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Of all the beasts lapping up on purgatory's shore there was bound to be something Dean killed blocking his path sooner or later. He just didn't expect to recognize it when it came. Or that it'd be someone instead of something.

Okay, so technically Sam had killed Gordon – rather spectacularly, too – but the thought remained the same.

He was waiting dead center in the path and Dean recognized him right away. Gordon looked exactly the same as he had the last time Dean saw him: his dark skin was shiny with blood and his eyes still creeped Dean out. They were bloodshot, darker than any other vamp he’d tangled with before or since, and just a little mad. Like a doll’s eyes. Just looking at him made the phantom tingle of fangs shimmy up his neck and out of his gums.

Dean played for nonchalance, stopping a good dozen feet before the vampire. Better to begin on friendly terms. “Hey, Gordon. You find your sister?” Friendly-ish terms, anyway.

Gordon returned the smile, porcupine quill teeth pricking his lower lip. “Found you. That’s good enough, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, purgatory’s a big place. I’d imagine it’d be hard to track down one lone vampire. Especially when it was you who killed her in the first place, huh?” Dean held eye contact with Gordon, feeling Cas shift a little to the left behind him. “Speaking of, how’d you find us?”

“This close to the tower it was easy. I just looked for the loudest shitstorm I could find and here you were, making trouble as usual. Tell your shiny friend to keep his hands where I can see ‘em.”

Cas stopped where he was slowly rounding on Gordon’s periphery, rubbing his thumbs on his knuckles.

Gordon smiled again, though the humor never reached those eerie eyes. “Surprised to find you in purgatory, Dean. Would’ve thought you’d be heading somewhere further south when you finally bought it. Knowing what I do about the company you keep.”

“Tried that. Didn’t like the health plan.”

Gordon looked Cas up and down, the smile sliding off his face. “Yeah. I’d heard that.”

“And how’d you hear about that, exactly? You’ve been dead for years.” What was is about his life that people found so fascinating? And why the hell were monsters chatting about it in another plane of existence?

Gordon shrugged. “What can I say, man? We're dead, there's not much else to do but gossip and eat each other.”

Dean blinked, beset upon by a horrible mental image. “You mean that literally, right? And not in the biblical sense? ‘Cause ew.”

“Dinner conversation, you know how it is.” Gordon ignored the innuendo, circling around behind them. Dean raised his machete and kept the pace, making sure he stayed out of arm’s reach. Across from him Cas did the same.

“Imagine my surprise to hear on the breeze that the great hunter Dean Winchester was trapped among the ravenous beasts, picking us off one at a time as he did in life. Of course I had to see for myself if the rumors were true.” Gordon spread his hands wide, gesturing at the elms around them. It was warm in this part of purgatory, and the leaves had little brown splotches on them. “That’s like sending a cop to life in prison; there’s bound to be all kinds of nasty surprises waiting for him.”

“And you’re one of them, huh?”

“Ain’t I just.” All hint of anything human sank off of Gordon’s face, a snarl rising out of his throat. He was harder to understand through the fangs growing in his mouth. “First I hear that your brother – the goddamn demon messiah – earns a Get Out of Jail Free card and then you show up here with an actual angel on your shoulder, making it all better? What’s fair about that? What makes you so damn special?”

“Fair? You wanna talk about fair, Gordon?” Dean knew he was shouting but kept it up anyway. “That was always your problem, man. You were always so full of your own suffering you didn’t think anyone else deserved to be fixed! And guess what? The first thing you did when you got turned was kill people! Fantastic, the sociopath has an excuse!”

“I’m a monster, Dean! It’s in our nature to kill!”

“I know!” Dean remembered how thrilling it had been to sneak into Lisa’s house under cover of night, the speed and strength at his command. How tempting their blood had smelled. Like a cheeseburger with a side of pie, like life itself. Just the memory made his mouth water and his gorge rise. “I know it is, Gordon. But it didn’t have to be. Did you even think about asking for help? About living with it?”

Gordon snorted. “I was dead the second that vamp sank his fangs into me. The only decent thing left for me to do was-“

“Kill Sam, yeah, I remember. But you weren’t dead, Gordon. You weren’t damned. There was a cure, man.”

Quiet reigned for a moment, Gordon’s panting breath loud in the relative silence. He bared his teeth, face twitching with the sorrow Dean remembered from before Gordon was turned. “You’re lying.”

Dean shook his head, a lump in his throat. “We found it a couple years after you got bit. An old family recipe. You just can’t drink anyone’s blood for it to work. It’s hard as hell to resist until you get all the ingredients, but you could have done it, man. You didn’t need to turn into this.”

“An old family recipe? A family recipe?” Gordon’s rage echoed off the trees, his bloody dark eyes reflecting the light. Dean saw a tear drop down his cheek before the track was hidden in the folds of a snarl. “This is all I have left, Dean! This is all I’ve ever had!”

Gordon charged him, preternaturally fast, legs burning up the distance. Dean raised his machete, ready to defend himself –

When Gordon stopped, neck spit on an angel blade like a moth on a pin. Cas adjusted his grip and twisted, rending vertebrae and sending Gordon’s head toppling to the ground.

That diversion worked a lot better than some of the others Dean’d tried over the years. He supposed having your shoulder angel there to save your ass made all the difference.

Dean breathed out, the adrenaline quickly ebbing through his body. For a second he wanted to hold onto it, wanted to feel the energy and excitement course through his veins. He stood over Gordon’s dismembered head and let it go. Gordon’s mouth was moving, though the eyes were unfocused. Dean wondered what he was trying to say.

“What happens when a monster gets killed in monster heaven?”

Cas wandered over next to Dean, wiping his blade clean on a handkerchief before wishing the sword away to wherever it went when he wasn’t using it. The handkerchief went back into his pants pocket – good to know the foraging earlier paid off for something. “That’s a valid philosophical question. His energies are still intact, despite his current condition; it’d take something much more powerful than us to permanently destroy him.” Gordon’s right eyelid fluttered and Cas tilted his head to get a better view. “I’m guessing he’ll regenerate eventually, once he pulls himself together.”

Dean couldn’t tell if Cas was joking or not. It seemed to be a common problem.

He punted the head as far away from the twitching body as he could, a perfect spiral any kicker would be proud of. It bounced off a tree and rolled under a thorny bush. Dean walked away, whistling a jaunty tune.

+++


The victory, like all things, didn’t last long. Seeing Gordon again brought up a lot of questions Dean’d put off thinking about the answers to, including who else was likely to reside on this half of the world. Dean had never thought about what happened to the monsters he killed. Or where the hell beasts went when they were burned away.

He made it all of fifty steps away from where they’d left Gordon before he had to voice his anxiety. “Cas, if he found us then who the hell else is gonna show up? Are there demons in purgatory?” A name occurred to him, winding its way around his spine like a skeletal hand. “Are we gonna see Alastair?”

Cas shook his head, answering in as sure a tone as Dean had ever heard from him. “Demons are humans filtered through Hell, trespassing on earth where they shouldn’t be. Destroy them and they’re purified in a conflagration that burns into the earth and sends their essence and energy back into the formless void where it can be recycled and put to better use. The trash Alastair was purged from this level or any other. I made sure of it myself after Sam killed him.”

Dean breathed in deeply, willing his mind to settle. His heartbeat continued the same steady course, despite the slowly fading panic. He thought for a moment, searching for a distraction. “Is that what happens to angels, too? They burn up and leave their ashes behind?”

Cas looked down where his slippers scuffed silently through the dirt. He was quiet, far less confident than before. “I don’t know. Before Lucifer’s rebellion there was no need for an angel afterlife. I don’t think God planned ahead for something like that. Or at least he never felt the need to tell us if he did.” He shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets and lengthening his stride. “While mankind evolved to inherit the earth we remained separate, intended to maintain and defend the individual heavens, not make our own. Becoming an individual takes time and energy most angels don’t feel the need to strive for or even realize is an option. Lucifer was the first in that regard, as well. He and I have much in common, it burdens me to say.”

It bothered Dean to think that Cas was anything like the evil son of a bitch that had made his family’s life hell for so long. (Pun not intended.) There was a lot more wrong with Lucifer than mere defiance, that was for sure.

They walked a little further, Dean pondering the other idea that tickled and fermented in his brain. “Do… Could there be Amazons here, do you think?”

Cas shrugged his shoulders, rocking his head back and forth in thought. “I suppose. Amazons aren’t human, not in the strictest sense. They wouldn’t be welcome in the holy kingdom and probably ejected from hell. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” Dean thought about a girl with his mother’s cheekbones and a stranger’s hair, sadness and murder on her face. Emma, her name had been. His little girl-who-wasn’t-a-girl.

He tried not to think about her and even succeeded most of the time. He pretended her existence and death didn't bother him, that Sam was right and she needed to be put down. But he’d be lying if he denied the thought of having a child out there in the world didn't make him hopeful, even just a little. Terrified him, too. He supposed it was a universal fear, one held by a lot of parents faced with teenagers.

Seriously, though, who was he kidding? He couldn’t even think the word ‘parent’ in his head without scorn. What kind of upbringing would that girl have had, anyway?

What would he say if Emma was the next one to come around the bend of the road, popping up from behind a tree? Sorry my crappy genes made you question your existence? Sorry I let your uncle shoot you? Thanks for not stabbing me as soon as I opened the door?

He wasn’t surprised that whole fiasco went down the way it did. Of course any child of his would turn out to be a monster, of one kind or another. It was good Ben got out when he did, really; Dean wasn’t meant for that kind of family.

Monsters rarely were.

+++


Life continued that way for awhile, creatures familiar and otherwise showing up to knock them around and grind their bones to make their bread, et cetera, et cetera. Cas upheld his end of the bargain superbly and Dean got more practice at the healing thing.

He got an unfortunate slice to the foot from a creepy vampire in steampunk gear he’d knocked to the ground – Corsets? Really? – and it tore through the tongue of his boot and shredded some of the laces. It flopped around with every step, the loose bit of leather creeping under his heel, a little furl poking at his arch. He ignored it until he absolutely couldn’t stand it anymore.

“I’m sorry, Cas, I have got to fix this.” He flopped down in the middle of the road – widened here to an actual road, the size of a small dirt lane – and tore his boot off, not bothering with the laces. He yanked the tongue off completely, throwing the useless thing over his shoulder. He wiggled his toes, letting the hint of breeze dry his damp sock. “Oh, thank god. I felt like the princess and the pea.”

Cas didn’t say anything, just sighed in the way Dean was coming to translate as I don’t understand that reference and I don’t appreciate you making it in front of me. Any minute now he was going to call Dean an insensitive dick again.

“Seriously? You’ve been around forever and you’ve never heard of The Princess and the Pea?”

Cas rolled his eyes. “I was a little busy most of the time, Dean. Like when I rescued you from hell? And before that there were the countless demonic battles. Then the thousands of years my garrison guarded the boundaries of heaven and earth from invading threats so expertly that your race had no idea of their existence. Mea culpa for not knowing every iota of your pop culture.”

“I get it, I get it. Geeze.” He ran his hand along the edge of the cut, shrugged, and tugged it back over his foot again. The lace had been severed a couple places, but Dean figured he could just tie it back together and make some kind of half-assed cross garter thing like the gladiators wore. It might even turn out looking badass.

He didn’t know why, but he started talking as he matched the ends of the lace together. “It’s a fairy tale. You know, once upon a time– “

“I don’t think you should be summoning fairies in purgatory. There’s likely a sizable population nearby.”

Dean flinched and looked behind him, in case the tiny flying chick with perky nipples was loitering just over his shoulder. He scowled and looked up to where Cas was standing above him. He thought Cas might’ve been making fun of him, but he was just standing there, serious as ever, watching the woods around them and playing guard while Dean fiddled with his shoe.

He sighed and shook his head. “It’s just a story, Cas. Didn’t Jimmy ever read them to Claire at bedtime?” That was what good Christian families did, right? Read to their kids?

Cas blinked and looked away, expression suggesting he was looking for an excuse not to talk about his vessel’s daughter. “I… don’t have access to Jimmy Novak’s memories. I never did.”

“Huh. So it’s not like when a demon possesses someone then? Full access, non-disclosure?”

“No.”

He threaded the shoestring through the holes that were left and looped the rest around his ankle, securing the couple inches of loose leather to his leg. Not exactly Russell Crowe worthy, but not half bad.

Cas waited quietly while Dean did a little jog to make sure the lace would hold – he didn’t even have the decency to get dizzy from watching Dean circle around him over and over again – then led the way up the path. The incline was a little more pronounced in this particular part of purgatory, the trees growing closer together and thick with needles. It meant very little light actually made it through the canopy but Dean didn’t have as hard a time seeing as he used to.

The path was reduced to a mere impression of a game trail and they ducked under and around the lower branches, getting sticky sap all over their hair and shoulders. Dean really would need a shower after this little jaunt; his sense of smell may have been playing tricks on him, deadening some scents and sharpening others, but he was pretty sure sap, sweat, dirt, and old blood did not a good combination make.

The condensed branches muffled every sound – the absence of noise seemed twice as prominent here. He almost missed Cas’ humming.

The silence was apparently getting to Cas, too. He spoke quietly, maybe with respect for the hush that’d fallen over the forest… or maybe because his mind lingered on his vessel’s family. “I would like to hear the story of the princess and the pea. Did she not want to eat it?”

Dean took a deep breath and let it out again slowly. “Nah, some prince was super picky about the girl he was going to marry – she had to be a real princess, none of that imitation crap, and none of the ones he knew were cutting it. Then this random chick shows up in the middle of a storm all soaked and asking for shelter. She swears she’s a princess but the prince and his mom aren’t sure. They have her sleep on a huge pile of mattresses, convinced that only the real deal would be delicate enough to feel a pea the queen hides inside them. The chick wakes up all bruised and complains the next morning that she was kept awake by something hurting her back all night. Cue marriage, happy ending, all that jazz.”

Cas frowned. “And this is a story you tell to children?”

“Yeah, usually. Why?”

“The moral is clearly not to judge by appearances but the narrative itself implies that the prince could only be happy with someone possessing perfect qualities as laid down by his societal law, so manner and appearance are conversely shown as necessary. If a woman didn’t possess these qualities then she’s not fit to marry, making it antifeminist and damaging to the underdeveloped psyches of children. From a strictly literary standpoint the title of a ‘real princess’ depends heavily on her sensitivity to the slightest detail – a satire about the ruling class, depicting them as oversensitive and easily hurt emotionally. Also, the pea is clearly a metaphor for rough sex.”

Dean was pretty sure he’d have done a perfect spit take if he actually needed to drink anything. “Excuse me?

“Black and blue after being in bed all night? It’s a reference to what the prince and princess were doing sexually. He was looking for someone who matched his kinks, I would think.” Dean stared at the back of Cas’ head, legs moving forward automatically. Cas had just said the word kinks. Out loud.

Dean walked headfirst into a swaying branch. He spit out a few needles, coughed, and remembered it would probably be a good idea to close his mouth when following an angel through the woods.

Cas was staring back at him, frowning a little but mostly amused. “You look like that tasted horrible. Am I that off base with my analysis?”

“No, no, just… I honestly never thought of it like that before.” He wiped the back of his hand over his chin and stepped pointedly around the branch. If that was just what Cas heard in The Princess and the Pea then what did the other fairy tales have written under the surface? Were they all like that? “I shudder to think how you’d interpret Little Red Riding Hood.”

“Now that one I have heard of. It’s about pedophilia and carnal sexuality.”

Dean blinked. Shame on the Grimm Brothers for that one, then. Damn.

“I always thought kids stories were nice things about going on a journey and coming out better at the end. You steal the witch’s treasure or you kiss the pretty girl. Adventure and happy endings, you know? Where anything can happen and the obstacles in your path are there for a reason.” He smiled and tilted his head to acknowledge his stupidity. “I guess I’m off base with my analysis. Sam was always the reader of the family.”

Dean navigated carefully around a particularly sticky looking tree limb and bumped into Cas, who’d stopped to let him catch up. He looked a little goofy, mouth quirked into a smile and eyes gone soft. “I think I like your interpretation better.”

Dean shrugged and held the branch back so Cas could pass through. “Confession? The pea story wasn’t my favorite growing up, so I may have left parts out.”

“I see. And what was your favorite fairy tale?”

“Anything with a hunter or a woodsman. Seemed appropriate at the time, though I suppose it’s reached epic proportions of irony at this point.”

+++


It seemed that once stories were brought up it was easier to just keep telling them, in lieu of actual conversation. It wasn’t a perfect way to burn through Cas’ social awkwardness – there were places in purgatory where making noise wasn’t a good idea and they had to save their breath for saving their lives. But after the danger had passed and the tension in the air from the red eyes gazing through the trees faded to the whisper of their steps through the grass, the silence loomed mighty and Dean hated it. (His kingdom for his baby and her box of cassettes.)

So they told tales to pass the time.

Cas knew more stories than Dean would have imagined, though he suspected most of them were from the Bible. He told Dean about the first stirrings of mankind in the universe, and the legend of Ehud the assassin and Eglon the obese. He actually startled a laugh out of Dean with the story of Baalam and his donkey - it was rusty and sharp but a laugh all the same.

They were all good and exciting stories but Dean had a hard time staying focused until the end most of the time. Cas was terrible at pacing; being ageless and naturally blunt meant he tended to ignore little details and go straight to the heart of things. Which left Dean to do most of the talking.

He ran out of fairy tales fairly quickly - he hadn’t been lying about not being a huge fan as a kid - so he started on the stories he did know.

“One night this rich family goes to the theater and is held at gunpoint in an alley. The robber shoots the parents in front of their son, leaving him an orphan to be raised by their trusted servant Alfred. The kid grows up super smart and seeks vengeance for his family. He makes a suit that looks like a bat to scare the bad guys and to disguise his identity.”

“I can see why this intrigued you as a child.”

“Yeah, I guess. Plus, Bruce Wayne is a badass.”

“Bruce Wayne is the orphan?”

Dean nodded. “He knows all kinds of martial arts and develops this cool belt with pockets for everything, just in case. We’re talking shark repellent and kryptonite ring level of awesome here.”

Cas looked down, his voice a low rumble. “I’ve heard of kryptonite before. It’s the weapon used to subdue Superman.”

“Yeah.” Dean walked quietly for awhile, remembering the conversation that exposed Cas’ plans and drove them apart last year. “Batman and Superman were partners for awhile. Supes is too strong to be stopped by anything but his own moral code so Batman carries the ring in case he has to take down his friend for the good of the world.”

“I don’t think I like this story anymore. Batman’s life isn’t a very happy one.”

“I guess not. But that’s life for you. He wouldn’t be a superhero if he didn’t make the hard calls.” This particular problem had gone on long enough; Dean took a deep breath and resolved to talk about this once and for all. He tugged on Cas’ sleeve so he had to stop and look him in the eye. “Cas. What you were doing, you thought it was for the best. It wasn’t your fault you got swept up in your choices. I just wish I could have helped you make the right ones. I’m sorry you felt like you couldn’t come to me. And I’m sorry for the ring of fire and everything else, too. It wasn’t right that we betrayed you like that.”

Cas watched Dean closely, his face impassive. It gave Dean the courage to keep talking. “You’re not Superman. I mean you are but… I’m not Batman. I’m not strong like that. I could never hurt family, even for something that important.”

The truth was that no matter how many ninja moves Dean pulled or how well he planned ahead, Sam would always be Batman. He was more compassionate and so, so much smarter than Dean. And he was willing to go the extra mile when he had to. (He’d killed Emma, after all, and Gordon. Hell, Dean still had nightmares of the blade poking through Cas’ dress shirt, how his own heart had stopped in his chest like he’d been the one being stabbed.)

It occurred to him that this was the first time he apologized to Cas. For anything. How had they been friends for so long without him doing that before now? For that matter, when was the last time he apologized to anyone?

“I think I already knew most of that, but thank you for saying so anyway, Dean. It’s nice to hear.” Cas tilted his head, the skin around his eyes wrinkling as he looked into the distance. “I assume Bruce Wayne avenges his family. What happens next?”

It was a subject change Dean was grateful for. The way his stomach was tying itself into knots because of all this sharing was gonna give him ulcers. “That depends on who’s telling the story. He becomes a great detective and swears to protect Gotham City, so that no one suffers the way he did as a kid. Batman’s a legend - the Dark Knight, a caped crusader. He even joins the Justice League, working with Superman and Wonder Woman and that douche Aquaman and other people with powers even though he’s only just a human. He saves the world a couple times, too.” Then there was the hotness that was Selena Kyle in her catsuit, though he didn’t think Cas would appreciate that part.

Cas looked back at Dean, eyes squinty but bright, a touch of happiness sneaking through his lashes. He smiled, showing off pink gums. “I think you are Batman, Dean. The parts I want to hear about, anyway.”

He punched Dean’s shoulder – ever so lightly, only rocking him back onto his heels a little – and turned to follow the trail around the next bend.

NEXT

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