I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
-T.S. Eliot, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
Dean shudders as warm flesh circles around his back, twining under his waist to hold him in mid-air. His skin is damp with sweat and the remnants of his third or fourth orgasm of the day, he's lost count by now. Castiel's skin slides smooth and soft against his, catching with each slow drag until the tip of a tentacle skates fondly over the hollow of Dean's cheek.
Dean throws his head back, groaning as his legs are pulled further apart. The same limbs cradling his back circle around his thighs to spread him open, leaving him helpless to the thick, wet press of Castiel inside him. The tentacle flexes and stretches him open, pushing deeper until Dean feels so full he can hardly breathe, barely move as he's held in place by the warm grip of slick, violet-velvet skin all around him.
Like there's anywhere else he'd rather be.
He rocks into the deep thrust, arching his back just to feel the tender pull of Castiel's suckers against his skin, like endless kisses down his spine. Dean's eyes can barely focus, vision swimming as Castiel writhes inside him, hitting his sweet spot and sucking on it from the inside. He hisses as Castiel pinches one of his nipples between his thumb and forefinger, rolling the little bud of flesh just hard enough to make Dean clench around him. Cheater.
Turning his head to the side, Dean keeps his eyes on Castiel as he snakes his tongue out to drag it along the underside of Castiel's tentacle. It's salt-slick with Castiel's arousal, dripping wet like the one slowly stretching Dean fist-wide and burning-full. Dean catches a trickle of it on his tongue and spreads it on his lips, smirking up at Castiel.
Castiel kisses roughly, now, confident from years of experience as he bends down to crush his lips to Dean's, groaning at the taste of himself and raking his nails down Dean's side. Cursing softly, Dean tears his mouth away, craning his neck to close his lips over the wet tip of Castiel's tentacle.
Castiel grunts with surprise, pleasure, need, all three as Dean sucks it into his mouth, rolling his tongue against the slit and moaning as he tastes the faint trace of himself mixed with the creamy richness of Castiel. He'd been trading limbs back and forth all day, fingering Dean open just to fuck him with one tentacle after the other, holding himself back until Dean could see the desperation clouding the blue of his eyes. He's close.
Dean sucks harder, tonguing into it once more before bobbing his head and sucking Castiel off in earnest. He can feel the wavering push of Castiel inside him, growing erratic and more rigid with each second. Dean pulls his mouth off with a wet pop, a glistening trail of spit and slick strung from his lips to Castiel's tentacle.
Castiel looks down at him, arching a brow and tightening the coiled grip around Dean's wrists. Dean smirks back, thrashing his legs and squeezing his hole tight enough to make Castiel's eyes go wide.
“I want both of them.”
The tendons on Castiel's neck strain out as he grits his teeth together, rolling his eyes back in his head and growling softly. He leaves a wet path as he drags his tentacle down Dean's chest, trailing it through tacky streaks of Dean's come before swiping it across the sensitive head of Dean's spent cock.
Dean jumps at the touch, driving himself deeper onto the throbbing thickness inside him. He closes his eyes, losing himself in the undulous grip of Castiel, hands and limbs and lips everywhere. Catch and drag and slick against him, thick and warm inside and out. Dean sighs, lost in it until he feels the knowing circle against his rim, tracing gently around the juncture of their bodies until Dean stifles a whimper. He may demand with his mouth but his body will gladly beg, arched like a plea with his eyes wide.
There. That perfect point of too-much too-good, twin arms snaking into him and stretching him split-full. All that power just for him, knowing that someone who could rip him in half with a gentle tug would never hurt him. Castiel plays the animal now, guttural noises rough and heartfelt as he trades one tentacle for the other, back and forth then in together, eyes catching the light and shining blinding blue as he hauls Dean up for a kiss.
“Dean.” Dean doesn't need the warning, he can read it in every jumping muscle in Castiel's jaw, in the way he looks down at Dean like he still can't believe it. God but he's beautiful, pupils blown wide as he digs a hand into Dean's shoulder and stares at him like he's the wonder.
There's a throb and a pulse, a heavy second before Castiel buries his face in Dean's neck and keens, limbs squeezing tight around Dean's body as they all shudder together. Dean groans at each writhing push, wave after wave of Castiel's come filling him until Dean knows it's leaking out around the scant space between Castiel's swollen tentacles. He can't see it but he's made Castiel describe it to him enough times to know.
Dean shakes his wrists as Castiel uncoils from him, wrapping all six of his unoccupied tentacles around Dean's back to cradle him and pull him close. Castiel's hair is damp with sweat, sticking up in a dozen different directions as Dean runs his hands through it. They kiss until they're both half-asleep, Castiel groaning into his mouth with each successive surge of his orgasm. It tapers off eventually, when Castiel's lips are strawberry-blushed from Dean's stubble and Dean's thighs are slick with cream-white trails.
“I will miss you,” Castiel murmurs, nuzzling along the line of Dean's jaw. Dean sighs and presses a kiss to Castiel's forehead.
“Not as much as I will miss you.” Dean skates a lazy finger up the curve of Castiel's neck, running it through the soft curls at the nape. “But it will only be for two months. Charlie's dropping her cargo and turning right around, so I'll be home before you know it. I'll barely have time to meet the new baby.”
“You must give Sam and Jessica all my love. Are you sure you packed all the gifts I set aside for young Robert and the babe? And the books for Sam? And the silks for Jessica? And the-”
“Cas, I think Charlie's going to kill me when she sees all those trunks. The only way she's taking all that on board the Leia is if I agree to sleep on top of them.” Which is precisely what had happened the last time Dean had ventured back to visit his brother.
“Alright.” Castiel huffs, pouting a little. “I suppose I can bring the rocking horse along myself next time.” Dean murmurs an agreement, thinking of the toy in question. It's larger than a pony and weighs more than one as well.
“I wish I could escort you this time.” Castiel sighs. “But I must cull the flowers on the third wax of the moon or they'll be impossible next year.”
“It's alright, Cas.” Dean smiles and arches an eyebrow. “Sam will understand, and he'll probably bore me to death with botany questions while he's at it.”
Castiel gets a wounded look on his face, drawing his eyebrows together and frowning. “Dying is not funny, Dean. What if something happens to you? What if Charlie's ship is overtaken by pirates or a pox breaks out or-”
Dean rolls his eyes, pulling Castiel down to silence him with a kiss.
“Then you'll just have to rescue me. Again.”
June 14, 1768 Anno Domini
Maintained our course due northwest. Winds from the east, weather plain.
Crew maintains good spirits. Garth amused us with his Romeo and Juliet performance with his little pet. I thought the simian would bring bad luck but little Fizzles has been a delight for the crew. Must speak to Garth about its thieving habits with the rum.
Young Kevin seems to be getting on well with the men. I overheard him telling Old Rufus a rather ribald joke that seemed to please the old man. He shows no inclination for drink, although I suspect the men will see to that before the trip is done.
Supplies remain well-stocked. The crew bemoans their daily sauerkraut but I am firm. There shall be no bleeding gums on board the Impala.
My research indicates that we shall reach the Harpy Islands in a fortnight. I am eager to arrive and begin my survey. I have been too long on land and find that I crave the silence of a remote place.
Dean sighed and put his pen down, careful to avoid dribbling ink on the logbook. He sat and watched his words dry, the ink slowly losing its gleam in the flickering light from his lantern.
The slow list of the ship swung the hanging light from side to side, casting strange shadows on the sparse accommodations of his quarters. Dean turned to the maps spread out on his table, held down by three well-placed parts from the sextant he'd replaced last year. Few things went to waste on board the Impala, a habit ingrained by his father and easily adopted by Dean himself.
The oldest map was worn so thin that the delicate vellum could double as a lampshade. Faded ink and long-disintegrated gilt had turned a soft chicory-brown, some of the lines barely visible. The looped cursive of Henry Winchester, Sr. was just legible if Dean squinted, tracing the curve of the Ragged Coast, circling the dotted islands of Memse's Cove, until finally the script became bolder and double-traced over the estrellated expanse of the Harpy Islands.
Dean pulled the other map out from under the stout arm of the sextant and laid it beside his great-grandfather's map. It was a recent acquisition, costly and laborious to acquire. It had taken Dean the better part of a year to talk the old Seer into trading it, but if Dean had learned one thing it was that every person had a weakness. It was merely a matter of persistence and a lifetime of honed acuity to determine what the mystic had wanted.
While it had taken him weeks to clean up the mess and months to talk Rufus into forgiving him for the incident in the stock-room, Dean had managed to safely transport two diminutive Winged Pachyderms, a male and a female, through the dangerous Straits of Levy, across the rocky Vern Inlets, and onto the Dakota Island home of Seer Barnes.
While Dean couldn't imagine keeping anything that was capable of simultaneous flight and trumpeting as a pet, the old woman had been thrilled and had not only given Dean the map but had thrown in an old scroll that purported to be an account of the creatures. Dean knew to take it with the familiar fist-full of salt, but even the most outrageously exaggerated details could prove useful in an unfamiliar area. Perhaps it would be this old adventurer's wild stories about the hair of Harpies being stronger than the forged metals of the Vanadians that would make Dean's name in the annals.
Dean sighed and carefully rearranged the maps on the table, the nagging voice of his father's neatness still audible five years after his death. Dean ran a tight ship that any captain could be proud of, but he still found himself fussing over the rope coils or triple-checking his inventory as if John would turn the corner and narrow his eyes in disapproval at any moment.
The soft bump of a wave swell heaved in time with Dean's lazy stretch, his body rolling with the water as he cracked his neck from side to side. He was the restless sort of tired that promised either pleasureless sleep or fruitless labor. He knew the crew could sense his unease as well, the tension of a virgin journey familiar to some and new to others. The joy of a ship was that there was always work to be done, and Rufus kept the men so busy scrubbing and scraping that most of them collapsed into their hammocks without a second thought for the unknown coastline awaiting them.
Dean envied them. Finding solace in hard work wasn't unknown to him, but the easy camaraderie of his crew was a comfort he had never fully understood. Age only seemed to make crowds more unbearable to Dean, bodies teeming and pressing against him until he could hardly breathe.
Taking a deep breath and slowly blowing it out through pursed lips, Dean leaned back in his chair and cradled his head in his hands. He smiled as he looked up at the old portrait of Henry Sr. hanging first in a row of three. “Hercules Hank” Winchester was as broadly-muscled as a stevedore, with the well-waxed whiskers of a Regency man. The oils had faded over the years, but the blues and greens of his tattooed biceps stood out where his arm was slung over the feathered neck of a hippogriff. The engraved plate at the base of the frame immortalized the date and place of old Hank's discovery.
Henry Jr. shared the bright green eyes of his father but little else. Slim, serious and pinched, he posed with his arms crossed over his chest and one foot resting on the flank of the narwhal beneath him. The cochlear horn of the beast hung above the port-hole like it always had. Dean had never known the man but he suspected they wouldn't have gotten along. He'd almost taken the horn down countless times but had never quite been able to work up the courage. It had always seemed in poor taste to him, displaying this prize like they were common poachers instead of seekers of knowledge.
Dean's eyes settled on the final portrait in the row. John Winchester stood on the docks of Hanover Bay, the three-headed hydra hoisted up on a shark-pulley by the giant curved hook through the base of its neck. Six sets of eyes stared out at the viewer, slitted open and opaque-blue in death. The puddle beneath it was the copper-brown of old blood, the same smear found on slaughterhouse floors and the surgeons' galleys in any city. The Impala was a sleek bundle of rafters and sails in the distance, docked far away and partially blocked by the smoking towers of the Refinery and the steepled church just up the hill.
Sam had been so proud of that portrait. He'd spent weeks on it, holed up in his room while John and Dean had canvassed the city for sponsors on the heels of John's great discovery. Dean had caught a glimpse of it every now and then, but he'd been so busy flirting with society matrons and chatting up the young bucks stationed in town that he'd been just as surprised as John when he'd seen it completed.
Sam's technical skill was unparalleled. He'd captured every whisker on John's face in a perfect calico-gray rainbow, the soft crinkles around his eyes and the way one side of his mouth quirked up further than the other when he smiled. John's gaze wasn't turned to the viewer like that of his forbearers. Instead he looked at the creature next to him, his eyes contemplative and almost sad. The boast and bravado of the other Winchesters was entirely absent. Dean could still feel the melancholy of it, the sacrifice of living this life. They searched the world for monsters so that it could be a safer place for others, less frightening for each catalogued fin and measured hoof and horn.
John hadn't said a word about it. He'd just thanked Sam and tacked it up on the wall, nodding once and telling Sam to start working on the anatomical sketches that they would sell as prints. That had been the start of the troubles, inasmuch as they had always been there ever since Sam had arrived a squalling bundle of colic and motherless insecurity.
Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. Better not to think of Sam, not when he was in one of these dark moods. It never led anywhere good.
Turning from the wall, Dean rummaged around in the small box next to his desk. After withdrawing a small chunk of gnarled driftwood, Dean pulled his knife from the leather sheath clipped to his belt and kicked his feet up onto the map table. He stared at the wood for a long minute, turning it in his hands, tracing over the natural knots and whorls of it. It had started life as a yew branch by the looks of it, but now it belonged to the sea, in the same motley kinship as the other figurines resting in the box.
Dean narrowed his eyes and held the wood up to the lamplight. “You'll be a Knight.” He flicked the blade across the pad of his thumb, sufficiently sharp to let out a tinny ring. The tang of the knife was even and gleaming as Dean looked down the honed edge of it. Dean took good care of his tools.
A dark vein of charcoal-gray gave the impression of a curved neck, and Dean followed the natural line of it as he began to whittle the basic shape of the hippogriff. It took concentration and focus to do the small sort of detailing that Dean favored, and soon he'd lost track of time, humming softly to himself as the ship swayed back and forth on calm waves.
The first arch of the chess piece's beak was just emerging as Dean felt it, the thunk of something heavy against the starboard hull. Dean's hair stood on end, skin tingling as the echo of impact reverberated through the ship. He counted the seconds, fingers flexing around his knife with each one. Five, Six, Seven-
Thwunk. Another blow hit the ship, this time from the port side. The half-carved chunk of wood fell from Dean's hand as he scrambled out of his chair, almost knocking it over as he ran for the door. He threw back the latch and dashed for the stairs to the deck, steadying himself with his palm flat against the paneled wood. The ship listed far to starboard before rallying back to center, and Dean gave her a soft pat as he mounted the stairs.
His boot was on the first step as he felt a deep roar rumble beneath him, worming into his bones and making his stomach drop. No. He heaved himself up the steps and stormed onto the deck.
The sky was brilliant above him, stars sparkling and sparse clouds moving in a steady breeze. The moon shone clear onto the milling crew gathered on the deck in small groups. The weather was a sailor's dream, and Dean felt panic mount in his chest as he raced towards the ship's wheel.
“Turner!” Dean jogged over to Rufus, ignoring the worried glances of his crew. He wouldn't reassure them until he knew what was going on, and his current hypothesis was best kept to himself if he didn't want men jumping overboard. “You spotted something?” Dean asked under his breath, leaning in and pulling his shirt collar up against the wind.
A paler man would have white knuckles from gripping the handles so hard. Rufus' eyes shone wide in the moonlight as he looked at Dean, jaw set out in a determined effort to hide his fear. He shook his head and turned to look out at the smooth surface of the water. Dean followed his gaze and set his shoulders, walking steadily to the railing and peering over.
The water was too smooth, a glass pool shining opal as far as Dean could see. His instincts screamed that something was wrong, every old story he'd listened to as a child flooding back to him. The hits to the ship, the rumbling cry – Dean's legs shook as he stared out at the water, his hands gripped uselessly against the rail.
Count to seven, off to heaven. Thunder in your bones, the kraken's come home.
Dean turned back to look at Rufus, hoping the older man would offer him some solace, make a joke about Dean being too young to man a ship and not recognize whatever innocuous thing had just happened.
Instead he saw Rufus praying, head bowed down against the felloes of the ship's wheel, hands steepled in front of his gray forehead. The men all turned as one as Garth pointed, little Tinker perched on his shoulder with his finger pointed forward in a mimicry of his master. Garth's usually-cheerful face was stricken as he screamed.
The horizon seemed to pull off from the earth itself, the placid surface of the water rippling as the enormous beast reared out of the water. Dean's stomach lurched as he looked back and forth, catching sight of the massive barbed tail cresting out from the water on the port while a gaping maw of teeth and ichor surged up off the starboard. The thing must have been twice the size of the Impala, each lidless eye the size of the ship's wheel that Rufus clung to as he murmured the strange syllabic prayers of his adopted faith. Head and tail arched from the sea until the ship was enclosed by scaled cliffs of pitted skin, a matte emerald-black that seemed to suck the gleam from the moon itself.
Dean's riding lessons had been rudimentary at best, comprised mostly of his father slapping one of Singer's horses on the backside and telling his sons not to fall off. Sam had taken to it more than Dean, gentling even the most skittish mares with his deft hands and soft whispers. Dean was sure that Bobby was trying to teach him a lesson with old Brooder, a surly gelding with enough spirit to flay a man with a sidelong glance. He'd thrown Dean a dozen times before Dean got the trick of it. He'd learned to feel the dip of the creature's spine as he prepared to throw his rider, how his head would rear up with a cantankerous snort as his hind legs kicked back, only to arch up and do his level best to leave Dean face-first in the dust.
As Dean watched the head and tail of the kraken crash back into the sea, he closed his eyes and said every prayer he'd ever learned.
There were two hideous seconds of perfect stillness, where not a man on the ship took a breath. Dean felt paralyzed, frozen in place as the water churned beneath the only home he'd ever known. He wanted to scream, tell his men to run for cover, loose the lifeboats and save themselves. Everyone seemed as helpless as he felt, though, standing corpse-stiff as it dawned on every one of them that they were dead men.
The beast hit with the boom of a thousand cannon, knocking the breath from Dean's lungs as he tumbled backwards against the deck. His hands scrabbled for purchase as the crack of the deck splitting in half echoed through the night. Screams, curses, prayers, apologies – a dozen different languages filled the air, interspersed with the frantic screaming of the little spider monkey.
Everywhere Dean looked was mayhem, foaming water sloshing down the tilting sides of the deck as men tumbled past him. Dean managed to secure a hand on a cleat and tried to pull himself up. Another roar burst forth from the monster, a rumble Dean could feel in his teeth, in the very marrow of his bones.
Dean looked back at the ruined podium of the ship's wheel. The hand-holds twirled around like a child's toy, cut loose from the tiller ropes and spinning wildly. Rufus was gone.
“Son of a bitch!” Dean screamed as he looked up, screaming again as he watched the kraken's head loom above him, blocking out the moon until all Dean could see was the dull glint of hunger in its eye. It threw back its head, roaring again as it gnashed its teeth and swung its neck. Dean shuddered as the crack of wood keened behind him.
As Dean looked back at the mast of the ship pitching forward, he loosened his hold and closed his eyes. As he slipped down the splintered remnants of his ship, his last thought as he hit the water was that if nothing else, at least Sam wasn't there to die beside him.
Dean floated freely, his body weightless on the gentle rock of the waves. His head lolled against his shoulder, warmth spreading out from his chest like a soothing balm. He hadn't felt such comfort since Mary had rocked him to sleep, had forgotten the limbless bliss of sheer oblivion. It was soft and sweet, so very warm, and Dean sighed with contentment as his head slipped beneath the water.
His hand batted uselessly as something cool gripped him around the waist, pulling him deeper. He couldn't find the energy to push away the bothersome intrusion, so Dean relaxed into the clutch under his ribs and slipped into blackness.
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem,
inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,
Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.
Dean dreamt of bucking horses and gleaming teeth, of chasing Sam up the hills of Lawrence and the soft, leathery embrace of John.
He dreamt of sandworms splitting his skull and fireants devouring his shoulder, chased away by cool feathers brushing at his lips. Hot desert sands seared his skin until a brigade of flying elephants lifted him up.
Mary sang to him, rocking him back and forth until the world went quiet again.
andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropon, hos mala polla
Planchthé epei Troiés hieron ptoliethron epersen;
pollón d'anthrópón iden astea kai no-on egnó,
polla d'ho g'en pontó pathen algea hon kata thumon,
arnumenos hén te psuchén kai noston hetairón.
The sound of Dean's lips smacking together woke him. Thick with sleep and parched with thirst, he rubbed at his eyes and immediately regretted it. He forced them open and leaned up onto his elbows, barking in pain as his right shoulder screamed at him.
Dean's eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light. He looked down at his shoulder, taking in the sight of linen strips wound around his chest and over his shoulder. They looked clean and neatly-placed, if a bit old-fashioned, much like the worn breeches that were Dean's only garment. They would have been out of date on Henry Sr., with buttons by the knees and a thick waistband that folded over on itself. His chest was bare but he wasn't cold.
Dean staggered to his feet and squeezed gently at his temples, trying to clear the headache pulsing behind his eyes. The makeshift bedding underneath him formed a strange picture, with intricate gold-foil embroidery on plush lambs-fleece laid over bare sand. There was a pillow, as well, rough dried sea grass stuffed into a mismatched but equally lavish pillowcase.
The light filtering in was just strong enough for Dean to make out the rough-hewn walls of the shelter. It appeared to be a large cave, with a towering roof that disappeared into darkness. Water closed in on both sides, one end leading to a shadowy grotto while the other went to a sunny beach off in the distance. Dean felt a wave of panic as he looked around the strange place, fighting the sludge in his head to recall what had happened. Where was his ship?
Dean headed for the light on instinct, blinking back as the sun hit him. Craggy cliffs rose on either side of the embankment, a pale, porous stone that Dean didn't recognize. The sand was hot under his feet as he paced up the short beach, shading his eyes with his hand as he scanned the horizon. Endless blue and blazing sun was all he could make out. The sand was pristine white, his footprints the only tracks he could see.
How had he gotten here? Dean's shoulder ached as he turned back to the mouth of the cave. Someone had bandaged him up and made him a bed. But nothing looked familiar, and Dean felt a deep foreboding as he looked at the entrance to the cave. A mouth, crooked teeth gaping at him...
Dean's head felt fuzzy under the hot sun. It hurt when he tried to think and the sun was too bright in his eyes. His stomach turned over as a wave of nausea hit him. Water, he just needed to drink some water and collect his thoughts. Dean headed back into the cave, sighing at the welcome coolness.
The wall beside his makeshift bed was uneven and full of small indentations. As Dean drew closer, he found a small pitcher and a bowl filled with red, smooth-skinned fruit. He tested the water with his index finger, letting a few drops fall on his tongue. It was fresh and sweet without a hint of brine, and Dean drank it all down quickly.
He paused as he picked up the fruit, turning it over in his palm. It was heavy and almond-shaped, with a small divot at the top. He didn't recognize it and the bright, alluring color gave him pause. His father had taught him about poison berries and rash fruit, and Dean knew the dangers of the flux coupled with dehydration. He put the fruit back and let his fingers skim over the rough-hewn shelf holding the bowl and pitcher.
Someone had left this fruit for him. Dean traced over the lines of the cubby hole, tilting his head as he noticed the even sloping of the lines. They looked chiseled, with even striations at odds with the wavy texture of the stone.
Someone had made these. Dean turned to look at the opposite wall, noting similar alcoves dotting the surface. He crossed the modest space of the cave and had his hand half-way up to touch an arched opening that held what looked like a piece of Pythian pottery when he heard a soft cry, followed by a dull thud.
Whirling on his heel, Dean turned to the noise and saw a large tray overturned in the sand, bandages rolling out every which way as the lacquered wood wobbled. Dean ran before he knew it, his heels churning up small sprays of sand as he darted towards the inner shoreline of the cave. He just caught the shadow of someone disappearing behind a wall as he reached the bank of the dark water.
“Hello?” Dean called out, first in the common tongue and then again in six other languages just to be safe. He took a few tentative steps into the pool, finding it surprisingly warm between his toes. “Who's there?”
Dean could see the shadow on the wall about a dozen yards away, distorted by the water but clearly a man. Dean cleared his throat and tried again.
“Hello, I'm Dean.” His words echoed softly off the walls, dying out as the shadow on the wall drew a little closer. “You're safe to come out, I promise. I'd just like to thank you.” There was probably a hermit living in these caves. John had traded with an old recluse like that near the Cavy Islands, a grizzled old man who made beautiful necklaces. John had traded books for his baubles whenever they passed by.
Sam had always scoffed at the old man with his wild hair and strange ways, but Dean could see the appeal in his life. The quiet, the calm, the peace of being with his own thoughts – sometimes Dean looked at the noise and bustle of the city and wondered what it would be like to wake up to nothing but the crash of waves and rush of the tide.
If the man had access to bandages and crockery he could get Dean back to civilization. Dean took another cautious step forward until the water pooled at his ankles, hands held in front of him in what he hoped was a universal gesture of “I'm not going to hurt you.” He didn't want to scare the man off but he needed answers.
“I'm sorry to bother you, but I don't know how I got here and I was hoping you could enlighten me.” Dean was half-way through mentally translating that statement into Euthyrian, always a good back-up if the common tongue failed, when he saw the shadow on the wall slither forward until a pale hand curved around the bend of the cave wall. An unruly crown of black hair appeared next, followed by a set of eyes that made Dean take a step backwards.
Dean had always disliked keeping cats on board. For all their use keeping the rats at bay, Dean had never liked the way their eyes glowed in the dark. It unnerved him.
“You … you don't remember?” The voice was deep and rich, serrated at the edges and strangely familiar. But the eyes … Dean watched them blink slowly, still shining the same strange iridescent blue when they opened again. Dean took a deep breath, telling himself it must be a trick of the light. His head was still throbbing and caves could do strange things to a man's vision.
“No, I'm afraid not.”
The head peeked out a little further until Dean could just make out the shape of a set of full, sunburnt lips.
“Oh dear. Are you experiencing nausea, dizziness or signs of the headache? Photosensitivity? Are your pupils unnaturally dilated?” The man tilted his head and leaned a little further out. “Are you experiencing a voracious craving for squalls' eggs?”
“Squalls … uh, no.” Dean took another step into the water, leaning to one side to try and get a better view. “But some of the other things, yes. Why don't you come out and we can talk?” The man started a little before turning his head away shyly.
“I fear I mustn't.” His eyes glowed again before he ducked around the corner, but Dean could still see his shadow against the wall. This was growing tiresome.
“Please.” Dean ran his fingers through his hair, trying to squelch the panic in his voice. “I have no idea where I am or how I got here and I...” Dean sighed and felt his shoulders drop. His head was starting to pound behind his eyes. “I need help.”
Asking for help normally fell somewhere between pulling teeth and sweeping up monkey shit on the list of things Dean liked doing, but he wasn't stupid. If he was going to get anywhere he needed help from this strange person.
The hand reappeared around the curve of the wall, slowly followed by the man's face.
“I am Castiel.” The strange name sounded pleasant with the grate of his voice. Dean smiled at him and waved his hand.
“You were in the water, floating on a piece of … oh, what's the word? A plank? A plank of wood, yes, not a log but a plank, the piece that has been sheared to a precise form from the original issue.”
Dean followed most of that, if not all, and nodded. “I was injured.” He pointed at his bandaged shoulder, looking down at the neat layers of cloth before looking back at the man. “Did you nurse me?”
“I am incapable of lactation.” The man tilted his head quizzically, leaning further out until Dean could make out his bare chest, reflecting smooth and pale where the water met his waist. “I would not be able to produce milk for you to drink.”
Dean couldn't help but bark out a laugh. Clearly Castiel didn't get out much.
“No, no, I apologize, I meant my bandages. It's an expression.” Dean smiled. “Did you fix my shoulder?”
“Ah.” Castiel nodded several times, a small smile curving up the corners of his mouth. “Indeed. I saw to your wounds and tended to you while your head burned.”
“Thank you.” Dean's palms felt sweaty at his sides so he pressed them against the roughspun of his pants. The water was so warm around his feet, like the drawn baths that Dean rarely had the luxury of soaking in. It was making him feel dizzy and he swayed on his feet.
Dean's arm shot out into the air, trying to grab something to steady himself. His vision was just blurring out as he felt something soft cradle his hips as he sank down to the sand and saw Castiel's face looming over him.
He couldn't have been out for long, but it had been long enough for Castiel to lay Dean on his back. Dean blinked his eyes open as he felt a cool hand pressing against his forehead.
“You fainted.” Castiel's eyes were impossibly blue as they searched Dean's face, flitting back and forth as Dean tried to push himself up to sit. “You should remain supine, I must insist, you shouldn't, oh, dear-”
Castiel pulled back, his face looking panicked as Dean managed to heave himself onto his elbows. It didn't help the painful beat of his blood behind his eyes, but Dean immediately forgot about his pain as his eyes trailed down Castiel's chest.
Dean's life had been steeped in creatures from myth and legend since his earliest memories. While some boys had played at swords and ships, Dean had drawn flaming phoenixes and fierce chimaera. He could name the eight species of winged horse by the time he was nine, and he knew that anything commonly called a dragon was closer to a bird in physiology. He knew that there was more on heaven and earth than a thousand generations of Winchesters would ever catalogue.
But Dean never, ever thought he would see this.
“Nereid.” Dean whispered it under his breath, backing up to get a better view as Castiel clenched and unclenched his hands. His arms, his face, his torso – all of it seemed perfectly human, albeit with those incandescent eyes that certainly made more sense now. Dean's eyes traced down the smooth muscles of Castiel's chest, following the neat curve at his waist where it nipped in. Where a man's hips would have risen up from a trim waist like that, Castiel's skin changed, blending from pale cream into deeper and deeper shades of pink, fuchsia, violet and finally a purple so dark it seemed black where Castiel's legs disappeared into the water.
Well, legs wasn't quite the way to put it. Castiel's appendages were thick and gleaming where they split off, at roughly the same place where a man's legs would part. Dean couldn't count them all in the dim light, but he could see them moving under the water. He caught a flash of pink as one of them turned over, a dusky rose that made Dean blush as it reminded him of certain anatomical details it would be rude to contemplate just then. The underside of each arm was pebbled with small circles, like the tentacles of an octopus but ten times as thick. They were long as well, snaking out until Dean estimated they were at least twice the length of Dean's body.
Dean had heard tales about nereids, just like he'd heard the fevered ramblings of old sailors about the half-snake naga women or the insatiable centaurs of Scythia. Dean had never seen any of them with his own eyes, and John had often mused that these half-human creatures were more projection than fact. Dean would never forget his disappointment when Captain Walker had brought back a live mermaid. It had resembled a woman about as much as a chimpanzee resembled Sam, and while Dean hadn't lost the opportunity for a good jest at the expense of his brother, he'd been sad to see the whiskered, cow-like face of the “manatee” from the West. It was just another beast, no happier to be drifting in its tank than Dean was to examine it.
“You needn't be afraid.” Dean pulled his gaze away from Castiel's limbs when the nereid spoke, looking him in the eye and seeing nothing but intelligence. And fear.
“I won't hurt you.” Castiel's hands were wrung together, fingers tracing back and forth over his wrist as his tentacles did the same. They never seemed to stop moving, undulating out from his waist and leaving ripples in the water beneath him. Dean wasn't sure how, but he recognized the rhythmic movements as belying a deep unease.
“I...” Dean faltered, blinking his eyes and heaving himself up to sit cross-legged on the bank in a way he hoped seemed comforting. “I know.” He smiled and took a deep breath. “You must understand, I've never met a Nereid before. I didn't even know you were real.”
Castiel slowly let his hands fall to the side, not coming any closer but not darting off into the darkness.
“I'm an explorer, like my father and his father before him. I've travelled all over the world but I've never seen one of your kind before.” Dean smiled more broadly, feeling excitement course through him. This was an exceptional discovery.
“You are like Odysseus!” Cas burst out, leaning forward to move closer to Dean. Dean tried not to stare at the way his tentacles flexed as Castiel moved further out of the water and failed, mesmerized by the way they bunched up just to thin out, propelling him forward with a fluid sort of locomotion that was equal parts unsettlingly alien and strangely beautiful.
“Are you familiar with the song of Odysseus? It is one of my favorites.” Castiel smiled and took a deep breath before launching into the opening stanza.
His bizarre accent and complete disregard for diacritics meant Dean was following him more by memory than comprehension, but the enthusiasm on his face was infectious.
“Yes, I've read it many times.” Dean tilted his head. “How did you learn that?”
Castiel crossed his arms over his chest, looking like nothing so much as a proud boy. “I can read every language mankind has written.”
Dean arched an eyebrow and snorted softly. “That's an awful lot of languages.”
Castiel looked sad suddenly, his eyes cast down towards the sand by Dean's feet. “I have had a great deal of time to study.”
Dean had a million questions on the tip of his tongue. How had he gotten here? Where did Castiel come from? How was he going to get home?
A deep grumble startled them both. Apparently Dean's stomach had questions of its own.
“You are experiencing hunger.” Castiel rushed forward, his brow wrinkled with concern. Dean shied away in spite of himself as Castiel came towards him, cursing himself just as quickly. His brain couldn't quite correlate that he was talking to something with, now that Castiel was almost out of the water and Dean could count them, ten limbs in total.
“Yes, I'm quite hungry.” Dean plastered on his most winning smile. “Will you eat with me?” Dean had never encountered a culture where breaking bread with a guest was refused.
Castiel grinned proudly and pointed to the bowl of strange fruit. “I left these for you. They are quite delicious. And the fiber of their flesh is beneficial to your intestinal lining.”
Dean was going to need to work on keeping a straight face.
Siquis in hoc artem populo non novit amandi,
Hoc legat et lecto carmine doctus amet.
Arte citae veloque rates remoque moventur,
Arte leves currus: arte regendus amor.
Dean sighed and arched his neck, leaning into the pleasant scratching along his scalp. His skin tingled with each stroke, warmth and gentle shocks radiating down to his belly and out to where he was starting to strain against his pants. He smiled softly, recognizing the sweet words of Ovid's Art of Love floating through the air. He licked his lips and slid a hand down his stomach, blinking his eyes open against the dim light of his cabin.
Dean's hand shot back up to his side as he saw Castiel smile at him, pausing at the end of a line. Right, not his cabin, absolutely not a good time to have a morning mast in his pants. Dean rolled over onto his side and drew back immediately when he saw one of Castiel's tentacles wavering by his face.
There was something unnerving about the sentient movement of it, the way it drew back in concert with Dean's startled reaction. Dean huffed out a nervous laugh and tried to relax, finding his eyes drawn to the flecked sheen of Castiel's skin. It was purple like the aubergines that Sam had always liked, with a glimmering luster that caught the meager sun and diffracted it into a dozen different shades of violet.
Following the shimmering arch of Castiel's tentacle upwards, Dean paused as he noticed the tapered end of the arm wrapped around something silver. Dean looked back to where Cas was laying in the sand, propped up on his elbows with a worn book open between his arms. He caught Dean's look and smiled again, shifting his weight and startling Dean as he felt something rake his head from behind.
“What are you doing, Castiel?” Dean craned his neck and looked behind him to see Castiel's tentacle gingerly holding an ornate serving fork. It had a broad base, thick, short tines and a flared handle, similar to the ones used to serve fiddleheads and asparagus. Dean swallowed thickly and let out a weak smile.
“I am grooming you.” Castiel ran the fork through Dean's hair again, which Dean had to admit didn't feel unpleasant. Castiel looked immensely pleased with himself as he traced the tines over Dean's head, pulling his tentacle back to do the same to himself. It certainly explained a lot about Castiel's hair, which could have doubled as a comfortable nest for a modest family of starlings.
“Like Patrocolus with Achilles, I wish to tend to you.” Castiel returned the fork to Dean's head, scratching him behind the ear until Dean had to struggle not to arch back into it like a house cat. It wasn't doing anything to help with the half-erection he had pressed into the soft sand underneath him.
“Your clothes were beyond salvage.” Castiel pulled the fork back and frowned. “I would have laundered them and presented them to you as a token of my friendship.”
Dean frowned as well, his thoughts skirting around something he ought to remember but couldn't. He pressed his thumb and forefinger over the bridge of his nose, trying to grasp one of the strings around the edges of his memory. Great teeth, his arms straining against a shattered plank of wood, an ear-shattering screech – it was all a jumbled mess that strained painfully against Dean's skull the more he poked at it. He sighed and opened his eyes, smiling in spite of himself as he saw the fork hovering in mid-air.
“Thank you,” Dean said simply, gesturing to the breeches. Cas nodded and reared the fork back before Dean laughed, reaching out to take it.
“But this,” Dean held the fork up, balancing its weight on his forefinger, “is not for grooming.” Castiel's brow creased in confusion. “This is a fork. We use it for eating things, or serving food. I think what you want is a brush, or a comb.”
“But, but, but,” Castiel spluttered, his tentacles waving over his shoulder, “this must be a comb. Forks are shaped like so.”
Dean watched as the tip of Castiel's tentacle drew a line down the sand, forming the shape of a fork with a long handle and thin, spiked tines. The tip of Castiel's tentacle was tapered like a fingertip, and watching Castiel hastily draw a fork, Dean saw that it was just as deft as his own, curving neatly to trace another image next to the fork, this one clearly a comb. Dean couldn't help but chuckle, because there was no way anyone would be able to identify the silver thing resting in his hands as a fork without prior experience.
“This is a special kind of fork.” Dean shrugged and laid it aside. “Not that it really matters. I never had much use for fancy cutlery on board.” Again Dean felt that tug at his consciousness, like a sound from a dream that didn't belong with the rest of his waking thoughts.
Castiel stared at the fork on the ground and picked it up suddenly, a huge grin splitting his face.
“I must show you something Dean, surely. There are things in my possession that elude me in both their name and function. Will you help me with human nomenclature?”
Dean looked around the cave at the various and sundry relics scattered all over the place. Pottery from a dozen different time-periods and places, the oddly luxurious fabrics making up Dean's bed – where had it all come from? Castiel must have had some interesting trade sources.
“I'll be happy to help, what-” Dean grunted in surprise as Castiel pulled him up, trailing into the water while one of his tentacles held Dean's wrist like a good friend's hand. Dean stared down in wonder, watching the sure grip of dark skin as he found his balance. He could feel the minuscule suckers adhering to his skin, massaging him as it pulled him forward. The skin was soft and smooth, slippery like fine velvet rather than the slimy sensation he would have expected.
“This way.” Castiel's appendage released him as Dean stepped into the water, hesitating as it pooled around his calves. The nereid gestured to the right of the pool, towards a yawning black entrance that Dean could barely make out in the dark. “You will need to swim.” Castiel turned to look back at him and put his hand on his forehead. “Of course, of course, your eyesight is rudimentary and poor. Forgive me.”
Castiel rushed past him and slid onto the sand, leaving a curved trail behind him as he poked around in the mantels hewn into the wall. With a satisfied, “Aha,” Castiel produced a small packet of waxed matches and a thick pillar candle. He struck the lucifer and lit the wick, coursing back down to the water as the candle illuminated his face. Dean looked away, strangely self-conscious at his thought that Castiel would have made an extremely handsome man.
“Now.” Castiel slid past him and held the candle up in front of him. “Follow me.”
Dean swam behind him, too modest to remove his pants but irritated by their weight nonetheless. He managed to keep up despite the hindrance.
Dean followed Castiel down a long channel, the feeble candleflame doing little to tell him about his surroundings. Instead Dean focused on staying close to Castiel, not liking the thought of getting lost in a pitch black cave. Dean felt a wave of relief as they turned a corner and he saw light ahead.
They swam on until Dean could make out another shoreline, framed by arching cliffs that met overhead like one of the Theban cathedrals. Sunlight filtered down onto the pale sand, a coarse grain flecked with amber that reminded Dean of a shoreline he'd seen before, somewhere. He felt another blank spot in his mind as he tried to recall it, thinking inexplicably of elephants and a set of milky-white eyes.
He followed Castiel out of the water, watching the odd grace of the nereid's movements as unobtrusively as possible. Dean would have thought he'd be awkward on land, like a seal or one of the tonsured walruses in the North. Instead his eight hind-limbs worked in concert, flexing and propelling him forward with a snake-like circuitry. Dean wondered how strong they must be.
The air felt cooler here, hitting Dean's skin as he walked up from the water. He looked down and realized that he needn't have bothered keeping his pants on. The fine linen was as good as see-through when it was wet, and Dean self-consciously tried to cover himself as he laid his footprints over the smooth trail of Castiel's tentacles. It was the scientist in him that wondered what sort of reproductive organs Castiel possessed, but Dean's masculine pride wondered if the nereid was familiar with the “shrinking snake” phenomenon that sailors and sea-wenches alike jested about. He did his best to re-adjust and moved on before he lost Castiel.
The shoreline bore three cave-mouths, each larger than the next. The smallest one led to the sea while the others hinted at a shadowy interior. Dean followed Castiel to the largest and darkest one, hesitating before he turned a bend. The caves so far had smelled familiar to him, the brine-clean of the ocean and the damp warmth of sand and stone.
As Dean approached the cave, a dozen familiar scents drifted out towards him, flooding him with sense-memories and making his stomach speak its displeasure at his diet of fruit and laver. He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes as the scent of roses and saffron and old parchment and cedar chests washed over him.
John had taken Dean to the merchant cities when he was young, introducing him to the Javan traders with their braided beards and the Hymean mongers with their rank-born thorns pierced through their faces. Dean had toured the warehouses and depots of all the men John traded with, marveling at the stacks of silk and the mountains of cloves and cardamom pods. It had seemed like a wonder that the spices that cost a year's wages per pound could exist in such plethora, that there were enough silkworms on the earth to create the infinite yards of spun beauty that had been piled as high as Dean's young eye could see.
As Dean stepped around the sloping corner of the cave, he wondered if any merchant on earth could see the sight before him and not burst into tears.
The cave was as vast as a crown-jewel Cathedral, with sloped sides that rose up in uneven steppes. Two dozen yards was a conservative estimate for the height. The sky was blue and clear above them, letting the sunlight in to glint off the tower of treasure stowed inside like the nest of a fifty-foot magpie.
“My God,” Dean whispered, his eyes struggling to focus on one thing just to be drawn to another. Mounds of silver and gold toppled over into one another, fine-wrought jewelry dangling off of plain silver cups and gold plateware with no distinction. A rainbow of gems peeked out, an inlaid ruby shining off a decorative breastplate, an amethyst the size of Dean's fist perched on top of a fine silver snuffbox like a paperweight. The wealth of six nations lay in a heap of wrought metals, swords of every shape, size and century tangled together like a priceless porcupine. Dean even caught the bluish tint of Vanadian steel, the stuff of legends and children's stories when Henry Sr. was a boy.
Dean stumbled forward, too awed by the stash of Ansurian silks to pay any heed to the chest that barked his shins. He stopped and stared, tilting his head at the purplish-gold shimmer of the water-stained bolts of fabric. The silkworms of Ansur had been extinct for over two hundred years.
Castiel's voice was soft beside him, questioning and proud at the same time. “I have travelled much as well.”
Dean turned to look at him, opening his mouth to speak just to close it as he looked at the wall behind Castiel. Carved niches like the ones by Dean's make-shift chambers dotted the cliff, each one filled with stacks of scrolls or leather-bound volumes. Dean stepped closer, narrowly missing another chest before Castiel pushed it out of the way.
Dean scanned the shelves one after the other, his lips moving softly as he recited the names of poems he'd read as a child, almanacs and treatises on science, sacred texts from cultures Dean barely knew, and entire rows of books with titles in alphabets Dean had never even seen. Sam would have died from sheer joy on the spot.
Dean felt a tug of unease as he thought of his brother. He would need to get word to Sam that he was alright. Not that they spoke often, but he at least had the right to know that Dean wasn't dead. Maybe he could trade for a book with Castiel. That would be a good peace offering.
Castiel was hovering nervously beside him, blue eyes flicking back and forth between Dean's face and the wall of tomes.
“Is it not done correctly? I have tried to make a library.” Castiel wound his fingers around the tip of one of his tentacles, squeezing them together like a man would clench his hands. “It was my impression this was the traditional way to store the written word of your kind.”
“No, it's perfect.” Dean tore his eyes away and looked at Castiel. “This is amazing, Castiel. I've never seen anything like it. May I?” Dean gestured at the pile of swords, his hands itching to touch a real Vanadian scimitar. Castiel nodded his acquiescence and slinked to the side, watching as Dean clambered over a pile of inlaid wood and pulled out a curved, blue-tinged blade. He strummed his thumb over the edge, marveling at the perfect hone. They said the Vanadians never sharpened their swords, and Dean could see why as he sucked a pearl of blood off his thumb.
Dean could spend the rest of his life exploring Castiel's treasure trove and never catalogue every item. It was like one of the dragon's nests Dean had seen in Lyria, although that had been as full of shiny but useless junk as priceless gems. Castiel's collection was massive and slightly disorganized, but every item appeared to be something of beauty or value.
“Is this something all nereids do?” Dean asked, brandishing the sword one last time before carefully setting it back down. “Like a dragon with its horde?” Dean leaned forward to pick up a small tin sealed with wax, his eyes lighting up as he read the faded label.
Castiel sighed and did some approximation of sitting down. His shoulders sloped forward as he toyed with one of his tentacles, tracing his index finger over a rugated sucker.
“I wish I knew.”
Dean tucked the tin under his arm and walked over to the small patch of sand Castiel was sitting on. He sat down next to him, cursing his wet pants and carefully placing the box over his lap before turning to Castiel.
“Forgive me, I don't know anything about your kind. Are you solitary?” Dean asked softly, sensing Castiel's unease.
“I couldn't say.” Castiel leaned on his hand, reclining while the tip of a tentacle traced nervous circles in the sand. “I had a father, once, and several siblings. My father swam off one day and never returned. My brothers and sisters left, one by one, until I was alone.” Castiel shot Dean a wary glance over his shoulder, his eyebrows knitted together as he chewed at his bottom lip. It was one of Sam's nervous gestures as well, and Dean felt a surge of affection for the creature beside him.
“Do you know where they are?” Dean shifted his weight and leaned forward to run his finger through the sand, making curlicues of his own as he waited for Castiel.
“I looked for them.” Castiel looked down at one his limbs, bending it in half and wrapping his arms around it like a man would hug his knee. “Perhaps they do not want to be found. I was always strange to them, it seemed, too curious and what your kind would call scholarly.” Castiel smiled sadly and looked at Dean. “We do not possess a word for that in my language.”
Dean wanted to offer him a comforting pat on the shoulder, something to reassure him. Instead he kept his hands at his sides, worried about impropriety and startled by his own affection for something that Dean had to keep reminding himself wasn't human.
“That was many aeons ago.” Castiel sighed and stretched his limbs out, rolling his neck. “I have searched everywhere for them. And as I travelled I, well, I suppose you could say I developed a new passion.” Castiel turned to Dean with a shy smile on his face. “I am an explorer like you, Dean. But I don't study beasts or the stars. I study the works of men.”
Dean glanced around the cavern, realization dawning on him as he looked at the ancient scrolls and antiquated armor.
“Castiel, when you say aeons...” Dean trailed off, looking back at the nereid. Castiel's face was no more weathered than Dean's, with a scant trace of wrinkles at his eyes but the full lips of a young man.
Castiel's shrug was eloquent, the way he turned away from Dean answer enough. Dean knew that kraken could live for hundreds of years, and some of the phoenix-birds in the east were purported to be older than that. Castiel's mere existence rendered everything Dean thought he knew questionable. He'd ask later.
Dean looked down at his lap, picking up the tin and digging his thumbnail into the wax seal around the edge. When he'd popped the seal and opened the box, he smiled to himself and reached over to get Castiel's attention.
It was an accident, really. Dean wasn't even looking as he reached out, too busy balancing the tin between his knees and digging in with his hand. “Castiel, do you know what these are?” Dean stuffed an honest-to-goodness honey biscuit in his mouth, chewing around a mouthful of flaky sweetness as his hand grazed over one of Castiel's tentacles. Dean squeezed gently, feeling a surge of affection for the lonely creature as he bit into another treat.
“Dean!” Castiel gasped, his head jerking back as his hind limbs thrashed forward, knocking Dean's hand away. Dean started back, pulling his hand away and dropping the biscuit tin.
“Did I hurt you?” Dean hovered, hands clenched nervously in front of himself as Castiel stared at him. Dean looked down and watched as an inky-blue pool slowly seeped out from beneath Castiel, staining the sand in dark rivulets.
“No, no, you just...” Castiel took a deep breath, looking down at the spreading stain and back up at Dean. “You startled me, that is all.” He managed a shaky smile, two of his tentacles waving up in front of his chest. “You see, these two,” Castiel bent one of his tentacles like it was waving at Dean, “are analogous to your organ of reproduction. They're rather sensitive.” Castiel smiled and tilted his head like that explained everything while Dean slowly died of embarrassment. He'd goosed a nereid without even realizing it.
“It... I... oh.” Dean's mouth dropped open as he looked back and forth between the two, noticing the subtle differences between them and the larger limbs curled in the sand. They were pinker on the underside, still stippled with small suckers but smoother. One of them glistened in the light as Castiel moved it, and Dean had to stay his hand to keep from touching it.
“It's wet,” Dean whispered, tracing the course of a clear droplet at it ran down the underside. Dean shifted uncomfortably in the small dent his backside had dug in the sand, cursing his damn pants for the millionth time. God, it was … Dean could hardly describe it, how horrifically appealing it was, the way it seemed to flex and ooze as Dean watched, thickening and pulsing like something Dean was more intimately familiar with. The two limbs were smaller than the others now that Dean looked, although they'd still put a man's arm to shame. Dean felt his face flush, remembering Caleb with his long fingers and his deft, delicate wrists.
“Yes.” Castiel's voice was low, throatier as the wet limb hung in the air. “When I experience arousal, I produce, what's the word...” He pressed his lips together, his eyes cast down until he remembered. “Lubrication. We traditionally mate underwater so it requires some aid.”
“Oh,” Dean responded helpfully, throat working against him as he tried to swallow. God, he was getting hard, watching the slick pulse of Castiel's tentacle as his own cock throbbed in answer. Dean bit his lip as his mind flooded with images, sick, filthy things that made Dean's skin flush hot and his mouth go dry.
“Sometimes, on the ship, the men, we all...” Dean trailed off, his brain valiantly trying to stop his mouth before he disgraced himself. “You know, we all do things together, things to pass the time and feel good and...”
Dean's breath came in shakier as he inched closer to Castiel, who didn't shy away. He looked at Dean curiously, his eyes dark and his skin growing a deeper pink as Dean moved in. “We give each other a hand sometimes.”
Castiel's sigh was long and deep as Dean reached out, locking eyes with Castiel before grasping the wet end of his tentacle. Dean squeezed softly, feeling the flesh give gently under his fingers. God it was slick, slippery without being sticky, the soft nap of Castiel's skin grazing his palm as he gripped him harder.
“Dean, yes, oh.” Castiel looked shocked as Dean slid his fist back, breaking his gaze to watch the frictionless glide of his hand up and down. Dean worked his hand down until his fingers couldn't touch any more, his own cock starting to leak as he tugged at Castiel's thick, writhing length. Dean drew his hand back up, squeezing it at the end and groaning as he watched a small slit in the tip open up.
“Don't stop, please, Dean.” Castiel's skin was flushed and prickled with goosebumps, a small muscle in his jaw jumping as Dean started to stroke him faster. Slippery liquid ran down Dean's wrist, warm against his skin as he pumped his fist. Castiel seemed to like the same things that had always worked for Dean, shuddering at the deft twist of Dean's wrist that had made other men purr like kittens for him.
“You ever touch yourself like this?” Dean asked hoarsely, leaning forward to get a better angle. He brought his other hand up to wrap around the thick shaft, kneading it with his fingers as his other hand stroked up and down. Dean desperately wanted to put a hand on himself, but not as much as he wanted to see what happened when Castiel finished.
“Not like this.” Castiel whimpered as Dean pinched the tip again, watching a cloudy stream of liquid run out of the winking slit. “I don't, oh...” Castiel gasped as Dean swiped his thumb over the opening, circling it a few times before sliding his hand back down. “I don't use my hands.”
Dean groaned at that, feeling a pulse of precome seep into his trousers as his hole gave a little clench. He could still feel the phantom stretch of that night, even after all these years, when he and Victor and Caleb had gotten drunk enough to finally do it, both of them at once and Dean had been sure he'd never feel anything better. God he'd feel so full if Castiel just...
“Faster, Dean, oh, Dean, Dean.” One of Castiel's free limbs darted out, curling around Dean's knee and squeezing as Castiel rocked his hips. Dean watched the tremor of his stomach muscles, the arched line of his throat as Castiel threw his head back and growled, flesh going rigid under Dean's hand as he came.
And God almighty Dean had never seen anything like it. Pulse after pulse of cloudy-white burst out, arcing up to land on Castiel's neck, his chest, his stomach. It was thicker than a man's, catching in tacky trails that dripped slowly down Castiel's pale skin. Castiel shuddered and groaned as Dean worked him through it, shooting all over himself again and again until it tapered off and ran down Dean's hand, mingling with the slickness already coating his skin. It was amazing.
Castiel panted for breath as he leaned forward, heedless of the mess all over himself as he turned to Dean. “I would like to return your gesture of friendship.” Castiel's eyes only looked half-focused as he reached out, groping for Dean's cock with his hand.
Dean sat up on his knees, hissing as he pulled his cock out of his pants. It was dripping at the tip, flushed a deep red and throbbing as it bobbed in front of him. Castiel's fingers were slim and graceful but his grip was awkward, and Dean felt a guilty sink of disappointment that it wasn't another appendage wrapping itself around his cock. Not that it was going to take much. Just thinking about the flood of come Castiel had shot out, how it would coat his face, fill him up until he was leaking, slick and thick and stretched and full, God, yes, it was enough to make Dean's taint clench up, so close already.
Dean laid his hand over Castiel's, stroking both their hands in a few rough tugs until he came with a sharp cry. It happened so fast Dean would have been embarrassed if he were with someone else. Castiel just beamed with pride, his eyes wide with curiosity as he fingered along the fold of Dean's foreskin. Dean barked at the touch to his over-sensitive flesh, cupping his hand over Castiel's to hold him there until he went soft.
“I didn't know that could be so enjoyable.” Castiel sank back down as Dean collapsed on his back, both of their chests heaving and sweat shining on their foreheads. “Thank you.”
Dean smiled and turned onto his side, arching an eyebrow at the shiny trails caked onto Castiel's skin. “We should probably get you cleaned up.”
Castiel just tilted his head and looked at Dean like he was simple. “It will come off in the water. Doesn't yours?”
Dean laughed and scrubbed a hand over his face, equally charmed and horrified by Castiel's utter lack of shame or self-consciousness. However much he might look like a human, he wasn't. No matter how badly Dean wanted him he knew he should tamp down the brilliantly vivid images running through his head. Castiel fucking him from both ends with two hands and a mouth to spare, spearing him open and filling him with all that come and God, Dean was going to be hard again in another minute.
Dean reached behind him, picking up the biscuit tin to shove two stale-but-still-delicious honey biscuits into his mouth. They were Berret's Biscuits, the kind found all over the eastern seaboard. If Castiel had acquired these he should at least have some notion of how to help Dean get home.
Or maybe Castiel could come home with him. A live nereid, God. Dean would be famous.
His throat felt thick as he swallowed. The milky eyes of the “mermaid” flashed before him, large and sad. Dean looked over at Castiel, sprawled out in an elegant heap of limbs, and felt a guilty flush. His grandfather would have killed Castiel and hung him from a hook, without question. And while John hadn't been a vicious man by nature, he would have seen the nereid as a discovery and not … well, Dean supposed it wasn't correct to think of him as a person, either. And yet.
“Castiel.” Dean wiped the biscuit crumbs from his hands and sat up. “Do you have blank books? Or paper?”
“Yes, I have reams.” Castiel was up and moving towards the bookshelf before he could see the look on Dean's face as he thought about Castiel reaming things.
“And pencils as well?”
Castiel bustled back with an armful of bound notebooks and a small satchel. He placed them in front of Dean, who untied the strings of the suede-wrapped bundle and pulled out a pristine set of charcoals. The blank book was watermarked at the edges but functional nonetheless.
“If you don't mind,” Dean said, pulling out a tapered pencil and tapping it against his palm, “I'd like to draw you.”
Castiel blushed, ducking his head down and tracing the tip of his finger through the sand. “I wouldn't object.” His limbs bunched and rolled as he settled them around himself in a neat circle, clasping his hands in his lap and looking up at Dean through his eyelashes.
If Dean didn't know better he'd say Castiel was being coy. He chuckled to himself and opened the book to its first page, sketching a smooth curve as he started to draw his first tentacle.
“You recall nothing?” Castiel looked at Dean out of the corner of his eye, careful not to move his head.
Dean looked up from the elegant profile on his page, squinting his eyes as he traced over the long arch of Castiel's neck. Sam had always been the artist in the family but Dean was a perfectly competent renderer, and if he'd had something this gorgeous to draw he would have practiced more often.
Dean sighed, twirling the crayon of charcoal over his knuckles. Castiel was strangely blunt about some things but reticent about others. He hadn't asked Dean about his mysterious arrival or lack of memory. He'd just peppered Dean with an endless stream of questions about everything from music to animal husbandry that Dean could barely keep up with as he sketched.
Until today. Perhaps it was the intimacy of last night, when Dean had lost his self-imposed battle with himself and played another game of “Sailor's Friend” with the nereid. They'd done it simultaneously this time, close enough that Dean had gotten a warm shot of seed on his belly when Castiel came.
Dean's eyes roamed down to what he had declared Castiel's interior tentacles, the same ones he was increasingly unable to stop thinking about. He'd tried, certainly, but as the days passed and Dean spent the daylight hours chronicling the shape and curve of each supple inch of Castiel's body, he found himself less and less willing to think about leaving. His shoulder was knitting up nicely but his mind still felt like a torn curtain.
“What is the last thing you remember?” Castiel held his pose but nudged one of his tentacles against Dean's leg, stroking softly like a comforting hand.
Dean closed his eyes, squeezing them and trying to focus. “Northport, getting the ship ready for a long journey. We were going...” Dean rubbed at his temples, snorting in frustration. “It's all a jumble after that. I can remember my crew but I can't remember where we were headed. I remember buffing the brass on the rails, thinking my father would be chuffed to see me doing the ordinaries' work before we left shore.” Dean shrugged and looked up at Castiel. “He did the same thing.”
Castiel nodded once, quickly lifting his chin back up to its previous position. That was the other thing. Castiel was good company. They spent days talking, and Dean felt like he'd never get bored. Castiel made him feel at ease, like they'd known each other for years. Something about his innocence and unbridled interest made Dean feel comfortable like he never had with anyone before.
“I don't know, Cas.” Dean wasn't sure when that had happened, but the nickname felt good as he said it. Softer, more human somehow.
“Never mind.” Castiel patted Dean's bare knee, the suckers pulling at his skin with soft pops that Dean didn't want to think of as kisses. “It will come to you.”
Dean smiled and picked his pencil back up, shading in the soft hairs that curled around Castiel's ears.
“And that's pretty much all I know about the lute.” Dean licked his thumb and turned a page in his sketchbook, smoothing down the blank page with his palm. “Now flip.”
Castiel obediently turned his tentacle over, exposing the pink underside and laying it flat against the ground. Dean printed “int. hind limb, post., vent.” in neat letters at the bottom of the page. He regarded Castiel's limb for a minute, filling the page with a rough outline before he started in on the fine details. This was one of Castiel's interior tentacles, and Dean wanted to capture the subtle differences carefully. For scientific reasons.
“Tell me about your brother.” Castiel tilted his head, free to move now that Dean was only sketching his extremities.
Dean arched an eyebrow as he drew small circles on the page, tracing the outline of Castiel's suckers. “Sam.” He blew a breath out, feeling the familiar discomfort as he thought of his family. “He was a bright kid, always up to something. Our father was away a lot, canvassing for funds or off on expeditions too long for us children. You could say I raised him as much as our father.” Dean hovered over the page before setting his pencil down.
“Our mother died giving birth to him. Our father tried, of course, but … he and Sam never got along, not even when Sam was a baby. He'd cry and cry until I took him away.” Dean picked up a thinner charcoal, drumming it against his thumb. “Sam was never meant for sea-faring life, I can see that now. He liked the cities, always flirted with girls when he wasn't daydreaming.”
Dean laughed, picking up the absurdly ornate knife he'd been using to sharpen his pencils. Sam would laugh to see him whittling a pencil with a Vanadian dagger.
“We go back a long way, my family. Finding monsters, charting the unknown – the Winchester family business.” Dean snorted and laid the knife aside, satisfied with the tip of his pencil. “Sam didn't want it, any of it. He left as soon as he could. He and my father had a huge fight, over a painting of all things.” Dean smiled sadly at Castiel, shaking his head. It sounded so ridiculous when he said it out loud. “They never spoke after that, and I tried to keep in touch with him when I could, but it was hard. He settled in Westport, shittiest harbor town in the North. I'm pretty sure he did it on purpose.” Dean shrugged. “I haven't seen him in years, not since our father died. I just...” Dean trailed off, pencil hanging over the page. He didn't have anything else to say, nothing that could adequately express the tangle of guilt and anger that filled him when he let himself think about how much he missed Sam.
Castiel's hand laced over his, fingers intertwining with Dean's as he leaned closer. His eyes were wide as he looked at Dean. “This makes me feel immensely sad for you.”
Dean parted his lips to speak before thinking better of it, choosing to squeeze Castiel's hand back instead. His grip was strong and it felt good just to hold on to something.
After a while Castiel gently pulled away, putting the pencil back in Dean's hand before pointing at one of the circles Dean had roughed on the page. “This one is too large. Why don't you start over?”
Dean turned a new page and smiled.
“Where do you get all these things, Cas?” Dean looked up at the mountain of chests next to Castiel, blocking in their shapes on the page.
Castiel was facing forward, framed on either side by a stash of goods. After a week of sketching Castiel himself Dean had moved on to cataloguing his habitat, filling page after page with images of the nereid's stash of treasure. Castiel was in every one of them.
“I salvage things from wrecked ships, mostly.” Castiel answered stiffly, trying to keep his pose as Dean picked up a thick pastel crayon. Dean had raided Castiel's stash, unearthing enough art supplies to keep Dean occupied for three lifetimes of capturing Castiel on paper.
The thought made Dean frown. He knew he'd have to leave, but every day Dean found a new reason to linger. His shoulder was free of bandages but he told himself a long journey would undo all his healing time. He needed more sketches of Castiel. He was tired. He didn't know what he would return to find.
Dean felt the same unease as he thought of his ship, his home, his crew. It was all blurry in his memory, like the sketches of Castiel's back that Dean had accidentally dropped into the water. It had taken him a week to re-do all of them.
Castiel seemed in no hurry to send him off. Dean woke up most mornings to see the nereid hovering over him, reading out loud when he wasn't studying his face or, more likely, his legs. His limbs were an endless source of fascination to Castiel, and Dean had needed to explain concepts like “ticklish” and “personal space” more than once.
It was a mutual feeling. Dean had spent last night guiltily making sure Castiel wasn't in sight before indulging himself, fisting his cock while two spit-slick fingers did barely anything to satisfy the lingering want in his belly. He'd come in his hand while he pictured an ouroboros of thick violet-black filling him from both ends.
Dean would think about leaving tomorrow.
“How do you find them?” Dean picked up a fresh puff of lambswool, chewing his lip as he blended the russet and ochre streaks together. The chests next to Castiel were a tawny wood that Dean didn't recognize, with a golden gleam in the sunlight that set off the deep hue of Castiel's decorously folded tentacles perfectly.
“I used to swim for weeks, looking for others like me. I always noted where the ships sank, and I'd return when I felt restless.” Castiel sighed, the slow rise and fall of his chest catching Dean's eye.
The scientist in Dean longed to see Castiel on the inside. He must have lungs, or some means of aerobic respiration. Dean had felt the warm tickle of Castiel's breath against his own skin, heard the deep sighs of satisfaction he could make. And yet he could dive far enough to find sunken ships and haul back chests full of metal that four men couldn't lift with ease.
“But how do you breathe?” Dean laid the wool aside and looked at Castiel. “Can you hold your breathe long enough to dive that deep?”
“I can go without air for...” Castiel furrowed his brow. Time measurement still puzzled him, and Dean smiled as he watched Castiel tap the pads of his fingers together as he counted. “Thirty of your minutes?”
Dean blushed at the host of wildly inappropriate thoughts that flashed through his mind. He cleared his throat and shook his head. That line of thought wasn't going anywhere good.
“But surely it takes you longer than that to excavate a ship full of...” Dean waved his arm at the amalgam of riches in the cave. “I don't understand.”
Castiel gave Dean one of the looks that Dean had grown increasingly fond of, a sort of puzzled face that would look patronizing on something less pretty. He quickly broke out in a grin, darting forward and up-ending a chest full of silverware as he placed Dean's book aside and grabbed him by the wrist.
“I thought you knew. Come with me, I have something to show you.” Castiel moved forward, pulling Dean along with him. They crossed over the wide beach and headed into one of the smaller caves that Dean had never entered. He'd assumed it led nowhere, or wasn't in use. It was pitch black as far as Dean could see, and he halted as Castiel went to enter. Castiel always forgot that Dean couldn't see as well as he could.
“Cas, let me run and get a candle.” Dean turned back just to have Castiel tug on his wrist again.
“We cannot bring any light, Dean. Just follow me. You'll be safe, I promise.” Castiel smiled at him and squeezed his wrist reassuringly. “And we must be quiet.”
Stepping into the darkness, Dean was relieved to feel nothing but soft sand under his feet. He kept his eyes open even as the light retreated, until he could barely make out the shape of Castiel close in front of him, and finally, pitch blackness. Dean's heart beat a little faster as he followed along, but Castiel never let him go.
After a few whispered warnings about corners, Dean turned the bend and blinked as his eyes adjusted to the soft, glowing light in the distance. Dean never thought he'd have cause to call something a warm green, but it was, pulsing in the distance like the verdigris trick-fire some of the alchemists used for show.
Soft dots sharpened into focus as Dean stepped beside Castiel. He looked down at a pool, shallow but stretching on for what seemed like miles. Hundreds of small plants waved beneath the surface, the luminescent green of their ruffled leaves glowing as they swayed back and forth. Dean looked at Castiel in confusion as he realized that the soft sighs he heard weren't coming from the nereid.
“Shh.” Castiel laid a finger over his mouth, shaking his head and smiling at Dean. “We must whisper. Lungflowers are easily distressed.”
Dean's eyes went wide as he bent down to get a closer look, watching as one of the plants bobbed and sighed. The layers of ruffles down its side opened and closed like gills, parchment-thin and delicate as they trailed through the water.
Dean had heard stories about lungflowers, but he'd given them about as much creed as nereids. The old Phoenician fishermen were supposed to have used them to reach the depths needed to harvest the rare red sponges they were famous for. They would allow a man to breathe underwater like a fish, although Dean wasn't quite sure how.
“Show me.” Dean leaned in to whisper quietly, his lips almost brushing against Castiel's ear. On impulse he laid a hand over Castiel's shoulder, squeezing it in his excitement.
Castiel turned to him, his eyes wide as he started to nod a yes. Their faces were so close Dean could feel Castiel's breath against his lips, warm and soft. Dean hesitated for a moment before closing his eyes and pulling Castiel in, meeting plush, soft lips and a pleased mewl.
Dean was sitting next to a monster who made him feel more at ease than any human being ever had, overlooking a field of magical flowers that weren't supposed to exist. Dean was tired of pretending that things were supposed to make sense any more.
Castiel kissed with the same enthusiasm he did everything, opening his mouth eagerly to Dean's probing tongue. Dean ran a hand through his hair, sighing in contentment at the warm meet of their lips and gasping as the field of flowers picked up the sound. A wave of pleased moans echoed through the cave as Dean nipped softly at Castiel's bottom lip.
Castiel pulled back and laughed, low and sweet. “I think they like you.”
“I'll take the compliment,” Dean whispered against Castiel's mouth, unwilling to pull away just yet.
“I like you, too, Dean. I like you very much.” Castiel slowly wound one of his tentacles around the back of Dean's neck, a mirror of Dean's hand curled into Castiel's curls. “Can we do that again?”
Dean murmured a soft “mm-hmm” and leaned in to kiss Castiel again, smiling as the sound of sighing flowers filled the air.
“It's really quite simple.” Castiel cradled the flower in his hand, making sure to keep it in the water. “The root end goes this way, and the dorsal portion stays like so.”
Dean nodded dutifully, doing his best to pay attention despite the euphoria in his head. He'd made out with Castiel for an hour before they carefully transported two of the lungflowers back to the smaller cave where Dean slept.
Dean had complained of hunger, so Castiel had left him in charge of the flowers while he swam out and procured two enormous lobsters. Dean had fashioned a make-shift fire pit on the far end of his “room,” and they'd boiled the crustaceans and eaten them for lunch. Castiel claimed they tasted better raw, but Dean felt no great need to find out.
Now, well-fed and well-kissed, Dean felt lazy and blissfully sluggish, struggling to pay attention to Castiel's science lesson. His body wanted to take a nap, but no amount of lazy lovesickness was going to make Dean wait to try breathing underwater, not after he'd watched Castiel do it.
“Got it.” Dean sucked the sweet flesh out of the last small leg and tossed the shell aside. “Let's go swimming.” Dean smacked his lips together and stood up, rolling his shoulders before treading into the pool.
He'd watched Castiel place one of the plants in his mouth, letting it float on the surface of the water and carefully guiding it into his mouth. Dean did the same, floating on his belly and slowly pushing the flower in until the soft gills of it tickled his cheeks. Castiel watched him closely, nodding with approval as Dean tucked the rest of it into his mouth.
Dean had to fight his body's urge to spit it out, although he wryly gave mental thanks to Victor for the weak resistance his gag reflex put up. Once the plant was firmly lodged, Dean flipped onto his back and looked up at Castiel.
“Try to breathe naturally,” Castiel said calmly, taking a deep breath in demonstration. It was adorable.
Dean arched an eyebrow and sank beneath the surface of the water. The salt stung his eyes at first but he adjusted quickly, inured to the irritation by a lifetime of ocean swimming. After a few false starts he opened his mouth and drew in a shallow breath, startling at the strange pressure against his cheeks as the water coursed through the plant and shot back out of his mouth. He took another breath, deeper this time, feeling his lungs expand with nothing but oxygen as the lungflower fluttered in his throat.
It was amazing. Dean rolled over and kicked his feet, swimming deeper and grinning as he took breath after breath. Castiel dove past him, his smile lit up by the glowing flower in his mouth, and Dean pumped his legs to keep up.
They swam out of the mouth of the cave into the open sea, diving lower and lower until the bright sun was just a hazy trickle. Castiel led him to a small outcropping of rock, beckoning Dean closer as he pulled out a plate-sized clamshell. He carefully tickled his finger over the mouth until the bivalve snapped open, revealing a tigers-eye pearl the size of a shot put.
Dean smiled and reached out for a smaller clam, with a zebra-striped shell that caught his eye. He picked it up and ran his finger along the edge, barely catching sight of Castiel waving his arms in the periphery of his vision. Dean looked up as the clam snapped open, a barbed tongue darting out and spearing into the webbing of his thumb.
“Son of a bitch!” Dean screamed, words bubbling up into the water as he shook his hand and snapped off the sharp spine embedded in his skin. He felt a brief moment of triumph as he watched the clam sink to the ocean floor, but quickly forgot it as the lungflower started to jump in his throat.
Dean's mouth gaped open in panic, his hands flying to his throat as the plant started to writhe inside him. His breath was fruitless, air and water alike blocked by the throbbing plant. Castiel swam in front of him, his eyes going wide as he saw what was happening. He hooked his arms under Dean's shoulders and swam for the surface, tentacles propelling him forward with a powerful grace that Dean would have appreciated if his lungs weren't burning.
Dean could see the surface of the water approaching, rays of light trickling into his vision and graying out around the edges as Dean's body fought for air and lost. His chest spasmed, forcing his mouth open even as he clenched his jaw. They were close, so close, water rushing past him fast enough to pin his arms to his sides and force his head back at an awkward angle. The lungflower seized and struggled inside him, pumping water into his throat until Dean could feel an explosion in his chest like a thousand vicious fireworks.
Dean blacked out as Castiel pulled him to the surface, but not before the roar of the kraken and the screams of his dying crew filled his ears.
Something was sitting on Dean's chest. Something heavy and irritatingly persistent. Dean tried to knock it away with the back of his hand but that only seemed to make it worse.
Now it was jumping.
Dean's eyes snapped open as a rush of salt water flooded out of his lungs, coughing and spluttering as something held his face to the side. He retched until his stomach ached and his ribs were sore, tears streaming down his face as his body emptied itself and his mind filled with painful memory.
He drew in a shaky breath when he was finished, choked and wet and covered in snot and God, had he actually pissed himself? Dean squeezed his eyes shut, adding new tears to the mess on his face.
“It's alright, Dean. You're safe.”
Something warm pressed against his cheek, cupping it and stroking softly. Fingers ran through his hair, pushing it into wet spikes before a cool kiss was pressed to his forehead.
Castiel's eyes were huge, blue and blurred as Dean slowly blinked his tears back. He was smiling, softly but sad as he looked down at Dean.
Dean opened his mouth to speak just to close it as his throat swelled with a fresh wave of emotion, crashing waves and gnashing teeth and the final prayers of his men bearing down on him until it all came out in a choked sob. A tear rolled down his cheekbone, stopped in its tracks as Castiel wiped it away with the pad of his thumb.
Castiel shifted, sliding a strong limb behind Dean's back and picking him up as easily as a kitten. He pulled Dean close until they were chest-to-chest, Dean's face cradled against his neck as Dean breathed in the salt-home smell of him and remembered everything.
“I have to go home,” Dean said softly, brushing his nose across the skin of Castiel's shoulder, “but I have nothing to go home to.”
Castiel just sighed in answer, pulling Dean in closer and kneading at the muscles of his back with the underside of his tentacles. Dean nuzzled against him, hooking a leg over Castiel's waist to press himself close. Body cradled in the softness of his silk bed and Castiel's smooth skin wrapping around him, Dean felt warm, safer than he had in days.
Dean had told him everything, spilling out every detail until he was out of tears and Castiel had shed a few of his own. Dean almost wished he'd never remembered, but the tangible pain of it was better than the bottomless void of worry that had lingered with him since he'd woken up in Castiel's cave. It hurt, raw and ugly and hateful inside him, but it was real and it meant he could move forward.
It meant he had nothing left to lose.
“I will take you, but only for this.” Castiel moved down until they were eye-to-eye, looking steadily at Dean as he smiled sadly. “You must find Sam, and you must make amends.”
Dean nodded, feeling his chest tighten as he thought about leaving. Castiel was right, of course. It would be bitter and arduous and very taxing on Westport's supply of whiskey, but Dean needed to make things right with his brother. He knew he didn't have any more second chances to wait on. And it wasn't like he could stay with Castiel forever, right?
“You will tell him that you love him, that you are alive and well and bear him no hard feelings.” Castiel looked at him intently, and Dean shivered at the fierce blue of his eyes as his lips curved up in a smile.
“And then I will bring you back, and this will be your home.”
Dean huffed out a breath, smiling in disbelief. It was insane and impossible and a million other things that didn't matter as Castiel kissed him, deep and sweet and full of promise.
“I don't have to leave yet, do I?” Dean smirked, reaching down between the split of Castiel's limbs until his fingers brushed against slick skin.
Castiel kissed him in answer, snaking his tongue into Dean's mouth as one of his tentacles pulled Dean in tighter.
“You're a homosexual.” Castiel nodded, eyes wide with understanding.
“I, um, not quite, it's sort of-” Dean narrowly ducked out of the way as Castiel flung a gesturing tentacle towards his books.
“I have books on this subject.” Castiel was up and scaling one of the makeshift ladders of his bookshelves before Dean could offer up any more awkward answers.
Dean's fish-wife euphemisms about preferring the company of gentlemen and playing goal-tender rather than batsman had been completely lost on Castiel. These things had always worked themselves out with Dean's previous partners, although Dean was bemoaning the lack of alcohol that had always smoothed the way for him. Flirtation and chuckling little innuendos between seamen were one thing, but Castiel's ingenuous curiosity had left Dean feeling strangely tongue-tied about blurting out “I want you to fuck me in the ass with your huge tentacles.” Dean was starting to suspect there wasn't enough whiskey on earth to make that part sound natural, true or not.
“I found a dozen of these in a crate, along with some very curious pieces of glassware.” Castiel ambled back and sat down next to Dean, laying an oversized volume on his lap.
“Glassware?” Dean made a mental note to find that crate until he was completely distracted by the opening page of Castiel's book. It was in an alphabet Dean recognized but couldn't read, not that he needed words to explain the contents.
It was all a little flowery for Dean's taste, but it definitely did the job. Two men lay face-to-face, their bodies twisted at an angle that was impossible in nature but served to clearly illustrate precisely where they were joined. Dean smiled and turned the page, arching an eyebrow at the full-on orgy set incongruously in the middle of a manicured garden.
Castiel watched as Dean leafed through the pages, looking momentarily at each image before staring intently at Dean's face. Dean paused over one, two young men pressed chest-to-back with a clear view of the huge cock splitting the bottom partner open. That was enough to peak Dean's interest but what really drew him was the way the top partner had his fingers pressed into his lover's mouth, knuckle-deep in the exaggerated O of the man's lips. Dean had always liked that and he felt himself stir as he thought about all the ways he and Castiel could please one another.
“This is what you like?” Castiel leaned in next to him, his skin warm against Dean's. Dean closed his eyes for a moment and savored the sparks it sent up his skin. Patience was never one of Dean's great virtues but he could appreciate anticipation, the way it seemed to whet his appetite until every graze of Castiel against him made his chest tighten and his throat go thick.
“Yes.” Dean looked sideways at him, licking his lips and turning a page. “And this,” Dean said, pointing at another plate of one man riding another and throwing his head back as he shot a gravity-defying arc of come onto the other's chest. “Definitely that.”
“I see.” Castiel looked away, his lip worried between his teeth. “Dean, I don't possess the means to be...” Castiel wrinkled his brow, looking down at the page again. “Penetrated like this.” He sighed and looked up at Dean with such a forlorn face that Dean had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing.
“Uh, no, that's alright, I didn't mean...” Dean blew out a breath and smiled, hooking an arm around Castiel's waist and turning to run his lips up the jut of Castiel's jaw as he pointed at the thoroughly-penetrated man in the picture. “I like to be that one.”
“Oh.” Castiel's breath came out in a long rush, and Dean leaned back so he could watch Castiel's face light up. He was so utterly without guile that Dean could see the ideas clicking together in his head, eyes going wide as he tilted his head. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” Dean cupped his hand against Castiel's cheek, turning him for a kiss after ripping Castiel's eyes off the page. “You definitely possess the means to do that, right?” Dean smiled as Castiel nodded enthusiastically, kissing Dean and pulling him closer with one of his outer tentacles around Dean's shoulder.
Castiel pulled back suddenly, his mouth curving down in a frown. “Dean, I believe I would disembowel you if I fully inserted my sex organ into you.”
Dean snorted and closed his eyes, laughing as he patted his hand on his best approximation of Castiel's knee. They were definitely going to need to have a chat about pillow talk at some point.
“Cas, you don't need to use the whole thing, right?” Cas looked thoughtful as Dean nodded and continued. “You just put it in until I tell you to stop.” Dean pushed the book off his lap and set it aside, glancing one last time at the pornographic image and tugging at the buttons on his pants. He was more than ready to be that guy.
Castiel watched as Dean unbuttoned his pants and slid them down around his knees. He was already hard, cock slapping against his belly and bobbing in the air as he crawled out of his breeches. Castiel looked stunned as Dean straddled him and wrapped his legs around the nereid's waist, pulling him in with his calves until Dean's cock slid wet against Castiel's stomach.
“God, Cas.” Dean looked down and ran his fingers through Castiel's hair, tipping his head back for a kiss. Castiel's fingers stroked along Dean's thighs, kneading the muscle and scraping his fingernails lightly over Dean's skin. It made Dean shiver and wish Castiel would do it harder. He had so much to teach Castiel, like the pleasure-pain thrill of a good scratch to the back before he came, but it could all wait for now.
“With men, we start with a finger or something slender first.” Dean reached behind, feeling blindly and twisting his finger around the tapered tip of one of Castiel's tentacles. It was already wet, coating Dean's finger in slickness that glistened as he drew it back. “And we need to use something to make it glide easily.” Dean arched an eyebrow at Castiel and smiled. “I don't think that's going to be a problem for us.”
Dean licked his lips and stared at the shiny smears on his finger, turning it around in the light. Castiel looked entranced, lips parted and eyes wide. Each breath came out in a huff, Castiel's chest rising and falling against Dean's. On impulse Dean traced his finger over his own lips, spreading some of the slick on his mouth. He let it sit and looked down at Castiel, trying to gauge his reaction as Castiel's eyes went wide like saucers. It was a filthy thing to do and Dean desperately hoped that Castiel would like it, because it was nothing compared to the things Dean had been picturing in his head for weeks.
“Dean.” Castiel moved suddenly, wrapping his arms and two other limbs around Dean's chest. “Do that again.” Dean felt his cock twitch at the commanding tone of Castiel's voice, the way his eyes shone inhuman blue as two more slick tentacles slid over Dean's shoulders and waved in front of his face. Dean groaned and sucked his finger into his mouth, reveling in the pained noise Castiel let out as Dean made a show of it. Castiel tasted salt-fresh and copper-tinged, an ocean with a drop of blood and Dean wondered at the symmetry of that. He'd always had the sea in his veins.
Dean reached out to run his finger along the pebbled underside of one of Castiel's “special” tentacles, as Dean had come to think of them, catching a fresh trail of slick and sucking it off while he writhed against the warm constraint of Castiel's body all around him. Castiel groaned pathetically, slack-jawed as Dean ground his own throbbing cock against Castiel's stomach.
Tilting his head in a gentle tease of Castiel's habitual look of inquiry, Dean widened his eyes and slid his hand in between their bodies. While he had nothing on Castiel's effusive levels of physical arousal he was wet as fuck for a human, leaking from the slit and squeezing to swipe a fat pearl of precome onto his thumb. Castiel's lips trembled as Dean brought it to his mouth, tracing gently over the lush curve before pressing his thumb down over the divot.
Castiel sucked it in with his eyes locked on Dean, circling his tongue over the whorls of Dean's finger to lick off every last drop.
“Dean.” His name sounded like it had been dragged through gravel as Castiel sighed it out, wrecked already and still a virgin at that. Dean started with surprise as he felt a tickle on his chest. “I am...” Castiel cast his eyes down, his lips opening and closing as he searched for words. “I am terribly aroused.” Dean looked down at the shiny trail meandering down his chest, groaning as he watched another thick stream of slick come to a head on Castiel's tentacle just to drip down onto Dean.
“Good.” Dean bent his neck to whisper in Castiel's ear. “That means you're ready to fuck me, Cas.” Dean smiled at the moaning shiver Castiel let out. He'd have Castiel talking like a two-bit dock whore in no time.
Dean pressed a rough kiss to Castiel's lips as he urged him to lay on his back, leaning forward with his palms flat against Castiel's chest. Dean spread his legs and tilted his hips up, as open an invitation as he could imagine but still Castiel hesitated. Dean kissed him again and rested on his elbows, bracketing Castiel's face as he smiled down at him.
“God, Cas, I thought about this so many times.” Dean licked into the shell of Castiel's ear, tracing his tongue down to the soft lobe and sucking it between his teeth. Castiel shivered at the light bite, two of his tentacles wrapping around Dean's thighs and stroking. “Want you inside me, Cas, fuck, it's all I've wanted since I saw you.”
Castiel looked up at Dean through his eyelashes, bashful and beautiful as he drew in a shaky breath.
“There's something...” Castiel broke off, turning his head and biting at the swollen curve of his lip. “In that book, there's another plate and I...” Castiel blushed deeply, looking back up at Dean. “I'd like to try it.”
“You want to do it before you fuck me, or after?” Dean loved the way Castiel blinked when Dean said “fuck,” like he was equal parts shocked and turned on and Dean was going to say it as often as he could.
“Well, I thought...” Castiel licked his lips, taking in a deep breath. “I could do it while I...” Castiel trailed off, face flushed pink. Dean looked at him steadily, feeling a smirk creep across his face because God, this was too good, Castiel underneath him like a pretty little tongue-tied schoolboy while his dripping-wet pseudo-cocks nudged against the crease of Dean's ass.
“While you what, Cas?” Dean wasn't cruel but he wasn't above teasing, not when he was dying to hear Castiel say it.
“While I fuck you.” Castiel whispered it so quietly Dean was tempted to make him say it again, but he quickly abandoned that plan as he felt the slick drag of a tentacle against the taut skin of his hanging sac.
“So what do you – you know what?” Dean shook his head, leaning down to drag his lips against the sharp jut of Castiel's jaw. “You don't have to tell me.” Dean canted his hips back, circling them to play against the wet catch of Castiel's limb. “Just show me.”
“Alright.” Castiel beamed up at him, hands wrapping around Dean's neck while velvet-soft skin trailed up his back and curled over his shoulders. Dean could feel each little sucker kissing at his skin. It was like a hundred mouths on him at once and Dean groaned as he thought about getting that inside him. “Cas, please.”
The wet tip of Castiel's tentacle nudged blindly against him, trailing up the line of his taint before skirting around the furled skin of his hole. Dean ground his teeth together, spreading his legs further and feeling the hot prickle of anticipation on his skin. Pins and needles spread out over him as he felt the blunt press against him, no bigger than his thumb but so utterly different as it slowly worked its way inside. Dean grunted at the first oozing breach, taken aback by the strange, throbbing pressure as it expanded and contracted inside him.
“Have I hurt you?” Castiel pulled out quickly, his eyes wide with worry.
“No, it feels fucking amazing.” Dean huffed a breath against Castiel's neck, kissing up the arc of it as he swayed his hips back further. “I'll tell you if you need to stop.” Dean bit a playful nip and arched an eyebrow. “Don't stop.”
Castiel pushed into him with more confidence now, opening Dean up inch by inch with a rolling, liquid insistence that felt like nothing Dean could have imagined. All stretch without the tooth-grit burn he was used to, Castiel pushed against him from the inside until Dean felt the slick drag over his sweet spot.
“God, Cas,” Dean moaned, leaning down to suck Cas' swollen lip between his own. Dean bit down, not hard enough to hurt him but just enough to make him tense. He could feel Castiel start with surprise, the slick limb buried inside Dean going rigid and swelling against him. “Does it feel good?”
“Yes, Dean.” Castiel nodded fervently against his mouth, leaning up as the tentacles wrapped around Dean's shoulders pulled him back. “It feels...” Castiel pushed an inch deeper inside him, with a throbbing wriggle that made Dean shudder. “I didn't know...” Castiel just shook his head and smiled, eyes shining bright as two more tentacles circled around the curve of Dean's thighs.
“Cas, what're-” Dean huffed in surprise as Castiel gripped him firmly, pulling on his shoulders and picking his legs up until Dean was tilted on his back. Soft flesh cradled his back, pulsing against his skin in time with the thick pressure that was still inside him. Castiel tugged his legs apart and smirked, which was charmingly novel on him.
“You'll see.” He looked bashful right after he said it, and fuck if that didn't make Dean's dick pulse wet against his belly. Castiel saw it, too, smiling like it pleased him as he leaned in to softly kiss down the line of Dean's neck. He ran his lips over the arch of Dean's collarbone and down his chest, swirling his tongue over Dean's nipples before licking a hot path down the dip of his stomach.
Dean grunted as he felt the brush of Castiel's chin against the head of his cock. Castiel ignored it entirely, butting it out of the way to press his cheek to the sandy-brown thatch of Dean's pubic hair and rub against it like a contented cat. He pressed his nose to it and inhaled deeply, making Dean laugh in spite of himself. It tickled when Castiel exhaled against it, breath catching warm and damp in the curls. He'd never had anyone pay much attention to his body hair, but as he watched Castiel close his eyes and drink in the scent of Dean like it was a drug, Dean realized that this was as novel to Castiel as the nereid's tentacles were to Dean.
“Cas.” Dean's voice cracked, rent in half as Castiel throbbed inside him. Dean could feel him swelling with arousal as he mouthed down the V of Dean's hip, his eyes at half-mast like every inch his tongue encountered was intoxicating. It was mesmerizing, the way Castiel mapped him with his mouth, glancing up at Dean through hooded eyes. Castiel was the virgin but no one had ever touched Dean like this, like he was something precious, something deserving. Dean felt drunk on it, weight borne by something so strong but so delicate with him as he swayed in the air.
Dean moved what little that he could, arching his back up to ask for more. He was so close, coiling pressure mounting at the base of his spine and sending phantom shocks wherever Castiel touched him. The knife-edge of his orgasm made each kissing pull against his skin tingle, the nap of Castiel's limbs caressing him inside and out until Dean could barely tell the difference. The drag of his lips made Dean shiver, and the hot shock as Castiel opened his mouth to suck Dean's cock inside made Dean curse in four different languages.
Castiel sucked cock like, well, someone who'd never done it before. His enthusiasm was audible as he hollowed his cheeks and sucked, pulling hard enough to graze the crown of Dean's cock with his teeth. Dean's strangled yelp was enough to get Castiel to let off a little bit, enough that Dean could buck his hips up to encourage Castiel to actually move his mouth. Dean was too strung out to remember his last name, let alone start giving an instructional. He just focused on the thick, throbbing pressure inside him, stretching him open and grazing over his sweet spot over and over.
Castiel looked up at him as he moaned, their eyes catching as Castiel stilled his relentless suction just long enough for Dean to feel a rough swipe of tongue up the base of his dick and it was finally enough. Dean had a hazy thought as his stomach tensed and his body went taut, that even if Castiel needed some practice, Dean had struck gold because only a thing of myth and legend could suck his cock and fuck him senseless at the same time.
Dean tried to let out some garbled warning about what was happening, but Castiel seemed prepared. He looked up at Dean, eyes widening with thrilled surprise as the first hot rush of Dean's come filled his mouth. Each shudder of Dean's body around Castiel's tentacle made them groan in unison. Dean came like it was being ripped out of him, toes curling in the empty air as Castiel held him aloft. Castiel swallowed it down, sucking every last drop out of him until Dean jerked with pain at the sensation overload.
“I must, oh, Dean.” Castiel's eyes were wild, shining every shade of blue under the sun as he reared up and pressed himself to Dean. His mouth crushed against Dean's, licking the salty taste of Dean between them as Castiel went tense and growled deeply. Dean felt Castiel pulse hot inside him, expanding until Dean felt like he'd been split in half just to narrow enough for wet ropes of come to leak down and trail over the flushed skin of Dean's ass before dripping to the ground.
It was a puddle by the time Castiel finished. He gingerly laid Dean down next to it, turning on his side to press his forehead to Dean's and sigh.
“You are a wonder, Dean.”
Dean rolled his eyes, uncomfortable in the face of praise. He licked along the stubble-burned curve of Castiel's chin instead, chuckling softly. “You're not too bad yourself, Cas.”
Castiel smiled at him, shaking his head at Dean's dismissal. Dean had a lot to teach Castiel, but there were things he could learn as well. He could get used to the way Castiel looked at him.
But above all things, Dean Winchester was a practical man.
“But you've got a few things to learn.” Dean arched an eyebrow and reached down, slicking his hand over Castiel's other special tentacle. Dean hadn't struck gold, he'd struck some priceless metal that didn't even have a name – Castiel could suck his cock, fuck him and still have a spare waiting in the wings. It was still wet, slipping in his grasp as Dean drew it to his mouth.
“First lesson, Cas.” Dean darted his tongue out, snaking it around the ridged suckers before flicking it over the winking slit at the tip. “The Sailor's Kiss.”
“I apologize, those aren't for sale.” Sam clears his throat as politely as possible, smiling congenially at the man in his study.
“Shame, that.” The man tugs on his waistcoat, which is about two inches too small and would look foppish on a man half his age and girth. He fiddles with the ornate eyeglass he'd taken out to more closely inspect Sam's private paintings, in his clearly private study. Sam hates having exhibitions at home. There was always some entitled “collector” who felt he deserved a tour along with his purchase.
The man tucks the gold chain back into the small pocket of his vest and turns to Sam. “My son rather enjoys this type of tomfoolery. You know, children and their fancies.” He sweeps a hand towards the wooden chess set displayed on a small table, picking up a rook in the shape of a flying elephant.
“But it isn't a fancy!” Sam and the man both turn at the very small and very imperious voice in the doorway.
Marin has her tiny arms crossed over her chest, head held high like she's the Queen of Sheba despite her torn stockings and the leaf stuck in one of her blonde plaits. She marches across the room and flings a grubby finger at the large painting hanging over the fireplace.
A smiling man sits on a dock, wearing the loose tunic and roughspun pants of a sailor. Behind him are the sites of Westport, the towering Cathedral and the modest clutch of ships in the harbor. The sun shines brightly in the sky and reflects off the water, casting a golden hue that makes the town seem fuzzy.
The water is much clearer than any found near Westport, a translucent blue visible to the bottom of the curved bay in the foreground of the painting. The smiling man's feet trail bare in the water, but that's hardly noticeable next to the figure in the water. His chest rests above the water, level with the dock as he leans against the smiling man. His smile is shy but his blue eyes shine with intelligence and goodwill. One hand rests on the man's knee, while the other trails into the water to mingle with the remarkable tentacles floating gracefully beneath the surface.
“That is my Uncle Dean, and that is my Good Uncle Castiel.” Marin throws an exasperated look at the stranger and rolls her eyes.
“Marin...” Sam says through his teeth, putting on his best warning voice. The man winks knowingly at Sam and bends down to pat Marin on the head.
“Ah, I see. Your uncle is a big bad octopus-man?” He says it with the up-talked lilt of someone speaking to a baby, and Sam has to clap a hand over his mouth to keep from smirking as Marin draws up to her full five-year-old height.
“He is a nereid.” The scorn in her voice could flay a man alive. “And he is a lovely Uncle. He gave me a rocking horse that is hollow inside, like the wooden horse of Odysseus.” Marin smiles proudly. “I named her Troia.”
“Well isn't that lovely.” The man gives Sam's daughter another dismissive pat on the head and Sam is entirely surprised that he doesn't burst into flames.
“Now Marin, we mustn't tell stories.” Sam shoots a pointed look at his daughter. She glares at him with the petulant rage of a child who knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that her father is an absolute idiot. Sam listens to the determined stomping of her little feet as she disappears down the hall.
“Children.” The man smiles indulgently at Sam and shrugs his shoulders. “They do need their little stories, eh?” He winks again and sees himself out of the room. Sam lets him go, figuring that if he could find his way in, he can just as easily find his own way out.
Sam turns to the mantle, leaning against the side of a bookshelf and looking at the painting. He smiles and tilts his head, thinking of his family and all the stories no one would ever believe.
“We all have our stories, don't we?”
Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town;
His banish'd gods restor'd to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.
-Virgil, Aeneid, Book I, trans. John Dryden
Muse, tell me of the man of many wiles,
the man who wandered many paths of exile
after he sacked Troy's sacred citadel.
He saw the cities--mapped the minds--of many;
and on the sea, his spirit suffered every
adversity--to keep his life intact, to bring his comrades back.
-Homer, Odyssey, Book I, trans. Allen Mandelbaum
In Cupid’s school whoe’er wou’d take Degree,
Must learn his Rudiments, by reading me.
Seamen with sailing Arts their Vessels move;
Art guides the Chariot; Art instructs to Love.
Of Ships and Chariots others know the Rule;
But I am Master in Love’s mighty School.
-Ovid, Ars Amatoria, Book I, trans. John Dryden