A stream in Purgatory is much like a stream anywhere else. The chemical composition of water and mud remains the same; the trees on the banks draw up their sustenance the same way they would on Earth; the air above is still nitrogen and oxygen and carbon dioxide. It’s the quality of the light that makes everything look different.
It washes out color, leaving behind gradations of ashy gray. Even freshly-spilled blood looks old here. Purgatory is a ghost of a world. For all its discomforts, all the sharp-clawed monsters that lurk around its corners, it does not feel quite real.
Castiel appreciated that, once.
Dean appreciated Purgatory too, though for different reasons. He took comfort in having purpose, in the clarity that comes from fighting for survival. No real surprise that this is the refuge Dean’s mind has chosen to create. Dean felt fully himself here, Castiel thinks. He did not have to see the world in darkening shades of gray, just black and white and red.
At the time, Castiel found those aspects of the place discomforting. He did not want to fight any more, and he remembered too clearly the things he had done to serve his purpose. Crowley; Raphael; the Leviathan. How he lost himself and left his friends behind.
He has purpose again now. He thinks that maybe it is even pure.
Carefully, he picks his way toward the stream, scanning the bank as he approaches. Dean is hard to distinguish at first. When Castiel’s eyes finally light on him, he’s sitting hunched up at the water’s edge, knees hugged in close to his chest, heedless of the mud soaking into his jeans. He’s hiding, trying to fade into the landscape. It is as Castiel feared.
There were bound to be difficulties, of course. The Mark of Cain slowly disappearing as the demon cure took effect was more than they had dared hope for—and even as he watched it happen, Castiel tried not to hope too hard. When Sam looked up from the fading Mark with awe on his face, he urged caution. Things could still go wrong.
But he couldn’t help the way that possibility flared inside of him, set light to his stolen grace and made his stolen heart leap in his chest. Dean, saved. Dean, whole. Castiel could be happy with that, even with a death sentence still hanging over his own head.
The Mark paled into nothingness. The black vanished from Dean’s eyes, like opening a curtain onto daylight. For a moment, they were wide and green and human.
Then they closed again, and did not open.
Physically, there’s nothing wrong with Dean. Castiel knows that. Right now, he lies in his bed in the bunker, his heartbeat steady, his breathing deep and even, Sam sitting watchful at his side.
“Perhaps he doesn’t want to come back,” Castiel suggested, as they laid Dean down atop the mattress.
Watching the care with which Sam pulled the covers up over his brother, the hard set of his mouth as he held back some unidentifiable emotion, Castiel wasn’t sure it had been the kindest thing to say.
“What, he doesn’t think we’ll forgive him?” Sam asked, then. It didn’t really sound like a question. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, his eyes very tired.
Castiel laid a hand on his shoulder. “If he won’t come back to us,” he said, surprising himself with the conviction in his voice, “I’ll go to him.”
So here he is.
It’s been a long time, by human standards, since he walked in Dean’s dreams. He finds that he misses the peaceful lakeside where Dean sat, fishing. Does Dean still have that dream, now?
A twig cracks under his shoe as he approaches the stream, and Dean’s head snaps up. He goes startled-animal-still when he lays eyes on Castiel.
“Dean.” Castiel holds up a hand in greeting—or reassurance; he isn’t sure which. “It’s me.”
Dean frowns at him. “But you’re all—” He makes an up-and-down gesture, indicating Castiel himself. Castiel blinks and looks down, but can see nothing unusual about his vessel. It’s a moment before understanding comes to him.
Last time they were here, he was unshaven, spattered in mud and blood, still wearing his hospital clothes. He looked as he felt. Purgatory is what Dean’s mind has created, and Purgatory is what it expects.
Slowly, he crouches at Dean’s side. Refrains from touching him, though every nerve in his vessel vibrates with the desire to do so. (He does not have a vessel here, of course, and Dean does not have a body—but the distinction seems unimportant.) “Dean,” he says. “We’re not in Purgatory.”
Dean raises an eyebrow and looks around him. “Coulda fooled me.”
“We’re in Purgatory as you remember it,” Castiel explains. “This is a construct. A—place of retreat.”
“So I’m dreaming.” Dean turns away from him, back to the stream. “You’re not really here.”
This time, Castiel does reach out to him. He takes Dean’s arm, gently. “I’m really here,” he says. “I’ve been in your dreams before. Remember?”
Dean blinks, but nods, and Castiel goes on:
“You fell asleep after the demon cure took effect. I came to help you wake up.”
Dean looks back at him, eyes wide. Castiel can see the memories beginning to filter back in.
“Come with me,” he says, and starts to stand up.
Dean lifts his chin. “No.”
Inevitability, settling over them like night. Castiel waits, holding his awkward half-crouching position, for a moment. Then he sits beside Dean in the mud.
It’s understandable. He, too, would fear homecoming in Dean’s position. After the Leviathan got loose, after his memories returned, the recesses of his own mind looked comforting. Easier to shore up a wall of fragments against reality than to truly feel it, the needles of resentment and the wash of guilt. He could not blame Dean even if he wanted to.
“Sam will forgive you,” he tries, tentative. “He already has. It was the demon that attacked him. Not you. He knows that.”
Dean answers with a small, bitter laugh. “Sam doesn’t know the half of it,” he says. “Neither do you. Go home, Cas. You’ll both be better off.”
Go home—and do what? Watch Dean lie unconscious until the life drains out of him? Call Hannah and return to hunting rogue angels; pretend that it matters more than this? Tell Sam, I couldn’t change his mind, I couldn’t convince him he was loved, I failed?
Castiel turns his head, looks Dean in the eyes. “No,” he echoes.
“Yeah, well. You’ll change your mind.” Dean looks back at the water in front of them. It’s slow and brackish, and there’s something dead caught against a branch a little way downstream, bobbing gently with the current.
“Dean. I know I haven’t always been the most reliable of comrades.” Castiel bows his head, remembering the last time they were here. “But I have always come back to you. I always will. What makes you think that’s going to change now?”
Dean shakes his head. “It ain’t about you, Cas. Quit playing dumb.”
“Then what it is about?” It’s a stupid question, he knows; but perhaps asking stupid questions is the only way to force Dean to talk about this.
Dean doesn’t talk, though. He shakes his head and says, “You know what? I’ll show you. I’ll change your goddamn mind.”
The vehemence of it makes Castiel blink, but before he has time to ask what it means, he’s startled by the feeling of Dean’s hand in his own. There is a second of hesitation, their fingers brushing lightly, and then Dean grips his hand tight and gets to his feet, dragging Castiel along with him.
Castiel allows it, frowning as he tries to make sense of Dean’s words. “What is this supposed to show me?”
Dean shrugs. Then he lets himself fall forward into the water.
His weight drags at Castiel’s vessel, and for a moment, Castiel has to fight the urge to struggle, to use his grace to right himself and pull Dean back to safety. He forces himself not too, and exhales hard.
The water is cold, thick with mud. It clutches at the fabric of his trenchcoat, pulling him down, and an old memory rises up and threatens to choke him, bitter with Leviathan ichor—
But Dean is still clutching his hand, and he remembers himself.
Together, they sink.
They surface into darkness. Beside him, Castiel hears Dean gasp for air. An instinctual reaction, though this is only a dream and they are not drowning.
Somewhere between the water and here, Dean has let go of his hand. Castiel tugs at his sleeves, runs fingers through his hair, and finds that he is bone-dry.
They’re standing in a large room. An abandoned industrial building of some kind, probably, much like the others in which they have interrogated demons, save for the absence of a devil’s trap.
Instead, the man—no, the demon, a formless black howling-mouthed thing beneath the human façade—is secured to the chair in the middle of the room with spelled handcuffs. It doesn’t seem to register their presence.
Castiel takes a curious step forward—then looks back in surprise when he realizes Dean is not beside him. Instead, he’s hugging the wall at the back of the room. Hiding in the shadows, though this is his own dream and he brought them here. The cocksure performance he puts on before monsters is nowhere to be seen; instead, he surveys the scene with wide, fearful eyes.
“Dean—” Castiel begins to say.
“Don’t, Cas,” Dean tells him, voice tight. “Just watch.”
Castiel waves a hand before the demon’s face. It doesn’t appear to see him.
Footsteps sound in the corridor outside. Castiel turns to face them as the door opens and admits—Dean.
This is not the Dean who brought him here. Castiel sees that straight away. The human face is the same, and he is even wearing the same jeans and red button-down, but his soul swirls black, shot through with streaks of fiery orange. His shirtsleeves are rolled up, the Mark of Cain an angry brand on his forearm.
Despite himself, Castiel can’t help but look back at his Dean, reassuring himself that the Mark is gone, that his soul glows with human warmth.
Dean catches the movement, and his expression hardens. Disappointment, Castiel thinks.
The other Dean doesn’t look at him; doesn’t seem to have registered their presence any more than the unfamiliar demon in the chair did. Instead, he turns a cold, unsettling grin on the other demon.
“Morning, pal,” he says. “Room service. Sorry, we were out of granola.” And he pulls the First Blade out of his jacket.
“Yeah, well,” says the other demon. “Never did go for that healthy eating crap anyway.” The human face smirks, but behind it, Castiel sees its true form roil with fear.
Demon-Dean claps it on the shoulder. “Preaching to the choir, man,” he says. “Gimme a stack of pancakes any day. Bacon, maple syrup, no sanctimonious asshole asking if you know how many calories are in that…” He circles the chair, coming to a stop behind the other demon. “Sets you right up for a hard day’s work.” And, without warning, he presses the Blade to the other demon’s face and draws it along the cheekbone.
The cut doesn’t vanish as it normally would. Red human blood beads and trickles down the demon’s face; a wisp of black smoke escapes and dissipates in the air.
Castiel sees the look of effort on the demon’s face; the rising swirl of panic when it can’t heal itself. It puts its head back, straining to get a look at the demon-Dean. “What the hell, man?” it says.
Demon-Dean shrugs. “No takebacks,” he says. “Makes things a whole lot more interesting, don’t you think?”
The demon tries to calm its panic, a scowl twisting its human face. “Interesting?” it says. “Is that what you call doing Crowley’s dirty work?”
Demon-Dean just shrugs, but Castiel sees the colors of his soul change, how the red flares and burns brighter. Involuntarily, his free hand touches the Mark. “Well, hey,” he says. “Must be something to it, right? I mean, you spent a good six months doing Abaddon’s, and she’s dead and you never got your reward, but here you are still taking her side.” He leans in and makes another cut with the Blade.
The other demon doesn’t scream this time, but it inhales sharply, human fingers tightening on the chair arms. It’s a long moment before it speaks again.
“At least I knew where I stood,” it says. “Abaddon wanted an army and I was a soldier. Crowley isn’t your friend, you know. He’s just holding your leash.”
Demon-Dean snorts. “Wait, you think I’m the one so desperate to hang out with him I’m leaving an empty ass-groove on the throne? ‘Cause he always calls first.”
The demon shrugs. “And you answer.”
“I had nothin’ better to do.” Demon-Dean pauses, testing the edge of the Blade with his fingertip. “Anyway, this is fun.”
Strange that the demon should attack him through Crowley. Surely Dean has never trusted him?
Castiel doesn’t have time to dwell on the thought, however, because the demon in the chair grins, looking up at Dean with the mock surprise of somebody about to play a trump card. “You know what?” it says. “I think you might have gotten a black-eyed makeover, but at the end of the day? You’re still a Winchester.” The demon spits it like a dirty word. “I think you’re gonna change your mind about fun pretty fast when I do this.”
The demon focuses, holds itself still for a moment—and then the black fades from its eyes. A veil is drawn over its true face, and instead the human soul within shines through, its light suddenly undimmed. The demon has put its vessel in control.
He has blue eyes.
Dean—the Dean in the memory—hesitates for maybe half a second. Behind him, Castiel hears a sharp intake of breath. A part of him wants to turn around, reach out to his Dean, shield him from what is happening here with his broken wings, but he cannot turn away. He knows that he is to see this.
The human tied to the chair blinks, regarding the scene with sleepy confusion. It’s only when his eyes land on Dean—the other one, the demon, with his black eyes and the toothy blade in his hand—that awareness seems to kick in. The human starts, then, making to get out of the chair, panic flashing across his face when he realizes he is bound.
Demon-Dean no longer hesitates. The smile on his face is immobile as a mask.
The man in the chair looks up at him, eyes wide and pleading. “What the fuck?” he says. It should be a demand, but his voice cracks, betraying his terror. “Dude, what the fuck?”
Demon-Dean shrugs; tests the edge of the Blade with a fingertip, feigning disinterest.
“C’mon, man! What’s happening? How did I get here?”
Demon-Dean finally looks down at him and grins. Castiel cannot bear to watch how the corners of his eyes crease up. He averts his eyes, looks at the concrete floor.
“What’s happening?” Demon-Dean parrots. “Well, man, sorry to be the bearer of bad news and all, but you’re gonna die here.”
“But you don’t even know me!” the guy protests. “You want money? I can get you money. You wanna find Jerry? I got his number, I can get him down here. Just let me go, man. Please.”
Demon-Dean ignores his outburst. “How did you get here? I can probably help you out on that one. Minding your own business, black smoke, suddenly everything’s a whirl and you ain’t in the driving seat in your own head anymore?”
The guy nods, wide-eyed.
“That was a demon. The smoke. Is a demon, actually. See, it’s still inside you, and my job is get it talking or kill it.” He hefts the blade. “So, you know. Sorry.”
“Jesus! Look, man, I know I made some bad choices, I never shoulda been in that alley when the—that fucking thing showed up. But I been trying to sort myself out. I don’t fucking deserve this.”
“Killed plenty of people more innocent than you.” Demon-Dean raises the blade.
The man in the chair makes a small, inarticulate noise. The blade comes down too fast for him to scream.
“Besides,” Demon-Dean mutters, “you kinda looked like somebody.” He reaches into his pocket for a rag and wipes off the blade. It’s a startlingly familiar gesture; something the real Dean would do. Castiel turns away from it, ignoring the pit in his stomach.
His Dean is still pressed up against the back wall, still looks as though he is trying to hide. Castiel takes his hand.
That makes Dean glance up, startled. He looks at their joined hands, then back at Castiel’s face.
“Come home,” Castiel tells him.
Dean looks away.
After a moment, he pulls his hand from Castiel’s and takes a deep, trembling breath. He doesn’t say anything, though, just makes for the door, his shoulders tightening as he passes the image of his demon self. Castiel follows.
They emerge into a parking lot, no different to any other, as far as Castiel can tell. The scrolling neon sign of a bar casts orange and red reflections across the parked vehicles. The Impala sits among them, one of her wing mirrors missing.
Dean crosses stiffly to her side, not waiting to see if Castiel follows. He does, of course.
Dean opens the driver’s side door and gets in. Castiel takes shotgun. They wait, not talking.
After a moment, the door to the bar opens, light and rock music spilling out. Dean emerges, holding hands with a laughing woman. He presses her against the wall beside the door and they kiss, moving against one another, her hand sneaking around to grab his buttock.
Castiel averts his eyes.
Dean—his Dean—isn’t watching either, his hands fixed on the steering wheel, his eyes fixed on his hands.
Castiel touches his arm. “What’s the purpose of this?” he asks.
Dean shrugs him off. “Just wait.”
Demon-Dean and the woman cross the parking lot and fall into the backseat, still joined at their mouths. There are moans, sounds of clothing being shed. Castiel still doesn’t understand why Dean is showing him this. He has always known that Dean engages in casual sex, and this is hardly more demonic than his regular behavior, for all that Castiel would prefer not to witness it.
“Hey, you have a tattoo,” giggles the woman in the backseat. “Nice.”
Castiel holds himself still; tries not to picture her fingers tracing the useless anti-possession symbol on Dean’s chest. He replaced it himself, once, wondering at the contrivances humans find to protect themselves, unaware of all the other things he would find to wonder at once he got to know this human in the world.
“Wanna look at mine?” the woman goes on, and there’s movement in the backseat, the ping of a bra strap being unfastened.
“Angel wings, huh?” There’s a note of amusement in demon-Dean’s voice—and something else, something Castiel can’t place. The woman makes an appreciative noise, and Castiel can’t help but picture Dean’s fingertips tracing up her spine, sliding over the false feathers on her skin. This is still only a dream, and Castiel still does not have a body, but he feels a shiver deep in that folded-away part of his being, like the touch of a ghost.
He forces himself not to think about it, and turns back to the Dean sitting beside him. His head is bowed over the steering wheel, and his fingers tighten around it as his demon-self murmurs, “So, do I get to ask if it hurt when you fell from Heaven?”
The woman in his arms laughs. “Hey, if this is when you start with the pickup lines, you got things ass-backwards.”
“I still don’t understand what we’re doing here,” Castiel cuts in, perhaps a little more loudly than he normally would, hoping to drown out the sounds in the backseat. After all, he’s seen Dean leave bars with countless women—and the occasional man, when Sam isn’t around and Dean doesn’t know that Castiel is watching.
Those nights, Dean doesn’t return to his motel to sleep after the encounter; he picks fights, or simply continues drinking until Sam wonders where he is and appears to drag him away. Castiel understands that he is ashamed. He even understands a little of why. Humans hold strange ideas about sex, and he doubts that Dean’s father was any exception.
Sometimes, he has wished that he could be the one to take Dean’s hand and lead him from the bar; to show him that what he desires does not have to be casual. But surely Dean cannot know that? Castiel has never dared act on it, and now he never will. Even if, by some miracle, Dean were to accept his love, to offer it would be cruel. His grace is still fading, and he will die one day soon. Dean talks often about his being family. Dean will mourn him, and he will not make the bereavement worse.
Now, Dean does not look at him. He grits his teeth and says, “Like I said. We haven’t gotten to the worst part yet.”
His head jerks minutely, his gaze flicking up toward the rear view mirror, and Castiel follows his eyes. He catches a glimpse of bare flesh, washed in the orange-red neon of the bar sign. The woman’s upper arm is ringed with bruises, as though somebody has grabbed her by it, hard. When the side of her face catches the light, he realizes that the paint on her face is caked on thickly. She is trying to hide something.
A man stalks across the parking lot in front of them. He lets himself into the bar, and Castiel hears muffled shouting before he re-emerges, accompanied by a gust of music and laughter.
The man is not laughing. His expression twists into a snarl as he crosses to the Impala and wrenches open the back door. The woman gives a gasp of fright and backs away as best she can, pressing herself into the corner of the seat.
Demon-Dean laughs. He pulls on his shirt and climbs out of the backseat, holding his hands up as though to placate the man, but his true face smirks with dark anticipation. “Hey, man,” he says. “I ain’t here to start trouble. What’s your problem?”
The man sneers. “Yeah, well, you got trouble, buddy. You screw with my girl, you make me your problem.”
Demon-Dean shrugs, hands held out. “Well hey, takes two to tango, and she sure wasn’t complaining. Said I was the best she had in a long time, actually.”
“Shut your fucking mouth.” The man’s hands tighten into fists. “You get the hell outta here and you leave me and Shelley to talk alone, and maybe I’ll forget I ever saw you.”
“I’m unforgettable.” Demon-Dean smirks. “You know what? How about I don’t leave you alone so you can beat the crap out of her again? Because c’mon, doesn’t take much to see you’re the kinda guy who needs to hit a woman to make himself feel like a man. How about I give you a little somethin’ to remember me by instead?”
The other man grits his teeth. “I’m gonna kill you,” he warns, and demon-Dean puts his head on one side, mocking.
“Yeah,” he says. “About that. ‘Fraid you’re a little late to the party.” His eyes flick to black, and the man falters and takes a step back.
“What the hell?”
“Hell’s about right,” agrees demon-Dean, and then his fist connects with the man’s jaw.
The man hits the floor. There are more punches. It ends the only way it can.
Castiel grips the edge of the seat hard enough that it would break if this were not a dream. There’s a sick tightness at the core of his being. He knows this has already happened, but it still takes an effort to keep himself from stepping out of the car, from taking demon-Dean by the arm and pulling him off the man, prising the First Blade from his hand.
Beside him, his Dean sits with eyes closed and head bowed.
There’s the sound of the back door opening. The woman—Shelley, the man called her—climbs out of the car, clutching her dress over her breasts. Demon-Dean turns and grins at her.
“Guess this is kind of a mood-killer, huh?” he asks. “Still, you wanna stick around, we could always go somewhere else, have a little fun…”
Shelley turns on her heels and flees barefoot across the parking lot. The red neon of the sign floods over her, turns her angel wing tattoos the color of blood. Dean laughs.
The Dean standing over the dead body in the parking lot, that is. The Dean still sitting beside Castiel opens the driver’s side door and gets out.
For a second, Castiel sits frozen, staring as though to reassure himself that this is his Dean, no smoky demon’s deathmask behind his face. In truth, though, the hard set of Dean’s jaw, the anguish in his too-expressive eyes, are all the reassurance he needs.
He climbs out and circles the Impala, and takes Dean’s hand. “Come home,” he says, again.
Dean shakes his head. “You really are one dumb, stubborn sonofabitch,” he says.
Castiel looks him in the eyes. “I learned from the best.”
Strangely enough, it’s that which earns him a small, pained smile from Dean, a snort of mirthless laughter. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I guess you did.” A pause. “I still ain’t coming with you.”
And he lets go of Castiel’s hand and makes for the road. He keeps walking until the darkness swallows him up. Castiel has no choice but to follow.
There is a human story. A woman who ventures into fairy-haunted woods to seek her stolen lover. She pulls him from his horse and holds him close, and the jealous Fairy Queen does her best to tear the lovers apart. She turns the lover into a poisonous snake, and the woman holds on, though he spits venom at her. She turns him into a ferocious lion, and the woman holds on, though his claws rend her flesh. She turns him into a burning coal, and the woman holds on, though he burns and blisters her skin. Finally, she douses him in a stream of cold water, and he returns to himself. Hers, at last.
That’s where the story ends. Castiel assumes there is a happy ever after. Humans favor neat endings in their fiction; he has learned that much from what Metatron dumped into his head.
He isn’t sure why the story comes to his mind now, as he follows Dean into the dark.
Maybe that’s not completely true. He does not allow himself to be sure.
They emerge onto a suburban street, where a man exits a house and locks the door behind him. For a moment, Castiel freezes in startlement, for it seems that he is looking at his own vessel. It’s only when the man turns around again that he realizes the resemblance is mostly superficial. The messy dark hair; the blue eyes; the clothing. This man is too tall, not tan enough, and his facial features bear little resemblance to Castiel’s own.
(That he thinks of them as his own is a concern for another time.)
Dean stands tense beside him, hands clenched into fists at his sides.
Castiel sees movement out of the corner of his eye. Dean—the other Dean—is walking down the street. There’s a deceptive looseness to his posture, the way his arms hang at his sides. Castiel knows better than to take his appearance at face value; this is the easy grace of a predator on the prowl.
He cocks his head as he passes the man in the street. “Nice coat,” he says, and the man nods a thank-you.
Castiel holds his breath: an involuntary, human reaction. (But then, he is little more than human now.) The man keeps walking. The moment almost passes.
“That some kind of a cosplay thing?” Dean goes on, then, and the man stops and turns back to him, startled. “Cas has a bunch of you fanboys, right?”
The man’s eyes widen, and Castiel feels the change as the angel inside takes over, its true form angling into view, sliding through the fabric of the world. It’s familiar—in a vague, seen-from-the-corner-of-the-eye kind of way. One of those who stood with him against Raphael, he thinks, though not seen since the fall. Castiel is ashamed to realize he does not remember the angel’s name.
Demon-Dean is smirking. The angel tugs self-consciously at the sleeve of his coat. Castiel realizes he is still holding his breath.
He forces an exhale and resists the urge to call out to his brother, to tell him he must run. This, he reminds himself, has already happened. He is not here to stop it, only to bear witness.
For Dean’s sake. Dean, he may still be able to save. He takes an involuntary half-step toward the Dean at his side but Dean sways away from him, eyes front.
The angel in the street regards demon-Dean with confusion. “You’re one of the Winchesters,” it says. “But you’re—”
Demon-Dean spreads his hands, grinning. “New and improved.”
Tension thickens the air, audible as static. The angel raises its hand, there’s the suggestion of a pulse of white light—but before it can smite him, demon-Dean slaps a hand to the front of its trenchcoat. When he pulls it away, there’s a sigil there, imprinted in blood on the spot that his palm covered. The angel freezes, its hand still held uselessly in midair.
“Yeah,” says demon-Dean, “not gonna happen. See, Cas might be some badass garrison commander—least, he was before he went soft—but you? You’re just a grunt. And Knight of Hell beats common or garden angel, anytime.” He gives an unrepentant shrug. “Sorry.”
The vision warps around them, then, and when it resolves itself, they’re standing in a barn, or a warehouse—another of those lifeless industrial spaces that seems to lend itself to dirty work.
But as demon-Dean leans over the angel, holy fire casting Halloween shadows up his face, this looks more like play.
“You know what he said to me?” he says, conversationally, lighting a match. “Your poster-boy? He said—Good things do happen, Dean.” He adopts a frown as he repeats the words, voice stiff, a parody of Castiel’s own mannerisms when he first came to Earth.
Selfishly, the twinge of betrayal Castiel feels at being mocked distracts him, for a brief moment, from the tableau before them.
“Hey,” demon-Dean says, then, flashing his black eyes. “Guess he finally got proved right.” Easily, casually, he lifts a stone flask off the table with his other hand, holds the match to it, and pours a stream of fire onto the angel’s face.
Its scream shatters the grimy windows. Castiel wants, very badly, to look away.
“But you know,” demon-Dean goes on, “he’s still out there. Helping Sammy look for me right now. Wonder if he’ll find us before it’s too late, huh?”
The angel glances toward the door through its undamaged eye—an involuntary movement, but hopeful, despite everything. It’s heartbreaking. Castiel almost fails to notice demon-Dean setting down the flask, the silver flash of an angel blade in his hand.
Despite everything, Dean hesitates for half a second before he delivers the killing blow.
He doesn’t laugh, afterward. He frowns down at the burned-out vessel on the floor, something in his face that Castiel can’t read.
“Still can’t—” demon-Dean mutters, after a moment, then breaks off. “How many times do I gotta kill you before it takes?”
Castiel blinks down at the dead vessel, but it remains dead.
He understands, then, what it is that he sees in Dean’s expression. Disappointment.
This is Dean trying to reject Castiel’s love, as best he can without Castiel there to rage at—just as he did with Sam. He tried to push away all the things that made him human. Even as a demon, they weighed upon him.
Which means that they may not be enough to save him now he is human again.
The thought is dizzying; terrible.
Even so, Castiel turns away from the scene before him, back to the Dean at his side. Dean doesn’t meet his eyes.
Slowly, carefully, Castiel takes both of his hands. Dean goes with the movement, turns to face him, but still doesn’t look at him.
“Come home,” Castiel says, again, and this time, he leans in and presses his lips to Dean’s.
He feels Dean startle under it, the soft catch of his breath against Castiel’s mouth. Dean’s hand finds his shoulder and uses it to hold himself back. “Cas,” he says. “What the hell?”
I see what you’re doing, Castiel doesn’t say. You’re still trying to push us away. You showed me all of this because you thought that I would turn from you, but I won’t. Nor will your brother. Whether or not you believe you deserve it, whether or not you do deserve it, you are loved.
Let that save you.
All he says aloud is, “Come home,” one last time. He follows it with another kiss.
This time, Dean just closes his eyes. It looks like surrender.
Back in his room in the bunker, Dean shudders as he wakes, as though the air is too sharp for him, the light too bright; as though he is all raw nerve. Castiel hesitates beside him, his hands hovering over Dean’s shoulders without touching.
At his other side, Sam has fewer qualms. He cups the side of Dean’s face, turns it toward him. “Dude,” he says, his breath shaky with relief. “You scared the crap out of us.”
Dean gives a strangled laugh; pulls away from him to curl into Castiel’s hands. Castiel holds him there and meets Sam’s eyes over his shoulder. He would like to flinch from their bruised expression, but does not let himself. Instead, he conveys, I’m sorry as best he can with his face—and be patient, and he’ll come home to you, too.
Sam gives a tight smile and says, “I’m gonna get you a glass of water.” Dean doesn’t reply.
“You know I got a whole other pile of crap to show Sammy,” Dean says, later. He has gathered himself into gruffness, and Castiel hovers just inside his bedroom door, unsure where he stands. Sam has taken himself off on a supply run—no doubt a pretext for calming his thoughts, reining in his disappointment.
Dean is still unsure of Sam’s forgiveness. He cannot bring himself to reach out, yet. Though Castiel would like to reassure him, to tell him that it would be as impossible for Sam to reject him as for a rock to reject gravity, he understands that he cannot. Dean will always need proof.
“Should I leave?” he asks, instead, and when Dean hesitates, he understands it was the wrong thing to say. He pauses a moment, then offers, “I would prefer not to.”
Dean scowls up at him. It looks like relief. “Damn right you ain’t going anywhere,” he says. “You don’t get to drag me back here and then screw off.” A beat, and then he nods at the spot beside him on the bed.
Gingerly, Castiel seats himself on the edge of the mattress. Dean’s face is too close to his; he finds himself at a loss for words.
The old story ends with the human girl rescuing her lover from the fairies. There is no mention of what comes after.
“Sam will forgive you,” Castiel tries, at last. It may be useless, but it is true.
Dean gives a disbelieving huff.
“You’ll earn it,” Castiel insists.
There’s a moment’s silence. “You really believe that, huh,” Dean says, at length.
Dean says nothing further, just closes his eyes again. But when Castiel leans in to kiss him, he does not pull away.