He was in a basement, with a hard floor and concrete walls, covered in dust and—
Familiar. This was 221 Piermont Avenue in Bootbock, Kansas. The place where Crowley had tortured so many of Eve's children; the place where Castiel had betrayed Crowley and slaughtered Raphael; the place where the door had opened, where those souls had entered him and where he'd cast them off again.
The place where he'd taken Dean's trust and ground it into dust.
Dean. Where was Dean? Castiel shifted in place, pushed past his weakness, and found Dean seated next to him, in a similar haze of confusion at suddenly being somewhere else.
And there, near the door, stood Sam. Just as Castiel remembered him, from his shaggy hair to his plaid wardrobe. He clutched onto a book and stared at both of them like they were ghosts.
“Sam,” Dean choked out as he grabbed for the wall and pulled himself to his feet.
“Dean!” The sight of Dean talking and moving set Sam into motion—he rushed toward Dean to half help him up, half throw his arms around him. Finally, the Winchester brothers were united. Finally, the world was rotating back on the right axis.
Castiel watched them hug from where he remained on the floor, and finally started to push himself up. His body protested—even now that he was back within reach of Heaven, he still felt weak.
But now he'd be able to heal properly, given time. As he stood, he moved his wings back and forth for a moment, stretched them out and then let out a breath.
They'd made it. Sam was here, and while the location made it feel like an empty victory, Castiel had come with them. He'd stepped through the door with Dean; he'd somehow been deemed worthy of existing in the living world. Another resurrection, he realized, but this one felt different.
Dean and Sam pulled out of the hug in unison (even after time apart, they could read each other's minds) and turned to look at him.
“You guys are okay!” Sam announced, the look of disbelief standing out in his features. “I mean, I knew—I knew you guys could do it, but man, what happened?”
Even though Sam was the one demanding his attention, for a moment all Castiel did was study Dean's face. The blood streaked around his mouth, the dirt smudged on his cheeks and under his eyes. His hair, which had grown out slightly and was greasy and unwashed.
Dean stared back and sucked in a breath, his eyes alight with something, almost as if he wanted to ask a question—but he said nothing.
“We did it,” Castiel said simply.
“You fucking bet we did. What did I tell you?” Dean grinned and then immediately looked to Sam, as if taking his eyes off of him for too long might cause him to disappear.
Sam, meanwhile, turned to Castiel. He quirked a smile, almost awkward, but mainly just relieved.
“Hello, Sam,” Castiel greeted as if they had seen each other yesterday. He didn't know how else to do it, wasn't versed in reunions.
Sam looked him up and down, his forehead creased with a frown. He was likely used to seeing Dean beat up, but not Castiel. Angels were supposed to bounce back.
“Thanks,” Sam said, and while there was some awkwardness in his demeanor, it all seemed genuine. “Thanks for taking care of my brother. Thanks for keeping him safe.”
Dean crossed his arms over his chest. “What am I, a two-year-old?”
“The information you gave us was vital,” Castiel told Sam. “If it weren't for you getting back to us, we may not have made it. How did you know to wait for us here?”
“Well, I've pretty much spent the whole past month doing research,” Sam admitted with a shrug. “And I had all of Bobby's books to go through, so...”
“Wait,” Dean cut in, stepping forward. “So it's been a month?”
Castiel remembered all the efforts he'd made to keep time. “That sounds about right.”
Both of them knew how much worse it could be—how a month here could have equaled something else entirely in Purgatory.
“But seriously, what happened?” Sam tried again. “What was it like down there?”
Dean and Castiel exchanged a look. How could they put any of it into words, especially so soon after they'd escaped it?
“We can talk about it later,” Dean said. “Let's get out of here. I need a shower like you wouldn't believe.” Castiel couldn't disagree with that. While angels didn't normally cleanse their bodies in the way a human did, he remembered taking showers as Emmanuel and how soothing they had been.
Dean passed by Castiel for the door. His hand twitched back toward Castiel, as if he wanted to grab his arm or his wrist, but he stopped himself. It wasn't so surprising, when they'd spent the past month relying only on each other. When one was injured, the other had dragged him forward.
Dean kept walking, past Sam and out the door. Castiel stared after, and it took a questioning look from Sam to break him out of his trance. He followed the Winchesters, their backs holding strong even after being weighed down with so much, and felt a crushing relief.
They exited the building as quickly as they could, and found the Impala waiting for them. Shining from a recent wash, its pristine black paint didn't look like it had ever been scratched.
Castiel remembered the plan, how they'd decided to crash the car right into the front of SucroCorp, and was glad to see that the vehicle had been salvaged.
“You fixed her!” Dean exclaimed as he ran toward the car and then slid his hand over the hood in a caress.
Sam followed after him and sighed. “I wasn't going to leave it that way. I knew I'd be chewed out if you made your way back here and it was still banged up.”
They had to make themselves slightly more presentable before they could go anywhere near civilization. Castiel turned his coat inside out so that the bloodstains weren't so obvious and Dean smoothed out the tattered remains of his shirt as best he could.
Sam watched them, took note of each smear of blood, probably in an attempt to fill in the blanks. Castiel could tell how anxious Sam was to know—he wouldn't let Dean get away with not telling him some of what had happened.
Castiel made a move to get into the car then, but Sam reached out to stop him. “Hold on.”
For an irrational moment, Castiel thought Sam was going to deny him access, to tell him that he could come no further, that he couldn't continue to ruin their lives with his bad decisions.
Instead, he pulled him into a hug.
They had tried this once before, though Sam hadn't been willing at that point. Castiel had in fact hugged both of the Winchesters without asking once, in the mental hospital. Even with his mind fractured into pieces, he'd still known one thing with certainty—that he cared for these two boys.
And he did, more than he thought he could ever put into proper words.
As the hug ended and they pulled away from each other, Castiel caught the look on Dean's face. Even though he was dirt-covered and wearing a torn-up, bloodied shirt, his face was alight and refreshed as if he hadn't just escaped Purgatory itself.
A hug. It was such a small, human action, but Castiel got the feeling that it counted as true and final forgiveness from the person whose mind he had willfully broken.
“I'm glad you're back to being... you,” Sam said as he clapped Castiel on the shoulder.
“So am I,” he admitted in reply.
The three of them stood there, in a silent moment of understanding, each of them relieved that they were all here, together again. Team Free Will.
“All right.” Sam heaved out a breath and turned back to the Impala. “Let's move this along.”
“Whoa, hold on,” Dean cut in. “I get to drive.”
Sam turned to Dean and frowned. “Dude, you look like you're on the verge of passing out. Just let me do it.”
Castiel and Dean both sat in the back seat, on a towel so that they didn't dirty the interior. Castiel couldn't keep his eyes off the smile that seemed to be fixed to Dean's face. He had to burn the image into his mind, for how rare it was these days.
While Sam went to rent out another room for them at the motel where he was staying, Dean and Castiel waited in the car. Castiel stared out the window and watched humans walking the streets. He felt conflicted as he realized that for most people, life had simply strolled along while the two of them had been fighting and running for their lives. Then again, wasn't that how it always went? Even when Earth itself was threatened, he and Dean and Sam fought so hard to ensure that the average person didn't have to be aware of how much danger they were in. Their normal lives were precious, and they had to protect that.
“Dean,” he said, as he focused back on the interior of the car. “What comes next?”
Dean glanced over. “Well...” He shrugged. “We keep going, I guess.”
Castiel paused. It was a typical answer, but that made it comfortable. “Hunting, you mean,” he said.
“Yeah,” Dean said. “But... it's gonna be different.”
“How do you think?” Dean shifted in place and reached down to tug the towel further under him. “Where we send them, they just become even more like monsters.”
Dean had brought this up once before, and Castiel still didn't know what to say, how to console him. “And they take it out on each other. Isn't that better than them targeting innocents?”
Dean sighed and looked up at the car's ceiling. “Yeah, I know. I know. But some of 'em get turned and they don't have any say in it, and...” He winced his eyes shut.
The silence stretched out again, and Castiel looked down to his hands as he wrung them together. He still didn't know how to be there for Dean. Maybe that siren had a point.
Dean nudged his shoulder against him, snapping him out of it. “How about you? What are your plans?”
Castiel felt his chest seize, as he'd been scared of that question. It was his turn to look upward, even though he knew Heaven was located somewhere else entirely, in a direction that didn't exist in human terms. “I don't know. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to get out of there alive.”
Dean frowned. “Yeah, I noticed. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Don't act as if you haven't attempted self-sacrifice before,” Castiel murmured.
Dean rolled his eyes and glanced out the window, quiet for a moment. “You said before that most of your family was dead, right?”
“As far as I can tell, yes. It's also possible that they've decided to hide themselves from me,” Castiel responded. And how could he blame them? At this point, he was probably known among Heaven as the fallen angel that brought trouble and destruction wherever he went, or as the traitor who had turned his blade on his own kind more times than could be counted.
None of that was inaccurate. It was a miracle that Dean and Sam had forgiven him, but humans were remarkable creatures in that way.
“Well, uhh...” Dean smirked, somewhat awkwardly, before glancing over. “In that case, how about you just stick with me and Sam?”
Castiel stared for a moment, and wondered if this was all some elaborate dream. Maybe he'd missed the djinn grabbing him a second time. He pressed his hand against his shoulder wound and the resulting pain assured him this was real.
“Yes,” he said after a pause as he smiled down at his knees. “Yes, I think I'd like that.”
A rapping sound on the window caught their attention, and Sam dangled some keys in front of Dean. They exited the car, and Castiel rounded it to meet them.
He didn't feel awkward, standing there with them. Dean had offered him a place here, and he wasn't going to push it away this time.
“All right,” Sam said, “you're in room 212.” He handed the keys over to Dean. “So you can take a shower, rest, and then we'll figure out where to go from here.”
Dean nodded and slipped the keys in his pocket. “Sounds good.”
Sam paused for a moment, his eyes growing distant as he seemed to run through some sort of mental list. Then he asked, “Are you guys hungry?”
“I thought you'd never ask,” Dean said, now taking the conversation very seriously. “I feel like I haven't eaten in weeks.”
“You probably haven't,” Castiel pointed out with a tilt of his head.
“All right,” Sam said as he moved to the Impala. “You guys stay here, I'll grab something. What do you feel like?”
“A burger.” Dean and Castiel said it simultaneously.
Castiel wasn't sure if he was truly hungry, but he wanted to enjoy the luxury of eating something. Odd, since he didn't usually have such an urge, but perhaps being removed from Earth had taken more of a toll than he'd realized.
Sam laughed and shook his head. “All right, that works.” He opened the car door, but then paused and looked both of them over. “Should I assume... Cas, that you're going to stick around for a while?”
“You better believe it,” Dean said, responding for him. As Sam nodded and got into the car (but only after a reminder that they had to tell him about Purgatory sometime soon), Dean glanced over and winked at Castiel.
After they watched Sam drive off, Dean turned to Castiel. “Come on,” he said.
And then he reached out for him. Castiel thought he would abort the action, like he had before, but Dean's fingers curled around his wrist, hot, filled with blood, human and real—and pulled him toward the stairs. Castiel recalled the djinn's dream, when Dean had led him away from Sam and Jo. He hadn't understood it then, and he still didn't.
As they climbed, Dean continued to tug at him, almost as if he was in a hurry. Castiel wanted to remind him that they didn't need to rush anymore, that the danger was over and the world had slowed down again, but for some reason the words got caught in his throat.
They reached 212, and Dean fumbled with the keys and opened the door. He pulled Castiel in with him, and then shut the door behind him—
“Dean, it's...” Castiel finally got some words out, but Dean stopped him.
He pushed him up against the closed door and clamped his hand's on Castiel's arms, with such an urgency and energy that he could have been under the siren's spell.
But he wasn't, not as he leaned in, and not as he pressed his mouth against Castiel's.
Castiel's heart jumped into his throat at the same time that his stomach sank, such opposite feelings that it made him dizzy. The warmth on his lips, the pressing insistence as Dean didn't let up—
Castiel had done this before, with a demon and a human woman, and the way he felt about Dean Winchester was far more complicated than those two combined. Why would he ever want to resist this?
This was what Castiel had been waiting for, but he hadn't known it until this very moment. He reached up to grip Dean's sides and pulled him closer, remembered the times he'd kissed before and tried to replicate that—no, to do it better, press deeper into Dean's mouth, as if learning the shape of it with his tongue would reveal to him all of the words Dean didn't say.
When Dean pulled back, his face was flushed, his eyes wide and bright, as he drew in quick breaths.
For a few seconds, silence stretched between them. Dean was the one who finally broke it.
“I've been waiting to do that since we woke up in that rank-ass basement,” he said, breath hot against Castiel's cheek.
Castiel fought not to shake in response. His mouth still felt like it was on fire with something impure and forbidden and exhilarating, and he closed his eyes as he looped his hand around Dean's back. “Only since then?” he asked.
Dean set a hand on his shoulder. “Sorry,” he said quietly.
Castiel shook his head. “Don't be.”
Some time later, Castiel made good on a promise.
Together he and Dean stood at the shoreline and stared out across the water. Not as red as the legends said, this was still a special place, one with a history Castiel had observed himself.
Dean bit at his bottom lip and then bent down to pick up a small rock. “You didn't have to do this, you know. I'm not that big on traveling, anyway.”
“I felt that I needed to. For a world that you work so hard to save, you haven't seen much of it,” Castiel pointed out. “I would imagine this is far preferable to that mass of blood.”
Of course it was. Shaped by his Father's hands, and then altered by the whims of ambitions of humans, the Red Sea was like every other part of the Earth—stunning in its own way, because of the creatures that inhabited it. Fish swam here, sometimes humans too. Moses had parted it, years and years ago, as the angels watched. Now, a man who'd been through Hell and Purgatory alike, stood here and hopefully understood just a little better what he was fighting for.
Dean hurled the rock across the water and watched it skip.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.” Dean turned to Castiel. “Thanks.”
“I would take you many other places, if you'd only let me. Tibet is very—”
Dean shook his head. “Let's focus on America first. You know where I want to take Sammy? The Grand Canyon.”
Such a small request, but Castiel didn't mind. “Very well,” he said.
They stood for a bit longer, in silence. Their wounds had all healed now, and bringing Dean halfway across the world simply to look at a body of water was not a strain. He'd made sure to heal all of Dean's scars as well, to erase as much indication of what they'd suffered through as he could.
Castiel watched the small waves extend out toward them, and then pulled back, as if the sea was breathing. This water would never be black, or tainted. They'd seen to that.
The feeling of Dean's fingers grabbing at his, and then entwining, reoriented him. Castiel stared up into Dean's eyes, and then looked down at their hands.
He finally found the words for something he'd wanted to ask about since they'd escaped Purgatory. “What is this, then? Do we need to tell Sam?”
Dean raised his eyebrows, and almost pulled away—might have, if it weren't for the fact that there wasn't another soul for miles. “Slow down there, man.”
“I suppose you're right.” Castiel knew he had to with whatever made Dean comfortable in this situation, as it wasn't one either of them had navigated before.
Dean smiled briefly. “How did you put it? We're making it up as we go?”
Castiel was shocked that Dean would even remember, but that day when he'd broken off from Heaven was still crystal clear in his own mind. “Yes,” he confirmed. “I think I can work with that.”
“Good,” Dean said. “So do I.”
Somehow, down in that wasteland of misery and pain, across those landscapes of blood and bone, in those caves and hollows, they'd taken something broken and revived it—not into exactly what it had been, but something different. Perhaps something better.
And now Castiel understood, home was not a place, but a feeling.
[ masterpost ]