Length - 8,427
Author - lafleurdumal85
Rating - PG-13
Summary - Sam and Dean go to Michigan to investigate the disappearances of children, and Sam starts to believe that the Slender Man is responsible. Dean thinks it's all bull, but he's got his unresolved feelings for Castiel to deal with as well.
Warnings - language, sexual references, Slender Man
Spoilers - Set in the aftermath of 'Unforgiven', so spoilers for that.
Disclaimer - I own nothing, I earn nothing. The title is from the Dutch name for Slendy, meaning 'Branch Man'.
“I still can’t believe Cas tried to hug you.”
“Dean, seriously, give it up already. Now, you wanna take a left at the next exit.”
Dean gave his brother a sidelong glance; he looked pale and tired in the dim reflection of the headlights. He tried to quell the pang of worry that knitted itself in his chest. Sam, his Sam was back now, and Dean was going to make sure that he was okay. He’d do his job properly this time. No more touching the wall for Sammy. Dean grimaced contemptuously. Great Wall of Sam his ass – it’d been more like a flimsy modesty screen. He wondered briefly whether Death had done it on purpose.
“I’m just saying. I mean… Cas has never tried to hug me.”
“That’s because you’re an abrasive jerk, Dean,” Sam sighed. “You’re the one who’s always bitching about his lack of respect for your personal space or whatever. Can you really blame the guy?”
Dean pouted sulkily, and silence fell in the Impala for the next couple of miles.
“And I can’t believe you turned him down! I mean talk about kicking puppies, Sam, I—”
“Oh my goooood!” Sam groaned loudly. “Dean, would you shut up about this already? It’s not a big deal! I very much doubt that Castiel was mortally offended. Besides, I wouldn’t have exactly felt comfortable with it, I mean he’s your… angel.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The unnecessarily long pause! What?”
“No, what were you going to say?”
“Dude, it’s nothing. Now can we please talk about something else? I mean, kids are going missing. Don’t you think that’s a little more important than me and Cas not hugging?”
Dean sighed. “Fine.”
They were driving to Beechwood, Michigan. It was a small town with a population of just under one thousand and it usually stayed well under the radar, but in the past two months five children had gone missing. The usual panic about sex predators had ensued, and state authorities had become involved, but to no avail. None of the children had been found. Bobby had been alerted about the situation when one of his contacts in the area called him about it after the mother of one of the children had claimed that her daughter had been taken by ‘a man made of shadows with no face.’ The woman had killed herself two days afterwards. Bobby had passed the case on to the Winchesters, and while Dean still wasn’t convinced that there was anything supernatural in it, there were missing kids involved. Besides, he thought that it would be good for Sam to have a distraction right now.
Even with the roads clear and the weather good, they didn’t pull into Beechwood until past ten in the evening, too late to start any kind of investigation. Another fly in the ointment was the fact that Beechwood was not the kind of place that harboured the run-down, ask-no-questions motels that the brothers preferred to frequent. They ended up having to stay in a very expensive inn which provided chocolate mints on the pillows, and a vase of flowers on the windowsill which immediately set Sam sneezing. Still, it wasn’t like Dean was paying: some guy named Isaac Winter was.
Dean had been ready to crash as soon as they got to their room, but he emerged from the bathroom to find Sam sitting up against the headboard of his bed, his laptop open in front of him.
“Dude, would you get some rest? We need to be sharp tomorrow.”
“I won’t be long,” Sam replied, not taking his eyes off the screen. “I’m just checking whether there’ve been any new developments.”
“Can’t it wait till the morning? You barely slept last night, and—”
“Dean.” Sam was looking up at him with big, soulful eyes, and damn it, it was just as effective now as it was back when he was seven. “Dean, I just… feel better when I’m doing something.”
Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. “Look, I know things are… We’re gonna figure out what happened, Sam, I promise. I’ll get Cas on it.”
“It’s not just that. It’s… Dean, I keep thinking about the stuff I did, and I know you don’t wanna talk about it, but I know I must’ve—”
“Sam, don’t. Look, it… it wasn’t you, okay? It wasn’t your fault. Just, please stop. I need for you to...”
“Just go to bed, okay?”
Sam slammed his laptop shut and stomped off to the bathroom.
Dean groaned and flopped back onto his own bed. He hadn’t meant to yell at Sam. All he’d wanted, all he’d ever wanted, was to make sure that Sam was okay, and he’d failed. Despite all his efforts, he’d watched his brother get pulled further and further into darkness. He’d watched his brother fall into the same Hell that Dean had gone to to save him. It didn’t matter that he knew logically that Sam was an adult and could make his own choices and was, hell, probably a lot stronger than Dean in a lot of ways. The voice inside of him, the ten-year-old part of himself who had been told over and over by his dad to always, no matter what, look out for Sammy, said that it was his fault. Dean had failed in his duty, and seeing Sam so guilty and afraid when, fuck it, he had no need to be, just made Dean feel even worse. He took off his jacket, boots and jeans, and when Sam had finished in the bathroom, Dean was busy faking sleep.
The following morning, Dean was woken up by the rain. He lay in the half light, listening to it hammering on the windowpanes, savouring the brief moment of peace, of not having to do anything. After about half-an-hour Sam started to stir, and Dean decided to go take a shower.
They arrived at the local sheriff’s office just before nine, and the place was in uproar. They soon discovered why. Thomas Baines, one of the missing children, had been found. He was dead. He had been discovered in the woods that surrounded the town in the branches of a large beech tree, his small body horribly contorted. The thing that surprised the officials was that Thomas has been one of the first children to be taken, yet from his condition he couldn’t have been dead for more than a few hours when he was found.
“We’re out of our depth here,” the pale-faced sheriff told the brothers. “A town like Beechwood… we’re just not prepared for something like this. God, I… I have to tell his mother. I’ve known her since we were at school. I… I’m just glad that someone had the sense to call in the FBI. I hope to god you can help. Someone has to stop this monster!”
Sam nodded sympathetically, and started to ask the man questions about what had happened on the nights of the disappearances.
Dean was happy to let his brother take the lead; Sam was always better at winning people’s trust. He felt sick. There was something really nasty about this hunt and Dean hated, had always hated anything that targeted kids. Whether this thing was human or supernatural, he wanted it dead. He wanted to kill it.
He had an aching, just below his chest and just above his stomach, to call Castiel. It always surprised Dean that it was almost a physical need, just like that ache he’d get for the whiskey bottle whenever the silent scream in his mind got too much to bear.
He beat the urge back down.
Okay, so maybe Heaven wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Okay, so Cas was clearly having a pretty crappy time of it up there, and maybe he would rather be back here, but that didn’t mean that Dean was his priority. Now that Dean was no longer anyone’s vessel, he couldn’t expect things to go back to the way they were, when Cas was at his side.
It bugged. And the fact that it bugged really bothered Dean. He wished like hell that he wasn’t so damn needy all the time, and he resented Castiel for becoming one of the people that he needed. Unattainable, inhuman Castiel.
As horrible as this investigation was, Dean had to admit that being back on the job was good for Sam. It had brought him out of his own head, given him a reason to do something, and Dean knew that trying to help these people was probably assuaging some of his brother’s guilt. It always worked for him.
As soon as their interview with the sheriff was over, Sam decided to go talk to some of the parents of the missing children to see if he could pick up on something the authorities had overlooked. Dean said that he was going to go into town and see if he could find any leads there. He didn’t think he could cope with grieving parents right now.
The irony of it all was that Beechwood was such a pretty town. Not somewhere he’d ever think of living, but he could definitely see the appeal. Dean had learned at an early age not to put any store by appearances, but it always made him feel kind of sad when places like this were marred by evil. The supernatural should damn well know its place and stick to abandoned mental asylums and creepy old apartment blocks.
There seemed to be a few people in the local coffee shop, and Dean figured it was as good a bet as any. Dean went inside and ordered a black coffee and a sandwich. The woman behind the counter eyed him strangely. In these small towns the locals were often suspicious of new faces, and Dean figured that with recent events, he really couldn’t blame them.
“I’m with the bureau,” he told her, flashing his fake ID and his most winning smile. “My partner and I have been called in to investigate the missing children.” He spoke just loud enough that he could be heard by the other patrons of the coffee shop. That was the other thing about these small towns: if people had a story, they liked to tell it.
The woman behind the counter relaxed a little. “Well, thank god. Someone’s got to do something! I tell you, I’ve never been more grateful that my own kids are all grown up and away at college.”
Dean nodded. “We’ll do whatever we can. And if you know anything that might be useful, please don’t hesitate to come forward.”
He went to sit by the window. He didn’t look up from his food, but he could tell that every eye in the place was on him. The group of teenagers at the table next to him were all whispering furiously to each other. It was only a matter of time.
Sure enough, before he’d finished his coffee, one of the girls leaned over.
“Um, excuse me? Mr FBI agent? Um… the FBI, that’s, like, where the X-files is, right?”
Dean looked up at her. “Uh, we don’t actually… but yeah, we look into unexplained events. Why do you ask?”
The girl’s eyes flickered back to her companions cautiously. “Well… it’s just that we know what’s responsible.”
“Jenny!” one of the boys hissed. “Look, you’re… this is all bullshit. Stop wasting his time.”
“Michael, you’re just as scared as I am, and you know it’s real!” Jenny retorted. She turned back to Dean, biting on her lower lip.
“If you think you know something,” Dean told her, “even if you think it sounds crazy, you should tell me.”
Jenny nodded. “It’s just it’s… it’s our fault. Not just us, I mean, all the kids at school. I…” She sighed. “Have you heard of the Slender Man?”
Dean blinked, taken aback. “Well, I… I’ve heard the stories, but—”
“He’s here!” Jenny whispered, her eyes wide and terrified. Michael shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Look, I know this sounds insane, but it’s true! That’s Tatiana.” She pointed to a girl at the other end of the table who looked as though she’d rather be anywhere else. “She lives next door to Lucy Colbert, one of the kids who was taken. Now Lucy told Tatiana two days before she disappeared that she’d been seeing a really tall man in a suit hanging around, and she was scared of him. She said he was whispering to her at night, through her bedroom window. Tatiana thought Lucy was just being silly because we’d all been talking about the Slender Man legend, but then…” She bit her lip again, then looked up at Dean with tears in her eyes. “It’s our fault. Everyone at school was talking about the stories, trying to freak each other out, you know? But that’s what summons him! When… when you think about him, you bring him to you! We… we’ve brought him here, and we don’t know how to get rid of him!”
Dean was momentarily lost for words. He couldn’t believe that anyone, even teenagers, actually believed in those stories. “Uh, look,” he said. “This isn’t your fault; you didn’t summon anything. The Slender Man was made up on the internet, okay? He’s not even a real monster. What’s happening here is horrible, but there’s no way any of you are responsible just for telling a few scary stories.”
“We’ll look into what Lucy said about the guy in the suit. That could be a lead, and I’m grateful to you for letting me know. We’ll catch whoever’s doing this, but I can assure you that it’s not… that. Don’t blame yourselves, okay?”
He downed the rest of his coffee and left. Teenagers. Still, beneath all the hysteria and nonsense, there had been some useful information. A tall guy in a suit. This suggested that the kidnapper was most likely human, just as Dean had suspected all along. It was kind of a relief; humans tended to be much easier to kill than monsters.
Sam got back to the hotel about an hour after Dean did.
“Anything?” Dean asked.
“Maybe. Probably. Mr Smith, Jackson’s dad, said that for about a week before their son was taken they’d been finding dead animals outside their house. The cops didn’t think it was important because they live in a wooded area, but it might mean something. And then Mrs Forrester, Dawn’s mom, said that Dawn had been having nightmares before she disappeared about a pale man looking through her bedroom window at night.” Sam collapsed into the chair beside the desk with a groan. “You know the worst part? They were all looking at me like I was the one who was going to find their children and bring them home alive.” He looked up at Dean. “You find anything?”
“Nah. Well, maybe. I gotta say, Sam, I think it’s a human taking these kids. A guy. I met a bunch of freaked out teenagers who told me that one of the little girls who went missing was talking about seeing a tall guy in a suit. Of course they were all completely off the wall, talking about how it was the Slender Man of all things. They’d obviously just watched one too many of the Marble Hornets videos and freaked themselves out, but…” Dean trailed off as he caught sight of the shifty look on his brother’s face. “Oh, Sam, you gotta be kidding me!”
Sam at least had the decency to look slightly embarrassed. “Well, Dean, you have to admit, this is the Slender Man’s MO.”
“Sam, no, I call bullshit.”
“I hate to say it, but it all fits.”
“Sam are you… you do realize that the whole Slender Man myth was created on the internet, right? It was a story made up for some website! It’s. Not. Real. All the so-called evidence is just a bunch of… of people with Photoshop and way too much time on their hands.”
“Yeah, I get that!” Sam bit back. “But you can’t deny that this fits the pattern. Even if Slender Man himself is just a story… every story has its origin in truth, right? And how many times have we thought that something didn’t exist only to be proved wrong?”
“Yeah, but this is… there isn’t even any actual lore or mythology surrounding Slender Man, okay? He wasn’t even invented until, like, two thousand and eight!”
“I know that, Dean! But if this… this thing that’s taking these kids is even, I don’t know, imitating Slender Man, then we need to find out as much as we can. Dean, it’s our only lead.”
Dean groaned. “Fine. Knock yourself out. I’m telling you, Sam, it’s bullshit.”
“You know,” Sam said, hunched over his laptop, “there’s actually quite a bit of lore if you look into it.”
“Yeah, and it’s all crap.”
“What about these Brazilian cave paintings?”
“And the German woodcuttings by Hans Freckenberg? I mean, that’s—”
“And listen to this. It’s an old Romanian tale about something called ‘The Tall Man’. Just listen: ‘the tall man stood in a clearing, dressed as a nobleman, all in black. Shadows lay over him, dark as a cloudy midnight. He had many arms, all long and boneless as snakes, all sharp as swords, and they writhed like worms on nails. He did not speak, but made his intentions known’. I mean, don’t you think that—”
“Sam, it’s nothing! The Slender Man was made up! I mean, do you know that that’s an old Romanian tale, or is it something you’ve just found online? And even if it is an actual story, the guy who invented Slender Man probably just took his inspiration from it. Jesus, I can’t believe you’re actually buying into this crap.”
“Dean, I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but maybe the whole Slender Man story is based on an actual phenomenon! And maybe that’s what we’re dealing with here!”
“Yeah, or maybe these children are being taken by some sick fuck, and meanwhile you’re wasting time looking at stories on the internet. I know that sometimes when something horrible like this happens it’s easier to think that was some monster. But you know what? Sometimes it’s people. Sick, fucked-up people.”
“Dean, I’m not a child! I know! But I don’t think you should just dismiss this as—”
“Forget it,” Dean snapped. “I’m going out for a walk. I need some air.”
Dean felt himself grow calmer as he walked. He wished that he’d stop snapping at Sam. He wanted to just be Sam’s big brother again and be friends and be a team. He missed it painfully.
There was a park near the town square, and Dean decided to go in. It was cold, but the sun was shining and he could feel the first stirrings of spring in the air. He thought that was one of the good things about being a hunter. Everything was so urgent, so intense. You were constantly aware of your own mortality, knowing that your game could be up at any moment. It made you really live. It made you appreciate every damn little thing. Dean was always so grateful for the first meal he’d have after a successful hunt. The food tasted better, somehow, for knowing that just one mistake could’ve meant that he wouldn’t be eating it at all. That was what he’d missed in that year away from the job. Sure it had been nice to not worry about getting killed all the time, but it had felt empty, shallow. He needed that intensity.
A woman was sitting on a bench watching two children playing on the swings, and she smiled at Dean. “You must be one of the FBI agents.”
Dean huffed a laugh. “News travels fast.”
“Well, we don’t get too many new faces round here. Besides, you look the type.”
“I hope you find them.”
“We’re doing all we can.”
“It’s just so horrible. I haven’t wanted to let Hannah and Davey out of my sight. My husband’s in the army so he’s not here right now, and… well, we’re all scared.” She laughed, a little self-consciously. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, it’s fine. I understand. Dean looked over to where the children were playing. Hannah, the eldest, was happily spinning around on her swing seat. Davey, who looked to be about eight, seemed pensive and serious. He was staring across the park to the trees on the far side. Dean looked, but he couldn’t see anything.
“I’m Tina, by the way,” the woman said.
“Dean.” He shook her hand. “So, Tina, you haven’t noticed anything that might be of any use, have you? Nothing unusual?”
“Me? No. No, I mean, we’re all a little shaken up. Davey’s in the same year as Jackson, one of the little boys who’s missing, so he’s been upset by it. He keeps having nightmares. Oh, and…” She laughed. “But that’s nothing.”
“No, it’s… it’s nothing an FBI agent would bother with.”
“It’s okay, tell me.”
“Well… it’s just that we’ve been finding dead animals around our house in the past couple of days. Hannah found a cat in the back garden yesterday which she was pretty upset about. But, you know, we live near the woods. These things happen.”
Just then, Davey came running over. “Mommy! Mommy, I’m frightened of the man in my dream!”
Tina scooped him up onto her lap and he buried his face in her neck. She smiled at Dean apologetically. “Shh, it’s okay, sweetie. It’s just a dream, it’s not gonna hurt you.”
Davey sniffed. “But I keep… He’s in the trees. I saw him in the trees, and he was smiling at me. He’s got arms like a spider.”
Tina sighed. “I’d better get them home,” she told Dean. “It’s gonna start getting dark soon. Come on, Davey, don’t think about the nightmare anymore. How do you feel about ice cream after dinner? Yeah? Okay! Hannah, sweetie! Come on, time to get going!” She turned back to Dean. “It was nice meeting you. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know. I’m in the book.”
Dean watched her walk away, leading her two children by the hand. There was a sinking feeling in his stomach. He needed to go talk to Sam.
“Sam, I think that—”
“You go first,” Sam said.
Dean dumped the six pack of beer he’d bought on the table. “Sam, I hate to say it, but I think you might’ve had a point earlier. The Slender Man might not be real, but… but I’m not sure that we’re looking for a human after all.” He told his brother about Tina and her kids. “I think this thing’s targeting them next. We should stake out their place tonight and keep watch. I’m not gonna let any more children be taken.”
Sam nodded seriously. “Sure, Dean, but… I don’t think it’s gonna be that easy.”
“What d’you mean?”
“Well, I just got off the phone to Rufus. I asked him to look into the history of Beechwood to see if anything weird’s happened here before, and… well, he found out that back in 1863 this town was the site of a demon attack. A coven of witches had got together and summoned the thing. They were attempting to bring forth the apocalypse. Anyway, a group of hunters eventually managed to put a stop to it, but… Rufus thinks that things like that leave a mark of psychic energy. You know, like Missouri said had happened to our old house after Mom died. It means the town’s sensitive.”
“Well… you were saying that those kids you met earlier told you that the whole school’s been obsessed with the Slender Man stories? Well… maybe they were right. Maybe they are indirectly responsible for what’s happening here.”
Realisation was beginning to dawn. “Oh, crap.”
“Yeah. Maybe they’ve thought about it so much that they’ve willed this thing into existence. Dean, I think we’re dealing with a Tulpa.”
The trouble with Tulpas, Dean pointed out, was that you couldn’t exactly kill them. Okay, maybe if the Tulpa had sprung from a legend about something that could be defeated by a silver blade or something you might stand a chance, but there was nothing in any of the Slender Man stories about killing the damn thing. They were pretty much screwed. Also, as Sam had observed, it did not bode well for the children who were still missing. The stories never mentioned anyone being recovered, just the odd body turning up occasionally.
“I’m not gonna let it take this kid, though,” Dean said as they sat in the Impala that evening, watching over the house where Tina and her kids lived. It was gone midnight, and nothing had happened yet.
Sam glanced at him sideways. “You know, we could call Cas.”
Dean scowled. “Wouldn’t wanna bother him.”
“Dean, this might be something we could really use his help on. Besides, you know he’d come if you asked him. The guy would do pretty much anything for you.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“No, what? You’ve been making these weird little comments about Cas for days now, and I don’t know what the hell’s going through that freakish head of yours, but either stop it or tell me what you’re thinking cause it’s starting to piss me off.”
Sam sighed. “It’s just… are you ever going to actually acknowledge it?”
“You and Cas. And the epic love you have for each other.”
Dean turned around so fast his neck cricked. “I… what? Sammy, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Oh like you don’t know. Dean, it’s been obvious for ages. Like, way before I went to Hell. The guy’s completely devoted to you. I mean, he changed the course of the entire prophesy, just because you asked him to. He gave up everything for you to be what you needed. And you. You tried to hide it, but I’ve never seen you look at anyone the way you look at Cas. I thought it was a bad idea back then. I thought you deserved to be safe and normal and… and away from everything this life’s about. But you tried that, and it didn’t make you happy. I should never… I should never have made you promise. I’m sorry. But Dean, there’s still time. And I know you’re freaked out because he’s an angel and a guy, and you’re scared of what people will say, and you’re scared of losing everything. But the thing is, Cas isn’t gonna leave. He’s proven that enough times. And… and you’ll never need to worry about having to protect him. Dean, finding love like that is rare. I know that I’ll probably never find what I had with Jess again, and… and maybe every girl I get involved with is going to die or turn out to be evil or… both. But I’m not gonna stop myself from caring about people. Our lives are scary and intense and… and sometimes you have to take risks because if there’s something that’s gonna make you happy, really happy, then you have to take it. And you’re my brother and I’ll love you no matter what. I’m sick of watching you push him away the whole time because of this stupid, fucked-up self loathing you have. Cas makes you happy, and… and I wish you’d just man up and admit that already.”
Dean’s mouth was hanging open; he stared at his brother aghast. “Sam, I… I don’t know what you’re… Look, this is insane. Cas isn’t into me, okay?”
“Um, have you seen the way he looks at you? The way he moves around you? Have you seen how hurt he gets when you snap at him, and how hurt he is by… you turning him away time and time again?”
Sam, you don’t… things aren’t that easy.”
“No, because you won’t let them be that easy. God, Dean, you can tell yourself over and over that this just isn’t you, it doesn’t fit with the persona you’ve created for yourself, that it wouldn’t work out, that it’d be wrong, but you’re just holding yourself back from actually having something that’s good and yours for once. And I’m watching you get more bitter and more lonely, and you’re so damn stubborn that you won’t do the one thing that—”
“Dean, don’t try to change the subject.”
“No, Sam, look at the house!”
Sam looked where Dean was pointing. The front door had opened, and little Davey had stepped out and was slowly making his way round to the back of the house.
“Come on.” Dean grabbed his gun and got out of the car as quietly as possible. They ran across the street and jumped over the fence into the property. Dean caught sight of the little boy as he rounded the corner of the house, Davey’s pale pajamas glowing in the moonlight. He was walking over to the far side of the garden where the trees were, and amongst the trees was… Dean’s stomach flipped.
“Oh god,” Sam whispered beside him.
It was about ten feet tall. It wore a black suit and tie, and its face and hands were pale as a cadaver’s. The moon was shining full on its face, and Dean thought that was the worst thing about it. It had no face. No mouth, no nose, and its eyes… its eyes were empty sockets covered with what looked like spiders webs. It was holding out a skeletal hand towards the little boy, and it was beckoning slowly.
“Davey!” Dean yelled.
“The little boy turned around, dazed.
“Davey, get away from there!”
Sam raised his gun and fired a few rounds at the thing in the trees. Not that it did any good. It just turned and slipped noiselessly back into the forest.
“Davey!” Dean turned around to see Tina running across the garden towards them. “Oh my god, Davey! What the hell is going on here?” She wrapped her arms around her son and glared at the Winchesters accusingly.
“Tina, it’s… we’ve been following… we think we’ve found the thing that’s doing this. It came after your son.”
“What? It? Look, I don’t know what the hell’s going on here, but—”
“Tina, it’s not safe! You need to take your family and leave here, because once this thing’s found a target it isn’t going to stop. Do you have any family out of state you can stay with for now?”
Tina’s eyes were wide and frightened. She clung to her son protectively. “You mean that… he was coming after Davey? Those… those dreams were…”
“Yes. Tina, we’re gonna get this thing, but you need to get some place safe, far away from here. Do you have anywhere you can go?”
“I… yes. I’ve got a cousin in Florida.”
“Good. Go back inside and get your daughter. You need to get out of here as soon as possible, okay?
Tina’s face became resolute. “Okay.” She nodded. “I… okay. Just promise me you’ll put an end to this?”
Sam and Dean waited until Tina and her family had packed up and driven off, and then they went back to the hotel. There wasn’t anything else they could do that night. Sam had contacted Rufus and Bobby, who were both looking into possible methods of destroying the Tulpa. Until then, the Winchesters figured they might as well grab a couple of hours sleep.
Dean was dozing. He was exhausted but there was still so much adrenaline pumping through him, and his mind was buzzing from the night’s adventure. Not just the part with the hunt. He couldn’t stop thinking about what Sam had said to him about Castiel. It was unbelievable that his brother had figured it all out when Dean had never completely admitted to himself how he felt. He’d acknowledged the fact that he liked Castiel ages ago. He was just starting to reconcile himself to the fact that he needed him as well, in the same way that he needed his family. But love? That was a scarier thought than any monster he’d faced. Love. Could he love the angel? Sam, damn it all, was right: Castiel had given up everything, and… and he’d told Dean explicitly that he’d done it all for him. Cas had then proceeded to beat the crap out of him, but Dean couldn’t blame the guy for that. And he did stare at Dean a lot, give him those burning looks. Dean had written it off as the angel being awkward and not knowing how some of the things he did could look a little, well, gay, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe, if Dean kissed him, Castiel would kiss him back. Thinking about it made Dean’s heart beat a sharp tattoo in his chest. He hadn’t let himself get anywhere near the subject before, but now here he was thinking about kissing Castiel. And it didn’t feel weird at all. That was somewhat terrifying. Yeah, okay, there had been the odd hook up with another guy over the years. Dean was open-minded about that kind of thing, and it had been fun, but he’d always thought of himself as being predominantly straight. Maybe Sam was right. Maybe he’d just been trying to live up to the tough guy persona for so long that he’d failed to recognise something so fundamental about himself. Maybe he liked guys as well as women. Maybe he loved Cas.
He closed his eyes and thought about what it would be like with the angel. He thought how it would feel like to kiss Castiel, how it would be kind of scary to be with someone so much stronger than him for once, but also that he trusted Cas. He thought about running fingers through Cas’s hair, sliding his hands under his clothes, pushing that stupid trenchcoat off his shoulders. He wondered what it would be like to be with someone who looked human but was otherworldly, immortal. Would it feel any different? What noises would Castiel make? How would he look? Would he really ever allow this to happen? Dean wasn’t sure if he was brave enough to find out just yet, but he was thinking about it, so that was a step forward. Right now, it was kind of enough to lay there in the dark, vaguely aroused, drifting off to sleep with the thought of Castiel fresh in his mind.
If only that damn branch would stop scraping against the window. It kept tugging Dean away from sleep, irritating him.
Tap tap tap.
Tap tap tap.
Dean sighed and turned over. Come to think of it, he… he didn’t think there were any trees outside their window. Perhaps he had been mistaken.
Tap tap tap.
Damn it! Dean was awake again now. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and padded over to the window. Maybe he could cut the twigs back with his knife or something. He tugged the curtains open and was presented with… nothing. No tree, no twigs. Just an empty sky that was starting to grow light now, and the deserted main street of the town.
He was about to turn away and go back to bed when he saw it. Right across the street from the hotel, in the doorway of an antique store. The thing from the forest. It was swathed in shadow, but Dean knew that it was looking up at the hotel. He knew it could see him. His grip on the windowsill tightened.
As he watched, it turned and slipped away, melting from shadow to shadow. But before it did, Dean caught something, a susurration in the air, not quite a language, but Dean understood it all the same.
“Sam, do you really think that just wandering off into the woods is the best idea?”
Dean hated to admit it, but he was a little freaked. He’d thought that there was nothing of the hell-beast variety that could actually scare him now, but there was something about this thing that gave him chills. Maybe because it was after kids. Maybe because it just looked so damn creepy. Maybe because all the stories said that Slender Man was friggin’ immortal and couldn’t be killed, and it seemed like it had decided to target him next.
“Dean, it’s fine. It’s broad daylight, and this thing’s only ever attacked during the night. We’re okay. Now if we can just find the location of this ritual we might be able to actually put a stop to all this.”
Bobby had called that morning. He’d found out some more information on the nineteenth-century demon summoning, and thought that if they went to the location and performed a cleansing ritual they might be able to diffuse the concentration of evil mojo in the area. The only trouble was that Bobby didn’t know exactly where it had taken place. He’d narrowed it down to a two mile radius in the forest surrounding Beechwood, and that was where the brothers were headed.
“This is stupid,” Dean muttered. “How’re we even going to know the place when we see it?”
“Bobby said it took place at a large, flat rock. It’ll kind of look like a table, I guess. An altar. How many of those can there be around here?”
“Meanwhile, we’ve just got to stumble around in the woods.” Dean hadn’t told his brother about what he’d seen in the early hours of that morning. He didn’t know why.
“We should probably split up.”
“What?” Dean looked up at Sam in alarm. “Why?”
“We’ll cover more ground.” He checked his phone. “The reception doesn’t seem to be too bad here, so if either of us finds something we’ll call. Come on, Dean, let’s just get this done as quickly as possible, okay?”
Dean nodded reluctantly. Daylight or no, his was not fond of the idea of wandering about in the woods when there was an indestructible soul-sucking Tulpa out for his blood. He watched Sam walking away with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Still, the sasquatch was right: they’d cover more ground this way, and he might as well start looking for this altar place.
Dean didn’t like the woods. He never had. It was mostly from a hunting perspective. You couldn’t get a clear shot at something with so many trees in the way, and you couldn’t make an easy getaway either. And then there were so many places that things could hide in wait for you. He stumbled along, his boots catching on tree roots and undergrowth, his hand on his gun even though he knew it wouldn’t do any good. He hoped that Bobby’s theory was right.
The hairs at the back of Dean’s neck suddenly started to stand on end. He stopped, heart hammering, unsure of what had got his nerves buzzing. He realised that the birds had stopped singing.
And then he saw It. He’d almost missed it at first because it was so tall and thin and blended in with the trees almost seamlessly. It was about one hundred feet away at the top of a hill, watching him. Dean hated the way its head lolled to one side, like a hanged man. He immediately pulled his gun and aimed it at the thing. Bullets might not kill it but they’d slow it down, and Dean might be able to get away.
As he watched, two extra arms slowly extended from its torso and the thing leaned forward on them like some great, hideous insect. Dean fired his gun, but at the same time the thing scuttled down the hill towards him with alarming velocity. Dean fired the gun again, stumbling backwards, and he tripped and fell painfully to the ground. The gun flew from his hands.
The thing saw its opportunity. One of those hideous snake-like arms shot out, and bony fingers wrapped themselves around Dean’s ankle. Dean kicked at it, but it didn’t do any good. Its grip was firm as a vice.
The most horrifying thing was how slowly it moved now, reeling Dean in, so sure of its catch that there was no need of haste. It didn’t matter how much Dean struggled and kicked. He managed to get a knife out of his back jean pocket and he slashed viciously at the thing’s arm. Its skin was like a pale husk. It split open under the blade and, to Dean’s repulsion, fat, jet-black spiders oozed out, swarming over each other, knitting the wound together again. A few of them fell to the forest floor where they writhed on the rotten leaves. Dean gagged.
The thing hadn’t even paused.
Dean looked up; he couldn’t be more than twelve feet away now and still that monstrous arm was retracting, pulling him in. Dean tried to grab hold of something, tried to slow his progress. He could hear the death rattle of its breath. It was excited. Dean knew that he would go mad. This was no fucking hero’s death.
Six feet now.
Dean lost his last scrap of reason.
“Cas!” he screamed. “Oh god, Cas! CAS!”
There was a moment of silence where Dean thought that there was no hope left after all, and then the air cracked like a whip. Castiel stood before him, staring at the thing from the forest, his face a mask of fury. In spite of his blind terror, Dean felt awe rise up in his chest. It was at times like this that he remembered exactly what Castiel was.
The thing made a soft hissing noise and extended another of its terrible arms towards the angel, but then there was another crack and Castiel unfurled his wings, made of shadow and smoke, shielding Dean from his attacker. Dean felt the grip on his ankle loosen and he was able to pull free. A soot-black wing gently brushed him to one side, out of harm’s way. Dean could feel its power, but at the same time it didn’t feel like it was solid. More like a force field of pure energy. The touch of the wing against his skin was like brushing his hand over the static on a TV screen.
Dean couldn’t see what was going on now, but he could hear a high pitched screaming squealing noise, then Castiel cried out something in an ancient language Dean didn’t know. There was a flash of white light and then… silence. Dean opened his eyes. The ground where the thing had crouched moments before was charred and smoking.
Castiel stood above him, wingless again, holding out a hand. Dean took it and the angel hauled him to his feet.
“That was… pretty nice timing, Cas.” Dean’s legs were still shaking a little.
“You’re welcome.” The angel looked down at the burnt patch of undergrowth where the thing had been. “What was this? It seemed… different.”
Dean leaned against a tree in what he hoped was a casual way rather than an I-was-scared-shitless-by-something-that-d
“I am aware of the phenomenon,” Castiel interrupted.
Dean cleared his throat. “Uh… thanks for coming.”
Castiel looked up at him, impassive. “I always do. When you call me.”
Dean was grateful that Cas had said ‘call me’ instead of ‘scream my name like a twelve-year-old girl’. “Well, I… I know, Cas. And I appreciate it. I do.”
The thing about Castiel was that he would just stare and stare, and Dean knew that he meant something by it, that he was trying to communicate something he didn’t know the words for, but Dean had never been smart enough to figure out what he was trying to say. It was the most frustrating thing ever, and usually resulted in Dean getting mad and being a dick. But not this time. This time he was actually gonna have a go at this whole being patient and trying to communicate thing that Sam liked so much.
“Cas, I… I just want you to… to know that, uh…” Dean sucked at this. It would help a lot if Cas was the kind of person who’d intuitively pick up on stuff you were trying to say. But he really wasn’t.
Castiel frowned. “Are you all right, Dean? Are you hurt? You look like you’re in pain.”
“Not the kind of pain you’re thinking of, Cas. I’m just trying… I want you to know that I… that it means a lot. What you’ve done for me and Sam. I… I’m told that I can be an abrasive jerk, but I don’t want you to think that I… that I don’t appreciate it.”
Castiel’s expression softened. “Thank you, Dean.”
Dean pushed himself away from the tree and took a couple of steps towards the angel. “I’ve missed you,” he said, and immediately wanted to curl up in embarrassment because seriously, had he actually become a twelve-year-old girl somewhere along the line? “I mean, I… I… that was stupid. I just—”
“I think I’ve missed you too,” Castiel said. “At least, when I’ve been away from you, I’ve thought about you very much and I’ve wondered how long I will have to wait before I can see you again. Time passes more slowly now than it did before, and I believe it’s because of you. That’s what it feels like to miss someone, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Cas,” Dean breathed. “Yeah, it is.”
They’re acting, Dean realised, like two teenagers with crushes on each other. The next step would probably be for him to pass Cas a note with ‘Do you like me? Y/N?’ written on it. Instead he stepped forward again and pulled the angel into a hug.
Castiel was stiff with surprise at first and Dean felt like maybe he should just let go and brush the whole thing off, but then the angel relaxed against him and wrapped his own arms around Dean. Dean let out a long sigh. The birds were singing again now, and everything was so still and gentle and perfect in his post-battle lucidity. Castiel’s hair was soft against his cheek.
“Dean. I meant what I said. I want to be here, with you, watching over you. I never meant for…”
“I know, Cas, me either. It’s okay. I… wish you could stay here too. It’s not the same without you, man.” Dean thought he should probably end the embrace now, but found that Castiel was clinging to him tightly and he knew better than to resist angel strength. “Um… okay, we’re not done. That’s cool.” He rubbed a hand over Castiel’s back.
He pulled back a little so that he could look at the angel. They were so close that their noses were almost touching, and Dean figured that this was definitely straddling the border between comradeship and full-on gayness. It all depended now on how Castiel reacted, but Dean was through being scared of trying. He’d side-stepped death again, and Castiel was too good to let go of. Even if Dean had done nothing to deserve him.
“Cas?” he whispered.
“Dean.” The angel looked slightly dazed. Dean could see how his pupils were fluctuating.
Dean moved forward slowly, so slowly, his eyes never leaving Castiel’s, ready to back off at the first sign of alarm. Castiel just stood there watching him, holding onto Dean so tightly.
The first kiss was chaste and innocent, just a soft brush of lips. Dean pulled back again and was taken aback by the look of wonder on Castiel’s face, like Dean was something precious, like he’s done something miraculous.
Then Dean knew that Sam had been right. He knew he’d been a complete idiot. Castiel really had been there all along, waiting. Dean had only ever had to say the word. He realised that he was trembling in the angel’s arms, and he felt his vision blur. Now this was just getting embarrassing.
Castiel didn’t seem to care, and Dean realised that for once, maybe, he didn’t need to be strong. Cas pulled him close and kissed him again, rapturously, hungrily.
Dean didn’t even care anymore that he was making soft, desperate noises as Castiel kissed him, or that he was clinging to the angel more for support than anything else. Castiel gently lowered him to the ground, running sure hands over Dean’s face, over his chest, kissing the tears away from his cheeks.
“Dean,” he growled, nipping at the hunter’s lower lip. “Dean…”
“Cas,” Dean breathed against the corner of the angel’s mouth. “Cas, we should… I’m not gonna deflower you in the middle of a friggin’ forest, okay?”
He felt Castiel smiling. “I had no intention of letting you.” He pulled back a little, his expression amused. “What kind of angel do you take me for?”
It was at that moment that Sam came bursting through the trees towards them. “Dean! Dean, are you…” His eyes grew very wide when he saw them. “Oh. Um. Oh. I… uh… sorry. I just… I heard gunshots, and… and I tried calling you, but I’d been kinda optimistic about the phone signal being good, and I… um…” Sam was staring resolutely at the tree branches above them. He’d gone a funny shade of pink, and Dean had the feeling that he was trying not to grin.
“Uh, yeah,” Dean said. “Uh, the Tulpa’s gone. Cas took care of it.”
“Oh! Great. Um, thanks, Cas.”
Castiel didn’t seem to think that the arrival of Dean’s brother might be a sign that he should get off of him.
“Well,” Sam said, apparently finding the bush next to him completely fascinating. “I’m gonna… I’m gonna get back. I’ll… I’ll see you later, Dean.”
Dean didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone walk so fast without actually running.
“Sam was acting strangely,” Castiel said. “Is he all right?”
Dean laughed. “Yeah, I think he’s just a little surprised that I’ve actually taken his advice for once.”
“I’ll tell you later.”
Now was not the time for talking. Now was the not the time for anything other than grabbing hold of the lapels of his angel’s coat and kissing him again.
So that was exactly what Dean did.