Dean was in Purgatory, and he was running for his life.
Well, as much as he could run. True to form, the shitty woods he was running through was the worst example of a North American forest, and the space on the ground that was not taken up by massive gnarled tree trunks was a tangle of horrendously thick underbrush. So really, Dean was sort of jogging in a way that moved as fast as a fast walk, because he had already tripped twice and he was pretty sure he was already sporting some extremely nasty scratches, but that was the least of his concerns because he was being hunted.
Whatever it was screeched behind him again. Yipping noises eerily reminiscent of laughter floated through the dead space between trunks moments later. There was a pack of them, red-eyed and creepy, and Dean had no idea what they were except that they were monsters. Cas had cut and run, which was both infuriating and terrifying, and all Dean had by the way of weapons were the Bowie and Beretta he had marched into SucroCorp with. He still had all fifteen rounds in the gun but it was hardly any use when he could not see to aim, and going up against a pack with a knife was just plain stupid. So Dean moved as quickly as he could manage through the undergrowth without falling and hoped desperately for some sort of miracle.
He was starting to get seriously tired—he must have gotten about a mile and a half from the clearing he had been dumped in, although he really could not tell—when the forest abruptly ended and Dean found himself teetering on the edge of a cliff of sorts. Something like fifteen feet below was a huge river, moving fast off to his left around a trio of tiny rocky islands. The full moon suddenly overhead told him absolutely nothing in terms of direction, considering the complete lack of stars in the sky.
The monsters behind him sounded off again; they were right on his tail. Dean made a split-second decision and jumped, hoping in the breathless moment he was airborne that the river was deep enough that he was not going to land badly.
He got lucky. The water was deep, and bitterly cold. He came back up wheezing for air driven out of his lungs by impact and frigidity and swore when he shot past the first of the islands—the current was much faster than he had thought. Blindly he struck out, aiming for the next, cursing the cold that numbed muscles and slowed him down. The second island swept by.
Dean really did not want to think about spending the night stuck in the river and made a last-ditch effort for the third island, and was rewarded when he slammed into some boulders under the waterline a yard out. Dean held on and hauled himself closer to the small outcropping just barely above the current.
The island was hardly worth the title. Maybe twenty feet long and narrow as all hell—seven feet at the widest, Dean guessed, mentally laying out a Sam on the ground and finding only a few inches to spare. One massive tree—it smelled like pine—erupted out of the center of it, casting a shadow in the bright moon light. If Dean remembered correctly, almost nothing monstrous enjoyed living in or crossing over running water, and that alone made the place marginally safer than where he had been half an hour ago. Furious screeching up the river and glowing eyes that were mere pinpricks from this distance confirmed it as the pack of things that had been chasing him clustered on the rocky ledge he had just vacated, all of which were completely disinterested in hopping in after him.
Soaking wet and chilled to the bone, he dragged himself over to the tree and huddled between some of the roots. Five more minutes confirmed that nothing else was coming after him, or at least not immediately. Dean took a gamble and started pulling off his sodden clothing. The night at least was warm even if the water was cold, cutting the threat of hypothermia down significantly; a good thing when he did not appear to have any of the necessary materials to start a good fire.
His situation was terrible. He was stuck in friggin’ Purgatory with two weapons, one of which was extremely limited—Dean had an idea that finding replacement ammunition for the Beretta would be difficult. His knife was not a terrible weapon, being good clean steel, but was a lot more hazardous to use considering the close range it demanded. Anyway, he had no silver on him, no blood except his own, no salt, and every single monster he had ever hunted housed in the forest waiting for him to walk past.
“Probably can’t even kill anything here,” Dean told the tree. “These monsters are just souls anyway, right?”
A howl from the opposite river bank than the forest floated overhead and Dean couldn’t stop the sudden shiver it provoked.
Exploring is fun.
The morning dawned some time later, and Dean watched as the sun rose over the river. He had not gotten a lot of sleep, too jumpy to settle for more than catnapping exhaustedly after crashing from the incredible adrenaline high of sticking that bone in Dick’s throat and then fleeing through a forest.
The landscape was about as welcoming as it was the night before. Forest lined both edges of the river, ridiculously thick and visually impenetrable from any distance as far as he could tell. The river was moving too fast for there to be any significant sources of fish—not that Dean had much in the way of a line or a net to catch any—and very little in the way of plant life looked edible here. (Dean had only once been in a situation where living off the land required finding edible plants, and Sam had been around to bitchily pick out a couple of weeds that were not poisonous.)
Dean supposed there might be some game in the woods—that hinged on the idea that the monsters needed something to eat other than each other—but was reluctant to jump back in the water to try to find any. There were just as many monsters who could hunt during the day as during the night, after all. Instead, he put his damp clothes back on and climbed as high as he could up the pine tree to see if he could see an end to the forest.
When that proved fruitless, Dean went back down and stared at the river, seriously worried. He knew very little about what Purgatory was like, other than every monster ended up here when they died. He was willing to bet nothing here could really be killed, considering they were all souls of monsters already dead, and had literally no idea if that meant he was trapped here body and soul for the rest of his existence or if he only had to die to escape to Heaven (which he really did not consider much of an escape). Worst of all and almost completely irrelevant to the situation at hand, Dean had no idea if Sam had survived Dick’s death and made it out of SucroCorp alive or not.
Call him paranoid, but Dean spent the day watching the slate-gray waters foam past him and ignoring the hunger gnawing at his belly. The island seemed to be a relatively safe area, and the water certainly was not poisoned. He saw nothing moving on the banks or in the river, and Castiel did not appear.
Another sleepless night passed. Sick with boredom, lack of sleep and sustenance, and a pounding headache, Dean finally gave in and prayed to Castiel for the first time in months.
“Cas?” he called, warily. He didn’t want to get his hopes up too much. “Cas, are you there? I could use some help.”
Even company would have been nice, but Cas did not show.
“Figures,” he muttered and stuffed down the sudden, sharp fear the lack of response prompted.
A few more minutes of dithering followed. Dean finally growled a couple of curses at nothing in particular before deciding he would try to scout along the edge of the river he had not landed on in the hopes of finding something to eat. Luckily, there were no cliffs to bar his access to the bank, and he made it across as quietly as he could so that he would not alert any monsters to his passage.
He wound up fifty yards downstream, and Dean frowned when he realized that he would have a hell of a time getting back to the island if he needed to with the way the current moved. He checked the sun to gauge his direction—something like northeast, if it worked the way it did back home—and set off upstream, past the islands and the cliff he had jumped off of.
The forest was eerily silent. There was no birdsong or insects, and the glimmering ideal of some sort of game grew dimmer by the second as Dean uneasily stalked up the water’s edge and found a resounding lack of wildlife.
“Guess you don’t need to eat if you’re all dead anyway,” he finally muttered under his breath a mile upstream as he took a break to survey the unchanging scenery.
“No,” someone answered agreeably. Dean whipped around, yanking his gun out of his waistband as he did so, to see—
“Hello, Dean,” the kitsune who had once been Amy Pond said, half-hidden behind one of the gigantic pines. She looked much the same as when he had killed her, human form and all, but minus the human eyes she had worn until the moment of her death.
“You’re—dead,” Dean said intelligently. The guilt of killing her behind Sammy’s back hit him like a punch to the stomach. It was Osiris’s courtroom all over again.
Amy laughed nastily.
“Yes,” she hissed, and her form flickered before appearing behind another tree closer to where Dean was. “I am dead, Dean Winchester.”
“Get away from me,” Dean growled, keeping the gun leveled on her. “I don’t want to hurt you. Leave me alone!”
The kitsune sighed, shimmered, and reappeared just outside of the tree line. “Don’t you know that you can’t kill me here?” she asked, making no effort to hide her scorn.
Dean shot. She blurred away, impossibly fast, and reappeared mere feet away as he fired again. The shot and her screech of pain as it hit echoed over the silence.
“Son of a bitch,” Dean said as she sank gasping to the ground, eyes fluttering. He was surprised that shooting her had worked.
As a precaution, he dumped her twitching body into the river and watched the current carry her swiftly downstream. He hoped that if she recovered, she would be so far away she could not find him, and spent the next mile sunk in the revived guilt of having killed her in the first place.
* * *
He continued on. Questionable plants abounded, and he found a few things he was confident enough to try eating. They tasted terrible going down, and worse coming back up.
Five miles up he spotted a larger hunk of rocks in the middle of the river. They looked much less like an island than what he had spent the past few days on, but he marked the spot and kept walking. Now and then he got the sense he was being followed, but when he conveniently stopped to retie his shoes he heard nothing and saw nothing.
In the late afternoon he came across some bushes with what he could swear with blackberries. Dean tried a few and waited for a while, remembering his earlier failed experiment. When nothing awful happened he chalked it up to his brilliant survival skills, turned his jacket into a make-shift sack and picked the bush clean before heading back downstream to the pile of rocks he had marked as a potential sleeping spot. He spent another insomnia-filled night wracked with headaches and dry-heaving, finally catching some shut-eye in the wee hours of the morning.
Dean did not bother praying to Castiel in the morning. He just got back to the riverside and kept walking up it. Breakfast was at the same blackberry bushes that yesterday’s dinner had come from, and Dean saved a few handfuls in case he did not come across anything more edible later.
Around noon he came upon a bridge across the river. Here the current was even faster and the water looked darker, and sharp rocks projected from the surface along both ends. The bridge looked old and in disrepair, and the road that led to it and cut a narrow passage through the dark forest was worn and weedy. Dean stopped and eyed the bridge, which was so normal that it was downright suspicious. He automatically ruled it out as a possible route.
The road, on the other hand…
Dean hesitated, and was suddenly furious with himself. “What are you? Afraid of some forest?” he asked sarcastically to the air, the past few days’ worth of worry and fear coming to a head.
“Fuck this,” he spat, and turned his back on the river as he struck out into the forest.
Behind him, a massive eye in the bridge’s stonework opened and watched him go.
A couple of familiar faces.
Two hours later and Dean was starting to think his decision to enter the forest was not the brightest idea he had had.
He was definitely sure that something was stalking him, for one. He had heard footsteps at least twice, though nothing showed itself, and the sense of being watched had come back.
The forest itself was just as bad as he expected. It edged the road with a frightening intensity, almost as though the trees physically could not go beyond the bare strip of dirt. They even refrained from growing overhead, so a strip of dimming sunlight provided light for the road, if not the thick foliage. Odd noises echoed out of the trees, low growls and hisses that did nothing to ease his nerves. Once, twice he thought he saw eyes looking out at him from the gloom, but nothing came close enough for him to identify.
The road stretched out with no discernible curves. Nevertheless, the next time Dean checked the sun’s position to see his relative direction he found he was heading back the way he came—without ever having turned around. Nope, not creepy at all.
There were no other bodies of water that he had seen, nothing living except for plant life, and nothing new in the way of food except for a few more patches of berry bushes. Dean was actually on the verge of turning around to go back to the river and the lonely rocks in the middle of it, when the trees suddenly began to thin on both sides of the road and he found himself on the edge of a massive plain.
It was a vast and treeless place, the forest a tall, dark border to the sun-gold grass sheeting across rolling hills.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Castiel said, popping into existence next to him. Dean jumped.
“Purgatory is actually quite lovely,” the angel continued, unruffled. “If only it wasn’t for all the monsters hunting each other and all.”
“Dude, Cas, focus,” Dean said sharply, channeling his relief at a familiar face into grabbing Castiel’s shoulder and shaking him a little. “Where in Purgatory are we? How do we get out?”
Castiel looked at him blankly without breaking Dean’s grip. “We don’t,” he said.
Dean felt a wave of nausea. He shoved it aside, down, elsewhere because fuck that, he was getting back home to Sammy no matter what.
“There’s no way out from the inside,” Castiel continued. “Why do you think Eve needed assistance in escaping from her children?”
“No,” Dean said flatly. “No, Cas, we’re getting out of here.” He clapped a hand on the angel’s shoulder, firm in the conviction, even though his former hope had been squashed by Cas’s blunt statement. There had to be some way out, they just had to find it!
“Dean,” Cas said gently, “we won’t be able to get out.”
Dean started to tell him that he was wrong, but paused. Castiel, the hunter realized, looked anxious and tired. He looked like he was—
“Yes, I’m being hunted,” Cas said, a touch of exasperation in his voice. “I ruled these souls, for a time. The bolder ones don’t appreciate it.” There was a subtle challenge in the statement.
Dean grimaced at the reminder. “Yeah,” he said after a moment. “Yeah, I remember.”
Castiel did not say anything. He was looking at Dean as though Dean had just turned down pie (way to remind yourself about the lack of food). “Uh,” Dean said, groping for something suitable to say. “Sorry… about that.”
“Why humanity continues to apologize for situations they had nothing to do with I will never know.” It would have been contentious if Castiel had not said it with a small smile.
Dean scowled. “Well are you doin’ okay?” he demanded. “Have things been chasing you around?”
“No, not really. I’ve been moving around too much for anything to start chasing me. But it is… tiring, moving around this much,” Cas admitted. He looked a little unhappy. “It’s uncomfortable, being around all these souls.”
Of course. Probably like Sam around demon blood after Lucifer got out, Dean thought. Temptations of being powerful and the fear of losing your way if you even started off down that route and all that.
“Something like that,” the angel agreed.
Dean glowered at him, and instantly felt guilty when Castiel flinched.
“Sorry,” Cas said forlornly, clearly meaning it. He looked small in his stupid scrubs and Dean snapped at him to cover his own stupid teenage angsting. He wanted to be with Sam, not become him.
“Just stay out of my head.”
“Right.” Dean cleared his throat. “So you’re gonna stay here, right? With me?”
If Cas said no, Dean didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He really did not want to deal with the millions of monsters on his own, and though Cas was all pacifist and “non-confrontational” and shit, it was just better if he stayed with Dean. And what if the monsters got him? What if there were nastier things than Leviathans still in here?
Cas stared at him some more. “I don’t know if that’s wise,” he said hesitantly. “I wouldn’t want to draw any more attention to you than you already have…”
“No,” Dean said firmly. “We’re going to get attention anyway. We might as well do it while we’ve got each other’s backs.”
“But I don’t—”
“Want to be in confrontational situations, I know,” the hunter finished tiredly. He had not really expected Cas to change his tune, but it would have been nice. Still, the most Cas could have done to a bunch of souls was probably… consume them, or assimilate them or whatever he had done to make the Levianthan mess in the first place, and Cas had already shot that idea down. “Look, just keep an eye out for incoming bad guys and it’ll be cool, all right?”
“Dean—” the angel started again, looking worried.
“Cas, I am not going through this without you, you hear me?” Dean snapped, out of patience. “I don’t care if you don’t want to fight I am not leaving you behind again. We are—” and this was touchy but he was barreling on anyway—“family and I’ll be damned if we split up, especially here. Understand?”
“Dean!” barked Castiel. “Behind you!”
Dean spun and saw little more than a blur before he instinctively dropped and dodged. Coming up, he saw his monster amazon daughter—what—and dodged again as she came at him with a spear, which totally trumped his bowie knife in range because god damn it, he was forced to skitter around her like an animal in a circle and wow, what was he doing that was his frickin’ daughter but Sam was not around to back him up here it was just Dean and Dean had to do this because she looked ready to kill now if he could just get her a little more over—
He took his chance and dove into a roll, coming up just close enough to shift the fight to his advantage now that his knife was clear of its sheath and he thrust forward, lightning quick, and somewhere behind him Cas was yelling something about monsters and souls and then—
Emma, moving too quickly for him to really see, knocked his knife out of his hand and it spun away in a high, glittering arc. She followed it up with a blow that had Dean stretched out on the ground, pinned at spear point. She stomped down viciously, driving the wind out of him with a foot to his gut.
“Hello dad,” she hissed, swinging back for a greater strike force. “How’s my favorite uncle?”
Dean swung up and squeezed off one of his precious few bullets right between her eyes as she drove the point down. He felt the long cut the blade made along the side of his throat, and then the fire and warm wetness of blood moments later as she hit the ground.
He scrambled to his feet, buzzing on adrenaline. His headache was gone and his wits were razor sharp. “How long will she stay down?” he demanded.
“I told you, not long,” Cas said, voice fairly steady despite the look of wide-eyed alarm he had on as he reached for the slash on Dean’s neck. At his touch, the burn disappeared. “When and why did you find the time to copulate with an Amazon?”
“Long story,” Dean automatically deflected, grabbing the angel by his arm and dragging him back towards the forest and away from the open plain. “Come on, we need to get to cover before she gets back up—”
A scream behind them heralded Emma’s return to Purgatory at large. Dean cursed. “Can’t you suck up her soul or something?” he asked desperately as they pounded down the road amongst the steadily thickening forest. “You did it once—”
Castiel hauled him around to a dead stop and wrenched Dean to face him. “No,” he said, eyes blazing. “I will not. I will not put anyone in danger ever again for my hubris.”
Dean felt a brief moment of regret for the comment faced with the absolute resolution on Cas’s face. He looked back and saw Emma closing the distance and things seemed to slow down as he realized he regretted that she was here in the first place, no matter how necessary her life-or-death confrontation had been in Seattle. It was a depressing understanding to come to, and it probably had way more implications than he was able to comprehend right now.
The hunter barely registered that he had stepped in front of Castiel as he leveled the gun again and took aim, fully intending to put the rest of the clip into his daughter’s head. Family has to be earned, he thought, half in apology, and Cas earned it more than you did—
—and Emma was gone.
So was the plain and the forest.
Dean was frozen on a mountain now, standing on an outcropping of fractured granite. The mountain sides flanking it in all directions were sheer, loose scree and bare rock at impossible angles. His gun was now aimed at the open air above a nearly three hundred foot drop before the slope leveled off enough to actually be traversable.
“There are no monsters that can kill me in here,” Castiel said softly beside him as Dean was still processing that he was not facing off against the Amazon anymore. He lowered his gun, exhaling slowly. Distantly, he noted that his hands started to shake.
Castiel put a hand on his shoulder and gently pulled him away from the edge and closer to the mountain face. “The only monsters in Creation who can do such a thing are walking Earth,” he went on quietly, coaxing Dean to sit down. “Only Dick is imprisoned here, but he is far, far away.”
That jarred the hunter out of… whatever the fuck it was he’d been in. “What?” he asked incredulously, looking up. “You mean that whole righteous bone, three kinds of blood weapon didn’t kill him?”
“No,” the angel said seriously. “Considering how we appeared here… it seems that the weapon, when brought to interact with Leviathan blood, opened a portal back to Purgatory. Nothing more.”
“…son of a bitch.”
That meant Sammy was back at home dealing with every frickin’ Leviathan on his own and Dean had the chance of having to fight Dick on top of every nasty thing he had ever killed or had a part in killing. He bet that there were plenty of things that would have liked to get back at John Winchester’s brat or Sam Winchester’s brother, too. That was just great.
The hunter realized he had totally spaced out. “Sorry, Cas,” he apologized, pulling his head out of his hands (when had it gotten there?).
Castiel was looking at him with some concern. “Are you all right?” he asked. “I thought you were only suffering from lack of food and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.”
Dean stared at him. “What?”
“Your headaches and inability to keep food down,” the angel rattled off. “In addition to your mood swings and nightmares—and I suppose fatigue, but that could have also been the lack of sleep and—”
“Whoa, hold up,” Dean interrupted, eyes narrowing. “Have you been shadowing me? With your invisibility or whatever?”
Castiel winced and looked away. “A… little. Just to make sure you weren’t in too much trouble.”
“You—too much trouble—Purgatory—” Dean sputtered, before shutting his mouth decisively and forcibly discarding his ire. It didn’t really matter that Cas had been in and out around him without letting him know, so long as he stuck around now.
“Let me know when you’re going to sneak around invisibly,” he finally said with a scowl. “Or just—tell me you’re going somewhere else or something.”
Castiel nodded silently. Dean ran a hand across his face and rubbed at his eyes tiredly. Cas was right about him not getting a lot of sleep.
“Why don’t you—eat something?” Cas said hesitantly after a few moments of awkward silence. “You have some fruit, correct?”
“Uh… yeah.” Dean detached his jacket-sack of blackberries and offered them to Cas. “Have some.”
“The idea is to have you have some.”
“Yeah well, sit down and eat. We’ll share.”
In which Dean is a little overzealous. (I should probably stop writing chapter summaries.)
Some months passed.
Castiel upheld his promise and stayed with Dean, though it would probably be better to say that Dean stayed with the angel since Castiel had a tendency to teleport them to new locations frequently and without much warning as his attention wandered. Still, they stuck together, until Dean was almost as obsessive about keeping Cas by his side as he had been with Sam after Zachariah had dropped him in the post-apocalyptic future. Castiel, in return, spent his time finding sources of food for Dean (who insisted on sharing it all), keeping guard when the hunter attempted to sleep, and getting them out of sticky situations.
This was not to say that Dean had totally forgiven Castiel for his stint as a god. That betrayal had been mostly scabbed over and was well on its way to healing, but in his darker moments Dean blamed Castiel for being stuck where he was now. If Cas had defended himself it might have been easier to deal with… but Dean never said anything out loud and only made himself feel like a terrible person with vicious bouts of self-reproach.
All of this contributed to making the first month hell. Dean, going from fifty and more drinks a week to absolutely none, dealt with his system going haywire. That it left him sleepless, exhausted, and living on the edge of his nerves, fretting about Sam, and plotting ways to get out of Purgatory did nothing for his temper. Castiel did what he could, but it was not unusual for the two of them to speak very little for days on end while Dean was trapped facing the consequences of years of alcohol abuse.
His plans to escape gave him a lot of drive. For a while he was set on finding monsters and quizzing them extensively, but those who did not simply slink away stayed only to taunt him or attack him, often necessitating Cas’s assistance. As he became increasingly invested in his quest, Dean started to look into more desperate measures.
Three months in, things came to a head.
* * *
“Dean,” Castiel said uneasily, “What are you doing?”
Dean checked the edge on his knife and eyed the vaguely ornithological… thing he had trussed up and stretched out between a few trees. He was great at improvising, and that rope he had painstakingly plaited when nightmares wrenched him out of sleep really did come in handy.
“Getting answers,” he said, more calmly than he felt. The idea of what he was going to do made him feel sick, but he really couldn’t stand to sit around doing nothing anymore, either. “This thing’s been around for a while and I figure it knows how to get us out of here.”
“Dean, I don’t think that’s going to work—”
The thing let out a burbling hiss as the hunter tested the knife on one if its appendages and addressed it directly without preamble. “So you say you’ve been around for a while, huh?”
“Dean, it’s just a strix—”
Dean ignored the angel. “I asked you a question,” he said to the strix (what even was a strix) and methodically squashed his nausea as he cut a long stripe parallel to his first in the monster.
“I don’t like this—Dean—”
“There isss no way out,” the monster whined, tugging at the ropes. “You can’t get out, none of usss can!”
“Oh yeah? Let’s try that again.”
That was when Castiel appeared in front of Dean and shoved him backward so hard he fell flat on his ass.
“I won’t let you do this,” he said, clearly distressed. “Stop it.”
The hunter stared up at him, astonished, all his unease about the situation being redirected into anger at his friend. “What?” he snapped, getting to his feet and dusting himself off with sharp, tense movements. “Cas—”
“This is cruel and pointless,” Castiel snarled back. “You aren’t going to get what you want from it.”
“And how do you know that?” Dean yelled at him, furious. “You’re the one who started the trend!” Unsaid, of course, was and look where we are now.
Castiel punched him and broke his nose with a dull crunching noise. The pain was like the shock of cold water, snapping his rising temper off at its base. Dean reeled back, instinctively reaching up to feel his nose, and cursed around a mouthful of blood because it all fucking hurt.
“Yes, Dean, I did,” the angel said so frigidly Dean flinched back. “And I can assure you that if I could erase what I have done, I would.”
In a blink Castiel was glaring at him head on from three inches away. “Now I remember that you have particularly impressive skills in this line of questioning,” he continued. His voice had dropped to a low growl, not unlike his pre-Apocalyptic days. “But I’m tired of watching you carve away a little more of your humanity every time you intentionally prolong suffering in order to get things you perceive as vital answers.”
Dean glared at him, white under the blood dripping out of his nose as the remark cut deeply.
“You will not torture anything else,” the angel said fiercely, and disappeared with the familiar thwack of feathers. Dean was left blinking at the empty clearing, and realized that Cas had taken the monster with him when he saw his ropes lying limply on the ground. He stood still for a long moment, and then threw down the knife in disgust.
Setting his nose took some time (very painful time), as did retrieving the blade, cleaning it, and coiling up the ropes. When he had finished, Cas still hadn’t reappeared. After a bitterly cold night up in a tree fending off a pack of werewolves (the moon was always full here, would you believe it?), Dean was feeling pretty badly about the whole thing. He’d be the first to admit his remark had been a low blow, and as his frustration cooled over the hours, was able to think about the episode with more clarity.
Doubtless the idea of torture was just another reminder to Cas of his bad decisions the previous year, and certainly more than inconsiderate in the face of what he’d done to keep Dean alive since their incarceration in the monsters’ heaven. And Dean could admit that he was going a little crazy himself, trapped in a place where safety was even less of a guarantee than the realm of the living. It was as bad as those months prior to Sam saying yes to the devil, except there was a taste of hope because he knew there was a way out. It was so tantalizing he was reaching for anything that could make it a reality, and he did not have Sam around to help him this time, just the knowledge that Sam had been left alone smack in the middle of the Leviathans’ nest and that his survival was severely in question.
It was a shitty situation. And Dean was starting to think as more and more time passed and Cas’s absence lengthened that he may have made it all much worse.
It was another day before Castiel came back. Fortunately, the area he left Dean in was one of the relatively safe spots in Purgatory, with no freaky spider monsters roosting in the trees and close enough to the edge of the forest overlaying the bare rock of the mountain for most of the forest’s denizens to be comfortable roaming through. Helpful, too, was the threat of Castiel’s return: in the past few months it had become clear that the monsters, though not above making shows of force or vague threats towards him were far more interested in avoiding the angel for fear of being sucked into his control again (something Dean had learned from a chatty vampire who had managed to get a nibble in before an enraged angel had swooped in and snatched the hunter away).
Cas reappeared around noon, just as Dean was warily approaching a still pond for water. “There are some nasty fish in that,” he observed stiffly.
Dean did not start at his reappearance—it had become too much of a fact of life by now. “Is the water safe to drink?” he asked, eyeing the water with some trepidation. Monster fish were a nuisance.
“Will they attack me before or after I drink some water?”
“Will you torture them if they do?” Castiel growled at him.
Dean let out a long breath (and winced, because his nose was still god damned broken here) and turned to look at the angel, who was glaring at him with clear hostility. Jesus, he had thought Cas had reacted badly—but this was way more serious than he had imagined.
“Look, Cas—” he started, and stopped. He always hated apologizing. “About yesterday. What I said was out of line. I shouldn’t have said it, and I’m sorry.”
Castiel stared at him. “What?”
“You know, about you setting a precedent for torturing monsters for answers—“ Dean broke off and waved a hand. “Just, we all make mistakes, and it’s not fair for me to keep throwing them in your face. And I’m being an asshole when I do it.”
Castiel was looking at him like he had killed Cas’s favorite puppy.
“What?” the hunter demanded.
“I wasn’t angry about what you said to me,” Castiel said. He looked confused now.
Dean had a sinking feeling. “You weren’t?”
Castiel frowned in thought. “Well, a little, maybe,” he said, and then shook his head, frustrated. “But that wasn’t my point, Dean.”
Dean scowled at him, automatically bridling. “Don’t tell me you actually meant that humanity bullshit.”
“I did,” Cas snapped back, now looking angrier than Dean could remember—certainly not the other day. Oops, he might be reacting to Dean’s defensiveness. “I pulled you out of Hell and breathed it back into you after Alastair tortured it out of you and set you on the road to eternal damnation, so pardon me if I take offense at you throwing it away you stupid, stupid man!” His voice had risen to a shout.
Dean was aware that his mouth was hanging open. “Uh,” he said. “I hadn’t—uh—” realized it mattered that much or realized you cared or god forbid, thought I was that important or something, how do you even react to a statement like that?
“Obviously not, I do, and you are the Righteous Man and mine, Dean, how could you even think you aren’t important to me?!”
“Whoa, wait, hold up,” Dean said and backed up a step, rattled. “Yours? When did I become yours?”
“WHEN I RE-MADE YOU!” Castiel roared. He stood there with a snarl on his face, furiously glaring at Dean as though daring him to challenge the statement. “And then what do you do? You ride your own body and mind over as hard as a demon or an angel would and you don’t ever stop to think about it or even listen when other people mention it to you and—”
Dean firmly clapped a hand over the angel’s mouth, who froze in shock. “Cas,” he said sternly, masking the uproar of WHOA WHAT THE FUCKs behind the kinds of orders he learned how to give from his dear old dad. “Chill.”
If staring was an Olympic sport, Castiel would have taken gold without breaking a sweat. Dean did not remove his hand and just went off on the fly.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m revising my apology. I’m sorry for being a dick to you, and I’m sorry that you’re upset about me doing things you don’t approve of, but that’s free will, remember? I’m—” the words rolled off his tongue easily, because he really did want to make amends and all that, but he had to clarify and wow this is a weird thing to clarify since slavery’s been out of fashion since 1865 or something “—grateful for you saving me, but you don’t own me because of that. I don’t owe you my undying service or anything because you saved my soul.”
Castiel slapped his hand away from his mouth and caught Dean’s gaze and held it. “I don’t demand your fealty because of that,” he growled. “I demand that you stop destroying yourself because you’re my family.” He reached out and touched Dean’s cheek, and the hunter’s nose snapped back into place as though it had never been broken. “Almost the only part left.”
Dean swallowed hard and looked away after a moment, trying to decide what would be most appropriate to say.
“I’m sorry,” he finally repeated.
“Why?” Cas asked softly, standing very close.
Dean turned away and stared blindly at the monster pond. “I didn’t realize I was that much of a liability,” he said bluntly. “Dragging you and… Sam down. Or whatever.”
Castiel sighed, half frustration and half defeat. Dean felt a touch on his shoulder, and they were at the banks of the huge river.
“This water here is safer to drink,” Cas said resignedly. “There are no monsters in it.”
A rather horrific discovery.
Purgatory was, as far as Dean understood, roughly the area of ten earths. Due to weird magic bullshit nothing ever seemed larger than earth—the horizon was never impossibly high or the skies horrifically close or the days any longer than they were at home—but Cas had been hopping them around the hunk of afterlife often and they still hadn’t run out of new places to discover.
The oceans had sea monsters from long, freaky sea snakes, to selkies, to mermaids, to krakens. The lands held everything else, from mountainous yetis and wendigos to forest-dwelling werewolves and kitsunes to empty cities of every time and culture that could be dreamed of housing weird monsters-but-not, like that alcohol-demon Dean, Sam, and that nut Garth had dealt with a few months after Bobby’s death. There were lakes and plains and canyons and jungles and vast stretches of empty land without distinguishing features, and monsters inhabited it all.
Dean had never been outside of America, really, unless you counted that short trip to Scotland. He hated flying. If he could not drive in general, really, he hated traveling. Especially in the past couple of years when circumstances had gone to shit and control had been torn out of his grasp, Dean liked to have his hands on the wheel and the map he riffed off of in his head. So over the next four months, he learned what he could have seen if he had not been so road-bound: thick, wet tangles of vines and scrambling lizards that fought to survive on ancient temples as pristine as they day they had been completed, dry deserts as fiercely hot as the Midwest but miles higher in altitude and filled with ragged scrub, massive fields of ice that were less cold than he had expected, inexorably grinding through the landscape and ripping up the ground beneath frozen water while it went—Dean saw them all.
But it was so empty. Nothing human lived in any of the cities, or the small rambling towns, or the neatly cultivated farms or raggedy shacks that they sometimes came upon. None of the areas were actually abandoned, but the inhabitants had all fled once they had sensed Castiel’s presence… for the most part.
Then they ran into something in a run-down Victorian-style mansion—some ugly smudges of dark film, weirdly animalistic with wings and hooves and other strange chimerical combinations. If Dean had had to put a name to them, he would have declared they were uglier versions of those ancient Zoroastrian demons Meg called up in Chicago—there were no clean lines of shadows here, just wrong shudder-inducing swirls of darkness and disgust.
Dean had his knife out instantly (his gun had long since lost its utility) and between himself and the shadow things in a split-second, though the forms looked so incorporeal that he doubted it would be of much use, steel or not.
“Back off,” he snarled as one of the things oozed closer.
It laughed, and the sound unlocked a whole host of memories he had mostly learned to suppress with booze and violence no, no, no that was not supposed to be—this was not supposed to happen—that clatter was his knife dropping to the floor and he was back pressed up against the wall with bile in his throat while the screams of Hell echoed in his head and he felt his hand on a knife, flaying some poor child’s soul, and dimly he was aware that Alastair was reaching out one shadowy arm and saying Hello Dean with a loving caress and—
The room exploded in a blast of light. “NO,” someone said terribly, and Alastair screamed and screamed and the air howled; the other demon souls shrieked in chorus, and then it all fell blessedly silent.
When Dean came too, or regained an awareness of what was going on or something, he was curled up so tightly that he could feel his muscles knotting in the tension and shaking to pieces. He was gasping raggedly and his face was wet and something was whimpering. He could hear Cas making shushing noises and saying his name, felt the angel put an arm around his shoulder and pull him close and start rocking him like Mom used to do when he did something awful like fall down and scrape himself up good when he was three.
“Dean,” he was saying. “Dean, it’s okay. Dean it’s okay, he’s gone.”
“Dead,” Dean finally croaked out when he had stopped shaking so hard and could force himself to relax a little. “Alastair’s dead.” He looked around flinchingly as though the demon might pop out again, but found that they were crammed into a shallow cave of reddish stone somewhere completely different.
“Yes, Dean,” the angel said, running hands soothingly through the hunter’s hair from where he was wrapped around him. “This is where demons go when they die.”
Dean felt sick. “Oh, god,” he said. He put his head back down between his knees and gave up pretending he was not crying over being trapped with all his worst enemies while Cas awkwardly held him.
They did not get up for a long time.
I am currently unable to provide a chapter summary. My sincerest apologies.
The nightmares returned, shifting things filled with fire and sick self-loathing. Dean now spent much of his time going off almost as much sleep as Castiel did—which was to say, barely any. When he did get some, it was because Cas took it upon himself to act as a pillow and mentally enter Dean’s mind and twiddle around with his brain’s idea of nightly activities so that he would wake up in the morning with hardly any dreams remembered and his head on the angel’s lap. Dean hated the intrusion so much that it was a constant source of friction and fought it tooth and nail.
“This is ridiculous,” Castiel said finally after a month of nightmare-ridden sleep and another fight over going where he was not wanted. “You need to get over what you’ve done and accept that Alastair can’t hurt you anymore.”
“Cas, it’s been years,” Dean said tiredly. “I’ve been over this already. I’m over it. I spent that whole year at Lisa’s recovering, remember?”
Cas just gave him a look. “You spent a year at Lisa’s trying to forget your entire life and drinking through a fifth of hard alcohol every two nights to assist in the process.”
“Yeah, and then I got back into the job when that didn’t work out and it turned out fine.”
“You spent half a year agonizing over Sam being soulless and then another keeping his mind stitched back together. Then I let the Leviathans out and you fought against them for another year. Tell me Dean, when did you have the time?” the angel inquired acidly, folding his arms over his chest in a ridiculously human gesture.
“Why are you so worked up about this?” Dean growled, and pulled out the rock he’d picked up to act as a stand-in whetstone. He started sharpening his knife, pointedly not looking at Cas.
“Because if Sam were here, he’d do the same,” Castiel informed him.
Dean grunted and continued sweeping the knife blade on the rock.
The angel exhaled sharply. “Dean, God forgave you your sins in Hell,” he said. “You would not have gone to Heaven in those months prior to the end of the Apocalypse if he had not. Why is it so hard to forgive yourself for them? Or for your perceived blame in Sam’s fate, or my deal with Crowley, or Bobby’s death or my insanity after I took the madness your brother faced after I removed the wall in his memory?”
“Because I could’ve done something about those,” Dean protested. “I could’ve held out longer on the rack—Dad did.”
“And you’d still be in Hell if you had,” Castiel instantly replied. “And Ruby would be manipulating Sam, because no matter how much you warned him away from things, he still would’ve killed Lilith—but he would have done it for revenge instead of preventing the Apocalypse.”
Dean opened his mouth, then closed it. “Okay,” he said finally. “That could be true. But Cas, I could’ve helped you. If I’d put the pieces together faster—”
“By the time you knew about it, it was too late,” Castiel said grimly. “If I hadn’t taken that power, Raphael would have taken it in my place and restarted the Apocalypse, or Crowley would have taken it and—Crowley’s the King of Hell, how can that be a good thing?”
“Yeah, but opening Purgatory and taking the souls was still a stupid decision,” Dean said.
“No, what was stupid was not coming to you for help first.” Castiel glowered. “I thought I was protecting you. By the time you knew what was going on, going through with it was the best decision I could make under the circumstances.”
Dean glares at him, knife forgotten. “You could’ve put it right back in, but you didn’t.”
“No.” The angel looked sad. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I should have remembered that.”
“All right then,” Dean said flatly. “So what’s your point? That I couldn’t stop you even if I’d tried?”
“My point is that you can’t take the blame for other people’s choices, Dean.”
“You’re family, and your shit is my shit,” Dean pointed out and went back to work with the whetstone.
“Not our guilt,” Cas argued stubbornly. “You need to let go, Dean. And you need to stop worrying you’ll become a monster if you do, because that’s just turning you into one.”
Dean shot him a hostile look. “What?” he demanded.
“You cannot assist Sam from here, you don’t know if he’s alive, you feel terrible for being in here and leaving him with the Leviathans, and subsequently chose to capture and torture monsters in an effort to find a way out to be back at his side and help him,” the angel said with an edge. “How is that any different from me seeking power to defeat Raphael in the name of free will, or Sam using his demon powers when he assumed killing Lilith would end the Apocalypse?”
“Can we not talk about this anymore?” Dean asked, tone just as tight. “What happened to you avoiding conflict?”
“I can’t avoid conflict when I’m trying to protect you.”
“Even if it’s conflict with me?”
Cas looked him straight in the eye. “You especially,” he said. “You’re more self-destructive than Sam is.”
“What? No,” Dean said, annoyed. “Sam just needs me around to kick his ass when he’s doing stupid shit.”
“And you don’t?”
Finally, something he could work with. Dean cracked a grin. “Me do stupid shit? That’s a great joke.”
“Dean take this seriously,” Castiel begged. “I’m worried about you.”
“Fine. I appreciate your concern, but let’s stop talking about feelings now, all right?”
Cas looked at him mournfully, but dropped the subject with a sigh. “This isn’t over,” he promised, and disappeared.
Dean eyed the edge of his knife critically. “Yeah, right,” he muttered, and gave it a few last drags across the stone.
Here, have a cliffhanger (of sorts).
Another month passed and Dean finally gave in.
“Remember that big island in the middle of the white river?” he said one day, bringing up a river they had visited a couple of times. The island in question was about three times as large as the island he had spent his first night in Purgatory on, was set between two narrow but fast channels, and was high enough to withstand the flooding Dean assumed existed, seeing as it sat at the base of a mountain so large it had a year-long snowcap.
“Yes,” Cas said without looking away from where he energetically drew in the dirt with a stick.
“How smart would it be to set up camp there?” Dean asked.
Castiel paused and cocked his head at Dean. “You mean a permanent living situation,” he stated, eyeing Dean expressionlessly.
Dean waggled his foot from where he was lounging on the grassy hill they had claimed as theirs for the day. “Yeah,” he said innocently. “You know, a base camp. That we can stay at when we’re not hunting around for a way out,” he added warningly.
Cas looked at him thoughtfully for a moment longer, and then went back to his artistic endeavor. “That would be pleasant,” he remarked, and left it at that.
The next day they surveyed their island, tromped around making measurements, and decided how best to use the natural defenses of it. It was composed of huge chunks of limestone that had acquired enough recent sediment to allow the growth of a couple of fir trees and one scrawny pine tree. The channels flanking it, smaller in comparison to the first river Dean had seen, were still several yards wide and similarly rocky. The only way to get on the island for quite a ways upstream and downstream was by angel transportation, making it an excellent choice of location by Dean’s standards. It was true that there were some griffins on the far side of the mountain which could also presumably access the island, but it was doubtful that any would be inclined to do so. The nearest wendigo was currently in hibernation.
Dean enlisted Cas’s help in building the cabin. For lack of the desire to spend time cutting and curing boards and in a fit of whimsy, Dean decreed that it should be a log cabin (“just like a real Abe Lincoln ‘vampire slayer’ and all that”) with a split-log floor and rock hearth. Cas, to whom the intricacies of human interaction escaped entirely, was an expert in the arts and had the knowledge and skill to make it so. He had a grand time snagging trees from different forests and shaping them to perfection before helping Dean fit them snugly together like a set of Lincoln Logs (“the toy was derived from the architectural style Dean, why wouldn’t it be similar”). Castiel disappeared for a few hours and even produced some bubbly sheets of actual glass to set in the windows he cut out of the eastern and western walls.
Supernatural protection came from lines of pure rock salt inset in the logs that formed the top of the chimney, the windowsills, and the threshold. Castiel covered these with thick bands of iron he took the time to drag out of a mine somewhere. In addition, the walls, ceiling, and floor were inscribed with every protection and hiding sigil both of them could remember. The end result was a safe house almost as strong as Bobby’s old panic room, except for the strength that came with being made out of solid iron and concrete exchanged for thick logs.
Furniture proved to be another matter over. Dean stepped up here and took pleasure in notching together some chairs using driftwood he picked up on a beach that looked like it belonged to the Atlantic seaboard. He even managed to cobble together a decent, if heavy, table. Cas pulled another miracle out of his ass and spent four days coming up with the materials to make a mattress of sorts, from weaving actual fabric to collecting millions of feathers to stuff it with. Dean constructed a bed frame to fit the mattress’s size, and in the end they had a lumpy bed barely wide enough for two bodies that was still miles softer than the ground they’d been spending their nights on.
“I don’t need to sleep,” Castiel reminded Dean when the hunter remarked on the size.
“Yeah, whatever,” Dean said dismissively. “Point is, if you want to, there’s room. And no offense to my excellent carpentry skills, but this mattress is much nicer than the chairs, so if you do anymore dream diving you can at least get comfortable for it.”
Cas looked at him quizzically. “You want me to continue interfering with your dreams?”
The hunter shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to not waking up screaming,” was all he said, and studiously did not think about how the dreams he could remember had improved markedly now that he had Castiel following him around going along with whatever dream shenanigans he got up to when he was asleep. Cas looked at him with a little smile as though Dean was not doing as great a job as he hoped, and went back to the loom he had built and coughed up some blankets.
Food was not hard to acquire; so much time flitting in and out of the many different areas gave them a vast amount of remembered resources. It might be clouding over with the temperature dropping where the cabin was, but a short skip and a jump had them walking through a stand of fruiting banana trees where it was sunny and humid as all fuck. As an added bonus (as Dean termed it), Castiel discovered that cooking was an excellent way to focus and manage his generally unbalanced view of things that were not Dean, and was soon coming up with creatively cooked and generally good food twice a day, assuming they stayed on the island and did not spend the day traipsing about looking for an exit.
At the nine month marker, the two of them were successfully settled into a rustically comfortable life on the island in the middle of the white river. Dean still had not resigned himself to spending a lifetime stuck in a world populated by monsters, but there was some satisfaction to having the tiny little cottage with its warped glass windows and frickin’ nice bed to come back to after a day of exploring the endless landscapes.
Here, where they stayed at the base of the mountain in the tiny cottage on the tiny island, they experienced a natural shift in seasons instead of what they had found skipping from location to location. When they had first set up shop it had been early autumn, but now it was in the dead of winter and snow blanketed everything. Dean had the fire going constantly just to keep the cabin warm, and had even dragged the bed closer to the fireplace to counter the temperatures that could drop to zero and below overnight. Sleeping together became a necessity—the extra body heat was needed.
Cas did sleep these days, something Dean found hilariously odd. The angel only slept as much as his vessel needed the rest, something that only happened because Cas had made his new goal a better control over his human sensory equipment now that the cabin had been sealed up to perfection and furnished with enough stuff that Dean had told him to stop obsessing over the cracks in the plaster he had concocted and slathered on the walls as extra insulation. (Cas had promptly painted the entire thing with frescos he claimed were in the style of the ancient Romans. Dean was impressed.)
This was not to say that things were safe. Increasingly the angel noted an increased flow of monsters that would come into the area; many of them came to the edges of the river and studied the cottage from the banks. But the running water was a huge deterrent, and the few creatures who determined to cross it either were swept away by the force of the current or were teleported to random areas by Cas.
One day, Dean woke up to find Cas pressed against the window, staring at it intently. “Dude,” he grumbled, dragged out of sleep by the decrease in warmth. “Inconsiderate.”
“Meg is outside,” Cas said.
I never really liked Megstiel.
The tone shocked Dean awake more than the words—half despair, half horror. Cas was frozen in position at his post. The hunter swung out of bed and was across the room within seconds, looking out the window over Castiel’s shoulder.
The demon stood still, a murky shadow of wrongness that stole the early morning light from the area around her. “How do you know it’s Meg?” he asked quietly.
“That’s her soul,” Castiel said dully. “Crowley… Crowley must have killed her.”
Dean glanced over at him and did a double-take. Castiel was crying. Something painful and sharp flashed through him at the sight. “Whoa, hey,” he said, masking his alarm. “Cas?”
“Sorry, Dean. I was experimenting with unblocking human reactions. I can’t seem to… stop it.” Jerkily he dragged an arm across his face. It did not do much.
On the cliff, the demon shimmered, and then fell. There was not a splash where it should have hit the water.
“They aren’t corporeal here when they don’t wish to be,” Cas explained hoarsely.
“So what, is she coming here?”
“Maybe. She can’t get in, we have wards up.”
That was when she smacked into the glass, cracking one of Cas’s hard-made windowpanes. Cas flinched back and made a ragged sound, presumably at the expression she had. Dean put himself between Meg and the angel without second thought.
You, Meg said, viciously. Anger and hatred and grief were all welled up in the single word. You killed me, Castiel! You left me to Crowley when you marched into Dick’s lair!
“Fuck off,” Dean snapped at her. “It’s not his fault you decided to stick around when he took the crazy.”
She shrieked and he could feel her attention refocusing on him. I was SAFE! she screamed. Nobody knew where we were until you came along and dragged us out of hiding! And then you were stupid enough to give the King of Hell a VIP pass to us, congratulations Dean.
“I’m sorry, Meg.” The angel’s voice was hardly over a whisper, and pleading. “I’m sorry, I didn’t… I didn’t know.”
She smacked the panes again, heralded by the noises of cracking glass. Well that’s juuuuust peachy, she hissed. Because now that I’m dead, you think apologies are worth something to me?!
Dean had heard enough. “Leave us alone,” he said flatly, and pushed Castiel further behind him.
Make me, Winchester.
Dean promptly yanked the curtain Cas had cheerfully hung a month ago across the window and dragged Cas away from it. “Stay here,” he ordered as Meg screamed abuse, hammering away at the window. He dragged the curtain across the other one, too, in case she got uppity and ran around the cabin.
He paused briefly to snag his trusty rope—which he had further modified by letting it sit in seawater after he had first found out about demonic souls in Purgatory—and the simple rosary he had whittled in long evenings sitting in front of the fire, before he walked out the door just as he heard the tell-tale whisper of feathers.
Wherever Cas had disappeared to, it was not out here. She stopped yelling when she saw him, and darted for him. He sidestepped her rush neatly and slipped the looped end of the salt rope down over the top of the shadowy form. She jerked and yelled some more, but it was as he had thought—the salt in the rope contained her.
Holding Meg was a different matter. She was still supernaturally strong, and knew how to hit. Dean growled and dug in his heels and reeled her closer until he could slip more loops of the rope around her. It did not tie her up as well as it could have, but it was good enough at limiting her movement for now. Even with her limited flailing power, hauling her to the river was still hard, especially through the good foot or so of snow on the ground.
He shoved her into the frigid water an inch at a time, careful not to get too much of the rope wet for fear the salt would get washed out, and held the rosary underwater upstream of her and started reciting the prayer that blessed water. Dean was not sure how much water he could bless all at once—the river was pretty fucking big—but when she started screaming he just repeated the prayer over and over to keep up a steady flow just in case, up until she gave one last convulsive jerk and went still.
Dean hauled her limp shadow form out and wrapped her up well, before tossing her in the river like he had tossed Amy. Then he blessed the water passing by for another five minutes to make sure, until his hand went numb. He doubted she was anywhere near dead, but hopefully she would wake up miles downstream and in too much pain to do anything.
He went back into the house, but Cas was not there.
Dean fretted horribly. He carved more rosaries and he walked the island’s perimeter, stringing them so that they hung in the water. Over each, he recited the prayer, and hopefully created a section of the river where demons could not pass. This took the entire day; Dean finally fell asleep dozing in front of the fire well after the sun had gone down.
He woke up freezing while it was still dark, the hearth glowing coals and the eastern window looking over a sky that was just starting to go grey. The floorboards creaked and Dean tensed, but then Cas said “Why are you sleeping there?” and Dean blinked away the sleep and forced stiff muscles to give so he could crane his neck around to get an eye on his angel so he could make sure Cas was okay.
Cas looked disheveled, but maybe that was just because the crying had made a mess of his face. “You look like shit,” Dean said, not without sympathy.
The angel’s mournful gaze didn’t change in the slightest. Dean wavered for a second, then got out of his chair with some weird creaking noises and gave in to the inevitable chick flick moment and wrapped Cas in a comfortably tight hold, much like Castiel had done after he had run into Alastair. “Hey, it’s okay,” he said when he felt Cas stiffen. “You’re okay.”
Cas shuddered and dropped his head to Dean’s shoulder. “It’s not my fault,” he said tiredly, “but it feels like it is.”
“I’m sorry she died,” Dean offered as he made some rubbing motions like when Sammy was little and he had woken up with nightmares in the middle of the night. He could not think of anything else to say besides that’s guilt, it sucks or that’s being human, it sucks so he just said “Yeah, it sucks,” because he could not just say in so many words it fucking hurts and you just have to deal with it and feel like shit, that was not very motivational.
“Not really,” Cas mumbled against his shirt and okay, so he should have remembered that Cas was constantly in his head. Whatever. What was far more interesting was the semi-intimate human contact, something he had not had since he had woken up with his head in Cas’s lap on a daily basis; he had not realized he had missed it that much. Son of a bitch, he was turning into Sam.
Cas made some sort of humming noise, but Dean couldn’t guess why.
“You want to lie down?” Dean asked. “You look exhausted.”
“It’s the humanity,” Cas grumbled. “I’m too emotionally invested to turn it off.”
“All right,” Dean said practically, and steered him to the bed. “If you’re still being human, you can sleep it off.”
“That’ll help?” Cas asked skeptically.
Dean considered that as he pulled the blankets back and gently pushed the angel to the mattress. “People generally wake up in better moods than they go to bed in,” he finally said. “You think better when you’re all rested and shit.”
Castiel got into the bed without complaint, but grabbed Dean’s sleeve when the hunter would have moved away.
“No, stay,” he said hoarsely. “You couldn’t have gotten much sleep.”
It was true, but Dean didn’t want to crowd Cas too much. He usually felt better when Sam kept him company after some tragedy, but how did Cas want to do it? Dean only really remembered that one evening in a hotel where Cas had come in totally smashed after drinking the contents of a liquor store.
Cas tugged at his sleeve. “Please,” he added.
Dean moved, sliding under the blankets beside him, pulling him close because in an instinctive sort of way he knew that was what the angel really meant, or possibly what he supposed was the human meaning of Cas’s request. Cas just sighed and shivered and tucked himself up in the hold, pressing his face to Dean’s collarbone, and Dean could not stop the small thrill of content it caused.
Maybe it was just after all they had been through together (maybe it was just that it was Cas) but Dean only held Cas closer and listened to his breathing when it slowed as the tension drained out of him. Dean thought very, very quietly that he could possibly stay in this hellhole forever for moments like this. Even being on the road with Sam could not compare with the intensity of this.
Once, I caught a horned toad and named it Harry. He was awesome.
Cas slept late, though Dean did not. When the sun was high and the cabin ceased to be flooded by morning light refracting rainbows through the glass Meg cracked, he carefully extracted himself and padded over to the fire to stoke it. It felt like outside had warmed up a little in the sun, but the air inside the cottage was chilly nonetheless. Cas must have really been hit hard by the humanity practice because he did not even stir when Dean quietly left to walk the perimeter once again.
“Hoo boy,” someone said cheerfully as he rounded the corner of the house. “Whaddaya know, it’s a Winchester!”
Dean jumped sideways and groped for the knife he had left in the cabin before he caught sight of who he was dealing with and stopped in shock.
“What the fuck?” he said.
The Trickster—Gabriel—Loki—whatever his name was sat in the snow on the roof, swinging his feet and sucking on some sort of plant. “Hello,” he said, and twiddled the fingers of his free hand in Dean’s direction. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
He looked exactly like he had the night the old pagan gods had come together in Elysian Fields—same clothes, same hair, same idiotic face.
Dean just stared at him.
“Wow, rude,” Gabriel said and shook a disapproving finger in his direction. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to stare? I mean, before she died and all.”
Dean choked at that. “What…” he finally got out through gritted teeth. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you an angel, or something?”
“Are you saying angel souls are the same as human souls?” Gabriel sucked on the plant so hard it made weird slurping noises. “Purgatory’s for everything that isn’t human, and you’ve already run into Alastair I know. Why would angels be any different?”
“Okay,” Dean said, stalling. He felt a frisson of adrenaline creep through his veins. Nothing here he had used to know was nice at all, why should a dead angel be any different? His knife was in the cabin, and he did not have anything sharp to cut himself for banishing sigils… which would probably affect Castiel just as much, now that he thought about it. “So like, is there a point to being here?”
The Trickster split the cane—Dean realized it was probably a sugar cane because what else would a sweet tooth have in a place with no manufactured candy—and licked out the last of the juice. “I heard there was an angel and a human skipping through flowery meadows, holding hands and sharing intense sex eyes. I figured it was you and my dearest little brother and came to congratulate him on no longer being a virgin,” he said with mock solemnity. “Many happy tidings, of course.”
Dean stared at him some more. Seriously, what the fuck?
Gabriel shot a hand holding part of the sugar cane out, pointing dramatically at him. “See, look, you’re already being afflicted by his silent staring!” He swept the hand against his forehead and affected a swoon. “Ah… the mark of true love.”
“What?” Dean shook his head and decided that the former archangel wasn’t much of a threat for now. “Just get off our roof, would you? You’re making my neck hurt.”
“I love how you don’t deny it.” The former archangel hopped off the roof and stuck the landing. He dusted off his backside and tossed what remained of the cane over his shoulder. “Invite me in, it’s freezing out here.”
Dean scowled at him. “Are you going to hurt us?” he demanded.
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Now where’s the point in that?” he asked. “I’ve come all this way to visit my dear friend and my brother, why would I bother killing them?”
Dean nodded to the cracked window. “Call me paranoid,” he said flatly. “Others have already come by.”
Gabriel whistled at the sight and kicked his way through the snow so that he could peer at the glass. “Well, well, well, look at that glass! Cas’s an artist. Awww, how cute.”
“You haven’t changed, have you,” Dean muttered. He was stuck in Purgatory and he still could not believe how weird his life could become.
“He does seem rather unaffected by his stay here,” Cas observed from behind them both. He had plainly just gotten up—his clothes were still rumpled from sleep and jesus, his hair was a mess.
“Cas!” Gabriel crowed. “Long time no see, little bro. I hear you and your boytoy have finally gotten some quality time together.”
Cas shot a questioning look at Dean as the trickster trudged over and gave the unresponsive angel a huge hug. The hunter shrugged in return.
Gabriel slapped Cas on the back and let him go. “You haven’t even come to visit any of the rest of our family,” he said reproachfully. “I mean, minus Raphael. Raphael is just pissy all the time these days, nobody likes talking to him.”
Cas flinched and Dean bristled. “I put many of them here,” Castiel finally said, voice very dry. “I do not think they would welcome the sight of me as well.”
“Wellllll…”the trickster tilted his head sideways and nodded. “Yeah, that is pretty true. Good score you got, too.”
Cas flinched again.
“Hey, back off,” Dean ordered. “It’s over and done with.”
The archangel smiled, slow and predatory. “Well if we were on earth… yes,” he said. “But while you’re in the realm housing all the souls of the things you killed? Not really, no. And you can stop edging over to protect your sweet Castiel, I’m not going to hurt you, remember?”
“You’re doing a pretty good job of it,” Dean growled, halting in his tracks.
Gabriel shrugged. “Hey,” he said. “What’s done is done. Besides, I have more exciting stuff to talk about.”
“Like what?” Castiel asked sharply.
“Oh, you know.” The archangel grinned broadly. “How to use the back exit to Purgatory—nothing too important.”
And now I'm going to sneak out of my house to procure animal fries from In-N-Out.
Gabriel was clearly enjoying himself, sprawled out over their bed sucking on another segment of sugar cane. “Draw me like one of your French girls,” he said with a leer to Castiel when the latter looked askance at the archangel’s intrusion.
Dean glowered from his position in front of the fire, pretty uncomfortable with the situation himself. “You said we had a way out,” he said brusquely to cover his unease. “You going to explain that at all?”
The trickster rolled his eyes. “You’re sooooo impatient,” he complained, sitting up. “Really, you should work on that.”
“You have some conditions we must abide by in exchange for this knowledge,” Castiel interpreted.
Gabriel grinned at him. “Got it in one,” he said cheerily.
Dean waved a hand move it along, barely containing the sudden storm of emotions brought on by Gabriel’s admission. He could get home, he could get away from all the fear in here, he could return to Sam and make sure he was all right. “And?” he demanded, steeling himself to do whatever it was. He was desperate enough, and if it was not torture… “What are they?”
“Take me back with you,” the archangel said. The teasing look had gone; he was dead serious.
Castiel hummed vaguely and drifted over to the window.
“Okay,” Dean said after a moment. “Why?”
“The Leviathans escaped. I can help with them,” Gabriel said cagily.
“They kill angels,” Dean said sarcastically. “How could you help against them?”
“Hello?” Gabriel gestured to himself. “Archangel, remember? One of the first, too. I know things.”
“Cas?” Dean asked to verify.
Castiel looked away from where he was examining the rainbows on the ceiling. “Gabriel is one of the four archangels,” he answered slowly. “And of course, once I killed Raphael there were none left when the Leviathans escaped. It’s entirely possible he does know ways to fight them.”
“But not kill,” Dean asked rhetorically.
“Nothing can kill them,” Gabriel said grimly, after a sharp look at Castiel following his comment about the other archangels. “They can only be trapped, or held. I know how to make short-term cages for them.”
“You know… ten years or so. Not too long.”
That actually… was not so bad. He could work with that. They could work with that, once he was back with Sammy.
“Okay,” Dean said again, thinking quickly. “So why do you want to help, now? You already died helping us out, or so we assume. You know, since you’re here and the last time we saw you, you were in a standoff with Lucifer.”
“What, I can’t secretly long to return to the fold?” Gabriel asked sardonically, before laughing. “No, of course not, you know me. I’m not exactly thrilled to be dead and in the land of everything non-human, especially not when humans are such good company.” He paused and eyed Castiel before continuing. “And if, as you say… there are no more archangels on the loose, well then. No better time for me to be roaming around under the radar, wouldn’t you think?”
Castiel flinched at that. “The host is… not what it used to be,” he said finally. “I’m sure you could find significant freedom in the current situation.”
“Mmm, yes,” Gabriel hummed. “What is that, by the way? You said there are no more archangels around. Lucifer you trapped, I assume, and Raphael you killed. Where’s Michael?”
“In the Cage,” Dean said shortly. “Sam dragged him in at Stull Cemetery after Cas Molotov’d him with holy oil.”
“Seriously?” the archangel said. He looked like he could not decide if he was upset with the outcome or impressed by it. “You threw a Molotov cocktail of holy oil at Michael?”
Cas looked at him, puzzled. “Yes,” he said.
“Huh,” Gabriel said, bemused.
“Right,” Dean broke in, trying to get the thing back on track. “How do we get out, and how can we haul you along for the ride?”
The archangel refocused on him, and Dean noticed something like uncertainty flickering across his face. “That depends on how desperate you are, Dean,” he said. “Because you’re really not going to like it.”
Cas reappeared in front of the opposite window, looking uneasy.
“We can’t get moving if I don’t know how to get out,” Dean pointed out, not unreasonably.
“Getting me out will be the trickiest part,” Gabriel said finally. “You’ll have to let me use you as a temporary vessel.”
“What?” Dean said, surprised.
“What?” Cas demanded, before blipping from his place at the window to right in front of Gabriel, seated on the bed.
“Don’t worry,” Gabriel said touchily, raising his hands in defense. “I won’t remove control or anything, sheesh.”
Dean felt his skin crawl at the thought. “I thought I was Michael’s vessel,” he demanded. “Can you even get in me?”
Gabriel wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at him. Dean supposed the archangel’s weird sense of humor could not be suppressed for long.
“Theoretically? Yes,” he replied. “The amount of control I’d have over you would be extremely limited, but you’re still an archangel’s vessel, so you wouldn’t burn up at being unable to contain me.”
“Dean is not going to be your vessel,” Cas hissed. He was incredibly pissed off by the sound of things, even though he was twisting on his feet uneasily, obviously not comfortable being in a confrontational position. “You have no claim to him whatsoever.”
“Whoa, Cas,” Dean said, sensing Cas’s discomfort warring with the obsessive protectiveness he had honed keeping Dean alive. Dean took a slow step forward, thinking that while it was kind of nice the angel was rabidly on his side, it definitely had drawbacks. “Let’s cool down, okay? We want to think things through before we do anything drastic.” Not to mention he was tired of putting Castiel in situations where he was forced to choose between Dean and Cas’s family. He might have finally gotten over being guilty about Cas’s choice to Fall, but Dean still felt bad for being glad about it at the time.
Cas eased off his tension a little and shot Dean a puzzled look. “Dean,” he said reprovingly, probably about the residual guilt.
“Cas,” Dean warned unrepentantly right back at him. Dean did not like the proposition much at all, but if Gabriel swore or whatever, he had to do it, right? And Dean was pretty sure Cas could get Gabriel to re-ask for Dean’s consent if Gabriel started doing something crazy.
“Dean,” Cas said, exasperated.
“Well it could happen, couldn’t it?” Dean wanted to know.
“I haven’t seen it happen,” Cas informed him.
“Yeah, but it could,” Dean insisted.
“Um, guys?” Gabriel interrupted, sounding amused. “I get you’ve been able to communicate without words for a while—you know, being a couple and all—but hello! I’m still here and definitely not in the loop.”
Cas blinked at him. “Dean and I are not in any sort of romantic relationship,” he said with a strange look at the archangel.
Gabriel smiled sweetly at him. “Then why does Dean-o looks so disappointed?” he asked mockingly. Cas shot a look at Dean in confusion, but Dean automatically threw on his poker face and rudely suppressed the irritation he felt over Cas’s rebuke.
“If I say yes now, what happens to your body?” Dean asked irrelevantly instead. “Better yet, why do you even have a body? All the demons here are black clouds and shit. Shouldn’t you be like, a white one?”
Gabriel cocked his had slightly, staring at him like he was an extremely interesting bug.
“What?” Dean said.
Cas shared a look with Gabriel, though it seemed to be more of a “can you believe him?” look instead of a “wow, Dean is stupid” look.
“Okay, this is getting ridiculous,” Dean growled.
“Says you,” Gabriel said wryly. “And if I hadn’t spent a good chunk of my existence pretending to be a pagan god in a hand-crafted vessel, I would just be a white ‘cloud and shit.’ But I did, so I’ve got this form instead.”
“So if I say yes, you’ll just…” Dean waved a hand between the two of them. “Show up in my head? Nothing left behind?”
“Got it in one,” the archangel said, the faintest hint of sarcasm emerging. “Congratulations.”
“Dean,” Castiel said tersely, tensing up again in front of the archangel. He threw a frustrated look at the hunter. “You are not seriously considering this.”
Dean said nothing. Gabriel waited.
“Give us a couple hours,” Dean said finally to Gabriel. “You’re in no hurry. Give us some time to talk about it.”
Gabriel shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said.
Trufax: This whole thing is in a document labeled "Liz's stupid Supernatural thing."
Chapter-wise, this is when things happen.
Dean dragged Cas outside after setting Gabriel up in front of Cas’s loom. Gabriel had been immensely pleased by it and had praised Cas’s creativity for some reason, before doing something complicated and reconfiguring the construction of it. Cas was mute about the whole thing, and probably did not like what Gabriel was doing, but Dean could tell he was more interested in a private conversation and so did not complain.
“Hey,” Dean said quietly, hoping that Gabriel could not hear from this far. They were at the very tip of the island, the farthest downstream they could get, next to the sole old gnarled pine.
Cas pulled some of the long, slender needles off a branch. “Hello, Dean,” he said, obviously unhappy.
Dean squashed some of the snow flat beneath his feet and edged closer. “You okay?” he asked.
“Are you?” Cas countered. He started braiding the needles together, slouching.
“Not really,” Dean said ruefully. “I could really use a piece of pie.” It was a little too true to be laughable, especially not with the hope of escape rekindled.
Cas paused, and looked at him. “Your jokes aren’t funny,” he grumbled.
“No, they’re awesome,” Dean contradicted instantly. “What’s up with you, though? You’re upset about Gabriel’s offer.”
The angel had finished braiding the needles. He undid it and pulled some more from the tree before starting again.
“I don’t think,” he said slowly, searching for words, “that you being a… vessel to Gabriel… is a good idea.”
“You don’t trust him?” Dean asked.
This time, Cas added in the new needles before he got to the end and kept plaiting until he had one long strip. He had not gotten more though, so he just looked at the longer strip curiously before knotting it at one end.
“It’s not that,” he said eventually. “Gabriel speaks the truth. He wants to be free, and as you are not his proper vessel, it would be uncomfortable to exert control over you for a significant period of time.”
Dean watched as Cas tied the braided strip into a ring and hung it from a twig. “So what is it?” he pressed cautiously. Cas had had more than enough of confronting and being confronted today, and what happened the day before with Meg was guaranteed to still have an effect… it was not a great time for a serious conversation, but Dean could not help it. He wanted to get out.
Cas did not answer right away. He walked around to the other side of the tree and looked up, calculating something, before plucking more needles. Dean waited; he had learned that Cas could only evade questions for so long before the angel felt he was being too passive aggressive by not answering.
“I don’t want Gabriel using you,” Cas said finally, a little anxious. He was quickly plaiting another strip with something like six needles at a time to make a wide, flat ribbon. “As a vessel, I mean. I don’t like that it—” he stopped—“I don’t like it,” he finished.
“Well,” Dean said, “if that’s the price we’ve got to pay to get out of here, I’m doing it.”
“I think the best pine needles are higher up,” Cas said distractedly, meaning that there was something else.
“You need a boost?” Dean offered.
“Do you really want to leave?” Cas asked instead.
“What?” Dean said, surprised. He looked at Cas sharply. “Of course I want to leave,” he said. “It’s Purgatory, we’re not supposed to be here.”
“Even with the cabin?” Cas wanted to know. “And all the furniture and the glass windows and the paintings and the protections and the exploring? We haven’t even seen one twentieth of this place, it’s so big and—”
“—not home,” Dean interrupted gently. “There’s no people here, Cas. There’s nothing for me to do, only monsters to fight that I can’t kill and—don’t get me wrong. I like the cabin. I like it, it’s—it’s home, like Bobby’s house was home or like Lawrence was home.
“But there’s no people,” he repeated when Cas did not say anything. “I can’t… Cas, Sam is still out there. And I need to help him out because he’s dealing with those Leviathans on his own, on top of all the other monsters out there.”
Cas looked at him seriously. He did not seem convinced.
“And I don’t think you want to stay,” Dean continued. “Man, this place is filled with angels you’ve already killed. I don’t think that’s something you want to live under the fear of. And besides,” Dean added, impulsively, “you’re the best part of that cabin, and you’re coming with me because you said you’d stay.”
It looked like he had Cas with the angel spiel, but the last comment almost threw it. “That’s ridiculous,” Cas muttered, and made as though to shuffle away. “Stop injecting humor into the situation, Dean, it’s not working.”
“What? No,” Dean said, startled, and threw his filter out the window. He grabbed Cas’s hand and tugged him back to face him. They ended up almost nose to nose—Dean had not realized how forceful he had been. “Uh… sorry, but hell no, Cas, you are. I swear, you’re the only thing that’s been keeping me sane here.”
Cas looked at him like he was insane, but he was right there and wow, Dean was actually desperate. Somehow. At some point he had gotten desperate to not let go of Cas, figuratively if not literally. He did not stop to think or anything, and it just happened that the hand not holding Cas’s moved up to hold the side of the angel’s face before he leaned in and muttered “Really, no joke,” and pressed his lips against Cas’s for a moment that seemed to scream with uncertainty for every thump of a heartbeat ringing in his ears.
Cas stood very, very still when Dean pulled away the few inches that had been between them to start.
“I—that was—” whoops, backpedal backpedal quick he’s not responding “Shit. Um. I’m sorry,” and he would have pulled away except that Cas was now tightly holding him in place.
“Don’t surprise me like that,” Cas murmured before leaning in to do precisely what Dean had done. Dean’s hand, hastily pulled from Cas’s face, fluttered hesitantly before resettling where it had been as Dean kissed back. He hoped that his weird inner conflict of worry and excitement and anxiety and whatever the fuck else was not coming through because that would just be so awkward, especially if he had to talk about it, but doing this was a lot easier—probably a cop out, but easier with the soft skin beneath his mouth and the hint of damp warmth—
Cas made a sound of amusement before they pulled apart only millimeters.
“Stop worrying so much,” he said seriously as they stood together, lips brushing against Dean’s. “You need to stop worrying.”
“So you’ll come with me?” Dean whispered, letting go of Cas’s hand and moving it to Cas’s hip.
Cas rested his forehead against Dean’s. “I’ll always come with you,” he replied.
[Blatant plug for reader-writer interaction in the form of written comments.]
I read Paper Towns by John Greene but wasn't that impressed?
Nothing’s ever fucking easy, so why did you expect it to be now? Dean asked himself rhetorically, several hours later. He and Cas had stood outside and talked quietly and done more exploring in the new… thing they had as the sun reached its zenith, before heading back in to accept Gabriel’s offer and find out what he knew about getting out.
“There’s a crack,” Gabriel told them, sketching out a rough map with charcoal on the floor. Despite himself, Dean winced as it overlapped some of the protection sigils. “In one of the heavy jungles. I can show you where, but five miles in all directions it’s impossible to do anything but walk in.”
“How’d you find it, then?” Dean asked.
“I walked,” Gabriel said, voice extremely dry. “Not that dead angels can really do much else. We can run really fast, though!”
“Then why haven’t you already left?” Cas wanted to know.
“Because the closer you get to the crack, the more you’re pressured to run away,” Gabriel answered. “It’s sort of a monster-repellant. I don’t know how it works exactly.”
“Well that’s promising,” Dean said sourly.
Gabriel wagged a finger at him and tsked. “Cut me some slack, will you?” the archangel demanded. “I said it’s a monster barrier, not a human one. I’m guessing it’s a built-in safety in case humans get tossed into Purgatory. Which, as far as I know, has happened before… for whatever reason. The crack is a way out.”
“Well that would explain why Eve needed a human girl,” Dean muttered. “Remember those dragons?”
Cas frowned down at the ‘map.’ “So using Dean as a vessel—” he began.
“Just a practicality,” Gabriel finished. “I can’t get out like this, but if I’m wrapped in a handy angel condom—nice phrase by the way, Winchester—then there’s less resistance to me leaving. Or you, for that matter.”
Cas looked down at himself. “I see,” he said contemplatively.
“So when do we want to get started?” Dean asked.
The archangel shrugged. “Considering the terrain, I’d say whenever you’re well rested… and whenever it’s light out there. No one likes walking through jungle in the dark!”
“But I’d love to see the jungle monsters,” Dean quipped.
“Around a monster barrier?” Gabriel made a rude noise. “It’s like I keep having to repeat myself and you’re not retaining any of it.”
“Uh-huh.” Dean tapped the sketch. “So what time is it light over there? Relative to here?”
“It’s about eighteen hours ahead. Right now it’s about ten in the morning over there.”
“If we leave in an hour, we can get to the crack before the sun sets,” Cas murmured.
“An hour to get everything together?” Dean looked around the Spartan cabin briefly and felt a pang at abandoning it. “Is there anything in particular you want to bring with us?”
“Better question to ask: is there anything that will help us?” Gabriel interrupted. “I’d suggest at least one blanket and whatever weaponry you have. Water, for both of you—angel mojo won’t be accessible. Oh, and rope. Rope would probably be useful.”
“Sorry,” Dean told him. “My last rope got thrown into the river around a demon. We’re out of rope.”
“Well then. Water, you’ll need. Tell me you’ve got some sort of portable drinking vessel.”
“Cas made some weird basket bottles with tar?”
“Dean, those are prime examples of the traditional woven vessel utilized by the Chumash on the central coast of California—”
“Yeah, those things,” Dean said over Cas. “They’re pretty cool.”
Gabriel snorted. “Yeah, well,” he said. “Just get your stuff in order. It’s going to be hot, humid, and the terrain is a bitch, so you’ll probably want some snacks as well.”
“You seem to be feeling good about this,” Dean commented to Gabriel as Cas flapped off for water, string of grass bottles clacking behind him. Dean busied himself pulling together some edible odds and ends and wrapping them in one of the brightly-colored blankets from the bed.
“I’m getting out of here,” Gabriel said grimly, scuffing the map up with a foot. “And I’m doing my second good deed of the century, getting you and dear little brother out, to join you in the war you started against the Leviathans.”
Dean grunted as he tied some spare strips of cloth around the blanket bundle and Cas reappeared with his string of bottles sloshing. He hoisted it on his back. Cas stood, waiting.
“So,” Dean said, squaring himself as he faced the archangel. “I just have to say yes?”
Gabriel’s eyes gleamed. “And here I thought you’d forgotten after that long and winding road of Zachariah being a dick.”
Dean scowled at him. “Just leave me in charge,” he said roughly.
“As much as I can,” Gabriel promised, which didn’t sound at all reassuring.
Dean traded a look with Cas, who was standing stoically holding the water, before turning back to Gabriel. “Yes,” he said flatly.
Everything went white.
Here's a random humorous story about Castiel being a kitten.
You are one paranoid bastard, Gabriel muttered to Dean from somewhere.
“What?” Dean asked muzzily. He had a pounding headache horribly reminiscent of the withdrawal symptoms of the first two months wandering through Purgatory.
“I’m sorry,” Castiel—that was his insane brother Castiel—murmured. His brother was running—no, that was Cas not Sam, what was Dean thinking—Cas was running fingers through his hair.
Sorry, Gabriel echoed, and Dean realized that Gabriel’s comment about paranoia hadn’t been spoken out loud. The archangel sounded weird: not cocky, like usual or anything… more like he was apologetic, but that was impossib—no, not impossible (I’m dead, the first few words of the Casa Erotica DVD played on repeat and cue the guilt about brow-beating Gabriel into dying) just surprising—
You really need to work on that, Gabriel told him, sounding amused. There was a sense of roiling movement in Dean’s mind and wow, that cued actual physical pain. Fuck. Castiel made soothing noises and Gabriel could feel his brother digging fingers into that area where his skull connected to his spine.
That’s MY skull! Dean snarled, and he shoved, hard. He opened his eyes and blinked at the light. He felt like he was waking up after a nightmare. He was on the floor, head cradled in Cas’s lap. The only difference was he could feel Gabriel poking around his mind.
Cas hummed and continued with the awesome neck massage, clearly happy that Dean was conscious again. How long had he been out, anyway?
Cute, Gabriel snarked. I thought the intense staring was bad, but hearing what you’re thinking? Much worse. And it’s only been a few minutes, don’t worry.
“Dude, get outta my head,” Dean slurred. “Those thoughts ‘re private.”
No can do, kiddo! You invited me here, remember? There was a sense of glee that quickly blurred into excitement and longing and grim determination, all one after the other and almost too fast to understand. Dean was reminded of those crazy teacup rides at Disneyland with his head spinning so hard from Gabriel’s emotions.
I am so screwed, he said, or he thought he said. Cas made a disapproving noise.
Hey! You know the rules! Gabriel scolded. I’ll get out of his head as soon as we’re out of Purgatory.
Cas stiffened at the tone and Dean felt some inadvertent hair pulling. Back off, he shot to Gabriel.
Yeah? Whatever, loverboy, the archangel jeered, but he did go quiet. A sense of preoccupation and low-grade anxiety replaced his active presence.
Dean refocused on Cas. “Hey,” he managed, and cracked a smile. “You okay?”
Cas’s grim expression softened a bit. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” he rasped.
“Man, of course I’m all right,” Dean said, and succeeded in injecting enough complaint into it that he sounded normal. Cas’s mouth twitched into a smile, so Dean figured it wasn’t just his skewed perception.
He sat up. Cas let him go. The headache was still there, but it was manageable and not as bad as some of the others he’d had. What? he heard Gabriel snipe. You think I’m gonna deliberately screw with your head?
Uh-huh. Dean got awkwardly to his feet, Cas following with a tight grip on his sleeve. “I’m all right,” he assured the angel, before exhaling sharply as the headache suddenly doubled in intensity. Cas grabbed him in alarm.
Sorry! Gabriel sounded harried. It’s hard to contain my vast gloriousness in your puny mortal body.
Do a better job, Dean snapped back. I don’t want to be like the poor sap Raphael used as a vessel.
Who, the—eugh. Gabriel must’ve been calling up the memories of Donnie because there they were, fresh on Dean’s mind. Gabriel examined them with interest. I always said it was better to tailor-make vessels. A lot more of a fuss but there’s none of the worry over wrecking the operating system. No need for permission, either!
You’re so kind, Dean thought back sarcastically. Gabriel, caught up in Dean’s memory of Michael promising not to leave him a drooling idiot if he said yes, didn’t respond.
“Ready?” Dean asked Cas, wrenching his attention to the external. “We ready to go?”
Cas hadn’t released his grip on Dean. “Are you?” he asked with a worried frown. “Those headaches—I can’t help you with them. It’s a side effect of Gabriel’s presence.”
“Yeah, well,” Dean grunted, pinching some fingers against the bridge of his nose. “It’s not going to get any better, is it? We might as well get started.”
He bent to pick up the supplies he had wrapped up and apparently dropped, feeling Cas let him pull out of his hold. Not that Dean minded the angel’s sudden fondness of the tactile in the least.
Cuuuuuuute. Gabriel’s voice ghosted through his thoughts as Dean slung the bundle over a shoulder. You two can be clingy together. Now are we getting a move on? The less time I’m in here the less damage I have the potential to do to your brain, dumbass.
Cas scowled. “It was a lot nicer when Gabriel wasn’t in your head,” he told Dean.
“I’m with you on that one,” Dean said dryly. So? he sent. Where are we heading?
An image of long, waxy-looking trees on the ruins of a crumbling stone wall came to mind. Cas touched two fingers to Dean’s forehead, and the familiar room around them vanished.
Absurdly, the first thought Dean had when they reappeared in the humid jungle was that they had forgotten to lock the cabin door. It did not really matter at this point, but he could not shake the sense of unease the reminder provoked.
The jungle was nothing more than a hot, wet tangle of greenery. Vines coated everything, like the pale drooping trees that stretched high into the sky. It was all in shade—the trees were too thick to let much sunlight through—but things were still light, the sun turning the leafy ceiling into a vast green-glass window. Wind sighed through the plant life and it was warm and sickly sweet with the smell of rotting undergrowth.
Definitely a little heady, don’t you think? Gabriel murmured absently. Now see that wall there? We’re going to have to head right past that and try to keep up as straight a line as possible.
“That may be difficult,” Cas said mildly. Dean, looking at the complete lack of a trail, agreed.
Like we have a choice?
Dean swore under his breath. “Can you let us know when we get off track?” he asked out loud, though he supposed belatedly it really didn’t matter at this point.
Yes, Gabriel said, not without humor. Here, see if you can feel this too? An image, a caricature of a map flashed briefly through his head before a buzz started up. Startled, Dean looked around, and the buzz instantly faded.
The buzz tells you the direction the crack is in, Gabriel informed him. As long as you feel the buzz you’re going the right way.
That sounds like the beginning to a terrible, terrible night of drinking, Dean observed, startling a phantom snicker from the archangel. Out loud, he added “We have to head that way” for Cas’s benefit and started to kick his way through the sprawl of plant life.
I’ll have to try that sometime, Gabriel mused.
Please, not in the company of actual people. Dean flashed images of the women Gabriel had whipped up to bribe him on their first Trickster case. That’s just going to make it worse.
Perfect, Gabriel said gleefully. I can’t wait to get started.
Dean chuckled under his breath before he remembered it was Gabriel he was talking to here, and laughing was not something he should be doing.
The hours dragged on. True to Gabriel’s word, there were no monsters—at least none that bothered them. With each step it got harder and harder to continue moving, and not just because the anti-monster barrier became more oppressive the closer they came to the crack. It was not that hot under the trees, relatively speaking—Dean remembered a job he had had to do in Death Valley once, in the heat of summer, and this heat was only a paltry 80 degrees in comparison to the 118 it had reached in the Californian desert. The humidity more than made up for the difference, though, because Dean was soaked. He had not been aware that he could sweat so much in his life, and he had serious doubts that it was all sweat because he should be dying of dehydration if that was the case, but the reality was that he had to pause every ten minutes and wring the water out of his clothing.
The undergrowth was a bitch to deal with. There were lots of weird, freaky bugs, for one thing—all sorts of creepy crawlies, everywhere. It was a struggle to get through five yards without getting caught up in the nets of trailing vines and ferns and hanging plants, and the effort to get across the ground in a somewhat-straight line was exhausting. There was a constant issue of having to rediscover the right direction as they went around trees and impenetrable thickets. Cas followed Dean easily and without complaint, but the expression on his face got tighter as time wore on. From Gabriel’s stream of increasingly-edgy comments, Dean knew that the two angels were dealing with twice the low-level wrongness the barrier projected.
Four hours in and they were maybe two miles out from the crack. The constant buzz made Dean’s teeth ache and he was sick of looking at the direction they were supposed to go in and Gabriel’s increasing inability to mask all the pain the anti-monster field was causing. Dragging himself through another waist-high wall of foliage, Dean finally called a break.
“I need to eat,” he said tersely when Cas shot a questioning look at him. “And get some water. So do you.”
That Cas did not argue was alarming; he acquiesced to Dean’s insistence without a murmur and ate what Dean handed him silently. The water was half gone by this point, and that was only due to severe rationing; Dean cracked open the third bottle and insisted they each drink a quarter of it. Gabriel complained about the time they were taking, but he also threw in threats every few comments about what he would do to Dean if he let Cas keel over.
Before they started up again, Dean stopped Cas with a hand on his shoulder. “Are you doing all right?” he asked seriously. “I’m getting residual barrier pain from Gabriel. How’re you handling it?”
“Let’s just keep going,” Cas replied tiredly. “We’re over half of the way there already.” Dean squeezed his hand in reassurance and took the lead again, ignoring Gabriel’s sour remarks about the time they had spent eating.
Two more hours passed. By now the anti-monster barrier was a constant grate on Dean’s senses, a nearly tangible force of semi-nausea and bone-sanding pain that Gabriel was mired in to the point that his running commentary trickled to nothing. Cas looked haggard, and Dean had taken his hand an hour previous, though he was not sure if it was for his own comfort or to keep Cas from falling too far behind. Dean and Cas kept moving, passing the last bottle of water back and forth until it was gone three quarters of a mile from the exit.
It was mid-afternoon, and an oven. Dean pulled Cas to a stop.
“One last break,” he said raggedly. He felt dizzy and could not figure out if it was because he was dehydrated or because the grating of the barrier had combined with the headache from Gabriel and the roar of a honeybee hive the weird sense-direction Gabriel had put in place. “I need to stop for a bit or I’m going to collapse. Let’s wait for an hour to cool down.”
Cas nodded, and touched Dean’s face lightly. “I can’t do anything for you,” he said heavily as Dean pulled him down to sit with him in a relatively clear area. “I can’t even tell how you are.”
Dean fumbled for the last of the food. “Here,” he said, shoving half of the meager portion to Cas. “Eat up.”
The hour passed in silence; even Gabriel was ominously quiet in the back of Dean’s mind. The temperature did not abate, but the wind kicked up in the upper level and tendrils of a breeze could be felt down at the ground level and the rest—what little they could get—also helped.
The last stretch was by far the worst. Dean lost track of time, world narrowing to the ground beneath his feet, the pounding headache that had viciously reemerged with the close proximity of the crack, and the unpleasantly sweaty grip he had on Cas’s hand that he did not dare let go of now that Cas could barely stumble along even with Dean leading the way. He was dimly aware of the shade getting darker as it became late afternoon and the sun started to set, but the slight drop in temperature didn’t register until suddenly the undergrowth fell away and he found himself teetering on the edge of a long, dark stone rip in the floor of the forest.
The buzz silenced immediately.
“Is this it?” Dean asked hoarsely, roughly prodding at the Gabriel-shaped lump in the back of his brain.
Yes, the archangel said faintly, surfacing from wherever he’d been sluggishly. That’s the crack.
“Okay,” Dean rasped, beyond the point of caring about this stupid quest and their stupid fucking exit escape route. “Good. We just jump in?”
He pulled Cas up next to him. “Let’s do this,” he told the angel. “You ready?”
Cas sagged against him. “Yes,” he managed, barely standing.
Dean wrapped an arm around Cas and fisted a hand in his filthy scrubs and trench coat. “Right. Hold on tight…” he whispered, and together they stepped into the blackness.
The fall was long, a sickening drop into nothing. The wind roared and lights flashed. Something wrapped around him and yanked him one way, but he pulled Cas even closer and locked the two of them together. They met resistance on the way down, blows that knocked the wind from Dean and caught on his clothing, but still they fell until an eternity had passed.
The landing, when it came, was abrupt and painful.
Dean was flat on his back, half-stunned and wheezing for breath. Cas was sprawled on top of him, shaking. For the moment, Dean was content to lie there and die.
A young man’s face swam into focus. As it did, more things came into detail—a circle of people, men and women and children all variously shocked or surprised, looking at him. The jungle was gone, but there were potted plants, and then a familiar babble of a mass of people speaking, threaded through with music. The blazing red and gold of a sunset showed through the ceiling inset with many expansive skylights. Dean tried to sit up before remembering that he was pinned to the ground by Cas, who—
“Cas?” he said, alarmed, and tried to sit up again. “Cas, are you all right?”
Cas groaned and appeared to try to push himself off Dean before giving up and lying still. “M’okay,” he mumbled into Dean’s neck. “M’just… tired…”
“Sir? Sir, please stay still. Help is on the way,” the man told him, and Dean realized he was wearing a uniform of some sort.
“Awesome,” Dean slurred. “Where are we?”
“This is the Chandler Fashion Center,” the mall cop—Dean could read the words “Mall Security” on his uniform—said bluntly. The look on his face told Dean he was probably suspecting drugs as a reason for their behavior.
“Chandler as in Chandler, Arizona?”
“Yes sir. Just stay still.”
“Cas, got any mojo?” Dean asked Cas.
Cas said nothing. I do, Gabriel said. What do you need?
“A cell phone,” Dean croaked out. “Anybody have a cell phone?”
Despite the guard’s protestations, someone handed him one. He squinted at the numbers and painstakingly punched in Sam’s second emergency phone. It rang three times while Dean’s heartbeat echoed thunderously in his ears, praying that Sam would pick up, before there was a click and Sam answered cautiously. “Hello?”
“Sammy,” Dean rasped. “I’m in the middle of a fucking shopping mall in Chandler, Arizona. Where are you?”
Leave me comments so that I can have a happy fix. My mother's behavior is increasingly erratic as the day I fly out for my year abroad in Egypt draws closer.
Chapter 15: Epilogue
Thank you for all your kind comments-- you guys made my day :) Enjoy this last chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Because Sam did not actually tell them his location, preferring to hiss death threats over the phone before hanging up, Dean and Cas wound up in the hospital for dehydration and exhaustion. Once Dean finally came out of the drug-induced night’s sleep and ascertained Cas’s location, he called Sam again. It took a third call and Cas to convince him that it was indeed real and they had, in fact, escaped Purgatory, whereupon Sam drove all the way out from some backwater in North Carolina to Arizona in a day and a half just to pick them up.
When his brother stepped out of the Impala, Dean would have liked to say that he totally kept his composure and walked up to Sam with the whole “no big deal” attitude. The reality was that he was confined to a wheelchair, and, much to his chagrin, he actually cried a little from relief. He did not even have the heart to resent Cas squeezing his hand in sympathy, something Gabriel found disgustingly sappy. Fortunately Sam looked just as affected—so Dean did not have to worry about being alone in his “manly tears,” as the archangel sniped.
Since Dean demanded that Sam take them for food that was not horrible, they wound up in a tucked-away booth at some diner. The three of them ate, Dean and Cas answering Sam’s questions around bites. Dean made sure to order pie, and the first bite after nearly a year without was heavenly, even though Sam was by then throwing a fit about Dean having Gabriel in his head.
Dean spent the day and evening driving to Muncie, Indianna, glorying in the feel of being back behind the wheel of his precious baby. They slept in the car overnight before he and Cas went in early the next morning, where Dean settled down next to what was left of Gabriel’s old vessel in the ruin of the Elysian Fields hotel and spent a several hours with Gabriel painstakingly recrafting his old body as a host. The archangel claimed it was easier to work from the remains than starting something from scratch. Dean did not care one way or another, but it was worth it to finally get the snarky bastard out of his head.
“See you around,” Dean said when it was over, even though he was achingly exhausted all over again. “And… thanks, you asshole. Stay out of trouble.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Gabriel smirked after patting himself down thoroughly to make sure he was all in one piece. “I’ll be back in a few days, try not to get too upset.” He snapped his fingers and disappeared.
“Good riddance,” Dean muttered under his breath. He slung an arm around Cas’s shoulders and they walked back outside to Sam.
“We’d still be in Purgatory if it wasn’t for him,” Cas reminded him.
Dean pressed a casual kiss to Cas’s temple. “Yeah?” he said. “Whatever. It was us who got our asses out.”
“Hey!” Sam yelled. “PDA!”
Without breaking stride, Cas flipped him off. Dean laughed outright.
“You busy tonight?” he asked as they got into the Impala.
“No,” Cas said. “Should I be?”
“You are now,” Dean said cheerfully, starting the engine. There were no monsters chasing them, he had his brother who was still alive and doing well, and he had Cas, safe. Dean felt free, he felt light—all those clichés that he never really paid much attention to before, and he was practically giddy with it. “Let’s go out to dinner.”
“You guys are disgusting,” Sam muttered from behind his map.
“Shut up, bitch,” Dean said with a grin, and caught Cas’s smile in the rearview mirror as Sam huffed.
Thanks to my friend Eirik for editing this all for me. Thanks also to everyone who read this and left feedback-- I hope you all enjoyed it!
I am toying with possibly writing a (hopefully longer) sequel, but I haven't gotten further than vaguely outlining it. If I do anything it'll probably be within the next month, after I've gotten settled in Egypt. So stick around, who knows? :)