s mind, Castiel slept deeply and without dreams. He nods and she smiles, writing something on the clipboard.

Castiel uncurls his tail and, with a small roll of his body, he swims closer. He keeps glancing at the black-squares, but they do not move. The light-points on them flick off when Meg moves her hand from the head-arch. She turns her head and speaks to bearded-one and this time Castiel does not hear her voice.

He knocks on the glass until he has her attention again. He tilts his head in question and points at bearded-one. She puts her fingers to the flat-circle again, the lights flick on and the crackle makes him wince.

“Bobby.”

Castiel nods. Bearded-one is named Bobby.

He skims the surface of the small-sea. The bars are down this morning and Castiel thinks maybe Sam and Jess haven’t arrived yet. He pushes his face above the waves.

“Good morning, Bobby. Meg.”

Bobby’s eyebrows rise up almost all the way to his hat. He doesn’t say anything, but he nods at Castiel and starts doing something with a new black-box. It is much bigger than the other two and has a small protrusion on the front. Bobby uses odd little items that Castiel doesn’t recognize on the back of the box. Castiel presses himself close to the glass and watches attentively, memorizing their shape so he can show them to Dean later and find out their names.

Meg is laughing softly behind her hand. Castiel doesn’t understand what she finds amusing and he ignores her in favour of watching Bobby. Meg returns to her drawing and Bobby continues to work on the big-box.

Castiel starts to feel twitchy and he finds it difficult to hold still. He has slept much later than he intended and he hasn’t done his exercises yet. He is hungry and worried because Dean is gone and not answering the connection. Their link is too weak to even get the most basic of emotions through it. All Castiel has is the sense that their minds are connected. It is troubling and distracting.

Dean is supposed to be here. Castiel knows this. It’s only been one day since Lilith ordered Dean to stay with Castiel. The change in the plans, after only one day, is unsettling. His fans tremble lightly with the first hints of anxiety and Castiel breathes deep to try and keep himself calm. If Dean and Sam and Jess aren’t here, then Alistair and Gordon could return at any time.

He knows how to protect himself. He’s already proved himself a fighter. But Castiel is worried because he doesn’t know what Alistair or Gordon might bring. Humans have so many things that Castiel doesn’t know about. He doesn’t know how to fight against them, or defend himself from them.

Bobby moves from the ledge and picks up his tiered-platform. Castiel’s full attention is back on him. He carries it to the middle of the front-wall. Meg has to move her chair over to make room for him. He attaches the big-box to a long stick. Standing on his tiered-platform, he lowers the stick into the small-sea.

Castiel hisses and flares his fans before darting away to the grey-wall. This stick looks nothing like the ‘dart-gun’ that Dean named as the rod-weapon. Dean isn’t here to explain what this stick and the box are and Castiel is very wary and very unhappy. He gathers everything in his mind and reaches out to Dean, pulling at that small flicker of presence with all he has.

(Dean!) 

He pleads at the connection, begging wordlessly for his return. Panic swells in a stiff bubble behind his ribs and Castiel forces it at the link, hoping it gets through to Dean.

Bobby uses the stick to press the big-box to the glass. He withdraws it, leaving the big-box sticking to the glass nearly half a tail-length from the floor. Castiel swims in tight circles along the length of the grey-wall, flexing his fingers.

When Bobby leaves, he takes the ledge-box and stick with him. Meg is left alone and she taps at the glass, pointing at the big-box. Castiel’s fans flare and he growls low in his throat, shaking his head. He’s not going near it until Dean tells him what it is. Castiel twists up to the surface and slaps at the bars with his tail, frustrated that they are closed today.

He hisses into the air “Dean!” before rolling down through the water and back to the floor. Meg frowns and rolls her eyes. She gets up from her chair and moves to the ledge along the opposite wall. He can’t see what she does with her back turned to him, but she has her hand on her hip and she’s leaning over the machine Dean said was another type of phone.

Castiel’s stomach and chest feel tight and his breaths come in quick, sharp, painful bursts. Meg puts down the phone and lifts her fingers to the flat-circle. The crackle starts from the small-boxes again and Castiel claps his hands over his side-fans to block out her voice. He mouths Dean’s name at her and shakes his head.

The connection with Dean flickers and Castiel stills. He ignores Meg completely and claws at the thin link, trying to make it wider, trying to strengthen it. Without warning it blooms forcefully, swamping Castiel’s agitation with a burst of concern and a flood of thoughts. Dean is reaching for him and Castiel welcomes the touch, drawing comfort from Dean’s mind.

(Cas? What’s wrong?)

Castiel sends the memories of Bobby and the stick and the boxes. Of Meg’s voice in the water. He sends his worry that Alistair and Gordon will return. His confusion and anger that Dean is gone.

(Shit, Cas. I’m sorry! Just calm down, okay? I’m coming back.)

Dean is apologetic and it only makes Castiel angrier. He doesn’t want Dean’s apologies, he wants an explanation. He wants the boxes removed from the small-sea. He’s hungry and he wants to hunt. He wants the taste of the ocean on his tongue and the rush of the currents in his gills.

He wants to go home.

Dean and Sam return together. Sam is carrying a wide box that is a few hand spans deep. The bottom half is blue and the top half is white. He puts it on the floor and slides it under the ledge and out of the way. Dean is carrying a large bucket. Water sloshes over the edge and Castiel can see the flash of coloured fins. He knows that Dean brought him live fish, but there is a thick knot in his stomach and the thought of eating makes his throat feel tight.

(Sorry, Cas. We didn’t mean to take so long.)

Sam moves to help Dean lift the bucket to the edge of the small sea. Castiel rises up sharply, reaching through the bars to shove the bucket away so the fish don’t drop in. Dean and Sam look to each other in surprise and lower the bucket.

(You not hungry, Cas? You barely ate anything last night.)

Castiel bares his fangs and growls. Dean abruptly takes a step away, his eyes wide. His surprise is a sharp pulse through his confusion. It gets lost in the tumult of Castiel’s anger, burning hot through their link.

He points at the black-boxes and hisses at them. Castiel’s dislike for them flows against Dean’s objections, smothering them with images of removing the boxes. Beneath it all, Castiel’s hurt that Dean left and wasn’t responding to him throbs bright and painful.

Sam takes the full weight of the bucket when Dean stumbles back. He immediately puts it down and goes to his brother’s side. Dean is clutching his head, his eyes closed tightly. He’s saying something to Sam, but Castiel can’t hear the muffled rumble of his voice over the pounding of his blood.

He is angry. He is hurt. He is scared.

This cage is too small. It is confining and the tepid water with its wrong taste is cloying on his skin and scales. Castiel wants to go home. He wants his family and the open ocean. And every single one of his thoughts and feelings are crashing into Dean’s mind.

Sam snatches the head-arch from Meg’s head when Dean goes to his knees. He ignores her protests and doesn’t put it on properly. He holds it oddly against his ear and angles the bulbed-stick to his mouth. The crackle starts and Castiel hisses. His fans flare and he thrashes his tail against the floor and glass.

“Castiel!” Sam’s voice is loud and panicked in the water, “Castiel, please stop! You’re hurting Dean!”

Dean has one hand fisted in the short bristles of his hair. The other is clutching at Sam’s white coat. He’s breathing hard, doubled over and shaking. His features are twisted in a mask of pain. It’s like a blast of cold down Castiel’s spine. He startles away from the wall and severs the connection. Immediately, Dean collapses against Sam’s side. His forehead is shiny and damp and a few stray tears are on his cheeks.

For a moment, Dean lifts his eyes to him. Castiel stares back, brow pinched tight in a frown. His emotions are conflicted and he can still feel the swelling pressure of panic in his chest. He snarls at Dean, jerking away to swim in large erratic circles. He stops often to slam his shoulder or tail against the walls.

Sam helps Dean to his feet and Dean sways, wobbling with every step. Castiel watches them even as he fights against the glass edges of the small-sea. Meg is no longer standing at the ledge. Castiel doesn’t remember when she left or where she went. Sam is trying to herd Dean toward the door, but Dean keeps pushing him away.

He sees a flash of white out of the corner of his eye. Castiel stills and looks sharply to the platform. Meg is standing on it, another of the dart-guns in her hand. Dean shouts a short, loud word at her and Sam leaves him leaning against the opposite ledge. His long legs carry him to her side and he grabs at her arm. Castiel still feels the sharp sting of the needle in the meat of his tail.

Sam pulls her from the platform and he’s yelling at her. Meg shrugs and lets him pull the dart-gun from her hands. Dean stumbles heavily to the glass-wall and Castiel blinks at him. He thinks Dean might be calling his name, but all Castiel can hear is a high-pitch ringing and the edges of things are starting to blur. Colours swarm his vision, growing darker until everything is black. 

x

The lights hurt his eyes when he wakes again. Castiel hisses and covers them with his hands. Almost immediately it grows darker, the lights dimming. His head is pounding and his stomach is empty but every movement makes it roll and twist into uncomfortable shapes. His limbs feel heavy again and there’s an ache in his tail where Castiel knows the dart hit him.

“Cas, man. You okay?”

Castiel groans and shifts onto his side. Dean is crouched low at the edge of the small-sea. He has the head-arch on and he’s talking through the small-boxes. He looks tired and haggard, with dark half-circles under his eyes. Sam is walking away from the door. He isn’t wearing his white coat.

“Sorry about Meg. She wasn’t supposed to do that.”

Dean is speaking, but without the images and the feelings to go with the words, Castiel can barely understand him. He doesn’t know how much time has passed, but he feels more calm. He feels ashamed for his actions because he could have hurt Dean in many lasting ways. This makes the second time that he has attacked Dean’s mind and if he were back in the colony Castiel would be severely punished for his abuse of the kin-connection.

“Are you going to be okay?” Dean asks, voice soft as he speaks into the bulb-stick. “You were having one helluva panic attack.”

Sam kneels next to Dean. His voice is harder to hear through the small-boxes because he doesn’t have the bulb-stick. “Is he trying to set up the kin-connection again?”

Dean shakes his head, removing his hand from the flat-circle so Castiel can’t hear his words while he speaks with Sam. Then he looks back and the smile he gives him is small and strained and Castiel knows that Dean must still be in pain. Castiel feels his eyes sting and he struggles over onto his other side, presenting Dean with his back.

He’s hungry but he doesn’t want to eat. There’s a hollow pit in his stomach and his throat feels tight, as if something is caught in it. Castiel is sure that if he eats, he won’t be able to keep it down. And if it’s live fish that they give him, he doesn’t have the energy or the motivation to chase them. He feels clumsy and heavy and it hurts to think.

“Aw Cas, c’mon. Don’t be like that.” Dean knocks on the glass and it makes Castiel flinch. He curls in on himself, trying to make himself as small as possible. “Cas, please. It’s okay, really. I should have warned you about Bobby and what we were planning, but you were sleeping and I didn’t wanna wake you and now I’m kinda rambling… Jesus, Sammy, why did you let me have this thing?”

“He likes you better and he isn’t kin-connected with me.”

“Yeah, well this isn’t working so good in case you haven’t noticed. Cas won’t even look at me.”

“Have you tried reaching for hi–” The words cut out and Castiel knows it’s because Dean took his fingers from the flat-circle.

He hears the splash of extra water being dumped over the edge of the wall. The small-sea vibrates with the flutter of fins and the movement of fish. One of them darts past his shoulder and Castiel ignores it. He ignores it just as he ignores the gentle start-stop rumbles of Sam and Dean’s voices. Eventually even those fade. He hears the door shut and then there is silence.

The quiet presses in on Castiel from all sides. He can hear the humming of the machines Dean explained keep the boat moving. If he presses his fingers hard to the floor, he can feel the slight tremble of their presence. There is so much noise in this silence. It is nothing like the dead quiet at the bottom of the sea, where there is nothing but the pressure of the water on all sides and the feeling of his family around him.

It doesn’t take long for Castiel to become unnerved by it. He deals with the quiet as he did before and he sings. He keeps it low and hushed. If he sings loudly, the humans might come again and Castiel wants them to stay away. He doesn’t want to hear their voices or see their faces. Castiel wants to be left alone.

He sings several chords to call for his family and all that he misses. It is well into the song when Castiel realizes there is more beneath his song than just his voice. Startled, he stops and raises his head. The room is still dark and Dean is alone, sitting on his bed with his back against the wall. He’s holding something to his chest.

Dean’s hand moves over the center of the widest part. Strings run along the length of it. There is a long flat piece sticking out from the top the wide-part. Dean’s fingers press the strings into the flat-piece while he plucks at them with his other hand over the hole in the center of the wide-part. He stops briefly when he notices Castiel watching. Then the noises change, taking on a different tempo and tune.

Castiel twists himself up onto his elbows and watches with rapt attention as Dean’s fingers dance over the strings. The sounds are fast and blend together, like a voice but not. He knows it’s a song, but it’s one he has never heard before. Dean is still wearing the head-arch. He stops long enough to push forcefully at the flat-circle before his fingers return to the strings. The sounds come more clearly through the small-boxes and Castiel stares.

“It’s music.” Dean says, grinning, “Do you like it?”

Castiel tilts his head at the question. Dean simply laughs and puts aside the string-thing. He taps at the flat-circle before pulling the head-arch from his head and setting it on top of the drawers. Dean slides forward on the bed, sitting on the edge and resting his elbows on his knees. He’s staring at him and Castiel finds it hard to meet his eyes. He dips his head and turns away. Dean reaches out and knocks sharply at the glass. Castiel flinches at it, but he doesn’t look back. The crackle-noise starts and then Dean’s voice echoes in the water, sharp and commanding.

“Dammit, Cas. Look at me!”

Castiel flinches at the tone. He lifts his head slightly, but he’s still turned away. Dean knocks again and he gives the same command. Castiel turns his face very little, enough to see Dean out of the corner of his eye. 

Dean is tapping at his temple with one hand. The other is holding the bulb-stick to his mouth and he speaks into it again. “Cas. Kin-connection. Now.”

He knows what Dean is asking. But he won’t do it. Castiel hurt him and he can tell just by looking at him. If he was to touch Dean’s mind now, he would be able to feel Dean’s pain. Castiel doesn’t want to feel that. He doesn’t want to feel how he hurt the one human who has done nothing but be kind to him.

Castiel shakes his head and Dean slams his palm against the glass, scowling darkly.

“Cas, I can’t explain anything to you if you don’t talk to me.” His fingers curl into a fist and he pounds it against the glass again. “I’ve tried reaching out to you but my brain isn’t built that way and I just can’t. You gotta do it. Give me the kin-connection and do it now.

He shakes his head again, mouthing one word. No.

Dean bares his teeth, face scrunching in anger. “I’m not going to be able to sleep with you sulking in here all night, Cas. I’m fine, you’re fine. There’s nothing for you to be emo about so just make the damn connection so I can explain to you about this morning.”

No.

He gets up and throws down the head-arch, leaving it on his bed. Dean paces from side to side in front of his bed, arms crossed tightly over his chest. His lips are pressed together in a tight line and every time he catches Castiel’s eye, he glares hard.

Castiel settles on his side again, his back to Dean. He flinches when Dean smacks the glass again and again at a heavier boom that makes the water tremble. Castiel rolls onto his back slightly, looking over his shoulder. Dean is gone and the room is empty. He sits up quickly, fans flaring with a flash of panic because Dean is gone again.

He presses into a corner and hugs his tail to his chest. The fish dart in a small school around the small-sea and Castiel watches the door. He doesn’t know who will come through it next. He doesn’t know if Dean will come back. And it’s his own fault. Castiel pushes his face against his scales and breathes deep, trying to calm that little knot of panic growing rapidly behind his ribs.

It doesn’t grow very large before the door bangs open. Castiel lifts his head and watches with wide eyes as Dean slams the door shut. He pauses, slipping a piece of metal over the door frame. He snatches up the head-arch before crossing the room with quick, long strides. He walks around the small-sea to the platform. Along the way, he removes both layers of shirts he wears. He drops his jeans and steps out of them as he steps onto the platform.

Castiel stares at Dean and notices, belatedly, that Dean is holding Jess’s necklace with the key. Dean unlocks the bars and flips them up. Dean is left standing in his underwear. He crouches and holds the bulb-stick to his lips.

“If you don’t talk to me, I’m coming in there and I’m not getting out until you do.”

Castiel doesn’t move. He barely breathes.

Dean frowns and drops the head-arch. He grabs the edge of the glass-wall and pulls himself over. The splash sends water everywhere and the fish scatter, gathering at the far side of the small-sea and away from the human. Dean takes a few breaths before taking in one big one and sinking down. He cuts at the water with his hands until he reaches the floor.

He rests there, at the seam of wall and floor. Dean floats too much to be able to sit properly. He keeps paddling with his hands to keep himself there. Castiel watches, curious and confused because he doesn’t know what Dean is doing. Dean doesn’t look away. He’s glaring hard at Castiel through the bubbles that keep escaping his nose and the corners of his mouth. His face is slowly going more and more red.

Castiel realizes, with a sharp jolt, that Dean isn’t going back up to breathe. He reaches out and touches Dean’s mind before he realizes what he’s done. Just like he did the first time he spoke to Dean.

(You’re going to drown!)

The tight hold to Dean’s body immediately relaxes. He plants his feet against the floor and pushes up. Castiel can hear his gasp for air from the other side of the small-sea. Dean clings to the edge of the glass-wall and breathes deep. Castiel can feel him scrabbling to hold the connection between them, though it amounts to nothing. If Castiel wants to break the connection, he can do so whether Dean wants it or not.

(Took you long enough. Fuck, I thought I was gonna hafta die before you’d make the friggen connection.)

(I wouldn’t let you die, Dean.) Castiel is almost insulted that Dean would even think that he would let him drown.

(I know. But you were cutting it close there. You calmed down enough to let me explain things to you now?)

Castiel uncurls and slinks along the floor to the other side of the small-sea. Dean watches him through the waves, dipping his face under every now and then to see more clearly. Castiel gently touches at the edges of Dean’s mind, assessing the damage he did earlier. Dean’s thoughts are tired and weak and Castiel can easily sense that he’s drained and needs to sleep.

(Go to bed, Dean. We can talk in the morning.)

(No.) Dean shakes his head and sinks a little again. (I’m not gonna be able to sleep with all this shit between us. So you shut up and let me explain about what happened this morning, okay?)

Castiel presses his lips together and frowns up at Dean. He doesn’t like the commanding tone, but he nods. If it will get Dean to rest sooner, then he’ll do it.

Dean grins and lifts his head to breathe. Castiel flicks his tail and rises up too. He knows humans like to see each other when they speak and he knows it can’t be comfortable for Dean to keep holding his breath and looking down. Castiel knows it isn’t because he can feel Dean’s irritation crackling along the very edges of Dean’s thoughts. It eases away the moment Castiel’s head breaks the waves.

“Thanks.” Dean grins, his gratitude filtering slowly through the link. Castiel keeps the connection thin on purpose. He doesn’t want to strain Dean’s mind more than it already has today.

“So let’s make this brief, huh? I’m tired and you want me in bed as much as I want to be in bed and I don’t mean that in nearly as sexual a way as that came out. Stop tilting your head at me, dude, I’m not explaining that.” Dean’s nose crinkles, but the lines beside his eyes are laugh lines and he’s smiling so Castiel thinks whatever he’s saying is okay even if he doesn’t fully understand, even with Dean’s emotions and thoughts flickering through their connection.

Dean flushes pink and his thoughts get washed over with panic. He shakes his head and coughs, not meeting Castiel’s eyes. Castiel tilts his head and raises his eyebrows. Their connection is much too weak for him to see the images that Dean thinks he’s seeing. He’s only getting the barest of thoughts and emotions.

“Anyway…” Dean clears his throat, looking at a point over Castiel’s shoulder, “I didn’t wanna wake you this morning. I went to get you the fish for breakfast, but I got stopped by Lilith.”

Castiel frowns at the name and his fans flicker. Dean is sharing his memories with Castiel. These are different than the potent memory of how he got his scar. The connection is half closed and Castiel is only getting images without the emotions that go with them. He gets random words, naming locations or items that Castiel doesn’t know.

“She took me and Sam back to her office and we got a helluva talking to about how we punched out Alistair and Gordon.” Dean runs a hand through his hair, grinning wryly at the memories. Castiel gives an amused snort. He enjoys those memories too. “She’s more interested in learning things about you than she is in how those two get treated, but Sam and I can’t hit them anymore. If we do, she’ll fire us. Even if you like me the most. And if I leave, then Alistair and Gordon will get to do what they want.”

Castiel reaches out and grabs Dean’s wrist, his eyes wide. (Dean. Stay!)

Dean grins. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. But you understand why I wasn’t here earlier, right?

He nods. (Yes, Dean. What are the boxes?) He points at the big-box and the small-boxes.

“Oh those? They’re like… phones. The small ones are ‘speakers’ and they let you hear us when we speak into the head-set.” He accompanies the names with the images of what they are. Then he passes along the image of the big-box and the protrusion on it. He imagines an image of Castiel pushing on the protrusion and speaking with his throat-voice into it. “And when you push the button and talk, we’ll be able to hear it out here. It’s a way for the others to talk with you. When you’re better with your words and stuff.”

(Why would I phone you?) Castiel frowns, confused. Why would he want to phone Dean if he has the kin-connection.

Dean shrugs, running a hand through his hair. “Not me, exactly. But Sammy and Jess.” A flash of jealousy blazes through the connection before Dean reels it back quickly. “Unless you want to set up the kin-connection with them too, but that’s up to you…”

Castiel draws back and sinks until his nose is underwater. His fans are twitching and he chews his bottom lip.

“You got something to say, Cas?” Dean raises one eyebrow and tilts his head, “Spit it out.”

(I’m sorry.) He gestures at Dean’s head. (For hurting you. I should have had better control over myself.)

“Apology accepted. But seriously, dude, you were having a panic attack.” Dean waves his hand between them in a gesture Castiel has come to associate with brushing things aside. “I’m surprised you didn’t hyperventilate yourself into an coma or something. That’s why Meg drugged you. She thought you were hurting yourself.” He reaches out and brushes his fingers over Castiel’s shoulder lightly, “You okay? You were hitting things pretty hard earlier.”

Castiel shrugs and winces. His shoulders are littered with bruises and the healing cuts from the coral from what feels like an age ago already. Dean frowns and pulls his hand back quickly, as if he’s the one who hurt Castiel.

(I’m fine. Thank you for your worry.) Castiel quirks a small smile and then frowns as his stomach growls.

Dean laughs and waves him off. (Go eat. I’m gonna dry off and hit the sack.)

He turns away from Castiel, grabbing at the edge with both hands. The muscles in his arms and back tighten and Castiel finds it fascinating to watch. Dean kicks, his feet thumping against the glass, as he lifts himself out of the water. He starts in surprise and nearly falls back in when Castiel places his hands on his hips.

“Whoa! Cas, the hell are you doing?!”

Castiel flares his tail-fans wide and beats his tail through the water once. It propels him up and he pushes Dean higher, helping him get his leg over the wall. Dean drops to his feet on the platform and his cheeks are pink again. Castiel likes it. It makes his freckles stand out more.

“Warn a guy next time, okay?” Dean pulls at the edge of his underwear. They are heavy with water and he holds them to his waist, keeping them from falling. “Humans have a thing called ‘personal space’ and I dunno about you fin-kin but seriously, ask first.”

(Yes, Dean.) Castiel doesn’t understand why humans would take issue with being close to someone. As a hatchling, Castiel used to sleep curled in a tangle with his nest-siblings.

Dean reaches across to the close the bars and Castiel dives with a huff. He eyes the fish swimming idly and his stomach growls again. He licks his lips and grins at Dean before starting his chase. Dean dries off with another strip of cloth – (It’s called a ‘towel’.) – as he collects his clothing. He drops them in a basket hidden under his bed and puts the string-thing – (It’s a musical instrument. A ‘guitar’.) – in a case also stored under the bed. He starts rummaging through the drawers.

Castiel is eating one of his catch when Dean’s nervous thoughts touch his. They are tinged with discomfort and Castiel lifts his head to look at him sharply.

(Dean?)

He shuffles his feet, a clean pair of his underwear in his hand. (Can you turn around for a minute?)

(Why?) Castiel frowns, swallowing his bite.

(Coz’ I don’t want you to see me naked, geeze. Just turn around.) He draws a circle in the air with his finger.

Castiel blinks at him. (I don’t understand.)

Dean groans and rubs his hand over his face. (Of course you don’t. You’re always naked. Just turn around and I’ll… I’ll try to explain the concept of nakedness to a guy who’s constantly naked. Yeah, that’ll work over well... I’m going to stop thinking about being naked now.)

Castiel takes another bite and, despite his confusion, turns his back. (Why do humans wear so many clothes?)

(Warmth and protection against the elements, mostly. Modesty too. We cover our naughty bits so not everyone can see them. We’re usually only naked with a romantic partner, and sometimes family but even that can be awkward.)

Licking at a bone, Castiel thinks it over. Dean is purposefully avoiding providing images for some of the words he is using. Words that Castiel does not recognize. (What are ‘naughty bits’?)

(Of course you pick up on that. C’mon Cas, let it drop would you? Okay, you can turn around now.)

Castiel looks over his shoulder and Dean is sitting on the edge of his bed now. He’s wearing the night pants that had been folded on his pillow, but he hasn’t put on another shirt. The blankets are pulled back on the bed and he has a hand over his mouth, covering a yawn.

(Dean. What are ‘naughty bits’?) Castiel prods again.

Dean groans and hangs his head. (Can I get Sam to explain that? Please. Coz’ I really don’t want to.)

(I don’t have the connection with Sam. If he is willing, I can try when he gets here.)

A frown pulls at the corners of Dean’s mouth and there is another pulse of jealousy tinged with possession. Dean rubs furiously at his hair with both his hands. He’s muttering words with his mouth and they flit through his mind. Castiel doesn’t know these words and Dean won’t explain them either. It’s frustrating and Castiel snatches a fish from the water as it darts by, biting into it with more force than necessary. The brittle bones break under his teeth.

Dean flops back in his bed. He pulls the blanket over his shoulders and rolls over to face the wall, his back to Castiel. His mind is forcefully kept quiet for several minutes and Castiel frowns at his back. He lets his displeasure push through the connection. He is answered with images of a faceless male and a faceless female. Neither are wearing clothes.

Castiel greedily takes the images and examines them. From the hips up, they look much like fin-kin. From the hips down, they are very different. Where Castiel’s genitals are on the inside, a human male’s are on the outside. They even look similar. The females are different and they have nothing there. Castiel is intrigued because they have hair in other places aside from their heads and faces.

He wants a closer look but he can’t make the images bigger. He needs Dean to provide him with larger memories of them.

(Holy fuck. No way in hell. Eat your fish. I’m going to sleep.) Dean pulls his pillow over his head and shuts Castiel out.

Curious and disgruntled, Castiel prods at Dean’s conscious. (I’ll show you fin-kin. Please?)

(Christ, no! Cas I don’t wanna know about what fin-kin naughty bits looks like. Sam might, but I don’t swing that way. I really, really don’t. I’ll talk to Sammy about it in the morning, but seriously, no more sex talk okay?)

(What’s ‘sex’?)

(Cas!) Dean whines, exasperation and desperation edging his thoughts. (That is talk for the scientists not for the mechanics. Seriously just stop and let me sleep. Please.)

Castiel huffs, chewing disapprovingly. (Fine. Sleep well, Dean.) 

x

“Hello Sam.”

Sam jumps slightly. He turns on the lights and then smiles and waves at Castiel. He searches around for the head-set and Castiel pushes the button on what Dean had called the ‘microphone’. “Ledge.”

He locates the head-set and slips it over his head. The lights on the speakers blink on. “Good morning, Castiel. Did you sleep?”

“No.”

Sam removes the bucket from hanging on the corner of the small-sea. He examines the contents and raises his eyebrows, smiling at Castiel. “Spent all night eating, huh? You feeling better today? Less freaky-outie?”

“Yes. Dean sleep.” Castiel looks pointedly to where Dean is still under his blanket. He’s facing the small-sea now and one arm is dangling over the edge of his bed, his face buried in the pillow.

“He does like to sleep in.” Sam smiles warmly at his brother before placing the bucket near the door. “Jess is bringing something for you today.”

Castiel tilts his head, brow furrowed. He shakes his head because he doesn’t understand.

Sam shrugs. “Sorry, I can’t explain further. Unless you want to do the kin-connection with me. I know you almost did it on the reef…” He runs his hand through his hair and looks at Castiel hopefully. “I mean, we don’t really know why you’re only doing it with Dean, but if you want to, you can do it with any of us, y’know, right?”

Castiel blinks at him.

“Never mind.” He shakes his head and turns to start turning on the computers. “We’ll ask Dean when he wakes up.”

(With you two chatting like old ladies, how the heck am I supposed to sleep?)

Castiel looks over sharply, still holding down the button. “Good morning, Dean.” Their link is bright and strong this morning. Images, thoughts and emotions are vibrant and clear. Castiel is glad that a night’s sleep has healed Dean’s mind.

Sam looks too and Dean is sitting up, rubbing at his eyes and yawning widely. “Mornin’ Sam.” (Mornin’ Cas.)

“Dean.” Cas says, his finger still on the button and waiting until he has Dean’s eyes on him. “Explain.”

Dean yawns again, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. (Explain what?)

He’s using his throat-voice so Sam can hear. Dean won’t be able to get out of explaining if Sam knows that Castiel is curious. It’s an underhanded trick, but Castiel wants to know. “Naughty bits.”

Sam makes a choking noise into the head-set and he spins around, “What the hell, Dean?!”

Dean groans and throws his pillow. It bounces harmlessly off the glass-wall and Castiel doesn’t understand the point of it. The speakers switch off and Sam crosses the room to loom over Dean, talking to him in quick loud words. Dean is holding his face in hands and talking through them.

(Thanks so much for this.) He glares at Castiel from between his fingers.

(You’re welcome.)

(… You don’t understand sarcasm, do you?)

(What’s ‘sarcasm’?)

Dean shakes his head again and looks away. (Never mind. You okay with me going to get a shower and more food?)

(Yes, Dean.)

(Good.) He gets up and gives Sam the key from around his neck before going to the drawers for his clothes. (Sam is going to… uh… show you pictures. I guess. Of ‘naughty bits’. I don’t want to be here for this because it’s going to be all sorts of awkward.)

(Why?)

(It just is, Cas. And Sam, kinda… Augh.) Dean stops and presses his face into his clothes. Castiel thinks this is something weird for him to do, if he has the look on Sam’s face as anything to go by. Dean rolls his shoulders and then a shudder makes his whole body shake. (He wants to know about fin-kin bodies, okay? Can you… tell him about that?)

Castiel swims in a little circle, contemplating it. (I would need the kin-connection.)

Dean’s thoughts sour, but he must mention it to Sam, because Sam brightens considerably. He glances at Castiel hopefully. He looks between Dean and Castiel, rocking from side to side.

(It’s not up to me who you make the kin-connection with, Cas.) Dean shrugs, rolling his clothes and tucking them under his arm. His expression is impassive but his mind is a swirl of unhappy emotions. Castiel can feel Dean trying to keep them from him. He doesn’t ask about them. (But if you’re going to make it with anyone? Sam and Jess are your best options. Got that? If you trust me, you can trust them.)

Castiel bites his bottom lip and tentatively gives Dean the memory of Sam and the dart-gun back at the light-beds.

Dean winces and their link is flooded with regret. (Not his finest moment, I’ll give you that. But really, he was just doing his job. We didn’t know you guys were… Well, we thought you were just another kind of fish.)

Castiel snorts, insulted. He glares at Dean and gets an apologetic shrug in return. (Obviously we know better now.)

(Not well enough to let me go.) He snaps and only feels a little bad when Dean flinches. Sam’s expression falls too when Dean explains it to him. Castiel swims a lap around his small-sea before stopping and pressing the microphone-button. “Go.”

Dean doesn’t need to be told twice. He leaves quietly and Castiel lets their connection fades until he only senses his presence and nothing further. He doesn’t want to let it go completely like he did the last time Dean went to bathe. Dean understands and doesn’t complain. In fact, his emotions are pleased before Castiel can no longer sense even that.

Sam shuffles in place before he turns back to the computers. Castiel watches his back and plucks at the bandage around his wrist. He thinks it should be alright to remove it soon. He could tell Sam with the microphone, or knock on the glass and use actions. Or he could tell Sam through the kin-connection.

Sam stills at the first touch. He turns around quickly and stares at Castiel with wide eyes as he increases his presence in Sam’s mind. Where Dean had confusion and cautiousness, Sam’s thoughts swarm with curiosity and excitement. His mind is a hive of activity, thousands of different things swirling together. Castiel can’t help but compare it to Dean. Where Dean’s thoughts and knowledge are based on the physical and things he can do with his hands and how things come together, Sam’s are more…. scientific and theological.

It’s an interesting difference and Castiel thinks he might what to look deeper into it. But that would be delving further into their minds than either one would be willing to give. Castiel draws back until he is only sliding along the edges of Sam’s mind.

(Hello, Sam.)

Tentatively, Sam reaches back. His curiosity is almost insatiable and he brushes along Castiel’s mind just as he did his. (Hi, Castiel. This is… wow. This is really cool.)

Castiel frowns. He doesn’t know that expression. Sam’s thoughts are coming in words and Castiel shushes him with a sharp admonition. He explains through example and what little of their words he knows. (I don’t fully understand your language. I learn more every day, but you need to speak not with words but images, thoughts, feelings. Do you understand?)

(Yes.)

Castiel smiles slightly and nods, satisfied. (I think the bandage can be removed soon.) He holds up his wrist for Sam to see.

Sam nods in agreement. (We can take it off later when the others are here.)

(Alright. What did you say earlier about Jess?)

Sam grabs a chair and drags it over to the glass-wall. He balances a clip-board on his knee and writes furiously while they talk. (She’s bringing a really big mirror. So you can see yourself, all of yourself. God, wow. This kin-connection is going to make it so easy to learn about merma– sorry. About fin-kin. This is amazing, Castiel.)

(I want to learn about humans too.)

(What would you like to know?) He looks up, smiling brightly. He flushes pink like Dean did when Castiel sends him the images of the naked female and male that Dean showed him last night. Sam shifts in his seat.

(Oh. Um. Okay. Just… Yeah.) He closes his eyes and rubs at them with his fingers for a moment. And then the connection gets flooded with several images. All of them are close-ups of female and male genitals and Castiel is almost overwhelmed.

He draws away, shutting the connection so Sam can’t give him anymore and he sorts through them. Castiel only opens the link to get the names of things. Sam rubs at the back of his neck as he explains and his thoughts are self-conscious and tinged with embarrassment. Castiel ignores it and asks his questions when he wants to know why or how or what.

(Can I ask my questions now?) Sam asks after he’s answered dozens of Castiel’s.

Castiel nods. (Of course. You can ask me anything, Sam.)

(How do fin-kin reproduce?) He sends images of smaller humans, tiny and held in the arms of bigger ones. Children and adults, Castiel thinks. Sam’s thoughts cut off suddenly and his head swivels toward the closed door. (Just a moment, Cas.)

Castiel presses his hands and his nose against the glass, watching closely as Sam gets up and goes to the door. He pulls it openly widely and Castiel shouts his name with voice and mind when he is knocked to the floor with Gordon’s arms around his waist.

(Sam!)

Sam is shouting at Gordon, trying to push him away as Gordon sits on his stomach and grabs his arms to hold him in place. Alistair is right behind Gordon. He has a length of braided kelp – (No, Castiel. It’s rope. Shit, what are they planning?) – and Castiel bangs on the glass as they force Sam over onto his stomach, tying his hands together. Sam is struggling violently, his voice loud through the glass.

Gordon shoves a strip of cloth in his mouth, tying it tightly behind his head. He takes the key from the necklace. Castiel presses the button on the speaker-box.

“Sam! Stop Alistair! Stop Gordon!” Castiel bangs on the glass with his free hand, hissing and snarling and flaring his fans. They glance at him, but neither of them show even the slightest hint of fear.

Alistair drags Sam out of the way while Gordon leaves the room. Sam is left lying next to Dean’s bed. Sam is outraged and his thoughts are roaring through the connection as he struggles against the bindings. Castiel leaves their connection, stretching for Dean’s. He forces it wide.

(Dean! Come back!) He explains in brief flashes of images of Alistair and Gordon. Of Sam bound and gagged. Of the very small-sea that Gordon pushes into the room. Of the odd machine suspended above the water and them shutting the door and sliding the metal piece over the door frame. (Dean, please!)

Dean’s answer is distant, but he responds with anger and harsh words Castiel doesn’t know. (Shit! I’ll be there as soon as I can, Cas. Just hold on! Jesus Christ, hold on!)

Castiel presses against the right glass-wall, as far from the platform and the bars that Alistair is raising. He tosses aside the key and helps Gordon move the very small-sea next to the platform. Castiel growls. His back-fans expand to their full width and he bares his fangs at them. Gordon gives Alistair another dart-gun and Castiel snarls at it.

“If you don’t want to get shot again, then I suggest you play nice and come on over.” Gordon’s voice is snide and proud in the water and Castiel glares at him for taking the head-set from Sam. “We just want a blood sample. Nothing too bad.”

Sam provides the images of the needle pressing into his arm and drawing out his blood. Castiel shakes his head violently and wraps his arms around his chest.

(Castiel, they’re going to knock you out. Like Meg did yesterday. If you listen to them they won’t put you to sleep. If they knock you out, they can hurt you worse if you’re unconscious.) Sam’s thoughts are bitter and full of hatred. He does not approve of their methods.

(Dean will be here soon.) Castiel assures him as he reaches for Dean again. Dean’s thoughts are agitated and he’s using the harsh words again.

Alistair and Gordon are talking. Sam stills and his surprise shocks through the connection. (Dean’s not coming. He’s… They’ve got someone keeping him busy.)

Castiel looks at Sam with wide eyes and his chest suddenly feels tight. Alistair and Gordon are grinning and the dart-gun is dipping into the water, aiming at Castiel. He hisses at it. He doesn’t want to be forced to sleep again by their poison. He twitches and slinks along the glass wall. He stops at the speaker-box and pushes the button.

“Okay.”

Alistair passes the dart-gun to Gordon and draws a needle from his pocket. Castiel hugs himself again, his tail thumping against the floor as he pushes away. He breaks the waves as closely to the bars as he can get. Keeping his gills beneath the water, he holds his right arm out, fingers clenched tightly into a fist.

Alistair’s fingers are gentle as they wrap around his wrist. He makes soft cooing noises, but his smile is wide and dangerous when he bites a clear cover off the needle tip. Castiel tries not to flinch as Alistair presses the point into the soft skin just shy of the crease of his elbow. He frowns at the needle. It looks different than the image Dean and Sam showed him and he passes the image on to Sam.

Sam’s thoughts burst bright and scared and angry. (Castiel, no! He’s not taking blood he’s injecting something!)

“No!” Castiel hisses as he tries to jerk his arm away but the gentle fingers have turned hard and Alistair pulls at his wrist.

Castiel growls and brings up his other arm to claw at Alistair’s hand. His arm doesn’t move. His tail is thick and heavy and dead in the water. Fear and panic seize his chest, pressing on his lungs and even with his gills in the water Castiel has trouble breathing. Alistair hands the empty needle to Gordon. He places it aside with the dart-gun.

(Dean!) Castiel’s mind is screaming as Alistair drags him to the glass-wall. He calls for Dean and shouts at his body to move. He can make his fingers and the tip of his tail twitch.

Gordon gets his hands under Castiel’s arms and together they lift him from the water. Castiel’s gills flap uselessly as he tries to breathe. He sucks at the air and chokes on it. Strangled little noises escape his throat. Sam is shouting against the gag, even as his mind is trying to calm Castiel. They have another tank to transfer him to. He’s not going to suffocate. They’ll put him in that and he won’t die. Sam is swearing that he won’t let Castiel die.

Castiel keeps fighting with his body. He wants it to move. He wants to thrash his tail and knock Alistair down. He wants to claw and bite at Gordon. He wants to breathe.

Alistair has his arms around Castiel’s tail. Gordon has to step down from the platform backwards, blindly. Castiel’s body spasms. It is small but it jostles the humans slightly. Gordon loses his footing and he falls against the very small-sea. Water splashes over the edge and it shifts from its place, moving toward the opposite ledge.

He grunts as Castiel falls on top of him and Alistair is dragged down on top of him by the weight of his tail. What little air Castiel has in his lungs is forced out with a light whoosh. The edges of his vision are going dark and Castiel can’t feel his gills rippling but he knows they are. His mouth is wide and he’s gasping for water but he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe.

(DeanSamDeanwaterDeanDeanSamwaterDean–)

Castiel can barely feel the tears prickling in the corners of his eyes. The edges of his vision are turning black and he can’t feel the pain of his empty lungs. Alistair’s shouting angry words at Gordon but it might as well be through the glass-wall again. Castiel can barely hear them. His heart is pounding hard. Gordon is struggling beneath him, trying to get out from under his weight.

(Cas!) Dean’s mind is swimming with anxiety as sharp and painful as Castiel’s own. (Azazel locked me in the bathroom. Fuck Cas, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.)

Castiel stops listening. His thoughts have turned to Balthazar and Gabriel, to Anna and Lucifer, to Michael and Raphael and his family, to his colony. He’s going to die here, staring at the ceiling of a room on a boat as a science project of a bunch of humans. He’s never going to see his loved ones again.

His gills flap uselessly before squeezing closed, sealing themselves to his neck. The moment they do so, Castiel’s chest heaves and his gasp is loud over the sound of his own heart. The room falls silent and Castiel’s lungs burn through the haze of the paralyzing poison Alistair put in his veins.

He coughs violently. Water bubbles in his throat and Gordon is pushing up on his shoulder to roll him onto his side. He gags on the water and coughs around it, clearing it from his lungs and exchanging it for air.

(Cas, buddy, you still with me? You okay?) Dean’s concern flickers brightly over everything else, forcing its way into Castiel’s mind.

(Dean. I – Dean. I can… breathe?)

The edges of his sight are starting to clear. Everything becomes sharper with each ragged breath. The feel of air in his throat, inside his chest, is different from the rush of water over his gills. It’s foreign and in him and Castiel is suddenly worried he won’t be able to breathe underwater again.

(Castiel. Stay calm. Just keep breathing.) Sam’s mind is much calmer than Dean’s. He’s the voice of reason alongside Dean’s tumult of anger and fear and distress.

Castiel has no choice but to breathe. He groans at this new feeling and if he could tremble, he thinks he would be. Gordon is no longer under him. Alistair rolls him onto his back and his long grinning face fills his vision.

“Well isn’t this something? We never would have learned this fun fact if you idiots had been left to your own devices. Aren’t we happy I’m here?” He’s laughing, his voice too smug.

He narrows his eyes at him but he can’t do anything when Gordon takes his arm and presses an empty needle to it. Castiel hisses air through his teeth as his blood fills the hollow tube. He takes a few tubes worth as Alistair disappears. Castiel feels the blunt touch of his fingers on his tail. There are a few dull tugs and Alistair turns away, dropping something into small, clear containers. He holds them up to the light and Castiel realizes with growing horror that Alistair has removed some of his scales.

(I’m sorry, Castiel. We would never do that without asking you, I swear it.) Sam’s thoughts are a constant in the back of his mind.

“We don’t need the pool. Just get the machine over here and put on the aprons. We’ll take the pictures here.”

(X-rays. Castiel, they’re going to take x-rays.)

Castiel growls low in his throat and his fingers twitch against the floor. Alistair moves the platform and he tugs at Castiel’s tail. He straightens it out along the floor and spreads his fans until they lay flat. He stretches his arms out along his sides before helping Gordon transfer the machine from the very small-sea to above Castiel.

They put on heavy grey clothes that cover them from their chest to their legs. Castiel closes his eyes and growls as they hold it over his head first. The process is slow and they move it in small increments down his body. He grits his teeth and hisses at them as they do it. The x-ray camera is clicking over his tail when the door vibrates against the thin metal holding it shut.

It bangs in place several times before the metal snaps.

“Alistair!” Dean shouts, stomping his way into the room. “Gordon!”

“Welcome to the party Dean-o!” Alistair calls casually as he helps Gordon steady the x-ray over the end of Castiel’s tail. “Bit late, aren’t you?”

Dean’s anger magnifies, mingling with Castiel’s own, when he sees Sam tied up. He frees him first and then Sam’s spitting angry words as soon as the gag is removed. They come around the edge of small-sea together.  Dean drops to his knees and tucks his hands under Castiel’s shoulders before pulling him up to lean heavily against his chest. Castiel can feel Dean’s heart beating hard against his back.

(You okay, Cas?)

(I want to hurt them.)

He’s jostled by Dean’s sharp huff of a laugh. Castiel growls again. There is nothing funny about this. Alistair and Gordon have violated him. They’ve taken his blood and they are going to see his insides with the pictures the x-ray camera has taken. They took his scales and they could have killed him. No fin-kin has ever been above water long enough to learn their lungs can breathe air.

Each breath is still sore and rough in his throat.

“You should leave now.” Sam snarls at them. “Take your shit and go.”

Gordon’s lips curl in a sneer and he helps Alistair place the x-ray camera aside. “We got more physical data in the last fifteen minutes than you dumbasses have in the last three days.”

“That doesn’t matter when you’re basically attacking him.”

“He’s not human, Sam. You shouldn’t be treating him as one.”

Dean slides one arm around Castiel’s chest to hold him in place. His hand is warm where it lays over Castiel’s ribs. “He’s more human than either of you.”

(Cas, you gonna be okay if I get you back in the tank?)

(I think so.)

Dean moves to his side, arm slipping around to hug his back as he slips an arm under his tail. He rocks back onto his feet, dragging Castiel into his lap. Castiel’s head lolls onto his shoulder and he grunts as his temple bounces against Dean’s jaw. Sam is yelling at Alistair and Gordon again. Castiel thinks this is a normal thing, it’s happened so many times now.

(Shit. You’re heavier than you look.)

(I am not fat.)

(Dude, I didn’t say you were.) Dean huffs another laugh and grits his teeth.

Castiel can feels the muscles in Dean’s arms tensing around him. He makes soft grunting noises as he stands. Castiel knows it’s an effort for Dean to step onto the platform. He jostles Castiel against the glass a few times and they both hiss.

(Sorry, Cas. This is just… really hard.)

“Sammy, leave the asshats alone already and give me a friggen’ hand here.” Dean staggers slightly, tipping back dangerously.

Sam is at his side almost immediately. He steadies Dean and gets his hands under Castiel. The edge of the glass wall digs bluntly against his side for a moment before Castiel is tilted over and into the water. It’s cool on his skin and his gills flutter with his first breath. Water flows through them, washing the burn of the air from his throat and filling his lungs. He sinks to the bottom of the small-sea and breathes deep.

(Cas?)

(I’m fine, Dean. How long until I can move again?)

Sam answers. (It shouldn’t last too long. It was just a small paralytic we use for working with the bigger creatures. You should be able to move again in thirty minutes or so.)

(I don’t know how long that is.)

Dean supplies images of the clock on the wall. He explains that when the large needle (which is actually called a ‘hand’ and that is just confusing) is on a certain symbol, than Castiel should be able to move again. Castiel can see the clock from where he’s laying on his side and the large hand is on the other side of the clock from the symbol he wants.

Sam leaves Dean alone with Castiel, worried because Jess should have showed up by now and it’s possible that Alistair and Gordon arranged for her to be detained like Dean was. Dean cleans the room in the meantime.

Castiel watches the clock and he waits.

by mysterymind277

Chapter Text

Dean is fixing the door. When he kicked it open earlier, he had snapped off the metal piece over the door frame. Dean says it’s another kind of lock. Like the one that keeps the bars closed. Castiel watches him. He has a box full of thin things like Bobby did. Dean said they are tools and it is called a toolbox.

(What’s that?)

(A screwdriver.)

(What’s it used for?)

(Screwin’ things.)

(Dean.)

(Seriously, Cas, you can see from there exactly what I’m using it for.) Dean glares at him over his shoulder and Castiel blinks back at him. (Why do you want me to explain it?)

Castiel twitches his tail and it thumps lightly against the floor. (I’m bored. This paralytic is not wearing off nearly as quickly as Sam said it would.) He pauses, drumming his fingers against his side. (What are they going to do with my scales, my blood and the pictures of my insides?)

Dean shrugs and starts packing his tools. He provides Castiel with images of his scales and blood under a microscope – one of the human’s machines for looking at things close up. There are images of Alistair and Gordon looking at black and white photos of his bones and his insides. Dean explains that they’re going to run tests to see what is in Castiel’s blood.

(Why?)

He shrugs again, running his hands through his hair before making room for the toolbox under his bed by the guitar. (To see how close it is to ours? I dunno. Cas, I’m really not built for these questions. I just fix machines. Sammy’s the smart one.)

Castiel frowns and it takes him a long time to wiggle until he can prop himself up on his elbows. They wobble, threatening to give out on him at any moment. He narrows his eyes at Dean. (You’ve shown me many machines in your memories. They are complicated and built of many parts, but you understand them. You can take them apart and put them back together. You can fix them when they are broken. You are smart too, Dean. You’re just a different kind of smart.)

The back of Dean’s neck flushes red and he ducks his head. His gratitude and delight are bright bursts along the kin-connection, even though he doesn’t turn around so Castiel can see his face. Knowing that Dean is pleased with the compliment sets a warmth blooming in Castiel’s chest. He feels the corner of his mouth twitch up in a small smile. It is an odd combination and Castiel folds his arms, dropping to his chest and resting his chin on the back of his hands. He can feel his brow pinch together as he thinks on it.

Castiel finds it confusing. He tries to figure out why he would feel good that Dean is pleased with his compliment. Dean gets the two-coloured box from under the ledge where Sam put it the day before. He removes the white top half and carries the blue part to the platform. Castiel lifts his head to watch as Dean tips it over the edge of the glass wall and dumps several gray fish into the water. Along with them are clear little pieces of glass that float on the top of the water.

(Careful. They’ll be cold. Sorry they’re not fresh. I’ll get you some fresh ones for dinner tonight.)

He doesn’t care about the fish that flutter to the floor. Castiel’s eyes are on the floating glass. (Dean, what’s that?)

(The ice?)

(What’s ‘ice’?)

Dean replaces the lid on the box and places it by the door. (You’ve never seen ice before? It’s frozen water.) He shares with Castiel all the information he has on the different states of matter that water can take.

Castiel listens intently. By the time he’s catalogued all that Dean knows about liquids, solids and gases, Sam and Jess have arrived. Sam explains to Dean – and Dean shares with Castiel – that Jess had been locked in her ‘bunk’ – which is where she and Sam sleep – by Azazel, the same man who locked Dean in the room where he cleans himself. Between them, they are carrying something twice as wide as Sam’s shoulders and nearly as tall as he is. It is wrapped in a very thin blanket.

He perks up when he sees it, rising to his elbows again. Castiel gently touches Sam’s mind. (Is that the mirror?)

Sam smiles and nods. Dean takes Jess’s place holding the mirror. He helps Sam maneuver it to the platform and prop it up against the glass. Castiel still shakes as he drags himself around to face them. The trembling is much less than earlier and he has more mobility with his tail now. He is rhythmically spreading the spines of his side and back-fans while flaring the fans along the length of his tail. It is helping regain the feeling throughout his body.

Together, Sam and Dean maneuver the mirror to press flat against the glass, pinned in place by the platform. They work the thin-blanket off of it and Castiel gasps, all of his fans spread wide in surprise. The fin-kin staring back at him is doing the same. When he moves his arm and tilts his head, the action is copied and Castiel stares and the fin-kin stares back. He reaches out and touches the glass and the fin-kin does the same.

(Well aren’t you a handsome fella?) Dean’s thoughts are wrapped in amusement. He’s leaning against the front-wall, watching as Castiel twists and the fin-kin twists too.

He frowns in confusion and watches the fin-kin make the same expression before he glances at Dean. (What does ‘handsome’ mean?)

Dean’s eyes go very wide and his face loses some of it’s colour. Shock and panic mingle with embarrassment and rip through their connection moments before Dean cuts it off, leaving only his presence and none of his thoughts. Castiel jerks his head back in surprise and looks at Dean questioningly. Dean hasn’t forced the link closed before. Not like this. He didn’t know Dean was even capable of doing so.

Dean turns away from Castiel quickly and says something to Sam before hastily leaving the room. Dean’s neck is red again. He nearly knocks Meg over as she comes through the door. She glares after him and then turns to wave at Castiel. He does not wave back. The dull aches of the bruises on his shoulders and where the dart hit his tail are returning. Meg doesn’t seem to care either way if Castiel greets her. She sits at one of the computers and ignores him. Castiel ignores her just the same and turns back to the fin-kin in the mirror. He knows that the fin-kin is him.

Sam’s curiosity flickers through his connection with Castiel. He raises his eyebrows in question and Castiel pushes the memory of Dean’s words to him. He had noticed earlier that though he can speak to both Dean and Sam at the same time, neither of them can hear the other’s thoughts. Castiel thinks it might be because their brains aren’t like his. They can’t project their thoughts on their own and are only able to speak to him when he speaks to them. It reminds him of the night before, when Dean couldn’t create the kin-connection on his own and he needed Castiel to reach out to him first.

Sam is momentarily surprised by what Dean had said. And then he starts to laugh. Through his mirth, Sam explains and Castiel is only further confused by it. According to Sam, handsome means good-looking. It means that a person is a pleasure to look at. Castiel turns back to the mirror and closely scrutinizes his face. He supposes that, by fin-kin standards, he might be considered attractive. But why would Dean, a human, think the same?

Castiel decides to ask Dean when he returns and puts the thoughts aside. He carefully does not think about whether or not he would consider any of the humans attractive.

(Where did Dean go?)

Sam shrugs, not looking up from the papers on a clipboard that Jess just handed to him. (To finish his shower and get some food.)

Satisfied, Castiel directs his attention to his reflection again.He can see the black of his spines and the blue of the webbing between them. The purple-blue-yellow of the bruises spreading over his shoulders and upper arms. The mess of his dark hair, the blue of his eyes, and the stubble on his cheeks. He rubs his fingers over it, watching himself touch his own face, and frowns at the rough feel. It’s worse than when Sam had shown him the pictures the other day. Castiel’s displeasure ripples through the connection with Sam.

(Is something wrong?) Sam asks, his worry a quick thrum under his thoughts.

He sends images of shaving with the blade of his dagger, but he doesn’t take his eyes off the mirror. Castiel presses closer to the glass and tilts his head to watch the flutter of his gills. Seeing how they work is nothing new to him. Castiel has lived amongst fin-kin his whole life. He knows all the parts of a fin-kin and he can usually see most of his body from the shoulders down when he cranes his neck. But it’s a different experience entirely to see himself like others would see him.

Sam’s apprehension streaks along the link and he shakes his head slowly. Castiel doesn’t bother pressing further or asking why not. He knows the humans won’t let him have his dagger or his sword. Now that he knows he can breathe air as well as he can the water, Castiel is more of a danger to them than he was before. Especially considering how he’s already managed to hurt Alistair and Dean from within the small-sea. He’s fairly certain they won’t be leaving the bars of his cage open any time soon.

Castiel flexes his arms and his tail. He watches closely in the mirror and compares it to his memories of the movements of his brothers. Sam is thinking in flashes of images of items that Castiel doesn’t recognize. He takes his phone from his pocket and taps at it with his thumbs. Castiel ignores the images and the phone and turns sideways as he bends backward, watching the stretch of skin over his stomach and chest. He turns his back to the mirror and looks over his shoulder, examining the slope of his back and slight swell of his backside and hips, and the flare of his back-fans.

Jess and Meg are sitting at the computers and Sam is watching Castiel and taking notes. Occasionally, thoughts stray through the connection, but it is nothing worth either of them commenting on. Castiel moves away long enough to gather the grey fish. He takes them back to the mirror and watches himself as he eats. After the third fish, he remembers Sam’s question from before Alistair and Gordon’s arrival earlier.

Sam is writing when Castiel touches his mind. His first brush is gentle, a precursor to the images he pushes through the connection. Sam stills and lifts eyes wide with surprise. Castiel is watching him steadily. He shares memories of stone ledges lined with woven kelp to cushion nests of amber eggs. He frowns when Sam compares them to fish eggs, despite it being an accurate observation.

(How big are they?) Sam inquires, imagining the eggs in correlation to aspects of the human body.

Castiel tilts his head and shields his thoughts while he thinks about it. He was the last egg to hatch of his nest and he’s never had one of his own. The hatchery was located further down in the trench, closer to the warmth of the volcanic vent. Only the nest maids who tended the eggs, and the parents who were called during the hatching, were allowed down there. His memories of seeing the eggs are some of his first, from his ascent to join the colony.

He holds up a hand and places the tip of his middle finger to the tip of his thumb. The resulting circle is roughly the size of an egg when the female expels them into the nest. Castiel stares hard at his hands, trying to remember the size of an egg when it hatches. He uses both hands, touching corresponding fingertips and creating a hoop between his fingers to indicate the approximate size. Sam writes the information down.

Embarrassment slithers into the link, overlaying his excitement and awe at learning new information. Sam shifts on his chair and has trouble meeting Castiel’s eyes.  He doesn’t know what Sam plans to ask next and can only wait until Sam steels himself to ask.

(How do… How do fin-kin…Um.) Sam ruffles his hair with both hands before slumping back in his chair.

Jess glances over her shoulder and Sam turns to speak with her for a few moments. Through his thoughts, Castiel  determines that she is asking if Sam is okay and Sam is telling her that he is talking with him. She brightens and looks a little envious when Sam mentions that Castiel has the kin-connection with him now.

When Sam turns back, Castiel is watching him expectantly. Sam presses his lips together in a thin line before dumping several images of mating fish into the connection. Castiel sorts through them and the moment he understands Sam’s question, he can feel his face grow warm.  He looks away from Sam and fidgets with the bones of his meal.

(Castiel?) Sam prods gently. (I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.)

He shakes his head and chews on his lip lightly. Castiel doesn’t know how to tell Sam that he’s never been mated; that he never had the occasion, that he never found a female that held his attention, that he’s never even been kissed before. It’s not that he doesn’t know how it’s done, because he does. Gabriel and Balthazar both explained it, in increasingly graphic detail, after their first times. Which still confuses Castiel because neither of them were bonded or ended up being nest parents.

Sam is watching him with interest and Castiel doesn’t want to disappoint him. He fiddles with the bones, breaking them from the skeletons and arranging them into nonsense designs as he summons the courage to explain. He starts by describing the sheath and immediately Sam is confused by his choice of wording and imagery.

Castiel knows he’s blushing as he twists his tail under him and rises up to bare the front of it. A hand span below the fusion of skin to scale, there is a group of muscles that swell the scales into a slight bulge. It is roughly the length of Castiel’s hand. And at the top of it there is a small slit in the scales.

The rest Castiel describes in images. He shows Sam how a male’s genitals remain inside until they are needed during the mating process. At that point, the muscles of the sheath contract until the penis extends through the slit. A female has a similar opening in the same location on the front of her tail. During the breeding process, the male would insert his penis into the female’s slit.

Castiel can see the red of his cheeks in the mirror and he turns his back to it. Sam is writing avidly. His hair is tucked back behind his ears and his tongue is peeking out between his lips. He is absorbing all the information Castiel is providing and comparing it to how humans reproduce. As he takes the imaginings Castiel provides, he is returning images of how humans mate.

To Castiel’s surprise, the method is really not that different. The male inserts his penis into the female and they move together until they achieve orgasm. The male’s sperm fertilizes the eggs within the female. But with humans, as Sam explains, there is generally only one – sometimes 2 and rarely 3 or more – eggs released within the female’s body to be fertilized.

Castiel can’t hide his horror when Sam describes that human females carry the egg inside them until it develops far enough to survive the birthing process. With fin-kin, the female carries the eggs until they are a certain size and then she releases them into the nest. They leave  her body through her frontal slit, one at a time, and finish developing in the nest. They grow until the egg can no longer contain them and then they hatch.

When Castiel asks if Jess and Sam have mated, their conversation turns toward mating rituals. Sam first has to explain the difference between love and sex. According to Sam, humans generally have sex with more than one partner over their lifetime. But when a human falls in love together, they tend to stay exclusive with that person and often get married to show that they are devoted to each other. Castiel finds the exchange of rings odd, but the exchange of vows isn’t too different from fin-kin bonding rituals.

Within fin-kin society, a bonded pair would pledge loyalty to one another before the entire colony. That is the extent of their ‘marriage ceremony’. Castiel is embarrassed when he tells Sam that, up until Sam explained about multiple partners, he had always thought that you don’t kiss or have sex with a partner unless they were to be your bond-mate. He blushes harder when Sam actually laughs and explains how some humans think like that too, but it is not considered realistic anymore.

Castiel looks between Sam and Jess. (Are you two bonded?)

He glances over his shoulder and smiles softly. (Not yet. We’re ‘engaged’. It means we’re going to get married eventually.)

(What about Dean?)

Again, Sam laughs. (No. Dean isn’t in any permanent relationship at the moment. He just… sleeps around. A lot.)

Castiel feels a sharp pang behind his sternum at the memories Sam starts showing him of Dean kissing many different women. He doesn’t recognize any of the women and he doesn’t’ understand the pain that makes the fish in his belly settle heavily in his stomach. He’s about to push the images away and tell Sam that was more than enough, but a memory of Dean kissing a male filters through amongst the rest. Castiel’s fans flare with surprise and he stops Sam short with his shock and curiosity. Sam is smiling like he is pleased with himself.

He seizes the memory and pulls it to the forefront of their connection. (Why is Dean kissing a male? This serves no reproductive purpose.) He pauses and thinks about what he knows about humans. (… Does it?) For one brief moment, Castiel is horrified by the thought that human males could bear a child too. An image of Dean, belly swollen with child and heavy under his shirt, rises unbidden in his mind and passes through their connection.

Sam stares at Castiel for a few brief moments before he starts shaking with laughter and he doesn’t stop. He doubles over in his chair, wraps his arm around his waist and he’s laughing loud enough for Castiel to hear it through the walls and water. Castiel is confused. He doesn’t understand what Sam is finding so funny. He flares his fans indignantly, frowning through the glass.

Jess and Meg have stopped their work and are looking at Sam oddly. Castiel thinks they don’t understand his amusement either. Sam turns and he must explain to them around his laughter because they both start up too. Castiel can hear their laughter too. He crosses his arms and scowls at them.

They haven’t stopped by the time Dean returns. Dean steps into the room and pauses in the doorway, staring at the others. His expression is just as confused as Castiel’s. When they see Dean, the other three start howling louder.

Frowning, Castiel prods at the closed connection between his mind and Dean’s. He knows Dean can feel the touch, but he still has his mind guarded from him. Dean crosses the room and he puts down the items in his arms. There is a towel, a tall cylinder covered in different colours, a bowl of water, and a small stick with a horizontal cross section – the way it is connected reminds Castiel of a breed of shark with oddly shaped, wide, flat faces.

Dean is trying to talk to Sam. When that has no effect, he turns to Jess and Meg. They keep bubbling up with more laughter every time they look at him. His lips are twitching further and further into a frown. Castiel’s side-fans flicker wide in anticipation when Dean looks at him and he can feel when Dean tentatively opens the link.

(Cas, why are they laughing and why do I feel like it has something to do with me?)

He shrugs and offers up the memories of his discussion with Sam. Dean goes pale again, like he did before, when Castiel gives him his own musings on human reproduction. He pushes his curiosity and confusion about kissing a male at Dean. Almost immediately, he flushes bright red. Dean’s mouth drops open and his throat works as if he is speaking. Castiel thinks he might be making sounds, but he can’t hear them and he doesn’t particularly want to swim up to tilt his side-fans out of the water. In any case, Dean’s reaction only serves to make the others laugh harder.

Dean reaches out and smacks Sam in the back of the head before he starts yelling loudly at him. His mind is teeming with upset and embarrassment when he addresses Castiel.

(Christ, Cas, don’t listen to him. He makes it sound like I’m a man-whore or something!)

(I don’t know what that is. But Dean, can human males really have children like females do?)

His throat does that thing again and there is no small amount of horror tingeing his thoughts. (Jesus fuckin’ Christ, no!)

(Then why were you kissing a male if you weren’t going to mate with him?)

Dean smacks Sam again and bares his teeth at his brother. Their connection is trembling with discomfort and Dean glares heatedly at Sam. (He shouldn’t have told you anything about me and what I do in my own time. It’s none of your business and I’m not talking about it.)

Castiel floods their connection with his confusion. (But Dean –)

(You ask me another question about it and I’m leaving and you won’t know when I’ll come back.)

His fans flare at the abrupt threat. Castiel hisses and beats his tail unhappily on the floor. It scatters the bones. He presses his lips together, jaw pushing forward and he flicks Dean’s mind with his irritation. Dean winces before Castiel closes their link completely and turns away to glare at his reflection. It’s only a few moments before he’s sick of looking at himself and he turns from that to present the humans with his back. Castiel refuses to look at them or acknowledge Sam’s amused touches to his mind.

(I’m sorry, Castiel. Dean’s mad at me, not you.)

Castiel spares him a scornful glance over his shoulder. Sam is bent over his clipboard with his pen to the paper, but he is looking at Castiel. He realizes that Sam is trying to look like he isn’t speaking with him. Dean has moved to his bed and is putting a sheet of paper on the wall. It is covered in lines that form squares and each square has a different combination of the same symbols from the clock. For a moment he watches Dean take a pen and write in some of the squares, then he turns his attention back to Sam.

(Why is Dean angry?)

Sam shrugs and glances briefly at Dean.  (He’s not very open about liking guys too. It’s sometimes a difficult topic with people. Not everyone is as accepting about men who like other men. But there are a lot of humans who like members of the same gender.) He pauses and looks thoughtful, chewing on his lip. Castiel is almost sent reeling by the sudden storm of images and terms that Sam dumps through the link. He explains in pictures and words all the different types of relationships humans could have.

(You don’t have anything like that in fin-kin society?)

(Not that I know of.) Castiel tilts his head and thinks over this new information, comparing it to his memories. He can’t recall a single occurrence where any male mated with another male or a female with a female. A same-sex coupling simply doesn’t make sense in the scheme of things. They would not be able to reproduce and that would be of no benefit to the colony. That was the whole point of mating, wasn’t it? He poses the same question to Sam and he’s answered with a warm smile.

(Not always. Sometimes it’s about love. Humans get married for love. But there is a difference between love and sex. Humans usually have sex because it feels good. I’d say most of the time people have sex, it’s for fun and not for procreation. Haven’t you ever done it with someone just because you wanted to feel good?)

Castiel flushes darkly and quickly looks away, almost missing when Sam raises an eyebrow in surprise. His embarrassment washes over Sam’s curiosity and he rubs at his neck. He doesn’t say anything, but the curiosity quickly turns to understanding and Castiel hunches his shoulders against it. There is amusement filtering through the link, but it’s not directed at Castiel’s lack of experience. It’s focused on how Castiel is reacting.

(Don’t be embarrassed, Castiel. There are lots of humans who are virgins too.)

He flicks at the bones scattered around and doesn’t answer. His embarrassment eases slightly, mollified by Sam’s words. But he doesn’t turn around and he doesn’t know what to talk about now. Humans are more complicated in their relationships than fin-kin and Castiel thinks he might be trying to figure them out up until the day he dies. He wonders if Sam realizes that he is teaching Castiel more about humans than Castiel is teaching him about fin-kin.

Sam doesn’t push or ask any more. He draws back a bit from the connection and Castiel hears the start-stop rumble of voices. When he looks, Sam is talking with Jess and handing her his clipboard. Meg is gone and Dean is lying face down on his bed. Castiel doesn’t fully sever his connection with Sam, but he does block it off to ensure that Sam isn’t privy to his thoughts or emotions for the time being.

Castiel fiddles with the bones for several long minutes while he thinks over recent revelations. He now knows that Gabriel and Balthazar were mating with females for pleasure. After a moment, he realizes that when they would brag, it was never during or around the actual mating season when females were heavy with unfertilized eggs. It’s taken so long for him to realize this that Castiel actually feels quite a bit stupid and he buries his face in his hands as he chastises himself for his naivety.

It doesn’t take his thoughts long to switch currents and start thinking about the new terms that Sam taught him. Particularly, he is… well, he doesn’t want to think that he is ‘entranced’ by it, but it is true that his mind keeps spinning back to Sam’s explanation about homosexual relationships. Castiel digs up every memory he has of everyone in the colony and he picks through their interactions, looking for signs that any of his nest-brothers or other males in the colony might have been attracted to members of the same sex.

He can’t think of a single one where there is any concrete evidence. There are certainly plenty of older fin-kin males, seasoned warrior who devoted their lives to serving and defending the colony, that never mated or fathered a nest. Castiel wonders if the reason they never took a mate was because they weren’t sexually attracted to a female.

Castiel stretches out on his belly and props his chin up on the palm of one hand. He makes random shapes and designs with the bones again as he turns his thoughts inwards and looks at himself as he is the members of the colony.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to him when he realizes he’s never actually thought of any of the females of the colony as potential mates. Certainly there are many who are strong, intelligent or beautiful and would make very good bond-mates. And they all have many males after them. There are a few, like Hester or Rachel, that he thinks of with fondness. They are – were – members of his garrison and he once – and still does – thought of them as friends. But when he tries to think of kissing or touching them in any sort of sexual manner, he feels no reaction.

He doesn’t feel anything like what Gabriel or Balthazar often described as preludes to their trysts. There is no speed-up to the beat of his heart, or a shortening of breath. His chest doesn’t feel tight and there is no heat pooling in his gut. His fingers don’t tingle and his body doesn’t get any warmer. And his penis definitely doesn’t grow hard in its sheath.

Castiel doesn’t feel disappointed. If it was that easy to feel aroused by a female, he’s positive he would have felt it long before now.

He rolls one of the bones between his fingertips and thinks. Castiel doesn’t pick a specific male from the colony. He knows them all personally and some of them are his nest-brothers and most of them are his friends. Instead, he closes his eyes and imagines the lines of a body; of a tail and frilled-fans, the curve of a back and the roll of muscles on either side of the sharp spines of a fan. Castiel imagines running his hands over the muscled planes of a stomach and chest and the press of kiss-swollen lips, the kisses roughened with the hint of a day’s stubble.

Castiel doesn’t imagine further than that. He’s already marked an increase in saliva production, and his fingers are jittering over the bones. He presses his hand over his heart and counts the beats. Those have definitely increased too. His chest doesn’t feel particularly tight, but there is a warmth spreading low in his stomach. It’s pleasing and frustrating all at once.

He wants it to go away. If he is to experience sexual arousal for the first time, Castiel does not want it to happen in a small-sea where he won’t find any privacy from the studious eyes of the humans. He draws himself away from those thoughts, discarding them as quickly as he imagined them, and looks toward Dean. The feeling subsides slightly, but it doesn’t go away. It’s like an itch thrumming beneath his skin.

Dean has barely moved on his bed. His arms are no longer at his sides and are now folded under the pillow. His eyes are closed and his head is turned toward the small-sea. Castiel thinks he might be sleeping. For confirmation, he reaches out and skims the touch of his mind against Dean’s. He’s shut out so quickly, at first Castiel doesn’t even know what happened. Dean opens his eyes and frowns at Castiel before lifting his head and turning it toward the wall.

Castiel frowns and gathers the loose bones and skeletons of the fish in his arms. Sam and Jess have their heads together and are speaking in hushed tones Castiel can barely hear. He uncurls and swims to the right-wall. Dean stirs but he doesn’t lift his head again when he knocks on the glass. Castiel frowns and prods at the walls surrounding Dean’s mind. He rolls onto his side, back to him.

Scowling, Castiel pushes harder until Dean turns back over to glare at him. Castiel wipes the frown from his face and tries to look as apologetic as he can, eyes wide and eyebrows up. He glances down at the bones in his arms and looks up questioningly, hoping Dean will understand that he wants to get rid of them. Dean’s glare softens and he rolls his eyes before sliding off his bed.

He gets the bucket from beside the door but pauses before he brings it to the small-sea. Castiel twists up to skim along the surface, his fans rippling to keep him floating in place. Dean isn’t looking at him, he’s staring at the items he placed on the small ledge against the wall earlier. He knocks pointedly on the glass to get Dean’s attention again.

Dean holds up his hand in a gesture to wait. He speaks quickly to Sam and Castiel is surprised when he hands over the necklace-key.  Dean holds the string between his teeth and hooks the bucket over one arm. Castiel watches closely as Dean grabs the edge of the ledge and, to his surprise, starts dragging it away from the wall – Castiel realizes it’s a not a ledge but a ‘table’ – and toward the platform. Castiel winces at the scrapping screech that tears the water. Sam and Jess both flinch too.

Castiel reaches for Dean’s mind again, pulling at the walls Dean is using to keep him out. They crumble quickly and Castiel is surprised to find that Dean is amused and brimming with anticipation. He doesn’t know why. Any reason is hidden from him. Dean is getting very good at using the connection and Castiel finds himself oddly proud.

(Dean, what are you doing?)

(You’ll see.)

He’s being vague on purpose and he’s grinning at Castiel. Any displeasure he might have been harboring from earlier is gone. A warmth settles in Castiel’s chest and he’s pleased that Dean isn’t angry with him and everything is okay between them. He lets Dean feel these thoughts and his teasing grin falls into a softer smile. He gets a reassuring brush to the edges of his thoughts as Dean climbs onto the platform.

Dean unlocks the bars and pushes them up. Castiel flicks his tail with more force than necessary and rises up until he can rest his elbows on the lip of the glass wall. He dumps the bones into the waiting bucket and drops back to let the water run over his gills while Dean puts the bucket down.

When he stands, he holds out his hand and flashes the image of Castiel’s wrapped wrist through the connection. Castiel immediately holds out his left arm. Dean undoes the knot with quick fingers before taking hold of Castiel’s hand. He brushes his thumb over the back of it, pausing to dip it into the space between his fingers and gently rub the webbing. His touch is almost ticklish and his thoughts are curious and impressed.

With his other hand, Dean unwinds the bandage and drops it into the bucket at his feet. He leans over the edge, looking closely at the scabbed band around his wrist. It is almost healed. Castiel touches it gently with his other hand, dragging his fingers over the roughened edges. Dean makes a little clicking noise and moves Castiel’s hand out of the way so he can feel the scabs himself.

(Wow. It’s only been, like, three days. You guys heal quick, huh?)

(You don’t?)

(Something like this would take a week, maybe two? Depends on how well we take care of it. Is that why you don’t have any scars or anything?) Dean eyes drop to Castiel’s chest momentarily, but he looks away quickly and lets go of his wrist. The tips of his ears are going pink.

He slips underwater to watch Dean as he kneels down to the items on the table. (I have never been wounded badly enough in battle to leave any scars.)

Dean looks up in surprise, eyes wide. (You’ve been in battle?)

(Of course. I’m a warrior of the colony.) Castiel shares his memories of what few fights he’s been a part of. He’s careful not to give Dean any of the sensory thoughts that go with it. He doesn’t want Dean to feel the sharp pain of a fin-kin blade slicing through one of his fans, or the stinging burn of claws raking through skin or scale.

(Whoa.) Dean’s surprise gives way to awe and he keeps looking at Castiel with wide eyes. Castiel doesn’t look away. He likes Dean’s eyes. He likes the unique green of them. They are expressive and if he couldn’t read Dean’s emotions through the kin-connection, he’s certain he would be able to see them in Dean’s eyes.

Dean’s nose scrunches up, but there are crinkles beside his eyes. (Dude. You’re waxing poetic about my eyes. Cut it out.)

Castiel tilts his head and frowns. He hadn’t meant to share those thoughts. He should have better control of the kin-connection than this. (Fin-kin don’t have green eyes, Dean. Is it wrong that I like yours?)

(Naw, it’s fine. Think what you want as long as I don’t hear it. If I hear anything about ‘limpid pools of jade’ or something, I’m blocking you out for the rest of the day.) Dean is grinning as he  shrugs and looks away. He picks up the tall-cylinder and pulls the top of it off, revealing a peaked top.

(Why would I say something like that?) Castiel watches closely as Dean holds the cylinder in one hand and pushes against the peaked top with his finger. He blinks in surprise when a thick white foam oozes out into the palm of Dean’s waiting hand.

(Not saying you’re gonna. I’m just saying that it kinda creeps me out, so don’t do it.) Dean stands up while he spreads the foam on his fingers. (Now get your face up here and start sucking air. I’m gonna help you with something.)

Castiel pauses. Dean wants him to breathe air again. Yesterday it had felt like he was suffocating before his body had figured out how to use his lungs for air instead of water. He is not particularly enthusiastic about doing it again anytime soon. But Dean is waiting and their connection is practically vibrating with amused anticipation.

He pushes away from the wall and swims in a slow circle along the perimeter of the small-sea. A flicker of disappointment sours Dean’s amusement when he sees Castiel swimming away. Castiel can hear the rumble of his voice over the water as Dean speaks. He knows it’s Sam he’s talking to when Sam stands from the chair in front of the second computer and walks over to the table.

Sam’s eyebrows go up and Castiel opens their connection wider, feeling his surprise. With a soft brush of his thoughts, he questions what Dean and Sam are talking about. Sam responds with curiosity and images of Castiel’s wrist. He wants to see the healing scabs too.

Castiel completes his circle around the small-sea and skims under the surface a few times, his back-fans breaking through the waves his passes create. With one final deep breath, he exhales and seals his gills flat against his neck before kicking up. He rises his head, shoulders, and part of his chest out of the water. He’s high enough that he can cross his arms over the edge of the glass-wall and hang against it, his tail dangling along the glass and down in front of the mirror.

He is hesitant to try for a breath of air, but Dean and Sam are watching him expectantly. Castiel inhales slightly through his nose. It makes his throat feel dry and immediately he starts coughing. Sam puts a hand on his shoulder and Dean reaches out too, only to stop and glare at the white foam still on his hands. Castiel coughs for a few minutes before he can breathe without his throat itching.

He looks pointedly at Sam and Dean, frowning as he pricks their minds with his irritation and discomfort. “No like air.” His frown deepens into a scowl when he’s answered with amusement through both their connections, and the amusement is directed at his stilted use of their language.

Dean actually laughs. “Sorry, Cas. I promise I’ll try not to take too long.”

Castiel raises his eyebrows. He gropes in his meager dictionary for the English words he would need to ask about what Dean plans to do. He wants to ask what the white foam is, and the strange looking shark-stick. His search only comes up with one word.

“What?” He tilts his head and pushes confusion at Dean.

Dean’s words come with images of what he wants Castiel to do. “Show Sammy your wrist and tilt your head back a bit.”

He even demonstrates how he wants Castiel to hold his head. It requires baring his throat and Castiel’s fans flare at the thought, even as he holds his wrist out to Sam. He doesn’t look away from Dean and he narrows his eyes at him. Dean raises a questioning eyebrow and ghosts confusion and concern along the edges of his mind. Castiel responds with apprehension. As much as he likes Dean, it would be a great show of trust to bare his throat to someone who is technically one of his captors and therefore his enemy.

Dean presses his lips into a thin line and he shifts on his feet. Castiel shakes his head and tucks his chin to his chest. He’s left with nothing but staring down at Dean’s legs and the jeans covering them. They look like a different texture than Sam’s shirt and coat, which are the only fabrics he’s felt so far.

He reaches out with his other hand. “Jeans.”

“What about ‘em?”

“Jeans.” He repeats. “Touch.” An image of Castiel touching the jeans is pushed through the connections. He underlines it with curiosity.

“Sammy, give him your leg.”

Sam looks up from examining the fading scabs on Castiel’s wrist. His face is pinched into a confused frown. “Why?”

“I’ve got all this shaving cream on my hands. If I lose my balance, I’m gonna get it all over everything. Just give Cas your leg for a second, he only wants to see what jeans feel like.”

“You mean you got that image too?”

Castiel is looking between them as they speak. He’s understanding them better and better the more they talk with their own language, understanding trickling through in thoughts and emotions via the kin-connections  he shares with them.

“Of course I did. Cas and I got that whole connection thing going. He’s got it with you too right now?”

Sam nods and looks confused for a moment. Then he frowns in concentration. Castiel flinches, pulling his wrist from Sam’s hold, when the link between them is nearly overwhelmed with loud thoughts centering around calling Dean’s name.

Castiel hisses. “Sam, stop. Hear Castiel, not Dean.” To make sure he’s understood, he smothers Sam’s shouting with his irritation and explains in quick bursts of images and emotions about the humans inability to reach out with their own thoughts between one another.

“Oh.” Sam’s disappointment is evident in the link and on his face. “Sorry, Castiel. I didn’t mean to… uh… shout at you.”

He waves his hand in a dismissive gesture before pointing down at their legs again. “Touch jeans.” As an afterthought, he remembers his manners. “Please.”

Sam doesn’t move and Dean glares at him before rolling his eyes. “Christ, fine. Just make sure I don’t fall over or anything.”

“Of course, your highness.” Sam smirks and steps out of the way to give Dean more room on the platform.

Dean shuffles awkwardly before he leans heavily against the glass-wall. He rests his forearms against the edge and he rocks to one side, raising one leg. He’s mumbling dark words and he’s pointedly looking away. The link is alive with embarrassment. Dean thinks he looks ridiculous standing like he is, and his ears are going pink around the edges again. Castiel likes it better when Dean’s cheeks blush and make his freckles stand out more.

He lifts himself further out of the tank and leans over the wall, ignoring how the edge of it digs into his stomach. Castiel drags his fingers over the blue fabric covering the upper half of Dean’s thigh, closer to his hip. It is more coarse than the shirt or the coat and it is not entirely unpleasant. He tries to pinch the fabric between his fingers like he did with the white coat, but it is more stiff and doesn’t move as easily.

Abruptly, Dean puts his leg down and steps away from the wall. When Castiel looks up in confusion, he is oddly pleased that Dean is blushing beyond his ears. He makes sure to keep that feeling away from the kin-connection. It’s unlikely that Dean will enjoy the sentiment, especially if Castiel takes into account his reaction about his eyes.

“Yeah, okay, that’s enough. Remember what I said about the ‘personal space’?”

“Yes, Dean. Ask first.”

“And he did ask first.” Sam points out. His amusement is obvious even without the link.

“Ha-ha, fuck you both.” Dean glares over his shoulder. “Don’t you have tests to run or data to look at or something?”

Jess’s voice rises up from the computer area. “Yes, he does.”

“Whipped and you aren’t even married yet.” Dean grins and sticks out his foot to nudge at Sam’s leg, pushing him toward the edge of the platform, “Go on, get. I can handle shaving Cas.”

“Shaving?” Castiel tilts his head. The word is familiar. He knows he’s heard it recently and he’s trying to think of when and in what context. Sam answers it for him, returning his own memories of shaving with the blade of his dagger.

Castiel rubs at his jaw and the thick stubble pulls at his fingers. Dean lifts his hands and shows him the white foam again. This time, he gives Castiel his memories of a small room with a thick white chair, a mirror on the wall, and a small shelf with a bowl imbedded in it. In the memory, Dean is watching himself in the mirror as he spreads the white foam on his cheeks, around his mouth, under his chin, and even down his neck.

He is still wary and not entirely sure how much he trusts him. Dean sighs heavily through his nose and his emotions are oscillating between irritation and determination. He presses at Castiel’s mind with memories they both share, memories of Dean climbing into the small-sea when Castiel was injured and trusting him not to hurt him. The second memory, of Dean trusting Castiel not to let him drown from the other day, makes Castiel wince. He knew he had Dean’s trust, he just hadn’t quite realized it yet.

To show he understands, Castiel tilt his head back and narrows his side-fans. They flatten against his head in a placid form of submission. Dean may not immediately understand the action, but he still smiles softly and his fingers are gentle. The foam is warm on his skin and Dean smears it over his cheeks and jaw.

“Cas, do this.” Dean rolls his lips between his teeth to smooth out the skin around his mouth.

Castiel copies the action and snorts in surprise when Dean spreads the foam under his bottom lip with one thumb and above his top lip with the other.  He takes hold of his chin and turns his face from side to side. Castiel thinks Dean might be checking to make sure that all his stubble is covered. There’s still foam on his fingers and Dean grins brightly before daubing a bit on Castiel’s nose.

“Dean!” He jerks away and looks cross-eyed at his nose and the white rubbed over it.

“Sorry, couldn’t resist.” Dean is all smiles and eye crinkles and Castiel can’t find it in him to complain. He rubs the white off his nose and squeezes the foam between his fingertips.

Dean crouches down and stands back up with the bowl of water, the towel, and the shark-stick. He balances the bowl in one hand and cleans Castiel’s fingers with the towel before laying it over one shoulder. With a pleading image, he asks Castiel to hold the bowl so Dean can use his hands. He shows Castiel what he’s going to do with the shark-stick – (It’s called a ‘razor’.) – and how he will drag it against the foam.

“You shave with a dagger. We shave with a razor.” Dean hands him the bowl and shows him the razor. There are small, metal blades imbedded in the flat part.

“I won’t hurt you, Cas.” He smothers any form of anxiety Castiel feels bubbling up at the thought of allowing Dean to put the miniature blades to his face and neck. His honesty vibrates over everything and his eyes are earnest. He’s practically begging Castiel to trust him.

“Okay, Dean. Please.” Castiel tilts his head back again and enjoys the pulse of pleased exhilaration through the connection as Dean smiles again.

Dean’s fingers are gentle as they turn his face from one side to the other. The scrape of the razor over his stubble is an odd sensation at first. It soon becomes soothing and Castiel’s eyes droop halfway closed. He can feel a rumble start in his chest. Dean stops and pulls back slightly, raising an eyebrow at him. It’s not the same as a growl. It’s low, soft, and rolling deep in his chest.

“Dude, are you purring?”

“No stop.” Castiel twitches his tail and rises up a bit. He tilts his head to the side, exposing the side of his neck where he can feel plenty more foam. “Please, Dean.”

The connection is alive with Dean’s amusement and he laughs softly as he moves back in to start shaving again. He pauses often to shake the razor clean in the bowl of water Castiel is holding before twitching it free of water and starting again. His movements are slow, careful and calculated. Castiel watches Dean, studying his face. He tries counting Dean’s freckles, but he keeps losing count whenever Dean turns away or makes Castiel turn his head.

It’s while Dean is pulling the razor in sharp, small drags above his upper lip that Castiel turns his attention to Dean’s lips. He makes sure his thoughts are shielded because he doesn’t think Dean will like hearing him thinking about them. Castiel can’t help comparing them to Sam’s. Sam has thinner lips where Dean’s lips are more plush and full. He realizes, off handedly, that they are more like Jess’s than they are Sam’s.

A small voice supplies the observation that Dean’s lips are more like a female’s. Castiel tries imagining Dean’s face with a different mouth and nothing he can think of looks right. They suit him. That small voice sounds suspiciously like Balthazar’s and Castiel can’t help but think about his nest-brother and closest friend.

What would Balthazar think of Dean? What would he think of Castiel forming the kin-connection with two humans and submitting himself to Dean enough for him to place blades to his throat? How would Balthazar react to the idea of same-sex relationships? How would he react to Castiel’s revelation that he doesn’t feel anything for females but apparently can feel arousal if he thinks about males?

He hopes Balthazar wouldn’t  care and he really probably wouldn’t. Balthazar would probably say that Dean has very kissable lips. He said that about Anna’s lips once. He’d woken up covered in snails for that comment.

Castiel wonders if Dean’s lips are as soft as they look.

Dean takes the bowl and puts it down on the table. He stands up and pulls the towel from his shoulder. When Dean turns back to Castiel, the kin-connection bursts with startled surprise. Castiel’s hand is out and he presses his fingertips to Dean’s lips. Dean goes very, very still and his eyes are very wide. The connection goes quiet. There is nothing but silence from Dean. Castiel is curious and surprised. Dean’s lips are more firm than he expected and they part slightly when he pushes lightly against his bottom lip.

Dean’s fingers close around his wrist and he slowly pulls Castiel’s hand away. His eyes have hardened, but there is no animosity behind them. He lets go and Castiel lowers his hand and his eyes. It had been an impulsive decision and although it satisfied his curiosity, Castiel pushes his remorse through the connection.

“Sorry, Dean.” He murmurs. His expression is wide-eyed and apologetic when he looks up  again. He tries not to notice when Dean licks his lips. “Ask first.”

“You’re, like, six different kinds of weird. Y’know that?” Dean sounds amused, but he isn’t smiling and there is no amusement in the connection. It is eerily flat and empty and Castiel is confused and worried. He expects a flood of annoyance and for Dean to be displeased.

Dean uses the towel to rub Castiel’s face clean of any remaining foam. “I’m done. Go on and take a look at yourself, see if you like it.”

He jumps down from the platform and Castiel tries not to be disappointed. He’s still very confused about Dean’s reaction and he sinks below the waves. He does a neat little summersault to twist down to the mirror. Castiel is surprised by how clean shaven he is. He touches his jaw and tries to remember the last time his face was this smooth.

(Thank you, Dean.)

Dean pauses in returning the table to its place against the wall. (You’re welcome.) He gathers up the items scattered on the table and glances at Castiel. (You hungry? I could get you some live ones for your next meal.)

Castiel thinks on it. He is hungry, but he is also very tired. He didn’t sleep the night before and this morning was very eventful. He yawns and he knows Dean sees it because there is a brief, strangely fond, flash of amusement before the connection goes quiet again. Castiel doesn’t sense any walls around Dean’s mind. He thinks, maybe, Dean has learned how to completely shield his thoughts and emotions without fully blocking the link.

It is surprising and Castiel is impressed. He didn’t think Dean or Sam would learn how to do that so quickly. He lets that feed into the connection and he is rewarded with a small smile and a pulse of pride.

(Go on and get some sleep. I’m just gonna put this stuff away.) Dean stops at the door and pushes an image of the bearded man with the hat at him. (Bobby’s the one who catches the live fish for you. I’ll ask him to bring some by while you’re sleeping. You might wanna say ‘thank you’ the next time you see him.)

(Okay, Dean.) Castiel covers his mouth and yawns again. Before he closes the connection with Sam, he tells him he is going to sleep. Sam tells him to have sweet dreams, which is an interesting sentiment. He leaves the link with Dean open. It’s comforting.

He curls his tail up and fits the end under his neck. He pillows his cheek on the soft webbing of his fans and stifles another yawn. When he sleeps, he dreams of green eyes, green scales, and soft kisses. 

mer!castiel by msmerc

Chapter Text

The lights are off again when Castiel wakes. He uncurls and flattens his fans against his back as he rolls over to look up at the ceiling. He rubs at his eyes, blurring the view of the faintly glowing light bulbs. They are barely strong enough to cast the shadows of the fish that are lazily swimming in a small school. Castiel smiles and yawns. He’ll have to thank Bobby for providing his breakfast whenever he sees him again. 

Castiel ignores the fish for the moment. His stomach is empty and he is hungry, but he is nowhere near awake enough to chase his meal. He stifles another yawn and stretches his back, arching until only the crown of his head and the end of his tail are actually touching the floor. After working the kinks out of his spine and flaring the sleep from his fans, Castiel looks toward Dean.

There is a piece of paper stuck to the side of the glass. Castiel’s dark vision is more than enough to see the crude lines that make up an image that closely resembles the clock on the wall. The one on the paper is missing almost all of the symbols that Dean calls ‘numbers’ – something that humans use to count things, like time.

Castiel looks between the wall-clock and the paper-clock. The small ‘hand’ – he still thinks that it’s foolish to call them that, they look nothing like hands – of the wall-clock is halfway down the right side. The small ‘hand’ on the paper-clock is pointing firmly at the symbol that looks like the corner of a box that’s missing it’s opposite corner. The big ‘hand’ on the paper-clock is drawn straight up to the top of the circle.

He thinks about the differences and what the drawing could mean while he continues to stretch. His right arm is bent behind his head and he’s pulling on his elbow with his left hand when he realizes that it is a message from Dean. He thinks it means that Dean does not want to be woken before the paper-clock matches the wall-clock.

Dean is on his stomach again. He is sleeping, but he is not resting. He keeps shifting – as if he’s trying to get comfortable – and his dreams are a haze of emotions too subtle for Castiel to pick them out to see what they are. His eyebrows are pinched together and he’s frowning against his pillow. Castiel thinks Dean might be having bad dreams. The feelings that are barely winding into the kin-connection are dark and Castiel isn’t sure, but there might be some pain singeing the very edges of his mind.

Castiel watches Dean twitch and roll onto his side, dragging the blanket up closer around his shoulders as he folds in on himself. Dean is curling up as if to make himself smaller, less of a target. A sharp tang sours the back of Castiel’s tongue. He doesn’t like seeing Dean in pain. It makes his chest tight and he can feel his adrenaline spike. It makes his hands tremble. He wants to hurt whomever, whatever, is making Dean feel this way. He wants to wrap himself around Dean and cover him in his fans to protect him from any pain.

The intensity of his desire to shelter Dean startles Castiel’s thoughts to a standstill. He draws away to the opposite side of the small sea, settling in the corner and hugging his tail to his chest. He filters the kin-connection so that he won’t feel Dean’s emotions and he closes his eyes to the injured expression crinkling Dean’s features.

Castiel has lost count of how many days he’s been held captive in this small-sea. It is at once too long and too short. It is too long in the sense that the water is growing stagnant and stale against his gills. It needs a current. It is too short in that Castiel is finding himself growing dangerously attached to Dean. It can’t be more than a few days since his capture. He doubts it’s been long enough for a full rotation of the colony’s sentries. By human standards that would be – he does the math in his head – seven days. And he knows that if Dean were to leave him now and not come back, Castiel would be devastated.

He’s grown too comfortable in having a kin-connection with Dean. Despite the hiccups that center around Castiel’s confusion with humans and their equally stubborn personalities, they have both taken to sharing the link better than Castiel ever thought possible. There have even been occasions when Dean wants Castiel to establish the connection, even if neither of them have anything to talk about.

And Castiel knows it’s wrong. He shouldn’t think fondly of Dean. He shouldn’t consider Dean or Sam as his friends. They are his enemies. They keep him here in this cage to study him like an animal. And even though they protect Castiel from humans like Alistair and Gordon, they haven’t freed him. Castiel can’t even get his food on his own. He is entirely dependent on Sam, Dean, and whomever else he ends up in the care of.

Castiel is no fool. It’s wishful thinking to assume that Dean, Sam and Jess are going to be around for the entirety of his imprisonment. And he has no idea what sort of tests and plans that Lilith and the rest of the ‘scientists’ have in store for him. They have pictures of his insides from the outside with the x-ray machine. How long will it be before they want to see his insides from the inside?

The frilled fans along the length of his tail ripple in upset. He rubs his hands over his face. A sharp pang of loss lances through his chest when he notices he can no longer smell the proper salt-scent of the sea on his skin. The half-asleep fish flitting near the surface of the small-sea give off the faint, painfully familiar aroma. It’s not enough. Now all he has is his own natural scent and the slowly decaying wrong-water of the small-sea.

His heart clenches painfully and Castiel presses his palm against his chest. He had thought himself past this, having already worked through these thoughts the day before when Meg had to put him to sleep. Castiel breathes deep, trying to calm the staccato pound of his heart against his ribs. It takes more effort than it should to drag his thoughts away from the open ocean and the inevitable path he would take to thinking about the colony.

His efforts are aided, unexpectedly, by the fall of the weak filter he had placed between him and Dean’s sleep-feelings. Castiel gasps in surprise as it’s ripped apart by the maelstrom that is Dean’s nightmare. It’s like a whirlpool, sucking him down into a crushing dark red swirl of pain and fear. Castiel wraps his head in his arm and he trembles violently.

In his mind, Dean is screaming.

Castiel can’t see most of the images of Dean’s dreams. And he shouldn’t even be able to feel anything close to this level of Dean’s emotions. But this is a unique situation. Castiel has never be so in tune to the mind of another while they sleep. Fin-kin usually have a much stronger filter in place to separate themselves from the colony when they retire to their sleep-ledge for the night. It allows for the most basic of connections, should they need to be woken at any time, and it keeps their dream-thoughts as their own.

He made an exception for Dean. Castiel wanted the comfort of the background noise in his mind. He needed it to keep himself from going mad in the silence. Previous moments where he was awake while Dean slept or sleeping while Dean was awake had led him to letting his guard down. He didn’t know that a nightmare would affect Dean – and by extension the kin-connection and Castiel – like this.

Castiel struggles against the tide to regain a semblance of organized thought. Every new surge of fear is bathed in flickering reds, yellows and oranges. It’s something Castiel has never seen before and every flash of colour is bolded by a sucking fear that drags him back under again. And over it all, Castiel can hear Dean shouting, calling for Sam. There are bright bolts of pain and longing whenever he begs for his mother or his father.

His eyes are stinging with tears and his head is ringing and Castiel doesn’t understand how Dean can be sleeping through this. He doesn’t want to think that Dean’s only asleep still because it’s happened so often before. The flares of red-yellow-orange are tumbling through the connection are choked with the air of familiarity and it makes Castiel’s stomach turn to think that Dean could be used to this.

In among the molten streaks there is a quick flash of silver and Castiel hisses through his teeth. His side twinges at the remembered pain from the knife biting deep into Dean’s skin. He watches through the blur of his tears as Dean flinches under the blanket. It’s slipped down closer to his waist. Dean is grimacing into the pillow and Castiel can see the rapid rise and fall of his chest. He’s breathing hard and his fingers are erratically clutching at the cloth. A sheen of sweat covers his face and his shirt is darkened in patches.

Castiel pushes hard against the hurricane still ripping through the kin-connection. It would take less effort to simply sever the link, but he can’t leave Dean like this. It would be worse to face him in the morning knowing there was something he could have done to help him.

Somewhere in the far back of his mind, the little piece of him that’s still safe from the clawing vortex of Dean’s nightmare, a voice that sounds a lot like Lucifer’s speaks up. It says, in no uncertain terms, that Dean hasn’t tried to free Castiel from the small-sea and return him to the ocean. So why should Castiel free him from his bad dreams?

The dark, vindictive part of Castiel – the part that thought it was a good idea to attack Alistair when he was threatening him with the dart-gun – agrees. But he knows better. Dean may have had his moments where his temper got the better of him and he shut Castiel out for small periods of time, but he was the one who helped Castiel when he was hurt. Dean did his best to make sure that no one hurt him after that. He wasn’t scared of Castiel, or interested in studying him, or angry with him for being the reason he has to spend most of his time in this room.

And it’s because Dean thinks of him as his friend.

Castiel knows he does. Dean doesn’t yet realize just how many thoughts and emotions actually pass through the kin-connection. His loudest thoughts are what Castiel tries to listen to only. These are the thoughts that Dean specifically speaks to him. But there are always the background thoughts, the subconscious realizations and notes that people don’t fully register until they have time to stop and think. Castiel receives them just like he does when they talk, and Dean doesn’t even know that it’s happening.

This is how Castiel knows that Dean is protective of him, that Dean likes him. He knows Dean hates the people he works for but he loves his job. He loves Sam, Jess and Bobby, and they are all that is left of his family even though Jess and Bobby aren’t related to him by blood. He knows there is much good in Dean, but that he doesn’t see it in himself.

That is why Castiel decides to help him now. But he can’t do anything while the kin-connection is incapacitating him like this. He grits his teeth and severs the link with Dean. Everything immediately becomes blessedly silent. His head is still pounding and sore, but he can think clearly now. Castiel breathes deep to calm himself and he shakes away the remnants of Dean’s nightmares.

Castiel pushes away from the corner. He quickly measures just how high in the small-sea he needs to be. With a powerful kick, which smacks hard against the glass wall and makes him wince, he launches himself toward Dean’s side. Before he reaches the wall, Castiel rolls forward in a tight flip. The fans along the end of his tail spread wide and catch in the water.

It’s not nearly as big a wave as he had been aiming for, but it gets the job done. Water splashes over the edge of the glass-wall and a thick spray of it just barely reaches Dean’s bed. A good portion of the water catches Dean in the face and he bolts upright with a cry. Castiel sighs in relief and floats gently to the floor as Dean wipes the water from his face and squints at his hands.

With cautious and gentle touches, Castiel reaches for Dean’s mind again. The storm of his nightmare is gone, but Dean’s thoughts are muddled and confused. Castiel is thankful that Dean is not upset with him. It’s possible that he’s too shaken and still mostly asleep to be unhappy yet. Dean blinks blearily at him while plucking absently at his soaked shirt.

(What’cha splash me for, Cas?)

Castiel removes the fear and the pain from the memories of the last several minutes and gives to Dean the flickering images that had been forced upon him. (You were having a nightmare.)

Dean flinches and he squeezes his eyes shut as he remembers. He shoves the blanket away and twists around on the bed to put his back against the wall. His legs are folded under him, bent at the knees and crossed. He rubs his hands over his face and through his hair.

He wants to ask Dean many questions, but Castiel doesn’t think any of them are appropriate. At least not right now. Dean’s mind is still raw and he needs to relax. Castiel drags his touch over Dean’s thoughts, brushing them gently with a soothing calm. It earns him a small half-smile that doesn’t last long but Castiel finds it gratifying. He doesn’t say it with words, but the warm thanks that washes the connection is more than enough for him.

Dean doesn’t sit still for long. He gets up and pulls his shirt off. It gets dumped on the floor where it is joined by the cover of his pillow, his blanket, and the cover of his bed. Castiel didn’t realize there were so many pieces to making up Dean’s bed. It looks very different when it doesn’t have the cover. Dean does the half-smile again at Castiel’s curious confusion.

Over the next few minutes, Castiel gets a near wordless lecture on beds. He’s taught about mattresses, bedsprings, frames, and all the different types of bedding that can go on them and the differences between them. Fitted sheets are different from top sheets and those are different from blankets and blankets are different from comforters. There are cases for pillows and there are decorative pillows not used for sleeping that get a different kind of case called a ‘pillow sham’. Some beds get skirts which hide the frame to make it more appealing to look at.

Dean is amused when Castiel pointedly tells him that humans are ridiculous. Fin-kin have shelves or hollowed out spaces on the cliff walls to sleep. They don’t decorate their sleep places because they’re only there to sleep or rest. There is little point to putting effort into something like that. Dean simply shrugs and shakes his head as he bundles the wet bedding and his shirt in the fitted sheet. He moves it all aside and when he stands and stops moving, Castiel gets a good view of the mark on his chest again.

(What’s that?) He taps his own chest where the mark would be if Dean’s chest was his and then points.

He brings his fingers up and traces the curled edges of the mark. (It’s a tattoo.)

(Sam has one too. Is it a marking of your family?)

Dean laughs and shakes his head. (No. It’s… it’s a long story.)

Castiel smiles ruefully. (I’m not going anywhere.)

A frown tugs at Dean’s lips and Castiel wants to ignore his regret and his apologies. Dean drums his fingers on his thigh and looks between Castiel and the drawers at the end of his bed. (Can you keep a secret?)

Castiel nods. Aside from Sam and Jess, who else is there for him to tell? He doesn’t particularly want to talk to Meg and he hasn’t really spoken to Bobby yet. And he refuses to talk to anyone else beyond that. Dean must find this acceptable because he nods too and goes to the drawers. He crouches and opens the bottom one.

(I’m technically not supposed to have this on board, but we break way more rules then they’re actually aware of so… As long as you don’t tell anyone.)

His body blocks what he’s doing, but when he stands he’s holding a tall thick cylinder that narrows to a much thinner end. Dean holds it by the thin-end. It looks like glass and it’s half-full with an amber liquid that Castiel doesn’t recognize. There is a different coloured piece on the thin-end and Dean pulls it off before putting it to his lips and tilting the cylinder up until he can drink the contents. When he pulls the bottle away, he grimaces at it but his shoulders relax slightly. 

Castiel is not patient enough to wait for Dean to tell him what it is. He pokes at his thoughts with his curiosity and it makes Dean laugh. As he explains that the liquid is called ‘whiskey’ and it’s in a ‘bottle’, Dean returns to his place on the bed with his back to the wall. Whiskey is a kind of drink that humans make to lose themselves in, according to Dean. It’s a potent drink that steals inhibitions and loosens the mind and body.  It makes a person ‘drunk’, as Dean explains it.

He thinks that it might be another human thing he’s not going to be able to understand because it’s a something that the colony doesn’t have. The more Dean drinks the whiskey, the more blurred and incoherent his thoughts become. He’s laughing more and when he talks to Castiel, he speaks his thoughts with his voice too. Dean gestures become more exaggerated and sloppy.

Castiel settles in the corner between the glass-wall and the grey-wall, his tail folded under him. Dean starts talking about his nightmare without any prompting. He tells Castiel about how his mother died in a fire that ate their home. Castiel doesn’t know what ‘fire’ is and Dean shows him a flame from a small square of silver. The top half of it flips open and Dean drags his thumb over a rounded edge. A bright oval of flickering orange and red bursts out the top and flickers there before Dean closes it.

The red-yellow-orange from Dean’s nightmare are parts of his memories from the night his mother died.  Dean tries to show him the memories, but they are distorted by the whiskey muddling his mind. From them, Castiel manages to gather that Sam was still an infant at the time of the fire. He was small and Dean carried him out of the house while he father tried to find their mom.

Her name was Mary. His father’s name was John. Dean tries to explain that Mary’s death changed John and Castiel can understand why, though not from experience. They were in love and bond-mates. He’s seen fin-kin in the colony lose their minds when their bond-mate dies, even if the death is natural. Castiel thinks it might be different for fin-kin than it is for humans.

Fin-kin share so much of themselves through the kin-connection and it’s far more intimate for bond-mates. Thoughts and emotions are shared more openly and your mate becomes a part of you, almost literally. When a bond-mate dies, the fin-kin loses more than just a mate, they lose a piece of themselves. Very few fin-kin live on for much longer when their bond-mate dies.

Dean shows Castiel, in flashes of warped images, how John was never the same. They never settled down in a new home and they moved around a lot. It was a hard life for Sam and Dean. They never stayed in one place long enough to make lasting friends. John used to drink a lot too. More than Dean ever has, or ever will. He would spend most nights more drunk than Dean is now. Dean is adamant in explaining that John never hurt him and he never hurt Sam. John was a ‘sad drunk’.

Castiel doesn’t like these memories. Even though they are distorted, they are suffused with a bitter sadness. They put a far off look in Dean’s eyes and even though he’s looking directly at Castiel, he knows that Dean isn’t actually seeing him. It makes Castiel’s chest feel hollow.

He gets the urge to wrap Dean in his fans again when Dean’s hazy memories come forth with the time when John died. Dean tells Castiel about how he and Sam were waiting for John to come back to the temporary place they were staying and instead of John, it was the police who showed up and told them that John was in a car accident.

Dean doesn’t stop to explain what a car is, or what police are. Castiel adds them to an ever growing list of questions he has. He’ll have to ask Dean when he’s sober again. Or he might have to ask Sam instead. Dean barely acknowledges that Castiel is even here anymore. He’s reminiscing and Castiel thinks that Dean would be talking whether someone was present or not.

The memories get a little brighter after that. Dean starts to smile, a lopsided tilt to his lips that gets obscured by the bottle when he takes a drink. After John’s accident, Dean and Sam went to live with Bobby. Castiel adds their relationship with Bobby to his list. Dean liked his time living with Bobby. Sam was happy and he got to go to a place called ‘school’ and they both made a few friends.

But the brightness doesn’t last long and Dean’s next memories come on a swell of anger with the name and image of a girl. His memories of her start out with yellow hair, but her hair changes to black and it surprises Castiel. He didn’t know humans possessed the ability to change physical aspects of themselves like that. The girl’s name is Ruby and Dean’s feelings toward her are scalding and vibrating with hatred.

Castiel doesn’t understand exactly what Ruby did, but he manages to gather from the sharp fragments of the memories that Ruby and Sam were close and that it was a very bad thing. Sam got sick, a kind of sick that Castiel has never see before, and it was very upsetting to both Dean and Bobby. Apparently Sam’s sickness was because of Ruby.

The memories of when Sam left Dean and Bobby for Ruby are sad and angry and tinged with betrayal. Dean is scowling at the near empty bottle of whiskey and when he finishes it, he throws the bottle onto the pile of bedding. He tilts his head back against the wall and stares up at the ceiling. Dean isn’t talking anymore, but he’s still going through the memories. He’s still sharing them with Castiel and Castiel wonders if he even knows he’s doing it.

Dean is remembering how lonely it felt to be abandoned by Sam for Ruby. Ruby, who made Sam sick and wrong and was bad for him. It feels like a pit opens in Castiel’s stomach when a thrum of Dean’s nervous anticipation filters into the memories of his time searching for Sam. The pit expands and makes Castiel’s stomach clench unhappily when Dean remembers finding Sam half-dead in an alley. The same alley that Castiel recognizes from the memory with the knife. Ruby was with Sam and she was just as sick and wrong as he was, but she was always like that.

Castiel is prepared for the memory of the knife and it doesn’t hurt him like it did before. The moments leading up to it, when Dean is fighting off friends of Ruby’s, catch Castiel by surprise. He didn’t know that Dean was an excellent fighter. He dropped many of the enemies in the alley with his fists and his feet. He held his ground until Ruby got in the way. Castiel is just as stunned as Dean was then.

There are no memories of the alley after the knife. Castiel doesn’t know where it is that Dean wakes up, but everything blurs into one long rush of different rooms and many faces. Dean’s frustration from the memories fill the edges of the kin-connection. The rooms are broken up by the memory of getting the tattoo with Sam. The emotions that flow with it are of acceptance and forgiveness.

The stream of memories is becoming choppy and starting to slow down. Before they drop off completely, Castiel is given a few flashes of orange clothes and doors covered in bars. He’s seen pieces of these memories before, from the time when Lilith told Dean that he was to stay in this room with Castiel. They make Dean feel claustrophobic and they drop away, leaving the connection empty except for the buzz of several of Dean’s emotions. Castiel is watching him, but Dean is looking at the ceiling still.

(Are you okay?) Castiel asks softly, brushing gently against Dean’s muddled thoughts.

(Cas, I haven’t been okay since I was four.)

Dean tilts to the side until he falls over. He stretches his legs and his arms across the mattress before pulling the pillow under his head. Castiel is fidgeting with one of the fans along his tail. He pinches, rolls and folds the edge of it. He looks down and watches the fan uncurl when he lets go. He has so many questions he wants to ask Dean, but he has the feeling that he won’t get a straight answer right now.

(Did’ja always glow in the dark or s’that new?)

Castiel lifts his head and meets Dean’s bleary eyes over the edge of his pillow. He looks down again at his tail. When the lights are dimmed overhead, his glow returns. It’s very weak and Castiel is surprised Dean hadn’t noticed it before.  It happens every night. Castiel half-heartedly wishes that the room was darker, than his glow would return in full force. It would be a comfort to him and he could show Dean the light along the edges of his fans.

Dean reaches out and grabs the edge of the mattress. Castiel watches, confused, as Dean drags himself from the wall and staggers to his feet. He walks with wobbling steps to the door and his fingers fumble at the wall. Without warning, the dim lights blink out and the room is cast into a dark that reminds Castiel of the deep ocean.

There are small pin pricks of light along the opposite ledge, in the places where the machines are. The small-sea is dark until Castiel’s glow brightens. It bathes the area around him in a pale light and reflects on the glass. The school of fish dart along the border of shadow. Dean staggers into view on the other side of the glass. Castiel’s glow makes his face look ghostly white.

(Yer like m’own personal night-light.) Dean grins and picks up his phone. He opens it and points the back of the top half at Castiel for a few moments before replacing it on top of the drawers and slumping down on the bed again. (Remind me t’show Sam that in the mornin’.) He leans over and tucks the empty bottle of whiskey into the mound of bedding, hiding it. (I can keep the lights off every night if y’want, Cas. All y’gotta do is ask.)

(Thank you, Dean.)

(I know it sucks bein’ stuck in here. S’real small. I wanna make y’comfortable here til we get home. S’real nice there.)

Castiel’s fans flare and he stares at Dean. Home. Is Dean talking about his home beyond the shores? Or is he talking about Castiel’s home in the trench? Panic flares bright and hard in his chest and Castiel’s fingers tighten over his scales. He hasn’t given Sam nearly enough information about the colony to give them even the slightest hint of where his home is located.

(Y’okay?) Dean is struggling to sit back up and his concern is meandering into the connection.

Castiel takes a few deep breaths to calm himself. There is nothing for him to worry about. It isn’t possible for the humans to know where the colony is.

(I’m fine, Dean. You should go back to sleep.)

Dean’s amusement is wry and it flickers weakly in the connection. (S’why I got drunk. S’the only way t’sleep after that kinda dream.) He pauses and he scratches his fingers through the short hair at the slope of his neck. There’s embarrassed gratitude creeping along the edges of his mind and it almost makes Castiel smile. (Thanks for wakin’ me. I ‘preciate it, y’know?)

Castiel knows. He shushes the tumble of Dean’s thoughts and waits until he’s made himself comfortable, curled on his side facing Castiel again. Then he starts to sing. There is a sharp jolt of surprise through their link, but it eases off into a hum of pleasure. Dean’s eyes slip closed as Castiel sings a popular lullaby from the colony. He sings loud enough to be heard outside the small-sea, and he hopes it’s not loud enough to be heard beyond their room.

It doesn’t take long for Dean to drift off. Castiel continues to sing to the dark room, hoping to keep any more of Dean’s bad dreams at bay. He tries not to think about how his nest brothers and sisters would react to him being so protective over a human, over one of his captors.

There is a small swell of hope sitting cold in his chest. It makes Castiel feel cruel. It is a hope that if he acts carefully, if he can get Dean to care for him enough, he could use Dean’s feelings to get him to set Castiel free. He realizes it’s not hope. It’s a plan. It’s the kind of plan a warrior would make.

And Castiel is a warrior.

When Jess walks in, the clock’s little hand is pointing at the two circles stacked on top of each other and the big hand is tilted to the left, a few spaces shy of pointing straight up. The lights flicker on and Castiel closes his eyes at the sharp stab of them. Irritation crackles along the edge of Dean’s mind for a moment and Castiel looks over to see his nose scrunch before Dean rolls onto his other side, his back to Castiel, and pulls the pillow over his head. He must make a noise, because Jess turns to him sharply.

Castiel is sitting at the front of the small-sea. Next to him is a neat pile of bones and the fish have been gone for quite some time. He pushes the button on the microphone and speaks softly into it.

“Good morning, Jess. Please shhhh. Dean sleep.”

She smiles brightly at him and she fumbles a little with some drawers under the ledge. Jess finds the headset and puts it on, pressing her fingers to the flat-circle over her ear. Her voice is soft and a little hard to hear in the water. Castiel is pleased because it means she’s speaking softly so as not to disturb Dean.

“Hello Castiel. Did you sleep well?”

“Yes.” This is the second time he’s been asked this question first thing when they come in. Castiel wonders if it is part of their greeting or if there are many pleasantries that humans have to go through when talking to each other. “Jess sleep well?”

Jess’s is nearly bouncing and her smile is wide. “I did. Thank you for asking!”

Castiel nods and pulls away. He points to the bucket by the door and at the pile of bones. Jess immediately goes to get the bucket. Instead of holding it up to the edge of the wall for Castiel to push a handful through the bars one at a time, Jess goes to the platform against the left glass-wall. He gathers the bones and it takes only a small flick of his tail to carry him to meet her.

The mirror makes it a little disorienting. Castiel has to remember that the fin-kin swimming at him is really him swimming toward the mirror and he doesn’t need to duck out of the way. Jess unlocks and raises the bars. She’s watching him expectantly through the waves. His fans flutter against the floor before Castiel arches his back and twists up through the water. He flattens his gills to his neck and holds his breath, he doesn’t plan on staying up long enough to breathe any air.

Jess has the bucket waiting, titled against the lip of the glass, when Castiel breaks the surface. He beats his tail a few times to rise up enough to get his arms directly over the bucket and he lets the bones clatter into it. She steps away as he drops, slipping back underwater with barely a splash.

Castiel presses his hands to the wall and pushes away from it, executing a neat backward roll and stretching out in his lazy swim across the length of the small-sea. It’s not a long trip and he aches for more space to spread his fans and really swim. He wants to feel the burn of his muscles after a long swim through open waters. It’s hard not to think about whether or not he’ll ever feel that again.

Sam comes in just as Jess is putting the bucket back by the door. Castiel waits until he and Jess have spoken before he reaches for his mind.

(Hello, Sam. Please don’t wake, Dean.)

Sam is both startled and concerned. He leans around the edge of the small-sea to check on his brother and Castiel knows he notices that Dean is sleeping half-clothed without any of his bedding.

(What happened last night?)

(He had a nightmare. I woke him.) Castiel shows him the memories and Sam covers his mouth with his hand. His mind is teeming with amusement. He leans close to Jess, his lips by her ear. Soon Jess is smiling too.

Sam leaves Jess by the computers and goes to the pile of bedding. His movements change subtly the closer he gets to Dean’s bed, becoming more slow and careful. Castiel thinks it might be because he is trying not to wake Dean and again he feels a warm pleased flush behind his ribs. Sam bends to pick up the bundle but he stills almost as soon as he touches it.

His burst of surprise quickly melts into disapproval and disappointment. He lifts up the edge of the fitted sheet and Castiel knows he’s found the empty bottle. Sam’s expression is dark and displeased and the eyes he lifts to look at Dean are brimming with the anger that Castiel can feel radiating through the link. It is clear to him that Sam does not like it when Dean drinks.

Castiel doesn’t want Sam to be mad at Dean. He tries to soothe Sam like he did with Dean earlier. Sam shrugs off the touch and firmly closes the bundle before picking it up. His lips are pressed in a thin line and even Jess notices the tension in his shoulders. She crosses over to him, hand raised and reaching for his arm. She stops when Sam twists around to stare at Castiel when he presses a few words through the connection.

(His nightmare was filled with fire and knives.)

Almost immediately Sam’s expression softens and his shoulders sag. Jess is at his side. She must be itching to ask questions, but she isn’t. Castiel wonders if it’s because he asked them to stay quiet. Sam leans over and presses a kiss to her forehead. He shakes his head and draws away from her and toward the door.

(I’ll be right back. I’m going to dispose of the evidence and get these washed.)

Castiel doesn’t watch him leave. He swims in restless circles around the small-sea. He notes that Jess sits in front of one of the computers. Meg arrives not long after Sam leaves. She waves at Castiel and he wiggles his fingers at her in a lazy greeting without stopping his laps.

Meg has a big brown square of paper under her arm and she gives it to Jess. Castiel changes his pattern into zigzaging twists, going from the floor of the small-sea to the surface, arching sharply so his back-fans barely brush the bars above the water, and going almost straight down again. It keeps him entertained until he reaches the next wall.

There is an itch under his skin and Castiel doesn’t know how to scratch it. It’s different from the untouched arousal from yesterday. That had been frustrating. This was more infuriating. The powerful muscles of his tail feel tight with disuse and he wants to stretch them. Performing the warrior exercises did him little good during the hours after Dean fell asleep and Jess arrived. The twisting, rolling chase to catch his meal by the light of his glow had eased the ache slightly, but it wasn’t enough.

He stops when Sam returns. Castiel notices that Jess and Meg are looking at squares of black they’ve spread out on the table where the shaving tools had been put yesterday. Every so often they’ll pick one up and hold it up to the light. The squares are glossy, covered in pale curving lines, and Castiel can see through them a little. It’s not like the paper that he’s seen before.

Sam brightens and his excitement is palpable in the connection when he sees what they’re holding. He starts walking toward them but stops when Castiel knocks on the glass. Castiel has a message for him and he means to deliver it before he forgets. He points at Dean’s phone still resting on top of the drawers.

(Dean said to remind him to show you something on his phone.) He shows him a brief flash of the memory of how Dean held the phone last night.

Sam’s eyebrows draw together in brief confusion that is quickly drowned by his curiosity. He turns and walks with exaggerated softness to get the phone. There is a soft pulse of annoyance from Sam’s side of the connection as he stares at it. He not exactly sure what it was Dean wanted to show him and Castiel listens in amusement as he pokes at random buttons.

Castiel knows when Sam has found what he’s looking for. His eyebrows raise dramatically and he lifts wide eyes to stare at him. He tilts his head and waits until Sam explains why there are waves of excitement and surprise rolling into the link. Rather than explain, Sam quickly shuts the door. Meg and Jess look towards him, both frowning in confusion and then the room is pitched into darkness as Sam turns off the lights.

Jess and Meg must make noises of protest because a buzz of irritation rises from Dean’s connection. Castiel presses calming thoughts against it, trying to lull Dean back to sleep. His glow starts weak and like the fish it draws Sam, Jess and Meg to the edge of the small-sea. He can see the shadows of their shapes against the backdrop of black that makes up the rest of the room.

Within a few seconds, his glow is bright enough to light the features of their faces. All three of them look fascinated. Castiel doesn’t quite understand why. Maybe, because of the bright-pearl in steady-blue and the lights that the humans can make themselves, there are no creatures who live above water that have their own glow. It’s a difficult concept for Castiel to grasp because there are so many different creatures with glows that live in the trench or at the bottom of the ocean.

Jess goes to the opposite ledge and comes back with a camera. Just like she did at the light-beds, she lifts it to her face. Castiel can’t hear the clicking of it like he could then. Sam’s excitement is nearly tangible and his grin is wide.

(We had no idea that you have bioluminescence. This is amazing! Do you know how it works? Can you control it?)

Castiel frowns and shrugs. His glow works like the rest of his body does and he’s never really thought about it before. He twists and flares his fans so Jess can take pictures of the glow along the spines of his back-fans and along the edges of his tail-fans. Castiel even demonstrates for them that he can, with some concentration, dim the glow.

(So the pattern on your tail is really your luminescent trail? It looks the same. Since you can control it, than it must be a chemical reaction instead of bacteria. Is there anything else you can do that we don’t know about?)

He shrugs again. There isn’t much about his body that they haven’t already seen. Castiel realizes that with all the light around, he hasn’t been using his echolocation. It’s possible that Sam doesn’t know about that. He’s right, judging by the pleased surprise that bursts brightly through the connection when he fires off a flurry of chirping clicks.

Meg turns the lights back on and everyone winces. Castiel hisses and flares his fans unhappily. He’s accustomed to the dark and even after many days in this lit room, he is still not quite used to just how bright it can be. Jess takes the camera to the ledge and sits down. Sam explains that she’s going to put the pictures from the camera onto the computer. Castiel stops him from explaining further. He barely understands what a computer is.

Sam follows Meg to the table with the black squares. He picks up a few and brings them to the small-sea. Castiel drifts closer to the wall and Sam holds up one of them to the glass.

(These are the x-rays that Alistair and Gordon took yesterday.)

Castiel’s fans flare in surprise and he presses to the glass, looking closely at the images of his insides. Sam points out the curves of his ribs and the line of his spine. He points at different blotches of colour that are apparently Castiel’s internal organs and explains how similar they are to the insides of a human. He shows Castiel several more x-ray pictures before Castiel is bored enough to swim away.

He knows what fin-kin look like on the inside. He’s seen the bones of the dead, picked clean by scavenger fish on the sea floor where they’ve had their battles. He’s cut open his own fair share of enemies and swam through clouds of their blood, leaving them to be finished by sharks too mindless with a feeding frenzy to stay away from a battlefield. He’s seen more than he’s ever wanted to and he doesn’t need to know what his own look like.

Sam doesn’t have any more questions for him at the moment and Castiel lets their connection drift until he wants to speak to him again. He returns to his irregular laps around the small-sea, waiting until Dean wakes up on his own. He still has many questions for Dean and he won’t ask Sam. It’s not that he can’t ask him. Castiel doesn’t want to accidentally anger Dean by telling Sam about all the things Dean showed him during the night.

Dean had been angry yesterday when Sam had showed him things Dean wasn’t prepared to share with Castiel. He doesn’t want a repeat of that happening. Sam might not be happy that Dean shared so much about their pasts without first consulting him and Castiel could get in trouble for telling Sam that Dean shared it in the first place.

Human interactions have the potential of being so confusing. Castiel catches himself before he starts thinking about how simple life was back in the colony. He doesn’t need to drive himself to upset with thoughts like that.

The small hand on the clock reaches the number composed of a straight line and a circle. Dean still isn’t awake. The big hand  is just past halfway to the bottom of the clock when the door opens and Lilith walks in. Castiel doesn’t like her and he doesn’t stop swimming to greet her. The connection with Sam swells with unhappy surprise and a nervous panic. Sam and Jess are both looking subtly at Dean and Castiel gets the feeling that Dean might get in trouble for still being asleep.

Lilith sends a disapproving frown in Dean’s direction. Her dress – red this time, instead of white – swirls around her legs when she turns and walks toward him. Castiel stops sharply with a flare of his fans and knocks hard on the glass, startling her. He hisses and spreads his spines as wide as they will go. It’s a sign of aggression and even though he has no plans to hurt Lilith, he wants her to know that she should stay away from Dean.

He can see the lines of Lilith’s jaw tighten and she narrows her eyes at him. She turns again and walks quickly back to the others. Sam isn’t as well versed with translating through the connection as Dean is, but Castiel understands the basis of Lilith’s conversation with them. She’s asking why Dean is still sleeping. Sam lies to her. He tells her that Dean wasn’t feeling well during the night and was sick on his clothes and bedding.

(Make them stop.)

Dean’s whine is ringing with pain. It’s different from the pain he was feeling with his memories. Castiel reaches out to try and soothe it, but the brush of his mind makes Dean flinch and draw away. He pouts when he feels Dean put up a wall between them. It’s not as solid as the previous times Dean’s kept Castiel out. He can still hear some of his thoughts, but he can’t actually touch Dean’s mind.

(Sorry, Cas. Apparently hangovers and the kin-connection don’t mix. Keep your hands off my brain until I can get some Tylenol in me or something.)

Castiel doesn’t know how to answer that. He decides to fill Dean in on the situation. (I think you should act ill when you get up. Sam told Lilith you were sick during the night. She’s still here, by the way.)

Dean sits up quickly, eyes wide and hair tousled. The others all turn to look at him. Meg looks smug, as if she’s happy that Dean is potentially going to be in trouble with Lilith. Jess and Sam both look vaguely horrified that Dean is not only awake, but – according to Sam’s thoughts – he’s wearing nothing but his underpants in front of their boss. Lilith is glaring hotly, everything from the frown on her face to the way she holds her shoulders is telling Castiel that she doesn’t believe that Dean is sick.

Dean drops his pillow into his lap and looks away. He’s face has gone red and if the kin-connection was fully open, Castiel thinks he might be drowning in Dean’s embarrassment. Lilith points at the drawers at the end of Dean’s bed and her words through the glass are sharp and clipped. Dean nods and slides off the bed. His expression turns to confusion and Castiel notices him looking around at the floor.

(Sam took the bedding to be cleaned.)

Dean winces and looks guiltily toward his brother as he pulls fresh clothes from the drawers. Sam shakes his head and one shoulder rises and falls in a shrug. Castiel subtly checks his connection with Sam to make sure he isn’t upset with Dean for drinking himself to sleep. Dean dresses quickly while Castiel tells him that Sam knows about the nightmare.

Lilith’s glare doesn’t leave Dean until he’s taken his brown pouch and left the room.

(Just gotta freshen up and then I’ll be right back, Cas. Sam will keep you safe, I promise.)

As soon as Dean’s gone, Lilith turns to Sam and starts talking rapidly. It’s too fast for Sam to translate everything. As far as Castiel can tell, Lilith is asking about the kin-connection. Sam is both confused and surprised and displeased that she knows about it. His confusion ebbs into annoyance towards Meg. Castiel thinks that Meg might be the one who told Lilith. He reminds Sam that yesterday he told Jess that he was talking with Castiel through the kin-connection and that Meg had been sitting right there.

Sam chastises himself for it. Castiel brushes it off. He doesn’t care who knows and if the humans are studying him, more of them will have to know about the kin-connection at some point. As it is, they won’t be able to create the link with him. Castiel will only talk to the humans he wants to talk to.

Lilith is not one of them.

(She wants you to talk to her.) Sam turns his eyes from Lilith to Castiel. A cautious hope is creeping along his words and his eyes are pleading.

Castiel’s fans ripple in displeasure and he drifts over to the microphone. He looks directly at Lilith when he pushes the button and speaks. “No.”

Lilith’s eyes narrow dangerously. She speaks sharply and quickly to Sam.

(She wants to know why not?)

He presses the button again. “No like Lilith.”

Her cheeks go red and she starts gesturing widely with her hands. She’s isn’t yelling yet, but Castiel thinks she might soon. Especially if he continues to turn her down. His side-fans flick out widely at one of the things Sam translates in Lilith’s demands. Even Sam’s mind is vibrating along the edges with dislike for her words.

Castiel bares his fangs and hisses, smacking his hand on the glass before pressing the button.

“Lilith no own Castiel.”

Lilith’s lips curl into a snide grin and she actually laughs. She takes the few short steps to carry her to the glass-wall at the front of the small-sea. Castiel twists up until his eyes are level with hers. He refuses to let her glare down at him like he’s something lesser than the warrior of the colony that he is.

They glare at each other for several long moments and Castiel will not back down first.  Without looking away, Lilith raises her hand and holds it a little behind her shoulder. Her fingers twitch slightly and Castiel recognizes the way her lips form Sam’s name when she speaks. He doesn’t recognize the words that follow, but Sam steps closer and he translates for her, word for word.

(This is my crew, my boat, my tank and my expedition. They caught you on my orders and they do what I pay them to. They feed you because I tell them to and I can just as easily have them stop.) Sam’s thoughts stutter and burn white hot with anger.

(That’s not true! Even if she told us to, we’d never let you starve.)

Although he’s grateful for the assurance, Castiel grits his teeth and his upper lip twitches back in a snarl. He asks Sam for the next words he wants to speak. He wants to be the one to say them to Lilith and he wants to be perfectly clear without stumbling over his stilted used of their language. Behind Lilith’s shoulder, Sam clearly tries to fight a devious smile as he gives Castiel the words he needs.

He tips his head forward and pins Lilith with his most challenging look. His fans are flared as wide as they can go and he reaches down to press the button. 

“Go ahead.”

Her smug smile falls into a disdainful sneer. She turns and speaks to the others and both Sam and Jess look equally horrified. Castiel knows, through Sam, that Lilith is telling them he isn’t to be fed until he starts cooperating with everyone and not just Dean and Sam. Even Meg raises her eyebrows at this order.

Castiel starts to calculate how long he thinks he’ll be able to last. He’s gone a few days without eating before and that was pretty bad, but he was in the middle of a war and hunting was scarce at the time. He was far more active then than he is now. If he doesn’t move much for the next few days he could slow his metabolism and last longer. But even he can’t predict how long it will be before the hunger gets to him. He doesn’t know if he’ll even be able to keep himself from begging for something to eat.

He doesn’t want to place any hope in Sam’s words that they’ll keep feeding him despite Lilith’s command not to. 

When Dean gets back and Sam tells him about what happened, Dean throws his brown pouch across the room. It splits open and the contents scatter over the floor. The only thing Castiel recognizes is the razor. Jess cleans up the mess.

(Why the hell would you tell her that, Cas?!) Dean is angry and yelling with words at Sam and thoughts at Castiel.

(Are you saying I should be cowed by her? I’m not afraid of her, Dean, and I won’t let her push me around.)

Dean is pacing and he’s dropped the wall in their connection. Castiel is subjected to the full brunt of his anger and frustration. But most of all, he can feels Dean’s fear. Dean is afraid that he won’t be able to keep him alive if he insists on butting heads with Lilith. He’s scared that Lilith will lock up Dean and Sam and Jess, and maybe even Meg, and keep them away from Castiel where they won’t be able to help him.

Sam explains that Lilith has many other people working for her that are more loyal to her than they are. If she gives the order to keep Sam and Dean away from Castiel, they won’t be able to fight it. If they did, they could be in more trouble than just with Lilith. Humans are bound by many laws and rules that Sam doesn’t explain because there are so many intricacies that they could still be talking about it well into tomorrow.

(We’ll do our best to get around her orders, but for your sake, Castiel, please don’t start fights with her.)

(Why did she want me to talk with her?) Castiel narrows his eyes at Sam and crosses his arms tightly over his chest.

(She…) Sam shifts and looks away.

Jess and Meg have returned to their work, albeit slowly. Dean is still pacing and his aggravated anger continues to flare up through the connection even though he isn’t speaking directly to Castiel at the moment.

Sam runs his hand through his hair and looks back. (She didn’t think it was fair that you talk to me and Dean and not her. She really does think she owns you, y’know? You’re her… her pet. This science stuff? It’s just so she can make a tax write off for all the money she’s spending on catching herself a fin-kin. I know you don’t understand that, but Lilith is a collector. She likes owning rare things that no one else has, and you’re one of them. The moment we caught you, by human standards, you belonged to her.)

Castiel snarls and beats his tail against the floor, rising up and spreading his fans again. (I belong to no one!)

He severs his connection to both Sam and Dean. Rather than curl up against the grey-wall and hide under his fans from them, Castiel swims. It’s a foolish thing to do, considering he might not be given food for many days. But he is angry and needs to move.

By the time the small hand of the clock is pointing at the stacked-half-circles, Castiel hasn’t stopped swimming. He is unsatisfied and the itch is back under his skin. He’s tried to stop, just to rest for a moment, but he can’t hold still. It’s nearly unbearable to stay in one place for long. His time has been sent practicing battle formations and imagining the rest of his garrison in line on either side of him. It’s difficult in the tight confines of the small-sea and it only serves to raise his ire.

He’s purposefully not paid any attention to what the humans are doing beyond the glass-walls. For the last several hours Castiel actually has no idea what Sam and Dean, or Jess and Meg, have been up to. He has no desire nor curiosity to see and even though his mind is craving the contact of the kin-connection, the buzz of being close to someone, he doesn’t reach out to anyone.

On what could be his hundredth or his thousandth time around, Castiel notices that the bars are still raised. It’s a desperate split-second decision that has him swimming straight for the opening. He flattens his back-fans as tight as they’ll go and breaks the surface in a grand splash. His momentum carries him halfway over the glass-wall and the edge of it catches him painfully just beneath his stomach.

By then he can hear their voices shouting but he pays no attention to them. He sends water spraying everywhere with the thrashing of his tail as he tries to lift himself up enough to get over the edge. Castiel is coughing the water from his lungs and his throat itches with the feel of the air. He lands on the platform shoulder-first and pain pierces down his arm and back in bright bolts.

A hand is on his arm and it’s not his own. Castiel snarls and lashes out with claws. “No touch!”

He only vaguely registers that it’s Sam who falls back with a pained grunt, red seeping through the sleeves of his white coat. Jess is at his side almost immediately and pressing her hands tightly to the wounds Castiel has given him.

Castiel’s left shoulder burns when he pushes himself up. His arms tremble. He doesn’t have any water to help buoy him, and for the first time Castiel is lifting his full weight. He grips the edge of the platform and twists his tail, trying to get some kind of leverage. With more difficulty than he thought, Castiel manages to pull and push himself to the edge. It’s not too far to the floor, but he grunts when he drops to it in a curled mess of his tail.

When he rights himself, there are legs blocking his way. Castiel looks up and Meg is pointing the dart-gun at him again. Castiel watches her finger and ducks to the side when it tightens over the curl of metal that makes the dart fly. It tears a hole through the fan along the left side of his tail by his hip but Castiel doesn’t even feel it. The dart clatters across the floor uselessly. He bunches his tail beneath him and uses the coil to launch himself forward, knocking into her legs and sending Meg crashing to the ground with a sharp cry.

He’s managed to drag and push himself halfway to the door before it swings open and Dean is there. Castiel didn’t even know he was gone. He’s holding the square white boxes that Castiel knows hold their food. Castiel doesn’t stop to wonder why Dean is holding five instead of the usual four. Dean’s mouth is hanging open and he’s staring wide-eyed down at him. Castiel flares his fans and hisses at him.

“Move, Dean!”

Dean’s eyes track from him back the way he came. Castiel knows the moment that Dean sees Sam bleeding. He closes his mouth, his jaw goes tight, and his eyes harden. The white containers hit the ground and a few of them spill their contents. The smells are strong and new and if this was a different situation Castiel would have liked to learn what each one was, but Dean is walking forward with long steps that bring him right there.

“No touch!” Castiel tries to get out of the way, but out of the water he is slow and fumbling and Dean is on him before he can get upright enough to fight him off.

Castiel thrashes, rolling onto his back to try and push Dean away. His tail knocks over two of the chairs and slaps noisily against the floor and the outside of the small-sea. Dean gets his wrists in his hands and he keeps trying to hold them down against his sides. He manages to pin them to the floor. Castiel is shouting at him in his native language. He tries to twists his arms free, fingers scrabbling to dig his claws in. Dean stays well out of reach of Castiel’s teeth.

“Cas, stop!”

Deans has one leg on either side of Castiel’s hips and his knees are pinching his fans against the floor. It’s painful but it’s not enough to get Castiel to stop. He arches his back in an attempt to knock Dean off and Dean settles himself more heavily. Before Castiel can curl the end of his tail forward to hit him from behind, a weight – Jess – drops over it.

“No!” Cas writhes ineffectively under Dean and Jess. “No!

With Jess, and now Meg, holding his tail down, Dean slides up until he’s centered over Castiel’s stomach. He’s leaning forward, the weight of his upper body pressing heavily down on his wrists. They’re pinned to the floor up by his shoulders.

“Calm down, Cas! Christ, calm down!

The world is blurred and Castiel realizes belatedly that he’s crying. He doesn’t care, but his attempts to dislodge Dean are becoming less frantic, desperate. His chest is heaving and each breath rattles painfully. Castiel strains against Dean’s hands a few more times before he goes limp. When he looks up at Dean again, he’s expecting anger in his eyes for hurting Sam.

All he sees is pain.

Castiel opens his mouth and his words come out on a strangled sob. “Home! Please, Dean, please!” He closes his eyes and rocks his head back. It bares his throat to Dean, but he doesn’t care because Dean’s already won. He has Castiel pinned and helpless. He cries his most important plea again. “Home!

There is no response and Castiel’s stifled sobs fill the room. They’re accompanied by the humans’ heavy breathing. He doesn’t expect Dean to let go of his arms so soon, not before Meg or Sam or Jess can get him with the sleeping dart again. But Dean does. His wrists throb dully when the tight grip is gone, but Dean’s hands don’t go far.

Castiel opens his eyes in surprise and his sob catches in his throat when Dean’s hands slip under his back and lift him up against his chest. Dean moves back down his body, sitting astride Castiel’s lap again and he holds Castiel tightly. His face is pressed into Castiel’s damp hair and he’s whispering words against his forehead.

“I’m sorry, Cas. I’m so fucking sorry. If I could, I would. I really would. But I don’t know how. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He repeats it again and again and again.

Castiel can hear it above him and he feels the vibrations of the words under his cheek. His arms are hanging loosely down his sides. It would be so easy to reach up and tear at him with his claws or open his mouth and bite. Dean is leaving himself open to any number of attacks and over his litany, Castiel can hear Sam’s objections. It's another staggering example of Dean's trust in Castiel. It takes him several long moments to recognize that the burn in his chest isn’t because he’s holding his breath. He doesn’t know the right words to name or describe this ache behind his ribs.

His first breath is thin, little more than a hiss of air between his teeth. The second rattles down his throat and into his lungs. The third is a sob that makes his shoulders quake. Before Castiel realizes it, he’s curling his fingers into the back of Dean’s shirt and clutching at him as tightly as he can. He’s crying against Dean’s chest like he did as a hatchling crying against Gabriel when their father disappeared.

Castiel cries until he has no more tears and the sobs that continue to wrack his body are dry and painful. His throat is tight and threatens to choke him at any moment and his face feels hot where it’s pressed against Dean’s neck. He keeps whimpering out broken pleas between breaths and Dean continues to whisper apologies, fingers brushing through Castiel’s now dry hair in soothing strokes that travel down his neck and spine before starting again.

He doesn’t remember when Dean moved them, but they’re sitting with Dean’s back against the small-sea. Castiel is twisted in his lap. They’re chest to chest and Castiel’s tail is wrapped under Dean’s bent knees and folded back over his feet. Dean’s right hand is curled over his hip, holding Castiel in place. Somebody keeps dripping water over his scales and Dean’s jeans are soaked from it.

Castiel sniffles when he finally lifts his head. Meg and Jess are gone and Sam is sitting with his long legs bent and crossed before him. His back is to the closed door and he’s got the bucket next to him. When Castiel’s tail starts to dry, he dips a very-small-bucket into it and pours the water over his scales. Towels are placed all around them, soaking up the excess that drips to the floor. Sam’s coat is gone and the sleeves of his crisscross-patterned shirt are pushed up to his elbows. His left forearm is wrapped tight with bandages that are already stained through with red.

Castiel wipes at his nose with the back of his hand and leans his forehead against the side of Dean’s jaw. He watches Sam demurely and when he speaks, his voice is little more than a croak. “Sorry, Sam.”

Sam looks from Castiel to his arm and back. The corner of his mouth crooks up in a small smile and he shrugs. “It’s fine. Happens to the best of us. And I really wasn’t expecting to get out of that without a scratch or two.”

Without the kin-connection, Castiel barely understands half of what he says. His head feels tight and there’s a pounding in his temples. He’s too drained to even think about trying to reach out and connect to either Sam or Dean. Castiel tries another question, hoping for a simple answer. “Sam okay?”

“Yes, Castiel, I’m okay.” He nods.

Castiel’s fans ripple lightly in response and it makes him wince. He looks down at the hole in his webbing. He reaches to assess the damage with touch, but Dean catches his hand with his own and presses it back to his shoulder where Castiel had been holding his shirt.

“Don’t touch it, Cas. Let it heal.”

He lifts his head to look at Dean. He’s tilted his face up and his eyes are closed. Castiel's right hand is tucked against the small of Dean's back. He gently presses his fingers into the muscle. “Dean okay?”

Dean nods. “M’fine. Gonna have a few really nice bruises though. You okay now?”

“No.” Castiel shakes his head and leans against him to press his face into Dean’s neck again.

Dean is a wall of warmth and even though Castiel is used to the cold waters of the deep, he finds it comforting and relaxing. He’s tired and dry and he wants to go back in the water, but at the same time he never wants to wet his tail in the small-sea again. He hates the confining walls and the slowly stagnating water.

He starts trembling again and his eyes hurt from the sting of tears that aren’t there. Dean’s arm tightens over his shoulders and he brings up the other to squeeze Castiel against his chest. By all accounts, this should feel more closed off and small than the glass-walls of small-sea. But here Castiel feels better. He’s warm and he feels safe and secure.

Castiel tilts his head and rubs his nose into the dip of Dean’s collarbone. Dean smells like nothing Castiel has ever smelled before. There’s the tang of salt on his skin and beneath that, a deeper, darker roll of scent that Castiel thinks might be purely Dean. He likes it and it suits him. Dean tilts his head back more when Castiel tucks up under his chin to press his nose under his jaw.

Sam huffs a little laugh and Castiel doesn’t know what he finds amusing. Dean’s chest jerks under his hand and a puff of air ruffles Castiel’s hair.  “Shut up, Sammy.”

There’s a clicking noise and Castiel lifts his head in time to see Sam lowering his phone. Dean snorts again but doesn’t move. “I’m not above tossing your damn phone overboard, y’know.”

“Oh come on, it’s cute. Wait until I show Jess!”

Dean makes a weak grabbing motion for Sam’s phone and Sam laughs as he holds it out of reach. The spot where Dean’s hand had been resting on Castiel’s side grows cold and he doesn’t like it. He grabs Dean’s wrist and puts it back in place before curling tighter against Dean. Sam makes little cooing noises and Dean tells him to ‘shut up’ again, but he doesn’t take his hands away.

Castiel lets his thoughts wander slightly as Dean and Sam make rude noises at each other. He notes absently that Dean’s bedding is folded and piled neatly on the ledge by the door. For a moment he wonders when those were returned and who brought them back. Castiel thinks it was probably Jess. He can’t barely see Dean’s bed from where they’re sitting. It’s mostly obscured by the solid base of the small-sea.

He can see the large square of white that Dean put up on the wall the other day. Castiel never did get the chance to ask what it and the squares with the numbers are. He wants to ask now, but he knows if Dean answers with his voice he won’t understand most, if not all, of his answer.

It takes more energy than he’s willing to admit to reach out to Dean. To his surprise, Dean grasps the weak tendrils of the kin-connection and pulls. He strengthens it and reaches through and his touch is gentle and as soothing as the hand pressing into the muscles along the edges of his back-fans. Dean doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t even physically react, but he offers up all the comfort that he can with just his thoughts.

Castiel basks in it. He takes Dean’s kindness and wraps himself up tight in the reassuring feeling that is Dean. He lets Dean warm both his body and his mind and for several long moments Castiel finds it hard to care about anything else. It stirs up an oddly light and floating feeling in his chest that is at once both frightening and one of the best things he’s ever felt.

The splash of cool water on his scales and the webbing of his fans jolts Castiel from sinking into the calming abyss that he’s quickly coming to associate to Dean. He blinks his eyes open and wonders when he shut them. The corner of the white paper on the wall catches his attention again and Castiel remembers why he wanted to talk to Dean.

He dredges up an image of the squares on the paper and slides it through the connection. Dean takes it and Castiel hears and feels a thoughtful hum vibrate under his cheek.

(It’s a calendar. We use it to keep track of days, weeks, months and years.) He explains slowly, with simple images and small words about how the humans count days.

Castiel looks at the calendar again and asks Dean about the bright red lines drawn through some of the squares. Dean explains that he’s marked how many days Castiel has been on the ship. Despite Castiel’s grumble of protest, he moves his hands long enough to spread all his fingers. On one hand he lowers all the fingers except his thumb.

(This is how many days you’ve been here.)

A heavy weight settles in Castiel’s chest. He’s been gone from the colony for nearly an entire sentry rotation. His turn would have been tonight. The quick thrum of sadness that rises at the thought is swallowed up by Dean’s touch as he wraps Castiel in his mind again and hugs him close.

Castiel forcefully turns his attention back to the calendar. Far at the bottom, a few rows of squares away from the red lines marking his imprisonment, there is a day circled many times in red. Castiel brushes the image of it with curiosity against Dean’s mind. Dean’s body tenses and his arms tighten almost painfully around Castiel.

(That’s when the boat reaches our home.) The words are cold and not nearly as happy as Dean had been when he’d spoken about his home during the night. (That’s when you’ll be moved from here to Lilith’s place. That’s when we’ll be separated and you’ll never see the ocean again.)

Castiel reflexively tightens his grip on Dean and his fans flare where they aren’t held down by Dean’s arms. Dean shushes him with a soft touch.

(That’s how long Sam and I have to get you back to the sea.)

 

danceswithfriedchicken

by cranialabsconder

by msmerc

the angstcuddles

Chapter Text

The rumbling noises that wake him take a moment to coalesce into something recognizable. Castiel doesn't lift his head or open his eyes, he doesn't even move. He is, quite possibly, the most comfortable he has ever been. The rumble that woke him is start-stopping under his cheek, his pillow rising and falling in a steady rhythm.

"I really don't want to wake him. After this afternoon he was so tired. And he looks so... peaceful right now."

"Yeah, Sam, I get that. But that doesn't change the fact that I've gotta piss like a frikken racehorse. He's like a goddamn octopus. Help me get 'em off!"

"Can't you just hold it?"

"I've been holding it for over an hour, Sammy! My eyeballs are gonna start floating soon."

His pillow shifts and Castiel grunts his disapproval, pressing as close to the warmth as physically possible. He tightens his arms and his tail and his pillow vibrates with a groan.

(Fuck, Cas, if you're awake for the love of all that's good stop squeezing me or we're gonna have an accident and I really don't wanna go down in history as the guy who pissed on a fin-kin.)

(I am comfortable and you are warm.)

(I get that, dude, I totally do. But I've got to pee.) Dean's urgency presses heavily through the kin-connection and there’s a swell of panic beneath it.

Castiel pulls away slowly. As soon as he is no longer pressed against Dean, his skin feels chilled by the air and he has to fight the urge to lean against him again. He stifles a yawn and rubs at his eyes before he looks around, checking for Sam. He knows he heard his voice. The chairs have been moved and Sam is standing in front of the computers by the moving very-small-sea from yesterday.

He sits up quickly, fans flaring in displeased surprise and a flash of panic. Why is that here? Are they going to take pictures of his insides again? Are they going to try and see his insides? Did Alistair or Gordon return while Castiel slept? It was so foolish of him to fall asleep outside the small-sea where he can’t move as freely. But he had been so tired and Dean had been so warm, and comfortable, and he made Castiel feel safe.

Dean’s hands are immediately on his shoulders and pulling him back against him. His palms are warm where they settle over Castiel’s chest, one hand resting over the quick beat of his heart. He floods the link with calm and coos soft noises close to his side-fan.

(It’s okay, Cas. There’s no x-ray machine or anything to go with it, I promise. You didn’t want to go back into the tank because the water is getting gross, right? So Sam went and got you this for the night. It might be a little cramped, since you’re longer than it is, but the water is fresh. Well, more fresh than the tank, at least.)

Sam is looking at them expectantly. Castiel notes how tired he seems and he glances at the clock. The small hand is a few numbers beyond the number when Sam usually leaves. Castiel’s tail is damp and he realizes that Sam has been keeping his scales wet the whole time that he’s been sleeping. He had fallen asleep while Dean and Sam sent messages to each other with their phones.

As Dean had explained it, conversations that happen in the room are recorded for scientific purposes, so that they can look back and study the tapes in case they missed anything that Castiel says or does. Dean said that that is the ‘official’ reason. In reality, Lilith is paranoid and possessive and wants to make sure that no one tries to steal Castiel.

Castiel is both thankful and relieved that there is no way to record the kin-connection.  He is very interested in seeing the pictures that move on screens that look like the computers on the ledge opposite the small-sea. Dean had made the promise to show him shortly before Castiel fell asleep to the tapping of their phones and the steady beat of Dean’s heart against his cheek.

He eyes the very-small-sea warily, but he can’t feel any deception from Dean. Their link still pulses with Dean’s need to relieve himself, but above it all it vibrates with honesty and the constant thrum of calming thoughts. Castiel nods and relaxes slowly. He slides off of Dean’s lap and Dean quickly gets to his feet, stretching as he does. He can hear the popping of his back under Dean’s pleased groan.

“I can get him into the tank if you want to go to the bathroom.” Sam steps toward them.

Castiel understands a few of the words, but the meaning is lost to him. He looks up at Dean, waiting for a proper translation. Dean looks between Sam and Castiel and shrugs, pushing an image through the connection of Sam lifting Castiel into the very-small-sea.

(You okay with that?)

He is confused by a small swell of disappointment that he scrambles to keep out of the kin-connection. Castiel doesn’t need Dean or Sam to know that he would prefer Dean’s help. As nice as Sam is, Castiel doesn’t trust him nearly as much as he trusts Dean. Not yet. And he still feels bad for hurting Sam. He looks pointedly at the bandages – they’ve been changed since he fell asleep – before meeting Sam’s eyes.

Sam smiles and shrugs. “I’m okay, really.” 

“Are you going to be able to hold him with that arm? He’s kinda heavy.”

Castiel flicks the end of his tail and smacks Dean in the side of his leg. He glares when Dean laughs and slides out of reach.

(Christ, I’m not calling you fat. By our standards you’re pretty fit up top, but I’d bet my baby that you’re all muscles under those scales. Muscle weighs more than fat, y’know?)

Dean is grinning, but he’s shifting from side to side, rocking his weight from one foot to the other. Castiel watches him with raised eyebrows. No, he didn’t know that. And he didn’t know that Dean has a baby. And he doesn’t know why Dean can’t hold still.

“Oh just go already. We’ll be fine.”

Dean sags and the kin-connection gets filled with a flood of emotions varying from relief, to gratitude, to adoration. All of it is directed at Sam, but Castiel is the only one who can feel it. As Dean steps over his tail, Castiel tucks his fans in close to keep them from being crushed under Dean’s shoes. He huffs quietly when Dean ruffles his hair while stepping past.

(I’ll be right back.)

The kin-connection slackens, falling quiet as Dean leaves the room. Castiel keeps hold of the feeling of Dean’s presence but he doesn’t reach for more. The door makes a high-pitched pulse of noise as it closes. He never knew it made that sound and he wants to know what it is. He could widen the link with Dean again and ask him, but instead he reaches for Sam’s mind.

Sam smiles at the first touch and crouches down next to him. His thoughts are tired and strained. It’s been an eventful week for everyone and it’s taking its toll on Sam. He’s been working every day since they caught him and Castiel knows he hasn’t been making things easy for the humans.

(Hello Castiel.)

(Hello, Sam. Why did the door make a noise?) Castiel looks between him and the door.

Sam doesn’t understand the question until Castiel imitates the noise. He laughs as he stands up and walks to the door. The high-pitched pulse sounds again when Sam opens and closes it. Different images start to flood the connection as Sam explains. (It has an auto-lock feature. There’s a sensor on the other side that we have to move a card over to get in. This lock on the inside-) He slides the thin metal bar back and forth over the edge of the door. (-is to keep people out even if they use their card. That beeping noise is the sound it makes to let us know that the auto-lock is in place. And it beeps when someone swipes their card to let us know someone is coming in.)

He leaves the metal-bar lock open and comes back to crouch next to him. Castiel is still thinking about the locks. What if there are other doors on the boat that need the card to unlock them? Any escape attempt would be doomed to failure beyond this room. Castiel doesn’t have a card and he’s not sure he would be able to lift himself up enough to reach the sensor.

Castiel sighs and looks away from the door. His eyes catch on Sam’s arm, bent against his knee. (How is your arm?) He reaches out to touch the bandages and hesitates before quickly withdrawing his hand. He feels regret for hurting Sam. (Was it deep?)

Sam shrugs and brushes aside the regret with understanding and forgiveness. (A little. I didn’t need stitches or anything, so that’s good.) Sam pauses and smiles at the flash or disgusted horror from Castiel.

The word ‘stitches’ was foreign to Castiel and Sam had provided an image of a needle dipping in and out of skin over ragged cuts to tie the skin together with very thin string. Humans do such weird things that no fin-kin would ever fathom doing. Why tie skin together when you could seal it with snail jelly and bind it in kelp? Sam’s eyebrows raise in surprise and he mirrors Castiel’s disgust when Castiel explains how fin-kin handle deep wounds.

A shudder ripples down Sam’s body and he shakes his head and wrinkles his nose. Castiel can feel through the kin-connection when Sam tries to shove the images out of his head. It’s amusing and Sam makes a face at Castiel’s delight over his reaction. 

His fingers tap a pattern on his legs and he looks from Castiel to the very-small-sea, grasping for a change of subject. (How do you want to do this? Like how Dean picked you up before?) He pushes the memory of Dean standing on the platform with one arm around Castiel’s back and the other under his tail.

Other options flicker up after it. They are images of Castiel with his back to Sam’s chest and Sam’s arms are wrapped around his waist while his tail hangs to the floor. Another is Castiel with his arms around Sam’s shoulders and Sam is holding him around the waist, arms tucked under the bend of his tail at his hips.

(Whichever is easiest on your arm.) Castiel’s back-fans rustle with his shrug.

Sam chews on his bottom lip for a few moments before he shuffles closer to Castiel’s side. He tucks his hair behind his ears. He chooses the last option and the image of it flares brightly in the kin-connection. Without being asked, Castiel curls his tail under him and lifts enough to wrap his arms around Sam’s shoulders.

He’s warm like Dean, but he smells different. Castiel can smell the salt of his sweat and the subtle metallic scent of blood still lingering on his skin. There are smells that Castiel doesn’t recognize lingering in Sam’s hair and on his clothes. He wonders if they might be Jess’s scents. Beneath everything on the surface there is something deeper, something that is similar to Dean.

Sam grunts when he takes all of Castiel’s weight. He wraps his tail up and around Sam’s waist to keep it out of the way of his legs. The few steps to the moving very-small-sea are wobbly and Castiel tightens his hold, worried that Sam will drop him. His worry is met with a reassuring amusement as Sam staggers up to the glass sides.

The very-small-sea reaches up to Sam’s hips, but it’s not much wider or longer than Dean’s bed. Castiel flips his tail from around his waist and over the edge. The water is cool on his scales, but it’s only a slight comfort. It’s still not the sea. Sam lowers Castiel until most of his tail is in the water. When he lets go, Castiel does too and he drops the rest of the way. Sam jumps back to avoid the splash.

Rather than sink below the rippling waves of this very-small-sea, Castiel twists around onto his side and crosses his arms over the edge of the glass-wall of the long side that faces toward his small-sea. He rests his chin on his forearms and looks up at Sam. He’s smiling at Castiel and their link is vibrating with a curious tinged concern.

(Does that feel better? Are you hungry?)

(It’s nice to be back in the water, thank you.) Castiel hesitates in answering the second question. Lilith gave the order to not feed him until he cooperates with her. He doesn’t want Sam or Dean or anyone to get in trouble for giving him food. (No, I’m fine.) His stomach protests, gurgling and empty. He hasn’t had anything to eat since the night before.

Sam’s skepticism bounces back at him and Castiel wants to look away from the frown pinching his face, but he doesn’t. Sam runs a hand through his hair and subtly looks up at the black squares in the corners between the walls and ceiling of the room. Those are the cameras that Dean told Castiel about earlier.

(We all saved you some of our suppers – even Meg, surprisingly enough. Dean’s going to turn off the lights completely when he goes to bed and give you that. I really hope you can digest our food… It’ll be harder to sneak fish in.)

(Thank you, Sam, but that’s not necessary. You’ll get in trouble and I can stand to be hungry for a few days.) Castiel feels a surge of gratitude for them and he tries to smile, but he knows it comes out bitter and more like a grimace. He looks away. He doesn’t regret his decision to fight Lilith’s claim, but he does worry over how long he’ll be able to last.

(Lilith is used to getting what she wants, Castiel. She’ll find ways to tease you with food. I’ve been working for her for a long time and she’s… done some pretty mean things to get her pets to listen to her.)

Castiel sneers at the term, but his stomach drops and fills with a dread that he hides from the kin-connection when Sam shows him memories of creatures Castiel has never seen before. Great beasts with claws and fangs, covered in thick hair, bleeding and broken and submitting to Lilith. He can taste bile on the back of tongue.

(I am a warrior. The colony is in the middle of a war to protect our home and you took me from a field of battle. Lilith does not scare me, Sam.)

Sam bites his lip. The door beeps and he glances at Dean walking into the room before looking back at Castiel. His face is blank, but the kin-connection is alive with a myriad of worry and fear. (She should.) He turns to Dean. “I’m going to head out. Jess texted and said she had some things to show me.”

Dean smirks and his eyebrows twitch up and down a few times in a leer. “Oh, really?”

Castiel pulls on his connection with Dean, widening it until he can feel his thoughts and not just his mind. Dean’s thoughts are alive with amusement at teasing Sam and Castiel isn’t sure why. It could be a human thing that Castiel doesn’t understand yet and he gently touches at Dean’s mind with his confusion. Dean grins and his eyes move from Sam to Castiel.

Sam groans and covers his hands with his face. “He’s asking what you’re talking about, isn’t he? Oh God, please don’t explain that to him.”

“Why not? He should learn to understand innuendo. It’ll be fun!”

“You’re going to corrupt a fin-kin.”

Dean laughs and his grin is proud and teasing. He’s translating for Castiel even as they speak with their throat-voices. “You don’t mind, do you? I bet you guys have a bunch of interesting innuendos. You’ll have to show me some.”

Castiel tilts his head in confusion. Sam explains that an innuendo is an insinuation, a hint at something else. Specifically, Dean is talking about sexual innuendos. Castiel can feel his cheeks heat and he dips his head to hide his face. He doesn’t know of any fin-kin innuendos. That would be something that Gabriel and Balthazar would know better than him.

He looks up again at the sound of Sam smacking Dean on the arm. “Don’t tease him. He’s…” Castiel flares his side-fans to catch the whisper. “He’s a virgin, Dean.”

A bright flash of surprise echoes through the kin-connection with Dean and his eyes go wide. He turns from Sam’s frown to look at him. Castiel winces and ducks again, blushing harder and embarrassed. The link goes suspiciously quiet and Castiel thinks Dean might be hiding his thoughts and emotions from it. When he sneaks a look to check, Dean’s expression is just as blank as the connection.

“Oh.” He shrugs. “That’s cool, I guess. To each their own. Wait.” Dean turns to look at Sam and Castiel draws on his connections with both of them to understand what they’re saying. “How the heck do you know Cas is a virgin?”

“He told me.”

“He told you?”

“Sorta.” Sam shrugs and runs a hand through his hair. He starts shifting from foot to foot and he glances at Castiel. “We were talking about how they mate and he was… well when I pointed out that humans have sex for fun too, instead of for just procreation, I asked if he’s ever done it for fun and he reacted like… kinda like that.” He flaps a hand in his direction and Castiel frowns at it.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, well, talk to him about it. Not me.” Sam uses his shoulder to brush Dean out of the way of the door. “Jess is waiting. I’ll see you both tomorrow. Good night, Castiel.”

Castiel raises one hand in a small wave. “Good night, Sam.”

The door beeps when it closes and Dean stands by it for a few moments. Castiel watches him, but Dean isn’t looking at him. He runs his hand through his hair – a nervous habit that the brothers share – before going to the drawers where his clothing is stored. Dean doesn’t say anything as he takes out his sleep clothes. He still hasn’t said anything by the time he kicks off his shoes and starts undoing his jeans.

(Dean?)

He doesn’t look up. (Yeah?)

(Is everything okay?)

(It’s fine, Cas.)

Dean still isn’t looking at him and the link between them is still devoid of his emotions. Castiel doesn’t like it and he can feel anxiety curling tight in his chest. Did he do something to make Dean unhappy? Was Dean mad at him for falling asleep on him? Castiel knows Dean has a thing about touching, but Dean had been the first to touch him and he hadn’t said anything about it when Castiel had finished crying. He hadn’t let go and had held Castiel until he fell asleep. Is Dean uncomfortable because Castiel is a virgin?

He is in the middle of pulling his shirt over his head when Dean pauses. The kin-connection explodes with a flurry of thoughts and emotions that rush to sooth the wavering edges of Castiel’s mind. Dean isn’t uncomfortable and he’s not unhappy with Castiel. But he is mad. He is furious and even though it isn’t directed at him, Castiel shrinks away from it.

Dean throws his shirt down on his bed and his fingers curl into trembling fists at his sides. He still doesn’t look at Castiel and his shoulders hunch against the storm of anger flashing through his mind. Castiel can feel strands of pity swirling among the mess. He doesn’t understand why Dean would pity him, or why Dean is upset on his behalf.

Castiel flinches when Dean smashes his fist into the side of his drawers. It tilts onto one edge and despite the pain that spikes through the rage, Dean is quick to right it before it falls over. He’s saying the harsh, dark words that Castiel doesn’t know but he thinks might be profane exclamations like when Balthazar or Gabriel would swear.

It’s Castiel’s turn to reach out and soothe the turbulent sea of Dean’s mind. For a brief moment he wishes he could wrap Dean in his arms and tail again to make him feel as safe as he had made Castiel feel. He still doesn’t know what is making Dean so angry.

(Lilith is!) Dean’s thoughts crackle with hatred. (You’re not an animal and she’s keeping you locked up in here like one. And when she gets home, she’s just got a bigger, fancier cage for you and it’s just not fucking fair, Cas! You’ve never even – and if we can’t figure out how to get you out, you won’t ever and that’s just –) Dean makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat and he rubs his hands through his hair harshly. (There’s no way I’m letting you die a virgin, Cas.)

It takes several seconds for Castiel to parse the reason Dean is actually angry and it almost makes him laugh. (Dean, you’re being ridiculous.)

He looks up at him sharply. (I am not!)

(Yes, you are. You’re upset that I haven’t experienced the pleasures of the flesh and you’re worried I never will.)

Dean presses his lips together in a thin line and he looks away. His anger abates minimally to be replaced with embarrassed annoyance.  (Yeah, well, sex is awesome. Everyone should get to experience it at least once and it’s a damn shame that you haven’t.)

He rolls his shoulders and glances back at Castiel. His ears are turning red around the edges. (How come you’ve never done it? Are you too young? Or… uh, do fin-kin think you’re, y’know, not attractive or something? I mean, by our standards – if we can get past all the fans, the gills, and those crazy teeth of yours – you’re not bad to look at.)

Castiel frowns and looks at the floor, his chin on his forearms again. He huffs a heavy sigh through his nose. (Do you want me to answer in order?)

(If you want to.) Dean is contrite and he’s toying with the edge of his blanket when Castiel looks up again. (You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.)

He pulls on his sleep shirt and busies himself with smoothing the wrinkles out of it over his chest. Castiel watches the movement  of his hands and he carefully doesn’t wonder what it would feel like if it was his hands. He flexes his fingers distractedly and chews lightly at his bottom lip, adverting his gaze when Dean looks up again.

(I’m not young. I’ve been an adult for many seasons. And no, I am not considered unattractive.) He drags his finger tip along the edge of the glass. (My nest-brothers thought I was weird for not showing any interest in finding a mate. I was more focused on being a better warrior than fathering a nest.)

Dean laughs and Castiel can hear the rustling of the bed covers as he folds them back. (There’s more to sex than doing it just to make kids, y’know?)

(I am aware. Sam was very thorough in his explanation. And it was a very… enlightening... conversation.) Castiel steals a quick glance up to find Dean pulling the case for his guitar out from under his bed. He pulls himself higher against the glass wall, leaning over the edge eagerly. (Are you going to play music again?)

(Yeah, I was planning on it. Don’t try to change the subject.) He glances over his shoulder, smirking and raises one eyebrow. (What was so enlightening about your talk with Sammy?)

Castiel frowns and the spines of his fans flex slightly in agitation. He can feel the blush warming his skin again and he hates it and wishes he could stop it. He looks away and rubs at the back of his neck. He hasn’t told anyone that he thinks he’s only attracted to males. Although there really isn’t anyone for him to tell. And it’s not like he’s had a chance to put his theory to test. His imagination can’t possibly be enough to make a sound conclusion.

(Cas?) Dean is settling against the wall with the guitar in his lap again. There’s concern and understanding flickering through the kin-connection. (You know you don’t have to answer all my questions. I’m a nosy bastard. You can tell me to fuck off whenever you’re not comfortable with anything.) To accentuate his point, Dean flicks his fingers over the strings and the sound makes the air vibrate.

He is momentarily distracted by the bend and drag of Dean’s fingers along the strings as he plays a few notes before adjusting the little round pegs at the end of the flat piece. (I’m not… Dean, I’m not uncomfortable. I just don’t know how to talk about it.)

(Talk about what?)

Castiel dregs up the memories of his talk with Sam, trying to remember all the words and terms. (Sam said you’re… bisexual? Is that the right term? The one where you like both males and females.)

Dean’s fingers pause over the strings before he continues. (Yeah. I’m an equal opportunity lover. There’s not much point in ignoring half the population when it feels good no matter who I touch. And each gender has their perks. Why?)

(And the term for liking only one gender?)

(Depends on the gender. If it’s the same gender, it’s homosexual. If it’s the opposite gender, it’s heterosexual. There’s a ton of other terms that can get way more complicated, but those are the basics, I guess. I’m not going to pretend I know a whole lot about –) Dean suddenly stops and their connection sparks with his surprise. He looks toward Castiel with wide eyes and Castiel can feel the flush spread over his gills. (Cas, are you saying what I think you’re saying?)

Castiel presses his face against his arms so he doesn’t have to see Dean’s reaction. He can still feel it, pulsing with bright surprise and confusion and ringing with sympathy.

(Dude, I’m the last person you have to be embarrassed about this with.)

(I’m not embarrassed.)

(You’re kinda looking like you are.)

(I’m not. I just… Dean, I don’t know.) He copies Dean’s movements and runs his hands through his hair. It’s thick and heavy and coarse with salt. His fingers and webbing come away gritty and he rubs his hands together to get it off. (I have no practical experience to determine whether or not I find males more attractive than females. I… I did think about it after my conversation with Sam and I realized that I’ve never thought of any of the colony females like that. And I tried thinking about one, and I had no reaction. Then I…) He shifts, curling his tail tightly underneath him and leaving half the very-small-sea empty. (Then I thought about a male and… I was aroused.)

Dean taps his fingers on the wide, hollow base of the guitar. (So what’s the big deal? It just sounds like you like guys better than girls and there’s nothing wrong with that.)

Castiel bares his teeth, annoyed with Dean’s cavalier attitude. (The ‘big deal’ is that I’ve never heard of any fin-kin being attracted to the same gender. For all I know, I could be the only one in my colony. So even if I do manage to ever return home, there is still the very real possibility that there won’t be any males willing to mate with me and I might not find myself aroused enough to be able to mate with a female.)

His irritation seeps through the kin-connection, brushing over Dean’s mind. Dean frowns and his hands still over the guitar. (Yeah, okay. I can see how that could be a big deal. And stop saying ‘if’. You are going to get home so it’s just a matter of ‘when’.)

He feels a rush of gratitude. Dean is so full of conviction that Castiel almost wants to believe that he and Sam really will be able to save him. (Good. So you understand that you were being ridiculous?)

Dean quirks a smile. (I never said that. It’s still a crying shame that you haven’t tried anything yet. And who knows, maybe when you get back things will be different. For one, you actually know about it now so maybe when you get back you might notice things you didn’t before. There’s still the chance that you’ll find someone like you. Tell me you’ve at least kissed someone before, haven’t you?)

(I don’t see how that’s relevant.)

(It totally is. Unless they’ve got stubble, when you close your eyes you can’t really tell  if you’re kissing a girl or a guy. So even if you don’t ever end up having sex, you could at least make out with someone. You’ll just have to… try not to touch their bodies, or something.)

(I don’t understand what’s so great about kissing.) Castiel rubs his hands over his face and tries not to roll his eyes at Dean’s optimism. (I think it would just be easier to never do anything and devote myself to the protection of the colony.)

(That’s bullshit.) Dean feeds his own frustration through the link to push back against Castiel’s irritation.

The guitar makes a heavy twanging noise when Dean puts it aside. Castiel lowers his hands and tilts his head when Dean slides off the bed. His steps are sure and steady as he comes over to the very-small-sea, but his thoughts are tense with worry and they thrum with anticipation. Castiel doesn’t know what he’s worried about and he tips his head back to look up at him when Dean steps right up to the glass-wall.

(Dean?)

He knows what Dean is going to do the moment his fingers ghost over the line of his jaw. Castiel’s fans flare in surprise and he grips the glass wall tight enough that his knuckles go white. Dean leans down, but stops barely a finger-width away. He can feel Dean’s breath on his face and smell the sharp tang of something on the warm air. There’s a silent question in Dean’s eyes and through the kin-connection. Dean is waiting for Castiel to decide.

Castiel doesn’t pull away.

He doesn’t close his eyes even though Dean does as he presses his lips to Castiel’s. A small shocked noise escapes him, muffled against Dean’s mouth. It’s a light, gentle touch to start and Dean’s lips are as soft as when Castiel had touched them yesterday. Castiel doesn’t move and he barely breathes. Dean’s fingertips press under his chin and tilt his head back just a little bit more and the kiss becomes more firm against Castiel’s lips.

Another noise gets stifled against Dean’s mouth when Castiel feels the soft touch of a tongue over his bottom lip. It’s another noise of surprise, but it sounds a lot like a moan and it scares Castiel more than what Dean is doing. In fact, he’s not scared at all by what Dean is doing. He’s stunned, but he isn’t scared.

There’s a heat blossoming in his belly and he doesn’t notice that he’s coiling his tail and pushing up into the kiss and his eyes are slipping closed until he has to open them again because Dean is moving away. He takes another sound from Castiel and he’s horrified when he realizes that it sounds an awful lot like a disappointed whine.

Dean is smiling when he steps away. (There. Now you’ve been kissed. Bet’cha don’t think it’s not so great anymore, huh?)

Castiel brings his hand up and presses his fingers to his lips. He’s staring at Dean with wide eyes and he’s not sure what he should do or think. Part of him wants to be furious at Dean for taking his first kiss without asking. Another part of him wants to grab the front of Dean’s shirt and drag him back down for a second. A third part is terrified because Dean has shown him something he’s been missing and it’s a something that he might never have again.

(Why did you do that?)

The smile slips slightly from Dean’s face and his fingers curl in the edge of his shirt. Castiel watches him lick his lips and he can remember the feel of that tongue touching the edges of his mouth. It makes the heat in his belly flare. (You said you didn’t have any experience and that you’ve never been kissed. I figured, what could it hurt? Showing you how nice kisses are, that is. So maybe when you get home, you’ll at least want to have those.)

There’s a twinge of pain in Castiel’s chest and he doesn’t quite understand why. He knows it’s partly because Dean only kissed him for technical reasons and it’s not how Castiel wanted to be kissed. It’s not that he was wanting to kiss Dean, but he wanted his first kiss to be more special than this. He wanted it to mean something with someone important to him. Dean took it without asking and it means nothing to him beyond proving a point.

He gives way to his anger and Dean flinches at the wave of it that crashes through the kin-connection. (You shouldn’t have done that.)

Before he severs the link, Castiel shoves through the reasons he’s upset. He wants Dean to know that he is hurt by what he has done. Dean’s eyebrows come together and he frowns. He can feel Dean trying to sort through Castiel’s feelings and make sense of the tumble of emotions and thoughts Castiel forced on him.

With another brutal flick of displeasure, Castiel cuts the connection and he takes satisfaction in seeing Dean flinch again. Dean takes a step toward the very-small-sea, his mouth open.

“Cas, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –”

Castiel cuts him off with a snarl and Dean immediately takes a step back. He pushes away from the wall and sinks under the water where he won’t be able to hear Dean’s voice. The first rush of water through his gills chokes him before his lungs fill and he can breathe normally. He turns onto his side, facing the computers so he won’t have to see Dean either. He curls his tail up until he can tuck the end under his neck, folding his fans into a soft pile. He spread the fans along the length of his tail over his shoulder, shielding himself from Dean and any other humans who could come in.

It’s a few minutes before the lights go out and the room is dark. The return of Castiel’s natural-glow helps calm him slightly. But he’s still angry and he doesn’t know when or if he’ll be able to forgive Dean for this.

x

Castiel isn’t sure how long he was curled up before he fell asleep, but he jerks awake to a loud rumbling roar that makes the very-small-sea quake. The vibrations in the water are disorienting and Castiel smacks his tail and back against the walls in the tight confines as he uncurls and struggles to untangle himself and sit up to see what monster could possibly make such a noise.

He sits up, reaching for the edge of the glass-wall while he flails out with his mind, reaching for Dean. A hand closes over his wrist and pulls, dragging him up and out of the water. Castiel fights against it for the few seconds it takes him to realize that the hand belongs to Dean and he’s pulling Castiel against his chest again as he coughs the water from his lungs.

One of his arms is closed around Castiel’s back and his hand is under his opposite arm, fingers warm against his ribs. The other is still firmly holding his wrist. Some far off part of him notes that Dean isn’t wearing a shirt.

When he grasps at Dean’s mind, he’s nearly smothered by his thoughts. Dean is anxious to apologize, he’s concerned by Castiel’s reactions both last night and right now, and he’s worried that Castiel will hurt himself if he keeps flailing. Castiel leans heavily against his chest and tries to take deep calming breaths through the coughing. The noise that woke him is louder and more grating out of the water.

(What is making that sound?)

(It’s the pump.) Dean steps to the side so Castiel can see what’s happening in the room.

Bobby is standing on the platform and is putting the biggest worm Castiel has ever seen into the small-sea. Dean laughs into his hair and corrects him. It’s not a worm, it’s a ‘hose’. It is attached to a machine that has another hose that goes into the wall under the table where a very small door has opened.

Dean explains that the latch covers a hole that is connected to a tube. Castiel doesn’t want him to go into further detail beyond that the machine making the roaring noise sucks the water through the hose Bobby is holding, and sends it out through the hose that goes into the wall. The wall-hole leads outside the boat where it will be put back in the ocean. 

(I asked Bobby to bring this in. We’re draining the tank so we can give it a scrub down and fill it with fresh water.)

Castiel is confused and he twists so he can look up at Dean. (Why?)

(Because you didn’t like the water anymore. If I have to put you back in that cage, I’m going to make sure you’re at least somewhat comfortable. You don’t want to stay in this cramped tank, do you?) He gestures to the very-small-sea and almost loses his hold on Castiel.

He pulls away from Dean, bunching his tail beneath him to keep above water until he has the room to hooks his arms over the edge of the glass wall again. Dean steps away and he puts his hands in the pockets of his pants. They’re not jeans today. It’s a looser, grey fabric that hangs on his hips and Castiel thinks it’s held in place by the white string tied in a knot over Dean’s stomach.

Castiel knows Dean is waiting to find out if he’s still mad at him. And a small part of him is. But now that the adrenaline from his rude awakening is wearing off, Castiel feels very apathetic. He thinks even if he does go back into the small-sea today, he would probably spend the day stretched out on the floor. It’s been seven days that he’s been trapped here and so much has happened.

He’s gone through so many different emotions in the last day alone that he’s not sure he actually has the capacity to feel much more of anything today. And Castiel isn’t even taking into account how hungry he is. The unpleasant acidic tickle low in his throat is annoying and he doesn’t have the energy to be bothered by much else. He wonders if tomorrow will be the same.

Dean is still waiting for Castiel to answer. He’s looking more and more worried with each passing moment and Castiel grants him a small mercy. (The small-sea is much more preferable to this. Thank you, Dean. I appreciate your efforts.)

He’s answered with a bright smile that quickly fades when Castiel doesn’t return it. He knows Dean can feel the lack of emotions from him through their link. It’s not the same as when they purposefully hold back on sharing their thoughts. When they do that, there is an obvious absence. Right now, Dean can sense that Castiel simply doesn’t care about anything right now, and it brings up a curl of confusion and worry that slides hesitantly through the kin-connection.

Castiel shrugs and rests his cheek on his arms. (I haven’t forgiven you. But I’m not mad at you anymore.)

(Cas, I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. It was just a kiss and I –)

He sighs and turns onto the other cheek so he can see Dean and the clear confusion on his face. (That’s the problem, Dean. To you, it was just another kiss. To me, it was my first and it was a taste of something I might never have again. Put yourself in my place and tell me that you wouldn’t be angered by that.)

(Yeah, okay. I can see how that sucks. But it’s not like you stopped me or anything. I gave you plenty of time to pull away and you even kissed back. But I get it, I should have actually asked first, right?)

Something tightens in Castiel’s chest, pressing hard against his sternum. (That isn’t my point. You shouldn’t have thought it at all. You’re not fin-kin and I’m not human. We’re different species, Dean. Just because we have similar characteristics doesn’t mean that it’s alright for you to kiss me even if you asked first. And that’s not even touching upon the fact that I’m your prisoner.)

A muscle in Dean’s jaw twitches as he clenches his teeth. (You’re not my prisoner, you’re Lilith’s. And I’m just as trapped here as you are.  I get to go outside this room? Big deal. Sam and I are doing everything we can to find a way to get you out of this place. But once we get you out, we’re still going to be stuck on this boat. We’re still going to get the shit kicked out of us for going against Lilith’s orders. And if we’re lucky, she won’t kill us and toss our bodies to the sharks and write it off as an accident.)

He leans down until he’s eye level with Castiel. (And If I start thinking of you as a different species, we’re going to have a lot of trouble. Up here, a species that isn’t human means you’re an animal and I think you’re too fucking smart and too fucking human for that to even to be an option. I don’t give a shit that you have fishy-bits. You’re human enough for me to care about you and want to help you.)

Castiel tries to cut in, but Dean bats his thoughts aside and continues on. His emotions are a rolling mess that Castiel can barely sift through fast enough to understand them. (I get that kissing you wasn’t the best thing, or the right thing, to do – even without asking you first. But if I had a do-over, I’d probably do it again because that’s just the kind of asshole I am. So I’m sorry I didn’t ask to kiss you. I’m sorry your first kiss was with a douche-bag human. I’m sorry you think you won’t find a fin-kin dude to kiss you again when you get home. And even though it means I wouldn’t have ever met you, I wish we hadn’t captured you in the first place.)

He straightens and turns. Castiel catches his wrist to keep him from walking away and then stares at where is fingers are touching Dean. He didn’t have the intention of stopping him and he’s not entirely sure why he did. He looks up and sees Dean’s face is clouded. His lips are pressed into a thin line and his eyebrows are drawn together in a tight frown. The kin-connection is singing with Dean’s emotions. They’re all over the place and Castiel needs more time to work through them and figure out why, in the cluster of anger and annoyance, he can feel tiny tendrils of hurt.

(All I have for you are my apologies and I know that’s not nearly enough, but I gave you the chance to stop the kiss. You knew what I was gonna do. You’re not naïve enough to think that wasn’t my intention, and you let me do it anyway. And you kissed back. So you can keep your forgiveness, Cas. I don’t want it.)

“Dean.”

They both turn to look at Bobby. He’s moved from the platform to the end of the very-small-sea closest to the pump. He’s looking between Dean and Castiel and then pointedly at where Castiel is still holding Dean’s wrist. He lets go hastily and Dean steps out of his reach.

Castiel huffs at the distance between them, but he keeps his eyes on Bobby. “Hello, Bobby. Thank you.”

He raises his eyebrows. “For what?”

Dean actually crooks a small smile and over the wash of his ire there is a small flash of pleased pride in Castiel for remembering. ”He’s saying thanks for the fish.”

“Oh. Yer welcome, I guess. Not much thanks necessary now that Lilith’s got you on a diet. Anyway, the tank’ll be empty in twenty. I’m going to get some coffee. You want any?”

“Yeah, thanks. I’ll take it black.”

Bobby nods and he walks past them to the door. “You two idjits might want to leave your lovers’ spat off the cameras. Lilith isn’t going to like that you’re keeping cozy with her prize pet.”

Dean flushes red and Castiel is blind-sided by the burst of embarrassment that swallows the connection. “We’re not – I’m not – He’s not –”

The door closes behind Bobby before Dean can finish his start-stopping words. Castiel is watching him closely when Dean growls and kicks at the base of the small-sea. He grunts and hisses a string of swear swords before walking with a funny gait to his bed and falling down face-first.

It is several long minutes before Dean says anything. His thoughts are muted, toned down with a sulking quality. (Did you at least like it? I mean, if it was from a fin-kin, would you have liked it better?)

Now Castiel understands the hurt that Dean was feeling earlier and it almost makes him laugh. (My reactions have hurt your ego.)

(No, they haven’t!) It’s a lie and Dean must know that Castiel can sense the falsehood through the link. (I don’t care about it or anything. I’m a fucking awesome kisser. I’m just… wondering… if you take away everything else that pissed you off about it last night… Was it, y’know, any good?)

(You want to know if I enjoyed it.)

(Well, you did kiss back.)

(Yes, that does seem to be something you’re stuck on.)

He’s amused, but frustrated with Castiel and it’s an interesting combination. Castiel can feel the edge of a smile tug at his own lips. Dean groans and pulls his pillow over his head. (No, fuck this. I don’t care anymore. You can keep your fin-kin weirdness and I won’t try and kiss you again and we can just forget this whole thing happened.)

(No, I don’t think so.)

(You don’t think what?)

He absently runs his fingers over the dry webbing of his side-fans, feeling the difference from when it’s wet. (I don’t think I’m going to forget this happened. As you said, if we take away everything else… It was nice and I did enjoy it while it was happening. I could have stopped you, but I didn’t and I’m not entirely sure why.)

There’s a swell of pride pushing up at the edges of Dean’s mind and Castiel is amused by Dean’s attempts to reel it back. He’s clearly not trying very hard.

The door beeps as it’s unlocked and Castiel looks over. Dean pulls the pillow off his head and sits up, smiling when Sam and Jess come in. The smile quickly drops and Castiel feels his own twist of anxiety mirrored through the connection from Dean. Neither of them are wearing their white coats.

“Guys, what’s wrong?” Dean is on his feet the moment he sees their wide-eyed and fearful  expressions.

“What did you do, Dean?” Sam hisses, gesturing at Jess. It’s a vague movement of his hand to Castiel, but Jess must be able to read it just fine because she immediately turns and slides the metal-lock over the door’s edge.

Dean’s unconsciously translating for Castiel, but they’re both confused by Sam’s question. “What are you talking about?”

Jess brushes past Sam and Dean and she has a hard black shell full of papers in her arms. She puts it in a drawer under the ledge. “Lilith is on the warpath. We could hear her screaming at Alistair from our bunk. We heard your name. A lot.”

“I haven’t done anything!”

“She was shouting about Castiel too.” Jess puts her hand on Castiel’s shoulder and he looks up at her, just as confused as Dean is.

Dean shrugs. “I have no idea. What, is she pissed about how he tried to escape?”

“No, she thought that was amusing. She even said so when she stopped in at the infirmary while I was getting this checked.” Sam holds his arm up. “Whatever she’s raging about now, it happened after that.”

“But nothing happened!”

Castiel doesn’t like the sinking feeling plunging through his chest and making his insides turn cold. He grabs Dean’s attention through the kin-connection. (Dean. You kissed me.)

Dean goes very, very still and an interesting mix of horror and disbelief and self-loathing fills the link. He looks to Castiel with wide eyes before looking up at the cameras in the corners of the room. “Oh fuck.”

“Goddammit, Dean.” Sam grabs his shoulder and turns Dean to him forcefully. “What did you do?”

His voice is very small, and very quiet. “I kissed Cas.”

“You – you what?”

Castiel clears his throat and three sets of eyes look down at him. “Dean kiss Castiel.”

“You kissed – he kissed – Dean, why?!

Dean pulls away and runs a hand through his hair. “He’s never been kissed before and he was talking like he was never – it’s not important, Sammy. It’s nothing to freak out about.”

“Good kiss.” Castiel murmurs. Jess actually giggles and Dean brushes pleased gratitude into the kin-connection.

“Dean, do you have any idea what kind of shit storm you’ve kicked up? Jesus Christ, you fucking idiot.” Sam groans, fisting both his hands in his hair and making it stick out in strange puffs. “Lilith is going to skin you alive. She’s going to think you’re getting attached to him and you’re going to try and help him escape.”

Dean crosses his arms over his chest defensively. Castiel raises his eyebrows when Dean points out with clear images that his next words are nothing but lies for the cameras. “I’m not getting attached to him, Sam. He belongs to Lilith and I’m not stupid enough to try and get my hands on any of her things.” Castiel bristles, his fans flaring at the words. He knows these aren’t Dean’s true feelings, but he doesn’t like them anyway. “It was a pity kiss because the poor fish-man’s never been kissed before and I figured why not have his first kiss be me? You know my reputation. I’m damn good.”

Sam is staring at Dean with his mouth hanging open. Castiel remedies his stunned disbelief by touching his mind and informing him of Dean’s charade for the cameras. Before he can think of maybe doing the same to Jess, she steps forward and her hand makes a loud clap when she smacks it hard across Dean’s cheek.

Castiel’s spines spread and he hisses. Dean winces and rubs at his cheek, frowning at Jess. Sam quickly explains to Castiel, before he can get more angry at her, that Jess is playing along for the cameras just like they are. She’s smart and she knows Dean better than this. Castiel isn’t as sure as he is, if the words being translated are anything to go by.

“I can’t believe you, Dean! Castiel is a person and you’re treating him like an animal! You’re… you’re just as bad as Alistair. I can’t even look at you right now.” Jess turns away and returns to the ledge where she starts reorganizing the papers spread out across the surface with jerking, angry movements.

“I think this is possibly the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.” Sam groans, rubbing his hands over his face. He opens his mouth to say more, and Dean is about to retaliate with a list of stupid things Sam has done – some of which Castiel knows about, like Ruby, and some of which are completely foreign to him – but the door beeps and rattles against the metal-lock.

It’s immediately followed with the sound of heavy banging. Sam looks back at Dean and Castiel with wide eyes for a brief moment before he slips the lock off and opens the door. Lilith is there and standing behind her are Alistair and Gordon and another male Castiel doesn’t know.

“Sam. Jessica.” Lilith pushes into the room and the look she fixes Dean with sends chills all the way down to the tip of Castiel’s tail. Her voice drops low and dangerous. “Dean.” Without looking away, she gestures at Sam and Jess. “You two. Leave.”

“Lilith –” It’s all Sam gets out before the cold look is turned to him.

“Now.”

Jess doesn’t wait for her to tell them again. She gives Castiel a squeeze on the shoulder and an apologetic look before she’s pushing a protesting Sam out the door. Dean’s fingers are flexing into fists at his sides and Castiel is having trouble breathing around the sudden lump in his throat. The kin-connection is teeming with a sick kind of anticipation as Dean’s eyes track Alistair, Gordon and this new-male when they enter the room.

A cold dread fills them both when the new-male shuts the door and slides the metal-lock into place. He remains there, but Alistair and Gordon move to opposite ends of the very-small-sea. Castiel draws back enough that he can see them both on the edges of his vision while keeping his eyes on Dean and Lilith.

“Do you know why I’m here, Dean?” Lilith steps closer to Dean, too close. She has to tilt her head back to keep her eyes on his.

“Yes.”

“Then you also know why I’m unhappy.”

“I do.”

“Do you have an explanation, Dean?”

“Yes.” And Dean explains, using a brief repeat of his false conversation with Sam and Jess. It ends with another slap across the face and he grunts but doesn’t move to touch his cheek like before. “Yeah, Jess did the same too.”

“For an entirely different reason, I’m sure.” Lilith points at Dean’s bed. “Lay down.”

Dean hesitates. The kin-connection trembles with Castiel’s confusion and Dean’s trepidation. He’s trying hard not to look to Castiel to reassure him that everything is fine. Humans communicate so much through physical signals and Castiel can understand that Dean is finding it difficult not to use the ingrained reactions he’s used his whole life. Instead, he tries to comfort Castiel through the kin-connection, despite how he’s coiled tight and ready for a fight.

“I don’t really feel comfortable with doing that.”

“I don’t care. Either lay down or you can leave the room until we’re done here.”

“Done with what?”

“Lay down or leave. Decide now, Dean.”

Dean’s jaw clenches, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Lilith. He steps backward until the edge of the bed presses into the backs of his knees. Castiel flinches when Lilith speaks again in sharp, clipped words. “On your stomach with your hands behind your back.”

His discomfort with the situation twists through the kin-connection and makes Castiel’s empty stomach turn. He hisses and flares his fans, his grip on the wall tightening. Castiel doesn’t like the submissive position she’s telling Dean to take.

She holds out a hand to the new-male. “Kubrick.” He steps away from the door and hands a length of rope to Lilith.

“Don’t you touch him.” Dean’s voice drops low and it sends an entirely different kind of chill down Castiel’s spine. His eyes are hard and dark and if Castiel didn’t know that Dean is trying to protect him, he might be frightened of him. “Don’t you fucking touch him.”

“This is for you. Hands behind your back and on your stomach. I want to make sure you don’t interfere.” She puts her hand on his shoulder and Dean turns around slowly until he can cross his wrists behind his back.

“No!” Castiel growls, pushing himself up so he can lean over the edge of the wall. The position threatens to tip him over and out across the floor at any moment. “No touch Dean!”

Lilith turns her cold eyes to him. “Alistair. Gordon.”

They move quick and Castiel snarls when they each grab an arm. He’s pulled roughly over the edge of the very-small-sea and the air is pushed from his lungs when they slam him against the floor. Castiel hears Dean shout for him and he’s not sure if it’s through the kin-connection or with his throat-voice.

A heavy weight settles across his shoulders and he can’t tell for sure, but he’s almost certain only one person is holding down his arms now. Another settles over his hips and another on his tail. Castiel writhes. It’s hard to breathe with the weight across his upper back. The floor is cold against his cheek and chest.

Castiel is reminded of yesterday when he was pinned by Dean. This is worse. He doesn’t know what they’re going to do to him. His back is open to any form of attack and Dean’s panic is flaring bright and painful through the kin-connection. Castiel can’t see what’s happening to Dean, but he’s shouting the harsh words at the ones holding him down.

(Dean!) He doesn’t know what they’re going to do and he can feel the all too familiar anxiety flood through his chest and squeeze until it’s too hard to breathe. It pulses bright and hot and doubles back at him through the kin-connection, mixed with Dean’s anger.

It’s only a moment before Dean snaps off that part of their link. (You don’t need to feel mine too, Cas. But you need to calm down and let them do what they came here to do. Whatever Lilith is planning, it probably won’t take long and I swear to God if they hurt you I’ll throw them all of this fucking boat.)

Castiel squirms. He can hear the sharp click of Lilith’s shoes as she approaches. They come into sight and Lilith kneels by Castiel’s head. “Gordon, move.”

The weight across his shoulders shifts until it’s further down, closer to his waist. Lilith grabs a handful of Castiel’s hair and he hisses at the sting of it when she tugs up and to the side. He twists in an attempt to lessen the strain on his neck, managing to lift one shoulder off the floor. She wants him to look up at her and her smile is cold and cruel.

“Hello, Castiel.” He spits her name back at her and it only makes her smile grow wider. “Yes, good. You know your master’s name. You need to remember that I own you. Dean is only here to make sure you listen until we get home. After that, I’ll be able to train your properly and you’ll never see him again. Do you understand that?”

Dean is still translating. Yes, he understands. Dean has several responses and all of them are flashing bright and quick through the kin-connection. He’s not expecting Castiel to pick one and his surprise and pride breaks through the emotion-barrier before he can stop it.

Castiel twists more and he can feel the burn in his muscles as they stretch. He finds Lilith’s eyes and he smiles back at her. The hand in his hair relaxes slightly until he says the response he picked.

“Fuck you, Lilith.”

There’s one sharp intake of air down by his tail and two quickly muffled snorts of laughter. Lilith’s smile twists into a sneer and Castiel can’t stop the grunt of pain when she shoves his head down sharply, the floor cracking hard against his cheek and side-fan. 

“Dean is a very bad influence on you. I see that it’s going to take a lot of training to work him out of your system. But you’ll learn, Castiel. I’ve never had a pet I haven’t been able to break.” She stands and Gordon’s weight moves back to his shoulders.

Castiel can’t see what’s happening and he starts to struggle again. Kubrick, Alistair and Gordon are heavier than Dean, Jess and Meg were. It’s harder to move and it’s harder to breathe. His chest is too tight and it feels like millions of krill are prickling under his skin. He knows this feeling. It’s the foreboding sense that something is about to happen and Castiel isn’t going to like it.

“What the hell is tha – No, Lilith, no! Don’t!” The anger and the fear in Dean’s voice makes Castiel feel like his heart has stopped beating in his chest. He almost forgets to breathe. “Don’t use that! Please, Lilith, don’t!”

(Dean!) He can’t see what Lilith is about to do. He doesn’t know if she’s moved closer to Dean or what she has that is making Dean sound so scared. Castiel presses hard on the kin-connection, reaching for the images Dean is seeing. He wants to know, he needs to know that Dean is going to be okay. If Lilith hurts him, Castiel promises on mother-sea that he will end her.

He flinches when a set of too warm hands close over his flattened back-fans. Castiel hisses and squirms in discomfort as they are pulled apart and the folded webbing is pushed away. The air is cold on the space over his spine.

Castiel can feel the trembling start in his arms and work it’s way down through his tail. His fans are rippling where they aren’t pinned to the floor. Something small and cold and hard presses against his back in the space cleared. It’s a little to the left of his spine and Castiel tenses at the touch of it. Dean isn’t the one in danger here, it’s him.

(Cas, don’t tense up. Relax your muscles right the fuck now or this is going to hurt way more than it needs to. I’m sorry, Jesus Christ, I’m so sorry. I had no idea she’d do this, I really didn’t.)

He can’t relax. He tries, but there’s a soft click that he can barely hear over of the constant churn of the pump and then there is pain. A rush of sharp zigzagging bolts that arc up and down his spine and makes Castiel’s body spasm. His scream is brief and ends in a choked off gasp as he struggles to breathe through it.

Dean’s thoughts are nothing more than a string of apologies, Castiel’s name, and dark predictions of what he’s going to do to the ones holding Castiel down. He’s tugging at Castiel’s mind, and he can feel Dean trying to take hold of the throb of pain pulsing through his body. Dean wants to take it into himself and spare Castiel this feeling. But the kin-connection doesn’t work like that. He can’t take something that is physically affecting him.

“Let him up.”

“You sure? You saw what he did Sam.”

“He knows better. Besides, I have a present for him.”

The weights move and Castiel immediately curls up, wrapping his arms around his chest and twisting his tail so that his fans can cover his head and shoulders. He’s whimpering from the pain that still twinges along his spine and he can feel the sting of tears in his eyes. He’s cold and shaking and his back burns where the hard thing was pressed.

(Cas, man, listen to me, please. Don’t attack. Don’t do anything. Gordon has a dart-gun and he’ll knock you out and I know they’ve got more tests they want to run that’ll be easier if you’re out. Lilith is going to touch you and you need to not react, okay?)

He flinches when hands touch his scales, but he doesn’t react beyond that. Just like Dean told him to, Castiel does nothing. He doesn’t open his eyes to see who is touching him and pulling his tail away.

“Sit up, Castiel.” Lilith’s voice is calm, soft and gentle, and it scares Castiel more than when she was cold and cruel.

He stops hugging himself long enough to push up and draw his tail to his chest. He folds his arms around it and presses his face into his scales. His cheek is throbbing and Castiel is sure it’s going to bruise. His arms won’t stop shaking and his back hurts.

There are soft touches in his hair, but the hands aren’t Dean’s. They don’t feel anything like Dean’s and he doesn’t like it. He wants them to stop touching him. Lilith is cooing nonsense words about Castiel being a good boy and Dean is seething. Something cold and rough slips around Castiel’s neck and he jerks back in surprise.

A weight is resting on his collarbone and the back of his neck and there’s another quiet click before Lilith steps away, smiling so smugly Castiel wants to lean forward and claw it from her face. Instead he reaches up to touch what’s circled around his neck. It’s hanging just below his gills. Castiel doesn’t know what he’s touching, but he can feel a cool disk of metal laying in the hollow of his throat.

(It’s a collar, Cas. She fucking collared you.) Dean is disgusted with the image he throws through the kin-connection and Castiel feels like he’s going to be sick when Dean shows him the tightly braided blue rope and the pendant hanging from it.

“It matches your colours nicely. You look lovely, Castiel.” Lilith drags her touch over the collar.

Castiel has to fight the urge to snap at her. He doesn’t know what she did to his back, but he doesn’t want it to happen again. He settles for glaring at her and it only makes her laugh. She cups his face in her hands and rubs her thumbs against the two days worth of stubble. Castiel tries to pull back when she leans in closer, but she has a firm hold and all he can do is dig his fingers into the meat of his tail when she presses her lips to his.

The kin-connection with Dean goes silent in a near violent way and if it wasn’t for his overwhelming presence in Castiel’s mind, he would think that Dean severed the link. His empty stomach clenches and if there was anything in it, Castiel might throw up. He doesn’t like the tacky sensation of Lilith’s too red mouth. There’s a pungent scent all around her that smells fake and makes his eyes water.

She pulls away and pats his cheek. Her voice goes high pitched and the tones change with every word, rising and falling in a falsely playful tune. “You just be a good boy and do what I tell you to and I won’t have to be mean, okay? When you’re bad, I’ll have to punish you and we don’t want to do that, do we?”

(Shake your head, Cas. Tell her that you don’t want that.) Dean’s thoughts are firm and steady and it makes Castiel shiver because Dean is forcing himself to sound calm when he’s anything but. Castiel can see him from here and Dean’s eyes are burning and he’s trembling. He’s laying on his side. His arms are behind his back and his ankles are bound together.

Castiel shakes his head and Lilith smiles brightly and runs her hands through his hair again . “Good boy. And if you’re on your best behavior, I’ll even let you and Dean do whatever you want together.” She hooks her finger into the collar and jerks him forward. “You just need to remember that you belong to me and Dean won’t be around forever. So have your fun while you can.”

She kisses him on the forehead before standing up and turning around. “Oh don’t look so scary, Dean. You knew he was mine before you even met him. I really don’t understand this fuss you’re making, but you can stay like that as punishment until I decide to let your brother back in.” Lilith gestures at the others, waiting by the door. “I want two of you to stand guard outside. Sam and Jess can come back in… oh, an hour? Maybe two? Keep Singer and Meg out too. And Kubrick, turn off that damn pump.”

Kubrick skirts a wide path around Castiel to get to the pump. It shuts off with a groaning hiss and he follows Lilith and the others out the door without a word. The door beeps when it shuts and Castiel leans forward to press his face into his tail again. He doesn’t know how long it is before he hears the rustling of Dean on the bed.

When he looks up, Dean is on his stomach and wiggling. Castiel can see the skin around Dean’s wrists is red and raw and Dean is hurting himself trying to get free. It makes his stomach turn again and a bright unhappy flare sparks high in his chest. The pain in his back throbs in a steady pulse as Castiel uncurls and drag-pushes the too long distance to Dean’s bed. He reaches out to touch the ropes and Dean rocks away in surprise. (Dean, stop.)

(Holy shit! Cas, don’t sneak up a guy like that!)

(Don’t move.) Castiel’s arms shake and the burning bolts twinge along his spine as he pulls himself up onto the edge of Dean’s bed, pushing hard with the coil of his tail. The blankets and sheets are soft under his hands, but they catch on his scales as he pulls himself far enough that he can sit without sliding off.

Dean winces when Castiel lightly touches his wrists. He puts one hand over Dean’s to hold them still, the other picks at the rope until he finds a loose enough strand. He’s watching him over his shoulder and his breath hitches when Castiel leans down to sink his teeth into the rope. It takes only a few moments of chewing before it snaps.

Castiel sits back and lets Dean’s arms fall to his sides. He lets out a sigh of relief that ends in a high pitched squeak when Castiel turns and leans over his legs. He chews through the rope there too before tossing the remains of them to the floor. 

(Thanks, Cas. You didn’t have to –)

He has no patience for the human pleasantries. When he sits up, he tries to flare his back fans and fold them so the webbing is out of the way. He wants Dean to be able to see the area along his spine. (What did she do to my back?)

Dean’s hands are warm when they touch the spines of his fans and the webbing between them. His hands are a more pleasant warmth than the ones before and Castiel presses back into them. Dean’s touches are light, starting at the base of his neck where the clasp of the collar rests and working down his spine. When they come to the spot where the cold metal had touched, Castiel gasps and pulls away at the sharp throb of pain.

(Sorry…) Dean touches higher again and then Castiel feels something wide press just under the collar’s clasp. Warm gusts of air wash over his spine in uneven puffs and Castiel realizes that Dean is leaning his forehead against his back. (She… it was a tag-gun.)

Dean is reluctant to share the images he sees, but Castiel pulls at his mind. He wants to know what a tag-gun is. He needs to know what Lilith did to his back. When he gets the image of a thick red welt the size of the medallion on his collar, it is also accompanied with images of a small square. Dean tries to explain that the square is called a ‘chip’, but it can also be called a ‘tag’ and it is used in association with machines the float beyond the steady-blue to keep track of the location of things.

It means that Lilith will always be able to find Castiel as long as the tag remains buried in the muscles of his back. It means that even if Dean and Sam manage to get him back to the sea, he won’t be able to return to the colony without leading Lilith right back to them. He can never go home.

Castiel pulls away from Dean and he bends his arms and back, ignoring the steady beat of pain in his muscles as he tries to reach the welt. It’s too high up, too close to the blades of his shoulders, for him to reach.

(Dean, take it out!) A frantic kind of horror is pulsing deep and tight in his chest and Castiel is breathing fast and hard.

Dean’s hands pulls his arms away and lower them to Castiel’s sides. He’s trying to force a calm that he isn’t feeling himself into the kin-connection. (I… I can’t, Cas. She’ll just put it back and she might ‘punish’ us – whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean – if we do anything to it. We’re going to have to leave it there and… I’ve got a friend on board, a veterinarian, I’ll ask her what we can do to get it out and I swear this won’t be in your back when we get you out of here.)

Castiel is trembling and he loses his ability to hold himself upright. He sags back against Dean and Dean’s arms comes up as if to wrap around him, but they hesitate and remain hanging awkwardly in the air. Dean wants to comfort him and his thoughts are a constant stream of apology and regret for not being able to do more to stop them.

The indecision vanishes the moment Castiel stifles a sob. Despite the pain in his back, Castiel doesn’t complain when Dean hugs his tightly. He twists around and presses his face into the smooth skin of Dean’s chest. He’s still not wearing a shirt and there’s nothing but the expanse of Dean’s back for him to digs his fingers into and hold on.

His throat feels tight and Castiel wants the collar off. It marks him as a pet, a possession of Lilith’s, and he feels like it’s choking him. He thinks he might suffocate under the pressure of the tag in his back and the collar around his neck. He’s shaking again and it has nothing to do with the cold air of the room and everything to do with broken noises he’s making against the tattoo on Dean’s skin.

Castiel barely notices when Dean leans them back onto the bed, or when he hooks his leg over Castiel’s tail to draw up the length of it that is still hanging off the edge of the mattress. He threads his tail around Dean’s legs and presses against him. He seeks comfort in the heat of Dean’s skin and the surety of his touch. Castiel doesn’t let go.

And neither does Dean. 

by seraphlimonade

by teamabodo

by spndoodles

by msmerc

Chapter Text

Castiel stares down at the bristle-stick Dean had given him. It’s not much longer than his hand and one end is flatter and has a clump of rough bristles, like hair, sticking out of one side. He rubs the pad of his thumb over them, bending the bristles in one direction and watching as they snap back in place.

He puts the bristle-stick on the ledge next to the very-small-sea and picks up a squishy-white thing. Dean had given him both. The squishy-white is round and thick at one end and tapers to a thin flat edge at the other. There is a hard knob sticking out of the thick-end. Castiel puts the squishy-white next to the bristle-stick and picks up a round-mirror. The bars connected to it that keep it propped up dangle loosely under it. He turns the mirror at different angles, catching the light and reflecting small bright disks on the walls.

A flash of blue gets his attention. Castiel looks at his reflection and the tightly braided rope resting at the base of his throat. A knot of anger and hatred burns bright in his chest at the sight of the collar. A gold disk of metal is settled against the dip of his clavicle and there are symbols carved into the disk. Some he recognizes as numbers, like on the clock, only in the mirror they are backwards. The others are like the ones on the squishy-white.

(Dean, what are these?) He sends the images of the symbols into the kin-connection, not taking his eyes off the reflection.

Dean is in the small-sea. It’s been empty for a while now. He has a much bigger bristle-stick that has a similar shape to the razor, only instead of blades along the flat edge, there are thick bristles. He’s using the bristles to push bubbled foam around the floor  and up the glass-walls.

(Letters. Like we use numbers to count, we use letters to write. Different combinations of letters make different words, so on and so forth blah, blah, blah. The tag has your name on it and –) Dean’s thoughts turn dark and angry. He makes a vicious gesture with one hand and his upper lip curls back as disgust fills the connection. (And Lilith’s contact information in case… well in case you get ‘lost’. So you can be returned to her.)

(Could you teach me to read them?) Castiel looks toward the small-sea. It’s disorienting to have their positions reversed, with Dean standing under the bars and Castiel able to move freely – in the loosest sense of the word – around the room.

Dean pauses in his pushing of the large bristle-stick and he runs a hand through his hair. It comes away wet and he crinkles his nose at it before wiping his palm over his thigh. Dean’s back and chest are covered in a layer of sweat, but that doesn’t seem to bother him like having it on his hands does. He leans his weight on the bristle-brush and looks over at Castiel.

(I helped teach Sammy his letters when he was growing up, so I guess I could teach you too. Why the sudden interest?)

(It is something to do to distract me from my situation. I don’t enjoy being upset and I’d like to be able to read the notes Sam and the others make on me.) He puts the mirror down and picks up the squishy-white again. (Would you be able to teach me to write too?)

(Yeah, sure. I’ll ask Sam if he can get some books for you to start on or something.) Dean rolls his shoulders and returns to pushing the bristle-stick. (Now stop avoiding it, and do what I told you to.)

Castiel frowns him and ensures Dean can feel his displeasure through their link. It’s not that he doesn’t want to do what Dean told him to, it’s that all he has is the memories Dean gave him to go by. Dean didn’t stop to show Castiel what to do and the memories aren’t enough to give him any sort of confidence with moving forward to the task at hand.

Earlier, after Castiel had finally calmed down, Dean had gotten up to turn on the pump. While it worked at emptying the rest of small-sea, Dean had carried Castiel back into the very-small-sea. By then, Castiel’s scales were completely dry and Dean was brimming with worry that dehydration would be very bad for him.

Though his fins and fans were tight when he tried to move them, Castiel had been fine and he would have preferred to stay on Dean’s bed. It was like laying on a bed of sea sponge, only better. It was softer, and warm and the blankets and pillow smelled of Dean. He had wondered if it would be warmer under the blankets. He would have to find a way to get Dean to let him test that hypothesis.

But it was while they had been laying together, when Castiel was calmer, that Dean had shifted so they were face to face. He had asked if Castiel was feeling better, and when he had responded with his throat-voice, Dean had made a comment about brushing his teeth.

Even now, after Dean has given him the bristle-stick and squishy-white, Castiel doesn’t know what he meant by that. He knows what he’s supposed to do, but he doesn’t know why.

(It’s coz’ your breath smells, Cas. I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything, but seriously, it’s rank.)

Castiel glares at Dean’s back. (I’ve never had to do this before.)

(Well you’ve never been out of the water before, have you? I’m guessing since your mouth has always been full of salt water and stuff, it’s never had the chance to grow the bacteria and shit that makes your breath stink. Now that you’re out more often, you should brush ‘em.) Wry amusement filters through from Dean’s side of their connection and he gives Castiel a lopsided grin over his shoulder. (Y’don’t want your teeth to rot outta your head while you’re here, do you? Can’t imagine many fin-kin will wanna kiss you when you get home with half your teeth missing.)

He squeezes the squishy-white and brushes disapproval over Dean’s thoughts. Castiel doesn’t want to think about kisses or touches or anything like that anymore. It only serves to make him upset and the last time they talked about it, it had led to Lilith putting the tracking chip in his back. Despite the fact that Dean’s kiss had been enjoyable, Castiel doesn’t want anything else bad to happen. Nothing good has come from kissing.

The brewing discontent twitching along the edges of Castiel’s mind, that he lets flick out for Dean to feel, is more than enough to chastise him. Dean stops pushing the foam long enough to give Castiel an apologetic smile, reaching out with his mind to soothe the trembling of his emotions. (Sorry, Cas. I was just teasing.)

(I don’t like being teased. Especially not on that matter.)

Dean’s thoughts vibrate with curiosity and an honest concern. There is nothing malicious or mocking about his question. (Are you still worried you’ll never be kissed again?)

Castiel fidgets with the squishy-white, turning it over and over in his hands. (I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Please change the subject or don’t talk at all.)

He squeezes the squishy-white, like Dean does in the memories he gave him, but the coloured jelly doesn’t come out the thick-end like it should. Castiel does it again, harder this time, but nothing happens. He makes a small noise of frustration in the back of his throat and the kin-connection pulses with his annoyance.

(Take the cap off, dude.) The images Dean provides are bright with his amusement and Castiel flares his fans in disapproval.

He doesn’t appreciate that his frustrations are being seen as entertainment. Dean’s instructions on how to grip and twist the knob at the thick-end are tinged with more apologies. With careful movements, Castiel manages to remove the knob. Beneath it is a shorter protrusion and it has a hole in the center of it. He holds it up to look inside, but the opening is full of a pale blue jelly.

When his fingers tighten marginally, the jelly oozes out a little. Fascinated, Castiel holds his palm under it and squeezes hard. The cool jelly fills his palm and the air is thick with a crisp, sharp scent. It’s oddly familiar and Castiel tries to remember where he’s smelled it before. He closes his eyes and sniffs the jelly, sorting through his memories.

Dean’s short burst of laughter is quickly smothered, but it still echoes against the empty walls of the small-sea and earns him another glare. He’s clearly amused and even without their link, the grin spreading across his face is more than enough to tell Castiel that Dean knows exactly what he’s trying to remember.

(Dean, tell me.)

(No can do, Cas. You told me not to talk about it anymore.)

(But I only said not to talk about – oh! Your breath. The jelly smells like your breath.) He sniffs at it again and yes, that sharp tang is the same as the scent from right before Dean kissed him.

Dean laughs again. (Good job. It’s called ‘mint’. And you’ve just wasted a whole tube of toothpaste, thanks for that. Now just put some of that on the end of the toothbrush – no not that end, the one with the – yes, on the bristles.)

Castiel is apprehensive of following the rest of the instructions. According to Dean, he is supposed to rub the ‘toothpaste’ over his teeth, brushing with the bristled end of the ‘toothbrush’ and he’s supposed to scrub his tongue to. It doesn’t sound pleasant and he’s not sure what this ‘mint’ will taste like. When Dean turns away, Castiel dips his head and tentatively licks the jelly still piled in his palm.

It’s flavor is bright and bursts across his tongue in a cool rush that leaves tingling in its wake. He runs his tongue over his lips and the tingling transfers there. Castiel wants to taste it again and he has his tongue out to lick again and investigate further but a flare of surprise sparks through the connection, stopping him short. Castiel looks up to see Dean staring at him.

(You…) Dean’s emotions vanish from the kin-connection and he shakes his head, looking away. Castiel doesn’t like it when Dean blocks his feelings from him. It’s hard enough to understand humans without knowing his emotions too. The edges of Dean’s ears are red and it’s creeping down his neck. (You shouldn’t lick that stuff. And don’t eat or swallow it either. You just have to brush, scrub and then spit into the bucket.)

(Why?)

(It’s not healthy. Just do it, Cas.) Dean starts rubbing the foam into the floors vigorously.

Castiel is eyeing the toothbrush and the paste on the bristles when the door beeps. He twists around sharply, fans flaring aggressively. The door opens and he relaxes when Jess walks in, Sam right behind her.

“Hello.” He waves with the toothbrush and they both look surprised to see him holding it. Relief relaxes their shoulders, but they share a brief and unhappy look when they see the collar.

“Hey guys. How are things on the outside?” Dean waves too.

Sam greets Castiel but walks past him, going to the platform on the other side of small-sea. Dean meets him at the wall. Castiel doesn’t need to listen to their conversation to know that Dean is telling him about what happened while they were locked out. Jess greets him too, but she pulls up a chair and sits close to the end of very-small-sea where Castiel has his arms over the wall.

She smiles and points at the objects on the ledge. “Are you going to brush your teeth, Castiel?”

He tilts his head at her. A few of the words are familiar, but isn’t sure if what she’s talking about is what the thinks she’s talking about. Castiel’s left hand is still full of the mint jelly, so he uses the toothbrush to point. “Mirror. Toothpaste.” He wiggles the toothbrush. “Toothbrush. Castiel toothbrush toothpaste teeth. Mint breath.”

Talking in their language with his throat-voice is annoying. He doesn’t know the proper way to construct sentences and it bothers him that he sounds like a stupid child. Even though Jess is smiling and nodding as if she understands, Castiel doesn’t know for sure if she does.

The touch of his mind to hers makes Jess gasp and push away from the very-small-sea. Her chair skids across the floor, moving on the round disks underneath it.

“Jess? Everything okay?” Sam and Dean both turn to look at them.

Jess is looking at Castiel with wide eyes and a round mouth. “I think he’s… I think Castiel is –”

(Hello Jess.)

She gasps again and covers her mouth with her hands. Her thoughts are washed over with awe and surprise. “Oh my gosh. I can hear you. You’re in my head!”

Sam comes to her side and places a hand on her shoulder. “Try talking back to him. Just think in pictures and feelings at first. You’ll get better with words the more you use it.”

Jess nods and closes her eyes. Castiel tilts his head and reaches for her mind more firmly than before. While she works at pulling up welcoming emotions, he does a thorough search of her surface thoughts. He wants to make sure that he can trust her.

Jess’s thoughts are different from Dean’s like how Sam’s were different, but they are also similar in some ways. She is excited and curious and pleased all at once, like Sam had been. There are lingering tendrils of envy that evaporate soon after Castiel’s presence touches her mind. He doesn’t ask after them.

Castiel compares what he can feel of her thoughts to what he knows of Sam’s and Dean’s. Like Sam, she is thoughtful and inquisitive. She is bright and smart and thinking of many things all at once. But Castiel also finds aspects similar to Dean. Jess is kind, warm and caring. Like Dean, a large portion of her thoughts concern Sam.

Similar to Dean, she likes making things with her hands. There are surface memories, thoughts that Castiel doesn’t have to invade where she wouldn’t want him to go, that show him a ledge covered in bowls and items Castiel doesn’t recognize. He pulls at those memories and brushes his curiosity over them. He wants to know what it is that Jess likes to do.

(Baking. I like to cook. It’s like a tasty kind of science. That’s a kitchen, where we make food.)

Castiel forgets about the toothbrush and the toothpaste in his hands. While Sam and Dean clean the small-sea, he teaches Jess how to use the kin-connection and takes the opportunity to learn about kitchens and all the different ways humans can prepare food. And it is fascinating. There are so many different things that humans eat compared to fin-kin. In the colony, they eat anything they can kill that isn’t fin-kin. And they certainly don’t do anything so interesting as cook it, or flavor it with different spices and oils and there are just so many things.

Their conversation makes Castiel’s stomach rumble and the acidic tickle at the back of his throat is annoying. He tries to ignore it and keep learning about the different things that are in the standard kitchen, but Jess stops and concern flashes through her mind.

(You didn’t eat the food we left you last night?)

He shakes his head. (I’m fine. Tell me more about this ‘fridge’.)

Jess frowns and stands up. She gets a towel from a drawer under the ledge but closer to the far wall where the table rests. When she sits back down, she holds it out to Castiel. (Wipe that toothpaste off your hands with this. I’ll take that.) She takes the toothbrush and puts it beside the squished toothpaste container, placing it with the bristles and their smear of unused toothpaste pointing up.

While Castiel cleans his hands, Jess turns her chair until she can reach another set of drawers. When she opens them she pauses and a sudden flash of recognition sweeps over her mind. Castiel bunches his tail beneath him and pushes up to lean over the glass wall, trying to look over her arm and into the drawer to see what she sees. She takes out the same black shell full of papers that she placed there earlier this morning and puts it on the ledge next to the toothpaste.

Castiel brushes his curiosity about the shell against the edges of her mind and he looks at her with his head tilted in question. Jess pushes away his inquisitive thoughts. There is a hesitancy to hers and she chews on her bottom lip. From the same drawer, she takes out a square-white food container. She opens it and places it within reach.

(Here, eat up. I need to talk to Sam about something.)

He reaches out and closes the container. (I don’t want to get you in trouble for giving me food when Lilith said not to.)

(You let me handle Lilith. Now eat.) Jess flips it open again and there is no room for Castiel to object when she narrows her eyes at him.

It’s a familiar look that sparks a painful longing for home in his chest. He’s seen the same expression more times than he can count on Anna’s face when he was growing up. Castiel ducks his head and pulls the container closer. He pokes at a pile of small white-brown squares, and there are a few oblong orange things rolling in one corner next to a mass of strings covered in what looks like chunky blood.

When he turns to ask Jess what the foods are, he finds her already across the room and standing on the platform. She’s leaning over the glass-wall of small-sea and talking in quiet, hushed tones to Sam. Her emotions are rolling in trepidation and if Castiel tried, he could probably hear the base thoughts as she speaks. But Jess wants privacy and Castiel will give her that.

Dean is standing closer to the center of small-sea. He isn’t cleaning and he has his head turned toward Sam and Jess, brow furrowed. Castiel picks up the slack he allowed between their kin-connection while he was talking with Jess and he tugs on it to get Dean’s attention. When Dean turns to him, he holds up a piece of the white-brown squares.

(What is this?)

A smile pulls at Dean’s lips. (Breaded chicken.) He names the orange things as carrots – a type of vegetable – and the strings are a type of pasta called ‘spaghetti’. Dean laughs when Castiel asks why the spaghetti is covered in chunky blood and he explains that it’s actually a tomato sauce.

(Keep the bucket close, okay? Sam said you might not be able to process anything but the meat so if you’re gonna throw up or something, do it in the bucket. I really don’t want to have to clean fin-kin puke off the floor.)

Castiel nibbles at the chicken piece. It peels apart in thin strips against his teeth and the meat is smooth and flavorful. The brown layer – the breading – crumbles on his tongue and lends it a gritty texture. He likes the taste and eats the whole piece, chewing slowly to savor it. The remaining pieces are eaten two at a time and Castiel licks his fingers clean when he’s done.

He tries a carrot next. It’s crunchy, and becomes very pulpy the more he chews. The taste is a little sweet, but it’s the texture that he doesn’t like. The connection trembles with a brief pulse of concern from Dean when Castiel pulls the bucket over and spits the chewed remains of the carrot into it.

(I do not like carrots.) Castiel wipes the back of his hand over his lips before slipping down to take in a mouthful of water. He swishes it around and spits that into the bucket too before he dumps in the remaining carrots.

Dean’s amusement tickles against the edge of Castiel’s mind. (Try the spaghetti.)

The pasta is cold and slimy in his fingers. He picks up one strand and it dangles from his fingertips. Castiel tilts his head, trying to figure out the best way to get it into his mouth without making a mess. He decides this best way is from above. Castiel raises his arm and leans his head back, guiding the pasta to his mouth with his other hand. The sauce is sweet, but it’s full of favours Castiel doesn’t recognize but they come together into a delicious combination. The pasta falls apart under his teeth, but it doesn’t become mush like the carrot did.

He doesn’t question why the connection with Dean falls silent in the same way it did earlier. Dean has been doing it at random moments throughout the day and he never answers Castiel’s curious looks. Most of the time, Dean’s ears will be pinking and he’ll refuse to look at Castiel. He can’t decide if it’s a human-thing or a Dean-thing. Either way, it’s something that he doesn’t understand and he wonders if he should ask Sam to clarify.

Castiel is finishing off the spaghetti and cleaning his fingers of the sauce when Sam and Jess approach the very-small-sea. He puts the empty container in the bucket and pushes it away before turning to them.

(Thank you for the food. I liked the spaghetti and the chicken. Can I try more human food when you eat later?) Castiel lets a little of his hope and anticipation leak through the kin-connection.

It’s troublesome to know that he can speak to all of three of them, but they can’t hear each other’s thoughts. There are some perks, he supposes. Like now, when he speaks directly to Sam. Castiel explains with his memories about Dean’s confusing reactions to seemingly nothing at all. Surprise ricochets back at him and Sam subtly looks at Dean over his shoulder. He can’t keep up with the flow of Sam’s thoughts and emotions. Everything is a rolling wave of surprise, confusion, and disbelief.

When Castiel tries to draw the feelings out so he can sort through them to determine the reasons why, Sam pulls away and shakes his head. (That’s something you’re going to have to talk to Dean about or figure out on your own. If I tell you, it doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong, Dean’ll be pissed at the both of us. He’ll be more upset than when I told you he’s bisexual.)

Castiel cringes. He doesn’t like it when Dean is angry. He lets that subject drop and then pushes his curiosity as to why both Sam and Jess have come over. He wonders if there more tests or measurements that they want to take.

“Actually…” Jess speaks slowly as she sits down and picks up the black shell full of papers. “There’s something we want to ask you.”

“We should talk with the kin-connection. It’ll be easier for him to understand.” Sam says as he pulls over the other chair and sits too. They are both mostly at the same level as Castiel now and he doesn’t have to look up at them. He appreciates this small gesture of kindness and equality, even if they don’t realize that they are doing it.

Castiel watches as Jess opens the shell and hands a few papers to Sam. He’s baffled by the difference in their emotions. Sam is excited. He’s practically bouncing where he sits. There is a thrum of anticipation and so much curiosity Castiel can’t even begin to sort it out. Jess is much more nervous. She’s almost afraid of what she’s giving to Sam and she keeps glancing at Castiel with sympathy streaking through their connection.

After shuffling the papers and organizing them into a specific order, Sam leans forward and Castiel turns all of his attention to him. (First, I’m going to have to explain something that happened several years ago, okay?)

Castiel nods and he settles himself more comfortably into a corner, crossing his arms over the edge of the glass-wall and resting his chin on them. Sam is almost too eager in the memories he provides and Castiel finches at the force of them being pushed through the connection. He shoves back against Sam’s thoughts, thinning the connection so only a few can come through at a time.

Sam describes to him of an expedition from eight years previous. Castiel doesn’t quite understand the concept of a ‘year’, but he knows that it is a very long time. The closest thing he has to the number of days in a year is two seasons of the deep ocean currents. When Sam mentions a fake cave as a trap for a fin-kin, Castiel sits up, fans flaring wide in surprise and he hisses, baring his teeth.

Jess reaches out to soothe him, but Sam continues to explain how the fake cave had a speaker – like the ones set up in Castiel’s small-sea – that played a song recorded many, many years before that from the only fin-kin to have ever been studied. Castiel can clearly picture, without Sam’s memories, the not-rock false-cave that Balthazar had been trapped in. He still remembers the wrong-song and the sound of his sword on the metal door when he had to pry it open.

If Sam notices that Castiel’s emotions are bubbling with the reminder of how scared and worried he’d been all those seasons ago, he doesn’t show it. He keeps telling Castiel about how the light-beds are one of the very few places in the ocean where there have been multiple sightings of fin-kin. Hundreds of years before the first fin-kin was studied, Sam says there are records of fishermen who would find a fin-kin caught in their nets and think they were monsters. To Castiel’s horror, the fishermen would kill the fin-kin without trying to free them or talk to them.

Castiel’s fins ripple and his fans flare. He doesn’t like this story. The fake cave and the wrong-song are a sore spot with him. If he’d been only a few minutes later, Balthazar might have been taken. His nest-brother might have a bit of an attitude, but he was always loyal and one of Castiel’s best friends. Castiel would never want him to be here.

A heavy weight settles on his chest and clenches around his heart. Castiel isn’t paying attention to what Sam is saying anymore. His words and images are background thoughts skimming across the edges of Castiel’s mind as he talks about cameras and pictures.

Castiel’s thoughts are on his nest-brothers, his nest-sisters, the garrison, and the rest of the colony. It’s been seven days now and he wonders if they’ve tried looking for him. He wonders if they think him alive, or if they’ve accepted that he’s been taken by the two-tails and assume him dead. He wonders if, in the middle of the war, they would have the time to cover his sleep-shelf with shells and stones and sing the songs of farewell.

The swell of longing for the ocean and home isn’t surprising. It is no more intense than it always is and the food in his belly feels heavy. Castiel think he might be sick and he swallows around the tight lump in his throat. Balthazar and Anna, maybe even Gabriel and Lucifer and Michael… All of them must be worried and just thinking about how they might be feeling to not know what really happened to him is making his chest feel tight and it’s getting hard to breathe.

A hand touches his shoulder and Castiel looks up sharply. Jess is leaning forward and she’s trying to push apologies and sympathy through the connection. (Just take a few deep breaths and calm down. We didn’t mean to upset you, there’s just something we want to know.) She turns her head to look at Sam and her expression goes cold. “Maybe we shouldn’t show him the pictures.”

The kin-connection with Sam is full of surprise and confusion. Sam doesn’t know why Jess is suddenly angry with him. Despite his large frame, Sam almost shrinks under Jess’s glare, but he fumbles to hold out the top paper from the stack in his hands. Jess glares at it before she takes it and turns it around for Castiel to see. It’s a welcome distraction and Castiel struggles against the downward spiral of his thoughts.

The picture in Jess’s hands is much more blurry than any pictures Castiel has seen so far. There are speckles in the foreground that smudge the edges of the things in the background. He squints at the image, trying to see beyond the blur.

(This is what brought Lilith to those islands. It was the first real proof in decades that fin-kin were even in the that area.)

It takes a moment for Castiel to pick out the patterns under the grainy quality, but eventually he does and it makes his insides feel cold. He drifts a hand down to his tail and presses his fingers to the swirling blue of his glow-pattern. The picture is of the lower half of a fin-kin, and the pattern on the tail is his own. When they show him another, even through the blur Castiel can recognize himself.

(I was going through some stuff in our bunk last night and I found these. I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things or if it was actually you or not. Castiel, were you ever –) Jess bites her lip and squeezes his fingers where her hand still rests over his. (Is this you?)

His nod is nothing but a quick jerk of his chin because his eyes are on the new picture Sam is holding out. It’s just as out of focus as the others, but Castiel can see the end of his tail along the edge of the picture. The majority of the image is taken up with an all too familiar face, even as blurred as it is. A quiet whimper works its way past his lips and Castiel grips tightly at the edge of the glass-wall with one hand. He touches the picture gently with the other, dragging his fingers lightly over the outline.

(Who is this?) Sam’s question is soft and tentative, as if he doesn’t want to ask it.

Castiel swallows, his throat tight again. Everything he just tried to force down is back in full and he desperately wants to hear the voices of his family again. There’s a burning behind his eyes, a precursor to tears he knows aren’t going to come because he has no more to cry.

(Balthazar.) He draws away from the picture and the glass-wall. He clenches his hand into a fist to quell the trembling of his fingers. (My… my nest-brother.)

He turns away and dives under the shallow waters of the very-small-sea. He can feel Jess’s upset and Sam’s regret, and there’s a quick burst of surprise and confusion along the edge of his mind from Dean. Castiel shuts them all out, closing the connections firmly as he curls up, hugging his chest tightly and hiding under the spread of his fans.

It’s not just that he misses his family and friends. There’s a pressing anger at himself for getting caught on a camera – and it doesn’t matter that at the time he didn’t even know what a camera was. If that had never happened, Lilith would never have come to the light-beds and Castiel would never have been caught. It’s his fault and it hurts.

Humans have made the world so complicated and there’s so much to see and know. There’s more to it now than just the simplicity of the deep and a very, very small part of Castiel is torn between wanting to return home and staying to learning more, to see it all. It’s a incredibly small part, but it scares him.

The collar is heavy around his neck and the rope rubs at his skin and scales, pinching the adipose of his fin between the disk and his throat. There’s a low throb of pain in his back. They are both reminders that he might never be able to go home.

x

A thud echoes through the water and Castiel pulls his fans out of the way, lifting his head to see over the curve of his scales. Jess is still at the computers and Sam is kneeling by the pump. The hose is back over the glass-wall and Dean is nowhere in sight. A brief bolt of panic flashes through his chest and Castiel pushes up, hoping Dean is only laying in his bed.

His coughs are more than enough to notify Sam and Jess of his breaking the surface. He clears his lungs of water and gasps through the first few painful breaths of air. The drying in his throat tickles as it always does and he coughs around it again.

Castiel reaches for Sam’s mind first out of familiarity. He knows his question is ringed with worry and brightened by the tight beginnings of panic, but he can’t be bothered to hide them. (Where’s Dean?)

Sam looks over his shoulder, hands stilling over the pump. (Bathroom, I guess? He left only a moment ago. Said he had something to do and took off once he showed me how to work this thing.) To accentuate his point, he flips a switch and the roar of the machine makes everyone flinch. It’s only a few moments before the hose twitches and water pours from the end.

Castiel looks to the door and frowns. Maybe Dean went to get their suppers? He glances up at the clock and he’s not sure if the sea-horse shaped number just to the left of the bottom of the clock is the usual time when they eat or not. He worries his bottom lip gently and he looks between the door and the clock before looking back at Sam.

(Did he go to get food?)

He shrugs and stands, stretching his back before moving to the platform to steady the hose. (Maybe. He didn’t say. Are you… are you okay now? I didn’t know those pictures were going to –)

(I don’t want to talk about it.) Castiel jerks his head to the side, looking away.

His eyes catch over the toothbrush and the glob of toothpaste still resting on the ledge and he drags himself up by the glass-wall to reach it. Sam lets the questions drop and  busies himself with the hose. Jess is right there. Castiel touches her mind and her fingers stop over the keyboard. She turns to him with an understanding smile.

(I hope you’re feeling better. Can I help you with something?)

(Dean says I need to brush my teeth. His memories were not very clear. Could you show me?)

Jess raises her eyebrows and her smile turns into wry amusement. She crosses her arms and leans back in the chair. (I don’t exactly have my own toothbrush to show you. But…) She reaches out to properly fold his fingers around the toothbrush. (Hold it like this and copy me.)

She holds up her index finger and her lips peel back, baring her teeth. She puts the pad of her finger to her teeth and wiggles her eyebrows expectantly. Castiel copies, pressing the bristles of the toothbrush against the points of his teeth. Jess starts slow, moving her finger in sharp up and down motions. He mirrors her as she moves her finger between her teeth and cheek.

The bristles are rough against his gums and Castiel wonders if he’s doing it wrong because he can taste blood on his tongue. He ignores it and keeps brushing, dropping his jaw when she does and scrubbing over the points and behind his teeth. The toothpaste has become a watery foam that slip-slides across his tongue.

(Okay, spit and then scrub your tongue down too.) Jess holds out the bucket and Castiel follows her instructions but gags and coughs when he pushes too far back with the toothbrush. (Careful, don’t be too rough. On the bright side, now we know you have a gag reflex! You can rinse now.) She’s laughing softly as he swishes a mouthful of water.

The mint taste is refreshing and leaves a cool tingling throughout his mouth. Castiel licks his lips and takes a deep breath, only to realize he can smell the mint better too, as if it’s in his nose as well. He presses his gratefulness into the kin-connection.

(You’re welcome. Anything else you need help with?) She puts the bucket on the floor and returns her hands to the keyboard, tapping at a few of the buttons.

There is much Castiel needs help with, but there is nothing she can do about that right now. Small-sea is filling slowly and he flicks his side-fans in irritation. Even though it’s small, he misses being able to actually swim. He drums his fingers on the glass-wall. At the moment, all they can really do is talk. And Castiel has a lengthy list of questions he’s been waiting for the right time to ask Dean.

(Could I ask you some things?) He tilts his head, resting his chins on his palm. He runs his tongue over his teeth, and notes that they feel more smooth than before.

(You know you can ask us anything.) Jess nods, but her eyes stay on the computer’s screen. Her attention is split between the words she is typing and listening to Castiel.

He watches the little symbols appear on the screen. (Does Dean have a baby?)

Jess looks to him in sharp surprise and Castiel gives her the brief memory of Dean talking about ‘betting his baby’. She snorts and rolls her eyes before shaking her head and sharing an image of a large metal machine with elegant lines. Jess explains that Dean’s ‘baby’ is his car – one of the few things that his father left him. Inadvertently, showing him what a car is answers another of his questions.

It leads to him asking about police, and hospitals, and what the sickness Sam used to have was. He asks about how humans can change the colour of their hair and if they can change other parts of their bodies too. Castiel tries not to be too disgusted when Jess explains about plastic surgery, but he can’t stop the crinkle of his nose and the rippling in the water from his shudder.

From Jess, he learns about Dean and Sam’s relationship with Bobby, that he was close friend of their family when their mother was still alive, and they both consider him as a surrogate father after John died. Jess has no qualms with answering his questions. She’s considered part of the family and knows all of Sam’s secrets. She’s careful not to share anything that is specifically Dean’s to tell.

(Won’t Sam be mad to know you’re telling me about him?)

Jess shrugs. (I’m not telling you anything he wouldn’t. I’ve been with him long enough to know what he thinks is private enough to not tell you.)

This leads into a lengthy story of how Jess and Sam met at a place called ‘university’ where they were both learning about studying marine life. They wanted to be scientists and learn all they can about sea creatures. They were just recent graduates when they found out that there was an expedition looking for a lot of available workers for an incredible amount of pay.

It was at Sam’s prompting that Dean applied to work on the boat so he could stay with them. Bobby, and a few of their other friends who needed the money and had the time to spare applied too. Jess’s anger flickers over her thoughts and her fingers clench into fists above the keyboard. She tells Castiel that it wasn’t until they had already caught him that they found out what Lilith’s true motives were.

(She’s such… she’s such a child.) Jess’s upper lip curls back in a sneer and her thoughts twist darkly. (The whole point of this trip was because she wants to add a fin-kin to her collection. We thought this was about science and learning about a new species. But no, she’s got all kinds of illegal pets and it’s just disgusting what she does.) Her shoulders slump and her bottom lip trembles as she looks at him. (If we had known how human you were, we never would have… Sam never would have shot you on the reef.)

Castiel reaches out and touches her shoulder gently. She’s being entirely truthful and he wishes he could find it in himself to accept her apologies. But it’s hard when he’s still trying to understand why humans think it’s okay to capture creatures they don’t understand just to study them.

Jess sighs heavily and shakes herself out. She rubs at the back of her neck and her sheepish smile is soft as she looks at him through the curtain of her hair. (Do you have other questions?)

(That was most of them. Dean agreed to teach me how to read and write and he’s going to ask Sam for books. Do you have books?)

(Nothing that would be easy enough for a first timer. Not here at least. But I’m pretty sure with this kin-connection you’ll be able to catch on quicker than most.) She curls a few strands of her yellow hair around her fingers. (Exactly how much can you use this? I mean, since we can share memories, can you take our knowledge and use it for yourself?)

It takes a moment for Castiel to figure out what she’s asking. (No. If I could do that, I would have simply taken the memory of teeth brushing from Dean instead of having you show me.)

(Oh. Yeah, that makes sense. What about… Do you remember that time you hurt Dean?) Jess provides the memory of Dean holding his head and doubled over. He winces. It is a shaming and unhappy memory for him. (Why don’t you do that to Lilith, or Alistair and Gordon when they’re hurting you? It would really knock those bastards on their asses.)

It’s a good question and Castiel’s not sure if he can explain it so she can understand, but he tries. Using the kin-connection to overwhelm someone else’s mind with potent emotions is incredibly taboo in the colony. The kin-connection is a precious, intimate bond between fin-kin and to abuse it in such a manner is worthy of exile.

Exile is a worse punishment than death. Castiel never really understood why, but he does now. It’s maddening not to have the voices of his kin constantly singing in the back of his mind. He thinks, if it wasn’t for Dean and his connection with Sam and now Jess, that he might have attempted more desperate escapes days ago.

He doesn’t tell her that he might have killed himself, if only to get away from the silence.

(Their actions alone disgust me. Why would I want to be able to touch their thoughts and feel their emotions?) Castiel shrugs and turns around so his back is against the wall and his arms are resting along the edge of glass-wall. He flicks the end of his tail up out of the water and watches the droplets on his fins. (It’s been so ingrained into me to not do it, it never really occurred to me to attack them like that. I lost control when I hurt Dean and it is incredibly shameful. I don’t want to do it again.)

Jess’s answer is interrupted by the door opening. Castiel didn’t hear the beep of it over the rumbling of the pump and he sits up a little straighter. Dean comes through the door backward and he’s talking to someone hidden behind him. He’s laughing when he turns around and he’s carrying a few of the white food containers.

Castiel is more interested in the woman with the wavy dark hair and black nails than the rest of the food boxes. She’s wearing a white coat like Sam and Jess’s, but the sleeves are rolled back and there are bands of black around her wrists and silver on some of her fingers. Her eyes are sharp and they go wide when they fall on Castiel.

Her smile gets bigger. “Well, hello there, angelfish!”

Dean laughs again, passing the small-sea to give Jess one of the containers. “Jesus, Pam, don’t call him that. I told you, his name is Castiel. I just call him ‘Cas’.”

“Naw, Winchester. I like ‘angelfish’. Suits those pretty looks of his.” She puts the two containers that she’s holding on the ledge and leans over the far end of the very-small-sea, resting her elbows on the glass-wall. Castiel draws his tail up closer to himself and away from her. He flares his fans, hunching forward so the ones on his back aren’t pinned against the glass.

It doesn’t have the desired effect and she only smiles wider. “See? The dorsal fins even look like wings when he spreads them like that.”

Castiel gropes for Dean’s mind and he relaxes marginally when Dean  accepts the connection without fault. He soothes over the bright flashes of anxiety skipping through Castiel at this new person who insists on standing so close.

(Cas, it’s okay. Pamela is a friend. She’s the veterinarian I told you about earlier. I brought her to come take a look at your back. If Lilith asks, we’re just going to tell her it’s to make sure that she didn’t do any lasting damage shooting you up with that chip.)

“Pam… ela…?” He asks slowly, testing the name.

She nods. “Nice to meet’cha, angelfish.”

“Angelfish?” He tilts his head and frowns at the images of the same kind of fish he gets from Sam, Dean and Jess. All three kin-connections are vibrating with amusement. Only Jess explains that Pamela is giving him a new nickname.

He shakes his head and points to his chest. “Castiel. No ‘angelfish’.”

“I think the word you’re looking for there is ‘not’. ‘Castiel, not angelfish’. Have they been teaching you bad English?” Pamela turns her smirk to Dean and lifts her eyebrows. “I suppose that’s to be expected if you’re learning from Dean.”

“Hey, lay off. Dean’s a good teacher.” Sam steps off the platform and accepts the box of food from Dean while turning off the pump. The small-sea isn’t quite full yet and Castiel looks to Dean, pushing his confusion through the link.

(Just while we eat and Pamela’s here. Oh, I brought you a box of your own too.)

(But Lilith –)

(Said you were a good boy and if you keep being a good boy she’ll let us do what we want.) Dean’s thoughts fluctuate from bitter to embarrassed and the back of his neck is going red again. (I know she meant that in a sexual way, but I figure why can’t it apply to food too? It sucks that you’ll have to be well behaved, but if you don’t try and break out or attack anyone, we should be okay for feeding you.)

He puts the third box of food on the ledge next to the toothbrush and toothpaste. (The longer we can keep Lilith in the dark about us trying to bust you out, the better. And as much as I hate to say it, you playing nice with her is one of our best bets at keeping her off our backs.)

Castiel hisses at the suggestion and glares at Dean, but his displeasure filters back at him. Dean doesn’t like the plan anymore than he does, but he’s right. It’s sound logic and he can’t think of any reason not to follow through with it beyond that he simply doesn’t like Lilith.

(Fine. I won’t be happy about it though.) He pulls the container closer and fumbles to open the lid. (Why does she assume that there would be sexual aspects to our relationship?)

(Dunno. Guess she thinks my reputation won’t be stopped by a species barrier or something, and I have’t been doing much to make her think otherwise.) Dean grabs one of the boxes Pamela had been carrying and sits on the ledge in its place. Pamela does the same and Castiel ignores the little twinge in his chest when he notices how closely together they sit, elbows brushing occasionally as they eat.

Tonight’s supper consists of something Dean calls a ‘hamburger’ and swears by his car, again, that it is the best meal on the planet. Castiel thinks it’s too bulky and he picks it apart. A hot juice runs out of the circular slice of meat and he hisses when it burns his fingers.

Jess takes his container and uses her fork and knife to cut the hamburger into smaller chunks, separating the meat from the rest. (Wait until these pieces have cooled down. Try the other stuff first.)

Castiel examines the thin, golden strips. The first is crisp and salty and tastes wonderful. He doesn’t really taste the rest so much as he inhales them. He’s licking the salt from his fingertips when Dean closes his emotions off again as Jess explains that the golden strips are called ‘french fries’. When he asks if he can have more, she tells him that too many is unhealthy. Sam offers him some of his ‘salad’ which Castiel translates into ‘unappetizing green things’.

When he says this, it sends Dean and Pamela into fits of laughter while Jess and Sam glare at them both. To mollify them, Castiel tries a few leaves. They are crunchy and mostly tasteless. It’s the oily sauce overtop that gives it a tangy flavor. Castiel licks it from the webbing between his fingers and catches, from the corner of his eye, the tips of Dean’s ears going red again.

(You really need to stop that.)

(Stop what?) Castiel tries the leaf of lettuce from the hamburger, but it’s limp and warm and he doesn’t like it as much as he liked the crisp ones in Sam’s salad. He puts it aside and picks up a piece of the spongy white-brown thing that is much different than the white-brown of the breaded chicken. (What’s this?)

(The bun. It’s a kind of bread. You need to stop licking your fingers and stuff. People don’t do that.)

He eats the bun and rolls it around on his tongue, entertained by how it gets soggy and falls apart before he starts chewing. (I’m not people, Dean.)

(Yeah, well, you’re here with people and we don’t lick our fingers all… all…)

(All what?)

(All seductive, like. I know you’re not meaning it like that, but you’re kind of doing it like it and it’s really… It’s really distracting. So cut it out and eat with a fork or something.) Dean bites into his burger more viciously than Castiel thinks necessary and he’s staring at the floor like it personally affronted him.

Castiel’s fingers are hovering over a slice of red that Jess identifies as a piece of tomato. He’s staring at Dean with wide eyes and he can feels his cheeks warming as a breezy kind of alarm starts dancing low in his chest. (I’m not being seductive.)

There’s frustration marring the edges of Dean’s thoughts. (Yes, you totally are. Next think I know, you’re gonna be sucking on your fingers or something and making inappropriate noises and I’m gonna have an inappropriate reaction that’s gonna send Sam and Jess into fits and Pam will never let me live it down. So, seriously, cut it out.)

He withdraws from the container, too nervous to eat now. His fins ripple and the spines of his fans flex in agitation. (It wasn’t my intention – I didn’t know. I wasn’t aware that I could even – that you would think of me like – why would you even consider me to be – I’m sorry, I –)

It’s confusing and Castiel doesn’t like being confused by their entirely too human ways. There is nothing sexual about keeping his fingers clean. Is there? He doesn’t understand what could be affecting Dean, let alone why Dean would even be affected by it in the first place. Dean is human and Castiel is fin-kin and there can’t be anything about him that Dean finds attractive or seductive. Can there?

But it’s not like Castiel wants Dean to think either of those things. Because he doesn’t.

A small voice in the back of his mind calls him a liar and Castiel lashes out at it. It sounds too much like Gabriel’s teasing tones and the last thing he wants to deal with right now is any thoughts that even remotely associate to his family.

Surprise and concern spark over his mind from both Sam and Jess’s kin-connections. He doesn’t feel any of Dean’s emotions, but he can see the surprise on his face in the way his eyes widen and his lips part. There’s a smear of red and yellow at the corner of his mouth and Castiel knows he shouldn’t be noticing it or the way Dean absently licks it away, but he can’t help it. Pamela leans around him, eyebrows raised in question.

(Whoa, Cas, whoa! Calm down. You look like you’re going to have another panic attack or something. It’s not that big a deal, really.) Dean is putting down his container and sliding off the ledge to stand. Pamela is right at his side, looking more curious than she is concerned.

“What happened?” Jess’s voice matches the apprehension washing through from her link.

“Did you say something stupid, Dean?” Sam is accusing even as he’s trying to calm the surges of rolling panic that are starting to make Castiel’s hands shake. He presses his palms tightly against his tail, hiding them under the adipose of the fins running along its length.

“Yeah, yeah, I said something stupid. Shut up and let me deal with it.” Dean flaps one hand at them and walks slowly around the edge of the very-small-sea. (I’m sorry, Cas. I didn’t – I don’t know what you’re freaking about now, but it’s okay, really. I’m not mad or anything, I swear. If you have another freak out, Lilith is going to be pissed. Remember how we just talked about this?)

Castiel’s fins keep rippling and the tip of his tail twitches. The very-small-sea is starting to feel too confining and Castiel needs to get out. He needs to get away from Dean and swim, even if it’s just in circles in small-sea. He needs to put the glass-walls and the bars between him and Dean and he needs to keep those barriers between them.

Dean is dangerous.

He presses himself into the corner, away from Dean as he comes closer. Dean stops short and the wall in the kin-connection that is keeping his emotions hidden drops without warning. Castiel is unprepared for the flood of confused hurt and worry and he flinches from it. His reaction only makes Dean frown and the wounded tinge to his thoughts doubles.

Castiel can feel Dean reaching and sifting through the wisps of his thoughts, trying to find the source of his upset. He hides those from Dean, trapping them behind his own wall where he keeps the things he doesn’t want Dean or Sam, or now Jess, to see.

(Cas? I’m not going to hurt you or anything. If this is about the being seductive thing, I didn’t mean – well I did mean that you were being accidentally sexy – but I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings or whatever it is that I did. Please, man, talk to me?)

He sinks lower into the water and presses the heels of his palms against his eyes. (I need to swim.)

“Yeah, okay, we can do that.”

The pump starts up a moment later. (Are you going to let Pam look at your back before we get you into the tank?)

Castiel nods but doesn’t move. Pamela can look at his back when they help him change over to the small-sea. His gills ripple in disquiet and for a brief moment he can’t breathe properly. He seals them flat against his neck, pressing his palms against them to keep them down as he takes deep breathes, holding them for long moments in between.

His thoughts are wrong and he needs to get away from them. The first step in doing that, in distancing himself from Dean, is to cut the connection. But he’s hesitant to do so. Dean’s mind, his thoughts and emotions, are where Castiel has turned to over the past several days as a place to find his calm. The kin-connection with Dean is usually as much a balm to Castiel’s own turbulent thoughts as the warmth of his arms have been since yesterday and – no.

That is wrong.

He swallows thickly against the bile rising to burn the back of his throat. The food he ate is turning uncomfortably in his stomach. For the umpteenth time today, Castiel thinks he might be sick. He presses the back of his hand over his mouth and bows his head.

(Castiel?) Jess asks cautiously, her touch is cool on his shoulder. (Are you feeling alright? Is the food disagreeing with you? Pamela is here and she can take a look at you, if you want?)

Castiel shakes his head and pulls his shoulder out from under her hand. Her fingers are cold and although he is used to the chill of the deep, it’s uncomfortable that the touch isn’t warm like Dean’s fingers are. He shakes his head harder, as if doing so could get rid of those thoughts. He shouldn’t – he can’t – think of Dean’s warmth, or the comfort he’s found being held by him.

The pump shuts off.

“Cas, it’s done. You ready?” Dean’s voice is closer. It’s right there at the edge of the very-small-sea.

He jerks away, hissing and flaring his fans at Dean. (It’s wrong. Wrong! Stay away from me!) Turning, Castiel struggles up until he can lean over the glass wall and reach for Sam with both hands. “Sam!”

Sam starts in surprise, confusion vibrating thickly in his thoughts as he glances from Castiel to Dean. He fumbles as he passes his mostly empty container of salad to Jess and scoots closer so Castiel can put his arms around his shoulders again. (Not that I mind or anything, Castiel, but Dean was ready to –)

(No. You help me. Get Pamela too.)

He presses his face to Sam’s shoulder so he doesn’t have to see the bewildered expression of hurt he knows Dean is wearing to match the stinging displeasure winding its way tightly into their connection. There are bright, painful little bursts crackling behind Castiel’s ribs. He’s hurting Dean by doing this, but he can’t stop to think about that. He’s getting too attached, and thinking wrong things about Dean and he needs to get away.

“Pam, he wants you to look at his back now.” Sam folds Castiel against his chest, grunting as he takes his weight again. He wraps his tail around Sam’s waist and tightens his arms.

“Sure thing. Where did Lilith get him?”

Dean speaks slowly, uncertain with how to proceed. “It’s… between his fans. Here, I can… It’s right –”

“No!” Castiel snaps, his fins rustling as he flares his fans. “Dean not touch!”

The bright flash of surprise, still underlined with Dean’s wounded confusion, is quickly swallowed by a storm of anger. Dean slams it into the kin-connection with a ferocity Castiel has only felt from him where Lilith or Alistair are concerned. He flinches from it and severs their connection before Dean can do anything more.

“Fine. Fuckin’ fine.” His words are pitched low and dangerous and it reminds Castiel of earlier when he had been speaking to Lilith. It sends the same tingling thrill down his spine straight to the tip of his tail and this time it scares him because now he knows what it is and it’s wrong.

Jess touches his arm gently. (That wasn’t very nice. What did Dean do?)

He doesn’t want to answer and he cuts off his connection with her too. Jess’s fingers tighten over his arm and he tries to shake it off without unsettling himself from Sam’s arms.

“Castiel. I don’t know what’s going on but you should stop and think about what you’re doing to the few people on this boat who actually care about you.” She says softly, sternly, before taking her hand away.

Her words are translated through his connection with Sam and it leaves Sam confused and questioning. Castiel ignores it all and flares his fans so the webbing isn’t folded over the space where the welt is.

Pamela.

“Yeah, yeah, angelfish. I’m on it.”

He twitches at her touch. Everyone’s fingers feel so cold and he shivers as she gently nudges between his fans. Pamela’s touches are soft and he barely feels it as she ghosts them along his spine. There’s a twinge of pain that he jerks away from when she reaches the welt. The muscles still ache.

“Wow, I bet that’s in there deep. I can’t be sure without an x-ray –”

“No!” Castiel hisses, twisting to glare at her over his shoulder. “No x-ray!”

Pamela backs away, hands raised unthreateningly. “Okay, no x-ray. Far as I can tell, there’s not going to be any permanent damage. You can go into the tank now.” She gives Dean a sidelong look, her eyebrows raised in a meaningful gesture. “I’ll text you with the… details… on how to care for it so it doesn’t get infected or anything.”

Sam turns and takes unsteady steps toward the platform. Jess stays close, ready to help if either he or Castiel needs it. But Castiel isn’t paying attention to either of them. He’s watching over Sam’s shoulder as Pamela moves closer to Dean and puts her hand on one of his arms, both crossed tightly over his chest. They’re speaking softly, too quiet for Castiel to hear even when he spread his side-fans to try and catch the sounds. Sam is making too much noise with his hushed grunts and huffing breaths.

Castiel stops watching them long enough to turn in Sam’s arms and grab the edge of the glass-wall. He pulls as Sam lifts and Jess helps to push. He tumbles over the side. His first breath nearly chokes him as the water rushes over his gills, but the fresh sea water is remarkably calming and he spreads his fins and fingers so his webbing slows his sinking until he can breathe normally again.

(Thank you, Sam.)

(No problem. It’s… Um, well, Jess is – we’re both wondering if you’re okay? You’re kinda freaking out on us and it’s… We’re just worried.)

He shakes his head and rolls his shoulders in a shrug before dissolving the connection with Sam too. Dean is walking with Pamela to the door and Castiel watches them while trying to look like he isn’t. Pamela keeps standing too close to Dean and something sharp and acidic feels like it’s eating away at his insides, scratching at his lungs and making it hard to breathe.

Castiel flicks his tail and angles toward the floor, skimming above it in lazy loops around small-sea. He never once stops watching as Dean puts one hand on the door handle and runs the other through his hair and over the back of his neck. His shoulders are tense and Castiel knows he’s the reason behind it. Guilt adds itself to the clamor of emotions threatening to overtake him.

When Pamela leans up and presses a kiss to Dean’s lips, Castiel slows to a stop as his mind whites out. It fills with a buzzing noise when Dean’s hand drops to her shoulder and slides down her arm to cup her elbow. He leans forward and Castiel knows, he knows, that Dean is kissing her back.

The acid in his chest swells, spreading under his skin and his fans flare. There’s a rumbling in his throat that he thinks might be a growl, but he can’t be sure because Castiel can’t really think. And somewhere, tucked away in some corner hidden under the buzzing white, he might be scared by the ache under his sternum and the twitching of his fingers.

There’s a seething want blazing through his muscles and Castiel can’t figure out what it’s for. He doesn’t want Pamela kissing Dean, or Dean touching Pamela. He wants to pull them apart and place himself between them. He wants to hiss at her for touching Dean when she shouldn’t be touching him. He wants things he shouldn’t be wanting and the white is fading and everything comes rushing back in a dizzying swirl of wrong.

A darker side of him wants to hurt Pamela and mark Dean to make sure no one touches him again.

Castiel is scared.

Pamela steps away first and she pats Dean on the cheek. Her lips are quirked in an amused smile and she moves out of the way so Dean can pull the door open. She leans in again and puts her lips to Dean’s ear, and Dean’s shoulders shake as if he’s laughing. Her fingers flex over the back of his jeans and he turns to grab her wrist. Dean is shaking his head, but Castiel can see his smile and the soft crinkles around his eyes.

It makes his chest burn and the acid under his skin itch.

Pamela laughs and her shoulder rises and falls in a shrug. She waves over her shoulder before she leaves and Dean shuts the door. It takes a few moments for Castiel to notice that Dean is leaning against the door and looking at him. His expression is a mix of a displeased frown, and furrowed confusion. It’s as if Dean doesn’t understand Castiel’s reactions anymore than Castiel does.

Neither of them move and Castiel isn’t sure if he’s even blinking, let alone breathing. He doesn’t know this ache and the acid burn or why he’s so afraid of the hurricane building in his body. He knows Dean is at its center but he can’t understand why.

Why Dean?

Why now? Why does everything hurt and make his insides burn and freeze and shatter? Why does it scare him?

There are so many why, why, whys that Castiel can feel a slow pounding form in his temples that makes his whole head echo with the pulse in his throat. Dean’s lips part, as if to speak, but they press together in a thin line and he closes his eyes. His chin twitches to the side and he breaks away from the door.

Out from under the weight of Dean’s eyes, Castiel manages to gasp a breath. He brings up his hand to press at his chest and the hard knot behind his ribs where the cyclone of terrifying whys and whats are swirling into a brutal vortex that threatens to tear him apart. He needs to think. He needs to get away from the humans – from Dean – and return to the fin-kin he was seven days ago.

Castiel wrenches away and back into the loop he’s inscribed into the waters of the small-sea. He closes his eyes and shuts out the world of the humans. The popping-clicks of his echoes guide him away from the walls and Castiel lets the illusion of the sea wash away the infection of humankind that lingers on and under his skin until he can think clearly. 

by msmerc
by danceswithfriedchicken

by mysterymind277

by fitzbee part 1 by fitzbee p2

 

by livx18 1
by livx18 2

by tigercat070
by persephonesmee

Chapter Text

Dean is sleeping. At least, Castiel hopes he is. He can't confirm without touching Dean's mind and that is something he can't do. It doesn't help that Dean is still mad.

Even after Castiel had managed to clear his head and opened his eyes, Dean had not looked at him again. He and Sam had drained the very small-sea and pushed the empty glass walls out of the room. Sam and Jess had left together, and Dean had changed his clothes, turned the lights off, and gone straight to bed. Now he's laying on his side with his back to the small-sea and the blanket drawn high over his shoulder.

Castiel curls forward, his arms wrapped around his stomach. There is a hurt low in his gut, a sharp and jabbing pain that distracts from the ache in his chest and the silence in his head. He knows that he only hurts because he needs to relieve himself. But Sam didn't leave the bucket hanging from the corner of the small-sea and there are no fish and their bones.

Castiel doesn't want to make a mess in small-sea for the humans to see. It’s not that he’s embarrassed about his body’s functions, because he’s not. Back at home, it’s considered rude to relieve yourself in the presence of others. Here in small-sea, he doesn't have the privacy of the rocks that line the edges of the trench or any sand to bury his discharge under. He doesn't know what the human etiquette for leavings is, and he doesn't want to be accidentally insulting. Castiel has been waiting until the cover of the dimmed lights and hiding his waste with the fish bones, hoping no one notices.

The pain makes him double over again. He wonders if it is because he hasn’t relieved himself in a few days – since the night of Dean’s nightmares. Or if it’s the human food. Dean had said that they weren’t sure if Castiel would be able to properly digest the food and he should have listened better. He should have only tried the meat, or waited until someone brought him fish. But he’d been so hungry, and their food had smelled good and tasted even better.

Castiel grits his teeth against the stabbing hurt and tries to breathe deep, to center himself and rise above the pain. He’s been taught how to ignore pain, to keep soldiering on like a true warrior should. But the wrenching in his gut is different to the burn of a blade across his scales. He feels hot in his skin and presses his side against the cool of the glass. His fins are rippling wildly and the spines of his fans keep spreading and retracting as he tries to focus elsewhere.

He could just reach out to Dean and ask for the bucket. He could even ask Dean to leave the room so he doesn’t have to see what Castiel needs to do. But Castiel doesn’t want to touch Dean’s mind. He needs to distance himself from Dean and all the confusion he brings that makes his head and chest hurt. Another bloom of pain in his stomach is almost enough to make him reconsider and he really hopes it will go away once he relieves himself.

For a moment he uncurls to stretch his back. The speakers and the microphone-box are points of black against the glass that reflects the pale shape of his glow pattern. Castiel pushes away from the back corner and slides along the floor until he can curl up near the box with the button. The reflection of his natural-glow makes it hard to see Dean on his bed and Castiel finds it difficult to summon the focus necessary to force the dimming of his lights so he can better see.

He pushes the button. “Dean?”

Dean’s shoulders twitch and in the shadows Castiel thinks he sees Dean lift and turn his head a little. But he doesn’t move more than that. He says his name again as he presses his hand against another flare of sharp pain. “Dean.”

If anything, Dean’s shoulders hunch more. Castiel hisses, frustrated. He deserves this for forcing Dean out without any kind of explanation, but this is a very bad time for Dean to be stubborn. He won’t be able to hold it in for much longer and though privacy is unnecessary, it is preferred.

“Dean, please.” Castiel curls forward over the throb in his stomach.

The lights flicker on and Castiel groans, covering his eyes. There’s a knocking on the glass and the speakers crackle before Dean’s concerned tones pulse through the water.

“Cas? What’s wrong?”

He looks up and Dean is right there on the other side of the glass, the headset flattening his hair in places. Dean has both hands pressed to the glass and he’s watching Castiel closely, eyes wide with worry. Castiel winces through another jab of pain. He realizes now that it will be difficult to explain what he needs without the kin-connection and Castiel wavers, catching himself just as he touches the first fine tendrils of Dean’s thoughts.

Castiel points toward the bucket by the door. “Please.”

Confusion flickers over Dean’s face and he frowns, but he goes to get it anyway. “You sick?”

“Hurt.” He murmurs through grit teeth.

He’s surprised when Dean turns around sharply and comes back to the glass with quick steps. “You’re hurt? Where? How? Do you want me to get Pam?”

Castiel presses his forehead to the glass. Half of Dean’s words are meaningless to him without the kin-connection and this is a very stupid idea to try and communicate without it. But he won’t - he can’t - go back to the comfort of Dean’s mind. The very fact that he can find his calm in the touch of the thoughts of a two-tails is wrong. He doesn’t find the same kind of comfort with Sam. Only Dean. And it’s wrong.

It’s only been a handful of hours since he severed his connection with Dean and already there is an empty space in his mind where Dean should be. It’s a separate place from the space where his kin would sing. It’s a place that shouldn’t exist. He doesn’t understand why he’s craving the feel of his mind now. He’s been disconnected from Dean for longer than this before.

He doesn’t want Dean to bring Pamela in. The mention of her only brings up the memory of her kissing Dean and it creates sparks in his blood, white-hot and angry. It’s just another thing Castiel doesn’t understand. He didn’t have this feeling when Sam and Jess kissed.

No Pamela.” Castiel speaks with more vehemence than he needs and he can see the confusion in Dean’s eyes over it. He ignores the questioning look and points at the bucket and to the platform. The bars are closed and Dean will have to open them to give him the bucket. “Please.”

Dean is slow to move, but Castiel is slower. It is difficult to swim when hunched over and holding his stomach. When he finally manages to drag himself up the glass-wall, Dean is waiting and the bars have been raised. Castiel is both horrified and disappointed to find that Dean is holding the bucket well out of reach. He frowns and hooks his arm over the lip of the small-sea, stretching for the handle.

He’ll take the bucket underwater with him and release directly into it. He can tip most of the water out before giving it back. And Castiel is sure if he tells Dean not to look inside, he probably won’t. It’s possible that Sam might. He hasn’t broached the subject of waste disposal yet, but Castiel is almost certain that Sam will ask at some point.

Dean steps back to the edge of the platform. “No.”

Castiel flares his fans in disapproval. “Dean, please.”

“Sure, after the kin-connection is up.” Dean hangs the bucket from one arm and taps his temple. “Kin-connection, Cas.”

He looks away and bites at his bottom lip. Castiel should have expected something like this. But he can’t. He’s still scared of all the emotions that Dean stirs up inside him – emotions he doesn’t understand and things he’s never felt before.  He’s still scared of the brief arousal that had flickered through Dean’s thoughts while they ate. Arousal Dean had felt because of him. And Dean had kissed him before. Was it only because Dean had thought Castiel should be kissed at least once? Or was it because Dean was actually attracted to him?

“No.” He shakes his head and folds his tail between him stomach and the glass. Castiel winces at the sharp jolt that sings through his gut as he sinks until he can take a few breaths again. He’s not planning on staying above the water long enough to need to clear his lungs. “Bucket.”

Dean crosses his arms and there’s a stubborn set to his shoulders. “No, Cas. Kin-connection. You said you’re hurt and I want to know what’s going on. And guess what – there’s this whole thing where you don’t speak English and I don’t speak Atlantean or whatever the hell you call your language. If you’re sick and something’s hurting you Cas, I need to know. Now set up the damn kin-connection before I climb in there and have to nearly kill myself to get you to do it, again.”

He has no idea what Dean is saying and he shakes his head again. “Dean. Bucket. Please.” Castiel flexes his fingers toward the bucket in a weak grabbing motion. “Bucket. Dean. Door.”

Dean’s eyes narrow and Castiel can see the muscles of his jaw twitch. He’s grinding his teeth and every line of his body is showing Castiel that Dean is angry again. His arms tense briefly and the bucket slides to his hand. Castiel hisses and ducks, even though Dean throws it at the bars too far to the left for it to even come close to hitting him. The clanging of the bucket hitting the bars echoes in the room, but dies in the boom of the door slamming behind Dean.

Castiel is slow to fill the bucket and it drags heavily in the water as he takes it down to one of the back corners of the small-sea. He keeps his back to the cameras and the room, just in case Dean or anyone else enters. He hopes that Dean is just waiting on the other side of the door. If he left for somewhere else on the boat, it’s possible that Alistair, Gordon, Lilith, or Kubrick, or any number of humans Castiel doesn’t know yet could come in and if they have the dart-gun he won’t be able to defend himself.

He tries not to think about that as he strains to relieve himself. It almost hurts more letting it out than it did to hold it in. There’s a quick burst of panic in his chest when he smells blood in the water and he barely manages to stop himself from checking over his shoulder for any sharks. Of course there wouldn’t be any sharks in the small-sea. He might never see or fight another shark again. But his many seasons of training and his instincts are hard to ignore.

His waste is hard and a different colour than usual, and it’s funny shaped and Castiel is worried. Is this normal when trying new foods? He doesn’t know. He’s never had anything other than fish and the occasional strip of kelp when feeling sick. While he waits for the waste to settle at the bottom of the bucket, Castiel nearly folds in half to check the slit at the top of his sheath. It’s sore and slightly swollen, and he can still smell blood, even though it’s dispersing to quickly for him to see.

At least his stomach doesn’t hurt so much anymore, but it still clenches with phantom remnants of the sharp pain from before. Castiel decides that he’ll ask Sam about it in the morning, to find out if he should be worried or if he’s hurt himself badly. It will be the beginning of the conversation he knows Sam, or Jess, or someone, will eventually want to have. They’re curious about how his body functions and this is just one of the many ways. Although, Castiel isn’t sure if he wants to learn how humans relieve themselves. It’s not a very interesting or attractive topic.

He takes the bucket back to the surface and leaves a few finger-widths of water in the bottom before carefully hanging it on the corner of the small-sea. Castiel takes to swimming in tight, nervous circles under the opening in the bars, moving from the front wall to the back. By the eighth loop, Dean still hasn’t returned and there’s a tight knot of panic swelling in his chest at the possibility that he might not come back again.

Castiel closes the bars, narrowly avoiding having them swing shut on his head, and dives to the microphone. He presses the button. “Dean?”

There’s no answer. He was hoping but he didn’t really expect one. No one had told him if the headset could hear the words from the microphone too, or if it was just the speakers set out in the room. His fins ripple and Castiel tries calling Dean again. He says his name several times, and even calls for Sam, or Jess. No one replies and the door doesn’t open and the small knot of worry is quickly expanding. It’s taking up the room his lungs need and his gills are fluttering wildly with every breath.

The cameras will show Lilith that Castiel is alone. Alistair works with Lilith and if she tells him, Alistair will come and Castiel doesn’t know what else Alistair could do to him but he’s sure that the humans have more tests. They must be done running the tests on his blood by now. And why had he taken Castiel’s scales too? What if Alistair wants to look at samples of Castiel’s fins, or his fans, or his skin? How long until Alistair wants to see under his skin, to see how different his insides are from humans?

Castiel doesn’t have a weapon to fight them with, and their weapons are designed to incapacitate him from a distance. He could easily defeat Alistair if he had to face him in the water, but everything here plays against Castiel and it would take an act of mother-sea for him to be able to win.

He needs to move. He can’t hold still anymore and his fingers keep twitching, his hands starting to shake. Castiel starts with short trips to and from the grey-wall at the back of small-sea, stopping every few rotations to use the microphone to call for any of the few people he’s come to trust. No one comes and his laps start turning into wide circles, following along all the walls.

His panic fluctuates over the hours he spends like this. Some of the time his movements are erratic and he runs into the walls while trying to keep his eye on the door. At other times, he’s almost relaxed enough that he finds himself dozing off until he remembers that anyone who isn’t Dean could come through the door at any moment.

There are several times, during the lonely night, that he finds himself regretting his decision to distance himself from Dean. He has to continuously, almost in a mantra, remind himself that it’s for the best. Castiel can’t get attached to Dean. Dean is human and he is fin-kin. And if they ever manage to free him, Castiel will return to the colony and Dean will stay with Sam and Jess, and Bobby and Pamela – he ignores how that thought causes an unhappy twinge high in his chest.

It’s nice to make friends with the humans and keep the comfort of the kin-connection so the silence doesn’t make him lose his mind. But it’s another thing entirely to get too close. He’s not even sure if he would miss Sam or Jess if they managed to get him back to the sea. But Dean? He’s shared more time with Dean’s mind than anyone else’s on the boat. It feels, for lack of a better word, it feels right and it surprises him with how quickly Dean has taken to the kin-connection.

The small hand of the clock is close to the peaked number with the sharp lines when Castiel finally stops swimming. He settles into the corner of small-sea farthest from the door and he hugs his tail to his chest.

And he thinks.

Castiel isn’t stupid. He may not understand the chaotic tumble of emotions that ebb and flow in confusing waves, but that’s because he’s never felt them before. He’s never felt the angry-hot burn of jealousy, or the empty-warmth of desire. He doesn’t know the name for everything that keeps pulling him in too many directions at once.

Not for the first time does he wish that he had Anna to explain his feelings to him, like she did when he was a hatchling. He wants to share his emotions and find out why he’s scared that if he lets Dean closer, he won’t be able to let him go. He won’t be able to drop back beneath the waves and sink into the deep and never see Dean again. He wants to know why he keeps dreaming of Dean with scales and fans and fins the colour of his eyes and webbing dotted with flecks like the freckles on his skin.

Would Castiel mind as much, getting closer to Dean, if Dean was a fin-kin? His answer terrifies him. Because if their circumstances were different, if Castiel could take Dean home with him, he thinks he would never let him go. And that is foolish and stupid and every other word Castiel can imagine that can describe what a terrible idea it is to even think of Dean like that.

It’s only been seven days.

But it’s been seven days and he already feels like he knows Dean inside and out. He knows the scars his past has left on him. He knows that Dean would do almost anything for his family. He knows how Dean thinks, and acts, and feels – though most of the time it confuses him because Dean is human and humans are so different. They’re so wholly unexpected in so many ways. But Castiel still knows Dean more intimately than anyone probably ever has, or ever will.

And it ignites a selfish, prideful glee that he tries to smother.

Even though it makes his upper lip twitch with the desire to pull back into a snarl, Castiel thinks about Dean’s kiss with Pamela. He doesn’t know why she kissed Dean, or why Dean kissed back. He knows that Sam said that Dean wasn’t in a relationship like Sam is with Jess. And he also knows that Dean is more free with his affections, that he’s been with many people, both female and male. So it’s entirely possible that Dean and Pamela have kissed and done more together before Castiel met Dean.

It makes his throat feel tight to think about that.

It takes too long for him to name that feeling as possession. He doesn’t like thinking of Dean with someone else. And for a brief moment, one that sends a terrifying curl of warmth low into his gut, he entertains the thought of being the one to get to kiss and touch Dean. The instant he realizes what he’s imagining, Castiel shoves the thoughts away with a vicious litany of wrong.

Dean is human. Castiel is fin-kin. He shouldn’t want a human. He should only want a fin-kin. If he wants to be more specific, he should only want a female fin-kin. It’s the biologically logical thing. Even if he knows he doesn’t want a female, and he might never want a female. He wants a male. A fin-kin male. Someone with a tail, and fins. Someone who can reach out to touch his mind without him having to reach first. Someone who knows the songs of the colony and will sing them with him.

Castiel is lonely. He wants his family and his friends and his home. That has to be the only reason he’s getting so attached to Dean. He’s trapped here, in this strange world, and he’s latched himself to the first person to show him kindness. The only person who doesn’t want anything from him. The only person who’s willingly put himself into all sorts of trouble to try and help him and is willing to do it again if it means he can get Castiel home.

Because Dean is kind. As he is to everyone. And Castiel is stupid to even think for a second that he’s special to Dean the same way Dean is special to him. Dean shouldn’t even be special. He’s human and he’s keeping Castiel here too. But he’s not. He’s not because he’s going to try and help Castiel escape.

He hisses and presses his face into his scales. His thoughts are going in circles and the tense knot in his chest hasn’t abated. Castiel wants it to go away, just like he wants these feelings that keep revolving around Dean to go away. He wishes he never met Dean and he prays to mother-sea that when the time comes, however long it takes, that he’ll be able to say goodbye.

He won’t be able to take Dean with him. Dean lives on the hard ground above the sea and Castiel lives beneath the waves. Even if he could ignore the differences between them – and it keeps looking more and more like he can – he would never be able to stay with Dean. He needs his kin and he wants to go home. He’ll have to leave Dean and it would be so much harder, so much more painful, to have to leave him if he means more than just a friend. It’s already starting to hurt.

Castiel’s side-fans twitch, catching the soft thud that barely vibrates through the water. He looks up quickly, fans and fins spread aggressively before he even sees who it is. Dean is leaning his forehead against the door. He doesn’t look at Castiel when he puts the headset on the ledge opposite the small-sea, or when he dims the lights. There’s an annoying twinge of disappointment and pain in his chest that Castiel knows he deserves.

Dean stops at the drawers at the end of his bed. Castiel recognizes the clothing he sets out as the ones he wears during the day and it confuses him. Dean shouldn’t be changing his clothes for another few hours. But despite this, Dean still removes his grey pants. He doesn’t even check to see if Castiel is watching when he pulls off the shorts he wears underneath.

Castiel doesn’t understand why Dean made such a big fuss about it before. It’s certainly weird to see what a human looks like under their clothes, but it’s nothing that he thinks deserves him looking away. Dean pulls on a new set of underpants, and a pair of jeans. When he pulls his shirt off, Castiel thinks his heart might have stopped for a few beats. He’s seizing at Dean’s mind before he knows what he’s doing. And he is angry.

(Who hurt you?!)

There are bright red lines, in groups of four or five, that streak the blades of Dean’s shoulders and the curve of his back. The rounded muscles of Dean’s shoulders, between the merge of his neck to the slope of his arm, are peppered with round bruises and Castiel thinks he can see the indents of teeth. Someone has bitten and scratched Dean and Castiel will find out who hurt him and he will make them pay.

Dean turns so quickly, he almost unbalances himself and has to catch at the corner of the drawers to stop from falling over. He’s holding his old shirt in his hand and the kin-connection is bright and alive with surprise for the few moments before it crumbles under Dean’s own fury and everything from his mind, to his expression, to the way he holds himself hardens.

Castiel can feel Dean drawing away from the link and that is unacceptable. It’s entirely too hypocritical of him, but Castiel doesn’t let go. He strengthens his hold on Dean’s mind to the point where Dean winces and presses the palm of his hand to his temple.

(Dean. Who hurt you?) He uncurls and it only takes a few quick beats of his tail to swim across the small-sea and press his hands against the glass. Now that he can see Dean’s front, he can see that the bruise-marks cover his chest too and there are scratches near his hips and a few fading lines along his stomach.

Dean is pushing at Castiel’s mind, trying to force him out. He could sever the connection, but he’s not and Castiel doesn’t know why and he doesn’t care. He wants – needs – to know who hurt Dean. He doesn’t care why they hurt him. All that matters is that Dean has these marks and they’re marring his skin and Castiel hates it. Every single one of his thoughts are pouring into the link and he might be smothering anything Dean could be trying to say, but Castiel can’t really hear past the buzzing and the white and the anger.

He jerks back when Dean  throws his shirt at the glass-wall. It’s sufficient enough of a distraction that Castiel loses his grip on the connection and the wall snaps up between them, leaving him with nothing but Dean's presence and none of his thoughts or emotions.

A growl rumbles low in his throat and he slaps the glass. (Who hurt you? Where did you go? Dean!)

Dean’s response is the raising of his middle finger as he turns away. Castiel has learned by now that this is considered an insulting gesture. Dean pulls on his other shirt, covering the marks. But not being able to see them doesn’t lessen Castiel’s frustration, his worry, or his upset. He bangs on the glass again, even as Dean climbs into his bed and pulls the blanket back over his shoulders.

(If you don’t tell me, I’ll just ask Sam or Jess.)

Dean rolls over and the glare he gives him isn’t lacking in intensity without the flow of emotions through the kin-connection. (Fuck you, Castiel.) It’s the first time since the day they met that Dean uses his full name when addressing him, and it stings. (You can’t just fuck off on me like you did today without telling me what I did that made you freak out or letting me try and fix it, and then expect me to answer you like it’s your goddamn right to know every little thing that happens to me.)

It’s still not the answer to the question Castiel wants. (Who hurt you?)

(You did.) He turns over again until it’s his back to Castiel. (I’m not telling you anything until you explain what happened this afternoon. And I swear to God, Cas, if you close the kin-connection – if you push me away like that again, don’t bother trying to mind-meld with me anymore. Anything you have to say to me after that can just go through Sam or Jess or whoever else you want to talk to.)

Dean falls silent and Castiel is left stunned and floundering in the wake of his thoughts. He knows Dean can feel the quick flurries of fear that sweep through him at the thought of not being allowed to talk to Dean again. His resolve from earlier to stay away from Dean’s mind is already quickly crumbling and despite the tumult of his reaction to the marks on Dean’s skin, that knot of panic that had been sitting in his chest all night has loosened and all but entirely disappeared.

He doesn’t know what to do. Castiel wants to keep from getting closer to Dean, but he doesn’t want to give up his mind completely. He wants to still be able to talk to Dean, and sit on his bed and lean against him to steal his warmth. He shouldn’t want that but he does. Castiel can understand that if he ever gets back to the ocean, he’ll have to leave Dean. But he can’t accept leaving him when he’s right there on the other side of the glass-wall. When he’s close enough to touch.

Castiel breaks away from the wall and swims straight for the moving bars. They’re heavy and hard to push up without something to brace himself against. He has to fit his arms through the bars and grip the edge of the glass-wall to press up with his shoulders to get them to move high enough that he can get the leverage he needs. By the time they rest angled toward the ceiling, Castiel is already coughing the water from his lungs and working to pull himself over the wall.

(What the hell are you doing?) Dean is coming around the corner and Castiel can see that he’s irritated, but he can’t feel it and he wants the blockade in the connection gone. (Christ, Cas, you’re gonna fall and break an arm or something!) His hands are warm over Castiel’s shoulders, but they’re pushing him back and he doesn’t want that.

“No.” Castiel hisses, grabbing handfuls of Dean’s shirt. The lip of the small-sea is digging uncomfortably into his stomach. He drags Dean forward, though he doesn’t come easily, until he can slip his arms around his shoulders and press his face against Dean’s neck. (I want to explain, but not through the glass.)

Dean’s sigh washes along the edges of his side-fan and it tingles all the way down Castiel’s spine to the tip of his tail. It makes his fins rustle and he half hopes Dean doesn’t realize it’s because of him and thinks it’s only because he’s still trying to wiggle his way over the glass. His arms come up around Castiel’s waist and Dean hesitates.

(I think… I’m not sure how to – hold on let’s do this like...) Dean drops the barrier and Castiel finds the wash of emotions very relaxing. He’s surprised to find relief in amongst the frustration and confusion, the hurt and the wariness.

An image rises above everything else; the memory of how Dean carried Castiel the first time he was ever outside of small-sea. It takes a little maneuvering, but Castiel manages to lean mostly on one of Dean’s shoulders while Dean tries to pull Castiel over the edge so his tail falls across one arm without losing his balance. More than once, the adipose of his fins gets pinched roughly between the glass and the weight of his tail and Dean apologizes every time Castiel hisses or grunts. Castiel apologizes for how many times he accidentally splashes Dean while trying to help flip his tail over the glass – despite Dean’s many attempts to tell him not to move.

Dean staggers slightly under Castiel’s full weight and he tightens his hold on his shoulders. Castiel clearly pictures Dean’s bed and pushes it through the kin-connection. That’s where he wants to go. It’s the most comfortable place for either of them and even though he’s only been on it once, Castiel really likes the mattress and the warm bedding that smells like Dean.

(Are you kidding me? That’s all the way on the other side of the room. Can’t you just tell me here?)

(No. Not here. I want you to take me to your bed. Please?)

Dean huffs a small laugh and wry amusement trickles across the kin-connection. Castiel doesn’t understand it and at this point, he doesn’t want to. It could be another Dean-thing, it could be a human-thing. For now, it can wait until after he’s explained to Dean. Even if what he has to explain might not be something Dean wants to hear. Despite all of Castiel’s fears and the hours he spent deliberating tonight, he’s not entirely sure exactly what Dean feels about him.

He knows Dean likes him, and that he’s comfortable enough with Castiel to share painful and important things about his past and his family. He knows that Dean thinks he’s attractive enough – human enough – to kiss or feel arousal over if Castiel does something he finds seductive. He knows that Dean is protective of him. But he doesn’t know if Dean feels the same way about him as he thinks he might for Dean. Will Dean be sad when he leaves?

The spines of his fans flex with worried agitation. What if Dean doesn’t feel the same? What if he’s disgusted that Castiel is even thinking about him like that? Emotional responses and physical responses are entirely different things and if Dean only has physical reactions to him, telling Dean that he’s getting too attached could ruin what fragile pieces of their friendship still remains from this afternoon.

It takes several minutes and many pauses to lean against the small-sea before they reach the bed. Dean drops him on the mattress gracelessly and collapses next to him, legs slung over his tail. Castiel props himself up on his elbows and looks down at Dean as he drapes an arm over his eyes.

(And I’m going to have to do that to get you back in the damn thing, aren’t I?)

(I could crawl over to the platform if you’d prefer.)

(Fuck that. The floor is dirty as hell and you’ll get your scales all mussed up. Why’d we have to do this over here again?)

Castiel dips his head and runs his fingers along the seam at the edge of the pillow. (I wanted to talk to you without the wall between us – both the physical and the mental one. Your bed is soft, and comfortable. This seemed like the most appropriate location.)

(Thanks for the consideration, I guess.) He shifts until Castiel can see his eyes under the shadow of his arm. There’s still so much confusion and hurt floating through the kin-connection, and with it are the bright tendrils of anger and a few wisps of concern. (So what the hell happened this afternoon?)

He bites his lip and lays back down, crossing his arms and using them as his own pillow. Castiel stares at the wall instead of looking at Dean and allows the tickle of his nervousness to flow across to the edges of Dean’s mind. It’s a few moments before he supplies the memories of their brief conversation.

(Yeah, Cas, I know what I said. What I don’t know is why it made you hate me.)

Castiel’s fans flare and he looks at Dean sharply. (I don’t hate you! I was just…) He groans and buries his face in his arms. (This is very difficult to explain.)

(Try me.)

His tail is still under Dean’s legs and the end is hanging over the edge of the bed. The tip of it is touching the floor and Castiel drags it in small circles, his fins rustle with every movement. He struggles to find the right words, or the right place to start and he’s not sure where to begin and he’s terrified it will only push Dean away. He wants to stay where they are. If they move forward, if they become more when everything Castiel knows says they shouldn’t… He sees nothing but pain down that path. And to lose Dean’s friendship when it’s one of the few oases he has here, would be a whole different kind of pain.

(Do you find me attractive?)

The startled surprise that overtakes all of Dean’s thoughts is enough to tell Castiel that out of everything he could have said, that wasn’t one of the things Dean was expecting. He can feel the brush of Dean’s arm against his shoulder as he lowers it to his chest, and the pillow under his elbow shifts as if Dean is turning his head. Castiel doesn’t dare look to check.

(Do I find you… what?)

(… Attractive?)

(Where is this even-)

(Please, just answer.)

There’s a rustling sound and when Castiel peeks, Dean is running his other hand through his hair. (I’ve already told you that if we ignore your fish-bits that you’re pretty cute by human standards. So yeah, I do think you’re attractive. Why?)

(If it wasn’t because I don’t think it’ll happen again, if it was because you wanted to… Would you kiss me again?)

The anger is gone from Dean’s mind and all that is left are flashes of confusion, concern and a slowly growing sense of understanding. He looks at Castiel and he stares back steadily. (Do you… do you want me to kiss you again?)

(I don’t know.) Castiel is truthful in his answer. He thinks that the last kiss felt nice, but it was the reason Lilith got angry and put the tracking tag in his back. Even if she gave her permission for him and Dean to do it again, Castiel doesn’t want to do anything that might make her do other things that will hurt him or Dean. But at the same time he does want to try again, but he doesn’t because further contact like that with Dean might only aggravate these budding feelings of his.

He takes the jumble of his emotions and thoughts and pushes them at Dean. It takes several minutes before Dean sorts through them all and his answer is nothing more than a short “Oh.” and many more moments of silence. Dean’s mind is surprisingly quiet, and when Castiel reaches through the connection to check, he finds no walls hiding anything and it’s just merely Dean shocked into a numb silence.

It makes him nervous and he is entirely too relieved at the first hesitant return of Dean’s thoughts. (Okay… Let’s toss this up a bit. Do you find me attractive?)

(If you were a fin-kin?)

(Yeah, sure. If you took away my human-bits and I was a fin-kin.)

(A fin-kin who just admitted to being attracted to me?)

(Yes, Cas.)

(If that were the case, then I would very much like to mate with you.)

Dean snorts and covers his face with his arm again. His chest keeps jerking in little jumps and Castiel doesn’t know what’s happening until he realizes that it’s amusement running along the edges of the connection and that Dean is laughing. He frowns and flicks at him through their link. (I don’t see what’s so funny.)

(Cas, you just admitted to wanting to have sex with me not even fifteen minutes after telling me to take you to my bed.) Dean makes the snorting noise again and this time he actually laughs out loud in little rolling rumbles that are pleasing to listen to. But when Castiel doesn’t reciprocate his amusement, he looks out at him from under his arm. (You… you do know what that means don’t you?)

(No.)

(Oh.) His delight ebbs slightly and he lowers his arms. (Well, for the record, we usually have sex in our beds. And asking someone to ‘take you to their bed’ is kind of a euphemism for saying you’re ready to sleep with them. And by ‘sleep’, I don’t mean the restful kind, Cas.)

Castiel can feel the blush spread over his gills and up his cheeks and he wonders if even the webbing and spines of his side-fans are turning red too. He did it again. He did something stupidly human that they consider sexual and he didn’t even know it. It’s just like the food incident and the ragged edges of panic are eating at his insides again.

Dean’s fingers press into his hair and it’s surprisingly soothing to have them rub at his scalp. (Dude, it’s fine. I know you don't mean it that way. And I honestly didn’t even know you might possibly sorta maybe feel that way either. Is that why you freaked earlier? Because I said you were being accidentally sexy?)

He hums in agreement and rolls his shoulders to press his head up against Dean’s fingers. The rubbing is very pleasing. (I wasn’t prepared for the idea that you could be sexually attracted to me.)

(How come?)

(I’m not human, Dean. And you’re not fin-kin. Sexual attraction to a human is as weird to me as it is to be attracted to a dolphin. But at the same time, it’s very different.)

Dean laughs and the circles his fingertips are inscribing move down the back of his head, dipping along to press behind his side-fans. (I hope so. I’m way sexier than Flipper.)

(Who?)

(It’s a – No, never mind.) He shakes his head and rolls onto his side to face Castiel. He brings up his other hand and starts massaging up and behind his other side-fan. (So, I wanna make sure I got this straight. You freaked out earlier because you were having trouble accepting that I could pop a boner at you being accidentally sexy. That sound right?)

Castiel hums again as a low rumble starts in his chest and it makes Dean smile.

(Okay.) Dean’s thoughts take a chilled edge and Castiel nearly flinches from them. (But why did you shut me out? I can understand not wanting me to touch you after that, but you shut out me and Sam and Jess. And you wouldn’t even talk to me long enough to explain the thing with the bucket. Hell, you even told me to get out. So what the fuck was up with that?)

He regrets that ducking his head pulls him out of reach of the soothing circles of Dean’s fingertips. Castiel rearranges himself until he’s laying on his side, hands tucked under his cheek and he fixes his eyes on the collar of Dean’s shirt instead of his face. He tries not to notice the edge of a red-blue bruise that can just barely be seen on his collarbone.

(I know that shutting you out was… it was rude and you were hurt by it. I’m sorry.)

(Apology accepted, but I still want to know why.)

(I want to distance myself from you.)

Dean pushes up sharply and his emotions are ricocheting between surprise and disbelief, horror and anger. (Why would you – Why?)

(It’ll hurt less to leave you if I don’t get any closer than this.)

He drops back down, but on his stomach this time, with his face buried in the pillow. (Cas, man, I… Y’know I’m not looking for anything like what you’re thinking of right now, right? I mean – I only got out of prison a couple months before Sam convinced Lilith to hire me. And I’ve never really been that kinda guy. I tried it – and it was awesome – but it didn’t end up – I’m not really – I mean, I like you well enough but –)

Castiel presses against the trembling wash of Dean’s rambling. It’s a refreshing turn to be the one having to calm Dean instead of the other way around. (You misunderstand me, Dean. I like being your friend. This is nice. This is safe. I’m not sure if I could handle being anything else, and that’s not just because of the differences between us.)

Dean is quiet for several moments before he starts laughing again. But there is no amusement flitting through his mind. There’s just a confusing flicker of disappointment that smolders beneath a roll of gratitude. (When I first saw you, I really didn’t think we’d ever end up having the ‘should we stay friends’ conversation.)

(Mmm. Does this mean you’ve forgiven me for earlier?)

(Yeah, I guess. Except I don’t understand the thing about the bucket and kicking me out of the room.)

(I was not having a favourable reaction to your food.) Castiel twists up until he can look down at his sheath. The swelling around the slit has long since gone down and there’s a slight ache, but nothing near the pain from earlier. (I don’t know human etiquette, but since I haven’t seen how you relieve yourself, I assume you do it in privacy. I didn’t want you to feel awkward.)

Dean lifts his head and he stares at him for a few moments before dissolving into a laughter that is more gasps and hiccupping coughs and snorts than it is actual laughter. (Oh my God, you were going poop! I got all pissed off because you wanted me out and it was just so you could take a shit! That’s… that’s the funniest reason I’ve ever had angry sex over.)

Castiel’s fans flare and he hides the sudden rush of those nameless emotions, the dark and ugly ones he doesn’t like feeling that make his head feel too full and too empty while his chest burns and his insides freeze. (What?)

His laughter dies off quickly and Dean looks up at Castiel with an expression he’s seen on warriors of lower ranks who’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t. Castiel can feel his hesitancy to answer, but Dean still tugs at the collar of his shirt and bares a few of the bruises. (Do you know what these are?)

(No. And I still want to know who attacked you.) Castiel brushes a finger against one of the bruises, but quickly pulls his hand away when Dean twitches back. (Do they hurt?)

(I wasn’t attacked, Cas. And these don’t hurt. They’re called ‘hickeys’. It’s a… uh, a ‘sucking kiss’, I guess. Pam can kinda get a little rough if I let her, she bites and scratches a lot and I was angry so… It seemed like a good idea at the time, since she’d offered earlier. It helped me blow off steam.)

Castiel’s adipose fins are rippling and he presses them down against his tail with his hands as he wills his fans not to move. He didn’t want Pamela to kiss Dean again, but his actions had driven Dean into more than just kisses. It makes his stomach churn and another lump rises in his throat. He’s almost scared by the sudden, vicious anger at not only himself, but at Pamela too.

He’s not expecting or prepared for the hand that grabs his shoulder and pulls his down until he’s on his side again and facing Dean. Dean’s expression is hard, but his thoughts are worried and they’re breaking in waves against the wall Castiel is hiding behind. (Don’t do that. Don’t hide yourself like that from me.)

Castiel closes his eyes and turns his face into the pillow. The scent of Dean is almost overwhelming, but it helps to calm the storm raging in his head. (You do it all the time.)

(Yeah, well, I’m usually hiding private sexy thoughts. But judging by your face, I’m thinking you’re not thinking sexy thoughts. Unless that’s your thinking-sexy-thoughts face, in which case you might want to try for a different one coz’ that looks more like you’re ready to maim someone instead.)

(That is an astute observation. You’re correct in assuming that I am not thinking of pleasant things. I don’t know what to call these, but I don’t like them.)

(Let me see. If I can name them, maybe you won’t feel so bad?) Dean is close, very close. He huffs a short laugh again, and he’s near enough that the air rushes over Castiel’s gills. It makes him shiver and he tucks his hands under the pillow.

It’s a few moments of deliberating before he drops the wall and lets his emotions through one at a time for Dean to touch. He knows that it’s a terrible idea to keep sharing more of himself with Dean. The more he lets him in, the harder it’s going to be to stay friends and the harder it’s going to be to leave.

(All I’m seeing here is jealousy.) Dean brushes his touch over the emotions, sorting through them. (Different kinds of it, but it basically boils down to jealousy and envy. You really don’t like that I had sex with Pam, do you?)

He shakes his head and withdraws those thoughts from the kin-connection. He shoves them back behind the wall and tries to ignore that they even exist and he hopes Dean won’t talk about it anymore either. Now that he knows what it is, he’s ashamed to even be feeling them. Worse still for letting Dean know.

Dean is radiating warmth and it’s taking all of Castiel’s will power not to wrap himself around him and cover Pamela’s marks with his own. He’s never wanted to brand anyone before, and it’s a frightening thought that makes him tremble. He shouldn’t want to mark Dean, not after how they’ve decided to try and stay as they are.

(Are you cold?)  Dean draws away, taking his heat with him and Castiel stifles a whine before it even reaches his tongue.

Castiel cries out in surprise when the pull of the blanket suddenly drags him halfway across the bed. Dean keeps laughing and smiling and apologizing as he works it out from underneath his tail before he covers Castiel with it. He leaves a note on a chair by the door and explains that it’s for Sam to wake them when he arrives in a few hours.

(That way, if we fall asleep, we won’t sleep through you drying out completely. I don’t want you dying on me just coz’ we ended up snuggling or something. ‘Death by cuddles’ isn’t a very warrior-ish way to go.)

(Wouldn’t it be better for me to go to sleep in small-sea?) Even as he asks, Castiel burrows deep under the blanket, pulling his tail up under the cover. It’s warm and everything smells like Dean. The only point of cold is the collar still rubbing at his skin around his neck. (I believe this is counterproductive to our decision not to take our friendship further.)

(Yeah, well, we’re special friends – but not the special kind of friends that are fuck buddies. We can be, uh, cuddle buddies. And if you tell Sam I said that, I swear to God I won’t ever let you cuddle with me again.) Dean is trying to glare at him as he climbs under the blankets, but a smile keeps pulling at the corner of his mouth. (Now I don’t know about you, but I could use a couple hours sleep. And Jess promised they’d bring their easiest books so we can start teaching you to read.)

Castiel stifles a yawn and he doesn’t complain when Dean puts an arm around his shoulders or when he pulls him up against his side. He doesn’t think twice about weaving his tail between his legs or wrapping an arm around Dean’s waist. He’s already half asleep by the time he presses his nose up under his jaw. Lips brush his forehead and he thinks he might hear Dean tell him to sleep well, but he’s too comfortable and warm to even notice the other voices in the back of his head – the ones that sound like Lucifer, Michael, Raphael and Uriel – that tell him he’s doing the exact opposite of everything he’d resolved against earlier that day.

He’s too happy to really care.

x

Dean is talking with his throat-voice. Castiel can hear it rumbling under his cheek and above his head. Everything is heat and warmth and Dean and he really can’t find any fault with this moment. He presses closer, tightening his arms and his tail and hoping that Dean doesn’t have to get up to use the washroom again like he did the last time he woke up like this.

(Cas, you need to get up now.) There’s a bitter tinge to his thoughts that rouses Castiel more than his words do. The hand on his shoulder tightens in a near-painful squeeze. (And I really hate to say this, but Lilith is here.)

Castiel’s fans flare and his back-fans catch on the blanket, dragging it aside. The air in the room is much colder than under the blanket and when Castiel lifts his head, he sees Lilith sitting in a chair right next to the bed. She’s propping her chin in her hands, elbows on her knees. Her eyes are wide and she’s grinning in such a way Castiel almost thinks she must be, in some distant way, related to sharks.

“Good morning, Castiel.”

He stares at her and presses his fingers into Dean’s ribs. (What does she want?)

(To talk to you.)

(I don’t want to talk to her. Make her go away, Dean.)

Lilith’s smile drops and Castiel is, for a moment, terrified that she heard his thoughts. Dean shares his quick flash of horror as Lilith leans closer. “I said: Good morning, Castiel.”

(Dude, she wants you to talk to her so fucking talk to her. Do it before she brings out the whips and chains or whatever the fuck it is she has for her pets.)

(I am not –)

(Cas.)

He can’t help the curl to his upper lip. “Good morning, Lilith.”

She sits back and claps her hands, smiling brightly. “Good boy!”

Castiel pushes himself up, already feeling cold despite still being mostly pressed against Dean. He has to untangle his tail from Dean’s legs and the blanket for Dean to be able to slide further up the bed until he’s sitting with his back to the wall. Lilith pulls the chair closer to the bed and Castiel reflexively leans back, tugging tightly at the connection with Dean for reassurance. His legs are the only barrier between Castiel and Lilith and he really doesn’t want her to kiss him again.

“Today I’m going to start your training.” Lilith’s smile is a mockery of the sweetness she is trying to achieve. “So first things first, you’re going to do your little mind talk thingy with me. Do you understand, Castiel?”

He understands, thanks to Dean’s translation, but he is so vehemently opposed to it that he actually hunches his shoulders, spreads his fans as wide as they will go and hisses. “No.”

Dean winces. (No, dude, that is so the wrong answer.)

(I am not going to touch her mind! I want nothing to do with her thoughts when her actions alone make me sick. You can tell her that, I encourage you to. I’m not going to let her push me around like that.)

Lilith tilts her head and her predator-smile is back. It doesn’t reach her eyes. They’re wide and just as empty as a shark’s. “It wasn’t a request. It was a command.” She leans even closer, barely a hand-span away. “I know you’re a warrior, so you’ve probably been trained to withstand quite a large bit of pain.”

“Yes.”

“Oh good.” Her voice drops to soft, almost whispering tones and Castiel has to angle his side-fans to catch it in the air. “But I don’t think the others have, do you?”

His eyes immediately turn to Dean. Surprise and hatred and fear blazes bright and painful across Dean’s thoughts. It sears the kin-connection and Castiel has to protect himself against it and the storm of Sam and Jess and Bobby and Pamela. He’s looking at Dean, but Dean is staring over Lilith’s shoulder at Jess and Sam and Meg at the computers and microscopes.

(Oh God, please don’t let her hurt them.)

It’s not a thought that Castiel thinks he’s meant to hear. It’s almost immediately lost in the whirlpool of worry and fear and rage. Dean’s fingers are clenched so tightly in the sheets that his knuckles are turning white and his hands tremble slightly. He covers one of Dean’s hands with his own and he presses at the vortex tearing at the kin-connection, feeding into it a soothing calm. He’s not going to let Lilith hurt Dean or his loved ones.

Castiel steels himself and erects every blockade between him and Lilith that he can, everything that will keep him from feeling anything beyond the loudest of her thoughts. He reaches out and brushes against her mind.

(Hello Lilith.)

by winteryhouseboys

 

by itsmissley

by luvemishacollins

by weartedanditwasawesome

by shaishart

by shaishart

by shaishart

by shaishart

 

by shaishart

by hydraarill

by vic_mcfox/wolfgaara1

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take Lilith more than a few attempts before her thoughts are coherent and clear. She takes to speaking in images and what few English words Castiel knows quickly. He can feel her touch against the barriers as she reaches for him and he has to suppress a shudder at the first brush against the very edges of his mind. Lilith frowns and he knows she’s not pleased that he’s keeping her out, but he will not have her in his head.

(Castiel.) She starts and the force against the walls increases before it withdraws. (You can keep me out all you like, but you will listen to me. Am I understood?)

His lips curl and he bares the sharp points of his teeth at her. She only smiles and her eyes flick over to Dean, only for a brief moment – nearly lost in a blink. But Castiel sees it and he chokes back a growl. He wills his fans not to spread in aggression, instead narrowing his side-fans and flattening them in a forced display of submission before he nods. His connection with Dean is practically vibrating with a nervous curiosity. It sings with outrage when Castiel’s fans fold.

(And if you even dare to attack my mind – and I know you can – If you try to hurt me, I will have them shoot you again.) Lilith tips her head toward the door.

Castiel has to lean around the drawers to see Alistair and Gordon waiting outside the open door. Alistair raises his hand and wiggles his fingers in a wave when he notices that Castiel is looking. His smug smile is in place and he gestures for Gordon to turn around. Gordon waves with the dart-gun. Castiel’s throb of dislike through the kin-connection is matched by Dean.

(And I’ll let Alistair have you for the rest of the day. He’s got so many other tests he wants to do, Castiel. If it means getting you to listen properly, I have no problem letting him mark you up a bit.)

Even though he can’t feel any of her emotions, Castiel can still see the images that Lilith pushes at him through the link. A cold dread hardens in the pit of his stomach and his fingers tighten over Dean’s hand at the first few images of knives and needles pressing into his skin and his eyes and cutting away at parts of his webbing. Fear balloons in his chest, pushing at his lungs and making it hard to breathe.

He may be hiding everything from Lilith, but his connection with Dean is still unobstructed. Dean can feel his fear and it’s answered with rage and confusion and the touch of his mind skims over the surface of Castiel’s, attempting to placate his alarm. (Whatever she’s telling you, it’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let them do anything to you. Just… just mind-whammy her or something. Like you did to me. She won’t be such a bitch when she’s messing up her hair grabbing at her head.)

Castiel wraps himself in the comfort of Dean’s thoughts, using them to strengthen the walls to keep Lilith out. His only answer is his memory of Gordon waving the dart-gun and Dean brushes it aside with a burst of contempt and anger. Castiel almost flinches, catching himself at the last moment, when Lilith stands and runs her hands over the front of her dress to smooth out non-existent wrinkles.

She crooks her finger at the door. “Alistair, the trolley.”

Dean sits forward and Sam and Jess turn around sharply. Even Meg stops what she’s doing and turns to look at Lilith before all eyes go to the door. For a brief moment, Alistair leaves from the doorway. When he returns, he backs into the room, pulling an arch of metal that is attached to a long, very low ledge mounted on small disks. Castiel draws away from the door, pressing himself into the corner. Dean’s arm comes up and crosses over his chest in a protective barrier between him and Alistair.

“The hell is that for?” Dean asks, looking between Lilith and Alistair and the trolley with narrowed eyes.

Lilith frowns at him, distaste evident in her face. “I’m taking him to my room.”

Castiel hisses and leans into Dean’s side. “No!”

“You can’t –”

“I can do whatever I want. He belongs to me, Dean.” She drags the chair out of the way as Alistair brings the trolley next to the bed. (Castiel, get on.)

He shakes his head and flicks the end of his tail over one of Dean’s legs, his caudal fins covering his lap. (No. I’m not going anywhere without Dean.)

Lilith rolls her eyes. “Yes, yes, Dean can come too. I’ll need someone to push it along anyway.” She moves past Alistair. “Sam, fill a bucket. We’ll need to keep him wet while he’s in my room.” Sam stares at her, jaw slack. “Now, Sam.” His eyes flick from her to Dean. “No, don’t look at him. He’s not in charge here. I gave you an order, now listen to it. Get a bucket and fill it with water.”

Dean squeezes Castiel’s arm where his hand lays across it. “Just do it, Sam. His fins are already getting stiff.”

Castiel looks to him sharply. It’s true that he’s been feeling physically uncomfortable since he woke. His adipose fins aren’t rippling like they would be and his fans creak quietly when he moves them. For Dean to know, to still feel that under everything else that’s happened so far, is surprising and unexpected. The fear in his chest gives way to allow a small warmth.

Sam scrambles to get the bucket, sitting empty by the door. Dean turns to Castiel, eyebrow raised. (You sure you want to go?)

(No, I don’t want to go. But I’m not taking the chance that she’ll do something to you or the others.) Castiel turns to look at the trolley and Alistair leaning on the arch of metal.

Dean huffs and squeezes Castiel’s arm again. (You don’t have to worry about me, Cas. I can take care of myself. So can Sam. And we’ll both take care of Jess. We’ll be fine. You just need to worry about you.)

Lilith’s voice is sharp and it makes Castiel’s upper lip curl at the command in it and the clear demand she forces against the walls around his mind. “Castiel.” (Now.)

With another squeeze to his arm, Dean stands. He leans back over and he puts his arms around Dean’s shoulders. Castiel hooks his tail over the side of the bed and flexes the muscles, pulling himself to the edge as Dean lifts him with his arms around his waist. Alistair holds the trolley in place while Dean lowers him onto it. Castiel refuses to turn around and sit comfortably with his back to one of the poles of metal until Alistair backs away.

“Sam, can you help him, uh, wet his tail while I get changed?” Dean looks up at Sam briefly as he approaches with the bucket of water. He helps Castiel arrange himself on the trolley, taking special care to tuck his fins away from the edge. (Don’t let those get caught under the wheels. It’ll hurt like a son of a bitch and it could rip them.)

Dean is already wearing his jeans and a t-shirt. While he puts on his shoes and another open shirt over hit t-shirt, Sam puts the bucket in the middle of the trolley. Castiel shifts to curl his tail around it so it won’t fall off. He cups his hands and dips them into the bucket, scooping out water to dribble over his scales and fins. Jess brings Sam a very-small-bucket that he uses to pour water over Castiel’s back-fans and side-fans.

The water is cool and refreshing and Castiel didn’t realize how much he missed it. He’d much rather go back into the small-sea than go to Lilith’s room for this ‘training’. Castiel doesn’t even know what to expect and Dean has nothing to offer when he asks. Dean knows much less about what Lilith does with her pets than Sam does.

“Thanks, Sam. We’ll be back later, I guess.” Dean comes up behind the trolley and he places a hand on Castiel’s shoulder.

Sam sends them both a worried look as he steps away. He leaves the very-small-bucket floating in the big-bucket. Castiel moves until he can loop one arm around the pole of the metal-arch and he clings to it with both hands in a white-knuckled grip as it lurches backwards. Dean’s thoughts are apologetic as he pulls it back and around so that they’re facing the door.

“Finally.” Lilith steps in front of them. “Follow me and keep up. There’s a lot I want to go over with him today.”

Her grin is shark-like again and Castiel flares his side-fans at it. She’s letting Dean translate her words through Castiel’s connection with him, and he doesn’t want to know why she wouldn’t translate herself. He thinks it might be because she doesn’t want him to know what his training will entail just yet and he hates her for it.

(You and me both, Cas.) Dean’s thoughts are a balm to the seething dislike that’s turning Castiel’s mind into a tempest. (Now hold on tight.)

For the first time since he was brought here, Castiel gets to see outside the room. The hallway just beyond the door is bland. It’s wide enough for at least two trolleys to be pushed side-by-side with room to spare, but the walls are grey, the doors are grey, and even the bubbles of light on the ceiling are ringed with grey. It’s boring.

To the left, the hallway extends to include three other doors. Dean shows him, with memories, that behind one door, the one on the same wall as the small-sea room, is where Alistair and Gordon have been doing their own research and watching the video-feed from the cameras in the room.

The second door is on the wall that makes up the end of the hall. Dean says that door opens to a set of ‘stairs’ that lead up and down.  The floors below are where the crew bunks are and under that are the big machines that keep the boat moving. The door on the right, opposite Alistair’s work room, is a storage room where they keep the moveable very-small-sea, the pump, and other things they need to maintain the small-sea and take care of Castiel.

Lilith goes to the right and Dean turns the trolley to follow. There are two more doors to the right. One is on the opposite wall from the small-sea room. Dean says that is another research room full of bigger machines that Castiel doesn’t care enough to be want to hear about at the moment.

(And let’s hope you never have to see inside it. That’s where they’d run the other tests that Alistair wants to do. It’s where the x-ray machine is kept.) Dean’s fingers ghost over the top of Castiel’s head, pushing gently through his hair once before the reassuring touch is gone.

The last door is set in the corner of the hall on the same side as the small-sea room. It’s twice as wide as all the other doors Castiel has seen so far and it has bars of crisscrossing metal in front of it. Lilith pulls her card out of the front of her dress. It’s hanging around her neck on a brightly coloured string. She passes it over a sensor and Castiel hears a faint click. Alistair curls his fingers into the bars and pulls them to the side. They fold into each other until the door is uncovered.

There is no handle on these doors and Castiel wonders how Lilith is going to open it without them. He watches attentively when she pushes at a piece of the wall and a small square lights up. There is a line with a peak drawn on the square. Beneath the light-square is another unlit square that is the mirror opposite as the one above.

A few moments later, the light blinks out and Castiel looks about wildly at a high pitched ring of sound. Dean runs his fingers through the back of his hair again in a physical copy of the calm brush against the edges of his mind.

(It’s just telling us the elevator is here. It’s like… a moving platform, I guess. It’s going to take us up to the main deck level. Lilith’s rooms aren’t accessible from here.)

The line in the center of the door widens into a crack, separating it into two halves that slide away into the walls. Castiel tries to get a good look at the hollow walls when Dean pushes the trolley into the elevator. It’s a cramped room with a ridge half-way up the wall. Everything below the ridge is a darker grey than the walls in the hall. Above the ridge are mirrors. Lilith and Alistair and Gordon step in after them and the door slides shut again.

Lilith pushes another little square on the wall and it lights up too. There are three others and each one has a number on it. There are small circles with numbers on them, four in total, above the door. Only one lights up before the ringing noise sounds again. When the door opens, there are bars blocking the way. Lilith passes her card over another sensor and Alistair pushes them aside.

They step out into a small room with white walls and one door. Gordon heads for the door first, but Castiel is distracted by the grim anticipation twisting from Dean’s mind. He doesn’t answer Castiel’s questioning touch and when he looks back up at him, Dean is staring straight at the door and his knuckles are white over his hold on the metal-arch.

Castiel understands why when the door opens. The rush of air through it is cool and salty and even though he’s never smelled it above water, Castiel knows – with a sharp, longing pang in his chest – that he’s smelling the ocean. He sits forward eagerly on the trolley as Lilith leads the way through the door and out onto the deck.

The touch of Lilith’s thoughts against the wall startles him. (Pity about that chip in your back. If you didn’t have it, now would be the perfect time for Dean to try that escape he’s planning for you. He could just pick you right up and toss you over the railings.)

His fans flare in surprise and he looks up at her with wide eyes. She’s smiling at him with a false serenity, but her eyes are knowing and amused. The dread that’s been curling in his stomach since he woke up is growing.

She knows.

(Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s obvious that he likes you and I’ve checked out enough about his background to know that he’ll do just about anything for the people he cares about. It’s not the biggest leap to figure out that he’ll eventually try to free you.)

Castiel slumps back against the pole of the metal-arch and he squeezes his eyes closed. As much as he desires to see the blue waters of the sea again, he doesn’t think he can stomach seeing it – being so close to his freedom – and not being able to have it. He can taste the sea in the air. It’s so close, but it feels just as far as it did when he was in the small-sea.

This growing sense of dread and disappointment, this hatred and the beginning curls of acceptance, it all adds up into the crushing weight of despair and even Dean’s attempts to buoy his mind with his own aren’t doing any good.

(Don’t worry, Cas. Even if she knows we’ll still get you out.)

His optimism is unfounded and Castiel just rests his temple against the metal pole. He keeps his back to the sea and his eyes closed. He’s tired of the boat outside the small-sea room. If he can’t be in the ocean, he would rather just return to that room. He wants to let the water of the small-sea rush through his gills, to float and close his eyes and pretend, even if just for a moment, that he’s back in the ocean.

Castiel hears the beeps and clicks and groans of a few more doors before Dean finally stops pushing the trolley completely. The room they are in, the room Castiel doesn’t want to open his eyes and see, smells overwhelmingly like Lilith. It’s a disgusting, cloying scent that tickles his nose and burns his throat with every inhale.

He jerks in surprise and a startled hiss passes through his teeth at the first cool splash of water on his scales. Castiel opens his eyes to Dean kneeling next to the trolley and carefully pouring a very-small-bucketful of water over his fins. When Dean moves behind him, it takes a small push at his shoulders to get him to lean forward so he can wet his back fans too. Dean uses his fingers to apply the water to his side-fans.

Lilith is leaning over an ornately carved ledge made of a dark brown material Castiel doesn’t know. It’s set to one side of the room, but it’s not against the wall like all the ledges Castiel has seen before. It’s like a table, but at the same time he doesn’t think that’s the right word for it. This room is much more colourful than everything else that Castiel has seen before, decorated in bright reds and oranges, and it’s much bigger than the small-sea room. Easily twice, if not three times wider in all directions. He doesn’t have names for most of the items spaced around the floor or against the walls.

Lilith holds out a piece of paper that she picks up off the ledge. “Alistair, take this and get the items on the list. You have five minutes.”

He takes the paper and leaves through a much more extravagant double-door than the elevator had. It’s made of the same kind of dark-brown material as the ledge and it has intricate designs all over it.

“Dean, move Castiel onto one of the ottoman. Gordon, watch them. If they try anything funny, tranq them both. I’ll be right back.”

Gordon grins and he taps the dart-gun against his forehead. “Yes ma’am.”

Dean glares at Lilith’s back as she leaves through a different door on the opposite side of the room from the big-door that Alistair left. The one she uses is normal-sized and not as nice to look at. He leaves Castiel on the trolley to drag over a thick, round thing that looks like a chair with no back, no stem, no wheels, and is covered in a thick pillow.

He moves the bucket to the floor and out of the way before he crouches next to the trolley. (Alright, Cas, let’s do this.)

For a moment, Castiel wants to say ‘no’. He doesn’t want to move. He doesn’t want to touch Dean and his addicting heat. He doesn’t want to go back to small-sea, or take the path to it that will lead past the real-sea. He wants to do nothing more than curl up and hide under his fins until the humans and their terrifying world just disappear.

(Hey, don’t do that.) Dean reaches out and his hand is almost too warm against the side of his neck and over his gills. (Don’t go giving up hope. We’ll figure something out – whether Lilith knows or not – and we’ll get you out of here. I promised, didn’t I? Her knowing isn’t anything to get depressed over. We’ve got Sammy on our side and he’s a genius. Jess is pretty damn smart too. So you gotta stay with us okay? Don’t give up.)

Castiel leans into the touch, sliding forward until his forehead is resting on Dean’s shoulder. He appreciates Dean’s efforts, even though he can feel a few tendrils of doubt eddying under the surface of Dean’s thoughts. But it’s not enough to raise his hopes much, if at all.

Dean’s sigh ruffles over his side-fan as he lifts Castiel’s arms and lays them over his shoulders. Castiel twists his fingers into the back of his shirt. It takes a little maneuvering, with no help from Castiel, for Dean to get one hand under his tail and another around his waist. He slides Castiel from the trolley and lifts him into his lap before he attempts standing. Castiel only tightens his hold on his shoulders when he starts to slip low in his arms.

“What the hell is wrong with it?”

They both look in surprise over to Gordon, Castiel having to tilt his face up from Dean’s shoulder to see over it. Gordon is leaning against the not-table-ledge with his arms crossed over his chest and he keeps tapping the dart-gun against his side.

Dean’s dislike for him pulses bright and hard through the kin-connection. “What the fuck do you think would happen after showing him the ocean? He’s depressed, you colossal asshat. If you were any kind of a decent human being, you’d let him go.”

“No can do. I’m getting paid the big bucks to study it and make sure the boss gets to keep it.”

Dean staggers the few steps to the ‘ottoman’ and he’s careful with putting Castiel down. It is plush and it feels like he is sitting on a pillow. Castiel curls his tail around the base and when Dean steps away he drops his hands into his lap. He lowers his head and doesn’t look at anything else but the pale lines of his fingers against the black of his scales.

“How can you say that when you’ve seen him, when you’ve heard him? Cas can talk, laugh, cry. He feels the same things as we do. He’s just as human as you or me.” Dean’s voice turns bitter and cold. “If he wasn’t a mermaid – if he looked just like us – would you still keep him locked up like this for money?”

“Probably. I don’t think you know quite how much Lilith is paying me. I’m not just brains and a pretty face, Winchester. I’ve got a specific skill set that she very much wanted to have protecting her property.” Gordon’s words turn harsh too. “Not all of us have siblings lucky enough to get a full ride to college.”

“Yeah? And what would your ‘siblings’ think about how you guys have basically kidnapped a person to keep in a cage the rest of their life?” Dean moves the trolley off to one side of the room and brings the bucket closer to where Castiel is sitting before he kneels in front of him.

Castiel lifts his head enough to see Gordon and the scowl pulling at his mouth. “She doesn’t have to know what I do to get the money for her to have a chance at a decent education. Besides, you’re making a big mistake thinking that thing is a person. Persons are human beings, Winchester. From where I’m standing, that creature doesn’t look human to me. You let it into your head and who knows what kind of hoodoo mer-crap it’s done to you to make you think it’s okay to do all the shit you’ve done so far.” The frown pulls into a sneer and such intense disgust fills Gordon’s face that Castiel has to look away. “I saw the tapes, Winchester. I knew you had low standards, but Jesus Christ, you kissed it. And how many times have you let it sleep in your bed now? You planning on fucking it too?”

Castiel flinches at the venom in Gordon’s words. Dean doesn’t translate the last thing he says, but his hands clench into fists over the bucket and Castiel can see them shake and the tips of his ears are turning red.

“Fuck you, Walker.”

“Not in this or any other life time, Winchester.”

They both fall silent, but Dean’s mind is rippling with a fury that extends beyond the outrage that had been bubbling over his thoughts during his heated conversation with Gordon. Castiel feels a small curiosity concerning what Gordon said that could have this effect on Dean, but he doesn’t ask after it even if he wants to. Dean didn’t translate the last part for a reason and Castiel doesn’t feel like trying to coax it out of him. 

Instead of using the very-small-bucket, Dean cups water in the palm of his hand and lets it drip through his fingers over Castiel’s fins. The repetitive motion from bucket to scales and back is soothing to Dean’s thoughts and they soon ease. Dean starts trying to press hope into the thick gloom blanketing Castiel’s mind. He shoves Dean’s thoughts away and Dean gives a frustrated little noise every time. The intervals between attempts get longer and longer.

Alistair comes back only a few minutes before Lilith does. They’re both carrying things. Lilith has a small box with a curved lid and Alistair has a bowl, a towel, and a white thing that hangs from his arm and makes rustling noises every time he moves. He passes the image of it to Dean, layering it with a mild curiosity.

(It’s a plastic bag.)

Lilith puts her box on the extravagant ledge – Dean tells him it’s a ‘desk’ – by Gordon. “Dean, get that end table next to the chaise and put it beside Castiel.”

His hands leave Castiel’s back for a few moments before a small round table is put to his right. Alistair places the bowl – which is full of water – and the towel on it. He turns the plastic-bag over and the items that fall out are all ones Castiel knows. There’s a razor, the can of shaving foam, a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste.

“Good, thank you, Alistair.” Lilith’s feet, in her strapped shoes that reveal her toes, step into view. “You and Gordon can go sit down for now.”

Her fingers are cold when they touch under his chin and Castiel doesn’t fight her when she lifts his face up. She cups his cheeks in her hands and rubs her thumbs over his stubble. “I don’t like his scruff this thick. Dean, I want you to shave him every other day until he can do it himself.” Lilith looks back down at him. (And you’re going to brush your teeth every morning and evening. You do it when Dean does it. Understand?)

He nods and Lilith smile is wide. Castiel squeezes his eyes shut when she kisses his forehead. “Good boy. See how much easier everything is when you just listen to me?” He nods again and it earns him a few pats on the top of his head. He dislikesthat, but he doesn’t feel nearly as much as the seething hatred for the action that shudders through the kin-connection from Dean.

When he steps into Lilith’s place and puts another ottoman down, Dean is glaring at him. (You’re not a fucking pet. Why the hell are you letting her treat you like one?)

Castiel adverts his eyes, looking back down at his hands. He wants to fight, but if he does then Dean, or Sam, or Jess could be hurt. They could make him sleep and Alistair and his knives would peel back his skin to poke at his insides. There’s so much that he can’t do anything about and everything just feels so… hopeless. How can he possibly explain to Dean that he’s tired of trying to fight Lilith?

He winces when Dean shoves his frustration through the link. (Dammit, Cas. You can’t give up hope just because a few things have gone to shit. We’ll figure it out – Sammy and I always do. Just trust in us, okay?)

When he doesn’t respond, Dean’s irritation magnifies and he huffs a heavy breath through his nose. He doesn’t say anything more while he sprays the foam into his hands and rubs it over the stubble on his jaw and cheeks. Castiel rolls his lips together without being asked when Dean spreads it over his upper lip.

Dean isn’t as slow or as careful as he was the first time. His fingers are rough where they touch and when they hold his chin while he drags the razor through the foam. Castiel doesn’t look at him. He knows he’s disappointing Dean right now, but he can’t bring himself to act upon it. Lilith is still pressing at the walls around his mind and there’s so many things at risk that it would be tactically disadvantageous for him to do anything that would upset her.

“There. Clean yourself off.” Dean throws the razor down into the bowl of water and shoves the towel into Castiel’s hands.

The ottoman skids on the floor when he stands up. Castiel wipes at his face and neck with the towel hesitantly. Dean makes a small, annoyed noise and takes the towel back with a quick tug. The fabric is almost painful against his skin when he rubs it over his face, and it catches over the small patches of scales at the base of his side-fans.

Dean hands him the toothbrush and the toothpaste. (You can do this bit on your own. Spit into the bowl when you’re done.)

Castiel is careful to squeeze the tube gently so only a little bit of the blue mint-jelly comes out. He catches it on the bristles and he tries to remember what Jess showed him to do. He brings up the memory and mimics it as near as he can. When he’s done and the runny paste is in the bowl and he’s wiped his mouth with the towel, Dean takes the items from the table and Lilith replaces them with her rounded-lid box.

“Go empty that in the bathroom. It’s over there.” Lilith points to a door in the corner.

For the first time since they got to this room, a bright burst of panic flutters in Castiel’s chest. He looks at Dean sharply and his hands curl into fists in his lap. Dean leaving him alone in a room with Lilith, Alistair and Gordon is a combination of some of his biggest fears. Almost immediately, Dean reaches through the kin-connection to smother the fear with a reassuring calm.

“Cas isn’t comfortable being left alone with you guys.”

Lilith frowns and her eyes are narrowed when she looks down at Castiel, the ringlets of her yellow hair falling forward to frame her face. (Well get used to it. Dean will only be around for another few weeks until we make landfall. After that, he gets to go back to his life and you’ll be taken to your new home. And if you think that he’ll care about what happens to you once he’s not forced to spend all his time with you, you’re sorely mistaken.)

Castiel’s fan-spines flex and he has to will them not to spread aggressively at the taunt. He glares up at Lilith, baring his teeth slightly. (If you want us separated so badly, why are you still making him stay in small-sea’s room?)

Her smile is full of saccharine and almost painfully fake as she cups his cheek again. (Because, for whatever perverted reason, you like him and you’re more inclined to listen when he’s in the equation. But make no mistake, Castiel –) Her fingers tighten and her nails press into his skin. (By the time we reach home, you’ll be so well trained I won’t have to make threats against him.)

He pulls away and hisses, his side-fans flaring. It only seems to be more entertaining for her. “Go, Dean. He’ll be fine.”

(Cas?) Dean asks softly. He’s hesitant and there’s a quiet worry thrumming under his thoughts.

(It’s okay. Go. Just…) Castiel ruffles his adipose fins in agitation.

Dean brushes a reassuring touch along the edges of his mind. (I’ll be quick. Anything she says, you just feed it to me too and I’ll be back the moment she tries anything funny.)

Lilith waits until Dean is in the bathroom before she sits on the ottoman in front of Castiel. She rearranges the folds of her dress before leaning over and opening the box on the table. (Now, let’s begin your training. Do you know what a ‘party’ is?)

When he doesn’t respond, she shows him images of many people standing or moving together. There’s the impression of music, and laughter, flashing lights and everyone is drinking funny coloured liquid – like Dean’s whiskey – from different shaped containers. Some are like the very-small-bucket, others are like funnels on stems.

(They’re like celebrations. You mermaids have celebrations, don’t you?)

He nods slowly, eyes on the bright flashes of gold and silver he can see her sifting through in the box. Fin-kin do have gatherings, but there’s nothing even close to similar to what Lilith just showed him. They gather to sing songs in celebration of a bonding ceremony, or to mourn the loss of a colony member. And they certainly don’t move together in such close groups with their hips swaying, arms swinging, tails moving.

Amusement trickles through the connection from Dean. (It’s called ‘dancing’.)

(Well, I like to have parties. I have one at least once a week. That means that hundreds of people are going to be coming to my home to drink and have fun. And you, Castiel, are going to be the main attraction.) She pulls out a long, thin length of gold made of interconnecting hoops. Dean calls it a ‘chain’. (Everyone is going to want to see you and I’m going to train you for how you should act in front of them. Understand?)

Castiel’s crinkles his nose at the idea. He has no desire to be on display for Lilith or her friends. She prompts him again for his comprehension and his lip twitches with the intention of curling into a sneer. He understands just fine, and he doesn’t like it. Neither does Dean, if his unhappy curse words are anything to go by.

(Yes, I understand.)

(Good! Now, your enclosure is going to have two viewing areas. We’ll be able to see you when you’re swimming, or when you lounge on the rocks or whatever. I don’t care so much what you do in the enclosure, but there are a few rules you are going to follow.) Lilith leans forward and Castiel quickly lifts his arms out of the way as she reaches around his waist.

She loops the gold chain around his hips twice before clipping the ends together and rearranging it until it falls over his hips to her satisfaction. It’s not very heavy. One loop is tight against his skin, just above the seam of skin to scales. The other hangs longer, only a few finger widths above his sheath.

Dean’s amusement is more noticeable now. (She’s totally blinging you up! I bet’cha those are all twenty-four carat, top of the line shit too.) Castiel has no idea what any of that means.

Lilith starts listing the rules as she returns to sorting through the box. (One, you are not to show anyone your teeth. They’re pointy and ugly and I don’t like them. You look much nicer if you keep your mouth shut. Two, if you’ve got business to do, you do it out of sight. I don’t want anyone complaining that they’re seeing you going to the bathroom in front of the guests. And this includes eating. Three, when someone waves, you wave back. Be polite at all times. But, and this is point number four, do not talk to them. You are not allowed to speak or use your telepathy with any of my guests.)

Castiel hisses, his back fans flaring. (You’re rules are going to kill me!) Immediately he regrets  his words and there is a surprised alarm that sparks brightly from Dean’s side of the kin-connection. There’s the sound of something crashing in the bathroom and a loud curse.

“You better not have broken anything, Winchester!” Lilith calls out before she looks at Castiel and she pulls his hand forward. She has a much shorter chain that she wraps around his right wrist three times before she connects the ends. (Is that so?)

She glances over her shoulder when Dean comes out of the bathroom, a sheepish grin on his face. “Sorry, I dropped the bowl.”

Castiel shifts in place when Lilith raises her eyebrows at him expectantly. His fins ripple unhappily. He never had any intention of telling Lilith one of his weaknesses. (I need a kin-connection. If I go more than a day without contact, I could lose my mind.)

There’s a stunned silence from Dean and Castiel wonders if he ever told Dean about this. He wonders if Dean knows just how much he’s saved him already.

Lilith is smiling again. (Well that’s fine. You’ll have me.) She looks at the box again and closes it. (There, don’t you look lovely? I have more pretty things you can wear when you come out for the parties.)

His shoulders slump. Keeping his sanity through Lilith isn’t a very bright alternative. He would almost prefer the crushing silence and eventual descent into madness over Lilith’s thoughts. He hasn’t even felt any of her emotions yet, and he has no inclination to either. He picks at the chain around his wrist and watches Dean from the corner of his eye as he puts all the items that Alistair brought back into the plastic bag.

(Oh yes, another thing. I will have you brought out to sit in among the smaller parties. The ones with only a few dozen guests. I’ve got a special chair for you and everything. When you’re sitting on it, there will be no slouching.) Lilith stands and moves to his side.

She presses one hand against his chest and the other in the small of his back until his spine is straight. When she’s satisfied, she rearranges his hands until they’re folded one over the other in his lap. (This is how I want you to sit when you’re out amongst the company. Do not forget it. And unless someone asks, I want these –) She reaches behind him and tugs at the folded webbing between the spines of his back-fans. (– to be kept folded down. You look less threatening.)

A soft growl rumbles in his throat, but Castiel nods before she can ask if he understands. Lilith smiles brightly and pats him on the head and runs her fingers through his hair. “Oh, salt water has ruined your hair. We’ll have to try and fix that. We’ll get you shampooed and styled when you’re brought out into the party. We can’t have you sitting around looking like you just washed up on the shore.”

Dean’s derisive snort is covered with a cough. (Don’t pay any attention to her. You look fine. The way your hair gets kinda curly when it’s drying is cute.)

Castiel ducks his head a little. A tiny pulse of pleasure curls high in his chest at the compliment.

Lilith wipes her hand on her dress and takes a seat again. (I want you to sing.)

His side-fans flare in mild surprise. He hasn’t sung anything since the lullaby for Dean, and before that it was the wrong-song he made right. The colony songs are precious and parts of their heritage. He doesn’t want to share them with Lilith. Castiel opens and closes his mouth a few times, unsure of what to do. He’s always had the water to carry his tones and he has no idea what his songs will sound like in the air.

Dean comes up next to Lilith, his hands in his pockets. “Is it okay if I take care of his tail while he does that?”

Lilith pushes the ottoman further away to give Dean room and makes a little gesture where she flicks her wrist. Castiel thinks it means Dean has permission. When he kneels next to Castiel again, he uses his hands to scoop up the water and dribble it over his scales. He lets it pool in the folds of Castiel’s fins and he drags his fingers through it, rubbing the water into the delicate webbing. It’s a soft, almost intimate touch and Castiel tries not to shift under it. Dean is being more attentive about keeping his fins damp than he was before.

“Why aren’t you using the cup?” Lilith asks, leaning over his shoulder to watch.

“I get less water on your furniture and floor this way.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that. I’m going to have everything cleaned and that ottoman thrown out anyway. It’s going to reek of fish.”

Lilith can’t see the way Dean’s face scrunches up at her words. (You don’t smell like fish.)

(I wouldn’t consider it an insult if I did.)

(But you eat fish.)

Lilith presses at his mind again. (Sing, Castiel. Now.)

Castiel watches as Dean works his way down his tail. (They swim in the same waters as I do, and they have the same kind of scales as I do. It would only be insulting if she was comparing my intelligence to one.) He still doesn’t know what song to sing. The only one that seems right would be the wrong-song. But Lilith might not want to hear that again.

(Castiel!) Lilith presses hard against the walls around his mind.

Dean huffs a small laugh, one easily missed unless you’re paying attention. He looks up through his lashes at Castiel, a secretive smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.  That small smile sends another curl of warmth to make its home behind his sternum.

When he parts his lips to sing the wrong-song, the song of a fin-kin calling for his family, he isn’t expecting something entirely different to pass over his tongue. He’s halfway through the first few verses when he notices Dean has stopped pouring the water and he’s staring up at him with wide eyes and Castiel isn’t looking away. The notes of this song are softer, more smooth and rounded as they drift from one echoing tone to the other. It doesn’t rise and fall in sharp bursts like the rhythm of the wrong-song.  

Castiel has heard this song before, but he’s never been the one to sing it. When he realizes what song it actually is, he’s more than half way through it and his throat seizes around the notes. He stutters to a stop, and he still doesn't look away.

(Christ, Cas, that was… Dude, that was beautiful.)

He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t even know how to feel. All he can do is withdraw behind the walls and keep Dean from feeling everything Castiel is quickly beginning to understand and dread.

That warmth is still pulsing in quick, pleasant waves behind his ribs, but Castiel just sang that song. And it wasn’t for Lilith, it wasn’t for the colony, or even for himself. It was a song for Dean. For Dean, who doesn’t hate him for getting attached and being the reason he has to stay in the small-sea room. For Dean, who, after only eight days, worries more for Castiel’s safety than his own and wants him to be happy and free. For Dean, who is attentive, and kind, and interesting, and funny, and accepting of Castiel even though he’s fin-kin and not human. For Dean, who gets frustrated and upset when Castiel breaks the kin-connection, but is quick to forgive and is comforting and warm whenever he needs it.

For Dean.

His next breath catches in his chest and he covers his mouth with his hand. He squeezes his eyes shut against the sting of tears  and he leans forward until his forehead bumps with Dean’s. The only times Castiel has ever heard that song in the waters of the trench, is when it is sung in a duet; when it announces to the colony that fin-kin have found their bond-mates.

He sang the song for Dean, to Dean. Now he can name that spreading heat in his chest. Mother-sea help him, Castiel thinks he’s falling in love with a two-tails.

(Cas? What’s wrong?) Dean’s fingers squeeze over his scales where they lay on his tail. (You’re hiding from me again. Did the song make you homesick?)

Castiel shakes his head. He can’t tell Dean, can he? He’d already said that these kind of feelings weren’t what he was looking for. Dean doesn’t want anything beyond the physical and that thought hurts. When he opens his eyes and Dean’s wide, confused eyes – too green to ever belong to a fin-kin – are right there, he thinks he can feel his heart actually clench because – mother-sea please, no. He’s falling for those eyes and the concern reflecting in them and the kin-connection.

There’s a sharp, painful tug to his hair and Castiel cries out as he’s jerked back, sliding off the side of the ottoman. It only puts all his weight on the hand holding him by his hair. It hurts and he struggles to bunch his tail under him to alleviate the pain, reaching up to grasp at the hand holding him. Dean gives a startled shout and when Castiel looks he hisses Dean’s name. Alistair has Dean on his stomach with his knee in the small of his back and his arms folded up behind him.

“Let me go, you son of a bitch! What the hell, Lilith?!”

“That’s very much what I’d like to be asking, Dean.” Lilith’s voice is coming from behind Castiel and the fingers twist harder in his hair. He doesn’t understand why she’s so angry. “What was that sickeningly touching display just now?”

“I don’t know! Cas gets homesick someti–” Dean cuts off with a grunt when Alistair twists his arm higher up his back.

(I wasn’t asking him.) Lilith’s words flow around the wall and Castiel scrabbles to find a purchase on her hand and wrist. When his claws cut her skin, she shoves him face first down on the ottoman and presses hard against his back. (That wasn’t like the other song. The other song was sad. This one was warm. Disgustingly so. You were smiling, Castiel. I want to know what just happened.)

Dean grunts again and it dissolves into a hiss of pain. Castiel can’t feel the sting of it through the kin-connection, but he can feel Dean’s discomfort and his distress. He snarls against the damp pillowed top of the ottoman, claws tearing into it where he’s trying to get the leverage to push Lilith off.

Alistair is hurting Dean.

(Answer me, Castiel! What did you just sing to Dean?)

It’s difficult to lie with the kin-connection, but hidden behind the walls around his mind it’s nearly impossible to tell if his thoughts are falsehoods or not. (Nothing! It was a lullaby I sang to him before!)

(It sounded nothing like that song either! Don’t you ever lie to me!) Lilith presses his head down harder and it’s bending one of his side-fans painful against his head. “Alistair!”

This time, Dean doesn’t make a sound. There’s just a sharp, sickening crack. In the kin-connection, Dean is screaming.

A bright, pulsing red eats away at the edges of Castiel’s vision. He trashes his tail violently, knocking Lilith’s legs from under her. She only falls more heavily against his back and the push against his head bends his neck awkwardly and painfully. The rope of his collar is rubbing painfully over his gills but Castiel doesn’t feel any of it.

He drops the barriers between his mind and Lilith’s. Her thoughts are cold, twisted and burning with anger and coiling with the first trembling tendrils of fear. Every ounce of rage and hatred he has, burning bright and dangerous, he drives all of it into Lilith’s mind as he twists beneath her. Her scream is loud and piercing and she falls away when Castiel pushes up.

Castiel feels the punch to his shoulder when the dart hits, but he doesn’t notice. He’s too far past angry to even care. He reaches out and his fingers close over the rounded-lid box. Alistair ducks out of the way when he throws it and it’s enough of a distraction for Castiel to claw his way over the ottoman. His arms are getting clumsy and his tail feels too heavy, but he still manages to leave four neat red gashes on Alistair’s arm before he’s scrambling out of reach.

There’s a sharp pinch in his side, the hit of another dart maybe, and Castiel ignores it to pull and push himself closer to Dean. His left arms is bent limply and oddly at his side and the lines of his body are blurring the longer Castiel looks at him. Dean’s staring at him with wide eyes and he thinks he might see blood on his lips and tears on his cheeks, but he can’t be sure because the world is spinning and the red is bleeding into a black that’s swallowing everything, even Dean.

It overtakes everything until there isn’t anything left but darkness.

Chapter Text

The touch to his arm is tickling. It is the perfect match to the brush of thoughts against the edges of his sleep weary mind. Castiel swats at the fingers tracing the curve of his elbow and he rolls onto his other side.

Amusement dances over his thoughts. (Cas, c’mon, wake up.)

(No.) He folds his arms under his head and tucks his face into them. He curls his tail up and folds the rounded fins at its end over his head to shield out the bright light pressing at his eyelids. (And dim yourself, it’s annoying.)

The amusement becomes laughter, a soft chuckle that sweeps over his side-fans and down his spine. A warm body presses against his back, flattening his fans as seeking fingers trip across his hip to spread wide over his stomach. The sweep of a soft tongue precedes a trail of kisses along the back of his neck, following his spine.

(You’re going to be late for your sentry duty, and you know how Michael feels about that.)

Castiel groans and rolls over, pressing his nose into the crook of a shoulder and flipping his tail over the jut of a hip. He huffs a thick stream of water through his gills. (Someone should have thought of that before they kept me up so late.)

(I could say ‘I’m sorry’, if you’d like?) The thought is too smug to be anything like apologetic.

(But you’re not, so there’s no point.) Castiel wiggles closer, trying to ignore the subtle shift of scales against his own as their tails twine together.

Another laugh makes the chest against his shake. (Personally, I blame my very attractive, very distracting mate.)

He hums in agreement. (Pity Michael won’t accept such an excuse.)

The thoughts turn teasing, amused and teeming with a near tangible fondness. (If only because he’s jealous he lost this hot piece of tail to his little brother.)

Castiel squeezes the tail curled around his own and presses his claws warningly against the skin beneath his hands. Of course he isn’t going to deny that his mate – mother-sea, he still can’t believe it, his mate – used to be, and for all intents and purposes still is, the most desired male in the colony. But he’d chosen him. Out of everyone, he’s chosen Castiel and that is all the reason in the world to stay on their sleep shelf.

Nothing will happen to the colony if Castiel misses one sentry shift. Michael might not even notice, especially if no one wakes him to mention it. It’s not like he’s on duty tonight. Maybe Michael should be the one to go. He’d make Castiel go if their positions were reversed and he was the one tucked snug against the broad chest of his mate.

Castiel hums again, turning his face until he can feel the flutter of gills against his cheek. The fingers working through his hair are doing the exact opposite of their intention, lulling him deeper into the dark drift of sleep. The rumble of a purr reverberates deep in his chest and he works his arms around his mate, pulling him close.

(If you’re not gonna go to your shift, and you’re up anyway…) The hand on his hip slips down and behind, to the swell of his tail below the small of his back. It tugs him close enough that he can feel the bulge of another sheath pressed alongside his own.

He smothers a smile into the curve of a clavicle. (We shouldn’t.)

A clear burst of disappointment flickers through the kin-connection. (Why not? Everyone else is still asleep. No one’s going to see us.)

(Someone might.) He tilts his head and blindly presses a kiss to the underside of his mate’s jaw. (And I don’t want anyone to see what you look like when I make you writhe.)

There’s a hitch in the chest pressed against his own and Castiel grins. He nips softly at the line of his jaw, careful not to break the skin. (If we were in the rocks, if it was just the two of us…) He purposefully rolls his hips in a delicious grind that draws a gasp from his mate. (I would be more than willing to take you in my hand and worship you with my lips.)

(Cas.)

Castiel almost laughs at the quiet desperation that sears along the edges of the kin-connection. He does laugh when he’s pushed onto his back, his fans flattened against the rock of their sleep ledge. The buoyed weight of his mate settles over him and Castiel finally opens his eyes. His laughter dies on his tongue and his smile folds into a frown.

Dean’s pleased grin wavers and concern overtakes the arousal that flows freely between them. (Cas? What’s wrong?)

(You’re… not you.)

His mate looks… He looks not right. The Dean above him tilts his head to the side, the spines of his side-fans twitching and narrowing in confusion. The dark of the colony’s trench is making it hard to see the colours of his webbing, or the patch of scales that spreads out from the base of his side-fans to the arc of his cheekbones. Castiel concentrates and brightens his own natural glow until Dean winces and closes his eyes against it.

(What are you –)

Castiel pushes at his shoulders, forcing Dean back so he can see the rest of his body. There are pools of colour glowing dimly over the lines of Dean’s ribs, and the edges of his adipose fans ripple with the same subtle green light. The patterns on his scales are angular and jagged and Castiel traces a finger over one of the sharp corners. In the light of his own glow, Dean’s scales are a dark and mottled green.

(Cas? You okay?) One of Dean’s hands cover his own and the other tucks under his chin, forcing him to look up. (You’re kind of freaking me out here.) Dean’s eyes are dark in the deep, but Castiel can still see the edge of green. They’re full of concern and his brow creases as he worries his bottom lip lightly under the points of his teeth.

Fin-kin don’t have green eyes. And Dean doesn’t look like this. This is… This is wrong. This is a Dean he’s only met once, in a dream that was only a few nights ago but feels like forever. This a Dean he didn’t know he was wishing for until today. This is not  the Dean he sang the bonding song to.

Castiel grabs Dean’s wrist and pulls his hand away. His fingers flex tightly and he can feel the bones grind under his hand. When Dean winces, he jerks away and turns his stare to his arm. It’s the same arm that Alistair broke when he had Dean pinned to the floor of Lilith’s room. It’s not broken now.

A heavy weight settles uncomfortably in his stomach and his chest squeezes tight, pressing hard against his lungs and heart. This is only a dream. A cruel imagining of his own mind brought on by the poisons of the darts and the events that transpired only moments before the blackness.

The confusion in the kin-connection blooms with surprise and concern. Dean’s hand is on the back of his neck and pulling him forward until their foreheads meet. His eyes are pleading. (Don’t pull away from me. Please, Cas, tell me what’s wrong? What do you mean that I’m not me?)

Castiel closes his eyes and shakes his head. He forces Dean out of his mind and shuts the kin-connection between them. It makes Dean’s fingers tighten where they rest against his neck and hip.  Dean growls, a low rumble that gets lost in the waters of the deep. It doesn’t make it off their sleep shelf and Castiel wonders, briefly, if he swam out into the open waters of the trench would he actually find his nest-siblings? Would he find the rest of the colony sleeping in their own hollows? Or would he only find a never ending darkness?

He doesn’t want to wake up. He wants to stay here with this wrong-Dean who is right in all the ways that Castiel should want him. But he can’t stay here. The right-Dean, the Dean that he wants regardless of legs or tail, is hurt. He’s alone in Lilith’s room with Alistair and Gordon and Castiel doesn’t know how long Lilith will be incapacitated by his attack.

Dean makes a desperate noise that sounds too much like Castiel’s name. He whimpers and tilts his head to press a clumsy kiss to what feels like the corner of Dean’s mouth. It doesn’t take even a moment before the direction is corrected and firm lips are pressing hard against his own. Castiel reaches up, pawing blindly at Dean until he can fist his hands in the short strands of his hair.

His chest bumps into his own and Dean’s hands are pushing at his shoulders, forcing him to lay back into the groove of the sleep shelf. The rock doesn’t feel like rock anymore. It’s too smooth and unnatural, like the grey floor of the small-sea on Lilith’s boat. He can feel the questing touch of Dean against his mind and it only brings a tendril of pain to wrap further around his heart. It’s just another reminder that this isn’t real, because the real Dean can’t do that. He can’t reach out to Castiel through the kin-connection when it’s already been closed.

He needs to wake up and get back to the real Dean. But he doesn’t know how to wake up from this too lucid dream, or how to pull himself away from the warm press of wrong-Dean above him. He doesn’t know how and he’s not even sure if he wants to. Wrong-Dean says his name again, whispers it against his mouth with the soft swipe of his tongue against his bottom lip. It’s the same soft touch like from the first kiss right-Dean gave him.

Mother-sea help him, he wants to feel that again. He wants to lick out and taste Dean’s – the real Dean’s – lips, and his skin. He wants to cover all of Pamela’s marks with bruises of his own, and track gentle bites along his shoulders. He wouldn’t leave scratches over Dean’s back, his claws would tear the skin and he never wants to make Dean bleed.

He needs to wake up. He needs to get back to right-Dean before he gets completely pulled under by the slip-slide of wrong-Dean’s lips over his own. Wrong-Dean’s hand traces from his shoulder down to his chest and over his stomach. Castiel hisses against his lips when the questing fingers slide over his sheath, thumb pressing against the opening at its head. The sensation is surprising, but dulled. As if his body knows it’s supposed to feel something at this, but it doesn’t quite know what.

Of course it doesn’t. This is a dream world and he can only dream what he knows. Castiel doesn’t know physical pleasures like the kinds wrong-Dean is trying to give him. He doesn’t know what else to do with lips and tongue. Wrong-Dean is only touching him the way Castiel has thought of touching himself before. But he can’t make him feel what he doesn’t know.

He needs to wake up.

Castiel pushes wrong-Dean away, shoving him back with hands and tail. He beats hard against the wrong-rock of the sleep shelf and half-drags himself to the edge. The confused, almost hurt call of his name nearly makes him stop. But he can’t. If he doesn’t get away now, it’ll be worse when he wakes.

He prays to mother-sea that he won’t remember this.

He swims with his eyes closed, using the click-pops of his echoes to navigate up and out of the trench. The return of his echoes paints a vivid picture of shelves and hollows lining the walls. He can make out the shapes of sleeping fin-kin, but he doesn’t stop. He swims as fast and as hard as his body will allow, streaking passed the shelf where Gabriel would be sleeping.  The sentries he dodges don’t even try to stop him. One of them, he realizes with a hollow thump in his chest, could be Balthazar. He’s moving too fast and the echo-lines are too blurry for him to be sure.

Castiel doesn’t know how to wake himself. He’s never had to do it before. It’s always been an external force or his body rouses itself naturally. How does he force it? How does he wake up and get back to the real world? It’s a world he hates, but it’s the one he needs to be in. It’s where right-Dean could be in worse trouble than when Castiel fell to the darkness of the dart-poison.

He’s too wrapped up in his thoughts that Castiel doesn’t correct his course in time to avoid a cluster of rocks. He swerves to the side, but not enough to avoid the outermost one. It scrapes painfully against his arm and the sudden smell of blood in the water brings him to a sharp and sudden stop. He clutches at the graze, and stares down at the cloud of red around it. He hisses at the sting – but the noise dies before it makes it passed his lips.

The dream world has shifted. Even to his eyes, the blurred lines of the rocks lit by his natural glow are moving. They’re wavering like bright-pearl’s rainbow-arcs at the light-beds. They’re insubstantial objects that fade and twist around his fingers when he reaches for them. He squeezes at the scrape on his arm again and the rocks bend and bow like kelp caught in a current.

Is the answer to waking really as simple as pain?

Castiel doesn’t hesitate to rake his claws down his chest, pressing hard and deep like he’s only ever done in battle to an enemy. It burns. He’s blinded by the cloud of red that blossoms in the water and he is sure, if this doesn’t wake him, that this dream world will summon a shark.

It never has the chance to.

He wakes with a violent shudder, opening his eyes only to shut them again against the bright lights. He gasps and breathes deep, slightly surprised to taste stale sea water on his tongue as it rushes through his gills. The crackle of the speakers rouses him completely and he squints.

“Castiel, are you awake?”

The voice is distorted in the water, but he recognizes it as Sam’s. He pushes himself up and it takes several moments for the blobs of colour to become more defined, to sharpen into a familiar face. Sam is sitting on a chair pushed close to the front glass-wall of the small-sea and facing the door. He looks worn and tired, his hair tied back and a dart gun resting in his lap.

Castiel’s head feels like it’s been emptied of his brain and stuffed full of sea-sponge. It’s hard to think. He blinks blearily at Sam a few times before he checks the rest of the room. There is a new bed, squished into the space between the platform and the wall to his left. The spill of yellow hair across the pillow must be Jess, her back to the small-sea.

Dean is laying on his side, facing Castiel. His left arm is thrown out, over the side of the bed, and his elbow to half way up his hand is wrapped in something blue with white edges. There are bruises along his jaw and around his right eye. Seeing Dean, the real Dean, lifts a weight from his chest he hadn’t really realized was there.

Sam says his name again to get his attention. When Castiel looks, he taps at his temple. For a moment, Castiel doesn’t understand what he’s asking. His mind is too wispy, blanketed still with his leftover panic from the dream. His chest has phantom aches where he knows he clawed it open not more than a few minutes ago.

Sam’s thoughts, when Castiel touches them, are just as weary as he looks. He’s careful with the question he brushes against the edges of Sam’s mind. (What happened?)

(A lot. You and Dean fucked things up royally.) There’s a mild annoyance and anger that muscles under the images and words, but Sam seems too tired to feel any more than that. He even stifles a yawn, hand pressing against his mouth.

(Is Dean okay?)

Sam nods, but his shoulder lifts in a shrug too. (Half the time that he’s awake, he’s high on the pain meds Pam gave him. The rest of the time, he’s either sleeping or watching you sleep. All that shit happened yesterday morning. It’s been about a day and a half?)

Castiel’s fans flare in surprise. He’s been unconscious for that long? So much could have happened and he would have been unable to stop it. Immediately, he twists to check his sides and his chest for any signs that Alistair had taken knives to him.

(Don’t worry, you’re fine. Lilith gave the order that nobody is allowed to hurt you.) The reassuring calm he feeds into the kin-connection is weak and it’s only a slight balm to the burst of panic still coiling in Castiel’s chest. (Don’t think that’s a good thing, though. She said it was because she wants to be here when he runs his tests. She’s really not happy with what you did.)

He bares his teeth, a growl reverberating in his throat. (She shouldn’t have let Alistair hurt Dean.)

(So Gordon wasn’t lying when he said you didn’t fight back until Alistair snapped Dean’s arm?)

(It’s true.)

Something like disbelief, tinged with suspicion, seeps under Sam’s thoughts. (Jess said it’s against your colony’s code or something for you to attack someone’s mind like that.)

Castiel bares his teeth again and he slaps the floor with the end of his tail. (They were hurtingDean. Would you have preferred that I let them continue? If Lilith is fine enough to give orders, then I don’t see the point to your questions. Are you going to tell me what happened afterward or not?)

(Lilith isn’t fine.) Sam looks down at the dart-gun in his lap and he starts trailing his fingers over it. (She passed out after whatever you did, and when she woke up she had a really, intensely bad headache. Worse than a migraine, she said. Pam gave her the strongest painkillers we have on board, the anesthetics we use for the animals that go under the knife, and it didn’t do anything to help. She was airlifted out of here last night.)

Sam shows him images of a massive metal machine with a bulbous body and long tail. It has thin feet that stick from the bottom of the bulbous part, and above that are four flat blades. In the memory Sam gives him, Lilith is escorted into the bulging body and then the blades start to spin. They spin so fast that they become a blur and the whole thing lifts from the deck of the boat to disappear into the sky. Sam calls it a ‘helicopter’.

(They took her to a hospital on the mainland with doctors who are actually trained to work on humans. Pam’s specialty is animals, but they’ve got her covering here as a doctor for people too. It’s all kinds of code violation, but she’s getting paid extra and she knows her shit. She went through half of medical school before she decided to be a vet.)

He rubs his hand over his face and looks back up at Castiel. (After you passed out, Dean called me. Apparently he re-broke Alistair’s nose when Alistair tried to get at you, and he messed up his arm more getting the gun away from Gordon. Dean swears he almost broke his fist on Gordon’s face. Turns out he had a dislocated shoulder and Alistair snapped his radius and ulna. Those are the two bones that make up your forearm. Speaking of…)

Sam stands. He keeps the dart-gun in hand and Castiel watches him closely as he goes to Dean’s bed. It barely takes anything to get Dean to roll onto his back. (He shouldn’t be sleeping on his shoulder like that. It’s bad for it.)

Castiel reaches out for Dean’s mind, touching the heavy fog of sleep. It’s quiet and dense, different from how Dean’s thoughts usually are when he’s sleeping. (Will he be okay?)

(It’s not the first time he’s broken a bone. He’ll be fine. Pam’s already starting to wean him off the meds. He was more worried about you getting a double dose of the tranquilizers.) Sam returns to his chair.

(Why do you have the dart-gun?)

Sam taps his fingers against the weapon. (In case Alistair or Gordon come in to start a fight. They got in once after Dean and I brought you back here. It was while I took Dean to see Pam and get his arm looked at. We left Jess and Meg here, and I came back to, well, to that.) He gestures at Castiel, but it doesn’t explain anything.

(To what?) He tilts his head to the side, confused. Uneasiness starts to pluck at his ribs.

(You haven’t noticed?) Sam’s eyebrows rise and a surprised disbelief flickers over his thoughts. He lifts one hand and gestures at his throat.

Castiel mirrors the action. The collar around his neck is different.  It’s not even the same material as before. Instead of rope, he feels the cold touch of metal in small loops. He looks at his wrist and the chain of gold still hanging around it. The metal around his neck feels like a similar shape. He touches along the length of it, hands slipping to the back of his neck.

That’s where the difference is most noticeable. The chain is snug against his neck, but there is another chain attached to it, like the tag that had been on the blue-rope collar. It hangs down his back and now that he knows it’s there, Castiel can feel the cool links laying between his fans. He turns and is surprised to find the chain hanging in the water in front of his face. There’s slack where it loops down before rising up to his collar. But the rest of the chain slithers up to the bars.

(That clamp it’s attached to doesn’t move. I’m sorry, but you’re swimming radius is the length of the chain.) Sam does sound apologetic, and there are bitter undertones swirling beneath it all. (Gordon was the one in the tank. He did it while Dean and I were getting his arm set. Jess tried to keep them out, but they forced their way in and they’re damn lucky they didn’t hurt her or I would have –) His thoughts stop short and he shakes his head. (Meg got her out of here before she could piss Alistair off more than he already was. According to Jess, his nose was bleeding all over the place and Gordon’s face was starting to swell up really badly.)

Castiel wraps his hand around the links and pulls. He snarls and twists, flicking his tail and swimming in tight circles to test the give of the chain. Gradually, he moves out farther and farther until he’s as far as he can reach. With the junction at the back of his neck, he can reach the front glass-wall and the back grey-wall without issue, but he can’t get as close to the side-walls. The only comfortable place to sit is directly beneath it, where nothing is pulling at his neck. He tries laying down and he can feel the tightness around his throat. It’s only just long enough for him to be able to lay directly beneath it.

(They don’t want you getting in and out of the tank anymore.) Sam shifts, looking away guiltily. (Lilith made a huge fuss before the helicopter got here. She said you and Dean shouldn’t even be allowed to look at each other anymore.)

Castiel stops in his inspection of the clamp holding the chain in place on the bar. His heart is starting to beat hard in his chest, thumping in a quick panic. The last thing he wants is to be separated from Dean. He looks toward Sam with what he hopes is only a curious expression. He’s careful and hides his emotions from the kin-connection. If Sam notices, he doesn’t show it. 

(Why would she say that?)

(I dunno, probably something do with how her prize pet is showing all kinds of affection to someone that isn’t her.) A knowing, sad smile pulls at the corners of Sam’s mouth for a moment before it vanishes. (Jess and I are staying in here too now. Not on Lilith’s orders or anything. We’re going to sleep in shifts so that someone is always watching out for Alistair or Gordon, hell even for Azazel. No doubt that rat will come sniffing around soon enough. He always does.)

Sam gestures up and over his shoulder. (We disabled the cameras in here so they can’t spy on us and get us at our weakest or something. Meg said she isn’t going to help us, but she isn’t going to help them either. Which is something, I guess.)

Castiel shrugs and turns his attention back to the clamp. He doesn’t even have the first idea how it works. There’s a little hoop at the bottom of it where the chain connects, but he can’t see how the clamp is staying in place on the bars. There is a seam running down the middle of it and there are two tiny cylinders closer toward each end. When he reaches through the bars to run his fingers over the top of it, he can feel another seam, but instead of two cylinders, there are little round bumps with what feels like grooves dug into their faces.

Sam is quiet while Castiel examines the clamp. It’s only when he pulls away and swims in contemplative circles that he finally speaks again.

(Lilith has microphones and cameras in her office – that’s the room she took you to – that are linked to the computers. We were hoping we could use the files as evidence against her and the others when we file a lawsuit for how she’s treating this boat like her own private dictatorship.)

Castiel doesn’t understand half of what he said, the words not translating well into images or emotions. He doesn’t press with questions, too busy thinking about how to get rid of the clamp. And now that he’s seen what the boat is like outside the room, and more specifically he’s seen a quick and easy route to the sea, he can start formulating his own plans.

As much as he likes being in Dean’s company, Castiel can’t stay here with him much longer. He’s already realized that he’s viewing Dean as a potential bond-mate, despite their previous talk and Dean’s reluctance to pursue a relationship like that. And that’s not even touching on the idea of how that could work with him being human and Castiel being fin-kin. It’s a foolish thing to think about to start with and Castiel fully blames the kin-connection and its intimacy for everything he’s feeling.

But even just in thinking in passing of Dean accepting the bonding song sends his heartbeat skittering and warmth starts to pool throughout his torso. If he falls for Dean any more than he already has, he’ll never be able to leave him.

It only further hardens his resolve to escape. Castiel is a strategist. One of the best in the colony. It’s primarily why he was given a garrison of his own. With Sam and Dean helping him and providing him with further knowledge about the boat and its workings, he should be able to devise an escape plan in a relatively soon. With Lilith away, now would be the perfect time.

Sam, apparently, wasn’t done talking. He presses at Castiel’s mind, pulling his attention away from his plans. (The files weren’t there. The videos, the tapes, all of it was gone. We think it was Azazel, but we can’t be sure. When I asked after it, Gordon said it was routine. They needed the space on the hard-drives for videos of you swimming and whatever other bullshit he said.)

Castiel allows his annoyance to filter through the barriers still keeping his emotions hidden. (Sam, I don’t understand your talk about files and videos. Please just get to the point.)

He shifts in his seat and glances toward Dean’s bed. (The only thing they left was the recording of the song you sang. I – we – Jess, me and Dean – we listened to it. It was early this morning, and he was pretty out of it still. The pain meds kinda make him more… more chatty.) Sam rubs the back of his neck and he won’t look at Castiel. There’s embarrassment creeping along the edges of his thoughts. (Dean kept calling the song beautiful – and it is, I mean wow, it really is – but he was…)

Sam starts chewing on his bottom lip and he shifts again. When he looks up, he meets Castiel’s eyes and instead of explaining, he raises up a memory and pushes it through. It’s a memory of Dean draped across his bed, hand raised and drawing random designs in the air. There’s a sloppy, loose smile on his face. Sam and Jess are sitting at the ledge by the computers and the sound of the bonding song is playing throughout the room.

In the memory, Dean keeps saying “Is’such a nice song, don’t’cha think? Is’so nice. Real, real pretty.” Jess keeps nodding, but her eyes are closed and she keeps squeezing Sam’s hand. Sam sometimes looks at her, but he’s mostly watching Dean.

Outside the memory, Sam’s cheeks are getting splotchy with red and he’s ducking his head. Castiel forcibly ignores the embarrassment that keeps colouring the memory. He focuses on listening to the words that Dean keeps saying.

“God, guys, y’should’a seen ‘im! All singin’ an’ stuff. Was nice, real nice. The song, y’know? S’pretty beautiful, yeah? And Cas? Oh man, Sammy, Cas was fuckin’ gorgeous. Never seen ‘im smile like that all soft an’ almos’ glowin’ – bet’cha he would’a glowed if we turned off th’lights. But his eyes, Sammy. Jesus Christ his eyes.” He trails off for a bit and the memory of the song grows brighter, more pronounced above everything else until Dean starts talking again.

“Fuck and you should’a seen ‘im when he got pissed – holy shit, guys. Holy. Shit. So fuckin’ badass. Never been so scared and turned on before in m’life – fuckin’ badass, gorgeous son of a bitch – Cas! Hey, hey, Cas!” Memory-Dean rolls over on the bed, almost falling off in the process. He staggers to his feet and starts banging on the glass of small-sea. “Cas, y’gotta wake up an’ show ‘em how badass you were. All protec’in’ me an’ shit.” This memory of Dean sags backwards, barely reaching the bed before he sits. “Protec’in’ me when I’m s’posed t’be protec’in’ ‘im…”

The memory starts to fade when memory-Sam gets up to help memory-Dean back onto the bed properly. Castiel blinks it away and he’s not sure if the burn in his chest is because he might have stopped breathing or because of the magma rolling under his skin from the words that were said. The lava in his chest is a pleasant burn, warm and inviting and it makes him want to smile.

He forcibly pulls himself away from those thoughts with a deep breath when Sam prods at him through the kin-connection. (Dean gets loose-lipped when he’s loopy on pain meds. I can’t tell you how many times he’s had to take them because of some stupid fight or accident or something. But I’ve learned he’s the most truthful when he’s high off his ass.)

(Dean has always been truthful with me.)

(Yeah, well, it’s kinda hard to lie when you’re in our heads. And it’s not like he has anything to hide from you.) Sam shrugs again, slouching in his seat.

(He keeps things from you?) The idea is nearly inconceivable to him. He’s always shared everything with his nest-brothers and sisters.

(I didn’t find out Dean was bisexual until after prison. Said he’d known since his teens and that he never knew how to tell me. So, yeah, he keeps things from me. I don’t have the handy trick of reaching into his brain and seeing whatever I want to see.)

Castiel flares his fans indignantly. (I don’t do that!)

(I know you don’t. I’m just saying, you’re a whole different species. Dean doesn’t have to lie with you because you don’t know anything about everything our society frowns upon. And, frankly, it frowns upon ninety percent of Dean’s personality.) His grin is lopsided and tired. (He’s practically got a clean slate with you and I think he’s afraid of messing that up. When people find out he went to prison for nearly killing someone in a fight – which isn’t even close to the whole story – everyone immediately labels him as some kind of thug. Alistair mentioned it, and Dean probably mentioned it a bunch too. But you never even asked about it, did you?)

It’s Castiel’s turn to shrug and he steals a subtle glance toward Dean. (There was no point. The past is the past, and Dean is Dean. I would never have continued to hold the kin-connection with him if I found even the slightest of hints that he was not a good person.)

Sam nods, smiling softly for a few moments before it slips into another frown. (Can I ask you something?)

(Of course.)

(The first song we heard, you said it was about calling for family. Then we got a recording of a lullaby. What was the song you sang in Lilith’s office?) Honest curiosity presses through with the question and Castiel can feel his cheeks heat.

(It was nothing.)

(That sure was a whole lot of nothing that made Lilith wig out and Dean gush like a drunken poet.)

Castiel looks away, glaring at one of the speakers mounted in the corner of small-sea. He doesn’t want to tell Sam, and not just because he might tell Dean. He doesn’t want to tell Sam because the less people that know, the better. If he’s really pressed to name the notes, he can try and pass it off as a song depicting a warm history of the colony. No one has to know that he was basically proposing to Dean.

He repeats his answer.

Sam presses his curiosity along the edges of Castiel’s mind again before withdrawing. He stifles another yawn and stretches before standing. Castiel watches absently, his thoughts oscillating between Sam’s memory and plans for his escape. It’s a juxtaposition of the two extremes warring inside of him.

Castiel wants to go home. He misses his family, his friends, and the normality that comes with the familiarity of the trench and the routine of the colony. Here, nothing is the same from one day to the next. He’s experienced so much in a little less than ten days and it’s changing him. It scares him. If he doesn’t get out soon, Castiel fears Dean might get deeper under his skin. And if he does… he might not be able to leave him.

His attention focuses more closely on Sam when he gets a familiar two-coloured box from under the table. He leaves the lid on the ledge before carrying it over the middle of the front glass-wall. It’s the easiest place for Castiel to reach and he’s already there and waiting when Sam tilts the box over the edge and the bland gray fish fall through the bars. The glass pieces that Dean called ‘ice’ are floating, spreading out in the rippling waves caused by the splash of dead fish.

(I figure since it’s been so long since you last ate that you probably don’t want to wait for us to have our dinner later.)

(Thank you, Sam.)

He ignores the fish for the moment, uncurling from the floor to slide up through the water. He floats lazily a few hand-spans below the surface, his adipose fins rippling to keep him aloft. His caudal fans flicks every so often, making sure he stays in line with the ice above his head. The first touch is cold. Colder even than the waters of the deep. He hisses at the freeze-burn on his fingertip and dives again, rolling in a backward summersault until he’s at the floor again.

Using his caudal fans as a scoop, Castiel moves the fish he doesn’t pick up toward the center of the small-sea. He doesn’t want to be annoyed by the chain feeling too tight against his neck while he’s trying to eat. His stomach rumbles appreciatively with the first bite and even though the gray fish is bland and nearly tasteless on his tongue, it’s delicious after not eating for nearly two days.

Sam watches Castiel eat the first fish, amusement tickling the edges of the kin-connection. (You going to need the bucket again after this?) Castiel stops mid-bite and stares up at Sam with wide eyes. It just makes Sam laugh. (We kind of knew that you were hiding your waste with the bones from your overnight eating. I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable or anything, so we didn’t say anything. But since Dean told me about what happened, I couldn’t resist poking a little fun, sorry.)

Castiel resumes eating, flicking his disapproval over Sam’s thoughts. (I don’t want know what you’ve been doing with it.)

(We gave it to Alistair for him to study. Even gave him the sample from after you ate our food.)

(I said I didn’t want to know.) Castiel sticks out his tongue and makes the rude gesture with his middle finger. It only makes Sam laugh. Desperate for a different topic to talk about while he eats, Castiel pushes the memory of the elevator at Sam. (Dean told me once that there were many doors between me and the sea. But there are only these and the one in the room at the top.)

Sam stretches his legs out and slumps further in the chair. (It’s not that easy. Only Lilith’s card opens the elevator gates. She took it with her when she went to the hospital and, well, Dean or I could probably hack the controls if we had the proper equipment. But there’s no way to get that without someone noticing. Especially with the cameras.)

He gestures vaguely at the empty corners of the room where the cameras used to be. (They can’t see in here, but the hallways, the stairwell, all the other rooms are monitored like you wouldn’t believe because Lilith is a paranoid bitch. That’s really the only hitch Dean and I have in our plan. We’ve got no problem with one or both of us carrying you out of here. But Lilith actually has guards posted on deck and the stairwell lets out into the mess hall. And there’s always someone in there.)

Castiel makes a frustrated noise low in his throat. He might be a little vicious in tearing the skeleton from the fish in his hands. (I assume the guards work in shifts and on a rotation. Is there no way to get a schedule? There must be one time, maybe at night, when this ‘mess hall’ is empty. Or do you have some way of clearing it?)

Sam runs his hands through his hair, pulling it from the tie keeping it held back. (We could pull the fire alarm, but that would bring the guards. And yeah, they have a schedule and set patterns that they walk in, but that’s all locked up in Lilith’s office and we need her key-card to get to it. She doesn’t keep anything like that on a computer where it can be hacked. I told you, she’s really paranoid.)

(Can you observe them and write down their schedule yourselves?)

(Without being noticed by them or the cameras? Unlikely.)

Castiel scowls and crunches bones between his teeth. Lilith is a thorn in his side even when she isn’t here and forcing him to behave to keep Dean safe. (Do you know of a way to get take out the cameras?)

(I’m not even going to get into the technical talk with you, but no, we can’t access them. Not for what you’re thinking.) Sam’s smile starts slow. (But we do have an ace up our sleeve. We’ve got a friend back home that we got a message to. He’s going to try and break into the system. If anyone can manage it, he can. It’s just a little hard to communicate with him without getting ourselves caught.)

(How long do you think it will take?)

Sam’s face scrunches up and indecision flickers briefly as he lifts and folds a few fingers while counting. (Jess contacted him… I think three days ago? The same day you tried your grand escape attempt. If Ash can get word to us without tipping off anyone, we should know soon. Basically we just need him to get us into the system and then one of us can take it from there. After that, it’s just turning them off and getting you the hell out of here faster than someone can notice that the cameras are down.)

(And the guards?)

He grins and pats the dart-gun in his lap. Confidence, bright and proud, swells through the kin-connection. (Don’t tell anyone, but Dean and I? We’re damn good shots. Our dad was a soldier and he taught us how to shoot when we were kids. We squirreled away a couple of these yesterday so we’re set on that front.)

Castiel is impressed. He knew that Dean could fight with his fists, but he had no idea he was trained with weapons too. (Won’t they have dart-guns, or worse?)

(Yeah, but it’s not like we’ve got much choice. We’re got to get you out of here.)

He falls silent for a few moments, fingers twitching over the mess of bones in his lap. (You’ll have repercussions to deal with once I’m free. Lilith has made it obvious –) Castiel looks pointedly at Dean and the blue-white around his arm. (– that she isn’t above physical violence. You still have yourself, Dean, and Jess, even Bobby and Pamela to worry about. You’re risking so much for me… Why?)

(Because this, all of this, is wrong.) Sam’s mind fills with a swirl of rage as he gestures around them and, more specifically, at Castiel. (We study animals. Fish and sometimes mammals. You’re neither. I know it’s probably an insult, but you’re practically human and Lilith just wants to own you. It’s wrong. It’s disgusting. And none of us are going to stand for it.) His thoughts sober suddenly and fill with a deep, pulsing bitterness. All of it, to Castiel’s surprise, is directed inward. (God, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I regret being the one who grabbed you on the reef. If I hadn’t, then you wouldn’t… and Dean wouldn’t be – I’m sorry, Castiel. I’m really, really sorry. I can’t say it enough, but I am.)

Castiel reaches out to soothe the agitation cascading through the kin-connection. He doesn’t know if capturing him is something he can ever forgive Sam for, but he doesn’t want him to feel such pain lamenting over it. He withdraws the touch the moment Sam jumps to his feet, leveling the dart-gun at the door. His thoughts are taut and focused.

Sam approaches the door slowly. The metal bolt is closed over the doorframe. He presses close to the door and through the kin-connection, Castiel knows that he is asking who is on the other side. The answer is favourable – Bobby, he says. When he steps away and unlocks it, Bobby walks in.  He barely lifts an eyebrow at the weapon pointed behind him and he’s balancing three food containers in his hands. Sam doesn’t lower his arms until the door is closed and locked again, relief washing through the kin-connection.

Bobby puts the containers on the ledge between the computers and when he glances at him, Castiel waves. He gets a brief twist of the fingers as a ‘hello’ before Sam leans down and starts talking to Bobby closely.

After a few moments, Bobby reaches into the front of the jeans that cover his belly and chest. He has to unbuckle one of the straps over his shoulder before he can pull out a long red and black pincer. Castiel thinks it looks like two daggers attached together. It’s easily as long as Sam’s forearm, if not slightly longer. A pleased surprise lights up Sam’s face and sparks through the kin-connection as Bobby hands the item over.

(What’s that?) Castiel prods at Sam’s thoughts, pulling up the image of the dagger-pincers.

(It’s a bolt cutter. We’ll be able to use it to break the chain so you won’t be stuck in the tank. We could get the clamp off with a screwdriver, but you’d still be dragging that chain around.) Sam’s bright smile pulls into a teasing grin. (I know you like sleeping in Dean’s bed.)

Castiel quickly tucks his emotions behind the walls, careful not to let anything slip to Sam. But he finds it hard to meet his eyes. (It’s comfortable. We don’t have anything that soft back home.)

(And I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with Dean, huh?)

(He’s warm. Warmth is not something we have often in the deep.) Castiel fidgets with the bones, gathering them one by one into a pile in his lap. (I don’t understand what you’re trying to insinuate.)

Sam’s teasing fades into a serious tone that smothers his amusement. Bobby pulls out another item from his high-jeans – a roll of blue – and hands it to him. They speak a little longer before Bobby leaves again. Sam watches him leave with the gun raised again. He tells Castiel it’s just in case someone tries to come in. They don’t want to take any chances.

When the door is shut again, he locks it and turns to find Jess already sitting up and stretching. He gestures at the food and goes to rouse Dean. Castiel watches intently, already skipping his touch along the edges of Dean’s mind. He’s nearly jubilant when Dean’s thoughts become clear. He doesn’t even get the chance to greet him before Dean sits up quickly and almost violently shoves Castiel out of his mind.

For several moments Castiel does nothing but sink slowly to the floor. He twines his fingers into the slack of the chain and he knows he’s staring stupidly at Dean, but Dean isn’t looking at him. He’s looking everywhere but at him. It feels like his ribs are contracting, squeezing too tight over his lungs and his gills aren’t working right. A knot is forming, hard and pulsing with a fluttering kind of panic behind his sternum.

Has he done something to upset Dean? Is he mad because Castiel wasn’t able to protect him? Or because Castiel had been so submissive to Lilith, if only to keep him and the others safe? Had he scared Dean when he’d attacked Lilith and Alistair? Or did Dean figure out what the bonding song was and now he’s avoiding Castiel because that’s so much more than what he wants? But Sam’s memories of the morning had showed the exact opposite. So why is Dean like this now?

(Let me talk to him.) Sam shushes him through the connection, reaching through to stroke over his mind with calm.

Castiel almost flinches at the touch. He had completely forgotten that he was still connected with Sam. A quick cursory once over reveals that he’s even dropped the walls around his mind. Which means Sam more or less heard his panic attack. Castiel snaps up the walls almost as quickly as Dean shut him out.

He ducks his head, embarrassed and chastising himself for the simple mistake. He’s starting to let himself get too emotional where Dean is  concerned and with his imminent escape, it’s a dangerous thing to do. He needs to have better control of himself. Dean shutting him out should be a good thing. Not more than two days ago he was resolving to distance himself from Dean and then… and then what had happened?

He’d fallen for him further.

Mother-sea, give him strength.

He lets go of the chain to hug the fold of his tail to his chest. Castiel rests his chin on his scales and tries to look like he’s not watching the very heated conversation developing between Sam and Dean. Jess seems to be trying to do the same, sitting against the wall on her bed with a container open in her lap and her eyes on the food.

Sam won’t let Dean leave the area where his bed is. He’s standing between the glass-wall and the drawers and Dean can’t squeeze by without actually shoving Sam out of the way. Castiel envies how even as the younger brother Sam manages to appear bigger and more threatening than Dean. If he ever tried to do anything of the sort with his older brothers, the dominant display would likely have ended with a few new tears to his webbing.

Absently, he trails a finger to the hole in the fan by his left hip. It’s smaller than it was a few days ago, but it’s still rather noticeable. If he was vain, he might try to hide it. But Castiel has always worn his wounds with pride. This is a mark of his escape attempt, when he’d managed to surprise the humans and was another reminder that they shouldn’t underestimate him.

To Castiel’s disappointment, Sam is barely translating the conversation. His focus is on Dean and not the kin-connection. He’s concentrating enough that he’s feeding their words through to Castiel’s mind, but the imagery and emotions aren’t fluid or altogether even there. It’s difficult for Castiel to understand and he pays more attention to the words he knows, trying to parse the rest by tone alone.

“You’re going to make him freak out again.”

“He’s not gonna freak out, Sammy. Now lemme by. I’m hungry and Pam says I gotta take those pills on a full stomach.”

“He’s already panicking.”

Dean shakes his head and Castiel thinks he catches a quick glance in his direction. “No, he’s not. Cas is fine.”

Irritation flashes through the kin-connection and Sam draws himself up to his full height, leaning over Dean. “You’re not letting him make the kin-connection, are you? So you don’t actually know what he’s thinking or feeling. You can’t say that he’s not panicking.” He points at Castiel. “Why don’t you look at him and tell me you don’t think he looks worried, Dean? Tell me you think he’s not scared you’re starting to hate him because he didn’t stop them before they hurt you.”

Castiel can see the muscles in Dean’s jaw tighten and his chin sticks out defiantly. He doesn’t follow the direction of Sam’s finger. “I’m hungry and my arm hurts like a son of a bitch. I will break Pam’s nice cast over your ass if you don’t move it. Now, Sam.”

“Is that it? Are you mad because you got hurt?” Sam’s face steels over, a heavy line forming between his eyebrows. “Seriously, Dean? This morning you wouldn’t shut up about how badass he was and now you’re resenting him?”

“Of course I’m not!”

“Then what the hell, Dean?”

He squares his shoulders, but his head turns toward the wall slightly. Castiel can tell that Dean isn’t looking Sam in the face anymore. His voice drops and now Castiel can’t hear the muffled sound of it through the glass. “It’s not what you’re thinking, okay? I’m not mad at Cas. I’m mad at me.

Sam does translate that and Castiel’s fans flutter in surprise, the spines flexing wildly. What could Dean possibly be angry at himself for? He pushes the question at Sam’s mind. It’s a useless thing to do, because Sam is already asking, stunned confusion filtering from the connection to his face.

“What the hell are you mad with yourself for?”

Dean rocks his weight from one foot to the other and his head tilts. Castiel surmises that Dean must be looking at the floor now. Even Sam doesn’t catch his response and he leans closer, eyebrows up in a silent request for repetition. When that doesn’t work, because Dean is obviously not looking at him, Sam pokes him hard in the chest until Dean’s head snaps up with a displeased glare fixed on his face.

He gestures wildly at Castiel and the small-sea, narrowly missing smacking the glass with his arm and the blue-white covering it. “Because I couldn’t protect him! Lilith had him gussied up like a prancing show pony and he was just letting it happen and then he started singing the goddamn song that I can’t get out of my fucking head and then everything went to hell in  a hand basket –” He stops, chest rising and falling rapidly. “Lilith had him and he was scared and confused and… I didn’t even get a damn swing in before Alistair had me pinned like it was nothing. I promised Cas I’d keep him safe and I failed so I’m pissed at me, not him, and I just…” He shoves his hands through his hair and turns away, his back to Castiel. “I don’t want him to feel that from me.”

Castiel doesn’t need to the kin-connection to know Dean feels shame. He unfolds and the chain rattles as he slips in an easy roll of his body over to the wall. He can press his hands to the glass, but he can’t rest his forehead against it like he wants to. Castiel curls his tail beneath him, resting on the bunch of it and he watches Dean’s back. Sam tries to get him to turn, but Dean won’t have it – he keeps shaking his head.

He doesn’t know what else to do to reach Dean, so Castiel opens his mouth and he sings. It’s the half of the bonding song only he can sing. There’s a brief flash of sad pain high in his chest when he realizes he might never hear the other half – especially not if he keeps singing it to a human. But right now, he needs Dean to hear it, he needs Dean to understand that there is nothing to be ashamed about.

He had sworn to himself that he would keep Dean from being hurt, and he had failed. Dean had promised Castiel he would keep him safe, and he believes he failed too. They’re both on the same shelf and there’s nothing more to do but put it behind them and keep moving forward but he can’t do that with Dean hating himself.

So he sings. He hides the emotions that accompany the song from Sam, but he lets his throat-voice play over the notes – rising and falling in a smooth crescendo of rounded tones that flow together in a lacking harmony. There’s obviously parts missing because the duet is incomplete and Dean won’t ever know or be able to produce the sounds to sing it.

Castiel thinks he might be okay with that. It would be nice if Dean could sing with him, it would be beyond nice. It could very well be perfect. But right now, all Castiel wants and needs is for Dean to understand that he doesn’t hold him responsible. He doesn’t hate him and Dean shouldn’t hate himself.

He doesn’t look away from Dean, not even when Jess appears at Sam’s side and he slides his arms around her waist and bends to put his chin on her shoulder. Castiel silently counts with the notes of his song how long it is before the tension eases from Dean’s shoulders and he starts to turn. He’s slow to move, but his eyes are wide when they meet Castiel’s.

A tentative smile pulls at his lips as they form around the chords of the song. He presses forward with his mind, skirting the walls still firmly raised around Dean’s own. They start to crumble as Dean backs up until his knees hit the bed and he drops to sit heavily on the mattress. His eyes never leave Castiel’s and they still hold the same untold reverence as they did the day before.

By the last wavering note that rises to a high, almost warbling pitch like the crooning of the sea giants, Dean’s walls have fallen. Castiel doesn’t reach beyond the comforting edges of his mind. He waits for the cautious touch to ghost over his own before he slips over his thoughts. Castiel hunts down the lingering shame and the disease that is Dean’s own self hatred. He finds it and he brushes all the forgiveness and acceptance of their own failings across them until they’re nothing but burned out volcanic rock. They’ll always be there, Castiel can’t change that, but he can certainly help soothe them down to near nothingness.

There’s a tug to his attention that doesn’t belong to Dean and it’s almost painful for Castiel to turn his eyes to Sam. He’s watching Castiel and Dean from over Jess’s head. (I wasn’t too sure on the recording last night, now I’m almost positive hearing it in person… but that’s not the whole song is it?)

His fins ripple slightly and he immediately wishes his connection with Dean wasn’t as open as it currently is. He shares Sam’s thoughts without even waiting to listen to what they could be. Castiel knew at least one of them would notice. And judging by the unsurprised agreement that dances through his link with Dean, he may have been slightly off in his guessing. He nods, slow, just one jerk of his chin.

(What’s missing Cas? It’s… I mean, wow, it’s really awesome as it is now. But would the missing piece make it better?) Dean leans forward excitedly, anticipation tripping bright and steady over his thoughts.

He nods again but he can’t bring himself to say what’s missing. If he withdraws his emotions, both Dean and Sam will know that he has something to hide. And he can’t lie, because they’d both be able to sense it almost immediately. He could simply not answer, but again that is a clear indicator that there is something worth keeping from them and if what he’s learned from Dean so far is any indication, it will serve to do nothing more than anger him.

Jess does something with her hand and her fingers that has Sam and Dean looking at her sharply. She’s smiling brightly at them both. “I get it now!”

“Get what?” Sam’s eyebrow raises and there are three different sets of confusion fluttering through Castiel’s mind. Jess wasn’t a part of the kin-connection, though it was rude of Castiel not to include her, so she shouldn’t have any idea of what they were talking about.

“The song is beautiful, yeah, but it doesn’t sound right. I used to take piano as a kid, and your song was like playing a piece but only doing the left hand when the song calls for both hands. You’re only getting half the song. That’s it, isn’t it? You’re singing a ‘duet’ solo.”

(Cas, is that true?) Dean’s eyes find his and Castiel can’t lie or hide from the earnest question or the honest curiosity pulsing bright through the kin-connection. He nods.

(Why?)

Castiel tilts his head a fraction, confused.

Dean picks at the blue-white where it circles around his thumb. (I’m sure you guys have so many other solos you could have picked from. Why’d you pick one that wouldn’t sound right without someone else?)

He licks his lips and shakes his head, he can’t tell Dean what the song really is. Not now, not ever. Castiel starts to withdraw from the kin-connection, just enough that not everything is shared so readily. He’s surprised when Dean seizes at the edges of his mind, tugging at it almost painfully to keep him in place.

(I know it’s probably fourteen different kinds of hypocritical of me, but seriously Cas, don’t hide behind any walls from me, okay? It’s hard enough figuring you out when I can feel all of you. You don’t have to tell me about the song. It’s probably some big fin-kin secret you shouldn’t have shared. But just… Don’t. Okay?)

Castiel’s response is lost in the tripping skitter-stop of his heart and the flashing horror that sweeps in a chill from the top of his head to the tip of his tail. His fingers clench against the glass and he turns wide eyes to Jess and the words he prays that he misheard through Sam’s connection, the words she whispered to him, and he hopes that Dean didn’t hear them. The stunned silence of Dean’s thoughts and his careful question that follows deflates his hope before it even buds.

(Is… Cas, is she right? Was it – is it a –) His throat works over a swallow. (Is it a love song?)

 

 

Chapter Text

He can still see the surprise in Dean’s eyes, still feel the flash of understanding and the cold resignation. Castiel’s arms tighten around his stomach and he fights to ignore the knots under his skin that make him feel like he’s going to be sick. It’s hard when he can still hear Dean’s words. They won’t stop bouncing around his brain when all he wants is to forget them and the ache in his chest.

(Don’t, Cas, don’t sing something like that. Not for me.)

It feels like his heart and his lungs are being crushed. Like he got caught in a rockslide and there are boulders pressing on his back, flattening him until there won’t be anything left.

Castiel wasn’t expecting any other kind of reaction from Dean, but it still hurts. He doesn’t understand why. Even after learning of what Dean had said about him when he had attacked Lilith and Alistair, he’d held no hope that Dean would think of him in any similar way to how Castiel feels for him.

But the memory won’t stop playing behind his eyelids when he closes them against the black of his scales and the blue of his fins. It’s all he can see and he hates it. He hates how the lines of Dean’s face had gone hard and he’d ran his fingers through his hair when he looked away. He hates how the kin-connection had been cleared of Dean’s emotions so quickly it had left Castiel’s mind spinning.

(You can’t – you shouldn’t do that. It’s just fucking Stockholm Syndrome. And God, Cas, you’re not – I’m a goddamn human. Don’t. Just don’t. It’s wrong.)

There had been some confusion from Sam, but Castiel had felt only a brief flicker of it before he had severed the connections and relocated to the middle of small-sea. It is childish to hide under his fins but he doesn’t want to see the others and this is the only way. He is only thankful that he hasn’t cried over Dean’s rejection yet.

There’s a tightness in Castiel’s throat that makes it hard to breathe and it hurts to swallow around it when he fights to keep the tears at bay. He doesn’t want to cry. He shouldn’t. It would be shameful and he’s sure that Dean would notice.

He’s lost track of how long he’s been curled under the length of chain at the center of small-sea. The metal collar is uncomfortable and stretched taut around his neck.

Sometimes he hears the start-stop rumble of voices.

When he had first curled up, they had been loud. Castiel could even recognize whose voice was whose, though he couldn’t hear the words. He knows Sam and Dean were shouting at each other. Jess would sometimes raise her voice too, and he thinks he heard the hollow boom of the door once. He doesn’t want to know what they were saying or who left, and he doesn’t want to know just how much Dean doesn’t want a fin-kin to feel this way for him.

It’s not like Castiel wants to feel like this. It’s not something he anticipated happening. He’d much rather not think of Dean as anything beyond one of the few humans that he can consider a friend. But being so close to Dean with the kin-connection had played against him. He fully blames their link for the pain in his chest now.

It’s the hardest decision he’s likely to ever make, but Castiel decides now – and he swears to himself he’ll stick to it this time – that he won’t touch Dean’s mind again. Even if Dean asks that he establishes the kin-connection, even if he gets mad when he refuses, Castiel won’t do it. He knows he can’t stand to feel Dean’s thoughts anymore.

Castiel can think of nothing good that would come of that. Dean would either keep his emotions closed off, and that would be almost as painful as not having the connection at all, or he wouldn’t and Castiel would be able to feel his disgust or his dislike for Castiel’s feelings. His chest constricts and his gills flutter at the thought of Dean hating him for not being able to control himself.

As if being a prisoner wasn’t bad enough, Castiel had to make matters worse and now he’s lost Dean again. Like he’d almost lost him before.

Castiel groans and shuffles around until he can fold his arms around his head. He doesn’t like thinking about this. It’s annoying and it hurts and he wishes there was a way he could just forget anything ever happened. And even if it causes a spike of pain high in his chest, he wishes he could forget Dean. He wishes he never met him or started the kin-connection with him.

He never wants to see Dean again.

The water vibrates with another thud. Castiel thinks it might be the door, but he’s not going to check. He doesn’t want to accidentally see Dean. The splash and sudden burst of activity in the water has Castiel sitting up quickly, the chain catching on his back-fans as he flares them defensively.

A school of fish dart around by the front wall. On the other side of the glass Sam is handing the bucket back to Bobby. Jess is standing by the door and holding a dart-gun. She looks on edge, with her hair piled messily on her head. Castiel can’t help but notice that Dean is not in the room. The knot in his stomach twists with the familiar panic whenever Dean is gone.

Castiel knows he’s safe with Sam and Jess here. And he’s not even sure if Dean will want to protect him, or even if Dean will want to stay in the room anymore. He can’t imagine how uncomfortable Dean must feel knowing that the song Castiel sang to him twice is about love. And he has no intention of telling anyone the true meaning behind the lyrics.

Jess says something and gestures with the dart-gun. Sam immediately turns to the small-sea. Castiel catches his wide eyes for a brief moment before he looks away. He ignores the sharp rapping of Sam’s knuckles on the glass and he curls up again. He’s still full from earlier and the thought of eating again – ever again – make his stomach turn.

He folds the end of his tail over his head, his fans and fins spreading to cover as much of his arms and shoulders as they can. The knocking continues for a few minutes and it’s annoying, echoing sharply in the water. Castiel puts his hands over his side-fans, trying to block it out. He’ll talk to Sam or Jess again, but not now. Right now he wants to be left alone.

There’s the stuttering sound of voices before the thud of the door and Castiel hopes it means Bobby left. He doesn’t think about how he really hopes that it’s Dean returning. That’s something – someone – he shouldn’t be thinking about anymore. Because it’s wrong. Castiel had thought that once before, but Dean and his warmth and his smiles and his kindness had all but obliterated that. He doesn’t even know how he thought it would be okay to think it wasn’t wrong.

He knows the thought Dean hadn’t finished. The one he changed to hurt Castiel less. The problem isn’t that Dean is human. It’s that Castiel isn’t. And it’s something that Castiel has known since before he thought it even remotely acceptable to have any kind of feelings for Dean. But it still hurts.

The sounds of the fish sliding through the water is soothing to the riotous circle of Castiel’s thoughts. It lulls him into a soft, dozing state. It’s not quite a sleep, because Castiel is still aware of the steady thrum of the boat and the quiet tapping of Sam or Jess moving around the room, and when they turn down the lights just a bit. But his mind drifts to a place where he doesn’t think of anything, a buzzing nothingness devoid of Dean or the colony and the home Castiel misses more than he has words for.

He loses himself like this until he jerks back to reality and silence. A silence like in the deep during the night, when Castiel can’t even hear the sentries on duty and the other fin-kin have settled to sleep. The fish still move, sending vibrations through the water, but beyond that there is nothing. The boat is quiet.

Castiel lifts his head to find Sam sitting up in the bed and Jess looking at the door from her place in front of a computer. Her forehead his wrinkled in what Castiel thinks looks like concern. He reaches for her mind and Jess flinches at the first touch. Her surprise is the brightest thought to flood through the newly opened connection. Castiel pushes it aside and brushes his confusion over the wash of questions she tries to ask.

Jess shakes her head and shrugs. Worry flickers along the edges of her mind. (We don’t know what’s going on, but the engines have stopped. That means the ship isn’t moving.)

Elation softens the heavy weight that had settled in his chest. If the boat isn’t moving, it means Castiel isn’t getting any farther from the colony. He doesn’t know what this might mean for them right now, but to him it is good news.

Sam gets up and he takes out his phone. He frowns and starts poking at it. Castiel watches him absently while he thinks. He needs to know the circumstances behind the boat stopping. If it is an unexpected happening, then the guards on deck and perhaps whomever Lilith left in charge could be distracted by trying to repair whatever made the boat stop in the first place. If he could get Sam to cut the chain and get the chip out of his back, they could potentially make his escape now. Armed with the dart-guns and the mentality of shooting first, Sam and Jess might be able to get Castiel to the deck.

He grabs at Sam’s mind excitedly, tugging at his thoughts until he has his attention. Castiel pushes his plan through the kin-connection, over riding anything that Sam tries to say. He knows that the images, his emotions, and the small use of human words he hass, are all coloured with desperation. He wants Sam to say ‘yes’, to say that now is the perfect time to escape so he can get away.

Away from Dean.

(I wouldn’t risk it now, not when we don’t know what’s going on.) Sam is chewing on his bottom lip, looking from his phone to Castiel. (I’m contacting Pamela to find out if she knows.)

Castiel ruffles his fins in irritation and starts swimming in tight circles. (How long until she answers?)

Sam only shrugs and he flat out refuses when Castiel asks if he or Jess could go find out. It’s too dangerous for any of them to be alone. Whether it’s in the room or out on the boat. They have no way of knowing if or when Alistair might do something. Castiel barely catches himself from asking if Dean could be in trouble, since he left on his own before. If he brings up Dean now, who knows what questions Sam or Jess might ask. He’s already pointedly ignoring the cautious prod of Jess’s thoughts and the trembling curiosity he can feel leaking through their connection.

(Castiel.) Sam stands, coming closer to the glass-wall. (About earlier –)

He flares his fans and bares his teeth. (I don’t want to talk about it.)

A frown pulls at Sam’s mouth and he rubs his hand over his face. (Well sometimes people have to talk about things they don’t want to. But if you want to be childish and shut the connection again, go ahead, I can’t stop you. I don’t even want to ask you anything about what happened. I just want to tell you a few things.)

Castiel pauses in his swimming, drifting to a stop. His fins flicker in mild interest. (What?)

Sam takes a deep breath, his chest swelling, and he looks over at Jess. He says a few words to her, words that neither of them translate for him, and she nods. Castiel thinks it looks like she’s giving him permission to continue. He’s so distracted by thinking about why Sam would need Jess’s consent for anything he would need to tell Castiel, that he almost misses what Sam actually says.

(We think Dean is crazy about you.)

His fans and fins flare wide in surprise. Even his gills flutter wildly and Castiel finds himself gasping for a proper rush of water through them. He stares at Sam until he elaborates. Sam shifts on his feet before taking a few steps back and sitting on the edge of the bed.

Rather than use words, Sam starts dragging up memories. Each one is an image of Dean looking at Castiel when his back is turned, or when he’s busy doing something else, or when he’s sleeping. Some of the memories are days old, but most are far more recent. The softening of Dean’s features from the older memories changes the more current they get. Castiel thinks he looks confused, like he doesn’t understand what he’s looking at.

(He talks about you pretty much all the time. If he’s not talking about machines, his car, or his guitar, he’s talking about you. He’ll tell us about everything; the things he’s talked about with you – whether it’s something I should know as a scientist or not – or the little things you do when you swim or something. He never shuts up about any of it. The last time I saw him like this was before I met Ruby and he was starting to go out with the only person I’ve ever seen him care for that wasn’t me or Bobby. She’s the only serious relationship he’s ever really had and my whole thing with the drugs kind of ruined it for him.)

The tightness returns to Castiel’s chest, but it feels different now. The ache is there, but it’s like it hurts less. It’s almost feels like a pleasant burn. It feels a little like hope. Castiel settles with his tail curled under him, watching Sam and waiting for him to continue.

Sam starts turning his phone over and over in his hands. Jess leaves the computer to come sit beside him. She slips her arm around his waist and leans her head against his shoulder. Immediately, Sam puts one arm around her and he looks back up at Castiel.

(I don’t know if you meant to do it earlier, but I heard through you what Dean said. It’s what we fought about before he stormed out. I know he sounded harsh, and you probably don’t want to hear this from me, but we… I think he was trying to protect you both.)

Castiel snorts and shakes his head. (He told me it was wrong.)

(If I recall correctly, you said the same thing to him a few days ago, didn’t you?) One of Sam’s eyebrows quirk upward and Castiel immediately hates that small movement.

(Because it’s true.) He ignores the twinge around his heart the thought gives him. (He’s human. I’m fin-kin. We may have similar characteristics, but we are two very different species. And he called my emotions ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. I don’t even know what that is!)

Incredulous surprise flickers brightly from Sam and he shakes his head. (It could be considered that if Dean was abusing you or something, but he’s not. If you were building strong emotional connections with Lilith or Alistair instead, that would be Stockholm Syndrome.)

(I’d rather tear off my own fins.) Castiel shudders at the thought of liking either of those two.

(I don’t doubt it. But, Castiel, what I’m trying to get at is… As we get you back into the ocean Dean is probably never going to see you again, right?)

Castiel swallows around a sudden lump in his throat and the spines of his fans flex. He doesn’t like thinking about that. Of course he wants to get back to the sea and return to his family. But it makes a fluttery kind of panic kick against his sternum to think he’ll never see Dean again. Castiel doesn’t meet Sam’s eyes. He looks down, watching as he smoothes his hand over his scales.

(Dean’s doing what he always does. He’s doing what I’ve seen him do over and over again with people who try to get closer to him when he knows he can’t be what they want.)

(Stop.) Castiel folds his fingers into a fist, claws pressing painfully into his palm. (I can’t stay here and Dean can’t come with me. I never should have allowed myself to feel like… like this. It’s wrong and pointless and you’re not helping. You’re attempting to convince me that Dean was purposefully trying to hurt me so I would stop thinking of him like this, in hopes that it will hurt us less when I get free.)

He hunches his shoulders and his back-fans rustle and allows his anger to flood the connection with his thoughts. (You’re trying to convince me that Dean cares for me as I care for him and what you are doing is worse than Dean’s efforts to hurt me.)

Sam slumps, remorse pushing against the tide of Castiel’s frustrations. (I didn’t mean to – I just didn’t wanted to –)

(We wanted to make sure you weren’t angry, or hurting.) Jess’s thoughts slip through her connection with Castiel and he starts ins surprise. He’d forgotten that he was linked with her and he didn’t realize he’d been sharing his conversation with Sam with her too.

Castiel bares his teeth in a snarl, but his response is cut off by a loud crash that makes Sam and Jess jump. The noise trails off into a rumble before it fades entirely.

(What was that?) He pushes away from the floor of small-sea, twisting up to float uncertainly in the water.

(It sounded like thunder.) Sam stands and takes the dart-gun from Jess. He crosses the room to the door and unlocks it. He leads with the dart-gun when he looks out into the hallway. (Yeah, I can definitely hear the rain better out here. That could be why the engines cut out, they don’t want to fight the storm.)

Castiel rolls forward until he can press his hands to the glass front-wall. (What is thunder?)

Sam’s explanation about rapid expansions of air, pressure, temperature and sonic shock waves only leads to having to explain what lightening is. Castiel provides images of the bright-cracks that break the steady-blue during storms and he’s oddly pleased by Sam’s surprise that he knows what lightening is. He’s seen them spike down toward the sea during patrols. But he’s always been too deep to hear the rumble of thunder.

The door has only been closed for a few minutes and Sam and Jess are discussing on whether or not one of them should try sleeping in shifts when a loud bang makes them all jump, even Castiel. He watches the door warily when the banging repeats into a staccato knock. Jess stays behind the door when she opens it, Sam stands in front, dart-gun raised.

Dean brushes past the both the moment the door is opened. He ignores Sam’s questions and shrugs off his hand when he tries to stop him. His hair is wet and his clothing clings to him, heavy with water. He’s wearing a shirt that has no sleeves, but his left arm is covered in blue to well past his elbow. Castiel can see the shape of the blue-white ‘cast’ under this blue-sleeve that covers even his fingers. Dean stops only long enough to grab the bolt-cutters that are laying on the ledge before continuing around the corner of small-sea to the platform.

(What is on Dean’s arm?) Castiel brushes his curiosity across Sam’s mind.

(It’s a protective – uh – glove. You put it over casts and use a pump to suck the air from it to make it tight so water can’t get in. Either he was going to take a shower, or he put it on because he’s planning on being outside a lot more in the rain.)

Sam’s irritation seeps through the connection with his answer while confusion comes from Jess. She shuts and locks the door and they both follow after Dean. Castiel watches them inquisitively, flicking his tail lightly to coast through the water to keep in line with Sam and Jess. He’s only mildly surprised when Dean flips up the bars, but he slides back toward the center of small-sea when Dean tucks the long handles of the bolt-cutter through his belt and starts climbing over the glass-wall.

(Keep him out!) Castiel hisses and presses the thought against Sam’s mind. He flares his fans in warning, but it doesn’t stop Dean. (I don’t want him in here!)

Dean hesitates, precariously leaning over the edge of the glass,  when Sam relays Castiel’s message. He glances to his brother before looking back toward him. Castiel refuses to meet his eyes, glaring instead at the curve of his shoulder. He hisses again, baring his fangs and spreading the spines of his fans threateningly. For a moment, he thinks Dean might listen and drop back to the platform. But then Dean flexes his leg where it’s thrown over the glass and he tumbles into the water. Sam jumps out of the way of the splash and the fish scatter to the far side of small-sea.

Castiel follows them as far as his chain will allow. He doesn’t want Dean to be in the water with him. He doesn’t want him to come any closer. Dean needs to stay away from him if Castiel has any hopes of separating himself from the feelings he has for him. He swims in agitated little loops at the end of the chain, keeping it pulled taut against his throat, as he watches Dean take a few deep breaths and kick away from the wall.

Using the bars, Dean pulls himself to the center of small-sea. He lays on his back, face breaking the water through the bars where he takes another deep breath. Dean pushes himself away from the bars, sinking down a bit and twisting to face Castiel. He takes the bolt-cutter from its place at his hip and wraps one hand around the chain. Castiel stops moving, his next breath catching in his gills as Dean puts the crab-claw end against one of the chain’s links.

It takes a few attempts and Dean’s face is steadily turning red, but with one quick press of the handles together the chain snaps. A long length of it is still attached to Castiel, but he can swim freely in small-sea now. A rush of gratitude spreads warmth through Castiel’s chest, except there’s a twist in his stomach because Dean hasn’t once asked him to establish the kin-connection.

Dean breaks the surface again to take several gasping breaths that even Castiel can hear. Castiel swims a quick lap around the perimeter of the small-sea, skirting the glass and trailing the chain after him. It’s in his peripheral vision that he sees Dean gesturing for him to come closer.

Castiel drifts to a stop and shakes his head. “No.”

The water muffles his voice, but even if Dean doesn’t understand the sound, he certainly understands the shape of the word on Castiel’s lips. He rolls his eyes and his lips press into a thin line as bubbles stream out his nose. Dean motions for him to come closer again and points at his wrist. Castiel doesn’t understand the gesture.

(It means time is an issue.) Sam provides, a tentative hope etching along the edges of his thoughts.

He’s not pleased to do it, but Castiel swims closer while Dean is taking another breath. He circles under his legs, glancing up every few seconds.  Dean makes a muffled noise in his throat and pushes against the bars to sink lower. He points at Castiel, then at the bolt-cutters before waving  vaguely at his own neck.

Castiel tightens the circle and arches his back, rising up until he’s within reach. The blue-skin covering Dean’s arm feels weird when it touches Castiel’s neck. Dean tries several times to work the cold metal of the bolt-cutters pincer under the chain, but he keeps losing his hold as he rises and falls in the water with his kicking. He makes the displeased noise again and keeps trying.

The bubbles of Dean’s air have slowed and his face is turning a startling shade of red. Castiel doesn’t like it and he covers Dean’s hands with his own to stop him. He pushes Dean toward the surface until he finally takes a breath. Castiel knows that Dean is trying to cut the chain from his neck, but he can’t stay still long enough to get the leverage he needs. The only option he can think of for helping him is one he wishes he didn’t have to consider.

Dean jerks in surprise and stares at Castiel with wide eyes when he wraps his tail around Dean’s legs. He reaches up to hold the bars and understanding crawls over Dean’s expression when he doesn’t sink. Castiel holds him steady and tilts his head back to give Dean the space he needs. The chain pulls tight against his neck before the bolt-cutter snaps the links.

Castiel  rubs at his throat while Dean breathes. Dean lets go of the bolt-cutters and lets them sink to the floor below. He grabs Castiel’s shoulders, fingers brushing the top spine of his back-fans, and points to where Sam and Jess are waiting on the platform. Castiel  uncurls his tail from around Dean’s legs and starts to pull away, but the fingers on his shoulder tighten.

Dean waves his hand between his chest and Castiel’s and points at the wall again. He frowns, knowing what Dean wants but torn between helping him or not. He would need to touch Dean more to take him to the wall and he doesn’t want to. Even in the cool waters Dean’s touch is warm and addicting.

His poison induced dream forces it’s way to the forefront of his mind and Castiel fights the urge to squirm his way under Dean’s shirt and tuck himself against his chest to soak in the heat of his skin. He twists away from Dean’s hand, curling backward and diving out of his reach. He circles Dean again before veering away to the glass-wall by the platform.

A frustrated noise muffles through the water and Castiel watches over his shoulder as Dean half-swims, half-drags himself by the bars across small-sea to the wall. Dean hooks an arm over the edge of the glass when he finally reaches it and his irritation is plain on his face. He says a few quick words to Sam and Jess before he starts trying to pull himself up over the wall without putting pressure on his left arm.

Sam and Jess hover awkwardly, trying to help by reaching over the edge to pull at his shirt or what parts they can reach. After a few moments, Castiel takes an amused pity and helps by diving under Dean’s feet and pushing up against them. As soon as Dean is standing on the platform, he turns around and makes the same ‘come here’ gesture as before and points at his wrist.

Castiel turns his eyes to Sam. (Why?)

Dean makes a sharp, aborted move with his hand when asked Castiel’s question. Surprise bursts across both connections with Sam and Jess. They both translate Dean’s words and a tumbling spiral of hope burns bright through Castiel’s chest.

“Because we’re getting him out now.”

Castiel wastes no time sealing his gills and breaking the surface. He coughs the water from his lungs as he struggles to lift himself over the glass-wall. He’s too excited to care that Dean is the one who takes the brunt of his weight. He leans heavily on Dean’s shoulders while Sam and Jess help to pull his tail over the rim of the small-sea without pinching his adipose fins.

The thunder rumbles every few minutes and it’s louder outside of small-sea. Without being suspended in the water, Castiel notices now that the boat is rocking.

“I should carry him.” Sam says, hesitating to let go of Castiel’s tail. “You won’t be able to carry him for long with that arm.”

“I’ll be fine. Just get the spare gun and lead the way. Jess can help me if I start having any trouble.” Dean turns and Castiel lets him move him around until his back is being supported by his left arm and Dean can tuck his right under his tail. Castiel tightens his arms around Dean’s shoulders, trying to lift as much of his weight off of Dean’s broken arm as he can.

Sam has more objections that stream through the kin-connection, but they cut off at a look from Dean. Castiel doesn’t understand the look, or the hard set of Dean’s eyes. Jess and Sam steady him as he gets down from the platform with Castiel in his arms. The first few steps are wobbly and Dean shuffles Castiel against his chest until he’s in a more comfortable hold.

“What about the Alistair?” Jess asks while she gets another dart-gun from under the mattress of their bed.

“Him and Gordon are gonna be busy.” Dean’s words are barely louder than grunts as he walks to the door.

“With that?” Caution tinges Sam’s thoughts as he translates for Castiel.

Dean grins and tilts his head toward the door. “You’ll see. C’mon, let’s go. Pam and Bobby are waiting.”

Confusion flashes bright from both Sam and Jess, but neither question it further. Sam opens the door and leans out into the hall with the dart-gun held ready. Castiel can’t see her, but he hears Pamela’s voice drifting on the air.

“Nobody else is on this floor, Sam. Get your asses in gear before we lose our window of opportunity!”

Sam and Jess lead the way out into the hall. Jess looks toward the elevator. “How do you know?”

“Breakfast time.” Dean steps out into the hall and the door beeps shut behind them. “We made sure they’re in the mess hall.”

Pamela is waiting at the very end of the hall by the door. She has an odd looking phone in her hand that has a long stick pointing out of the top of it. Jess falls into step behind Dean while Sam leads them toward Pamela. They both hold their dart-guns ready.

“But we have to go through the lunch room, how are we going to –”

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head, Winchester.” Pamela grins and winks. She holds the stick-phone up to her mouth and Castiel’s hears a crackle like the speakers in small-sea. “They’re here. Blow it, Bobby.”

There’s silence and then another crackle. “Roger. Hold on you to your asses and don’t drop your mermaid.”

Castiel huffs at the word and mutters “fin-kin” under his breath. Dean’s laugh is a soft puff that rolls over his side-fan and it sends unwanted tingles dancing under his scales. He feels Dean tense slightly, knees bending. There’s a few moments of anxious silence before the entire boat rocks violently and a horrific noise that sounds like thunder and the screech of metal on metal rips the air. It hurts Castiel’s head to hear and he presses his face into Dean’s neck, trying not to tremble.

“What the hell was that?!” Sam’s shout is loud and Pamela hisses at him to be quiet.

Dean wobbles slightly, but he doesn’t fall over. “Calm down, Sammy, it was only the back-up engine. Bobby just set off some make-shift explosives we built with shit from around the boat.”

Jess’s voice is eerily calm, a paradox in comparison to the chaotic mess of her thoughts. “You built a bomb and set it off in the engine room?”

“Sure did. Bobby and I came up with this beauty of a backup plan just in case we lucked out on a day like today. We hit jackpot with Lilith on shore leave thanks to angelfish.” Pamela says, her voice muffled. When Castiel looks, she’s got her ear pressed to the door. “And there are the footsteps!” She steps back and lifts the stick-phone, staring at it pointedly. “C’mon Bobby, baby, give me those clicks.”

A moments later, the stick-phone crackles and there are three very distinct clicks. Pamela shoulders open the door and Castiel can see metal bars, and tiered platforms leading up and down. The air is an odd colour and a bad smell wafts through as Dean follows Sam into the stairwell. His first breath of the bad-air makes Castiel cough hard. It burns his throat and makes his eyes water.

Dean curses and staggers on the first stair. “Shit. Just hold your breath or something, Cas. Anyone got something to cover his face with?”

Pamela stops them long enough to throw her white coat over Castiel’s head. Panic blooms bright and hard in his chest as she tucks it tight against his chest and shoulders. He shakes his head, trying to knock it off without letting go of Dean.

“Don’t, Cas. Leave it, please.” Dean’s voice is muffled by the white coat, but Sam still shares the words and translate for him.

(We don’t want you to get sick off the smoke. We’ve been around it before, so we can handle it a little better than you, but it’s not good to breathe it for long.) Jess’s explanation is ringed with her anxiety and Castiel knows she must be checking behind them constantly.

Castiel feels the press of Dean’s face against the white coat, his lips moving over his temple through the fabric. He’s whispering and neither Sam or Jess translate because they can’t hear them. Castiel only recognizes a few of the words, but the reassuring tone makes that light, floating feeling in his chest do summersaults around his ribs. “Almost there, Cas. One more flight of stairs, through the mess hall, and then you’ll be home free.”

Pamela’s voice comes from somewhere not to far above Castiel’s head. “Room is cleared out, but I see patrols on deck.”

“Anyone near the door?” Sam’s voice is close to her.

“Not really, but they’ll be able see us through the windows and angelfish here is pretty damn noticeable.”

Jess speaks up from behind them. “Can we hit the lights?”

Dean stumbles slightly on a step. “Not if we don’t want to wave a ‘look at us, we’re up to something’ flag in their faces. Sam, you go out first. Get them with the tranqs. Soon as you’ve got the guys closest to the door, we’ll make a break for it. All we gotta do is get Cas over the rails and we’re golden.”

Castiel’s arms tighten and he tilts his head until he noses against what he thinks might be Dean’s cheek. “Dean. Tag.”

“I know, I know. We’ve got it covered don’t worry.” Dean stops climbing and his chest is rising and falling hard and quick against Castiel’s side.

The white coat is pulled away and Castiel blinks against the lights. They’re standing on a wide platform at the top of the stairs. Dean is leaning his hips back against one of the bars lining the edges and there’s sweat gathered on his temples and in his hairline. Jess hands the coat to Pamela and she puts it back on. Sam is nowhere to be seen.

Pamela is standing in the doorway again and the door is open only partially, enough for her to stare out into the room on the other side. Castiel can’t see much through the crack, but he sees long ledges with even lower ledges tucked close. There are disks full of uneaten food laying scattered across them. The smell of the ‘smoke’ is overwhelmed by the scents of so many different things Castiel doesn’t even know what they are, but they make the hinges of his jaw twinge and he can feel an increase of saliva in his mouth.

“What’s Sam doing?” Jess leans closer to Pamela. Castiel thinks she’s trying to see over her head. “If he doesn’t hurry, someone is going to see us on the cameras. Alistair isn’t going to be entertained for long by the engine issue once he tells Bobby to go look at it.”

“If he can find him. Or get out of the room.” Dean’s breathing is evening out and he only winces slightly as he hefts Castiel higher against his chest. “We’ve been having trouble getting that door to stay open, y’know? Sticks something awful when it swings shut all on its own. Good thing that room has decent ventilation.” He grins and waggles his eyebrows at Castiel when he notices him looking.

Castiel quickly drops his gaze, turning away to watch Jess and Pamela. Dean’s fingers tighten over the lines of colour on his side and against the scales on the underside of his tail. Castiel gives a disgruntled little noise when Dean bounces him once in his arms to resettle him in a better grip. He shoots Dean a small frown before looking away again.

“Cas –” Dean starts softly, barely more than a whisper. Castiel’s side-fans twitch and angle toward him, but he doesn’t turn to look. He feels Dean shift his weight and the soft inhalation before he’s going to speak.

Pamela hisses, cutting of anything Dean was going to say. “Oh Christ, he’s talking to one of them. Maybe one of us should go over there?”

Dean sighs and shifts again, as if he can’t get comfortable leaning against the bar. “You go, Pam. The guards know about our situation and they’re going to get suspicious if he’s walking about alone. Sam’ll shoot as soon as the guard’s attention is on you.”

She nods and slips out through the door. Jess immediately takes her place. The tip of Castiel’s tail keeps twitching and his fingers flex over his arm and against Dean’s shoulder. His chest is a hectic mess, filled to bursting with the excitement that he might finally be free soon. It’s practically a vibration thrumming high and tight behind his sternum.

He hears Dean murmur his name softly again. There’s a quiet emotion in his voice, something Castiel thinks might be regret. It dampens the flighty feeling that flutters at his insides and he can feel a heavy weight settle in his gut. Castiel closes his eyes and takes a steadying breath, steeling his resolve before looking back at Dean.

He meets his eyes and shakes his head once. “No, Dean.” Castiel begs without words for Dean to understand, to not say anything else. He’s so close to his freedom and if Dean apologizes, if he tells Castiel anything even remotely like what Sam told him before, it’ll be that much harder to let go and sink into the deep.

Anything Dean might have said is lost to the next moment when Jess throws the door open and calls from them to follow. Dean staggers forward and Castiel holds tightly as he follows after her. The room is longer than Castiel expected and he doesn’t have time to scrutinize the area before they’re out on the deck and for the first time he feels something cold and invisible press against him. It’s like the world is breathing and its breath is gusting over him, driving hard pellets of rain into his skin.

Two males are laying on the deck not far from where Sam is standing. Pamela is close beside him, shielding her eyes from the rain and the world-breath. Castiel can hear shouting behind them and a heavy thud. When he looks, Jess is lowering her dart-gun and there is a female laying curled at the base of another set of stairs leading to levels above that Castiel didn’t even know about.

“Get him over here!” Pamela waves at them and Dean moves to her quickly. Castiel sees a flash of metal in her hand and he wonders briefly where she was hiding such a long needle.

He scrabbles to keep his hold on Dean’s shoulders when Dean lets go of his tail. It drops to the floor and Dean wraps his arms around Castiel’s waist, lifting him higher. Castiel finds himself practically face to face with Dean while his back is presented to Pamela. Her fingers are like the floating ice from the fish-box against his fans as she pushes them aside.

Dean’s holding Castiel’s eyes with his own, but he turns his head to shout over his shoulder. “Keep an eye on the upper decks!”

Sam and Jess are too distracted to translate the words now and everything is nonsense to Castiel.

“We don’t have enough ammo to shoot blindly into the rain, Dean!” Sam calls back through the rain.

Jess’s voice sounds farther away than before and Castiel wants to look up and make sure he can see her, but Dean is saying something with his eyes that Castiel can’t read. “Take the guards’ guns!”

“This might hurt a bit.” Pam says behind him, hand smoothing over his shoulder blade moments before he feels the press of the needle. “We should have done this inside.”

“No time.” Dean mumbles.

“We had plenty of time, you just didn’t want –”

Focus, Pam.”

Castiel hisses at the bite of the needle and he squeezes his eyes shut, trying hard not to dig his claws into Dean’s back where he’s tangled his fingers in his shirt. He bites back a whimper at the burn as it presses under his skin. Dean shifts slightly until he’s only holding Castiel to him with one arm. The other, the one with the weird feeling blue-skin, slides up to the back of his neck. There’s a sharp twinge of pain at the base of his skull when his fingers push up into Castiel’s hair and encourages him to tip his head down until their foreheads are leaning together.

He can feel the gentle gust of Dean’s breath against his lips and with his eyes closed it’s almost exactly like the poison-dream. His tail twists and curls where it hangs to the floor, the end dragging back and forth over Dean’s feet. Castiel bites his lip when he thinks he actually feels the moment that the needle finds the chip but everything is becoming a numb burn and he can’t really tell.

“Almost got it – don’t move now.”

Pamela’s words are nothing to Castiel’s side-fans. But he feels like the end of the needle moves in his back, spreading out and stretching in the muscle. The world-breath is pushing cold against the back of his neck and Dean’s breath is warm over his mouth when he gasps in pain again. He feels more than he hears the whisper of his name and he’s not even sure when it actually happens but Dean’s rain slick lips are sliding under his own.

Castiel curls his tail around Dean’s hips. He breaks from the kiss for a ragged breath before fumbling back in with quick presses of his lips. Between each one he mumbles nonsense in his own language. He doesn’t use the kin-connection because this isn’t something Sam or Jess should hear. Even though Dean won’t understand it, Castiel tells him – on whispered breaths between kisses – about the poison-dream and the ache it leaves in his heart knowing that Dean won’t be there when he returns to the colony.

When Sam shouts Jess’s name and the kin-connection explodes brightly with a rush of his fear and anger, they break apart so suddenly Dean nearly drops Castiel. Pamela objects when Dean turns, moving Castiel with him. The sharp twinge in his back as the needle is pulled out harshly is nothing compared to the fear that makes his brain turn wispy, red creeping in at the edges of his vision. Jess is laying at the bottom of the stairs, slumped over the body of the other female guard. The rain makes it hard to tell, but Castiel is almost certain there’s a dart sticking out of her stomach.

Sam brushes past and Dean staggers back a few steps before he catches himself. Pamela grabs at Sam’s arm, pulling him to stop. The world-breath blows hard, sucking away their words and making Dean rock where he stands. Sam is struggling to get Pamela to let him go without hurting her, but she is steadfast and tugging him back.

She shouts something that Castiel thinks is a name, one that sounds familiar, and points at the stairs. Castiel follows her finger and his fans flare in surprise at the unknown man standing on the last step. He’s looking down at Jess dispassionately and twirling a dart-gun around his finger.

As soon as he sees him, Sam lifts his own weapon. There’s a constant stream of Jess’s name through the kin-connection, entwined with worry and rage and the name ‘Azazel’. Castiel knows he’s heard it before but he can’t remember exactly where or when. When the man looks up, a twisted grin on his face, Castiel would almost swear his eyes flash yellow in the light from the window.

“Howdy boys! Taking the pet for a morning walk are you?” He catches the spin of the dart-gun and levels it at Castiel, or maybe at Dean. “You can go ahead and put the Beast down now, Beauty.  I’m afraid you won’t be getting away that easy.”

“Put down your gun, Azazel. And I swear to God if Jess is hurt, you’ll be chum before the week is out.” Sam’s words are almost as cold as his thoughts.

Pamela is standing in the space between Sam and Dean, the needle hanging loose in her fingers while one hand is stilling curled tight in Sam’s shirt. She tugs at it to get his attention. “Might want to rethink that decision. We’re a bit out matched here, don’t y’think?”

Castiel isn’t surprised to find that they’re surrounded when he looks around. There are guards pointing their own dart-guns down at them from the levels above and there are a few standing behind him. Dean’s back is to the railing and beyond that is the rolling dark of the sea, hard to distinguish from the black of the sky in the stinging rain.

He can feel Dean slide back slowly, barely noticeable with the rocking of the boat. Azazel makes a clicking noise and shakes his head, stepping closer. “Ah-ah-ah, Dean-o. Don’t go getting any stupid ideas now. You and yours are already in some deep shit and Lilith is going to eat your still beating hearts if you actually dump that thing overboard.”

Dean doesn’t look away from Azazel. “Pam?”

She lifts the needle and shields her eyes to look at the end. The smile barely manages to twitch at the corner of her lips before Dean is spinning. A sharp cry of surprise rips from Castiel’s throat when he hits the railing. It catches him hard in the hip but Dean keeps shoving him over. Castiel catches a glimpse of Sam and Pamela staggering before his world tilts.

He hits the water at a jarring angle that pulls at his fans painfully, but the rush of fresh sea water over his gills and the lack of walls around him is more disorienting than anything else. It takes a few moments of aimless floating before it finally clicks.

He’s free.

Castiel has no idea where he is, but he has his freedom. He could turn toward home and swim and he won’t ever hit another glass-wall again. He could dive into the deep until there is no more light but his own and he would never again have to see by the human’s fake bright-pearls.

He breathes deep and crows his delight, twisting in thrilled circles that carry him under the boat and passed the helicopter-like blades that don’t move in the water. He turns his tail to the surface and rolls in excited summersaults toward the deep until a scent catches his attention, and something catches his eye.

His tail locks up, and his fans flatten in horror. Lightning flashes bright in the dark steady-blue and illuminates the shape of a human in the water. He’s not moving and the scent of blood is light, but he can easily detect it – as easily as any shark will. Castiel doesn’t know these waters, he doesn’t know if any of them inhabit this area. And he knows the smell of that blood.

Castiel tears at the water with his hands, fingers spread wide for his webbing to catch as he paddles wildly. It adds just that little burst of speed to the thrashing of his tail. He doesn’t even stop to check if Dean is alright. He crashes into him at full speed, dragging him back toward the surface. He has no idea how long he’s been in the water or if he’s breathed any of it.

He forces Dean above the surface, his fins rolling to keep them from sinking as Dean’s head lolls against his shoulder. Castiel brushes away the few darts sticking out of his back. He doesn’t know what to do to make sure Dean is breathing or how to help him breath if he isn’t. He’s relieved beyond words when Dean coughs violently and gasps for breath all on his own.

Castiel looks up at the boat, drifting not too far away from where they float. He can see Azazel leaning against the railing and waving lazily with one hand. Azazel points toward the part of the boat this is wide and flat, like the end of the toothpaste container. It’s the same end that the helicopter-like blades were located under and Castiel thinks that might be the back of the boat.

He slips behind Dean, pulling his back to his chest. He loops his arms under Dean’s and swims backwards to ensure his head stays above water. With the rolling waves and the falling rain, it takes several long minutes before Castiel reaches the back of the boat. There’s a long flat platform dipping in and out of the water as the waves rock the ship. Castiel eyes it apprehensively, especially when a door in the wall behind the platform opens and Azazel is crouching there.

“I doubt you can understand me, beast that you are, but I’ll give you an ultimatum, yeah?” Azazel points at the both of them and then over his shoulder. “If you want him to be brought back on the boat, you need to come too. And you’ll be tranq-ed just as nice and pretty as your friends. How’s that sound?”

Castiel hisses, fans flaring. He shouts over the roar of the world-breath. “Help Dean!”

“Yeah, sure, whatever you say bright eyes. But you too. No guarantee I won’t shove him back overboard if you try and swim away.”

It is entirely too frustrating to try and figure out what Azazel is saying. Dean’s breathing is labored against his cheek and the sea is sucking the heat from his body. Castiel growls and he ducks below the water to chirp a few echoes, checking to make sure no sharks are coming. Satisfied, he rises again, and inspects Dean to ensure he is breathing. After that, he reaches out and brutally seizes at Azazel’s mind. Castiel keeps himself separated from the connection and he takes great pleasure in how Azazel reels back.

(Save. Dean.)

Azazel pulls himself up to the door, one hand pressing hard to his forehead. He struggles against the onslaught of Castiel’s hatred, trying to cope with the kin-connection. It’s shaky at first, but Azazel manages to provide an image of Dean safe on the boat and Castiel curled next to him. Next he gives an image of Dean alone and Castiel in the water, quickly followed by Dean being pushed back into the sea.

Castiel bares his teeth in a snarl. He understands all too clearly. If he’s to have his freedom, it would mean death for Dean. He almost wishes that the decision would harder to make. He uses his hip to buoy Dean above the waves, his tail lashing by his legs.

(Dean, Sam, Jess, Pamela, Bobby – none of them are to be harmed.) Castiel drifts closer to the platform, but still far enough that they risk losing him if he gets poisoned again.  He spreads his fans to their most aggressive width, and brightens his glow until it is nearly blinding. (You will not make me sleep. I will watch over them and ensure their safety. If you do put me to sleep and I wake to them dead or gone, I will destroy your mind worse than anything I have done to Lilith. I will shred your thoughts until there is nothing left and you are but a husk of a human. I will tear apart your boat until I find them, rending flesh from bone and thought from brain.)

The promise of his rage courses dangerously through the kin-connection and Azazel visibly winces, both hands holding his head now.

(Am I understood?)

He nods repeatedly, grinning through the pain with a twist to his lips that drops a spike of unease down Castiel’s spine. “Yes, yes, whatever makes you happy. I’m getting soaked in this miserable weather, so how about you two get your tails up here now, hm?”

Azazel moves aside and someone appears with two braids of rope connected by small flat pieces that Castiel recognizes as the not-glass when he touches it. He weaves his hand around the ropes and the humans on the boat pull until Castiel and Dean are on the platform. Castiel pushes Dean toward the door and watches carefully, hissing whenever it looks like anyone might do Dean wrong.

He keeps a firm grip on Azazel’s mind, carefully watching every twitch and wince whenever he presses hard at it with his anger. Castiel refuses to let the humans touch him and he lifts and pulls himself through the door on his own, the fans of his tail slapping uselessly at the platform. Castiel drags himself next to Dean and folds his tail protectively over his hips, one hand on either side of his chest.

Castiel looks over his shoulder at the sea rolling beyond the door. His heart feels heavy, sitting tight and hard in his chest as the door closes. He shuts his eyes and drops his head, forehead resting against Dean’s chin.

He wonders if he’ll ever get to see the ocean again. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jess wakes first. Bobby is immediately across the room and by her bed at the first rustling of the blankets. Castiel looks up to watch their blurred images from the other side of the tank. He touches Jess’s mind just long enough to confirm that she isn’t hurt. She’s groggy and asking Bobby about Sam and about what happened.

Castiel ignores the rest of their conversation and leans his temple against the wall again. He’s curled in the corner of Dean’s bed and his tail is folded to support Dean’s shoulders while his head rests on the pillow in Castiel’s lap. He has one hand resting on Dean’s chest under the blankets that Bobby tucked tight around him.

Dean’s heartbeat is steady under his palm. It is reassuring, a reminder that Dean is still alive, despite the lack of thoughts when Castiel brushes over his mind. There are few emotions, and sometimes there are bright dances of dreams that don’t last very long. Dean’s dart-poison induced slumber is heavy and mostly dreamless and it makes Castiel nervous.

He had a very vivid dream when he had been poisoned. And when he checked on Sam or Jess, their minds suggested they were dreaming. If Pamela was here too, he would check on her. But Azazel had the guards take her to her room. He knows that Pamela is safe there. Castiel had not allowed Azazel to touch any of them until Bobby was found and Bobby had watched over the others during their transfer back to the rooms.

Castiel touches Dean’s forehead before smoothing his fingers back through his hair. There’s no physical or mental reaction to the brush of his fingers. According to the clock, they’ve been sleeping the whole day. Bobby leaves periodically to check on Pamela, staying away for half a rotation of the long hand on the clock before coming back to watch over Sam, Jess and Dean.

It worries Castiel that Alistair and Gordon haven’t shown their faces  yet. He knows that they’re out of the room that Bobby locked them in during the escape. When he asked, saying their names with his throat-voice, Bobby had only shrugged and shook his head. Even he doesn’t know and it makes Castiel twitch every time the door opens at Bobby’s return.

He watches Jess climb off the bed. Bobby helps her crawl over Sam and she staggers when she walks. Bobby leads her to one of the chairs by the computers. He pours water into a cup from a large, wavy-shaped bucket with a curved-pointed kind of spout on it and a handle on the side. Jess drinks it slowly, having to hold the cup with both hands to keep it steady.

Castiel hears his name in the words she mumbles while Bobby tilts her head back and checks her eyes. He looks over his shoulder and gestures with one hand, stepping out of the way for Jess to see. The disappointment is clear on her face and in the set of her shoulders as she slumps further in the chair. Castiel doesn’t need to touch her mind to know that Jess had been hoping he wasn’t going to be here when she woke up.

Bobby leaves again while Castiel is checking Dean’s temperature by slipping his fingers under the collar of the shirt he changed him into. The guards had carried Sam and Jess back to the room under Bobby’s watchful eye, but Castiel had refused to let anyone touch Dean. Castiel had been the one to bring Dean back to the tank room, curled tight around him on the trolley that Bobby had pushed. It had taken four of the guards and much maneuvering to get the trolley – with both Castiel and Dean on it – down the stairs.

The trolley had been taken away by Bobby not long after he’d helped Castiel transfer Dean onto the bed. But that was only after they had changed Dean out of his wet clothing. He had been shivering so badly and it had made him so worried. Castiel had gotten the clean clothes from the drawers, but Bobby had taken back the t-shirt to give him one that was thick and had long sleeves.

While Castiel had struggled to get Dean out of the blue-cast-sleeve and his shirt, Bobby had covered Dean’s  lap with a towel and removed his jeans and underpants. Bobby gave him another towel to rub Dean’s arms and his chest and hair with. Castiel had put the thick shirt on Dean before Bobby had even finished drying Dean’s legs under the cover of the towel. When Castiel had tried to help Bobby put the new pair of grey-pants on Dean, Bobby had stopped him from moving the towel and hadn’t let him help.

Castiel still doesn’t really understand why.

Dean’s skin is still cool and it worries Castiel. Is this normal for humans when they go in the ocean? Do they stay cold for this long all the time? He misses Dean’s heat. Castiel pushes the blankets back and leans over to check how cold Dean’s belly is. It’s much warmer than his collarbone, but still not like what Castiel knows. If he could, he would curl around Dean to keep him warm. But his own body is naturally cooler and Bobby had stopped him from trying to crawl under the blankets next to Dean.

Castiel replaces the blankets, making sure to fold the ends under Dean’s arms and sides to keep the warmth in. He hears the chair move and he looks up to watch Jess as she shuffles the chair across the room without getting up. She pulls up close to the bed and puts her hand on Dean’s forehead, and then on his cheeks and under his chin.

He reaches for her mind, keeping the touch light and gentle after her first wince. (Is Dean okay?)

(It seems like. His temperature isn’t high, like if he was fighting off a fever.) Jess pushes the chair to the end of the bed and pulls back the blanket to check his feet. (He’s not blue or anything and his toes are only a little cold. He’ll be fine. Body temperature drops with sleep.)

Castiel hums and runs his fingers through Dean’s hair again, the strands tickling against his webbing. (Are you alright?)

(I little foggy, but I’m fine.) She covers Dean’s feet again and when she looks up, Castiel drops his eyes. He doesn’t like the soft pity he can feel along the edges of her mind. (I’m sorry you didn’t get away after all of that.)

He shakes his head and puts up barriers against her emotions, to protect himself from her sympathies and her from his own. There’s been a hollow feeling in his chest since the last of the guards had left and he’d been left alone in the room while the others slept and Bobby was with Pamela. It’s an emptiness left by the taste of his freedom.

But he doesn’t regret his decision to save Dean’s life.

(Bobby said he doesn’t know what happened. Can you tell me?)

Castiel’s side-fans narrow and flatten. He doesn’t particularly want to talk about it, but he understand that they’ll want to know. And he fully expects Dean to be angry when he wakes up and finds Castiel still here.

He shares his memories with Jess from when Azazel shot her with the dart-gun to when Bobby was brought up on deck. When he’s done, she leans forward and takes his hands with her own.

(You could have swam away, but you saved us instead. Sam, Dean, Pam and I? We could be dead right now. Thank you, Castiel.) Jess squeezes his hands and Castiel tilts his head when she kisses his fingers before letting them go. (We’ll find a way to get you out again and keep us safe too. Maybe we can steal one of the lifeboats and get to the mainland.)

He lets a pulse of acknowledgement pass the walls around his mind, but he doesn’t share anything more. Castiel leans his head against the wall again and fits his hand under the blanket until he can feel Dean’s heartbeat again. Jess pushes herself, in the chair, back around small-sea and to the other side where she can check on Sam.

(Is he okay?)

(I would say so. He’s making scrunching faces so he might wake up soon.)

(Dean was hit by more than one dart. Will that affect him worse? Will it make him sleep longer?)

He barely makes out the shrug of her shoulders through the tank. (Our tranquilizers are a special mix that Pam concocted. They’re pretty strong and knock you out fast, but the trial tests we ran with them before we set sail came back with little to no side-effects. You were hit with two in Lilith’s room and you’re fine. From what we’ve seen so far, your biology is pretty similar to ours. So Dean might be out longer, and he’ll probably be pretty woozy afterward, but I don’t think he’ll get sick from it. Just be thankful the guards were using those instead of guns with actual bullets.)

(What are bullets?) Castiel drops the walls long enough for Jess to share her memories about all the different types of guns she knows.

He balks at the damage that the tiny metal bullets can do. His fingers slip over Dean’s chest to his shoulder and he can feel the welt from a dart through the thick fabric of his shirt. Castiel tries not to imagine what Dean’s shoulder would look like if he’d been hit by a bullet instead. Or whether or not he would even be alive.

The thought of Dean dead makes his stomach turn uncomfortably and his chest starts to feel too tight. For a few moments, it’s hard to breathe and his heart hurts. It takes Dean’s soft breaths brushing over his arm to calm the twisting horror in his chest. Castiel folds over and presses his forehead to Dean’s. He wants Dean to wake up, but at the same time he doesn’t because he knows Dean is going to be unhappy and he’s going to yell and Castiel doesn’t want to hear his loud words or feel his disappointment.

Bobby comes back with his arms full of white containers of food. He doesn’t leave Jess alone until she eats a bit, and Castiel refuses any of the food he offers to him. As good as the food tasted last time, Castiel is wary of how badly it had hurt his stomach.

He drops his connection with Jess and leans his head against the wall again. His fingers play absently through Dean’s hair and he watches the fish still swimming in small-sea for awhile. Hunger is pawing at his insides, but Castiel feels too tired and too sad to eat right now. He closes his eyes to the flash of coloured scales in the water and he tries to focus on anything that doesn’t remind him of his brief freedom or how it’s likely that Alistair is going to post guards outside the room now. He doesn’t even know when Lilith is going to return and he doesn’t expect anything good to happen after that.

Castiel focuses on the even rise and fall of Dean’s chest under his hand, and the quiet hush of his breathing. He doesn’t even notice when it lulls him to sleep.

x

The shifting of the bed wakes Castiel. He straightens and rubs the sleep from his eyes. The first thing he notices is that Dean is awake and sitting up, his back to Castiel. Sam is in a chair next to the bed and he’s talking softly, his hand on Dean’s shoulder. Dean is holding his head and his words are mumbled and too soft for Castiel to hear properly.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” Sam holds his hand in front of Dean, his thumb, index and middle finger extended.

Dean shoves his hand away and slides to the edge of the bed until his feet touch the floor. “Not now, Sammy. M’arm hurts and m’head hurts. Just want food and painkillers and booze.”

“One, we’re not supposed to have booze on the boat. Two, you already drank through your whiskey stash when you had that nightmare. Three, if you do have more alcohol then mixing it with those pain killers is the worst idea you’ve ever had.” Sam gestures to Jess and she gets up from her chair at the ledge to bring over some food. “We can give you food and painkillers. But that’s all, okay?”

“M’not a baby, Sam. I c’n take of m’self.” His back bows and Dean leans forward until his chest touches his thighs. “Y’can make the world stop spinnin’ though.”

“Just have something to eat. Bobby brought crackers. He’s checking on Pam now. She’s fine too, by the way.”

Dean makes a soft noise of acknowledgement and accepts a few small pale squares from Jess. She sits on the bed next to him and rubs his back while he crunches the crackers. Castiel doesn’t move or reach out to Dean. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he doesn’t want to say anything or do anything. Not yet. He reaches for Sam’s mind. His touch is accepted without issue and Sam translates what’s happened so far.

Jess gives Dean more of the squares and even though Dean grumbles unhappily at them, he keeps eating them. Sam pushes himself and the chair to the drawers and from the top one he pulls out a small white cylinder with a red end. He removes the red piece and shakes out a small white pearl. Castiel sits up straighter to watch him hand it to Dean. Jess gives him a cup and Dean puts the pearl in his mouth before drinking. He takes a deep breath when he gives the cup back and doubles over again to hold his head in his hands.

“You’ll be a little out of it for awhile.” Sam pats his shoulder. “But you’ll get back to normal soon enough.”

The noise Dean makes sounds like it should be a laugh, but it’swrong. It sounds forced and painful. Sam and Jess look at each other and Sam glances at Castiel too. Castiel’s fingers curl into the pillow and he frowns at Dean’s back. He doesn’t like the noise Dean made.

“Yeah, don’t think that’s gonna happen any time soon.” Dean mumbles into his hands.

“What are you talking about?”

“S’nothing.”

Jess looks from Dean to Castiel and back. “Does it have something to do with Castiel?”

Dean makes the same harsh laughing noise again and Castiel’s frown deepens. A heavy weight is settling in his chest again and Castiel wants to reach out and touch him. He wants to wrap himself around Dean and hold him tight until he won’t ever make that sound again.

“I don’t wanna talk about it. Just tell me how fuckin’ screwed we are here. S’Pam okay?”

Sam has the same worried frown on his face as Jess does. A pulse of concern etches the edges of the kin-connection, because Sam already told Dean about Pam. “She’s fine. Bobby’s with her now. And none of us have heard from Alistair or even Lilith yet. There are guards outside, but they’re not stopping Bobby from getting us food or us going to the washroom or anything.”

“S’weird.” Dean grumbles, rubbing a hand through his hair. “How long I been out?”

“It’s Tuesday. Early afternoon.”

“Fuck.” His shoulders hunch more and Sam has to lean in closer to hear the next words he mumbles. “Y’think he’s home yet?”

Castiel’s fans flare in surprise. Is Dean talking about him? Doesn’t he know that he’s still here? The same questions are flickering bright in Sam’s mind.

“Is… Dean, are you talking about Castiel?”

He nods. “If he swam nonstop, y’think he’d get back home from here since yesterday mornin’?”

Jess pats his shoulder. “Doubtful. We don’t have any idea how fast he can swim and we’re several days north from the islands. He would have had to swim more than twice our speed to get there in less than two days.”

Sam’s lips are pressed into a thin line and he keeps looking from Dean’s bowed head and back to Castiel. (I don’t think he knows you’re still here.)

(He didn’t see me when he woke up?)

(Doesn’t seem like it. You should… let him know that you’re still here, or something.)

Castiel bites his bottom lip and his fingers twitch over the pillow. (He’s going to be mad.)

(Probably, but it’ll just be worse the longer we don’t tell him and it’s going to be really bad if we wait until he turns around and sees you. And you’re literally right there, so, just… say ‘hi’.)

Dean sighs and sits back up, rolling his shoulders. “Well I gotta piss and I wanna see how deep we’re in the shit.”

Castiel uncurls his tail and brushes the end against Dean’s hip. Dean nearly slips off the edge of the bed with how quickly he turns around. He gently touches his mind, wary of the anger he’s sure to be feeling. There’s surprise, disbelief, and a few interesting curls of what Castiel thinks might be relief. But to his surprise, there is no rage.

(Hello, Dean.)

(Cas…?)

Sam clears his throat and stands up. He pulls Jess up with him. “We’re going to go see Pam. You two, uh, talk. We’ll be back soon.”

Dean glances back at them as they leave before turning back to  Castiel. (But you… I saw you hit the water. How are you – why are you –?)

Castiel’s fins ripple lightly, barely moving at all. He’s been out of the water for hours now and the spines of his fans creak when they flex. He looks down at his hands on the pillow. (You were in the water and Azazel wouldn’t take you back onto the boat unless I came too.)

(But… you were free. You were free,  Cas. You could have – you should have –)

(I should have left you to die?) He snorts and the end of his tail whips quickly across the bed between them.

There’s surprisingly little anger pulsing across Dean’s mind. The sleep-fog is still heavy over his thoughts, but Dean’s emotions are contrasting. They come in waves of disbelief, then happiness, displeasure, then relief. Castiel looks up sharply when Dean stands and watches closely as he stumbles slightly.

(What are you doing?)

(You’re too dry.) Dean gets the bucket from the door and goes to the platform to fill it.

Castiel slides to the floor and waits there for Dean to return with the full bucket and the cup. Dean doesn’t look at him as he starts pouring the water over his scales. The water is cool and it’s almost relaxing to feel it pool in the folds of his fins. Dean abandons the cup and starts using his hands again, working the water into the soft adipose until it’s pliant and they ripple without issue under his touch.

(You were free.)

He hums in acknowledgement and leans forward so Dean can pour water over his back-fans. (And you would have died if I’d left. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make. You shouldn’t belittle my choice.)

(I’m not – just… you were free. You were out and you were in the water and it’s my fault you’re stuck here. If I hadn’t gone over, you would be long gone.) Guilt makes the edges of the kin-connection tremble and Dean’s thoughts twist in unhappy circles. (And now they know as long as I’m at risk you won’t just leave me and – God – who knows how they’ll use that to keep you in line.)

Castiel flexes his back-fans when Dean moves on to his side-fans. He tilts his head and suppresses shivers whenever Dean’s fingers brush the webbing. The water is cool on his skin when it drips over his neck and shoulders.

(They wanted to shoot me with the dart-gun too, but they didn’t.) A purr starts to rumble in his chest when Dean turns his head to the other side to work water into the other side-fan. The touches are soothing and the unhappy knot that’s been sitting in his chest for the last two days starts to unravel. (If it means keeping you and the others safe, I’m willing to use the kin-connection to make sure no one hurts you again.)

Dean’s fingers pause and Castiel pushes his head against his hands, a silent request to continue. (Are you talking about what you did to Lilith?)

(Yes.) Castiel replays the memories for him of everything he did and told to Azazel.

There’s a sharp inhalation behind him and a subtle awe from Dean seeps over the kin-connection. Castiel nudges his hands again, rubbing his side-fan against the slack fingers. But Dean’s hands pull away and Castiel looks over his shoulder in confusion.

Dean is sitting on the edge of the bed and staring down at him. (That’s… really badass.)

(I don’t understand that term.)

(It means you’re really, really awesome.) Dean picks up the cup again and dumps the water directly over the top of Castiel’s head.

He splutters and shakes the water out of his eyes before glaring up at him, side-fans flaring unhappily. Dean grins and smoothes the curls of Castiel’s hair back off his forehead. (Hey, Cas?)

(Hm?)

(What were you saying before?) Memories surface of Castiel’s words during the kiss yesterday morning.

His adipose fins ripple in surprise and he turns away when he feels heat rise in his cheeks. He ducks his head and shifts away when Dean leans closer. Castiel pulls up barriers in the kin-connection and hides behind them, using them to shield Dean from his insincerity. (It was nothing. A goodbye.)

He doesn’t want to talk about it. Castiel doesn’t know if he kissed Dean, or if Dean kissed him. But he does know he didn’t pull away because he wanted to. He wanted to have another kiss because it could have been his last and it would have definitely been his last with Dean. He hunches his shoulders and shifts uncomfortably, his tail curling under him.

Dean stands and moves the bucket of water. Castiel can feel Dean’s curiosity pushing at the walls around his mind, but there’s no questions being asked and it just makes Castiel nervous. He watches Dean’s reflection in the glass-wall while he moves the bucket. Dean’s movements are slower than usual and he stumbles a few times.

(You’re still affected by the dart-poison?) He turns to watch Dean fully and brushes a questioning touch over his mind. There’s still a muddled fog laying over his thoughts.

(Yeah, kinda, I guess.) He comes back to crouch in front of him, hands out. (C’mon, let’s get you back up on the bed. The floor can’t be that comfortable.)

Castiel shifts and leans away. (I can do it myself.)

Dean raises an eyebrow and the constant curiosity turns to confusion. (It’ll be easier if I lift you.)

(Easier, yes. But I don’t want to.) Castiel turns and grabs handfuls of the sheet.

He curls his tail under him and pushes up while pulling, trying to drag himself back onto the bed. He doesn’t want Dean to lift him like that again. The last time they were face to face like that, he’d kissed Dean or Dean had kissed him and he can’t let that happen again. He’s already talking to Dean like he told himself he wouldn’t and he’s angry for forgetting that.

(I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn about this. I’m just helping you up.)

Castiel’s tail knocks into Dean’s leg in surprise when arms curl around his waist and lift. He’s guided up and forward until he can pull his tail up after him. He settles on his stomach, stretched out along the wall and he drapes the end of his tail over the top of the drawers. He pulls the pillow under his head and rests his cheek on it.

Dean’s confusion is still bright, overlaying an anxiety that pricks along the edges of the kin-connection. Castiel pulls at the unease, trying to see it better. He can’t think of anything immediate for Dean to be nervous about right now. Dean doesn’t protest and offers up the feeling and the reasons behind it without issue.

He’s surprised to find that Dean is paranoid that he did something to upset Castiel. His fans flex at the thought because Dean hasn’t done anything. It’s all Castiel’s own issues. If he’d never gotten so close to Dean in the first place, he never would have been manipulated into staying by being worried about Dean’s safety.

Circles. Everything is going in circles and he hates it. Why can’t things be simple? Everything back at the colony had been so simple. Now every day is different and new and he doesn’t know what to expect or what to do. There’s so many things he wants now, and most of them he shouldn’t even want to begin with.

He lets the walls drop long enough for Dean to sense the turmoil that’s making a mess of his thoughts. Dean’s confusion only increases, but the anxiety wanes.

(So you’re not mad at me?)

Castiel snorts and looks up at where he’s sitting on the edge of the bed. (Why would I be mad at you?)

(You gave up your chance at freedom to save my ass. I figured that might piss you off a bit.)

(I’m unhappy that I got to taste the ocean again and had that taken away. But if I’m angry with anyone, it’s with Azazel for using you against me. I am not mad at you.)

Dean’s relief washes through the kin-connection and he lets out a breath. (Well, that’s good.)

They settle into silence for several minutes. It’s an uncomfortable one that makes Castiel feel like there’s an itch under his skin. He’s not sure what to do now or how he’ll escape again. He’s tired, and hungry, and he wants to sink into small-sea – despite how much he hates its glass-walls – and find solace in the cool embrace of the water. But he wants to stay by Dean, to curl around him and soak in his warmth and keep him safe.

The tension eases slightly when Dean takes one of the blankets and folds it at the head of the bed before stretching out next to Castiel. The bed is too small for there to be any space between them and Castiel is comforted by the small warmth he can feel through Dean’s clothes. It’s more than before and he thinks that must mean Dean is getting better. The end of his tail slips from the drawers to fold over Dean’s feet. Toes flex and rub against the webbing of his end-fans.

There are questions brewing under the surface of the poison-fog layering Dean’s mind. Castiel can sense the near insatiable curiosity tingeing the edges of the kin-connection. He doesn’t pull upon them and Dean doesn’t offer them.

The quiet is broken by the beep of the door.

Dean sits up and Castiel twists to see who’s coming in. The moment Alistair steps around the door, Castiel’s fans flare wide and his hisses. He drags himself over the bed until he’s between Dean and Alistair. It means he’s leaning heavily across Dean’s legs, but it’s all he can manage at the moment. He bares his teeth in a snarl and a growl rumbles low in his throat.

“Afternoon, boys. Sleep well?” Alistair’s smug voice makes Castiel’s skin crawl and hisses again. If the lights were down enough for it, his glow would be bright and threatening.

Dean pulls at his arm. (Cas y’gotta get off me, I can’t do any-)

(Tell him to leave! Tell him to leave or I’ll do to him what I did to Lilith and promised I’d do to Azazel!)

Dean hesitates before he repeats the message. It only makes Alistair laugh. “Don’t get your panties in a twist. In light of recent events, Lilith’s got a few new rules she’d like you to be made aware of and I’m just here to deliver the message.”

Castiel frowns as Alistair grabs one of the chairs and drags it closer. He stops when Castiel’s growl grows loud and he sits on it the wrong way, his arms crossing over the back.

“What kind of rules are we talking about?”

“Rules that make your lives easier while ensuring your boyfriend there doesn’t mind fuck the rest of us into next week for looking at you the wrong way.”

Dean’s fingers tighten around Castiel’s arm and the hard edge of the blue-white cast on his arm digs against his elbow. “He’s not my boyfriend.”

Alistair smirks and Castiel’s fins ripple unhappily. It’s an unsettling expression that makes his stomach flip in nervous loops. “So all that cuddling and kissing is just platonic then? Careful, Dean, the rest of us might get jealous.”

Castiel’s fans flex at Dean’s translation images and the idea of Dean sharing his bed with anyone else – especially with Alistair – makes something dark and ugly twist and burn hard in his chest. The sheets tear under his claws and he hisses again.

“Relax, pet, anyone who wants to fuck your boyfriend probably already has. Now shut up, sit back and look nice and pretty while I tell you what your master wants to happen.”

Dean’s displeasure vibrates angrily through the kin-connection. “Spit it out and get the fuck out.”

Alistair shrugs and waves a hand, brushing away the comment. “Lilith’s not pleased about your little escape attempt and she’s given us full permission to pull out the real guns and turn them on your friends here if you ever hit the water again.”

His insides turn cold at the thought of bullets and what they could do to Dean. He flips his tail back and wraps it around Dean’s waist, his end-fans and adipose fins stretching wide to cover Dean defensively. He can feel Dean’s rising worry about his brother and friends and Castiel immediately calms them with soothing thoughts, reassuring Dean that he won’t do anything that will get them hurt.

“But now Lilith is willing to let you roam about. You can go anywhere on the boat that someone can carry you to. Even the deck, so you can go bask in the sun or whatever it is you do. As long as you don’t go overboard and force us to redecorate in red, she’s happy.”

The news does not make Dean happy. His wariness of Lilith’s new rules is a constant thrum through their link. “Why? Why’s she changing her mind all of a sudden?”

Alistair shrugs, his smug smirk never shifting. “She wants her pet to be happy and he’s not happy when you’re not happy and you’re not happy when you’re both cooped up in here. So go, stretch your legs, show him the engines and your old bunk. Toss him in the shower and wash his damn hair. We don’t really care. But you will be watched and you will be escorted everywhere.”

“But why does she care now?”

“She didn’t say.” Alistair stands and shoves the chair back toward its place. He straightens his white coat before going to the door. “Oh, but she did say that she’ll be coming back tomorrow afternoon. And when she does, I get to play with her pet all evening. I’m very good, so don’t you worry too much about scars.”

The door beeps shut behind him and Castiel hisses at it. (I’ll shred his mind before he gets anywhere near me with his knives.)

Dean’s lack of a response is worrying and Castiel twists to look back at him. He’s frowning down at his lap, but his eyes are unfocused. When he touches his thoughts, they’re still circling around Lilith’s new rules.

(She’s gotta be up to something, Cas. There’s no reason for her to be letting up on your leash after what we pulled yesterday. She’s planning something worse than Alistair getting at you and I don’t know what, but I don’t like it.)

Anxiety settles in his chest, spreading out to pluck at his bones and squeeze at his insides. Dean wiggles his arm out from where it’s pinned to his side by Castiel’s tail and he spread his fingers over the back of Castiel’s neck. It’s a heavy, reassuring touch.

(I know I’ve been complete shit at keeping you safe so far. But I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure whatever Lilith’s planning doesn’t happen. I’ll sink the whole damn ship before that if I have to, okay?)

Castiel nods, but tightens his tail. If they sink the ship, what’ll happen to Dean and the others? How will they be safe? He doesn’t know how long humans can swim before they get too tired. Would they be able to make it to the nearest landmass? He doesn’t even really know where they are in relation to his colony and his plan for getting home had been to swim in the opposite direction of the boat.

Dean winces and pulls at Castiel’s tail. (What is it with you and squeezing me when I’ve gotta piss. Will you be okay alone for a bit? I wanna go take a leak and I wouldn’t mind a warm shower.)

His fans flare in surprise. He can’t keep Dean safe if he goes about alone. If Alistair or Azazel or Gordon get him while Castiel isn’t there, they could keep Dean away and only let Castiel see him if he listens to what they say. He needs Dean to stay with him or with Sam or Jess or Bobby or Pamela, or anyone who won’t let anything bad happen.

His panic swells through the kin-connection and Dean winces. (Whoa, Cas, calm down. I just want to go to the bathroom.)

(Then I’m coming too.) His determination burns bright through the kin-connection. (I can keep watch while you do whatever it is that you humans do in this ‘bathroom’.)

Dean’s eyebrows raise and his lips pinch together in something that looks like a frown, but has the potential to be some sort of smile. (There’s so much wrong with that I don’t even know where to begin. But for starters, I don’t think I’m coordinated enough right now to get us both from here to there without falling on my face or dropping you down the stairs.)

(Get the guards to bring the trolley. It’ll get us to the stairs and I can go down them on my own.)

He shakes his head and frowns. (You’ll just get dirty. There’s so much traffic on those stairs that the janitor doesn’t bother keeping them clean.)

(This ‘bathroom’ is where you go to get clean, isn’t it? I can clean my scales there.) Castiel runs a hand over his hip and frowns.

His scales are not nearly as glossy as they should be. They feel dull and gritty. It’s been well over a week since he did a proper cleaning and it’ll be difficult to do here with just his hands and none of the tools he needs. And he won’t be able to clean his back-fans or the scales over the swell of his tail below the curve of his back.

(I know the bathroom is communal, but seriously, I can’t just drag you in there and leave you sitting out while I shower. Anyone could come in.)

(You can lock the door, can’t you?)

(Well, yeah, but that’s not fair to the others if they’ve got to use the facilities.)

(Then we’ll clean ourselves quickly.)

Dean groans and he shifts uncomfortably on the bed. (Seriously, Cas, I’ll be back in twenty minutes, tops. I’ll even go find Sam or Jess to come and stay with you.)

He lets his anxiety and fear for Dean’s safety flow through the kin-connection. Castiel practically pushes his against the edges of Dean’s mind, trying to stress how much he’ll worry if Dean goes anywhere alone. His hopes that he’ll understand are brushed aside with a burst of irritation.

(I’m not some wilting flower, Cas. I can take care of myself long enough to go take a piss. If you don’t want me gone for long, let me go do that and then I’ll come back for you to take you to the showers.) Dean starts pulling harder at Castiel’s tail, trying to unwrap it from around his waist. (I won’t even be five minutes to pee, I swear. I’ll run there and run back.)

Castiel narrows his eyes and Dean rolls his. (I’ll tell whatever guards are outside to get the trolley and bring it in. You can mind-whammy them if they pull anything weird and you’ll be in my head the whole time I’m gone. If anything happens to me, you’ll know.)

(I’ll know but I won’t be able to do anything to help.)

(Nothing’s going to happen – Alistair just said so, didn’t he? We can go where we want, do what we want, as long as we don’t throw you overboard again. Please, Cas, I really have to go!)

The urgency colours Dean’s words and images with bright flares and Castiel begrudgingly uncoils from around him as he moves off his legs. Dean smiles bright and he wobbles only slightly when he stands. (Two minutes. Three at the most. Then I’ll be right back and I’ll take you to the showers. Just promise you won’t peek.)

Castiel looks up at him, confusion marring the edges of their link. (Peek at what?)

Dean huffs a little laugh, a much better sound than the unhappy, broken noise from before and gets a flat white square out of the jeans that Bobby left in a pile at the base of the drawers. (Nothing, nothing. I’ll be right back.)

Before the door shuts, Castiel hears Dean’s voice asking the guards for the trolley. There are heavy pounding noises and then the door beeps when it’s closed. Castiel pulls himself up behind the drawers at the end of the bed and rests his arms on the top of it. He stares at the door and waits. He tries very hard not to interrupt Dean while he does whatever it is humans do when they ‘go to the bathroom’.

It doesn’t even feel like more than a minute before Dean’s thoughts brush over his mild unease. (See? Already done and on my way back. Nothing’s happened and nothing’s gonna happen. Coming upstairs now.)

Castiel moves to the edge of the bed and draws circles on the floor with the tip of his tail while he waits. The door beeps as it opens and the trolley comes through first before Dean does. He leaves the door open and Castiel slips from the bed to the cool metal of the low platform. Dean helps him tuck his adipose fans in close again.

A new scent tickles at his nose and he grabs Dean’s hands when he starts to stand up. He sniffs at his palms and the cloying, sweet smell that lingers on his skin. Castiel wrinkles his nose and looks up at Dean. (Why do your hands smell different now?)

(Soap. I washed my hands after. I’ll smell different from head to toe once I take a shower.) Dean straightens and the whole trolley lurches when he pulls it back, turning it so Castiel faces the door.

(Why?) He takes the new clothes, a roll of blue, and the small brown pouch that Dean gets from the drawers.

(Water doesn’t really clean us off completely. Soap breaks down the stuff on our skin that water doesn’t. Most companies give it a nice scent.)

Castiel snorts and shakes his head. (I don’t like the fake-smell. It makes my nose itch. I like the way you smell normally.)

Something warm that Castiel can’t really identify seeps through the kin-connection from Dean before it gets snapped up and hidden. He thinks it could have been a pleased kind of pride, but he can’t be sure. (I think Sam uses unscented stuff. I could borrow his if you want?)

(Don’t change your habits on my account, Dean.)

(Hey, it’s cool. If you’re gonna be a cuddle-buddy I can’t have my body-wash making you sneeze.) Dean pushes the trolley passed the guards and Castiel turns to watch as they follow closely behind them. (Ignore them, Cas. Shit, how am I going to get you down the stairs?)

(I told you I can –)

Dean hushes him, blanketing his thoughts. (I’m not letting you slide down like that. It’s gross and you could cut yourself or something. I’ll just carry you and go really slow.)

(No. Don’t carry me.) Castiel doesn’t want Dean to carry him again. He’s not scared that Dean will trip and drop him. He’s  wary of what he might do if placed in the same position as yesterday.

One of the guards walks passed them to get to the door first. Castiel is a little taken aback when he holds it open for the trolley to go through. Dean squeezes the trolley onto the platform between the stairs that go up and the stairs that go down. He can still smell the acrid tang of the smoke from yesterday, but the air isn’t funny coloured and it doesn’t hurt to breathe it today.

(Why are you so against me carrying you, huh? It’ll be easier than working this damn thing down the stairs and the bathroom is practically right outside the stairwell.) Dean crouches next to him and reaches to hook one arm under Castiel’s tail and the other around his back.

Castiel holds the bundle of clothes tightly to his chest and flattens his tail to the trolley so there is no crease for Dean to put his arm. He presses back into the metal bar he’s leaning against too and shakes his head. Irritation makes waves through their link and Dean sits back on his heels. (Christ. What did I do that set you off this time?)

He shakes his head again and curls the end of his tail up, distracting himself from looking at Dean by flaring his end-fans. Dean’s confusion and irritation make dark eddies against the edges of his mind where they collide with the walls protecting his thoughts.

(Well either we can sit here until you decide to tell me what’s wrong, or I’ll just take my stuff and you can wait here until I’m done my shower. Up to you, Cas.)

Castiel turns a sharp glare on him, disapproval flicking over his walls to snap at Dean’s thoughts. Dean retaliates with his own ire, smashing it against Castiel’s walls. They stare hard at each other until one of the guards clears his throat and startles Dean out of their silent battle of wills.

He rubs his hands through his hair. (Cas, this is hard for me, okay? I’m not the best  at keeping friends. And you’re the most… the most different person I’ve ever met. You throw me for a loop with practically everything you do. If we’re going to be friends, y’gotta tell me when something I does bothers you. Even with this link we got going where you’re in my head and I’m in yours, you keep holding back so much and I’m putting out everything I think you’d be okay to handle – and fuck have I been wrong on some occasions. But you go off the deep end from the weirdest things and it’s usually something physical or sexual – but I actually don’t know what’s wrong this time. You gotta at least tell me, so I can stop whatever it is that I’m doing and make things okay again.)

He pauses and scratches at the back of his head. (This is verging on a chick-flick moment and I know you don’t understand what that is, but it’s something I don’t really don’t like doing much. So could you just tell me what I did wrong so I don’t do it again?)

Castiel swallows thickly and stares down at the bundle pressed tightly to his chest. There’s a twisting feeling behind it at Dean’s words, and it’s sinking lower in his gut. He doesn’t like that he’s the one who’s made Dean feel so indecisive and confused.

(Yesterday…) He starts and then stops, keeping himself from raising the memory. Castiel doesn’t want to think about kissing Dean. It’s just going to make him want to do it again and he’s lost count of how many times he’s promised himself that he won’t think about that or do it anymore.

(You’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that. A lot of stuff happened yesterday.)

Castiel frowns at Dean before starting again. (Yesterday, when Pamela was removing the chip from my back. I… We…) He waves his hand in a vague gesture, hoping Dean understands. The sudden absence of confusion confirms that Dean does get his meaning. (I’m… We shouldn’t have – I thought it would be the last time and –) Castiel makes  noise of frustration in the back of his throat. (I’m not sure that I won’t do it again if we end up in the same position as yesterday.)

Dean is quiet for several moments. Castiel doesn’t dare look at him and he’s surprised when Dean pushes his tail out of the way to sit on the edge of the trolley. (Okay. If I’m getting this right, you don’t want me to pick you up because you think I’m going to kiss you again?)

(Wasn’t I the one who kissed you?)

(I’m pretty sure that I’m the one who kissed you. But it doesn’t matter. The point is, Cas, if you want to kiss me, you can. I’m not going to complain and I’ll be a willing participant. Enthusiastic, even.) Dean tilts his head, trying to catch Castiel’s eye. (I know this is too many kinds of ‘new’ for you to even think about counting – but I gotta say, you’re over thinking things.)

Castiel shuffles the items in his arms and looks away. (You’re misunderstanding me, Dean. My issue with kissing you doesn’t lie solely in the physical aspects. I can’t… separate my emotions as easily as you seem to be able to. I’m… If we continue to do that – I want to go home and you can’t come with me and I can’t stay here. My attachment to you is already something that others are manipulating and I’m –) He stops and sighs, the end of his tail dropping heavily over the edge of the trolley.

(You’re scared.)

He bares his teeth at the term, but nods. It’s a shameful thing to admit. Castiel is a warrior of the colony. He’s a tactician that has seen many battles and faced each of them with full acceptance that he or members of his garrison might die. But he’s never been more afraid for someone’s life – aside from his nest-siblings – than he is for Dean’s.

(Stop over thinking things, Cas. Yes, it sucks the big one that they’re using our feeling against us. It’s pretty much the lowest blow anybody can give, but we’ll work around it. We’ll get us all out of here at some point. And if you want to kiss me, than go ahead. But don’t let some sons-of-bitches fuck us over on one of the few nice things we can have, okay?)

Dean’s fingers are fleeting where they touch Castiel’s arm. (So let’s, you and me, keep this simple. Do you want to kiss me?)

Castiel nods slowly, looking from Dean’s eyes to his lips and back.

(Do you want me to kiss you?)

He nods again.

(Will us kissing make you want to do more things with me?)

Castiel shrugs. He’s not exactly sure what ‘more things’ would entail, but he can hazard a guess and he’s honestly undecided whether or not that’s something he wants right now.

(Will kissing make whatever you’re feeling for me worse?)

(I… don’t know.)

Dean sighs and leans forward until his forehead bumps against Castiel’s. (Do you want to try it? How about a trial run? Just for the rest of the day. You kiss me whenever you want and if you think it’s too much we can stop and just go back to being – well – this. If you think you’re safe and you can keep the physical and the emotional properly separated, then we can go ahead and keep at it until we get you off this boat again. How does that sound?)

Castiel sucks in a quiet breath and shakes his head. (I don’t know. Do you even – are you –)

(Do you really want to know the answer to that?)

He does, and he doesn’t. If he knows how Dean feels, if he knows what that warmth that sings along the edges of the kin-connection really is, he might lose himself completely in just this testing period. If he knows that he could have Dean as his and his alone, would he be able to let him go when the time comes?

He doesn’t know. How would he ever know unless it happens?

One of the guards clears their throat again and Dean sits back sharply, turning cold eyes to them. “Yeah, yeah. Give us a sec.”

Castiel wraps the clothing around the blue roll and the brown pouch before tucking it against his stomach. He folds his tail up to his chest, pinning the bundle in place. When Dean picks him up, he’s careful to hold as much weight off Dean’s broken arm as he possibly can. One of the guards goes ahead of them and the other follows a few steps behind as they go down the stairs. Dean goes sideways, taking the steps slowly.

They exit the stairwell and out into a new hallway. Castiel’s fans flare in surprise and Dean gives an annoyed huff when his side-fan catches him in the cheek. There are people Castiel doesn’t know standing along the walls talking, or going in and out of the many doors that are lining the wall. There are so many voices in the air that Castiel is briefly reminded of home before everything falls silent. All the humans stop and stare at Castiel and Dean.

(Just ignore them.) Dean presses calm into the kin-connection against the nervous edge that starts to thrum over the borders of his mind. He jerks his chin at one of the guards. “You want to make sure there’s no one in the showers? We’re going to lock up in there for a bit so no one can bother us.”

The man frowns. Castiel doesn’t know his name and his close-cut yellow hair is eerily similar to the other guard standing on Dean’s other side. He thinks short-yellow might object to being ordered around by Dean, but he turns around without a word and pushes open a door with symbols scratched into it.

There is a triangle with little lines falling from its bottom. Beneath that is a circle with a line coming out of the bottom and there are four lines coming off that one line. Next to that there is another circle resting on the pointed top of a triangle and there are two lines sticking out from the bottom of the triangle.

When he points the symbols out to Dean, he learns that they are the symbols for ‘showers’ and ‘man’ and ‘woman’. It means that the shower room can be used by both sexes.

(But why does the symbol for females have a triangular body? Females do not have triangle bodies.)

(It’s supposed to look like a dress, or a skirt. They’re really old symbols from way back to the time when women only wore dresses.)

(Why would they only wear dresses? Did they not like wearing pants?)

(That’s just how it was. I’m not giving you a history lesson, Cas.)

Castiel huffs in disappointment. (Humans are weird.)

(Yeah, tell me about it.) There is a moment’s pause where Castiel gathers his thoughts before Dean continues. (That’s just a figure of speech. Don’t actually tell me about it.)

(Oh.)

A few females come out of the door. They’re both wearing white towels wrapped around their bodies and on the tops of their heads. When the first sees Castiel, she stops so suddenly the other walks into her back and they both stumbled forward.

“Afternoon ladies.” Dean nods his head at them and Castiel mimics the movement. “Sorry to interrupt, but we need to commandeer the showers for a little bit. Hope you don’t mind.”

The females are staring at Castiel’s tail and his fans, their mouths hanging open wide. He shifts uncomfortably against Dean’s chest, arms tightening over his shoulders. He hasn’t been looked at like this since his first few days on the boat and he doesn’t like it. Dean nods again and goes through the door sideways like he did on the stairs. The guard holds it open for them and it shuts behind him after they’re inside.

The room is large and misty and filled with many smells that make Castiel’s nose itch like the soap on Dean’s hands. There are two rows of low ledges going down the center of the room. On the wall opposite the door are mirrors above higher ledges. Both sides of the room have five sheets – ten in total – hanging from the ceiling. Some of the sheets are pulled to the side, revealing hidden alcoves.

Dean sets Castiel down on one of the low-ledges and he twists to keep looking around. The floor in here is different from the floor he’s used to. It’s shiny and white and broken up into little squares. It feels smooth under the folds of his fans when his tail drapes over the edge of the ledge and curls on the ground.

No sooner has Dean locked the door -  the guards on the other side - does someone knock on it with loud, thudding bangs that make the both of them jump.

Castiel sits up straighter but relaxes the moment Sam’s voice calls through the door. “Dean?”

“Yeah, Sammy?”

“What are you doing?”

“Gonna take a shower.” Dean isn’t wearing shoes and he frowns down at his bare toes before shrugging.

“With Castiel?”

He pulls his shirt off, moving carefully with the hard cast over his left arm. “Yeah. He didn’t want to be left alone in the room. It’ll be fine. Hey, you got that unscented stuff, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I borrow it? Cas doesn’t like scented soaps and I don’t want him to sneeze all over me later.”

There’s a moment or two before Sam answers again. “Jess is getting it, just a sec.”

“Awesome, thanks. Do you have any books that we could start teaching Cas to read with? You could take them up to the room and we’ll meet you there when we’re done in here. We’re going to be pretty bored til Lilith gets back tomorrow so I figured we could pass the time that way.”

“Yeah… Sure, Dean. We’ll bring some stuff up.” He pauses a moment. “Are you sure you’re okay? How are you feeling?”

Dean shrugs even though Sam can’t see him. “Little foggy still. But no worse than usual. How’s Pam and Bobby?” He grins at Castiel over his shoulder as he starts to untie the white string looped at the front of his grey-pants.

“Fine. Worried about you two. We heard Alistair dropped in – got the stuff, Dean.”

He unlocks the door and opens it. Castiel waves at Jess and Sam as they lean around Dean. Sam looks between the both of them. “What about your cast? You need help with the vacuum sleeve?”

“If I do, Cas can help me. I’m just a little broken boned, Sam. I’m not an invalid.” Dean takes a few oddly coloured cylinders from Jess. “Thanks  guys. I’ll see you upstairs later and we’ll fill you in on what happened with Alistair.”

They say a few more quick words, mostly about being careful with his cast, before Dean shuts and locks the door again. He settles on the bench with a leg on either side and lines up the three cylinders between them.  The first one, he pushes at one side of the knobbed end and it shifts, revealing a little hole. Dean holds it out.  (How’s this smell?)

Castiel sniffs at the opening. There’s a faint scent, but nothing overwhelming like the hand soap. All three cylinders – which Dean calls ‘bottles’ – pass the test and Dean sets them aside. He takes the blue-roll and unravels it, revealing an oblong white thing that when he gives it to Castiel and Castiel squeezes it, air puffs out the ends.

The blue-roll is another blue-sleeve like Dean was wearing yesterday. Castiel helps him slide it over the cast and up his arm until his fingers fill the spaces for them at the end. Dean takes the oblong-white and attaches it to a clear piece sticking out of the blue-sleeve near his elbow. He squeezes the oblong-white, and with every squish-wheeze noise the blue-sleeve gets tighter against his skin. Castiel watches closely, intrigued.

Dean tries to explain that the white-thing is a ‘pump’ and that it is sucking the air out from under the blue-sleeve. Castiel doesn’t understand what a ‘vacuum’ is and he doesn’t really care. Dean gives the oblong-white back to Castiel and flexes his fingers and his arm.

(Yeah, that should do it.) He stands and stretches before pointing to the alcove directly in front of Castiel. (I’m going to shower in there. Do you want me to sit  in one of the other stalls and turn it on for you to soak in while I wash up?)

Castiel nods and watches as Dean pulls the sheet aside for the alcove next to the one he indicated as his. Dean turns some shiny mental knobs and there’s a sputtering noise before water starts pouring from a half-cylinder sticking from the wall above Dean’s head. Castiel slips to the floor and drag-pushes himself to Dean’s side. He curls around his legs and reaches out to feel the water hit his skin. It’s almost too hot and Castiel hisses, recoiling quickly.

(Sorry! Here.) Dean turns the knobs again. (Try now?)

The water is cooler and more reminiscent of small-sea when Castiel feels it again. Dean angles the wall-cylinder so that most of the water is falling straight down into the center of the alcove instead of against the opposite wall.

(See this circle in the floor? Don’t block it. It’s the drain and that’s where the water goes out. If you let the water build up, it’s going to leak and cause all sorts of problems.)

Castiel nods and slides into the alcove. He settles against the walls under the spray and double checks to make sure that his tail is looped around the drain but isn’t covering it. He blinks up at Dean through the water that reminds him of the rain from yesterday morning. Thinking about the rain makes him think of the kiss and he leans out of the shower-rain.

(Dean.)

He’s leaning into his own alcove and Castiel can hear the other spray start up. (Yeah?)

(I want to kiss now.)

Dean’s laugh echoes strangely off the white squares on the floor and the walls of the alcoves. (Yeah, okay. Just give me a moment.) He gets one big and one very small square towel and hangs the big one outside his alcove. He puts the small-square and Sam’s bottles inside before kneeling in front of Castiel. Amusement and something that feels a little like anticipation twists over the kin-connection. Castiel’s heart feels like it’s going too fast in his chest and he’s not sure if he should be watching Dean’s lips or keep looking at his eyes when he leans closer.

(Close your eyes, Cas.)

He nods and does what Dean tells him, pressing into the gentle slide of fingers over his jaw. The first touch of Dean’s lips is soft and barely there. Castiel chases after the light brush, following it as it pulls away. He can feel Dean’s smile against his mouth and then Dean tilts his chin up and the kiss is more firm.

(You can touch too, y’know.) Dean takes one of Castiel’s hands and brings it up to rest against his neck. (Just mirror what I do, okay?)

Castiel hums against his lips. When Dean leans his head one way, he moves the other way. When Dean leans back for a quick breath, Castiel does too before he pulls him back in. Dean’s mouth opens against his and he feels a tongue dart wetly over his bottom lip. When he tries to copy the movement, Dean surprises him with the slick slide of their tongues together.

He’s even more shocked by the bright bolt of heat that streaks through his chest and curls hot and pulsing low in his gut. The startled groan that sounds between them might have come from him, but it might have come from Dean. He can’t tell. Dean has one hand fisted in Castiel’s hair at the back of his neck – there’s a twinge of pain when the blue fingers slide up - and the other is fitted just below his side-fan, thumb brushing the trail of scales that spread to his cheek bone. He tilts Castiel’s head back more and sucks at his tongue. The moan that echoes across the white-squares this time is definitely his own.

Dean finally draws away with one last lingering press of lips. Castiel is finding it hard to breathe. His skin feels hot all the way down to his scales and he thinks Dean might actually be able to hear his heartbeat for how hard it is pounding. The shower-rain is cold now where it touches him. It feels like the boiling red water of the volcanic vent is roiling in his gut and his fingers keep flexing where they’ve found themselves – one on Dean’s left shoulder and the other cupping the back of his head.

“Shit, look at you…” Dean mumbles and he leans in again. It’s just a fleeting touch, a hard press of lips, before he’s pulling Castiel’s hands away. He turns awkwardly. (If we keep this up, we’ll never get out of here. I’m going to shower really quick and then we’ll clean you up before going to meet with Sam and Jess, okay?)

Castiel can only nod his head in agreement. There’s a haze settled thick over his brain and it takes a gentle push at his shoulder to make him sit back under the shower-rain.

(Nice to know I can kiss you stupid, Cas. Try to have some semblance of a thought process going by the time I’m done.) Dean slips around the corner and out of sight before he’s even really standing. (And no peeking!)

Castiel doesn’t know what he’s not supposed to peek at. But he closes his eyes and tilts his face into the spray. His lips still tingle and they feel swollen when he runs first his fingers and then his tongue over them. He can still taste something he can’t even find words to explain. The only thing he can think of that comes close is ‘Dean’.

It takes several long minutes for his heart to calm and the heat under his skin to fade. It itches as it goes and Castiel shifts uncomfortably. His fingers can’t seem to hold still, constantly brushing back and forth over his scales and mapping his pattern without actually needing to see it. The kin-connection between him and Dean is quiet – the kind of silence when Dean is hiding his thoughts.

Castiel doesn’t question it, because he’s doing the same.

It’s another few minutes before he remembers that he wants to clean his scales. He doesn’t have coarse sand to scrub into them with clumps of sea-sponge. But he could try the soap that Dean is using.

Castiel uncurls and drags himself to the corner of the alcove. He pulls himself around it and pushes the hanging sheet out of the way. (Dean, may I use the soap to cl –)

The very-small-towel is heavy with water and it actually knocks Castiel back when it hits him in the face. Dean has surprisingly good accuracy for throwing it not only with his injured arm but also while attempting to cover himself. He wasn’t nearly quick enough to cover himself before Castiel saw the swell of his erection or the way his hand had been moving over it.

“Jesus CHRIST, Cas! I said no peeking!”  

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

Castiel hugs the fold of his tail tightly to his chest. It does nothing to quell the heat thrumming low in his belly. It floods his veins and makes the shower-rain feel like the cold waters of the deep where it falls over his head and skin. He stares hard at the white-squares on the wall and desperately tries to focus his mind on anything and everything that isn’t Dean.

On anything and everything that isn’t Dean and a never ending spread of skin flushed pink from the hot water. Or the way his teeth had pressed into his bottom lip. He tries his hardest to not think about the slide of Dean’s fingers over – Castiel shakes his head violently and pressed his face into his scales. The few seconds he had seen play over the back of his eyelids and he muffles a whimper against his tail at the blooming burn seeping under his scales.

Castiel shakes his head again and looks up at the white-squares again. He picks out a droplet of water and traces its path with his eyes. He’s aware that the tingle dancing over his skin and the twisting pull in his gut is arousal. And he knows, in theory,  how to deal with it. But he’s never had to do it before. The urges of his body were never a problem from him while growing up – much to the annoyance of his nest-brothers.

Balthazar used to complain, on a near hourly basis, about how the females would follow him around and purposefully act seductive just to cause a reaction so they could see his arousal. Lucifer told them it was because the females were keeping track of which males would make good mates. Gabriel told them it was because the females were perverts and had nothing better to do.

It always causes a shudder to shake down his spine whenever Castiel thinks about the time he was ambushed by a group of females. They had poked and prodded and asked him why they hadn’t seen him with an erection yet. He didn’t have an answer for them then.

He does now.

His memories of the colony and the old embarrassment help ease the disquiet singing through his body. Now he knows that he didn’t have any reactions to the females and their budding breasts or fluttering fans not because there was something wrong with him, but because they just weren’t interesting to him.

The females were convinced that, despite being a good warrior, Castiel would make a terrible mate. Most of the colony had been so sure that there was something wrong with him because he had never been seeing showing any kind of arousal. Some had thought that he was simply shy. But no one thought that he would ever father a nest. It wasn’t something that had bothered him too much. It was just a worry in the back of his mind that would make itself known every once in a while. But Castiel had always been fine with just being a soldier, with devoting his time to keeping the colony safe.

He wonders if he would have ever experienced arousal outside of sleep if he had turned his attention to any of the colony’s males. He knows that he’s had dreams – though he can’t remember them clearly – where he would wake with a fading ache in his belly and the scent of his release in the water.

The rustle of one of the hanging sheet makes Castiel flinch. His back is to the entrance of his alcove and he had closed the sheet to block the opening. He’d retreated here after Dean had shouted at him for peeking. Castiel hopes Dean isn’t too mad at him. It’s not like he had told him what he wasn’t allowed to peek at.

He glances over his shoulder at his untouched sheet. If he angles his side-fans right, he can hear the slap of Dean’s bare feet on the white-squares and the muffled noise of his clothing. Castiel doesn’t dare check on what Dean is doing. It’s likely that Dean is getting dressed now, which means that he’ll be naked for a few moments and Castiel doesn’t want him to yell again if he catches him looking again.

Castiel’s fingers play with an adipose fin, rolling and folding it nervously while he waits. The kin-connection still bridges his mind with Dean’s, but it is quiet. He wants to stretch through and touch the edges of Dean’s thoughts, but he’s worried that Dean will shut him out completely if he does. He hadn’t meant to see Dean pleasuring himself and he thinks being tormented by the image is punishment enough.

The gentle touch to the wall surrounding his mind startles him and Castiel’s fans flare briefly. He drops enough of the walls for Dean to feel some of his emotions – his wary anxiety, his regret and his apologies. Dean’s thoughts drift over his own. It’s a cautious touch edged with concern, but there is no anger.

(You okay, Cas?)

Castiel nods and then realizes that Dean can’t see the movement. He sends a pulse of affirmation through the connection and watches Dean’s shadow darken the sheet.

(Sorry for hitting you in the face with the cloth, it was a knee-jerk reaction. It didn’t hurt you or anything, did it?)

He snorts and his adipose fans ripple. (Of course not. I’m… sorry, too. Are you… are you angry with me?)

Dean’s soft laugh can be heard on the other side of the sheet. (Nah, I’m not angry. Embarrassed coz’ you caught me jerkin’ off… But not angry. It was pretty damn stupid of me to do that with you right here and all, but it was kinda a pressing issue and I wanted a hot shower instead of a cold one, y’know?)

There’s a brief moment before Dean laughs again. (Sorry, you probably actually don’t know about that. Cold showers help, um, they help – they make it – it kills erections. Anyway, are you – Is it okay if I move this curtain? You’re not – um – are you?) A kind of anticipation that Castiel doesn’t recognize flickers along the edges of the kin-connection.

(I’m not doing anything.)

The hanging sheet is pulled aside and Dean is already kneeling on a folded towel. The lights are brighter with the alcove open to the rest of the room and Castiel squints against them. He isn’t sure if he should be horrified or pleased that Dean isn’t fully dressed. There’s an odd mixture of both twisting in his stomach. Dean is only wearing the shorts that go under his pants and the blue-sleeve. There are still bruises and faint lines from Pamela speckling his chest and Castiel quickly looks away from them at the first sharp tug of jealousy in his chest.

Dean sticks his hand under the shower-rain and pulls it back immediately. He curses and mumbles something about the cold before reaching up to the metal knobs on the wall and twisting them until the water flow stops. Castiel flicks his fans to shake the water off and Dean jerks away. He glares and Castiel pushes a silent apology through the kin-connection.

(You still want to wash your scales?) Dean reaches around the wall between Castiel’s alcove and the one Dean had been using. He sits back with one of the bottles and another few damp very-small-towels that he called ‘cloths’.

Castiel nods and slowly unfolds. He lets his tail drop enough to  check to ensure he hasn’t started to slip from his sheath. Dean responds to the flash of relief with his own curiosity. Castiel pushes it away as he uncurls and slides around until he’s half-facing Dean, his back to one of the walls. He holds his hand out for the bottle and a cloth. Dean gives him one and squeezes a jelly onto it from the bottle. It’s more watery than the toothpaste was.

Dean passes images through the kin-connection as he puts the jelly onto the other cloth. Castiel mimics the memories, rubbing the cloth together until the jelly becomes bubbles. He turns it upside down and presses the foam against his scales. He rubs the soap over his lap. His face adipose fins ripple when he passes over the head of his sheath and his back fans flare slightly, hitting the wall. Dean looks up, curiosity flickering along his thoughts again while he rubs the other cloth together to make the foam.

He takes several slow, deep breaths to calm the tingling itch crawling over his nerves. Castiel makes a note to avoid touching anywhere near his sheath while there is still arousal pulsing dully in the pit of his stomach. He tries not to make it obvious when he quickly moves to cleaning the scales closer to his hips and fins. It’s not that he would mind having an erection at the moment. But judging from how Dean reacted to Castiel seeing him like that, he doesn’t think Dean would respond favourably to him being similarly aroused in front of him.

His conclusion is extrapolated from this and all the previous times when Dean has changed his clothes outside of small-sea and requested that Castiel turn his back.

The touch of the cloth in Dean’s hand startles him and Castiel makes a soft noise of surprise before twitching his tail away. One of Dean’s eyebrows rises up his forehead and he sits back on his heels, confusion colouring his thoughts. (Something wrong, Cas?)

Castiel had thought that Dean was preparing the other cloth for him to use when his current one was no longer foamy. He draws his tail closer, folding it again until the bubbles start to slide toward the crease of his belly.  Both of Dean’s eyebrows are raised now and Castiel adverts his eyes, dutifully continuing to scrub at his scales.

(Is this because I jerked off right after we kissed? Coz’ I just gotta say that I haven’t gotten any alone time since that night with Pam and that was like, four days ago or something. And if you had seen how you looked after we kissed – Actually, here.)

An image of Castiel rises with his words. His eyes are hooded and unfocused, his cheeks flushed and his lips parted. They look swollen and spit-slick and Castiel automatically licks his lips, remembering how they had tingled afterward. In Dean’s image, his hair is starting to curl as it dries on his forehead and his side-fans are narrowed and flattened in a clear sign of submission.

Castiel hides behind the walls of his mind and imagines Dean looking the same as he did. He doesn’t think of the Dean from the poison-dream. He thinks of the Dean kneeling next to him, eyebrows still raised and watching him expectantly. Almost immediately heat starts throbbing under his skin, spreading quick and vicious under his scales and it makes his fins ripple wildly.

Dean glances down at the flutter of his adipose fins before Castiel flattens them with his hands. He bows his head and when he’s sure they won’t move, he returns to cleaning his scales. At Dean’s prodding confusion and the first misty swirls of paranoia, he relents.

(It’s not because of what you did, Dean. I understand that you were aroused and you had the opportunity to deal with it so you did. It’s a normal thing to do for a healthy male.) He curls his tail up in front of his chest and folds the end over his shoulder so he can rub the soap into the underside. (I pulled away because I haven’t been assisted with maintaining my scales since I was a child. It’s usually an activity one accomplishes alone.)

(Well, okay. When do you usually not do it alone?)

Castiel shrugs and uncurls slowly as he works the cloth closer to the end of his tail. He can feel the blush creeping up along his gills. (One would have to be very close to someone to allow them to assist in cleaning their scales.)

(How close?) Dean takes the cloth Castiel is using and gives him the other one.

He can sense Dean’s amusement when he notices the flush starting to colour Castiel’s cheeks. Ignoring it, he doesn’t look up and works the foaming soap back up along the front of his tail. He still has to clean the scales he’s sitting on, and his side-fans. But he’s not going to be able to clean his back-fans properly. There’s no sand to bury his fans in and it would be rude of him to ask Dean to do it.

Dean repeats his question.

(If you were my sibling and I was either too sick or too injured to maintain my scales on my own, then I would allow you to help me. Otherwise, the only other person that should assist is –) Castiel glances up at him briefly before quickly looking back down at where his hands are working the cloth back up into his lap. (- a bond-mate.)

Dean’s surprise isn’t nearly as bright as Castiel thought it would be. (Oh. Yeah, that – uh – that makes sense. I can understand why you wouldn’t want me helping then. Sorry.)

(There’s nothing to apologize for. You didn’t know.)

(Is there anything I can help with?)

Castiel starts to work the remnants of the soap over one of his side-fans. He flexes the spines of his back-fans and the folded webbing rustles slightly. He’s loath to leave any of his fans unclean, but he’s hesitant to ask for Dean’s help right after telling him about the significance such an action holds.

Dean’s eyes slip to his shoulder and his eyebrow twitches up again. (How are you gonna clean those?)

Castiel shrugs and switches to the other side-fan. He curls his tail under him, the scales slip-sliding over the white-squares on the floor. He folds it under him and lifts up so he can reach the scales he was sitting on.

(So you’re not cleaning them?)

(I’d like to, but I can’t properly reach them.)

(How do you do it at home?)

Castiel responds with the memory of wriggling his back into the sand and shuffling the spines of his fans until his webbing has been scrubbed clean. Amusement flares through the kin-connection and Dean rolls his lips between his teeth, a smile pulling at the corners.

(You… roll in the sand?)

(I don’t roll.)

He narrows his eyes at the snort that escapes Dean. The snort becomes a chuckle when Castiel twists to start cleaning the swell of his tail below the small of his back. He flares his fans and frowns at Dean.

(What’s so funny?)

(It... Dude, it looks like you’re cleaning your ass.)

(I don’t know what that is.)

More laughter starts to bubble up behind Dean’s smile. He explains about humans and the various words for their backsides. His amusement flickers with discomfort when he has to explain their purpose. He stumbles over describing how the muscles play together to keep humans upright and that their words often refer to what he calls the ‘anus’. He shifts uncomfortably when Castiel asks him to explain what that is used for.

He eventually explains but pointedly looks away when Castiel stretches out his front to display the swell of his sheath and the slit at the head of it. He doesn’t really understand what Dean finds embarrassing or uncomfortable about their bodies.

Dean puts more soap-jelly on the other cloth and gestures for Castiel to turn around. (Enough talk about how we poop. Lemme soap up your fans and then you can rinse off while I get dressed. We can go back up to the room, maybe get something to eat, and if you’re not tired or anything we can show you the alphabet and how to read.)

Castiel hesitates before shifting to present Dean with his back. (I would like that. Thank you. Could I swim for a bit? While you eat.) He doesn’t particularly want to go back into the small-sea, especially after finally having a taste of the open ocean again. But there’s unrest sitting in his bones. He needs to move and twist and roll through the waves. Small-sea is the closest he can get to it right now.

He hums as Dean works the soap into the webbing and along the fans. Castiel spreads them wide so he can clean them entirely. He hunches his shoulders and curves his back when Dean drags the cloth over his spine while moving from one fan to the other. It’s a coarse touch that feels oddly pleasing and his reaction to it doesn’t go unnoticed. A curious interest skims along the edges of Dean’s mind and when he’s done with Castiel’s other fan, he presses the cloth to the back of base of his neck and slowly drags it down.

There’s just enough pressure and the cloth is just the right amount of roughness that it feels nearly exquisite.  Castiel’s eyes slip closed and he hums, pushing back into the touch as Dean repeats the process. A purr starts to rumble in his chest. Dean varies where he presses, down one side of his spine and back up on the other, closer to his fans, or even on the other side. When Castiel flattens the spines, Dean rubs the rough cloth over his shoulders a few times before trailing it down one arm.

Castiel has to turn for Dean to be able to properly clean his whole arm without him having to reach behind him. His arousal is still simmering in his gut, but it doesn’t itch under his skin like it did before. There’s an entirely different warmth spreading warm and comforting through his chest, vibrating in tune with his purr.

He can practically feel the heat of Dean’s skin when he leans closer, his breath ghosting over Castiel’s shoulder. (I kinda wanna kiss you right now.)

Castiel doesn’t open his eyes. He turns his head towards Dean and brushes his agreement and his permission through the kin-connection. The cloth smoothes back up his arm and along his collarbone. It moves up his neck, skirting the edges of his gills until it’s dropped entirely so Dean can cup the side of his face, his thumb tracing over the scales on his cheekbone again.

The kiss is soft and slow. It’s different from the first, and different from the second. It’s not a simple press of lips. There’s more movement, and the pressure keeps changing. It doesn’t last more than a few moments before Dean pulls away again. Satisfaction thrums brightly through their link and when Castiel opens his eyes, Dean is grinning widely at him.

(How about you rinse off now?)

Dean stands and turns the knobs until warm water sputters out of the wall-cylinder. He takes the cloths and the bottle of soap back to the low ledge where his clothes are spread out. Castiel lets the water wash away the foam. He twists to make sure it falls across his back and shoulders and he tries very hard not to watch Dean remove the blue-sleeve, or when he puts on his jeans and shirt and the crisscross patterned extra shirt over the rest.

(Don’t let me leave without putting my shoes on again. It’s not really all that safe to walk around the boat without them on.)

He comes back to the alcove and Castiel slides out from under the spray of the shower-rain at Dean’s request. He crouches next to him and checks his fans and scales. Castiel even rolls onto his front and stretches out his tail so Dean can look at the underside too.

(Looks like you got it all.) He turns off the water and Castiel looks up at him when indecision drags over Dean’s thoughts. (Do you, I dunno, wanna shave now? It’s easier to do it here when we’ve got some sinks right over there. Lilith will be back tomorrow and as much as I really, really, hate following her dumbass rules, she’ll be pissed if you’re scruffy when she comes back. If you want to go back and swim now, we can always do it tomorrow. It’s fine.)

Castiel runs his fingers over his cheeks. His stubble is a few days old. With everything that has happened and his worrying for Dean, he hadn’t really noticed it. Now that his attention has been drawn to it, the pull of the hair at his fingers is bothersome.

(Can we do it now?)

(Sure, it’ll only take a few minutes.) He crouches again and Castiel puts his arms around his shoulders. Dean wraps his arms around his waist and lifts, staggering slightly when he stands. Castiel curls his tail around his waist and is very careful about keeping it up and out of the way of Dean’s legs as he turns and carries him to the ledge beneath the mirrors.

The position is reminiscent of yesterday and Castiel dips his head to press a quick kiss to the corner of Dean’s mouth before he’s placed on the ledge. A spiral of nervousness twists at the base of his throat. He hadn’t asked Dean if he could kiss him and he’s not entirely sure if he needs permission before every time or not. His tail drops from around Dean’s waist and it hangs over the edge of the shelf. He twitches the end in circles over the white-squares.

Dean’s huff of laughter isn’t missed when he goes to get his brown pouch from the pile of his previous clothes on the low-ledge. (I told you, Cas. You can kiss me whenever you feel like it. If it’s not a good time for it, I’ll let you know.)

(Are there any stipulations to this trial period that I should know about?) Castiel examines the hollowed out basin next to him.

It is white, smooth, and cool to the touch. There is another drain at the bottom of it and there are metal knobs along the edge at the back of it, directly below the mirror. One of the knobs is long and thin and it arches out over the basin. Experimentally, Castiel turns one of the short, round knobs. Water starts to pour from the end of the long-thin-knob.

(No, there aren’t really any rules for this. Just kiss me when you want to. If you’re not sure if it’s an appropriate time, you can always ask me first.) Dean returns and he picks up a flat disk from behind the long-thin-knob. The disk is attached to it by a small chain. Dean covers the drain with the disk and the water starts to fill the basin.

(Okay. I thought we shouldn’t block the drain?) Castiel watches the water pool in the bottom of the basin a little ways before Dean turns the knobs the other way and shuts it off.

(It’s okay to do it for a sink, as long as you don’t let it overflow. That’s what the plug is for, so we can do this and use it to wash stuff.) Dean shrugs and pulls a razor and the cylinder of foam from the brown pouch.

Castiel tilts his head accordingly when Dean starts putting the foam on his face. He leaves some on Castiel’s nose again and laughs when he goes cross-eyed to look at it. Castiel likes that Dean is laughing. He thinks it’s both odd and intriguing that he can find such amusement despite their situation with the boat and Lilith. He continuously finds himself forgetting about the constant desire for his freedom and the ocean when he’s with Dean.

Dean doesn’t clean the foam from his nose before he starts to scrape the foam and the hair away with the razor. He pauses often to swish it through the water at the bottom of the basin. Castiel closes his eyes and the purr starts again while Dean’s gentle fingers on his jaw tilt and turn his face as needed. He folds his tail around one of Dean’s legs, wrapping it until his end-fans cover his feet.

(Are all merma – fin-kin, sorry – are they all touchy-feely or is it just you?)

Castiel’s shoulder twitches in a shrug. He’s used to being close to his nest-siblings. When they were children they used to sleep curled together and he often shared his sleep-shelf with Balthazar when either of them had bad dreams or simply needed the comfort of their sibling next to them. But Castiel has never really felt the need to constantly touch or wrap himself around someone like he does with Dean.

He tilts his head back and stares at the ceiling while Dean works the razor under his jaw and over the stubble on his throat. He thinks a part of the reason why he likes touching Dean so much is the heat of his body. Dean is so warm compared to how cool Castiel's skin and scales usually are. It’s nice, and addicting. And he likes the way Dean smells. He feels calmer, more safe, when Dean holds him and in this strange world of the humans, Dean is one of the few comforts he’s found.

A towel gets pressed into his hands and Castiel looks down suddenly. He hadn’t noticed when Dean finished.

(Wipe up with that. I’m going to give myself a quick once over too.) He steps to the side so he’s in front of the mirror. He sprays foam into his hands again and gestures down at the ledge. (And use those too.)

Castiel rubs the towel over his cheeks and looks down. A toothbrush and toothpaste are lined up next to him. He frowns at them and irritation flickers over his thoughts while he brushes his teeth and Dean shaves. He leans over to spit into the sink when he’s done and Dean removes the plug by pulling the chain. Castiel watches as he brushes his teeth too and turns the water back on to rinse the sink out. Every time he catches Castiel looking, Dean’s eyebrows waggle and he grins around his toothbrush.

He waits on the ledge while Dean cleans up and folds his things into a bundle before handing it to him. Castiel doesn’t ask with his words for another kiss. He sends the desire across the kin-connection. It’s another slow one, the pressure keeps alternating between soft and hard. Castiel slides closer to the edge of the shelf, the bundle of clothes resting precariously on his lap.

He tentatively traces Dean’s lips with the tip of his tongue, mimicking how Dean did it earlier. Anxiety flares brightly and forms a tight knot in his chest when Dean stills. He starts to pull away, confused and worried that he did something wrong. There’s a soft puff of air against his lips, and it’s the only precursor he gets before Dean leans forward, pulling Castiel back to him with a hand at the back of his head.

The twinge of pain when Dean’s fingers press at the base of his skull goes unnoticed. Dean tastes like the toothpaste, but Castiel can still pick out the flavour that he’s labeled as being specific to Dean alone. He chases the taste into Dean’s mouth and a small moan works its way from his throat at the first suck.

Castiel loses himself to the slide of soft tongues and the clean scent that surrounds Dean. He twists his fingers into the back of Dean’s shirt and presses closer. The bundle of clothes is caught between them, a hard point digging into his stomach. Dean’s teeth tug at his bottom lip slightly when he pulls away and Castiel’s tail tightens where it’s curled around his waist.

(As much as I would love to kiss you stupid again, Sam and Jess are waiting and who knows how long those guards’ll wait before they break down the door.) Dean licks his lips and his smile is soft. (We can do this more later, okay?)

(Will you show me how to make these?) He presses at a spot on Dean’s clavicle where he knows one of Pamela’s marks are.

Dean has to pull the collar of his shirt down to see what Castiel is referring to. One of his eyebrows rises again and the kin-connection vibrates with amusement and curls of anticipation. (You want to give me a hickey, Cas?)

(Yes.)

(And where would you want to put one?) Dean lifts his head and tilts his head back, baring his throat.

The action makes Castiel’s mouth go dry. His fingers shake slightly as he slides them over Dean’s neck and jaw.  His claws drag lightly over the skin and he feels Dean’s shudder and the way the front of his throat moves when he swallows. Castiel settles two fingers against the rapid pulse rushing under his skin on the left side of his throat.

Dean covers Castiel’s hand with his own, keeping it pressed to his skin and leans forward until their noses are almost touching. There’s heat behind his eyes and Castiel’s next breath catches in his throat. (You want to put a mark on me here?)

Castiel swallows thickly and nods slowly. He’s having trouble focusing on anything beyond Dean’s green eyes and the freckles across his nose and cheeks. He can’t even begin to try cataloguing every curl of arousal, or desire, or whatever it is that feels like it’s burning through the kin-connection and melting away everything bad he doesn’t want to think about.

(You wanna put a mark right here, where everyone can see? Show them, show Pam, that you’re the one I’m kissing now?)

Yes. Yes, he wants that. He wants to put his mark on Dean so no one else will touch him. Castiel’s chest feels both too tight and too loose and it’s hard to breathe. He keeps trying to suck in a breath but it’s never enough and his fins are rustling wildly against the ledge. Dean’s other hand drifts over Castiel’s gills until his fingers find the same spot where his pulse is thudding heavily in his throat.

(Do you want me to give you one too?) He dips his head out of sight and Castiel stifles a gasp when Dean’s tongue laves over the spot where his fingers had been. (You want me to mark you too? Show Lilith you’re more mine than you’ll ever be hers?)

Castiel shoves at Dean, pushing him away. He nearly falls from the ledge when he doubles over and hugs his belly. It’s Dean’s hands on his shoulders that keep him from tumbling to the floor. Everything Dean was feeding into the kin-connection evaporates and leaves nothing but a bright, trembling apologetic concern.

(Cas, you okay?)

He shakes his head and draws his tail up, folding it against his chest. It’s hard to breathe and his body feels hot, too hot. He can feel the burn spreading low and curling under his scales. The muscles of his sheath are tightening and he needs it to stop. He can’t do this now and not in front of Dean.

(Did I… was that too much?) Dean’s anxiety skates over his own, pulsing hard and worried through their link. (I’m sorry, Cas, I didn’t mean – I got caught up in teasing – I don’t mean that I was teasing and it won’t happen – but I – is it because I brought up Lilith? Or coz’ I said you were ‘mine’? I don’t wanna own you or anything – not like Lilith – I was just trying to be sexy. I’m sorry, please don’t freak out on me.)

Castiel shakes his head again and manages one deep breath. It’s followed by another, and another. He focuses on the in and out of air through his lungs and uses that to calm the pounding of his heart. Even though his own thoughts tremble with his own worry, he tries to soothe that waves rolling from Dean’s mind.

(I’m not ‘freaking out’. I’m just – You are very good at being seductive.) Castiel can feel the blush staining his cheeks and all of Dean’s emotions give way to surprise.

(Oh. Are you…?)

(Yes. Just… please give me moment.)

(Do you want me to step outside? I can give you a moment if you need one. If you’ve been at the tipping point since earlier, you can’t be very comfortable.)

(No. I don’t want to. Please, just… just one moment.) Castiel keeps breathing, in and out, in and out. In through his mouth, out through his nose. It takes several minutes before he thinks he’s calm enough. The muscles of his sheath aren’t twitching and tightening anymore, but there’s still a need pulsing under his skin and it itches.

He uncurls enough to check that he’s not unsheathed before sitting back fully. Dean is watching him closely and Castiel knows, just by the way he’s pointedly not looking lower than his chin, that Dean wants to look down at his lap. There’s curiosity snaking along the edges of Dean’s mind. He has questions but he’s not asking and Castiel doesn’t feel comfortable enough to tell him.

(Are you okay now? You ready to head back upstairs?)

(Yes, please. Swimming will help take my mind off of –) He gestures down at his lap and the bundle of clothes.

Dean glances down briefly and Castiel thinks he might sense a curl of disappointment before Dean purges his current emotions from the kin-connection and forces a smile. (Alright. Let’s get moving.)

x

Castiel circles the small-sea in lazy loops. He’s long since finished the fish and given the bones over to Sam. Dean is eating two pieces of bread with several slices of meat and squares of yellow between them. He called it a ‘sandwich’ and the yellow squares are ‘cheese’. He’s sitting on his bed and flipping through a thin book covered in lots of pictures. The pages are glossy. He said it’s called a ‘magazine’. Jess is dozing, stretched out on top of the covers on the bed. Sam is at one of the computers. Dean said that Sam is writing about the information that he’s learned from Castiel.

For a while, after eating and while Jess and Bobby were getting the food and Sam and Dean were talking, Castiel had swam with his eyes closed and used his echolocation to guide him from the walls. The water is stagnant again and needs to be changed, so the illusion of the sea was incomplete. But it was enough to clear his head to think.

He thought about the trial period with Dean. He thought about tomorrow and Lilith’s return and her promise that Alistair would get to do what he wanted to Castiel. He thought about his home and his family and the poison-dream. He thought about the alphabet that Dean had shared with him during their return to the room.

He thought until his head and his heart hurt.

(Hey, Cas, what’s this?) Dean calls up the image of two parallel lines joined by a single line at their centers.

(That is an ‘H’.)

Dean smiles around his next bite from his sandwich and calls up an image of a circle and Castiel names it as an ‘O’. The human’s alphabet was easy to memorize and Dean has been quizzing him on it since he sat down to eat. He shares a half circle and Castiel recognizes it as a ‘C’.

(If you were out of the water, we could test you on the sounds too. If you know the sounds that letters make, it’ll be easier to recognize words when you read them because then you can just sound them out.)

Castiel flares his adipose fins and paddles to a stop. He twists his tail under him and settles to the floor. (Could we change small-sea’s water while we do that?)

Dean sits up straighter and puts the magazine aside. He finishes his sandwich in two big bites and stands. (Yeah, sure. Stale water is uncomfortable to breathe, huh? I’ll get the mobile tank so you can at least stay in the water.)

(I’m okay with sitting on your bed.)

(Yeah, I know.) Dean rubs his hand through his hair and looks away. A curl of embarrassment rises with his thoughts and shrugs. (I just feel bad that you live underwater but you’re spending so much time outta it because of me. It’s not – I dunno – it’s not right. You should get to stay in your natural element.)

Castiel looks down at his lap and traces the blue dots of his glow pattern where they loop alongside and under his sheath. (I do miss the water when I’m not in it. But I’d prefer being out there with you than alone inside this cage.)

A mix of emotions wash through the kin-connection. All Castiel can pick out is a bright anger toward Lilith. (Is the mobile tank okay?)

(Yes. It doesn’t have bars.) Castiel pushes off the floor to circle up to the top of small-sea. He rolls forward and slaps the bars with his tail before righting himself. (And it willl be much easier to kiss you.)

Dean’s short laugh startles Jess awake and Sam turns to glare at him. Dean shrugs an apology and winks at Castiel before leaving. He returns several minutes later with Bobby. Sam gets up to help Dean maneuver the very-small-sea into the room. They push it up against the front glass-wall. Bobby comes in behind Dean, pulling the pump.

Castiel pulls himself up on the left glass-wall. He crosses his arms over the edge and seals his gills. It’s a few moments of uncomfortable coughing and spitting out the water in his lungs before he can breathe properly. Jess groans when she sees the pump and rolls over, pulling the pillow over her head.

“Really guys? Right now?”

Dean  puts the hose in the very-small-sea while Bobby hooks it up to the hidden hole in the wall. “Sorry, Jess. The water needs to be changed and we might as well do it now.”

Jess makes a disgruntled noise and sits up. “I’m going to go back to our room then.”

Sam looks up sharply. “You shouldn’t be alone.”

“Pam is alone.”

“She’s the ship’s doctor, they’re not going to do anything to her.”

“Then I’ll go sleep in her room.” Jess stretches and her shirt lifts to bare her belly.

Castiel tilts his head. (Dean. How come you and Jess have different stomachs?)

(Because we’re different people? And I’m a guy. She’s a girl. What do you even mean?)

He pushes an image of the dips the humans have in their stomachs through the kin-connection. Dean’s is a little pit while Jess’s looks like a little nub. Dean laughs again and starts to explain belly buttons and umbilical cords. Castiel’s nose crinkles in disgust. It’s almost as bad as when Jess told him about how humans change their faces and their bodies.

Sam leaves with Jess to escort her to Pamela’s room while the very-small-sea starts to get filled. He's back only a few minutes later. Castiel watches quietly, as Dean, Sam and Bobby talk about their chances of stealing something they call a lifeboat. Dean translates it as a boat that, in the case of emergency, can be used by crew to escape the bigger boat.

Because of Dean’s cast, it’s Sam who helps Castiel out of the tank. It takes much kicking and pulling, and the glass digs into his stomach and scrapes over his scales before Castiel is over the wall and dripping against Sam’s chest. Dean helps him down from the platform and stands to the side as Sam lowers Castiel into the small-sea.

He crosses his arms over one of the short ends of the very-small-sea and  enjoys the feel of the water rushing from the hose over his scales. It feels like a current pushing over his scales and Castiel briefly misses the open sea and the currents that flowed around the trench before he smothers those thoughts.

(Dean. Can we kiss now?)

Dean looks up from checking the pump. (Wait til Bobby is gone.)

(Does Bobby not approve?)

(He doesn’t care about that, but I don’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. It’s like kissing in front of my dad and it’s kinda an awkward thing to do.) Dean shrugs and looks between the pump and the water in the very-small-sea.

Castiel rests his chin on his forearms. (I’m not sure I understand.)

(Well, would you want to make out in front of your family?)

(I wouldn’t mind it.)

Dean turns off the pump and Bobby lifts the hose out. Together they lift it over the glass-wall of small-sea. His surprise is mixed with skepticism. (You’d be okay sucking face with Balthazar or… um… Gabriel? You’d be okay doing that with them right next to you?)

(I’ve been present when they’ve kissed females. It’s only the actual act of sex that we do in private. Kissing is nothing to be embarrassed of and I would be very proud to kiss you in front of my siblings. If you were a fin-kin, I think you would be a very desirable mate and anyone would be very jealous if I were to kiss you in front of them.)

Dean is pleased with Castiel’s compliment and his thoughts vibrate with a smug satisfaction. Those disappear almost immediately, surprise spreading bright and hard through the kin-connection. It’s so unexpected that it shocks Castiel and his fans flare.

(Didn’t you say that yesterday. What’s that word mean?)

Castiel’s stomach sinks and trepidation squeezes around his lungs. (What word?)

(‘Mate’. You said it yesterday with your goodbye. But right now we aren’t talking about stuff to do with goodbyes so what does it mean?) Dean leaves the hose and stands in front of Castiel. His shoulders are set in a stiff line and his thoughts are hard and sharp.

He knows Castiel lied to him about the goodbye.

That sinking feeling intensifies and Castiel’s throat feels tight. He doesn’t want to tell Dean about the poison-dream and he didn’t think Dean would recognize the word. He hadn’t even thought about using it. He thought that maybe Dean would have paid more attention to the image used to describe it rather than the word itself.

Bobby starts up the pump again to drain the water from the small-sea

(Cas, did you lie to me?)

He can’t lie to Dean right now without hiding behind walls and Dean will be able to feel it. It’s like when Dean found out the bonding song was a love song. If he looks away, Dean will know he was lying. If he withdraws in any way, he’ll know he was lying. The kin-connection is working against Castiel. He presses his lips together into a thin line and his eyes slip closed.

(Yes.)

(Why?)

(I didn’t want to tell you what I said.)

(Why not?)

Castiel looks away. It’s hard to swallow around the lump that’s lodged itself in his throat and his chest feels too tight. (You wouldn’t like it.)

(Let me be the judge of that.)

He shakes his head and presses his face into his arms. (I don’t want to tell you. It will make you uncomfortable.) Anxiety thrums across his bones and his fins are rippling. (Don’t ask again. Please, Dean. Don’t ask.)

(I’m not going to forget this and let it go, Cas. I don’t like being lied to.) An eerie kind of calm settles over the kin-connection. It vibrates with a thin anger that unsettles Castiel and it’s getting hard to breathe again. (You’ve got two choices right now. Tell me what you said or we can break this connection right now and I’ll go hang out with Pam and Jess until I’ve calmed down enough to come back.)

Castiel’s fans flare and he looks up quickly at the mention of Pamela. The last time Dean was angry and left, he went to her and came back bearing her marks. The last thing Castiel wants right now is for that to happen again. Dean knows that. He knows that Castiel hates the thought of anyone else touching him. And Dean is the one who named the feelings that had burned through the core of him as ‘jealousy’.

Dean knows this and he’s using it against Castiel and that makes him mad. Castiel snarls, baring his teeth and flaring his fans unhappily. He turns away and slips under the water, curling at the opposite end of the very-small-sea. The first rush of water over his gills is painful and he chokes slightly as it floods his lungs. Dean could easily walk around to stand over him on this side. He folds his tail to his chest and presses his face to his scales.

Exasperation filters hotly over the kin-connection and Castiel can feel when Dean starts to gather the link, preparing to sever it. Castiel pulls at the touch, tugging at Dean’s mind to stop him. He doesn’t want Dean to break the kin-connection and he especially doesn’t want Dean to go to Pamela. It’s with a heavy resignation that Castiel dregs up the memories of the dream and shoves them through their link.

He takes a slight satisfaction in knowing that he did it hard enough that Dean would have winced.

Castiel keeps himself separated from Dean’s thoughts. He doesn’t want to know what Dean thinks of the memories or how he feels about it. He hides behind the walls of his mind and waits. He doesn’t know what he’s waiting for, or what he’s even hoping for. Castiel doesn’t want Dean to be mad at him, and he doesn’t want Dean to leave.

But the thoughts that Castiel had – that he dreamed of Dean as his bond-mate – it could make Dean unhappy. He still doesn’t know how Dean feels, or how he thinks about him. Castiel knows that Dean is attracted to him physically. He knows that Dean likes him. But does he like him to the point of accepting him as a bond-mate?

It’s been eleven days since he met Dean.

It’s too soon.

Castiel shouldn’t be thinking of Dean like that, but he has. He does. He wants to put his mouth to Dean’s throat and place his mark on his skin. He wants to cover Dean in marks to show that Castiel was here. That Dean wanted him enough to let him do that.

Even after Castiel has gone home.

But those marks won’t stay. Castiel could leave more permanent ones with his teeth or his claws. He could, but he won’t. Not without Dean’s permission and never unless Dean wanted it too. If Dean wanted to mark him too, Castiel would allow it. He would welcome it. Castiel wants something to take home with him, something to remind him that he knew Dean and that he had wanted him.

His nose starts to tingle and he can feel the sting of tears in his eyes.

When he leaves, he wants to take something more than just memories. He doesn’t know what, but he wants to have something so he doesn’t forget Dean. Castiel never wants to forget him. Dean is the first to kiss him, the first to want him. The first, outside for his nest-siblings and his friends, to say he cares for Castiel.

He can feel Dean’s touch against the walls, pulling and pushing and trying to find a weak point. He can hear Dean saying his name in the kin-connection. Castiel is scared of what Dean will say about the poison-dream. He both does and does not want to hear what Dean thinks about it.

The pressure at the edge of his mind goes away. Dean’s presence is still there,  so the kin-connection hasn’t been broken. Castiel wants to check, to look up and see if Dean has left or what could be happening outside the very-small-sea. He doesn’t. He doesn’t move except to hug his tail tighter.

The water is vibrating with the sound of the pump.

Castiel isn’t expecting the eruption of movement in the water. He jerks out of his fold and his tail knocks Dean’s legs out from under him. He drops the walls and Dean’s surprise and his curses fill the kin-connection. Dean flounders in the water, getting his feet back on the floor before he pushes upright again. Castiel stares up at him from his corner, his back pressed into the junction of the walls.

Dean is wearing only his undershorts and he has the blue-sleeve on again. Castiel can’t see Bobby from where he’s lying at the bottom of the very-small-sea. The water is in level with Dean’s belly-button. It slows his movements as he takes a few steps forward, careful not to step on Castiel’s tail. He watches as Dean’s chest expands in a deep breath before he drops underwater.

(What are you doing?)

Dean doesn’t answer. He reaches down and pulls at Castiel’s arms, trying to drag him up. Castiel’s adipose fans ripple and he curves his tail to knock Dean’s legs away again. He’s still unhappy that Dean used his jealousy against him.

(I can’t breathe down here, Cas. Come up here before I drown.)

(I don’t want to.)

(It’ll be really hard to kiss you if I’m drowning.)

Castiel pauses in his attempts at making sure that Dean can’t stand and get the leverage he needs to pull him up. (You… still want to?)

Dean treads the water awkwardly to get his head above water and take a breath, Castiel’s wrist held loosely in his hand. (Yes. I still want to. Right now, even. If you’d just come up here.)

(Why?)

(Why what?)

(Why do you want to kiss me?)

(Because you asked me to kiss you and Bobby is gone now.)

Castiel frowns in confusion. (But… the poison-dream…)

Dean plants his feet on the floor again and Castiel doesn’t try to brush them out from underneath him with his tail again. He pulls and Castiel goes with it, letting Dean drag him up until he has to seal his gills and cough the water from his lungs.  Dean holds him up, one arm wrapped around his waist while his blue-sleeved hand rubs circles between his back-fans.

(You good?)

He coughs once more before leaning back to check Dean over. He doesn’t look angry, or uncomfortable and there’s no hint of either emotion in the kin-connection. There’s not really anything coming from Dean right now and Castiel brushes his touch against his mind to confirm that there are walls surrounding his thoughts.

(Yes, I’m good. But, Dean… The –)

(It was a dream, Cas. I’m not going to get pissed at you for dreaming. That’s something you can’t control. And, yeah, I’m not really sure how I feel about you thinking of me as your bond-mate – but I looked fucking awesome as a fin-kin and you’re way too generous with your opinion of how desirable a mate I’d be.) A small, self-deprecating smile pulls up at the corners of Dean’s lips.

(I’m not going to say that I would drop my whole life and go home with you if that was possible. Because I really don’t know if I would, not yet. And I wouldn’t ask you to leave everything that you know to come live with me, though it would sure as hell be a lot easier to accommodate you into my life than me into yours. That’s not fair to you and I wouldn’t ever ask you to do it.) His hand slips up to the back of Castiel’s head and guides him forward until their foreheads touch. (But when we get you back in the sea, when you get to go home, I’m going to miss you a helluva lot. If we can stay in contact, if there was any way for that to happen, I’d take it in a heartbeat. You gotta know that, okay?)

The anxiety curled tight in Castiel’s chest releases and leaves behind it a hollow space. It feels light, like his head, and he doesn’t know what to think. There’s too much there for him to process right now, but he’s got the general idea.

Dean wants Castiel with him. Maybe it’s not in the same way that Castiel wants Dean with him at the colony. He won’t stop him from leaving, and he’ll fight to get Castiel his freedom.

But Dean doesn’t want Castiel to go.

Dean will miss him.

When Dean kisses him this time, there’s an edge of desperation to it. Castiel can’t tell who it belongs to – him, or Dean. The water rises when Dean sinks to his knees and the glass-wall of the very-small sea presses into Castiel’s back. He wraps his tail tightly around Dean’s waist and he doesn’t let go.

Mother-sea help him, he doesn’t think he’s ever going to be able to.

Chapter Text

(If you’re sleepy, you can go to sleep.)

Castiel stifles another yawn and shakes his head. He tries to focus on the book propped open against Dean’s leg, but the small symbols keep blurring together. The letters Dean calls ‘lower case’ are harder to tell apart than the ‘upper case’ letters. And the sounds are all so foreign. Especially the sounds that go ‘th’. He doesn’t like those letters. His tongue doesn’t form around them right and it’s an endless source of delight for Dean.

(Cas, seriously. Go to sleep.) Dean reaches down and pushes his fingers through Castiel’s hair. (You only had a few hours sleep before I woke up, didn’t you? So you were awake basically the whole time I was out. You’ve gotta be super tired.)

He shakes his head again, dislodging Dean’s hand. (I don’t want to sleep.)

(Why not?)

He rubs at his eyes and doesn’t answer.

Dean puts aside his own book and moves the one Castiel is trying to read. So far he’s been able to say the words, forming the sounds around them in his stilted pronunciation. Some of the words, once he’s pieced the syllables together, are recognizable. But he doesn’t know what anything he’s reading actually means.

Castiel reaches for the book, but Dean puts them both on top of the drawers next to him. He flicks the end of his tail over the pillow in annoyance and glares up at Dean.

(I want to keep reading.)

(You stopped asking what the words mean over an hour ago. You’re not even really reading anymore. C’mon Cas, I’ll put you back in the tank and you can get some rest.) Dean stands and leans over to get his hands under Castiel’s chest.

He rolls away, pressing against the wall and curling his tail to push at Dean’s legs. (I don’t want to.)

(You don’t want to sleep and you don’t want to go into the tank. Dude, you are cranky when you’re tired.) Dean’s amusement washes over Castiel’s thoughts and he frowns at it. It’s annoying. The flare of his fans only makes Dean’s smile widen. (C’mon. You haven’t even given me a good reason why you don’t want to sleep. Or go back in the tank.)

Castiel shakes his head and tucks his arms under his chest so Dean can’t grab them and pull him toward the edge of the bed. He doesn’t want to go to sleep and lose time with Dean. Sleeping only makes time seem like it’s going by faster and Castiel wants time to go slower. He doesn’t want to sleep only to wake up just before Lilith comes back.

He would like to go back into the very-small-sea because he misses the water. But he wants Dean to get in with him. It’s not so lonely stuck between the glass-walls when Dean is there too. But the water is too deep for Dean to be able to relax. The water is above his head if he sits on the floor of the very-small-sea.

If Castiel has to sleep, he wants to sleep with Dean’s warmth pressed against him. The short stick on the clock is back on the single symbols and Dean said that it means that it’s very late. It’s been many hours since they kissed in the very-small-sea. Afterward, they had crossed their arms over the edges of the glass-walls, side-by-side, and simply talked.

Dean told him about his baby, providing several images of her shiny metals and extolling the wonders of the machinery under what he calls the ‘hood’. Castiel liked listening. Dean’s smile was fond, and wide, and he would gesture grandly while talking. Sometimes he slipped into talking with his throat voice and Castiel liked that too. His voice is rough and pleasant and when Castiel closes his eyes it vibrates over his skin and through his bones.

And when Dean was done, he asked about Castiel. He asked about his home, and his family, and what Castiel would do for fun. Castiel told him. He showed him memories of training, of playing with his brothers while he was growing up. He showed Dean memories of the trench and the songs his kin would sing.

They had stayed in the water until Sam came back with more food for Dean and a bucket with fish for Castiel. Sam hadn’t stayed long. He said that he and Bobby were trying to look into stealing one of the lifeboats. Castiel and Dean had both wanted to hear more about this plan, but Sam had warned that they were being watched much more closely than the others and the less they were involved, the better.

He hadn’t said why, but Castiel knows. Lilith is coming back in less than a day, and Alistair had made the promise that he’ll get to do what he wants. No one wants to take the risk that, under the prompting of pain, it’s very possible that Castiel could try to persuade them to stop by offering up information that Lilith would want to know about.

Castiel balks at the thought of ever turning on Sam or Dean. But he can’t guarantee that he won’t break. He may be an experienced warrior, but he hasn’t been trained to withstand any kind of torture.

It had put a damper on the evening and Castiel had only picked at his fish. Dean had eaten his whole supper and sorted through the few books that Sam had left for something with bigger symbols and less words. He’d used the books and sounds and words to distract Castiel from the thoughts of tomorrow.

(Cas, c’mon. You’ve been outta the tank for hours now. You need to soak up again and you can do that in the tank, yeah?) Dean puts one knee on the bed and leans over to touch Castiel’s arm. (If you want to sleep here, all you gotta do is ask, y’know?)

(I don’t want to sleep.) Castiel turns his face into the blankets and has to stifle another yawn. (I want to stay awake with you.)

A soft warmth creeps over Dean’s thoughts and he gently rubs Castiel’s arm. (As sweet as that is, you’re just going to drop off at some point without realizing it and it might as well be in the water.)

Castiel shakes his head again and feeds an image of being curled around Dean into the kin-connection. If Dean continues to insist that Castiel go to sleep, then it will have to be here. A soft chuckle tickles his side-fans and they twitch. He peeks up at the grin pulling at Dean’s lips.

(Okay, okay. It means I’ll be sleeping in a damp bed again, but that’s fine. C’mon. Help me water your tail and then we can get comfortable.) Dean starts to wiggle a hand under Castiel’s side, the other fitting over his back.

He frowns as he pushes up to make it easier to drag him to the edge of the bed. Dean has made several sacrifices for Castiel’s comfort already and he keeps making more every time Castiel is selfish. Logic says that Castiel should sleep in the very-small-sea. It would be more comfortable for the both of them and Castiel wouldn’t be impeding anything Dean might want to do during the night. There is no tiredness in Dean’s mind and he’s only been awake half the day.

Castiel puts his arms around Dean’s shoulders as he picks him up. (I’ll sleep in the very-small-sea.)

Surprise flickers through the kin-connection and Dean blinks at him with his eyebrows raised. (How come? I don’t mind you sleeping with me.)

(You shouldn’t have to sleep in a wet bed because of me.)

(If it bothered me, I’d say it. Seriously, Cas, it’s fine.)

Castiel shakes his head and curls his tail around Dean’s waist. (I understand. But you’re going to be up longer and I don’t want to be a hindrance to you. I’ll sleep there and you can move about doing whatever it is you want to do.)

Dean turns and sits on the edge of the bed with Castiel settled in his lap. Castiel straightens and looks around in confusion before turning to Dean. He smothers a noise of surprise as he’s pulled forward into a kiss. His adipose fins rustle and his fans creaks when they flex. It’s just a soft, quick kiss that ends before Castiel can even properly respond.

(Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing. I appreciate it, but it’s not necessary, Cas.) Dean tilts his head to press another kiss to his lips. (You’re the last person who should be trying to accommodate me. And you should know me well enough by now that if I really don’t like something, I’ll say it.)

He hums in agreement and cups Dean’s face, holding him in place so he stops pulling away after every kiss. Castiel licks at Dean’s lips, tasting the salt of the very-small-sea still on his skin. He purrs when Dean opens under the touch and gently sucks at Castiel’s tongue before pushing his way into Castiel’s mouth. Dean seems to have a fascination with tracing his teeth, curling over the points before tasting deeper.

(You too sleepy for one last thing?) Dean’s fingers slide over his back, hands pressing his fans down before running up his sides.

Castiel shivers at the touch, his adipose fins rippling. He’s tired, but there’s no way he wants to go to sleep when Dean’s warm hands are curving over his shoulders and along his collarbone. Dean’s teeth drag over his bottom lip and he can feel Dean’s smile against his mouth because he knows Castiel doesn’t need to answer with words. The tightening of his grip in Dean’s hair is answer enough.

Dean leans away, his thumb pressing up under Castiel’s chin to tilt his head back. To bare his throat like this puts him in a vulnerable position. His hands drop to Dean’s shoulders, and he presses his claws into the shirt covering them in warning. Dean’s fingers trace over the pulse in his neck. (You still want to learn how to make hickeys?)

He tightens his tail, the end of it twitching against Dean’s thigh. Castiel swallows and he can feel the motion pressing against Dean’s fingers. He bites his lip and nods, pulsing approval and desire into the kin-connection. His fans spread and creak when he feels the wash of Dean’s breath over his skin and he moves his hands to splay his fingers over Dean’s spine, pulling him closer.

(It’s really simple, Cas. I bet you’ll get it first try.) Castiel holds his breath when Dean tilts his head and presses a kiss to his pulse point.

Dean’s fingers are almost too warm where they settle in the small of his back, thumbs brushing against the bottom spine of his back-fans. Castiel lets out his breath in a sharp burst when Dean’s tongue wets the place he kissed and there’s a brief scrape of teeth.

(You’ll have to be more careful with yours – but you just do it like this.)

Castiel can’t see it happening. He has to go by the touch of Dean’s lips. A small gasp escapes him when Dean seals his mouth over the pulse and sucks. He curls his fingers in Dean’s shirt and his fins rustle violently as Dean licks and sucks and bites at that one spot. Dean encourages every breathy little moan that Castiel makes, his approval and satisfaction curling warm through the kin-connection.

His breath is coming in quick, sharp bursts and Castiel’s heart is beating hard against his ribs. He’s certain Dean can feel it where their chests are pressed together. Castiel whines whenever Dean’s hands move, nails dragging softly over the skin along his sides and over his hips to palm the sharp jut of them.

There’s a slick sound when Dean moves from that one spot. Castiel hisses in surprise when Dean licks over the edge of his gills, tongue flicking over the scales that line them. Dean sits back again and licks his lips.

(Hope you were taking notes. Although if you need a repeat performance, I’d be more than happy to show you again.)He grins, touching where he left his mark before dragging his fingertips lightly over his collarbone.

Dean sends the image into the kin-connection and heat thrums hot under Castiel’s skin at the mottled red and purple mark on his neck. Castiel uncurls from around Dean and pushes at his shoulders. Dean bounces when he falls against the bed and immediately he tilts his head back. The heat under Castiel’s skin is matched by the warmth throbbing through their link.

Castiel twines his tail around Dean’s legs and presses his nose to the underside of his jaw. Dean’s hands smooth over his sides in long, even strokes while Castiel licks over the stubble roughened skin. He tastes the same salt on his skin and Castiel can’t decide where he wants to leave his mark. A shiver slips down his spine and heat pools tight in his chest and below his stomach.

He gets to mark him.

Dean will walk around in front of Pamela, Lilith, everyone he knows bearing Castiel’s mark on his throat. On one of the most vulnerable places on his body. It makes a light, fluttery feeling fill his chest and swirl down into his stomach and back up.

Dean makes a soft noise of surprise and he jerks under him when Castiel cautiously tries dragging his teeth over Dean’s clavicle. His hands grips tightly over Castiel’s sides, the edge of his cast digging into his skin. Little red lines mark the shelf of his collarbone, but there is no blood and no broken skin.

Every so often, Dean’s hips roll up against his. Castiel decides on the hard center of Dean’s throat. He licks over it and he can feel the gentle vibrations of Dean’s pleased hum against his tongue.

(Gonna do it there, Cas?) Anticipation curls around Dean’s words and he can feel the rapid race of his pulse against his lips.

Castiel closes his mouth over the skin and sucks. Dean makes a quiet, strangled noise in the back of his throat and his back arches. He pulls away a few moments later to inspect the small mark and he licks at it, feeling the heat of Dean’s blood under his skin. Castiel sucks and kisses and licks and he wants to bite, but the sharp points of his teeth would hurt him.

It would leave a more permanent mark. The kind of mark that Dean would bear long after Castiel goes home. It’s the kind of mark he wants to leave, to show that he was here. Dean doesn’t want that kind of mark. He hasn’t asked for it and Castiel won’t do it. He can’t. But every scrape of his teeth draws the most interesting noises and the sounds are addicting.

He tries not to think about where else he could kiss Dean that would draw those noises. Or what other kinds of sounds he could get Dean to make. Castiel presses his teeth around the mark while dragging his tongue over it. It’s not quite a bite but it shows that he could. He flares his fans possessively when Dean’s fingers press hard into his back and Dean groans.

Castiel pulls at the collar of Dean’s shirt, dragging it down until he can see one of Pamela’s marks. He kisses away from his first mark until he reaches the other. Dean’s brief flicker of confusion gives way immediately to understanding and amusement. A huff of laughter makes Dean’s chest shake under his and Dean’s hips are pushing up harder against him in slow thrusts.

Dean hums in approval while Castiel covers Pamela’s fading mark with one of his own. He tilts his head to give Castiel more room. The shirt won’t pull down far enough to show more of the marks and Castiel has to pull away entirely to push Dean’s shirt up and out of the way so he can get at the rest of them. No one might know or notice that these marks will no longer be Pamela’s.

Dean’s breath skips and stutters when his chest is bared, his shirt pushed up into the pits of his arms. Castiel moves from one spot to the other after he’s made it darker and wider, more obvious. Dean’s hands slide down his back and grip the swell of his tail below his back-fans.

The heat is dragging hot and quick through his body and pooling in his gut. He knows what the sharp push of Dean’s hips against him is, and the hardness pressing into his scales. It’s getting difficult to breathe and Dean’s scent is flooding his senses, making it hard to focus on anything else but the salt of his skin and the sounds Dean makes.

Castiel especially likes the nearly silent whine when his tongue drags over a mark close to one of his nipples. When he does it again, Dean twists his chest to press closer. Desire flows through the kin-connection accompanied with unspoken images that clearly show what he wants. Castiel complies immediately, licking curiously at the hardening nipple.

Dean makes the best sound then, and a quiet curse hisses between his teeth as he arches into the press of Castiel’s tongue. The noise dives through Castiel, tugging hard at his insides and burning into the pit of his stomach. He can feel the muscles of his sheath starting to twitch and Castiel should stop. He should stop because this is a dangerous line to cross and thinking about doing anything more makes the magma in his belly boil as panic knots behind his sternum.

His blood is rushing, searing his veins but he can’t stop until all of Pamela’s marks are his own. It’s pounding in his head and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe. He’s gasping into Dean’s skin and his hands are starting to shake where they press into the bed.

Castiel barely notices the beep of the door, but Dean does. He surges up, pushing at Castiel’s shoulders. He rolls away and curls at the head of the bed, hugging the fold of his tail to his chest and pressing his face to his scales. He breathes slow, focusing on the in and out though his lungs again like he did before.

A part of him wants to wrap around Dean again, hold him to the bed and press their hips together. He wants to rub against him and find out all the different sounds that Dean can make. Castiel wants to bring himself to completion in the taste of Dean and lose himself in the scent of his skin. The want is coursing under his scales and it’s new and fantastic and terrifying.

The bed shifts when Dean stands and Castiel peeks up over the edge of his tail. Jess stops when she comes around the door. She blinks at Dean and he pauses while adjusting his shirt.

A knowing smile pulls at her lips. “Did I interrupt?”

“Kinda, yeah.” There’s only a slight embarrassment trembling the borders of Dean’s mind. “It’s pretty late, what are you doing here?”

“We left our extra pillows in here and Sam’s hogging the ones we’ve got.”

Dean laughs and shifts from side to side as an uncomfortable edge starts to colour his thoughts.  “Yeah, he does that. I’m pretty sure I warned you about that before you two got serious.”

Jess shrugs and her eyes slide from Dean to him. “Hi Castiel.”

He wiggles his fingers over his scales in a small wave and Dean glances back over his shoulder, a fond amusement warming his thoughts. Jess makes a soft noise and both of them look back to her. There’s a small smile tugging one side of her mouth up and she gestures at her throat.

“Nice artwork. That new?”

Dean grins and Castiel bites his lip when he reaches up and touches the mark. “Sure is. If you think this one is good, you should see the rest.” He tugs at the collar of his shirt and Jess rolls her eyes.

“I should be surprised you managed to seduce a merman, but I’m really, really not.” She shakes her head, laughing softly before crossing the room to get the pillows. When she stops at the door, her expression tightens and she opens her mouth as if to say something but she holds her tongue and shakes her head again. “You guys should get some rest soon. There’s a long day ahead of us.”

Confusion and a slight concern mark Dean’s thoughts as he waves her off. He locks the door behind her but by the time he turns around, Castiel is sitting up and rubbing at his eyes.

(As awesome as it would be to pick up where we left off, you need to get some sleep.)

Castiel nods and he stifles a yawn when Dean picks him up. The small interruption with Jess was enough for the heat under his skin to cool. It’s enough for him to start to ignore it and he pointedly looks away from the mark on Dean’s throat.

Dean presses a kiss to his temple while he puts his tail over the glass-wall. (You’re going to over think what just happened and I’m just saying, you shouldn’t. Don’t think about it. It happened, it was awesome, and it should totally happen again. There’s a whole lot more that you haven’t gotten to try yet and it’s all pretty damn awesome. Just enjoy it. Don’t think about it.)

He hums and makes eddies in the water when he twists his tail through it. Castiel can’t guarantee that he won’t think about it, but he’s trying very hard not to right now. The edges of his mind are getting fuzzy and it’s not too hard to not focus on how he should have had better control over himself.

Castiel turns his head and presses a lazy kiss to the corner of Dean’s jaw, mumbling a ‘good night’ against his skin before sliding into the water. He sinks to the bottom and he chokes slightly as water fills his lungs before it rushes through his gills properly. Dean crouches on the other side of the glass-wall and Castiel turns onto his side, curling and tucking the end of his tail under his head. He pillows his cheek against his fins and Dean waves at it him.

(Sweet dreams, Cas.)

He sends a small burst of appreciation for the sentiment and he closes his eyes as Dean stands. He counts each breath until the darkness behind his eyelids becomes complete and he knows nothing past that.

x

When Castiel wakes, the first thing he notices are the emotions curling through the kin-connection from Dean. There’s surprise, unrest, embarrassment, and too many for Castiel’s still sleep addled mind to sort through. He yawns and unfolds, his tail sliding against the glass before he can stretch it toward the other end of the very-small-sea.

The second thing he notices is a familiar fading ache in his gut and the scent in the water. He sits up quickly and looks around sharply, blinking the sleep from his eyes. Dean is laying on his bed, his back toward Castiel. Cautiously, he reaches out for his mind and the brush of his thoughts makes Dean flinch.

(Dean?)

(Yeah?)

(Did you… Did I…?)

Dean shifts and turns his head slightly to look over his shoulder. (I didn’t, and you did.)

(Oh.) He looks down at his lap and smoothes his hands over his scales. Castiel feeds his regret into the kin-connection. He doesn’t tell Dean that it’s because he’s disappointed that he can’t remember whatever he dreamed that brought him to this. (I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.)

He brushes aside Castiel’s apology and rolls over to sit up. (This wasn’t my first sleepover, Cas. You had a happy dream and frankly after how many times you got blue balled yesterday, you deserved it. Sorry about that, by the way. I should have, y’know, done something about that.)

Castiel shakes his head and glances up at Dean. (It’s better that you didn’t. I would have… I don’t know.)

(Yeah, I get it.) Dean rubs at the back of his neck and indecision flares through his thoughts. He tilts his head back to look at the ceiling. (Uh, I did – well I kinda… saw... I mean – I heard a thump – which I guess was you hitting the wall or something – and when I looked over you were kind of –) He gestures vaguely. (I wouldn’t have looked if I had known.)

He can feel a blush heat his gills and he looks away from the bruise colouring the middle of Dean’s throat. (You’re lying.)

(Okay, yeah. I would totally peek. Just coz’, y’know, I’m curious and shit. And you peeked first so it’s only fair. But I swear that as soon as I saw what was going on, I didn’t look again.) Dean’s honesty curls around the images and his words.

Castiel chews on his bottom lip lightly and brushes his thumb over the dotted design that circles around his sheath. From what he’s seen through the kin-connection from Sam and Dean, and the brief glimpse of Dean in the shower that he caught yesterday. He knows that fin-kin and human males have similar genitals, but they are still very different both in size and shape.

(Can I ask you something?) Dean prods his curiosity at Castiel’s mind. He nods and then winces at Dean’s question. (Do all  fin-kin have glowing dicks, or is it just you?)

He presses his lips together in a thin line and turns a disapproving glare on Dean. (It’s not our penises that glow. It’s the glow-pattern on them.)

(So it’s not just on your tail? That’s… kinda really awesome.) Dean’s grin cools the edges of his glare.

(We don’t just have them on our tails, Dean. Our glows are on our skin too.) Castiel stretches one of his arms above his head, showing off his side and the lines of blue stacked from his hip up until they curve over his lowest ribs.

He touches the circles above the scales on his cheeks and shares images of his nest brothers. First he shows Dean memories of Gabriel and the dotted bursts of lines that spread from his temple to his eyes and over his cheeks and the similar lines stretching from his scales towards his ribs. Next he shows the dotted orange line down the center of Michael’s throat, and the tower of lines marking the inside of his arm.

Dean’s lips purse around what must be a whistle, but Castiel can’t hear it through the water and glass. (That’s awesome. Man, you guys look really badass and us humans are just so… blah.)

(Despite the cruelty I’ve seen that humans are capable of – you are still amazing.) Castiel shrugs and ruffles his fans. (You make such interesting things; machines that can fly through the air, or float on the sea, or swim in the water. We make weapons and tools and trinkets. But nothing anywhere near what I’ve seen on this boat or in your memories. My colony evolved glows because we needed it. But you humans adjust your world instead of your bodies to fit your needs.)

He can sense Dean’s impending argument and he smothers it, shaking his head. (What time is it?)

Dean’s frowns at the topic change and his irritation pulses slightly. (Pushing close to midday.)

His fans flare in surprise and Castiel pushes up and curls his tail underneath him, hunching forward to keep his head underwater. (When is Lilith coming back?)

(A few hours. Five, six? They never really gave us much of a time frame beyond ‘afternoon’.) He stands and stretches, twisting at his waist. (You hungry? You still have some bucket fish left.)

Castiel shrugs. Anxiety is making his stomach turn and he doesn’t feel too hungry. He rests his palm over his stomach and he stares down at it until Dean’s concern makes him look back up.

(You’re Lilith’s biggest prize. She’s not going to let Alistair actually hurt you. If they do try anything, it’ll be only as a scare tactic.) Dean crosses over to the very-small-sea and gestures for Castiel.

He pushes up to meet him, gripping the glass-wall’s edge. Dean holds his shoulders as he coughs the water from his lungs. He pushes Castiel’s hair back off his forehead. (I want to promise you that I won’t let them do anything to you and that I’ll keep you safe, but I’ve been saying that since the beginning and I’ve been complete shit at it.)

Castiel doesn’t like the self-loathing that leaks into the kin-connection before Dean snaps up the walls around his mind to hide them. He swipes the back of his hand over his mouth before leaning in to press his face against Dean’s neck.

(You have your family to worry about. There’s no way you can keep all of us safe.) He fits his arms around Dean’s chest, clutching at the back of his shirt. (Your family comes first. I understand that.)

(But you already got the short end of the stick with this shitty situation Sammy dragged you into, you shouldn’t be put on the backburner because of it.)

Castiel noses the soft skin under his ear. (You can’t protect everyone, Dean.)

The growl in Dean’s throat mirrors the disapproval that burns through the kin-connection. (It’s just – I wish I could. But we’re so out manned and out gunned and I’ve thought it over from every fucking angle and I still don’t see how we could come out on top without stealing a damn lifeboat and I don’t even know how we can get away with that without any casualties. It’s not fucking fair and even with what Dad taught me, I have no goddamn idea what to do.)

Dean’s hug gets tighter and Castiel touches at his thoughts, skirting the walls that keep most of Dean’s emotions hidden from him. He can feel snatches of Dean’s anger, his confusion and concern. They echo his own. Castiel doesn’t know what to expect later and he’s worried about what Lilith might do to Dean and the others as punishment for the escape.

When Dean suddenly stands straighter, Castiel has to tighten his hold as he’s lifted from the water. He’s confused and surprised as Dean drags him over the glass-wall and carries him to the bed. He has to flatten his fans against his back when Dean drops him over the blankets.

(Dean?)

(I said that the kissing trial period was only for last night.) Dean sits over Castiel, knees on either side of his tail. (Do you still want to keep at it?)

He stares up at Dean, his tail twitching over the bed behind him. Does he want to stop? Could he stop? Would he really be able to stop kissing Dean now, knowing that Dean wants him? That Dean wants to kiss him too?

He nods and the relief dancing along the edges of the kin-connection is not just his own.

 Dean presses his fingers to the mark over his pulse point. (Lilith’s going to be really pissed about this.)

Castiel’s adipose fins ripple, rustling against the bedding. He hadn’t thought about that and he reaches up to touch the purple-red bruise darkening the center of Dean’s throat. A fluttery panic pushes at his lungs and, not for the first time, Castiel doesn’t know what to do. If Lilith will be mad at Dean for marking him, how might she react knowing that he marked Dean?

His hand slips to the blue-white cast encasing Dean’s left forearm. What if someone hurts Dean again? What if they separate them? Lilith was mad enough with just the kiss, but then she had said she didn’t care and they could do what they want. But she’s so unpredictable.

Dean leans down and presses a hard kiss to Castiel’s mouth. (Calm down. You’ve got your ace in the hole. If they try anything, you can mind fuck them into next week.)

Castiel’s anxiety disperses under the insistent push of Dean’s tongue and his hand drifting over his stomach. (I don’t know if they’ll let me go with you this time, but you stay in my head, okay? Don’t you cut me out for anything. I want to know everything they’re doing.)

He doesn’t understand why Dean would think he would sever the kin-connection. Castiel jerks from the kiss in surprise when Dean’s fingers move over his chest in teasing little circles. He presses, traces, pinches and rubs. Each small touch drags a sharp gasp from Castiel and he arches into the touch, scrabbling at Dean’s shoulders, trying to find something to hold onto.

The end of his tail smacks into the drawers, the crash of it startling them both.

Dean grins against his lips. (See? Does it make sense now why I liked that yesterday?)

Castiel drops his hand to cover Dean’s, stopping his fingers and holding it flat to his chest. He can practically feel the beating of his heart through Dean’s hand. He’s conflicted. He wants this but he doesn’t want this. He’s craving Dean’s touch and the heat of the hand pressed against his skin. But if he’s allowed more, will he get to have it again?

He doesn’t know if he can stand having anything beyond this now but never again.

Dean pauses, sitting back slightly. (Cas? What’s wrong?)

(I – I can’t. Please.)

Disappointment curls beneath the understanding. Dean presses a chaste kiss to the corner of Castiel’s mouth. (You’re not ready yet?)

Castiel shakes his head and drags Dean back into a kiss. He doesn’t want to stop the kissing, and if he could leave more marks under Dean’s shirt or on his neck, he would very much like to do that again. Dean stretches out over him and tucks his hands under Castiel’s shoulders. The kisses stay slow and sweet with a gentle swipe of tongue every so often.

They stop only when the rumble of Castiel’s stomach makes Dean slide to one side and pull away with a laugh. Castiel tries dragging him back, hooking his tail over Dean’s hip. He gets more laughter for his efforts.

(You haven’t eaten since supper yesterday and you barely ate that. I’ve gotta go to the washroom and get my own food and you should eat too.) Dean pushes up and tries to unfold Castiel’s tail. He only holds on tighter. (Seriously. Every time, Cas? C’mon. I’ll be right back.)

(I want more kisses.) Castiel pulls at his shirt. (Dean. Please.)

Amusement and acquiescence flicker through the kin-connection and Dean dips his head to meet Castiel half way. He fixes his arm around Dean’s shoulders and pulls him back until they’re laying flat again. A purr rumbles in Castiel’s chest and Dean strokes a thumb over the scales on his cheek. When he tries to pull away again, Castiel nips as softly as possible at his bottom lip. It earns him a pleased groan and Dean presses forward again, tongue tasting deep.

Castiel makes a note that Dean likes that.

(Cas, we’ve gotta – I’ll be back in just a few minutes.)Dean traces his hand down Castiel shoulder, along his side and over his tail. He tugs lightly at Castiel’s adipose fin. (It’ll be faster if you wait here and nothing is going to happen. I can call Sam or someone back up here while I’m gone, if you want.)

(I want –)

(More kisses, yeah, I know. And I’m more than happy to provide – but seriously. Bathroom. Food. You’re hungry, I know you are.)

Castiel grumbles, uncurling slowly. Dean crawls over him to get off the bed and Castiel glowers at him while he puts on his boots. He checks the pockets of his other pants before checking the top drawer. After a few moments of searching, he steps away with the white rectangle that unlocks the doors. He also has a string in his fist.

When he gives Dean the image of the string and his confusion, Dean unfolds his fist and holds out what is actually a necklace. Castiel sits up to inspect the pendant closely. It’s a small gold face with horns.

(Sammy gave it to me when we were kids. I don’t wear it when I’m on shift because it could get caught in the machinery, and with everything that’s been going on with you and Lilith, I completely forgot about it.) He slips the string over his head and it hangs a hand span under his clavicle. (That feels better. Kinda felt naked without it.)

Dean moves the bucket with the dead grey fish in it closer to the bed. (Make as big a mess as you want. I’m going to have to change the sheets anyway since they’re kinda wet now. I’ll be back in just a moment, I swear.)

Castiel tries not to sulk when Dean leaves. He keeps a hold on the kin-connection and settles in the corner of the bed by the drawers. According to Dean, many people keep looking at his neck and Castiel’s very obvious mark. It sends a pleased, possessive feeling to settle hot in his chest.

A few times, Dean shows him what he sees while waiting in line for food in the big room with the many ledges and low ledges. Castiel sees all the many foods that are lined up in silver containers behind a glass wall.

People wearing white down their fronts put the food in a square container. Dean asks for extra of the French fries and Castiel’s fans flex excitedly. Dean promises to share with him as long as Castiel doesn’t eat enough to make his stomach hurt again. The tone of Dean’s words is teasing and Castiel flicks at his mind in retaliation.

Castiel picks up the book that he was reading yesterday and opens it to a random page. He sounds his way through a block of text that, if the picture of the sea-giant next to it means anything, is about them. It’s a breed Castiel has never seen before; a sea-giant of black and white. He traces the image and wonders if humans have sea-giants in cages too. When he turns the page, his question is answered. It’s a much larger small-sea than his own.

The door beeps while Castiel is reading aloud from that page. Dean stops in the door and grins. (Say that again.)

(Say what?)

(What you were just reading.)

Castiel blinks at him for a moment before looking down at the page again. “Tuh-chh-uh mm-o-s-tuh fff-aye-mm-o-uh-sss kay-ill-er wuh-aye-lee-ss aye-rrr-ee –”

Dean snickers and waves his free hand. (Stop, stop. Did you forget that letter combinations change the way they sound?)

He frowns down at the book. Yes, he had forgotten. (Then how is that supposed to sound?)

“The most famous killer whales are –”

Castiel closes the book with a snap and drops it back on top of the drawers. (After we eat can we try writing instead? Can we spell my name?)

(We could try.) Dean sits next to him and Castiel retrieves a few fish from the bucket before they settle with their backs to the wall.

Castiel stretches his tail over the edge of the bed and idly swishes it side to side while they eat. He offers Dean some of his fish in exchange for some French fries, but Dean immediately turns him down, wrinkling his nose at the bones and flesh. He shares his the fries anyway. When Castiel licks his hands clean of the salt and the fish, Dean offers his own and wiggles his fingers, a teasing grin pulling at his lips.

He stares at Dean’s twitching fingers. Castiel knows exactly what Dean is asking, and he knows that doing that would be considered something sexual. Dean had said previously that he thought that cleaning his fingers this way was sexy. Doing this, cleaning Dean’s hands with his lips and tongue, it shouldn’t be any worse than placing his marks on Dean’s skin, especially in such a visible place, but it’s still different.

It’s different enough to make his heart race and his skin to prickle and his breath to skitter hard through his lungs.

Dean laughs and his hand drops. Castiel catches him around the wrist and lifts his hand back up. The amusement tripping pleasantly through the kin-connection falls away into a heated, pulsing anticipation. Castiel licks at his fingers, trailing his tongue down to the dip between each one. He sucks softly at the skin between thumb and index.

His side-fans twitch at the slick sound of Dean licking his lips and Castiel catches the sharp inhale when he slides his lips over Dean’s middle finger and sucks at the taste still clinging to his skin. His chest hurts with how little he’s breathing and how hard his heart is beating. Dean swallows audibly when Castiel cleans the rest of his fingers and moves on to his other hand. It’s more difficult with the blue-white cast in the way, but Dean still makes the soft gasping noise when he’s teeth press against the pads of his fingers.

Castiel can feel heat rising in his face and he sits back without looking at Dean when he’s done. He can make an educated guess at what Dean will look like and if he sees it, he’s not sure what will happen. He draws his tail up and folds it against his chest. He rests his chin on the bend of it.

(That was… Wow. Thanks. I wasn’t actually expecting you to do it.)

He makes a small noise that could be a laugh but he’s not really sure if it is. (Neither was I.)

(We should… we should clean up. Yeah, clean up. And, um, brush our teeth.)

Castiel sends a pulse of disdain through the kin-connection. The mint is refreshing, but he dislikes the coppery taste of his own blood when the toothbrush makes his gums bleed. He flares his fans unhappily when Dean stands and gets a bucket from the corner under the wall-ledge where he dumps his empty white container. He brings it over for Castiel to put the bones of his fish in and he leaves it next to him.

It’s where Castiel spits the foaming toothpaste after he’s done brushing his teeth to Dean’s satisfaction. Dean puts the toothbrush and toothpaste away and starts to tidy the area. Castiel rubs his tongue over the smooth faces of his teeth and breathes the scent of the mint.

After he’s done cleaning up, Dean brings one of the chairs over and Castiel slips from the bed to it. He holds his tail out of the way while Dean pushes him to the ledge. Dean pulls up the other chair and sits next to him. From a few drawers under the ledge, he gets the short sticks he calls ‘pens’ and a handful of the white rectangles he calls ‘paper’.

He spreads them out before them and twiddles the pen between his fingers. When he speaks, it’s with his throat voice, but he translates the words through the kin-connection.  “So your name is pronounced Castiel, right?”

“Cas-tee-elle.” He nods, leaning closer when Dean puts the end of the pen to the paper.

“Okay. So there are a few letters to choose to start your name. C or K.” He writes them both, one above the other. “And the ‘as’ is easy enough to figure out.” Dean adds an ‘a’ and an ‘s’ after the ‘C’ and the ‘K’.”

Castiel looks from the paper and up at Dean while he chews on the other end of the pen. “And I guess the ‘t’ comes next. But should it be an ‘i’ or an ‘e’ that follows that?” He writes down the ‘Kast’ and the ‘Cast’ again and after each one he adds either letter. There are four lines on the sheet now and Castiel watches as Dean adds more variations ending in ‘el’ or ‘elle’.

“I think that’s all of them.” Dean sits back and rubs a hand through his hair. “Well that’s about all the different ways we can spell your name phonetically. So, uh, I guess you just pick whichever one looks best?”

Castiel takes the paper and he scrutinizes the list. There are a few that he likes the look of, but he holds the list out to Dean. (Which do you like?)

Dean doesn’t hesitate to point. “That one. It just… feels right.”

He puts the paper down and nods. “C-A-S-T-I-E-L. Good.” Castiel turns his smile to Dean and holds out his hand for the pen. “Please?”

Carefully, Dean puts the pen in Castiel’s hand and folds his fingers around it in the proper way to hold it. He has to move it further down in Castiel’s fingers than he holds it himself because of Castiel’s claws. The end of it pushes uncomfortably against the webbing between his thumb and forefinger, but Castiel ignores it as Dean wraps his hand around his and moves it to the paper.

Under Dean’s guidance, they spell out Castiel’s name again before Dean lets him try on his own. It’s much more shaky and uneven when Castiel does it alone. After the fifth time, Castiel is more sure with the movement. With another pen, Dean writes out the whole alphabet in both uppercase and lowercase and he passes the paper to Castiel to copy out beneath it.

(How do I write your name?)

“D-E-A-N.”

Castiel carefully writes out the few letters and his adipose fans ripple happily when Dean pats his arm as praise. He gets a squeeze to his shoulder when he writes out Sam’s name without having to ask how to spell it. But he stumbles on Jess’s name, using the ‘G’ and only one ‘s’. When Dean writes out ‘Jessica’, Castiel learns that is her full name and that ‘Jess’ is her nickname like ‘Cas’ is his.

They determine together how to spell Castiel’s nest-siblings names and Castiel writes their names over and over in the smallest letters he can make on a single sheet of paper. Dean does what he calls ‘doodles’, where he draws random images, like swirls and something he calls a ‘pie’ and ‘stick figures’. One of the doodles takes the shape of Castiel’s glow pattern.

Dean shows him a game called ‘tic-tac-toe’. He draws two lines horizontally, and two lines vertically, both intersecting the horizontal lines. It sort of forms nine squares in three rows of three squares. The premise of the game is simple enough. One person draws ‘x’s and one draws ‘o’s. Whoever gets three in a row either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, wins the game.

Castiel stares at the squares for a few minutes, much to Dean’s exasperation, before he places his circle in the center square. Dean places his ‘x’ in the left center square. His next ‘o’ goes in the bottom right corner. Before Dean puts his mark, he squints at the paper and frowns at it as he places his ‘x’ in the top left corner to prevent Castiel from winning.

His back-fans flex in amusement and Castiel puts his ‘o’ in the bottom left to stop Dean from winning. He grins at Dean while he looks at the paper. Dean shoves it away with a soft snort of derision. (Beginners luck.)

(Strategy. I’m a skilled tactician, Dean.) There is more than a little bit of pride colouring his thoughts  and Castiel straightens his shoulders. (If I was more familiar with boats and all the many different weapons humans have, I would be of more help with planning an escape.)

(But Lilith is so fucking paranoid that any time I think we’ve found an advantage, she’s got something to contradict it and I just – how the hell are we supposed to even –) He makes a frustrated noise and his movements as he draws the tic-tac-toe lines again are sharp and vicious. Dean puts his ‘x’ in the center first and pushes the page over in front of Castiel.

Castiel wins again.

He wins the next four games until Dean steals all the paper and draws rows of dots over an entire page. Castiel watches, amused and intrigued, while Dean explains the point of the game is to take turns drawing lines between dots on the grid. They use different coloured pens for it. Castiel gets blue and Dean takes red. The person who completes the fourth line of a square gets to put their initial in the center of the box. Whoever has the most boxes at the end wins the game.

It takes a long time for them to finish because Dean drew so many dots.

Castiel wins again.

Dean crumples the paper and tosses it into the bucket with the remnants of their food in it. He crosses his arms over his chest and slouches back in his chair, glaring hard at the papers spread across the ledge. He sits forward again and draws a square. Inside the square he draws several lines that create more little squares. Over each column, he draws the first eight symbols from the clock, starting with the single straight up-down line. At the start of the rows, he writes the letters A through H.

Dean passes the paper to Castiel and repeats the drawing on another paper. On a third paper, he draws a long rectangle that he breaks into four squares, another that he breaks into three, another into two squares, and just one single square.

(Don’t show me your sheet and don’t look at mine. Now place those four shapes somewhere on your grid and don’t tell me where.) Dean folds his arm around his paper and presses his head into the crook of his elbow to protect his page while he carries out his own instructions.

Castiel does the same, angling his paper away from Dean as he outlines the squares where he wants his pieces to go. When they’re both done, Dean covers his grid with his hand and sits back. (Now what we do is say which square we want to hit. If you want the top left, it’s A-1. Bottom right is H-8. Okay?) He nods and Dean continues. (Draw an ‘x’ through the squares named. If one of the squares I pick falls inside one of those shapes you drew, you colour in that square. When all the squares for that shape are full, that means I sunk your ship.)

(These rectangles are supposed to represent boats?) Castiel raises his eyebrow, looking down and tilting his head. The rectangles look nothing like the shape of a boat.

(Yeah. This game is called ‘Battleship’. I’ll start. E-3.)

Castiel puts a mark through the empty square and stares at his grid. He thinks about Dean and what he knows of him, of how he acts and thinks. His first two guesses are misses, but the third, fourth and fifth all hit. He sinks Dean’s single square.

Dean sinks his two-square boat.

He’s in the process of sinking what could be Dean’s three-square or four-square boat when the pocket of his top-shirt starts making beeping noises like the door. He flips his paper over and sits back. The beeping is coming from his phone, not the shirt itself. Dean flips it open and the longer he looks at the screen, the deeper his frown gets.

Anger swarms into the kin-connection and it’s choked with uneasiness. He snaps the phone shut and looks up at Castiel. (Lilith’s helicopter was just spotted. She’s going to be dropped off soon.)

Castiel’s fans flare and he immediately looks toward the door. (Is she coming to us right away?)

(We don’t know.) Dean rubs both hands through his hair before resting his elbows on the ledge and holding his head in his hands. (We should have been working on getting out and we were playing games.)

(I was.)

Dean tilts his head to look at him sideways. (What?)

(I liked the games. They were fun. And while we were playing, I was thinking.) Castiel shifts on the chair, his tail curling around the base in the opposite direction. (Azazel did what I asked because I was attacking his mind. It’ll be difficult, but I should be able to do the same to multiple people at the same time. If I can incapacitate Gordon and Alistair, I could get Lilith to let us all go – you and Sam and the others in a lifeboat with supplies and me into the sea.)

Dean stares at him for several moments, surprise and disbelief ringing through their link. Without warning he stands and sends his chair skittering back to knock against the wall of the very-small-sea. He cups Castiel’s face and he’s grinning into the hard push of a kiss.

(Goddamn! You’re fucking awesome!) He presses kiss after kiss to Castiel’s lips and all he can really do is grip Dean’s arms until he’s done. (If you do that, if we get offa this nightmare tonight, that’ll just be so –) He stops and his feelings vanish from the kin-connection, sucked behind the walls around his mind again.

Castiel wishes he didn’t know why Dean was staring down at him while the emotion drains from his face. He wishes he wasn’t feeling the suffocating press of dread curling tight around his chest. He wishes he wasn’t feeling the regret twisting hard in his throat.

Right now, before Lilith arrives, this could be one of the last moments he gets to spend with Dean. He has no guarantee that his plan will work. And if it does he has no way of knowing if he’ll have any time with Dean between his attack and their escape.

He reaches up and Dean needs no coercion to lean back down. Castiel is rough and desperate with the kiss. He thinks he might taste blood and he must have bitten or cut Dean’s lip with his teeth but Dean hasn’t stopped him and he’s not going to. He holds tight when Dean slips his right arm under the bend of his tail over the chair’s edge, and his other around Castiel’s back.

Dean lifts him and Castiel wraps his tail around Dean’s waist. It’s a staggered walk to Dean’s bed. He stumbles into his abandoned chair, the wall of the very-small-sea, and the drawers at the end of his bed. Dean turns and drops backward onto it, barely sitting before he’s collapsing back to lay with Castiel above him.

Castiel sends his displeasure into the link when Dean breaks the kiss with a final suck to his tongue. Dean still isn’t sharing his emotions and he does nothing to soothe Castiel’s irritation with anything beyond the press and slide of his lips and tongue over the stubbled line of his jaw. He doesn’t know what Dean’s intentions are, but he doesn’t think there’s anything Dean could do right now that could be bad.

He tilts his head back and hums in approval as Dean kisses along his neck, over his gills and down the slope of his shoulder. He tongues at the spine of his back-fan and the scales surrounding its base. Castiel isn’t entirely certain where exactly Dean opens his mouth, but his fans flare when he starts to suck another mark against his skin.

Castiel bites his lip to stifle the little sounds that keep clawing from his throat. He jerks in surprise when Dean’s hand fumbles against his chin and fingers push at his lips. He opens to the insistent touch and two fingers press in over his tongue.

(Don’t you dare stop those sounds.) Dean scrapes his teeth across  Castiel’s collarbone again and he kisses at the hollow of his throat. (I want to hear you, Cas.)

He whimpers around Dean’s fingers and his fins ripple wildly when Dean dips his head and presses his tongue over one of his nipples. His tail keeps curling and uncurling over Dean’s legs. He twitches again, and tries – fails – to stifle his cry when Dean actually bites. It’s not hard, it’s not painful. It’s surprising. The sharp burn of heat through his veins is almost more than he can bear and he thinks, briefly, of telling Dean to stop.

He doesn’t.

Castiel groans Dean’s name around his fingers and he can actually feel the shudder that shakes through Dean’s body. He pulls his fingers free and Castiel barely manages to lick his lips before Dean is kissing him insistently. There’s something pushing at the kin-connection, but it’s not substantial. It’s pushing out from inside the walls around Dean’s mind and he knows there are things Dean is thinking that he’s not sharing, but there’s an anticipation twisting before them. Like Dean wants to share them, but he’s holding back.

It’s too hard to focus on that when Dean keeps curling and flicking and licking and stroking with his tongue and his lips and his hands never hold still. Castiel’s arms are starting to shake with trying to keep holding himself up.

Dean’s phone starts beeping again. And they both groan in disappointment. It’s Castiel who pulls away first. He waits until Dean gets the phone out of his pocket before he lets his arms give out and he falls against him. He’s struggling to catch his breath, his face pressed to the curve of Dean’s shoulder. Dean is panting too.

He hears the click of the phone being opened and he feels how Dean tenses under him.

(She’s here.)

Chapter Text

Castiel presses his hands into Dean’s sides, curling his fingers into his shirt. He’s torn. He wants to go home, but he wants to stay with Dean. He wants Dean and his family safe, but he wants his freedom and his kin. And he’s scared. He’s scared that when they get out, when they go their separate ways, Dean will forget him or he’ll forget Dean.

He’s terrified of the future. There is so much he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know which direction to go to get home. He doesn’t know if the enemy fin-kin, the fang-fin, will still be at war with his colony. He doesn’t even know if the colony will still be in the trench or if they’ll have moved on, worried that Castiel might lead humans back to them.

Dean’s hand settles over the back of his neck, fingers gently squeezing intermittently. The cast on his other arm is resting across the small of Castiel’s back. (Don’t panic. Panicking will just make things harder. We’ll deal with things as they come, okay?)

He turns his face into the side of Dean’s neck and works his tail to wrap around one of his legs. Dean lifts his leg to give him the space to do so. He’s always accommodating Castiel’s needs and wants, even when they can’t be very comfortable for him. And Dean hasn’t asked him for one thing, not one.

(We should soak you up before they get here. It’s the least we can do to keep you comfortable.) Dean rubs his fingers up into Castiel’s hair. (C’mon, get up.)

Castiel shakes his head and pushes his hands under Dean’s back. He doesn’t want to move. He wants to stay just like this, wrapped around Dean and breathing his scent and basking in his heat. Dean keeps working his fingers through Castiel’s hair in gentle sweeps. He doesn’t ask Castiel to move again and understanding washes through the kin-connection to cover over his thoughts with comfort.

They lay like that for much longer than either of them expected before the door beeps. Dean pushes himself up, forcing Castiel to curl and twist in his lap just to be able to see who is coming in. He flares his fans and hisses when Alistair walks around the door and stops to lean against the corner of small-sea.

“Good afternoon boys! Your Lord and Master has returned from on high and she’s granting you the honour of her presence.”

Castiel growls and bares his fangs. “No.”

One of Alistair’s eyebrows twitches up and his annoying smile grows. “’No’. Really? Is that the best thing for you to say right now?”

Dean presses his fingers into Castiel’s hip in warning when he growls again. “Does she want me too, or just Cas?”

Alistair shrugs and his expression turns bored. Everything about him is irritating and Castiel’s adipose fins ripple in displeasure. “I can’t fathom why, but she wants to see the both of you. Gather what things you need. We’ve got the trolley waiting. Unless, of course, you’d rather carry your boyfriend yourself?”

Dean’s grip over his hip almost hurts and exasperation sparks bright and hard through the kin-connection. Castiel doesn’t need to look to know that Dean is glaring at Alistair. “Just get the damn trolley. How long do we have?”

“Be ready to go in five.”

Alistair gestures at the door and one of the guards pushes the trolley through. Castiel is reluctant in letting Dean go as he untangles from his tail and gets to his feet. He gestures for Alistair to leave, but he doesn’t move from his new position leaning against the ledge running along the opposite wall. Castiel glares at him even as Dean helps him slide onto the trolley and get comfortable.

Dean fills a bucket with the water from the very-small-sea. Small-sea still sits empty and Castiel briefly wonders if it’ll ever be full again. Dean is more liberal and less careful than usual with pouring water over Castiel’s tail and his side-fans and back-fans. He doesn’t take the time to work it into his adipose fins or webbing. When he’s done, he refills the bucket again and puts it on the trolley for Castiel to curl his tail around and hold it in place.

They’re not saying anything in the kin-connection, but Dean keeps feeding calm thoughts through their link. Castiel isn’t sure if he needs it or not. His chest feels tight, constricted with worry because he has no idea what’s going to happen next. He’s scared, but he has his plan and his plan should work just fine – he just needs Lilith, Alistair and Gordon to be present. It would be even more beneficial if Azazel was there too.

He’s certain that he can overload the kin-connection before they can stop him. He hates that he has to use it this way. It goes against everything he’s ever been taught. But it’s been nearly two rotations since he was captured and the longer he waits, the harder it will be to get home.

The harder it will be to leave Dean.

Dean takes a moment to put his boots on. He sits on the edge of the trolley while he ties them. Castiel knows he’s staring, but he can’t help it. He’s memorizing the freckles on Dean’s cheeks and over the bridge of his nose, the way his hair is thicker at the front than it is at the back and how it sticks up because he’s always running a hand through it.

When Dean stands again, Castiel tugs at his pant leg until Dean crouches again. Even with Alistair watching, Dean still leans in and kisses him. Defiance flares across the kin-connection as Dean pushes forward, titling Castiel’s head back with the force of it. The kiss isn’t nearly as long as Castiel would like it to be, cut short by Alistair’s noise of disapproval.

The trolley jerks as Dean pulls it around to go out the door. Alistair has Lilith’s card to get them into the elevator. He keeps trying to make idle conversation with Dean, but turns to talking to the guards when Dean says nothing in response. He’s leaning against the metal arch behind Castiel and keeps absentmindedly running his fingers through Castiel’s hair.

When they exit out onto the deck, Castiel feels the world-breath press at his skin again. The steady-blue reminds him of Anna’s tail. There are wisps of white curling through it and when Castiel asks, Dean tells him they’re called clouds and he explains about moisture and crystals and it’s enough to distract Castiel from thinking about how the ocean is so close and so far and that he can smell the salt of the sea and it’s calling to him and he can’t go to it.

He closes his eyes to the bright-pearl when they come to the end of a wall. It’s warm on his skin, but it hurts to look toward it. He listens to the clicks and beeping of doors, but he doesn’t look around again until the trolley comes to a stop. Lilith’s cloying scent is everywhere and it itches at his nose, like the way it did the first time he was brought here.

Lilith isn’t in the room when he looks around. Gordon is sitting on an angular chair with four legs, the back of it resting against the wall by the extravagant double doors. His upper lip curls in a sneer when he sees that Castiel is looking at him. The guards aren’t here either and his confusion is brushed aside by Dean’s quick explanation that they stayed outside. Alistair drops down onto a plush bed with a built in wall. Dean calls it a ‘couch’.

“Where’s Lilith?” Dean asks, looking from Alistair to Gordon while he moves the bucket of water from the trolley.

Gordon tilts his head toward the normal-door on the opposite side of the room from him. “She’ll be here momentarily.”

(Calls us over and she isn’t even ready to play yet.) Dean’s thoughts are tripping with annoyance and anticipation. He’s nervous and excited and worried and Castiel is starting to feel oddly calm in comparison.

It’s a familiar feeling. The same he used to get before every battle or sparring exercise. His fingers are twitching against his scales, but the rest of his body feels light. A strange sense of serenity is settling in his bones, and his thoughts are clearing. Anything unnecessary is being discarded and he’s left with nothing but his focus on the task at hand.

Dean notices and his confusion presses through the kin-connection. He meets Dean’s eyes and holds them. He doesn’t have words to explain battle-calm, but he shares the feeling and he’s answered with understanding. Castiel moves his tail so Dean can sit on the end of the trolley. He curves it around his hips and it’s Dean who pulls the end into his lap, his fingers playing absently with the adipose of his end-fans.

The room isn’t silent for long before Gordon gets up and walks over to them. Castiel’s fans flare in warning and he watches Gordon cautiously when he steps up next to the trolley. He leans away from the dart-gun Gordon uses to gesture at him.

“And here I thought you said you weren’t going to fuck the fish.”

Dean’s hand tightens over Castiel’s tail and he doesn’t translate the words. He recognizes a curse word that Dean uses often, but he doesn’t know what Gordon could be cursing about. Dean’s shoulders straighten and his back goes stiff. He turns to look over his shoulder, eyes hard and dangerous.

“Cas isn’t a fish.”

Alistair makes an amused noise from the couch. “Not denying the fucking then?”

Castiel flicks the end of his tail against Dean’s thigh. (What does that mean?)

(It’s nothing. Ignore it.) Dean turns his glare to Alistair. “There’s nothing to deny.”

(This isn’t the first time Gordon has mentioned it. Why aren’t you translating?) His fans twitch in annoyance and he tightens his tail. (If you’re trying to protect me from something, don’t. Tell me.)

Frustration folds through the kin-connection and Dean stifles a growl when Gordon walks around the trolley and uses the end of the dart-gun to make him tip his head back. Castiel leans forward and hisses when Gordon presses it against the hickey on his throat.

“You didn’t have that the last time you were in here and you haven’t visited any of your hook-ups since. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you and the fish are fucking.”

Dean jerks back and smacks the dart-gun away. “Cas isn’t a fish and we’re not fucking!”

He does translates the words this time and Castiel’s adipose fins ripple in surprise. He fights the blush rising over his gills and stares down at his hands. Gordon and Alistair are implying that he and Dean are having sex. But they’re not – they haven’t –

(That’s why I wasn’t telling you. Don’t freak out.) Dean runs his hand over the end of Castiel’s tail and squeezes the tip of it. (It doesn’t matter what they think. They’re idiots and they have no clue what’s actually going on. You were all calm before, so stick to that, okay? Don’t freak out.)

Gordon crouches in front of Dean and he turns his disgusted look to Castiel for a moment before smirking at Dean. “So are you the one taking it? Far as we can tell, he doesn’t have any place you can stick it. Unless you’re using that mouth of his. You’ve got some balls to do that. Have you even seen his teeth?”

Rage burns through their link and Castiel feels Dean tense under his tail. Castiel hisses again and flicks his tail out of Dean’s grip. Gordon flinches in surprise and falls heavily on his – what did Dean call it – his ‘ass’. Dean makes an amused noise and pats Castiel tail when he resettles it in his lap.

“Careful what you say, Gordon. Cas doesn’t like your accusations.”

“That’s enough.”

Everyone turns to look toward the door on the far side of the room. Lilith closes it behind her. She’s wearing the same long white dress she was wearing the day Castiel met her. Gordon gets to his feet smoothly and quickly goes back to the chair by the double-doors. Dean starts to stand but Castiel tightens his tail around him.

Lilith is smiling. It’s wide and fake and terrifying. “Castiel. Dean. How nice to see you again.” She makes a motion with her hand and Alistair moves from the couch. She sits where he was before and gestures at the couch opposite her. “Why don’t you two make yourselves more comfortable? There are a few things that I would like to discuss with you.”

Dean looks back at him, eyebrow raised. (Are you going to do it now, or later?)

Castiel lets the calm settle again and he focuses on feeling the minds of everyone in the room. (Does Alistair have a dart-gun too?)

(I don’t think so. I didn’t see him packing anything. But I wouldn’t put it past him to have one hidden somewhere. If you’re going to take out whoever has the gun, it would be better to hit them both at the same time.) Dean stands and Castiel wraps his arms around his shoulders when he lifts him from the trolley. (When are you going to do it?)

He folds his fans close against his back when Dean puts him on the couch, taking care that they don’t get caught on anything. (Put the trolley near the double-doors, it will get you closer to Gordon. As soon as he’s down, take his dart-gun. Things will move more smoothly if you have a weapon too.)

Dean’s approval curls through the kin-connection and he pats Castiel once on the shoulder before he goes back to the trolley. Lilith is staring at Castiel’s neck, her eyes narrowed. She looks to Dean when he moves the bucket closer to where Castiel is sitting – keeping up the ruse that they’re listening to orders. Her expression turns cold and hard. She watches him for a moment before looking back to Castiel and fixing another of her fake smiles in place.

“I assume Dean is translating for you.” She smoothes her dress over her lap and barely acknowledges Castiel’s nod. “In light of what happened previously, I think you’ll understand why I’m not demanding for you to talk to me like before.”

Castiel is barely paying attention to what Dean is translating for him. His breathing is slow and deep, centering himself as he focuses. He’ll need his anger to attack their minds properly. He thinks of everything that Alistair or Gordon or Lilith have done to upset him. He remembers Alistair tricking him and putting the poison in his arm that made him unable to move. He thinks about how they stole his blood and the scales from his tail. He thinks about Gordon’s hateful words and when Alistair had Dean pinned and broke his arm.

The rage boils in his stomach and his lungs start to feel too small. He reaches out and finds the minds of Gordon and Alistair. Lilith looks over sharply at a quiet, surprised noise from Alistair. He doesn’t wait to push all his anger through the links, shoving it violently into their minds. Castiel can feel when Gordon’s thoughts buckle, and Alistair’s shout echoes in the room. He watches as Lilith jumps to her feet, her hand moving to grip the pendant of the necklace around her throat.

His world ruptures.

The last thing he knows is Dean’s spiking concern before the kin-connection is ripped from him violently.

x

Castiel is cold. His entire body aches and his head is throbbing. It hurts more than it ever has any time when he wakes after being put to sleep by the dart-poison. He tries moving and groans at the discomfort that pulls at his muscles.

“Oh good, he’s awake.”

Lilith’s pleased tones dig into his head and Castiel hisses unhappily. He recognizes the words and knows what they mean, but it’s not how he’s used to understanding. Castiel doesn’t have the kin-connection with anyone right now and it only makes his head hurt to try and reach out for someone. He doesn’t even know where Dean is.  

“Come now, Castiel. Rise and shine.” Someone pats his cheek and Castiel tilts his head away from it, groaning at the dull ache that spreads down his spine at the movement.

He squeezes his eyes tight against the bright light that presses at his eyelids. He moves to cover them with his hand, but his arm stops short when he tries to lift it. Something cold and hard is wrapped around his wrist and higher up on his arm.

The patting to his cheek turns sharper and Lilith’s voice gets colder. “Wake up, Castiel.”

Alistair’s voice starts next. It sounds different than usual, strained and thick. “Use short words and keep it to something he’s likely to have learned from Winchester.”

Castiel hisses and turns his face from the bright light. He recognizes that last word as one used to refer to Dean. Dean. Where is he? “Dean?”

 “No.” Someone pulls at his hair, twisting his head back so the light is pressing at his eyes again. “No Dean. Wake up.”

No Dean? Why? Where is he? What did they to do him?

Worry starts thrumming through his veins and Castiel twitches, pulling at the cold hard things holding his arms. He shifts and trembles and everything hurts. He thinks his arms are being held down at his sides, but he can’t be sure. He tries drawing his tail up, but it won’t move. Hard things are pressing down over his scales in more than one place.

He squints against the light when he opens his eyes. Lilith is leaning over him, her smile stretched wide and she looks too pleased with herself for Castiel’s liking. She lets go of his hair and pats him on the cheek again.

“That’s a good boy.”

Castiel twists where he can, looking around the room. There’s a bright light on bending rods above him. He tries sitting up, but Lilith pushes at his shoulders and forces him to lay flat again. He thinks he’s on a table, but he can’t be sure without being allowed to check. There are other tables around and big machines he doesn’t know or recognize. They’re like nothing Dean has shown him in his memories.

Alistair is sitting at a table against the wall. His chair is much taller than any Castiel has seen before and he keeps touching things that make clinking noises. He tries sitting up again when Lilith turns away, just enough to look down at his body. Bands of metal are holding his wrists and his upper arms to the table, and rope is looped over his hips, half way down his tail, and closer to the end. It pinches his adipose fins to the table.

Lilith makes an annoyed noise when she turns around. She presses him back down again and she glares down at him. “Don’t move.”

Castiel hisses, baring his teeth and trying to twist away from her touch. His head hurts and it’s hard to focus, but he tries to remember all the words he’s learned over the last several days. His pronunciation is stilted at best. “Dean. Want Dean. Where Dean?”

She frowns and pulls a loop of string from around her wrist. She uses it to tie her hair back before she leans out of sight. “Forget him.”

He doesn’t know those words. Or he might know them but he can’t remember. Castiel starts pulling at the bands over his wrists. They dig painfully into his skin. “Dean okay? Dean hurt?”

Lilith makes the same annoyed noise and stands back up. She’s holding the blue collar again and Castiel growls. His wrists and arms burn where he twists them against the bonds, trying to wiggle them free. It’s too tight and he can’t even get the meat of the heel of his palm through it, even when he tries pressing his thumb and little finger together to narrow his hand.  

He curls his shoulders and tries leaning away when she reaches forward with the collar. “No! No collar! Not pet!” Her fingers are cold on his throat and Castiel hisses. She steps away quickly when he snaps at her hand.

“Alistair, come hold him still while I put this on.”

“No!” The end of his tail makes a slapping noise on the table and Castiel struggles harder.

“That has metal on it. If you’re planning on training him right now, I wouldn’t suggest putting that on until you’re done. It’ll leave marks.” Alistair doesn’t even look up but Lilith makes a face and puts it out of sight.

Alistair slips off his chair and he staggers slightly when he walks over. He pulls the table with his clinking things on it and he moves out of sight somewhere above Castiel’s head. Castiel tries turning to keep him in sight, but it hurts his neck and he can’t keep Lilith in sight when he does. She’s standing too close. Castiel narrows his eyes at Lilith and reaches for her mind. She flinches at the first touch and her hand goes to the pendent around her neck again.

Pain flares suddenly through his head and down his spine and Castiel isn’t sure if he screams or whether or not his back bows from the table. Everything ripples in his vision and then there is darkness.

He wakes to water splashing over his face.

Alistair is leaning over his tail and pulling at his adipose fins. Lilith has her elbows on the table beside Castiel’s head and her chin is propped on one hand, the other holds an empty cup that she shakes out over his chest.

“Don’t make me do that again, Castiel. I don’t like hurting you.” She puts the cup aside and tucks her hand under her chin. She almost looks bored and it irks him. Lilith tilts her head to look toward Alistair. “Can you turn down the juice so it doesn’t knock him out every time? It’ll be easier to train him if he stays conscious.”

Alistair doesn’t even bother looking up. “We could. It’s just a matter of changing the signal. What kind of samples am I allowed to take?”

She waves her hand. “Anything that doesn’t leave scars. He’s perfect and I don’t want him messed up. Turn down the wattage first. If he tries again, I don’t want him out.”

Castiel doesn’t understand any of this and it’s just making his head hurt to listen to all these words. He needs to make the kin-connection, but the pain had happened the last time he touched Lilith’s mind and he doesn’t want that to happen again. It had happened the first time when he had been attacking Alistair and Gordon and he’s not sure how or why but he does know that it happens when Lilith touches her necklace.

It’s hard to focus, but he tilts his head to see the pendant hanging around her neck. It’s nothing but a circle with an outline of another circle at the center. It doesn’t look like anything special, but humans have so many things that are so different and Castiel doesn’t know if it’s anything important or not. His stomach keeps turning and he wants to curl up, to get away from Alistair’s prodding, tugging touch. He wants to sink into the ocean, small-sea, or very-small-sea, anywhere and breathe water through his gills.

He wants Dean.

Castiel’s throat burns when he says his name. His voice is rough and his throat sore and asking for Dean only makes Lilith’s expression harden. She lifts the pendant again and swings it back and forth. Lilith’s smile is cold and cruel when she notices that he flinches from it. “Oh, so you did figure it out! You’re the smartest pet I’ve ever owned.”

Alistair moves across the room and out of sight. Castiel can hear the tapping sounds of someone typing at a computer. He comes back a few moments later and stops at Castiel’s hip. Castiel hisses when he touches the hole in his adipose fin and he tries squirming out of reach.

Panic is knotting through his chest tight and hard and his fins are rippling against the ropes and table. If he tries talking to Alistair or Lilith, they’ll make the pain come back. If he doesn’t have the kin-connection, he won’t know what they’re saying. He won’t know where Dean is, or if he’s okay, or if he’ll ever get to see him again.

“Do you have to train him out of that right now? I’d like to get an EEG while he’s using his telepathy. Same with a recipient. We could get Dean in here for that.” Alistair doesn’t look up while he’s talking and his fingers keep pulling at the hole in his adipose fin, tugging it flat so it doesn’t move.

Lilith’s face hardens again and she drops her hand, fingers touching lightly over Castiel’s clavicle. “If you want to study that, pick someone else. I don’t want them talking anymore.”

“Sam or Jess then? I just want to see what differences there are between his mind and our own. We should get an MRI too. Of him and the recipient.”

“You know I don’t care about this science stuff.” Lilith sighs and starts twirling her fingers in Castiel’s hair. “You’re only doing it because we need to have some kind of results for the lab when we get back. But no one else is going to get to study him or have him.” Her fingers tighten in his hair and she turns a cold look to Alistair. “He’s mine.”

 Castiel tries tilting his head out from under her touch. He can’t move far and Lilith just smiles and drags him back into place by his hair. It’s hard to breathe. It feels like something is lodged in his throat and his wrists are burning where the metal is digging into them.

“I want to train him out of this annoying habit of his as soon as I can. Do you have what you need to run those tests?”

“We don’t have an MRI, but we’ve got the components to put together an EEG.” Alistair touches the clinking table and picks up something that looks like a pen, but it ends in what even Castiel can recognize as a knife.

He starts squirming against his bonds again and Lilith pets his hair and coos soft noises as Alistair cuts out a section of his adipose fin. Castiel holds back a whimper and he digs his claws into his palm. It distracts from the burn in the soft webbing at his hip.

“I told you not to do anything that would scar him!” Lilith snaps, standing straight.

“It’ll heal. Just like that hole right there. Meg gave it to him during his first escape attempt and it’s less than half the size it was before. Winchester’s notes say that they heal fast.” Alistair stops cutting and it’s from the corner of his eye that Castiel sees him put the section of his fin into a clear, round container.

His hatred for Alistair doubles. This is the second time he’s taken a piece of Castiel without his permission and he despises him for it. His scales, a piece of his fin, his blood. What else is he going to take from him? Castiel pulls at the bonds around his wrists and he doesn’t even notice the sting as they scrape over his skin.

He’s reaching for Alistair’s mind before he realizes it. Alistair staggers to one side, almost dropping the clear container. He puts a hand to his head and makes a strangled noise of surprise.

“He’s doing it again!”

Lilith huffs in annoyance and Castiel has a close up view of her pushing the indented circle on her pendant before the pain spreads from the back of his head straight down his spine and through his brain. It’s not as bad as before, but it still makes his vision swim and a pained cry to rip from his throat. The table rattles with the shaking of his body, but the world doesn’t go dark like it did before.

Castiel doesn’t really know what’s happening for several long minutes. He sees Lilith and Alistair talking and gesturing at each other, but he doesn’t hear their words over the thudding of his heart. Everything hurts and his fingers keep twitching. He doesn’t know how the pain keeps happening but he knows it happens when Lilith presses the pendant. He knows that it’s impossible to try and hold the kin-connection when agony is rattling through his muscles.

“Now are you going to try that again?” Lilith leans over him again, but the words are nothing to him and he stares at her blankly. She makes an annoyed noise and grips his chin, using the hold to shake his head slightly. “Pay attention, Castiel.  Are you going to try that again?”

“He probably doesn’t understand you.” Alistair’s voice is coming from farther away now. “If you actually want to communicate with him, he either needs to link with you or someone else.”

She huffs in frustration and leans away. “Then go get Sam or Jessica. Anyone but Dean. I’m not letting Castiel back in my head until he’s learned not to do that thing he does.”

Castiel watches Alistair leave the room through a door to the left. He doesn’t hear any voices or noises in the hallway beyond, but he still pulls at his restraints. He takes one deep breath before shouting toward the open door.

“Dean! Dean!

He keeps calling, even when Lilith slams her hand onto the table next to his head. Castiel needs to know where Dean is. He needs to know that he’s safe and unhurt. He wants Dean here, with him, where he can make sure he’s okay. Where Dean can translate for him and give him comfort through the kin-connection. He’d be just fine if he had Dean.

“Stop it!” Lilith slaps him with the back of her hand and he stumbles to a momentary stop.  

His cheek stings and Castiel snarls at her, struggling harder against the table. “Dean! Where Dean? Want Dean!”

He doesn’t need the kin-connection to see that calling for Dean is only making Lilith more and more angry. Her hand closes around his throat and Castiel’s shouts choke off into nothing. He’s painfully reminded of the last time he wasn’t able to breathe, staring up at the fake bright-pearls and gasping for breath. Lilith presses hard, leaning her weight on his throat and Castiel can’t do anything to stop her. He can’t do anything but scrabble at her mind in an attempt to make her let go.

Lilith pulls back sharply and Castiel’s chest heaves as the air rushes into his lungs. He coughs and gasps and cries out hoarsely when she presses her pendant again. The pain splits his head and courses through his veins and she holds it until a new voice is shouting at her and there are hands at his shoulders, holding him flat to the table.

Castiel’s vision is blurry and he can’t focus. His skin is tingling in sharp bursts all over and his head is aching. He manages a quiet whimper when hands cup his face and stroke over the scales of his side fans.

“Castiel? It’s me. It’s Sam. Can you hear me?”

“Sam?” He manages around another cough. Images are becoming clear again and he recognizes the long hair and concerned eyes. “Sam.”

“Yeah, yeah. It’s me. Do the kin-connection. Come on. The kin-connection.”

Castiel shakes his head. No, if he does the kin-connection then Lilith is going to press her pendant again like she did before and he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want the pain to happen again. It makes the world tilt and his body burn. Lilith leans into view next to Sam and her pendant swings forward. Castiel flinches away from it and she smiles. It’s cold and cruel and Castiel hates it just as much as he hates her.

She reaches out and taps his forehead before tapping Sam’s temple. “It’s okay. Go ahead Castiel.”

Lilith is giving him permission. It must be okay if she’s telling him to do it. Castiel is still wary when he reaches for Sam’s mind. Sam is much less used to the kin-connection than Dean. He doesn’t know how to strengthen the connection when Castiel only gives it a weak, cursory touch. Sam’s thoughts are a tidal wave of calm and concern and it soothes over his mind.

(It’s okay, it’s okay.) Sam gently runs a hand over Castiel’s side-fan, his thumb stroking along one of the spines. He turns his face into the comforting touch. It’s not Dean’s hands, but Sam’s scent is similar and reassuring and it’s something he needs right now.

(Is Dean okay?)

Sam smiles slightly and he pats Castiel gently on the arm. (He’s fine. He was brought back to your room. Jess and I were there because we went to check on you guys but you were already gone to Lilith’s. Dean’s really, really unhappy with whatever they did and he’s really worried about you.)

Castiel’s tail spasms against the ropes stretched over his scales. He pushes an image of Lilith’s necklace into the kin-connection and the memories of the blinding pain when she presses at it. Sam glances over his shoulder at Lilith and she smiles, lifting her pendant and swinging it back and forth again.

(I think it’s a remote control.) Sam stands up straighter, hand squeezing over Castiel’s shoulder. “What did you do to him?”

“I’d love to tell you, but then you’ll just figure out how to stop it and that wouldn’t do us any good.” Lilith smiles sweetly and she pats Castiel’s tail, uncomfortably close to his sheath. He doesn’t think that she knows where she’s touching, but it makes his stomach twist and he tries to shift away from her hand.

“When did you even have the chance to do it?” Sam’s eyes narrow and he gets a nervous edge to his thoughts and his voice.

Castiel tries to remember when he was ever left alone and unconscious with Alistair or Gordon. But his memories don’t make sense. Everything is mixed up and everything hurts. He wants to go to sleep. He wants the rush of water over his skin and the warmth of Dean against him. Why is this happening? Why can’t Lilith just let him go? Is Mother-Sea punishing him? What could he have ever done to deserve this?

Sam keeps squeezing at his shoulder and brushing his thumb against the spine of his back-fan. (When they broke Dean’s arm… you were brought back to the room by one of them. It’s when they chained you up in the tank. They must have done something. Does it… Can you tell where the pain originates?)

He shakes his head, and the movement sends an ache flaring from the top of his spine out across his skull. (The back of my head? It’s…) He has hazy memories of Dean’s fingers sliding up his neck and through his hair. (When Dean touched there before, it kind of hurt. I never really noticed because there was always something else happening.) It’s hard to notice anything else when Dean kisses him.

(Is Dean okay?) He turns his face toward Sam, pressing his cheek to his wrist. (Did they hurt him?)

Confusion slips through the kin-connection and Sam bends over again, pressing his hand to Castiel’s forehead. (You asked that already. Don’t you remember?)

Castiel’s brow furrows and he shakes his head. He doesn’t remember asking or Sam’s answer. When did he do that? When did Sam get here? Everything is fuzzy. He vaguely remembers him saying something about Dean. But thoughts keep slipping away and he’s having trouble thinking about anything anymore.

(It didn’t work.)

Sam frowns and keeps feeling Castiel’s face. He doesn’t understand why he keeps touching his forehead or feeling his neck. (What didn’t?)

(I was going to overload the kin-connection. Knock out Alistair and Gordon. Make Lilith give you supplies and  a lifeboat and let us go.) Castiel looks down at Lilith and Alistair. They’re standing by the end of his tail and Alistair has a handful of thin things that look like… like jellyfish tentacles, or the spaghetti noodles he ate. They end in small round disks.

(It didn’t work. Lilith used the pendant and I –) Castiel’s fins rustle against the rope. (He took a piece of me again. Like he did with my scales.)

Sam looks away. He reaches down and Castiel can feel his fingers at his hip and sliding over his adipose fins. He twitches at the touch. Sam’s hand is warm, but it’s not the same heat of Dean’s skin and it’s not cold like Lilith’s. Castiel hisses when he touches the place that still burns.

(It’s bleeding a little. It’ll heal. You’ll be fine.) Sam moves and touches his wrist. (You’re shredding your wrists. Stop pulling.)

Castiel shakes his head again and twists his arms against the bonds. (She was choking me. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t breathe.)

(Castiel. Listen to me.) Sam leans over him, filling his sight almost all the way to the edges. Everything is Sam’s wide brown eyes and his concern fills his mind. (I know you don’t like what’s happening and you want it to stop, but to do that you need to stop fighting it. The quicker you let them get done what they want to do, the sooner it’ll be over.)

Panic flutters hard against his ribs and the end of his tail slaps against the table, making Lilith and Alistair look over. The circled-tentacles make a weird rustling noise when Alistair moves his hand. (Why was she – And what are those? What does he want to do with them?)

(I don’t know.) Sam turns and exchanges questions and words that Castiel doesn’t pay attention to.

Images of the circles being stuck to Castiel’s forehead and Sam’s come through the kin-connection. Sam explains quickly that they’re to help see brain waves. There’s excitement curling under Sam’s thoughts and Castiel knows it’s because he’s curious too. Sam is a scientist, like Alistair, but not like Alistair. He wants to know how the kin-connection works just as much as the others do.

(He wants to see inside my head?) Castiel’s side-fans flare and he tries pulling at his arms again but Sam presses against them.

(Yes and no. We’re not going to see inside your head, we’re going to see what electricity your brain gives off when using the kin-connection. He’ll want us to break it so they can see what it’s like normally. For you and me. Then he’ll ask you to make the connection again and measure us both again.) Sam let’s up just slightly. (It’s not like the x-ray that sees under your skin. We’re not looking inside your body. We’re just going to see what kind of things your body gives off during the use of the kin-connection.)

(No. I don’t want it.) Castiel starts pulling and Sam leans on his arms again. (Please. I want to go back to small-sea. I won’t hurt their minds again. Please. Tell her I won’t do it again.)

Sam’s expression falls and regret passes over his thoughts. (They’re still going to do it. But it’ll be okay. They’ll let you go back to the tank after that.) There’s a hesitation to his thoughts and Sam starts petting his hair again. (Lilith hurt you because you kept calling for Dean and it was pissing her off. She’s really not happy that you two went and hicky-ed each other up. She’s… if you two aren’t careful she’s going to keep Dean locked in his bunk and she won’t let him see you.)

“No!” Horror spirals hard through his chest and into his stomach. Castiel starts thrashing against the ropes and the metal bonds. (No! Don’t take Dean away!)

Sam presses at his shoulders. (She won’t if you’re careful. Please calm down, Castiel. You need to be calm for Alistair to do his test. The sooner he’s done, the sooner you can get back to the tank and to Dean, okay? Do you understand?)

Castiel takes deep, gasping breaths and he pushes against his Sam’s hands. They can’t take Dean away. Dean is one of the very few things that make being trapped here even slightly tolerable. He still hates it, but it’s not as bad as it could be as long as he has Dean.

“What did you say to him?” Lilith pulls at Sam’s shoulder, jerking him back a step. “Make him stop!”

“I can’t! I’m trying and he’s not listening!” Sam shakes her hand off and Castiel stops listening.

He stretches out with his mind and searches. He finds the presence of so many minds. Too many. Dozens of them and he can’t tell, he can’t focus enough, to figure out which one is Dean’s. He doesn’t want to make the link with anyone new, he just needs to know that Dean is okay and still there and they won’t take him away.

It’s only a brief glimpse, but he sees Lilith’s hand move to her throat and he stills. He goes limp against the table and his breath comes in short, sharp bursts. He doesn’t want the pain again. Please, don’t give him the pain that burns through his muscles again.

Lilith pauses, lowering her hand as a pleased smile pulls at her lips.“Good. He’s learning.” She gestures over her shoulder. “Alistair, do your test. I’m tired and I want this over with.”

Sam’s dislike spikes through the kin-connection and he squeezes Castiel’s arm slightly. (She’s using torture to train you. This is disgusting.)

Castiel closes his eyes to the lights and he tries to shut off. He tries to find that calm that he had before. Sam keeps trying to press a soothing touch over his mind, but it’s not working. Castiel is too agitated, too nervous and worried and scared. He doesn’t know what will make Lilith use her pendant again, but he knows what won’t.

He doesn’t fight or move when Sam presses the circular disks to his forehead. And when he’s instructed to sever the kin-connection, he does it immediately. Castiel thinks about nothing, letting his thoughts drift loosely until the tap on his shoulder tells him to make the link again. Sam attempts to send calming thoughts as soon as they’re connected again and he presses them gently along the edges of Castiel’s mind. He coaxes Castiel to talk to him, asking him questions that Castiel answers in short words or images.

Lilith’s yawn cuts through one of Sam’s question and Castiel nearly flinches. “Okay, boys. That’s enough. Put away your toys. It’s been a long few days and I’m tired.”

Castiel agrees. He’s tired too. He doesn’t open his eyes until Sam removes the sticky circles. He hears someone moving above his head and he bites back a cry when Alistair grips his hair and jerks his head back. His other hand folds over Castiel’s chin, keeping his head tilted and forcing his jaw closed. The table rattles with how hard he’s struggling against the bonds holding his arms down.

“What the hell are you doing?” Sam’s shouting gets cut off with a soft grunt and Castiel hears a crash.

The braided rope of the collar rubs at his skin and Castiel hates the familiar weight of it when Lilith clips it in place. As soon as Alistair lets go, he shakes his head and immediately regrets it. It makes the room spin and his head throbs.

Lilith makes soft ticking noises and starts petting his hair. “You shouldn’t do that, sweetie. You’ll just hurt yourself more.” She pats at his shoulder once before moving out of sight.

The table shakes slightly as someone unties the ropes and opens the metal cuffs binding his wrists and arms to its surface. His limbs feel heavy and he doesn’t want to move. It was a bad idea to keep his eyes closed before and now he wants to just keep them closed constantly. He’s on the verge of tipping into unconsciousness but he doesn’t want to sleep, not yet, not until he’s seen Dean and made sure with his own eyes that he’s fine.

Sam touches his arm gently. (Castiel, are you okay? I’m going to take you back to the room now.)

He nods and sends a soft pulse of confirmation through the kin-connection. He cracks open his eyes only for a moment before closing them again. Sam’s concern is vibrating through the kin-connection and it’s evident on his face. He’s worried about how Castiel is acting right now. He’s worried that Lilith did worse than the burning pain and the hand on his throat.

Sam smoothes his hand gently through Castiel’s hair once before lifting his arm over his shoulders. Castiel groans softly. The movement stretches the ache in his muscles and his head lolls against Sam’s cheek when he lifts him, one arm under the bend of his tail and the other pinning his fans to his back.

He takes a few steps and stops suddenly. It draws another groan of displeasure from Castiel but it cuts off when cold fingers close around the arm folded over his stomach. He opens his eyes again and a chill creeps over his skin at how close Lilith is standing.

She lifts his arm until he can see the bleeding rings of red around his wrist. Lilith is frowning and she shakes his arm again. “Don’t do this again. If these scar, I will be very unhappy.”

“You’re worried about a few scratches, but you’ll let Alistair cut off an actual piece of him.” Sam’s voice is thick with the same anger that makes the kin-connection tremble. “You’ve got a fucked up sense of ownership there.”

She ignores him completely and shakes Castiel’s arm again. “Take care of these before you go. And Castiel –” Lilith leans in close and the nauseating scent that clings to her hair and clothes makes him want to sneeze. “ – You are not allowed to set up your little link with anyone else unless I give you permission. That includes Dean. Understand?” To emphasize her point, she puts her hand to the pendant.

Castiel’s adipose fins ripple and his fans rustle and narrow, flattening as he ducks his head. He doesn’t want the pain again. But he doesn’t want to be kept from Dean like that. She can’t know when he uses it. She won’t be able to monitor him at all times. He nods, keeping his adverted.

Sam’s thoughts fill with curse words and his movements are stiff and angry. He has to put Castiel back down on the table, and he sits with his tail hanging to the floor. Alistair brings over rolls of the white bandages and a small bottle. Castiel watches absently as he hands them to Sam and walks away again. Sam pours a clear liquid over his wrists and the scratches on his upper arms. It stings, making him hiss and wince. His fans flare before flattening.

Apologies filter through the kin-connection as Sam wraps the bandages around the marks made by the metal bonds. The press of the cloth hurts and Castiel wants to pull his hands away, but Sam’s fingers are tight where they hold him.

When Sam picks him up again, Lilith leads the way out of the room. Castiel frowns, looking around. The hallway looks very familiar. He recognizes the elevator doors and the other few doors lining the walls. He’s seen the layout before and he realizes it’s the same hall that small-sea is off of.

There are guards waiting outside one of the doors and they make room for Lilith to press her square white card to the grey square next to the door. The door beeps and she leads the way inside. Dean stops his quick back and forth crossing from small-sea to the opposite ledge and back. Jess gets up from her chair in front of the computer and grabs his arm to keep him from moving forward. Small-sea is full again and very-small-sea is gone.

Jess has to pull at Dean’s arm again as he steps toward them. “Sammy, Cas, you guys okay?”

Lilith steps between them and presses her hand to Dean’s chest. “You stay right where you are. Sam, put Castiel in the tank.” She holds her other hand out to Jess. “Give me the key.”

Jess’s opens and closes her mouth a few times, looking from Lilith to Dean. “I… I don’t have the key anymore.”

She turns her hand to Dean. “Hand it over, Winchester.”

Dean turns his glare on her. “What for?”

“I’m confining him to the tank. Castiel isn’t allowed to move about outside of it anymore.”

Anger bursts bright through the kin-connection with Sam and Castiel winces, ducking his head again and leaning his temple against Sam’s shoulder. Dean actually growls and his whole body gets tight. “No. You can’t do that to him.”

“I can do what I want with him. He belongs to me.” She curls her fingers a few times. “Give me the key, Dean.” Her other hand moves up in front of her and out of sight. Castiel tenses, anxiety burning hot through his veins.

(Tell Dean to give her the key. He doesn’t know about the remote control yet and she might use it just to make him listen.) Sam’s thoughts are sour and unhappy and when Castiel tilts his head back to see his expression, his face is hard and dark.

He nods and looks back. “Dean –”

Lilith turns around at the same time that Jess and Dean look up at him. Her eyebrows are raised, but she’s not glaring at Castiel like she did when he attempted the kin-connection previously. Dean expression changes from anger to uncertainty and Castiel licks his lips before looking away. He doesn’t want to see the disappointment and whatever else might show on Dean’s face when he tells him.

“Dean. Give key. Please.”

He hears a muffled noises of surprise from Jess, but there’s nothing from Dean and he’s tempted to look, just to see. He wants to reach out and twists his fingers in Dean’s shirt, press his face to his neck, and wrap himself around him. He wants to burrow under Dean’s clothing and soak in his heat and seek solace in his mind like he does with the sea.

All these wants and he can’t have any of them. Not with Lilith and her pendant and the pain that makes his head not work properly. He repeats his plea until he hears Dean make a disgusted noise and when he looks up, Dean is pulling the key from his pocket and dropping it into Lilith’s palm.

Dean crosses his arms tightly over his chest and leans heavily against the ledge. He glares at everything that isn’t Castiel as Sam carries him to the platform. Jess helps him lift and push Castiel over the edge of the glass-wall. He tries to help by pulling himself up too, but his arms feel too weak and his tail just doesn’t seem to be working right.

He breathes the water deep, letting it fill his lungs as he sinks to the bottom of small-sea. The bars boom shut above the water and Lilith steps up onto the platform to lock them. Dean stops her from leaving the room when she goes to leave, putting himself between her and the door.

Castiel settles on his stomach, arms folded under his chin. Dean and Lilith are exchanging sharp words and Dean keeps gesturing at the small-sea and Castiel. He watches quietly for several minutes. With each passing moment, the urge to touch Dean’s mind grows.

He chews lightly at his bottom lip and looks at Lilith. She’s not looking at him and there are no machines in this room that could tell her that he’s using the kin-connection. He looks between them again and then to Sam and Jess standing at the corner of small-sea and watching the interaction between Dean and Lilith.

He doesn’t need Sam’s translations to know that Dean is trying to find out what happened in her room earlier and Castiel wishes he could tell Dean. He wants to hear Dean’s voice in his head and feel his emotions playing over his own. Castiel needs that connection with him again.

A beat of warning sounds through his link with Sam and he ignores it. Lilith has no way of knowing if he’s using the kin-connection with Dean. Castiel still braces himself for the pain, just in case, as he stretches his touch to Dean’s mind. It’s so much easier to make the contact when he can see where he is. Dean doesn’t have much of a reaction but his eyes slide from Lilith to him.

Castiel gets a few brief flashes of confusion, concern and anxiety before everything gives way to relief. He closes his eyes and fully accepts the peaceful – if confused – waves that wash through the kin-connection. A weight in his chest lifts and Castiel sighs softly as his own nervousness uncoils slowly.

Another pulse of warning flares bright at the edge of his mind where he’s still connected with Sam. Castiel looks up again and he thinks he can actually feel his heart skitter-stop in his chest at Lilith’s burning glare. Her fingers are already closing over the pendant and he doesn’t even get the chance to object before the same hurt as before sears through his head and forces a ragged cry from his throat.

The kin-connection links are torn from him again and Castiel is left at a lonely loss as his body sings with pain. 

 

Chapter Text

The knocking noise is annoying. Castiel wants it to stop. His head hurts and it keeps pounding in time with his heart and the knocking. He just wants to sleep. He wants to stay curled up and asleep because nothing hurts when he’s sleeping. The ache of his muscles doesn’t bother him then, and the heavy weight spread throughout his chest doesn’t hurt in an entirely different way.

The knocking doesn’t stop and it takes too long for Castiel to realize that it could be Lilith tapping at the glass. If he doesn’t respond to her, she might press her pendant and make the pain come back. The thought sends fear rippling under his skin and Castiel fights to ignore the twinges of his muscles as he uncurls and pushes himself up.

He hasn’t looked around since he made the kin-connection with Dean only to have Lilith rip it away from him again. She’d held her pendant for so long that Castiel thinks he might have blacked out again. He’s not sure. He just remembers the pain and when he could think clearly again he found that he was curled onto himself, the end of his tail folded over his head and his adipose fans spread to cover his shoulders.

Castiel sinks back to the floor with a mixture of relief and annoyance when he sees it’s only Sam. He’s crouched near the front of small-sea and the head-set is pinning his hair in places. Jess is kneeling next to him and neither Lilith or Dean are anywhere in sight. His neck protests the movement when he looks around, checking all corners of the room.

The speakers crackle and buzz before  Sam’s voice muffles through the water. “Are you okay?”

He stretches and winces, leaning heavily against the glass-wall while curling his tail up under him. The mirror next to him is distracting. Castiel turns his head until he can’t see himself in his peripheral vision. He doesn’t want to see what he looks like right now, especially not with the collar that’s still rubbing at his neck.

“Castiel?” Sam waves his hand, maybe to get his attention, maybe for some other reason that is purely human that he doesn’t know about.

Castiel shakes his head and it makes his vision blur. He presses the heels of his hands against his eyes and waits until the spinning feeling stops. When he looks up again, Sam and Jess both look concerned. Dean hasn’t come back in what little time he wasn’t looking and worry is chewing at his insides in painful little bursts.

He mouths Dean’s name at them, exaggerating the shape of the letters. Sam’s lips thin out and Jess looks away. Castiel’s fans flex and his anxiety spirals. What happened to Dean while he wasn’t able to pay attention? Where is he? He drops his hands to his lap and presses his claws into his scales. His eyes keep sliding to Dean’s empty bed.

Sam knocks again and Castiel winces as the noise spikes through his head. They must notice because when he looks back, both Sam and Jess look apologetic. The crackle of the speakers isn’t as irritating, but it still hurts. “Sorry.” Sam shrugs in apology and taps at his temple.

Castiel frowns and shakes his head. He really doesn’t want the pain again. It’s hard to focus afterward and he doesn’t like being like that. He needs Lilith’s permission before he’ll do anything like that.

“Lilith gave permission. It’s okay.” Sam keeps tapping at his forehead and nodding. “It’s okay.”

He looks away, playing with the adipose fins along the right side of his tail. Castiel doesn’t want to look at his left hip. He doesn’t want to see what it looks like after Alistair cut a piece of it away. It stings slightly every time they ripple and he has to focus on keeping it still. He chews at his bottom lip lightly. Sam wouldn’t lie to him about something like this, not if it meant that he could end up hurt.

Castiel glances back. Sam and Jess both look so hopeful and honest. It takes more focus than usual to reach out and find Sam’s consciousness. When he makes the connection, the rush of Sam’s thoughts and emotions send little sparks of pain through his head. He puts walls between them, blocking everything but what they need to communicate.

Sam’s concern rings his words. (How are you feeling?)

(Sore.) Castiel watches absently as Sam pats Jess’s knee and she smiles slightly before taking out her phone and poking at it.

(That’s understandable. Meg showed up for a little bit – she just left before I tried waking you actually. I don’t know how she’s getting her information, but she said that they put a demobilizer at the base of your skull.) Sam sits, crossing his legs in front of him.

Castiel touches the back of his head, searching for a lump or any sign of something being under his skin. There’s a little tingle when he presses over where Dean often drags his fingers when he’s running his hand through Castiel’s hair.

(It’s small. About the size of the tracking chip. Whenever Lilith presses the remote control, it pulses out electricity. It’s not a strong enough to kill you, but lower voltages hurt – a lot.)

(What is ‘electricity’?)

Sam runs his hand through his hair, pushing the headset off and setting it aside. (It’s like… lightning.)

Castiel can’t stop touching the back of his head. (Can we get it out? Like we did with the tracker? Can Pamela get it out?)

(Yes, but it’ll be more dangerous because of its location. She’ll need more than just the clawed needle to get it out.)

Images of machines Castiel doesn’t recognize slide their way through the kin-connection. He shoves them away. He has not patience to try and figure out all the many things that humans have. All Castiel needs to know is that it can be taken out, he doesn’t care even slightly about how.

(The problem with that though, is we would need to get you to the infirmary. Lilith has the key for the tank now and we’re definitely not allowed to take you around the ship anymore. One second –) Sam leans over to Jess, when she touches his arm and holds her phone out to him. He looks at it, brow furrowing and displeasure twitching around the walls in the kin-connection.

Castiel brushes his curiosity against Sam’s thoughts. He’s holding back on asking about Dean. He wants to ask where Dean is and what happened while he wasn’t able to focus or pay attention. When Sam looks up again, there something in his expression that Castiel doesn’t understand. He drops the walls just enough to feel more of Sam’s emotions. There’s anger and resignation flickering through.

(What’s wrong?) The anxiety that had abated for the last few minutes starts pulsing hard in his chest again.

Sam looks down at his hands and then to Jess. (We texted Dean to say that you were awake again and to ask when he was coming back.)

(What happened after I –) Castiel gestures vaguely before dropping his hand to his side again. He starts rolling and folding his adipose fin, a nervous habit.

He shrugs and says a few things to Jess before she returns her focus to her phone again. Memories start pushing through their link and Castiel closes his eyes to better concentrate on the images. Sam shows him the memory of Dean and Lilith talking. Dean keeps gesturing towards small-sea, asking in loud, angry words that Castiel can’t hear about what Lilith did. He’s asking about the bandages on Castiel’s arms and the blood on his hip. He’s demanding to know what Lilith did to make Castiel scream and call for him like Castiel had.

Lilith never answers, but Castiel sees the moment that he makes the kin-connection with Dean. He has his own memories of Lilith turning to face small-sea as her hand goes to her pendant. Castiel knows this part of the memory. He saw it all happening.

The memory’s focus shifts and Castiel sees himself. He sees the dawning fear on his face and how he convulses when Lilith presses the pendant. There’s no memory of sound, but Castiel knows he was screaming. His throat is still sore from it.

Everything moves back to Lilith and Dean and Castiel is so surprised he nearly loses his grasp on the memories. Dean has Lilith turned around and pressed up against the glass-wall. He’s holding her wrist pinned to the glass and the pendant is still clutched tightly in her hand. Dean is shouting and he pulls Lilith forward only to slam her back into the glass.

For the first time since he met her, Castiel actually sees fear on Lilith’s face as Dean’s hand presses over her collarbone. It’s just shy of pushing against her throat – like how she did it to Castiel. Dean leans in closely and if Castiel was in Lilith’s place, he might have been very scared. Dean’s face is hard and dark and Castiel has never seen him so angry.

Dean’s hand slides up and it can’t be very comfortable for Lilith. The blue-white cast on his arm must be digging into her throat painfully and Castiel is vindictively proud of Dean for causing her the pain that he can’t. Dean makes Lilith’s head hit the glass again and Jess and Sam start objecting when Dean does something with his hands that lifts Lilith until her feet are barely touching the ground.

That’s when she lets go of the pendant.

He lets her feet touch the ground again and his hand slips down her throat again. Dean asks why Lilith just hurt Castiel. She answers. He asks why Lilith is stopping Castiel from making the kin-connection. She answers and Dean’s whole body tenses. Dean reminds Lilith of how necessary the kin-connection is – that without it Castiel could lose his mind.

It’s only a moment later when the door swings open and the guards come in. They drag Dean off of Lilith and she nearly falls over, gasping with her hand to her chest. The fear melts from her face, replaced with a kind of rage he’s never seen her wear before. Lilith makes sharp movements with her hand and tells the guards to take him out of the room. Dean stills, staring at her with wide eyes before he starts struggling to throw the guards off.

He stops fighting when one of them presses a gun to his side. Castiel’s stomach clenches and his fingers curl in his lap. He doesn’t know if it was a dart-gun or the kind of gun that uses bullets. The guards lead Dean from the room and Lilith turns to Sam and glances at small-sea. When the memory shifts for a moment, Sam must look too. Castiel sees himself trembling and curled where he lays in small-sea.

The memory fades out with Lilith telling Sam that when Castiel is okay again he can make the kin-connection with Sam and only Sam. When their link goes quiet again, Castiel opens his eyes and stares down at the pale lines of his fingers over his scales. All the different things that could have happened to Dean in the time that he was incapable of proper thinking flash through his mind and each one makes his lungs feel tighter and tighter. It’s getting hard to breathe.

(He’s okay.)

Castiel looks up sharply, sitting up straighter. (Where is he?)

Sam is looking at Jess’s phone again. (In his bunk. Lilith’s confined him there. He says he’s handcuffed to his bed.) Images of metal bracelets connected with a chain flit under his words. (The chain is long enough for him to walk around the room a bit, but he can’t leave. Well, he could leave. He could pick the lock on them no problem. But he’s got guards too, apparently.)

He slumps against the wall again, fins rippling unhappily. (We’re not allowed to see each other, are we?)

Resignation circles around Sam’s thoughts and he shakes his head before running his hand through his hair again. (Not at the moment, no. We’re going to try and talk to Lilith, see if we can’t convince her to at least chain him to his bed in here.)

Jess leaves her phone with Sam and gets up. Castiel watches her go to the door and open it. She lets Bobby in. He’s carrying a bucket. Castiel should be hungry, but he’s not. The thought of eating actually makes his stomach turn and he doesn’t move or watch as Bobby steps up onto the platform and dumps the contents into small-sea.

The brightly coloured fish dart around and he looks away. Sam’s curiosity trickles through the kin-connection and Castiel shakes his head. (I’m not hungry.)

(But you haven’t eaten since –)

(I know when I last ate. Midday.)

(It’s been half a day, Castiel. I brought you back here a few hours ago and it’s after midnight now.) Sam stands up and stretches. (You should have something to eat, to keep your strength up. Jess and I are staying here for now. Dean wants us to stay here with you so you won’t be alone, but we’d already decided that the moment we found out he’s not allowed to come back here.)

Castiel doesn’t want to talk about that. He doesn’t even want to think about not being able to see Dean anymore. He filters Sam’s thoughts out of his mind, keeping nothing but the consciousness of his mind. He pushes away from the wall and every beat of his tail is sluggish. His body feels heavy and any little movement hurts. It takes much too long for him to catch one of the fish, and he settles lazily to the floor with it struggling in his grip. Castiel stares down at it before letting go and watching it join the small school flitting above his head.

Sam and Jess start to change their clothes and Castiel turns away. They haven’t asked him not to look like Dean usually did, but he doesn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. Sam locks the door and dims the lights to the point that Castiel’s glow returns. It’s a slight comfort, but Castiel wants more than just his natural glow to remind him of home.

He wants to see Dean. He shouldn’t want that as much as he does, but he can’t help it. This should be a good thing. Being separated from Dean now will make it easier to leave if he ever manages to escape. But how will he ever manage to get out when Lilith can debilitate him so easily with the simple press of a pendant? If they do get him free, will he be returning to the colony with this thing under his skin? What if it’s like another tracking chip? What if, while he was unconscious, they put another one of those somewhere in his body?

That thought sends his heart rate into double time and anxiety flutters violently in his chest. Castiel presses his hand to his sternum, breathing deep to try and calm himself. He lowers the walls between him and Sam and feeds his fear into the kin-connection.

Sam looks up from folding back the covers on the bed next to the platform. Neither he, nor Jess, are touching Dean’s bed and Castiel is oddly pleased by that. The only people who should get to sleep in Dean’s bed is him and Dean – even if Sam and Jess are Dean’s family.

(What’s wrong, Cas?)

Castiel almost flinches at the nickname. Sam rarely calls him that. It’s Dean’s name for him and it only serves to make him miss Dean more. He shakes off the feeling.

(Did they give me another tracking tag?) Castiel turns and flares his back-fans to bare his back. (They put that… that shock-tag under my skin while I was out, and they had me today when I was unconscious too. Did Meg say if they put one under my skins or scales again?)

Jess crawls onto the bed and stretches out under the covers against the wall. Sam sits on the edge of the bed and rubs a hand through his hair again. (We don’t know. To be sure, we’d have to do another x-ray to see for sure.)

Castiel’s fins ripple again at the memory of the x-ray. (But how could we – I’m stuck in here.)

(We’ve got the mobile one in the other room. We’ll try and bring it in here without anyone noticing. It’ll be hard to take the images and develop them after that. But it’s the best way we have to see if anything is in you that shouldn’t be.) Sam swings his legs up onto the bed and lays down. (Do you mind if we both sleep? I can stay up and talk with you if you want.)

He shakes his head and half-swims, half-drags himself into the back corner closest to Dean’s bed. (I’m tired.)

Sam pulls the blanket up to his shoulders and rolls onto his side, facing small-sea. Castiel curls up again, tucking the end of his tail under his neck and hugging his chest. (I don’t doubt that. And if you need anything at all, wake me.)

He reaches to the floor and comes up again with the phone as he settles against under the bed again. The light from it when it opens it makes his face look ghostly and Jess peers over his shoulders. (Dean says he’s too pissed to sleep. He’s already picked the cuffs but he doesn’t know how to get around the guards and back up here without getting caught. He says to get some sleep and he’ll raise hell in the morning until Lilith talks to him again.)

The light of the phone goes out before Castiel  lifts his head. (Could you send Dean a message?)

It flicks back on and Sam nods. (Sure. What do you want to say?)

(Tell him to sleep. He’ll think better when he’s well rested. And that I… Tell him ‘good night’.) Castiel drags the end of his tail against his spine. (Please.)

Sam is silent for a few moments and Castiel can make out the movement of his hands as he puts the message into the phone. He doesn’t close the phone and the light doesn’t blink out. (He says he’ll try and then he kind of rants about how pissed he is at Lilith for what she did. I might have told him that you said she was choked you.) He pauses and squints at the phone. (He wants us to text him in the morning when you wake up.)

Amusement trickles around his words. (He’s really concerned about you, huh?)

(If you’re going to make insinuations about Dean’s feelings for me again, please don’t.) Castiel closes his eyes and places the sleep barriers between his mind and Sam’s.

Neither of them say anything more and Castiel tries to empty his mind. He tries not to think about what else might be under his skin, or how he might not get to see Dean again. He tries not to think about Lilith’s plans and what other training she has in store for him. It’s hard not to think about any of that when it’s the only thing that’s in his head.

His nose stings with the approach of tears and Castiel hates that. He’s a warrior. He’s cried more times here than he has since he was a hatchling. As a soldier he should have better control over himself. He’s been taught to ignore his emotions to better focus on fighting. But nothing he’s ever been trained for has prepared him for the situation he finds himself in now.

Michael showed him how to wield a sword, but he taught Castiel what to do when he has nothing that he can use to protect himself. Lucifer trained him in tactics until Castiel’s strategic abilities exceeded his own, but he never taught him what to do when he’s trapped in a place he barely understands, with no hope of getting out.

Anna taught him love and kindness where their other siblings would not. But she never showed him what to do when he finds himself falling for someone he can never stay with. She never warned him about how much it hurts, how terrifying it is to love.

Nothing he’s learned from Gabriel or Balthazar – fun and friendship and family – none of that can be extrapolated into something useable here. Nothing in his life has ever prepared him for this and Castiel doesn’t know what to do. He knows what he shouldn’t  do. He shouldn’t get any closer to Dean. He should never have let himself get this close in the first place.

Castiel’s head hurts with all these thoughts and it was already sore to start with.

He twists to look at the clock. To his knowledge, most everyone on the boat should be sleeping. Castiel could, theoretically, find Dean’s mind more easily if he searched. If Dean’s room is on the floor below, and the floor below is where everyone goes to sleep, and if everyone else on that floor should be sleeping, and if Dean is still awake… Dean would be the only conscious mind.

Thinking of talking to Dean again sends a weak exhilaration crawling under his skin. He misses Dean’s thoughts and his emotions and the only thing he wants more than feeling that again is his freedom.

But… He’s terrified.

Lilith must know that he can reach out and touch anyone’s mind as long as they are within a certain distance. If she knows that, than how can she make sure that he isn’t trying to search out Dean’s mind when she can’t see him or Dean. Does she have something in place to monitor his brain or Dean’s when they don’t know it?

What if he reaches for Dean now and the pain happens again? Does this thing that they put under his skin have some way of seeing the things his brain gives off when he uses the kin-connection? He doesn’t know. How can he? Humans and all their things that can do so many different things.

It’s not fair.

How can he figure out what to do when there’s so much he doesn’t know?

x

(You didn’t eat anything.)

Castiel doesn’t turn over to look at Sam. He remains on his back, hands resting folded over his stomach. It’s only distantly that he feels the hunger curling in belly. He continues staring up at the fish swimming above him. It’s obvious that he didn’t eat any of the fish. There are no bones for him to get rid of, and the number of fish hasn’t changed.

(You should eat.)

(I’m not hungry.) Castiel ‘s not lying. He can feel the hunger, but he doesn’t care about it. He can easily ignore it.

Sam’s skepticism bubbles under his thoughts and Castiel disregards it just as easily he does the hunger. The rumble of the boat’s engines is a subtle vibration against his back and in the water. It started up shortly before Sam woke. It’s actually what woke him in the first place. Sam says that the engines have started because now that Lilith is back on board, they’re beginning the journey back to their home again.

It means that Castiel is getting farther and farther from home. That is harder to ignore, and Castiel especially hates it. He has no idea what the world looks like beyond the boat and the deep. He should ask Sam where the light-beds were and where they’re going and where they are. These are things he wants to know, but he doesn’t want to move to see anything if he does ask.

He can see Sam and Jess moving around out of the corner of his eye, but again, nothing interests him. Castiel just watches the fish.

Sam presses firmly at his mind, an unyielding tone to it. (Dean wants to talk to you.) Castiel turns his head and Sam is holding the phone up. It’s open and he wiggles it.  (It’s on speaker. If you get your – uh – ‘ear’ above the water, you’ll be able to hear him.)

(Side-fan. We call them side-fans.)

Castiel sits up, rolling away from the floor to slip toward the surface close to the platform. He grips the bars and holds himself in place as he tips one side-fan out of the water. Sam steps up onto the platform and holds the phone out over the bars where Castiel  is.

“Go ahead, Dean. He should be able to hear you now.”

Dean’s voice sounds different when he speaks. It sounds distant and it crackles around the edges, wrose than the speakers does. “Cas, you listening?”

Sam translates, but Castiel doesn’t completely need it. He understands those words at least. He turns his head until his mouth is out of the water. “Yes, Dean. Good morning.” He quickly tilts his head until his side-fan was out again.

“Yeah, yeah. Good morning to you too. Sam says you’re not eating. Don’t start that again. Don’t start getting depressed and all that hopeless bullshit. We’ll figure this shit out like we have everything else.” Dean’s voice is stern and hard and Castiel wishes he could feel his emotions properly. Getting Dean’s meanings second hand through Sam leaves an odd ache in his chest. “Y’got me, Cas? Eat those damn fish. All of them. Sam will tell me if you don’t.”

Castiel huffs and his fans flex miserably. “Not hungry.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit. You haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday. Unless you’re sick, you’re hungry. Eat those fish and I’ll give you a nice surprise when I get back up there”.

Sam makes a small strangled noise. “Dude, I’m right here. We can all hear you.”

“Calm your tits, Sam. Cas won’t let me go any further than kisses.”

“Again, things I don’t need to hear. And those hickeys you left on him are a bit more than just ‘kisses’. For the record, that pissed Lilith off pretty badly.” Sam switches the phone to his other arm. “She’s not stupid, you know. I’m willing to bet good money that she’s more possessive than you are and she doesn’t like you putting your marks all over what she considers her property. ”

Castiel hisses and he whips his tail unhappily. The fish scatter to the other side of small-sea.  “No!”

Dean’s laugh echoes oddly through the phone and something tight in Castiel’s chest loosens just a little. He’s not sure what he said to make Dean laugh, but it’s nice to listen to even if it doesn’t sound right.

“So, you’re going to eat, right?”

He frowns up at the phone and then looks away, slipping under the water to stare at the fish. Castiel still doesn’t want to eat. He shakes his head and pushes away from the bars, sinking a little before twisting away from that side of small-sea. Sam’s surprise echoes through the kin-connection and Castiel knows he’s telling Dean that he’s settled in the corner he didn’t actually sleep in during the night. He sits with his back pressed into the corner, hugging the fold of his tail to his chest.

(Dean wants to know why you don’t want to talk anymore.)

Castiel rests his chin on the fold of his tail and . (I’m tired.)

(Did you not sleep well?)

(I didn’t sleep.)

Sam has the phone to his ear now. (Why not?)

(I tried. I couldn’t.) He shrugs and presses his cheek to his scales, staring absently at Dean’s empty bed.

Concern flickers along the edges of Sam’s mind, slipping into the kin-connection before Sam draws back from it. Castiel hears the thudding sound of footsteps and he glances up to see Sam pacing, talking into the phone. He says nothing more to Castiel about Dean until he suddenly stops. Both he and Jess look at the door, their shoulders set in stiff lines.

Sam closes the phone and shoves it in one of his pockets. (Dean says he’ll call back later and you – and I’m quoting here – you “sure as hell have better eaten by then”.)

Castiel shakes his head, but he’s watching the door. It opens and Lilith walks in with Alistair right behind her. Lilith gestures at Jess and although Jess’s lips press together in a thin line, she still grabs one of the chairs and drags it to in front of small-sea. Lilith sits and arranges her short dress over her knees as she crosses them. Alistair goes to the platform and Castiel watches him carefully as he unlocks the bars.

Lilith speaks to Sam and the way his hands curl into fists at his sides sends a worried tingle skittering under his scales. Sam looks towards Castiel. (She wants you to go to Alistair. He wants to take some samples.)

Castiel’s adipose fins ripple violently and his first reaction is to bare his teeth and hiss. Lilith toys with the pendant, raising one eyebrow at him. It’s reluctantly and hesitantly that he unfolds from the corner. Castiel’s tail thumps against the floor once before he rises up from it. He circles small sea instead of going straight to where Alistair is waiting.

(What does he want to do?)

Sam repeats the question. Alistair answers and Sam translates into images. There’s a long white stick with a bulbed end that Alistair puts in Castiel’s mouth, touching it to the inside of his cheeks and his tongue. Another image follows of Alistair taking strands of Castiel’s hair, and another of him examining Castiel’s claws.

He doesn’t like any of those. But he doesn’t have much of a choice unless he wants Lilith to make the pain come back. Castiel breaks the water closer to the bars than to the wall. He takes a few minutes to void his lungs of water before he slides closer. Alistair has the bulbed white stick in one hand and a clear tube in the other. His hands are blue.

(He’s wearing gloves, and that’s just a swab, Castiel. It’s not going to hurt or anything. He just wants a saliva sample.)

His blood, his scales, his fins. Now his saliva and his hair. How much else can they take from him before they’re satisfied? Castiel growls low in his throat before licking his lips and opening his mouth. His fingers tighten over the edge of the glass-wall when Alistair puts the bulbed end of the swab in his mouth and rubs it against the inside of his cheek.

The swab goes inside the tube when Alistair is done. He puts it in one of his pockets and pulls something from a different pocket. He holds a clear square in one hand and when Castiel passes the image to Sam, he’s told that it’s a kind of bag – almost like the plastic bag that he saw Alistair carrying in Lilith’s office what feels like an age ago.

Castiel has to tilt his head forward and he fights the urge to wince as Alistair pulls several strands of hair out and places them in the clear square bag before sealing it. He glares at Alistair and rubs the spot on his head where they were taken from. The smug smirk that Castiel hates is permanently fixed on Alistair’s face, but Castiel is vindicated by the still healing cuts on his lip from when Dean punched him, and the strip of white over his nose from when Castiel broke it.

That feels like a lifetime ago and if he stopped to think about how much has happened since then, about how much he has changed, Castiel doesn’t even really know how he would react. He tries not to think about it as Alistair lifts his hand and straightens his fingers. The blue material covering his hands feels weirdly smooth as he maneuvers Castiel’s hand to look at his claws from all angles.

“Make sure you get them all.” Lilith’s voice sounds bored, but it makes Castiel flinch and he twists to look over his shoulder at her. Sam translates, but Castiel doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

His arm is jerked forward as Alistair takes a step back and there is a pressure at his fingertip. Castiel looks back quickly. His fans flare in surprise to see Alistair holding a metal tool. There’s a flat curved piece that sticks up at one end. It has a slit in it that Alistair fits over the end of Castiel’s claw on the index finger of his right hand. He slides it down over the claw until Castiel can feel the metal pressed to his skin. It curves around the top of his finger almost perfectly.

There are two long, thin rods that connect to the flat piece. Alistair’s fingers are curled around one rod and his thumb over the other. When he squeezes the rods together, another flat piece slides and Castiel feels a slight pressure against the inside of his claw before the flat piece slices through it.

Castiel snarls and pushes at the wall with his other hand. His tail smacks the glass loudly as he forces himself back and away. Alistair lets go immediately but his smile only gets wider. Castiel retreats to where the bars begin and he examines his hand closely. His claw has been shorted and rounded and now it looks more like Dean’s nails.

“Castiel.”

He twitches and looks up at Lilith. She’s moved to the edge of the platform and she’s purposefully rolling the pendant between her fingers. Castiel’s fans flare again. He’s entirely too unhappy to do it and his upper lip curls back before he glares at her. Lilith fits her thumb over the center of the pendant and Castiel’s fans flatten. He dips his head and slides forward again.

When he puts his hand over the edge of the glass-wall again, Alistair holds his fingers one at a time as he uses the claw-cutter to shorter all his claws. While he starts working on his other hand, Castiel examines his right hand. His fingertips feel weird and he drags his thumb over the rounded edges of his fingers. He doesn’t like how wrong it feels.

Castiel has broken his claws before. He knows they’ll grow back. But it will take a long time and he’s left without one of the few defenses he has until then. It’ll take more than a rotation. He hopes that he’s not going to be here long enough for that. But he had been hoping to be free days ago – and he was for a brief moment – and that hope proved useless.

The moment Alistair lets go, Castiel pulls away and he dives. He doesn’t care if Alistair has more things he wants to do or take for him, Castiel won’t do it. His lungs fill as his gills ripple and he curls in the corner by Dean’s bed again. He drags his cut claws over his scales and rubs at them with his thumbs and fingertips. Everything feels weird and he doesn’t like it almost as much as he doesn’t like everything else they’ve taken from him.

He hears the bars shut and he looks up to watch Alistair lock them again. Lilith is talking with Jess and Sam and she keeps frowning and shaking her head. Castiel watches them closely and he pulls at Sam’s mind to find out what they’re talking about.

(We’re trying to convince her to let Dean come back.)

Castiel sits forward, fins rustling and shifting. Hope twists behind his sternum and he looks between them, trying not to look as excited as he feels. He fidgets with his adipose fins, rolling and pinching and folding and hoping that Lilith will say ‘yes’.

Lilith looks at him and her frown is deep and it sends that small hope dropping into his stomach. She says something to Sam and his shoulders droop slightly. (She wants to know why you’re not eating, or why you didn’t sleep.)

Castiel pulls his tail to his chest and rests his chin on the fold of it. (I’m not hungry and I just… I couldn’t sleep. I tried but it didn’t happen.)

Sam shares his answer and Lilith shakes her head. Her arms are crossed, but she keeps playing with the pendant with one hand. It makes Castiel nervous and he can’t press his claws into his tail like he’s used to and wants to.

(She’s asking if it’s because Dean isn’t here.)

Castiel shrugs. He doesn’t know if it’s because Dean isn’t here, or if it’s because of everything that happened yesterday afternoon. He doesn’t really want to think too deeply on that. If he does think about it, if the answer really is because of Dean, it does not look good for what Castiel will be like if he ever gets his freedom.

Lilith and Alistair leave and Sam runs his hands through his hair angrily. Frustration echoes under his words. (She says she’ll be back this evening and you better have eaten all those fish by then. She doesn’t want you to get sick and not eating and not sleeping is going to get you sick.)

(It hasn’t even been a whole day. I’ll probably sleep later. I just… don’t feel like it right now.)

Sam’s thoughts turn comforting, soothing. (It’s okay. I get it. I understand days like that. I had them plenty enough when I was using.)

Castiel shrugs again. (Where did Lilith go?)

(She said she has some arrangements to make. We’re supposed to be reaching America in about a week and a half.) Sam walks over to Dean’s bed and Castiel watches as he takes down the calendar from the wall. (Our extended stay here has really thrown off our time line. At this rate, we won’t be docking in California until next month.)

(That’s a long time?)

Sam crumbles the paper and throws it in a one of the buckets. (We’ve got at least three weeks. At most, four weeks. We’ve still got a little ways up the coast to go before they’re turn us to the west.)

(Fin-kin have songs that track landmarks for routes to hunting grounds or the kelp forests. Do humans keep track of things like that?) Castiel uncurls and slides across the floor to the front wall. (Can you show me where we are? Where the light-beds are? Where we’re going?)

Sam looks between Castiel and the computers. (What you’re asking about is a map. We’ve drawn out pretty much the whole world. It’s the ocean that’s mostly unexplored. Give me a minute to pull one up.)

He speaks with Jess for a few minutes before sitting at the computer. Images and boxes pop up all over the flat glow and Castiel is distracted with watching it. He barely notices when Jess leaves. He brushes curiosity through the kin-connection and Sam shrugs.

(Breakfast.)

Sam slides to the side and