Author's Note: So this was written taking all the Comic Con spoilers into account, what little there were. I think a buzzer went off in all the guys' backs when they tried to say too much. It also takes into account the non-verbal spoilers of the actors' current appearances, namely Misha's epic amount of scruff and that he's obviously bulked up. Secondly! (some of you will get it, some will not) I took a bit of artistic liberty with the very end portion, specifically "the name" you'll see. I have no excuse.
That is all. Proceed.
Within the bowels of these elements, where we are tortured and remain forever, hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self place, for where we are is hell, and where hell is must we ever be. And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves, and every creature shall be purified, all places shall be hell that is not heaven.
The screams in Purgatory were different than the screams of Hell. To Dean, differentiating between the two was easy enough, but the precise level of damage each dealt was less quantifiable. In Hell, the cries were those of the damned, calling out for any modicum of reprieve. Purgatory was a melting pot of every wretched creature to ever walk the earth, a dangerous percentage of those being creatures Dean himself had been responsible for sending there. Dark cries echoed in a constant loop, averring pain and suffering to come. Here, Dean was utterly alone. There were no other humans foolish or wicked enough to exist here, to walk among monsters. The atmosphere was cleaner than Hell, but wrapped around his lungs like a snake, squeezing just right in a way that kept him constantly out of breath. The vegetation was dead; twisted vines and charred remnants of husks that had never really been alive. Black forests and deserted paths of hardened lava fields stretched ahead of him, eerie in design. There was no real cover, no dawn, and certainly no sanctuary of any kind. Within every tree, beneath every stone, something dark lurked in wait. New scars skipped along his flesh like unspeakable riddles, the ache of them always keeping him on the move, reminding him that no place was safe.
Every night, if time ever really flowed here, was a new conflict. Around every corner there was another ambush. Survival was the only priority, but seemed an unwinnable goal, especially after so long being trapped. Dean felt cast into the middle of war, a single soldier against an army of his worst nightmares. Impossible had always been something that he and Sam dealt with on a daily basis, but here, in this ruined place, nothing was sacred and certainly there was no limit to how desperate he could become.
Feeling much like a wounded animal on the run from its inevitable end, Dean picked up his pace. He moved at clipped bursts, intermittently ducking behind what little cover there was and tearing ahead with hardened determination. He was jagged around the edges, a human forced to fend in the dominion of beasts. How long would it be until he became what he hunted? What hunted him? It was only a matter of time before he would truly adapt to his surroundings. There was a whisper like needles down his spine, dry and humorless, drifting around him like smoke. He could sense the danger all around him but soon enough that almost shapeless voice took form. By then, it was too late.
In a jarring rush, the air was forced from his lungs as a larger body collided with his and hurled him at the ground. In seconds, Dean was surrounded.
Every bone in his body rattled at the shock, but adrenaline made him roll back onto his feet in an instant, heart pounding somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. He reached for his rudimentary weapon, some blade he'd stolen off a corpse, but it was quickly knocked from his hands and the smoky visages of three demons leered back at him. With them was a ruguru, a skinwalker, and some decrepit-looking spirit that hazed in and out of existence.
"Dean Winchester," the alpha demon uttered, stepping forward. The smoke curled around the others' somewhat humanoid shells, inky black eyes glaring into his and promising oblivion. Here, true forms clawed at whatever human shape the beings had once assumed, remnants leaking through. It left many denizens devastatingly disfigured, while others had already succumbed to the decaying influence Purgatory commanded, until they were eventually molded into something truly unrecognizable. The smell of sulfur and acidic musk filled the air, a rotten aftertaste burrowing on his tongue.
Dean bristled, but something inside him really churned at the company. He knew that face, despite the demonic essence fighting to break through. In addition, his time in Hell crept to the surface here, to the point where he could recognize true faces. It wasn't an advantage he enjoyed. Ahead of him, the voice grated on his ears, and even if none of these identifiers had screamed at him in warning, the demon's hauntingly yellow eyes would be enough. "Azazel."
"Looks like you're all out of lives, tomcat. You're on my turf, now."
That stupid self-righteous drawl. Dean squared himself and raised his fists to fight as the others attacked. The first demon he kneed hard in the sternum and then sent flying over his shoulder. He brawled a bit with the second, catching a right cross that knocked him off balance, but that one too he beat down with little effort. He'd figured out quickly enough that Purgatory brought out the most brutal in people, and he'd apprenticed under Alistair, after all. That was a demon feared and fawned over by his own kind; a legend with the knife. All too soon, however, Dean ran into trouble. Because he was still just a human, and these were creatures of legend who thrived in this place, constantly fed by the eddy of torment and darkness Purgatory lended all its prisoners. Claws raked down his arm, tearing through fabric and flesh. The skinwalker's arm morphed from scales and talons then into a man's again, and the ruguru waylaid him from his blind spot.
Sadly, this was actually a welcome relief to some of the encounters he'd already had. He was outnumbered, sure, but at least these were foes he'd dealt with before. So often here he simply couldn't get his hands dirty. Being trapped in Purgatory so far had been a constant case of flee or die, much to his discouragement. There were beasts the size of small buildings, of jet aircrafts, with teeth the length of his arms. So many times the route of hiding away in the dirt and grime had saved his hide. So many times he'd been sure his legs would give out beneath him from the hours spent running for his life, or that his lungs would stop working, or that his adrenaline would finally dry out. But even as he was overcome by the gang of low level monsters, exhaustion was a far off concept. His pulse hammered, lending strength that made his limbs quiver and shake, but it never seemed to be enough to get the upper hand. A part of him craved the day he was monster enough to really go toe to toe with them.
Then there would be no more running.
Dean crumpled in a heap on the seared ground, mud and grit getting ground into wounds both old and new. "You know, you're just gravy," Azazel purred, human voice distorted by the twisted siren call of Purgatory and by his tarnished soul.
Something wasn't right. They were having fun with him. Traditionally, the game was to bite, maim, and tear at whatever dredges of humanity remained. Instead, they circled him, savoring each small victory, batting at him like a cat with a mouse.
He wasn't who they were after.
The demon stooped down, seizing the battered hunter by the front of his coat and hauling him forward. "Not so tough without that little angel perched on your shoulder, are we?" Dean reeled back from a hard hit and pawed at the iron grip keeping him in place. "Where is he, hmm?" grated the yellow-eyed corruption, voice rising in anger. His features warped in a chilling way, that baleful stare oozing venom. "Can't hardly wait to sink my teeth into those feathers. It's every Johnny Monster's Christmas miracle around here, didn't you know? But oh no… he's all mine. I'm going to snuff out that pathetic pinprick of Grace myself." Another hit. "So, where is he?" Azazel shook Dean roughly, wisps of smoke curling like angry storm clouds.
"I don't know," Dean bit back around a growl. There was a time when he would have given anything to know the angel's whereabouts, but the elusive purveyor of Thursday was just nowhere to be found, and no amount of screaming himself hoarse had brought the angel running. Like the flipping of a switch, Dean was furious all over again. A dark part of him briefly wished Azazel would have his chance at the heavenly runaway. Already, he was becoming like them. His insides twisted, making him sick.
"Where is he?!" the demon roared.
"I don't know!"
Teeth bared in a snarl of imminent retribution, Azazel shook his head. "I'm gonna take it out of your ass, kid."
A bloody scream erupted from the ruguru, silenced quickly by the arc of steel that tore through its vocal chords unforgivingly. Two of the demons were next, cut down in a bloody slaughter of gore and harsh bursts of blinding light. Tan coattails fanned out in a sharp curve, twin black forms cutting through the diluted air in time with each twist and turn. Black smoke mushroomed out, blanketing the ground and darting through the air for escape, though none was given. The spirit had very clearly fled by this point. In the swarming cloud, the skinwalker coiled itself to fight, muscles bunching, jaws grinding. In the spans of a breath, bones and sinews snapped and stretched and it was suddenly a misshapen cross between a timberwolf and a komodo dragon. It was grappled with very briefly before its tortured shriek indicated its end. In a heap, it collapsed at the foot of its executioner. Around the corpse, he stepped, coattails brushing at legs. Shadows stretched and bunched, great masses furling into the back of a trenchcoat.
As the smoke settled and cleared, Azazel's eyes blazed with the sight, body tensing. A guttural snarl worked its way up his throat.
"I believe you were looking for me," Castiel said, taller somehow, a bloody angel blade gripped tight in one hand. The angel's wings were nothing like the pictures humans loved to represent through works of art. There was beauty in them, yes, but there was something so deadly that it hit Dean hard. They were massive, and the strength in the bone that stretched along their tops was menacing. Even the feathers seemed to be born of unearthly material as light crackled between and through them as though strokes of lightning were nestled into every crevice. They matched everything about the angel, from the physical aspect of Castiel's dark hair to the pure energy he was exuding. His voice still scraped like sandpaper over gravel, abrasive and holding a clear threat.
Azazel already had his weapon drawn. "Mel'akh shenafal," he spat in Hebrew as he charged. Fallen angel. They were cut from the same cloth in that respect. Azazel was the dark future Castiel had to look forward to. Wings snapped around the pair in warning, making the earth crack where they struck. There was a savage precision to every movement. The two exchanged blows, the demon managing to drive his blade through the meat of Castiel's chest in the course of the fight. The angel's hardened features showed annoyance at the inconvenience, but in the next second, he had the yellow-eyed demon by the throat and another burst of light erupted from the contact. Castiel shed the smote form aside, reaching up then to pull the curved knife from his body as though it were an afterthought. Red eyes glared from the woods at the two beings left standing, slowly stalking. These were the vultures of this world, hungry for the dead and anything else fool enough to tread at their threshold. The angel cast a fleeting glance on the treeline, silently daring any of them to attack. None did. One by one, the eyes settled back into the foggy abyss of night.
He turned to Dean, saying curtly, "We need to go."
Dean stared at him in dumbstruck disbelief. With effort, the hunter clamored to his feet, favoring his left shoulder as he continued to stare. The shock wore off quickly enough, because in the next second, Dean surged forward and was punching the angel across the jaw. "You son of a bitch!" Castiel was gracious enough to actually move his head under the force of the hit. To Dean, it still felt as if he'd punched a brick wall. "Where the hell have you been?!"
"Months. Months, I've been calling for you in this damn walking nightmare, and nothing! Where were you?!"
The angel's eyes darted briefly away, the harsh set of his jaw never easing. "The inhabitants here are not what you would call fond of me. I had to get as far away from you as I could. I'm loathed, I'm hunted. My company would have put you in danger." It was hardly a secret that the angel crazy enough to harness all of Purgatory's inmates within himself would merit a grave abhorrence among its inhabitants. Dean hadn't actually thought of that, but was too stubborn to acknowledge it now. The effect of Castiel's stay was evident in every way, but all that fled from his mind in the wake of his frustrations.
"A heads up would have been nice!" growled Dean.
"Any effort would have surely lost you your head, but I'll take your preference under advisement." Not even the emotionally livid hunter could miss the edge to the angel's apparent sarcasm. Rarely had Castiel known such frustration. After such an effort to keep his friend alive, he had hoped for some appreciation for his protection. Or at least understanding. But Dean, as always, seemed to resent his help. In any case, there was no time to dwell on that now. They needed to get moving.
Dean had the decency to look somewhat abashed, but stayed otherwise aloof. "If you're such a target, why show your face now?"
The familiar blue eyes pierced straight through him. "Because I know how to get us out."
Two against the general populace were much better odds, in Dean Winchester's opinion. Especially when his tag team partner happened to be an almighty angel of the Lord, back at full smiting power. The hunter was moving fast, but Castiel was faster. Eons of training and discipline kept him far more controlled than Dean, who took more delight in drawing out the kill. Castiel focused on getting it done clean, but there was a certain ominous undercurrent of brutality to the way he fought now. Each sword strike was a deliverance of buried emotion, every death by his bare hand more vicious than the last. For the most part, Castiel was keeping it together, but any idiot could see that his breaking point was balanced on a tenuous line of control. Dean saw the way his friend had decimated Azazel, allowing a moment to savor the hunger and raw satisfaction in the kill. The light of his Grace had burned through, mirrored in blue eyes that were so filled with certain merciless ferocity.
Even since on a peace mission, muscle memory and the necessity of survival awoke his inner warrior. But being trapped in Purgatory, in a world where every dark thing hunted you, had awakened something else entirely. This primitive existence ate at whatever fragments of sanity remained, decaying the mind and overshadowing any hope of humanity.
Corpses left like macabre breadcumbs paved their path as they walked. Dean felt a swell of satisfaction at the upper hand; at things, for once, falling in their favor—even if it was only temporary. He wasn't sure how an angel would hold up against a dragon, but he didn't really want to find out. He wasn't that curious.
"At least you got your marbles back," he grumbled as they moved, in an effort to fill the silence.
Castiel cast him a sidelong glance, bitterness skirting around the edges of his expression. "Yes. At least there's that."
If Castiel didn't speak much before, this new Castiel had even less to say. Dean grunted and turned his focus back ahead. Cas wasn't paying him much attention anyway—too busy eyeing every bush like it was going to sprout claws and attack, which was probably the case. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean kept eyeing the new appendages sticking from the angel's back like a couple of sore thumbs. In all honesty, he felt like he was back in grade school, caught staring at Timmy Masterson's third nostril. Except two massive wings were a hell of a lot more noticeable than a six year old whistling every time he took a breath.
"If they make you uncomfortable, I can cloak them," gruffed Castiel, apparently reading his thoughts, which was no surprise.
Dean shrugged, childishly put out for being caught staring. He acted out in turn. "Keep 'em out. Makes you look taller."
Castiel cast a tepid glare his way, saying nothing. The angel was beaten, raw at the edges, just like him. Though Dean suspected Castiel's situation was perhaps worse than even his own. There were parallels, certainly, but all in all, it all royally sucked for them both. Taking the time to give him a proper once over, Dean inwardly cringed. Castiel looked haggard and his face was cut into hard lines and dark shadows. Dean was sure that if he looked in a mirror, he'd see a similar sight. But the excess of facial hair, the unkempt mess of black on top of his head, the rumpled clothing, the scar running down across the bridge of his nose… Cas wasn't taking care of his vessel. He looked more like the future Castiel Dean had met in 2014 than he'd ever seen him. Dean shuddered at the comparison. That was a transition neither of them needed right now. His own clothing was all but rendered to rags. Dean wasn't anal about hygiene, but the idea of a shower was maddening in the sense that he desperately needed one. There was grit and blood under his nails and crusted over on wounds that never had the chance to heal properly; his body was spattered with bruises and every time he stepped or twisted wrong, his bones protested in aching throbs.
In an effort to change the subject, he nodded at the angel blade in Castiel's hand. "Where'd you get the piece?" He'd seen it in action. It looked different than he'd remembered; bigger, somehow. The power harnessed in the alloy seemed to veritably glow each time something dark drew near.
"An old friend."
That clipped voice. Dean rolled his eyes. "All our friends are dead," he acknowledged, "but not many of them would come here."
"He said if I lost his sword, he'd turn me into an incontinent crib midget with stumps for wings."
Dean gaped at him, startled. "Gabriel?" he dared to ask. Castiel gave a crisp nod. To himself, he rolled his shoulders a bit, wings folding tighter against his back like a shield. Peaking up through his collar and beneath the cuffs of his sleeves, Dean noticed the patchwork of scars the angel made such an effort to hide. A little quieter, the hunter asked, "How many times have you died, Cas?"
Because Purgatory was fluid. Yet at the same time, it was a scattered jigsaw of chaos; seamless. If you died here, you came back to die again. Always with less of who you were before. It was a circle of anarchy, of deconstitution. It was the natural order for a realm so full of discord, and Castiel was paying what he considered due penance.
The only bright side was that they hadn't run into Dick yet. That was going to be a regular carnival of fun.
In addition to the scars and the wings, it hurt Dean's eyes to recognize the essence of Castiel's true form leaking through, just as they all did here. If the angel wasn't careful, every now and then he'd slip up and an arc of light would slice through the darkness. Brief, but lethal all the same. There were times the hunter couldn't be sure his friend wasn't a leaky nuke. More edgy than before, Dean cut through the weighty silence with his usual blundering grace. "Where'd you get the suit?"
He'd intended to make light, because the unspoken resentment between them was driving him nuts. He hated unresolved crap, despite it being his specialty. That, and he was damn curious about the suit. Gone were the godawful white hospital rags, in their place a wardrobe not unlike the angel's once iconic choice of attire. A suit of armor locking back in place. The only difference not infinitesimal was the fact that it was spattered with various shades of blood.
"A Reaper who tried to kill me. I was feeling nostalgic."
The armor was as emotional as it was physical. "Happens to the best of us," Dean muttered, having really nothing else to say on the matter. In any case, there were more crucial matters to discuss. "So this guy you know, who can get us out… I'm assuming he isn't a boy scout?"
"He's been consigned to Purgatory for all eternity, if that's in any way indicative of his character for you."
"Great." Dean sighed. "So, what's the deal?"
"No deal. Only conditions. He's breaking out with us."
Dean gritted his teeth, but remained silent on the subject. "And what is he exactly?"
"He was human, once. Sent here by circumstance rather than fate."
"So, what? Fang? Demon? Jefferson Starship?"
"Oh, perfect. Just when I thought I'd had enough undead sons of bitches in my life…" Castiel suddenly froze, brow knitting. Dean stopped beside him, mid-tirade. "What is it?"
Wings fidgeting at his back, the angel glanced around, sensing the air. He stood statue-still, on high alert, ethereal eyes acting as their own source of light in the relative darkness. The sudden thrum of power radiating from him was so pungent that Dean had to take a step back. A look of transient despair crossed the angel's features. "Meg."
Dean started, already feeling an antagonistic tremor work its way up his back. "Meg? Meg's here? How could she be, unless…?"
"Crowley," Castiel explicated, looking and sounding quietly murderous. He started off in a different direction and Dean quickly snagged his arm.
"Dude, what the hell are you doing? How do you even know she's here?"
The angel's eyes showed muted urgency, torment, as though it was an effort for him to keep still and not fly off in the way he so obviously wanted to. "I've been reaching out to her since getting transported here. I haven't been able to feel her until now."
Dean gave another yank when Castiel tried yet again to hurry off. "You're going to risk yourself for her? Risk us getting out? What the hell are you thinking?" By his tone, the hunter obviously thought he wasn't thinking at all.
"She saved me," Castiel said sharply, his dark tone indicating there would be no argument. "She's coming with us."
Dean clenched his jaw, eyes shooting skyward. "Dammit, Cas—I mean… what if this is a trap? You said it yourself, you're a walking dinner bell." He'd held his own thus far, but when every evil thing within miles was out for your head, it brought up some alarming reservations.
"Then you'll still get out."
Dean looked down to see a piece of parchment pressing into his palm. A part of him blanched at what it meant and at the thought of going out on his own again, of Cas charging off into God-knew-where for that little china doll-sized demon with a snarky mouth.
"Stay on the path. Don't stop for anything until he finds you. I'll return." With a resolute beat of wings, the angel was gone and Dean was left again with a sinking feeling in his gut. Every hair on the back of his neck stood on end as the world churned around him. There was a pulse in the air, an electric current that crawled over his skin. Looking down at the slip of paper in his hand, he felt his shoulders tense and his pulse hurdle anxiously. Something in his stomach lurched, and his fingers itched to recoil away from the writing as though it burned.
The name on the paper read: Angelus.
Here, no soul was safe from deformation. In Hell, one was given the choice to become the one holding the knife or to stay on the rack. In Purgatory, it was only a matter of time that stood between whatever morsel of humanity remained until you eventually became the thing you hunted, and ran from in turn. In Purgatory, no inhabitant was not a monster. No beast without cruelty. No matter how fate found you there, it was never by mistake.
What, but the rapacity when a man gave his perishable substance to save himself from the dark torments of Purgatory.
Author's Note: Reviews make the world go 'round... *whistles*