This is set literally right after the season finale (which I loved, due to the abundance of Crazy Castiel). So, if you're not caught up, this won't make a single snickerdoodle of sense.
The cliff-hangers always kill me, so I had to keep it going in my own mind, lest I perish from pent-up creative energy. Right now it's a one-shot, but I always say that don't I...? And it rarely stays that way. So we'll see if I've just cursed myself.
Ignore any teensy-weensy mistakes - I just got off a late shift at work and have a sudden urge to post this, grammar be damned. Hope you guys like it!
There was laughing, awful laughing. More like a maniacal chuckle... and pulsing...and Castiel just beyond, looking vindicated, looking true again. Then, bright white light.
Then just... black.
Last Man Standing
Dean startled awake as if from a long, pervasive nightmare. In reality, the nightmare was life, and his brief unconsciousness was a blissfully oblivious minute of silence and nothing. He opened his eyes into darkness, met with foreboding silence, and for a split-second wondered if perhaps the voice which roused him, demanding and so deeply familiar, had only been a dream.
Despite the lifelong ache of exhaustion in Dean's bones building the desire to simply give up, to sink into the earth and let it swallow him up, instinct took over. He was too well trained for it not to. Dean clamored upright, the feeling of cool, stony earth under his knees and dry leaves under his hands registering slowly. He looked around the blackened forest, feeling the dust of its mossy bed on his palms, rubbing his fingers against them absently as his eyes darted in every direction.
He didn't know where he was.
There was a brief spike of panic, wherein Dean squinted through the dark, racing to force his brain to put the pieces of his memory back together. But everything came back in a Picasso-jumble, thanks to the sharpness of the realization of his frail mortality, thrust front and center.
Wherever he was, he was alone, he was mostly unarmed, and most terrifying, he couldn't see through the seemingly moonless night. Dean could feel his breath coming faster, his chest starting to tighten. He turned and turned -
Then he saw him. Castiel, standing directly before him, plain as day. The only thing that could be seen in a place apparently made of shadow and indiscernible blur.
Dean would say he'd never been so happy to see him, but he could remember several such instances just the same.
Relief struck hard and fast; a sighing Thank God moment he wouldn't dare admit to out loud. Dean knew, the only thing worse than being in a dark, foreign, nightmare, is being there alone. And despite the sordid past, Dean was glad for Cas' presence in this unknown place.
Cas spoke to him, but the words came to Dean slowly, his mind still reeling from shockwaves the memory of which he was struggling to piece together.
Cas spoke again, and Dean spoke in return, but his mind was still a jumble and his own words came out before his brain connected to them. Until Cas connected dot A to dot B, and Dean shuddered to a halt with realization.
"Wait, we're in Purgatory?... W'how do we get out?"
"I'm afraid we're more likely to be torn to shreds," Cas deadpanned.
There was a rustle, just the slightest shift to the dried leaves to his left. Dean peered uselessly through the dark hoping to catch a glimpse of what threatened to eat him alive, or worse. And when he could find nothing, and turned back, he was alone.
Castiel was gone.
As quickly as relief had struck, terror gripped and twice as hard. Dean's heart leapt in fear, his eyes darted every direction, catching not the sight of his fallen friend, not the sight of blue, complex eyes, but finding instead sets of red, hungry, basely animal eyes.
Dean stilled, awareness heightened, and reached for his gun. He cursed under his breath when it wasn't there. He reached for his knife, pulling it out slowly and holding at the ready, knowing it wouldn't do much for him.
Three pairs of eyes - one at his twelve, another at his three, and another at his nine, leaving and obvious hole directly behind him. He couldn't help but feel as though they wanted him to flee. And Dean, being the son of a military man, loathed to run unprepared into terrain he was unfamiliar with.
But he didn't see much choice.
He stilled a moment longer, and then he ran. Dean turned and darted through the forest as fast as his legs could carry him. And he did surprise himself with the momentum he managed, especially given that his body felt oddly heavy and square, as if his muscle were mere bulk instead of strength that would help him.
When his chest began to ache and his breath came out in a puff of white mist, despite the unnatural heat and oppressive mugginess to the air, he threw a glance behind him to find the eyes were gone. He stopped, looking back the way he came, finding it silent and motionless.
He dared to hope he had outrun them.
It was a short-lived hope.
A branch snapped behind him. He turned to find a pair the red eyes, swaying slightly, not five feet in front of him. He tightened his grip on the knife, and poised to attack - better one now, than three once the others caught up. He gathered his courage and took a breath, but before he could take the step he was halted, by the low rumble of a growl at his left.
The second creature hovered, not three feet from his left shoulder. He could feel its breath. It made a gutteral sound - something between a panther's roar and a feral dog's snapping growl. And Dean didn't know how he knew, but he did - this awful sound, was the monster talking to the third of them. And Dean could feel its presence behind him without having to look.
He was trapped. These things, they were hunters. And Dean got the distinct impression, as they rumbled around him fiendishly, that he was about as easy of prey as they got here. But that didn't mean he had to make it any easier.
Before they could attack, Dean whirled around, slashing blindly a the third monster, hearing its hissing whine and hoping it was a distraction enough for him to run.
He only got ten feet before a clawed limb slapped him off course like he was made of paper and stuffing, sending him sprawling against a tree. Dean landed face down in the forest floor, his body crying out for a moment to recover. He scrambled to turn over and got into a sitting position with his back against the tree, still clutching his knife.
The monsters growled and swayed before him, before moving close to one another. The red eyes, the only part he could clearly see, seemed to shudder, almost vibrate, as they got closer together.
Suddenly the eyes broke their formation, separating from their pairs and slithering around each other. Dean could do nothing but stare, horrified, at the sight he struggled to comprehend. The sound of growling intensified, and there was the sound of bones breaking and muscles tearing as the eyes came together, two sets of three, and began to rise high off the forest floor. The growling deepened, the breath of the monsters came out in a singular huff Dean could feel from ten feet away.
His stomach twisted - his three moderately small enemies had converged into one, massive, ruby-orb-eyed monster.
He scrambled up and ran while he could hear the thing still building itself. But his head-start didn't get him much leverage. He could hear the pounding of the monster's steps behind him, could feel his pulse in his forehead, knowing he was bleeding, still reeling from the last hit he took. His heart leapt into his throat as he saw before him, a wall. A sharp, jagged, impossibly high mountain wall. As he came upon it he slowed -
Climb or deviate?
He reached out to climb, but pulled his hand back with a curse, finding even the smoothest part of the cliff-face was like razorblades to his scaleless human skin.
He dared to look back, and a hole in the canopy of the forest's trees allowed a sliver of red light to shine on the monster.
It was something he'd never seen before, something the sight of, he couldn't understand - something whose insides were on the outside and seemingly made of steel and rotted wood. His mind was vexed, slowed by horrible fascination so that even when his body was itching to run, he couldn't.
The monster slowed when it came upon him - trapped, such east prey. It raised a solid, crooked limb and brought it screaming down toward him. Dean dove out of the way, not sparing a glance to the cliff-face that all but crumbled under the monster's strength. He ran. To the side, back into the forest. But the monster was too close to him now. He knew he couldn't lose it, but he had to try. As he ran, he could feel the thing at his back.
Claws ripped through Dean's shoulder - no, it was much easier than that - they sliced. Like he were made of butter, rather than solid muscle and bone. The blow brought him down hard, and the scream he let out echoed damply through the thick air. He could feel when the claws latched onto the earth floor, pinning him, trapping him like a rat to a dissection plate.
He struggled in vein, jerking to tear his shoulder loose, making no progress except to further his injury. The thing moved lazily toward him, pompous in its slowness, until it stood over him, leering, watching him wriggle like a worm on a hook.
Dean registered the feeling of his blood seeping into the forest bed beneath him, spreading warm and wet beneath his back. He gripped the monster's claw in his hands, attempting in desperation to pull them from his flesh and free himself. But the monster could not be moved. It towered over him, and let out a gut-twisting howl, opening its jaws, splaying the rapture-like claws on its other limb.
Dean clenched his jaw, knowing this was it. He wasn't going to wriggle or plead. He stared up at the thing, with hate in his eyes and Fuck You on his lips.
Suddenly the thing screeched, like a kettle done for too long and at the same time like a choir of animals in indescribable anguish. The tips of his claws began to smolder and charr, floating away in ash as his eyes did the same. And the burns travelled seemingly magnetically toward each other until the beast was nothing but a sculpture of charr, and Dean cowered in its shadow, allowing for an inkling of hope before the thing crumbled before his eyes into a pile of ashen dust to reveal...
God's most complicated angel.
Dean could do nothing but stare up at Castiel. And Castiel stared easily back, expression blank. But his eyes betrayed the violent righteousness in his him, the instinct to defend and destroy, contained behind a carefully-honed mask.
Castiel seemed to feel that the moment went on too long, because his eyes flickered to the ground and away from Dean's. He crouched down over Dean, who was clutching his mangled shoulder, clenching his jaw to fight showing the pain, or the fact that his vision was beginning to haze.
"I thought maybe you took off on me..." Dean barely mustered.
A flash of something crossed Castiel's face - a kind of hurt, but laced with disappointment, more in himself than Dean. He covered it quickly.
"Come with me," he commanded, placing a palm on Dean's forehead.
Dean had the familiar sensation of tingling that comes when a limb falls asleep, but the pins and needles were over his entire body. He was almost used to the feeling of Cas mojo'ing all over Hell and creation at this point, but with the blood-loss and overall trauma of the day, the experience was newly disorienting. He opened his eyes to see they were inside a small cave. Castiel was leaning heavily against the cave's wall, wincing, looking dizzy.
"Cas?" Dean gritted out, his concern obvious. He didn't have time or strength to pretend he didn't care.
"I'm very far from Heaven's power," Castiel attempted to state blandly.
"What're you saying - you're cut off?" Dean asked, a definite note of panic in his voice.
"It's difficult to say," Castiel responded evenly. But Dean could see his jaw was clenched tightly.
Cas helped Dean onto the earthen floor of the cave, easing the man's weight off of his shoulders and helping him to fold his arm at his side with a wince and a bit-back grunt. As Dean moved minutely to situate himself as comfortably as he could manage, Castiel stepped back to look at him fully. Taking in the sight of the merely mortal man, barely an hour into the plane and already severely wounded, broken like a plaything made of uncooked spaghetti noodles, his brow furrowed.
"Perhaps I will regain some of my power. Recharge, you might say. But... it is entirely unknown to me. In a day's time, I could be as weak and vulnerable as you."
Dean looked up with a glare. "Great..."
There was a silence between them as both of their minds worked furiously, Castiel's eyes scanning the cave, Dean's scanning Castiel. Furtively as he could manage, of course. But the more energy he expended in being subtle, the more his head buzzed and his limbs trembled.
"You're different," he piped up suddenly, not sure if it sounded bitter or not.
Castiel turned to him, eyes and expression flat.
"You're like you were before," Dean added. "Since we got here. You're not... you're not loopy anymore."
Cas' expression never faltered, though something in his eyes went hard and dark. Enough so for Dean to go silent as well, even nervous.
Dean gave a deep exhale, fighting through the pain of his torn muscles and snapped bones, hanging exposed and un-set. He knew that if Castiel could heal him, he would have. He could feel as much from the regretful tension rolling off the angel as he moved to sit beside him.
The deep exhale aided Dean in realizing how light-headed he was. He thought back to the feeling of his blood leaving him, seeping into the forest floor, precious drops disappearing into the moss that would never have such need of it as he himself did. Dean imagined he may have lost a fatal amount. He was sad to realize, at this point, he wasn't even scared for his own life. Death might be a relief - especially if he was destined to live out his final days, God forbid years, on this Hell adjacent plane.
Earth was hard enough, and it was full of people. Why would Dean fight twice as hard to live somewhere twice as bad?
Sammy. That's why. He held onto the thought of his brother, alone in the world, and it gave him almost enough will to want to live. He could fake it at least, until he died. Which, with the way his head was spinning and body going heavy and numb, he thought may be sooner rather than later.
He felt Cas lay a hand on his shoulder. That was when he realized he had closed his eyes; he had to fight to open them at the sensation of the angel's touch. Cas hovered close to Dean, both hands pressed to his injured body, deep concentration on his face. Dean could feel a slight tingle - muscles trying desperately to mend themselves with the help of Cas' angelic power. It helped, a little, but not enough.
"'s ok," Dean slurred out, noticing the lowness of his own voice.
Cas looked at him with a hard expression, tucking his arm behind Dean, as if in hopes of situating him better to make the minimal magic work more.
Dean allowed himself to be moved about like a doll. He simply looked up at Cas, taking in the angel's familiar face, remembering all that had gone before.
There was a long moment of quiet, wherein Dean watched Castiel's expression, the angel's face hovering just above his own, so deep in concentration, so bothered with regret and a soul-deep anger that Dean recognized all too easily. He watched Castiel pretend not to notice him staring.
"I was afraid..." Dean whispered, "when I thought you'd gone away." Castiel looked, finally, into those barely-focused green eyes, listening intently. Dean said honestly, quietly, "You left me alone down here..." his eyelids fluttered, "You left me all alone Cas."
Dean's eyes flickered closed, and were slow to open again.
Even Castiel, with his rudimentary knowledge of human emotions, knew that Dean wasn't entirely just talking about when he'd disappeared on him a mere hour ago in this place. He felt a surge of something in his chest as he looked down at the man, a kind of pleading in his eyes - not a pleading for help, or save me. But one that said Tell me why. One that said they'd had something once, and Dean regretted it being lost, and hurt to know why it had been taken from him.
Castiel couldn't offer any answer. Not now. They didn't have the time, and it didn't matter anyway.
Instead Castiel pressed all four fingertips gently to Dean's temple, and the man's eyes fluttered finally shut as he settled down into their makeshift bed - a cave floor and an angel's trenchcoat. His breathing evened out and his brow mostly un-furrowed and Castiel knew he was asleep. But he didn't move from above the man. Instead he whispered, close to his skin, "I'm sorry, Dean."
The man's brow and mouth quirked down into a sad frown for a split moment before going smooth again, and unconsciously turning his face to Castiel's shoulder, breathing softly against his white hospital shirt.
Dean looked younger now, asleep like this. He looked innocent and uncomplicated and in such desperate need of protection. Castiel knew, better than anyone but Sam, how strong Dean was, how well he pretended as though he needed nothing, as though his life weren't a burden dragging his soul down and down until it hurt to smile. How cynical and rough it had made him. How unwilling to believe, to trust... especially now, especially after...after he himself had...
A ferocious, angelic surge of duty, responsibility, gripped Castiel at his core. The in-assuagable need to fix this, to protect the righteous man, to right his wrongs, burned through his every cell with more passion and more conviction than he'd had in so long.
The feeling of mission, of certainty, of right, seared through him like it had when first he'd met Dean Winchester.
Castiel knew then, that his days of watching the flowers and honeybees was over. He knew, in that moment, with Dean in a new Hell, once again laying broken and unawares in his arms, that this was his way back. Castiel would redeem himself, by finishing the job he had started four years ago.
Castiel would save Dean Winchester.