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Whether it was because of the unicorn’s influence or Cas and Dean’s general badassery they were left alone after that, walking unopposed through the bowels of purgatory. The landscape changed again; the trees became more uniform and rigid, less natural and more… manufactured. Then they grew fewer and far between. The grass disappeared entirely, revealing hard dirt and dark rocks.

Eventually they reached the end of the tree line – a miracle, and one Dean had thought would feel more victorious. Instead it was creepy, an open plain with nothing but space around them and nowhere to hide. The sky was black with smoke and heavy with the scent of the sea. Dean could see the glow of fire on the horizon, faint and hazy.

The ground dropped away on either side of them and the ocean rose to meet the road, the dirt growing hard and crisp under their feet, twisting into strange billowy shapes. The black rock boiled and simmered just under the surface, melting and pouring over the edge into nothing. Large pieces crumbled around the edges and fell, the waves crashing upward into the gaping wounds of the earth. They hit the sea with a god-awful hiss, sending up plumes of acrid smoke.

It got harder and harder to breathe the further toward the edge they went, so they stopped breathing all together. Each step ran the risk of breaking through the barely-hardened lava flow so they were careful to place their feet carefully and only on the darkest stone. A particularly large wave crashed into the shore and Dean took Cas’ hand again so as not to lose him in the steam.

Dean was pretty sure the heat would have been intolerable if he hadn’t retreated a little into his body again – the soles of his boots might actually have been melting. He had no idea how Cas was managing to move at all in his battered house shoes. As it was, the tattered belt of Cas’ coat caught on fire and they had to stomp it out, eventually just pulling it off and leaving it to burn. It made the same shurring sound a tie does when it’s pulled out from under a collar, and then it was gone.

They pressed on; going as far as they could on solid ground, spatters of lava and magma hissing up from the violent sea. The vapor rising before them blocked his view completely but Dean somehow knew there was nothing but turbulence and tides beyond the heat and fire. They had to walk through it to get across. Maybe even jump off the cliff afterward and into the ocean.

Dean did not appreciate the metaphor.

He held a forearm over his mouth, breathing in just enough to yell. “All right, Cas. Time to make like a chicken and get to the other side. You ready?” Dean shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet, trying to psyche himself up.

Cas stopped walking. It snagged Dean’s momentum and pulled him back a little. “It’s a joke, Cas. I’ll explain it to you later, we gotta go now.”

Cas took a step backward.

“Come on, man. We can’t stay here.”

Cas loosened his grip on Dean’s hand but didn’t pull away any further. His fingers hung against Dean’s knuckles, lifeless. “You should go without me, Dean. They’ll listen to you, help you get home.”

Dean thought for a second that the steam had gotten to him and he was hallucinating. But no, that was Cas’ hand in his, that was the smell of burning rubber coming from his boots. “What are you saying? You… You don’t want to go?”

Cas shook his head and looked down at the coals under their feet.

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He just could not believe it. “Jesus Christ, Cas. We came all this way. What was the point of any of it if you’re just gonna give up now?”

“This was always the plan, Dean. I just… didn’t expect leaving you to be this hard.”

It hurt, more than falling down the cliff or being poisoned by Eve had. The words shattered and broke in his heart, finishing what the unicorn’s touch and his own desire had started. He was living in his body, all right, and it was tearing him apart.

“Cas… This whole time, you were just stringing me along until we got here? This whole time?”

“Since I found you with the Wild Things, yes. Dean, please try to understand.” His eyes were watery. Dean hoped it was because of something other than the smoke around them. “I destroyed my people, Dean. Massacred hundreds. Thousands. I’ll deserve anything they do to me. I don’t want to burden you with that. I don’t want them to not help you because I was there.”

Dean closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over his mouth. Somewhere behind them a bit of molten rock fell into the abyss. For some reason he thought of Cas in the barn, all righteous fury and intimidation. Then of the same angel tucked carefully on a rock, dirty and tired and all the more wondrous for it.

Cas’ mouth moved without sound, the emotions finally overwhelming his brimming eyes and falling down his face in ugly tears. “I… I’m scared.”

“If they try to hurt you they’ll have to go through me first.”

Cas blinked, another tear falling, and breathed out like he’d been punched in the gut.

Dean looked out into the steam. “I wanna go home, Cas. I want to see my brother and drive my car. I want to taste food and feel something other than numb. So I followed your fucking road and did what you fucking asked, because I trusted you. I trust you now. I trust us. Look what we did to get here! If those angel fucks think you’re not good enough as you are or that you deserve to be punished, then they can just try to stop us. We can do this, Cas, we can.”

He let go of Cas’ hand and planted his feet, made himself an immovable object come to see the mountain. “Remember your promise? Well, that goes double for me, too. You’re my friend, Cas, and I’m not leaving you here alone. It’s together or nothing. Your call.”

They stared at each other a moment, then Cas looked beyond Dean toward the cliff and the fire. Dean wondered what he was seeing, how this passageway worked when you were looking at it with eyes in two different realms.

Cas raised his chin and clenched his jaw. He leaned over and took Dean’s hand back, holding it tight. Decision made.

The only thing left to do was jump into the wall of steam. The heat of it was immense, unbearable; it burned through their feet and up their bodies until they were a conflagration, a forest fire. Dean held onto Cas as long as he could, their palms melding together, and did his best to repair the damage as it happened. He heard screaming and the crash of waves—

— the buzz of bees hitting the glass of a window —

— a carefully tended garden —

— and then light.

It filled his vision, searing his night-blind eyes. It was devastating in its intensity, brighter than the sun after ages of darkness. It touched him, electricity crackling up his arm and over his arched back. His mind became awash in impressions of familiarity and trust and forgiveness. The light pulled away slowly, making itself smaller without diminishing any of its power. Dean’s eyes adjusted enough to see how the hint of color at its core was different than the brightness around it — a nebula clothed in stars.

The only blemish in the brilliance was a tiny speck of darkness in the exact center; a man-shaped dot suspended in static. If he concentrated Dean could hear the hiss and pop of it, the background noise the light made by merely existing.

Dean empathized with the man-speck; he felt small, suspended, overwhelmed. He looked down at his body, curled fetal around a glow at its core where his heart should have been. The glow looked… felt… tarnished. Weary. Small and rusted next to the grace of the light-being beside him. There was a taste at the back of his tongue he couldn’t identify but left him gagging on coppery salt.

A luminous spark trailed behind the light as it moved, the end looped snuggly around Dean’s right hand like a thread around a finger. He made a fist around it. The spark twanged, vibrating along the length of his arm to echo around his imperfect core. Dean knew the feel of that, knew it without memory. Knew it in the bones of his being and the scar on his shoulder.

Cas. Castiel.

Dean supposed he really hadn’t been exaggerating about being the size of the Chrysler building.

When the angel was a fair distance away it pulsed, ripples flowing outward from that central speck. Dean felt a wave go through his body – it was a message, the meaning lost in a language he didn’t know. He felt like a fish quivering with the thud of someone hitting the side of his tank. The being made of light (Cas, it was Cas) moved even further away and Dean could finally see its edges (like a jellyfish, mnemiopsis leidyi) and some of the world around it.

Cas pulsed again, the wave traveling up the strange honeycomb that made up this plane of existence. The weave was made of a thicker, darker radiance; each loop in the netting carried a smaller light inside, the tiny spark crackling energy back into the comb itself. One section towards the far reaches of Dean’s vision held two lights flickering and bouncing into one another. When Cas’ second pulse hit their square one of the little lights went flickering and dashing along the web itself, dimming its light into almost nonexistence, riding the honeycomb to an empty chamber a couple rows over. It reconnected with the square, energy lighting up the boundaries of its little section.

Dean looked at the eternal pattern, the honeycomb of heaven, and thought about souls being the currency of the realm. Of people being used as batteries and bullets in a war between factions. Jesus Christ, he thought. Heaven is the fucking Matrix. And right on the heels of that thought: No wonder Cas likes bees so much.

He remembered Ash in a Mexican wrestling mask and nodded his head to the blip of light. Dean hoped he and Castiel’s entry hadn’t caused too much attention for the little guy.

The shining galaxy, the wavelength of celestial intent, the brightest thing Dean had ever seen – his friend Cas – had settled into stillness, its intensity and colors paler. It was listening for something.

He and Castiel waited there for a long time, suspended in the honeycomb and connected by the faintest light of a star holding Dean’s hand. Then the web around them shuddered. A wave of light passed over them, the answer to a call. And Dean didn’t have to understand it to know what it meant.

The angels were coming.

He could see them, fast approaching lights in the distance, a riot of space and vastness. Some of the lights had specks, some didn’t. Some sparked along the edges of their beings in what Dean hoped was excitement; others remained hazy and nervous behind their brethren.

(The idea that Dean could protect anyone from something like this was laughable. Cas had surely known that when he jumped.)

One light in particular led the charge, hurtling toward them so quickly Dean called out a warning for Castiel to run – though the sound came out flat and his friend didn’t move. The angels collided like the big bang, lights interweaving, braiding, merging, breaking apart again. The strand Dean clutched with all his strength went taut and pulled the two angels back like it was the world’s weirdest bungee cord.

The newcomer – smaller now that Dean could see it clearly, and not as vibrant – spun around Castiel, their edges sparkling where they touched, fireworks glinting off the Impala’s chrome. And Dean heard the angel’s voice, vibrating through his body like a struck tuning fork: Welcome brother. Welcome Castiel.

On Earth the sound would have been too loud to bear. Here where it was meant to be heard it was so joyous, so rapturous, that Dean feared he knew nothing of true happiness.

The new angel seemed to recover itself, separating reluctantly from Castiel. They hovered near one another, sparks of energy and light pulsing between them. They were talking, Dean realized, but he couldn’t understand what they were saying.

Eventually the sparks stopped and they slowly approached Dean, the thread of light between he and Castiel growing shorter. Dean held on to it all the tighter, just in case. Another tendril tentatively reached out toward Dean’s cheek; it crackled with static-electricity and he was sure his hair was standing on end. At its touch he heard a new sound.


It was just same as Cas had always said it; deep, reverberating, only this time it came as a ribbon of light echoing down the tendril, a pulse from the core of Castiel to Dean’s own shiny center, where it was absorbed and bounced back again – a circuit of grace and spirit attained with such ease he barely knew it was happening.

Huh. So that’s what ‘profound bond’ meant.

“Cas?” Dean’s voice was lost in the cacophony around him, though he couldn’t actually hear anything with his physical ears. Like an explosion in the vacuum of space. He had no idea how the massive being before him could even see him clearly let alone comprehend his call but it did, perhaps more clearly here than in any other conversation they’d ever had. Castiel heard the questions under the word, the pain-fear-affection, the need to claim a part of this otherworldly consciousness as something familiar. The light of his being contracted inward on the speck like a star collapsing into a black hole, curling in on itself until the constriction must surely be painful, filling in the seams until Dean could make out the confines of Jimmy Novak’s body again, the familiar wrinkled contours of his coat. The light spilled out from behind his eyes and mouth and the excess pooled around his shoulders like… Well, like wings. Or the tails of two comets suspended in space.

Dean was holding his hand again.

Cas settled himself into his vessel and turned to Dean once more. He blinked, the light dimming just a little behind his eyelids. “Dean, you look…” Cas smiled pleasantly with his vessel’s mouth - but Dean could still see parts of his actual being and it was dancing, sparks shooting everywhere but especially toward him. Dean raised his other hand and the sparks leapt to it, like the lightning in a globe at museums or fancy toy stores. Cas cleared his throat. “Heaven looks good on you.”

Dean squinted down at his own tiny bronze soul and didn’t see anything special. And nothing at all like the arcing rainbow of Castiel’s true form.

Cas took a breath and shook his head, recovering from wherever his mind had drifted away to. He gestured to the other angel floating patiently behind him, awaiting introductions. “Dean, this is Samandriel. Forgive his appearance; he has yet to pursue an earthly vessel.”

Samandriel was gloriously luminous, condensed down to a pinprick of violent light small enough to converse with the human before it. A wisp of radiance - hesitant, nervous – hovered between them until Dean realized what Samandriel was asking for and nodded. The wisp wrapped around Dean’s other wrist and he heard its voice ringing through his body. It left a residue of hopeful innocence in his sinuses; he sneezed to dislodge a little of it.

It is an honor to meet the Righteous Man, Dean Winchester. Castiel has told the host much about you.

Dean hated that title, still, years after it meant anything. He ignored Samandriel, turning back to Cas. “What they say about sending us back? Can they do it?”

“The passage between realms is relatively simple when performed by a high ranking seraph. Samandriel is fairly confident it will be successful.”

“Hallelujah to that. Where can we find one of those? I wanna make with the clicking heels together, dude.”

“Dean. There’s been a… minor issue.”

He knew it was too good to be true. “Okay, hit me. What’s the catch?”

“I prostrated myself before the angels and offered myself for punishment. I only asked that they hear my prayer and send you home first.”

“Damn it, Cas, we talked about this! You are not a bartering chip!”

I agree. Samandriel fizzled, drawing both their attentions. Heaven was intended as a place of redemption and peace but has drifted far afield in the Father’s absence. We need to start healing our own before we can do the same to the souls in our care.

“Huh.” So maybe there was such a thing as non-dick angels who weren’t Cas. “Not everything’s sunshine and roses, though. What about them?” He nodded toward the small cluster of lights hovering in the distance, energy bouncing quietly between them. As much as sentient ball of light could have emotions they certainly seemed to be acting nervous. Or maybe ‘agitated’ was the better word.

Cas refused to look Dean in the eye, watching the honeycomb flicker around them instead. “When I razed heaven I rooted out the nonbelievers from our midst. All the angels left are loyal to me, like Samandriel, or were willing to pretend to be so. Or were on assignment somewhere else at the time.” He looked over his shoulder to the shyer angels. “It’s likely some of my compatriots don’t believe I deserve redemption.”

“And you agree with them, right? Damn it, Cas. Haven’t you been sorry long enough?”

Cas snorted bitterly, finally catching Dean’s eye. “Hypocrite.”


The snarking came naturally, like they’d been doing it forever. It felt good. He couldn’t help but smile when Cas frowned and rolled his eyes at yet another reference he didn’t understand.

Samandriel seemed to be taking the high road and ignoring both of them. I understand your concerns, Dean – may I call you Dean? – but please know that you are not alone in your love of Castiel. My brothers and I are aware that his crimes were horrendous. The damage is extensive but that is all the more reason for him to be welcome among us.

“I don’t understand.”

Cas glanced at Samandriel, the sad little line appearing between his eyebrows again. “My brothers have extended an invitation for me to heal among them for awhile, correct some of the mistakes I’ve made. A new hierarchy is settling into place… and they want my help with the organization. Apparently not a lot of leaders survived the onslaught. I can’t imagine why.”

Oh, Castiel. We understand it was not wholly your fault.Samandriel extended a tendril toward Cas’ shoulder and caressed the light he found there. You’ve been touched by God; your worth lies in more than your deeds. We would have welcomed you regardless.

Dean eyed the other angels and thought the appropriate pronoun should have been ‘I’ instead of ‘we’.

Cas was looking around, too, but he seemed less suspicious than Dean thought he ought to be. He was almost proud. “Heaven has changed a lot since my time here. It is barren but much warmer, despite the emptiness.”

A tingle shimmied up Dean’s spine and straight into his brain. It had never occurred to Dean, not once during the long hump through purgatory, that the place he and Cas called ‘home’ might be different. They’d worked so hard to leave and now Cas had the chance to stay. It wasn’t fair.

The light at the center of Dean wavered for a second, just long enough for the flickering shadow to gain Cas’ attention… right when Dean didn’t want it. He cleared his throat. “So. Heaven got an overhaul, huh? You think you could be happy here, Cas?”

“Oh, Dean. Dean, no. I swore I’d never leave you again.”

“Yeah, well. Maybe you shouldn’t have.”


“Remember the Red Bull, Cas? ‘Cause I do. There’s more than one kind of destruction, you know. And some of it you do to yourself.”

Cas shook his head, eyes watering again. “It doesn’t matter what I want. I swore I’d never leave you again, Dean. I swore it.”

“I know, dude, I know. And I believe you. But forget about me for a minute. Forget them. What do you want, Cas? You. Do you want to stay?”

Cas hesitated, and in that briefest of moments Dean knew the answer was yes. He let go of Cas’ desperate grip and rubbed hard at his own bottom lip. He let his hand rest there to hide the trembling in his chin. “Wow. I did not see that coming.”

It was ridiculously hard to maintain his composure. Cas wasn’t fairing much better, though it was even harder for Dean to look at him. At some point in the conversation Samandriel had excused himself and retreated back to the safety of Cas’ other supporters. At least they didn’t have much of an audience for their potential breakdowns; just a couple dozen souls whose heavens happened to be near the gateway out of purgatory. Dean bet the view from the high-rises sucked.

“You could stay.”

Cas’ voice was so quiet Dean wasn’t sure he’d heard him right. “What?”

“You could stay. I could make a place for you here. Surely heaven is better than purgatory? We…” He swallowed and wrapped his arms around his body, hands hugging the opposite elbow. “We could be together here. It could be nice.”

Dean’s brain refused to engage on that one so his mouth started without his actual permission. “No. No, I can’t, dude. I – Not that I don’t want to, ‘cause I do, it’s just. There’s Sammy and…” And nothing else, really, if he was honest with himself. Everything else he loved – his car, food, TV, hunting – it was all just surface stuff. Easily replaced. He supposed it was sad when the only thing tying a person to the world was their brother. But family was what mattered.

And his was breaking.

“I don’t think I’m ready for this, Cas. The whole sacred honeybee thing’s kinda throwing me for a loop, you know?” The joke fell flat, as he knew it would. He looked into Cas’ eyes and watched as a single bead of liquid light fell from them when he blinked. (Tears in Heaven, and hell no, this was not the time for him to get Clapton lyrics stuck in his head.)

Dean rubbed his own eyes and conjured up a smile from somewhere. “This doesn’t have to be the end, right? I mean, there’s no rule that says you can’t come visit. Or… hell, you know how often we Winchesters die. Though I suppose I’ll have to keep it clean in order to stay on the VIP list.” The smile faded and Dean didn’t try to retrieve it. He looked into the molten core of his angel’s eyes as he’d done so many times before. “This isn’t a no. It’s just… not yet.”

Cas blinked, more light falling from him, and just breathed. He rushed forward, hands clutching Dean’s hair and hauling him close. “Enough thinking.”

Their lips crashed together, a shower of sparks and pop-rock sizzle sputtering down Dean’s spine. Then something gave – Dean’s ears popped – and it wasn’t a kiss at all anymore. Cas’ light poured into Dean through the seal of their lips. It wrapped around him, pulsing, fluttering; he was suspended, held inside something big. He’d never felt cherished before. So Dean opened around it and let it in.

The light burned through him without heat, the shudder of a thousand orgasms bursting through the heart of him. He could feel his soul tingling around the edges and trying so hard to melt into the touch of that beautiful blazing being. So he let himself go, arching and rubbing against the invasion like an offering on an alter. The light shuddered and merged around him, holy communion of the filthiest kind. They danced together, nebulas and galaxies forming in the places where they mixed into one.

It was all-encompassing and obsessive love and it was Castiel. His Cas, how he felt, and it was the craziest, hottest, freakiest, best thing Dean had ever known.

He didn’t know how long they stayed clasped together, feeding each other grace and strength and love, but Dean knew it wasn’t long enough. Could never be enough. He could spend eternity wrapped up in Castiel… and eternity was a very long time.

He heard a rumble behind him, an echo reverberating through the honeycomb – the angelic version of clearing one’s throat.

Dean didn’t give a rat’s ass who or what was watching or what they had to say about anything. He was happy where he was. But Cas slowly began the long and terrible process of disconnecting their parts and placing them back into their bodies. Just before closing them off from each other completely he caressed a tendril of Casagainst the bronze ball of Dean. A lingering kiss. A fingerprint on his heart.

Cas let their foreheads rest together with a gentle bump and finally withdrew his mouth from Dean’s. An ember trickled between their lips; it floated away, a firefly in the night.

He pressed his scratchy cheek to Dean’s, whispering in his ear. “No ending is forever, Dean, remember that. And remember my vow. I will always be watching and I will always come when you call.”

Dean wanted to say something smart or smartass, something to cut through the lump in his throat and the sentimentality clogging up his veins – hell, even just ditto like some Patrick Swayze schmuck – but Cas’ hands slipped down to his chest and pushed.



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