Night falls, and Castiel rests. He leans against a tree and closes his eyes for a moment. Breathes the strangely still air of Purgatory, listens to the sound of the stream. A soothing, reassuring sound. He can imagine, for just a moment, that he is back on earth, that he's home. In a moment, he'll hear the echo of Sam and Dean's voices, or the purr of the Impala starting. Dean will call for him, a hoarse shout and a profanity: "Cas, move your ass! Let's go!" and when he goes to him, Dean will offer him a beer with an impish grin, knowing Castiel will refuse. Sam will huff out a laugh, catch Castiel's eye, and shrug as if to say "You know what he's like." Castiel will allow himself the small hint of a smile, because he does know what Dean's like. He knows the very shape and texture of Dean's soul; he knows every detail of the hunter's being.

He sighs. He can't let himself daydream like this. Lucidity is a necessity; he must be in the here and now. He wishes with a bitterness that surprises him that he could be insane again. Insanity was easy. He didn't have to take responsibility then. He didn't have to remember, if he chose not to, the terrible price he'd exacted from innocents. The mountain of dead he'd left in his wake when he'd aspired to be God. The destruction he'd caused. How he'd hurt the Winchesters. The look in Dean's eyes when he realized Castiel had betrayed him. And worst of all, Dean fearing him, his eyes going cold when Castiel had threatened Sam. He'd seen himself become a monster in Dean's eyes and that hurt more than he'd expected. He'd seen the warmth go out of Dean's eyes again and again when he was trapped in his own mind; he'd seen Dean coming to kill him over and over again, dean calling him "an evil son of a bitch."

An indrawn breath. The light disappears from the sky, not gradually like back on earth, but suddenly. The forest goes quiet; there will be a few moments of silence before the night creatures awaken. And Castiel waits. He isn't aware that he's not breathing; it's not a necessity, but he learned it made the humans around him more comfortable if he was breathing, and it's habit now. He is completely still, waiting. The way he used to wait for revelation, only back then he had been sure revelation would come, and now he's anxious, uncertain. Hoping.

It always happens in these few moments between daylight and dark, when Purgatory is still. For the 246 nights Castiel has been here, this is when it happens. It keeps him going. It gives him something to fight for; a soldier like Castiel always needs a purpose, a cause to fight for.

Cas, I…

At the familiar nickname, Castiel relaxes against the tree he's leaning on, lets out a ragged breath of relief, tilts his head to one side. Dean. Dean is praying, as he's prayed for 246 nights before this.

Where you at? I'm trying to find you, man. Please don't be dead. Please, you stupid son of a bitch, don't get yourself killed.

A small smile curves Castiel's lips, brittle and sad. Dean's bravado is comforting, in that it is familiar. At the same time, he can feel the emotion in the prayer; Dean is close to despair. Castiel clenches his hands into fists, trying to keep himself from being swayed by these few pleading words from Dean.

I'm going to find you, Cas.

It is a promise. Castiel feels the steel bands of his bond with Dean squeeze around his heart (metaphorically, of course, because if his vessel had steel bands around his heart that would be of some concern). He'd regained his grace and angelic powers, but he'd retained his human emotions. He's filled with warmth because Dean says he'll find him, and consumed with fear that Dean actually will. What Dean says, he means.

Where ever you are, just hang on. Hang on, man. I'm coming.

The concern Dean has for Cas tugs at him, causes his heart pain. He knows this might be cruel, what he's doing. He knows that Dean is probably suffering, fighting for his life every day (and probably every night too), with no allies and no help, almost no hope.

But, Cas… if you're okay, if you're not hurt or captured or… whatever (and Cas notes that Dean cannot even let himself think that Cas might be dead, that is not even a possibility for the hunter), come back. Please, Cas ,I…

Castiel turns his head, frowning. He cannot go to Dean, it's too dangerous. His hands, still fisted, beat futilely against the tree. He can feel the rough bark scraping his skin and doesn't care. He cannot go to Dean, he cannot put Dean at risk.

Goddamn it, Cas, come back to me.

It's a human plea to a divine being, but Castiel wants to obey like it's an order. He keeps beating his fists against the tree trunk, tearing the skin, to keep himself from appearing next to Dean. He cannot allow himself to indulge his weakness in such a way; he must be strong. But it hurts him, it tears at everything he is to be this strong. He once created Dean, pulling his soul from hell and reconstructing his body, raising him from his grave to save the world. That is not the surprising part; Castiel is, after all, an angel. No, the surprising part is that somehow, in ways Castiel can't even understand, Dean remade him. Emotion, doubt, free will- all of these things were shaped by Dean, and they are now as intrinsic to Castiel's being as his grace. Which makes Dean essential to Castiel, and being apart from his hunter is excruciating. But necessary. His hands are bleeding now, the sting of broken skin turning into a dull ache.

Good night, Cas.

Castiel opens his eyes and stares into the darkness. He repairs the damage to his hands when he's sure he will stay where he is. The physical pain subsides, but his heart aches and his whole being cries out to be with Dean. He stills himself, subduing the pain with a quick swallow and a blink of the eyes (not knowing he learned the gesture from Dean, not knowing he is even doing it). He cannot help the tears in his eyes, though. He cannot keep himself from crying. With another painful swallow, he raises one hand to wipe the tears from his eyes, and he sighs. He can hear stirring in the forest; it will be long night.

But before he moves again, before he becomes all motion and fight and survival, he lets the short prayer find its way to the center of his being, nestling somewhere between his heart and his grace with all the other prayers Dean has sent. Words of pleading and hope and yes- in this moment, Castiel will admit it, with his heart raw and tears still welling in him- love. These 246- 247- prayers are all the hope he has, the last thing he has to cling to. It has to be enough.

It is.