Written for Supernaturalville's 2012 Summer Hellatus Challenge - To depict 24 Hours of Dean in Purgatory - A Day in the Life. From what I've heard of spoilers, which isn't much, I'm sure this will be AU to what the show gives us, but hey, it's summer and we need s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g to keep us going! Oct. 3rd can't arrive soon enough!
"Often the test of courage is not to die but to live." – Vittorio Alfieri
1440 Minutes 'til Dawn
Chapter One – Morning Has Broken
The thing is, dawn offers no refuge, no safety…nothing beyond another notch on the hilt of his knife. Another day spent, another 24 hours survived, leaving another 24 hours to survive. Each mark on the handle of his knife his way of keeping track. The small notches crowding upon one another, almost out of room. Another day in Purgatory, another day closer to…. He laughed, because that's what you did here. The absurdity and brutality colliding in a surreal haze of disbelief that could only be handled by not handling it, by guffawing at the crazy and finding a means to ignore the terror. Each day survived brought him closer to rescue, if Sam had anything to do with the outcome of his predicament, of that he was certain; or death, if the creatures stalking him had their way, again equally sure of their malicious intent. It was a race against time and the elements, seeing which won out: Winchester ingenuity or beastly savagery. All Dean could do was continue to fight and hopefully survive to greet another dawn.
Rest rarely came. A brief moment here or a treacherous lapse there, where closing his eyes might bring about the promised end. He was constantly on edge, always ready, bracing for the next rush of teeth and claws, for the onslaught and fury of thrashing limbs and brutal blows. For the foul stench of putrid breath as a hideous snout snarled and slobbered inches from his face, the beast finding its own humor in the situation.
He was sore and tired, so bloody tired. Worn down and wasted. Still, he kept his mind focused as he always did, on the job, on surviving, on not being torn limb from limb. He had no desire to be eviscerated and left to fertilize the forest…that is, after his chewy bits were devoured by the creatures living deep and dark within.
When he dared sleep it was perched high in the treetops, dangling precariously above it all, hidden within a blanket of leaves and the dark, or buried like a rat in a cave, his back against the wall and his hand forever clenched around the grip of his knife. His clothes rubbed with dirt and moss and whatever other stink he could find to try and mask his scent. Depending on the creatures he was currently eluding, it modestly worked or was a complete failure. Luck being the most compelling reason why he occasionally survived until morning without a fight.
The fight came more often than not, fast and furious, brutal and bloody, urgent and untimely. Brutal seemed to be the word of the day…each and every day.
When he stopped to ponder, when whimsy shook him free of his feelings of gloom and doom and he allowed himself to dream of another existence, he longed for a cheeseburger and pie. Such simple pleasures, denied…all but abandoned normally. But when his stomach took to rumbling and his lips grimaced at the thought of what's for dinner, he every so often found himself salivating for grease and cherry filling. For tender pie crust wrapped around succulent fruit and warm buns soaked in animal fat. For food he wanted to eat instead of the damn berries and bark he settled for. The only time he thought of Sam here, when he allowed himself to consider the horrendous concept of his brother stuck in this god-awful place, was when he mused over how Sam would handle the grazing of Purgatory.
Who would have thought Purgatory would bring Dean Winchester one-step closer to vegetarian?
Oh, there was the occasional meat. A beast that he allowed himself to consider the other red meat. Close enough to beef to allow a hunter to crisp it up over a fire. Most of the critters he killed now were too tough and leathery to even consider eating, far beyond the realm of jerky, but there were a few that didn't turn his stomach quite as much. A few that were close enough in desperate times.
Cas was fortunate he didn't eat. Lucky enough to genie out and about too. While he was good as a lookout and handy for a warning if he wasn't preoccupied elsewhere, the angel had held tight to his newly formed pacifist views despite the inherent peril of Purgatory, becoming virtually helpless like a babe in the woods. At least Dean didn't have to concern himself with protecting him or worrying over the fragile angel. He found it was enough to worry about himself, not that he worried per se. He didn't have the energy or inclination to worry, not for him. On occasion his mind would again wander to Sam: where he was, how he was handling the separation, what would become of him if he couldn't retrieve his brother. Those thoughts came few and blessedly far between, especially as time wore on and no rescue materialized.
More often than not, all thought was tuned to surviving. Listening, reacting…fighting and killing…staving off the dying. Most days were dicey, pure luck with a smattering of skill allowing him to survive until dawn. The odds stacked against him, but then, that wasn't anything new, not for a Winchester. His amazing survival, again, nothing new, now commonplace even though each new day brought him closer to the probability that his luck would eventually run out. Skill can only take you so far in Purgatory. His expertise as a hunter and all the bold courage in the world wouldn't be able to prevent the inevitable for forever. He was outgunned and alone, one against many.
He wished he could say he appreciated dawn, the sun on his face, warmth on his aching joints. Purgatory didn't offer a typical sunrise, not like back on Earth. Here it was more gray, the absence of pitch black, the subtle introduction of something lighter.
When he needed more warmth, or on that rare occasion when he attempted to cook, he'd start a fire. That was always dangerous, the smell of it, the smoke. Sometimes he didn't care, he simply needed to hear the crackle, see the flames, feel that familiar control like when he and his brother used to salt and burn the undead. There were certain critters that were scared of fire, reacting badly to a flaming branch waved in their face. The dumb ones, or maybe not. Maybe the others were the ones who lacked intelligence, too oblivious to know they could be burnt black, that death was an option to be feared. Whatever the reason, they barreled forth, never slowing, only falling to a well-placed blade strike or total immolation. Continuing the charge even as their hides burned, resistant to the pain, relentless in their thirst for blood.
Fire was the one time Dean felt any power over the natural order. His intellect and ability to create his main advantage over the brawn and fierceness of the beasts of Purgatory. He was thankful for his trusty lighter secure in his front jeans pocket. When his mood turned dark, he'd wonder when the lighter fluid would run out and he'd be left with one worn book of matches, the last motel he and Sam stayed at advertised on the cover, The Restful Arms. That brought a smile during the lulls, when he would roll the matchbook in his hand, turning it over and reading the name, remembering his previous life, musing over how he longed for that turmoil over this turmoil. At least there he had his brother by his side. He swore that if he ever got out of this hellhole, he'd never again gripe about the quality of the places they stayed at or the burdens of the job. Even a rock hard bed would be heaven to his weary frame now. And at least a fight held meaning back on Earth, a rightness and a sense of doing good. A purpose.
He longed for purpose again, something beyond self-preservation. Something more than simply surviving with nothing better to look forward to.
Surviving was becoming more and more about his personal skills, hand-to-hand combat and strategy. The tools of his trade slowly abandoning him, with no opportunity to restock.
He knew in time his lighter would become as effectively useless as his Colt, the last clip for his 911 running out of bullets within the first week. He still kept the gun, treasuring the familiar weight in his hand and against his side. It had been with him through every trial and heartache back in the real world, he'd hardly let it go now. Besides, he'd held back one bullet. One. Just in case. He didn't plan on using it, not unless things turned totally dire and proceeded downhill from there to massively fubared. He'd survived worse without giving up.
He'd survived Hell.
But it's good to have options. It all came down to control. Controlling what he could, holding tight to who he was.
Granted the weight of a fundamentally useless gun might slow him down marginally, but if he were going to die in this wretched place, then at least he'd die with a gun in his hand. He'd already come to that decision. Besides, you never knew when he might stumble across some lead he could melt down…that is if he then proceeded to run into the other necessary materials to forge bullets: fire hot enough and a container strong enough to hold the molten lead, along with the proper mold. A laundry list of wants and needs. A pipe dream really, but then, that's all he had in this godforsaken hellhole.
Still, Purgatory was better than Hell. In Hell they held all the power while he lacked all control. Endless torture and taunts and the waiting. Waiting for whatever Alastair and the other demons felt like doing to him that day, or week, or month. Here it was action over reaction. A choice. Simple decisions, four directions to travel in. He'd listen to the sounds of them watching him, look at the lay of the land, weigh the chance of surviving in any given direction before finally choosing his path for the day.
Sometimes it seemed liked he picked wrong, a massive wave of monsters along his chosen route, springing forth from the tree line and circling about. That's when his knife saw action, slicing and dicing, blood and guts soon covering his clothes and smeared across his skin, offering more smells, more grime. Sometimes after the end of a long day of killing and almost being killed, he'd long for scrubbing down in a blisteringly hot shower or soaking in a leisurely bath. He even briefly dreamed once of bubbles and poufy scents, his skin withered up from being submerged in the comfort of the water too long, clinging to the feel of being clean again even as reality pushed him to awaken and face the truth. He'd been on long hunts before, out in the wild, one with the elements. He'd been down and dirty for much of his life, but this was a new low.
He'd long ago forsaken trying to keep up appearances. His hair longer than it had ever been, his five o'clock shadow gone into a midnight beard. From the feel of him he was sure he must look like a mountain man, a Grizzly Adams or a Jeremiah Johnson. Looks didn't matter, as long as he stayed strong and fierce. As long as he stayed alive. That was his job now: surviving.
It was unavoidable that he'd acquired more scars during his time here but his only concern was to prevent infection. Strange with all the dirt and grime of this place, that didn't seem to be an issue. Not quite like Hell with it's magical healing abilities, but close.
He thought he was done for the third night. One creature getting too close, its long claws slicing through his gut, blood spraying everywhere. The pain immediate and immense, intolerable for anyone other than a hunter conditioned to pain. The adrenaline from that encounter had kept him on his feet as he sliced up that fugly. In the aftermath, with the creature gutted on the forest floor, he'd been gasping for breath, his left hand holding his guts in, his right still latched to his blade, sinking to the ground, preparing to die. Cas had hovered over him, talking nonsense as he was now prone to do, but in his own awkward manner providing desired companionship. His chatter his way of saying he cared. Dean at last able to admit, at least to himself, he didn't want to die alone. After tense minutes with neither able to stem the bleeding, he'd passed out from blood loss, only to awaken in the morning still alive. His searching hands finding only a slim scar beneath the crusted blood. The first of many now.
That's when he understood the parallel with Hell, how Purgatory worked.
On the seventh day the rains came, the sky crackling with dark thunder and ominous clouds, electricity piercing the air before bringing the onslaught. He'd practically danced under the pelting storm, thankful for the cleansing effects, not caring if he was soaked to the bone. Opening his mouth and tasting fresh water, gurgling it down like mouthwash and rinsing out the foul taste trapped in his teeth, drinking it down deep then, cool and refreshing, life-sustaining.
He startled back to the present, this day the only day that mattered. His not-so-guardian angel back from his morning reconnaissance. He cast his eyes over the murky shadows surrounding them, the silence welcome and yet unsettling, his gut relaxing into the moment, waiting for an actual threat before tightening again in readiness. He offered the capricious angel a wry smile, tight and forced. "So, what's the word, Watson?"
"I don't understand," Cas solemnly responded. No humor in his voice, no delight in his eyes. His lack of comprehension still as pronounced as when he first interacted with the human. Back to square one.
Another day in Purgatory with no comic relief. None except what the hunter amused himself with. Too weary to voice his annoyance, he roughly whispered, "Cas, whatcha see out there? Anything?" His voice becoming harsher and more guttural as time wore on, both from disuse and from the intense force of his grunts fight after fight. That and the standard lack of moisture leaving his throat feeling like a prickly cactus struggling to survive in the desert until the sky deemed fit to let loose. Another reason why he welcomed the rain when it came.
"Monsters to the north, south and east."
Dean was moving even as he spoke, trekking off on the path of least resistance. With a jaunty lilt to his voice he proclaimed, "Then it's Go West, young man!"
Weeks of exploring with no break in scenery made him half wonder if they were traveling in circles, the landscape barely changing, each tree looking like the last one and the next. He hated camping, always had. Hated being on his own, separated from his brother. He was glad Sam wasn't here. Best for the kid, even if it wasn't best for him. He was getting used to being on his own though, used to being left behind, used to going solo.
Still, that needy part of him, the part that always wanted to keep his family together, who'd wanted it to be like it used to be, ached for his brother. Thankfully his big-brother-protector side slapped that need down, knowing it was better this way, relieved Sam was safe back in the real world.
At least he prayed he was safe, even if praying went against everything he'd always believed in. Even if God and his pathetic dick angels had forsaken him yet again, a part of him prayed on the off chance. Sam was worth the gamble.
For now it was him and Cas.
Time with Cas was…well, strange.
In some ways it was the old Cas, the original unaware and unassuming Cas. The guy he could toy with, amusing himself with when boredom took hold. Silently he wished for intimidating Cas, the one that set him back on his heels early on, with threats and that imposing 'angel wrath' mentality before they'd settled into a somewhat comfortable familiarity. He could sure use old Cas now. The guy that could smite all the monsters without breaking a sweat, the heavenly being who wasn't drained of all his angel juice, the fighter who was a fierce warrior of heaven, willing and able to stand beside him in the coming battles. He needed an ally, not the fuzzy, bee-loving, navel-gazing hippie he was saddled with.
More than anything he needed a friend. He wasn't sure how he felt about Cas now, how to resolve all those hurt and angry feelings over what his friend had done…to the world, to heaven…to Sam. He thought a lot about what was right and what had gone wrong. How Sam was so forgiving, how he was not. He knew he needed to find balance and gain acceptance, to move past all the crap between them. He tried. Day by day he found himself naturally reverting back to the early days of their relationship, that slow dance of trying to come to terms with each other and find a mutually agreeable understanding.
Every so often Cas would say or do something that brought all the turmoil tumbling back and Dean's gut would tighten and the anger would spike. The angel's peace-love crap didn't help, not when danger and evil were the order of the day. Hell, who doesn't want peace and serenity? Who wouldn't want an end to war and strife? But reality was here and now and the things wanting to kill them weren't so enlightened; so yeah, sometimes Dean's fury erupted. When that happened he walked away.
Not like he could hash out their differences now, not with glow-stick Cas actively avoiding any real confrontation. Dean had always used confrontation as a tool, as the only acceptable means of addressing his frustrations and letting loose his feelings. All that simmering anger and hatred, the burbling rage and dejection, every foul feeling that threatened his enforced calm, bottled up and locked away until a fight or argument offered release. Now he felt like Crowley, and what a horrendous realization that was, because he was right, there was no satisfaction in tangling with a kitten. If he was going to have it out with Cas, if they were finally going to address all their issues, then he needed the angel to engage him, not collect flowers and honey and marvel at the wonders of procreation. The birds and the bees didn't interest the hunter, not here, not now.
The truth was Cas would be teetering on the edge of functionally worthless now if not for a glimmer of his old self. The only angel ability seemingly intact was his ability to zap in and out, to disappear off the radar and reappear at opportune moments. If he possessed any other angel skills, he never let on, preferring to maintain his new view of peace, love and harmony.
"You find anything worth eating out there?" Dean asked. His stomach painfully awake, insistently rumbling. "I don't know" he casually muttered, "…maybe somethin' like a fresh baked pie?" He rolled the word 'pie' off his tongue with a fondness and gentle wisp of longing. He grinned at the thought as he moved effortlessly, light through the brush, his boots avoiding any twigs that might snap, that might signal his approach. He liked to talk, low and mellow, even if it was dangerous. It's what kept him human, the sound of his own voice, the reinforcement that he was more than the beasts he hunted…or hunted him. "I'm thinking apple today." His eyes tracked over the forest, squinting as if there was sun in his eyes, an old habit when he concentrated. "Seems like one of these trees could offer up an apple or two."
"And who would bake this pie for you?" Cas solemnly inquired. So void of any humor, of the absurdity and the dream, his angel restraint still painfully evident.
"Ah." Dean smiled, his lips curving up in a blissful smirk. "Redhead. Fiery and feisty. About yea-tall." His hand motioned to about five foot six inches. His grin broadened, his eyes taking on a lustful cast, licking his lips in appreciation. "A warrior. She'd have to be to survive here. But soft too. Smooth skin, a few freckles 'cause, well, freckles are sexy."
"It's good your imagination is so active."
Dean chuckled, dodging past a sweeping branch, stepping over a fallen trunk. Stopping to turn and listen, waiting in silence before resuming to talk, the danger moving on, out of range. "All I got is what's in my head. And I'm good at dreaming." He continued on, his last comment barely more than a thought, low and solemn. "Good at making do."
Covering several miles in a day was standard, depending on the resistance, from both the terrain and the populace. Today was quiet, eerily so. Almost like a conspiracy, trying to lull him into complacency before pounding him down in a bloody assault. Complacency never came, not for a hunter such as he. Not for someone schooled in the ways of evil and conditioned to its truths. Something is always coming, something foul and nasty and deadly. Dean was ready.
He paused, closed his eyes and again listened. The wind rustling the last of the leaves on the trees, the scurry of a small rodent off to his right, the whistle of air being displaced as something huge charged him. He rolled to his left, the beast sailing over him, landing with a thud. Dean bolted upright, his fist tightening along the grip of his blade, thrashing out and drawing blood. It howled. Then it charged again, straight at him, ignoring more slashes to its torso and barreling forward.
The impact was brutal, the wind knocked from his lungs as he went down, his knife knocked free, the thing pinning him beneath it as its jowls opened up and filthy, sharp teeth descended. Two distinct sets, each straining for a taste of his blood. He turned his face away, the grotesque gnashing of teeth inches from his cheek, all his strength needed to keep the beast from ripping his face off as he wedged his arms between them. The slobber and spit drenching him even as he struggled to keep those teeth distant.
Using some hidden reserve he bucked again, flipping them over with him on top, able to then break free. His knife glistened in the dirt, mere inches away. He stretched for it and as soon as he wrapped his hand around the hilt he felt a jolt of power, the knowledge that he would overcome. His intellect and experience directing his movement as he carved into the beast below its breastplate, the one vulnerable spot on this critter. One harsh push of his blade and the creature stilled. With a vengeful twist of the knife he dug in before easing back on his haunches, collecting his breath, resting to recoup his energy before rising. He offered one final gouge into the critter before he drew out his blade, wiping the gray ooze from the wound onto the pelt of its fur.
Standing over his kill he again listened to the silence, the still swallowing him and making the beating of his heart louder, pounding in his chest from the surge of adrenaline. Every fiber of his being on alert. He slowly turned in a full circle, listening, watching. No movement beyond a warm wave of air, a few more leaves gently drifting to the ground. He knew this creature was a solitary hunter; still, he waited, just to be sure. Experience again warning him of the danger of expectations. Never relax, never feel safe. The only one safe here was the one already dead.
"Cas?" The angel was again gone, presumably flittering about again, scoping out the encroaching danger or turning tail and running from the confrontation. Hard to tell, the angel was often gone and lax about the explanation. In exasperation he cried out, "Get your feathery ass back down here." A rustle behind him signaled the return of the angel. He turned to face him, his voice urgent. "We clear?"
"Clear." The angel looked sad, eyes downcast, shoulders slumped. His focus lingering on the creature lying dead on the floor of the forest before shifting until he was observing the hunter. "Dean…I'm sorry…"
Cutting in the hunter expressed his mounting aggravation with the endless apologies and refusal to engage. "Yeah, yeah…I know…" In a mocking tone he echoed the angel's objections to fighting, excuses he'd heard far too many times. "You don't fight anymore, you hate confrontation…yeah, I get it…just do me a favor." He locked eyes with Castiel; his own eyes penetrating, digging in. "If I get killed one of these days, just…don't leave me to rot. You burn my ass, you got it? When I'm dead dead, I don't wanna be coming back as some ghoul or vengeful spirit. Not that we know that happens here, but just in case." He started walking again, back on task, trudging on in hopes of finding a door out of Purgatory or an ally or something. He wasn't angry when he said it, simply matter-of-fact. "When I'm gone then maybe you won't have a choice in the matter. Sooner or later, Cas, it's gonna come down to kill or be killed. Then what?"
All standard disclaimers apply.
Thanks for reading, reviews are most welcome.