Purgatory. From purgatorium, second declension genitive, from purgo, to cleanse, to purify, to purge.

Fair then, right even that he should feel so scoured, so emptied, so hollow. So apt that it would be a place of emptiness, forced and chosen. A place where all his vain aspirations were paid in silence, and lonely lay the head that dared to seek the crown. He chose power over friends and brothers, and now he stood alone again when he would give nearly anything, anything for communion.

His clothing was caked with filth, the dirt and ash of the land, the effluvia of his enemies, a bit of his own blood here and there, and as he peeled it from where it clung to his skin, he thought of Dean's hands straightening his tie, adjusting his collar. Ellen's bemused smile as she leaned across the bar. On the house; whaddya have? Boys tell me you're a genuine angel, and if that doesn't deserve a drink for sheer balls-out stupid in joining our motley crew, I don't know what does. Bobby's rough mechanic's hands shockingly gentle on his battle wounds with gauze and ointment that were useless and intent that was more powerful than any archangel. Sam coming back from a burger run and tossing one across the motel room to him I know you don't need it, but you still like them, right? No pickle.

Daphne so kindly, so patiently walking him through all the tiny minutia of life that everyone else took for granted, things she thought he'd forgotten that it had never occurred to either of them he'd never needed to know. How to tie his own shoes, comb his hair, use a credit card, make a bed. Their first kiss, spontaneous, taking them both by surprise but feeling so right, so natural, the only thing that could follow the first utterance of his name on her lips. How even now, looking back with the memory of having watched countless times through human history, no understanding of physical stimulus and pleasurable reinforcement could have prepared him for the reality of their wedding night and the many times they had been together in the weeks after.

He still thought of it often, though he did not touch his vessel to the memories. It was not necessary. He could command the nerve signals completely, flawlessly replicate every sensation, up to and including precisely mimicking the orgasms the body had experienced, and there was no denying that it certainly felt good to do so. Nevertheless, he'd done it only twice, and both had disappointed him so deeply that there was no point. What he truly missed, what he could not have back was the intimacy, the trust, the connection that it had forged between them that was the thing he really ached for.

But they were mortals, all of them, and it should have been easy to berate himself that they would always have been lost to him anyway. Here and gone again, so fleeting, so nothing, he was a fool to get caught up in their little lives and loves and dreams and needs. A fool to want, much less need their fickle friendships. A fool to accept the intimacy of one human, much less allow himself to wonder if it could be replicated with anoth—

No. He had never been one of them. But what he was, he had also lost.

Watching creation unfold with the Garrison in the glorious innocence before anyone knew what it meant to fall. When Lucifer had been not an enemy but a beloved older brother who taught him how the slightest breath of ultraviolet across the primordial seas would make them shimmer with an infinity of phosphorescent light. Michael scolded for wrestling a Megalodon on a bet…but how much fun that had been to watch, and how he himself had won an age's post at the Throne from Eremiel. Sneaking out with Balthazar to startle Raphael at his sunrise meditations by shifting a breeze to send a stampede of Tyrannosaurs in a blaring, squawking turmoil of flared plumage. Hester's unrestrained sines of glee at the unfolding of the first flower. The hush and awe at the revelation in the dark eyes of the little primates as language was born.

Even the Fall and the first war, painful as it had been – and oh, there would be comets roaring through space for another billion years that had been flung from the tears and anguish of those days – there had still been communion. He had first experienced battle then, first been taught to hold a sword and wield a spear, first felt the righteous purity and power surge through him to smite those no longer his kin. He remembered being at the edge of the Pit when the Cage was first closed, so exhausted his waves barely held cohesive oscillation, but feeling the steady resonance of Uriel by his side without even the need to consciously perceive him. He remembered the last glimpse of Lucifer's ten thousand eyes and the horrible final scream of Father that had split every infinity of reverberation.

He remembered hearing someone – he still did not know who but it didn't matter, it had really been all of them – whisper it's over, though. We have each other now. The traitors are gone. How much he'd wanted to believe it. How he had believed it. They all did. All they had to do now was follow orders and it would never happen again, it would never be them burning beneath the iron layers of existence for all eternity. They were good soldiers. Good soldiers and good friends and good family, and he'd tried, oh, Father, he'd tried.

And how pathetic that even now, after knowing how much rot and woodworm had lay beneath the foundations of the Garrison, that he would give so much for just a single moment of that camaraderie again. To hear their voices resonating through and against his own energies, to converse easily and speechlessly in the ageless celestial tongue that held eons of subtlety and precision without reinventing itself every few heartbeats in ridiculous parabola of self-indulgent references. He closed his eyes, rocking the precious syllables on the ill-suited slip of meat in his mouth, but savoring it no less.

The Leviathan spoke a version of it, ancient and distorted and ugly, and he was ashamed that he took advantage of that. It was a true sign of how far he'd fallen that he would use the divine language to address monsters just for the fleeting satisfaction of seeing that they understood him, for hearing the pidgin rejoinders that he knew were the closest he'd ever come again. But it was something. The thinnest fragment of not being utterly alone.

And that's what language really was, wasn't it? Communication. Communion. Reaching out and finding someone who understood.

Sam had understood. So wrong that he had. He never should have. But he had. Not the Enochian, of course. No mortal could ever learn that language properly, even if he'd had the advantage of being ridden by a native speaker for a while. No, what Sam had understood had been something deeper, darker, more intimate. He'd come to Castiel in the back yard of the cabin mere hours before the mission that had brought him here to the place of purging, sat with him too silently, long legs stretched out on the cool green grass and head tipped back too casually to the sun.

They're your Lucifer, aren't they? The bees. It took me a while to understand what he was, that he wasn't really in my head, but it was the bees that made me figure it out. Lucifer wasn't who tortured me, he was what tortured me; he was me failing Dean. With Ruby, me letting him out in the first place, in not finding a way out of the apocalypse that didn't mean leaving my brother behind, in coming back soulless…and you, Cas, you've got your perfect little drones, don't you? Workers and soldiers, all doing just as they're supposed to and never questioning the hive.

He hadn't answered. He hadn't needed to. Sam already knew. He knew what it felt like to make all the wrong choices for all the right reasons, to take on too much and destroy everything while trying to save it, to be forced to pay for your mistakes in brothers' blood. To watch a monster use your hands to ravage those you would never lay a finger against, to blaspheme with your lips, to destroy with your strength. He understood the terrible isolation of it, and even then, they had both known they would wind up alone as the price, even if neither of them had been able to forsee this.

Sic semper traditor.

And were he truly penitent, he would embrace it. Accept it. Know that his hermitage was not only just and righteous but that it preserved his friend whom he had so grievously betrayed so often. Fallen, perhaps, but he was still an angel among monsters as well as the being who had swallowed every soul there and used them as weapons in his foolish vendetta gone wrong. To say he was hunted was the grossest understatement, and the most he could do for Dean now was play the decoy and keep them away from him.

Were he truly penitent, he would no longer think of himself. He would hope to never see Dean again. He would know that he caused nothing but pain. He would know he was nothing but danger. He would know he was the worst possible companion in any and every way that mattered, that he had betrayed the most intimate offers of friendship and trust, and that it was even his fault that Dean was trapped here now. Were he truly penitent, he would not even be listening when Dean prayed to him.

He had tried to ignore it.

He had tried for weeks.

Cas, are you there?

Could really use a little help here, Cas.

Don't fuck around with me, man, I need you.

Red Leader to Feathered Nest, come in asshole, do you read me?

So help me, if you're dead when I find you, I'll kill you.

Cas, I'm seriously getting alarmed here. I'm in over my head. It's Monster A Go-Go in this place, and I'm not even Japanese.

Please, buddy. I'm not even angry, ok? We can go find bees or whatever you want. Just answer me, Cas.

You're dead, aren't you? Sons of bitches ate you. I'll make 'em pay, Cas. I swear to God I'll make 'em pay.

I'm still looking. Wherever you are, I'm not giving up on you. Dead or alive. You won't get rid of me that easy.

I found some bloody khaki on a tree today. It had better not have been yours, Cas. Don't you dare let it be yours. You stay alive, motherfucker. Stay alive so I can kill you.

Had a close call today; one of those bastards got me pretty good. I'm gonna have to hole up a while to heal, but I won't lie, it'd be worth a shitload if you could come give me a shot of that angel mojo, because I don't feel real great right now.

Cas, could you maybe just send me a sign that you're still out there? I'm scared. There. I said it. I'm so fucking scared that I'm not gonna make it, and I just…I don't want to die alone. Please.

Were he truly penitent, it wouldn't cut into his heart until he curled into a ball and slammed his hands over his ears in a gesture as childish as it was useless because his vessel's ears mattered less than its toes when it came to hearing such pleas. Were he truly penitent, he wouldn't shove a fist into his mouth and jam his eyes closed and press himself hard against the rough bark of a half-dead tree and shake with the effort of not answering. Of pushing away what he needs needs needs needs needs (no, not need, want, and want is bad and want is what got you here in the first place, what got HIM here in the first place, want will destroy you all).

But it would be so easy.

He wouldn't even have to properly go to him. He could leave the vessel right here and just…open a little. It was so agonizingly compressed to wear the meat fully anyway. It always felt so good to reach a bit, to, no pun intended spread his wings. All he would have to do is reach back along the thread of the prayer, come to Dean in a dream, the shadow of his own image but enough to see him, hear his voice, offer him the comfort he begged for. So easy to share the mind and heal the body and perhaps even….

No.

Because if he opened his Grace to reach Dean, it would leave a trail like lightning at midnight for any beast to follow directly to where his friend lay wounded, vulnerable, and all his efforts to shield him would be in vain. And hadn't that been what he'd been trying to do this whole time? Since the first moment he'd been sent into the sulfur-reeking flames to fetch what was supposed to just be a vessel, a tool, but he'd known from the first touch was so much more, wasn't he supposed to be Dean's savior, not his executioner?

And if it would be easy, too easy, so easy, so good, so right and so wrong and so needed to answer just one prayer, to seek the communion of the sensations of just one touch, one kiss, one thought, one moment, one bond, one friend, one brother…if he was trembling on his hands and knees in the filthy darkness of the forest pressing his palms (no no no no no) into bracken thorns and could still all but feel what it would be (easy easy easy) to hold someone as warm and trusting and vibrant as Daphne had been but stronger, bolder, darker, harder, with the taste of shared hellfire in the back of his throat and the blaze of a warrior in his eyes and a soul shaped like paradise's open arms and literally born to take an angel within…well, that only proved he was not yet purged.