It's been one month, three weeks, and four days since Castiel abandoned Dean. Time works differently in purgatory, he knows this. But that that doesn't stop him from trying to cling to a semblance of continuity. To make up for the lack of clocks, lack of sun to cross the sky, stars to track the seasons, Dean had begun tracking his sleep patterns. Every time he slept for a significant portion of time, he cut a small groove into a small stick he carried in his back pocket. He counted those as days passing, counted how many days passed since he arrived in Purgatory. Since Cas had left him alone. If Dean was in the mood for hiding quietly, with nothing but his thoughts for company, he would admit that his tracking of the days was seriously flawed. After all, he had technically died several times, always starting again in the same small clearing, surrounded by trees and dark red eyes. But he just kept counting. No need to start over.
He was very careful counting the days. Very passionate about marking each passing time period. But if he was honest with himself, he counted the days so he wouldn't count his deaths. At first it was easy, simple, unconscious tracking. Then the numbers bled from three to seven, seven to thirteen, on and on...so he began to count the days. Some deaths, however, lingered in his mind, haunted his memories despite his attempts to wipe them from his mind. There was his first death. He supposed it stood out so clearly because it was the first, because it was unremarkable. Torn to shreds by the red-eyed beasts. Felt like being killed by the hellhounds all over again. When he woke again, whole and surrounded once more, he was quick to run.
The other deaths were much more creative, more insistent in his mind, harder to ignore. The time he heard a scream, sounding so human and fragile, young and cold blooded terror. He had run towards it without a second thought. When he arrived, he found what appeared to be a young girl trembling on the ground. When she - it - turned towards Dean, however, he saw it had no face. Just a pale, fleshy oval where her features should have been. Then her arms had shot out, stretched to impossible lengths and snapped his neck.
And still, this wasn't the worst death he had met. Once, he thought he saw Cas. He followed the dirty trench coat sleeves as they whipped behind trees, disappearing from sight as soon as Dean managed to lay eyes on him again. Dean had shouted himself hoarse, screamed until he felt something tear, but Cas still didn't stop. Then, abruptly, Dean skirted a thick copse of trees, and found Castiel crouched on the ground, hunched over his own knees. He was facing towards Dean, but his head was lowered, Dean couldn't see his face. He had a moment of panic, remembering the faceless creature, but then Castiel raised his head, and his bright blue eyes blinked at Dean, reassuring him. He had dropped to his knees then, so overwhelmed by finally having Cas beside him again. That was when Cas had stood. When his head lolled to the side, as if his neck was broken and could no longer support it. Blue eyes turned grey and Castiel threw his head back and laughed, a harsh, grating sound that was like nothing Dean had ever heard before. Before Dean had the chance to run, the Not Cas had sprouted several more arms, spindly long limbs with crooked joints and pointed fingers. The many limbed creature tore Dean apart, piece by piece, all while shrieking that broken glass laughter. After that death, Dean learned to ignore familiar sights and faces peeking between the trees. There had been an abundant amount of quiet deaths, too. Unremarkable, bloodless ones brought on by accelerated starvation, cold, asphyxiation. His most recent death had been one of the more natural ones. He climbed a tree to see how far the woods spanned in each direction. He had fallen and broken his spine. Instantaneous, painless, quiet. Something Dean was growing to appreciate.
Currently, Dean was hiding. He didn't feel like seeking a new way to die this lifetime, so he returned to the strange cave that seemed to accelerate hunger, and crawled inside. The gnawing in his stomach had just moved from uncomfortable to painful when he heard a shuffling noise from the mouth of the small cave. His entire body went rigid. This was unfair, Purgatory was going to take away his quiet death. Dean inched his way farther into the dark cave, pressed himself against the cold wall. He closed his eyes and prayed he would be left untouched. When a warm hand wrapped around his wrist, a quiet sob escaped his lips. He waited for the pain, the disembowelment. It never came. Only a quiet, urgent, familiar voice, speaking his name.
Dean's eyes opened, but his body still quaked with fear and adrenaline. The thing touching him looked like Cas. His voice was the low, scratchy baritone Dean was used to hearing. But he didn't trust it. The other thing had looked like Cas too. He found the plea escaping his lips before he had a chance to consider his own words.
"Please...just kill me."
He didn't recognize his own voice. It was raw and broken, the echo of a former man. As the creature stared at him, perturbed, Dean realized he hadn't spoken since Cas left. The only noises he had made in Purgatory were the shattered, pained screams and whimpers as the life was taken from his body, again and again. The thing in front of Dean gripped his wrist tighter, spoke more urgently. "Dean, quickly, we must leave." Dean's eyes tried to focus on the thing in front of him. It was closer now, and despite the sudden fatigue and nauseating hunger he felt, he could see how close to Cas the thing really was. It even smelled like him, like ozone and something heavy. Dean closed his eyes again.
"Why are you taking so long?" he whispered. He could no longer look at the creature with his friend's face. The thing pulled him away from the wall, closer to its own body. A hand moved to fall on the handprint Cas had left when he took Dean from hell, and a shock jolted Dean's body. He opened his eyes again, and tried to think, to form words with his starvation riddled mind.
"Cas?" the angel nodded, and began to pull Dean towards the mouth of the cave. Dean uselessly pushed against him.
"Cas...too late. Go back to where...,"
Castiel stopped pulling, and Dean's emaciated shoulders sank to the cave floor. "...when we first got here." he managed to whisper. Cas looked stricken, but then Dean's heart stopped and he didn't see him anymore.
He woke again, disoriented and wishing, praying that it really was the real Cas, when strong hands grabbed him and lifted him bodily to his feet. He barely had time to register the creaking of the trees around them, giving away the red eyed beasts before they attacked, when Cas's blue eyes were in front of Dean's, and their foreheads pressed together. Castiel muttered something in Enochian, an then everything was black. As Dean's vision faded and he felt his chest constrict, he thought that this death might be the cruelest of all. To think he was going to make it out alive, to see Castiel again, outside of the stasis of Purgatory. Then there was pressure behind his eyes and he didn't think anymore.
When he woke again, he was painfully aware of the silence. No creaking trees, no shuffling beasts. Complete and utter quiet. And it scared him. After every death he wakes up in the same spot, the same clearing in the forest. So why was this time different? What horrors would he be subject to now? Dean shuddered, and curled his knees up closer to his chest, turning and pressing his face into the ground. Or, what he thought was the ground. The surface he was on was soft. Warm, even. Then a hand landed on his shoulder, and Dean jerked away with a startled cry, and fell to a much harder surface. His eyes opened during the fall, and that was when Dean realized he wasn't in Purgatory anymore. He was in a motel room. He had just fallen off of the bed, and landed on the hard floors. Dean's eyes saw this, but his body couldn't quite believe it. The fear and adrenaline pumped through his veins, and he turned quickly to face whatever- whoever? Had touched him. A worn, exhausted angel looked back at him. Dean tried to speak, but his throat wouldn't work. It was too much, to be back in a dirty motel room, to wake up on on stiff sheets with Castiel standing over him while he slept. His body decided this was a stress Dean didn't need, and began shutting down.
Hours later, he woke again. This time, he didn't even have the chance to try and assess his situation. He was already being pulled into the arms of his brother, being forced into a crushing, tear soaked hug. Dean tried to reciprocate, he really did. But it's hard to feel relief in seeing your gigantor brother when you keep waiting for him to change into another unnamed monster. The seconds stretched into minutes, however, and Dean was still whole, Sam was still Sam. He caught few of the mumbled words Sam spoke into his shoulder, something about "so long", "Crowley", "spells" and "six years". Dean pulled his brother closer to him, held him tighter, afraid he would disappear. His eyes were wet when they glanced behind Sam to Castiel, who was standing on the other side of the room. When their eyes met, Cas smiled. His smile was warm and open, like he was immensely pleased.
That was when Dean knew it was wrong. That was when he tried to pull away from Sam, but arms grew tighter around him. The room shimmered around him, and disappeared, replaced with cold ground and shadowy trees. The thing holding Dean pulled away far enough for Dean to see it's face. The djinn smiled at him, and moved both hands to cup both sides of Dean's face. A thumb brushed over Dean's eyebrow, his chin. Still smiling, it whispered.
Then the venom took effect and Dean left consciousness.
He woke again. The same clearing, same trees. Same red eyed beasts shuffling in and out of sight. It was ridiculous, to think he would ever leave. To think Castiel would return for him.
Dean's bark of laughter, tinged with hysteria, rang out in the quiet.
He would never leave.