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Nighttime was terrible, horrible, terrifying. But then the dawn came, pale and pink, with little fanfare or warning. It simply was: a watery glow rising over the dark horizon. There was a clamor of noise – howls and cries from the woods around them from monsters they couldn’t even see – then the pregnant silence resumed.

It made sense, Dean supposed, squinting into the weak sun, day blind and disoriented like a mole dragged out of the earth. Everything needed a chance to stop for awhile, even the nocturnal sons of bitches that lived in purgatory. Daytime was for rest, a long time coming for those who survived the endless, endless night. It was a time when weary limbs sought shelter and watchful eyes could finally close. When mates curled together to groom and cuddle close.

It wasn’t a bright morning, the rising day overcast and grey, but Dean had never been so happy to see the sun anyway.

He should have been wary. The creatures strong enough to brave the daylight were much worse than the ones he’d fought before.

At least Dean could see them coming this time, in all their creepy glory.

+++


Not too long after Dean had exhausted his knowledge of DC continuity they reached the crest of a tall hill and beheld the land of purgatory spread out below them. The trees went on for miles, further than Dean could see, the bristly pointed tops grasping toward the pale blue sky. The road cut straight through, a scar on the earth.

Cas pointed even though it would have been impossible for Dean to miss the spire looming in the distance, peeking out of the trees like a tower in a long forgotten fairy tale. It reminded him of a candy-colored cathedral he’d seen on TV once. Its curved roof came to a sharp point; Dean could see the hint of faded red on the tiles covering it and hoped for ancient paint.

(Though where would anyone get paint here? Or the ability to shape and cut wood, for that matter? Dean’s brain helpfully conjured images of countless bodies heaved upon the pinnacle, blood staining the ancient bones of some Russian monster’s enemies. Dean’s brain was an unfortunate place to be sometimes.)

In all their journeying they’d never seen construction before, or evidence that any had existed. This was completely new… and the path was leading them straight toward it.

Dean tightened his grip on the machete and followed Cas on his careful trek down the hill.

+++


The road grew wider the further down they went. By the time the ground was level under their feet it was the size of a two-lane highway, smoothed bare of any growing thing. The conifers whispering in the breeze around them were full of strange sounds – like the passage of creatures Dean couldn’t quite find. They traveled along the edge of it, just past the tree line, hugging the trail but not daring to walk so brazenly in the open.

The dirt was worn thin in some places and Dean could see stones under his boots, rough cut and placed with precision by human hands. Or hands with thumbs, anyway. He crept closer to Cas’ shoulder, leaning in to whisper. “Dude, who builds in purgatory? And why would anyone want to?”

Cas shrugged, scanning the opposite side of the road for impending danger. “Monsters who remember they used to be men, I guess. Eternity is a long time to remain unchanged, Dean. People will do almost anything to keep themselves occupied.”

Said the eternal ball of celestial intent. “Yeah, people. But these aren’t people, Cas.”

“Some of them used to be. Not every monster is born, Dean. Some have to be created.”

Like Bloody Mary coming when you call her name a shadow moved between the trees across from them. It was humanoid in shape, snarling, and had something long and sharp in its hand. At first Dean thought it was a short sword of some kind, but the monster passed through a patch of sunlight and the spike didn’t gleam like any metal Dean had ever seen.

He tugged on Cas’ arm, oddly excited. “Starships! Jefferson Starships, right over there!”

Cas shushed him, holding out his arm in a simmer down motion. “I see it, Dean, you’re very clever, now be still before it hears you!”

They squatted behind a clump of bushes, watching the creature pace along the far side of the road. It was joined by another Starship, then another. They were talking, gesturing at the woods around them, and Dean had a sinking feeling in the pit of his gut.

He inched along the bush until he was leaning over Cas’ back from behind, a hand on his far shoulder for balance. He let his cheek rest on the swell of Cas’ collar so he could breathe the words right into his ear. “We need to get the hell out of here, Cas. They’re looking for something and it’s probably us.”

Cas tilted his head, stubble rasping against the material of his coat. “We have to follow the path, Dean. If it leads us through this territory then that’s where we go.”

“Damn it, Cas. Why the hell is it so important we follow this road? It’s a damn game trail through purgatory, and we’re the game. It’s going to get us killed.”

“I don’t know if we can die here, Dean.”

Dean frowned, epically, digging his chin into Cas’ shoulder until he sighed.

“I don’t know why we have to follow it. I just know it leads somewhere important.”

“Where’s that, McDonald’s? Disney Land?” He breathed through his frustration, trying to maintain the low volume. A thought occurred to him, one he hadn’t allowed himself to consider since the early days of their time in purgatory. “Cas. Is this road a way out?”

The flap of leather wings on the air tore through the silence, closer to Dean than he liked. He fell back from Cas, catching his balance in time to be pushed to the ground by a dragon shaped like a man. He knew it was a dragon because the talons biting their way into his neck were growing hotter by the second, the skin where they touched starting to smoke.

Cas jumped on the dragon, knocking him off of Dean and stabbing his blade a couple times into the monster’s side. Two more dragons appeared out of nowhere, pulling him off of their wounded companion and holding Cas tightly by the shoulders, his arms held out like a scarecrow on a pole. A fourth dragon held her hand close to the side of his face, the skin glowing furnace hot, a warning. Cas struggled anyway.

Dean got yanked up by a hand in his hair, bent backward and held tight. Something sharp dug into burns on his neck – he thought about screaming, or even passing out, just for a second. When he blinked the tears from his eyes he saw Cas staring back at him from where he was restrained. Despite the fury in his eyes he hung there, put upon and deceptively docile. Ah. They must have employed the move and we’ll cut his throat trick. An oldie but goodie.

He rolled his eyes to see behind him as best he could. The Starships had made their way across the road since the dragon attack. The whole thing seemed far too convenient to be anything but a velociraptor level ambush. Clever girl, Dean thought, and tried to suppress the cough he knew would be a bad idea.

The dragon with her hand up to Cas looked at them both, squinting at Cas’ face and sniffing the blood pooling in Dean’s clavicle. (Burns were his least favorite way to be injured, but the Jefferson’s spike was quickly climbing the charts.) She snorted and nodded her head. “The vampire was right; it’s them. Take them to the tower. She’ll want to see them herself.”

+++


Dean and Cas had no choice but to let themselves be led; the Starship behind Dean kept his spike pushed into his neck while they walked. Dean was worried about tripping over a rock and accidentally impaling himself or something. Cas could have probably overpowered the dragons (the dragon that’d pounced on Dean rejoined the group, none the worse for wear) but didn’t even try. Instead he allowed himself to be frogmarched down the road and toward the tower.

It rose out of a clearing in the trees, butted up to the edge of the road itself. When they drew closer Dean could see it actually was made of wood, with intricate square carvings in columns down the side. There was only one door and no windows.

And it was surrounded by monsters.

Dean hadn’t seen such a wide variety of monsters in one place his entire hunting career. It was as if someone waved a wand over his dad’s journal and the pages came to life. Vampires roamed in gangs, werewolves lurked in the trees, tattooed djinns loitered in the doorway. And there were the regular looking folks, people that Dean had to assume were skinwalkers or shapeshifters copying some poor dead bastard.

They watched the entourage enter the clearing without attacking, though they certainly weren’t happy with the situation. They growled, snarled, nipped at Dean’s heals – or just stood there looking pissed as hell. Dean had no doubt that one step out of line and they were only so much meat. He was far more concerned with the mysterious “she” everyone kept talking about.

A chill ran over Dean’s spine when they passed through the doorway of the tower, a breeze coming from nowhere. Strangely, he was reminded of that scene in Last Crusade. There didn’t appear to be any booby traps or hidden razors in the walls, though he kept a sharp eye out.

The bulbous top of the tower was one large room filled with so many tapestries and flowing fabrics that Dean couldn’t tell where the edges were. It was lit by fire, the torches reflecting thousands of crystals strung along the draperies, dangling from the ceiling, secreted away in corners. The effect was quite beautiful, like being inside a golden kaleidoscope… but the ambiance was the furthest thing from Dean’s mind.

Mary Winchester sat languidly on a crystalline throne raised in the center of the room. She wore a cheap yellow diner uniform instead of the pale white nightgown he’d come to think of as hers and the grin on her face was pure brazen malevolence.

On either side of Dean and Cas the monsters sank to the floor, reverently.

“You bitch,” Dean snarled. He had to force his jaws apart to make even that much audible through how hard he was clenching his teeth.

Eve lifted a finger, naughty naughty boy. “Now, Dean. Is that any way to speak to your mother?”

Cas threw out his hand, fingers spread wide, a snarl of his own marring his face. There was the hint of something brilliant, a sputter and a spark from his palm, then nothing. Dean could see the muscles cording on his wrist from the tension.

“Feeling a little flaccid, angel?” The Mother giggled, then covered her mouth with one of Mary’s hands – feminine in the blushing-and-fainting-couches way Dean detested. She smirked afterward, settling herself more comfortably on her throne. “What made you think I’d let you fire one off in my territory, hmm? You’re as helpless as a sacrificial lamb of god.”

“Leave Cas out of this. And you are not my mother.” The anger vibrated through his veins, violence creeping across his knuckles and crackling through the arcing strength in his arms.

Eve sneered, plucking at the collar of her uniform. “I’m not any happier about it than you are, Dean. I usually prefer my vessels to be a little more virginal and a lot less matronly, but que sera. What you’re wearing when you die reflects down here. Serves me right for playing mind games before I was murdered.” She glared pointedly at Dean.

Seeing the expression on his mother’s face made it a little easier to remember that this was a gnarly-ass purgatory beast and not someone he actually cared about. He schooled his expression to innocence; it was a look he’d never done well. The sarcasm flowed like wine.

Dean felt Cas’ hand settle on his shoulder, just behind where his mark used to be. It was heavy, weighing him down, cautioning him to behave. At his touch the jeweled walls flickered and Dean was somewhere else entirely even though his feet stayed planted on the ground. Then Cas stepped in front of him and his vision settled back into the crystal throne room once more. He shook his head, trying to restore some order in there. He almost missed what Cas was saying.

“We wish you no harm, Mother-of-All. We merely seek to pass through your domain. Pull your silk and let us pass.” His voice was formal in a way it hadn’t been since he was commanding armies and protecting seals in the early days of their time together.

Eve wasn’t moved by the show of respect in the slightest. “There’s no merely passing anywhere in this realm. We have to fight for everything we have, so why shouldn’t you?” She kept ranting, going on about how her life sucked since Dean booted her back into the realm of her poor dead babies. Dean checked out after the first few lines, trusting Cas to alert him if anything interesting popped up.

Instead he focused on that odd moment of disconnect he’d had when Cas touched him. What was that? It had felt a little like he was watching a 3D movie without the glasses on, layers of bright images over top of something else. If he just concentrated hard enough maybe he could see it properly…

He closed his eyes and felt around for the simmering space inside where his soul was bound and hidden between his ribs. It’d gotten easier to channel his intentions through the glow of self at his core – he felt it there all the time now, quietly warming him. Like Iron Man’s arc reactor, only not as cool. He’d certainly gotten practice healing himself of minor injuries along the way, so this shouldn’t be that difficult. He pulled the strength inside him into focus, sudden and sharp, and opened his eyes.

(a round, bulbous body suspended fat and tired in the curved hollow of a web, carapace gleaming black as night and red as new blood, poison dripping from swollen fangs. drops of rain and dew caught in the shadowy strands, hardened and lovely in the midst of the circular chamber. there were eggs hidden there, somewhere within, nurtured and cradled from view. as were pieces of her last meal)

Dean blinked hard and his mother’s face bled back into place over the fidgeting mandibles. The world of vessels and skewed perception was easier to handle than that. He thought about webs in the wilderness and swallowed down the gorge rising in his throat. Eww, they’d been in one of those. And it came out of her. He spoke without really meaning to. “Oh, gross. I knew you had to be a spider.”

Eve stopped midsentence. She raised an eyebrow and gave Dean a sour look, the duh implied. Cas had the same look on his face. The kneeling monsters weren’t allowed an opinion, unimpressed or not.

“What? I did. It makes sense.” He threw a hand to his neck, covering the place there’d be a gaping wound if not for the angel at his side. “Ugh! You bit me, you bitch. I’m not gonna get some kind of weird bug disease, am I? Like Jeff Goldblum only with spiders? Is my ear gonna fall off?”

Eve groaned and rolled her eyes (all eight of them, Jesus Christ) the expression looking strange on Mary’s face. “Every time I forget it’s the other Winchester who’s the brains of the operation you manage to remind me. Good job.”

Dean sneered, completely over this sad Shelob wannabe. “I was smart enough to kick your ass though, wasn’t I?”

“That you were. And see where it got you now, you miserable little ant.” She reclined on her throne again, then flicked a finger their way. “That reminds me.”

All four dragons descended on Cas, pushing him to the ground and leaning to keep him there. The Starships sprung up around Dean, gripping him tightly and delivering a wicked blow to the side, knocking the wind out of him. Vaguely he felt his sleeve being rolled up and the tug of something sharp over the skin of his forearm.

Cas yelled his name, his voice echoing off of the floor to bounce around the ceiling.

The Starship that cut him approached the dais of Mother’s throne, offering the blood on his spike to her like an offering to something holy. She sniffed it, delicately, tongue darting out to taste. Eve pushed the Starship away and it fell to its knees, bowing. She strained on her throne, eminently pleased with herself.

“The phoenix ash has passed through your blood. You’re all out of Hail Mary’s now, Dean.” She smirked, wiggling the shoulders of her vessel a little, the Mary nametag reflecting the firelight. And that’s when Dean knew Eve was full of shit; she’d worn his mother’s face after they’d arrived in the diner, and had reverted back to her original vessel upon her death. She was trying to screw with his head. Which meant she still had something to lose. Or at least she thought she did.

He looked over to where Cas was stuck on the floor, meeting his eyes. Cas shook his head a little, flexing his fingers against the stone. Not yet. Wait for the opportune moment.

Dean brought up as much sarcastic confidence as he could while having a bruised rib and being strung up between two of Eve’s latest pets. “And how does a phoenix defeat a giant ugly spider lady? Stomp on you with its feet? Swat you with a rolled up newspaper? Sic Dumbledore on your ass?”

Eve was stewing on her throne, chin in hand, frowning hard. She spoke more to herself than any of them. “It wasn’t the ashes that pained me, as much as the effort it took to get them. Damn bird. Immortality leaves such a bad taste on the tongue.” She refocused on the two visitors to her realm, flicking both hands toward the wall. The Starships and dragons fell back, letting Dean and Cas regain their feet. There was a small trickle of blood on Cas’ chin from where he’d bitten his lip. “No matter. Tell me, boys: how do you like my tower?”

Dean straightened the lines of his jacket so it fitted over his shoulders properly again. “I think it looks like a great big pile of shit. You should eat your interior decorator.”

Either Eve was seriously passive-aggressive or Dean was getting good at hitting her buttons. She straightened, spitting angry again. “You try maintaining territory when you’ve been shoved face first into the mud again. I had to start over from scratch, building homes where I could find them until I was strong enough to reclaim what was mine.” She settled once more, taking a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She caressed the arms of her throne. (a thin foreleg, unfolding, twanging the strands of her careful creation) “Still, it’s served its purpose. If you build it, they will come.”

Cas tilted his head, frowning.

Eve rolled her eyes. “It’s from Field of Dreams, you culture-shocked moron. Dean, your angel education is seriously lacking. I was on earth for three months and even I know more pop culture than he does.”

“Yeah, we’ll get right on that, Charlotte. Just after we take you to the state fair and eat Wilbur for breakfast.” The dragon behind them punched Dean in the back of the head, knocking him off his feet toward the base of Eve’s throne. She smirked and kicked him back onto his knees – he flailed a moment on the edge of the stone until he felt Cas’ steadying hand on his back. Dean tried to regain his dignity and his feet but Cas held him down without any effort at all. He shook his head, glancing up at the Mother. Not yet.

Well. It might have cracked his skull but at least the insult got them within striking distance. Dean wasn’t so sure that was a good thing with how dizzy he felt all of a sudden.

“Location is everything, Castiel. I built my lair on the Traveler’s Way and you walked right into it. You pull more flies with honey, angel.” She turned to the dragon that had hit Dean; it was daring to stand in her presence, head unbowed. Her words were venomous, a queen finding her roses painted red. “Thank you, my child. I believe I can take it from here. Go to your room.”

The dragon blinked and backed away at the dismissal, wiping its eyes. Could dragons cry? Or did the tears just evaporate?

Dean heard the echo of footsteps on the spiral staircase behind them and knew the others had left along with their winged brethren. They were alone.

Eve tilted her head and looked at the two creatures kneeling at the base of her throne, one heavenly and the other decidedly not. “My children are sometimes jealous of their mother’s love. Would you like to know a secret?” She leaned closer to them, whispering, her voice wavering between her flat teeth. “I hate it here. I hate them. Can you imagine, being surrounded and worshipped by your failures? Every night, for all eternity. Unable to grow. Unable to change. When that’s what you want so very badly. I have so many ideas, so many improvements to make, and no supplies to do any of it.”

She ran her hand through Dean’s short hair, combing out the clumps of dirt absently. He only flinched a little at her touch.

“I watched humans grow, you know. You were so perfectly flawed. I was there first and it didn’t matter; they still inherited the earth with their magnitude and cunning. So I took them and I changed them so their flaws were on the outside, perfect for the world to see. I gave my children the power to overcome your silly world, to eat the ones God gave it to instead of me. To remake it in my image. And they failed me. Because of humans like you.”

Eve pulled her fingers tight, tilting Dean’s head back until his skull met his shoulders, baring his neck and making him look her in the eye. “You killed my children, Dean. You killed me. So now you’re going to help me fix what you broke.”

She leaned down impossibly low from her throne, Mary’s limbs growing long and pointed. Her mouth gaped, wide and terrifying, lowering to Dean’s in a horrifying kiss. His chest burned, arms tingling, and a drop of something oozing landed on his tongue. Numbness settled like panic down his spine.

She breathed in. Light flickered between their lips and she licked at it, a cat with cream. (spider with a fly)

He was tugged away from her, hard, body snapping back limp as a rag doll. Cas curled an arm around his chest and raised the other hand to the side of her face, brilliant brightness blooming between his fingers.

The Mother screamed. And everything was consumed in fire.

+++


The flare faded slowly from his vision, the afterimages only leaving his eyes when a shot of pain echoed dully up from where his knees hit the ground. The rest of him followed, aching terribly. Pain throbbed through his muscles, nerves firing randomly, the too sensitive feeling of a flu making his skin scream and his equilibrium tremble.

He hadn’t felt anything like this in ages. Not since before the Roman Candle. He’d be almost grateful for the blaze of sensation if it didn’t hurt like a motherfucker.

Dean blinked his eyes, slowly, carefully, practically hearing the hinges creak. He’d fallen on a loamy rise of land; his cheek was pillowed on the softest moss he’d ever encountered. He wanted to rub his face in it and might still, if he could scrounge up the energy for it. A tan blur was pacing in front of him, once-white slippers grey against the brilliant green of the ground.

Sound rushed back into the world when Dean became aware of Cas moving around. Somewhere nearby a stream was burbling merrily. And Cas was muttering like a crazy person, talking to himself as he wrung his hands.

“—shouldn’t have been able to do this. The blast should have used up my grace, even killed me. I had to do something; she was going to steal Dean’s… But her null field was too powerful. How was I strong enough—”

Dean must’ve moved or made a noise because Cas’ attention was on him like a firefly in the dark. Lightning fast he was at Dean’s side, fingers reaching to smooth the wrinkle growing between his eyebrows. The touch of his skin on Dean’s burned, a drawing vacuum of misery peeling up from his guts and broiling down from his brain. He tried to yell but was only capable of a dry husky moan.

Cas’ hand jerked back in time with his inhaled breath, his body curling inward again. He stared at his hand, at the bruises on his knuckles fading away even as Dean’s blurry eyes noticed them for the first time. Not that Dean was too concerned about the state of Cas’ hands – he was too busy fighting for air. He coughed and tilted his face into the moss, back arching uncontrollably so his lungs had more room.

When the fit was over and he could take in more than a gasp of dirt and green things he was too strung out to do anything except lay there and breathe. Cas was sitting next to him, quietly, staring at a flake of something small and shimmering on the ground next to Dean’s lips. He touched it with the tip of a finger and it made the bones of his hand glow.

"Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Dona nobis pacem."

Dean was too fuzzy to translate English, let alone a language he’d never been all that good at, exorcisms aside. Why was Cas quoting Latin now, of all times?

“I’m so sorry, Dean. I can’t stay with you anymore.”

Dean frowned, pushing a small nervous sound past his lips. It was as close to a question as he could get. He didn’t understand.

Cas hunkered down until their faces were inches apart, his watery eyes catching Dean’s gaze and holding it. His voice was commanding. (But it wavered at the end, oh how it did.) “You must keep moving, Dean. You must follow the road, no matter how hard it gets. Promise me you’ll remember.”

But Cas didn’t give him the chance to promise anything, whether it was to do as he asked or kick his ass as soon as he could feel his feet again. He barely saw the hand coming towards him, fingers extended, and there was the angel whammy He’d been expecting this whole time—

+++


When Dean opened his eyes again the wounds on his body were healed, the dragon burns and Mother kisses gone without a trace. Cas had disappeared, too, and taken the weak sun with him. The moon was back in its place, full and shining at its zenith once more.

He stood alone for a moment, listening to the sounds of the trees around him, sad desert things that they were. They must’ve traveled a great distance while he was out - he couldn’t see the spires of the Mother’s weaving over the tops of the trees anymore and the soft place he’d touched down before was long gone. This forest was completely different and much harsher; more scrub and sand than soil.

But there were stones under the gritty dirt, neglected and hidden with time and nature, leaving an impression Dean could barely see. It led away from where he’d woke and disappeared over the rise into the distance.

(He was listening for the flutter of wings and coattails flapping in the breeze. He heard only silence.)

Did the road take him somewhere he wanted to go? He supposed it didn't matter; it was a road. He’d been following them all his life. He may as well keep following this one.

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