Purgatory is not just the forest. Sometimes they slip sideways into deserts, stretching flat and grey beneath a moonless sky. There is a river, sometimes, cutting black and swift between rocky cliffs as pale as bone. Dean does not need Cas’s warning not to drink.
Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, there are buildings. A whole city, once, rain-washed streets and flickering neon signs, where all the doors were locked and all the windows opaque as a cataract. Cas hurried them through, his wings flaring protectively (Dean can see them more and more the longer they stay.)
Everywhere they go, monsters are waiting.
Dean has killed more bump-in-the-nights since they landed here than in his whole previous hunting career. Although killed is perhaps not the right term, since they only shudder and collapse and then get up again, if you give them long enough. That was downright disturbing, in Dean's opinion.
("What the hell, they can't be killed?" "This is Purgatory, Dean. They are already dead. There is no where else for them to go.")
It wore on him, the endless violence, the way that his own wounds closed up but still seemed to ache, so that he was always, always hurting. Occasionally, rarely, they come across a place that seems emptier than others, where they can breathe for a moment.
Right now, it is a house, a ruin that nonetheless seems friendlier than the forest (again, forest) that they are making their way through. Cas pauses, head tilted back to observe the cupola at the top. The door sags open, revealing a shadowy interior.
Inside, the white non-light spills through the windows in a way that almost seems normal. They make their way through empty rooms and hallways where the wallpaper peels in huge swaths and the plaster has fallen away from the lathes. There is a weird dry smell, something like old books and something like cloves. No dust rises at their footsteps.
“Cas,” says Dean and his angel stops, looks at him. “Is this - are we safe here?”
Cas considers, his eyes flicking ahead to a narrow stair that rises past a high window. Broken boards litter the floor. “No,” he says. “But safer.”
“Did someone used to live here?” Dean picks at the wallpaper. It was roses once, he can tell, but now there is nothing but a bare ghost of colour.
“I don’t know.” Cas leads on, up the stairs.
Above, there are remnants of furniture, tables and chairs and in a large room with a domed ceiling, a massive bedframe with the mattress still intact. A tangle of bedclothes lays across it, and in the center of them, a large, dark stain.
Dean presses a fingertip to it, draws it away dry.
“Blood,” says Cas briefly.
“Human?” Dean asks and then feels stupid.
“Unlikely,” says Cas.
Dean shivers and Cas moves in, wraps his arms around Dean and lays his head against Dean’s back. Dean relaxes minutely as warmth steals back into him.
“How bad is it?” asks Cas.
“Not too bad,” Dean says. “Couple minutes should do.”
“By which you mean, you should have said something an hour ago, and will now need at least ten minutes,” Cas responds.
Dean makes a small, irritated noise and carefully, skittishly, lays his hands over Cas’s, where they are folded together on his ribs. The warmth intensifies. Tears prick Dean’s eyes, as they always do.
Purgatory. Fucked up place. No need to eat, or sleep, or any of the other bodily bullshit, but he can’t go half a day without a hug. Tactile reassurance, as Cas calls it, which is better than his first label, bodily communion. First shakes, then dizziness, then cramping and chills and it was only because Cas thought he needed physical warmth that they’d discovered what the cure was.
“This is not a place for humans,” Cas had said, tucking Dean’s trembling hands together against his chest and wrapping all his angelic limbs around Dean’s shuddering body.
“So w-what?” Dean had managed. “I’m Purga-sick?”
“As good a term as any. Now stop speaking.”
In a way, it had become something to depend on. In the absence of regular day/night cycles, or the need to sleep, their stops to hug it out lent a kind of rhythm to their travel. And Dean, though he would never admit it, looked forward to it with the sad eagerness of a starved puppy. Standing there in the weird abandoned bedroom, eyes shut, fingers gripping Cas’s a little too tightly, the solid presence of Cas along his back was like an anchor. The one thing left that was real, dependable.
When he opened his eyes again, the bedroom had shifted into a cave, low and damp. And occupied.
“Shit, we did a slip!” he said, groping for his knife.
Cas was already wheeling away, wings snapping open, angel blade bright in his hand.
Werewolves, Dean thought, or maybe something else. Nothing looked the way it did back in the world, here, everything was stripped down to their essential natures. Teeth and claws and whip-fast lean muscle. He could hear the rustle of coat and feather as Cas let loose behind him. Shadows moved, and he let instinct take over, felt the knife catch and drag, felt the wind of a missed strike buffet his hair.
I liked that house, he thought, absurdly, and then he killed, and killed, and killed.