It's time to face your demons.
Dean is running.
He doesn't know how long it's been, but his legs ache and his feet have long ago gone numb. Adrenaline pulses through his veins, blinding him to the pain. He scarcely notices the blood dripping down his neck or the shredded skin of his arm or his red, swollen knuckles. He hears the monsters behind him, breathing and snarling and laughing, some of them. Laughing like they haven't had a target this tough in months.
But the worst are the silent ones, because he knows that when he looks back he'll see far more than he hears.
After Castiel disappeared he walked a ways, the vampires and kitsunes hiding between the trees, just watching him. Every time he looked over his shoulder there was nothing there, but he knew, out of the corner of his eye and using the sixth sense of knowing when you're being watched that they were there. Curious. Waiting.
When they finally attacked he held his ground, but without a gun or a weapon it soon became pointless. There were too many monsters and no one could singlehandedly hope to fight them off. So he ran.
As he runs, a distant howl making his hair rise, he wonders. He tries not to, for it really doesn't do much good, but the questions just keep popping up. He wonders how long he can run and if the spirits will ever tire. He questions where Cas went, and if he abandoned him or if he had disappeared unintentionally. He wonders if it is possible to die here.
It doesn't matter. Dean casts a quick glance behind his back, hardly letting his legs falter. The group of monsters seems just as big as before. He isn't getting anywhere fast. The shadows are hard to discern; you just catch a flicker of vertical pupils, glowing red, or long claws or a pair of fangs. He thinks he sees Amy amongst them- or is that Emma?
Then there is light, all-encompassing for as far as Dean can see, though it may just appear that way because of the harsh contrast. He stumbles and shields his eyes frantically, unaccustomed to anything but darkness for days, maybe weeks. It's no use; it still burns his retinas, sears the back of his eyelids. He is aware of screeching from behind him, and just as quickly as the light came it dissolves into nothingness and there is only silence in his wake.
Dean uncovers his eyes, cautiously glancing around. The spirits seem to have gone, and as the seconds go by he becomes aware of how exhausted he is. He wipes the trail of blood from his neck and tries to catch his breath.
Someone is walking towards him. He stands his ground and prepares for an attack, but as it gets closer he discerns the form of a girl.
"Anna?" he rasps.
Her hair is wild, her clothes ragged and dirty. But it is Anna, here to banish the monsters.
"We don't have long," she says. "Follow me."
"Hey- Anna, where are we going?"
"You have to find shelter. The ones that don't never make it for long," she explains, not turning back to look at him. She stops in front of a tree, which looks much like every other tree to Dean, and closes her eyes a moment. Then she steps inside.
"Anna?" Dean asks, bewildered.
A scarred and slender hand reaches from the tree and pulls him inside by the shirt.
"It's about manipulating things," she says, stepping to the pool of water in the corner of the room. They are standing in a circular area, surrounded on all sides by the inside of the tree bark. The puddle of water lies on one side, a flat bed of leaves and cotton on the other. A small pile of salvaged things- torn clothes, some bones, a sharpened stick- lies beside it. Dean looks up and sees the black void that is the ceiling. "You can create what you want here, to a certain extent."
She rises, the damp cloth dripping into the pool, and hands it to Dean. "You need to clean up. Especially that bite. Is it— ?"
"Vampire?" Dean cuts in, holding the cloth stiffly in his hand. "No." He stands looking at her, her eyes freshly alight; at their core they are dark and lost. She still wears that same green jacket, the edges frayed, and her red hair looks like fire. There are lots of things he wants to say to her, lots of old anger that burns to the surface, but all he says is, "We have to find Cas."
She is surprised at that. "Castiel is here?"
"You didn't know?"
"How would I know anything? It's not like I can hear the angels talking anymore."
"Wait, you can't hear them? Then what was that back there?" he asks, motioning outside. "The light."
She sighs. "I still have some power. I can transport short distances and send away spirits. But that took a lot of energy. I think it's my grace; it must have been damaged. I can't heal anything," she shows him her scarred hands, brushes the hair from her scabbed cheek, "and I can't hear the angels talking. I haven't heard any for years. The silence… it's maddening."
"Wow." Dean absently presses the cloth against his neck wound. "So all angels come here, don't they? Makes sense."
"Dean, why are you here?"
"Dick." He sits down next to the bed and starts to pull off his muddy boots. "Cas and I, we killed Dick Roman with the bone of a righteous nun, and we wind up here." He looks up. "You know about Dick, don't you?"
She nods. "So you two aren't really meant to be here," she says, almost to herself.
"Any idea how to get us out?"
"Dean, just because you can be pulled from Hell doesn't mean… this is Purgatory. The strongest prison ever created. You can't just leave."
He stares at nothing as she sits down next to him, crossing her arms over her chest. He tenses and looks at her with a darkness in his eyes. "Tell me about Purgatory. Everything you know."
What feels like several hours later, Dean and Anna prepare to leave the tree.
Purgatory runs on fear, Dean repeats to himself. If you believe there is nothing here but monsters and despair, you will die; a final death. If you believe there is shelter in the trees and places to rest, you will find enough to survive.
"Of course, most of the monsters survive off of each other," Anna had added.
Dean looks up at the sky, always dark and empty. He rested but didn't sleep, hasn't slept since he got here. "I feel like a frigging Flintstone," he grumbles, tucking the bone into the pocket of his jacket. He longs for the solidness of a gun in his hands.
"You know how to get around here?"
Anna shakes her head. "It's always changing. There is no way to get around." Her eyes flick towards him and away again. "We'll just have to hope we find Castiel. It's our only plan."
"Yeah, well our plan sucks."
They walk on in silence, listening for any spirits, though it seems they are smart enough to stay away from Anna for the time being. Dean thinks of Sam, if he's alright, if the leviathans have established power again or if they're still doing nothing without their leader. Bobby gone. Their parents gone. Sam, all alone in the land of the living. It doesn't matter if he gets out for himself, Dean thinks; it only matters that he gets back to Sam. In all fairness, he probably even deserves Purgatory.
He looks over at Anna and the tide of anger he's been holding back crashes over him like fire. How can he work with her, after what she did?
She meets his gaze steadily; she'd just been waiting for it, wondering when he'd be comfortable enough with surviving here to start remembering their previous meeting.
"You know what, I'll find Cas myself," he says suddenly, changing direction.
He pauses to glare back at her.
She opens her mouth and closes it again. "What would you have done?"
Dean knows, in his memory, that he can come up with at least a dozen monsters he's killed based on a maybe. But it doesn't change his answer. "You tried to kill my mother."
She watches him, lips pressed together.
"You practically killed Sam!"
"I tried to kill Lucifer," she replies. "There was no other way."
"Are you going to give me the "no other choice" crap? Really?" he asks, disgusted. "There's always a choice." He spreads his arms wide. "Apocalypse came and went and Sam's still alive!"
Anna is quiet for a moment. "I know. But I'm not sorry," she adds. "I did it because I believed it was right. I was trying to save people. Is what you do so different?"
Dean looks away, because all he can really see is the girl who got Sam killed.
Later, they still haven't found Cas. Dean and Anna killed a handful of monsters along the way, and were finally forced to take shelter in a large tree. Anna manages to turn it into the same room they were in before; the pool in one corner and a bed of leaves to rest on in the other.
Dean ditches his bloody, splintered bone and digs through their pile of materials for a long tree branch. He breaks the twigs off and begins using a rock to sharpen it, while Anna holds someone's torn shirt to her bleeding forehead.
She finally breaks the silence, a thick quiet that had settled between them for the past hours. "I was wrong."
Dean looks up, brow furrowed. "What?"
She meets his green eyes. "I was wrong to do it; I never said that."
He nods and looks back down again. "You were."
The two stick together for what must be months. They travel and rest alternately, passing the time talking about Heaven and Hell and Purgatory. They speculate and remember life and go through the motions. Dean clings to the hope that there is a way out, and it is only Anna that keeps him gripping that thread tightly.
"I don't deserve to get out," he says one day. "After all that I've done."
And she reaches for his hand, laced with fresh scars, and says, "We've all done things we have to pay for."
Dean and Anna are hidden within a tree. Dean sits in the center of the room, tending to the gaping wound on his shoulder. Anna gazes at him from afar before deciding to sit next to him. He watches her take the damp cloth from him and press it gently from his arm to the back of his shoulder, reaching under his torn and bloody shirt.
He wants to kiss her.
"Dean," she says, a small, knowing smile on her lips. She lies down and stares straight up, becoming enthralled with the darkness above. "Come."
He lies down beside her and sees only darkness. "Do you see something I don't?"
"You can't see them? All the stars?"
Dean squints and opens his eyes again, looking. At first he sees nothing. And then they begin to appear, one by one. A galaxy within a tree trunk, thousands of constellations mapping out before him. "Wow," he says, voice low.
She turns her head to look at him and whispers, "I'm not going to say sorry."
And the stars remind him of those nights, sitting on the Impala with Sam, having a beer; and the pain of missing it grabs him by the throat, tears at his chest.
He turns on his side and looks into Anna's eyes. He can see the stars reflected in them. "I'm not going to forgive you," he tells her.
When he leans down to kiss her, he kisses her deeply, brushing the hair from her face.
She whispers against his mouth and takes his face in her hands, presses her lips to his, rocks her hips against him. And they lay beneath the stars in a place of only darkness.
A place far from Heaven, far from Hell.