Chapter Three – A New Day
Warmth and comfort greeted him. A huge intake of air sucked in and then expelled out with a fierce whoosh forcing him to consciousness. He gagged, coughing and sputtering, the air tasting fresh and clean, welcome. Moisture was present, the aftermath of a new rain. His lashes fluttered, filtering the dawn as he slowly opened his eyes, easing into a new day. His green eyes were brilliant, shiny and lucid. He startled as his brain engaged and memories resurfaced, looking about with wild eyes, a new day in Purgatory…or else someplace deceptively similar. His hands scrambled to pull up his t-shirt, his belly white, no trace of red. That's when he noticed his right arm was functioning, twisting his forearm and counting off his fingers. Each one moving independently, flexing and able to grip. Every injury that he recalled now healed, a fine scar marking its previous existence. No pain, rested and relaxed…ready.
"Good. You're awake."
"Cas?" He licked his lips, moisture still within them, making them puffy and soft. He felt clean, like he'd recently taken a bath, swam in a cool lake, or frolicked under an evening storm. He surmised the later, all except the frolicking part. More likely just him lying in the open, the rain washing over him. All evidence of his near-death experience swept away.
"The rains came after you lost consciousness." Cas was frittering away, doing something or other off to the side. He walked over to the hunter, his smile thoughtful, perhaps even a bit triumphant. "I allowed you to sleep…watched over you. You're safe."
"Safe?" One eyebrow cocked up, twisting in a curving line as his forehead wrinkled, his voice deep and guttural. "Safe how?"
"They won't be coming back," Cas replied, still puttering. Dean could finally see he was gathering wood, building a fire. "Not for awhile."
The hunter pulled himself upright from where he was stretched out on the ground, grass and leaves gathered together to form a soft mat beneath him. His fingers reflexively pressing on his abdomen, the reality of miraculous healing still confounding even though he knew the drill: a new dawn, a new start…still alive. The angel's comment finally registered, his curiosity piqued. "What you said…'bout them not coming back. What'd you mean by that?" His face scrunched up, the memory of the pain of his injuries and those final moments vivid, the certainty of death still present. All at odds with what he was now experiencing. "How'd I survive? I was a goner."
"It wasn't as bad as you thought." Cas paused for a moment, his next words clear and forceful. "You're strong…you held on." He turned his back to the hunter, his actions telling. His mood painfully quiet, distracted and deceptive, focused on building his fire and cleaning up the area, answering with a curt reply and moving on. Still practiced in averting confrontation.
Dean intently watched him, waiting for him to explain further but he didn't. Climbing to his feet and stretching his legs, the hunter started walking the perimeter. It was the blood he noticed first, well…not blood, gray ooze. On rocks and fallen trees that weren't familiar. One particularly gnarly-looking tree definitely quite memorable with its almost pornographic form. Clearly something he'd never before seen, something he would have taken advantage of to crack wise about. Gray ooze was whipped across it like an abstract painting, dripping down suggestively. The signs of battle clear: scuffles in the dirt, rocks turned over, and yet no corpses, no rotting monster flesh. "Cas? What happened here?"
"Nothing." The angel turned away, scurrying off to attend to some other minor detail…running, avoiding conflict.
Sucking in a deep breath, turning in a complete circle to take in the scene, Dean's eyes widened, his gut tightening. "Cas…what'd you do?" When he got no answer he purposely walked over to the cliff nearby, a trail of something being dragged through the dirt leading the way, gazing down over the side to a pile of bodies below. More bodies than he had killed. Twice, maybe three times the number, some a different species. Monsters he'd not engaged lying at the top of the heap, their eyes burned out. When he returned to where Cas had started the fire he silently sat down opposite him, eyes again fixed upon the angel.
Cas was sitting on a log staring into the flames, his features still and pensive, the only motion coming from the light of the flames dancing across his face. "They came just before dawn," he explained, his voice steady as he recounted the event. "Smelled your blood."
Silently nodding, Dean's throat swallowed, the moisture suddenly dried up. He cleared his throat, offering a soft gasp as he asked, "How you doin'?"
Cas looked up, that comical quirk of his head his only reaction. "Doing?"
Sensitive eyes maintaining contact, Dean said the word, the one word he was never in the mood for saying but he knew he needed to. "Feel, Cas…how you feeling?"
"Feel?" Cas repeated, that familiar puzzlement set upon his features. His eyes staring at the hunter but maintaining their distance, that separation that angels always strived for. Whatever emotion he might be feeling locked down and inaccessible.
"Yeah, feel…" Dean licked his lips, all concern for his friend there on his face. His friendship now more important than his distaste for emotional talks. Tapping into that tenacity that had always served him so well, he pressed on. "About fighting…killing…y'know, Cas…after the whole Woodstock peace-love crap?"
"It was necessary." The word was drawn out, thoughtful and practical and not at all what the hunter was getting at.
Dean closed his eyes for a second, tunneling inward, taking a deep breath before proceeding. His eyes flooded with empathy, glimmering in light of what had gone down. His words were soft, low and caring. "Did you know I was going to make it?"
Cas again looked sad, somehow a bit smaller, pulled in and reflective. "No. I thought as you did…your wounds…" The silence unable to hide the truth of what they'd both thought, the reality of what they'd known.
It was as if all the months of being apart were erased and they were in tune with one another again. Both thinking the same thought, feeling that same loss, expecting the very worse from Dean's injuries. Both fully expecting he would die.
"So why didn't you just poof out and leave me?" Dean couldn't hide the annoyance in his voice, unaccustomed to someone else's sacrifice…especially someone sacrificing for him. When he got no answer his anger spiked, tempered only by his dread and a tinge of desperation. "Cas! We both thought I was dead…so why?"
"Because you're my friend."
The comment hit hard. All that he'd wanted and hoped for handed to him, but at a cost. His friend bearing the burden. Scrambling to understand, to put it all in perspective and truly know what happened, Dean pushed the angel to divulge more. "But I was dead." His voice broke a little, all the longing and hurt pleading for understanding. "We both knew it."
Looking up, locking eyes with the hunter and forming a sincere smile, the angel broke the tension. "We were wrong."
That forced a chuckle, a relieved damn-if-miracles-don't-happen grin. "Yeah…glad about that." He allowed the moment to settle, to just hang there undisturbed while two old friends sat quietly around a fire. The moment couldn't last forever, not with a hunter trained in digging for the truth. Half the story remained untold and Dean still needed to know. As difficult as it was to continue, it would be more difficult to not. "All this talk about not fighting and you just decided to hell with it?" The angel was quiet, so Dean pressed on. "I've been in tight spots before y'know and you never…"
"Never this bad," Cas cut in, struggling, starting and stopping, "…never…" After almost a minute of dead air, their eyes lingering with no words spoken, allowing the silence to do their communicating, the angel finally broke the still and continued. "I didn't want to lose you." The weight of what he was feeling seemed too intense to hold back, at last breaking through with his final confession. "I didn't want to be alone."
Dean's reaction was filled with compassion and resignation, a simple nod indicating he fully understood the sentiment. "No one does."
After packing up what little they had, they took off further into the West, still in search of something to ease the horrors of Purgatory. On his most recent walkabout Cas had found new terrain, an end to the forest, leaving the trees and mountains behind and discovering the flatlands…wide-open spaces. It offered hope, more hope on top of Dean's miraculous survival. The tension that had dogged them over the past year and in the early days of Purgatory now seemed at an end. Not that it couldn't reappear, after all, Purgatory ain't a walk in the park and it would be easy to get testy here, easy to let differences or stress pit them against one another. Still, it was nice to think they were in this together.
Dean was humming, some ballad that Sam would probably tease him about if they were listening to the radio and he'd wrongly assume it was a song Dean would detest, shocked and appalled to find out his dirty little secret, that big brother knew all the words. Truth was, Dean's taste in music went beyond heavy metal and classic rock. He even enjoyed a country song on occasion. The rockabilly ones, songs about Mama's and outlaws and fast wheels. Things he could relate to. Hard lives and hard men, doing what they had to do to survive.
"We're liable to encounter new monsters out here," Cas casually observed, "Things that avoided the forest."
"Yeah," Dean replied, his eyes looking up to the sky. Enjoying the view, something besides trees overhead, no longer trapped in the shadows. Open air, even if it wasn't the freshest he'd ever encountered, now that the effects from the rain had dried up. Still, it was something. "Whatever's out there, we'll find a way to gank it." His boots made a crunching sound, unavoidable with the land littered with strange cone-shaped objects, something akin to pinecones except there weren't many trees around. He squinted into the late afternoon sun, more sun than they'd encountered since they'd been deposited here in Purgatory. Enough that he might have to worry about sunburn, yet another reason to curse this place. "Yeah, well…we figured out the Fire Swamp and the R.O.U.S.'s…can't be that difficult." He genuinely smiled, the fine lines around his eyes crinkling and those pinpoint dimples flashing. He felt relaxed, almost happy, as happy as a man stuck in Purgatory could be. Enjoying the calm before the next storm.
Looking perplexed the angel fell into those familiar patterns, again lamenting he couldn't appreciate the hunter's humor. "I don't understand those references."
"Princess Bride…Rodents Of Unusual Size." Dean's grin broadened. He could enjoy the monstrous size of those critters now…now that he wasn't fighting for his life against them. He was determined to enjoy the moment, with Cas presenting an acceptable target for his fun with Sam unavailable. He shook off his longing for his brother, accepting his fate for now and making the best of it. "I'm obviously the Man in Black so you must be Buttercup." Sadly, the insult didn't work half as well with an oblivious angel incapable of getting the joke. It was a good thing Dean was a solitary kind of guy when the need arose, used to making do on his own…even if he was no longer alone. Some things they could share while some were destined to be enjoyed as only he could. They still had a long way to go to get Cas back on the human side of understanding.
Cas was the one to suggest they make camp for the night, lingering concern over Dean's previous injuries probably his motivation.
"Good as new, Cas. You know the drill, new dawn, new me." He smirked, offering up that huge victorious grin that insisted he owned the world…or was intent on making you believe he did. "But, y'know, if you're tired…"
"Yes," the angel quickly replied, "I'm tired."
They were in an open clearing, plenty of room around them to hear if anyone approached in the night. It was the best prospect they'd encountered since they'd left the forest hours before. Dean plopped down on a grassy spot, leaning back against a protruding rock and crossing his long legs at the ankles, stretched out before him. He clasped his hands behind his head, again looking up at the sky. No clouds. Not your standard Earth blue, more azure, definitely with a touch of deep purple to liven things up. Quite possibly it was the only beautiful sight they'd encountered in Purgatory. He pondered that thought, puzzling over what horrors it might secretly hold. Comfort and beauty were strange concepts for this place, definitely an illusion waiting to be shattered. Evil the only promise you could depend on.
Cas wandered around a bit longer, circling, picking out his spot. Finally settling next to the hunter, sitting cross-legged on the ground.
Neither appeared sleepy, rather that edge was back, the unspoken conversation still hanging between them. With Sam not there it fell on Dean to get this ball rolling. "So…you really okay?"
"Yes, why wouldn't I be?" That perplexed expression returned, the fixed jaw, sincere eyes squinting, a casualness about him that masked what had to be simmering beneath the eerie calm.
Dean knew about repression, knew the toll it took, knew how Sam always pressed him to talk about it and, truth be told, how he often felt marginally better after their little roadside chats. How sharing with his brother somehow lifted the burden and helped ease the pain, as much as anything possibly could. Maybe it was simply knowing he had someone on his side, someone who cared. He missed the sharing, missed caring for his brother and worrying about him, missed that closeness. Cas was here, Sam wasn't. Cas had saved him. Saved him by going against his beliefs. Dean also knew the struggle to reconcile opposing beliefs. Yeah, he could relate. Much like they had when they both railed against deadbeat dads. Bookends…compadres…brothers. Not like him and Sam, no one could ever replace Sam, but it was good, all he had here. A relationship that again mattered. "Cas, back there…you killed…like a dozen…"
"Monsters," Cas interjected, helpfully filling out his sentence.
"They were going to kill you…" Cas quirked his head comically as he added, "Possibly eat you." Then he simply stared at the hunter, all emotion withheld. The angel still so detached, so distant…so angel-like.
"Sorry?" His forehead wrinkled, his thin lips pulled tight. He released a soft sigh. "I don't understand." Cas actually seemed to be trying. Trying to comprehend, trying to 'get' what the hunter meant.
"I just…" Dean paused, this was harder than he thought, more emotional than he intended. "I'm sorry you had to, y'know…" He was solemn as he released a low gasp. The awkward moment soon morphing into a nervous chuckle as he quickly added, "Glad you did 'cause, well, wouldn't be here otherwise…so thanks."
The night was peaceful, so unlike the previous tense nights in the woods. The grasslands were definitely not as spooky as the forest, not that they couldn't be just as deadly. This was Purgatory after all, not a picnic.
They were each lost in their own thoughts, immersed in separate memories, a means to hold on to who they were back on Earth, when Dean noticed Castiel tilting his head, intently listening. His hand immediately drew out his knife, ready, poised for battle. "Cas? What is it?" he whispered.
"Bees," was the answer. The angel rose then, taking a few steps as he continued to listen.
"Bees?" Dean's mind immediately veered off to all the horror movies he'd watched as a kid, assuming bees in Purgatory had to mean man-eating behemoths the size of a bus. He sprang to his feet, his left hand reaching into his pocket for his lighter, flicking it open in readiness. Hoping fire would do, because he sure as hell didn't want to get close enough to use his knife. With terror rooted in precaution he asked, "They coming? How soon?"
"What?" Cas turned, calm and relaxed, no indication danger was closing in.
Whispering more urgently, Dean stepped closer to the angel, listening even though he couldn't hear a damn thing. "They gonna attack or what?"
"Attack?" Castiel chuckled, a sly smile forming on his lips. "No. They're just bees, Dean. They're making honey."
The hunter froze for a moment, digesting the information before relaxing his grip on his knife, a hopeful smile spreading out as his lips smacked. "Honey? Like…sweet, syrupy and tasty?"
"I would assume so."
"Well, let's find out." He managed to take one step before Cas stopped him.
The angel's hand reached out with a gentle hold on Dean's arm, just a cautionary brush. "We best wait 'til dawn. They won't take kindly to being interrupted now. They're all settled in for the night. In the morning I'll be able to collect some honey for you."
Cocking his left brow and flashing those dimples, Dean smiled, the thought pleasing, even if it did make his stomach growl in anticipation tonight. "You promise?"
The very idea of bees in Purgatory brought up more questions, more possibilities. Offering hope that there might be other touches of home out there, buried deep and hidden by all the danger and strife this place promised.
Of course bees didn't bring warm fuzzy memories for Dean, not with the whole naked Cas sprawled across the hood of his car image still stuck in his head. He shook back that memory, too vivid and disturbing. He couldn't help but remember peaceful hippie Cas, jabbering on about his honey and communing with the bees and nature and all that jazz. He had to wonder if the Cas he was with now would revert back. He sure as hell hoped there would be no taking off of clothes and frolicking nude in the fields. That's a sight he'll pass on…thank you very much! Still, he couldn't resist asking. "Hey, Cas? Can you communicate with these bees…like you did back on Earth?"
"Yeah…y'know…chatting 'em up and all?"
Cas smiled, just a slight upturn of his lips and a barely registering glimmer in his eyes. Subtle but real. "I much prefer chatting with you, Dean." Dean raised an eyebrow, remaining silent as the angel continued, "Conversationally, bees are lacking."
That garnered a huge grin, a self-satisfied smirk from the hunter. He plopped back on the ground, ready to settle in for the night, ready to dream of sweet honey dripping off his fingers and filling his stomach.
The angel seemed to be contemplating more, turning a thought over in his head before speaking again. Somehow appearing to want to set the record straight, come clean and start over. "Dean…what I said earlier, about not wanting to do this alone."
Dean arched a brow, listening, waiting, all focus now on his friend. "Yeah?"
"It's not just being alone…what I mean is, it's you. You're my friend and I didn't want to lose you."
Dean rolled the thought around in his head, remembering the long journey they'd shared, from Perdition to Purgatory, with all stops in between. He still found it hard to forget, even harder to forgive, but he knew they'd turned a corner, gotten back on track, somehow found that common ground. "Yeah, me too."
All standard disclaimers apply.
Thanks for reading. I'm trying really hard now to find that middle ground between the angst that I just naturally relate to concerning Dean and the strength and reserve he is so apt to display on the show. I'm striving for realism, for the truth of how Dean Winchester responds to his life. I hope I'm getting there.
Now that we've seen the first episode of Season Eight, I think my version of Purgatory holds, as a representation of their earliest time there. I hope Cas and Dean came to some understanding before Cas disappeared on him and Dean got grittier and the road turned even harsher. I'm sure the real toll of Purgatory is the unrelenting danger and the constant chase to stay alive. As Dean put it, the purity of it, fighting for your life on a very primal level.
I've started another series of 100 word drabbles on Dean's reflections of Purgatory. Join me there if you want more of my version of Purgatory. I'll be posting that series soon…sooner if I ever get my Internet restored.
Comments and discussion are always most welcome. Until next time, take care, B.J.