Dean woke up in a grassy field, the stars stretched out above him the way they do in Montana on clear fall nights. Not that Dean was really noticing the stars. Not with Castiel sitting there next to him, his arms resting on his knees and his head tilted to the side like he knew a secret. "Hello, Dean."
He wasn't wearing his coat. Of course he wasn't wearing his coat. "Hey, Cas." He felt like a giant was standing on his chest. "You really here?" Castiel nodded and Dean closed his eyes for a second. "Guess that means I'm pretty dead, then."
Castiel's lips twitched up. "Mostly."
Dean stared up at him. "Did you just make a Princess Bride reference?" Castiel's brow furrowed and that was how Dean knew it was really him. "'Course you didn't. Never mind." He pushed himself up so he was sitting, too. "What do you mean, mostly?"
"Sam will revive you momentarily. There's certain door you need to pass through and I was allowed to escort you." Suddenly there was white light all around, passing over the ground like a searchlight; Dean felt Castiel's hand clamp hard over his eyes. "Shh," he whispered. After a minute the light faded and Cas let him go. "They're gone." He shook his head. "A few years ago I would have never believed I would willingly hide a deserving soul from the light of Heaven."
"Yeah, this day is just full of surprises." The words came out choked up and Dean had to look away, up at the stars, anywhere but at Cas. "I'm guessing I won't be seeing you after this."
Castiel shook his head. "No. I don't believe you will."
Dean nodded. "Figured." And yet despite everything there was almost something...nice about sitting with Castiel like this. He didn't think he'd ever just sat down with Cas and did something as normal as look up at the stars; the world was always ending or someone was about to die or there was some other catastrophe that needed to be dealt with right the fuck now. The closest they'd come was that night before they fought Raphael, when he'd taken Cas out on the town. He remembered that Castiel had actually wanted to just sit quietly with him that night. He wished he'd known they weren't going to get another chance at it. "We have to leave right away?" Castiel sent him a questioning look and Dean shrugged. "I mean, are we in a big hurry here?"
Castiel shook his head. "No. There are no time constraints on you, Dean."
Dean nodded. "Cool." If he didn't actually look at Cas he thought he actually might be able to hold it together. "Surprised you still look like you. Y'know. Instead of what you really look like."
"My appearance here is determined by you." He tilted his head and God, Dean had never known seeing a little thing like that could hurt so much. "Why are you picturing me without my coat?"
Dean chuckled. It was either that or break apart. "Probably because I know it's in the trunk of my car right now."
It was so rare for Dean to see Castiel genuinely surprised. "You kept it?"
"Yeah. I mean...yeah," he said, deciding he really didn't feel like justifying that right now. "Sam thinks I burned it but it's still there. Got a little hiding place only I know about."
Dean just shrugged. "You've got a pretty good track record with resurrections. Told myself you'd want it." And what a stupid idea that seemed like now. "Not like you guys have ghosts to worry about, you know?" Castiel was giving him that look-into-your-soul stare he had. Dean refused to admit that he'd missed it; instead he focused on the odd scent in the air, a familiar one he couldn't place. "You smell that? What is that?"
"I don't smell anything."
Castiel adjusted his arm and Dean spotted something on his wrist; he pushed up his sleeve and saw sigils drawn over his skin, like tattoos. "What the hell's that?"
Castiel shook Dean off and tugged his sleeve back down. "It's nothing."
Dean gave Castiel a long, even look. "You ever get tired of lying, Cas?"
He only looked away. "Will you ever be able to forgive me?" he said after a long moment. Dean didn't answer and told himself he didn't care when Castiel closed his eyes, wrapping his arms around his knees. It wasn't a question he could just answer. "I know I can't expect it now," he continued softly. "Not after...after everything. But do you think that someday, perhaps...?"
"Killing the moment, Cas."
Castiel clammed up. "Of course." When Dean stared up at the stars, he did too. Neither of them said another word until it was time to go.
The searchlight came twice more during the walk; both times Castiel covered Dean's eyes and by the end of it Dean was convinced that whatever that strange smell was, it definitely had something to do with Cas. He didn't get a chance to ask again, though; they'd arrived at the door, which to Dean's surprise was actually a door, just standing there in empty space. "Well. That's definitely a door."
"Sometimes the universe is surprisingly literal."
"So I open this door and bam, I'm alive again?"
Castiel nodded. "As simple as that."
Dean knew he should be saying something. He opened this door, he was never seeing Castiel again, Cas had said that himself, and Dean didn't know what was wrong with him that after everything they'd been through he couldn't think of something to say. "Cas..."
Whatever he'd expected to happen, it sure as hell wasn't for Cas to kiss him. It was quieter than when Dean had seen him kiss Meg, quiet and desperate and Castiel was shaking so hard Dean grabbed him to hold him steady. When the kiss finally broke Dean felt Castiel trail his fingertips down his cheek once. "I thought I was stronger than this."
And all at once Dean recognized the smell; he pushed Castiel away, hard. "What the fuck are you?"
He'd never seen Castiel look this stricken. "It is me, Dean. I swear it."
"Then you give me one good reason why you reek of sulfur."
Castiel closed his eyes for a moment. "Where did you think angels who consort with demons went when they died?"
Dean had never even thought about it. "Cas..."
Cas kissed him again. "Go through the door."
"Why're you so hot to get rid of me all of a sudden?"
"My respite only lasted until I brought you here. Please, Dean."
"What 'respite'? What the hell are you..." Dean felt the words die away; he pulled Castiel's collar back, horror hitting him like hammer. "Cas, you're bleeding." The marks he'd spotted earlier didn't look like tattoos anymore; they looked like fresh brands, brands lined with blood and they were everywhere, all the way down his torso. "What is this?"
"It's a claim."
"What has a claim on you?"
Castiel looked up at him, his eyes wide. "I wouldn't have been allowed to guide you otherwise."
"What did you agree to, Cas?"
He looked so helpless. "I promised I wouldn't try to escape," he whispered. "It's all right. I've earned this." He kissed Dean again, taking a deep breath like was trying to breathe Dean in. "Please close your eyes."
Dean knew he would wonder for the rest of his life why he didn't just grab Castiel and drag him through the door with him. Instead all he did was stand there paralyzed, watching the ground open up behind them. "Dean," Cas whispered, his voice sandpaper-rough. "Dean, I lo-" Great steel chains with barbed hooks shot out of the chasm like metal snakes; one caught Cas through the thigh and the other speared him through the shoulder, the impact sending him staggering into Dean. He heard Cas sob out his name once and then the chains dragged him back off his feet toward the crack in the earth; despite what he said he'd promised he reached for Dean in that first panicked instant. Dean missed him by less than an inch. Dean knew he'd think about that for the rest of his life, too.
Dean finally broke out of the shock and took off running after him; he threw himself to the ground right at the chasm's lip and just managed to grab Castiel's hand. Cas' eyes locked with his for one agonized moment, then he screamed as another hooked chain speared him through his chest. His grip went slack in Dean's; his hand was so slick with blood Dean had to reach out another hand to wrap around his wrist and he could still just barely hold onto him.
Before Dean could even take a breath he heard more chains rattle out and Castiel screamed again, his whole body bowing in pain; the sound rushed through Dean in a wave, slicing through him like thousands of knives. He tried to see where Castiel had been hit but couldn't – not until he looked up at the wall behind him.
Stretched out behind him Dean saw the shadows of his wings, broken and misshapen with shadowy hooks speared through them. All the chains went taut at the same time and Dean felt him begin to slip. "Cas!" Castiel picked his head up, as if that took every last scrap of energy. "Yes! Yes, I forgive you!" As if he hadn't known his answer the second Cas had asked it.
In his entire life Dean had never seen that kind of joy on someone's face. It was like watching the sun come out. He managed to squeeze Dean's hand once, then a second later he was gone, sliding right through Dean's fingers. Dean watched him fall, that last cry of terror quickly getting swallowed by the darkness. He never thought Castiel could look as small as he did in that second just before he disappeared from sight, a tiny speck still reaching back for him. Dean didn't know how long he stayed there, his knuckles white on the edge of the chasm as he stared down, as if he thought Cas might have one more miracle up his sleeve.
But there was nothing. Dean finally staggered back away from the edge; the door was still standing behind him, all that stood between him and breathing and life and Sam. He even got so far as putting his hand on the knob.
There were droplets of blood on the door from the hook ripping through Castiel's shoulder. When he looked down he could see the trail from the chains dragging him bloody along the ground; Dean followed it back to the lip of the chasm like he'd been put under a spell and stared down. He rubbed his fingers over his lips. He'd been so surprised at Cas was kissing him he didn't even think he'd kissed back. Dean realized much too late that Castiel must have been keeping him from recognizing the scent of sulfur, maybe hoping Dean would never know what would happen to him when he went through that door. "You stupid son of a bitch," he whispered into the darkness. He wasn't sure which of them he meant.
He didn't have any weapons. Dean knew the smart thing would be to go through that door, grab Sam, grab Bobby and do this the right way – except that he knew there was every chance he might forget all of this as soon as he went through that door. And anyway, all of that would take too long; Dean didn't know who was in charge of the Pit now but he could picture all too well every last thing he would have done if Alastair had ever put an angelon his rack. He realized with a sudden lurch he'd debated with himself so long that with the way time moved in hell Cas might have already been back down there a full day.
"I love you too, Cas," Dean whispered, the words coming out as easily as if he'd said them thousands of times before. But he knew words were meaningless now; his hands clenched into fists as he stared into the darkness. There weren't even any hand holds to climb down. He never thought about the phrase "leap of faith" being quite this literal.
Castiel may have promised to be good and stay put, but Dean hadn't made any deals with anyone. Before he could waste one more second Dean took a running leap over the edge.
It was almost funny, in a way. The past few years all he'd wanted to do was forget about hell, forget the Pit and the knives and the blood. He'd never realized that as the darkness closed around him that it could ever feel like a homecoming.
"I hope you sons of bitches missed me," Dean snarled. Hold tight, Cas. On my way.