Dean feels like he’s been in bed for days. He’s exhausted, wiped out, almost every ounce of energy drained from his body, et cetera. On the bright side, exhaustion makes for a swell change from the pain that has apparently decided to take a coffee break. For now he can breathe.
There are noises nearby. Footsteps and voices, which eventually fade into the recognizable worried murmurs of Sam and Cas, which either means that Dean’s hearing is messed up or they’re trying to talk about him without letting him listen in. Dean clears his throat and they stop. After a couple more seconds Sam and Cas finally come into view, hovering above him.
Sam is frowning. “How do you feel?”
“Tired,” Dean says hoarsely.
“From a scale of 1 to Hell, how bad?”
“3.” Dean’s mouth feels weird. Grimy and misshapen somehow, and barely able to hold the words properly as he speaks them.
“Is there anything else?” Cas asks.
“Not much.” Dean frowns. “Why’re you looking at me like that? Should I be feeling something?”
“It’s good you’re no longer suffering,” Cas says, which isn’t as reassuring as he thinks it is. Faint pressure lands on Dean’s chest, which he eventually parses as someone touching him. The movement freezes just as Cas’ eyes go wide. “Was that there before?” Cas asks.
“Was what where?” Dean’s neck refuses to cooperate, keeping him from looking downwards. “What is it, what? Talk to me, dammit!”
“Your body is changing,” Cas says.
Dean can’t feel his legs. Or his arms. “Did you find the statue?”
“Yes, Kevin’s working on…” Sam stops, hand pressed to his mouth as he swallows audibly. “Kevin’s translating it now.”
“Go help him,” Dean says.
Sam immediately takes off. Dean probably shouldn’t ask Cas to get a mirror, then.
The next time Dean wakes up, it’s to the noises of someone hurling. It takes effort to open his eyes, and more effort still to tilt his head so he can catch the oh-so-charming sight of Sam in the doorway, losing his breakfast. Hopefully into a bucket, because that’s rank.
Dude, Dean tries to say. He blinks in surprise when the words don’t come, halted by the strange shape of his mouth. But Sam’s wheezing like he’s the one in a crisis, and then he’s running off, frantic footsteps going further away until they’re silenced by a door slamming shut.
Cas appears overhead, peering down at Dean, and it’s all wrong. Like one of those carnival mirrors that warps and distorts, because Cas is abnormally huge and filling up almost the entirety of Dean’s vision. Dean almost jerks back in shock before he realizes that there’s nowhere to jerk back to, and Jesus Christ Cas’ hands shouldn’t be that big, should they?
Dean opens his mouths to say, what the fuck.
Unfortunately what comes out is a hoarse, “Blurp.”
“I think we need to move you,” Cas says. “And burn the sheets.”
Dean frowns. Or at least, he tries to frown, but his facial muscles aren’t where they’re supposed to be. He wants to snap at Cas, the hell you’re gonna burn my sheets, you have any idea how much they cost? but there’s the small matter of how Cas’ hands slide under him, scooping Dean right up until the world tilts wildly in ways that should not be possible.
So either some laws of physics were drastically rewritten in the time that Dean was unconscious, or Dean is in some serious shit.
“Blirp?” Dean says.
“We should get you somewhere comfortable first.”
Cas is cradling Dean, Dean must’ve shrunk in his sleep, goddamned fucking witches or demons or whatever it is that’s responsible for this, fuck them all.
Cas’ hands are very steady underneath Dean. “Bathroom,” he says.
Dean knows that are worse places to be holed up in than the Men of Letters of bunker. Such as backwater hellholes with no electricity or running water, run-down motels that haven’t seen the friendly side of a vacuum cleaner since Reagan and, a couple of memorable times because desperate times call for desperate measures, an abandoned barn with a caved-in roof and moldy hay.
Basically, Dean knows what he’s talking about. The bunker is pretty damn sweet and a hell of a lot more reliable, and if there’s one thing that Dean’s going to cling on to through this whole mess, it’s that it could’ve been worse. So much worse.
“Dean,” Cas says without looking up from his books, “if you can’t sit still I’m going to put you back in your room.”
Dean rolls his eyes. He stops his side-to-side rocking, but only for now, because Cas is still reading and will stop paying attention any moment now. Cas has a small village of books and files stacked around him, and he’s currently scowling at a folder of yellowing research papers, unearthed only a couple of hours ago before Sam had to leave.
Sam’s probably kicking himself for missing out on this awesome party, Dean tells himself.
Approaching footsteps make Dean look up. It’s Kevin, who comes around the corner making a racket chewing something crunchy, and he stops in his tracks when he sees them. “Cas?” he says carefully.
“Yes?” Cas replies.
“Is that Dean?” Kevin asks.
Cas turns a page, as calm as you please, and Dean waves helpfully. “Is there another octopus in the bunker I should know about?” Cas says.
“Why is he even out here?” Kevin asks. “Won’t he get water all over the books? Sam’ll be pissed.”
“Dean has his bucket, and knows how to behave,” Cas says.
Dean slides one tentacle out of the bucket and experimentally pokes the table surface. Kevin was obviously exaggerating – there’s only a small wet patch and no dripping whatsoever. Dean’s totally getting the hang of chilling in the mouth of his red bucket, the rest of the tentacles supporting him as branches would a tree house. Dean doesn’t like to think of them as his tentacles, but it’d be even creepier to think of them as independent yet helpful limbs that keep the rest of his body (most of it head now) in balance.
Well, welcome to the Winchester life. Saving people, hunting things, dealing with the occasional curse-related body transformation of grossness.
Kevin doesn’t take his eyes off of Dean as he approaches the table. “Did you find anything yet?”
“The filing system is out of order,” Cas replies. “I can’t read as quickly as I’d like, but I think it’s carelessness, not sabotage. How about you?”
“There’s some equipment that makes me think this is something they knew about,” Kevin says. “Glass boxes with holes in them, and other aquarium things. All of them clean and dry, and packed up.”
Cas nods. “I’ll have a look at those later.”
See, Dean could totally help. He may have less than a sixth of his usual body mass, but he has eight tentacles and two working eyes, and that should still count for something, right? But no, Cas has commanded that he stay in his bucket which, Dean grudgingly admits, is at least better than Sam’s command that Dean stay in the aquarium room.
Yes, the bunker has an aquarium room. No, they don’t know what it was used for. Mermaids, maybe, if half the shit they’ve found in the archives are as accurate as they claim to be.
“He’s staring at me,” Kevin says quietly.
“He’s probably wondering why you aren’t getting back to searching the archives for something that could help change him back,” Cas replies.
Kevin doesn’t seem convinced. “Okay…”
Way to talk about him like he isn’t even here. And Dean’s not staring at Kevin, that’s just because of what his current set of eyes look like, he can’t help it. Who knew that octopuses had tennis ball eyes with mean slits in the middle? Well, Dean does now, thanks to when he made Cas take him into the bathroom this morning.
The thing that looked back at him in the mirror wasn’t nearly as bad as Dean had been expecting. Not with the way Cas had frowned at him, quiet and intense the way he always gets when the situation is serious enough for him to pick his words carefully; not with the way Sam had said, while very careful to avoid touching him at all, “We’ll fix this, Dean. I promise.”
So Dean is an octopus. Temporarily, of course, because if fucking Heaven and Hell and Purgatory can’t stop the Winchesters, a little curse won’t stop them either. At the very least Dean isn’t choked with worry for the people around him (unlike that time he almost became a vampire) or exhausted to the point of being unhelpful (unlike that time he got old). It’s just… tentacles. And the lack of a skeleton and familiar muscle structure.
He hasn’t even gotten a hang on moving around yet. He’s only been fully kraken’ed up for ten hours (wait, are krakens octopuses?), the first five of which were spent getting his strength back after the wonderful experience that was the transformation process. Dean was barely conscious through most of it, blacking out more often than not from the pain, but the others got to see it in full high-definition, and he’s been told, quite emphatically, that he doesn’t want to know.
Dean perks up when the bunker doors open, hoping it’s Sam returning with the help he’s supposed to get. It’s only Ellie, though, and she skids to a halt when she sees Dean on the table.
“Why is Dean out his tank?” Ellie asks. “Is that healthy for him?”
“I’m sure he knows what he can handle,” Cas says.
“Dean has experience being an octopus?” Ellie says.
“You’d be surprised.”
Dean can still smile. At least, he can move the muscles around his mouth in what he feels is a smile, but considering he practically sits on his mouth now, it’s a moot point. He makes up for it by waving two of his tentacles, gratified for Ellie’s attention when she approaches. She crouches in front of his bucket, studying his skin – various shades of brown, freckly, a little thorny in places – and bites her lip in concern.
“Are you hungry?” Ellie asks. “How do you feel?”
Dean feels good. He feels healthy and hearty, even, and it’s only because he’s still figuring out this body that he’s sitting pretty in his bucket. Octopuses are like freaking martial artists; Dean has yet to master the art of moving without getting tangled in himself and doing unexpected cartwheels (the first half-dozen times had been dizzying enough).
He is kinda hungry, though.
“Blurp,” he says.
“Maybe it is time for him to go back to the tank.” Cas’ chair scrapes the floor when he stands up. “I’ll prepare Dean’s lunch.”
“Food!” Ellie says brightly. “Isn’t that exciting, Dean?”
“Morp,” Dean replies.
Things that Dean now knows about octopuses: they eat fish, shellfish and crabs. At least, normal octopuses do, and although Dean’s not a normal octopus Sam had been adamant they not risk it. Dean’s not even sure how he’s supposed to eat them, but he’ll give it a shot.
Dean clings to the rim of the bucket when Ellie lifts it up. Things are bigger now, the floor farther away, and Dean’s not feeling up to doing a Wile E. Coyote right now.
“I’m pretty sure Sam said you weren’t supposed to leave the tank,” Ellie says as they travel together deeper into the bunker. “How did you even convince Cas to take you out?”
Dean blows a dismissive raspberry.
“You’ll get dehydrated,” Ellie says.
Touching concern aside, Ellie’s the only person in the bunker who hasn’t made a fuss about this being Dean’s fault. It’s true that Sam and Cas stopped rubbing it in when the pain went from annoying to agonizing, and Kevin only dirty-glared at him that one time, but Dean knows they think about it. Dean knows.
It’s true that they don’t know much about the Men of Letters hideaway beyond what’s been tagged and labeled. As far as Dean figures, half the fun of the place is poking at things to figure out how they work. A hell a lot of hunting pretty much is about poking at things to figure out how they work, and improvising if they can’t.
The basics of the place were sorted out pretty quick when they moved in – water, electricity, furniture all in decent condition – and if Sam occasionally voices his befuddlement that things still work and the MoL didn’t leave a farewell post-it on the door, then that’s his business. Cas may be human now but the last time he’d visited the place he hadn’t noticed anything worth getting his angelic hackles up for, and in Dean’s book that’s another notch in the plus column.
Basically, the bunker is good enough for the Winchesters to move into, and get comfortable in, and pin up posters on the walls because a little sentimentality wouldn’t go amiss while they’re getting fucking old. It’s just plain fact that the dearly departed Men of Letters had, until a couple of days ago, not done wrong by them. It’s been the opposite – they have supplies and equipmentand shower pressure pumps and more books than a Sammy could shake his lustrous mane at.
So how was Dean supposed to know that one box – just one box – out of a hundred other boxes lying around the place would put him where he is now? The Men of Letters were epic hoarders, and Dean’s pretty sure some of the crap in the bunker is worth more than all the money Dean’s spent (his and other people’s) in his whole life, but they had to have been smart enough to know that shiny trinkets go on shelves and potential weapons go in the DO NOT TOUCH section.
Sam, at least, didn’t say I told you so when they pinpointed the source of the curse. It’d come down to a small statue of maybe-silver and bronze, tucked away in a wooden box in one of the storage rooms they’d been searching for sources of iron. Ellie’s case, with the hellhounds on her trail, meant stocking up the Impala with whatever they could get their hands on, and Dean picked up the little statue because hey, it looked interesting.
A couple of hours later Dean’s intestines staged a revolt. A few days after that he stopped having intestines at all.
At least they have extra hands handling this. Ellie’s holed up with them for now since she’s their latest Winchester case success story, her demon deal successfully thwarted despite Dean’s collapsing from octopus-transformation-related complications while they’d been out dealing with it. Kevin’s here because Dean and Sam owe him one in a huge way and even if it’s belated they’re gonna to do right by that.
“Everything in order?” Cas arrives in the aquarium room while Ellie is cheering Dean up with talk about what she’s going to do now that her Hell deal is broken. Cas brought with him a small bowl of presumable Dean-food, which he passes to Ellie for inspection.
It’s a good thing Cas is around, because of everyone here he’s the only who can pick Dean up without hesitation or making really fucking distracting gagging noises. The most Ellie and Sam will do is carry his bucket, which is at least better than Kevin, who’s only gone so far as to push Dean across the floor with a mop.
Cas lifts Dean out of the bucket now, moving him into the shallow plastic pool they’ve set up on the floor.
The tank room is big and airy, kinda like the panic room back at Bobby’s right down to an ancient exhaust system they’ve got running again. There are three glass tanks of different sizes installed along the walls, and they’ve filled one up with water.
Dean tried staying in that smallest tank last night, after the transformation was complete. He’d been exhausted, but not so exhausted that he couldn’t freak out at being submerged and having nothing to hold on to, so Sam had had to drive out and buy one of those cheap plastic kiddie pools, which is the bunker’s newest addition.
“What do you want to try first?” Cas asks. “Crab?”
Dean waves his tentacles frantically.
“Why’s he pointing at me?” Ellie asks.
Cas frowns. “I think you make him self-conscious.”
Yeah, like hell Dean’s going to figure out his new equipment in front of a lady.
“Oh,” Ellie says. “Uh. I guess I’ll go see what I can help Kevin with.”
The moment she’s gone, Cas sighs. “You must be hungry, Dean. Flick a tentacle once for yes, twice for no.”
What if it isn’t a yes/no question? Dean eyes the bowl warily, but he flicks one of his foremost tentacles once. He’ll swim through squirming creepy crawlies for a case any day, but to put one of ‘em inside his mouth?
“You do have the equipment to eat this,” Cas points out. “Come on, Dean. You know fish, at least. These are small, see?”
Then Cas does an absolutely horrible thing and puts one in his mouth. Head and fins and tail and all, swallowing it up like it ain’t no thang. Dean stares, mesmerized by the movement of his Adam’s apple as he fucking swallows.
“Blorp!” Dean exclaims.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” Cas says.
But that’s because Cas is a goddamned freak. Dean may not be able to say that out loud but his bleating must be getting the message across because Cas face just gets darker and darker until he raises the bowl with the threat to dump the load into Dean’s nice little pool, and Dean shuts up. Cas puts the bowl back down.
Cas is mean.
“You need your strength and nutrition,” Cas says firmly. “The transformation exhausted you. What do you think it’s going to be like in the other direction?”
That might be cool, actually. Dean could regrow all his body parts like a lizard. No, wait, that sounds painful. What happened to his skeleton, anyway?
“Yes, exactly,” Cas says, which means there must expressions that can be read off of Dean’s currently squishy face. “At least try, Dean. We’ll go with fish, first.”
Fine. Dean offers two tentacles out to take whatever Cas gives him.
It’s… well, it’s not a disaster, at least? Dean refuses to touch anything moving because he still has standards, thank you very much, so Cas helps pick out the things they’re both confident are dead and Dean decides are less gross-looking. Why can’t they at least smoke the bastards first? Dean tries to mime a grill but Cas just repeats Sam’s earlier argument on how they don’t want to damage his new body or accidentally poison him, but poisoning by hamburger sounds like Heaven (the fantasy kind, not the real kind) right about now.
Dean chews with his beak mouth. He has a beak mouth, which Cas confirms, and Dean flicks his primary right hand frantically in a no no no no when Cas offers to get a mirror so he can see it for himself.
This is revenge, isn’t it? This is Cas getting back at them for those first few weeks after he’d found them (or they found him, they’d never quite agreed on how that played out) after his falling, when Dean and Sam had rounded on him every which way about selective eating and remembering to stay hydrated and taking care of his now very-mortal body and no, Cas, you are actually rank and need a shower every now and then no matter what you think you smell like.
Now look at where they are, Cas persistent and bossy like it’s his goddamned job. Dean peers up at Cas and tries to decide if he looks smug.
“The pool isn’t very practical, Dean,” Cas says. “It’s leaking, and you’ve already gotten the water dirty. You need to go into the tank. It’s safer there, too.”
Dean rolls his beady eyes at him, and pointedly crawls out of the pool – the tentacles have pretty good grip on plastic, actually – and climbs into his bucket. Dean likes the bucket.
“Why don’t you like the tank?” Cas asks. “Isn’t it more comfortable for you in there?”
Dean turns around and considers the looming figure that is the tank. It’s not that much larger than a bathtub, and if Dean were his regular size he might even buy some swimming trunks for the occasion. But Dean’s not his regular size, so that tank is a practically a jail cell, except filled with water and lacking any interesting furniture.
Cas sighs. Then he picks up Dean’s bucket – with Dean in it, of course – and heads towards the tank.
Yeah, like Dean’s going to go down without a fight. He may not have opposable thumbs but he does have eight long legs with freaky tensile strength, and before Cas can dump him into the water Dean’s loped a whole bunch of them around Cas’ head, and pulled.
Pulling against what, he has no idea because it’s not like the new body comes with a manual. But the end result is that Cas yelps, flails, and there’s a beautiful splash when they fall into the tank together.
Dean’s a goddamn face-hugger of doom, and the worst part is that he can’t even tell that joke and get Cas’ confused squint of your pop culture references are annoying until he gets his vocal cords back.
One thing Dean has figured out is that this body has no problem switching environments. Air to water and back is a breeze, with none of that stinging in his eyes or uncomfortable pressure in his nose/ears. It helps that he has no nose or ears, really. As long as Dean doesn’t have to think about breathing, the body does it for him, and that’s fine.
He can’t say the same about swimming, though. Dean keeps trying to move like a human would, using arms for buoyancy and direction, and legs for strength. Basically Dean’s a hot mess in the water until he feels pressure at the back of his head. It’s Cas’ hand, and Dean flings himself at it, wrapping as tightly as he can around Cas’ limb.
Dean breaks the surface when Cas raises said hand up to shoulder level. Cas is coughing water a little, but doesn’t looks as pissed as Dean thought he would be. Well, he is pissed, but it’s the low-grade level of pissed that Cas never completely shakes off unless he’s being morose. There are some things that Dean can rely on, and this is one of them.
“Blah,” Dean says. Oh Jesus, he can taste Cas’ skin through his tentacles.
“Are you trying to communicate?” Water drips down Cas’ chin and off his nose in dramatic rivulets. “What’s the point of this?”
“Blah!” Dean exclaims. Does Cas expect him to stay in a jail cell? Him? “Morp.”
“I took you out of this room, against Sam’s explicit orders, because you wouldn’t stay in your pool.” And also because Dean hung to Cas’ sleeve like the limpet he is actually equipped to compare himself with now. “I understand that you’re uncomfortable here. But do you think can you stay put for ten minutes until I get back?”
Dean considers this, eyes narrowed, and then points at Cas.
“Yes, I promise, no more than ten minutes.” Cas nods a thank you when Dean oozes off his arm, loosely dog-paddling over to the edge of the tank. Cas then faces the struggle of climbing out of the tank, made all the more challenging by his sheer sogginess, and Dean discovers that he can, at least, laugh.
Cas starts with surprise at the sound, frozen halfway over the edge of the tank, and then pushes the hair out of his eyes to glare at Dean properly. It’s the small things that matter, and Dean’s a fucking octopus so he’s entitled to get his kicks until he gets his body back. Also, geez, Cas is overdue for a haircut.
They’ll laugh about this eventually. Oh Dean, remember that time you spontaneously ejected all your body parts and grew tentacles? They’ve been through more than their share of crazy shit in the world, and the best (worst) part is that this little jaunt doesn’t take the cake.
“Damn it, Dean,” Cas murmurs once his feet land on the floor. He starts peeling the wet clothes off of his body, and the first glimpse of bare skin has Dean jolting. He averts his eyes quickly; Cas may have the same body parts but the polite thing to do would be not to stare, right? Right.
There’s a wet smack on the floor where the clothes fall in a small pile. Dean snorts (he can snort!) and curiosity eventually compels him to look up. There it is – Cas is stripped down to his skivvies and completely uncaring. Whoa, when did he get biceps? A memory stirs of Sam showing Cas the bunker’s gym, because Sam got it into his head to recruit someone to his healthy living cause.
“Stay here,” Cas says. The order isn’t as menacing coming from a damp guy wearing nothing but thankfully dark boxer-briefs, but Cas tries. Dean burbles an acknowledgement.
Then Cas actually goes, strutting on out of the room in his underwear.
Score one for confidence, Dean thinks. Ellie might even appreciate the view, who knows.
Dean looks down at himself. This requires some effort, since he has to maneuver his entire head so that one eye can get a good view of the rest of him. He’s till kinda thorny, still kinda scaly, though the suckers underneath his tentacles are sort of beautiful in that what-the-hell-was-God-smoking kind of way. What would even be the purpose of cursing someone into octopus form? Might be the doing of a pagan god, knowing those fuckers.
Cas keeps his promise and returns within ten minutes, his arms full and changed into a fresh shirt and shorts. Dean watches him lay out his booty on a towel, among them the fancy pants touch tablet that Sam got for Cas the week after he moved in.
Dean dips underneath the water surface, taking a few deep watery breaths before resurfacing and spreading his tentacles out, urging Cas to pick him up. It makes him feel stupid and like a kid, but it’s not like Cas knows that it’s stupid and makes him feel like a kid.
“Don’t wriggle so much,” Cas grumps when he picks Dean up. “And don’t squeeze me.”
“Brar!” Dean protests.
The other thing about Cas carrying him is that it would be weirder if it were Sam instead, because the suckers are creepily sensitive and Dean doesn’t know if there are words in the English language to describe what polyester and nylon taste like via octopus nerves. Human sweat on skin is somewhat the same – sweaty and vaguely sour – but amplified in ways that are completely unnecessary in Dean’s opinion. Dean is of the firm belief that he doesn’t need to know what Sam’s skin tastes like.
They go to the towel, where Cas sits and sets Dean down. He picks up a stylus. “Here.”
Dean looks at the stylus, then back at Cas. He choose his right and left primary tentacles, which are quickly turning out to be his favorites, and wraps it carefully around the stylus. Cas helps him adjust his grip, and then Dean’s smacking Cas’ hand away so he can hold it properly by himself.
Dean brings the stylus down onto the screen.
Ajnd.a dkffmd ad’da[lkkllllllll.,
Cas laughs, because he is an asshole. “Slowly, Dean. Take your time.”
Easy for Cas to say. Dean hunches himself up, moving whatever muscles a good octopus gets if they eat all their oatmeal and crab, and slowly brings the stylus into a tapping motion. Can’t be a hunter if you don’t have steady hands, for all the spells and Devil’s traps and sigils that can be all that stand between life and death.
U neeeed a hairecuuut
Dean turns to Cas, satisfied. Cas is nonplussed, which is expected, but he pats the top of Dean’s head. Dean flicks his tentacles at him – he’s not a dog, Cas, geez.
“Maybe I want to keep it longer.” Cas’ hair is still a mess, he probably hadn’t bothered to do more than run his fingers through it on the way back. Dean thinks it’s enough to have one long-haired hippie in the bunker, thank you very much. “What do you need, Dean?”
Ideally, Dean would like Cas to still be an angel so he can deux ex machina him out of this mix, but such dreams are for the young and the restless.
Waanty 2 helllp
“What can you do in your current state?”
Tink off smthing11111111
Cas raises his eyebrows that. “I’m going to assume that those are supposed to be exclamation marks. All right, I’ll think of something you can do. Right now I’m going to continue reading the files that we have from the archive and you are going to rest.”
Dean raises his body up on a cushion of his tentacles. “Gorp.”
“You know we’ll do our best to cure you,” Cas says. “But for now this is your body, and you must be aware of it, take care of it, and learn its limitations. You’re not helping yourself, Dean.”
The thing is, Cas isn’t saying anything Dean doesn’t know. He’s frustrated because he’s helpless and – as he steals a glance at the little stack of folders Cas brought with him – he knows he’s taking time away from research that could possibly help. But Dean needs to do something because doing shit is what grounds him and reminds him of who he is.
“You have to learn to move. You want to be helpful? Then you must stop fumbling all the time.”
Well that’s just dandy. Dean starts tapping frantically: U tr bng fhaklfnas,f , only to give up halfway and throw the stylus away in frustration. What he wanted to say was, You try getting playdoh-ed into a squishy and lemme know how that works out for you.
Cas just lets him do that, and then calmly fetches the stylus and returns it to Dean. Dean doesn’t take it, though, mentally crossing his arms while Cas opens a browser on the tablet and types ‘octopus’ in the search field.
“If you can move, coordinate yourself and pick things up, then your role could be much improved,” Cas points out. “Right now you’re just…”
“Marp,” Dean says forlornly. Right now he’s making like a less interesting version of The Blob and flopping everywhere, yeah.
“Here, videos.” Cas turns the tablet towards him. “Watch them, search for others. Then practice. Don’t give me that look, Dean, octopuses are very intelligent and very beautiful creatures and you are… well, you’re not performing to the full potential you have been given.”
Dean leans over to pick up the stylus, and Cas helpfully opens a small window for him to type. tank iiis a jailcell
“Ah.” Cas regards the tank for a moment, and nods. “Yes, I see. I’ll ask Sam what we can do about that. But for now.” He taps the edge of the tablet, drawing Dean’s attention to the video that Cas had just pulled up. Some documentary or something, and the ugly tentacly bastard on the top of the page isn’t making Dean feel any better about himself.
When Sam finally returns to the bunker, Dean’s changed his mind. Though it seems that Cas has also changed his mind about planting the suggestion in Dean’s head.
“What did you do?” Sam demands.
“I showed him videos of natural-born octopuses,” Cas says. He and Sam lean forward together, their faces distorted through the glass. Dean waves the tip of one of his tentacles at them. “I think this might be an improvement,” Cas says reluctantly.
Dean’s pretty comfortable, he has to say. Dean’s also doing a Houdini, his whole body fitted inside an empty glass bottle that may or may once not have contained beer. His audience is witnessing a freaking miracle of Mother Nature right here but Dean’s getting no appreciation.
Cas says, “He kept rewatching the video where the octopus squeezed through a hole.”
“Great.” Sam sighs. “Just what we need, Dean figuring out how to become an escape artist.”
Dude. Dean slides four of his tentacles back out, using them to leverage the rest of him out as though squeezing ketchup from a particularly friendly bottle. It’s pretty damn graceful, if he does say so himself, and he makes a note to make a video recording himself doing that next time. Once he lands, he gives Sam what he hopes is a gleeful look, and spreads his tentacles – ta da!
“Are you going to run away and join the circus now?” Sam asks.
Dean blows a raspberry at him, and is already thinking about whether he can try squeezing through keyholes.
“Dean, you look like you’re planning something,” Sam says. “Do I need to remind you that you look like an Eldritch monster, and some of our tenants can be twitchy?”
Yeah, Dean doesn’t want to get squashed in a panic. In Kevin’s case he might not even need to panic to do it. Dean nods and tentacle-crawls over to the tablet, accepting the stylus Cas gives him to type. Wat u got
“Okay.” Sam takes a deep breath, his smile hopeful. “Charlie’s chasing a possible lead. Someone who knew the Men of Letters, we think. She’s gone there first, she knows someone who knows someone and will try to grease the wheels. I’m going to head out again if that comes to something, so you have to… You have to sit tight, Dean, okay?”
Sam’s ginormous even on a good day, so from Dean’s new vantage point he’s practically the size of Mount Rushmore. He can be President Winchester, He of the Sad Eyebrows, which he’s now sadly imploring Dean with. Dean reaches up and pats him on the chin, burping in surprise when his suckers catch Sam’s bristles the wrong way, oww.
“Watch out for him,” Sam orders quietly. Cas nods, and Dean makes an annoyed, “Merp,” at the implication that he needs a babysitter.
“Before you go,” Cas says, “could you help remodel Dean’s tank? He’s not a fan of it the way it is.”
Dean wakes up completely submerged in water. He panics for a couple of seconds, and then remembers that he’s not actually drowning.
Yesterday’s excitement must’ve worn him out, because he doesn’t remember actually going to sleep. He hadn’t left the aquarium room, he knows that much, and Sam, Ellie and Cas ended up having a picnic dinner on the floor to keep him company. He must have passed out somewhere in the middle of their boring talking.
Whatever. He can blame octopus metabolism.
The tank is much improved now, though. The water level is lower, and Sam and Cas moved a bunch of the aquarium crap Kevin found to fill up the space – bars and boxes and little things for Dean to hang on to. If Dean had ever been in a jungle gym before he certainly doesn’t remember, but this one’s pretty nifty.
He explores it now that he’s awake and rested, stretching his tentacles and winding them around the surfaces in figuring out his balance for pulling and climbing and slithering from one location to another. The trick is to be aware of the extra limbs, it seems, and to use them in pairs.
If Dean had his vocal cords he’d probably start humming the Spider-man theme right about now.
Beyond the glass wall of the tank, Cas is asleep in one of the guest cots. Most of him is buried beneath a blanket, but the dark mess of hair poking out at one end is instantly recognizable.
Dean breaks the surface of the water and shimmies up the side of the tank. He’s wide awake now, and curious enough to try climbing out by himself, which he does, quite successfully save the last couple of inches where the suckers lose their grip on the glass wall and he falls to the floor with a wet plop.
A quick bounce off a pair of tentacles has Dean righted back up in no time. Cas doesn’t stir.
Octopuses can run. Well, according to the internet they can run underwater, and Dean may not be underwater right now but it’s by now obvious he’s not just any octopus. He has no problem breathing air, for example, besides that it makes him tired after a while. Maybe he can also run.
Dean hunches up his tentacles, gauges the distance, and sprints.
Cas doesn’t wake up, not even when Dean completes his dash, slithers up the frame of the cot and flops onto it. Cas just stays unconscious, breathing softly and eyelids fluttering, and Dean huffs in annoyance. If Sam let someone sneak up on him like that he’d better be sick or drunk.
Sitting there, Dean’s struck by the potential of their switched positions.
How many times has Cas crept up on him while he was sleeping, as though he had nothing better to do? Dean would’ve thought that it would end when Cas stopped being an angel, but apparently the trait is inherent to Cas’ goddamn personality because his living in the bunker just means he has more opportunities to sneak up on Dean when he’s unconscious.
Dean pushes the top of the blanket out of the way. Cas is frowning, and he inhales sharply when Dean waddles closer.
Cas is dreaming. More accurately, Cas seems to be having a nightmare, his frown deepening and fingers twitching where they clutch the pillow beneath his head. Dean’s good idea is now a bad idea, an exit strategy is needed ASAP, and since when does Cas have nightmares?
Cas opens his eyes.
If Dean could talk, he’d deliver a punchline at this point. Fancy seeing you here, or creepy, ain’t it, or I am Darth Vader from the Planet Vulcan. But there’s no punchline, and Dean can’t do much more than sit there like an unattractive water balloon while Cas regards him through half-lidded eyes.
Apparently Cas is such a freak that he can’t even do Dean the favor of pretending to be surprised. Cas’ eyes are soft and sleepy, lips a little dry, and the fact that they’re still staring at each other drives home the fact that Dean has a long way to go when it comes to predicting how things will turn out when it comes to anything to do with Cas.
Cas sighs. It’s a thin, human sound. Dean sits there and tries to pretend that this was his plan all along, but that fails as well when Cas reaches out and curls his fingers around one of Dean’s tentacles.
Dean doesn’t move until Cas’ eyes drift shut again. Cas is still holding on to the tentacle, gripping the length of it firmly as he takes deep, steadying breaths. Of course Cas is human enough to dream now; he’s human enough to eat and sleep and get sick. This moment is a strange one, and means Dean can be forgiven for winding the edge of a tentacle around Cas’ hand, tentatively squeezing back.
“Is it time to get up?” Cas asks. “Do you need something?”
Dean taps Cas on the wrist twice, no. Cas nods, releasing Dean’s tentacle and absent-mindedly patting the top of his head. What does Cas dream about, anyway?
“Well, I’m awake.” Cas slowly sits up, joints popping as he moves. He looks down at Dean with a small smile, the kind that Dean realizes he hasn’t seen for a while, and says, “Let’s get you something to eat.”
So Dean lets Cas pick him up and put him in the bucket.
A good thing about being temporarily voiceless is that Dean can’t ask what the hell that was all about. Whenever Cas gets weird Sam’s the one who knows how to deal with it. Dean just likes to make loud noises, and that’s not an option now at all.
It’s a weird way to start the day, and that weirdness just keeps on following them.
The rest of the bunker is quiet when they leave the aquarium room. There’s a note from Sam on the fridge door, explaining that he’d gotten a call from Charlie and left. Cas is mostly quiet as he takes out Ellie’s fishy haul from the market and asks Dean what he’d like to have.
Kevin wanders into the kitchen not too long later, making a garbled sound as he walks in. “Cas, you have a growth on your head.”
“He wants to be mobile.” Cas doesn’t look up from where he’s cutting crabs in the sink. Dean wiggles a couple of tentacles at the kid, huffing softly at the narrow-eyed glare Kevin shoots at him. Dean misses being tall, and draping himself across Cas’ shoulders is definitely one of his better ideas. “Or he’s just bored with his bucket, who knows.”
“What, he just rock climbed his way up there?” Kevin says.
Oh, is the kid asking for a demonstration? Dean’s more than happy to oblige. He estimates the distance between them and then, once he’s made sure than Kevin is actually watching, takes a daring leap off Mt. Cas onto the counter, slides down the cabinet, and then sprints for Kevin’s feet.
Kevin screams, of course. He’s the star of this horror movie in which Dean is the thing that goes bump in the night and climbs up mouthy Prophets of the Lord. Dean does a fantastic job, if he does say so himself, sliding over flailing limbs and flapping cloth to settle around Kevin’s significantly less wide shoulders.
Ellie comes racing into the kitchen then, eyes wide and panting. “What happened? What? Oh.”
“Yes,” Kevin says faintly, “I did need more trauma in my life, thank you.” His body is as tense as a rock, and Dean pets his ear kindly.
“Wow, that’s… that’s interesting,” Ellie says. She, at least, can appreciate talent, and Dean waves a tentacle at her gratefully. “Good morning, Dean. Feeling better today?”
“Dean, try this.” Cas holds out a piece of crab flesh that Dean accepts, drawing it underneath himself to put into his mouth. Crab’s not that much better than fish, though it probably won’t kill him to eat more. “That good?” Dean shrugs, using two of the middle tentacles as points of his shoulders, and Cas nods.
Kevin’s height means that, like this, Dean can almost look Cas right in the eye again. Kevin isn’t as sturdy as a scaffold as Cas though, wriggling around and twitching every time Dean so much as breathes.
“This seems unhygienic,” Kevin supplies.
“He’s still human.” Cas continues deftly drawing out the crab flesh with a knife. Sam may take the credit for Cas’ quick draw of the gun, but Dean’s proud to say that Cas’ kitchen skills are almost all his doing.
“Pretty sure humans have less appendages.”
“He’s human where it counts.” Cas glances up just then, catching Dean’s gaze as though to make sure that that message was delivered.
Is this a test? Is this the purpose of the curse? Make him tentacly but keep him conscious and sentient, so there’s some It’s a Wonderful Life bullshit that he’s supposed to learn along the way?
“Gar,” Dean grumbles.
“Some octopuses are poisonous, though,” Ellie says.
“What?” Kevin yelps. “Dean, don’t poison me.”
“I’ve been touching him all morning,” Cas says with a frown. “I’m all right.”
“You’ve been touching him all morning?” Kevin echoes slowly.
“Octopuses need proximity,” Cas says, which sounds enough like a lie that Dean almost coos his approval. “He’s stressed enough as it is, Kevin.”
“Maybe angels are immune to octopus venom,” Ellie suggests. “Uh. Former-angels. Hey, makes as much sense as anything else around here.”
Dean doesn’t feel poisonous. Cas seems to think this is legitimate concern though, and immediately holds out an elbow for Dean to slide onto. Dean swings himself over onto Cas’ arm, and this is still not the weirdest thing Dean’s ever done, what is his life. He really hopes he’s not poisonous, though. He’s unattractive enough as it is.
“Is there something I can do to help?” Ellie asks.
“Ah yes, could you see to his tank?” Cas says. That’s not what Dean would’ve said, and he smacks Cas lightly on the cheek, making him jump. “What? Do you not want her to go near your tank?”
Dean loops his way down Cas’ cotton-covered arm to reach for the tablet, propped up helpfully on the counter. Shes a guest
Ellie just laughs, touching Cas’ arm as she makes to leave. “I’ll see to the tank, don’t worry. And it’s fine, Dean, you just… have your breakfast.”
She’s gone before Dean can protest any further. Dean glares up at Cas and types: U dont make guests work
“Why, is it rude?” Cas asks.
Dean taps the stylus firmly. Y
“Well, then!” Kevin says loudly, grabbing an apple from the fruit bowl. “This is way too much excitement for me, so I’m gonna go. I’ll put the research files on the table for you.”
Cas is still bewildered and Sam isn’t around to back Dean up on this one, which he totally would. The Impala is a constant, but how does Dean explain the different kind of stability the Salvage Yard and Roadhouse offered them over the years? And those places belonged to Bobby and Ellen – the bunker is theirs and that is something Dean knows better than to take for granted. This is about rooms and memory foam and kitchens and being a good host. Sam might make fun of Dean for nesting, but this shit is important.
He flounders with the stylus. Is no big deal is just
Cas puts the plate down patiently. “Take your time.”
They have guest rooms and tenants now. Cas has his own freaking room for crying out loud, in which he sleeps and reads and brushes his teeth, when a couple of months ago Dean could count on one hand the number of times Cas bothered hanging around long enough for dessert and coffee.
“Are you upset?” Cas says curiously.
Dean shakes his head in annoyance. Simple terms. He needs to use simple terms. He types, This a home
“Yes,” Cas agrees. “You’ve made a home here, and you have protocols with which you treat your guests, I’ve seen it. But I don’t see how Ellie is any different from Charlie, Kevin or myself. We are happy to do our share in thanking you for welcoming us into your place.”
Dean starts in surprise.
“Admittedly Kevin might not agree with that,” Cas says thoughtfully. “But you’ve just saved Ellie’s soul from eternal damnation, and she appreciates that. Why not let her help out while she’s still here?” Cas waits for Dean’s reaction, though he doesn’t have one to offer. “Do you want to eat now?”
They move to the table outside, where Kevin has left the research folders as he’d promised. Cas has his own breakfast of fruit, cereal and coffee, which he eats while he reads.
Dean has his little placemat to sit on, and he picks through his cold crab, trying to imagine that it’s something he would willingly put in his mouth. He watches Cas for a while, noting that he hasn’t shaved the past few days and is back on his angel-era level of fuzziness before Dean taught him how to use a razor properly. That had been fun, and the blood loss minimal.
The tablet is propped up nearby, and Dean oozes over to it. U kno wats funny
Is longst time u’ve stayed since purgtory
“That was because you wouldn’t let me leave,” Cas says.
“Blurp?” Dean says.
“In Purgatory you made it clear I was not to leave, or you would act in a way that put yourself in danger. It would’ve run contrary to my agenda if I didn’t go along.” Cas frowns. “Why are you bringing this up? Is it something to do with the curse?”
Nvm, Dean types quickly.
“It is possible that the curse is Leviathan-related, as Kevin suspected from the carvings,” Cas says, thankfully changing the subject. He draws the folder closer, hefting Dean up onto his bucket so he can get a good view. “This is the inventory that Kevin found, and these are the papers I read yesterday. Put together, they appear to be fragments of research, likely one of the Men of Letters’ experiments.”
Nifty. Well, someone had had to have developed the Devil’s trap, banishing curses and the best ways to gank the supernatural world’s finest. In fact, the Men of Letters R&D department sounds like it could’ve been fucking cool if they’d left better instructions.
“I don’t think it’s dangerous,” Cas continues. “Aside from the discomfort of the transformation, you’re in perfect health and have some of the useful abilities of the species.”
Dean burbles at Cas. Some/
“It may very well be that the curse was part of their arsenal,” Cas continues. “An octopus would be able to get into places that a regular human cannot, whether due to size or by virtue of being underwater.”
Dean types furiously: Wereoctopus///
“There’s a shift key right there if you want to make a question mark. And there’s no such thing as a were-octopus.”
How u kno, Dean demands.
“Because I’m older than you.” Cas smiles at Dean’s eye-roll. “And it was previously my job to know all of God’s creatures. As well as Eve’s.”
Which is a good thing as far as their hunting gig goes, Dean’s aware. Kevin and Cas don’t have Bobby’s experience in holding down the fort, but this is a new fort with new rules and regulations. Having a prophet of the Lord and a former angel of the Lord as back-up is pretty damn decent, and their early teething problems aside, this is a system that works. That can continue working.
Except that’d be shot to hell if one of their star players gets permanently benched, wouldn’t it?
Ah, fuck. Dean doesn’t want to think about this; he’d successfully avoided thinking about this since he’d woken up sans nose and eyebrows and the other body parts that make life worth living. But now that he’s thinking about pink elephants the foremost question is: what’ll happen if Dean never changes back?
What if this is it for him, for the rest of his life, where he can never again laugh, or brush his teeth, or eat pie, or dance badly, or all the other things that human beings take for granted? He’ll have to stay in the bunker for the rest of his life, however long that lifespan may be.
Sam will be all alone out there, without anyone to properly watch his back. He and Dean may have done their fair of fucking up in that arena – it apparently takes more than the world ending to make them remember they work better together than not – but they’re in a good place now. They have the bunker, which is giving them the chance to put down their roots or whatever it’s called, and although it’s over someone else’s roots that just means they know the foundation isn’t going to collapse beneath their feet any time soon.
But then there’d be no more hunting, no more human food, no more sex. No more dragging Sam out for movie marathons between cases and arguing over what kind of popcorn to get. No more bars, no more pool, no more driving his baby with the windows down.
Dean knows that he’s been here before, and in the grip of far worse fears. He’s gone to Hell for fuck’s sake, and while they may be still picking up the pieces from how that went down,
but Dean and his brother are still conscious, still present, still holding on to the impossible chance of making things better.
He needs to focus on the positive side. He’ll still get to see Sam every day, right? And he can communicate, and although it’s going slower now he’ll get better it, and he’ll still be able to help with them in hunts somehow because he’s Dean fucking Winchester and he’s not going to sit in a goddamned bucket for the rest of his life.
“Dean!” Cas exclaims.
Dean snaps out of his daze, and finds that Cas is hovering over him, scowling. Dean hadn’t seen Cas move, or that Cas had a put a hand on his head to get his attention.
“Dean,” Cas says again. “Dean, are you there? Answer me right now.”
“Gorp!” Dean says. He rolls his tentacles stiffly, discomfited by Cas’ proximity and trying to lean back, but the pressure on the back of his head doesn’t ease up.
“Give me something else,” Cas says.
Dean sighs. He slides sideways to the tablet, picking up the stylus. Dude wat
Cas exhales with relief. “We don’t know how the spell will affect you. I can’t see you anymore. I can’t tell if you’re there or if it’s… erasing you.”
Yeah, Dean gets that. He reaches out with two tentacles to tap on Cas’ noggin’, hopefully in comforting way. Chill, he wants to say, it’s not so easy to get rid of him. Dean may be internally freaking out but that also means that he’s still normal, and human enough to freak out.
Just worried the usual, Dean types, shrugging. MOL looked 4 cure?
“There’s nothing here on that.” Cas shakes his head in annoyance. “You’d think that would be the main focus of the experiments, but there’s no mention of it.”
Dean nods. He twirls his stylus a little, passing it from one tentacle to another.
Cas hasn’t gone back to his reading, though. He’s glaring at his folders and, as though sensing Dean’s watching him, turns sharply to set that glare on Dean. “Come,” Cas says, which is barely enough for warning for how he suddenly scoops Dean up and guides him onto his shoulders.
Driven by curiosity, Dean settles around Cas’ neck.
“Let me know if you dry out.” Cas takes the tablet in one hand, Dean’s bucket in the other, and stands up.
Cas starts walking, and soon he hits the stairs, Dean meeps. They’re going outside, because that’s the only place that the stairs lead to, and Dean wraps his tentacles tight around Cas’ arms when he reaches for the door.
It’s bright outside. Late in the morning, seems like, the clouds high and the sky clear. The Impala’s spot is empty – a bummer, since she would’ve definitely cheered him up – Ellie’s truck parked nearby, Kevin’s bike propped up on the other side. Dean can’t smell the air, but it looks like it rained recently, the leaves still wet around the bunker’s entrance.
“Shall I take you for a walk?” Cas laughs softly when Dean taps a yes against his forehead.
Christ, it’s good to be outside. Dean spreads out a couple of his tentacles, stretching them widely as Cas walks along. The suckers catch the breeze as they move, and if he closes his eyes it’s not that different from wind in his hair.
They’re quiet as Cas makes his way down the familiar path, Dean enjoying the slight bounce of Cas’ steps, as though he’s walking on his own feet. His eyes work differently out here, too – the color is less rich, the sunlight a little painful if he looks too closely. Better to keep his gaze mostly focused on the ground, where he can watch the grass whoosh by. Dean misses his car.
When they reach the clearing leading out to the stream, Cas stops. He just stands there for a long moment, unmoving.
“Blurp?” Dean says.
Cas starts a little, as though he’d forgotten Dean’s there. He winds a hand around the tentacle draped down his chest – just holding. “I walked this way,” Cas says distantly. “While trying to find the bunker by memory that first time. I passed by that tree, but got turned around. Headed back to town after that.”
The tablet is still under Cas’ arm. Dean doesn’t feel like typing, though, so he just hums softly, curling another tentacle behind Cas’ neck.
Cas takes him past the clearing and down to the stream, where he finds a place to sit on a fallen log. Dean has a go checking out the stream, which is pretty cool at first but then he discovers the hell of trying to walk on the ground and getting debris stuck all over himself. He snaps his beak at Cas to pick him up; Cas only laughs at him a little, so Dean doesn’t retaliate beyond flicking his ears.
This was a good idea. It makes perfect sense to sit quietly in Cas’ lap while Cas plucks leaves and twigs off of him. Cas’ hands are surprisingly gentle, not that Dean’s ever thought about Cas’ hands much before. Not that there’s anything wrong with touch, either – buddies touch, and Dean’s perfectly happy invading other people’s personal bubbles when invitations are wide open. Cas isn’t like that, though – he tends to keep to himself more often than not, hands usually in the pockets of the oversized jackets he likes to wear. Trying out this new tactile thing is good for the guy, definitely.
So Dean stays right where he is. Cas’ deft fingers are little points of grounding pressure that remind Dean that he’s real, and that even though his skin has the consistency of damp, thorny leather, there are still things that feel good.
Sure, he’s effectively allowing Cas to pet him, but who gives a fuck, he’s an octopus.
“I like to come out here sometimes.” Cas says softly, as though reluctant to break the peace of the moment. “There are more ruins beyond the line of trees. The Men of Letter’s secondary storage locations, we think.”
Dean glances up at Cas in surprise. He takes the stylus, tentacle dipping down past Cas’ leg to the ground, where the tablet is resting. We?
“Kevin and I explored it the other day,” Cas explains. “While you were on that case in Wyoming. We didn’t find anything useful, or we would’ve told you. Just empty crates and rusty piping.”
That makes sense. The initial glow of discovery hasn’t yet faded, though lately Dean’s taken to basking in and modifying the sections he’s become familiar with – his room, the TV room, the kitchen, the little study that they’re in process of converting into a game room. Dean didn’t know Cas has been exploring, though. He could’ve said something. Maybe they did? Sam would know. Dean seems to have missed some things.
“Are you all right?” Cas asks.
Dean taps a quick yes on Cas’ wrist. After that it just makes sense to leave that tentacle there, wrapping the tapered end loosely around Cas’ forearm. Dean doesn’t want to move just yet.
Sure, Dean likes his noise, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the lack of it. Sam knows this better than anyone. Cas doesn’t, of course, because he hasn’t hung around long enough through crises and injuries and ends-of-the-world to know the negative spaces in between. Cas keeps moving, keeps jumping from one point to another without so much as throwing a nod Dean’s way.
Except Cas is right this moment sitting on a log, not talking, his hand resting in an arc across Dean’s head as they watch the stream do its gurgling thing. They’re pretty much communing with fucking nature, and Dean feels better than he has in days.
After a while Cas says, “You’re drying out.” He has a spray bottle with him, and Dean helpfully splays his tentacles for Cas to mist down.
Cas is humming something, the tune annoyingly catchy, which means he must’ve picked it up from one of the other bad influences hanging around the bunker. Dean could bring his music out here somehow, get Charlie to hook up her laptop or something.
They should do this more often, preferably once Dean has his legs back. Why haven’t they? This spot is awesome, near enough to the bunker that they can get back quickly if there’s an emergency. The sky should be fucking gorgeous at night, too. They should get Charlie and Kevin and Garth out here, make a thing out of it, that’d be cool.
Living on the road has meant that he and Sam take their breaks wherever they happened to be. That’s meant rarely heading to the same distraction spot twice, and while that strategy might’ve worked when Dean was lithe and spry, he’s getting tired. He’s been getting tired (going to Hell and Purgatory does that to a guy, heh) and so this might be as good as it gets.
The kicker is that it’s actually pretty fucking sweet.
Sure, life is far from perfect. Sure, it keeps throwing them as far as it can into the realm of completely fucked up before snapping back, as though God has a personal vendetta against them – which might not even be a metaphor. But they’re on a relatively good plateau right now, the dire straits and big bads out in their immediate future manageable ones.
The bunker is well-stocked, Sam’s healed and hoping, the hunter network slowly being rebuilt now that they have Garth, Jody and Cas manning the phone lines. Kevin, Charlie and Krissy and her posse are repopulating and redefining what it means to be a hunter, Cas and Kevin are making massive headway in exploring and exploiting the Men of Letters’ knowledge base. Sam and Dean hover in between, as goddamn active veterans the way Bobby used to be, which fucking blows Dean’s mind.
Things are good. Aside from the current octopus situation, of course, but that’s a blip compared to the crap they’ve waded through.
Things are definitely good.
“I think we should head back.”
Cas lifts Dean back onto his shoulder. Dean’s feeling pretty good about himself, lethargic in the way that usually leads to chilling on the hood of the Impala with a cold beer. Since that’s not possible he makes do by hooking two tentacles into Cas’ collar and draping down Cas’ chest. Dean’s never gone properly spelunking before but he thinks this should be a decent comparison.
This new point of view is interesting, as is how Dean can feel Cas’ heartbeat through his tentacles. If Dean concentrates he can also sense the slow swell and relaxation of Cas’ chest as he breathes. It’s cool how octopuses don’t feel dizzy even when they’re hanging upside down.
“Are you falling asleep?” Cas asks.
“Merp,” Dean replies.
He slips into a light doze, only waking up at the press of warm water against his tentacles. They’re back inside the bucker, and Cas is slowly lowering him into his bucket. As much fun as it had been to be outside the water is a relief, and Dean sinks beneath the surface.
“I’m turning on the TV,” Cas says, voice slightly distorted through the water. “The remote is next to your bucket.”
Dean breathes water for a while, appreciating the coolness as it passes through his mouth. Maybe they should get a see-through container or something, smaller than a tank and more mobile so he can stay submerged while watching TV.
Muffled voices drift over from somewhere nearby, slightly drowned out by noise from the TV. Hearing Sam’s name, Dean oozes back up to the mouth of the bucket, catching the tail end of Ellie saying, “Yeah, he called to check in. He said he’s feeling optimistic.”
“That’s good,” Cas replies. “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”
“I’m fine, Cas. I’m the one who’s raining on your parade here. Well, adding to the rain on your parade.”
Ellie has one hand in her jeans pocket and another gesturing in the air, and Cas’ body is curved towards her, his brow furrowed the way it always does when the attention he’s offering is due. Dean’s only an octopus, not dead, but along the way he’d forgotten that there are totally legitimate reasons for someone like Cas to be leaning towards a lady like Ellie.
It’s totally not voyeurism if they know Dean’s right there.
“I was serious, though,” Cas says quietly. “Kevin wasn’t exaggerating when he said he wouldn’t let me touch his Jeep.”
“What,” Ellie replies, “you can’t ask Dean to teach you drive?”
“Dean, let me drive his car? That would be inconsistent of him.” Cas laughs under his breath, and Ellie’s responding grin is toothy. If this were a bar or some other joint like that, Dean might even concede that Cas has got some decent moves.
“Sure, I don’t have anywhere to be for now.” Ellie shrugs. “I’ll teach you. Hell, we can bring Dean along, strap his bucket to the back seat so he gets a better change of view.”
“That’s an idea.” And Cas turns, looking straight at Dean as though he knew Dean was watching the whole time. “Would you like that, Dean?”
Dean blows a raspberry at them, though he waves at Ellie when she makes a face at him. Like he’d want to edge in on whatever angle Cas has got going on, and it’s not like Dean blames him, Ellie’s pretty damn cool and smart and the hotness is just a bonus, really.
Well, whatever, he’s an octopus, he’s allowed to be grouchy because he’d totally have taught Cas to drive if he wanted to learn and the only reason he hasn’t is because Cas never asked. He would even offer to teach Cas right now if he could reach the gas pedals.
“I’ll put on a movie you like,” Cas says. “Tell me what you want to watch.”
Dean gurgles, his bucket swaying precariously on the couch before Cas plants stabilizing cushions around him. He reaches for the remote, and yelps when Dean pops a couple of suckers on his forearm.
“You still want the remote? Even now?” Cas makes a face, unimpressed by Dean’s fine motor skills pulling the remote into his mass of tentacles. “Fine. I’m going to continue my reading.”
Dean can sit tight until Sam gets back to them with good news. It’ll take him ten, fifteen minutes tops to figure out how to work the remote in any meaningful way, and then maybe he’ll go for broke and figure out the DVD player.
“I miss your voice.”
Dean looks up in surprise.
Cas hasn’t raised his eyes from his reading. By all appearances he is perfectly engrossed in the antics of the Men of Letters, except he’s saying, “I miss your laugh, and your tangents, and your propensity for showing off. For you are intelligent and kind in ways that remind me to stay humble.”
Octopuses aren’t warm-blooded, but Dean would swear that heat has rushed up his face.
“We will do everything in our power to restore you,” Cas continues, still frowning with intense concentration at his papers, “but if we’re thwarted, I just want you to know that no matter what you look like, I’ll still love you. As will Sam.”
As awkwardly as that started, it ends. Cas makes a little nod, as though congratulating himself on a job well done.
Dean doesn’t have to say anything. Hell he literally can’t say anything, and from the way Cas relaxes and goes back to his reading makes it clear that he doesn’t expect any response at all. He’d said that solely for the sake of Dean hearing it, though it’s hard to tell if it made him feel any better.
Dean knows he has Sam and Cas’ backs, that’s not in question.
He loops a couple of his tentacles in the air, feeling them flex and slide against each other. Kinda nice of Cas to say he’d be cool if Dean stayed this way. Dean wouldn’t be cool about it, but it’d be nice if someone else could be.
Dean stares at the TV for a moment, and then reaches over to pat Cas’ knee.
For a moment no one moves, and Cas’ hand returns to that spot right behind Dean’s head, in the juncture near where the tentacles emerge from the rest of him. Dean might even lean back against him because, fuck it – it’s nice to touch and be touched, octopus body or not. Cas is here, has been here for longer than Dean had ever hoped, and Dean hasn’t been taking advantage of it the way he could have.
Sam stands them up, so that’s another twenty-four hours of non-sexy tentacle fun time, during which Dean only made Kevin scream again once and the kid, to his credit, did his damned best to retaliate. As a result they now know that Dean can ink. Oh, and that human-octopus ink is a bitch to get out of cotton.
The next morning starts almost the same way as the one before, with Dean escaping his tank. He sprints past a sleeping Cas to the door, where he wonders whether it’ll be worthwhile to try squeezing through the keyhole. He reluctantly decides it’s better to wake Cas first – for back-up and all that – so Dean lopes up the bars of Cas’ cot and pulls himself up.
He lands near Cas’ ankles. They’re boney ankles, peeking out from the edge of the blanket, and they’re such an interesting shape that Dean can’t help curling a tentacle around one of them. He waits for a beat or two, and when Cas doesn’t kick him in the face, Dean tugs firmly.
Cas makes a half-hearted sound of protest, and tries to pull his foot away. “Dean.”
The tank’s a decent enough place to be unconscious for a couple of hours, but now Dean is awake and restless. Not only that, but before him rises the small mountain that is Cas and his blankets, and Dean is an intrepid eight-limbed explorer. Dean has no knuckles to crack, so he waves the tips of his primary tentacles dramatically, and then starts to climb.
Every so often Cas shifts underneath him, grumbling threats of an earthquake that doesn’t come.
Dean stops on the peak that is Cas’ shoulder, and from there surveys his surroundings. Cas is frowning into his pillow, but otherwise seems focused on ignoring Dean’s existence and the fact that his blanket has been displaced.
It occurs to Dean just then that Cas has never experienced a Winchester prank war. Hot on the heels of that thought is the realization that it’s been literal years since he and Sam have had it out that way and, instead of that being depressing, it’s actually exciting, because now they have the bunker as a potential battlefield and new allies to seduce to their causes and Cas is going to be so confused at first but Dean will get him into it, he just knows it.
“If you’re trying to make a point, it’s not working.” Cas’ eyes are open but half-lidded. “What do you want?”
It’s an innocuous question, but Dean goes still at the voicing of it. Dean wants plenty of things, aside from the obvious. He wants a proper human breakfast, and for Sam to get home already, and to figure out some not-uncool way to say thank you for Cas’ – patience, whatever – with him for the past few days and to figure out why Cas blinking sleepily at him feels like a reward for something he hasn’t done. He wants to know what Cas dreams about.
“You know where the kitchen is.” Cas flails for the blanket, and sighs when Dean kicks it away. “I’m sure you can figure out how to open the fridge yourself.”
There’s a click when the door opens. Standing there is the blessed sight of Sam, who immediately says, “Dean’s blue. Why are you blue? I’m pretty sure you weren’t blue when I left.”
Cas yawns. “Camouflage. Dean’s picked up some of the species’ useful talents.”
Sam eyes drop to Cas’ blue shirt, and then back at Dean. “I see.” His solemn expression is a familiar, dangerous one, and it remains perfectly still when he whips out his phone.
It takes Dean a second or two to realize what Sam’s doing, but by then the flash has gone off. Dean leaps.
“Hey hey hey, oh shit!” Sam flails wildly in face of cephalopod assault.
Fact is, Sam may have advantage of limb length but Dean has advantage of limb number, and before Dean even realizes what he’s managed to do he’s found his way inside Sam’s shirt and his brother is making the best girly screams Dean has ever had the pleasure of being responsible for.
“Charlie told me to take a picture!” Sam screams, which just gives Dean all the more reason to resist. Dean bleeps an objection when hands – Cas, he realizes belatedly – grab handfuls of tentacles and yank him off of his brother.
Sam clutches himself, the drama queen. “Has he gone feral?” he wheezes.
“Let’s hope not.” Cas sighs when Dean shimmies up his arm and onto his head, where he has a decent chance of looking Sam in the eye. “This is uncomfortable for me.” Dean just wraps a pair of tentacles tightly around the forehead underneath him, and Cas sighs again. “I need to brush my teeth.”
“Okay, but first.” Sam tugs his shirt down, and carefully takes a step back away from them. “Where’s the statue?”
“Where you last saw it.” Cas tugs on one of Dean’s tentacles. “See, of course Sam would come through.”
“Pfft,” Dean says, which has Cas shaking with soft laughter.
“I see Cas has been treating you well,” Sam says wryly. “Is that an octopus thing?”
Cas tilts his head, and Dean gurgles unhappily at the threat of being dislodged from his perch. “It’s an octopus thing,” Cas says. “I assume the trip with Charlie was useful?”
“Oh? Oh yeah. Charlie found a supernatural alchemist – a half-warlock or something, we never really cleared that up properly – that recognized the artwork on the statue. I’m guessing it was important for the Men of Letters’ alchemy work. You know how their recipes go – dragon tears, werewolf claws, and in some cases… demon-repellant octopus ink. As far as we could tell, they got volunteers to transform so they could, uh… milk them.”
“Blorp!” Dean exclaims.
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” Sam says. “Although we might want to save some of your ink before you—”
Dean snaps his beak indignantly. Cas sighs and tightens his grip on Dean.
“So…” Sam says. “What we should do is poke you with the statue again.”
Dean flares his tentacles. “Mrak!” he swears.
Sam shrugs helplessly. “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
The pain’s pretty much the same going in the other direction. As Dean toughs it out his brain, in desperation for something to think about, ponders the interesting philosophical questions that this little episode has brought up, i.e. will the body he get back be the same one that he left behind? Pagan magic is well and good, but he’s literally growing out his bones and muscles and other fun body parts he’s been missing, so he might be coming out of this all rehymenated again. Heh.
The pain eventually starts to fade, a steady pulse ebbing away from Dean’s consciousness until it’s done, and he can open his eyes.
Unfortunately he’s wrapped in something crinkly and soft and smelling like plastic left out in the sun too long. Dean pushes, and then realizes that he’s pushing with fingers, which he spends a couple more seconds wiggling in appreciation. He still can’t see much beyond the shroud, where there’s the suggestion of a light source somewhere overhead.
“Motherfucker,” Dean says. It’s an auspicious way to christen his newly-remade mouth. “Dude, what the hell.”
“You’re awake!” Sam exclaims from somewhere nearby. “You’re in a, a cocoon of some kind, we weren’t sure whether to touch it or not, it might affect the reconstruction of your—”
“Yeah yeah, just cut me out,” Dean says.
“What if you’re not done transforming? Are you sure you have all your—”
“Now, Sam!” There’s a heavy sigh, followed by the flick of a knife being opened. “Don’t poke me, man. Start at a corner.”
It probably doesn’t take more than ten minutes for Sam to slice a way out for Dean, but it feels like hours on top of the past couple of fingerless days. At the last of it, when Dean’s finally able to push his head through the layers of whatever it is that he’s not going to think about too closely he gulps a breath of air through his mouth, deep into his lungs, and back out.
That’s the ticket.
Sam sits back. “You’re a beautiful butterfly, Dean.”
“Beautiful butterfly is grateful,” Dean declares, just before grabbing his brother in a hug. He’s back to the right size and height, meaning that Sam is only a little bit more of a gigantor than he is, and Dean has a nose and mouth and hands and – he pauses to look down – everything else, fantastic. “How long have I been out?”
Sam, who’s busy peeling off bits of Dean shedding off his shirt, says, “Almost two days.”
“I see you didn’t chuck your guts this time.” Dean scowls. “Did you take pictures?”
“No, of course not,” Sam says. “Kevin did. For science.”
Save the body snatchers pod that Dean just crawled out from, the bedroom looks the same as it was when Dean went under. Dean sits up, stretches his arms, and is mildly disappointed that the crick on his right side is still there despite his rebirth number… what is it now? Geez.
“Okay, that was fun, I’m going to have a shower now,” Dean says. “Where’s Cas?”
Sam is transferring Dean’s cocoon into a clear plastic bag. “Somewhere.”
There’s a pang at that. Cas was there when Dean woke up eight-limbed, and he’d stuck with it through the entire escapade. It would’ve been consistent if he was here making sure that the transformation worked and Dean was okay, because there was definitely a chance that something could’ve gone terribly wrong, and if Cas missed it then he’d totally regret it afterward.
“Oh,” Dean says. “Did he go out?”
“Hmm? I don’t know, maybe.”
“Did he go out with Kevin? With Ellie? Is he coming back?”
Sam stops what he’s doing and gives Dean a weird look. “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know,” Dean says. “This is gross, I need a shower. Give me a towel.”
“I made Cas get something to eat,” Sam says slowly. “He forgets sometimes, you know how he is. He didn’t abandon you or whatever.”
“Oh.” Dean relaxes. “That guy worries too much. I knew it was going to turn out all right.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s supposed to mean, ‘Yeah, okay’,” Sam says neutrally. “And you are definitely gross, so you go have that shower.”
It’s an octopus thing, Dean tells himself. It’s a proximity thing left over from the transformation, just like the phantom arms he keeps trying to use to grab at things but aren’t there anymore. He’d just gotten used to having Cas as a living crutch to get around, and now he has to stand up on his own two slightly shaky feet and skedaddle off for a scrub-down like the independent human being he is once again.
Dean takes a little longer than necessary in the shower, mostly to catalogue the marvel that is the working human body. He does his best to wash away the past couple of days, all the claustrophobia and helplessness and the taste of seafood that he’s going to avoid for the next couple of months for sure. Brushing his teeth is almost orgasmic.
Cas is waiting for him when he’s done. He’s standing outside in the hallway, no doubt summoned by Sam, and his face lightens up when he sees Dean.
“Good,” Cas says. Dean feels a self-conscious tingle at the way Cas slowly looks him up and down. Cas is just checking that everything’s in order, that’s all, it’s perfectly understandable. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah, great.” Dean smiles at him, glad for that stretch of muscles in his face that move where they’re supposed to. He exercises his jaw, chuckling at how fucking good that feels, and Cas smiles with him. “Now we can put that all that weirdness behind us.”
“You might want to take it easy for the next few days. Until you get your bearings back.”
“Yeah, like that’s gonna work,” Dean scoffs. Cas starts to walks away, and Dean quickly moves to catch up with him. “Any cases need looking at yet?”
“I wouldn’t tell you if there were,” Cas says wryly. “We got something for you to eat, so that’s your agenda for now.”
“Oh thank god,” Dean groans. “Something with—”
“No seafood, yes.” Cas’ eyes are warm when he looks at Dean. “It’s in the kitchen.”
Cas sits with him while he eats. The food is fucking awesome – not just the taste and texture, but also the way it moves around his mouth and between his teeth and down his throat – it’s all miraculous. While he eats, Cas explains that he and Ellie went out to town as soon as they confirmed that Dean was past the danger zone, and acknowledges that it’s not as good as Dean’s own meals but they figured that they’d make do.
“There’s more where that came from,” Cas promises. “No need to exert yourself for now.”
As Cas takes their plates to the sink, Dean frowns a little. The food is great and having opposable thumbs is great, but he still feels bereft, somehow. Incomplete. Not as relieved as he should be. Dean still feels disconnected, like he’s not yet real, which is a stupid way to feel when he has both feet on the ground.
Not that Dean’s not grateful. He’s incredibly grateful, and now that he’s back to being tall enough to ride the big kids’ rollercoaster again, he can look back and see just how much it’d helped to have Cas’ presence to rely on. The funny thing is that Cas’ bedside manner usually leaves a lot to be desired, but the past couple of days he’d been, well, he’d been great.
If there’s a way to say that out loud without sounding like a doofus, Dean would love to know what it is. He’s got his freaking voice back, after all, but all he can do is just sit there and watch the play of Cas’ shoulders and arms, remembering how it’d felt like to cling to said shoulders and arms, feeling the flex and firmness every time he moved.
Dean’s fingers clutch restlessly around air.
“There’s pie in the oven,” Cas says over his shoulder. “It should still be warm.”
Cas turns around. “Yes?”
Dean stands up. “Just, uh. The, uh. The past few days, it’s been. Uh.”
“You’re welcome,” Cas says easily. He smiles, and it’s a great smile, one of Cas’ best smiles. But then he turns away, taking the washcloth to wipe his hands, and Dean’s hands are still empty.
Cas isn’t going to touch him anymore. Not the way he’s been touching Dean the past few days, and let himself be touched. No more of those casual tugs on his tentacles, or the pressure of a hand at the back of his head, or the way Cas’ thumb sometimes rolled in little circles almost absent-mindedly against unexpected pressure points.
The tentacles were cool in their own way, but this is the body Dean knows and understands and appreciates. Cas isn’t usually touchy-feely. At least, Dean thought he wasn’t touchy-feely, until it turned out he actually is, but only under highly specific circumstances that are over and will hopefully never repeat themselves.
There’s something downright pathetic about that.
“Hey,” he says again. That’s mostly a warning because Dean’s approaching Cas now, one slow step after another until Cas’ eyes light up in understanding and he can slip his arms underneath Cas’ and pull him close. Cas is predictably stiff but Dean needs this – it’s layers upon layers of thank you stacked up on each other. It’s for everything else that Dean hasn’t said and hasn’t let Castiel say, and everything Dean missed and has to try not to miss anymore.
Then Cas responds. His shifts in Dean’s arms, and then one hand is pressing against Dean’s back and the other on his arm. Dean looses an exhale of relief he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Cas held Dean when he’d been confused and afraid, so maybe he’ll understand this isn’t just for Dean – it’s for both of them.
Dean needs to get over himself and actually try to say something. “What do you have nightmares about?” he asks.
Cas tenses up. It’s very subtle, and Dean probably wouldn’t have noticed if he’d been standing on the other side of the room. (Dean’s been missing a lot.)
“Nothing important,” Cas says. “There are shapes. Indiscernible non-geometric shapes. Shadows and... pressure. It’s hard to explain.”
“Must’ve been scary the first time that happened,” Dean says. He expects Cas to laugh dismissively, but instead he drops his head a little, chin coming to rest on Dean’s shoulder. That’s a yes.
Of course it’d take Dean this long to notice what should’ve been obvious – Cas is an octopus. Not a literal octopus, but for a couple of days Dean knew what it’s like to be shoved into a body that isn’t his, with the wrong body parts and wrong size and no voice and, Jesus Christ, that is Cas’ life now. Dean doesn’t even know what Cas used to look like, or sounded like, or how many limbs he used to have. All Dean knows is the octopus.
Cas doesn’t complain out loud, of course. Cas grumbles a lot but only over the small things; Dean’s never heard him say how much he hates being human, or that he regrets giving up his grace to cure Sam after the tablet fiasco, or that the mundane routines of taking care of himself are a waste of his time. He admitted, once, while they were drunk that first time Dean succeeded in getting Cas drunk at all, that he wouldn’t change a single thing, and Dean’s held on to that.
Dean’s wanted to believe that he is one of the reasons Cas is okay with how his life’s turned out.
Yet… Cas thinks of himself as a guest in the bunker. Cas doesn’t always ask when he wants something. Dean’s been living under the same fucking roof as the guy but he had no idea Cas has picked up habits and chosen favorites and sequestered a small pile of candy in his room because he thinks Sam has been stealing his stash. Maybe Ellie will teach Cas to drive soon, and that’ll put the metaphorical keys in his hand to send him out of Dean’s life. That’s a stupid, selfish way to look at someone else’s choices in life, but Dean happens to be stupid and selfish.
They’ve been hugging for a while now. If Cas were someone else he might notice that this isn’t normal, but he’s not anyone else. He’s just Cas, and this is the longest that he’s hung around without fucking off. Maybe it’s taken Dean this long to get here because he’s been waiting for the other shoe to drop – because, surely, one day Cas will wake up and realize that there are more worthwhile things to do than hitch his ride to the walking disasters that are the Winchesters.
Dean had no idea that Cas thinks of himself as guest in the bunker. (In Dean’s life.) But it’s not like Dean gave him any reason to think otherwise, did he?
When Dean finally moves, his intention is to disentangle them. But shoulders are complicated and elbows have a ridiculously limited range of movement, and when Cas tips his head back a little, frowning as he tries to figure out what Dean’s doing, for some reason Dean’s eyes drop straight to that bow-shaped mouth that’s too often pursed in annoyance when it should be smiling.
Then there’s kissing. It wasn’t in the plan but there’s a sudden epidemic of kissing in the kitchen, and Dean’s the one doing it. The weirdest thing is that he can remember moving forward to take Cas’ mouth but he has no idea why his body thought that was a good idea.
Because it isn’t a good idea. Dean pulls back, ready to say that’s not a good idea but his tongue’s not working right because what comes out is a useless, “Eh.”
But Cas is – holy shit. Cas’ eyes are wide and stunned. More than that, Cas looks fucking stoked. This is the happiest that Dean’s ever seen him and how is he supposed to deal with that? Dean didn’t even know that Cas could look like this, he’s never been so gorgeous, since when has Cas been gorgeous? Cas is just Cas, all their years of friendship and camaraderie and betrayal between them challenging everything Dean’s known about himself and what he wants, and Dean didn’t even mean to kiss him.
Dean realizes he’s panicking. Once he’s realized he’s panicking, he also realizes that Cas’ smile has faded back into something more polite, more normal, and he’s slowly untangling their arms.
This is terrifying. But what’s more terrifying is Cas pulling away.
“Only two hands,” Dean says weakly. He digs his fingers into Cas’ shirt, holding him still. “Gotta get used to that.”
“All right,” Cas says quietly. His eyes are still locked on Dean’s but Dean can see him mentally retreating, and it’s a punch to the gut to know how much Dean doesn’t want that.
Maybe he’d seen that wall all this time and not understood what it was, or how to breach it. He does now.
The next kiss is definitely premeditated. Dean lifts a hand to cup Cas’ chin, even, just so he knows he means business. Cas is a complicated piece of Dean’s life, and after everything that’s happened in the shitstorm that’s his life, Dean deserves something good. And this has the potential to be something so good it’s fantastic, and maybe that’s why Dean’s been scared of it for so long.
“Do you get it?” Dean says against Cas’ mouth, their temples pressed together. “Do you understand?”
Cas nods slowly. Dean wonder if he’s taking a trip down memory lane, too, going back through all their triumphs and failures and the inexplicable thing that kept bringing them back together even when they raged at each other. They survived all of that and come out the other side, and that has to mean something. It does mean something.
At last Cas says, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Good,” Dean replies.
“I.” Cas pauses to lick his lips, almost nervously. “I need you, too.”
“Damn straight you do,” Dean says quickly, though there’s a drum solo going on inside his ribcage that’s fucking distracting. Also distracting is the way Cas smiles again, tentative and hopeful, and it belatedly occurs to Dean that Cas is probably as scared of this as he is.
They’ll figure this out as they go along.
And, if necessary, blame the octopus curse for it.
“We need sun-block,” Kevin says.
“We need a plan,” Dean says, brushing a hand over Kevin’s head and grinning when the kid hisses and twists away. “We’re gonna Enid Blyton this shit, because what’s the point of having a piece of nowhere if we can’t make it out own.”
“You do realize that the point of the bunker is that it helps us stay hidden,” Sam says.
“Dude,” Dean responds, “that is so not the point of the bunker.”
Sam looks like he’s about to argue, but he seems to think the better of it, mouth snapping shut. Maybe it’s because Dean’s grinning at him; maybe it’s because it’s a fucking fine day for a hike across the bunker grounds and Sam doesn’t want to be the party pooper. Maybe it’s because he knows Dean has a point. Sam shrugs, and Dean takes that as the victory that it is.
Cas is using his tablet as a camera. He’s holding the bulky thing out in front of him, taking snapshots as he walks, and he looks fucking ridiculous. Dean’s sure he didn’t say that out lout but Cas raises his head suddenly, meeting Dean’s gaze with a scowl.
“Having fun there, eh Cas?” Dean asks.
Cas must be getting lessons from Sam, because he just aims the tablet’s little camera at Dean and presses click.
“Dude!” Dean exclaims. “You could ask.”
“But then it wouldn’t be candid,” Cas says.
Sam leans towards Cas, stage-whispering, “Dean doesn’t know what Instagram is.”
“I wish I had my boots,” Ellie says. She’s brought a walking stick with her, and so far no one’s asked where she’d found it. It’s definitely a good idea though, because she gets to poke at the clumps of pushes as she walks. Dean makes a mental note to find a (non-cursed) walking stick. “There’s a– you do see that? I think that used to be a well-pump.”
“We don’t even know who owns most of this area,” Sam says. “It’s not like the Men of Letters left a deed lying around.”
“Like that has ever stopped us before,” Dean says. “C’mon.”
It’s great that Dean’s able to walk this path himself now. It’s greater still that the others are keeping up a steady stream of commentary about their surroundings – the trees, the occasional understated landmark on their rout, the half-jokes about setting up a farm here as though any of them could handle that shit.
When they reach the stream, Kevin stops. He’s been this way before – Cas said so – but he’s gone still anyway, eyes almost unfocused as he takes in the view of the water, the gully, the trees beyond with the sunlight filtering through the branches. It’s all very Bob Ross, and so much more interesting when seen through human eyes.
“If you mess this place up, I am going to hurt you,” Kevin declares.
“I’d let you hurt me,” Dean says amiably. “Keep going, let’s find that clearing.” It is a good view, though, so Dean stays there a little while more, long enough for Cas to finally get there after videotaping mushrooms or whatever.
He and Cas have always stood a little too close to each other, before. But now Dean gets to lean closer still, enough that his elbow brushes Cas’ arm. He takes a deep breath of fresh air. “So, what do you think?”
“I think that you deserve all the good things in the world that you want,” Cas says solemnly.
Dean coughs. “I mean about doing something out here. Nothing fancy, you know what I mean.”
“That would be nice, too.”
Dean doesn’t resist when he feels feather-light pressure on his wrist, Cas brushing his fingers against Dean’s hand. Dean thinks he’s better equipped to deal with this now, and not only because he knows what it feels like to be carried in Cas’ hands and know that he won’t be dropped.
Dean’s also too tired and too fucking old to be afraid, so he moves his hand, slipping his fingers between Cas’ and squeezing. Cas’ sharp intake of breath is totally worth the way Sam double-takes when he glances back and sees them.
“Dude,” Sam exclaims. “It was your idea to come out here, don’t think you can slack off halfway. Are you coming or not?”
“Just waiting for you to clear a path with those feet of yours!” Dean yells back.
Cas laughs. His laughs are soft, and almost as hard to coax out of him as his smiles used to be. Cas may not be the type for loud guffaws or belly-clutching gasps, but he might get be persuaded to expand his range. Dean would like to help him with that, and it’s a better goal that some of the others Dean’s had lately, that’s for sure.
And fuck it, Dean does deserve good things. They all do.
Cas rubs his thumb against Dean’s, and Dean lets him. “Thank you.”