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The Seventh Terrace

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...sì non si perde
che non possa tornar, l'etterno amore,
mentre che la speranza ha fior del verde.

True love is never lost...
that we cannot regain it,
so long as hope has still its bit of green.

—Dante, Purgatorio, III, 133-135 (tr. Dorothy Sayers)

Thirty-eight.

That's how many monsters Dean had killed in Purgatory in his fruitless search for Cas. Thirty-eight monsters, and not one of them could tell him a goddamn thing.

Seven vampires. A half-dozen werewolves. Four shapeshifters, five ghouls. Rawheads and rakshasas, chupacabras and changelings, wendigos and wraiths. Something he'd never seen before with horns. Something he'd never seen before with gossamer dragonfly wings and hollow eye sockets. Another something with horns and a third eye in the middle of its forehead. A swirling mass of blue-black tentacles with no discernible face, that he hoped he never saw again. First alone, then with Benny, he'd hunted them all, pumped them for info with a blade against the most vulnerable body part he could find, and none had been able to point him towards Castiel. So he'd killed them all.

Whatever that meant in a land of the dead.

He's got a dragon pinned to a tree at the moment, the point of Dean's knife digging into its chest. Here it doesn't bother to look human; its leathery wings are spread and its sharp talons glint pale and vicious in the half-light. It'd raked a chunk out of Dean's shoulder before he'd overpowered it, and he can feel blood dripping down his back. He never lets Benny clean his wounds, doesn't wanna tempt fate, but he's got no idea how he'll reach this one. Ignoring the pain, he presses the blade against the dragon's scaly skin until he sees it wince, and feels himself smile. “Where's the angel, Falkor?”

“What angel?” spits the dragon through what looks like five mouthfuls' worth of teeth.

“The only fucking angel in this dimension, don't play dumb,” Dean snarls, twists the blade a little until he draws a few steaming drops of blood.

The dragon puts its hands up, like a perp on a cop show. It shrugs, or tries to—Dean shoves it back into the tree trunk as soon as it moves. “I don't know, I swear.”

“Now why the hell would I believe that?” says Dean, and forces the blade further through its tough hide. “He's the only goddamn seraph in Purgatory, he's gotta light up like a Christmas tree.”

“I don't know,” the dragon protests, and Dean slits its throat. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Benny shake his head; the vampire's getting impatient to go topside, see Earth again, and he's getting tired of Dean's single-minded pursuit. Dean doesn't blame him.

Dean's pretty sure Benny knows, or at least suspects, that there's more to this search than retrieving a brother in arms. What Cas meant to him—no, what Cas means to him, because he's gotta still be alive, gotta be out there somewhere, Dean refuses to believe anything else. Cas is still out there, and Dean's in love with him, and he's gonna find him and they're gonna go home. Simple as that.

Or it would be simple, if one of these goddamn monsters would just give him a goddamn lead.

The dragon's headless body slumps to the ground. Dean heaves a frustrated sigh, wipes the gore from his blade. “Brother,” Benny says gently. “You ever think maybe your angel don't want to be found?”

“Shut it,” snaps Dean. They keep moving.

*******

Purgatory's not how he'd thought. It's dark and dangerous and full of monsters, sure, but there's a purity to his life here he loves. He's a hunter, after all, and in the real world there's all this other shit he's supposed to do too, eat and sleep and chat up witnesses, slap on his trademark disarming grin whether he feels like smiling or not. None of that here: it's just hunting, all day and every day—not that there are days here, really. No sunrise, no sunset. But it doesn't matter. He's never hungry here, or thirsty, and he gets away with even less than his usual four hours of sleep. Something about his humanity, he thinks, that Purgatory doesn't know what to do with him. So it's refined him into his essential self: Hunter. Searcher. Killer.

And it's pretty here. The trees are tall and strong and lush despite the lack of rain, the rocky ground cut through by picturesque, shade-cooled streams. It reminds him of northern Washington state, maybe even Canada. It's always the same temperature, just on the comfortable side of chilly, and there's always the same dull, lambent light in the sky, a perpetual twilight that makes him yawn constantly. There don't seem to be any birds or animals here, and he hasn't seen flowers or any colorful plants; the whole place is done up in the same muted palette of browns and dusty greens and a pervasive blue-gray that won't stop making him think of Cas's eyes.

Every time he's got a chance, Dean closes his own eyes and tries to remember what Castiel looks like. He hasn't lost the likeness of those storm-blue eyes, after so many years of glances held too long; nor has he forgotten the curve of Cas's mouth, that perfect bow in his top lip Dean's dreamed of tracing with his thumb, his tongue. But the shape of him beneath the oversized trenchcoat, his hands with their long and graceful fingers—they're slipping away. Where is he? Why did he run away from Dean to begin with, and why has he stayed away? What if he's still insane, helpless out there in a realm of horrors?

While he searches for the angel's image in his mind, he prays, the same words over and over: Cas, I need you, where did you go, man? Please come back. Please come back to me.

He never gets an answer.

*******

It's a rugaru that finally gives him the info he's looking for. And then there's Cas, crouched beside a brook, unshaven and filthy and alive, and then, then he's in Dean's arms. In fact, Dean comes closer to just hauling off and kissing the feathery bastard than he's ever come before. Pressed to him, Cas smells like sunlight, so bright he's dazzling; like the loamy must of earth, the coppery tang of blood; like clean sheets after ten hours on the road—like home. But his body is too tense against Dean's, the look in his eyes (and how did Dean ever imagine his memories could do them justice) not welcome but dismay. “How did you find me?” he asks.

“The bloody way,” Dean says. “You feeling okay?”

“I'm perfectly sane, if that's what you mean.” It's not, but that's damn good to hear anyway.

“Why'd you bail on Dean?” Benny asks abruptly.

"Dude,” says Dean. Still, he's curious—and totally unprepared for the answer he receives. Cas ran away? What the fuck? Dean's had monsters riding his ass since the second they got here, and Cas thinks staying away is somehow protecting him? Bullshit. And while Dean had assumed Purgatory was keeping his prayers from getting through, like a dead zone with no reception, Cas has heard him every time and been content to ignore his pleas. He doesn't even want to come home, and that's where Dean puts his foot down. “Let me bottom-line it for you. I'm not leaving here without you. Understand?”

“I understand,” says Cas quietly.

“Good. You got a weapon?”

Cas raises a hand, lets his eyes flash blue flame. “I am a weapon.”

“Fair enough. Come on, Cas, let's go.” Dean's heart feels like it's wedged in his throat; he's afraid Cas won't come, but he nods and falls into step with them.

None of them speak for hours.

*******

It's not long after he's found Cas that Dean starts to get the sense they're being followed. So what else is new, right? he's had something or other on his tail full-time—but this feels different, somehow. It's not menacing, it's...patient, methodical, just observing him for now but ready to reveal itself when the time is right. Whatever it is that's tracking them, he doesn't think it wants him dead, and that's almost more disturbing. Because what other reason could there be, in this lethally honest place?

Cas feels it too, Dean can tell. He hangs back, barely in Dean's peripheral vision, but his brow is creased and he'll glance from side to side, alert to any movement around them. Benny's whistling a jaunty tune, half a step out of key—it's unmistakably a sea chantey, and Dean's gotta ask him about that sometime—so maybe he's oblivious, or maybe he's just so used to being stalked it doesn't bother him anymore.

The thing, whatever it is, tracks them for days. (Though there're no cycles of light and dark here, Dean's internal clock is still running; it's probably gone a little wonky, but it's close enough in a world where no one schedules appointments.) Benny takes point, since he knows where they're going, and they trudge together over the unchanging terrain, gank anything that attacks, stop to rest from time to time. With three of them, they can set up a watch rotation; Castiel keeps volunteering, but eventually Benny's on sentry duty, at the mouth of a cave, and Dean's finally alone with Cas again.

“Hey,” Dean says, and he tries to keep the hurt out of his voice, “what's up with the cold shoulder, dude? You're acting weird as hell.”

“Am I?” says Cas. “You'll have to excuse me, Dean. If you recall, I spent months out of my mind before we arrived here, and I've been running ever since. Perhaps I've been brusque. I apologize.”

“That ain't—I'm not asking you to say sorry, Cas. I just wanna know what's going on with you. Are you happy to see me at all?” Shit, he didn't mean to ask that out loud.

“Of course I am, Dean. I'm always glad to spend time with you,” Cas says, and the warmth has returned to his tone. “I'll endeavor to be more attentive in the future.”

“I'm, uh, I like spending time with you, too,” Dean says, and feels his cheeks go hot. He should say something else. He should fucking finally tell him.

Instead, the conversation is cut off when Benny appears—and he's not alone. Squirming in his grasp is a slender woman with faded facial tattoos and a defiant expression; a strand of wavy dark hair has come loose from her blue hijab and dangles loose on her forehead. “Found her skulkin' around outside,” Benny announces. “Pretty sure she's been bidin' her time for a while now, guess she decided to stop playin' games.”

So he did know they've got a shadow. “You're a djinn?” Dean says to the woman. “What was the plan, ambush us and drink your fill?”

“I am, yes, but I don't wish to harm you,” she says, and it's the strangest thing—Dean can tell she's not speaking English—he thinks maybe Arabic, though he hasn't heard that spoken a lot—but he understands her perfectly.

“Right,” snorts Dean, “you're one of the good monsters.”

She tugs her wrist out of Benny's hold and Dean's hand goes to his blade, but she just tucks her hair back beneath her hijab, then folds her arms and intensifies her glare. “I don't wish to harm you,” she says again. “How is that so hard to believe, Dean? You travel with a vampire, and he's managed to refrain from killing you.”

“You know my name?” Dean says, startled.

“I know much about you, Dean Winchester,” she says with a touch of smugness. “And your companions, the vampire”—she sneers in Benny's direction—“and the angel. I know, Dean, that you and your brother are hunters who dabble in saving the world. I know you were sent here by killing a Leviathan, that you've been trapped here, and that you're making your way back to Earth.”

Dean can't help it—he laughs. “Oh, and I suppose you want to help with that, yeah? Out of the goodness of your heart?”

She surprises them all by laughing in return. “Not at all,” she says. “I'm looking for someone. I've been looking for a very long time, and I need your help.”

Chapter Text

Dean's too stunned to laugh at the djinn's words; he opens his mouth before he knows what he's going to say, and what comes out is, “Fuck you, I don't help monsters.”

“That's a lie!” she hisses, stamping her foot (Dean's eyes flick down to her feet and he blinks in surprise—she's wearing worn blue Chuck Taylors). “You're helping this vampire escape his rightful afterlife. You've given aid and comfort to the angel a hundred times. You allied with the King of Hell himself to defeat the Leviathan. You can certainly help me.”

“Cas isn't a monster,” Dean says automatically. “And how the fuck do you know about Crowley? How do you know so much about me?”

She shrugs. “The creatures here may be bloodthirsty, but they're also terrible gossips. I've met dozens of your victims—your family is legendary among supernatural beings, the only thing many of them fear. And I've asked about you, of course. You see, I knew your father.”

Dean should probably be sitting down for this, if she's gonna keep coming out with bombshells. He slumps down onto a nearby stump and chooses his next words carefully. “Okay, enlighten me: how did you know Dad?”

“'Knew' may not be the right word. He murdered me,” she says,“along with my lover. He murdered us, and separated us, and now you owe me, Dean Winchester.”

“Uh, my dad killed a lot of people—monsters. A lot of monsters. Like you, and I'm guessing your main squeeze wasn't one hundred percent human either.”

“No,” says the djinn, her expression growing soft. “Akiko is a kitsune, a Japanese fox spirit. The kindest and most beautiful woman I've ever met, in a very long life.”

“Wait. You were, uh, your lover was a kitsune? A woman? Shit,” Dean says, “I—I think I might remember that. When were you killed?”

“The fourth of Shawwal, 1414,” she answers.

Dean frowns, until Cas pipes up. “She's using the Islamic calendar, Dean. In the Gregorian one, the equivalent date would be March 17, 1993.”

Fuck, Dean does remember. He'd just turned fifteen, and there'd been this dude in Skokie, where John had stashed him & Sammy while he did his absentee hero thing. The guy's name had been Tyler, and he'd had wavy blond hair that wouldn't stay out of his face, and a chipped front tooth he tried to cover when he smiled, and Mortal Kombat for the Super Nintendo. Dean used to go over to his house after school to play for hours, trying and failing not to get his ass kicked; one day, he'd finally won, and Tyler had slung a congratulatory arm around his shoulders, and then Dean had kissed him. And wonder of wonders, Tyler had kissed back. And then he'd given Dean a handjob, right there on the basement couch.

He messed around with Tyler for a good month, jacked him off dozens of times. They still played a lot of videogames—but single-player, one of them on their knees with a dick in his mouth. Once they even tried to fuck, but they were dumb kids who didn't know about lube and it just hurt, so they stopped.

Dean thought for a while maybe it was okay that he was into dudes. Maybe if Dad found out, he would nod and say, “Knew a gay hunter once. Bravest man I ever met.” It could happen. Dad surprised him sometimes.

But then Dad had come back to their rent-by-the-week motel room unexpectedly one night, smelling like El Sol and gunpowder, muttering darkly about “lesbian monsters, what's the goddamn world coming to,” and that's when Dean knew it wasn't okay that he liked guys, even though he liked girls too, and that it would never be okay. That's when he took that part of him that wanted Tyler and killed it, like he would've killed anything that threatened his family.

Sometimes he thinks Cas knew this, and brought that part back to life with the rest of him.

“I'm sorry that happened to you,” Dean says to Samira, and he can't think of anything else to say.

“Excuse me?” Benny interjects. “Didn't you tell me a djinn once stuck in you in a world where your mother was alive while it drained you slowly? Now you're apologizin' to one?”

“Sure, and a vampire fuckin' turned me, Benny. Not everyone my dad killed needed killing, all right?” Dean snaps. “You didn't know him, so shut your piehole.” He turns back to the djinn. “My, uh, the angel's name is Castiel, that's Benny. What's yours?”

“Samira,” she says, not acknowledging the others. “Does this mean you'll help us?”

“Well, I get that you think I owe you something because my dad ganked you two, but why do you even think I'll be able to help? If you've been looking all this time and haven't found her, why would I have better luck?”

“You found your angel,” Samira says with a wave towards Castiel, who's been watching the conversation with his usual intensity. “You would not rest until you were reunited.”

Dean's pretty sure he blushes. “I, uh, I just killed things until one told me where he was, it wasn't a big deal.”

Samira shakes her head. “You refused to give up, Dean, no matter how hopeless your search seemed. And I know you are a skilled hunter; I'm not. I believe that you can find Akiko, if you're willing to try.”

“I can try,” says Dean. “If you won't kill me if I fail.”

“Of course not,” she says.

Castiel chimes in gently, “I will lend whatever aid I can.”

Benny throws up his hands and huffs. “All right, Dean, you & Castiel might be ready to lend a hand, but I've been here longer than any of you and I'm damn well ready to get the hell out. Why should I drop everything and spend however long looking for your lady love? What's in it for me?”

She narrows her kohl-rimmed eyes at him in a manner weirdly reminiscent of Cas. “I can get you home faster.”

“Uh-huh, I'm sure. Took me forty years before I learned about the loophole, longer to figure out how to slip through myself. You're sayin' after twenty you found a shortcut?”

“In a way,” Samira says. “I know where to find an astrolabe, a mystical one that always indicates the Qiblah. The direction of the Kaaba in Mecca,” she adds when Benny responds with a blank look.

“What good is that?” snorts Benny. “I ain't looking to start praying.”

She clicks her tongue in irritation and explains, “Mecca is on Earth, vampire. My astrolabe will point you in the quickest route to the exit, and thus lead you there most efficiently.”

“Whoa, that's awesome,” says Dean. “And you'll give it to us if we find Akiko?”

“I will allow you to use it,” she corrects him. “I do not wish to return to that world, but I'm willing to help you get there.” She pauses. “Please, Dean. I'm desperate.”

It's not a bad offer, if she can be trusted—and hell, if she's been following them as long as he thinks, she had plenty of opportunities to waylay them before now and hasn't. Dean turns to Benny with a shrug. “I'm all in, dude, and so is Cas. You wanna hitch a ride out of here, you're gonna have to tag along, sorry.”

“Fine,” Benny says after a moment, jaw working minutely. “Guess I got no choice.”

“OK, it's a deal,” says Dean, and extends his hand towards Samira, who doesn't return the gesture.

“I won't shake your hand,” she says, “but I accept your deal, and in return I swear by Allah to lend you the astrolabe after Akiko and I are reunited.”

Dropping his hand, Dean nods. “All right, if that works for you I'm good. Uh, where should we even start? What do I need to know about your girlfriend?”

Samira's face goes pensive beneath the sinuous curves tattooed across her brow and cheeks. “I was with Akiko for ten centuries, Dean, I could talk about her for hours, but unless you're in the mood to listen to a love story, I doubt most of it would be relevant. Have you ever encountered a kitsune in your...work?”

“Sure, I hunted a few,” says Dean with a wince, remembering Amy and her son. “They have claws, they can turn into foxes, they live on human pituitary glands, yadda yadda.”

“No,” she says firmly. “If what you killed fed on human beings, that was not a kitsune. Akiko poses no danger to you whatsoever, although yes, she can take the form of a white fox with nine tails. I assure you, her morals are above even the Righteous Man's reproach.”

“All right, so no brain-eating, that's a plus,” says Dean. “What else?”

After a moment's thought, Samira says slowly, “I believe I've been unable to find her thus far because she's been in a fox's shape. When she's like that, she has the power to fly and to turn invisible at will—I know she must be terrified in this place, surrounded by malevolent creatures, and that's the best way I can think of for her to hide.”

“Uh, great. I know jack shit about regular foxes, how the hell am I supposed to track down an invisible, flying one?” Dean says. “I'm good, but I'm not that good.”

“If I knew,” she says testily, “I would have found her long ago. I have patience to spare, and faith in you to find a way.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” says Dean, “but I got nothing. Cas, would your angel vision pick up on her if she was around?”

“Not in this case,” Cas says. “Many unseen things are visible to me, but a nine-tailed kitsune is extremely old, at least a thousand years. Her cloaking would be too powerful.”

Benny shuffles his feet and huffs out a frustrated breath. “Y'all?” he says. “I might know someone we could ask.”

“Really?” says Dean. “I didn't know you knew anybody here.”

“I'm not sayin' we're close, exactly, but we're acquainted,” Benny says. “There's a vampire, Lady Gwendolyn—some sort of old-school British countess. She's kinda nutty, but she stays in one place, so I can take us to her. And I'd bet she had experience with foxes before she was turned.”

“A fox-hunting vampire? This is your suggestion?” says Samira, aghast. “I would never risk Akiko's falling into the hands of a barbarian like that.”

“There's four of us, we could take her down if she attacks your gal,” Benny assures her. “And I get the impression Gwendolyn was pretty horsey when she was human, she could know something about how foxes behave that we don't, that could help us narrow down the search. Up to you if you don't wanna risk it—it's a long shot—but I can't think of anywhere else to start.”

Samira stares him down like she's trying to set him on fire if he's lying. “Dean, what do you think? Do you trust this man enough not to lead us into a trap?”

“I've trusted him this long,” says Dean. “He coulda slit my throat in my sleep any time.”

“Dean's my only ticket out,” says Benny. “I got no reason to lie to him. Lady Gwendolyn's bonkers, I'm not gonna play that down, but she ain't violent bonkers, just garden-variety eccentric. And she likes me—every time we meet she apologizes up and down for not bein' able to serve a proper high tea.”

“Benny vouching for her's the best I got, Samira,” Dean says. “And like I said, I got nothing else. I swear I won't let her hurt Akiko if she tries.” He almost extends his hand again, puts it in his pocket instead.

“What will you swear on?” she asks. “I suppose we have the same God.”

“Uh, if you mean I'm Christian, I ain't really,” Dean says with a guilty glance at Cas. (Funny how they've never discussed that—but even if Cas's dad weren't a cosmic deadbeat, he'd find it hard to worship the guy considering he wants to bang their kid like a screen door in a hurricane.)

“Then by something else, something you care about deeply. Swear me an oath too meaningful to break, that you will not allow this mad countess—or any of your companions—to harm my love.”

Cas, Dean thinks. I swear by how I feel about Cas, but he says, “My car. Closest thing I got to a home. I swear by my car, I'll protect Akiko.”

“This is acceptable,” says Samira with a satisfied nod. Then, to Benny, “Very well, vampire. Lead on.”

Chapter Text

They don't head out right away, though. Dean hasn't slept in days, and while he never sleeps much here—too much light, too many threatening noises—without an occasional catnap he starts getting dizzy and jittery. Benny's returned to guard duty, still peeved about their detour, and Samira sits cross-legged nearby, her shape blurred by the cave's dimness. Cas uses his grace to light a fire; Dean's transfixed by his dexterous hands, the way they gently touch the kindling and spark the flame. He wants those hands on him, dammit, all over him, hard and hot. His skin burns with phantom longing, and Cas glances up as if he can feel it.

Dean looks away quickly and catches Samira's eye; her expression is unreadable. “So, uh,” he says, overloud. “You're Muslim?”

She raises her eyebrows pointedly towards her headscarf. “And they say your brother's the smart one.”

“Hey! Just making conversation, come on.”

“I'm sorry,” she says with a sigh. “I haven't had to 'make conversation' in a long time, and I was never that good at it. Yes, I've been Muslim for the past 1400 years. My people predate all the Abrahamic religions.” She waves vaguely at Cas. “And the angels, of course. In fact, your friend's father created them to drive the jinn underground so you humans could take over.”

“I don't remember that,” says Cas. He gets up from his crouch by the fire and sits down against the wall, close enough to Dean that Samira's upper lip quirks up, bemused by the sudden tightness of Dean's posture. Shit, djinns can sense your deepest desire, can't they? Then there's no way she doesn't already know the score between him and Cas.

“There is much you don't remember,” she tells Cas coolly. “I know you were a soldier in the army that defeated my people, angel. This isn't the first time we've met.”

Cas frowns. “I don't remember that,” he says again, but his voice is less sure than before. “Why don't I remember?”

“To obtain perfect obedience from the Host, Heaven is not above obliterating or changing your memories,'” she says gently. “I am sorry to be the one to disillusion you.”

“I have been disillusioned by the Host for years,” Cas assures her, and if Dean's not imagining things, Cas presses against Dean a little when he says this.

“Uh, so!” Dean says brightly, hoping to break the awkwardness between Cas and Samira, between Cas and him. “How does the Muslim thing work with, you know, Akiko?”

“I don't know what you mean.”

“The whole, uh, the lesbian deal. I thought Muslims weren't into that.”

She makes that annoyed click with her tongue again. “Some aren't, of course. Like some Christians. But clearly I don't find it a contradiction, or I would not have converted.”

“Oh, okay,” he says. “Sorry.”

“Thank you,” she says. “Too many Americans while I was alive—and apparently now as well—would see a woman in a hijab and presume she's a downtrodden zealot. But I'm not, not at all. I chose this.”

“And you like it?”

Samira nods. “The practice of my faith has been the only thing I can control here. It's often kept me from madness.”

“S'good, then,” Dean says. “I'm glad you had it.”

He'd love to stay awake and talk to her—hell, maybe he does want to hear her love story, he hasn't seen a good chick flick in ages—but his eyelids are starting to flutter closed, and he's leaning into Cas without meaning to. The angel is warm and solid at his side.

As he drifts off, he hears Cas say in that gruff voice as comforting to Dean as the purr of the Impala at 70 miles an hour, “Tell me about the first time we met.”

*******

When Dean wakes up, the fire has quieted to embers, and Samira is nowhere to be seen; he realizes with a start his head is nestled on Cas's shoulder, and he sits up so fast he gets dizzy. “Sorry, dude,” he mumbles, shaking back to alertness. “Hope I didn't drool on you.” It's hard to tell, Cas's coat's already so dirty.

“It's fine, Dean,” Cas says. “I wouldn't mind if you did.”

Their eyes lock; Dean licks his lips and there's this split second where Cas's gaze drops to watch. It's enough to make Dean's mouth go dry instantly. “Where'd Samira go?” he says.

“She's outside with Benny,” Cas says. “Our conversation was emotional, and she needed a moment—as did I, to be honest. It's jarring to learn you fought a war you have no memory of.”

“Yeah, what's up with that?”

“I don't know, Samira couldn't elaborate much on that part, just that a high-ranking angel bragged to her long ago that the hierarchy had means of keeping rebellious members in line. As we're both aware, Heaven has never told me everything.”

“Your family's fucked up,” says Dean. “I guess most families are, though, ain't like the Winchesters are exactly functional.”

“You do die unusually often,” Cas says with his funny little half-smile. “But then, so do I.”

“Yeah, too often if you ask me.” Watching Cas's last death, as he waded out into the water filled with nightmares, that was when Dean knew for sure he was in love with him. He'd carried that damn coat around for months, persisting in the face of Sam's looks of confusion, then pity—he refused to let go of the hope Cas would come back to them a third time. When Cas did but didn't remember him—the memory swamps him, “Emmanuel” staring at him gobsmacked at the bottom of the stairs, no recognition on his face—fuck, Dean was so relieved and heartbroken at once. “Cas,” he says. “I gotta tell you something. I—” but Dean's hasn't said I love you to anybody since Mom died, and he can't do it now, either. “Cas,” he tries again. “You know how I said I like spending time with you?”

“Of course, Dean. And as I said then, the sentiment is mutual.”

“Uh, yeah. The thing is, it's not—it's a little more complicated than that. Than like, I mean.” It all comes out in a rush: “Last year, when you weren't around, I was such a fucking mess, Cas. I drank even more than usual, I was so angry and bitter, I kept reminding myself of Dad, and that made me feel worse but I couldn't stop. I missed you, Cas, I missed you so goddamn much.”

“Dean,” Cas says, soft and deep. He reaches up and lays one hand on the side of Dean's face, strokes his thumb over the crest of Dean's cheekbone. Dean wants to close his eyes at the touch, but he can't look away from the undisguised devotion in Cas's gaze. “As I assured you, the sentiment is mutual. All of them are.”

Dean clears his throat. “All of them, huh? What about, uh, physical sentiments?”

“Yes. Those too.” He leans in—shit, Cas is leaning in, this is gonna happen, this is actually gonna happen, Dean's gonna get kissed by an angel in Purgatory—and then, of course, since it's the worst timing possible, is when their companions return.

****** *

Whatever Benny and Samira talked about while she was having her moment outside, they're weird-ass besties now, it seems. She's using his name now, Cas's too, and she falls into stride next to Benny out in front, letting Dean and Cas follow at a distance. Dean sees her smile for the first time at something Benny says—hopefully not a plan to go halfsies on Dean's blood—she's one of those people (monsters, his brain corrects, and then quickly corrects it back) whose smile changes their whole face, splits it wide into something round and joyous as the moon.

Cas was facing away from the entrance, so when their moment was interrupted, he didn't see the others come in. But he must have felt the anxious clench in Dean's jaw, because he pulled away and took his hand off Dean's face—not in any kind of hurry, though. “Hello,” Cas said as he turned, smooth as lemon meringue pie. “Dean's awake if you're ready to go.”

Now they're on the way Lady Gwendolyn's; according to Benny, she's been living safe and sound for decades in a particularly deep part of the forest. The trees grow thicker as they go, and soon they're slipping single file between stout and sturdy trunks. Samira and Benny flicker in and out of shadow, and Dean can only keep them in sight if he pays sharp attention—difficult, with Cas walking beside him. Their hands and elbows bump occasionally as they navigate the woods, and Dean lets it happen.

He doesn't have the balls to talk about their near miss, though. “So,” he says instead, “you and Samira have a history?”

“Apparently, I led the brigade that devastated her family,” Cas answers, “and she barely escaped our slaughter. We were...she says the angels were relentless, indefatigable. It was our job to force the djinn into hiding, and we did it well. It's only after the war that some of her people turned to drinking blood, and they've been avenging their defeat by feeding on humans ever since.”

“So they're not totally evil?”

“No more than most humans, I'm told,” says Cas. “Hunters only see the worst of them.”

“Huh. The more you know,” says Dean, and then he's tackled to the ground out of nowhere by something huge as a bear. Scrambling to his feet, he looks around, but there's nothing there. “What the fuck—did you see what hit me, dude?”

Cas shakes his head. “I saw nothing.”

“Well, something hit me like a ton of bricks,” Dean says. “Keep a lookout.”

On alert, they keep going, but they only make it another hundred yards before the huge phantom whatever knocks Dean down again. He feels a claw rake across his lower back, but by the time he turns over it's vanished again, and Cas shrugs, at a loss.

“Is it invisible, you think?” Dean asks. When he tries to get up, his right ankle won't hold his weight, and he stumbles—must have turned it on a rock when he hit the dirt. “What can go invisible, help me think. Daevas, hellhounds, reapers—kitsune, but Samira swears they ain't violent. What else? Oh, fairies, think there are fairies here, or do they go back to Avalon when they die?”

“I'm unacquainted with the demographics of Purgatory,” Cas says, frowning at Dean's wince when he tries to stand on his fucked-up ankle. “Do you need to lean on me while we proceed?”

“Uh, yeah, thanks.” But Cas doesn't just lend a shoulder—he puts his arm around Dean, who rests against his side for support. They walk more slowly, until Dean's shoved out of Cas's grip and to the forest floor yet again. “Fuck!” Dean cries, and doesn't bother to get up. “Samira! Benny!” he bellows. “Something's after me!”

The others are there in seconds. “What is it?” Samira asks; her tattoos start to swirl and shift on her face as she readies her defenses.

“I don't fuckin' know, man!” Dean says, frustrated. “It's invisible, maybe? Keeps sacking me like it's the goddamn Super Bowl, but neither Cas or I have seen a thing.”

“Sounds familiar,” says Benny. “Probably a hidebehind.”

Dean makes an impatient gesture. “And? I dunno what that is, man.”

“They're northwoods critters in the U.S., used to be a real pain in the ass for lumberjacks,” Benny says. “They ain't invisible, exactly, but you can't see 'em directly—like the name says, they're usually hiding behind stuff. You have to sort of use your peripheral vision.”

“Okay. So we'll stay put, lure it out. You and Samira keep your eyes peeled. Cas, you got the best vision, wanna watch my back?” Dean braces himself on a tree and hauls himself more or less upright.

“Of course,” Cas replies. Samira snorts and mutters something under her breath that sounds a lot like “back, indeed.” Benny chuckles. Wonderful, the monsters have bonded over their sexual tension. Glad he can provide 'em with entertainment.

It's less than a minute before the hidebehind attacks again, hitting Dean from the left and bearing him down. Dean re-twists his ankle, clocks his knee on a root. He flinches as the hidebehind flips him easily. Dean has a vague sense of shaggy fur and rank-smelling drool before claws or teeth scrape his face and there's the wet heat of flowing blood; then, the white-hot flash of Cas's grace, a screeching sound like a chorus of nails on a chalkboard, and a scent like overcooked bacon, before the bulk on top of him is gone.

“Dean, are you all right?” Cas kneels beside him and gently props him against a tree, clutches Dean's hurt ankle. Cas's hand glows and Dean's pain ebbs.

“Just my face,” Dean grits out, and Cas's hand is on his cheek in an instant, his whole palm warm as he heals him. But after the skin has knitted back together, Cas leaves his hand where it is. Brushes his fingers down Dean's jaw, touches his thumb to the dip of Dean's upper lip. “C'mon, Cas, do it,” Dean whispers.

And then, finally, their mouths meet.

Chapter Text

Cas isn't a gentle kisser. Dean's pinned between the roughness of the bark at his back and the scratch of Cas's beard on his face, head spinning while Cas shoves his tongue into Dean's mouth, grabs the front of Dean's shirt with both hands and hauls himself closer. Sliding his hands beneath Cas's trenchcoat and around his waist, Dean just holds on for dear life, twines his tongue with Cas's and sighs. He's been waiting for this so long.

The kiss goes on and on and on. Cas works a hand up under Dean's T-shirt, runs his fingers light along Dean's ribs. Dean's getting hard, and he's pretty sure that's Cas's dick he can feel poking into his belly; his hips roll against the pressure helplessly, and Cas moans and pushes his own harder into Dean's. His mouth burns on Dean's neck, nipping at the delicate skin as he moves his other hand to skate up Dean's back, trailing along his spine—Dean remembers suddenly they have witnesses, grips Cas's shoulders to hold him at arm's length. “Good idea—great idea—bad timing, Cas,” he murmurs.

Cas runs his tongue over his swollen lips and nods, eyes wild as they scan Dean's face for signs of regret. “I know, I just couldn't—I couldn't hold back anymore.” He gets to his feet and helps Dean up.

Dean shoots a look at their companions, who are pointedly looking away. Samira has a tiny, secretive smile, while Benny looks annoyed—Dean gets the weirdest feeling the vampire just lost a bet. “Uh, guys? We're, uh, we're done.”

Samira turns to see them facing each other hand in hand, and her smirk breaks into a dazzling grin. “It's all right, Dean, Castiel. That was new for the two of you, wasn't it? How long have you been keeping that hidden?”

“I believe a part of me has loved Dean since I pulled his soul from Hell,” Cas says quietly, his gaze caressing Dean like another kiss.

“A classic meet-cute,” Samira interjects with a laugh.

“I guess it took a little while longer for me. But, uh, yeah,” Dean says, looking down for a second as he bites his lip. He fell in love so slowly, while Cas went from Heaven's hammer to Dean's best friend, he barely noticed until it was too late to stop. “You knew as soon as you met us, didn't you?”

“Yes,” she says. “Your longing for each other is so intense it's almost visible, even if I weren't jinn. And one can't live as long as I have without developing excellent gaydar.”

“I'm not gay,” Dean protests on reflex, and hates himself for it.

She waves her hand airily, dismissing his reluctance. “Whatever label you prefer. Or none, it doesn't matter to me. Are you ready to move on?”

“Yeah, my ankle's okay,” says Dean. “We can keep going.”

Cas doesn't let go of his hand.

*******

They encounter a few more monsters along the way, deep-woods critters all: a lumbering, reptilian hodag with ferocious spines studding its backbone; a warty, drooping squonk, sobbing like its heart was broken, that dissolves into a puddle of tears at their approach; a wendigo that doesn't even bother to try distraction, just leaps on Samira's back as she passes the branch it's sitting on. She shakes it off and sets it on fire with a contemptuous glance. When Cas offers to heal her bruised neck, she demurs, saying even a careful application of his grace would likely annihilate her.

Eventually, Benny leads them into a small, grassy clearing, where there's—of all things—a neat little blue cottage with whitewashed shutters and a gray slate roof, smoke curling lazily from the stone chimney.

“Shit,” Dean says. “Somebody built a summer home in the Fireswamp.”

“Lady Gwendolyn!” Benny hollers. “It's Benny Lafitte, I brought some friends to meet you.”

The cottage's door opens, and an astonishing person walks out. When Dean heard “old-school British” he immediately pictured a pale, willowy aristocrat, but Lady Gwendolyn is short and plump, with skin a similar golden brown to Samira's and wavy dark hair in a tipsy pompadour; her saffron-yellow dress, somehow impeccably clean, has an alarming number of ruffles. She gives a cry of welcome and throws her arms wide as they approach. “Monsieur Lafitte! How delightful to see you again.”

“Likewise, m'chérie Dame.” Benny wraps her in a bear hug with a chuckle; despite his size advantage, she lifts him off the ground hugging back. Dean doesn't have half near that much energy anymore, and he's only 33. Or maybe 34, if his birthday's come and gone.

When Benny's standing under his own power again, he gestures to the others closer. “Lady Gwendolyn, allow me to introduce my companions, Dean Winchester, Castiel, and Samira,” as he points at them in turn. Samira inclines her head, Cas makes the slightest of bows. Dean waves awkwardly.

Gwendolyn stares at Dean, mouth open. “Why, you're the human,” she says. “Enchanted to meet you! And you must be the angel?” Noticing their joined hands (Dean's palm breaks out in sweat, all at once), she nods and purses her lips. “You're lovers, I see, how terribly exciting.”

Dean sputters a little; Cas shoots him a quick side-eye and answers smoothly, “I am afraid that's private business, my lady.”

She looks taken aback, then dissolves into giggles. “I should have guessed an angel would be beyond me on matters of etiquette. I wonder, do you outrank me?”

“I wouldn't put it that way, but probably,” says Cas with a shrug. “I'm a seraph, or at least have been, and that's the first choir.”

“Well then, my lord Castiel, feel free to address me however you'd like,” says Gwendolyn. She steps forward to greet Samira, startling her by air-kissing both cheeks. “Hello, my dear genie. Truly lovely to make the acquaintance of another female. And such elegant tattoos!”

“Ah...yes, thank you,” Samira. “I have come to you for help, Lady. You see—”

“Oh, you must call me Gwen, I hope we shall be great friends,” says Gwendolyn. “Please, do come in and tell me all about it.” She waves to the rest of them. “You too, of course. I'm terribly sorry I can't serve you a proper tea, my brownie ran off long ago when I had no milk to feed her.”

Brownie? Dean mouths to Cas as they follow her into the cottage. Not that he's ever met a countess, but this chick is blowing his mind a little; he had no clue anybody living in Purgatory did anything but run and fight.

Inside, the cottage is almost bare: a rickety wooden table and chairs, a few flat rocks being used as shelves, and a pile of furs and branches next to the fireplace that must serve as a bed. “I can offer you some pine needle tea,” says Gwendolyn, producing a chipped teapot. “A poor substitute for Darjeeling, of course, but quite refreshing.” She pours a pale green liquid into a teacup with no handle and holds it out to Cas, serves round.

Dean sips the tea. He can definitely tell it's just pine needles, but there's a lemony aftertaste that's actually not bad. “Hey, thanks,” he says sincerely. “I haven't had anything but water since my flask went dry.” He'd drained it the first chance he got, in fact. Didn't dull the ache of Cas's absence at all.

“You're welcome, Mr. Winchester.” She beckons Samira to sit down in one of the chairs and takes the other seat herself, leaving the men to stand. “Now, what can I do for you?”

Samira explains about Akiko, how Benny suggested Gwendolyn's human life might have included fox-hunting, but how under no circumstances was this a license to hunt Akiko. “Oh, of course not!” Gwendolyn interrupts. “You've been in my home now, I would never commit such a breach of hospitality. Plus, I wouldn't be able to hurt her if I tried, not a kitsune of her stature!”

“That is not particularly reassuring,” says Samira with a frown.

“Merely a jest, never fear! Believe it or not, I have heard of Miss Akiko—few of her kind die by violence, and thus her presence here is noteworthy. I'm happy to say she's not hiding from you at all, my dear! Perhaps she kept hidden when she first arrived, but for several years now she's been a prisoner of this realm's more common kitsune. The yako, if I recall the name correctly from the works of Mr. Hearn?”

“Yako?” Samira sounds incredulous, and Dean clears his throat—he's never heard of 'em. “They are a kind of kitsune that are often malevolent. But they're tiny! Smaller than a housecat! They possess humans, they couldn't possibly overpower Akiko. You must have heard wrong, Lady—Gwen.”

“I assure you, my informant personally witnessed three dozen yako rushing upon the same spot and leaping at it; when they landed in midair, he quickly realized they must be attacking their invisible cousin. More recently, it was a yako that told me their captive was Miss Akiko.”

Samira narrows her eyes. “Why were you speaking to one in the first place?”

“It was more of a pre-dinner chat. A lady may not need to eat in this strange land, but that doesn't mean she can't,” Gwendolyn answers with an unsettling smile that flashes all her teeth.

There's a pause until the fangs retreat. “I need some air,” Samira says abruptly, and rushes out the door with a choked-back sob.

Dean swirls the dregs of his tea until the silence gets too awkward to bear. “Uh. Lady Gwen, has anyone ever told you you're a really unexpected person?”

“Yes. My mother was from Bombay, you see,” she says, and sips.

“Oh sh—crap, I didn't mean that at all!” Dean says, flustered. “I meant, well, this house, for one thing. How did you even build it? It's the first structure I've seen here.”

“Dwarves, of course. And a friendly witch whipped up the spell that protects this clearing from invaders and grime.”

“There are dwarves in Purgatory? We talking 'heigh-ho' or 'you have my axe'?”

“Some of them have axes?” Gwendolyn says, clearly baffled. Dammit, Dean's gotta remember to lay off of the pop-culture references—tough audience.

“Never mind. I just didn't know dwarves were real.”

“I don't believe they're native to the United States, so it's not surprising you haven't encountered one,” Cas says. “There may be a few immigrants in the larger cities.”

“Sure,” Dean scoffs, “everybody's been to Little Dwarfistan in New York, they've got a mead hall with killer onion rings.”

Cas tilts his head. “You're being sarcastic.”

“Got it in one, buddy.” (Ugh, "buddy," he probably shouldn't use that for Cas anymore now they've done the whole clinch-and-confession thing. "Baby" is reserved for the Impala, though...maybe he should think about it later.)

When Samira returns, they all pretend they not to notice she's been crying. “Dean,” she says. “Do you need a rest before we depart to hunt these creatures?”

“Don't think I need to sleep, but I yeah, could stand to not be walking for a couple more hours.”

“Do stay, I haven't had guests this gracious in too long!” cries Gwendolyn. “Mr. Winchester, why don't you and your angel go keep watch outside while we darker creatures chat?” She winks; it's almost as unsettling as the smile.

“But I thought you said—” Cas's mouth snaps shut with an audible click when he gets it. “Yes, that seems prudent.”

“I think it's a great idea,” says Dean, setting his teacup down with a clink on a handy rock. “C'mon, Cas.”

Chapter Text

Without discussing it, Dean and Cas walk around the cottage so they're out of view of its windows—and damned if there's not a white gazebo back there, luminous in the low light, a riot of crimson roses half-hiding its latticework. Totally normal thing to find in the monster afterlife.

Dean raises an eyebrow at Cas and shrugs as he plops onto one of the benches; Cas sits down next to him, pressing his thigh alongside Dean's. “Y'think she sweet-talked a dryad to get these flowers?” Dean says. “Or just ate one?”

“I wouldn't be surprised if she did both in the end,” says Cas. “She is a unique vampire. And a unique woman, for that matter.”

“You can say that again.”

Cas doesn't. Dean's racking his brain for a smooth way to say since they all think we're making out anyway, wanna go ahead and make out? when Cas takes Dean's face in both hands and kisses him again. It's less sloppy and desperate than the first time, probably cause Dean didn't just nearly get disemboweled by a one-trick monster, but it's still like being kissed by a force of nature (gravity, magnetism, a storm front thundering across the Great Plains) and pretty much all the blood in Dean's body rushes to his dick at once. He'd swear it actually makes him lightheaded.

“Thanks, I couldn't figure out how to ask,” Dean tries to say around Cas's searching tongue. All that comes out is a garbled moan, but he's okay with that, especially as Cas's strong hands burrow beneath Dean's shirts and slide over his skin. Dean clutches at the neckline of Cas's shirt and wishes like hell he had a blue tie to hold onto instead—Cas has used that tie in really inventive ways in Dean's fantasies.

They've spent a hundred years or so at second base—Dean wonders if just kissing Cas will ever stop so totally detaching him from time and space—when Cas suddenly bites hard into Dean's lower lip and breaks away to say, “I think we should have sex.”

Dean imitates a goldfish until his voice works again.“Yeah, definitely, I definitely want to. Soon as we're back home, we'll get a room somewhere nice.”

“That's not precisely what I meant,” Cas says, and puts his hand on Dean's leg.

Dean stares at it, then raises his eyes to meet Cas's openly worried ones. “Wait, here? Right this minute? They'll hear us inside, dude. And what if they come to check on us?”

“Considering Lady Gwendolyn practically shoved us out here together, I don't believe we're likely to be disturbed, especially if we're quiet. I can be quiet, and I don't want to let this opportunity pass. This is the first time we've been relatively safe, more or less alone, and so many things here could harm you past my current ability to heal. What if—what if you die, Dean, and we never get to—”

Obviously the quickest way for Dean to calm him down is with a kiss.

Dean is a gentle kisser, it's always been his style, and this time around he stubbornly resists Cas's attempts to take it rougher, deeper. Instead, he nudges his tongue past Cas's lips like they have all the time in the world, buries a hand in Cas's hair—that he's wanted to do since the barn in Pontiac. Cas's grip on his thigh tightens as soon as their mouths are wide against each other; he gradually draws it higher, inward, until it's over the bulge behind Dean's fly. “Ohhh, fuck,” Dean says. “Okay, okay, you win, I'll try to keep it down. Gimme your coat.”

He shakes out the trench and spreads it on the floor of the gazebo, stretches out on it propped on his elbows. Cas pounces on him instantly, pushing him flat onto his back, urging Dean's legs apart with his own; Dean arches his hips up against him in a slow, dirty grind. Cas moans in the back of his throat. “That feels so good, Dean.”

“Fuck yeah it does,” Dean murmurs, welcoming the weight of Cas's body bearing down on him. “S'awesome.” He rucks Cas's shirt up and over his head, runs his palms frantically over his chest. “You're so warm.”

“You're so beautiful,” Cas tells him as Dean scrambles to get his own shirts off. “I wish I could see all of you.”

Dean falters. “Uh, believe me, I wanna get you naked, but I haven't done this in a really long time.”

Cas's face shutters. “Of course. Anna.”

It takes Dean a second to figure out what he's talking about, and then he winces, cause what a shitty thing to forget. “No! No, I didn't mean doing it with an angel, Cas, I meant with a dude. It ain't quite like riding a bike, I gotta work up to it. Next time, promise.”

Frowning, Cas nips at his earlobe. “I thought I made it clear—we don't know if there'll be a next time. I understand the circumstances are not ideal, but now that I've kissed you, my patience has run out.” He cups Dean's dick where it strains against his jeans. “Let me see this, Dean,” he growls. “Please.”

Dean swallows. “Yeah, that I can do.” It's not like he wants to come in his jeans anyway. He unzips his fly and shoves his shorts down just enough to pull out his cock; Cas sits back on his haunches and looks, as intently as ever. Dean shifts uncomfortably beneath his gaze. “Quit ogling and touch me, Cas. Castiel.”

Cas grasps Dean's left shoulder, echoing the handprint he left years before, and then wraps the same hand around his cock. Dean whimpers at the contact and brings Cas's face to his, letting him take the lead again; the kiss turns hungry and wild. The gazebo's wooden floor is unyielding against his back as Cas strokes him slowly, more skillful than Dean would've expected. “Holy shit, Cas,” gasps Dean into his mouth. “Where'd you learn to do that?”

“I've had a good deal of solitary experience by now,” Cas says with a blush in his voice but not on his face. “My unique bond with you has inspired me to do a lot of new things.”

Dean shudders at the mental image of Cas fucking his fist while thinking of him. “You've gotten me off so many times in my mind, angel.” There it is. “Never thought you'd make me come in person.”

“I wasn't sure you wanted me to,” Cas admits, hand working steadily on Dean's dick. “I thought at first you wouldn't allow me to touch you like this. That you were only sexually interested in women. Once I realized that wasn't the case, I wasn't sure you'd accept my attentions in particular.”

“I, ohhh,” Dean pants, trying not to wonder just how Cas figured out he liked men, “I didn't let myself even think about you like that for forever. Always wanted you though, angel, wanted you so much—c'mon, take your pants off, come with me, Cas.” He tries to pick open the knot on Cas's scrubs but it's hopelessly tight and his hands are shaking; Cas stills his clumsy fingers, and there's a tiny pulse of grace that leaves the drawstring undone. They tug fabric out of the way and Cas lines up their dicks so he can take hold of them both, sets a brisk pace; when he throws his head back with a cry Dean strains up to lick and suck at his nipples. “Goddamn, I like that,” he mumbles into Cas's chest. “Don't stop.”

“I have no intention of stopping,” says Cas breathlessly.

Dean thrusts up into Cas's grasp, making these desperate little noises he barely recognizes, Cas is practically purring as he kisses and bites at Dean's neck, his shoulder. All of a sudden, Cas rolls them onto their sides, wrestles Dean's jeans to his ankles, and redoubles his efforts, free hand pawing at Dean's ass; Dean gets one knee up at Cas's waist; Cas's fingers slip into his crack, over his hole, and Dean's gone—with a shout loud enough they can definitely hear it in the cottage, he comes all over Cas's hand.

Cas's breath hitches, and then he's coming too, Dean can feel the hot trickle over his own cock and stomach, and fuck, the worst thing he ever did—worse than breaking the first seal—it was denying them this for so long. When they could've been fucking for years.

“I love you,” Cas says in the afterglow. “I've wanted to tell you that since Lucifer rose.”

“I,” says Dean, and he still can't say it. But maybe Cas knows—Dean's always loved more with actions than words, and he's tried to show Cas what he means to him in other ways. “I'm sorry, Cas. I should've made a move before.”

“Oh, but you did, you just pretended you didn't know what you meant. You're very good at disguising your motives from yourself.” Cas rolls off him and absent-mindedly licks his hand clean—Dean doesn't actually miss being a teenager, but right now he'd give his right arm to get it up again. As it is, his dick makes a valiant but futile effort.

Instead, Dean pulls his pants back up and yawns. “Damn, I wasn't sleepy before, but you wiped me out, angel. Think we can take a nap?”

“I don't care what we do if we're together,” Cas says.

“Ugh, Cas, you can't say sappy shit like that, this ain't Love Actually,” mumbles Dean as they curl up together on the rumpled coat. Dean ends up with his head over Cas's heart, listening to it slow from double-time to a solid, steady rhythm as he quickly dozes off.

Chapter Text

Dean's startled out of sleep by loud throat-clearing from Benny, who's standing outside the gazebo looking rather put out. Cas is awake, of course, fully dressed and propped on an elbow next to Dean; must've been watching him sleep like he did in apocalypse days. (First apocalypse, that is.)

Dean sits bolt upright and scrambles to retrieve his shirt from where it's snagged on a rosebush. “Uh, hi Benny. Fell asleep.”

“Guess that was snorin' I heard earlier, then,” Benny says, and sighs in exasperation. “You know I didn't sign up for this, Dean. I agreed to get your angel and go—and if that meant trottin' all over Purgatory to find Samira's old lady, fine, made my peace with that—but I ain't playin' chaperone.”

“Don't speak to him like that,” Cas says sharply. He glowers at Benny—who, to Dean's surprise, glowers right back, and they stare each other down like stray dogs over a bone. (Wait, is Dean the bone? Does Benny have the hots for him? Huh, that's...flattering, actually. Dude's got a pretty good blond-and-burly thing going himself—the man could sell a paper towel, that's all Dean's saying.)

It's Benny who backs down; Dean can sympathize, having been on the business end of Cas's smitey scowl too many times. “I'm stuck with y'all, no two ways about it,” Benny grumbles. “But you're goddamn stuck with me, too, don't forget that. Think you two can lay off the heavy petting when we're back out in the open?”

“Sure, no PDAs, roger that,” says Dean sheepishly. He's almost got his shirt all the way over his head when he spies the women strolling towards them, arm in arm; they draw up short, Gwendolyn staring in frank appreciation of Dean's bare chest, Samira slapping a hand over her mouth with a strangled noise. That freaks him out at first—if she's pissed at them, she could do a lot of damage—but then he sees the way her shoulders shake. “Are you laughing at us?” he says, affronted.

She drops her hand, and her smile's flashlight-bright. “I apologize, Dean, Castiel, it's just—well, I'm reminded of how I met Akiko. You'd think that would make me sad, but it's nice, I suppose, to see happy people in love, when I haven't seen her in decades? Has this never happened to you when you were hunting, Dean? Something in another's experience reminded you of events in your own?”

“Uh. Maybe a couple times.” More like half, he thinks sometimes—it can be freaky, feeling like the universe is beating him over the head with symbolism. Like he's really one of Chuck's characters after all, his whole sorry life written by a hack.

*******

He and Cas gather themselves—Dean really, really hopes there's no obvious jizz on Cas's coat—while Samira takes advantage of the clearing's safe space to pray; afterwards, Gwendolyn gives them the scoop on tracking down the yako. “Now, Monsieur Lafitte, if you'll recall that boating trip we took, it was near the spot where we stopped to eat that I encountered my nefarious informant. That's likely their territory, and perhaps where you'll find Miss Akiko.” Benny nods and gives her a goodbye hug. She enthusiastically embraces Samira, who stands there with a look on her face like she's toughing out a flu shot, and then it's Dean's turn. It's like being hugged by a very small pro wrestler.

“Thanks,” he says a little breathlessly when she releases him. “I'd say we owe you one, but I try not to promise favors to people who could eat me.”

“A lady never dines on her guests,” Gwendolyn says, patting his cheek. “It's one of my staunchest principles.”

Dean laughs. “You're a trip, Lady G. Appreciate the hospitality—not something I expected to find here in Purgatory.”

“Well, as you said, I'm rather an unexpected person.”

She walks them to the edge of the clearing but no farther. Dean's about to take Cas's offered hand when he decides it's kinda too soon after promising to behave; he gives Cas an apologetic look, then hangs back and walks next to Samira instead. She smiles and matches his pace; she's got awfully long legs for being barely up to Cas's shoulder.

“So that...situation back there, with me 'n' Cas—you said it reminded you of how you hooked up with Akiko? Feel like talking about it?”

Samira nods. “If you want to listen, yes. It was in Kyoto a millennium ago—I had been drifting east for centuries. I'd been in the Imperial Court for several months when I was caught in bed with my lover, a lady-in-waiting named Hitomi, and promptly thrown out. I hadn't gone far when a fox scurried out of a field and began to trot alongside me, but I could tell it was no ordinary animal, so I cast an unveiling spell at once—and there was Akiko, stark naked and extremely surprised. I soon discovered she had just been ejected from a Buddhist convent for 'corrupting' another nun—we couldn't stop laughing at the coincidence, and that was really all it took. Before your father found us, we had not been separated for more than a week since that day.”

It's a pretty good story. Funnier than getting dragged out of Hell, for sure, even with the stab of guilt at her reference to Dad. “I was dead when Cas and I met—actually, I was a demon—but I don't remember it all. First time we met on this side he tried to use his real voice and broke a lot of windows, scared the shit outta me,” he offers. “Then he blinded a friend of mine, and I stabbed him in the heart.” That doesn't sound great when he says it all out loud, does it? “I guess we got over it, though.”

“Yes, I saw the bite marks,” she says with a friendly smirk, and bumps their shoulders together. Not a gesture he'd've guessed was in her repertoire, but welcome all the same.

*******

They don't have to go far before the spell of Lady Gwendolyn's domain is broken; the trees gradually thin, and soon they pass the rotting corpse of something too far gone to identify, ribs bleaching slowly in the weak sunlight. After a while they reach a small river—or a large creek, whatever—and pause to let Dean refill his flask. The water runs clear and cool over his grimy hands. Cas and Samira are talking about prehistory again (something about whether Lucifer was really a djinn called Iblis), so Dean finds himself up front with Benny as they head further upstream. Benny's spirits seem to have improved now they're on the move, enough that Dean thinks he can get away with ribbing him a little. “Took a boating trip with Lady G, eh?” he says with a waggle of his eyebrows. “Sounds romantic, just two vampires having some quality time on the water. Didja pack a picnic lunch, or stop for a bit along the way?”

“You ain't as funny as you think you are, brother,” Benny says, and Dean knows he's forgiven. “Yeah, me and Gwen were together for a while, maybe a year—it wasn't too long after I died. Fun while it lasted, but I felt like I was runnin' around on the woman I'd had on the other side.”

“That sucks,” Dean says for want of a better response. He'd kinda thought monsters couldn't fall in love, just use sex to manipulate people like Ruby did to Sam—Benny and Samira are expanding his horizons. “Would you—are you gonna try to find her when we get outta here?”

“She's dead,” Benny says gruffly. “I had to watch her die.”

“Oh. Uh—doesn't that mean she's here somewhere too, though?”

“No. She was human—she'd be up on Cas's turf now, where I can't go, ever, so thanks a lot for bringing it up.”

“Shit, dude, I'm sorry.” He said that sucks already, didn't he? Apparently spilling his guts to Cas hasn't made him any better at talking about feelings. “That, uh, really sucks, I didn't mean to pour salt in any wounds. I was just being a dick.”

“Been here fifty years, Dean. I'll always belong to Andrea, in a way, but I'm startin' to forget her face. Nothin' you say gonna hurt me worse than that.”

And that's a conversation ender if Dean ever heard one. But Benny doesn't speed up to get rid of him, or anything—instead, they walk in silence side by side, listening to Cas and Samira bickering cheerfully behind them, until Benny comes to a halt and gestures across the river with his weapon. “Where that tree's draggin' a branch on the ground next to that rock? That's where Gwen and I stopped. We can wade over and start searchin'.”

The river's definitely more of a large creek, just over Dean's knees—how the fuck did they boat in it? Cas doesn't bother to lift his coat up out of the water, and for a horrible second the way it floats behind him is just like the reservoir where he died.

Dean's helping Samira up the bank when the yako attack, soundlessly. He hears Cas yell a warning, and whirls in time to see at least two dozen weasel-sized black creatures coming at them en masse out of the trees. They're fucking fast—Dean hasn't even got a good grip on his blade before they descend like a school of piranha, roiling around Cas's ankles and making him stumble. Samira's flailing her arms, a yako clinging to each wrist with its jaws, and Benny's trying to pry them off while Dean rushes to Cas's aid, when all at once he's tackled from behind by something a lot goddamn bigger than a housecat.

Not too big to throw off, though, and when he turns over there's a wiry Asian dude clambering to his feet; glancing around he sees all the yako transforming with a sinister shimmer, and then they're surrounded by a bunch of Japanese people, mostly men and mostly wearing some kind of black uniform, although there's one guy incongruously dressed in a torn velour tracksuit, baseball cap wedged backwards on his head. There are way too many for the four of them to take, and by the look on their faces they know it.

They are, Dean thinks as his heart pounds in his ears, in deep fucking trouble.

Chapter Text

Despite the angel in their corner, the yakos' sheer numbers overpower them easily. They can't hurt Cas, but they soon figure out he needs to make contact to hurt them—once they do, they're just too fast for him to catch, weasel-quick even in human form. Cas vaporizes one who's swinging a branch at Dean's head, but three others grab Dean's arms from behind, immobilizing him, while another group does the same to Benny. It takes half a dozen to seize Samira, and she manages to set one on fire in the process; with a disconcerting pop, the yako explodes, spattering her with ash and gore. Her tattoos swirl violently as she fights their hold.

Cas takes a step in Dean's direction, hands still pulsing faintly with grace, but Dean shakes his head and calls him off: “Don't, Cas, you won't take 'em all down before they kill the rest of us. We ain't gonna win this one that way.”

A tiny woman with gold braid on her uniform comes forward, smiling smugly. “You're not going to win this one at all, human,” she says. “We have ways of dealing with trespassers.”

Dean snorts. “Spare me, lady. You know how many villain monologues I've heard over the years? From bigger fish than you, and I'm still kicking.” One of the yako holding him casually punches him in the solar plexus, and he doubles over in pain—Cas has to visibly restrain himself from interfering, hovering at a distance with murder in his eyes.

Gold Braid shrugs, laughs. “Very brave, human. Do you think you're intimidating? Our kind has held this territory as long as Purgatory has existed, whereas you, well, look at you. You're hardly a threat to me.” She goes toe to toe with him, and even though she has to tip her head back to make eye contact—chick must be less than five feet—she somehow gives the impression she's looking down on him. “You don't belong here.”

“I'll take that as a compliment,” Dean gasps.

She slaps him across the face, hard enough to blur his vision for a second, then turns to address the other yako: “What do you think, my friends? Shall we kill them? Or keep them around for our future amusement?”

“Can we eat 'em, Okazaki-sama?” pipes up the tracksuit dude.

“Shut up, Jason, you suggest that every time and I have never said yes,” Okazaki says. “You know perfectly well vampires taste like rotten meat, and this djinn's so old she must be tough as shoe leather. Now this one,” she says with a glance at Dean, “he'd be a yummy treat. I haven't had human in ages.”

“If you hurt a hair on his head,” Cas growls, “I will hunt you down and destroy one by one, however long it takes.”

“Oh, angel,” Okazaki says, “quit posturing, I won't hurt your little pet. Though I'm guessing you could tell me exactly how delicious he tastes. Isn't that bestiality?”

“Enough!” shouts Samira. “We didn't come to fight, yako. We seek the kitsune you hold prisoner, and wish to parley for her release.”

“The kitsune?” Okazaki wrinkles her nose in distaste. “Ugh, that goody two-shoes hasn't been as entertaining as we expected. All she does is mope about her girlfriend, it's ridiculous...oh. That's you, isn't it? My my, a real power couple.” She grins, walking over to Samira and reaching up to pat her on the head. “You poor thing. We'd be happy to reunite you with your sweetheart, wouldn't we?” A disbelieving murmur runs through the group of yako; Okazaki rolls her eyes. “Let me finish, you idiots. Djinn: if you surrender to us, you're welcome to join the kitsune as our captive.”

“Screw that,” says Benny; it's garbled by his jagged rows of teeth. “I don't know who decided we weren't gonna kill you all, but I ain't on board.”

But he's barely got the words out when Samira nods. “I accept your terms, on the condition you release my companions.”

“And I would do that because?” laughs Okazaki. “You're bold as brass for being in no position to bargain.”

“Because you don't have the ability to subdue the angel, and no one holds a grudge like one of the Host. Do you really want to separate him from his lover? Do you really think that'll end well for you?”

Okazaki's gaze falters; she looks over at Cas, whose eyes are flashing grace-blue like chemical flame. “She's right,” he says, voice low and dangerous. (And sexy as hell; dizzy heat burns through the pit of Dean's stomach and parts south, because his dick has no goddamn chill when it comes to Cas.) “You've already earned death by harming Dean,” Cas continues. “Should you attempt to take him hostage, you'll bear the full force of my wrath. Have you ever witnessed the wrath of Heaven, yako?”

“I'm not afraid of you,” Okazaki says with a defiant thrust of her chin, but there's uncertainty in her brown eyes.

“Come at me, then,” Cas growls. “Take me down.”

Tracksuit yako—Jason—suddenly breaks formation and rushes headlong at Cas with a berserker yell; the second he's within reach, Cas raises a hand nonchalantly and zaps him dead. He crumples to the ground, a look of astonishment on his face.

“Anyone else?” says Cas. “There's more where that came from.”

“No!” cries Okazaki, stamping her foot. “It's not fair, we won! You're—we're—ugh, I hate angels.”

“Then let the human and the vampire go,” says Samira evenly, “and leave this place along with the angel. Keep me. Imagine what you could do with a djinn in your thrall.”

“Samira, are you sure about this?” Dean asks. “You're just gonna turn yourself in, after all this?”

“Yes,” she says—but at the same time, Dean hears her voice in his head: We can't fight them off, Dean. This is the only way.

He opens his mouth to speak, but she stares him into silence. Let them take me to Akiko, she whispers in his mind. Leave me behind, and let them bring me to her. Together, Akiko and I have escaped captors far more powerful than these vile creatures.

We've got 'em on the ropes, though, Dean thinks back at her, frowning. This is what I signed on for, not throwing you under the bus first time things got rough.

They still have the advantage, unless you expect them to line up single file to face Castiel. Just go, Dean. Once I free Akiko she'll easily find you again. Even as he's hearing it, Dean sees Samira's lips are moving, though he can't make it out: telepathy always makes his teeth buzz like they're picking up radio waves, and the discomfort's distracting. In his peripheral vision, Cas startles and glances sharply at Samira, so she must be talking to him, too; Cas's brow furrows before he gives an almost imperceptible nod, and Samira's smile lights her eyes for a split second.

And then there's a sort of release, the psychic equivalent of yawning till his ears pop, and sound comes rushing back to him again: "All I wish," Samira is saying to Okazaki, "is to be with my lover. Purgatory is already a prison, I hardly think the likes of you can make it much worse on us."

Clearly infuriated, but just as clearly considering it, Okazaki spits through clenched teeth, "And the angel agrees? That if we release the other two, he'll stand down?"

"I will," Cas says. "Provided you never threaten us again."

"Seems like a waste to leave without a fight, not that y'all asked," mutters Benny. "Anticlimactic."

"We could kill you, if you prefer," says Okazaki; Benny grunts and clams up. "We accept your terms, djinn. You will remain here as our captive from now on, and your friends will walk away and never set foot on this side of the river again."

This still doesn't sit right with Dean—it ain't the Winchester way to abandon an ally—but he's gotta admit Samira's right that the four of them don't have the chops to decisively defeat the yako, so a false surrender is probably their best option. Grudgingly, he nods his assent.

"Thank you for bringing me this far, Dean," Samira says out loud, quickly followed by an echo in his head: Worry about yourself, not me. You and Castiel are also much more powerful together than apart; ask him what he's not telling you.

*******

Okazaki doesn't let them leave under their own power, of course; instead, with Cas glowering in their wake, the yako perp-walk Dean and Benny to the riverbank and push them into the water. Dean stumbles, lands hard on his knees with a splash. Okazaki laughs as he sputters angrily, the sound turning into canine yelps as she transforms into a fox the size of a kitten and darts out of sight with the others.

"Are you all right?" Cas asks, helping him up. "They didn't harm you?"

"Nah. Messed up my shoulder a little bit is all. And my damn jeans are gonna take forever to dry."

"Which shoulder?"

Dean taps his left, and sighs as Cas's grace soothes the wrenched muscles. "Thanks," he says. Cas takes his hand and guides him to the bank where Benny's waiting. "I guess we should get some distance from these assholes, give Samira's plan some time to work? But if she and Akiko don't catch up after a few hours, I say we go back for 'em anyway, screw it."

"We could head back to Lady Gwendolyn's," says Benny. "Be a safer place to wait."

"Sure." They start off back the way they came, Cas keeping a tight grip on Dean's hand. Samira's last words ring in Dean's head—what the hell did she mean by that? He lowers his voice, not that Benny won't still overhear: "Are you hiding something from me, Cas? Samira said—well, she more thought at me—she told me to ask what you ain't telling."

Cas stops in his tracks, and Dean can tell by his deer-in-headlights look that he's about to lie. "It's nothing."

"Bullshit. You've got the worst poker face in the world."

"Yet I deceived you and your brother for months while I worked with Crowley."

"Bringing that up's not helping me trust you, Cas. It's definitely not nothing, and I'm not letting it go until you tell me, so you might as well do it."

"Don't worry, ain't listenin'," calls Benny from up ahead.

"You're not helping either," Dean calls back. He folds his arms and does his best to recreate Cas's Angel Stare of Disapproval, but when he speaks, his voice trembles. "Please, Cas, I can't deal with you lying to me, not here, not after—not after. Please."

Cas looks away from the challenge in Dean's eyes and chews on his lower lip while he contemplates his dirt-caked dress shoes. "You won't like it," he says finally.

"So rip the band-aid off, I don't like waiting, either."

Hands flexing nervously at his sides, Cas raises his head and Dean takes a step back at his expression—he looks sick with grief. "I don't know how to tell you this, Dean. I lied. When you found me, when you said you wouldn't leave Purgatory without me." He takes a deep breath, even though angels don't need to breathe. "Dean, I'm sorry, but I can't go back."

Chapter Text

It's not that Dean can't believe his ears, really—part of him's been waiting for something to happen, something to go wrong, because when has the universe ever let him be happy for long? It's just that, of all the other shoes to drop, this is one he never expected: that it'd be Cas who kept them apart.

“The fuck you can't,” snaps Dean. He can taste bile at the back of his throat, but his stomach feels like it's fallen to his feet. Like he's being torn in two. “What the fuck are you talking about, of course can go back, you have to go back, you can't stay here, Cas. You can't.”

Cas shakes his head and reaches for him; Dean flinches away. “Don't,” he says through gritted teeth. His eyes feel prickly and hot, heavy with tears that threaten to spill over; he tries scrubbing them away with the heel of his hand. It only helps for a second. “Don't touch me if it's a lie.”

“It's not, I swear,” says Cas, hand frozen in midair halfway to Dean's face. He holds perfectly still, expression sad and solemn as a marble statue's. “Everything I've said to you, everything we've done together—it's the only truth I have left, Dean. But it's not enough. How I feel about you isn't enough to change the fact that I belong here.”

“Bullshit.” Dean's gripping the handle of his weapon so hard he can't feel that hand, his own voice barely audible over the seashell sound of his own blood pumping through his veins. “Bullshit.”

“Dean, please! Try to understand: what I did, all the terrible things I did—I told myself I was doing them for the greater good, for you, but I understand my real motives now. I wanted power, Dean, don't you see that? I wanted to be God. And when I'd gained that power, I became a vengeful God, not just on Earth, but in Heaven. I killed scores of angels, Dean, laid waste to my family. There's no coming back from that. I can't go back.”

“So don't, then. Fuck Heaven, let 'em take care of themselves for once!” Dean knows Benny can still hear them, especially since Dean's shouting now, but he's beyond caring about how pathetic he must sound. He doesn't know what to do: does he run to Cas and hold him tight? Or get up in his face and shake him? He does neither, too tense to move. “Stay on Earth, Cas. Stay with me.”

“I don't deserve to stay with you, Dean, don't you see that?” Cas finally drops his hand, rubs it wearily over his brow. “I ended up here in Purgatory for a reason. I have to pay for my sins. I have to atone, and this is a fitting place to do it.”

“Then—then I'll stay here too,” Dean says in a rush. “I've got sins too, you know. I lie, I cheat, I've been ghosting chicks since I was in high school—and that's just the normal human stuff, never mind all the shit that's gone down with hunting. You know back in the day, Sammy and me, we used to try to save people who were possessed by demons? Now I just stab 'em and fuck the consequences. If you're a monster, if you deserve to stay here, than I do too.”

“No, Dean,” Cas says sadly. “You know you won't stay here. You won't leave Sam alone.”

Dean closes his eyes and swallows convulsively. Cas is right, of course—anything could be happening to Sam out there. Last time Dean was gone this long, Sam started fucking Ruby, drinking demon blood; what is he doing this time, what lengths won't he go to to bring Dean back?

“Cas,” he says without opening his eyes. “Cas, please, I can't do this. You weren't even planning on telling me, were you? You were just gonna cut out at the last minute, let me think I fucked up somehow. And we—we had sex,” he hisses, sotto voce. “You're telling me you're gonna fuck and run, after everything we've been through? You'd do that to me—to us?”

“Do you think I want to do any of that? I've never wanted anything more than you, than to be allowed to love you. Look at me, Dean—Dean, look at me.” Dean risks a look, and Cas catches it, holds Dean's eyes with his so he can't look away again; he spreads his arms wide. “This body, that I used to have sex with you? It's not mine, Dean. I may be alone in it now, but I took it from a good man, who had no idea what I was doing. I took it, and when he got it back for a moment, I took his child to make him say yes to me. The pleasure I feel when I kiss you, when I made you come—it's stolen, it never should've been mine to feel. It's wrong, Dean, I'm wrong, and I have to make it right.”

“No,” Dean pleads. Even to himself, his tone is agonizing—a child's, crying in the dark. “No, Cas, come on. I love you.”

“I know you do,” says Cas. “I love you too. It's not enough.”

They both fall silent, staring into each other's eyes. Dean's terrified to break his gaze, to let Cas out of his sight—what if he runs away again? He opens his mouth to say something—there has to be some combination of words, a right thing to say to make Cas change his mind, maybe if he just keeps talking he'll stumble on it—when, from across the river, there's a noise like a hundred thunderclaps at once, screams echoing in its wake.

“Samira!” Dean bellows. Fuck, he never should've left her behind, promises be damned. He's already running towards the ruckus, the whole fucked situation with Cas filing itself away neatly in the back of his mind; it's an almost physical sensation, familiar as swallowing. “We gotta go back for her, guys,” he yells over his shoulder, “maybe we can trick those yako fuckers somehow, get her out that way. Come on.” He doesn't wait for Cas's answer, just books it for the yakos' territory, fast as he can. Someone's crashing through the trees behind him—Benny or Cas, hopefully both—but he doesn't look back.

At the riverbank, he skids to a stop, jaw dropping in surprise: the opposite shore is in flames, trees burning like smokeless torches, grass scorched to cinders. Dean sees a couple of dead yako, their bodies twisted mid-transformation and horribly charred; the rest seem to have fled, and Samira's standing in the middle of a flickering ring of fire, embracing a woman who can only be Akiko.

She's tall, Cas's height if not Dean's, and strikingly beautiful, her dark eyes close-set above high, sharp cheekbones. As Dean watches, Samira reaches up to push Akiko's long, tangled black hair out of her face; Akiko flashes her teeth in a quick, shy smile and unfastens the belt of her white silk kimono. Dean starts to look away, flustered—not that he's got much of a leg to stand on here, granted, but he'd have expected them to save the djinn-on-kitsune action for somewhere more private than a battlefield—but all Akiko does is change the fold of the robe, from right-over-left to left-over-right, and ties it closed again. Samira grins and pulls her face down for a kiss.

Suddenly, the two women are kissing in a shaft of sunlight—so bright after months of dimness Dean has to shade his eyes, spots blooming gray in his field of vision. He frowns at what feels like a raindrop on the back of his hand, and looks up, only to get another drop in the eye. Shit, it is rain, glittering like diamonds in the light, pattering down on the clearing and putting out the fire with a cheerful hiss. “Kitsune no yomeiri,” he hears Cas's voice say behind him.

“What?” Dean asks, half-turning to find Cas and Benny standing a few yards away—they're not getting wet, and Dean realizes the rain is isolated to the same area as the sunlight, stopping abruptly just behind him. Fascinated, he sticks his hand out into dry air with a shiver.

“It's the Japanese expression for a sunshower,” Cas says. He's not meeting Dean's eyes, staring across the river at Samira and Akiko, who finally catch sight of them; Samira waves, and they start to make their way over to the men. “It means 'the kitsune is getting married,'” Cas continues. “How Akiko changed her kimono—only corpses are dressed with the right side folded over the left. Dressed in white with it folded the other way, she's wearing the traditional dress of a bride.”

“Well explained, Castiel,” says Samira as she scrambles up the bank. “I told you we'd be all right—I told him we'd be all right,” she says to Akiko, who's gliding across calmly an inch or two above the water, coming to rest on bare, pointed toes for a minute before touching down. “Akiko, these are the ones who brought me to you.”

“Hi,” says Akiko, sticking out a hand for Dean to shake, and he blinks in surprise. She's not speaking Japanese he hears as English, like the yako, or Samira's Arabic—she's just speaking English, with what he's pretty sure is a Chicago accent. “We're very grateful, Dean. Sorry about the weather.”

Chapter Text

“Uh, hi,” says Dean. Akiko's hand is smooth and fever-hot in his. “I think the rain's stopping, actually. Is that—does this happen a lot?”

Akiko laughs, shrugs. “I wouldn't say a lot. I don't have control over the weather, but sometimes it responds to me anyway? I'm surprised as you are that it happened here in Purgatory, though,” she says, scowling up at the once-again-gray skies. “There's not much joy in this place—but I'm overjoyed to see Samira again. Thank you again for your part in our reunion.”

“You're welcome,” Dean mumbles automatically, embarrassed. He doesn't feel like he did much, in the end—Benny was the one who knew Gwen and got them the lead they needed, Cas was the one the yako actually saw as a threat. Dean was just sort of along for the ride, and he says so.

“Modesty doesn't suit you, Dean,” Samira says. “You saw past your prejudices to try to help me, it doesn't matter at all whether you struck the death blow.” She takes in how Cas is hanging back, how he's not looking at Dean. “You told him, then, Castiel. Good.”

“Not really,” says Cas. “You had no right to invade my thoughts like that.”

“Please,” Samira says, “I didn't have to. Your deception was as obvious to me as your longing for Dean—I thought at first it was only your attraction to him that you were hiding, but once that was out in the open, I could tell you were holding something else back. It was your guilt that invaded my mind—I was sick with it, how you were lying to someone you love so much. He had to know, if only to know you were willing to leave him even after he'd told you he felt the same way.”

“Don't you dare judge me,” Cas snaps, and his eyes crackle electric blue for a second. “You don't know a damn thing about the situation. The horrors I've wrought.”

Samira stands her ground with folded arms, and her own eyes echo back a similar glow almost sarcastically. “Do you mean your ignominious career as God? Or the devastation you brought on my kind long ago? You are a horror, Castiel, a monster like me. That doesn't give you the right to turn your back on Dean's love.”

There's an intensely awkward pause.

“Well!” says Akiko with a decisive clap of her hands, “that's quite enough of that, I think. You can yell at him some more after you've brought them the astrolabe, eh, Sammy?” Dean startles at the nickname—but she's talking to Samira, of course. “Maybe then we can make sure our star-crossed lovers stay together where they belong.”

“I've told you not to call me Sammy,” Samira says, pulling a moue to rival his brother's. “I'm older than the Flood—all the Floods—I don't answer to diminuitives.”

Akiko pats her on the head; it's clearly an old argument, maybe centuries old, and a half-hearted one at that—in fact, they both seem a little relieved to be able to have it again. “But you're so diminuitive, cutie! I could call you that other thing I call you, if you want to make the human blush.”

“Hmph,” says Samira, smoothing out her hijab where it's rumpled from Akiko's fussing. “Please refrain. Which way to the portal, Benny?”

“It's a little south and a lot west,” Benny says, visibly relieved to change the subject. “That's as exact as I can get in a place that's as short on landmarks as this one.”

“The astrolabe's hidden north of here—it'd probably be fastest if I just fetched it myself,” she says. “I believe that you trust me, and I trust you, but I'd rather Akiko stayed here until my return, in case something goes wrong. She'd be able to sense it if I'm in trouble, and she'd be a valuable asset if you should need to fight.”

Dean agrees, and then jumps in surprise when Samira's suddenly surrounded by wisps of bluish smoke; when they clear, there's a brown tabby cat with a blue collar standing in her place, gazing up at him with eyes he recognizes. “Shit, you can turn into a cat?” The cat nods, then yawns and stretches before leaping onto the closest tree trunk and digging in with her claws; she scrambles up it and disappears into the foliage. Dean follows the rustling leaves in her wake as she jumps from tree to tree, until she's out of sight.

He startles at a touch to his elbow—it's Cas, standing there with his goddamn sad eyes. “Dean,” he says, barely above a whisper.

“Fuck off, Cas,” Dean says. “I can't look at you right now.”

Cas nods, face crumpling in on itself like newspaper in a fire. “I understand. Do you want me to go?”

“Don't ask stupid questions,” Dean growls. “Of course I don't fucking want you to go, that's the whole point!” He wipes a weary hand over his face; he can feel his expression sag from anger into misery. “But I just can't be near you right this second, okay? Just give me some goddamn time.”

“All right,” says Cas, nodding again. “I'll keep watch, then—patrol the perimeter of this area until Samira returns.”

“Knock yourself out. Benny, you wanna go with him?”

“Sure, whatever,” Benny says curtly. “C'mon.” They walk off across the clearing; Dean tries and fails not to watch Cas go.

“Don't worry,” says Akiko. She tucks her hands into the sleeves of her kimono and gives him a beatific smile. “He won't leave you, Dean. I'm not sure he can.”

“Shows how much you know,” Dean says. “Dude's been leaving me since we met.”

“That may be true, but he's not going to leave you now, not when it counts,” Akiko says decisively. “Samira will speak to him—she understands, you see. She did this to me once.”

“What? You mean she left you? But—she said you hadn't been separated till my dad—till you died.”

Akiko wiggles her shoulders in an amused shrug. “Then she lied to you. She left me for six months in the twelfth century, for another woman, no less. Well. A goddess. Have you heard of the Morrígan?”

“Sounds vaguely familiar.” Sounds like D&D, actually, so he probably heard Sammy—his Sammy—rambling on about it at some point. “She's hot shit, huh?”

“You could say that, yeah,” says Akiko, quirking one well-plucked eyebrow in amusement. “A Celtic raven goddess, keeper of the land and the right to rule it, by far the most powerful being I've ever met. She dazzled me, too. But it was Sammy who she wanted, and so that's who she got—not for long, though, because she came back to me. She realized we were meant to be, and so will your Castiel.”

“You're pretty damn sure of yourself for having just met us,” grumbles Dean. He wants to believe her, but he just can't get his hopes up; when has that ever worked out for him?

“I'm rooting for you guys,” she says. “I don't have the same abilities Samira does, but even I can tell how mad you are about each other.”

“He says it's not enough.”

“Love is always enough.”

Dean grunts in response and falls silent, swinging his blade idly through a patch of reeds. “So,” he says after a while, “why's a thousand-year-old Japanese lady got an accent like Al Capone?”

“We lived there for sixty years, so I learned the local dialect,” Akiko says. “I like to blend in with humans more than she does—what can I say? I like you. Sammy says it's cause I'm so young.” She rolls her eyes. “I sometimes think that's why the Morrígan turned her head back then—hard to feel like you're robbing the cradle when you're dating a goddess.”

This whole conversation is way out of Dean's depth; for a second he feels a pang of nostalgia for the days when a single demon was a terrifying challenge, before he started regular hangouts with creatures centuries—or millennia—his senior. He's still trying to think of something to say when Benny and Cas reappear: Benny's carrying a shiny contraption that must be the astrolabe, while Cas has Samira, still in feline form, riding on his shoulder.

“You're back,” says Dean pointlessly.

“Yes. And I've been thinking things over—Samira had a lot more to say to me on the subject of whether I should stay here to atone.” Cas stoops and extends his arm so Samira can pick her sure-footed way down. “She says that she forgives me for murdering her family, that if she can do so, I can find some sort of reconciliation with Heaven. She says—she says I deserve to be saved.”

Dean swallows; Samira hops to the ground and struts over to Akiko, rubbing up against her shins and purring mightily. “She does, huh?” Dean says. “What do you say?”

“You said you loved me,” says Cas, frowning.

“Yeah.” Dean swallows again, trying to shake the feeling that his heart's beating in the back of his throat.

“I didn't—I thought it was true, I wanted to believe it, but I didn't think you would ever say it out loud.”

“Well,” says Dean, “I did. I'll say it again even: I love you, Castiel. Come home with me.”

A dozen emotions cross Cas's beautiful face: fear, longing, regret, hope. And then he's across the clearing, taking Dean in his arms, kissing his mouth. “I want to,” Cas says, breath warm against Dean's lips. “I've never wanted anything more. Dean, please, take me home.”

*******

The trip back is surprisingly uneventful. Samira changes back to her human form (okay, her djinn form) and fiddles with the Arabic-engraved dials on the astrolabe until there's a loud burst of light as it clicks into place; the direction it indicates jives with Benny's mental map, so they head off together, Cas by Dean's side. Dean expects to be attacked on the way—surely the Leviathan won't let them out—but there's not even a peep from a wendigo or a werewolf. He guesses there are advantages to traveling with ancient and powerful beings, too.

Once they've reached the portal, a pale and shimmering break in the world, Akiko casts some kind of spell over Benny and Cas so they can go through an exit meant for humans; “thanks,” Benny says, “I had a spell, too, but it involved injecting my soul under Dean's skin.”

“Uh, what now? This would've been good information to have earlier,” Dean says.

“Moot point,” Benny grunts, and gestures towards the blue haze of the portal. “Shall we?”

“Just a sec.” Dean turns to Samira. “You won't come with us too, you and Akiko? I feel pretty shitty about taking off and stranding you here.”

“We're together,” Samira says with a shrug. “That's all we need. And it's not so bad here, not for us—very few creatures here could take us on, especially as a pair. Actually, if it's all right with you, darling” with a glance at her girlfriend, “I'd like to introduce you to a Lady Gwendolyn. I believe you'll hit it off.”

“Shit yeah, the three of you'll be a hell of a girl squad. Whip this place into shape.” Dean opens his arms tentatively; Samira hesistates but then hugs him, quickly, slinking away with an embarrassed look that makes him think of her as a cat. Akiko is more effusive, kissing him on the cheek before hugging Cas and Benny in turn.

“Thank you,” she says. “Thank you for bringing me back my love.”

“Thank you, too,” Dean says. “Thank you for everything.”

He and Cas pass through the portal hand in hand.

*******

They come through in woods—why did it have to be woods? Dean would pretty much kill for a view of mountains or, you know, buildings—in what turns out to be Maine. Benny takes his leave, and Dean just...lets a vampire wander off back into the world, mentally crossing his fingers and toes that he can trust him. He thinks so. He thinks maybe monsters can be better people than a lot of people he's met.

“I want a burger,” Dean says. “And a shower.”

“In that order?” Cas asks. “I wouldn't mind joining you in the latter, if you don't mind.”

And Dean's never been one for shower sex—not worth the contortions—but damned if that's not the best offer he's heard in his entire life. “Yeah,” he says, “let's get a room, then.”

They're reasonably clean and toweling off by the time Dean breaks, crowds Cas up against the bathroom wall and kisses him breathless. Cas groans, pushing Dean's wet hair off his forehead, and they kiss and kiss until Dean sinks to his knees and tongues his cock. He comes over Dean's mouth and chin almost immediately.

On the bed, Cas lays him out half-dry; he doesn't even go near his cock at first, and Dean didn't know the inside of his elbow was an erogenous zone until Cas's mouth is pressed against it. Finally Cas works his way down to his hipbones, gnaws at them—but he still doesn't move to blow him, just abruptly pushes Dean's legs up and open, leaning close to suck and lick at his balls. “Oh fuck,” Dean pants. He's got one hand spread on the back of Cas's head, the other white-knuckling the bedspread. He feels Cas lick lower, feels the whiskers of his beard against his ass cheeks. “Can I?” Cas asks.

“Yeah, go ahead.” Dean steels himself not to flinch away—he's had a few women do this to him, and he fucking loves it, but it always feels weird as hell at first before it starts to feel really good. Cas gets him there quick, though, tongue hot and firm on Dean's hole, and soon Dean's just moaning and thrusting up against him: “please touch my dick,” he whines, “please, Cas.”

Cas does; Dean goes off like a rocket.

After, they lie tangled and sticky in a heap. Dean can't stop touching Cas now that he gets to, running his hands over the planes of his back, ruffling fingers through his disheveled hair. He brushes his knuckles over Cas's beard. “You gonna shave this off?” he asks.

“Do you want me to?”

“Nah, not on my account. Can't say I get it, though—how come you let it grow? You never did before.”

“I usually have sufficient grace to keep my body in stasis, but I didn't in Purgatory,” Cas says. “I had no means of getting rid of it.”

“Uh, shaving, dude? I managed it fine.”

“Yes,” says Cas, “you had knives. Have you ever tried shaving with an angel blade?”

Dean laughs. “You got me there. I kinda dig the peach fuzz, honestly. It's, uh, pretty sexy.” The scratch of it on the skin of his inner thighs was fucking awesome. “I need to call Sam,” he says around a sudden yawn, “but I think you knocked me out again. Nap first?”

“Of course,” says Cas, pulling him close. “I'll watch over you.”