One day, Cas comes home with a puppy.
“No!” Dean says, again. He’s said it thirteen times since Cas set the dog down on the floor in front of Sam, and it skittered over on hairy, wobbly legs to lick Sam’s knees and allow itself to be scooped up into the enveloping circle of Sam’s arms. Dean keeps saying it, but nobody seems to be listening.
“Dean-“ says Sam.
“NO,” says Dean.
“That’s fourteen,” says Cas. They both swivel to look at him. “Never mind.” And now Dean’s face goes from wide-eyed surprise and baffled anger to something a little more focused. On Cas.
“You did this,” he hisses. “Where the hell did you get that thing?”
“There was a cardboard box down the road from the farm stand.” Cas holds up a white plastic bag. “In case you haven’t noticed, I did get the corn and tomatoes you asked for.”
“Yes but you also got a dog,” Dean says, with his hands on either side of his face, like they’re all that’s keeping his brain from flying apart into its component pieces. Then he puts his hands over his eyes and talks, muffled, through his fingers. “Sam, put the dog down,” he says. Sam gives him kind of an offended look, and the puppy chooses that moment to stick its tiny tongue up Sam’s nose. Sam laughs and gives it a careful, friendly squeeze. It squirms in his arms and kicks its back legs, making delighted noises that aren’t quite barks.
“Dean, we could at least-“
“Putthedogdown,” Dean yells. Nobody moves. Even the puppy folds its small, spotted brown ears back against its head. It stares at Dean. Everybody stares at Dean.
“You upset her,” says Sam.
“Her?” Dean says.
“It’s a female,” Cas says. “I’d say she’s approximately eight weeks old.”
“She’s so little,” Sam says. Dean says something that isn’t quite English, like he’s being strangled from the inside. “Come on, Dean. We can at least feed her and give her a bath tonight. We can’t just put her out like this.”
“An animal this young would die on its own,” says Cas. Sam makes a wounded face.
“Motherfucker,” says Dean.
She sleeps in a cardboard box in Sam’s room that night, on top of a bath towel folded over a hot water bottle. In the morning she’s wet the towel, and Dean makes a sour, resigned face over the top of the box. The puppy wags her tail at him and climbs the edges of the cardboard, trying to get him to pick her up. “I knew it,” Dean says. “I told you all.”
“You told us what, exactly?” Cas says, eyes narrowed.
“They’re filth machines,” says Dean.
“It’s dog pee,” says Sam. He rolls his eyes and picks her up and she makes hysterical, adoring noises while trying to cram her whole nose into Sam’s mouth. “I’ve washed worse out of your clothes.” Later, when Sam and Cas are scrubbing a small, runny pile of poop off the hall rug, Dean stands in the doorway: pointing, triumphantly vindicated, like some kind of embittered soothsayer from a fantasy movie.
“I told you,” he hisses. Cas sits back on his haunches and holds the sponge up like a throwing knife. At his elbow, the puppy dances and jumps and tries to bite the end of his rubber glove.
“Help, or go away,” he says, to Dean.
“Go,” says Cas, and Dean goes.
Sam drives to the grocery store and comes back with a thirty-five dollar bag of organic puppy chow with a small label on the front that says “for sensitive stomachs.” Dean spends twenty-five minutes berating Sam and complaining more generally about The State of America and the notion of health food for dogs and What This World Is Coming To and expressing the fact that In Dean’s Day (“You have been alive a fraction of a second, comparatively,” Cas says, unimpressed, in the middle of this part) You Ate What You Ate and That Was Fine. Meanwhile, Cas reads the ingredient list like he is examining the text of an especially ancient and dangerous spell. She eats half the bowl of kibble and manages to enthusiastically slop the other half into her water dish.
“Gross,” says Dean.
“Aww,” says Sam. He kneels down on the floor and the puppy climbs his thighs to nip at his chin. He says something very quietly that might be, diddums make a mess? Both Cas and Dean pretend not to hear it, for varying reasons.
She chews the end of her leash and craps twice more in the hallway and makes both Cas and Sam burst into subdued raptures by finally understanding the command, “sit.” She gets in Dean’s way while he makes dinner, every night. She paces the bathroom and howls plaintively, pathetically, when Sam decides that he is tired of cleaning carpets and towels and she can start at least spending the night in a room with a tiled floor. That lasts all of three nights before she is back beside Sam’s bed, curled into a tiny ball with her nose over her tail. But Cas’s steady, unfailingly patient obedience training (“Control your urges,” he says to her from the other end of the leash, zen-like) starts to yield certain results. She stops chewing the table leg in the library. She sits under it chewing a Denta-Bone, instead, while they eat dinner. Sam drives her to a veterinarian’s office one day, in the stolen car he is now increasingly regarding as his, and she comes back sort of sulky and depressed from having been tricked into getting a series of vaccinations.
“I know the feeling,” Cas says, at floor level with her, while the puppy licks the underside of his wrist and makes sad eyes. “I was once immune to tetanus, but now I am forced to endure booster shots.” He looks over at Sam and Dean, and lowers his voice to a whisper. “They told me they were taking me to the zoo,” he says. He pets her ears. “You will learn to trust again.”
Slowly, things shift. A dog bed appears in one corner of the rec room; a separate set of chewed-on bath towels have their own hook in the laundry room. A plastic bin of kibble sits on the floor of the pantry. Sam starts going to a park in town a few times a week, so that she can roll around in the grass with other dogs and get her ears chewed on by a six-month-old boxer mix. Sam kind of makes friends with the two middle-aged sisters who run the nicest pet store in a thirty-mile radius. Sam kind of makes friends with a vet tech named Steven, and a guy named Rakeem who owns the boxer mix. Dean watches all this happen with the air of someone who is unironically afraid of body snatchers, pod people, alien probes.
“I don’t get it,” he says, into his pillow. Cas, shirtless and absorbed in The Moonstone on the other side of the bed, lowers the edge of his paperback.
“You don’t get it,” he repeats, incredulous. “You killed a basilisk last week using only your cell phone, a car battery, and a windshield wiper. This eludes you?” Dean sighs deeply and presses his face further into the covers.
“How long is he going to hang onto this mutt?”
“For as long as it lives,” says Cas. “Which I hope will be a long while.”
“What does he need a dog for?” Dean asks. He sounds thoughtful, not especially irritated, like he is puzzling the relationship out. “What does anybody need a dog for?” Cas huffs audibly. “Come on, it’s kind of a serious question.”
“You know what Sam’s done,” says Cas. “You love him regardless. But you know. And he knows that you know.”
“That he’s killed people. That he was once Lucifer’s vessel.”
“Jesus Christ, Cas, I don’t-”
“She knows that Sam is the large human that feeds her and pulls thistles out of her coat,” says Cas. “She knows he’s warm. She knows he’s kind.” He goes back to reading his book, maybe oblivious to the thunderstruck look Dean’s giving him. “That’s all she knows in the world, and so that is who he is, when he’s with her.” Dean is silent for a long, long time.
“Is that why you did this?” he asks, finally. “Is that why you brought her home?” Cas says nothing, and just puts his cold toes under Dean’s naked knees.
Eventually, it becomes sort of awkward that the dog doesn’t have a name. They do not exactly call a conference about it, but they do find themselves sitting around the War Table with two open laptops and a book of baby names Cas found in the checkout aisle.
“I’ve just been calling her girl,” Sam admits. “I can’t think of anything.”
“Prudence?” says Cas, as the puppy sticks her head up the end of his trouser leg to nose at his sock. “Hyacinth? Gladiola? She is very brown. Umber? Mahogany? Cinnabar?”
“No offense, Cas,” says Sam, “but you suck at this.”
“I, uh,” says Dean. “Have kinda been, calling her a thing.” Cas and Sam stare at him. Dean goes beet red and thumps the laptop shut. “Crap,” he says, and scrubs at his face with one hand. “Uh. Tasha,” he says, in a kind of cheerful, unnatural voice. “Hey, Tasha.” The puppy detaches herself from Castiel and bounds over to him, wiggling like an eel, and puts her tiny forepaws up onto his thighs. “Good girl,” he says, awkwardly, and pats her head. She preens.
“Holy fucking shit,” says Sam. “You named my dog.”
“Tasha?” Cas asks, and the puppy’s head perks up again. “Where did you-“
“Startrekthenextgeneration,” says Dean. He stands up abruptly and pulls his car keys out of his pocket. “So, who wants a pizza? I could definitely leave this room for a pizza.” The puppy starts to do an excited back and forth, eyes locked on the keys, and Dean looks down at her. “No,” he says. “No way. I have lines, you know. We are not all going for a ride in the car.”