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07 October 2012 @ 07:17 pm
[fanfic] The Long, Dark Night of the Soul (Chapter 4 of 5)  
Title: The Long, Dark Night of the Soul (Chapter 4)
Author: tiptoe39
Artist: scarletscarlet
Fandom/Genre: SPN/Drama, Romance
Pairing (s): Dean/Castiel, possible Sam/Jody
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~28,000
Warnings: Language, some sexual innuendo, violence, blood & guts & some very scary/gory monsters
Summary: Finding their way through purgatory means Dean and Castiel must face monsters and an endless landscape of darkness, but it also means they must navigate the wilds of their own troubled souls. Meanwhile, Sam seeks out an ally in his quest to bring his brother home and finds he has his own unpleasant truths to face.
Author’s notes: Thank you to akadougal for excellent beta work and being a cheerleader throughout! Thanks to the DCBB mods for putting together such a wonderful project. And really, extra super-special thanks to my artist, scarletscarlet, who in addition to the art has helped with monster design, plot tweaks, and supplementary beta duties, and has really been a true partner in making this story happen. I am so grateful.





Castiel's mouth is on his, and Dean feels as though a rainbow is bursting bright colors through him, like he's a prism. He lunges forward, wraps his arms around Castiel and holds him tight.

The kiss, oh, God, the kiss is lingering, long and wet and perfect, and Dean knows there are a million things he should be doing instead of this. Running and screaming, maybe. Protesting. Finding a way home. But Cas feels so fucking perfect in his arms, and there's low music playing in his gut, and he can't - he can't stop, not for anything, not for all the darkness in Purgatory.

Castiel's mouth pulls at his, the soft surface of his lips somehow insistent and determined, and when Castiel's tongue finds its way into Dean's mouth Dean lets him, because it belongs there, because all this is simultaneously intense and natural, because each inch they squirm closer to each other Dean feels closer and closer to home.

Is he allowed to do this? To feel this, when Sam is somewhere above, worrying or despairing? It doesn't seem right.

"It's not right." The words break, and his mouth breaks from Castiel's, pushing him away. "This isn't right. I shouldn't -- damn it!" Because his gut is still churning in bright colors and Castiel's lips are a dim red glow in the darkness and everything Dean loves about sex, the mindlessness and the ability to let go and just feel good, is right there for the taking. "It's not right."

"Dean." Not quite a question, but wondering all the same, his mouth tense as he watches Dean struggle.

"Don't you get it? We're in Purgatory. We are supposed to be suffering here. To be fighting through our demons so we can get out again. We can't, I can't afford--"

"To feel good?" There's a flush in Castiel's cheeks now, uncharacteristic, and Dean wishes it didn't set his heart humming in his throat to see him like that. "Did it feel good, then? My kissing you?"

"Shut up. You know it did." Dean looks away. He tries to push himself from Castiel, but their hands catch, the last thread of contact and he's not willing, or strong enough, to break it. "But this isn't the right time. I don't deserve it yet."

"Dean." Castiel's thumb tracks slow and heavy against Dean's hand. "My love is--"

He stops briefly as Dean flinches at the word, his face full of trepidation as he waits for the backlash. But Dean has none to give. Maybe it's the creature's poison that stays Dean's tongue, but he just doesn't have energy to push it away. Or maybe because Cas is the one who says it, and when he thinks about it real hard, it's not so much of a surprise.

After a guarded moment, Castiel goes on. "My love isn't something you earn. You have it. You have always had it."

"But why?" Dean truly doesn't understand. "Why me? I've never gotten an answer to that question. I've had angels tell me it had to be you, it was fate, blah, blah, blah, but I'm not anything special. Never have been. I'm not Mother Teresa or anything."

"And yet you were." Castiel looks at him steadily. "You still are. You have done nothing but give, Dean. Your soul, your life, your security."

"For Sam, though." Dean sighs. "Not for the world, not to strangers. I only ever gave anything for Sam."

Castiel's face darkens. "Believe me," he says, "I know."

A protective, defensive anger builds in Dean's chest, but his voice is weak. "Cas--"

"I wanted very much to hate him, Dean. I did. From the moment I met you I wanted to be your equal, to be beside you in a way I couldn't. Only Sam could fill that role. And he was Lucifer's vessel, and I should have hated him.

"But I couldn't, and I couldn't hate you, no matter how badly you treated me." Dean starts to protest, out of reflex more than anything, and Castiel lifts a finger to his lips. "You did, Dean. You treated me horribly. Because you thought I was something better than you, and you were so disappointed when I wasn't.

"You kill gods and monsters, but I was the only one you ever held to that ridiculous, untouchable standard. When you were yelling at me, when you'd trapped me in that holy fire, I wanted to hate you so much. Accusing me of doing the very things you yourself had done for so long. And you did it for Sam. I did it for the universe and somehow that wasn't good enough for you." His voice is starting to break with emotion. "Why did you do that? Couldn't you see the rank hypocrisy?"

The words rush out. "Of course I could. Of course I knew it was bull. I was partnering with Crowley two days before I found out you were... " He chokes, clears his throat. "But me, I was always just Dean. You were Cas, you were supposed to be better than me. And you fell? I couldn't take that. I didn't want to live in a world where that happened. Without you being what I wanted you ... what I needed you to be."

"But Dean, I've only ever been just a man. Maybe not on the outside, but..."

They've crept together again, without knowing it, and now Castiel's fingers are sliding into his hair, waist tucked up in the grip of Dean's palm. "Since the moment I met you... that's all I've ever been. Wanted to be. For you. With you."

It's as honest, as emotional as Dean's ever seen him, and something's breaking in him too, like the branches of a tree dipping heavy under a torrent of snow. There's a moment of release close by, and he can either take the barrage or he can let it break him. It's hard to see why he should keep holding on.

"I wonder still," Castiel says. "Can you learn to see me that way?"

There's no reason to keep holding on.

"Sure. Sure, Cas. You can be..."

And the weight of his feelings hit him then, like a wrecking ball taking down the last of the walls he's built around his heart. His lips part. "Jesus."

Castiel scowls. "Not him--"

"It's an expression." Dean says. From two inches away.

"Oh."

"Yeah." Barely words, syllables breathed, closer to each other, their noses bumping. When Castiel swallows, Dean can feel the vibration of the movement in his throat.

"Yeah," he says again, and then their lips meet.

This time the kiss is not a plea from Castiel, or a confession of feelings. It's just the two of them, just coming together, solace in each other's company, as they've been in different ways since this misadventure started. And Dean finds some comfort in it, is able to relax and enjoy the closeness, the wet heat of Castiel's breath and mouth against his own.

Pressing his mouth into Castiel's, needing - God, openly needing for the first time in how long-- and even with the darkness outside it's unbearable the light in his heart.

“Cas," he whispers into the soft rub of Castiel's mouth. “Cas, do you think we can..."

"Anything," Cas whispers breathlessly. "Anything you want, Dean."

Dean's hand gathers up under the muddied white scrub of Castiel's shirt, finding his bare back. It's human and hot, searing his skin, and he wants more, needs it like he needs air and the wet perfect press of Castiel's mouth. "Cas," he murmurs, not demanding anything, just saying his name like a charm because Cas always has been that to him. Cas, a kind of magic that kept him going, and Dean has just now become aware of it. He presses Castiel's name into his lips, connecting them, wanting with his body what's kept his heart going for so long. "Cas, you-- God, just you."

Castiel presses against him, surging against his chest, and he gasps and pushes words back into Dean's mouth, "No, Dean, you."

It makes perfect sense to the both of them. They laugh, shakily, into each other's mouths, and Dean pulls Castiel down onto the dark and dirty floor of their makeshift hiding-place. Outside, the rain keeps falling, but for the first time the forest of Purgatory smells like green, growing things. The leaves that hide them from the rest of the world may just blush with color, but Dean's long since closed his eyes.



Jody's used to operating as an authority figure, but she's used to doing it in her own name. She turns over the fake ID in her hands and harrumphs. "Fed or nothing?"

"Fed or nothing," Sam says. "Everyone knows their local sheriffs. They don't know you, and they shouldn't. That's how you get by."

"Can't tell if it's better or worse that I actually have a badge, doing this," she says. "Leaning toward worse."

"You wanted to hunt. This is how it works."

The word hunt brings a flush to her cheeks each time. "I am downright ashamed of myself for being this excited," she says. "I don't like monsters. There's no reason I should look forward to dealing with them."

"You don't look forward to it, per se. You just... do it, ‘cause that's the job. And the job can be exciting."

"You're wise," she says, and falls silent, contemplating her brand-new identity ("Agent Foster? Really?") until they reach the house of one Fay Tran, whose son has been missing for a while now.

She welcomes them, serves them tea, and proceeds to be very tight-lipped. More than tight-lipped: she stares at Sam and Jody as though judging them, and Sam wonders if she has any clue about the gravity of her situation. He has to wonder if Kevin has run away before, or if Fay is simply mistrustful of authorities. Either is a possibility.

"We understand your son was quite the intellectual," he says after several tense, silent moments.

"Kevin is a very gifted boy," Fay says, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. "Very gifted and very complicated..."

Sam and Jody look at each other. "What do you mean by that?"

Fay looks horrified at herself for having spoken it aloud. "It is private family business."

"I understand that," Sam says, leaning forward, "but ma'am, if we're going to find your son, we need to know everything about him. Anything might be relevant."

"It's... it's private." But she's breaking down before his eyes. He thinks he hears Jody mutter behind him. Something like damn good at that. He tries to suppress a smirk.

"Do you really think you can find him?" Fay says.

"Absolutely, ma'am," Jody says. "But we do have to have all the facts."

Fay gets up and crosses the room. "Kevin has had his troubles," she says slowly. Sam nods at Jody, a silent Well done. She rolls her eyes briefly before focusing again on Kevin's mother, who has pulled a sheaf of papers out of a drawer and is poring over them silently. "He had... a very active imagination as a child. He used to wake us up in the middle of the night, telling us he'd had dreams about demons."

"Go on," Sam says, carefully, after a glance at Jody. "What about demons?"

"He said he could hear them talking in his dreams," Fay went on. "They always talked about these children. Kevin woke up screaming about them sometimes." She shudders. "He said they were waiting for the children to awaken."

Sam's blood runs cold. "And did they?"

Fay turns to him. Her eyes are dark with suspicion, but Jody puts a comforting hand on her shoulder, nods. "I know it must seem strange," she says. "But we really do need to know every detail."

Under Jody's level gaze, Fay softens again. "When he was ten," she says. "It got so much worse, then. He started to talk about the children dying, or killing, and the things he said were so terrible..."

She thrusts the papers into Jody's hands. Jody looks at them, then passes them to Sam without a word.

The child picked up a gun today. The gun was on the end of a tank. He put it back down before anyone saw what he could do.

He's learning how to make them move, and the knife shines silver in his eye. He'll put a knife in her eye, someday, for what she's seen and never stopped. Damn her eyes.

Today she bought a pack of gum. She handed over the dollar, and the clerk put change in her hand, and his heart stopped.

She's bleeding -- crying out for him and pleading -- the cookies sit on the table forgotten -- and I'm there, laughing, waiting for him to come home. Waiting for her to burn.


He closes his eyes and fights back a wave of nausea.

"We had him see a counselor, you see," Faye says. "A therapist. He said Kevin should try writing the stories down. It helped. Now Kevin keeps a diary. He writes in it every night, and he says it calms him. Helps him sleep. Helped him--" She breaks down again, fighting back sobs. Jody rubs her shoulder soothingly, but her eyes are on Sam.

"Ma'am," she says, "we'll need to see that diary."


In a few more minutes they have it in hand, and Sam is flipping through with an expression of amazement on his face. "It's everything," he says. "Everything that happened. The Devil's Gate opening, the demons escaping, the seals, Lucifer-- it's all here. Kevin didn't suddenly become a prophet one day, he's been one all his life. He just didn't know it."

"But he didn't know you," Jody says. "Didn't your friend Chuck know..."

"That's just it," Sam says, flipping through another page. "It's not about us. It's not about the angels. It's all the demons' POV. Chuck was a prophet of the Lord, but maybe Kevin is... another kind."

"A demon's prophet? Is that possible?"

"I don't see why not. Ruby used to tell me demons had their own lore, their own kind of Bible. Why not their own prophets?" Sam turns another page, and his jaw drops. "Oh, wow."

"What?" Jody looks over his shoulder. Her jaw hits the floor just as fast. "That's--"

Sam shuts the book and tucks it under his arm. "I think we've found our bargaining chip."





Dean wakes up and is warm. He presses his face into the warmth, because it's such an unusual sensation, especially recently. The warmth responds, moans and pushes back against him, and Dean registers that the warmth is soft too, and flushed. He works, brain hitching into slow gear, on understanding it. Is it liquid? No, it's solid, but flexible, pliant... it's human.

His eyes open slowly, but he remembers all in a rush.

Castiel is tangled and curled up into him, like he could burrow his way into Dean's body if he only tried hard enough. It's a perfect fit, limbs and flesh pressed together in an utterly flawless jigsaw, though if Dean concentrates hard he can start to become uncomfortable in one place or another. He has to concentrate to be uncomfortable. That in itself makes his mind reel.

They're wearing less than full clothes, Castiel's pants and Dean's boxers still on and little else, and even those are riding up so skin is pressed on skin very nearly everywhere. Dean takes in a soft breath and swallows hard at the memory of what happened before sleep, the mad erotic helpless tangle they ended up in again, clinging and kissing and just trying to taste as much of each other as they could.

Castiel had been so giving, so focused on Dean... even when they were pressed together hard and he was choking back a cry, his eyes had been wide open, on Dean always...

Dean closes his eyes again. He has to fight back a shudder that might be tears. He's terrified right now, and grateful to a God he doesn't believe really exists, and already mourning the moment when this sudden, precious, solid, fragile thing in his arms will fall away into nothing again.

He won't be able to take it when it does. He should push away, extricate himself, find a vantage point from which he can watch everything from a distance.

It's impossible. Castiel is the one thing he can't distance himself from. Not when he was a friend, not when he was an enemy. Never.

He couldn't forgive, he couldn't say goodbye, he couldn't let go.

Dean presses his face into Castiel's open shoulder. He needs. Openly and helplessly. He needs Castiel.

The knowledge chimes through him like a church bell, and it's only the warmth of his own joy that keeps him from drowning in shame.



"So Charlie."

"Oh, God, what now? I did everything you asked me. I've been keeping track of all the creepy monsters for you."

"I know, I know, and you've been doing great. I appreciate it."

"You're really, really bad at listening when a girl tells you to leave her alone, aren't you?"

Sam balks. "I--"

"Never mind. Sorry. That sounded worse than I meant it. So. What's up now?"

Sam takes a deep breath. "I need to ask you two things. Two favors, actually."

"I hate you, you know that?"

"I know. Look, think of it this way... have you seen Inception?"

Silence on the line. When Charlie speaks again, her voice is that vague, skeptical shade of interested that Sam was hoping for. "What about it?"

"I need to know if you can do more than extract information."

"If I can..." She blows air through her lips. "Please. Who do you think I am?"

"Great. Then I'm gonna need you to spread a rumor for me."

"To the creepy monsters?"

"To the creepy monsters."

"Done."

Sam nods. "Good. I'm glad to hear it." He takes a breath. "So this next favor is gonna mean you need to get on the next bus here. And, um, it starts with a really, really indelicate question. I’m going to put a friend of mine on the line..."



The rain's stopped. Dean peeks out from behind their makeshift curtain. The sourceless light that illuminates these forests is starting to glow, blue and barely there. He sighs. At least the rain has an end, even here. That's something.

He glances over his shoulder. Castiel's still asleep, or at least resting. Dean knows better than to think he's really unconscious, not of his own volition. But let him pretend to sleep a bit more. Maybe Dean can gather some more supplies while it's light out.

The curtain parts under his hands, and he slips out into the muddy morning. A creature howls in the distance, but the forest is devoid of red eyes. The monsters rest and regenerate. Dean nods. He can find some supplies now.

Over the days they've traveled this monotonous landscape, they've discovered a number of them. Sticks to use as makeshift weapons when they have to fight their way to shelter. Growing things that can salve wounds, ease fatigue-worn feet. Things he can chew when he just needs the taste of something besides stale air in his mouth. Pieces of hope and healing in a forest that knows nothing but destruction. He's come to see each of them as a little miracle.

No, that's not so. He's come to see himself as the miracle, his own existence. Or, at least, he's come to see that Castiel sees him as a miracle.

And now, as he looks out over the landscape, he thinks he sees a few more.

The air is more alive, and it smells fresher than it has. Dean takes a deep breath, wondering if he's just imagined it, but there's definitely something springy and vivid in the atmosphere now that hasn't been there. And a cluster of shoots at his feet actually has a green tint to it; Dean had been sure that everything in this place grew black and brown.

All this from one night? Just from letting Cas into his arms, accepting the fact that Cas is special to him?

No. He knows the truth. It's from accepting that he's special to Cas. That's the harder lesson to learn.

He stumbles across the forest floor, stepping into puddles of black muck where leaves have melted into pools of liquid sick from the rain. It reminds him of Leviathan blood, and he wonders, not for the first time, if there are still Leviathans stuck in this place, if he's already seen or fought them, or if they are those black leaves, watching and waiting and laughing at his naivete.

But Cas would know. And Cas hasn't said a thing. Dean trusts him. Even though there is probably plenty Cas hasn't told him, still isn't telling him-- Dean trusts him.

It's a weird sort of equilibrium, to be all right with not knowing things. He's never been any good at it. Maybe it's just the confidence that if he needs to know something, he's sure Castiel will tell him.

All evidence and history to the contrary notwithstanding. But maybe that was the problem before. Maybe if Dean had trusted him, Cas would have returned the souls before the Leviathans took hold, and...

Damn it. He's found a way to make Bobby's death his fault. He knew he would, sooner or later.

He collapses against a tree, breathes heavily, and tries to get a handle on himself. He doesn't want to trust Cas because trusting him means blaming himself for more. That's bullshit. And yet the minute the blame sinks in, he can't be rid of it. It's like a virus, and it's infected him his whole damn life...

"Dean."

He's gathered up, folded into arms, and suddenly it's so warm it's like the sun came out on a sweltering summer day. Castiel's breath huffs hot against his neck, and the words, barely whispered, sear with their intensity. "You weren't in the shelter. I worried."

Dean's arms are around him in a second. "I'm fine," he reassures, but that's not what he's thinking. He's thinking, how do you know? How do you always know to be here when I'm this close to losing it? What did I ever do to deserve you there for me the way you are?

Castiel's embrace tightens. "I'm afraid." Strange admission in that voice, uncharacteristic and trembling. "I don't want you to regret..."

"I don't." Dean squeezes him. He leans forward, drawn by the strange, enticing scent of Castiel's skin, and lays a kiss on his neck. "Cas, I don't regret it. Kinda hoping for more." Hope surges through his heart, replacing the turmoil that had been there just a moment before. Castiel's touch does this to him. Castiel's closeness.

"I love you," Castiel whispers. "I love you, Dean. I love you."

"Cas--" The words are terrifying, or they should be, but Dean can't find the wherewithal to be scared by them. Maybe because they're not news. He's always known Cas loves him. He's just never been able to accept it until now.

He doesn't know if he can say it back, if he should, but in another moment the dilemma is replaced by something ten times more pressing.

"Do you hear that?" he whispers against Castiel's ear. "Listen."

It's not just the trickling of leftover raindrops. It's stronger, more constant.

"Water," Castiel says. "Running water."

"That's new." Dean's heart thuds. "That's really frigging new."

"Come on."

Castiel pulls away from him, leads him by the hand through the forest. The contact is as simple as it gets, but Dean can't help staring at the knot where their fists lock together. It looks like the strongest kind of bond. His heart is in his throat.

The greening of the shoots and herbs at their feet lead the way. As they follow the splashes of color in the landscape, the sound gets louder and closer. It sounds not just like a spring but a river, wide and rushing. Or maybe even a stream sounds that loud after so long in the absence of any living sounds. The brush gets thicker, and nettles sting his legs as he works his way through it, but Castiel's hand in his is a lifeline, and he's not willing to break it for any amount of pain.

And then, abruptly, the trees end, and he and Castiel are left hand in hand staring at something they could never have imagined in a million years would appear in this world.

"What the hell is this place?" Dean half-whispers. He's almost afraid of breaking the stillness, sending all the small glowing things elsewhere. One step of his thick-booted foot into this sanctuary might destroy it all.

Beside him, Castiel is no less still or reverent. Dean can hear his breaths slowing. Terrified and enraptured, they stand at the edge of the glen, afraid to blink for fear it will all disappear again.

It looks, for lack of a better word, like fairyland. Green things coat the ground. Spongy moss and brilliant leaves of thin white flowers that seem to glow, illuminating the surrounding greenery with a dim circle of light. The smell of life, of soil and water, pervades the air, and the whole area seems to pulsate with light. The sky is brighter here, not just because there are no trees to hide the daylight. It's everything wondrous and mystical, everything that purgatory should not be and has not been until this moment.

"How is this here?" Dean wonders aloud. "I mean, how is this still here? How come the monsters haven't ruined this already?"

Castiel gazes at him through half-lidded eyes, and Dean can feel the words trembling behind his lips. He doesn't want to hear Castiel say it out loud, because admitting it would be the first step to losing it. This is the part of his soul that has been walled off, inviolable, for so very long. It's the part of him that has kept him fighting when he had no earthly reason to do so. He recognizes it, as clearly as if he were looking in a mirror.

He turns away and closes his eyes. In a way he finds it horribly ugly. This has always been the part of him that's been the hardest to face.

He expects Castiel to say something, but the silence is absolute. For an instant his eyes are stolen by the vista. The illumination, the heady sense of life that stretches on for miles, almost to the horizon, were it not for the black ring of trees on the far end Dean would think he'd reached a green sea. It terrifies him that this is part of himself, and he's blinking back tears at having to face it.

When he can, he casts his eyes to where Castiel is standing.

Where Castiel was standing. He's gone.



"I can't believe I had to ask her that," Jody says, laughing, as she hangs up the phone. Sam watches her with amusement -- it was a pretty funny conversation to listen to one-half of -- and some warmth. It feels nice to have a plan and hope, even if it's going to take them into the lion's mouth before they're done. If it works out the way it's supposed to, they'll have Dean home sooner rather than later, and take care of a few other loose ends in the process.

But first the seeds need to be sown, and Charlie needs to get here. So for now, all they can do is wait.

"She seems like a nice girl," Jody says. "Kind of..."

"Weird?"

"I was going to say eccentric. But that's probably a better description. She makes an awful lot of references."

"That's sort of her schtick." Sam shrugs and slides his feet onto the coffee table. Jody puts her feet up there, too -- half the time wearing striped socks that Sam has to try not to laugh aloud at -- so he's not worried about her disapproving. He's gotten used to house rules. Come to think of it, this is probably the longest he's stayed in one house since he had one of his own.

In moments of carelessness, he's gone so far as to think of it as home.

Jody looks at him, and their eyes connect. Sam can feel that possibility brimming behind her gaze, and it's not as scary this time. He stretches an arm over the back of the couch, and she stops a moment, registering the invitation, before moving across the room and tucking herself carefully into the crook of his elbow. Not quite snuggling, but accepting the touch, allowing them to be connected. Sam resists the urge to gather her closer. Her face is still sober, and she's parting her lips as though she has something to say. He wants to be sure he listens well.

"I'm sorry if I pushed things too far," she says. "Shouldn't have said some of what I said, probably."

He huffs out a breath that's almost a laugh. "You didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, deep down."

"I don't know," she says, her eyelids sliding down for a moment. Abashed, her cheeks tinting with color, she's beautiful, and Sam can't help but rake his eyes over the length of her body, thinking, visualizing a touch. She's so solid and real, and to leave her behind, the way she had accused him of doing, would be such a shame. "Can't imagine you knew everything I was gonna say. Especially since you probably thought me and Bobby--"

Sam grins. "Bobby didn't kiss and tell. I wasn't gonna assume anything."

"He only kissed me once," Jody says with a laugh. "And it wasn't that kind of kiss."

"His loss," Sam says, and the smiles fade off both their faces in unison; the implications are clear, and a strange heaviness hangs in the air between them. Jody slides a little closer. Sam can feel his eyelids getting heavy. He leans down.

"Sam, no," Jody says, her chin dropping so his lips glance off her forehead instead of brushing her mouth.

He gives an exclamation of surprise and backs off, but his hand falls to her shoulder and stays there; turning to face him, she's well and truly tucked into his arms now, and the intimacy is too nice for him not to want more. "I'm sorry," he says, his voice low and confused, "I thought you wanted..."

"I do," she says. "Trust me, I do. But... we're close to getting your brother back, and let's face it, Sam, he is your other half." She reaches over her shoulder to pat his hand. "And call me greedy, but I don't want just half of you."

He opens his mouth to respond, but it occurs to both of them in the same moment just how weird that sounds, and they end up gaping at each other, eyes lit up with echoing surprise.

"That's not what I meant," she clarifies hastily.

Sam throws his head back, laughing loudly. "I know, I know."

Jody fidgets. "That was awkward."

He fights to control his laughter. "Remind me to tell you about Pamela someday."

"Seems like there are a lot of things I need to remind you to tell me about."

"Guess you'll be seeing a lot of me, then."

She shakes her head, smiling, and leans on his shoulder. "I hope so."




Dean thrashes through the greenery, stomping along the treeline. "Cas? Cas!" he keeps calling out, twice each time, as though the second use of the name might chase or amplify the first. There's no answer but the crunching sound of living things underfoot, and with each one Dean feels sick, as though he really is destroying something precious. A fatalistic piece of him thinks that this was inevitable, that he could no sooner know this piece of him exists than he would begin destroying it, and there's an almost sadistic pleasure in each footfall along with the revulsion that curls in his stomach. He knows if he looks back, he'll see trampled moss, crushed flowers. But all of that fades in the necessity of finding Castiel again.

But there is no answer. Not for a quarter-mile of trekking, doubling down, retreating into the forest to call out Cas's name again and returning to the edge of the glen. Dean was closer to Cas than he'd ever been, just a few minutes ago. Now he's utterly alone.

"What the hell is this?" he shouts to no one. "I thought you weren't going to disappear, you son of a bitch! I told you I needed you!"

"That's just it, Dean," says a low voice from the empty air in front of him. "You need him. Which is exactly why you can't have him right now."

Dean knows the voice, and the recognition makes his gut churn. He stares to the vacant space where it had come from, to see the lights from the tiny flowers pooling together. He shields his eyes, but as they amass they become less brilliant, more solid, until the creature that forms is a dimly glowing black heap. It spreads an outsized shadow over the beauty of the oasis.

"What-- who are you?" Dean says. As he speaks, the shape begins to shrink and congeal into something vaguely human.

"I think you know," the voice says, a low voice, dark like velvet. Not a voice that Dean had ever hoped he'd hear again.

Gordon Walker crosses his arms and gives a toothy grin. "I always knew you'd end up here," he says.