Nothing. For the longest time he felt he was falling but he saw nothing, there was darkness all around him and if it weren't for the feeling of vertigo he would've thought he'd died. Castiel stared up, down, left, right, he didn't know which way and he began to think that it didn't matter. What mattered was what he'd find when everything finally came to a halt. Cas flapped his wings but felt no resistance, like air wasn't a factor in that space. What kind of weird void was it he'd so willingly sought out? And how did Dean make it through so easily?
The best Cas could hope for was that when the demon sent Dean to Purgatory it hadn't gone in with him, like Meg hadn't followed. If Dean were with a demon the situation would've been the worst case, which was what Cas had expected. If Dean were just tossed in he'd have a better chance of not being killed at the demons' will. Cas didn't want to hope for a 'best scenario' but it lingered in his head. Maybe everything would be okay.
It was a ridiculous thought; he didn't have the means to fix everything the way a full-fledged angel could. And for that matter he didn't even know what a complete angel was capable of, what they knew or expected of him or anything like that.
But right then wasn't the time to worry about it, the world around him lit up and he readied himself for what might come. His heart raced and all he could hope for was Dean. Just let him land close to his brother, that was the most he prayed for. The rest he could handle, the rest he'd figure out but just let Dean be alive and for him to be close by.
The world opened up in a flash of light and Castiel found himself tumbling through a grey sky. The colours of the plane were de-saturated, trees were closer to black than brown and everything seemed to have more contrast than it should have. He wasn't as high up as he would have expected but he could still get a decent look around. The landscape stretched far in every direction, it was like a wilderness similar to the ones on Earth but it felt wrong. He could see that the rock formations weren't natural, there were cracks in the ground for a river to dwell but it was still. He couldn't see Dean from there. Cas tried to find his bearings better than he had them, he was falling too fast and still spinning. He arched his wings and did his best to hover in place – he wasn't quite there yet in skill. He wound up falling through trees and breaking branches until he hit the ground. Graceful as ever.
Castiel pushed himself up as soon as he was able, the initial pain faded fast. He lifted his head and looked around; a disturbing tingle crept through his skin as he realized he couldn't hear anything. At least not at first. There was a sound that slowly reached his ears, it was the sound of people talking, crying, screaming all at once in the distance. He slowly rose to his feet, his ears burning and his chest starting to ache. There was so much anxiety in that place and it didn't rest, it just rose and rose higher than the last passing seconds. Cas closed his eyes and hoped to let go of it, hoped to ignore it but the sound wouldn't ease.
"It's dreadful, isn't it?" That was a voice that Cas knew, he turned to see Death standing next to him, the elderly man's expression made of stone. He seemed to fit in this place.
"What is that?" Cas dared to ask, he felt no need to question Death about the number of things he'd been fighting in his own head. Asking about angels and his own power wouldn't bring him any help in the long run.
"Those are the souls waiting judgment." Death sighed and let the sound linger around them, somehow amplifying it for Castiel to really hear them. He could hear the pleas for forgiveness, the angry words and thoughts that festered into worse, and the dismal mourning of the ones who had given up. "Some have been here for 16 years, waiting for Heaven or Hell to open to them. Purgatory is the space between a life on Earth and the eternal resting place; with the gates to both resting places closed it's become rather crowded in here."
Castiel nodded, he'd heard once that Purgatory was the place for final purification, for those who didn't immediately make it to Heaven. "So is that why only reapers and demons can come here?"
"My reapers work from here; they should be the only ones passing from Earth to Purgatory. However, there is a passage to Hell; no human is ever thrown directly into the pit after death, unless they've made previous arrangements. Since this door exists between Hell and Purgatory some demons take the scenic route." Death started walking and Cas found himself instinctually following. "Every now and then there have been living humans tossed in here, they attract attention."
Cas wasn't sure what to say so he just walked behind the older being, he was anxious and the feeling of the world around him didn't help. The sound of people didn't stop so he just tried to get used to it. That wasn't entirely possible either.
The scenery started to blend into itself for Castiel, he didn't care to differentiate, all he wanted to know was one thing. His words caught in his throat as his nerves burned at the tips. "Have you seen Dean?" He finally asked, unsure of how long it'd taken him to do it. It could've been an hour, it could've been seconds, he didn't know.
"Pay attention and you'll notice him." Death repeated and Cas felt like screaming. He felt like turning into the teenager that he was – that he believed he was – and throwing a fit. It didn't happen but it boiled in his mind.
Pay attention? To what? He looked around but saw nothing different. "I can't see anything and everything feels the same-"
"You're blocking it out," the interruption came with a calm tone, as if the horseman were speaking to a bug. "Until recently you've done nothing to further your abilities by just waiting for them to occur, and that goes for your senses as well. You need to focus, Castiel. He is here." Death turned to look at him sternly, "But I advise that you leave immediately. I'll open a way for you now; you cannot pass through Hell first."
Cas shook his head, "I need to get Dean, this can't wait. Won't you just help me find him? We can leave your way after that-"
"I am not here to babysit you through this, Castiel. Make your choice now; I don't have time to waste."
Death wasn't joking and Cas knew that a being as old as the horseman would have more important things to take care of. The balance of the world wasn't something so easily trifled with and Castiel couldn't just demand that come with him; it was selfish. "I'm sorry," he lowered his head to the ancient one and closed his eyes. He couldn't leave Dean, he'd never forgive himself. "I won't leave my brother." Cas defied Death with those words alone and the horseman nodded silently and left him without a word.
Castiel stood alone then, the sounds of the world around him pushing on his mind but he had no normal means to know where Dean had gone. The beings of Purgatory were human once, they had lived and now they waited in a hellish limbo that wouldn't open the gates and no angel was coming to pick them up.
Blocking it out… These were people and he was pushing them away from his mind. Could he handle it if he opened up? Cas wasn't sure but he had to do something. Dean's voice was mixed up with the rest, he was sure Dean would become clear to him if he just listened. But to listen risked madness, it was a dangerous plan to let the cries of Purgatory and all the dead into his mind. But he had no other choices. Dean needed him.
'I'm coming.' He repeated to himself, his wings stretched out and arched up, ready to fly at any moment. Taking off wasn't his forte but to get to Dean he'd figure it out. Cas readied his mind and opened up to the outcry of the world around him. It was like a flood inside his head; a tidal wave of sound crashed into him and wracked his body with the intention of sending him over the deep end. If he'd opened his eyes he wouldn't have been able to register sight, all he could see was the darkness and the anguish of the people around him. The strongest feelings were those of the people who'd been there longest. He heard it over and over again; an angel's come! An angel's come for us! An angel an angel an angel!
He covered his ears but knew that wouldn't help, Cas fought the urge to push them back out. He had to listen to them, he couldn't push it away. The weight of the screams and people reaching out to him started to push him down, stretching the edges of his mind and past where he thought he'd ever get.
'I'm going to go insane.' He thought anxiously. 'I'll lose my mind before I ever find him. Dean where are you? Dean call out to me, please. I can't hear you.'
That was it. Castiel lifted his head as his vision started to clear, his heart beating faster, "Dean!" He shouted out loud and in his mind, he wasn't fully certain which one would reach first.
"Cas help me! Where the hell am I? What's going on?"
Louder than all the rest, he could hear Dean clearest of all the other voices. "I'm coming." He repeated again and pushed off with his wings, the force propelled him up like a rocket. He tried to orient himself and go the right way, it took some flapping of his wings and angling of his body but he got the hang of it. It wasn't the most heroic and amazing of take-offs but it was pretty good all the same. He'd count that one as a success.
The ground below him seemed to blur together as he flew, he could feel Dean now. He'd found him and zeroed in, Dean's light was the brightest and the only one that was alive. His soul was calling now, it pulsed through the air, a rhythmic beat like a heart except Cas could see it. He could feel it and that was more than enough for him to find his brother.
Dean wasn't close, though. The forest below him spread on for miles and the landscapes started to repeat themselves. He swore he'd seen the same mountain pass by three times – but Dean's position changed. Castiel frowned and looked around, had he even moved? Glancing down showed him a different patch of ground, so yes he'd been moving. Dean was getting closer too, but the land formations barely changed at all.
Castiel decided that it wasn't worth worrying about and continued on without stopping.
When he was close he heard his brother even clearer than before, Dean couldn't be far. The clearing the trees below him was probably where he was – and Cas was certain of that fact when he made it overhead. There were souls everywhere, people were wandering aimlessly in the vicinity but many were following Dean around. He was fending them off but he'd nearly cornered himself with a large rock formation in the center.
Cas dove down, he wasn't sure how it'd work or how he'd land but he dropped to the surface like a descending javelin. His wings spread out and he shouted ahead, "Get away from him!"
Dean looked up, wide eyes terrified and on the verge of crying. "Cas!"
He touched down to the ground; his landing was heavy and sent a shockwave out from where he stood. Dean was already leaning against the stone behind him; the wave pressed him back but didn't do any damage. The other souls around them went flying, giving them some space.
"I'm sorry," Cas went right to Dean's side, "I'm so sorry, Dean!" he collapsed against his brother, his legs felt weak and his head pounded from Purgatory's cries. "I didn't mean to let you go, I didn't-"
"It's okay," Dean hugged him, Dean's arms were shaking and his posture was tired at best. "It's okay, Cas. We're alright now." Dean had been so afraid; Cas could still feel the remnants of it as it faded away. Dean's thoughts were focusing more on Castiel, he was relieved and he was happy. Dean believed in him, that Cas was safety. Maybe he was right, but that's not how Cas saw it. He'd brought down a calamity to his family and he was going to bring so much worse very soon.
"No… not yet." He sighed and tried to straighten up, feeling embarrassed to just drop himself on Dean like that. "We need to get out first."
"Well," Dean touched his chin and lifted his head, their eyes met and Cas forgot the headache that had formed in his mind. "We're together now, that's the least we can ask for, right?"
Cas didn't have the heart to tell him they'd have to go through hell, but he knew he'd need to eventually. "Right," he smiled the best he could; there was an urge in his mind and body to just kiss Dean. The relief of the moment, to see Dean alive was overwhelming. Cas leaned forward and kissed his brother's cheek instead. "I'm glad you're okay," he whispered.
He felt Dean smile and the odd rush of determination in Dean's being. Cas didn't have a moment to comprehend it, he could only be swept up in Dean's arms again and remain stunned when their lips connected. Cas didn't dare move, fearing it'd end and terrified he'd ruin it. Dean went for a deeper kiss immediately, he was so happy to see Cas that planning and a 'mood' didn't matter. At least not this time.
Cas melted into it when he realized Dean wasn't going to let go of him. Dean's hand had braced the back of his head and held him still – Cas couldn't go anywhere. The souls around them had moved in but Cas didn't notice them, his mind had gone blank and he heard nothing but his own heartbeat. It was a sweet sound and it mixed with the pulse of Dean's soul, Castiel felt at ease. What was coming his way, the mess that they'd go home to and the hell he'd release he would take head on. That was the best he could do. He'd defied Death, he'd said no to going back to Earth and travelling up to Heaven so the least he could do was to get him and Dean out of Purgatory alive.
Dean broke the kiss gently, their lips slowly peeling apart, skin damp and trying to cling to the other person. Cas blinked a few times, his mind still not sure he was seeing Dean so close to him, still not sure if what had just happened was real. "Dean," he breathed the name like it was the air he used to need. "We need to go, we don't have time here."
"Yeah I know - we'll talk about it later though."
"Of course," Cas wished he could force the redness from his cheeks.
Dean smiled and looked at the hordes of souls, none daring to betray an angel – the only being they'd seen that resembled anything of Heaven. "So… we walking out of here?"
"No." Cas knew Dean was afraid of heights and flying but he didn't have time to help with that fear. What he wanted to know was what was up with the formation that Dean was crowded by. It was strangely set up and by what he could tell the souls wouldn't get as close as they could to it. Some didn't care but there were many who refused.
The demons wouldn't have dropped Dean off just anywhere, they wanted Cas to find the gates, they wanted Cas to crawl through Hell. He looked down at his feet, engravings etched there were faded and weathered but somehow he could read them. Nothing about it could be translated into English tongue, he couldn't even think the words but the message was clear enough; he was at the gates already.
"Well maybe we will…" He hooked his arm around Dean's lower back and lifted his hand to where the writing told him to.
He could hear something beyond the stones as he rested his hand on the cold surface. The air around him pulsed and vibrated. He could feel nearly every molecule and it was the strangest thing he could've imagined. The seal that had been put in place dissolved by his touch, it evaporated around him and shook with everything else.
"Cas?" Dean asked worriedly but the sound was swept away with a flash of light and white noise.
The world fell away from them, it melted into itself and Cas knew by the sudden wash of nothingness that they were passing through the gate. All light was gone and no sound could be heard. For a few seconds he'd lost his senses, he could see, couldn't hear, smell or taste anything – and then he couldn't feel. He knew Dean was still with him, he knew but he questioned it. Cas held his ground against the numbness until it faded again like a limb waking from sleep.
"Dean," he whispered, hearing his own voice this time. "Dean are you okay?"
Silence followed and Cas panicked for a moment until he could feel the shift of Dean's body against his.
"I'm gonna puke." Dean gurgled anxiously and Cas felt light-hearted enough to laugh quietly.
"Welcome to Hell, Dean." He gave his brother a reassuring squeeze and Dean elbowed him in the ribs for it.