He’d been dozing. Sleep snatched from the twin jaws of cold and discomfort was preciously guarded. All too often would he settle, tattered garb drawn tightly about himself - only to find that his eyes would not close. That he would sit there for the duration of the night, sandy eyed and bitten by frost still the bloody bleed of dawn upon the eastern most horizon.
Tonight, with leaden bones and an empty belly - he’d slumped into his corner, tossing his own arms over his chest in a haphazard attempt at preserving his own body heat before he had been called to the shores of sleep.
The cry of his name saw a shudder run the length of his form, his eyelids flickering as he was roused from that precious nothingness. A deepening inhalation saws hazy eyes slide open to the heavy weight of the darkness about him.
There he remained for a long moment, lost to the dregs of all that he had been dragged from - utterly bereft as to the reasonings behind his abrupt return to consciousness.
Realisation was slow, if nothing else. The sluggish seep of perception did see yet more time slip from betwixt limp fingers.
Yet once a fire caught - slow though it may seem to start - it moved with a swiftness unrivaled.
Angel no more, his humanity a noose about his neck - Castiel was many things. But dull was not one of them.
The call resonated within him; drawing his interest from deep within the mire of his exhaustion.
“Dean?” The words were whispered to the night, a palm pressed to the brickwork at his back in an effort to lever himself upright. His eyes were bright as stars in the damp shadows, his steps hesitant as he ventured from his shelter.
Setting his toes to the mouth of the alleyway, he looked out across the vacant parking lot. The world was silent and still as dictated by the loss of the sun. Yet one shadow, did move in defiance of this unspoken law.
Dean?” There was a voice behind the cry, calling out to the man who moved apart from the world; a tentative hope building within his chest that against all odds - Dean had indeed found him.
Nothing. There was nothing. No answer to his cry and he couldn’t see the Angel anywhere. A slow panic began to rise from the depth of Dean’s stomach. Castiel had been here. He had been here! But perhaps he had moved on? Perhaps Dean had been too late and his friend had given up hope.
Or worse… What if something had happened to him? What if he wasn’t answering because he was unable?
With that thought stuck in his mind, Dean began a wild search of the alley-ways in the area. Clinging to the hope that if something awful had happened, at least Castiel would still be here somewhere and that Dean would be able to help. That it wasn’t too late.
And then he heard it.
At first he thought it was his imagination. That his mind was playing tricks on him. That he wanted to hear the Angel’s voice so badly that his mind was providing it for him. But no… It was definitely Cas.
Dean stumbled out of the alley-way and headed in the direction of where he had been sure he’d heard the voice. But he couldn’t pinpoint it. Couldn’t be sure.
He let out a surprised yelp and turned back around with a grin. The Hunter lowered his head and nipped lightly at the shell of Crowley’s ear before murmuring.
"And I’m ok with that."
"Yeah, Yeah." He pats Dean on the cheek and licks his nose,
Dean wrinkled his nose at the Demon, but managed to let out a little laugh. His eyes, though tired, were certainly amused.
"Such a dick."
"Life in general is giant fuck up. Someone is always doing something wrong, depending on who’s doing the judging." Crowley shrugged, "Sam chose to stay alive for you after the trials, but then instead of dying and closing the gates of Hell he almost died for nothing soon after, I’d say he thinks he fucked up too. And Cas doesn’t trust me." The demon snorted, "Which I find amusing since the only trust betrayed between the two of us is mine…”
Crowley rolled his eyes, “You know, for an idiot, you do a very good impression of a smart person. If you try the whole vanishing act thing I will find you.”
Dean slumped against the Demon and let out a little huff. He was exhausted. Just thinking about all this was tiring and he needed a break. But there was no way of stopping. You didn’t just stop being a Hunter and Dean supposed that was true of being a Winchester.
Perhaps he was cursed.
"And what if I permanently vanished? What then? Not that I would… But the thought’s been floating around a lot lately."
Dean approached, knife in one hand and a flask of something in the other, and for the briefest of moments Sam felt a trickle of fear run up his spine. It was gone the instant he looked up at Dean’s face. There was no mistaking that this was something that was done out of necessity and nothing else. So Sam tried relaxing and stay calm, as he held his arm out for his brother to cut a thin line across the inside of his forearm, because there was very little that pained him more than seeing that kind of expression on his brother’s face. It was Dean being forced to do something he didn’t want to and Sam standing by, helpless and unable to do anything about it. It was such a familiar pattern and yet Sam had somehow managed to forget just how uncomfortable it made him feel.
Silver broke skin and Sam managed to hold back the wince. Nothing happened. Dean stared before opening the flask to pour some of the content over the wound. Again, nothing happened. Sam could practically hear when the implications of it registered in his brother’s mind but he still wasn’t prepared for Dean’s reaction and he almost tripped out of his chair when Dean grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug. Sam’s arms automatically came up to wrap around Dean, not caring that he got blood on the back of Dean’s shirt. He gripped tighter than he had to, slumped a little in the arms of the person that had held him all his life. The familiar smell of Deanand Home still tangled together despite almost three years of trying to make Stanford his home.
Dean was whispering in his ear, "I’m sorry," repeated over and over again, apologizing either for the same thing over and over or for different things each time. Sam felt the stubble against his cheek and he wanted to apologize too. Apologize for leaving Dean, for not having time to fully explain why before he got on that bus, for not staying in touch for more than those very few sporadic phonecalls that had left him feeling more hollowed out and lonely than before. For so many other things that he knew Dean would never let him apologize for.
"I’ve missed you so much, Dean," he whispered instead, allowing himself to stay in the hug for a bit longer before carefully - and under vicious protests from the majority of his limbs - untangled himself from his brother’s arms and took a minimal step back.
"I’ve missed you too, Sammy. Oh god… I’ve missed you."
And he did. So much. This golden boy who he had loved and protected. This younger brother who didn’t look at him with disdain. Who didn’t flinch every time he walked into the room. Who had turned their home into a succession of sullen glances and slammed doors.
And oh did Dean deserve it. He knew he did. Knew that he’d fucked up so badly that there might be no going back. Knew that in all likelihood, he’d lost his brother. Lost his reason for getting up in the morning and managing to keep breathing. To keep going.
All because of his own selfishness.
It had hurt like a punch to the gut when Sam had said he wouldn’t have done the same. That he wouldn’t have made those same choices. And it made Dean take a good hard look at himself and realise that Sam didn’t need him at all. In fact, Sam would probably be better off if he never saw Dean again.
But not this Sam. He hadn’t betrayed this Sam yet. Hadn’t messed him up. Hadn’t completely destroyed his trust. This Sam held onto him tightly and told him that he’d missed him. And god did Dean need that right now.
The Hunter made a helpless little noise as his younger brother broke the hug and took a step back. But it was time to be a grown up. Time to be the big brother. And from the look on Sam’s face, that was what he needed right now. Dean rubbed the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and turned to find a first aid kit. Most of these motels had one. Not the best, but it would do. And he also grabbed a clean cloth and soaked it in hot water.
"Ok… You’ve got a lot of talking to do, Sammy. Luckily, I have all night."
He perched on the edge of the table and began to carefully clean the wound before rooting around in the first aid kit.
"We don’t time travel until well after your time. So, how did you get here?"
The pain of a soul buzzed through the celestial planes. A shock of suffering as sharp as any angel’s blade, it drove Michael to reach out again. Making the Winchester aware of his touch could lead to a negative reaction, and he’d pushed his limits enough, so the angel only whispered along fragile skin enough to heal the crescent injuries. Subtle and slow, with gentle pulls to remove nails from the flesh layers.
"Heaven is closed, Dean, and any soul touched by my Grace would be a beacon to demons. Keeping him asleep with me is better than loosing him to Hell’s grasp." His gaze turned distant, and he looked down to the vessel’s hands.
"But yes, taking your own life is looked down upon by my siblings. Few, however, understand the draw of oblivion. It doesn’t repulse me." A glimmer of disobedience Heaven hadn’t crushed under an iron fist.
"And as you are, understandably, opposed to giving me permission, he was my next best option."
Heaven is closed. It was something that kept slipping Dean’s mind. Probably due to the fact that it was so… Strange. The fact that Heaven could be closed for business. It didn’t make sense, even though Dean knew it was undeniably true.
"And you think that this will make me feel sorry for you? Make me like you? Doing one nice thing for a man you have taken over? You think he’s going to thank you? You think that this is what he wanted?"
"What would happen if I were to kill myself? What then? Won’t be so pure anymore, would I? Won’t be fit for an Archangel anymore."
Dean took a step towards Michael. And then another. Drawing on the being he had been allowed to be in Purgatory. He was pure in his own right. Primal. Another step and he was practically snarling in Michael’s face.
"I’ve thought about it. You know I have. You know about it, don’t you? How every day I pick up my gun and drive out into the waste. How I stand there surrounded by nothing and contemplate putting the gun in my mouth. Pulling the trigger. The allure of nothing. Finally sleeping. What then, Michael? What then?"