Flashes of memory. Flickering lights. Scuttling movements. Faces, screams, a splatter of blood against the walls. Movement behind him. Gunshot echoing. Laboured breathing.
"And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our soul. There walks a lady we all know who shines white light and wants to show how everything still turns to gold."
Sam's young body, lifeless on the floor, eyes still open. A deep roar behind him, a swinging claw. Screams of grief, a father's cry for his son, not in time to stop it.
"And if you listen very hard, the tune will come to you at last. When all is one and one is all, to be a rock and not to roll."
Dean's fault. Dean's fault. Dean's fault.
"And she's buying a stairway to heaven."
The sound of a truck roaring past, engine brakes echoing through the pre-dawn air woke him finally, the last few bars of the song playing out through his car radio and interfering with his nightmare. Dean lay across the back seat of the Impala, staring up at the upholstered roof, trying not to drown under the waves of guilt this nightmare bought every time he had it. With Castiel around, it had at least been tolerable. Now, he couldn't stop the tears from forming in his eyes.
Because it was his fault, wasn't it? Sammy would still be here, if it weren't for him. He'd broken the one sacred rule he had, that his father had; always look out for Sam. And he couldn't even do that. There was no bigger disappointment.
Once his racing heart was seemingly back to normal, Dean sat up slowly, rubbing at the back of his neck. He looked around him, trying to remember exactly where he was. It came back to him slowly- an abandoned roadway off the freeway leading into some town in southern Arkansas. It had been two days since he'd last seen Castiel, since he'd walked out on his father, and it seemed everything was insisting on reminding him of it, even his car radio and the songs it just happened to play.
His mobile phone lay where he had left it in the passenger seat, unanswered and ignored as countless texts and calls came through from Castiel, Ash, Pam and Jo. He wanted to call them back, especially Castiel, wanted to tell him he was alright.
He couldn't, though. He couldn't bring himself to pick up the mobile phone and dial his number. Because he didn't deserve that, didn't deserve the relief it would bring. He didn't deserve to even know somebody like Castiel, let alone be able to call and hear his sweet voice whenever he wished.
But Castiel did deserve to know that he was alright.
Sighing and pulling his t-shirt over his bare chest and jumping between the two front seats, he settled behind the steering wheel, taking the silver device in hand and opened a new message. He didn't say the words he knew Castiel was craving to read, the words that promise that he wouldn't kill himself, instead sending two simple words; 'I'm okay'.
It was cruel, perhaps a little cold-hearted, but it was all Dean could manage at the moment. He wished he could promise the angel, his angel that he would come home, but he couldn't. He couldn't promise that he wouldn't take the gun from the glove compartment and shoot himself in the temple, letting the blood splatter across the interior of his car. He couldn't promise that he wouldn't take the knife from where it was strapped to his leg and slice across his wrists, the neat cuts welling with blood as he watched in fascination.
He couldn't promise that because, even with everything he'd told Castiel over the past two weeks, he didn't know if he would be able to live on after this. The desire to see his own blood pooling around him as he faded into nothingness was almost as impossible to resist as falling in love with Castiel had been, as it had been consistently since the accident.
Sighing wearily, Dean turned the keys in the ignition, letting the vibrations of the engine as the car rumbled to life calm his frayed, exhausted nerves. He closed his eyes, letting the familiar scent of oil, leather and car fumes surround him before he backed out of the roadway, gravel and dirt crunching beneath the tires. The sleek bodywork of the black Impala sliced easily through the air as he sped towards the nearest town, bushy woods flashing past his windows.
As the township approached, he slowed the car down, driving past a welcome sign as he headed into the town centre. He couldn't help the bitter laugh that left his lips as he read it- 'Welcome to El Dorado, Arkansas. Population: 18,884'. It just happened to be that he'd unconsciously driven 19 hours straight to end up in a place such as this; mere days before, in a moment of pure bliss, Dean had whispered against Castiel's lips that he'd finally found his own 'El Dorado', and now here he was.
The streets were quiet at this time of morning, not a single soul about. He drove down the main shopping strip, pulling into a parking space beside the road. The empty, still shops felt eerie as he climbed out of his car, pocketing his keys, but the sensation quickly faded as dawn settled over the town, the beginnings of sunlight peaking over the horizon. He leant against the side of his car, taking in the peace that was pressing in around him, the quiet chirps of birds unseen and the cool, slightly breezy air. He felt weak tendrils of sunlight caress his cheeks and neck as he tipped his face up to the sky, hands buried in his pocket. Some unknown force drew him to open his eyes and look at the building across from him.
It was an old church building, probably building during the early 70's, but surprisingly it wasn't hideous. The building was red brick with white concrete trimmings, on a large slab of grass, the most free space there was in the town centre. On the right side of the grass there was a huge oak tree, it's long, thick limbs hanging high above the ground, it's thick leaves covered the branches that fanned out over the grass and a small portion of the church roof.
Checking both ways, mostly from habit, before crossing the road, Dean made his way over to the tree. He sat down at its roots, leaning his back against its solid trunk. His phone was still clenched tightly in his fist, his hand trembling slightly as he retrained himself from calling Castiel and begging for forgiveness. But he didn't, and just continued to stare up at the building, eyes memorizing every detail he could in the dim light from the white cross upon its steeple to the stained glass windows, the flowers around the base of the stairs leading to the heavy wooden doors, the wide cobblestone pathway leading to the footpath beside the road.
Dean couldn't tell you how long he sat there, staring up at the building, not paying any attention to how the sun rose slowly behind him, or a car pulling into the parking lot behind the building. His eyes had drifted shut from exhaustion, two days of very little sleep and food draining him of all energy. A voice above him jerked him from his slumber, hand automatically going to the knife at his ankle before realizing who it was.
An older man, the priest of this church presumably by the way he was dressed, was looking down at him with a kind smile on his face. He was slim and quite tall, with short dark hair that was greying throughout. Dean nodded in greeting, not exactly able to tell a priest to piss off. The man groaned slightly, joints complaining, as he sat down opposite him, cross legged and fingers running through the lush grass beneath him.
"What brings you here this early on a Sunday morning, son?" he asked quietly, looking up into Dean's face. He glanced away from the man's clever grey eyes, staring down at his hands. He grunted in response, shrugging his shoulder as he glanced over at him.
The priest shifted closer at this, smiling even kinder at him. "Are you here to seek the solace of the Holy Father?" he asked, voice sounding hopeful. Dean's eyes shot to him, eyebrows raised in surprise. He didn't have to say anything, his expression conveying his thoughts.
"No, I didn't think so. But I have to ask those questions anyway." He gave the boy a sympathetic smile, shrugging with one shoulder. "But son, you are tired. Why don't you come in and I'll make you some coffee? I'm sure we've got something to eat inside." The priest got to his feet, holding out a hand for Dean to take.
Lifting his eyelids, Dean stared at the hand extended towards him. The aged, scarred hand seemed to be offering so much more than a physical helping; it seemed to offer a bridge over the pain Dean was suffering in, a hand to pull him from drowning in his emotions. He wasn't sure he even wanted that. He continued to stare at the long fingers that were trembling ever so slightly from age, before glancing up into soft grey eyes. He didn't know what possessed him to take the man's hand and let him pull him to his feet, but he certainly felt like he'd made a huge mistake. The man didn't released his hand, only shook it before introducing himself.
"I am Father Jim Morrinson, and this is my church. If you feel more comfortable, you can just call me Jim." He said, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze before leading the way to a side door which was already unlocked from where he'd entered previously. Dean followed, still having not spoken to the man, hanging behind, ready to attack if need be. Father Jim led him down a wide corridor, past the big service hall to a small kitchen with some counters and cheap table and chairs. He hung in the doorway, surveying all possible exits before picking a spot to sit where he could defend himself the most.
This all felt so strange since he hadn't even been in a church since before his mother's death when he'd been a child, Dean having gone with her every Sunday before she'd died. When he was growing up, he could almost say that was what he missed most; those few hours alone once a week he had with his beautiful mother.
Dean watched as the priest prepared two mugs of coffee and grabbed a loaf of bread and some jam from the fridge, carrying them over to Dean. "So what brings you to El Dorado, son?" he asked quietly, looking up at Dean. He finally looked up to meet his gaze properly, nodding slowly before clearing his throat, speaking quietly.
"Got lost. Didn't mean to end up here." He murmured, reaching for his mug.
Father Jim smiled and nodded encouragingly for him to continue as he picked up the knife and spread butter and jam onto two slices of bread, making them both a sandwich. "Were you hoping to get lost?"
Dean took the sandwich offered and bit into it, not realizing how hungry he'd been until that moment. "From one person, yeah. Myself. Turns out you can't run from you."
"And who are you?"
This question caught him off guard. He knew he meant more than just his identity, but he didn't know how else to answer.
"Dean Winchester; I don't know who else." Dean fiddled with his mobile phone as he continued to eat and drink, looking anywhere but at Jim, fingers drumming against the cheap blue platic of the table top. After a few minutes, the priest spoke.
"Call them, Dean. It'll help having them with you." He said quietly, gesturing to the phone in the young man's hands.
Brows furrowed, Dean dropped his phone onto the table, folding his hands together in front of him as if he hadn't just been thinking about how desperately he wanted to hear Castiel's voice. He slowly lifted his eyes to look up at Father Jim, meeting his eyes. He didn't know how the man knew what he'd been thinking, having always thought he'd been good at hiding his thoughts and feelings, but apparently not. Sighing and running a hand through his short hair, rubbing at his tired eyes, he sipped at his coffee for a few minutes before speaking.
"They won't come. They probably hate me by now."
Father Jim merely nodded and stood up, giving Dean's shoulder one last squeeze before heading out into the main hall to prepare for his Sunday sermon. Dean stayed where he was, flipping the phone over in his hands, trying to decide what do to. Finally the craving to speak to the other boy got too much, and he pushed back from his seat with a huff of frustration, heading back outside.
He sat down in front of the big oak tree once more, gnawing at his bottom lip before dialling Castiel's number. It had barely rung twice before Cas picked up, no voice coming from the other line, just heavy breathing. Dean held the phone hard against his ear, as if it would bring them closer together the closer he was to the phone.
"Cas?" He choked out, voice suddenly not working, hoping to God that he didn't hate him.
And suddenly, the line went dead. Dean let out a strangled noise somewhere crossed between a sob and a growl, throwing his phone down into the dirt. He held his head in his hands, trying to not let the tidal wave of emotions control him, when there was a flurry of wind around him. He looked up in confusion, then shock when Castiel was standing in front of him, hair in its usual messy state, wearing the jeans and t-shirt he knew Dean loved and that same old trench coat.