Dean had suspected that the room of mirrors existed long before the tower. It was not something he could prove but something in the way that the mirrors changed and moved gave him the impression it was something he didn't understand at all. It was something of the God and this close to Castiel- here in the Tower- it was something he found difficult to concentrate on. The mirrors showed the world. They showed possible futures and futures that might have been. They showed the past as it was and how it would have been. They showed distant planets and the hopes and dreams of men.
Dean was drawn to them with a morbid fascination.
He knew if he reached out to touch the glass he would see his brother, happy in the history that Castiel had given him. He would see everything.
Castiel had shown him the mirrors soon after he had been accepted as consort. He brought him up the stairs, Castiel's hand was hot and large on the small of his back, the power of his Godhood rolling off him in waves thick enough to taste, with desire and love and passion and need and care. He had spoken of worry but when Castiel's power was so rich Dean found it hard to think, overwhelmed by the smell of him, the touch of him and his very divinity. It was the third party in their marriage.
It was like a sea that consumed him, no matter how Castiel stood, like Canute, ordering back the tide.
Castiel had led him up the staircase to the mirrors. The room had never before denied him, but unexplored, and Castiel spoke in his low voice. He said "These are windows to the world, these," he led him to the largest mirrors, "are my great dilemma," there were two of them, with heavily gilt frames and dark spots. "These are the two futures between which I must choose. Do I save mankind and damn the planet, cursing them to eternally wander the stars, or do I destroy mankind and all its wonders but save the planet."
Dean had looked at him, seen the worry on his face before he looked into the mirrors. The one on the left showed the future of mankind, eternally wandering the stars, building colonies on distant planets but there was a coldness there. In the other there was a great forest and birds singing. There were towers and skyscrapers here and there among the trees. These were the horrors and reasons, this was why the angels had released Lucifer, this was why Raphael had started his pogrom.
Dean thought about it for what might have been days. He sat Indian style on the floor, cross legged and eating if Castiel brought him food, and drinking if Castiel brought him water. He stayed because Castiel wanted his opinion, he felt so cherished in that knowledge, knowing as well it was the force of the Godhood. Then he shrugged, pulled down another mirror from the wall, thick as it was with them, aligned eight or nine high, and placed it in front of the two mirrors.
When Castiel came in Dean was polishing off his last sandwich. "There's your solution," he said, "not one, both!" And Castiel looked at the mirror propped there by others he had taken off the walls, at the very simplicity of it and laughed. It was not a mocking laugh, but one that realised that the very simplicity was what had eluded him and relief that the decision was made, and he took the sandwich from Dean's hand, smiling and laughing with him, and kissed him, and Dean thought he might die from the overwhelming love he felt at that moment, and wondered in the dark part of his mind that belonged only to him, immune to Castiel's divine nature, how much of it was his own.
Castiel used the mirrors to gather a conclave of gods that very day, lips still swollen from kissing Dean, hand still on the brand on his arm, and they set their plan in motion. They had met in Las Vegas, gods gathered and death sat among them like an equal to their number. Then the Gods scoured the earth, leaving alive only a small fraction of its population, destroyed its infrastructure and created natural disasters the like of which the world had never seen. And Dean lay in the god's great feather bed, drunk on love, and didn't care that he had done it, only that Castiel was his God and that Castiel loved him.
Dean wiped the sweat from his forehead, and then dried his hands on the cloth before he lifted the axe above his head to split the log. It came down with an almighty crack, splitting into two, leaving the axe where it was he picked up the two pieces and threw them unto the pile beside the small house he had claimed as his own in the forest. It was bad for the blade to leave it stuck in the wood so Dean pried it up, wiped it down with a cloth and stood it against the stone wall.
The house, such as it was, had been a great and vast temple at some point in its history. But for the most part the entire complex had been swallowed up by the forest, although Dean suspected that the correct word was jungle. The trees had, in some places, grown so massive that not only had they erupted through the buildings, shifting ancient stone and mortar into piles of rubble, that they had lifted themselves out of the ground and stood aloft on their roots, forming small chambers underneath. They had pulled up the flagstones but the small building he had chosen, which had been perhaps a storehouse judging by the stone shelves that lined the walls, was mostly untouched. A tree dominated the corner of his one room but the roof hadn't collapsed and the dead branch inside allowed him to hang old skins over the window and door to keep out the worst of the weather. There was even a sort of overhang which kept his wood dry no matter how wet the day.
He was humming under his breath as he gathered the wood and stacked it against the wall, then went into the small room that he had lived in for the past two years. There were remnants, along one wall, of paint but if there had been a design it was long gone. Water dripped along the trunk of the great tree and into a bowl he had set there. It had been something he had to learn to do because he had woken up with his furs soaked and the fire washed away after a particularly bad storm. One of these days, he reminded himself, that he would build something to drain the water off, but for now it was convenient, allowing him to bathe and shave without having to go to the spring.
The bowl was one he had found here. Sitting at the feet of a Buddha that the forest had taken the head from in one great blow. The head had rolled over by the door and Dean found the whole thing kind of blasphemous, in ways he hadn't even thought possible, even though he'd seen broken Christs hanging from twisted crucifixes, but perhaps it was just the serene expression on the Buddha's face. He had rolled it over and covered it with fabric he found here and there from when this temple had been functioning, sewn together into a blanket. It was the best he could do for a burial. The head must have weighed several tons by itself.
The animals had long since dealt with the human inhabitants, and it was only in rooms that had been sealed tight that he found things, old jars sometimes still full of rice or oil, lanterns, candles and fabric. He took only what he needed and carried the rest into the town near where he lived and deposited it at their temple to Castiel in the middle of the night. He never lingered long enough to discover who thought that their benefactor was. Let Castiel have the glory, or whatever variation of his name it was that the locals gave him.
Perhaps it was Kali that they thanked, or any of the other gods who made up the pantheon that Castiel built, but it was always in the temple of the Arbiter, his Castiel, that he left the goods for them to find. He certainly didn't want them coming here. He liked being alone. He liked it. He did.
If he missed Castiel's touch in the nights it was because he was cold. If he missed the sound of his breathing when it rained it was because the sound reminded him. He was happier alone. He was.
He sometimes considered training one of the monkeys as a companion, but then one of them stole from his fruit stores and he found himself throwing stones or old bones at them and shouting at them. He stopped when he discovered he had thrown a calendar stick at them and had to go out into the jungle with a flaming torch to get it back. There were things he was prepared to lose but time wasn't one of them.
He marked the days on light wood, then when they were complete he marked the months on a darker wood. The years were marked on a sweet smelling wood that was almost black and incredibly difficult to carve. He kept the year markers tied up in a bundle with a leather thong he had once used on his hair, oiling it whenever he untied it to add another stick, each one chronicling an entire decade. The years drifted by so quickly.
He hadn't aged since Castiel made the transition from angel to god, tricked and manipulated and finally defiant and so beautiful in his godhood that Dean ached with his loss, but this was his decision. Time slipped by in the tower, everything slipped by until all there was was Castiel and Dean himself was lost in his love for him. The love he was mostly sure was inspired by the Godhood. It had to be, because he'd seen people literally swoon in the presence of the gods. He'd seen them do ridiculous things for love of them. The Gods had stopped human sacrifice but occasionally people just got overwhelmed in their presence and did things that they had to be punished for. Dean had seen men literally tear themselves to pieces as Astarte danced, and in the fugue that Castiel's love caused he had not even blanched, even when Astarte stopped dancing and raged and tore down their temple in defiance of their gift.
There were times, drunk on fruit wine he learned to make what feels like centuries ago, and may have been, he raged, naked and sweating in the light of the fire he built in the temple courtyard, he cursed heaven and its angels. He cursed the new pantheon. He cursed the sky, the trees and everything around, and when he collapsed weeping he wanted so badly to hear the sound of wings beating but he never did. He was the one who walked away. He was the one who left because he couldn't stand being left behind. He had waved his fists at the moon, knowing it was the same moon that looked down on Castiel, that looked down on Sam, wherever in time Castiel had flung him. He had yelled and ranted and raged and finally broke down crying.
It was a good day though. He had found some sort of pig creature that was native and killed it quickly. He had left the entrails in the forest for the predators and skinned the animal in the courtyard, using jugs of water he collected from the bough of the tree to wash away the blood, and then butchered it. It was another thing it had taken a long time to learn. He hung parts of it to smoke, and parts of it to dry, and cooked some of it. He couldn't die- it was part of what Castiel made him- but he could be hurt and he could be hungry. He made himself tea, because coffee didn't grow here, dammit, and sat cross legged in front of the fire in the courtyard. There was the makings of one inside the house but the evening was fair and there was a soft sweet wind.
"I know you're listening, Cas," he said.
He did this every night, perhaps loneliness drove him to it, or maybe it was the simple act of talking to his lover, even the one he had left behind. "You're always listening. I just," he took a deep breath, then a sip of his tea. "Yeah, I guess I just," he leaned back against the old stone of the house. "I never know what to say to you." The moon was just a thin line of white in the sky over the temple courtyard, hemmed in by the huge trees, the stars sparkled like sequins on a velvet throw. "You said you did this, you saved us, because you couldn't understand how we could have so much and be happy. You were right, we, I mean people, I'm hardly one of those any more, we weren't happy. We had too much, needed too much. It's easier like this. I wanted you to be right, to justify what happened.
"Jeez, Cas, you destroyed the world, and so many millions of fucking people died and died bad, and I wanted, I mean just," he stopped again. "fuck," he said under his breath. "You once said, I mean before the change, you said that you had done everything for me. I wish I could express how much that fucking scared me. How much it still does. For fuck's sake- you made me immortal, you said you couldn't bear to exist without me, that scares the shit out of me too. I just, well, I think I miss you, and I don't know how much of it is you and how much of it is what you fucking did to me and how much of it is just that I've been alone here for too fucking long. For fuck's sake, I'm even speaking English again, and you know what really fucking hurts, the real kicker. I tried to remember how Sam had his coffee, and I couldn't remember, and then I realised I couldn't remember what he looked like. If you're listening, of course you're listening, just promise me that he's happy, that wherever you put him, he's happy."
He threw the remains of the tea into the fire, then picked up one of the outer sticks to carry it into the house he was using. "I loved you," he murmured, "I guess I should have told you that." He laughed to himself then squinted at the moon- his substitute Castiel. "Not that you would have understood it." He started the fire, making sure it was set so it wouldn't spread, emptied the bowl under the tree and took the opportunity for a last piss, before he stripped down to his under things, worn and ragged as they were, and climbed into the pile of fabric and straw and tried to sleep. He stared into the fire for a long time, thinking he could maybe see Castiel there, and hoping, then calling himself for all the idjits, sounding so painfully like Bobby even in his own head, he turned over, away from the light and pretending it didn't matter.
There were shot glasses lined up along the table in two neat rows as Castiel calmly out drank Ellen, it was something so remarkable that Jo was sat, mouthing her beer, with her belly against the chair back. The radio sang softly in the background, and the light from the one bulb in the kitchen was warm.
It was the night before Carthage. Tomorrow they'd ride out to the devil and do their best to end it.
Dean had a low beer buzz and Castiel just looked baffled as even Ellen was wobbling in her chair. Dean really expected no less after fifteen straight shots of Bobby's best bourbon. They had eaten like kings, if kings preferred southern fried chicken and cabbage slaw. Sam had his head back, snoring on the couch. Somewhere around shot number five Ellen had covered him with an old throw that Castiel had gotten from somewhere in the house.
Ellen had stood up, stretched her arms over her head and announced she was going to bed, Bobby had put her and Jo in the guest room where Dean had always stayed before. Dean and Sam were in sleeping bags in the study, by the fire. Castiel didn't sleep but instead tended to sit on the roof, watching the sky. Roosting, Bobby called it, like he was a pigeon and not an angel of the lord.
Dean had kissed Jo, somewhere around shot number eleven, asking if she would spend the night with him. He didn't' really want it but felt he needed to make the effort. It would have been more worrying if he hadn't.
Suddenly it was just Jo and Castiel and him, well and Sam snoring loudly on the couch. "Jo," Dean started moving next to her and speaking in a low voice. Behind him Castiel was gathering up the glasses left from their little battle.
She looked him up and down, one thing she inherited from her mother was that she was almost impossible to bullshit. "I already said no." She said bluntly. She was flushed from the beer, glowing in the poor light.
He looked over at Cas, where he stood heaping the glasses in the sink. "I know you find him attractive," Dean said in a low voice, it was a conspirator's voice, "and, if we're all gonna die, it's just, I don't think he ain't ever even been kissed."
Jo had large expressive black eyes, sometimes she wore her entire heart there on her face and for a moment there was a flash of something Dean didn't recognise. "You know what I think," she said, "you, Dean Winchester, are an idjit." Her Bobby impersonation was epic. "The only person in this house, no this entire planet, that cares about that is you. If you worry so much about the state of his virginity, instead of trying to pimp him out, why don't you take care of it." And Dean blinked in surprise. He turned around to look for Cas but the angel was gone.
He found him on the roof. "Your care for my sexual inexperience is heartening."
Dean was sure he was being sarcastic. "You're my friend," he said, "bros before hos."
"I hardly think Jo will care to be called a piece of farm equipment."
Dean looked at the angel a moment before he laughed. "Never mind," he said. "Big day tomorrow."
"Perhaps the biggest." Castiel agreed.
A large wet splat landed on the roof tile between them, then another and another until the rain came down heavily. "Oh for fuck's sake," Dean said looking at the sky. "We're trying to have a moment here."
"I doubt that He is listening." Castiel said. "And that doubt terrifies me." He looked scared. "Come inside," he said, "this rain, I think will last until morning."
He led him to a small shuttered window, careful on the slippery shingles. Opened the shutter and then slid up the glass to reveal a small closed attic. Dean lit the oil lamp hanging from the rafters with his lighter. "Man, I've been in this house on and off since I was fourteen and I didn't even know it had an attic." There were piles of old furniture here and there; an old dress form, a full sized mirror with a cloth half hanging off it. There was even an easel on its side.
"After his wife," Castiel said solemnly leaving the words out, "he bricked it up, papered over the new wall. These were her things. I don't think he could stand to look at them."
Dean collapsed on the old couch- covered as it was with an old hand made quilt- it erupted in a cloud of dust. "I'd a liked to know her." He said calmly. "She seems like she was awesome."
"She must have been." Castiel had found an old photo in a wooden frame and was examining it closely. "That he has held so tightly to her memory these long years." Dean patted the couch beside him and Cas slumped down beside him, so damn warm under that trench coat.
"So tomorrow, huh?" Dean said.
Castiel looked at him for a long moment and then cupped Dean's face in one dry palm. "You are worthy," he said firmly, "remember that,"
Dean didn't know why he did it, probably the same insane impulse that led him to ask Jo about fucking Castiel. He closed the gap between them with a murmured "shut up," and kissed Castiel. He had only intended it to silence the angel. To occupy his mouth so he wouldn't' say any more of those things. They were sat so close it was the easiest way.
When he opened his eyes he saw that Castiel had closed his. He pulled back to see that Castiel had leaned forward with his jaw, leaning into the kiss, mouth shut like a child. It was adorable. So Dean kissed him again. And again. And again. And again.
Afterwards, wearing the ruins of probably the sweetest sexual encounter that he had ever had, Dean lay next to Castiel, still wearing the flush and ruck of what must have been his very first orgasm, sprawled on the pile of the old quilts, with dust and drying semen on their skin, Dean was overcome with the softest easy feeling he had ever had. Castiel nuzzled Dean with his nose, the overwhelming need to touch skin to skin still upon him. Dean wouldn't begrudge him snuggling after his first ever sexual encounter. There were limits, he thought, to his douchery- a fact which had actually surprised him somewhat. "Guess, I'm not going to die a virgin after all." Cas said and damn if it wasn't among the funniest things Dean had ever heard.
And Cas didn't care that Dean was laughing at him in bed, there was no self criticism, no worry or self doubt, just joy and the feel of his hand running up and down Dean's arm, and the cracked skin of his lips, and the tip of his nose running against Dean's own as he laughed too.
Dean loaded up the travois with the extra dried meat and furs that he had cured. There were bundles of threads that he had spun, and even some liquor he had made, a sweet cherry cider that made his teeth itch and gave him a bad head. He had kept some of it back for pickling but not much else. He pulled on the coat he had made himself from an old tiger he had found half dead in the ruins, finishing it off with mercy rather than malice, and making sure his boots were on and sturdy. He had learned a lot in the years since he had left his tower. Out of habit he lifted his calendar sticks, each of them no longer than his thumb, and worn in an old leather purse at his waist.
He had to use the old road, or what remained of it, to get to the village. The tarmac was shattered but free of the large tree roots, to make his way to the village nearest him. It added nearly a day and a half to his journey but the travois just couldn't make it through some of the narrower passes or over the roots which were like cliff faces on their own.
He was starting to feel a little lonely.
Humanity was a social animal after all and even Dean, who had spent most of his life with just his brother for company sometimes just missed the buzz of human voices. It had been so long since the last time he was pretty sure he didn't even speak their language. The day was going to be hot and the humidity was high but he had tied a strip of cloth over the hand-print on his arm, the one that marked him as Castiel's consort and was possibly the best known of all the stories of all the gods. He didn't want their adulation, just to spend some time with people, maybe to spend the evening with a pretty girl or boy who didn't care about the fact he was beloved of a god because they didn't know.
Sometimes just sitting around a campfire with other people was enough, sometimes he'd linger for up to a week, sharing food and things he had learned, and that they had to teach him. Sometimes he played the role of the Consort because he missed Castiel and it made him feel close to him. This wasn't going to be one of those times. He stopped after perhaps an hour of walking, pulled a rag from the waistband of his pants and wiped his forehead. His hair was long and shaggy, it had been months since he had last bothered to cut it. "I must look like the wild man of Borneo," he said to himself and laughed because he wasn't entirely sure he wasn't in what had been Borneo. In the first decade after leaving the Tower he had crossed the land-bridge between what he had known as Alaska and Russia. By then the world had been scoured, what Lucifer had intended to do in months Castiel took centuries for. The gods had been diligent in their work leaving only a handful behind, the strongest and the most determined. Ten gods had survived the Scouring, Astarte the goddess of devotion, fertility and love. Kali the goddess of Creation and Destruction. Heimdall the all knowing. Hecate to whom Hell had been given. Hel who had been given control of Heaven. O-Inari the god of mischief, food and messengers, who was sometimes female and sometimes a fox. Kuan-yin who was the goddess of mercy. Veles who the god of earth and sea. And Castiel the arbiter of their disputes.
Dean worshiped none of them.
Every village, no matter how small had its shrines or its temples, and represented in each was the human consort of each god. Often these were shapeless figurines adorned in pretty stones and colorful pieces of yarn, but one thing was consistent, the figurines of Dean had the red hand print on his arm.
He stuffed the cloth back into his pants, lifted the travois and carried on walking.
He stopped for the night in what his Dad, another person whose face he couldn't remember, would have called a wayward pine, he remembered that but not the voice that had told him that. It was a tree so old that it had hollowed itself out but still lived quite contentedly. There was plenty of dry brush inside it to make a comfortable bed and he had used it before. The remnants of his last trip were still visible as a ring of stones barely cresting the soil and fallage. The moon was in that stage just before half full where it looked almost pregnant.
The moon was supposed to be one of Castiel's incarnations.
Dean couldn't remember what his Dad looked like, or even for sure that his name was John, but he remembered Castiel lying in the giant feather bed in the Tower telling him that as an angel he had watched over the moon. When the Gods in their conclave had divided up the world into the portions each would look after Castiel had only asked for the moon. Then, later, lying in the bed in the Las Vegas hotel that held the Conclave he had told Dean that he would always watch over him, and that the moon itself was a promise of that.
Castiel had asked for the moon, and given it to Dean.
So Dean talked to it, every night the moon was clear, he spoke to Castiel,- even when he didn't know what to say. Even in the rages, when he hated Castiel with a passion that rivaled the overwhelming love he felt in his presence, he talked to the moon.
That night he dreamt of Castiel, not in the Tower as he had come to expect, not in the rages he had gone through before he had left when he accused him of making him his whore, he had shouted how he had forced Dean to love him, but instead he dreamt of that Vegas hotel, the details of which were more real to him than his own name. Castiel was kneeling on the floor with Dean's feet in his lap. He was rubbing the skin hard, slick with some sort of lotion and Dean was flopped out backwards on the bed promising Castiel the world as long as he didn't ever stop. And Castiel chuckled warmly, and the world was so far away, and it didn't matter that they had spent the day in a conference working out the best way to destroy humanity.
"They're not happy," Castiel said, "they are trained as it is to want too much, they prime themselves for disappointment. If their lives were simpler they could be happy."
And Dean agreed, because Castiel loved him and Castiel's love was a palpable thing, a warm blanket that smothered his emotions and how could Dean not love him back, because Castiel's love was wondrous. "You make me happy." Dean said and Castiel smiled, digging his thumbs into the muscle.
Dean woke up in the old tree and cursed the heavens, with special mention for the slow heavy rain that sluiced down the outside of the tree and the painful erection in his own pants. He missed him, of course he did. He was the Consort of a God, drunk on the very power Castiel couldn't help- of course he missed him- but when they were together Dean couldn't think of anything but Castiel. He believed every word he said. Those years before the Tower were like a honeymoon where Dean asked no questions and Castiel offered no answers. They both found solace, or so he thought, in the wells of flesh and skin and touch.
Castiel did not speak of the angels, and Dean didn't speak of Sam.
Whole days were spent in a comfortable easy silence. He had sat in on the Conclave of the Gods, he had seen them arguing, fighting for dominance and Castiel had just reached over and taken his hand and it was all fine.
It was only later, after the scouring, when the world burned and bled and was reborn that Dean saw Hel and her human consort, a girl with soft blonde curls so like Jo it almost hurt to look at her, and realized that he loved the Goddess too, for she was a Goddess and he was only something wanted. It was then he began to doubt his love for Castiel, but never Castiel's love for him, because Castiel was a god and that was what they inspired in the humans they encountered.
He jerked himself off quickly into the woods, standing in the rain, the water slicking down his hair and damn him but he could have sworn he heard Castiel breathing, hot and ragged behind him. "I hate you," he murmured, "I hate you so god damn much."
The village was abandoned and burned out. He had seen this before. There would always be raids and murders. It was the nature of people. Judging by the lingering smoke it had happened recently, perhaps as late as the previous night when Dean had hunkered down in the old wayward pine, but most likely at dawn after the rain had broken. There was dog tracks all over, and bodies lay in the mud. "Fuck," he swore and set down his travois. "Hello!" he called, "Anyone there?"
There was no answer. He sank to crouch on his heels and took a deep breath. "Well," he said, "let's get you buried."
He found himself a pole with a sharpened end and just outside what remained of the village with its wattle and daub houses he began to dig a pit. He had all the time in the world for this after all, then he would find some salt, precious enough here, and burn the bodies inside it.
It was the least he could do them. It would take as long as it took. He had all the time in the world after all.
He had the pit perhaps ten feet deep and three foot wide when he pulled himself out and sat on the edge. He tugged the cloth from his forehead and wiped at the sweat beaded there, knowing full well all he was doing was smearing the dirt more around his face. It didn't matter much.
There was a small child sat perhaps six feet back from the edge staring at him. She was covered in soot and old fruit, the seeds of which were smeared around her mouth. There was a cloth wrap over her eye. She looked at most four or five. "Hey," Dean said and nodded at her. He took a drink from the leather canteen he had brought with him, then soaked the cloth and wiped the worst of the mud from his face. "You thirsty?" he asked.
She just stared at him with her one brown eye. her hair was singed and melted together at the edges. Then she whistled and two large hunting dogs flanked her.
"You the only one left?" he asked. She just stared at him blankly. "Well, I'm going to deal with your dead, if that's alright with you, and then I'm going to cook up some supper. If you have any friends who'd like to come along, you let me know."
She just stared at him impassively with that big black eye.
He dragged the bodies over, heaping them on the travois and pulling them over, rolling them, belongings and all into the pit. The salt he found in a small jar- one of those he had left at the temple- in one of the least burned houses, and he tipped it in. Then he poured in oil, from what he had brought, and set the whole thing alight. He looked for the girl with the dogs but she was gone.
"Hello, Dean," Hel said, sitting on the rock. "It's been a while." Hel had been a nephilim before she was a god, and like Hecate she ruled over the dead. Hecate was seductive, she was the embodiment of damnation, but Hel, the embodiment of paradise, was not. She was beautiful- she was a goddess after all- but half of her was corrupted, the lines between Frost demon and Angel in constant arguing amongst itself. It was not that half of her was old, or demonic, more that sometimes, at least half the time, when you looked at her, you could see corruption and horror twisting under her skin. She appeared at most twelve years old.
She was fearless and tender, and wore her godhood with pride, and Dean kind of imagined sometimes that he saw her father in her. She had long lank gray blonde hair and wore white furs, pulled tight about a painfully thin frame. "I know I didn't call you." He said angrily, sitting down in front of her, the blaze from the pit coloring his features gold and umber.
"She did," Hel said, meaning the child, with a gesture of the head. "She assumed that you were sent by me to bury the dead." Her voice was harsh, like she spoke with bronchitis, but it was another sign of her duality. She stood in that field in her linen dress as the wind blew her golden hair behind her. There was no breeze but still her hair shifted softly. "She thanked me as much as she is able. She carried the story back to the others."
"There were survivors," Dean said, "thank fuck."
"Children, Dean, the adults hid the children in a cave not far from here, with the dogs to protect them. You must go to them, or they will die." She turned, her perfume smelled of flowers used to cover the rot of dead flesh.
"You're the goddess of the Dead." Dean protested.
"Yes," she said, "among other things. If you were anyone else I would let nature take it's course, but you are Castiel's beloved." She reached out and touched his face and it was like being touched by the claw of a lizard before the warm flesh registered. "To leave them will break your heart and that in turn will break his. You've been alone a long time," Her smile was the image of her father's. "Spend some time with the children, or with none to weep for them as they die one by one they shall fall into the realm of Hecate. Those are the terms we argued. You do not need be alone any more." She pulled his face into hers and kissed his forehead in a benediction. "They sing of you now, you know, such lovely sad songs."
"He said he'd come when I called."
Hel smiled softly with her child's pink mouth. "He said that the call would be answered." She corrected. "He misses you. Don't stay away so very long, child," she said, "now take them back to your temple complex, save them, for me."
Castiel had a bit of a sniffle, he was unused to it and kept wiping his nose with his sleeve so the skin was red and raw. They were perched on one of the cars in Bobby's scrap yard, two high, staring into the western sky because the sunset was spectacular indeed. There were stripes of cloud painted pink and purple as a sky turned slowly from navy into black. The trees along the edge of the property were like a dark frame to better show the amazing colours in the sky, shades of orange, and pink and gold and red and blue and purple. Dean had taken the angel, who had almost fallen and still suffering from the fight with Pestilence, to show him this. The simple beauty of a truly magnificent sunset.
Castiel hadn't quite grasped the concept. "Look at it," Dean pressed.
"It is the sky." The angel replied calmly. He clearly didn't understand what Dean was aiming at.
Dean rolled his eyes. "The colours, man, look at the colours, smell the air, it's the trees and the old iron and," he stopped, "romance is wasted on you, isn't it?"
"I don't understand," the angel said. "You asked me to accompany you so that you might show me the sky, you claim it is Romance but I see nothing of the European empire about it."
Dean shook his head. "Man, it's like talking to sand sometimes. This is very romantic, as in the pursuit of romantic love, I told Sam that this was a bad idea. Share some time with him, he says, not just having sex or fighting."
"Romantic love is a bizarre concept." Castiel agreed. "I do not understand it." He stopped for a moment, wiped his nose again although the skin was starting to look kind of raw and red and angry, abraded by the cloth. "I want to know what Love is," he said very sternly, "and I want you to show me."
Dean couldn't help it. He sniggered. Castiel made a huffing noise and jumped down from the car, remembering this time at least to bend his knees on impact. "Cas, come back," Dean called after him as the angel stalked angrily back to the house. "I wasn't laughing at you." The angel could be so precious about things like that.
Dean jumped down after him but Sam met him at the porch. "What did you do?" he asked, hands on his hips and his tone accusing. He was clearly defending Cas although Dean was his brother.
"I took your advice," Dean said suggesting that that was the worst idea that he had ever had. "A romantic evening, you said, take him out you said, show him the sunset, and then he says," he suppressed the smirk, the giggle that wanted to escape him because it was just that damn funny, "and I quote here," he was holding it back. "I want to know what love is, and I want you to show me." Sam sniggered. "Exactly, I laughed and he stormed off."
"Let him calm down, take some paracetamol for his cold. I'll talk to him, explain why you laughed, that it wasn't at him."
"It doesn't surprise me that you have that song, I mean you are the Win-sister." He had heard the term when they were trawling through the fan-fiction looking for clues and mostly ending up traumatised.
"You're an ass." Sam said and opened the door, "emotionally stunted and retarded." He held his head up smugly.
"It makes up for my complete lack of a vagina." Dean answered but as soon as the words slipped out he saw Bobby looking at him with an "I don't even want to know" look as he had clearly only heard the end of the conversation. "Bobby, Cas said 'I want to know what love is, and I want you to show me.'"
"Unless the two of you were sharing Foreigner lyrics you go up those stairs and you apologise to him." Bobby said, everyone was taking Cas' side in this and Dean was starting to feel a little left out. "I know you didn't mean to laugh at him, but he's," he left it, "none of you are eating till he comes down off the roof." And that was that.
Dean ended up climbing out the window, shimmying up the drainpipe to get unto the roof, the edge of which Castiel perched on, legs hanging over the edge. "I want to be alone." The angel said quietly.
"Tough." Dean said bluntly. "It's a song, you know, what you said, I mean it's this cheesy old song and."
"I did not know that." Castiel answered bluntly, his eyes were picking up the colours of the sunset. "I do not understand these things, I do not understand why you seek more from me than I can give, you expect me to understand these things but I can't." He sounded like he might cry on those last words.
"I don't think I can love you, Cas, I mean, I'm just a mess, I'm all broken and a mess and I don't deserve it, I mean, but you're, well you're almost family, and I can't show you what love is, I don't think I have it in me, but you can have me, for as long as you want me."
"Bobby's right," Castiel said, and wiped at his nose again, the button of his trench coat catching on his lip. "You're an idiot."
"In my life there's been heartache and pain," Dean crooned, "I don't know if I can face it again, can't stop now, I've travelled so far, to change this lonely life. I wanna know what love is," Castiel started to colour, a bright red that crept up his cheeks and matched the colours of the magnificent sunset, "and I want you to show me," his voice got louder so he was veritably belting it out, "I wanna feel what love is, and I know you can show me."
On the ground Bobby banged on the walls with something heavy, "do I have to get the bucket?" He shouted up, "worse than the damn cats." And Castiel, still blushing, ruddy with it, with lips and nose shiny with his cold, just smiled.
Sam was at the window singing "you're as cold as ice," Dean wanted to be embarrassed but Castiel's smile had warmed him. He didn't do love, it was for other people, people who were good and deserved it but it still made him feel actual feelings and he didn't know what to do about it. And, as he grinned to himself, it occurred to him, he and Cas had a song, and it was just as dorky as everything else in their relationship.
Hel led him to a small cave that was almost completely covered in undergrowth, and had obviously been where he villagers had stashed the kids. There were three, including the girl with the dogs, and between them, was a corpse. The smallest kid, who couldn't have been more than two or three ,was still curled up in her skirts, clutching on to them with fat little fists.
The corpse couldn't have been more than thirteen, she was heavily pregnant, but judging from the way she was lying, it might have been the baby that killed her, or the bruises across her belly. Her arm was broken and there was a horrible gash on her forehead. She had led the kids here and died shortly after. That much was obvious.
The other kid was perhaps four, although Dean was no judge, and wary, holding the dead woman's hand. Dean cursed Hel under his breath but knew why she had led him here, he was the only one around and without him they'd be dead in less than a week.
The dogs growled at him. "Look," he said, unsure and uncaring if they'd even understand him. "It's me or the underworld, you take your pick." The girl, closer now so he could tell, had a mass of wild dark hair that looked like it hadn't seen a comb in a very long time, glared at him with her one eye. The other was wrapped in a shoddy eye patch, which again led him to suspect that the older girl had led them away after the battle started rather than just crawling there afterward. The invaders must have taken her for dead.
He went back to his travois and unloaded food and started a cook fire near the cave. He wasn't hungry, despite digging the pit, and the smell of burned meat turned his stomach, but he cooked some quick flat breads from the rice flour and left them to the side. There were chutneys and preserves in the jars which he opened for them.
The older boy came first, tugging the baby by the hand. It was complicated because the baby didn't want to let go of the corpse's skirt. Dean got up and with a knife cut away the fabric even as the kids huddled back in the hole. Then he went back to the fire.
When they came again the baby was clutching the fabric and they sat just outside the ring of fire but snatched food. The dogs sat and stared at him, even when he threw some of the flat breads their way. The girl sat with the two boys after a while, stroking their heads and calming them. She was clearly their protector. "Okay," Dean said softly as he watched them eat. "You," he looked at the smallest one, "are going to be John," he said, the child gave him an open toothed grin, his face was covered with dirt and food, but it wasn't as worrying as it could have been. Perhaps he wasn't as old as Dean thought him because he didn't have all his teeth yet. "And you can be Bobby." He told the older boy, "and what in Hell's name am I going to call you?" He asked the girl.
"Hell," she replied calmly.
"I can't call you that," he said, "it's not a good name for a little girl."
"Hell." She said.
"What about Heaven, that's the good place you go when you die, it's prettier."
"Hell," she repeated firmly and crossed her arms over her chest. And so Hel she became.
After they had eaten, Dean hadn't stomached a single bite, he carried the blue gray corpse of the girl and tossed her into the pit with a soft benediction that Hel take care of her, and that Castiel watch her because she had already given so much and she hadn't been more than a baby herself. He took some of the fabric left behind in the raid and made a sort of nest for the kids in the cave, sleeping outside it himself by the fire.
He woke up when the baby crawled into his lap with an open mouthed drooly smile, his shred of skirt still clutched in his fist and wet with slobber, and then rested his warm head against Dean's chest and rubbed his eyes. "Okay, kiddo," Dean said softly. "Cas," he whispered to the moon, "you better be glad I like kids."
Little John, who had of course inherited that nickname as soon as Dean named him, snuggled in but seemed unable to sleep. So Dean started to tunelessly hum to him. Little Bobby came out of the nest, carrying his blankets with him and curled up against his thigh at the noise. Dean wasn't quite sure when he started to sing, only that all the old songs he had once known so infinitely well seemed lost and in their place was the Hunter's Hymn, and damn it if he didn't know all the words to that.
"I'm hunting shadows in the dark, in the steaming jungles of the world, either to kill or be killed, by creatures never named or heard. I'm lifting wishes to the stars, gleaming satellites of time, orbiting circles overhead, to futures when your love is mine.
"But you were always pretty reckless with your love, come with the sun and getting restless when it's gone, and when you go you leave me breathless and alone, you leave me breathless when you close the door it feels like you took the air out of the room with you. Your voice is echoing again," Hel and the dogs moved closer, but not enough that she was touching. "through catacombs inside my mind, and I've been dreaming of revenge, to make you love me more than even you can try. All worlds converge to where you are, and if I follow I will surely find, the horse is gone the fire's still warm, you've moved on an hour before, you like to keep me just one step behind."
With the babies, and they were only babies, for all of Hel's fierceness, asleep, Dean let himself doze, trying to decide what the hell he was going to do, and how the hell he was going to get them somewhere that he could at least pretend to raise them among people. He also knew that this would get about, how the hunter had led kids from the jungle to the towns, and how the story would grow and grow until it became a children's crusade. He sighed, smoothing his hand over Little-John's head. "You couldn't make it easy for me, could you?" He asked the sky, and was sure that the answering sound of the bird in the trees was in fact someone was laughing at him.
He managed, more through luck than actual skill, to jury rig together a wagon of sorts, from one of their old carts, some of the fabric he brought with him on his travois, and some wood from what remained of the village. It was held together with twine and bad workmanship. He filled it with food and against the sacks he put the two boys after extracting the promise that they "be good". Hel, her eye washed out with boiled water, and pretty much fucked, with a new bandage about her head was on the driver's bench with him behind the ox. The dogs loped along beside.
No sooner had Dean swung up than the ox lifted its tail and farted. Hel laughed openly and it was the first pleasant sound he had heard from her, so Dean smiled back.
When they stopped for the second night, when he had the kids bundled in the back of the wagon with the dogs, he slept underneath it with a fire blazing, he sat, and tied a bundle of cloth and seeds into a doll, which he offered her shyly the next morning. She snorted, having gone through the daily fight and rigamarole that was washing out the mess that was her eye, and then tucked it into the waistband of her rudimentary dress. It wasn't much, but it was a start.
He made the decision, staring at the clouds obscuring the sun like the veils of Salome, and goddamn but he couldn't remember what that meant, tugging away one by one, that he would go North, he would return to Castiel's tower. He was tired and his heart ached with his God half a world away.
Castiel would be at the tower, Dean thought, he would be watching over mankind with a lazy eye, like a shepherd trying to teach his flock to be independent but to remember ancient ineffable truths. His hair would be a mess of cowlicks without Dean to remind him to comb it down. He'd probably rub at his eyes in that charming way of his and not realize he had worn the same clothes for a decade if not more. There would be his shy smile and his nervous belly laugh that warmed Dean through like brandy.
He'd smile with his eyes, that were that strangely ocean blue, and there in the corner of his mouth would be the kiss that was just for him, and Castiel would welcome him back, and he'd drown in that love again, but he'd do it knowing what it was and knowing that he wanted it, that maybe he was ready now, as long as he had someone to share it with. The babies and Hel, and even the dogs, and they would grow up with them, they would grow old, and they'd be happy in the tower with him. They'd want for nothing, because he'd want for nothing, because he was beloved of a god.
If Dean had been asked, as he slumped against the Impala in Stull Cemetery, the exact moment when he thought everything was lost, when the world had collapsed around him, it was when Lucifer turned his attention to Castiel, where he stood against the skyline - looking so small and belligerent with his arm still raised from throwing their holy Molotov and his unrepentant shout of "hey ass-butt" hanging in the air and any other time Dean would have laughed - and Lucifer splattered him like a water balloon. Castiel had looked like a child taking on an adult for the sake of a beloved younger sibling until he hadn't, for a long moment he was just motes hanging in the summer air, and then even that was gone.
At that moment Dean Winchester finally gave in and wished humanity the very best because he was done.
The Impala saved the day, not Dean, he was just leaning against it, ready for the end, for whatever reward he would get for just trying and trying and trying and hoped Cas would be there because it wouldn't be heaven without him, would it? He'd tried and tried and tried and that had to count for something.
What happened next, the inevitable, or so it felt, conclusion to this cluster fuck happened without him because he was just done. And damn if it wasn't Def Leppard in his head, the song he had chosen to blare out and gotten the album wrong so it was iRock of Ages/i instead of iGods of War/i, it was Foreigner and fragments of REO Speedwagon and all the other songs that reminded him of people he'd loved, as much as he was capable, and got killed. There was iLandslide/i the song that he remembered his mother singing him as a lullaby that last night, what must have been that last night, and Bobby's iRuby, Don't take your love to town/i before that got tainted by the demon and his Dad's iFreebird/i and even Sam's dorky iRoad to Nowhere/i and they were collapsing together into the dark fog, through the catacombs of his head, and they were woven and through them was this one bright light that was i"I wanna know what love is"/i and it was Castiel sitting in the Impala learning the words and singing along horrendously flat and out of tune, and damn if that wasn't wrong for an angel, and the world was getting black, fading around the edges. So he just closed his eyes and wondered if Death would come for him personally this time.
He didn't see it end. He pieced it together later from what he was told and what he saw. He never suggested that he had been anything other than there for all of it, that he hadn't wavered for even a moment. When Castiel sat in the Impala next to him and spoke of Heaven, of victory and pride more than anything in the world Dean wanted to ask him to stay.
"I'll be going to Lisa," he heard himself say. He turned the radio on just to break the silence which was as oppressive as glass and damn if it wasn't Simon and Garfunkel on the radio and Castiel liked them so much it hurt. "I promised Sam."
And Castiel nodded as behind him one of the two sang "In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade. And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him 'til he cried out in his anger and his shame. I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains" and damn it hurt. He had nothing left and Castiel was reborn and glorious and no longer even vaguely human and so beautiful and Dean was done.
For a moment a line of consternation, of questioning crossed Castiel's forehead. He tilted his head in that curious inhuman way to the left. He clearly didn't understand but he would accept. And the song played on the music was cutting into Dean and he couldn't do this any more, he couldn't. It had hurt so fucking much to lose everything, to see him explode and those motes just hanging in the air for that long long moment and he couldn't. "I wanna know what love is" Lou Gramm warbled in his head and Dean didn't want to know. He did know and it was tearing him apart. He was done, dammit, and he couldn't take any more. He just couldn't. Castiel offered him a wan smile, with his lips narrow and tight, like there was something he wanted to say and he didn't know how - and then he vanished, leaving behind only the smell of him and the way that the memory remained and Simon and Garfunkel still sang La la li la on and on like it was the only thing that fucking mattered. Like one world had been saved whilst another, smaller, world, fell in on itself and shattered.
So much of Dean's life was lived to music, whether it was the endless country tracks his Dad played, the simple rebellion of AC/DC and Judas Priest, or what his dad had called his infernal noise, and the emo bullshit that Sam listened to. There were the songs that Bobby pottered around his kitchen to. There was the songs that played that year he was sixteen and he finally felt he had come into his own skin, songs he wouldn't listen to because they just brought all that gawky stuff back. There were songs for hunting. Songs that reminded him of people he had saved and songs for those he hadn't. And now there were songs about Cas and dammit, he couldn't do this. He just didn't have it in him any more. He sat there in the Impala with the radio DJ twittering on about some local thing and lowered his head to the steering wheel and he sobbed.
Bobby, and dear Bobby who had been dead only minutes before, didn't get into the car. He didn't say anything.
There was nothing to say anyway.
At a roadside stop, halfway between Sioux Falls and Cicero he pulled over to feed the Impala. As he stood there, pumping gas into the engine he made a decision. He took the tapes from the car, all of them, every last stinking one and all their memories and their hopes and their dreams and all the promises and betrayals that they represented in lines he knew backwards and forwards and inside out, and tossed them all in the trash.
Fuck it, he thought, I'm done. If anyone deserves to start over, it's me.
Yet there was that little voice, that Simon and Garfunkel harmony of music, that asked himself, "why didn't I ask him to stay?"
Lisa opened the door and said nothing, she just let him inside and gave him, not the bottle of beer he expected, but a tall glass of coke. "He's gone." Dean said and maybe Lisa thought he meant Sam, because that was true too. She patted his shoulder and said silly things like shush, and it's alright, and let it all out, but it wasn't alright, he should have asked him to stay, dammit, he should have.
That night when he lay on Lisa's over stuffed leather couch, the one that felt like it might at any moment swallow him whole it was that soft and malleable, he wondered about why Sam extracted that promise from him. Why had he suggested Lisa, Dean thought, why didn't he want me to be happy with Castiel? But then he decided he was reading too much into it and stared at the blank screen of the turned off television. Sam had just wanted him to be happy, that's all, away from hunting. He wanted Dean to have the cornbread life, he wanted him to have a wife and a child and a house and white picket fence.
Dean's low laugh became a sob. It was all gone, he might as well take what was left. He could play this role, he thought, he could be the devoted boyfriend, he could be the great surrogate father, and if his heart wasn't in it, it didn't matter. He was done anyway.
Yet in his head he was in an abandoned house in Michigan, and there was an old transistor radio and an oil lamp and the music was slow and pretty and their steps awkward in the dust and mildew of the abandoned house. His hand was on the small of Cas' back and Cas had one arm around his back, their other hands had their fingers twined, Cas' head in the curve of Dean's neck and Dean's nose buried in his hair and they stepped and rocked and turned in time to the music trading slow and lazy kisses, fully dressed and Dean couldn't remember why they stood there dancing, badly, to the song on the radio, the live set from some band he'd never heard of that the local station was playing and it was all the old radio could pick up and the world could end. The world was going to end. And in an abandoned house he had danced with a falling angel to a song he couldn't remember and he had never been as happy in his life.
He hated himself right then.
Sam was in Hell and he was in Cicero and was it his brother he was thinking of, no, it was his angel, not his any more, the new sheriff of heaven. The guilt was as large and endless as an ocean, and he knuckled at his eyes to stop the sick feeling in his stomach. He thought he might throw up all over Lisa's crisp cream Berber rug. "I'm in Hell too, Sammy," Dean thought to himself, "and Cas isn't going to save me this time."
The wagon that Dean had cobbled together wasn't waterproof so when the rains came the children were miserable, bored and damp as well. Dean shed his own leather coat to make a kind of shelter for them, under the fabric that he had strung up as a roof, but still he found himself pulling up early under a piece of architecture that the years had almost completely demolished, building a fire and hoping for them to dry out. Even the two dogs who accompanied Hel everywhere seemed annoyed at the rain and took delight in shaking the worst of the water from their fur directly onto Dean as he tried his best to rub the water from Little Bobby's hair causing the child to explode with laughter. And if Dean, motivated by the sound, crushed the baby to him with a laugh and a hug he could certainly claim that it was just instinct, not that he was becoming fond of them.
He sat down beside the fire as it started to get dark, the last of the roast animal, he thought it was a tapir but he wasn't going to swear to it, roasting on the fire, the dogs happily chewing on the hind feet that Dean had wrapped for them. Little Bobby had not noticed when his comfort blanket had been changed from the bloody skirt of the corpse he had found them with for a piece of knitting that had at one time been the front panel of a sweater, and now dry and mostly clean he found himself in the well of Dean's thighs sucking on the edges happily. Little John was wearing one of Dean's shirts which came down around his knees like a dress and Dean thought, for the thousandth time, that the first thing he was going to get on hitting civilisation was children's clothes. Lots of them. Little Bobby might not care if he was naked, and Dean could go topless for a while, but Hel was another matter. She had refused, point blank, with her one eye scrunched shut and her little feet, black with dirt, stamping and would not remove the stained dirty soaking dress she was wearing.
There were so many reasons why he should just take a deep breath and strip her, even if he had to cut the dress off her, but he understood. Hel had lost everything, she had, though it was just a matter of time until they found a physicker and had it removed, so that she lost her eye. The only things she had in this world were the silly little doll that Dean had made her and the dress on her back that stunk of old gore and damp and wet dog. He didn't know what to do, but he knew that she was traumatised, but she was only a small girl he could manhandle her. He had tried to explain but he was pretty sure that what communication that they had was happened in two different languages. She didn't always understand him and she never spoke. He began to imagine that she had told her his name.
The rain was sheeting down, pouring over the edge of the concrete that emerged from the hill like a waterfall. Little Bobby was laughing in the crackle and spit of the fire, and Little John, who was sat in the curl of the brindle dog - the one that disliked Dean the most - was playing with bits of stick and chattering away to Little Bobby about their adventures. Hel sat alone with the other dog, the grey one who could be bribed with bits of roast tapir fat, scratching at her head.
"Can I see?" Dean asked quietly. Hel pulled her hands away from her head like she had been caught doing something forbidden. "It might just need washed, but with the tangles it's hard to tell."
He had given the two boys hair cuts nearly three days before, but Hel had, with her typical stubbornness, refused. Her hair, which was past shoulder-length was a mess of curls, tangles and knots. Dean suspected that he would have to shave her hair if he couldn't get something to work out the snarls. His own comb didn't look nearly sturdy enough to manage and he knew it would be painful.
With a long suffering sigh Hel got up and sat in front of Little Bobby, between Dean and the fire. He tried to be careful as he parted the knots, some of them large enough to house mice and at least one as big as his fist, to see what it was that was making the child itch. She'd been scratching, trying to be subtle, on and off since he had found them. The louse ran across Dean's finger and he damn near yelled out. "Okay, Hel," he said and pulled the shears from his pack, "you are crawling with lice, I'm sorry, but the hair has to go," Hel threw her hands over her head. "Do you know how to kill head-lice? because if you do I'm happy to do that instead." Little Bobby, climbing from his place in the well of Dean's crossed legs- he had been sat Indian fashion- moved over and said something in his baby speak- that wasn't quite the same as the language that the other two children talked to themselves in- and Hel sighed again, then lowered her arms.
Dean cut her hair away as quickly as he could to try and avoid hurting her. He threw the mattocks, for it was the only word he could think of that applied to the clumps of hair, still seething with insects, not just lice but beetles as well he noticed, into the fire where they burned up quickly. "Once," he started in a low sing song voice, "there was a couple who were going to have a baby, the baby made the wife very ill but they didn't have much money. The physician said that the only cure was to use a herb called Rapunzel but the only place it grew was in the witch's garden."
The day after the argument about Hel's hair dawned bright and clear, as if the gods had accepted the offering in exchange for the weather. Little Bobby with his face covered in grease from the left over roast maybe-tapir, refused to dress at all and ran off from under the overhang naked laughing causing Dean to chase him, because of this Dean didn't see Hel tug down one of the mostly dry pieces of cloth from the top of the wagon and shake it out. She tied it around her head like a scarf, so it covered her hair, shorn to the scalp to get rid of the lice, and with the bandage over her face she looked less like a child than a bundle of cloth that just happened to be mobile.
Dean looked at her with genuine guilt although nothing that had happened was his fault. She had sat in front of him as he had told her the story of Rapunzel, although he was sure he had made most of it up because he couldn't remember what had happened other than the witch had made her cut her hair and said "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair" but it was Dean that had shaved her head. It was Dean that tended the terrible loss on her face, and Dean who swore he'd never let anything happen to her again.
He promised to all of the gods, the nine who survived the culling and all those who had not, that he would find civilisation and find these kids a home because he didn't know what he was doing, even now he had a naked toddler stuffed under his arm as the kid laughed and laughed, he couldn't do it, god damn you, Castiel, he thought, I can't do this, god damn you to Hell.
Around mid day he found a small stream which they forded with the oxen unhappily tramping through the water, and because the day was glorious he pulled up early, lifted the children down from the wagon and ushered them towards the water. He couldn't do this, he wasn't set up to be a parent, he didn't know what he was doing, but this, letting them play in the water in the middle of a glorious day- that he could do.
Lisa made Dean go to therapy. He needed to. She had conceded that he couldn't just go to a normal therapist but she spoke to Bobby and he knew someone and Anita fit the bill. She run across hunters before and she and Dean agreed to a no bullshit policy and it was amazing how good it felt just to be able to talk to someone.
Anita had a sort of left over punk thing going on. She insisted on wearing plaid shirts that tied under her breasts and jeans that had been washed perhaps a hundred times too many. She had heavy boots and bright red hair that tangled if she so much as looked at him,and her freckles covered her face like an almost tan. She drank beer with tequila chasers and bit into the lime and ate burgers as big as her head with the mayo and ketchup running down her arms for her to lick up. She was brilliant and brave and saw through him like he was made of glass.
She was like Cas in that.
He started at the end and worked backwards, telling the story in a series of bars as old rock songs played with the occasional drunken attempt at karaoke. Sometimes they even took the stage.
He told her about Sam; about his dad; about Bobby. She listened.
That was the remarkable thing. She didn't ask him questions, or judge him. She just listened. She started telling him about how she had been at college when she had run across a goblin hive which left her with a six fingered scar on her thigh that she took him into a bathroom stall to show him.
She introduced him to her boyfriend, Tam, who had bright blue hair and the most annoying laugh in the world which he was prone to use all the time and it became adorable how he laughed at everything with joy and his innocence reminded him of Castiel.
Everything was a reminder of Cas.
He felt like a dick every time he made a move on Lisa, or he felt her fingers linger a second longer than they had to against his neck. It was a series of moves that he knew by rote and maybe Lisa did too because she played along. He accepted her kisses that tasted wrong, or the way her fingers felt too light and then he went to Anita, where she sat splay legged on her bar room stool, her office work long finished and changed out of her designer suits, fellating her beer bottle and knowing more about people from their bad attempts to sing along to classic rock than most did from a hundred years living together. She listened and if she saw his heart break when he heard Foreigner she didn't say anything.
Anita wasn't the one who asked the question that Dean had asked himself a hundred thousand times. "Why didn't you ask him to stay?" Tam asked, his hair seemed to be turquoise and green in the bar's lighting. He was wearing a tee that said "my favourite band doesn't exist any more" and drumming his finger tips on the table. "You loved him," he said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, "you did all these amazing things for each other, he died for you." He continued it, dragging out the words with vodka veritas. "Why didn't you ask him to stay?"
Dean didn't know what to say. "I promised." He said brokenly. "I lost Sam," he stared at the alcohol veneer on the table, "I lost everything. I had nothing left. I was done." He stopped. "And he suddenly was brand new, you can't know what it was like, I loved him, yeah, he dragged me from Hell." it was funny how when the words came they sounded so small, Dean couldn't remember that but it was still fucking epic and he knew it but the words were so small. "He had everything and I was done, Anita, I was fucking done."
She didn't offer him a smile, just pushed the beer over the table. "The thing with Lisa?"
"She's so kind," Dean said. "I," he stopped again, then picked up and emptied his beer. "Am I being a dick?"
"Does she want it?" Anita said blankly.
"Yeah," Dean answered. "She really does."
"Then if you're happy making do I ain't gonna be the one to stop you, it takes two to make a bed, Dean, but here's the sixty four thousand dollar question, if Sam or Cas or Bobby showed up at your door and said the world's ending we need you, would you go?"
Dean was silent for a long moment and in the background the karaoke machine started up with its familiar lament of II wanna know what love is/I. "No," he said finally. "I haven't got it in me any more."
Anita didn't judge him, she didn't question his decision, she just ordered another round of beers and left it at that.
That night was the first time he slept with Lisa, that he allowed her kisses and responded, and put his hands where he knew she wanted him to, on the curve of her back, her breast, the swell of her hip and the ridged planes of her ribs. He dipped his thumbs into the cotton of her panties, sliding them down her thighs to form a puddle on the carpet. He brought her to orgasm with tongue and lips and fingers, claiming stress and trauma and all the things that Anita quoted when he failed to get hard. She was understanding, lazy with orgasm and as Dean lay beside her on her bed, as she nuzzled into his neck and he lamented the loss, not of Castiel, but the peaceful easy feeling he felt afterwards in his arms.
Lisa wanted this, and apart from the sex it was good, it really was. He got on great with Ben and he sort of liked his job, it was nice to build things, to create them, rather than tear them down. He was good at it too, being promoted from general flunky to cabinet maker in the space of two months, even if he was only building carcasses now, and even now they were talking about sending him for more training that he could have more responsibility. Everything was falling into place, this was supposed to be the happy ever after. He had been there when the devil had been defeated even if he hadn't been the one to do more than distract him.
He was supposed to get the girl and live happily ever after.
He was supposed to, but he didn't
Anita had told him, while they were wandering around a gallery in the centre of town before they fell into one of the bars. "Maybe it's because I'm just old and jaded." At worst Anita was in her early forties. "But all I ever learned from love was how to shoot someone who outdrew you."
"Leonard Cohen?" Dean asked with a crooked eyebrow, "Really?"
She laughed. "I learned that there are three types of love, I mean I spend my life talking to people and once you get past all that mother father bullshit that they think that they deserve to waste my time with you get to the love stuff, and well there are three types. There's the obsessive compulsive type of love, that's all flash and fire and need, people do anything when they feel like that and it always ends up bad, usually in some sort of passive aggressive murder suicide pact or something, but that's the one people write books about.
"Then there is the second type, that's the one where you wake up one day and find out you've been married for like a hundred years and everything's comfortable and either you panic and run off with someone half your age or realise you're in for the long haul. That's the one that most of us end up with, but of course we fuck it up because we are supposed to expect the first one. Yanno."
"Then there is the third one, the true "true love", that's the one where you find your soul mate and everything's perfect and happy and you have these epic moments and its easy, there's the comfort and the passion and the way you step into each other's shadows without noticing, you start standing too close together, your fingers linger against each other, you catch each other's eyes and it's comfortable, and that's the love we should want but it's not as dramatic as that whole I'd die for you "Twilight", Taylor Swift bullshit so it gets ignored."
And that's what it came down to in the end, "with Lisa you can have that content love, the one that never changes, but with your angel you could a had the third one. But I'll tell you what, Dean, in that total honesty thing we have between us." She stared at the painting, if it could be called that, as it seemed to be several pieces of craft paper stapled together haphazardly. "If it had have been me, I would have shit myself, that kind of all encompassing passion, that universe colliding stuff, it terrifies the fuck out of me."
On the wall, stitched unto a piece of fabric that might have at one point been a wedding dress was an inscription. I"There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lover enters the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire.
A love story is not about those who lose their hearts but about those who find that sullen inhabitant who, when it is stumbled upon, means the body can fool no one, can fool nothing-not the wisdom of sleep or the habits of social graces. It is a consuming of one's self and the past." Michael Ondaatje"/I
Dean didn't know the quote or why it burned like ice when he read it, and why instead of some epic proclamations of love on top of a craggy cliff in a battlefield or whatever it was that people wrote those books about, it reminded him of Castiel. Of new lovers entering the habits of the other. It was a peaceful ease. It was what Anita had called True love.
Dean knew enough about human history, although he had probably forgotten more than Castiel would let these people learn, to know that people built their settlements on the edge of water. It took a day and a half to find the small farmstead and even then he was careful in how he approached them. He didn't even want to know how the four of them looked, half bedraggled, in a cart that was as much luck as craftsmanship and dragged by the most cantankerous ox that Dean had ever had the misfortune to meet. The two dogs were curled up in the back with the children who were already asleep by the time he saw their lights.
He waited until morning to approach them, talking first to one of the farm hands before he moved towards the main house. He needn't have worried, they welcomed him in like he was family.
The children were set down with bowls of steaming porridge made with milk taken fresh from the cow and glasses of it mixed with honey. He himself was given ham and eggs and a bitter bright red tea that the old matron assured him was good for him and he was to help himself to the honey if it weren't sweet enough. It was so nice to run across people, adults, for the first time he found himself talking, not telling them the story of Castiel, his grasp of their language old but usable, but instead of what had happened to the children and how they came to be in his care.
An older woman took the children to the bathhouse assuring Dean she had clean clothes for them and he felt relaxed, even as the younger farmhand, the old woman's son, was sent on his way to fetch the physicker to see if there was anything to be done about Hel's eye. She had measured Dean up with her eyes and found him some old clothes of her husbands which were worn but looked like they might fit.
"Ain't nothin to be done about the girl not speaking," the matron said, sucking on her pipe, it was a mechanical motion made with a wet smacking noise. "'Appens sometimes when they see the bad in the world, she'll talk when she's good and ready." She scratched at her leg under her apron, hitching up the fabric to do so, "babe's ain't suited for the world, and with them Careemites 'bout, probably what happened to 'er village."
"Careemites?" Dean asked. He recognised the name in it.
The old woman smiled at him with a toothless mouth. "Some fella out west decides he's the husband of the god Careema," she said and then turned her head to spit into an earthenware amphora that she used for the purpose, "said the world needs to burn in her honour, gots folks out killin and rapin in her name." Dean clenched his teeth. "Now, I's an old woman, seen the years go by quick as that, but sommat tells me you ain't exactly 'appy to be told that."
"It breaks the conclave." Dean said and then sure that no one else was around he lifted his sleeve and pulled away the cloth he wore there to hide the mark. "I'm sure you know the stories."
"Enough to suspect." The old woman said, "but I ain't got to this age by being no fool, you goin' to march up to their house and tell em that."
"No," Dean said, "I'm going to do this." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Kali, I call you, I ask you to open your eyes and see what is done in your name."
The fire crackled and spat but when they turned back the goddess sat in the kitchen sniffing at the tea. She wore black and around her waist was her belt of small silver skulls. "What do you want?" She asked. She had a brittle violent beauty and stood aloof from everything, careful of how anything might touch her.
"There is a cult," he said, "men armed with fire, they are razing villages in your name. What are you going to do about it." He met her gaze and wouldn't let it drop, as she considered it, with her black eyes narrowed and saliva shining on her lips.
"One moment," she said and vanished.
"You kin stay here," the old woman said, gumming away at the end of her pipe, "you and the bairns both, we could always use another hand come 'arvest and my Miri ain't far off marryin age." For a long moment Dean considered it but when he opened his mouth to answer Kali reappeared in the kitchen, this time with the god Heimdall beside her. Heimdall was built like a piece of furniture, tall, square and imposing, he wore full armour which creaked and moaned as he moved. His white eyes seemed to scan the kitchen. Both gods were covered in blood. "Why ain't it a day for ole me," the woman said, "two gods Iand/I a consort in my kitchen, you'll esscuse me if I don't get up, ma old bones 'ey ain't what 'ey used to be." she sounded slightly sarcastic.
"You speak bravely, woman." Kali said in her high voice but Dean couldn't miss the blood that spattered her gown.
"Me," the matron asked, "I ain't one to sass gods in my kitchen, now will you be 'avin tea? brewed fresh it is."
Heimdall's laugh was a dull boom filled with warmth, "Aye, lass" he said sitting down at her table, almost filling the bench entirely with his bulk. "I'll have some of your tea."
"You spoke true, Dean, they were using my name to commit their atrocities. I owe you." Kali said, sniffing at one of the milk cups with disdain. She walked over to stand beside the table, but still did everything to remain aloof.
"There is a child," Dean said bluntly, "she calls herself Hel, she lost an eye."
"I can't restore it." Kali cut him off. "I am a god, there are laws about what I can and can't do. You know that."
"Just heal it, stop it weeping and so she doesn't die, okay." He said, "Me and Ida here won't tell a soul. It won't break the law."
Kali lowered her head and nodded. "It is done." She said. She tilted her head. "I will not tolerate such again."
"How didn't you know?" Dean asked.
"I am only a god," she answered and vanished back into the darkness, leaving Heimdall at the table in his armour drinking tea and eating the bread and butter that was left on the table like he hadn't seen food in a millennium The old woman, Ida, just creaked out of her chair to fetch him more with a dry chuckle of "gods in my kitchen", and then asked the warrior if he wanted some stew when it was done. Dean envied her the calm she had in the face of two of the most terrible of the gods, but then realised that they wouldn't have hurt her. She was under Dean's protection.
Castiel appeared before Dean in his godhood, looking for all the world exactly as he had always done, except for the silver knife that Sam had rammed through his belly. He said something about kneeling and worship but Dean didn't hear him. he just looked beatific and for a moment so beautiful Dean couldn't really look away. Then he vanished.
"Do you think he's dead?" Sam asked, but even he didn't believe it.
"No," Dean answered calmly. "He'll be back. He always is."
It took less than a week. Five days, eight hours to be specific, but Dean wasn't counting. He appeared in their no-tell motel as they were sitting down to eat. Every breath felt counted but Castiel just appeared before them wearing of all things a blue cashmere sweater which really made his eyes pop. And damn if Dean didn't hate himself for noticing that.
Sam lunged with all of the pressure of the last few weeks culminating in his flash-fire rage. Dean was tired and he didn't know where Sam got all that hate from. Looking back over the last year how many of the times Dean had doubted Cas, had done more than just push him away out of hurt and longing, had been at Sam's instigation. How many times had the doubts been Sam's?
"Oh, Sam," Castiel said and placed his palm, like a snake strike, upon Sam's forehead and then Sam wasn't there any more. Dean was fixed in place, he didn't know what to do or what to say. "I haven't killed him." Castiel said and pulled out the chair that Sam had been sat in, and sat back, crossed his legs. His entire mien and demeanour had changed, his body language loose. "I have just sent him to his reward." He lifted Sam's half drunk cup of coffee and then replaced it on the Formica "We need to talk, you and I." Everything about him was different, but there was colour in his cheeks and light in his eyes, and the bob of his Adam's apple against the round collar of his electric blue sweater. "Without interruption."
"Where's Sam?" Dean asked.
"France." Castiel replied blithely, "in the year of our lord 1238, just outside Paris, where he is a knight in the service of his king. He has no memory of you or of hunting. He will, has, did, marry and have children. Eight of them in fact. You may even find him in your history books. I have also relocated Bobby to a period where he may share a simple life with his beloved wife." He smiled to himself. "They were my friends, Dean, and I would have them happy, even if Sam never really liked me that much."
"And where are you going to send me?" Dean's hand was clutched around the handle of the knife he wore at his waist.
"Nowhere." Castiel answered. He laid his hands on his legs. "We are going to talk, and you are, for once, going to listen." He tilted his head. "you may find right now that you have no voice with which to interrupt." Dean was fixed in place by his gaze, the words turning to ash in his throat. "Every time I try to talk or to explain you have talked over me, you have ignored me. It's no wonder that Sam fought you and raised Lucifer, you never listen." That was a lover's ire. "You assume you know best and," he stopped, "I am changed, I know different now."
"You killed Balthasar." Dean fought to get the words out.
"No," Castiel corrected. "I didn't. I consumed him. I made him a part of me although it was against the highest law for angels. I did it before I did the ritual and unleashed purgatory. I did it that I might understand you." He frowned. "Everything I have done, Dean, I have done it for you, I even let Crowley go so you could chase him for I know you love the hunt. Do you understand?" It was rhetorical and Dean didn't have any words, he looked at the table- his head bowed under the weight of Castiel's determination.
"After," he stopped, "after Stull cemetery the first thing I did was go to Hell, and I saved your brother. No," he stopped himself, "that was the second thing. the first thing I did was go to Cicero."
"What did you do to Lisa?" Dean asked, his hand was a fist around the knife handle.
"I made her love you, she was what you wanted." The "you didn't want me" hung unsaid in the air. "You promised Sam and I wanted you to be happy. you never asked me to stay although I would have. You assumed you knew best and I would be happiest in heaven. So I gave you what you thought you wanted. That done I went to Hell, for you. It was me that sprung Sam from the cage, not Crowley, not God, me. I learned too late that I had left part of him behind. You see I thought," he stopped again, looking for the words, "I believed that if Sam came back that you would return, that you would summon me, that I would be allowed to love you again. I thought if he Sam came back then I wouldn't have had to follow Sam's selfish promise.
"Sam was always selfish with your love, he could not bear to share you with anyone but never really wanted it for himself." He looked at Dean and the look was impassive. "Put down the knife, Dean, I'm not going to hurt you and you're not going to hurt me.
"Sam was different, I didn't know it at first. I saw him that first night, he stood outside the house and he watched you and I waited. The hope nearly undid me. Then he walked away. So I returned to Heaven. Raphael was waiting." He took a deep breath through his nose and damn but Dean could smell him, sweet and citrus and musk and he wanted to listen to Cas, he wanted to sit in his presence and just listen. "He wanted to restart the apocalypse, mostly because he could." Castiel lowered his eyes to the Formica, "Beaten and terrified I turned to you as I had done so often in the past, I came to Cicero to ask your opinion. You seemed so happy that it was selfish of me to ask anything else of you when you had given so much, so I was resolved to do it on my own, because I didn't want to involve you. That was when Crowley made his offer to me."
He stopped. "I accepted because I wanted to save you. I don't think it was a mistake, I thought I could outwit him, betray him. I did. I wanted to think like you did, but you pushed me away when I tried to explain. I took the souls of Purgatory into myself for the most selfish of reasons, to save you."
"Yet, with my newly bestowed godhead I looked upon you and saw all that you were and I fled from it. You, Dean, drove back a god with the coriolis of what goes on in your heart, when all I ever wanted to do was make you happy." He stood up, straightened the crease of his grey trousers, so utterly different from the suit he had always worn. "I went to Joshua. I went to him looking for answers, but he had none to give." He stopped. "So I wandered for a while, I wandered the heavens and the cosmos. I found myself a prophet, a child," he smiled to himself, "he was in Sunday School and I asked him and he answered me, do you understand that, a child, barely out of diapers and he understood where the greatest of the angels did not."
Dean couldn't not look at Castiel, he could not tear his eyes away even as that scent, so fresh and clean and male overwhelmed him.
"He said good people go to Heaven, and bad people go to Hell, but sometimes people aren't good enough or aren't bad enough to go to either, so they go to Purgatory and when they've been punished and are sorry they get to go to heaven too." Castiel smiled to himself, a little half smile like the one he used to get when he was with Dean and considering things he kept to himself. For a moment Dean was jealous that someone else, even a child, could earn that smile. That smile was Dean's dammit.
"So I returned to Joshua and told him what I had learned and he showed me something, a part of Heaven we had always been forbidden to enter, a part that we could never remember, sealed off within our own minds - the very door to purgatory and how it had been sealed by the angels themselves. I understood then. Only Gods can forgive Dean, and the angels couldn't comprehend and it terrified them, so they locked the door and threw away the key, burning it out of their memories so they would not be reminded. So I purged those souls within me, they were human, you must understand, at some point, corrupted by the power of Eve, they were good but not good enough and after millennia they had suffered enough, so I opened the door, Dean. I tore it down. I gave them back Heaven and kept Eve's children within myself."
"Why are you telling me this?" Dean asked, he could keep his rage as much as he wanted to stand and wrap his arms about Castiel's waist, to bury his face in the soft fabric of his sweater and just breathe him in, and hold him in his lungs and never ever ever let go.
"Because everything I did I did for you. I understand it was my purpose, that it was why my creator made me, and why I suffered as I did, because if I had not I would have been pushed so to extremity and I would not have made the deal with Crowley and ultimately betrayed him, by following your example. I saved millions of souls, Dean, and I did it for you, although you can not understand it. So I would give you a gift, just as I rewarded Sam with a life of simplicity where he would be happy, and gave Bobby his wife back, even if it was in another time. I would give you this."
He moved then faster than the human eye and pushed Dean in his chair backwards until they fell to the floor with a clatter of limbs. He had his hand on the mark on Dean's shoulder and his lips against Dean's. "You are mine." He said, "no one shall have you, not even Death, you belong to me and I to you. I, alone, love you, I need you, and you are mine and I shall not let you leave me again."
Dean tried to push him off but it was a weak vain attempt. "you showed me, Dean, what love is, and I will have no substitutes. What I did," his breath was soft against Dean's face, hot and balmy, softly clove scented, kissing him between words, soft brushes against his eyes, his eyebrows, his nose. "I did in your name and you will love me. There will never be another Lisa, there will be no one else." He nipped at the soft flesh of Dean's earlobe with his kisses. "You are mine, forever."
Castiel tore open Dean's shirt, pushing it back and laying those biting hornet kisses, sharp quick things, across the skin of his neck and chest. "Mine," Castiel murmured into the skin and this was the first time in eighteen months that they had touched. And Dean couldn't say why he brought his arms up around Cas's neck, only that he did, and he didn't balk when Cas lifted him with such ease he might as well have been a piece of paper and laid him on the bed. "Mine," Cas repeated, "love," and "forever" and other words or threats or promises or whatever they were into the folds of Dean's skin and the follicles of his hair.
Cas kissed his promises into the creases and divots, the scars and the ridges of hard skin. He scraped his devotion with fingertips over the nubs of ribs, the planes of muscles and ticklish flanks and the dip of his pelvis. He dragged it with the calluses of his palm over the hot loose skin of his cock and scratched it through his pubic hair. this wasn't sex, Dean realised through the fog of touch and need and want and oh god I missed this so fucking much, this was a reaffirmation. This was Cas staking a claim. This was Castiel finally understanding what love was and how Dean had been the one to show him.
"No one can want you like I do," Castiel said as he pushed inside Dean with too little prep, too little lube, "no can need you like I do, if it takes all of eternity," he thrust hard, "to," another thrust, "teach," another, each word punctuated with the motion and there was no pain, there was only bliss and need and want because Castiel was a god, "you then I will happily spend it."
And Dean could feel the bliss burbling up in him in waves that were timed to Cas' thrusts and he didn't understand why he had thrown this away, why hadn't he asked Cas to stay when he could have had this; When he could be loved like this? This, Dean realised, as Castiel's thrust pushed him right up against the headboard, the only thing stopping his head connecting was the force by which Dean held it, was his happy ever after.
Dean stayed long enough in the farmstead with the river that he saw Hel grow into a fine woman with a smile though she never did talk. She waved off her potential suitors with a silent laugh and a smile and Dean sometimes tried to remember the force of the little girl who had told him her name was Hel but he couldn't remember the sound of her voice or if he had even imagined it.
He helped Little Bobby and Little John, who suddenly weren't so little any more, to build a water wheel to grind their flour and waded into the rice paddies without care. He rode their mules into town and did his best to haggle.
"Are you happy?" he asked the moon high and bright in its satin sky, "Cas, are you happy?" And he felt the lack of him like an ache low in his belly.
Miri married a young buck from the town, although she still smiled at Dean in a way that suggested perhaps she wouldn't mind so much giving her husband a cuckold's horns, and sometimes the way he looked at Dean it looked like he might have happily participated in the adultery. Dean had had no other company than his own hands for such a long time he even, once or twice, considered it.
He lay on the top of the barn he had helped raise and as he had always done, talked to the moon after marking out the date on his calendar sticks. "I want to know that you are happy, that after all this time, all these long years that you're happy. I think," he stopped, "I'm pretty sure that I am, I love it here, with people who love me and don't care that I don't age." He stopped. "I heard a large bird in the forest today when I was helping Hel with the mushrooms, for a long moment I hoped it was you. My babies, the ones that Hel foisted off on me are going to grow old and die and I'm not going to change, hell, Little Bobby's taller than me and he's married with babies. And Hel, she's so beautiful."
He took a deep breath, letting the chill settle in his chest before he exhaled in a cloud of steam. "I miss you and I hate myself for it. I hate you for what you did to me. Of all the things you could have done, all of the horrors you have wreaked, you left me alive to see it. I left your tower to hold the hands of people your plagues killed as they died. They sing songs about me, and I'm so far gone from human that I know them though I've never been anywhere to hear them sung. They sing of us because you're a god because you didn't come to me for help." An owl hooted forlornly in the distance. "I hate you." Dean continued, "I hate you so much because I fucking love you and I told you I wasn't worthy of it, you fucking went to hell for me, twice, you saved me a hundred times over and you made me fucking immortal and all you gave me was guilt that something so fucking amazing could do all of that for me." He could feel the tell tale prickle at the back of his throat, the sting of his eyes that suggested he was going to cry. "You son of a bitch, you couldn't just," he wiped angrily at his eyes trying to push back the sob that was forming, "you couldn't just love me could you. I couldn't just ask you to stay."
Castiel had once told him that absolving the souls in Purgatory was their true purpose, that all that had been before had been to prepare them for that. That those millions upon billions of souls tainted by Eve had been more than worth their sacrifice and he held their monstrous nature within himself, calmed and quieted by his angelic nature. He had sacrificed himself again and again for humanity and even now he stood judge over those powerful enough to control it.
"I love you," Dean said, "and I miss you so fucking much it hurts but when I'm with you I'm not me, I'm this simpering fucking thing that doesn't exist outside you and I want to go back to the tower, to go back to you, but I fucking can't because," he stopped, "because I," he took a sucking breath through his nose, "because I'm not fucking good enough for you."
They called the young man Storm because his name was unpronounceable and he had arrived in the midst of the worst storm that the family had seen in a generation and he was in love with Hel. It was so obvious in the way that he looked at her, the way he smiled and the light in his eyes. He was shy in her presence and more than once threw his cup of the bitter red tea over himself as he tried to approach her.
Dean thought it was adorable.
He spoke with a thick accent and called Dean Deyn and believed the sun rose and set in Hel's eyes, so Dean didn't really mind. Storm cornered him in the barn as he was moving hay to feed the beasts, more than one had been sired by Dean's own, now dead, ox. "Hel is in love with you." The boy accused. "At least do the decent thing and break her heart before she's too old."
"It's never that simple, kid." Dean answered calmly, he turned and wiped his hands clean on a cloth he kept in his belt. "Hel's," he stopped, "she's..." he nearly said daughter but it wasn't right. "I'm never going to make a move on her."
"Then leave." Storm said fiercely. "She'll never stop whilst you're here. At least let her get over you."
Dean lowered his eyes. "I've known her since she was five, I am the one who found her in the remnants of her village after the Careemites destroyed it. It's not love, it's hero worship." He corrected the boy, "Hel's barely more than a kid, she doesn't know better." He went to push past Storm, "you wanna marry her, you have my blessing. I belong to someone else."
"Is she that great, Deyn?" the boy asked, "that she's worth breaking Hel's heart over, leading her on like this."
"He is," Dean answered, and the turn of his mouth was cruel. "He's divine."
"Dean!" one of the children said running up to him, "there's a man here for you, he's wearing armor, he says he's from the queen, he says she wants to see you." It all came out in a rush as she wrapped her arms about his waist. "Is the queen beautiful, I've heard that the queen's beautiful, that she's just so lovely and she wears pretty jewels and ribbons and..."
"I've never met her." Dean answered smiling down at her.
"Please, Deyn," Storm said, "remember what we talked about." Dean just turned his back on him and wondered if he would have done that for Castiel, if he would have asked someone else to walk away.
There are ten soldiers upon black horses wearing heavy armor. they had rounded up the entire household of the farm and were holding them with pikes. These, Dean guessed, were the Careemites. One of them has Hel by the hair. Hel's fierceness had turned on them it seemed. "I believe you're looking for me." He said in what he intended to be his calmest voice.
"You are Deyn?" the man asked, his accent was thick and rough, like ashes in his mouth and gravel in his throat.
"I am." Dean answered calmly. "I'll come with you, you don't need to threaten these people, they are good people." He put his knife on the floor and stepped away from it. "I don't need to be coaxed with hostages. I'll come with you." Storm, held back by the spears, looked on with disbelief. He had asked Dean to step aside, but nothing else, and certainly not this.
The guard offered Dean his hand to pull him pillion on the horse he road and Dean took it. Then as he turned his horse to go the soldier clearly said, "kill them all, burn the livestock and fields. Bring the girl." Dean went to get down from the horse. "Move," the guard said, "and I'll kill her and I'll kill everyone we pass on the way. Our Queen has given us very specific orders."
"I was going to come with no effort."
"But where's the fun in that." The guard said.
"I'll kill you." Dean told him bluntly.
"I imagine so." the guard said. "It doesn't matter either way to me."
Linor was the queen of the Careemites, she called her kingdom Carima after their goddess and she lay supine upon a couch. She was much younger than Dean had suspected, barely out of her teens. The fabric she wore was thin enough to highlight her body and thick enough to leave most things to the imagination. Her hair was a soft golden coppery color he hadn't seen in this part of the world in a long time but he didn't think it was dyed.
"You are the one they call Deyn," the way she said it there was no way it was a question. "We are sorry that you did not accept our earlier summons."
"Sorry, Lady," Dean answered trying to appear calm whilst he worked out her defenses, the soldiers that lined the walls and the pole-axes they carried so calmly. "This is the first one I've got, so how can I help you?"
Linor licked her lips and swung her legs down to the floor. "you are much more comely than we were led to believe, perhaps this might not be such a difficult negotiation. There is much we can offer one such as yourself," she parted her ankles in a deliberate show of eroticism. "We are yet to take a consort and we could offer such wealth as you can not dream."
"Look, lady, I don't want wealth, if I did I'd have it. What do you want?"
Linor laughed, a deliberate high peal that carried no humor "Quite simply, Deyn, we wish what every one wishes for, we wish to live forever."
Dean turned, preparing to leave. "Can't help you, love." He said.
"Stop," her high girlish voice was a thunder crack. "We are informed that you have lived without aging for at least fifteen years. Is that untrue? Shall we ask again?" There was something in the way she said it that made it sound like torture.
"I can't help you." Dean answered, "and it's not something you want. I'm just," he pulled his hand away.
"Then perhaps you need some encouragement." She nodded to one of the guards, he dragged the girl in by the hair but when her head was jerked back Dean could see it was Hel. She had been beaten and the patch that covered her eye was gone showing the polished pink of scar tissue. Her lip was split and she spat blood on the floor. His beautiful, defiant Hel. "If you will not tell us we shall kill her, as we have killed everyone else at that farm where you lived, then we shall go to the next farm and kill everyone there, one by one until you tell us."
"I can't help you," Dean repeated, "ask the gods."
"The gods killed my father," she spat, "tore down his temples, even his beloved Carima, do you think I am so foolish as to repeat his mistake." She had, in her temper, lost the royal we. "The Gods have no use for us, we are merely pawns in their game. I would live forever, that all might look at me and despair."
"You silly, silly child." He said stepping towards her with careful measured steps. "You have no idea what it is to live forever. First of all see your guards, you'll watch them all grow old and die, and their kids, and their kids, and theirs too. That's not even the worst of it, one day you'll be talking to someone about your father, the one you seem to worship above all else, and you won't remember what he looks like. We're not gods, kid, we forget things, we're not meant to live forever. And what if you go mad, and nothing can kill you. You lose everything again and again and again and you want that. You stupid girl."
"We are not a girl, a kid or a child." Linor growled, "we are a queen." She tried to correct her posture to the stiff one she expected a queen should have and her hair, which was so elaborately braided merely looked ridiculous. She looked like a little girl on the verge of a tantrum.
Dean laughed, he couldn't help it. "Alright, kid," he said, "I'll tell you how I did it, first of all you have to be born to host a creature that doesn't exist here any more, and then you've got to make sure you die three times. Once by the heart, once by the head and once for ever. Spend the next forty years in hell. Then it helps to defeat the devil, even if it's only by luck, then you have to be there when someone opens the gates to purgatory and stand there to accept his love."
Linor's eyes tightened as the guard holding Hel stepped back. He whispered under his breath "you're the hunter."
"You have to be prepared to be the consort of a god. You have to be prepared to live without that love as you wander doing what you've always done and killing monsters. You want to live forever? you stupid stupid child." He was furious and his voice took that low deep tone it did when he was tired and angry. "I should kill you all, but I'm going to do something else instead because you're just, you're a fool, Linor of the Carimites, and for fuck's sake, her name isn't Carima, it's Kali-ma, at least get that fucking right."
Dean walked over to where the guard was holding Hel. "If you value your life," he growled to the man, "run, and take everyone with you." None of them moved.
Hel tried to smile up at him. "I know, kid," Dean said and smoothed back her hair, "and I'm so sorry."
"You can't do this." Linor screeched, lunging from her throne. "You don't understand, she's already dead, I knew you wouldn't give in easily." She raised her knife for a strike.
Dean turned and caught the queen's raised arm in his hand. "One, two, three," he continued until he reached ten, calming his breath and his anger. "Castiel, God of Arbitration and the Moon, he who was most servile, angel of the third dominion, I, Dean, the Hunter, whom you chose as your consort, call you. Castiel, most divine and most serene, I beseech you, come to me."
There was a sound not entirely unlike knives dragging against each other and Castiel stepped forward. "You called, love." He said in that soft voice. He had exposed his wings and the feathers which had once been so soft had been replaced with metal, each fiber was like wire and it made the terrible noise of sharp metal rubbing against itself as he moved. "Are you ready to come home?"
"Yes," Dean answered, and it was strange how his heart sung to say that word. "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes." He said, "but first this child has a request," he jerked Linor in his arms, "she wishes to live forever, she has slaughtered the family I made for myself to make me obey her. Has it been so long between us love that you do not remember how we react to such threats?"
Castiel smiled, with his eyes downcast, that soft secret smile that turned Dean's insides to jelly. How had he stayed away from him this long. "Yes," he looked at Hel, "come to me, child," he opened his arms, "as you are beloved of Dean then I love you too, come to me," she scrambled to his arms. He looked at Linor, "know also that I love you and I will make sure that all know of you and despair, and because I love you I shall honor your request, you shall live for one hundred years, but accursed," he burned a brand into her forehead with the palm of his hand, "those you love will die, those who trust you will be betrayed, and in one hundred years I shall return to you, I shall give you the chance to die and earn your paradise under Hel or Hecate depending on which you've earned. But for your kingdom I offer no such promises. Those who gather under your name will be crushed under heel. Any children you conceive will be dashed against the floor. For the gifts of gods are double edged, but you shall have one hundred years to make your decision. Choose wisely."
"I shall live forever," she said raising her head in pride. "I shall be a god."
"Be careful what you wish for, little girl," Dean said, arm wrapped around Castiel and god it felt good for it to be there. "You just might get it."
Castiel flicked his wings, the sound like knives scraping against armor, where each fiber of his wings had been replaced with wire, "now go."
As Castiel laid Hel down upon the couch which Linor had used as her throne, those servants who had fled returning to find the winged god appoint them a new queen. Then he turned to Dean, who had his fists clenched.
"Why did you wait so long, Cas?" he asked, even as his hand reached out to touch Castiel's exposed wrist, the sleeve pulled back to show the skin.
"You did not ask me to come." Castiel said as if it was the simplest thing in the world, and perhaps to him it was, "I want you to be happy, Dean, everything I have done I did to make you happy, I once told you that I did it all for you, that has not changed. Now, love, come home with me." And Castiel kissed him and Dean wanted to swoon, because it had been so long, so very long, and as Castiel pulled him close the calendar sticks he wore in the bag at his waist clattered to the floor.