When he finally gets it in Cas's head that he's not leaving Purgatory without him, it's like this weight's been lifted off Dean's shoulders, like something's shifted inside him so now he can suddenly see the forest for the trees, or some other bullshit life lesson Sam would probably get tattooed as an inspirational ankle bracelet.
Cas tells him, "I understand," and he says it like he means it, so, hell, Dean believes it. Not like he has any real reason to, what with the guy not exactly being a resounding source of I've got your back confidence so far in this monsterland down under, but he'd know, wouldn't he, if Cas was dicking with him? He'd know.
"Well, I am punch-pleased I got to be here for that," Benny drawls out once the whole thing's settled. Dean feels something in him prick at it, this voice in his head asking him what the hell he's doing trusting a demon, but it's already a tinny, almost muted thing, its real world morality totally out of touch in Purgatory. It's easy to tune out, even easier to pretend like it was never there in the first place, so that's what Dean does.
Benny hefts his sword off his shoulder and uses it to point at Cas. "Only got one rule, baby bird," he tells him. Cas tenses at that and avoids eye contact, shoulders rolling tight. Dean can't tell if it's the nickname or being told what to do that's getting his feathers in a ruffle. "Don't botch the plan, and we'll get along right as rain, you and me."
Cas's agreement comes in the form of silence, if that's what it even is. He finally lets his gaze skitter over to Benny, and Dean sees something harden there once their eyes meet, but then Cas is back to staring out at nothing.
Benny, not fluent in Cas like Dean is, seems to take it as defiance. He steps forward, the rock bed crunching under his foot, sword suddenly looking a hell of a lot more menacing.
"Alright," Dean cuts in, gruff. "He gets it. We get it," he amends that to, so he's making things clear here. There is a we now with Cas around. It's a packaged deal, take it or leave it.
Benny makes an amused sound that doesn't match the tough look on his face, a sound like Dean's some ten kinds of sucker, but like all the other times so far, he concedes to Dean and lets it go.
The moment, brief as it's been, has been a serene one, at least as far as outside threats go, which means it's not a real surprise when the woods beside them start to come alive and stir with the noisy rustle of an approaching danger. Something's prowling nearby, not even trying to be stealthy.
Cas locks eyes with Dean. "We need to go," he warns. There's something there that tells Dean he knows firsthand what's after them, doesn't really care for it, and thinks it'd be in their best interest that they book it. It might be Leviathans. Then again, it might be a damn dragon for all Dean knows.
Benny's checking the woods behind him while Cas is surveying out over the water, and when Benny prompts, "Fight or fly, chief," Cas plows toward the stream without a word. It only takes him a couple of steps for the water to lap at his shoes, and then he's full on charging into it.
"Cas," Dean says, and then he says, "Cas," again, following after him. Not that he's the nostalgic type, but Dean's seen Cas do the sacrificial swan dive before and he's not really up for a repeat performance.
Cas glances over his shoulder, water halfway up his shins now, though he's already a good ten, twelve feet in. "We need to cross. We need to get to the other side!" he calls back. “It won’t follow, Dean."
The water's a lot colder than Dean figured it'd be, but that makes sense, since there's no real sun in the sky. Not unless glowy light blob counts. Benny's right at his heels, and the three of them together splash up enough attention that they're probably drawing out other dangers, but Cas is right. A wolf/lizard hybrid-looking thing comes slinking out of the forest on all fours, hungry and slurping and locking red eyes on the meal they make in front of it, but it only goes as far as the water's edge.
The stream isn't wide, or deep, and the water feels nice, actually, sloshing up the front and back of Dean's legs. Cas looks back at him, once, and Dean gets the feeling it's to make sure he's following, that this is real.
It's completely nuts, but damn, Dean's smiling.
"Where to?" Benny wants to know once they're a decent ways away from the stream. He's playing with him, Dean can tell, trying to push at Dean's authority.
"I don't know, we keep moving, we head for safer ground," he shoots back. He's got something in his own voice that lets Benny know he doesn't have to be here if he doesn't want to be.
To the left side of Dean, though he's falling behind and lagging, Cas says, "Maybe we should—" Then he stops altogether, and Dean's automatically coming to a halt with him. Benny slows down reluctantly too, four or five feet away and swinging back around to watch them.
Dean wants to keep pushing on, since it's less likely they'll wind up monster chew toys that way. Until Cas clenches his jaw tight and grimaces, that is. And then, dammit, it clicks. "You're hurt?" he demands, moving in close so his world shrinks down to just him, Cas, and, at his peripheral, Benny. "How?"
Cas gives him that don't be stupid stare. "I told you. Leviathan."
And Dean gives him a no shit, Sherlock look right back. "Okay, but. You're still an angel. Right?" Only now that he's saying it out loud, he wonders if it's even true. Cas had said as much earlier, but the peach fuzz? Dean can count on one finger all the times he's seen Castiel rock the stubble, and that'd been in a version of the future that thankfully no longer exists. Cas was human in that reality.
Cas squints up at the sky, like he's looking for some kind of answer, or deflecting. "Yes."
Dean gives it a moment, and when Cas isn't more forthcoming, he barks, "And?"
"And," Cas gives back, just as testy, "I don't know, Dean. I don't know why I have minor but, believe me, inconveniencing pain that lingers, or why there's this inexplicable abundance of facial hair."
A scuffling noise breaks the moment – it's Benny, who gives Dean a twinkling, knowing look when Dean's attention snaps his way. Same kind of look Dean's been getting from the Purgatory locals since his unscheduled arrival, especially early on.
First time he tracked one of the monsters down here – this recently moved in vampire, he could tell, still growing into its baby teeth – he'd had it pinned beneath him in a mess of mud and wet leaves. He hadn't had then the weapon that he has now, not in its entirety. Back then it was just the tip, the knife, but the knife did plenty, and when he'd pressed it into the thing's throat – it was a woman, too, he remembers; older but still pretty in that generic, shampoo commercial kind of way – it tried to buck up underneath him.
He'd scolded it teasingly, letting the knife rest against the soft, exposed skin of its throat. "Where's the angel?" he asked.
It'd bucked again, laughing, and that time the dumb ass thing nicked itself. A line of blood spilled out, as well as a hiss. "Hey," he said, unmoved, "we can do this the hard way, fine with me." And he was still new enough down there, then, that his pulse hammered when he'd said it, only because he was half-expecting – hell, more than half – to be jumped from behind, or in front, or the side, bracing with every breath for a pair of claws to spear his lungs or fangs to clamp down on his neck.
"There are no angels," it'd said, still smiling. Then it lifted its head as much as its horizontal position, and the knife, allowed, and seethed through its teeth, "Righteous man."
Dean absolutely did not take pleasure in yanking it back down. "Not gonna ask again, lady."
Its laugh was high-pitched and crazy. "Angel, angel. You know, I don't know. Maybe your honey's already dead." And he'd slit its throat, then, didn't even hesitate or blink. The blade tore right through, easy and cathartic, and while the vampire choked on its blood, gurgling and gasping and laughing still, Dean wiped the red stuff off onto some of those slippery leaves on the ground and left.
Benny drops the look to pick back up on scouting the vicinity again, resigned but with a blown out breath that lets everyone know his time's being wasted. When Dean swings his attention back over to Cas, Cas is staring at him, intense and focused like he's reading up on Dean's soul, but when their eyes meet, he only holds the stare for a count of two or three seconds before dropping it.
"It's too risky," he says, and then, "we shouldn't be stopping," he tells Dean, pushing past, but Dean wraps a hand around his forearm, close down by the wrist, and stops him.
"Hey. You're hurt."
"Yeah, well, slow down a sec. Take it easy."
"Tick tock," Benny drawls unnecessarily, slow as molasses. It makes Castiel give Dean a pointed look, like his point's been proven. All that does is make Dean glower.
"We're stopping," he announces, as much to Benny as it is to Castiel, but it's Castiel he keeps his eyes on.
"Dean," Cas tries, but Dean cuts the eye contact and turns on Benny.
"You got a problem with that?" he asks. It's not a happy voice.
A slow smile curls at the corners of Benny's mouth, like he knew they'd reach this consensus all along. "Sounds like a mighty fine idea to me," he tells him. Placatingly, Dean knows that too, but right now he doesn't care, because right now he uses it against Cas.
Still, Cas argues, trying to sound rational about it, even though he was the one who'd stopped in the first place. "We are in the middle of the woods—"
"This whole friggin' place is the middle of the woods," Dean throws back, finally letting go of Cas.
"It's not safe here."
"It's Purgatory. Read the damn tagline."
"At the very least, we need cover, shelter—"
"Right, a nice Holiday Inn, maybe?" Dean blows out a hard noise through his nose. "Sorry, think we're a little too far off-the-grid for that." And he's being an asshole about it, fine, he knows that, but there's this protectiveness clawing up inside him, brotherly and something else, that's making him put his foot down. He spent hell if he even knows how long looking for the son of a bitch; they can rest.
"Now hold up, fellas," Benny says, nice and peaceful-like, which automatically rouses suspicion. It interrupts the stare-off Dean wasn't going to lose. "Think we're all in luck," he continues. With both Castiel and Dean's attention hooked by that, Benny nods his head. He's gesturing at this nearby rock ledge that juts out far enough at the top that they could sit underneath it, at the base, with plenty of covering.
It's a dick move, but Dean gets Cas in that vacuum of eye contact again, just to wordlessly gloat that, hey, looks like they're resting after all. Then he goes after Benny with a friendly smack to the vampire's back. "We're calling you Hawk Eyes," he jokes as they go. A reluctant Cas follows.
It's not a shelter. It's barely even a ledge, and when he sits against it, the rock digs into Dean's back, but it'll do.
Benny's up and tinkering with his sword, swinging it through thick, leafy branches to keep the blade sharp. He strays away from their makeshift rest site, staying close only by sound, and Cas, who's camped out beside Dean, chooses then to break the silent treatment he'd been hellbent on giving the last hour or so.
"I wanted to say thank you," he starts awkwardly. It's only awkward, though, because he's so damn sincere about it.
"Don't thank me, thank Benny."
Castiel's frown tells Dean that he's going to eventually have to do a better job at explaining Benny's presence than dude knows a way out, because, hell. That's probably true of every last creature-feature down here with them, isn't it? But whatever loosened his tongue up earlier on the side of that stream, it's doing the opposite now. He doesn't know how to tell Cas that he damn near dwindled the population down to double digits just to find him. That, yeah, he prayed to him, but he prayed for him as well. So damn much. That he'd whisper it when he had to, or say it in his head, but most nights he'd bellow it into the emptiness around him like he was daring something to come out and get him.
And Benny fits in there in some small, messed up way, because he's been company when Dean's needed it, and he doesn't even mean the good kind, he just means the present kind, the answering-your-damn-calls kind.
Castiel shifts beside him. The way he's got his left leg angled over his right one slightly, and how close they're already sitting, it makes his knee knock into Dean's. He keeps it there and says, "Nonetheless, I'm thanking you, Dean." Which, fine. Dean gets it. He knows he's not talking about their cozy rock ledge, anyway.
Dean lays his hand over Castiel's knee and gives it an affectionate shake. "Fine, man. Whatever you say." It's not meant to be more than anything but, like, a fleeting moment of solidarity and friendship and manly bonding, but he gets that warmth under his palm, feels Cas as a solid and real and not-disappearing thing, and it's hard all of a sudden for him to give that up. So he doesn't. And it's weird and new and Cas is staring holes into the side of his face, but Dean barrels right on past that. He's not the only one who can bring up shady life decisions. "You should've answered, Cas," he says lowly. Dean Winchester: nagging housewife.
"Dean," Castiel says, and it's a please don't go there, this will suck warning. Well, now that means Dean's going there.
He slides his hand off of Cas, not missing the way Castiel's narrow eyes hone in on that same hand like he's trying to suss out what its intent was in the first place.
"It's a shitty excuse, Cas. I mean it, paper thin."
After a moment, Cas says, with air quotes, though still somehow knock-him-on-his-ass solemn, "Wanting to protect you has never been a 'thin' intent, paper or otherwise."
Dean stares at him, unblinking, before pushing to his feet. "Dammit, Cas." Cas keeps watching. Dean scrubs his hand over his jaw and pushes down emotions he'd rather not deal with right now, or ever, thanks. "Stop that."
Cas squints. His knee is still bent where he left it, and Dean flexes his fingers; a reflex. "Stop what?"
"Stop leaping out in front of buses for me!"
Castiel's squint deepens into a full on frown. "I don't… leap. In front of buses, or any other way."
Dean snorts, stupid literal angel, but his nerves feel too tight, too wound up. He can hear the swish-swish of Benny still swinging at branches and then a solid, heavier sound as blade hits wood.
"You wanna save someone," Dean finally manages, low but rough-sounding, "save your damn self. Not me. I'm not--" He can't get the rest out, though. It's too self-pitying, even for him.
The frown that Cas has been wearing fades like that, settling into something way more disturbing, like concern. Screw that noise. Dean would rather light himself on fire than listen to any pick-me-up Cas has to offer. But Cas is already getting up, one hand braced at the rock wall behind him where he's pushing to his feet, the other clutching at his waist. He's got an injury there that he won't let Dean see, one that he's not angel-healing, which of course means Dean's left imagining the worst.
Cas says, "Dean," singing the same ol' tune, wearing the same ol' how dumb are you solace, but Dean's not having it.
"Just stop, man. All of it. Alright? Stop bolting, stop holding out. No more going all Dark Knight on me."
The reference goes over his head, but Cas seems to get the gist of it. And doesn't seem to care. "It's my penance."
"Awesome, so I'm your guilt factory. No thanks."
"You're—" Castiel expels a frustrated breath and ditches that thought to latch onto a new one. "I said I would redeem myself, and I meant it."
"Look around you," Dean counters, arms wide out. "Slate's cleaned."
Castiel looks away, then down, and he shakes his head. "It doesn't work that way."
"Yeah," Dean insists, "it does. Trust me. I've got more of those things than a person needs."
Cas meets Dean's eyes again, pleading this time. "What I did—"
"Water under the bridge."
"I broke Sam's wall—"
"You kidding me?" His voice hitches before getting caught in his throat – it's too damn hard to think of Sam down here; there's so much he doesn't know about where his brother is or if he's even alive -- Dean swallows around a lump and manages to keep it light. "Dude's fine. More than fine, he's friggin' Humpty Dumpty in reverse."
Dean gets, for just a second, the tired stop with the references face from Cas. Doesn't last long, though. "No. It's not fine. Nothing about it is fine. I'm not absolved, Dean." That part is scolding, almost, and there's a fear there too that Dean hates hearing. Then Castiel's tone takes a turn for the crazy, like he's caught himself a nice, shiny glimpse of bees. "There's still so much to make up for, please. You don't understand. I have to—"
Dean moves forward until he's got Cas's trenchcoat fisted in his hands. The thing's caked in dirt and god knows what else, most of it crumbling loose when his grip tightens. "94% of crackpots think their melon's compos friggin' mentis," he recites back at him. He gives Cas a tough, snap-out-of-it shake, demanding, "Are you okay?"
He pushes so Castiel's back hits the rock wall behind them. It's not kind. Cas's whole body sags on impact, going boneless right away, but he doesn't so much as wince, and Dean demands again, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, okay, yes. Dean. Please."
There's a growling sound off in the distance. Or mewling, maybe, of some pissed off Purgatory hometowner looking to eat. That constant nearby swish Benny provided cuts off when the growl is repeated, closer and louder. And like that, Dean knows Benny's got it.
Cas curls his hands into Dean's jacket to match Dean's hold on him. Once upon a time ago it might've been tactic. Cas would've been looking for equal ground so he could lay some heavy smiting on him if he needed to. Just feels like anchoring now, though.
Dean doesn't even realize he's got a hand hooking around the back of Castiel's neck until Cas shuts himself up, wide-eyed and thrown by it. And it's just, it's the solidness of Cas that Dean can't quit reaching for. He wants to wrap him up in another hug just to let himself feel that he's still there, he wants to tie a damn rope around the both of them so Cas can't fly off without him, and he wants whatever antenna Cas's brain is usually tuned into to work, he wants—
"Gentlemen." Benny comes stomping in like a freaking herd of something, kicking mud off his boots against the wall some six or seven inches from where Dean's still got Cas hauled up. "I wouldn't happen to be interruptin' anything private, would I?"
Cas holds Dean's stare in a big way, but he doesn't say anything when Dean move off and lets go, or when Dean grunts out, "You mind?" That's aimed at the mud trail Benny brought in, like that's the real problem here.
Benny gives him a warm, warm grin. "Not at all, boss."
They're ambushed from above. Not paying nearly enough attention when it happens, this group of four vampires drops the fifteen feet from the top of the ledge onto the ground in front of them, and just like that they're cornered and out-numbered, though they’re able to get to their feet fast.
They must be old friends of Benny's, because one of them leers his way. "Well, shit, lookey here. Guess it's true. You and the human."
Dean double-clutches his weapon, brushing his elbow against Cas's. It's his wordless way of asking Cas if he’s ready, if he's got this, and Cas leaning into his space tells him yes.
Benny kicks back onto his heels, looking like a guy on a street corner who doesn’t have a single care in the world. "Change is good for the soul. So's opportunity."
One of the goons on the far right rears his head back and flashes fangs at Dean; it makes Cas stiffen up, stepping lightly out to the front where he slips into protective/badass mode.
"Angel," another of the vampires hisses through its teeth.
"Name's Cas," Dean snarls before bolting forward, and that's when all hell breaks loose. Benny gets the gang's leader, the heckler who'd recognized him, and they go at it with hard, heavy-hitting punches. Cas gets run into by the one with the angel fetish, which leaves Dean fending off the final two.
"Is it just me, or you guys some new breed of fugly down here?" he wonders out loud. They launch, as predicted, in unison. Dean's able to pivot out of the way, just barely missing slamming into Cas. On the turn around, he swings his weapon in a big upwards arc, hacking into whatever he can.
Benny's guy goes down first and doesn't get back up. Dean doesn't know if the thing's dead or in one hell of a daze, but he doesn't have long to think about it because Benny lines up beside him, joining him so they're shoulder to shoulder, this steadying weight of prepare-to-have-your-ass-whipped solidarity.
"You boys probably shouldn't've done that," Benny drawls. There's blood in his mouth from where he took a hard right hook, and he spits it out.
The other vampires take one look at each other, then turn and flee. Dean and Benny follow.
All of a sudden there's a flare of bright, blinding light behind them, with one of those cosmic explosions that seems to shake the whole world just a little, and the Earth moves beneath their feet. Dean lets Benny chase down the runaways while he turns to find – Castiel, thank god, still in one piece, a smited vampire crumpled at his feet.
"Cas?" He starts back that way, but Cas looks up, gives him the mother of all apologies with his face, and disappears. Just like that. Before Dean's even moved a full step forward, the son of a bitch has winged out of there, gone in a blink. He knows it's pointless, but Dean yells, "Cas!" anyway, just in case. Something howls far off, but there's no sign of Cas.
Benny comes up from behind. He's breathing loud and heavy, winded from the chase, or the killing. Dean doesn't know. Hell, he doesn't want to know. Benny nods at where Cas last stood. "The angel?" It's a careful, calculated question.
Dean's jaw muscles go tight. He turns and takes off the other way. "Come on."
Cas comes back only a little while later, while they're hiking through a stretch of rough terrain. If Dean had a watch, or this place housed some kind of goddamn clock, he might've been able to tell how long it'd been. As it is, he just has that feeling in his gut that says only an hour or two had passed. In the scheme of things, it's a blink. It's nothing.
But fuck that. Dean's pissed. He shouldn't have to worry about Cas bailing on him, not now.
"Hello, Dean," Cas says. It's that, and how Cas looks like one of those scrawny dogs that expects to get whacked with a newspaper, that cools down his anger, but only some.
"So, what, you're back to watching the bees or something?" He tries to be calm about it, he does, but it's pretty hard when he still wants to get up close and knock some damn sense into Cas. This is Purgatory. They don't have the luxury of Don McLean or Twister or mental slip-and-sliding.
"No, I." Cas stops. He closes his mouth and tries to come up with something good to say, Dean's betting. Benny's up and close, too, and skulking in their personal space, and Dean would tell him to mind his own damn business, but if Cas is going to go zapping off anytime they get into a fight, they all need to know. Need to hear it.
"Cas, come on," Dean says to get him talking again, though it's also a little bit of a please stay with me, man plea that he just can't help.
"I'm sorry," is all Cas says. He's not even looking at Dean. His eyes are downcast and his shoulders are slumped and Dean, staring at a mess of angel who happens to be one of the only real friends he's ever known, maybe even the best one, makes himself remember that this isn't a cakewalk for Cas either.
Dean steels his voice, because right now, it feels like he's cracking. "You can't do that, Cas. Not again. You hear me?" He's asking for a hell of a lot more than just a general do not go poof commitment. He tries to catch Castiel's gaze, draw it out of him that way, but Cas turns.
He hesitates before staring past Benny, out past this clump of gnarly trees they've already killed three demons in. "I'm sorry," Cas says again, but toneless this time. "Now can we please go?"
Benny meets Dean's gaze over Castiel's shoulder. Dean can't see Cas's face, but he knows he's probably got that whole angel resolution; will not budge thing happening. Dean sighs and relents.
Benny sidesteps so Cas can lead the way. "After you, baby bird."
Telling time down here doesn't work, but Dean had a system early on. There was this big, ancient looking oak tree, or a sycamore, all alone in the middle of this field. Giant, tall as a building. Like one of those skyscrapers back topside. And he used it as his landmark in those days when he'd still been trying to get a bearing on this place, when he was staying close to the drop zone in case Cas came back. In case Sam...
The sun doesn't rise like it should, is the point, but it comes and goes in cycles Dean's used to. So he'd scratch a notch into the bark any time he'd see it. Got to be that he'd made seventy-two marks on that tree before he'd come across Benny, and maybe something like thirty after, and in all that time, he's only ever slept a handful of times.
Sleep just doesn't happen. Oh, Dean feels exhausted. Feels dead down to the bone most times, truth be told. But his body plows on without it. Same way he deals with hunger and thirst. Would he torch the whole place down for a greasy, cheesy bacon burger? Hell yeah, and then some. He'd cut off his own arm for a cold beer. But they're wants and desires, not necessities, and he's learned to do without.
They're on their thirteenth day with Cas, if Dean's keeping track right, though sometimes he loses time when the attacks are frequent, and they've carved themselves out a safe corner of Purgatory. Relatively, anyway, but they've found a cave big enough for the three of them, though they only ever risk two at a time. There is always someone on watch, always one of them standing guard.
Dean's sprawled out on his coat on the ground, arms folded beneath his head as a makeshift and uncomfortable as hell pillow, feet propped on a small stone. Cas is sitting stoically beside him, content in their silence, though he keeps himself busy most times with a pocket of rocks he probably nabbed from that stream. He's got a couple of them out now, arranging and then rearranging them on the ground in front of him. Dean doesn't ask and Cas doesn't share, so he figures it's none of his business anyway.
Maybe his body is in some kind of stasis mode, like Purgatory ennui, and it's running smoothly on no sleep, but Dean feels like it's verging on all mush upstairs. Like his brain's got a serious lag, the kind Sammy's laptop used to get when Dean was maybe spending a little too much alone time with the porn sites.
Cas looks up from his newest attempt at temporary floor art. "You need rest," he announces. As usual, it's pulled from out of nowhere but freaking apt, all at the same time. Cas in a nutshell.
Dean jerks his hips enough that his body gives a little look at me all reclined and pliant wiggle. Could maybe even be the Magic Fingers, if he closed his eyes and pretended real hard. "Dude. I am resting."
Cas flips a stone around in his hand, then places it at the top of his doodle. Dean thinks they're sigils. This one's mostly a circle, but it's got spoke-looking things coming out the sides. Maybe it's a sun. "You know what I mean," he sighs.
Dean does, so he sighs right back at him and flops around so he's comfortable again. Kind of hard, what with the rock and… rock and, oh yeah, more rock. "Can't," he grunts.
Castiel plucks three more rocks out of his coat pocket. He sets them in a row below the sun. Hell, maybe it's Cas's portrait of Sam, with the girl-hair and all. And that thought stings so bad and for so long that Dean's pretty sure he full-circles right back around to some zen, delusional state of mind because it doesn't hurt nearly as bad when Cas says, "I might be able to help."
Dean doesn't doubt it. Mountain man beard or not, nothing else about Cas has changed, at least not when it comes to his status on the celestial ladder of command. He's still an angel. Still fluffs his wings at night, still smites the bad guys.
The times he's been able to sleep, though, or times his brain's just gone and logged off on him, haven't been Dean's favorite Purgatory memories. Nothing like coming to while being dragged into an actual friggin' lair. Couple of minutes later and he might've been a roasting-over-an-open-fire Dean.
"Yeah, no. I'm good," he gives back and tries to mean it too. Benny's got them closer to where they need to be to get out of here. All they have to do is find an enchanted flower, or whatever, at the top of this one hill, squeeze some plant-y extract out of it, and boom, they are pretty much good to go. Like something out of a friggin’ fairytale. Except for the part where they still need to figure out how Cas comes with. Dean refuses to dwell on that for too long, though, because Cas not getting out isn't even a remote possibility. He won't let it happen.
One of Castiel's rocks skitters away from the pile and lands by Dean. Cas won't argue, because he knows Dean's made up his mind, but when he leans over to retrieve his precious pebble, he drops his hand on Dean's forearm and squeezes, knowingly.
If Dean closes his eyes and his heart bobs all the way up his damn throat, it's because he's tired, alright.
Dean's squatting at the edge of a dark and murky river, the width of it maybe twenty feet across at its widest parts. He cups his hands in the water, splashes his face. And then feels a pair of claws sink straight into his shoulder blades.
When he looks up, Cas is frozen in watch at the opposite side of the stream, wide-eyed and unmoving, and whatever's got a hold of him, it's pissed, sinking those claws in even further so that Dean's whole chest and everything down to the backs of his knees feels like it's being put through a light socket.
He makes a strangled noise, air pushed clean out of his lungs while his body tries to figure out what the hell's happening to it. Then there's nothing but a violent pulling off feeling from behind, a sudden release and weightlessness, and the sound of a short, brutal death.
A hand clamps down and curls around his bicep. Benny.
"Close one, brother," he says, lugging Dean to his feet, easy.
Dean laughs shakily, feeling the close call hit home. "Nice timing," he grins, clamping Benny back and giving a thankful squeeze.
Cas, on the other side of the river, is an afterthought.
"Hola, chief," Benny says, dropping beside him. It's Cas's turn on watch, though he left reluctantly, and not without first giving Benny a long, piercing glare. Couple weeks they've all been together now, and he's still waiting to be stabbed in the back.
With a stick, Dean's poking at a mound of receipts he's built from the junk found in his wallet. There's a picture of him, Bobby, and Sam in there, too, but he won't look at it. That's nothing new, though. He's kind of always kept it just as proof that he comes from somewhere, that he had a family once and sometimes they could sit still for a damn second and be normal in front of a disposable camera. But it's always brought up more bad memories than good ones, so he's never done much with it but gain a few more notches up whatever yardstick measures his desire to drive himself off a cliff.
He sends the paper tower toppling and grunts, "Hey."
Benny raises his eyebrows at him but otherwise doesn't comment. See, and that's why Dean likes Benny so much. Guy knows how to avoid an ugly conversation.
At least that's what Dean's thinking, up until Benny says, "So. The angel."
Dean can't help it, he lets his head fall back against the cave wall and groans. It's a personally offended noise that says come on, man, I don't want to have this talk either. That's because nothing good ever comes out of anything that starts off with the angel.
"We got ourselves a week, maybe two, and that’s tops, before we gotta get the ball rolling on this. Unless you two've decided you're likin' the view..."
They know how it's supposed to go. The big escape plan. They go to the hill, they get the flower, they find that skyscraper of a tree Dean once marked his days on. The drop zone. Dean cuts his arm and whatever crap they're supposed to extract from the flower gets mixed into a blood-and-pulp smoothie that Benny's meant to down. Dean's got to hack Benny's head clean off after, no playing around, and Benny's spirit, or vampiric Twilight-y essence, or whatever, is supposed to seep its way into Dean's still bleeding wound. After that Dean gets to serve as some sort of undead mail carrier while he Fed Exes them out of here by a portal that should spontaneously appear via some old school Latin, if everything goes as planned.
Problem is, they haven't found a way to tie Cas in. Only a human can get through. And that's a roadblock they reach over and over again before Dean gets tired of talking about it and makes everyone shut up.
Benny kicks at Dean's ankle to drag his attention back around. "You do want Feathers out, don't you?"
Dean scowls, because that's a stupid question. "Obviously."
"Sure he's all angel?" Benny throws out there. "Sure he's not… keeping secrets? Could've fallen ten times over for all we know."
Cas is still an angel. And Dean would know otherwise. End of story.
Dean gets up with his various limbs protesting. He's getting too old for this shit. "Gonna go check on Cas," he says, and does.
Dean jolts to. At first he's disoriented and dazed and none of his thoughts seem to want to connect, but then a warm hand comes down on his forehead and the world makes sense again.
"Cas," he breathes out, grateful. "Hey."
Cas sounds less appreciative. Cas sounds like, well, Cas. "I told you to let me do that."
Sleep. Right. Dean must've fallen asleep. His head slumps back against the cave floor and he barks out, "I'm fine," mostly because he's left feeling shaken. And because, dammit, you don't coddle a grown man.
“Clearly." Sarcasm. Cute. "Your body is demanding rest, Dean. Maybe you should listen to it for once."
He closes his eyes to gain a little of his sanity back, but he still feels Cas staring. "Newsflash, pal, my body's demanding a lot of things." He bites that out as fairly as he can, but it's still pretty gruff-sounding. "Hell, Cas, we been here how long now? You gonna whammy me a piece of pie? Because I could go for a piece of pie." He doesn't drop the mocking, just keeps piling on. "What about water? Or sex?" He opens his eyes for that, snorting meanly. "Yeah, hey! Think you can get me some sex, Cas—"
He stops when Cas lets out one of those loud exhales that means he finds Dean grating and juvenile. It soaks up most of whatever had Dean lashing out in the first place, familiar as it is, so much so that he laughs. Actually laughs. It's short-lived and bordering on creepy, but still. Best thing about it, though, is that he catches Cas smiling.
"Seriously, though," Dean says, sounding wistful. "Pie, Cas. Pie." Like they’re talking about the lost love of Dean’s life or something.
Cas's smile stays there, but then it slips. Slowly, and with his eyes briefly settling on Dean before moving off again, Cas lowers himself so he's laid out on his back beside Dean. He folds his hand on top of his stomach and stills. There's a whole lot of staring at the cave's ceiling after that.
"It's all a little strange, in a way," Cas eventually says. Laying how he is, his voice rumbles more than usual. "Purgatory. It's not as I imagined."
Dean's voice is weirdly wrecked as well. He blames the sleep. "Tell me about it."
"I had some idea, of course. The Leviathan." As if either of them needs the reminder. "But this? Peace and order in disorder. It's difficult to understand."
Dean's gaze stays on the ceiling. He tries to keep his thoughts vague, but there's something inside him getting pulled towards Cas. He thinks of magnets and hooks. "Yeah," he says, hoarse.
"Before you... found me," Cas says, with a pause. "I thought I’d..."
Dean's head lolls Cas's way. "What?"
"You'd call it a blaze of glory." It's almost fond, the way he says it. He deepens his voice on the impression, too, like he's trying to verbalize air quotes. Dean laughs quietly, staring up again. “I wanted to,” Cas admits like he's confessing sins. "Endlessly. Tirelessly.”
“Think we both did,” Dean tells him, “for a while, anyway.”
Cas sighs, like Dean’s not getting it, like he’s the biggest idiot Cas knows. “It was cowardly. I was cowardly, I realize that now.”
“You know how long it took for me to throw in the towel down here?” Dean throws back, voice going hard. Cas looks his way, and he feels it as a tangible thing, a connection. “Minute. Hell, a second. And I would’ve, too. Just pray like hell Sam’d be--” He has to stop, has to work his throat around that. “I’d hope for the best. For Sam. And I’d close my eyes and just…" He cuts his hand across the space in front of him, expelling out a noise that means bye-bye, Dean. "Almost did, too. But then I got to thinking about that son-of-a-bitch angel I know and how pissed he'd be, he found out, so. I fought. Hard."
Dean drops his head to the side and finds Cas staring at him like he's hitched his whole world, everything he knows, on Dean's shoulders. It's nothing new, but that battering in Dean's chest is.
"The first time I – heard you –" Cas says, having trouble with those words, "I was surrounded. I expected – I embraced -- certain death. And then you called and you said—"
"Cas, get your winged ass back here," Dean remembers. Something in Cas's eyes gets lighter at it, or the memory of it.
"I thought, how incredibly ironic. I was going to die with the voice of Dean Winchester commanding me home." Dean's heart starts to jog in place at the word home and what Cas means by it. "Of course, I didn't die. And I didn't go to you either, even though--" He cuts himself off before breathing out slow. Like he wants to say more than he knows how. "Because I knew when I would, I'd be followed."
It's a good moment. Hell, it's downright sappy, and Dean does sentiment about as well as he does everything else in his life, which means he has to try real hard not to screw it up, but it's nice. More than nice. Of course that means Cas goes and nukes it.
"Maybe, though," he says, in that voice that means he's thinking dumb, self-sacrificing crap, "I should've… blazed."
Reality comes crashing back in. Dean sits up in a rush-of-blood wooziness. "I thought we talked about that?" His voice is hard. Maybe it'll get Cas to listen. "No more Batman."
Cas stares back at him. Dean gets the feeling, no matter how because-I-said-so he makes himself sound, Cas is going to do whatever harebrained heroics comes to him at the time.
But he says, "Of course, Dean," in total surrender, letting Dean believe it that much longer.
The hill is crawling with Leviathans. Of course it is. It wouldn't be Dean's life if he didn't have to first toil through hell to get something good to go his way for once.
Cas is hanging back, reluctant to cover any more ground with Dean and Benny, claiming he's a big, fat liability since all Leviathans are drawn to his tasty angel parts, so they find a tangle of tall, sprawling underbrush to hide out in.
"Could leave the angel here," Benny suggests real innocently.
Dean's gotten close enough to him during their shared time that he feels like maybe asking the guy to sign his yearbook at the end of all this, tell him to keep in touch, but that gets him a cold scowl and an even tougher, "No."
Benny glances pointedly at Cas, who's the watchdog in their huddle. Last thing they need is to be taken by surprise by a couple of those teethy douchebags. He's got his ears open, though, tuned into the conversation, listening when Benny says, "It's not like I'm sayin' we fly outta here without our pair of wings—"
"Yeah, then what?"
"Just until we get what we need. That's all I'm saying. We sneak past without danglin' angel-lure in their faces." Like that's a perfectly legitimate idea.
Apparently it must be, because Cas lets his eyes skitter over to Dean's for just a second before falling back to security. "He's right, you need to go now," he tells him.
It's not like Dean thinks Cas can't handle himself. If anything, out of the three of them, Cas is the most capable of holding his own, since he's got that whole zapping-out-of-thin-air trick up his sleeve. But it's the Leviathans. Dean's watched them take down too many people he cares about, and that's including Cas, so sue him if he's feeling protective.
"Now or never," Benny says.
"Fine," Dean allows before pointing a finger at Cas. "Stay." The I will kick your ass if you so much as blink wrong is implied.
When it all goes to shit, and obviously it does, it feels like the world is splintering open. That's probably because it is.
Everything goes as planned, up until the last couple of minutes. The flower, the tree, saying so long to Benny as the vampire Dean knows before slashing the guy and storing his glowy essence in his forearm, for god's sake. The chanting, the portal, all of it. Everything works.
And still, only humans allowed. That's the fine print. But they'd flip the script, right? Cas would grab onto Dean and Dean would grab onto Cas and, like everything else they've managed somehow in the years they've known each other, they'd cheat death, or fate, or whatever hotshot dick was running things this time.
It doesn't work that way, though, and Dean realizes that, they both realize it, the second the portal starts to suck him through. There's nothing they can do to stop it, no way to hit pause and work on a Plan B. They're screwed.
It's like his insides are being vacuumed out, this pulling like nothing he's ever felt before. Cas, too, until they hit that barrier between Purgatory and Earth. Dean's getting yanked at but Cas isn't budging, stuck on one side.
They're so close.
Cas shouts Dean's name, almost impossible to hear over the sound of wind and suction. Something passes in a long look between them, something apologetic but stubborn, and Dean wants to be angry about it, is angry about it, except he's still being drawn through and Cas is unmovable like a brick wall.
After everything, this is how it ends.
Cas cries out, "Dean!" again, louder and helpless this time, fingers slipping. Final, too, like he's trying to pack a history of friendship into it, like it's filled with regret and gratitude and something bigger.
Dean tries to hold on, he tries.
Cas lets go and the world goes white.