Fandom/Genre: SPN/Drama, Romance
Pairing (s): Dean/Castiel, possible Sam/Jody
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.
"What does that mean?" is Dean's first question. He wishes he could be surprised to see Gordon here, but he isn't. This is the place monsters go when they're killed, and Gordon was a monster. At least, at the end.
No, the only thing that surprises him is what Gordon's just said -- that he knew Dean would show up here someday. Dean's been told time and time again that he'll rot in hell, but purgatory is the one place he never counted on ending up.
"What, no greetings? No 'So glad to see you, Gordon'? No 'I wanted to apologize for getting you turned into a vampire so you'd end up spending an eternity in this place'? I'm hurting, Dean. You got me right here." Gordon thumps his chest. His smile is a bloodthirsty, wide thing, and Dean can only think that he looks no different, human or vampire or Purgatory monster. He's always taken pleasure in bloodletting in a way Dean never has. Dean knows bastards who deserved what they got, but he didn't enjoy every minute. Not the way Gordon does. Not even when he was in hell.
"What did you mean?" he asks again. "When you said I'd end up here."
"Just what I said." Gordon spreads his arms, wide, as though asking for an embrace. "You were never going to have a great reward, Dean. Or an eternal punishment. You were a sick half-breed even when you were human. So what was it, huh? A werewolf bite? Vampire blood, like me? Or something else? Do tell."
"None of the above," Dean says, "and none of your business."
Gordon frowns then, and steps closer. Dean shudders as he comes within a foot of him, sniffs like he's trying to suss out the source of a foul odor. "You're still human," he says. "Really? That's disappointing. I was looking forward to ripping your spleen out through your mouth every night for the rest of eternity."
"Yeah, well, sorry for the disappointment." Dean slides his hand along the outline of his knife, tucked into the waistband of his jeans. They're shredded, and it's too obvious to even try to conceal it.
Gordon follows the motion of his hand and laughs. "Speaking of disappointment, I hope you don't think you can kill me again. Especially not with that pig-sticker. This is Purgatory, my friend. You can't kill what's already dead."
"Scores of ghosts I know could argue with you there." Dean takes out the knife. "But don’t worry, I don't plan to kill you. Just shut you up for as long as it takes to get my ass out of here."
"Really?" Gordon circles him, slowly, letting Dean turn to face him at each angle. "You're just going to high-tail it on up to heaven and leave your friend behind?" He laughs again. "Or should I say, your boyfriend?"
Dean doesn't even bother getting pissed about that. "Where is he, Gordon?"
"Oh, now you think to ask. You were a lot more worried about yourself just a minute ago. I guess you still are the selfish brat you always were."
Dean jabs at him with the knife. Gordon dodges it easily, laughing the whole time. He skids, and where his feet fall, the spongy grass beneath them is trampled into something sick and flat and brown.
"Did I hit a sore spot?" Gordon gazes at him triumphantly, and Dean doesn't know how to answer that. He's had no problem calling himself a selfish brat before. He's a coarse, violent, woman-loving, beer-swilling cowboy of a guy and he never pretended to be a hero. He shouldn't give a damn if Gordon, of all people, wants to trash-talk him by calling him what he already is. "Don't tell me you'd started to believe the hype, Dean. You're not a big damn hero, you never were. You were always just a killer, like me."
"Where is Cas?" Dean growls, holding back.
"Do you know what is so sad about him?" Gordon says. "You remember when he would disappear on you over and over? That wasn’t just you deciding you wouldn’t need him. That was his soul, too. When you didn’t need him, he ceased to be, and that was his soul’s darkest nightmare. He’s got no reason to be without you. It’s a good thing he still doesn’t understand just how selfish you are, Dean. It just might kill him."
Dean’s hand loosens on the knife, and he trembles. Now that it’s been pointed out, it’s incredibly obvious -- Cas disappearing wasn’t just a punishment for him, it was a punishment for Cas, too. His head throbs with the knowledge, and his chest aches. If only he’d said more to Cas. Where is he now? Somewhere, far away, thinking Dean’s just tossed him aside again?
And there’s nothing Dean can do. He hangs his head.
"You see my point," Gordon says. "Even when you realize just how selfish you’ve been, you don’t move. You always take the easy way out, Dean, the coward’s way out."
Dean takes a deep, shuddering breath and tightens his grip on the knife again. If only Gordon would stop talking.
Not a chance. "You won’t survive this. You won’t ever see your friend again. And there's no way you're ever getting into heaven."
"Good thing that's not where I'm headed, then," Dean says, and he jabs the knife forward.
Metal slices skin, sinks into the depths of whatever passes for Gordon's body right now, and he laughs even through the choke of blood that pours from his mouth. "See?" Gordon manages, then spits out another mouthful of blood. "You've gone right to killing again. Even though you know it's useless. And you're never going to find your friend now."
"I'll find him," Dean says, pulling out the blade and wiping it on his shirt. He kicks Gordon hard, and his body falls, crumpled, into the darkening grass. "Don't need your help to do it."
"I'm not the only one, you know," Gordon says. "Say hello to your ghosts of Christmas Past for me, Dean." He’s still chuckling as Dean walks on and leaves him behind.
They perform the summoning spell out on Jody's patio, which Sam has noted is really nice but has a grill gathering dust in the corner. "This gets done," he said to her once during their nights of research, "I'll make you dinner." Then he realized what he'd said and blushed hard. Jody had to turn away to hide her laughter.
Crowley's got his arms folded over his chest when he appears. He raises an eyebrow at Sam and Jody, nonplussed. "Oh, this had better be good. Thank you for at least sparing me the shower curtain this time."
"Let's talk about Kevin Tran," Sam says. "What do you want from him?"
"That's for me to know and you to spin your wheels trying to find out, moose."
"I'm not the one who's dying to find something out," Sam says. "You're looking for a prophecy, and Kevin's the only one who can give it to you."
Crowley laughs. "I think you have me confused with Lord Voldemort, darling. Besides. Prophecies have been ripped to shreds ever since your lot averted the apocalypse. Which I'm quite thankful for, mind you, but I think our dues have been well past paid on that score--"
"Apocalyptic prophecies, maybe," Sam says. "But there's still the Word of God. You figure that out, you unlock the secrets of the universe. King of Hell isn't enough for you anymore, is it? You want to take over upstairs, too. You want to be God."
"Oh, is that all you nitwits can think of?" Crowley harrumphs. "I am God already, de facto. There's nobody around with more power than I have. All I want is security."
Sam doesn't expect that. He frowns, looks at Jody, who shrugs at him.
Crowley sighs. "It was all fun and games while our friends upstairs were running the show. Now I have no angels to depend on and a bunch of my crazy cousins running loose up here. You took care of the head of the pack, and that's appreciated. But I still need to get a grip on things. Uncertainty is bad for business."
He shuffles his feet as he speaks, and Sam can't help thinking how un-Crowleylike that is. The uncertainty isn't just bad for business, he thinks. It's genuinely upsetting Crowley.
"What kind of a grip could you possibly need?" he wonders aloud. "You just said you're the most powerful being around."
"And, like I said, that's for me to know," Crowley snaps back. "Now, is there a point to this little chat, or are you just trying to bore me to death and back?"
"Oh, there's a point." Sam nods toward the grill. Under the grating, sitting on a set of dry gray charcoal, sits Kevin's diary. A devil's trap is painted around the grill set.
"And that is?"
"The prophecy you're looking for," Sam says. "I have it. You want it, you give me what I want."
"Bring your brother back?"
"And Cas, and Kevin. All three, or no prophecy for you."
"There could be anything in that book. A recipe for moose stew."
"But there isn't, and you know it."
"You're right, I do," Crowley says. "Which is why I didn't come alone."
Two demons sweep in from either side, in the bodies of strangers, and in a minute one's grappling with Sam, another grabbing Jody by the shoulders. Sam's thrown halfway across the porch, his cheek scraping the wood, and he struggles to find his way upright again.
Jody's quicker on the draw. As the demon tries to pull her into a headlock, she jerks forward, pulling the demon just far enough with her that she spins in his grasp. Her knee shoots upward. The demon groans, doubles over, and Jody clocks him over the head.
"What do you know," she says with a grin. "Demon or no, they still hurt when you kick 'em in the jewels." Sam snorts as he finds his way upright again.
Their laughter is short-lived. In another moment, a half-dozen demons are approaching, emerging from the bushes in the back of the yard. They move quickly, and this time there's no time to evade them. One twists Jody's arm behind her back, and she cries out in anguish as he forces her back. Sam is left free, but one of the demons shoves him toward the circle where the grill sits.
"The book," Crowley says evenly, holding out his hand. Sam looks around for an out, can't find one, and staggers another foot toward the devil's trap.
"Sam, stop!" Jody's cry is impotent, useless. She struggles, and the demon pulls her tight against him.
Sam holds out a hand "Don't-- don't hurt her."
"Cry me a river," Crowley says. "The book, Samuel. Chop-chop."
Sam turns toward the book and takes another step.
"What the bloody hell?"
Crowley's voice. The porch is suddenly, oddly quiet. Sam pauses, his fingers an inch from the book, and turns.
The demon holding Jody hostage has frozen in place. His white skin is starting to extrude a network of black veins. Behind him, another of what Sam had assumed were demons grins.
"We'll take that, please," the Leviathan says.
Gordon's right. They come, trampling across the meadow of his soul in long, solemn order. The shapeshifters who have taken his form. The werewolves and skinwalkers whose blood he's spilled. They come at him in the forms he remembers and in new, monstrous form, each with teeth and claws and tentacles more terrible than the next. It's a parade of horrors, and all Dean has is his knife, but even as he swings away the deeper damage falls on his ears as they tell him, one by one, what he's sentenced them to.
"You looked me in the eye," says one, "and told me you hoped there was a hell for monsters, just so I'd be there. How does it feel?"
"I just wanted to be with him," says a spirit that had mutated into a something more than a ghost. "For that, you killed me."
"You thought you were such a big damn hero. You even said it to me. 'I'm the hero, you're the bad guy, that's the way it goes.' Now that you've walked a mile in my shoes, do you still think you're worthy of passing judgment?"
And the worst just say, "With what you've done, you're worse than a monster."
And most of them don't speak, just attack. Dean swings his knife from one side to the other, cutting them down like foliage in the dark forests, grunting. Claws tear his flesh, blows bruise him and knock the wind out of him. His knife flashes a dull grey where too much putrid black blood has dulled what used to be a silver sheen. More of the dark stuff flows from the creatures' wounded bodies. It spatters on Dean's face, stains his clothing , drips onto his feet and the greenery below him. Still, he can't be stopped, won't be stopped. Not now.
"Get out of my face," he shouts, like a battle cry, and slashes a beast in two. It falls before him, too big for him to comfortably vault or step over, and for a moment he's forced to stop, to take stock of where he is and what's around him.
Black blood dripping everywhere. His clothing soaked with it. And the bodies of creatures, incapacitated and as close to dead as they can get in this timeless place, littered around him.
The green oasis of his soul is stained. And as he watches, the stains multiply, spread like blotches of running ink all around him. One opens up at his feet, and where it is, he can barely move his feet.
The whispers of the angered beasts come back to him now, echoing in his ears. What has he gained, inflicting more pain and torture in a place like this? How has he done anything better than he did in hell, at Alastair's bidding, to the souls of sinners? And now the black marks on his soul are multiplying again, destroying the last remaining good in him. Just like he thought they would. That's why he didn't want to set foot in this place, even look at it. He knew as soon as he acknowledged it, it'd be as good as gone.
He falls to his knees. The monsters have stopped attacking, maybe because they no longer need to. The one in his heart is clawing him up inside. His hands go to his face, cover his ears as though shielding him from a piercing cry, and he shouts wordlessly into the black gunk spreading at his feet. His eyes close. He can't. He's just falling into sin again. Becoming a monster no different from the ones he's cut down here.
His lip curls in disgust, and he considers taking the knife and plunging it into his own heart. Just to break him enough to stop the pain for a moment. Perhaps the monsters come here, open themselves to the knife, for the same reason. Not to destroy but to be destroyed. Over and over and over.
He really is one of them.
You're not. Dean, you're not one of them. You're so much better than that.
Does he imagine the mouth that touches his protruding lower lip? He must, because when his eyes open there's nothing. A shadow of a presence, something that maybe was, and maybe will be, but is not. Not Cas. But it could be.
Dean wants to reach out and hold what isn't there. He can't; his arms are heavy from guilt and shame. But when he lets his eyes flutter closed again, he thinks he can feel Cas's proximity one more time.
What do I do? he asks in his head. How can I move on with all these black marks on my soul?
He feels the ghost of the kiss again, and strength floods his limbs. Cas's voice doesn’t give him the answer, but it comes nonetheless.
Of course there are black spots on his soul. There are on everyone's. And the only thing you can do is leave them behind and move on.
The Leviathan steps forward. Two others join him. The others, true demons, shrink back as their companion falls to the ground, lifeless, black ooze seeping from his mouth. "Again," the Leviathan says, "we'll take that book. We're not afraid of devil's traps, you know."
Crowley seethes. "You lifeless, headless cretins!" He lashes out, extending an arm, and the Leviathans are momentarily thrown backward against Jody's porch doors. "Didn't you have the sense to slither off and die when Dick exploded?"
"We need the prophecy," the Leviathan says as it pulls itself upright again.
"What could you possibly do with a prophecy? You're dumb animals."
"We need our purpose," the Leviathan says, and Crowley's quiet just long enough to get Sam's attention.
"Your purpose?" he says, shielding the book with his body, staying within the devil's trap. "What does that mean?"
"It means," Crowley snaps, "they're like chickens with their heads cut off and they think the prophecy's going to tell them what to do next. Sorry, but you blokes are obsolete." He pauses, then smiles. "Unless..."
Sam catches sight of Jody. She's slipping backward toward the porch stairs, and right now it doesn't look like either the Leviathans or the demons have noticed. "Unless what?" he says, loudly, trying to draw their attention for another moment.
"Yeah," the Leviathan says, "what?" He's focused singularly on Crowley.
"You need a leader," Crowley says. "I could be obliged to... take you in, as it were. I do have experience in upper management."
The Leviathans look at each other. Sam realizes then just how colossally dumb they are without their leader. Were these really the same creatures that very nearly destroyed Dean and him forever? But the prophecy had said, kill the head of the snake and the rest will fall... and that sure as hell seemed to have come true. No wonder they were all so intent on getting their hands on what Kevin had written.
"What do we get out of it?" the one in front says, his confidence dubious at best.
"Purpose." Crowley smirks.
"We don't need you for that. We just need the prophecy."
"And if it doesn't give you what you need? I'm the one with the prophet himself. Suppose I offer you equal access. Supervised conjugal visits, as it were." Sam tries and fails to suppress a cringe at the image. "All you need to do is walk into that circle and hand me that book..."
"If you say so." Sam's hesitance falls away, and before Crowley can think twice about it, Sam's headed into the devil's trap, leaned over the grill, and slid his hand over a small switch at the base. Crowley cries out, too late, as Sam straightens up with a smile.
A puff of flame engulfs the grill, and Kevin's diary catches. The acrid smell of burning pages and a sick black smoke, like an anemic demon, fill the air. It's seconds before the whole thing is incinerated.
"Electric grills," Sam says. "All you have to do these days is flip a switch. It's like cheating."
Crowley glares at him. "You're a bigger fool than I thought. Now you're never going to get what you want. What leverage do you have?"
"I have the last copy of the prophecy," Sam says. "You want to see?"
No more monsters now, just the terrain, just the mottled surface of his soul. It's soft in patches, a bruised apple, and when Dean steps too close, the black spots pull him in like sinkholes. He leaps over them, dodges them by inches, his eyes fixed on the ground to navigate his way. He hadn't wanted to look at it this closely, but these are his foes now -- not those he's wronged, but the dark parts of himself, and he has to face them to move past them, has to cast his eyes on both the sacred and profane. When his eyes lift to the horizon, he can no longer see a treeline. Just the expanse of the oasis, grown to envelop the world.
It's not the kind of place a creature of any kind can hide, and Dean feels like the proverbial sore thumb, the only upright thing in miles. If this place had lightning, he'd be struck at the first bolt.
It's no place Castiel can hide. Which means Castiel is worlds away.
Dean's heart winces. He's been very, very alone in his life, but this is consuming. He can do nothing but trek toward the horizon and hope that it doesn't continue this flat forever, leaving him in an endless journey to find a man who won't be found.
"Damn, Cas," he murmurs. "I told you I needed you with me. Who in the hell said you could disappear now?"
No answer from the unfair universe that is his own self. Distraught, he stumbles. Maybe it's no longer that Castiel disappears when Dean doesn't need him. Maybe Castiel doesn't need Dean anymore.
His hands fall into a black patch and are mired there. He pulls them free, wrenching his shoulders. He can't give up.
"Is that it?" he asks, and wheezes in a lungful of thick air. It's choking his will and his life away, thick and hard to breathe. "You don't need me anymore?" A few more stumbling steps. "I mean, that would make sense. I meant what I said. You were always better than me, you know that. But Cas... we're better with each other."
He doesn't have the strength to move. So he stands, still, palms open and dripping with darkness. His chin lifts and he eyes the horizon.
"This is my soul," he says. "And you're in my soul, whether you like it or not, Cas. So one more time... be here for me."
The whole world falls away.
Crowley himself lunges forward this time, but Sam sidesteps him, his smile growing with every second Crowley continues to growl like a wounded dog. "You're making this way too complicated," he says. "All I want is an eclipse. Give me that, give me a chance to get my brother out of Purgatory, and you can have the pages. It's that simple. Or we can keep playing games. I have more tricks up my sleeve."
"I don't doubt it for a minute," Crowley grumbles. He weighs Sam's words, humming frustratedly, for a moment, and then sighs and snaps his fingers. "Fine. You've got your bleeding eclipse already. I do hope you have your other ingredients ready, because you have one night to pull this off."
"Lunar eclipse, purgatory native blood and virgin blood, right? Sounds delish."
Two decapitated Leviathans crumple to the ground with twin thuds.
Charlie has a look at her sword, makes a face at the black ooze staining it, and tosses it to the side. "I am pretty grossed out that it’s gotta be straight sex to count against my virginity in your old-ass spells. So heteronormative." She scoops up one of the Leviathan heads, making a face. "Still, I have to admit this whole thing makes me feel pretty badass."
"Good for you," Crowley hisses at her, singsong. "Whoever you are." His eyes turn back to Sam. "Now show me the damned prophecy."
"You're the boss," Sam says. He pulls a sheaf of folded pages out of his pocket and unfolds them to hold before Crowley's eyes.
Crowley stares at them a moment with growing ire and lets out a furious snarl. "You can't be serious."
"Serious as the plague," Sam says. He turns the pages over, glances at the hundreds of ancient symbols that line up there like an alien army, and returns the papers to his pocket. "Guess you're going to have some trouble reading that without Kevin here."
"Not if I take it with me," Crowley says, and extends his hand. Sam flies back against the wall of the house, groaning. "Damn it, I hate it when you kill all my underlings." He takes a step forward. "I hate getting my hands dirty."
He steps forward again and slams against an invisible wall. Winded, he curls backward. "No."
"You keep falling for it," Jody calls up from beneath the deck. She knocks on the wood where her newly drawn Devil's Trap, on the underside of the porch's floorboards, is keeping him pinned. "King of Hell? Really? Still not impressed."
Dean's senses blank out -- for a moment he doesn't see or feel. There's no gravity, no universe around him. He tries to cry out, but he can't take in breath or make noise. He just isn't. Or he exists, and nothing else does. One or the other.
When sight and feeling returns, he's beneath the surface of an ocean, suspended in something liquid, but thick and enveloping. He can move, but when he reaches for the surface of the water he can't break it. It's like being trapped in a fishbowl, and his voice travels only through his own bones to his ear. It doesn't carry in the material around him. It's strange and terrifying and foreign.
A footstep treads above him.
His palms spread against the unbreakable surface. He knows those sneakers, and the billow of the stained coat just above them.
"Cas!" he screams. The name vibrates in his skull and nowhere else.
The world is moving around him. As Castiel steps forward, Dean travels with him, floating in the bizarre sphere of solid ocean that Cas moves across. Dean catches sight of his face. His eyes have gone empty, and every few seconds his jaw trembles. He reaches out one tremor-wracked hand, and when he speaks, Dean can hear it.
"Dean, where are you..."
Dean tries to shout. His palm strikes flat against the surface, and he knows he's unheard.
As Castiel travels, and Dean follows, no monsters appear. This may well be the surface of Castiel's own soul, Dean thinks, and the more he thinks about it the more it makes sense. Castiel has no fear of creatures overpowering him or of becoming a monster himself, nor of preserving pristine life the way Dean did. There's something else that terrifies him, and Dean's heart tears as he realizes his own absence is part of the equation.
Hours or days pass, and Dean has fallen into a sort of half-sleeping daze. He watches Castiel move, watches the aloneness wear him down. Castiel has given up calling his name long since, and Dean wonders if he's gone into his own catatonic state. If he's ceased to feel. He's so very wrong.
Castiel collapses to his knees, and for the first time since Dean has known him, tears spill from his eyes unreservedly. Dean breaks out of his daze and motors his body to the surface, pressing himself against it in a vain attempt to break through. Castiel's hands clutch at his skull, and he screams. The noise reverberates through Dean's body and makes his bones feel hollow and brittle, like they might shatter with the force of it. Sick, on the verge of his own tears, he plasters himself against the unbreakable wall and watches.
"What am I without you?" Castiel whispers.
"Every time I have tried to be anything, I have failed unless you were there. I tried to fight, I tried to become God, I tried to make up for my mistakes, and without you I couldn't even hold myself together." He curls forward, his forehead touching the ground. The torture on his face has never been more abject or closer. Dean's heart shatters.
"Why do I have to need you so much?" he whispers. "Why am I talking to you now, even though you're not here?"
"I'm here. Cas, Cas, I am." He pounds on the barrier between them. It doesn't break, doesn't even vibrate.
"I told you I gave you everything," Castiel says. "But you gave me everything, without even knowing it. A sense of right and wrong, a purpose, something to value. Without you, I wouldn't know how to feel. I wouldn't know how to be more than a machine. I can't, I can't lose you again. I won't be anything."
Dean's heart is pounding so hard he's surprised it's not kicking up waves in the water. He presses his own forehead to the surface, to where Castiel's own forehead touches the ground. They're touching without touching. It reminds him of the moment when he was on his knees in his own despair, and he thought he felt Castiel's kiss and heard his words.
He could be that now to Cas. He has to.
"You're wrong," he says. "Cas, you're wrong. You are something. You're good. I couldn't have given you anything if you weren't good."
He remembers real kisses now, and the warmth of Castiel's body against his in the cold shudder of the rain-soaked air. Protected by black leaves and the tangle of roots, their own blood the only heat. Tangled together, finding their way to a home and a happiness that had sustained them through a long night.
"But yeah, we're better together," he goes on. "That's the point, that's love. It doesn't mean we're bad. We can't be. We have to be good to know what it is."
Are his hands starting to claw through the barrier? He thinks he feels them sinking, but he can't stop now. He stops and he'll be stuck.
"You said it yourself," he says. "You said you loved me even though I didn't love myself. That's what you always wanted for me, remember? You wanted me to love myself."
The water chokes him, a last gasp of everything wrong trying to destroy the tide of rightness flowing through him. He spits it out, fights through the leaden heaviness of the underworld he's stuck in.
"I love you, Cas. So love yourself."
Castiel's eyes open wide.
The barrier breaks with the force of his pounding heart. Dean's coursing up through it like he's made of water himself, defying gravity and reality. He reaches out, grabs Castiel's hands, his arms and shoulders, drawing him upward from his crouch, and they're both finding their way to stand, solid, on the ground. Castiel's eyes meet his. Dean draws him in. Their mouths meet, and the taste of monster blood and the ocean of tainted souls drains away in the sweet shock of lips on lips, heart touching heart, love.
The embrace lingers. Castiel's fingers cling to the nape of his neck. They can't stop exchanging kisses. They don't need any more words. Just each other. Just togetherness.
Is the world changing around them? Are trees growing again? Is it light or dark? Are there shadows creeping around them? Do they hear the menacing snarl of monsters?
It doesn't matter. This is Purgatory. They can be torn to shreds, but they won't die.
The force of their kisses ebbs, and they hold each other, standing upright in a timeless universe.
"I'm gonna stay right here," Dean whispers in Castiel's ear. "Until Sam rescues us, I'm not gonna move. I'm just gonna stay right here."
"Promise," Castiel says, and maybe it's a request, or a demand, or a promise of his own. Or all three.
"Dean." Castiel buries his head in Dean's shoulder. His arms tighten around Dean's body. The warmth flowing between them is brighter than a million suns. "Dean."
Dean's eyes fly open. In the corner of his eye, he can see the bright blue shock of Castiel's own widening eyes.
Sam's whole being is focused on the opening in front of him. He can see through solid stone right now, and his eyes are piercing worlds.
A moment ago it wasn't like that. A moment ago he was still operating in this world, even with his hands coated with blood and muck, painting arcane symbols on the wall of an abandoned garage at the edge of town. The mixture -- Leviathan goo and the blood of one slightly weakened hacker (who watches even now, from the corner of the room, one hand on the bandage that staunches the wound on her arm) -- smells horrible, and it was making him sick as he daubed circles and angles on the wall. He gagged every time he returned to the jar to swipe his fingers into the mixture.
But even then his mind was on the real world. On Kevin's face when he emerged from the darkness, heartbreak and trauma etched onto his face. Who knows how long he'd been down there in Hell time, kept captive if not tortured, and it showed. The Advanced Placement kid who'd begged not to be killed, the one with bright dreams, was hidden in the shadows that fell across Kevin's expression now, cowering and afraid to come out. Jody had gone to him, pulled him into her arms, and promised him he was safe, he was going to go home and see his mom. Sam remembered seeing tears in her own eyes. Finally, a son she could save.
He's in there now with her, with Crowley, slowly spelling out the meaning to the symbols scratched on the page. Sam doesn't fear Crowley's having the prophecy; prophecies, he's discovered, are only as immutable as you allow them to be, and he doesn't give a damn what was written or what destiny had decided long ago. That's the edge he earned from averting the apocalypse.
Still, Jody's in the room with them, making sure every word is heard by the human side, and she'll be reporting back. Whatever that prophecy holds, Sam knows, it might open the door to the next big fight. And he's got to be prepared. But first, he's got to finish this job.
So he speaks the final word of the incantation, and he stares through solid walls into the other side of the world. Somehow he knew it would look and sound like this -- darkness, endless forests, and the howls of monsters, hopelessness and violence roiling the landscape like the hazy ripples of a heat wave. But piercing through it all is the bright glow of a soul he recognizes and loves. Sam reaches out and calls its name.
If Dean is ever forced to describe the color of the sky that opens above them at that moment, he'll say it is the color of music.
The color of AC/DC and Beethoven, the color of love songs and death metal. of everything that makes the world he knows harmonic and dissonant and gorgeous. It's the color of the sound of the living world, and through it all, Sam's voice reaching out like an extended arm.
Sight and sound are all mixed up in his mind, but Castiel's in his arms, and that at least makes perfect sense. He shoots a grin in Castiel's direction, and they still hold tight to each other as their faces lift to the sky and they shout Sam's name in return.
The sky replies.
“Dean? Dean, I can hear you! And Cas, too. Come on. Come home!"
Every note in the scale appears, and he can hear every color of the rainbow. The rules of the universe turn upside down. They fall upward from the surface of purgatory and drown in sound.
His head is tucked against Castiel's, his lips brushing Castiel's cheek at the side of his mouth. "We're going home, Cas," he whispers, and he can feel the real, full smile that stretches Castiel's lips at the words.
"I know," Castiel says.
The music of the sky stretches out until it's a single violin playing an extended, high note. It lingers, then fades out, and the world goes dark.
Dean blinks. His shoulders ache. His body's cramped and crumpled into an uncomfortable position, and Castiel's snoring above him, limp as a rag doll, his breaths even. Dean has to extricate himself slowly. He laughs. "Cas," he says. "Cas, wake up, dude. Look."
He's still looking himself, though, and it takes him a while to even recognize the surfaces and materials he hasn't seen in so long. The floor they're on, hard, cold – concrete. Walls and a ceiling – he hasn't seen either for ages. The strange, musty smell in the air is foreign, too, but with another blink he's awake enough to recognize that this is some lonely, abandoned building. Earth. Home. The living world.
He sighs and leans back against the cool of the floor, relishing the shock that runs through his head. Above him, beyond the out-of-focus lump that is a passed-out angel, he recognizes a pattern painted on a wall in brown-red. The portal to purgatory. The rest of his brain and body lurch awake in in an instant.
"Cas, get the hell up or I am gonna dump you on the floor."
Now, finally, Castiel blinks. Dean rolls his eyes, snorts, and dumps him as promised. He's gotta get to his feet.
The world rights itself, and Dean fights the blackness that comes with a sudden rise. He blinks, hard, until his vision stops existing in patches and starts to resolve around a familiar figure.
"Sam," he says. His body crumples and he pushes himself against the wall to stay upright. God, he's hungry.
But it's Sam.
Screw hunger and a passed-out Cas on the floor, screw the coldness and the smell of mildew in the air, Sam's a few paces away and getting closer every minute, and damn, but Dean has missed that smile and that out-of-control hair and those gigantic hands. He falls into Sam's arms, clasps him tight, and even the odor of a stinky up-all-night, just-dipped-his-hands-in-Leviathan-blood-t
"It's OK, Dean," Sam murmurs in his ear. "It's OK. You're home."
"Damn frigging straight I'm home," Dean says weakly. "Took you long enough." He pulls back, looks Sam in the face, suddenly full of questions. "How long has it been, anyway?"
Sam shrugs and looks over his shoulder briefly. For the first time, Dean registers that he's not alone. "The hell, you picked up two girls while I was gone?"
"He wishes," says Jody Mills from behind Sam. Charlie Bradbury just swings her free hand in a loose wave.
"The hell, man," Dean mumbles as his eyes catch sight of another figure in the dimness. "Is that--"
"We've got a lot to talk about," Sam says. "A lot to catch up on. Later."
Dean nods. He doesn't really want too many details. He has enough of his own to share, when he's got his strength back and gotten this world under his feet again. "Later works."
Sam's looking past Dean now. "Is Cas OK?"
"He's passed out." Dean rolls his eyes. "He gets like this when he's really exhausted. You can't wake him. And I've tried." As though on cue, Castiel inhales in an awful snore and curls his body on the cold floor as though he's tossing on a comfortable bed.
Dean snorts. He extricates himself from the embrace with a final few pats on Sam's back and crosses his arms over his chest. "Kind of don't want to wake him, actually."
"Dean, there," Castiel murmurs in his sleep, and Dean can practically hear Sam's eyebrows shoot up.
"Sounds like a good dream."
Dean flushes. "You're not kidding about a lot to catch up on. Help me with this guy?"
It's near dawn, and Kevin's already packed into the back seat of Jody's car, asleep. "Hope he'll stay that way for the whole ride," Sam says, nodding at the tousled head of black hair as he transfers one more bag of rock salt-packed bullets from the Impala's trunk to Jody's. "Something tells me he didn't get much shut-eye down there."
Jody nods. "Is that everything?"
Sam does a quick inventory of the back of her car. "It'd be enough to keep me alive between here and Kevin's place. You're sure you're good alone?" Jody looks at him sidelong, and he shrugs. "Right, sorry."
She laughs. "Actually, I think we forgot tissues. Something tells me I'm going to cry when he sees his mom again."
"Oh, come on. Hunters don't need tissues." This gets him the glare again, but this time Sam expects it. "Kidding, kidding." He slides a hand onto the top of the trunk, shuts it. The slam wakes a bird and startles it out of a nearby tree, but Kevin dozes on. "Seriously, Jody..." He clears his throat.
She pauses halfway through the act of pulling out her keys, and digs her hands into her pockets. "Hm?"
He considers her face a moment. "If this is really what you want to do," he says carefully, "and if this is the life you want... then I just want you to know, you'd be a damn good hunter. And I'd be proud to work with you on any job."
Jody smiles. Walking up to him, she leans forward, hands still fisted inside her jacket. "You better mean that."
"I do. In fact..." He clears his throat again, reaches into his jacket and pulls out a bunch of paper-clipped bits of newsprint.
She pulls out one hand and takes it from him, flipping the pages back one by one. "This is..." she starts.
"About three towns over from where you're going. I'd check it out myself, but..." He shrugs and looks over his shoulder at the house. "It might take us a few days to get sorted out. So if you want to check it out, I'm thinking poltergeist."
The smile that slips across her face is a little too cute to resist, and before he can think straight, he's leaning down to catch it. His lips fall on the corner of her mouth, so it’s not quite a full kiss, but it’s not completely chaste, either. A sunrise of a touch, full of opening possibilities.
She lets it linger less than a moment, then steps away, tucking the clippings under her arm, all business. "I'll let you know if I need backup," she says, and raises her other arm in a wave.
Another moment and she's marched to the car and slid inside. Her eyes catch his in the rear view mirror briefly, then the rising sun flashes across the surface and he has to blink it away. By the time he can see again, the car's already rolled out of the driveway. He watches it go, smiling, feeling the sun warm his skin as it ascends into the morning sky.
The sunshine hitting Castiel's face finally opens his eyes. For a moment, he flounders, utterly lost in the softness around him. Dean watches him sniff the air and laughs when his face contorts in confusion at the fresh, sweet smell that surrounds him. The laughter rouses Castiel, and he focuses on Dean, seated comfortably on a chair near the bed. "Dean?" He swallows. "Are we...?"
"Hey, Cas." Dean smiles. "Yeah, we are."
"So Sam..." Castiel's eyes widen. He starts to push himself upright. "I want to thank him." His arms buckle under him, and his body trembles as he fights to get up.
"Easy, easy." Dean reaches out to hold him steady. "Don't get out of bed. Not yet."
Castiel fights for a second, then decides on a different tactic. He rests one hand on Dean's chest, and his eyes darken. "I won't, if you join me."
"All right, tiger, enough out of you." Dean settles him down onto the pillow. "We're not alone here."
Castiel groans in defeat. "I think I'm hungry."
"I know you are. I stuffed myself while you were sleeping. Did in half a White Castle. You would have approved."
"I feel weak," Castiel says, distress in his voice. "I feel... not entirely myself."
A chill claws at Dean's heart. "Human?"
"No. Just... weak."
"Well. You've been through a lot."
Castiel gives a soft laugh. "So have you."
"True. But I'm used to it." Dean's arm is crooked over the edge of bed, and Castiel slides a hand onto his. The simple warmth of it carries them through several quiet, golden moments of morning sunshine.
Sam peeps in from the doorway. "Hey, Castiel. Good to see you awake." His face is sunny, but Dean would know that tone of relief from anguish anywhere. He meets his brother's eyes, then turns back to Castiel, who has managed to sit up.
"Sam. Where are we?"
"Jody-- the Sheriff's place. She's gone to bring Kevin home, she'll be back in a day or two." His lips twist. "Or longer. We'll see."
"Oh, I see." Castiel gazes at Sam, and Dean can tell he's fighting for words. It's funny, but the three of them are probably equally bad at words of gratitude. Appreciation. Happiness. None of them were raised with much of any of it, and having those emotions in abundance now plants all three of them in unfamiliar territory. Dean squeezes his hand, and Castiel's eyes dart to his, seeking reassurance that he doesn't have to come up with the words right away.
Sam picks up on the vibe. "Well, I'm gonna bring you some breakfast once it's done, so hang tight. I'll leave you two alone."
Dean rolls his eyes. "We've been alone for months."
"Then another few minutes won't kill you," Sam says lightly, and disappears from the doorway.
Dean grumbles, but Castiel is smiling now. "He has a point." Lifting a corner of the bedspread, he fixes Dean with pleading eyes.
"Once you get an idea, there's no stopping you," Dean says, grimacing at him. But he slides onto the bed, and the sleepy heat of Castiel's body bleeds into his skin almost immediately. He gives a groan. "All right. A couple of minutes, then we're rejoining the world. Been away from it too long."
But as he settles down into the bed and pulls Castiel close, he's suddenly grateful for the chance to linger in the morning. Especially after making it through such a long, dark night.
The world will wait a few minutes more.