The Supreme Court (burningvigor) wrote,
The Supreme Court
burningvigor

dcbb fic: here the deadened strain revive // part three

“...ever gonna wake up?”

Castiel came to feeling groggy. He blinked a few times and took in the dark, enclosed space around him. He tried to lift his head to try to get his bearings, but it felt heavier than it should have.

The first thing he saw was the back side of the waterfall, the second the cave walls around him. So there had a grotto hidden behind the waterfall, then? Did that mean Dean had dragged him here after he'd collapsed?

That voice, of course, was Dean's, although Castiel couldn't comprehend why he would have been talking to an empty cave. He glimpsed the man seated near him, staring off through the cascading curtain that the waterfall created. It gave them the illusion of safety, if nothing else.

“Cas?” Dean peered over at him once he shifted out of his sleeping position. When he realized Castiel's eyes were open, he straightened up and moved closer. “Cas, are you all right?”

“Yes,” Castiel mumbled weakly as he attempted to push himself up. Dean immediately reached forward to stop him, and Castiel didn't have the energy to resist. “You were talking, weren't you?”

“Huh?” Dean looked taken aback for a moment, but that expression quickly smoothed out as he shook his head. “Nah. I mean. Just talking to myself, I guess. You were out for a while.”

“How long?” Castiel hadn't forgotten their two week deadline.

“Hell if I know. Or...” Dean paused for a second and chuckled. “Should it be 'Purgatory if I know,' instead?” He flashed a grin, but the tightness around his eyes showed that he realized it was a stretch.

Castiel stared up at him. Even Uriel had been better with jokes than that.

Though he hadn't understood the logic behind jokes, or how to make them, until recently. He still didn't have a very good hold on it, although he'd certainly thought he did back in the institute. “Pull my finger” was only one stunt he'd pulled back there. Castiel frowned, because now that he thought back to Dean's expression when he'd told him to do that, he realized it hadn't been the slightest bit funny.

Castiel shoved the thought away. Instead, he looked Dean over and realized that he had some sort of moss pressed against his abdomen. “You found plant life,” he murmured tiredly.

“Say what?” Dean glanced down at himself and then nodded. “Oh, yeah. I washed off a little bit, too.” He scrubbed his hand over his face, which definitely wasn't as dirt-smudged anymore. “You can too, once you're, uhh, ready to get vertical again.”

Castiel wished he could go now, to try and wash every last bit of monster blood off of him, along with all the other grime he'd accumulated since he'd taken those souls into his body, but he knew he wouldn't be able to make it at the moment. And perhaps it would be best to take advantage of a chance where they could talk without feeling too threatened. Now they actually could talk, as Dean was no longer losing control of his own body as it changed on him, or bleeding out slowly but surely.

“How's the wound?” he asked. Dean's face no longer looked strained by blood loss or pain, but Castiel wanted to be sure. The way he'd healed him, an improvised method of fixing the body through the soul, had been a long shot—and if there was any chance that the infection was still festering there, he needed to know.

“Better,” Dean said as he let out a breath. He rubbed the side of his neck, as if he didn't quite believe it himself. “A lot better. I'm not growing any more claws or fur or wings or anything like that, either.” The relief on his face mirrored Castiel's own feelings. Dean shook his head, expression baffled. “Man, first vamps turn me, then some crazy Purgatory sickness. My luck, right?”

It did seem like Dean always got the short end of the stick, and it couldn't even be completely blamed on choosing the life of a hunter. Plenty of hunters lived lives that were rather normal when compared to Dean Winchester's. And Sam's, of course, but that went without saying.

Sam. Castiel hoped that the younger Winchester wasn't doing anything too idiotic, but often that was too much to ask from these two.

“Unlucky in one way, maybe, but there aren't many people who've dodged that bullet twice,” Castiel pointed out. He propped himself up against the cave wall slightly, if only so that he could converse with Dean more easily. The fuzziness in his head had started to dissipate.

“Yeah, I know,” Dean replied. He lowered his head slightly and let out a sigh. “I don't get that, either. I mean, it's not just the turning thing. How many times have I come back from the dead now?”

They had already talked about this, in their own strange way. How this constant resurrection, these second and third and fourth chances, were a curse rather than a blessing. Then again, if Castiel hadn't come to on the side of that lake he would have never had the chance to make things up to Dean. Not that he had done a good job of that so far, but things were better now than they had been.

“Dean, since even before your death, you've been chosen in some way,” he explained.

“No,” Dean cut in, and while his eyes were lit up with a sudden anger, Castiel didn't mind now that they were green again. “Don't give me that righteous man bullshit. These other people, they get turned and that's it. They don't get some miracle cure that fixes everything at the last minute.” He dragged a hand through his hair and then shook his head. “They don't have some angel pal who can just undo any mistake they make.”

“Dean—”

“Cas, just—let me talk, okay?” Dean must have been bottling this all up, and so Castiel fell silent. “What makes me more important than anyone else? Why do I always get off easy? I mean, I kill these poor sons of bitches, and yeah, some of them deserve it. Most of 'em do. But for the ones who don't...”

“Those who don't deserve it would wish for death,” Castiel argued. “The ones who are good people wouldn't want to continue living if they knew it would be at the expense of others.” Dean had to have met his fair share of monsters who fell into that category, and while those hunts had to be the hardest, that didn't mean that he'd done the wrong thing by killing them.

“Yeah? Then about how Amy? She sure as hell didn't want to die.” The pained look on Dean's face wasn't a result of the healing wound on his torso.

Castiel looked at the ground. “Who is she?” He still thought it strange that he knew nothing of a person who seemed to have played such a large role in Dean's life.

Dean let out a deep sigh, one that ran through his entire body. He must have been expecting this question.

“Well, besides being a kitsune... she is—well, was part of a hunt Sam and I got caught up in about six months back.”

Six months. Castiel hadn't had a good idea of the passing time ever since he'd absorbed the damage from Sam's soul, but after a few seconds spent navigating the minefield of his own mind, he understood why he didn't know anything about this Amy.

Dean must have encountered her after the leviathans had chewed Castiel up and spit him back out. Emmanuel must have been getting to know Daphne around that time.

It was brief, but Dean stared right at him, a confirmation of what Castiel had already pieced together.

Thankfully, he broke the silence as well. “Well, it's more like Sam ran off to deal with her, 'cause as it turns out, she'd been part of a hunt we'd done way back when Sam was still just a kid.” Dean clenched his hand into a fist and stared down at. “By the time I caught up with him, he told me he'd already handled it, but he hadn't had it in him to kill her. Guess they had a bond.”

That was Sam's nature, it seemed, to bond with the things it was his self-appointed job to kill. While compassion could supposedly go a long way, Castiel had never had much luck with it himself, and in Sam's case it only ever seemed to lead to more pain.

Dean crossed his arms over his bare chest. He'd likely stripped in order to let the wounds breathe, along with the moss he'd pressed against them as a salve.

“Cas,” Dean continued, though his voice came out weakly. He paused, tightened his jaw, and made another attempt. “Cas, I promised him that I'd leave it alone. I told him that I trusted him when he kept insisting that Amy wasn't gonna be killing anymore. And then, do you know what I did?”

“You killed her.” Castiel didn't see much point in stringing this out when he'd been able to gather a lot of the details during that charged argument.

“Right. But you heard—she had a kid. And I just...” Dean slammed his clenched fist down into the ground and then scraped it back and forth across the uneven rock.

“Dean,” Castiel cut in.

Dean violently turned his head away. “Fuck, Cas, I was just... you hadn't even been dead three weeks and Sam was losing his mind and I...”

“Dean,” Castiel tried again, fighting the urge to reach out for the man once more. “You don't need to explain yourself to me. I'm the last person who would need any justifications.”

Dean looked back, legitimately puzzled. “What do you mean?”

Castiel pushed himself up further, wanting to be on a level plain with Dean as they discussed this. “I lied to you, and to Sam. I betrayed your trust.” He didn't know if it was wise to head into this sort of territory when their friendship still felt like it was covered in barbed wire, but it needed to be said.

This didn't apply just to Dean and Sam. There was also his family, those he'd killed when they'd only been trying to help. Rachel, Balthazar—sometimes he swore he could still see their blood on his hands. At the mental institute, he'd sometimes seen the outline of their wings against the walls or the ceiling.

Dean stayed quiet, so Castiel pressed on. “I could hardly judge you for doing the same, considering the circumstances. You were trying to wrest control back into your hands, isn't that right?” He looked up to find Dean's eyes and then held his gaze as if he never planned to look away.

Dean, as usual, managed to maintain eye contact for an impressive amount of time, but he almost always looked away first, and this time was no different. “What, trying to read me like a book now?” he asked bitterly.

Castiel shook his head. “It's not a matter of trying.” If there was one human he knew backwards and forwards, it was Dean Winchester. “I'll remind you that I've had a decent amount of contact with your soul as of late.”

Dean deadpanned at him for a few seconds. “If I ask what the hell you're getting at, you're just going to give me some creepy response, aren't you?”

Castiel only shrugged in reply, and Dean quickly waved him off. Either way, that comment had cut through the tension, though it wasn't a subject they could avoid for too long.

“Anyway,” Dean said after a few minutes dragged by, “it's not something I can make up for now.”

“I put her to rest, as much as such a thing is possible with a monster,” Castiel provided after a pause. At least he had been able to take one of the creatures here down for good, though he obviously couldn't make a habit of it or there wouldn't be much of him left by the end of this.

If an end was even attainable. They were a sorry sight at the moment, and while they'd found some water clean enough to wash their wounds out with, they couldn't stay here long. Between the days spent in that tree hollow and however much time he'd been passed out here, who knew how much of that two weeks was left?

There were more monsters with vendettas out there, and they would keep coming after them and tearing into them until nothing was left. If they didn't find reach the top of that mountain relatively soon, they might not last. Dean had taught him to never lose sight of his goal no matter how impossible it seemed, but that was getting harder and harder.

Castiel realized that Dean had fallen silent and glanced over to see that he'd bowed his head down between his knees. When Dean realized there were eyes on him, he glanced up and sighed. “Yeah, you're right. I made my choice back then, good or bad. Can't change it now.”

“You should tell Sam,” Castiel urged, “when we get back.” He almost said “if,” but managed to force the right word out at the last second.

Dean grimaced and leaned back. “Yeah, guess I should. This whole thing with none of us trusting each other hasn't exactly worked out for us.”

Castiel nodded and wrung his hands together, a nervous action he'd only started after he'd inherited Sam's damage. “Dean, I thought...”

“Oh, no, you don't,” Dean stopped him. “I know that tone. You heard me before, didn't you? I already forgave you for all that crap.” Dean closed his eyes and shook his head, to push it away as if it was nothing, but Castiel caught a tiredness in the action.

“You can forgive me for almost driving your brother to death and for unleashing a race of immensely powerful creatures on the world that easily?” he shot back, with an accusing hint to his tone. When he'd first noticed that forgiveness in Dean, he'd still been so mentally unsound, and he'd accepted it without question. Now, logic came into play and it just didn't make sense.

“Believe me, it wasn't easy. I was fucked up enough that I thought that going behind Sam's back and killing someone he cared about was the right thing to do.”

“What does that have to do with me?” Castiel asked as tilted his head to the side.

Dean sighed heavily. “You were dead, and the shit you pulled cut way deeper than I wanted to admit, all right? And I wasn't ready to forgive you. But since you were gone, it wasn't like I could deal with it. So I...”

“Lashed out,” Castiel finished, even as he looked away. For some reason, during his long journey down that dark road to dealing with a demon, he'd never realized that it would hurt Dean so much. He'd kept it from him to keep him safe, and because there had been some sense of shame, but he'd never fully considered the effect it would have on someone who was supposed to be a friend.

It seemed so obvious now.

While Castiel had gone so far as to call Dean and Sam friends, he hadn't understood the full meaning of the word. He'd wanted to do everything for them and keep them safe, but that didn't mean a thing if it was against their wishes.

“Nonetheless, I want to say my piece, if you'll let me,” Castiel continued as he searched for Dean's eyes.

“All right, fine, but keep it brief. I can only handle so much of this heart-on-the-sleeve stuff,” Dean replied.

Grateful for the opportunity, Castiel took a moment to work out what he wanted to say. “I thought that if I took the leviathans down with me, it would fix everything I'd done wrong. I thought it was the only way I could atone. But... that was wrong, and then I completely lost myself. Knowing that you were suffering when I was busy living some new life is...”

“C'mon, Cas, you're making it sound like I was lost without you or something. It wasn't like that,” Dean said roughly. “I just had a lot of shit to work through. And yeah, you kept me waiting, but at least you found your way back somehow.”

“No,” Castiel responded, “we're not quite home yet.” He still didn't know where home was, but he had to take this one thing at a time.

“Ain't that the truth,” Dean grumbled as he rotated his shoulders and cracked his back. “If this is home, then we need to move to greener pastures pronto.”

If only it were that simple. While Castiel could have offered a long list of all the obstacles they had working against them, all the aspects of their situation that made returning to Earth unlikely, there was no point to it.

“Anyway,” Dean said, “the real point here is that both of us are still breathing, and as long as that's the case?” He had an almost cocky look on his face. “Then we keep working on getting out of here.”

“We head for the mountain,” Castiel said.

Dean shook his head. “First you've gotta rest. I know whatever you did to heal me did a number on you.” Dean looked at him more seriously now, his forehead creased with—was it concern? “Thanks for that, by the way.”

“Don't mention it.” Castiel shook his head, although that movement made him dizzy on its own. However long he'd already been out, it wasn't enough.

“'Don't mention it,' he says. Since when do angels talk like that, huh?” Dean asked jokingly.

“Since they meet humans with an odd way of speaking.”

“Odd? The way I talk ain't odd, Cas. It's normal.”

“I don't believe I've met anyone who says 'son of a bitch' as much as you do.”

Dean laughed, the sound so foreign that it startled him.

“All right, you might have a point there,” Dean conceded. “Just get to sleep already, all right? I'm feeling a hell of a lot better since you fixed me, so I should be good to stay up.”

While Castiel's first instinct was to argue that point, this was one case where he actually believed Dean. He had a decent amount of energy, and his mood was also surprisingly good considering their circumstances. It wasn't something Castiel could wrap his head around, but at this point he didn't see much reason to question it.

“You know the protocol by now, I imagine.”

“Cas, if you keep questioning my competence, I'm gonna start taking it personally,” Dean shot back with a raised brow. “Go to sleep already.”

It'd been a long time since they'd conversed this way, and the fact that it reminded Castiel of Dean's conversations with Sam, that simple back-and-forth, encouraged him. He focused on that thought as he settled back down and drifted to sleep.

---


Castiel woke not to the sound of Dean's voice or to the shuffling of him moving around in their temporary hiding space. Instead, he simply opened his eyes, suddenly conscious again and feeling far more enlivened. While his body retained damage here and didn't heal the way he was used to, it still had an impressive resilience and a decent recovery rate. That was one thing to be grateful for.

He sat up and rubbed at his eyes, remembering the action from when he'd thought he was just a human with some extraordinary healing powers.

“Dean?” Castiel listened to his voice as it echoed against the cave walls, back to where it became a dead end, but received no response.

Maybe Dean had gone out to get more makeshift dressings for his wound, or maybe he went scouting for something. Castiel couldn't blame him for leaving, seeing how sitting there watching him sleep must have seemed boring to Dean. While he didn't mind watching Dean while he rested, his attention span wasn't the same as a human's.

He grabbed for a handhold in the wall and pulled himself to his feet, letting out a relieved sigh when he confirmed he could stand without any dizziness. While Dean might be back soon, there was a chance that something had gone awry, and Castiel wasn't willing to wait and find out if that was the case. Better to go looking for him, and so he ducked under the waterfall and moved back across the swampland.

He'd been in such a panic when he'd arrived here that he hadn't really taken in the scenery, not that Purgatory had much to offer when it came to nice views. Still, it was vital to know one's surroundings, and so he glanced down at the swamp water, noting first the mulch and scum that made it a sickly green color, and second the smell—which wasn't something he could describe using any terms from Earth. This was distinctly a Purgatory smell, made up of the expulsions of dead souls and the layering of a swamp that hadn't been cleaned by any natural processes since it had come into existence.

He doubted Dean had cleaned off here, which meant that there had to be some cleaner water nearby. The water that cascaded down from overhead looked clean enough, which meant that he would need to find a way up to the top of the waterfall somehow

That required more wading through swamp water than Castiel would have liked, but his clothing was such a mixture of blood, dirt, and now algae that it hardly mattered. As he circled around the area, though, and reached the edge of a cliff face, he realized they were already partway up the mountain. In his panic, he had transported them to the best possible place.

After some more searching, Castiel located a grouping of rocks that he could climb up to an area of raised land. Dean had definitely strayed further than he should have, but they could discuss that later.

The climb was harder on him than expected, but Castiel eventually reached the top and found a pool of crystal clear water. Its dark blue color spoke to just how deep it went. That explained why the grotto was so shallow. Most of this area was likely taken up by this body of water, and it seemed almost like an oasis in comparison to the rest of what he'd seen.

This had to be where things like mermaids lived, however, and Castiel knew better than to let his guard down. Tempted as he was to wade into the shallow portion of the pool and wash off, he had to find Dean first.

Once he started walking the length of the lake, it didn't take long before he spotted two figures in the distance, both of them humanoid. Dean he picked out immediately, as he knew his shape and posture better than anyone else's, but the other man was an unknown.

It made no sense. No other humans existed here, and that thought only alerted Castiel to the fact that something was very wrong. As he sped closer, the stranger's features stood out, but only in the way that there was actually nothing strange about them. Just another human, somewhere around Dean's age, standing there with hands in his pockets.

Castiel used his angelic senses to expose what hid under that mask of normality—just like he'd done with Ruby, with Meg, with anything that thought it could masquerade as human—and what he saw almost stopped him in place.

Completely hairless, the creature still stood on two legs. Instead of a mouth, a bloody hole covered by a thin membrane of skin took up the lower half of its face. Hollow, gaping eyes sunk into its skull, and its body was covered in gray skin, like a corpse that had been left underground for too long.

A siren—and Dean had no idea what he was talking to. How could he have not realized that another human being here made no sense? Castiel broke into a jog, and finally they both noticed him.

“And there's the man of the hour,” the siren said, motioning toward Castiel with a flick of its hand.

Dean turned to face him, but the look on his face immediately struck Castiel as wrong. Dean's eyes looked cloudy and void of emotion, and now Castiel understood why he had been conversing so casually despite the warning signs. His mind wasn't his own now. How could Castiel have let this happen, when he had just healed Dean's body and soul?

But even worse than all that was something else he recognized in Dean's expression: resentment toward him.

“You see it now, don't you?” the siren continued. It stepped toward Castiel with purpose. He tensed in response, yet managed to hold still as the monster laid a hand on his shoulder. For a moment the skin on its hand flashed from peach-colored to gray, but still Dean remained blind to it. “Cupid here just makes things way too complicated.”

“I'm not a Cupid,” Castiel protested. He had to get through to Dean somehow, before the poison's effects worsened. “Whatever it's told you, you can't listen to it, Dean,” he entreated. “You know what this is, so fight it.” Dean had been targeted by a siren before, Castiel knew, so maybe he'd be able to resist it this time.

But he was too late—Dean remained reserved and suspicious of him. “No,” he shot back. “No, Cas, he's right. I keep giving you chances and letting you in, but that's not gonna do me any good. I should have known that from the start.”

“Exactly,” the siren said, grinning in a way that made a chill run through Castiel's blood. “It's not like angels are capable of love in the first place.”

Love? What did love have to do with this? Sirens took the concept and twisted it, of course, but it didn't make sense, here and now. The creatures usually turned men on their wives, or their family, not—

“What are you talking about?” Castiel asked, frowning in confusion as he shrugged away from the monster's grip.

“How clueless can you be?” The siren laughed, spinning in a slow circle as he shook his head in disbelief. “He's just proving my point now. Dean, he's never going to understand.”

Dean continued to stare at Castiel, his eyes wide open and unblinking as they pinned him down. Castiel was usually the one who gave Dean those looks, and it didn't feel right to be on the receiving end of it now. What did Castiel not understand? The fact that he didn't know, that his uncertainty only proved the siren's point, frustrated him.

Love was never a word he had applied to himself and Dean. Devotion, loyalty, sacrifice—those all fit. Unfortunately, so did betrayal, hurt, and frustration.

“Yeah, and with you...” Dean finally looked away from Castiel, turning a gaze that was almost adoring on the siren. “It's like, we just talk. It's easy.”

“I'm always here for you,” it agreed, nodding its head and returning to Dean's side. “And I understand you. But if you want it to work out between us, Dean, there's something very important that I need you to do.”

“Yeah?” Dean returned. He flicked his tongue over his lips in anticipation.

When the siren turned to look at Castiel, he saw eyes that were red, yet dull and lifeless. Only Purgatory could take red, a color that signified things like passion and energy, and deaden it. Spilled blood and wicked stares, that was all that red meant here.

“You need to take him out. For me,” it said. “Then... then we can be together forever. We'll leave this place, we'll find somewhere that will accept us.” The siren placed the back of its hand to Dean's face, and Dean closed his eyes and let out a sigh as his body relaxed.

Castiel remembered when they'd hidden in the tree hollow to mend their wounds, when he'd touched Dean's forehead and received a very similar reaction, and something twisted inside him.

“Dean, please,” he tried, motioning outward with his hand as if he could draw Dean closer to him—though he knew it was futile now. The siren's hold was too strong, and it had managed to look somewhere deep down inside of Dean, find a weakness and exploit it.

Worst of all was that Castiel barely understood it himself. Dean Winchester was supposed to be the human he knew the most about, so how was it that he was being bested by a monster? Had he and Dean really regressed that far in their friendship?

And how could he stop this? He didn't have the strength to smite another creature, and a siren's spell was usually unbreakable unless it was killed. Maybe incapacitating it would be enough here, but—

“Don't listen to more of his lies and excuses,” the siren hissed. “You don't need to resort to something like that anymore.” The creature nodded to the wooden stake in Dean's hand. “Dean, I'm waiting.”

Dean gripped the stake so tightly that his knuckles turned white. He took a few slow, methodical steps toward Castiel.

This was the last thing Castiel wanted. The anger, the fighting, the hate and the resentment that they'd tossed at each other in word form was supposed to be a thing of the past. He had never seen Dean look at him with this level of loathing, though, like he wanted nothing more than to wipe him from existence.

There was an intensity to it, too. When Dean glared at him, Castiel felt like that gaze burnt down through him, into a part of him that human eyes shouldn't be able to see.

Dean lunged at him without warning.

Castiel made to dart out of the way, but Dean was a trained hunter and managed to grab for his arm, shoving them both down to the ground. They landed hard on the rock, Castiel taking all of Dean's weight as he crashed on top of him. They couldn't afford to fight now, when both of them were weak and injured, but what could he do but defend himself? He had to snap Dean out of this somehow.

“What the hell do you know about other people,” Dean snarled as he tried to maneuver the stake over Castiel's chest. Castiel grabbed for his wrists, relying on his superior strength to hold Dean in place. “What the hell do you know about being a person?”

Castiel remembered the doctors in the institute, how they'd thrown diagnosis after diagnosis at them. He'd had a moment of clarity there once, where he managed a glance at the notes one of them had written after a session with him. Something about how he seemed “unable to relate to other people” and was “more interested in inanimate surroundings than in forming any meaningful bonds.”

That wasn't right, though. He'd been Dean's friend. He'd been Sam's friend. Or had he had it wrong all this time?

The sensation of the tip of Dean's stake pressing against his neck brought Castiel back to the present, and he shoved Dean off of him in one swift motion. “Your thoughts are not your own right now,” he argued desperately. “Dean, you have to listen to me.” It would be the epitome of a pathetic joke if they ended up killing each other now, after they'd worked this whole time to keep each other safe.

“I'm done with listening to you,” Dean countered, and he made a clumsy attempt to hurl his stake at him. Gone was the skilled hunter, replaced by someone who had been driven into a frenzy by an outside force. When the stake uselessly clattered on the rocks a few feet away, Dean made yet another attempt to pin him, but Castiel grabbed for his shoulders, turning the tables so that Dean was under him instead.

Castiel needed to get some of Dean's blood onto his blade—the blood of the one under the spell was essential to killing a siren—but he didn't want to injure him badly. A bronze dagger was technically also required to kill one, but he hoped an angelic weapon would trump that. Castiel wasn't versed in how to lightly wound someone, made more difficult by the fact that Dean was fighting back.

Dean's hands dug into his hips in an attempt to push him off, but there was a charge to his grip that struck Castiel as oddly familiar. He fought to pry Dean's hands off of him, manifested his blade and searched for a place he could lightly cut him.

Dean tried to shove him back and their bodies slid against each other. Castiel thought about the times when Daphne had approached him—or Emmanuel, rather—with that unmistakable intent, had dragged him up to their room and pushed him down onto the bed.

It had to be an effect of the venom, of course. This wasn't Dean, and Castiel couldn't get distracted. He pressed his weight down, which caused Dean to groan in a way Castiel wasn't capable of identifying at the moment. He pushed that from his mind and instead fought to grasp Dean's wrist and trap it against the ground. He had to do this quickly, before one of them did something they'd regret. He had to win Dean's mind back, just as he'd restored his body.

“Dean, are you really trying your hardest here?” the siren called from over Castiel's shoulder. “I know fighting an angel is a lot to ask, but I have faith in you... unlike some other people.”

Reinvigorated, Dean yanked his hand away and stretched out for his stake, ramming it toward Castiel's chest with an impressive amount of strength. Castiel did what he could to shrug away from the blow, and instead the stake's tip stabbed him in the shoulder. He clenched his jaw against the pain, but he wasn't about to lose a fight to a human, even if it was Dean. He flung out with the elbow of his opposite arm and caught Dean in the face.

That gave him enough time to yank the stake out of his shoulder, toss it aside, and then reach down to clutch at Dean's wrist once more. He slid his blade across Dean's palm to coat it with a passable amount of blood.

The siren had to have figured out what he was planning by now, which meant that Castiel had to work quickly. Dean hadn't quite given up yet, wanted him dead that badly, as both of his hands snaked up towards Castiel's throat and started to squeeze.

Technically, angels didn't need to breathe, but when in a human vessel, strangulation could still be disorienting. Castiel tried to wrest Dean's hands off of him (he could feel some of the blood from the cut on Dean's hand smear against his throat), but as soon as he removed one it would simply snap back into place.

The mind of a soldier was a variable one, however, and so Castiel forced his body to the side until his flank hit the ground, giving him enough room to pull his legs up and kick his feet into Dean's gut. Dean cried out and released him, which allowed Castiel an opening to scramble upward.

Even while disoriented, it only took him a second to locate the siren. He ran toward it—he needed to make the killing blow before Dean recovered.

That meant not giving it a chance to fight back. Once Castiel got close enough, he leapt forward and crashed right into its human form. The second its head cracked against the ground, he stabbed his blood-dipped blade into the creature's throat. It writhed unnaturally and screeched in pain.

That sound—the cry of an injured siren, so loud it hurt even Castiel's ears—might be enough to break the spell. Castiel slid his blade out of the creature's neck and then buried it deep into its shoulder to pin it down. Once he was certain it couldn't go anywhere, he pulled himself off of it and ran back to Dean.

Dean was still on the ground, in a daze. He shook his head feverishly, as if to clear the rest of the venom out of his mind. His hand was pressed to his stomach where Castiel had kicked him.

“Dean?” Castiel called out. “Dean, are you—”

“Cas!” Dean gasped as he blinked up at him.

It had worked. Castiel heaved out a relieved breath.

“Come on,” he said quickly, grabbing for Dean's hand to pull him to his feet. He barely chanced a glance back at the siren before they ran across the rocks, away from the waterfall and further into the unknown. Chances were that the monster had only been wounded, not killed, which meant that they needed to put as much distance between them and it as possible. He wasn't in a state to fly at the moment, so flat-out running was the only other option.

Castiel wasn't exactly used to that kind of exertion, though, and his head still felt fuzzy from the asphyxiation and his shoulder wound. Dean didn't seem to be doing that well either, which was to be expected for anyone who was coming to after being under the influence of something. Somewhere along the way, though, Dean jerked his arm out of Castiel's grip.

For some reason, Castiel couldn't help wondering if that meant something. Still, if he started second-guessing things, that would be the same as letting the siren win. And so he focused on running even as he stumbled over his own feet, his gaze settled on the higher mountain paths they needed to scale.

---


At first, they kept silent as they traveled, not wanting to make too much noise in case the siren was on their trail. They only spoke up to point out the easiest path to take as they climbed the mountain road.

Once they had put enough distance between themselves and that pool of water, though, Castiel looked to Dean. “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine,” Dean mumbled.

“It's normal to feel disoriented after—”

“I know,” he snapped. “Why the hell are you asking me? I'm the one who stabbed you.”

Castiel looked to his shoulder, which throbbed with pain. His skin was sticky from the blood, but he'd been able to ignore it in light of the greater concern of escape. “The stake didn't stab that deeply. I'll be fine.”

“Then we'll both be fine,” Dean said bitterly as he picked up his pace.

As Castiel followed, he could still see the guilt and unrest in Dean's eyes. The way a siren twisted a person's mind was completely fabricated, so it wouldn't be fair for him to blame Dean, nor should Dean blame himself. On the other hand, a siren had to pull from existing feelings to make the venom work properly, and that was where it became more muddled. Did Dean truly think of him as a nuisance?

A few glances in Dean's direction didn't enlighten Castiel in any way. Dean only stared straight forward, focused on getting somewhere safe so that they could regroup. But Castiel imagined that both of them were dreading that moment when there wasn't any excuse to not talk.

The further they climbed, the thinner and colder the air got, and Castiel noticed bits of snow coating the ground. It seemed that Purgatory embodied the least pleasant climates and settings. Dark, confusing forests; winding tunnels under the earth; a swampland that smelled truly unholy. And now, a frigid mountain range. At least it helped to numb the pain in his shoulder from that stab wound.

“We should try to find some kind of shelter before we climb any higher,” Dean said, pausing for a moment to catch his breath. The thin air had to affect him more than it did Castiel. “It's just gonna get colder and harder to breathe. There's a reason that Sam and I hate hunting in conditions like these.”

And they weren't hunting here, but being hunted, which made it that much worse. Castiel nodded and they worked their way around the mountain as opposed to climbing further up.

Unfortunately, the snow wasn't fresh, but tinged brown with dirt. Nothing could be easy here, and getting water out of the snow wasn't an option.

When they found a cave opening and headed inside, pitch black darkness greeted them. On top of that, there wasn't a large difference in temperature from the outside. This level of cold was somehow more bitter, more cutting, than anything Castiel had encountered on Earth. For one, he actually felt it.

“I'm getting sick of caves,” Dean groused as he reached for the cave wall and used it to help him move forward without tripping. “You know what? I'd be pretty fucking happy if I never saw a cave again.”

That was a point Castiel could agree with.

Once they traversed far enough into the interior of the mountain, Castiel noticed an area where the ground was fairly smooth and suggested they make camp. With no protests, Dean eased himself onto the ground, still struggling with both the numbing cold and his stomach, likely sore from when Castiel had kicked him.

Castiel, meanwhile, was bleeding from the shoulder, and so he shrugged his trenchcoat off and bunched it up to press it against the wound.

So much for not getting it bloody. Maybe it was allowed, if it was his blood. Or did that make it worse?

Dean, of course, noticed. “Sorry,” he said, voice bordering on soft.

“It's—”

“Yeah, I know, wasn't my fault, I wasn't me, blah blah blah. Glad you're up on your lore, though. We might've been screwed otherwise.”

Castiel's mouth pulled into a smirk. Maybe it wasn't the right time, but Dean probably couldn't see it in this darkness anyway. “Don't worry. You wouldn't have been able to kill me no matter how hard you tried.”

“Well, that's encouraging,” Dean grumbled with a roll of his eyes. “You need help wrapping it up or anything?”

In reality, Castiel didn't know much about bandaging a wound, but for some reason he still shook his head. “I can handle it.”

“'Course you can,” Dean murmured. “Then I guess I'll see if I can get a fire started.” He walked forward on his knees and gathered together a rock and some other debris off the cave floor.

Castiel watched him work and wondered if they were going to address what the siren had done. Castiel knew that he should just brush it off, that letting it bother him only gave that siren exactly what it wanted.

Something distracted him. When it was so close to silent like this, when he shoved the sounds of Dean's breathing and rock striking against rock to the back of his mind, he could hear something else. Something low in tone, but consistent and enveloping.

“So,” Dean cut in as he fought with the rock in his hand, wiping at his forehead as he continued to work, “about what happened back there...”

Castiel looked back, his shoulders suddenly tense.

“I shouldn't have wandered off so far,” Dean finished. “Sorry.”

Somehow, that was a letdown. Castiel knew that logically, Dean's reckless behavior should have been his largest concern, but—

“That's not what's bothering me right now,” Castiel said.

Dean stayed quiet, but let out a frustrated grunt when a spark flashed and died just as quickly. “You just said it yourself. That wasn't me.”

“But Dean—”

“It wasn't,” Dean said as he tried again. Then, his face lit up with a dim glow as the fire started. He quickly started to add more bits of wood and dead grass to it, making sure to build it steadily. “You think I'd try to kill you, Cas?”

“No,” Castiel admitted, “I don't. But I know, Dean, that sometimes it must be hard to be friends with me.”

“What do you mean?” Dean asked, his face cast with dark shadows from the fire as he frowned in concentration.

Castiel looked away for a moment and picked up a stray rock, moving it around in his hand. While most of it was smooth, shaped by years and years of erosion, he felt a rough edge here or there against his palm. “I'm not very good at reading conversations. I say the wrong things at the wrong times. I don't understand most of your jokes, and when I do, I don't know how to respond. I don't recognize any of the songs you play in your car, and I don't particularly like riding in it.” His hand tightened around the rock.

Dean straightened and leaned toward him. “Cas, you think I care about shit like that?”

“I think you might be better off with someone who doesn't make things so complicated, who doesn't act like he knows everything when he really knows so very little.” Struck by a wave of anger that he couldn't explain, Castiel pitched the rock away and watched it skid across the cave floor. “Dean, it's because of me that we're here in the first place.”

“No, Cas,” Dean said, raising his voice, which caused Castiel to look back over at him. “It's because of some black-blooded sons of bitches and that asshole Dick that we're here.”

“That's what we both tell ourselves.” Castiel stared down at his balled fists and shook his head. “But they're up there because of me, and I still haven't made that up to you.”

Dean heaved out a tired sigh. “Yeah, Cas, yeah you did, when you helped Sam. And when you went with me to take Dick down. Why the hell are we going over this again?”

Because Castiel couldn't shake the feeling that something still wasn't resolved between them. The way he'd touched Dean's forehead, and Dean's reaction. The anguish that rang through Dean's voice—and his own—each time the other was in danger. The sound Dean had made while under the siren's influence, when Castiel's body—borrowed though it might be—had pressed against his. Each look exchanged, each sacrifice made, the very fact that he knew Dean's soul backwards and forwards, knew his guilt and self-loathing and still found it impossible to fathom. It had to all mean something. But how could he explain that to Dean when he barely understood it himself?

“The siren,” Castiel started again.

“Forget the fucking siren,” Dean snapped.

“It said I wasn't capable of love. Do you think that's true?” He lifted his head and looked Dean in the eye.

Dean's face was bright from the flickering flames, but he stared down at them like they illuminated nothing at all. “How—” He cut off and grit his teeth. “How the hell should I know?”

Castiel's chest tightened, and he felt something fade and crumble away. “I... I suppose you shouldn't.”

Dean fell silent, but Castiel was too anxious—his heart pounded oddly in his chest—to try and find his gaze. For a time, he heard only the crackling of the fire and that faraway, rumbling sound.

When he sensed an additional light source, though, something coming from over Dean's shoulder, he had to look up. Castiel shifted to the side and his eyes widened when he realized what the cause was.

“Dean,” he said urgently. “Behind you.”

Expecting a threat, Dean shifted around instantly to find the slowly forming letters of another message from Sam.

Castiel watched from a further distance as the tension left Dean's shoulders. “Hey,” Dean said, relieved. “Look who it is.”

Castiel, eager to see the time limit, shifted forward slightly. It brought him closer to the fire, and the heat of it brought back a memory—of being caught in a circle of it, of Dean's betrayed glare...

“Three days,” Dean said once the message had finished, causing Castiel to refocus. “Shit. I mean, I guess it could be worse.”

Castiel swallowed and nodded. “We're approaching the top of the mountain. If we don't encounter any more obstacles, we could probably make it in a day's time.”

Dean stared back at him. “Did you just hear your own words, man? All we've run into here is obstacles.”

“Then would you rather we leave now and face those obstacles while exhausted?” Castiel argued.

Dean shook his head. “No. I don't think I could take another step without falling over.” He sighed and dragged his hand down the opposite arm. “Fuck, it's cold in here.”

“I could move closer to you,” Castiel suggested. “The combination of my vessel's body heat and the fire should help to warm you.”

Dean paused and looked over at him, raising an eyebrow. There was a split second of hesitation before he shook his head. “I'm not that cold.”

Castiel didn't quite understand. Did the personal space rule apply even in these conditions? “Are you certain?”

“Yeah, Cas. I can deal.”

Castiel gave up, though he wished Dean had agreed, as the cold was getting to him too. He pulled his knees up close against his chest and then stared at the fire, as if watching it would somehow make it warmer. He focused on that unknown sound in the distance, which hadn't grown any louder or quieter since they'd settled here. He tried to distract himself.

But still, he shivered. The way his body shook in place without his permission was a new sensation, and he wasn't fond of it.

Dean glanced over a few times as he made futile attempts to build the fire. He'd run out of nearby branches to use.

Finally, Castiel gave up on toughing it out and unwrapped his trenchcoat from his arm to pull around his shoulders.

“Dammit,” Dean mumbled from across the fire. “All right, fine. It's fucking stupid for us to both sit here freezing our asses off.” He motioned Castiel toward him with a flick of his hand. “Come here.”

Castiel paused for a moment, but it really would be foolish for both of them to suffer when a better option existed. He pulled himself to his feet, favoring his good arm, and then circled around the fire to sit next to Dean.

“Who's taking first watch?” Castiel asked tentatively, because it always led to some sort of argument.

“You're the one with the stab wound,” Dean pointed out immediately.

“I slept for a long while before I encountered you and the siren,” Castiel rebutted. “If you sleep, it should dispel whatever disorientation is still left from the venom.”

“Dude, I told you I was fine.”

“Nonetheless, I was the one who rested last.”

That seemed to be a convincing enough argument, because at that point Dean did what he could to get comfortable. Of course, that was a difficult task when they were half-frozen in a cave that had nothing in terms of soft surfaces, and Castiel had to wait idly by while Dean did a lot of twisting around.

When Dean shifted for the sixth time, Castiel got sick of it and reached out for Dean's arm, pulling him close enough that he could lean against him.

“You serious?” Dean asked.

“Don't complain,” Castiel shot back. As far as he was concerned, this wasn't up for discussion.

With a nod, Dean curled one hand in against his stomach, where his wound from the vampire seemed to finally be healing up. He closed his eyes, and while his body was mostly leaned against Castiel's now, he remained stubborn about keeping his head up. That didn't last long once he actually fell asleep, as his head lolled down to rest against Castiel's neck.

Despite all the words they hadn't said earlier, this seemed like a step in the right direction. Until now, they'd slept on opposite sides of whatever camp they made, walls built up even if they hadn't acknowledged them. Now they sat close, and Castiel realized that he preferred it this way. It meant he could keep Dean safe. Gradually, he curled his hand up to run through Dean's hair.

It didn't wake Dean up, which Castiel was grateful for. Because this, he knew, violated personal space.

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