Time doesn’t pass in this place. It is always dusk, and there are always leviathan hard on Castiel’s heels, and he never stops. There is no tomorrow or yesterday; only very occasionally, in moments of peculiar clarity, is there before and after.
This is one of those. He climbs up out of a hollow, and Meg is there. She smirks at him. “Hello, Clarence.”
He palms her forehead, burns the soul out of her, and keeps running.
He hallucinates sometimes. Perhaps this is a lingering effect of Sam’s wounds in his mind. Perhaps it’s because he is an angel, a living seraph, and should not be here.
Perhaps it’s because he deserves it. That seems likeliest.
He passes by a vast old tree – but then all is old in this place, ageless, and vast is an extravagance of perspective that he can ill afford – and Meg is on the other side, slouching. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you weren’t glad to see me.”
He isn’t. He would be. If.
Her skin beneath his hand is paler than he remembers, but her soul flares just the same.
The next time, he doesn’t recognize her immediately. Her hair is short and blond; her smirk is more mischief, less malice. She grins wide, and in it Castiel sees the blackened soul he knows. “Why are you in this form?” he demands. “I’ve never seen it before.” Not that his visions lack for creativity, vomiting up images of murders even he didn’t commit, friends he didn’t torture. Still.
He stays his hand. He waits.
She saunters forward a step, and stops; doesn’t push his patience or her luck. “What, like I only ever wore the one meat suit?” She cocks a hip. “This is Meg. I’m just the demon who rode her.”
He kills her again.
For some untold duration, he is lost in changes of direction, evading both leviathan and Dean, lest they should meet. His exhaustion leaves room for none but the most lurid memories of blood in his fingernails and leviathan roiling beneath his skin.
Even here, he can’t go on this way forever. He stops at the base of a tree. He stops.
“I’m not saying it isn’t a rush.” The voice is masculine, conversational. Familiar and entirely unexpected. “Just, sometimes a girl likes to be romanced a little first, you know what I’m saying?”
Castiel looks up from the base of the tree in whose lee he took shelter some undetermined length of time ago. On a branch a dozen feet above his head perches Sam, grinning down. Teeth glisten whitely in the gloom. “Wakey wakey, Clarence.”
Clarence looks closer, and he blinks. “I don’t understand.”
Meg swings Sam’s feet. “So I’m mostly smoke, you know.”
“Soul,” he corrects. None of his other hallucinations have required pedantry. “A demon is soul, corrupted beyond retrieval.”
Sam’s eyes roll. The effect is jarring. “Yeah, well. Turns out, down here soul and memory’s all I am. But on the upside, it means I get to wear any ensemble I remember from out there in the world.”
It takes Castiel a while to think this through. Purgatory is not kind to mental processes. His, at least. “You... wore Sam?”
“Took him for a spin.” Meg’s nonchalance is transparently smug. “Killed some people, menaced his lady friend, shot his brother. Good time had by all.”
“By you, you mean.”
“Close enough.” Sam’s feet kick back and forth a while longer, and then his voice asks, “If I come down there, are you going to smite me again? Because the afterglow from one of those is less exciting than you’d think.”
“You’re not real,” Castiel explains.
The feet still. “Ah.” After a while, when Castiel has started thinking it’s time he got up and kept running, Meg says, “So, about the smiting.”
Castiel is very, very tired. “I don’t deserve comfort.”
Sam-Meg lands lends next to him with thud that surely lifted the ears of every monster for miles. Sam’s white teeth grin at Castiel. “No comfort. I promise.”
Castiel tires of Meg’s mannerisms in Sam’s body and demands she change. She grumbles a little, but she wanders off behind a tree – for ‘decency’ – and comes back in the blond body he saw before, the one belonging to the ill-fated human Meg Masters.
She stalks beside him and talks constantly of the living realm, of Lucifer, of Sam and Dean.
“He’s here,” Castiel tells her.
Her eyebrows rise, disbelieving. “I know.” She reaches over and taps his skull with her knuckle. “I’m your hallucination, remember? I know every little thing happening up in your noggin.”
She lied; she is comfort, of a sort. No doubt this is the prelude to some greater, more resounding horror. Castiel braces himself for it, and he keeps going.
Leviathan come, and Meg leaves. One minute she’s at Castiel’s side, and the next there’s nothing left of her but a wispy blackness and the tang of brimstone on the air.
She comes back later, after Castiel is finished dodging and feinting and killing and running. He's is gladder than he has the right to be. “You left me,” he tells her.
She shrugs, unconcerned. She’s wearing the dark-haired woman this time, the form Castiel knows best, though she’s in leather now instead of nurse’s scrubs. “You expected a hallucination to be good in a fight?”
His other visions have left him alone – he doesn’t, of course, know for how long – but they return soon after the leviathan encounter. He goes as long as he can, leading the monsters that even God rejected as far away from Dean as there is to go. But Rachel dogs his steps on one side, the death-light in her eyes and blood seeping from her heart, and on his other hand marches a legion of angels in step, hollow-eyed and char-winged every one. Blades of grass cling to their suits, and their mouths roll with Enochian: the curse of the Fallen One, the words with which the Morningstar was cast down.
It’s when Balthazar takes Castiel by the lapels of his coat, blood fountaining from his gapped mouth, that Castiel cannot bear it anymore. He sinks to his knees, but still Balthazar is there, moaning what would surely be a scream if his mouth weren’t so full of blood. Castiel should listen, but he can’t. He can’t.
There are hands on his wrists – not Balthazar’s. They’re smaller, and they tingle with the fires of hell. He opens his eyes, and Meg looks into them. Her mouth opens, but all that comes out of it is words, although he can’t decipher them.
She pulls his hands away from his ears. “Angel?” she asks. He doesn’t know how to answer. She stares at him, and then she takes his head in her hands and kisses him.
For a moment he lets her. Her lips sting against his, but not unpleasantly. Touch is a luxury he barely recognized before coming to this place, and for a timeless moment he allows himself the weakness before he pushes her away, his unyielding, infuriating figment. “I’m meant to be punished,” he tells her.
“I’ll give you punishment,” she growls. “Fucking narcissistic bastard.”
Then she’s on him again, harsh and hot, teeth applied to flesh grown mortal and much too tender, and there’s pain, and Castiel wraps himself in it and lets go.
Much later, Meg asks, “Better now?”
Castiel stares up through silhouetted canopy to the changeless dusk above. “Yes.”
Her smirk is audible. “Thought so.”
“Dean’ll find the way out,” Meg tells him.
Castiel climbs over a fallen log. In this timeless place, it doesn’t decay; it is decay, perpetual. “I don’t know that there is a way.”
“If there isn’t now, whaddya want to bet the universe’ll make him one? Damn Winchesters.” Meg kicks a branch and sends it flying. “I figure he can take me with him.”
“You’re a hallucination,” Castiel reminds her. “Mine, specifically.”
“All I gotta do is possess him, and I can ride him right out. I’d hop a ride on you, but I don’t think us going double would end well, do you?”
Castiel snorts. “Dean wouldn’t let you.”
Meg shows all her teeth. Today, they’re Sam’s. Castiel is past caring. “Not even if you asked nicely? You are his favorite angel, you know.”
“Why are you here?” he demands. “Demons go to hell, or they end. They don’t come to purgatory.”
Meg shrugs. “Crowley thought it’d be funny.”
When they’ve run too long, when the dead-eyed angels close in on him, when Meg gets bored: they fuck. She wears bodies he knows and ones he doesn’t: a ginger-blond boy with colorless lashes; a woman with huge, dark eyes and a braid that swings at her waist. She rides him until they’re both sore and aching and spent; she teaches him to lick her out so that every flick of his tongue sends her squirming. She holds his wrists to the sterile lifeless earth and puts her teeth to each bare inch of his skin. She kisses him mercilessly until he forgets to weep for slain comrades only he can see.
This is all penance in some cosmic sense that Castiel doesn’t understand. He’s beyond trying.
“Dean’s catching up to us, you know.”
Castiel does know; he hears Dean’s furtive prayers. He knows about the vampire Dean’s traveling with and about his plan for escape. He knows Dean won’t leave until he’s found Castiel.
Meg regards him musingly from the brown eyes he knows best. “You slowed down on purpose.”
Leviathan are closing in. If Dean doesn’t find Castiel soon, he might never leave at all.
“Show me your true form,” Castiel says. Her fingers grip his hair; his thighs are trapped between her knees. Her neck blossoms with bruises he put there. “The human one. Who you were before.” What image will his mind conjure for him? An innocent? A witch? He hardly knows which he hopes for, which would hurt the most.
She eyes him a moment, expression fathomless in her brown eyes, and then she climbs off him with a huff and stalks away. The lack of her against him leaves a chill. He pushes upright and watches her go.
It’s a long walk later before she speaks to him again. They pause at the top of a ridge, and she says, “Tell me your name.”
He squints at her. Even her demon face is unreadable. “You know my name.”
She shakes her head, eyes ever to the ground. “That’s just for the suckers. I want the one written on the heavenly scroll, or wherever they keep that crap.”
“That’s very powerful,” he tells her. “A person with my name could bind me to them, could make me do anything.”
She snorts. “Like I’m going to remember it. It’s probably fifty syllables long and half of it not even audible on this plane, am I right?”
She is. But. “I don’t know why you’re asking.”
Finally she meets his eyes. She shrugs in a way that she probably intends to be casual. “I’m just a figment, right? Not like it makes any difference.”
So Castiel clears his throat. He calls to attention every piece of him that he can still feel, stunted and fettered as he is in this place never meant to contain an angel, and he lets the whole thing roll out on Jimmy’s tongue. He leaves off a phoneme here and there, just in case. Anyone could be listening.
Jimmy’s throat is raw by the time Castiel finishes. Blood trickles from Meg’s ear. He wipes at it with his finger. She grins, devilish as Lucifer himself, and then she pushes him to the ground and finishes what they left undone before.
Before they get up and push on, while Meg still lies wedged against him, she mutters, “I don’t remember.”
“Hmm?” He hasn’t yet put together again all the fragments she’s made of him.
“My name. Or anything. Self-made woman, that’s me.” Her grip on his arm tightens until her fingernails have pressed crescents in his skin.
Castiel is tired of running. They come to a river that gleams like spilt oil, and he stops. Dean is nearer than the leviathan now, and that’s the best Castiel can hold out for.
Meg doesn’t comment. Now she’s wearing a curly-headed blonde with crows’ feet at the corners of her eyes. He’s learned many of her bodies, but not this one. It hardly matters; she always tastes the same, of brimstone and ash.
He stands by the water a while; he dips his hands and face in it. It feels as foul as it looks. When he’s done, Meg casually runs her hands up his arms, over his shoulders. She pushes him down, and he lets her. She picks the clothes off him with practiced fingers and kisses him with thin, pale lips, and when they’re both pawing and eager, she slides down onto him and rocks them both to release.
Afterwards, he asks, “When Dean finds me, will I still see you?”
“What do you think?” She is only half-awake. “Told you, I’m riding him out.”
He hears them coming long before he sees them: Dean and the vampire. He waits by the water. Eventually he notices that Meg has gone, and he swallows down what might have been grief if he let it. He has no right to grieve, much less over an illicit comfort his broken mind spun for him.
Dean strides right up to Castiel and puts his arms around him. Castiel can’t remember ever yearning for anything so hard as he once yearned for this, but he can’t have it. It isn’t allowed him. He holds himself still and waits for it to be over.
Dean pulls back and grins, as filthy as Castiel vaguely knows himself to be. Something over Castiel’s shoulder catches Dean’s eye. “What the hell?” He pushes Castiel away, scowling beyond him. “What’s she doing here?”
Castiel turns, unwilling even to wonder what Dean is looking at. A few feet away stands Meg. She bends her fingers in a wave. “Hiya, Dean-o. Clarence.”
“I don’t understand.”
Meg shrugs against him. One clearing over, Dean and the vampire are muttering at each other, each arguing both sides at once: do they or do they not travel with a demon?
“You’re real,” Castiel says, testing each word as it leaves his lips.
“As the hair on your chinny chin chin.” Meg reaches up to scrub her palm against his scruff, and he leans into the touch.