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Pairings & Characters: Dean, Gabriel, Castiel. Gen, so far. Future Dean/Gabriel, but definite Strong Feels all around.
Rating: Teen, for Purgatory creepiness and altered mental states.
Word count: 3300.
Spoilers: Up to and including season 7 finale. Takes no account of anything after that, so no season 8 spoilers.
Written: 24 September, 2012.
Warnings (mouseover for spoilery detail): Slippery grip on sanity. Amnesia. Image-heavy (all SFW).
Summary: Set after the season 7 finale. Dean thinks he’s alone in Purgatory, but Castiel is always there. Something else is there too: something old and nameless, something once-familiar, drawn to the shining beacon of memories and emotions that remind it of something it doesn’t understand.

The other denizens of this place cringed back from the strange new unbright light, terrifyingbeautifulmine. But this denizen didn’t. It pressednibbled closer, clung to the edges. Soul and grace so oddly intertwined, they were, withlove withouttrust, withbrotherhood withoutunderstanding.
What was brotherhood?
What were love, and trust? Strange thoughts to rise from forgotten not-nows. Thoughts that didn’t belong in this nowplace.

Note: This stands alone, but was written as backstory for my Ask Debriel tumblr project. The only difference this makes is to affirm that, though I haven’t written it (yet), the problems with which they’re left at the end of this story are resolved, and they do get out of Purgatory. This was partly written because I wanted to write something Purgatory-related before the season 8 première and was running out of time, and partly because someone conveniently asked on the tumblog for more information about what had happened in Purgatory. And it wasn’t something the boys were just going to up and say, so...

Images were all found on the eerily beautiful wanderingthroughpurgatory.


Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita Midway through this way of life we’re bound upon
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
che la diritta via era smarrita. Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.

The opening three lines of Dante’s Commedia. Dorothy L. Sayers’ translation.

(Image from digitalblasphemy via proxydialogue.)

“Cas. Cas!

Don’t leave me, he couldn’t shout.

“You son of a bitch!”

It echoed back to him, empty.

The red eyes around him glinted, blinked, tilted. Drew closer. Like Dean was the flame and they were the cold, starving moths.

Well, Dean was happy to burn as many of creepy sons of bitches as he could take with him.

Cold. Purgatory had been so cold, when they’d got here. Was it just Dean’s imagination, or was it warmer around him, now that Castiel had vanished?

Something jittered over to his left, and he swung around to face it.

Nothing to be seen. Only… yes. A silhouette, like a great shaggy man, but where there should have been eyes, there was nothingness. Dean could see the trees behind it.

… The trees. Their bark was scales. Scales like a snake’s, or a bird’s legs, or…

Purgatory flickered like a smirk. The trees sunk and merged into the landscape, shifting and rolling like stiff shoulders, until it was all rocks upon tumbled rocks, pock-marked with eyes, falling away around and below him. Vast and lonely and inescapable.

“Okay. You wanna play it like that? Come on!”

Creatures hissed and murmured nearby. But still none approached.

For some reason, it was lighter where Dean was. Like there was a little glow of warm light around him, just on the flat rocks where he stood and for a few yards on either side. And the shadows of Purgatory slunk around its edges.

This was it. This was Dean’s world now.

He wished, fiercely, that there was any point in shouting for Sam. Years and years of that being his first instinct whenever anything went wrong, and hell, sometimes you knew it wouldn’t work, but that wasn’t what it was about. It was about invoking him, hurling that name, that idea, into the silence. Saying, I am here, and screw the rest of you.

“Cas. Goddammit, Cas.”

Dean scrubbed one hand over his eyes.

“Don’t you do this.”


(Image from Marco Calabrese via wanderingthroughpurgatory.)

Maybe hours. Maybe weeks. Maybe a year.

Time meant nothing here.

The light moved with him, a little bubble of light and warmth with Dean always at the centre.

Sometimes things hurled themselves at the barrier, more desperate than the others. Some had bodies, and some didn’t quite. Some were a mass of things, or a shift in the land, or hundreds of hungry hands slamming themselves hard against the light like it was a solid thing, until they weakened and slunk away. Once a vast and towering giant prodded at it with his toe, until it pulsed bright and he let out a low roar of pain and stumbled off, crushing the boat-sized leaves of today’s Purgatory under his bare heels.

Once there was a bridge that climbed into the sky and disappeared. Dean ran towards it, determined to climb it, whether it was an exit or an end. But the light tightened around him, and for the first time Dean reached the edge of it, and he could not pass. It felt like electricity against his fingers, and he swore and punched at it until Purgatory shifted under his feet again, turned into sand that twirled up around him and built itself into strange spiralling towers, and the bridge vanished.

Cas never turned up.

Dean hoped, desperately, that (wherever he was) he still remembered how to fight.


(Image via siterlas - sufficiently viral that I can't trace original source.)

The denizen of this nowplace was old. Very old.

It didn’t know how old, because it did not know time. But it knew that this newsoul it heardsmeltfelt here was so very young, newstrangefieryhurt. So many memories were there, lighting up the nowplace like a beacon, so much everything packed into those few short years of the soul’s fervent existence. And it raged and fought to keep them, not knowing what it fought for, not knowing that soon its voice would fall silent into nothing. Like all the others.

The other denizens, weakhungry fluttercreatures, stirred and chattered, swept towards the new thing. Wanting.

They wanted. This denizen did not understand them, silly fragile things.

Yet there was something in the new soul that felt like something the watcher had heardseenknown before.

It stirred.

Words filtered into its thoughts, flitting on the fieryupdraught of passionatesoul. Hell, and Heaven. And now Purgatory, yes, that was this place, that was now. But more than all of these, burning in vivid colour all around this new thing: Earth, and humanity. Unguessable and incomprehensible. Far beyond the power of the watcher to guess.

It thought, for some reason, that it might like to try.

But the newsoul was not alone. There was something else with it, new. Powerful: not so much as this denizen, but almost as old. Brightfractured and… and familiar. In a more intimate way than the colourrich human soul.

The creature shook itself out into suppleshadows and slunk its awareness into the oneplace. Because the humansoul was corporeal. It still thought in placelocation, could not be everywhere. And the… the other thing, beautifulfierce, it clustered around the human. And yet the human raged, lonely as if it thoughtbelievedknew itself to be alone. Shouted for the otherthing, cursed at it, while it was held safewarm.


(Image from Andrei and Sergiu Cosma via wanderingthroughpurgatory.)

The other denizens of this place cringed back from the strange new unbright light, terrifyingbeautifulmine. But this denizen didn’t. It pressednibbled closer, clung to the edges. Soul and grace so oddly intertwined, they were, withlove withouttrust, withbrotherhood withoutunderstanding.

What was brotherhood?

What were love, and trust? Strange thoughts to rise from forgotten not-nows. Thoughts that didn’t belong in this nowplace.

The other thing, the familiar one, it was incorporeal, formless as the creature that watched, but with a bright centre of certaintyknowing. Strange. Strange, prickling at the denizen, making it feel that something was missing. Missing where? From the world? From the trees?

No. From itself.


Self. Incomprehensible thought.

It hid – it hid itself – because vast as it was, it was far better than the achingbright thing at hiding. It knew how to do that.

Even like this, with the corporeal thing shouting words (harsh soft pleading) into the skywaters and driving his fist into sleek treewalls until it was brokenbloody, even now, they were twined together. The brightone winding around the darkone, stubborntired, keeping him sustained and safe.


That was the word for that brightcreature. Why did the sound carry pain with it?

But both so desperatealone. And weak. The dark one was weak. And the bright one was weakening, with all of himself that he gave to his angrybeloved.

The denizen settledwoundwrapped itself around the space, around the darkhot of unknown emotion.

It… he. He?

He wanted. He wanted to watch.


(Image from David Senechal via wanderingthroughpurgatory.)

Dean was so freaking tired of not getting tired.

Also, hungry. Okay, so you probably didn’t want to get hungry in Purgatory, given the whole lack of diners and so on, but… it was like his body had stopped. No hunger, thirst, exhaustion. Nothing to mark the time, or prove that he was still real, dammit.

He’d started talking to himself, hours or months ago. Just to hear something that had words in it. Even if nothing here could listen – could only hear, savage and hungry, and creep towards the noise, only to gnash their teeth and cringe when they drew too near the light.

Sometimes he even thought he felt a response, tickling at the back of his mind – a fondness, or an irritation, or a ruefulness, or a shared wrenching sorrow. Like there was someone here with him, after all. But, hey, he had to lose his marbles sooner or later, right?

He kept hunting for Castiel, because he refused to admit that he might be too late to help the stupid son of a bitch.

Sometimes he thought the light was getting dimmer, the cold creeping back in, the creatures shambling closer when they came; but other times he thought, no, it’s always been like this.

Time wasn’t real here, after all. And memory was a treacherous thing.

Memory said that Castiel had betrayed him. Dean was almost sure that couldn’t be true.

It all changed because of the little white girl.

Gingham and ribbons she wore, like something out of a wholesome old black-and-white movie, but she never opened her eyes. She wove her way towards Dean, between the spikes of jagged black bone that were the rocks of Purgatory today, and she danced. Hands twisting through the air, soft and ethereal, strange patterns in the air.

Around and around the limits of the light she went, and Dean thought, any moment now she’s gonna trip, stub her bare white toes, cut the pale skin of her cheek open on a rock and stain it dark with blood.

She was closer than before, because the circle of light was smaller, and Dean reached out to help her.

Dean. No.

The little girl stopped; turned; smiled at him, wide and sweet, with her eyes still closed.

She reached out her hand in return, and touched the light.

Do not reach out to it, Dean. I can’t fight it and you too, not if you choose to let it in.

Castiel’s voice. Tired, so very tired.

The child stumbled, a soft cry of pain, and Dean lunged through the light and grabbed for her.

The light went out.


(Image via carboatventure - could not identify source.)

Hands, hands like claws everywhere. Teeth sinking into his throat with a pain that wasn’t physical. Sudden random memories, bright-hot and vivid, flashing across his vision and fading into nothing as soon as they appeared, leaving emptiness in their wake. Playing cards with Sam and Bobby. That time he tried to show Castiel how to straighten his tie and ended up leaning on the bed cackling. The smell of the trunk of the Impala. Interrogating a witness somewhere in Ohio. The feel of Castiel’s hand clamping down too hard on the back of his neck, dragging him away, hurling him backwards to slam into the ground behind –

That one wasn’t a memory.

Dean staggered to his feet, gasping and squinting in the half light. Castiel was there, incredibly and solidly there, like he’d just stepped out for a piss and forgotten the way back. Silhouetted, ethereal and dark, against Purgatory’s endless freaking sky. And there, glowing viciously bright in his hand – his sword.

Beyond him the child was spitting, hissing, and Dean thought for a hazy moment that she was standing in the middle of a drift of leaves, but they were pouring down over her  shoulders and clambering around her thighs, and… bugs. Or something like it – broad and flat like leaves, chittering mandibles, sliding out of her mouth and eyes as she smiled.

Her eyes were open.

Old, was the first thing Dean thought when he saw those eyes, white and cold as stars. Old and bitter and strong.

Castiel stepped forward, and staggered. His back straightened under Dean’s eyes, like it was only the force of his will keeping him upright, and he raised his sword. Broke his vow of peace again, for Dean’s sake.

The blow passed right through the girl and she hissed, scattered like silver smoke and reformed. Then she lashed out, and Castiel went flying, back to collide with Dean.


Dean’s mind was clearing, and hell, this was really not good. Whatever it was, whatever it wanted… even if they couldn’t die in here, Dean wasn’t ready to go native like these things.

The dark chittering shapes rushed toward them, and Dean slung an arm around Castiel’s shoulders and hauled him to his feet.

“Don’t think you’re getting out of explaining yourself,” Dean told him sternly, and drew his machete.

Castiel blinked owlishly, a befuddled little head tilt like Dean took delight in perplexing him, and damn but Dean had missed that, so fiercely that it ached.

He laughed then, a hoarse sharp bark, and they turned, shoulder to shoulder, to face Purgatory’s claws.

The sky and the earth lit up, fire-red and fire-hot, and something roared. Deep and ancient, it was, with something that came before bestial, something that came before emotion. Vast and powerful, threaded through the landscape around them, bursts of white-hot flame leaping from the hills and racing towards them.

The child-monster screeched, cowered, and all its bugs flocked back to it and covered its face and hands like a protective shield. The fury and the light coalesced in front of them, between them and the creature, into something almost corporeal, almost solid, shapeless and too golden-bright to look at. But its cloak, or its trail, or its… hell, its wings lapped back around Dean and Castiel like a hedge, and when it roared again Purgatory shook. It lashed out, one long tendril of light and intent, and the monster… just wasn’t there anymore.

Right. So.

Out of the frying pan, into the freaking inferno. Great.

But Castiel looked at Dean, frowning faintly, something inscrutable hovering behind his eyes. Then he smiled, and sheathed his sword.

“Gabriel,” he said.


(Image by Drew Levin via ghostlights.)

It didn’t look like Gabriel.

It looked like… streaks of firelight in the air, white dust motes dancing in them, slashing across the sky and the earth and converging into a white-gold mass, barely human-shaped.

Like something that didn’t really know how to have a body. Or had forgotten.

It moved – shimmered, rolled – and Dean got the very distinct feeling that it was staring at them.

“That…?” asked Dean carefully. “That’s… Gabriel?”

It made a sound like a confused cat, if cats were as vast as the mountains and made the ground shake.

“Tone it down, buddy,” advised Dean, and eyed the tall glowing banks of – well, they probably were wings after all, weren’t they? Or the idea of them. Whatever they were, he and Castiel were still hemmed in by them, and even if this was (or had been) Gabriel, nothing else in this place seemed to have anything but hunger to its name.

And if the things here ate memories, that kind of made sense.

The wings quivered, hunched a bit, and pulled back in towards the glowing centre. Unsure?

“Gabriel,” repeated Castiel peacefully, and he padded forward, reached out a hand, and touched the thing’s face.

It jerked back, flaring gold, and keened.

“Jesus Chr-”

Dean clamped his hands over his ears. That was an angel, alright: the glass-shattering whine that had followed him around after Hell, before Castiel had grown a clue and worked out how to ape human, but somehow more formless and basic.

“Hush,” Castiel said, that weird way he had of being all gentle and brusque at the same time. And it did: the noise ebbed away into a little chirrup of sound, and stopped.

Dean looked up.

Castiel’s hand was brushing over the thing’s face, methodical and oddly tender. And now it was a face, a shape, something that could almost have been the face Dean remembered, just blurred all over like a watercolour painting. But it was there, and solid, like Castiel’s touch was reminding it where to be.

It was the strangest sight: Castiel, tall and skinny and ordinary-grubby in hospital clothes, trench coat pathetically loose around him, outlined by this wash of light and power that had the remains of an archangel at its core. Coaxing him back into solidity with his touch.

Castiel paused for a moment, cupping its cheek, thumb hovering on the dark formless gash of its lips.

“Brother,” he said, surprised; and the Gabriel-thing made a sound like a groan, and for the first time it sounded like it came from lungs and a throat, not from the earth under their feet. “I thought you were dead.”

“Uh.” Dean sidled up beside Castiel, and tried not to flinch when the creature turned deep amber-glowing eyes on him, puzzled as a new-born child. “He is dead, dude. We’re in Purgatory, remember?”

“Oh.” Castiel blinked, mildly interested, like that explained a lot, and Gabriel blinked too like a copy, which wasn’t disturbing at all.


Dean lost the end of the word, because Gabriel’s glowing image of a hand was suddenly right there, nudging against his face. Not touching, or stroking, or cupping, or anything else you’d think a hand with fingers on it might do – just sitting there, bumping softly against his cheek like it was a branch or something.

It tingled. And Gabriel’s eyes looked like they held the world, and were empty at the same time.

“Uh,” Dean tried again. Out of all the weird things Purgatory had thrown at him, this was definitely up there with the weirdest. “Uh. You wanna. Personal space, dude.”

Gabriel rustled, and it managed to sound confused.

Then he was gone, a bolt of light and limbs and feathers leaping from trunk to stem to branch to arm in the weird trees stretching out around them.

Apparently while they hadn’t been looking Purgatory had decided to go and grow trees that looked like enormous tomato plants. With silver and purple leaves. And arms for branches. Hey, why not.

“Think I pissed him off?” Dean asked, going for casual, as the blurry shape curled up in the branches overhead, like a cat staking its claim to a good sleeping spot.

Castiel followed his gaze, shoulders slumping a bit, mouth tugging down at the corners. Disappointment?

“His heart is scattered sand,” he said, gruff and deep and maybe a bit forlorn.

Dean couldn’t help but remember the other angels, Hester and Inias and the rest, and Castiel’s shy delight at seeing them again. At not being alone.

He slung one arm around Castiel’s shoulders. Bony weird geeky spaced-out guy that he was, he still felt so freaking good right there, warm against Dean’s side, right where he was meant to be.

“Hey,” he pointed out perkily. “Least he’s here. And you’re here. No more vanishing, y’ hear me?”

Castiel gave him that odd I-think-you-are-being-obtuse-again-but-I’m-not-sure-how frown, which was pretty normal for him, but he looked a bit brighter, so Dean let him go.

Overhead, Gabriel growled, a low warning rumble that made the trees quiver, and the earth buzz under their feet. Something large thudded and crashed hastily away through the forest.

Huh. Handy.

“Why’s he like that anyway?” Dean wondered, craning his neck back to see. Golden-red wings, glowing blurry at the edges and centre, stretched out against the lumpy grey sky, like the tangle of branches all around were an insignificant matter.

Maybe it was pathetic, and maybe it was dangerous, but Dean was suddenly fiercely glad to have him there. Reluctant ally he may have been before, more than half mad he might be now, but he was the first thing Dean had seen here that felt (ridiculously) like safe.

Castiel turned his head, and caught Dean in tired old eyes.

“He is where he is because of you, Dean. We both are.”

Then he wandered away to curl up stiffly between the roots of one of the not-trees, mumbling about finding a library. Dean was left, stunned speechless, standing uselessly where he’d been.

… Okay, so it was technically true, but – hey. Hey!

Gabriel made a deep rumbling noise overhead, something between a growl and a purr and the heavy shift of rocks. Dean looked up into glowing golden eyes, fixed on him. Some kind of emotion in there, and Dean was too clueless to work out what.

Then Gabriel got distracted by the fascinating sight of his own hand. Like it was some marvel he wasn’t used to seeing.


Dean settled himself down on the cold hard earth, with nothing to do but watch the two angels. The ones whose minds had broken because Dean had been so sure he’d known what was best.


(Image by Steven Daluz, via gutsandachangeup.)

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