Dean’s voice is the first thing Cas hears in the mornings. It’s also the last thing he hears at night fall. Some nights he hears it all through the dark hours, sometimes it’s just his name he hears.
He hears Dean loud and clear, but doesn’t answer, can’t answer, though the loss of his friend’s presence is worse than anything he’s gone through since they landed in Purgatory. It’s worse than anything he’s experienced before, which is an interesting realization, though he can make no sense of it. How Dean’s voice in his head, while being so far away, aches worse than physical torture he’s endured. Forcing himself to stay away when Dean sounds so desperate and scared feels like dying.
But this is for Dean’s benefit. He is keeping Dean safe by staying one step ahead of him, or trying best he can to anyway. Truth be told, Dean seems better at tracking him than all the monsters in Purgatory combined. Half the time, Cas isn’t running to lead the monsters away from the hunter, he’s just running from the, well, hunter.
‘Day, uh,… I’ve stopped counting,’ Dean says. ‘Weeks. Close to a month now. They all blend together seeing as how I don’t require food or sleep here, which is a relief because I haven’t seen the first thing I could eat, unless I want Roast Vampire, and haven’t had much of a chance to slow down, much less sleep.’ He can hear Dean sigh, and how tired he sounds makes Cas’ heart clench tight in his borrowed body. ‘If you were here, Cas, we could watch out for each other. Take turns keeping watch so the other one can at least close their eyes. Wherever you are, Cas, I’ll find you. Don’t lose hope.’
A snort escapes Cas, and it’s dangerously close to being something else, something more like a sob. For weeks now, Dean has been acting under the assumption that Cas left because he was taken. Dean thinks he’s trying to save Cas, keeps encouraging the angel that he’s not alone, even though they are so far apart.
In many ways, Castiel does feel trapped and alone, and it’s only Dean’s voice in his head that keeps him sane. Madness apparently can’t follow you into the world between worlds. If they do ever get out, he wonders if he’ll automatically lose his mind again, or if he’ll be in control like he is now. Well, what control he has, but feels dangerously close to losing. As hard as this world is, he likes being in control of his actions, rather than the befuddled dream-like state he’d been in before, where everything was too much, too confusing, where he felt too much.
‘I hear you’ve been seen running from and battling Leviathan. You can do it, Cas. Kick ‘em in the ass. Don’t let them capture you. There’s a cavern by the cliffs I had to lay low in for a few days, try to make your way there. It’s safe. Well, safer than being out in the open. I’m making my way to your last known. If we miss each other, wait for me at the cavern.’
Cas turns and runs in the opposite direction of the caverns.
‘I swear to God, if anything has happened to you Cas, there will be absolute hell to pay. I will kill every last monster in this place.’ He goes quiet for a minute and Cas can still sense him thinking, can feel the way Dean’s feelings are a tumultuous, chaotic mess the angel cannot decipher. Human emotions are still so foreign to him, he doesn’t think he’ll ever understand the other attached feeling to every throb of worry and anger. ‘Please be okay,’ Dean prays, voice like a whisper ghosting over Castiel’s mind. His emotions are layered and complex and Cas stands no chance of understanding them, not when an angel’s emotions are so muted by comparison so as not to impair their soldier judgment.
Steeling himself, Cas rises in the cavern long since abandoned by Dean. There’s a message carefully scratched onto the stone wall. ‘Wait for me.'’
Going to the entrance, the angel glances around and takes off at a jog.
At one point, Dean’s voice goes quiet. He isn’t in Cas’ head that morning, nor as the hours drag on and Cas gets in a fight against several Leviathan, only to be saved when several other monsters show up to fight for who has rights to the angel. Castiel gets away while they kill each other off. It’s been silent in Cas’ mind all day by the time night falls, and Cas is straining to hear something, anything from the other man. He checks to make sure his angelic powers are still there and that this place isn’t draining him of them. Everything is in order, everything works, he should be able to hear Dean.
Unless he can’t hear him because Dean can’t pray. Because there isn’t a Dean to pray.
The only thing he can’t do is sense where Dean is, and that nearly drives Cas to insanity. He can’t fly to where Dean is, just to see for himself that the hunter is safe, even without revealing himself. It’s probably for the best. Castiel isn’t sure he has the will power to walk away from Dean twice if he saw him again.
In the morning, Cas’ head is still silent and the angel is in a near panic, turning and running back in the direction Dean had last told him he was. He could be hurt. Silence doesn’t mean dead. Can’t mean dead. If Dean is dead…
Cas can think of no reason to not just let the monsters have him if Dean is dead. He’s only alive in order to try and keep them away from the hunter, after all. With Dean gone, there’s no reason to keep doing this, to keep holding on. The only thing he was holding on to was Dean.
He’s in the middle of a fight and getting ‘his ass handed to him’, as Dean would put it, when Dean’s perfect voice is in his head again.
‘Okay, giving you your space isn’t working. It’s worse than this one-sided telephone game,’ Dean says, and he sounds angry and tired and worried. ‘I can't stand this, man. Where are you? I thought maybe you might try to come to me, change things up, but I can’t stand not at least trying to make this contact. Maybe one day you’ll hear me. Or maybe you can and just can’t answer. If you’re some place rough, Cas, I can’t stand the thought of you feeling like you’re there alone. I will find you and we’ll get through this. We’re gonna go home, Cas. Together. Hang in there.’
Castiel takes another blow to the jaw that sends him sprawling to the ground on his hands and knees, and despite the fatigue he feels, suddenly he’s up and fighting like a wild thing, using both his own powers and his body to lay out every one of the enemies that had surrounded him.
Dean is alive! Alive and he hasn’t given up hope, is still looking for Cas, and if Dean is alive, Cas will keep fighting, won’t ever stop fighting. As long as Castiel is drawing attention to himself, and all the monsters and leviathan are focused on trying to capture and kill him, they can’t shift their focus to Dean.
Bleeding and panting, Castiel is doubled over, wondering how long they’ve been in this hell dimension between dimensions where there is never any rest or time and only blood and fighting and running.
A twig snaps as someone moves through the forest, jerking Cas from him thoughts. He straightens and takes off at a sprint. He’s far away from the clearly already when Dean steps into it minutes later.
He’d been exhausted and tired beyond what words could describe when Dean actually caught up to him. Cas had only stopped for a minute. He’d been stupid, constantly coming back to this one place like he had, but it seemed to be the only place he found a reprieve. He didn’t know what powers the water held, but nothing ever came for him here.
Until Dean Winchester. Of course it would be Dean that found Castiel when he didn’t want to be found, when he was so tired and lonely there was no way Cas would be able to walk away again. Of course it was Dean that never stopped looking for Cas for the better half of a year, that kept the angel running as much from him as the monsters.
A flood of emotions nearly overwhelm him, most of them unfamiliar, leaving him unable to properly say what all he felt, torn between joy at seeing Dean with his own eyes and the heart racing fear that made him want to take off running again. There was a terrible relief, as well, that finally… he was done running. That he’d been caught. That the inevitable had finally taken place and there was not more fighting to be done.
Dean didn’t stop praying once they were together again. The first time he heard the hunter’s voice in his head, he’d started sharply, head snapping in the other man’s direction, suddenly panicked that they’d somehow gotten separated again. Now that they were together, Cas wasn’t sure he could survive their separation. Knew he couldn’t.
It was part of the plan, but not yet, not now, not until he’d seen Dean to safety first. Then...
‘We’re gonna make it through this, Cas’ the hunter said. Castiel's reaction was enough to make Benny look at him curiously, then to Dean where Cas had snapped his attention. The hunter was seated with his back against the broad trunk of a tree, sharpening and cleaning his weapon, for all the world not aware of either of them. ‘We’re gonna make it through and go home. Don’t you give up, you hear me? I need you.’
It wasn’t the first time Dean had said that. Cas thought it was an odd choice of words. Clearly, the hunter was doing fine on his own in Purgatory, had even found an ally and a way out long before he’d ever actually found Castiel.
‘I need you.’
Castiel sighs and turns back to washing Leviathan ooze off of his hands. The human language is frustrating. Needs are things you can't live without, can't survive without: air, water, food. To be deprived of a need would ensure your death.
He rises and steals a glance at the hunter as he and Benny discuss where they are heading and what is the best way to get there, taking into account terrain and the monsters hunting all three of them now.
Dean does not need Castiel. It is quite possibly the opposite. Even more so, Dean would be better off without Castiel, safer, away from the vengeance of Heaven that would rain down on the angel once they got back home. Here or there, Castiel would be targeted, and so long as he remained by Dean’s side, the hunter was just as easily a casualty of the war Castiel had started.
‘I need you safe,’ thinks Cas, wishing not for the first time that the hunter could hear the angel’s prayers. ‘Safe and alive, and that will be enough for me. Will have to be enough, because you are better off if I stay behind where my enemies can’t get to you. Because I need you, Dean.’