“Now Dean, is that any way to treat an old friend?”
Dean growls, lunging at the demon even though it’s stupid and reckless and he has no weapons on him that will be at all effective. Dean’s good at stupid and reckless. Stupid and reckless got him through the apocalypse, six months of dealing with a brother he couldn’t trust, and the retrieval of Sam’s soul. Why stop now?
The demon sidesteps easily, gracefully, looking cool as a fucking cucumber as she studies her nails and then smirks at him. “Really, you’d think you were holding a grudge or something,” she taunts. Her accent grates on him. “Surely you don’t have all bad memories of our time together?”
“Oh sweetheart, I got no memories of you at all – which probably says something about how memorable you really are.” Her eyes flash, and she takes a menacing step forward. Now Dean is smirking. He backs up, leading her right to where he wants her. And crows in victory when she slams against the force of the devil’s trap. “Seriously, you guys fall for it every single time. How stupid do you have to be?”
He can’t kill her, not without the knife or the Colt, but he can at least stuff her back in the pit where she belongs. Hell is sealed tight these days as far as he knows; she won’t be crawling back out anytime soon. By the time she does, if ever, it will be long past the time when he’ll be around to do anything about it.
She snarls, her fists clenched. “Let me out.”
“That’s all you got?” Dean scoffs, shaking his head. “Man, normally I at least get some kind of attempt at a deal. I sure ain’t lettin’ you out based on your looks, Princess. Sorry.” He begins one of the chants Sam long since forced him to memorize, feeling a sharp satisfaction at the fear that passes over her face.
“Dean!” she yells. “You know me, Dean Winchester, and you know I won’t forget this! I’ll have you back on that rack so fast your head will spin, and no angel will come for you this time!”
That gives Dean pause, the words suddenly sticking tight in his throat, and he eyes her. The face is unfamiliar, but the stance, the expression, the casual self-confidence…
She releases a sigh, the smile tugging at her lips again. “Now see? That wasn’t so hard, I knew you weren’t quite as stupid as you looked. It’s good to see you again, Dean.”
Oh God, Bela… Bela Talbot, who’d gone to Hell just before he had, who had been strung up right next to him on Alistair’s rack…
Bela, who’d given in and gotten off far more quickly than he had…
Bela, who Alistair had kept as a pet, and who he trained, and who he gave Dean to for her to…to play with…every time he’d had other things to do.
Dean swallows roughly, the lights in the alleyway suddenly too harsh, his breathing becoming erratic. No. Please, God, no. No no no no no nonononono…
But of course there’s no getting around it. This is Bela he has in his trap, and Bela he’s going to send back down to the pit.
He’s never met a demon he’d also known as a person, but there’s a first time for everything in his line of work, and it isn’t going to fucking stop him from doing his job.
No fucking way in hell.
Dean opens his mouth to recite the chant again, freezes when she starts giggling.
“Dean, truly, you are too precious,” Bela says affectionately. It makes his skin crawl. “You just don’t get it, do you? Send me to Hell if you must, but understand that I’ll be waiting. And the very moment I have you down there, I’m going to lay into you with everything my master taught me, and we’ll see how long you last this time.”
Like he's still…
But Cas saved him, Cas pulled him out of the pit and raised him from perdition, and that means he’s safe, he isn’t going back because he isn’t stupid enough to make another deal, and the apocalypse is over, and he –
Bela’s laughter cuts through his sudden panic like an ice pick. “You didn’t know!” she says, sharp and delighted. “Oh, this is just too good. Your angel didn’t tell you?” Her smile turns downright menacing. “You made a binding contract with that crossroads demon, and that contract still exists. They don’t expire just because the person signing their soul away happens to get a brief angelically-assisted reprieve, or just because the original contract-holder dies. That’s something I learned down there, you see. Oh no, Dean Winchester, you’re still bound for Hell, just as soon as they can figure out who’s going to collect now that Lilith is dead. So send me back if you must.” She shrugs as though she doesn’t have a care in the world. “It is, after all, your funeral.”
He swallows, ignoring the quaking in his gut and the shards of ice along his spine, and does exactly as she bids him. It’s with vicious pleasure that he uses the most painful exorcism he has in his repertoire, and revels in her screams as she’s ripped from her meatsuit and slammed back into the pit.
The moment the girl she’s been riding topples to the ground, Dean turns, drops to his knees, and vomits, sharp pain stabbing through his abdomen as he continues to gasp and cough and dry-heave, until there’s nothing left in him but fear.
By the time Dean makes it back to the motel, he’s holding himself together by the tiniest of threads, and as he stumbles into the room, he knows he isn’t going to be able to hide that something is wrong from his brother. Sam with a soul is a hell of a lot more perceptive than Sam without a soul had been.
And sure enough, the moment the door clicks shut behind Dean, Sam’s gaze is on him, penetrating every defense he has. “What happened?” Sam’s voice as he sits up is raspy, exhausted. In the two weeks since Death granted him his soul, he’s gone through the ringer of difficult emotions, and he’s still sleeping sixteen hours a day on top of it. He’s in no condition to be on a hunt, but he hadn’t wanted Dean to leave him behind either. The compromise is that he stays safely ensconced in the room, researching when he’s up to it, until Dean judges him to be okay to work.
Dean shakes his head, sits down on his own bed and stares blankly at the floor until he feels the mattress dip and the warm weight of Sam’s hand on his shoulder. He blinks at his brother, and Sam meets his gaze, alert and questioning despite the pale cast to his skin. Dean will never admit it, not even under torture, but for the first time, he’s impossibly grateful for how tactile Sam’s been since getting re-souled. It’s probably the only thing that’s keeping Dean grounded right now, when he feels fine tremors running just below the surface of his skin, feels like he’s going to fly apart any second.
“Dean,” Sam says. “Talk to me. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” His lips almost quirk, and Dean huffs a little at the bad joke that they haven’t shared in a long, long time. A tiny bit of the panic clawing away at him recedes. “You’re not hurt, right?”
“Nah,” Dean finally replies. “Bitch was all bark and no bite.” He scrubs at his face with his hands. “Fuck, but she had a hell of a bark.”
“What happened?” Sam asks again, quietly.
“I can’t…” I can’t talk about it, Sammy. Please, God, don’t make me talk about it.
Bela’s voice is sharp as a whip in his memory. You’re still bound for Hell.
And underneath that, Alastair’s mocking laughter rings out. Cold hands and sharp blades and God, God, he can’t, he can’t go back there, he’d rather…rather…
But there is nothing else. All death can offer is a faster ticket back.
“I need to talk to Cas,” he says, a little desperately. Maybe Bela had been lying. Or if not, maybe Castiel will have a way out. Maybe there’s some kind of enochian sigil or something that can keep him protected.
A lot of maybes, but that’s all Dean has to hold onto right now. He’ll take what he can get and deal with the what ifs later. If the maybes don’t pan out.
He won’t think about that yet.
Sam’s hand on his shoulder squeezes, a reassuring link to the world around him, a promise that his brother is still there. That they’ve gotten through worse.
He can’t tell Sam what’s going on. Not yet. Not until he knows for sure. But for once, he isn’t going to turn away from the comfort his brother’s presence offers, either.
When he finally appears in front of Dean three days later, Castiel simply stares at him impassively for a long moment. “I truly hope this is important, Dean. I have too much I’m trying to accomplish to be –”
“My soul,” Dean interrupts with a sharp hiss, shooting a quick glance at the bed across the room to make sure Sam is still sleeping. When he looks back to Castiel, the angel’s brow is furrowed.
“What do you mean?” Castiel asks. “What about it?”
“Could you tell, if there was still a contract on it?”
Castiel sucks in a sharp breath. “What? Why would you even think –”
“Cas. Could you tell? Yes or no!” Dean doesn’t have the patience to wait, he just needs to know, he needs to know now.
“I…” Castiel hesitates. “I would need to examine it. But…yes. I should be able to tell.” He shifts, looking almost uncomfortable. “Dean, the process is extremely painful, you know this.”
Dean’s jaw clenches, and he grabs Castiel’s arm, striding toward the bathroom, where he can hopefully keep quiet enough that Sam won’t wake. He removes his belt as he goes.
Castiel sits stunned on the edge of the tub, afterwards. “I never would have known…” he breathes. “I never would have even thought to question…”
“But…” Dean lifts his hand, about to run it through his hair until he feels it shaking. He forces it steady, just as he forces the quaver from his voice. “I was in Heaven. The last time I died, I went up! Cas, you saw me up there, you talked to me. What was that, a fluke?”
“That was…” Castiel hesitates, choosing his words carefully. “If I had to guess… Michael had need of you, and the demons wanted the apocalypse as much as the angels did, so they were perhaps willing to be…generous, when it came to making sure certain things remained in place for the key players. With Michael no longer in Heaven, and the apocalypse no longer on the table…”
“God damn it,” Dean snarls. “There’s gotta be something. Anything. Cas, I can’t…I can’t…” He stops, swallowing hard. “Fuck.”
“I will do everything in my power to find a way out of this for you. You must believe that.” Castiel pauses. “Dean, you are the closest thing I have to a true friend. You must know that I would fight the armies of Hell myself if I thought it would make a difference. I have.”
“I know, Cas,” Dean says, his voice rough. And he does know. Castiel is his best friend. It’s not like either of them really have to say it; it’s just something that’s been there all along. The profound bond they’ve had since Castiel pulled him out of Hell.
If only that bond was enough to keep him out, life would be peachy. But when does Dean Winchester ever get that lucky?
“So what now?” he asks. “I mean…”
“I’ll start searching,” Castiel replies. “I’ll find a way. There must be something. Or…” He stops, tilts his head with a considering frown
Dean blinks. “Or…?”
“I believe there is someone who may be able to help,” Castiel said slowly. “If I can convince him. It may take some effort on my part, and you may not like it.”
Dean likes the contract hanging over his head a whole lot less, he’s willing to bet. “Well, who is it?” he asks.
“I cannot say,” Castiel says, looking apologetic. “Not yet. But I’ll speak with him as soon as possible."
Dean thinks that’s the best he’s probably going to get right now, and he accepts it because he can’t do anything else. He nods, bites back his usual demand to get every scrap of information he can. Pissing Castiel off right now won’t make things better, and the angel clearly wants to help. “Cas…” he says instead, slowly. “Thanks. Y’know. For helping me. I know you got a lot going on right now.”
“You are my friend, Dean.”
That’s a far cry from what he was saying months ago when they still didn’t know what was wrong with Sam, and Dean wonders just how bad things are going with the war in Heaven, that Castiel’s attitude has changed so much. Before he gets a chance to ask, Castiel is gone, nothing to mark his leaving except for the quiet rustle of unseen wings.
Dean stays standing where he is for a long time, fists clenched tightly by his sides as he tries to keep the panic at bay, just a little bit longer.
Castiel will be back. He’ll have a way to fix this. Dean has to believe that.
Anything else will break him.
He comes clean with Sam the next morning, because now that he knows Bela wasn’t lying, there’s no way he’s going to be able to hide it from his brother. Not if he’s going to be busy searching for a way out of it between hunts, if Castiel’s friend doesn’t come through.
As Dean expected, Sam’s face goes from startled and confused, to pale and horrified, to miserable and devastated in less time than it takes Dean to blink, and then he abruptly has an armful of overly-emotional little brother all but sitting in his lap. “Hey. Hey,” Dean says, holding Sam tightly for a long minute before pushing him back gently. “We’re gonna fix this, all right? Don’t give up on me that quick.” He cuffs his brother gently on his head, gives an internal sigh of relief when Sam takes a few shaky breaths and nods.
“Damn it, why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Sam asks, swiping at his eyes angrily and glaring. “You’ve known for days.”
Dean grimaces. “There’s a difference between knowing and knowing, you know? Honestly Sammy, you haven’t exactly been the poster boy for emotionally sound lately, and contract on my soul or not, it’s always gonna be my job to look out for you, first and foremost. I wasn’t going to say anything till I knew for sure.” He shrugs, a little uncomfortable with this uncharacteristic open honesty. The look on Sam’s face isn’t helping.
“Save it,” Dean says, holding up a hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I needed to be sure there was something to tell before I went worrying you. And me and Cas, we’re going to figure it out, and then there won’t be anything to worry about, got it?”
Maybe it’s the look on Dean’s face, the desperate need he has for Sam to just go with him on this one, that has Sam sighing and nodding without further comment. “Yeah, got it.”
They don’t talk about it, or about souls in general, or angels or demons, or Heaven or Hell, for the rest of the day. Not as they eat breakfast and pack their meager belongings, not as they finally leave the small town behind them, not as they drive to the next hunt with the radio on low and the windows rolled down to let the fresh air in for Sam.
They don’t say another word about it, but Sam still wakes up that night screaming in terror.
The next time Castiel comes, Sam is awake, pale and trembling with exhaustion and fear. Dean’s been on his ass to sleep for two days, but ever since the nightmares intensified, Sam has refused. He’s running himself ragged, and he was already so weak before this. He can’t afford this, but Dean has no idea what to do to fix it. He can’t help himself, and he can’t help his brother, and he’s at the end of his rope. By the time Castiel appears, the angel looks like a friggin’ savior to Dean’s intensely fatigued vision.
“Make him sleep,” he demands without preamble, waving a hand toward Sam.
Castiel blinks, takes in how terrible Sam looks and ignores the face Sam makes at Dean. “Sam?” he asks, concern entering his eyes and tugging his mouth into a deeper frown than normal. “You truly don’t look well.” He looks back to Dean. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, no,” Dean says before Sam can get a word in. “He’s afraid if he sleeps, the wall that Death built is going to come crashing down around him. He had a couple pretty bad nightmares, they’ve got him freaked.”
Sam sighs, glaring at Dean for another moment before turning a puppy-eyed look onto Castiel. “It’s really no big deal. I’m fine, Cas,” he tries to assure.
There’s a low whistle from across the room, and Dean goes rigid at the unexpected voice that speaks from behind him. “Oh yeah, I’d say you got that covered all right. Fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. Fine and dandy indeed.”
Dean’s eyes instantly seek Castiel’s, something inside him desperate for the angel to tell him anything, anything, other than what he thinks he’s hearing. He refuses to turn around and see for himself, because seeing it will make it all too real.
Castiel’s gaze is steady and absolutely no help at all.
Sam’s gaping, and finally, with no help for it, Dean turns. Amber eyes glint at him from a familiar smirking face, and he breathes out one great big rush of air. “Fuck,” he says succinctly.
Gabriel snickers. “Well, if it’s on the table…” He waggles his eyebrows.
“What happened to, ‘if you’re watching this, I’m dead’?” Dean growls. “Pretty sure I distinctly remember those words.”
Gabriel snorts. "You kidding me? I spent thousands of years on the run from my family, learning how to be a pagan god on top of being an archangel, and you think the brother who was trapped in a cage for the last couple millennia is gonna get the drop on me?" He raises an eyebrow. "What are you, high?"
“Figures,” Dean says, shaking his head. “So in the end, you took the coward’s way out anyway. Standing up, my ass.”
“Dean –” Castiel’s warning goes unheeded as rage passes over Gabriel’s face and he snarls at Dean, crowding into the taller man’s space and suddenly seeming a lot bigger and nastier than his vessel’s height would lead anyone to believe.
“You know nothing about what I’ve done,” the archangel says, his voice making Dean’s ears ring, making something in the air tremble. “I stood up to my brother, I gave you the key you needed to stop all of it. And then I put my ass on the line to spy in Heaven for you guys, so don’t you dare tell me –”
“Gabriel!” Castiel growls. “Enough! He didn’t know!”
Gabriel pulls away abruptly, spinning on his heel and stalking to the other side of the room as his shoulders shake in anger. Dean blinks, turning to glance at Castiel. “Didn’t know what?”
Castiel sighs. “Gabriel has been helping me for some time. He’s likely the only reason Raphael has not won this war already. But he needs to remain undercover, or else a war already fraught with confusion and unease will turn to sheer chaos. If Gabriel were to return, many would flock to his side, and we cannot afford another faction of angels splitting off.”
“And I don’t need that kind of pressure,” Gabriel mutters, turning back to them with his arms crossed over his chest, scowl firmly in place. “I left for a damn reason.”
“So…” Sam pipes up from the bed. “So you’re saying you’re working incognito, spying on Raphael for Cas?”
“Sums it up,” Gabriel says with a shrug. “Been doing it ever since Elysian Fields. You two mooks had things pretty well in hand from what I could tell, and Castiel here was gonna need some intel if he came out on the other side, so I used my all-access card to Heaven to do some double-oh-seven-style snooping around while their backs were turned.”
Dean thinks he just might owe the archangel something resembling an apology, but hell if he’s actually going to give it to him. He’s a little bit too stubborn for that, and man enough to admit it. “So what are you doing here anyway?” Dean asks, even though he's half-afraid he already knows.
“Well, gosh, I heard some awfully interesting news regarding a certain pretty-boy hunter’s soul, and I just had to come and see for myself.” Gabriel has adopted a southern belle accent, and is batting his eyelashes at Dean. When Dean fails to rise to the bait and just continues glaring, he sighs and rolls his eyes. “Or more like, Castiel came to me begging for my help. But you know. Whatever.”
Dean turns to stare at Castiel. “Are you kidding me? Him? What can he do that you can’t?”
“Many things,” Castiel says, voice low, eyes inscrutable. “He may be the only chance you have.”
“No way,” Dean says. “We’ll figure something out, but I’m not going to be indebted to this jackass.” Seriously. No way.
“Oh yeah, what are you going to do, hot shot?” Gabriel demands, his smirk never faltering. It does nothing to hide the way his eyes have lost a lot of the brightness that were in them when he first appeared in the room, and Dean maybe feels a tiny bit guilty until the archangel keeps going. “Gonna play hellhound-whisperer and hope you can convince them not to tear you to shreds? Planning on getting cozy with whoever it is they decide holds the contract these days? Or maybe you’re just going to bulldoze your way into Heaven by force, is that it?” He shakes his head, ignoring the way Dean is gritting his teeth in fury. “There are rules, Dean. Rules that help keep order to this universe. The chaos you create by not following them has already nearly destroyed the world once. You really want to go for round two now?”
Dean throws his arms up. “Then what? What, you want me to re-sell my soul to you? Balthazar’s been buyin’ ‘em up left and right, you want a piece of that action, too?”
“You just don’t get it, Dean-o.” Gabriel shakes his head, snapping himself a lollipop, which he sucks on with a great deal of attention. “You sold your soul. Willingly. The angels can’t supersede that, not without causing a lot of problems. You already sold your soul, you can’t just make another deal to sell it somewhere else. But…” He pauses, taking a long lick of his lollipop and making Dean want to throttle him more with every second wasted before he finally continues. “But. If your soul was bound up in something that wouldn’t mess with the balance, if it had strong enough ties to something that Hell couldn’t take it from…”
“So, what? You want me to…bind my soul to an angel?” Dean blinks at the idea, grimacing.
“No. Angels don’t work that way, grace can’t connect that deeply with soul, and besides which, there’s that pesky balance I keep mentioning, if you were paying any attention. So no. Not an angel.” Gabriel twirls the lollipop, his eyes flashing. “I want you to bind your soul to a pagan god.”
Dean stares, finally shocked into speechlessness.
Gabriel shrugs, lips quirking. “If the pagan god you happen to bind yourself to also has the power to get you into Heaven, well…can’t say we didn’t play by the rules.”
“No.” The word punches out of him, accompanied by a bubble of helpless, hysterical laughter. “No fucking way in hell.”
Gabriel gazes at him dispassionately, biting into the rest of his lollipop and crunching on the candy with a thoughtful look. “Well,” he finally says after a moment, looking to Castiel. “Can’t say I didn’t give it my best shot, bro.” His honey-hazel gaze goes back to Dean. “Tell you what, Winchester. The second you decide you’d rather be tied to me for the rest of your – albeit probably short and miserable – life than be a hellhound’s chew toy? You give me a call. Till then…” He raises a hand, fingers poised. “…check ya later.” And snaps.
“I hate it when he does that,” Dean grits out to the now-empty part of the room. He spins to face Castiel. “And what the hell were you thinking, anyway?”
Castiel’s expression doesn’t change, but he does seem to sort of slump where he’s standing, gazing impassively at Dean. “I’m thinking that, from what I’ve been able to find out about soul contracts, he is quite literally the only chance you have. Unless you happen to have easy access to another pagan god you’d rather offer yourself to.”
Dean gapes. “Cas, listen to yourself! Are you crazy? I can’t just –”
“Your options are to either let go of your foolish pride and let Gabriel help you, or go back to the pit and see how fast you break this time,” Castiel growls. Dean’s eyes widen and he swallows.
Castiel’s eyes close and he takes a shuddering breath, turning to Sam, who’s staring at the exchange with huge eyes and hitching breaths. “Sam. You need to rest,” he says quietly. “Will you allow me to help you?”
Sam looks to Dean. “I…” He starts to shake his head, but he must see how desperate Dean feels right now, because he stops and works his jaw for a few seconds. “All right,” he finally agrees, not looking happy about it. “Dean…”
“We’ll talk when you’ve had some sleep, Sammy,” Dean promises. “Some real sleep.”
Sam nods and obediently lies down, gives Castiel something sort of resembling a smile and thanks him in a whisper. The angel’s fingers brush across his forehead, and he slips into a dreamless sleep with a small sigh. Something in Dean’s chest eases at the sight, even as Castiel turns the full weight of his stare back to him.
“Dean,” the angel says. “I’m sorry. I –”
“Save it.” Dean shakes his head. “You’re…not wrong.” He clenches his jaw, stares hard at the ground. “You trust him?”
Castiel doesn’t ask him to clarify. “I do.”
A long time ago, that wouldn’t have made a difference. But these days…
His heart pounds and he takes a few deep breaths before raising his eyes to Castiel’s. “Tell me what I need to do.”
His brother is safe, Castiel watching over him while he rests. So despite the way the last six months – or the way the last year and six months – have been going, it’s not thoughts of Sammy that have Dean’s heart stuttering in his chest.
The night air is cold, wind brushing icy fingertips along his bare skin and making goosebumps rise and pebble along his arms and chest. The stone against his knees where he's kneeling sends chills straight through his bones, and he knows it’s going to hurt like a bitch when he needs to move again. But despite the frigid temperature, it’s not the cold that’s making his breath catch and his limbs shudder.
The woods are dark, barely lit with the soft light of the newly-risen full moon, and animals prowl close every once in a while, their cries taking him by surprise almost every time. He knows this forest goes on for miles, and he knows there are probably things other than just wildlife that have a home here. But it’s not the thought of monsters watching him that have adrenaline pumping through his veins, fueling him with a stronger fight or flight instinct than he’s had in years.
There are candles burning on the ground around him, one for each of the cardinal directions. The flames flicker brightly, orange glow doing more to penetrate the darkness of the night than even the moon has achieved. But it’s not the eye-catching flames that are casting a pale red glow over his skin as he chants the words of summoning.
With every word, the veins of garnet that run through the altar stone below him pulse to life, flaring and growing brighter as the night grows colder and Dean’s voice grows more hoarse. The wind whips harshly, but the sprig of mistletoe sitting close to hand doesn’t even twitch, protected by the magic of the stone or just the magic of the night itself.
Dean’s clothes and belongings lie in a pile out of sight, a few dozen yards away, so he has no way to know for sure how long he’s been kneeling here, but it must have been several hours already. Ever since the first star of the evening twinkled to life in the sky, which, if his brother can be trusted to have his facts straight, should have actually been Venus. Now, his knees are aching and his back hurts and he’s probably close to hypothermic, the early spring chill long since having bit deep into his bones.
But he doesn’t stop chanting, won’t stop. The words roll off his tongue in practiced syntax of a language well and truly dead, and the wind kicks up another notch as some creature screams in the distance. He glances down at the last candle, a red pillar perched right in front of him. With trembling fingers, he strikes a match, lights it.
The flame blazes, burns high, outshining the crimson crystal underneath for a short moment before it slowly fades down to just a normal candle flame. Another high-pitched cry sounds, closer now, and Dean isn’t sure he’s still shaking only from adrenaline and cold. He reaches for the mistletoe, tosses it in his hand a few times, testing the springiness, the weight of the plant.
He switches to English as he holds it over the candle, waits for it to catch. Sets it down to burn in front of him as he tilts his head and bellows, “Loki!” to the night sky. He waits a long moment, notes the way the forest has descended to perfect silence around him. Calls again. Entices with the only thing he has. “Loki! Come and claim your offering!” Takes a breath, and can’t resist. “Come and claim me, you son of a bitch!”
“Y’know, usually supplicants are a little less…antagonistic, when they call on me,” a voice says from the tree line, and Dean stares, willing his eyes to focus until he can just barely make out Gabriel as he saunters forward.
No, not Gabriel. Not now.
It’s not an archangel that stops a few feet from the altar, bright amber eyes roving appreciatively along Dean’s body like a caress, a half-smirk twitching at the corners of his mouth. It’s not an archangel who tilts his head and licks his lips as he finally meets Dean’s eyes. It’s not an archangel who speaks with a voice like crushed velvet. “Well. This is unexpected,” the god says.
Dean bites his tongue against the sarcastic reply, because he knows he has no power here, and he knows he can’t try to get it back either, not if this is going to work. He bows his head in silent acknowledgement, his eyes never leaving Loki’s.
“Gotta say, there’s something to be said for surprises.” Gabriel – Loki, Dean reminds himself again, firmly – leers. “Well then, Dean Winchester. Since you decided to be all official-like about this…” He stalks forward, crawls onto the altar, every move predatory, sensual. Stops just short of the burning mistletoe, its flame reflected in those topaz eyes as he sits cross-legged before it. “You called on me for a reason, so you must want something.”
Dean swallows against the thing lodged deep in his throat. “Protection,” he grits out. “Protection for my soul, against the bastards in Hell who would come for it.”
“Ahhh,” the god says, like he didn’t already know.
The memory of their last meeting burns bitterly between them, and it’s because of that that Dean came here, like this, tonight. It’s because he knows he insulted and offended Gabriel right down to the archangel’s core that he needs to make amends now, if he has any hope at all.
“And why should I do this for you?” the god asks. “What do you offer in return, if I grant you this boon?”
Dean’s heart is beating triple-time as he forces himself to reply. “Myself.”
Loki releases a slow breath, his eyes wide. It’s clear he hadn’t expected that answer, any more than he’d expected any of this. “Well, damn, Winchester. You don’t do things halfway, do you?”
Dean thinks his silence speaks for itself. He gazes impassively at the god in front of him.
Loki reaches out, plucks up the still-smoldering bits of mistletoe, rubs pieces of leafy ash between his fingers. Exhales again. Slowly, his eyes once more rise to meet Dean’s. “I accept,” he says, voice low.
Dean had thought he was prepared for anything. He knew there was a reason he had to call on Loki and not Gabriel. This has to be done pagan-style, and there are two big things the pagans like: blood, and sex.
This sure as hell hadn’t been a blood-sacrifice, so yeah, Dean had thought he was ready.
But there’s a difference between saying it and seeing the way Loki moves towards him around the still-burning candle, the way his eyes are burning with something Dean’s never seen before. The way it becomes very obvious, very quickly that this is Loki. That this is the pagan part of Gabriel.
It’d been easy to accept that the archangel had been in hiding, masquerading as a pagan god for so long. But this drives home a far different point. Gabriel hasn’t just been pretending to be a pagan god. Somewhere along the way, the magic had seeped in, and he really had become a pagan god.
Somehow, it never hit Dean before that there was a difference.
But there’s no grace-light burning in those eyes as Loki crowds into his space, one hand reaching up and trailing along Dean’s face. Their usual amber color is darkened by lust and magic, making them all but colorless in the night. “Be sure, Dean Winchester,” the god says.
Slowly, Dean nods, trying not to feel the way warmth suddenly floods through him.
There’s a snap of fingers, loud in the preternatural stillness of the dark forest, and Dean gasps when he finds himself suddenly on his back, a soft sheepskin underneath him, spread out over the altar.
Loki is looming over him, as naked now as Dean is, one finger pressing to Dean's lips, quieting him. He moves, hooking a leg over Dean’s waist to straddle him. Smiles cockily as Dean bites back another gasp, and then darts in and kisses him fiercely.
The magic crashes over Dean in a wave. His cry is swallowed by the god above him, his hips pinned in place when they would buck. He reaches instinctively, holds Loki by the waist as Loki’s agile tongue slips into his mouth.
It feels like the god is trying to claim him just by way of a kiss, and Dean is utterly powerless against the intensity of it. He moans into Loki’s mouth, lets the sound be captured as the god delves deeper, exploring with teeth and tongue and lips.
Dean didn't expect this to feel good. He didn't think it could, and it terrifies him, just a little, how wrong he was. By how much he wants. He puts it down to the magic, tries to tell himself that it’s just the power of the circle and the night and the god pressed against him, but there’s a part of Dean that knows it’s him, too.
There’s a part of him that can’t help being overcome by the idea of surrendering to Loki, to Gabriel, and he doesn’t understand it, and it scares the hell out of him, but it’s there.
For now, though, he can pretend it’s the magic alone that’s making the blood roar in his ears, making his fingers tighten reflexively, making his cock harden against Loki despite his best intentions. The god doesn’t seem inclined to dispute the point as he moves sinuously against him, pulling away from Dean’s mouth so he can lick and kiss and bite his way over his neck and down his chest.
Dean gasps and arches when Loki takes one of his nipples in his mouth, and the god grins as he works it between his teeth. “Oh God,” Dean moans, throwing his head back as fire erupts in his belly. “Jesus fucking Christ.”
Loki releases him and shifts so he can grin down at Dean. “We haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet,” he says. “Sure you’re gonna make it, Dean-o?”
Dean’s honestly not sure, with the way he can barely breathe around the lust curling low in his belly right now, but he’s not about to give the god the satisfaction of saying so.
Magic curls tighter around them, spurring Loki on, and he slides his way lower, taking Dean’s cock into his mouth without preamble at the same time as one hand slides back, his arm moving around Dean's waist, fingers running down the curve of his ass until they're brushing against Dean’s entrance.
Dean’s already lost all sense of coherency, and he cries out into the night, light dancing behind his eyes, ecstasy and magic and power swirling all around him as passion builds to an inferno. Loki’s fingers enter him, one at a time, and he’s not sure why there’s no pain, but he’s really beyond caring right now, bucking forward into Loki’s mouth and backwards onto his fingers and needing more, so much more than the god is giving him at the moment.
“Are you ready?” Loki asks as he pulls away, a trail of spit still clinging to his lips. He smirks, darts his tongue out, and it falls away.
Dean whines, a sound he doesn’t think he’s ever made before, and begs for it the only way he’s capable of doing right now, by arching his hips, inviting the god in to take.
And Loki does. He slicks his cock up with his own saliva, topaz eyes never leaving viridian as he slides in.
The magic reaches a crescendo, and Dean’s lost to it, lost to everything that isn’t the shift of Loki’s hips, the steady grip of his hands, the pull of muscles as the god pounds into him, fucking him raw and hard and perfect.
There’s something like pain, or pleasure, or some aching combination of the two, that Dean’s only aware of peripherally, and then Loki’s teeth sink into his neck as the god finally lets go. “Mine,” he growls, and Dean can only nod, another moan tearing itself from his throat as light flashes behind his eyes and the world erupts at the same time as Loki’s release spills inside him. Dean’s coming as well, but it’s secondary to the power flooding through him, the claim Loki presses into every part of his being.
It’s a rush, heady and incredible, and he can feel it burning into his very soul, overpowering him until it finally becomes too much, and the world goes dark.
Dean’s woken up in enough strange places after blacking out that his muscles go tense and his heart is pounding before his eyes even open. There’s a whisper of movement by his side, a caress along his arm, and then, just as suddenly, he’s relaxing even before his mind has enough time to realize it must be Gabriel.
Loki, he reminds himself again.
He’s lying on his back on top of what feels like the world’s most decadent pile of blankets. With his eyes closed, he’s aware of a flickering light against his eyelids, and that combined with the heat licking along his skin leaves him thinking they must be close to a fire. There’s warmth in his chest, a tug somewhere deep inside him that wasn’t there before, and he swallows, realizing it has to be the link his soul now carries to the god.
“Dean.” The voice is low, close enough that he feels Loki’s breath tickle against his ear. “Look at me.”
There’s Command in that tone, and Dean is alarmingly powerless against it. Slowly, he opens his eyes and meets the god's calm amber gaze. The wildness, the magic, that had been lurking in those eyes is gone, or at least tempered. This is Gabriel as much as it’s Loki, now.
When he doesn’t speak, Gabriel’s lips quirk, and he shakes his head, something like fondness in his expression, alongside the concern he’s not doing a very good job of hiding. “Feeling okay?” he asks softly. “I…wasn’t entirely myself. I didn’t… You’re okay, right?”
Dean nods, quirks a small, reassuring smile, but still stays silent. It’s not stubbornness that holds his tongue; he just…doesn’t feel the need to speak. Normally, he’d have a mouthful of sarcastic comments waiting to spew forth, but right now, he’s loose-limbed and relaxed, and he feels safer and calmer than he has in a long time. Ironic, given that the situation he’s in is nine kinds of crazy, but he hadn't believed the god would even care enough to ask, and that he did changes things. It also reaffirms Dean’s belief that he’s dealing more with the archangel now than the god, despite there still being another part left to go before this ritual is complete.
He glances around, taking in his surroundings. They’re in what appears to be a cave, with a small fire crackling nearby and the ground layered with piles of soft sheepskin. Close to hand, Dean also sees a bowl of water and a wooden plate piled with fresh fruit, but otherwise, the place seems empty. He raises a questioning eyebrow at his companion.
“My home away from home,” Loki – Gabriel – quips, spreading his arms wide. “My first little hideaway, way back when.” He looks away, and Dean again feels that strange tugging in his chest. He startles when he realizes it’s a desire to comfort. Before he can wrap his head around it, Gabriel continues. “I stayed here for a long time, learning what powers I could afford to use and which ones would lead them right to me. Kept myself to the basics while I learned how to be a god. Maybe why I was so into decadence and debauchery later on.” He waggles his eyebrows, and Dean rolls his eyes.
He feels like he’s being trusted with something, being given something precious by Gabriel taking him here, and it’s too big to focus on right now. It’s too much, when he’s now tied permanently to this being he’s not even entirely sure he trusts yet. He clears his throat, forces himself to speak. His voice is a little raspy, but he manages okay. “We’re not done yet, are we?” he asks.
“Not quite,” Gabriel says, shifting so that he’s lying on his side, absently tracing a path up and down Dean’s arm. It’s a sort of intimacy Dean’s only ever had with Lisa and Cassie in the past, but one that’s surprisingly soothing to him here and now, with Gabriel.
He’s getting the feeling that a lot of things are going to surprise him about this thing he suddenly has with Gabriel.
Dean glances down to where those fingers are still tracing along his skin, and that’s when he sees it. Or rather, them, he realizes abruptly, when he switches his surprised gaze to the other arm. Both of his upper arms are tattooed with thick black bands, a strange mixture of what he’d bet his life are Norse symbols and Enochian writing, creating a balanced, dizzying pattern when he stares too hard. The one on his left arm cuts right through the palm of Castiel’s handprint scar.
He knows what these marks are, what they mean.
Gabriel – or rather, Loki – owns him now. Dean’s soul is bound to him, and the tattoos are the physical reminder of that. He knew there would be some kind of mark, a scar or a symbol or something. But these are…not exactly what he expected.
“It was my name,” Gabriel says, his voice still quiet. “I dunno how, but when you called my name – my real name – during the big finish, it messed with the magic enough that it recognized all of me. Both sides, pagan and angelic. Shouldn’t have been possible, but then, I’m always underestimating you Winchesters.” He snorts, shaking his head again.
“So what does that mean?” Dean asks, going tense.
Gabriel shrugs. “Nothing, in the scheme of things. You offered yourself up to a god, not an angel, so we still followed the rules. Just took me by surprise.”
“Huh.” He stares for a long time at the band on his right arm, the one Gabriel is still absentmindedly following with his fingertips. “So, what’s next?” he finally asks after a long moment.
“Well, your soul is tied to me by the magic, so that’s done. But just like any good binding, it’s always better to make it official. Less hassle that way when people come calling to check up.” Gabriel reaches behind himself, and when he brings his hand back, there’s a silken red cord wrapped around it. “It’ll strengthen the bond, make the claim deeper, so it doesn’t end when you die. Most gods don’t care about the mortals they tie to them, after the mortal dies. Most don’t have a reason to. But in this case, that’s exactly what you need. So. We do this all the way, yeah?”
Dean swallows, eyeing the cord. “Yeah.”
There’s that spark again, in his eyes. That spark that’s all Loki, the spark of magic and mischief and power that isn’t an angel’s to wield. “There’s no take-backs, Winchester. We do this, you’re stuck with me. Forever. Can you handle that?”
“You’re the one who made the offer,” Dean said. “Now you’re trying to talk me out of it? When we’ve already taken it this far?”
“Not at all,” Gabriel assures him. “But I need to know you get it. I’ve been around a long time, and you know the one thing that I’ve never done in thousands of years of being down here?” His eyes are steady on Dean’s, more serious than Dean thinks he’s ever seen before. “I’ve never made a claim.”
Dean’s brow furrows, his mind working over that. “But…”
“I’ve accepted sacrifices, I’ve enjoyed reaping the benefits of an offering. But no. I wouldn’t have made a claim. I may be a god, but that’s not all I am. It makes things a little more serious, a little more permanent. No take-backs is a two-way street. It’s not an offer I made lightly.”
If anything, that’s an unexpected reassurance, one that Dean isn’t going to question just yet. “I said yes, and I meant it,” he says.
There’s a smile in Gabriel’s eyes, triumph in Loki’s, and Dean’s not sure which aspect scares him more, but by then, his hand is already being taken, the cord is already being wound around his wrist and the god’s, and Loki is already chanting something in a voice that rings with both Power and Grace.
Later, he’ll never be able to recall the details of what happens that night, beyond Light and Heat and Surrender.
All he’ll know is that, the next time he’s truly aware of the world in a way that makes sense, the cord will have vanished, the bands around his arms will be thicker with more writing in languages he can’t understand, and every look into Gabriel’s eyes will send him into a freefall of complicated, dizzying emotions.
There will be no question that the bonding worked. No question at all that he belongs to Gabriel and Gabriel’s alter-ago, body and soul.
Dean’s with Gabriel in the little hideaway for three days while he adjusts to the bond playing havoc with him.
He’s at the mercy of Gabriel’s emotions, and it’s worse than he’d ever thought it could be during the – admittedly minimal – research he’d done before all this. When Gabriel is thoughtful and lost in memories, Dean longs to comfort him. When he’s aroused, Dean aches for him. When he’s frustrated or annoyed, Dean is quiet and submissive.
He hates it, hates all of it, and the first few times it happens, he spends hours afterwards more angry at himself than he’s been in a long time.
It’s not Gabriel’s fault. Dean knows that, or at least some part of him knows it. He can at least tell the archangel doesn’t enjoy it, even if Loki does. And it gets easier to differentiate between the two, and more and more often as the bond settles, there’s not even a hint of Loki in those eyes.
Dean is grateful. He may have given himself to the god, but it’s the archangel who has Castiel’s trust. It’s the archangel Dean wants to trust.
At the end of the third day, Dean’s cell phone rings, the tinny opening notes to Metallica’s Sandman cutting like a knife through the quiet stillness he’s grown accustomed to. He blinks a few times when it starts, needing to re-acclimate himself with the sound and what it means before he can process that he needs to answer the phone. By then, Gabriel has already gone to the corner of the cave the sound is coming from and dragged Dean’s belongings from under a pile of blankets. He tosses the phone to Dean with a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth as the ringtone starts up again a second time.
Dean blinks at the display, flips it open with unsteady fingers. “Cas?”
“Dean.” The angel on the other end releases a sigh, something that sounds suspiciously like relief. “Are you well?”
Oh, the ways he could answer that… “Yeah, I’m good,” he says, because at the very least, he got exactly what he'd asked for, and that counts for something. Anything else is way too complicated right now. “What’s up?”
There’s a pause, a hesitation he doesn’t – can’t – trust to mean anything good. “It’s Sam.” Dean feels his heart skip a few beats, feels Gabriel’s concern spike, has to close his eyes against the disorienting effect. “He’s not well. I think… I think there’s something wrong with the wall. I don’t think it’s functioning the way it should be.”
Dean grits his teeth. Gabriel, behind him now, rests a hand on his bare shoulder. Dean tries not to find comfort in the gesture. “Just take care of him, Cas. I’ll be there soon.”
“All right.” Castiel hangs up without a goodbye, but that’s long since stopped being surprising. The angel has always sucked at goodbyes.
“Honeymoon’s over?” Gabriel guesses.
“God damn it,” Dean whispers, feeling something inside him start to break apart. Gabriel’s hand squeezes, warmth flooding Dean’s chest, and he turns into the archangel’s arms before he can stop himself, lays his head on Gabriel’s shoulder before he can remember why it’s a bad idea.
“We’ll fix it,” Gabriel says, and for a second, Dean almost believes him. “Whatever it is, we’ll fix it. No problem too big to solve, right?”
“Right.” Except Dean stopped believing that a long time ago.
The motel room is dark and silent when Dean and Gabriel arrive. Normally Dean has a strict no-flying policy, but he’d already been forced to allow Castiel to leave him at the altar to begin with, so he’s been bracing himself for a return trip the same way. And even if he hadn’t been, he’d put up with it for his brother’s sake.
It’s become pretty obvious over the years that there isn’t much Dean wouldn’t do for Sam.
Castiel is seated on the edge of the bed, one hand carding gently through Sam’s hair while Sam sleeps unknowingly. There’s something tender in the angel’s eyes, and Dean thanks a God he doesn’t like and has never trusted for Castiel’s presence in their lives. He’s not sure where they’d have ended up without him, but he can bet it wouldn't have been anywhere good.
“How is he?” he asks as he steps toward the bed. Closer, he can see the sweat on Sam’s brow, the crease of his forehead. He can hear the faint whimpering that Sam only makes when he’s lost in a nightmare.
“Getting worse,” Castiel replies, not looking away from Sam. “He’s been losing himself in nightmares – memories – for two days now, but it’s reached the point where I cannot stop them.” He pauses, takes a breath in a way Dean’s never seen him do before. “I don’t know what to do for him.”
Dean curses under his breath, sits on the other side of the bed and clenches his fists in his lap. “How often is he awake?” he asks.
“Something like three hours out of every fifteen.”
That…can’t be good. Dean rubs at his face wearily, starts a little when Gabriel appears in front of him, though he’s had days to get used to the archangel’s presence.
Gabriel is staring down at Sam in a considering sort of way, like he sees something beneath the surface that Dean and Castiel don’t. Which, come to think of it, he probably does.
“Well, damn,” the archangel says after a long moment. He looks pissed. And…guilty.
“What?” Dean and Castiel ask together, and now Castiel does glance up, a half smile twitching at his mouth as his eyes soften.
“This might partly be my fault,” Gabriel mutters, reaching down and touching Sam’s forehead. Immediately, Sam’s features relax, and his breathing comes easier. “That won’t hold forever, but it’ll help for now. Damn it.”
Dean really, really doesn’t like Gabriel swearing like that. “Gabriel, what the hell is going on?”
Gabriel’s eyes meet his, regret pulsing through the bond, alternately raising Dean’s hackles and making him want to soothe the archangel, and holy shit that sucks. “I didn’t think this through, when I agreed to help,” he says, and Dean knows enough to know when someone is angry at themselves. “There’s something about Sam’s soul that makes the foundation around the wall very shaky. I can’t tell what it is, but when Death built that wall, he had to anchor it to something else, something he could trust would always be there. Sam only has one anchor in this world, and I just claimed it as my own.”
Dean’s mind blanks. “Huh?”
“You and Sam…you two are tied together in ways that go far beyond blood, or family, or brotherhood. Your souls have always been joined in other ways. Why do you think you shared a Heaven?”
“I knew it, but I didn’t think it would effect it that strongly. Even if I’d known how shaky the foundation really was, I wouldn’t have thought that was his only anchor, I’d have figured he had to have other things here that kept him grounded. Kept him human. I didn’t think.” Gabriel’s jaw clenches, his eyes hard.
“We’re all each other has ever really had. Sammy and I have always kept each other human,” Dean says, quietly, before his voice turns desperate. “So, what? It was always gonna be a choice between my soul’s safety or Sam’s sanity?”
“The wall was unstable before this, so without a firm foundation in place…” Castiel sighs. “He needs something else, something to keep him tethered here, something to keep the wall settled. Your soul is torn in two now, your loyalty split between your brother and your god.” He shoots a quick apologetic look at Gabriel before turning his focus back to Dean. “It’s no longer enough.”
“Is there anyone else he feels a strong connection with?” Gabriel asks Dean. “If there is, maybe we can use it, enhance it. In theory, if we can find something, I should be able to stabilize the wall.” I hope, he doesn’t say, but Dean feels it anyway like a knife to the gut.
“No, I mean, I don’t think so,” Dean replies, desperate eyes tracking every breath Sam takes, every move he makes as he sleeps unaware. “I mean, Bobby’s like a dad to us, but that’s…that’s different. And we’ve both lost almost everyone we ever cared about. Jess, if she was alive, maybe, but… I mean, the only real friend either of us even has anymore is Cas.”
He sees the long look that passes between Castiel and Gabriel, doesn’t understand what it means but knows it’s something significant. Which is confirmed when Castiel says, “I care about Sam Winchester a great deal, Gabriel, but I don’t think –”
“It’ll be enough,” Gabriel says. “It has to be, it’s all we’ve got.”
“But I don’t know if he –”
“It’ll be enough,” Gabriel repeats, his voice dagger-sharp.
“Wait, wait,” Dean says, swimming in confusion. “You’re talking about making Cas the anchor Sam needs for this wall? But I thought angels didn’t have the capability to do shit like that, wasn’t that the whole reason for –”
“There’s a way around anything,” Gabriel cuts in smoothly, “as we’ve clearly proven for ourselves.” He raises an eyebrow. “Besides, this is different. We’re not talking about binding souls, we’re talking about giving your brother an anchor. Two totally separate things. For one thing, there’s a lot less sex involved.” He winks, ignores the way Dean bristles. Looking thoughtful, he glances back toward Castiel, whose gaze has already returned to Sam. “A blood spell should do the trick, make it possible.”
Castiel’s eyes close. “And if Raphael and his army defeat me and Sam is again left floundering? What then, brother?”
“He won’t.” There’s an edge again to Gabriel’s voice, one that brooks no argument, though Castiel seems determined to give it his best shot anyway.
“He comes closer each and every time we battle. If he does –”
“He won’t.” Gabriel growls something under his breath that Dean is going to take a guess and say isn’t polite, given the fury that radiates through the bond. “And if he does – which he won’t, because I swear to Dad I’ll slaughter him where he stands if he gets that close – then we’ll figure something out. This is the best we’ve got right now, and you know it.”
Dean blinks against the open hostility in Gabriel’s voice towards Raphael. It’s uncharacteristic, to say the least, and he’s shaken down to the core by just how much Gabriel means it. Something’s changed in the archangel. For all that he loves his brothers and wants the fighting to stop, he’ll do what he says if it comes down to it.
Dean’s just not sure what it is.
Castiel watches Sam breathing evenly for long moments. Then he looks to Dean, his eyes unsure. “When Sam wakes, and we try to explain what Gabriel intends to do… Do you think he’ll be amenable to the idea?”
Dean releases a long breath. “I think Gabriel’s right. It’s the best chance we got. And believe it or not, Cas, Sam considers you a friend. A good friend. I don’t think he’ll hate the idea, if we have a way to make it work.”
Castiel nods slowly, his gaze going to Gabriel. “Find Kali.”
Sam comes awake with a sharp gasp while the angels are gone.
Castiel has returned to Heaven, something he’s been putting off while Dean was gone. Dean thinks he’s hoping to lead Raphael on a chase that will take him as far from their current location as possible, so that the blood spell can be performed without fear of a sudden attack. Dean also thinks Castiel’s hoping for too much, if that’s his plan, but he’s not going to judge him for it. He’d probably be desperate enough to try anything, too.
Gabriel, meanwhile, is searching the globe for Kali, who’s the only one he knows with the ability to perform the spell. Or at least, the only one he says he’s willing to trust. Dean doesn’t know if he has a chance of convincing her, but he’s willing to set his pride aside and pray that she’s willing to help.
“Cas?” Sam croaks as soon as his eyes open.
“He’ll be back soon,” Dean says, coming back over to the bed and sitting down. “Just had some stuff to take care of upstairs.”
Sam’s eyes immediately go wide and worried, even as he’s drinking in the sight of Dean, checking to make sure he’s still in one piece. Dean brushes a lock of hair away from his little brother's face. “He’ll be okay, he knows how to look after himself.” He quirks a smile. “I think we taught him a lot of that.”
Sam swallows. “He was a soldier way before we ever came along. We just maybe showed him how to take chances.”
Dean murmurs an agreement. “How you holding up?” he asks.
Sam turns away. “Fine,” he lies. “Really.”
“Uh huh,” Dean snorts. “Sammy…”
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Sam says, turning back and pinning Dean with a wide-eyed, guileless stare. “Don’t worry about me, okay?”
“Too late.” Dean sighs. “We figured out the problem. Gabriel’s going to try and fix it.”
“What? How?” Sam struggles to sit up, but Dean’s hand on his shoulder holds him still. “Dean, what’s going on?” he begs.
“The wall is falling apart because the thing that was holding it in place got yanked out from underneath.” Dean’s eyes are steady on Sam’s. “If we want to make sure it doesn’t collapse completely, there needs to be something else steadying it. Someone else. Gabriel called it an anchor.”
“But…” Sam blinks, taking that in. His mind hasn’t lost its edge, even now, and he gets it faster than even Dean expected. “So you were… But then, who –”
“Me.” Castiel appears looking tired and drawn, but otherwise unharmed, and Dean releases some of the tension he hadn’t realized he was carrying so heavily.
Sam, on the other hand, looks suddenly tortured. “No, Cas… That’s… I’ll just be a distraction, Raphael –”
“Is my concern,” the angel cuts in. “As you are.” He takes his seat on the bed again, bends to kiss Sam’s forehead, and Dean suddenly feels like he’s intruding on a very private moment, which…
…What the hell?
“Have faith, Sam,” Castiel murmurs.
Sam looks up at him with worry and adoration and awe and something that transcends gratitude in his eyes, and Dean wonders just when he got dumped into the Twilight Zone.
He also has the disturbing feeling that neither of them even remembers he’s in the room, and he finds himself hoping Gabriel hurries the fuck up, because if he’s going to be forced to watch this, he sure as hell ain’t doing it alone.
Gabriel does hurry, thankfully, appearing by Dean’s side early the next morning and squeezing his shoulder when Dean turns a questioning gaze on him. Another bit of the tension he’s been carrying eases back, and he breathes out a soft sigh.
“Kali will be here shortly,” Gabriel promises, speaking to Castiel now as well, when the angel looks up from his spot on the bed, which he hasn't moved from since returning last night. Sam is deeply asleep again, curled just slightly into Castiel’s warmth as Castiel runs a gentle hand through Sam’s hair. He looks more peaceful than Dean’s seen him look since he got his soul back, and he attributes that to Castiel’s attention just as much as he does to whatever Gabriel did the day before.
It’s the only reason he hasn’t laid into his best friend for putting the moves on his baby brother. Despite knowing that’s not what’s going on here, the two are clearly closer than he’d previously thought, or maybe it’s just the tension of the moment. Either way, he’s not sure he likes it.
But it’s Cas. Dean trusts Cas. He even trusts Sam, because damn it, his brother earned that when he beat the devil and took the plunge into Hell. So Dean’s going to deal with this whether he likes it or not.
Gabriel is smirking at him, when he comes back to himself, and he scowls at the archangel. The smirk just gets wider. Dean finds himself wanting to get rid of that expression, wanting to bury the amusement pulsing along the bond beneath hands and mouths and…
…That’s about the point he recoils from his thoughts like a lightning strike, glowering more and stalking across the room to check on his brother.
He can all but feel Gabriel laughing at him. And he’s pretending he can’t feel the licks of desire, warming his skin and making his heartbeat erratic. With all the pretending he’s done over the years, he thinks he does an okay job.
Well, not really, but he’s going to pretend there, too.
He’s just reaching over and placing his hand over Sam’s forehead, a habit he’s had since they were kids and Sam would get sick, when the door to their room opens and Kali steps inside.
He meets her indifferent gaze without flinching. On the other side of the bed, Castiel stands, his expression flip-flopping between hard and unsure. Gabriel greets her with a kiss to her cheek that has Kali rolling her eyes and turning that unimpressed gaze on him.
“I’ve already agreed to your madness, there’s no need for theatrics,” she tells him.
He shrugs. “No theatrics. I really do appreciate your help.”
“Yeah,” Dean says, trying to inject some honesty into his voice. He doesn’t like gods, any gods, not even the one he’s bound to, really, and he sure as hell doesn’t trust Kali not to have something up her sleeve. No one does anything for free, these days. Still, she’s here, and she’s their only hope at the moment. “Thanks for coming,” he manages to add.
Her lips twitch, eyes cool as she studies him for a long moment, before she finally dips her head in acknowledgement. “You helped me once. It’s only fair that I return the favor. I don’t like being indebted.”
Gabriel snorts. “No, and especially not to humans,” he says, his voice almost fond.
Ah. So that’s what she’s getting out of it. Well, if this is them calling in the favor he didn’t know they had coming, Dean can handle that.
She steps toward the bed, waving a hand toward the hunter slumbering there. “Wake him,” she says, turning her endless gaze onto Castiel. “And give me your arm.”
Castiel’s expression doesn’t so much as twitch, but Dean can tell the order angers him. “Is waking Sam truly necessary for this?” he asks, rolling his sleeve up.
“Not at all,” she says, smile widening almost imperceptibly. “But I would prefer to know I have his consent before I do a blood spell linking him to an angel.”
Dean snorts. “Like a lack of consent really bothers you.”
Her eyes flash when she looks at him. “Samuel Winchester is the reason this planet is still whole. To you and your new master, I owe gratitude and a favor. To him, I owe a debt that can never be paid. Yes, I want his consent. Respect for his wishes is the very least I can offer him.”
“You have it,” Sam whispers from the bed. Dean blinks, his gaze rapidly going to his brother, who he hadn’t even realized was awake. “And thank you, Kali. But you really don’t owe me anything.” Even in his exhaustion, he looks uncomfortable, blushing like the girl Dean’s always secretly known he is.
It’s intensely comforting, especially because Dean's doing everything in his power to ignore the flash of…something he'd felt when Kali called Gabriel his master.
Kali doesn’t answer, but she does grant Sam a rare, honest smile. “In that case, we can begin. I’ll need to take your blood again. I’m still in possession of the last donation, but you’ve changed. It would not be effective, now.” Sam holds his arm out, wincing when she slices a shallow cut with nothing more than a fingernail and collects the blood that falls in a small crystal vial.
Next she turns to Castiel, repeats the procedure without expression. Blood wells immediately as she cuts, deeper this time, and Castiel doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t give any indication at all that he even feels it, his eyes focused solely on Sam, who’s watching him just as intently.
Across the room, still standing near the door, Gabriel is uncharacteristically quiet. Contemplative. Silently watching the proceedings without any sort of opinion, at least not one Dean can detect beneath the currents of their link.
Dean wishes he would say something, because God knows he doesn’t know how to deal with any of this.
There’s a part of him that longs to reach across the short distance and knock the vial of Sam’s blood from Kali’s hands the moment she lifts it. But he forces himself still, trembling with the strain of holding his coiled muscles in check as she uncorks it and holds it to Castiel’s arm. As the blood mixes, glowing beneath her watchful gaze and whispered chant.
All he can do is watch.
And wish he knew just what the hell he was praying for.
Kali doesn’t stay long enough to do more than toss Gabriel a small, indulgent smile at his thanks before she glides out the door. As near as Dean can tell, her blood spell doesn’t affect Sam or Castiel in any way, if it worked at all, but he doesn’t dispute her leaving because, quite honestly, she creeps him the hell out.
As soon as she’s gone, Gabriel steps closer, easy grin firmly in place. “So now that the link is set, I’m going to anchor the wall,” he tells Sam, standing a foot from the bed with his hands behind his back, head tilted. “Sound like a plan?”
Sam shoots one desperate glance at Castiel, which the angel responds to with a mere nod.
Taking a breath and rubbing at his chest in what Dean assumes is a nervous gesture, Sam nods at Gabriel.
“Good. With any luck, it’ll ease the pressure off immediately. The nightmares, the memories, the bipolar emotions…all of it should stop, or at least get a heck of a lot better.”
“That sounds good,” Sam says, true relief creeping into his tone. Dean isn’t sure he wants to know how bad it’s actually been. He can guess, based on his own experiences, and he’s pretty sure whatever Sam’s been suffering, even muted, is a thousand times worse.
Gabriel places a hand to Sam’s forehead, tells him to try and relax.
For a long time, everything in the room is perfectly still, perfectly silent.
Until Dean looks over at Castiel and sees the tears tracking down the angel’s face.
“I thought you said it wasn’t like that!” Dean growls the moment he drags Gabriel outside, after it’s all over.
“Calm down, Winchester,” Gabriel says, rolling his eyes and leaning against the wall, arms crossed and eyebrow raised. “I said their link wouldn’t be anything like our bond, and I meant it. What you saw had nothing to do with any sort of bond.”
“Then what the hell was it!” Dean is more shaken than he wants to admit. He’s never seen Castiel like that. Even losing faith in his Father, even falling, hadn’t reduced the angel to tears.
Gabriel sighs. “Look, Castiel is an angel. It means that when he’s being the structural support for a wall that’s holding back a centuries’ worth of memories and pain and desperation, he’s probably going to catch a glimpse or two of what’s behind the curtain, even if Sam doesn’t see it himself.”
Dean deflates instantly, swallowing. “So…so he can see all the shit Lucifer and Michael did to Sammy? That easily?”
“If he lets his guard down too much, yeah, it’s pretty likely,” Gabriel answers honestly. “And lemme tell you, what he saw just then? Wasn’t pretty. I only got a third-hand account of it from his mind, and it wasn’t pretty.”
Dean doesn’t want to hear this. He really doesn’t. “Sammy’s gonna be okay, right?”
“Yeah,” Gabriel says, eyes softening. “He’s a strong kid, and the connection he has with Castiel will hold the wall down tight, at least for a while. We’re not gonna let this beat him, okay? Not anymore than we’re letting those bastards in Hell get you.”
Heat flares in Dean’s chest, a flood of possessiveness and compassion and affection almost stealing the breath from him. “Fuck,” he mutters, and doesn’t realize he’s leaning into Gabriel’s space until he’s got one hand on the wall by his head, bracing his weight as he curls instinctively toward the archangel.
Gabriel, for his part, only smiles up at Dean with a wicked gleam in his eye before he licks his lips, and that’s it, that’s all Dean can take, coupled with the desire slamming through the bond. He moans, presses Gabriel into the wall with his whole body, bends to claim that smirking mouth, relishes the sounds he draws from Gabriel for a long, heated moment before reality catches up with him.
He tears himself away with monstrous effort, his breathing ragged, his face flushed. Gabriel looks beautifully debauched already, and that lazy desire is still curling its way through Dean’s gut, but he doesn’t step back, won’t step back unless Gabriel demands it.
And as much as a part of him wishes like hell Gabriel would, as much as he craves the excuse to press himself back against all that coiled power without having to take any of the blame for his actions himself, of course Gabriel doesn’t.
That would be too easy.
“Mmm, well, nice as that was, I should probably take it for the road,” the archangel says with a regretful sigh. Dean grinds his teeth, tries to tell himself he’s grateful. “Gotta get a move on, if little bro in there is gonna win the war. He needs all the help he can get, and he doesn’t have many people to give it to him.”
“Yeah, okay,” Dean says. That probably means Castiel is going to be taking off soon, too, but Dean hopes he sticks around at least long enough to be sure Sam’s all right and the wall really is stabilized. “You gonna be popping back around anytime soon?”
Gabriel smiles saucily. “Aww, Dean-o, you gonna miss me?”
“Hardly,” Dean snorts, ignoring the tug he feels at the word. Can’t tell if it’s Gabriel’s reaction or his own to the thing he’s firmly telling himself isn’t a lie.
“I’ll check in when I can,” the archangel offers after a moment. “If you need anything, you know how to find me.”
He’s gone before Dean can even get in a thank you, let alone a goodbye.
The Winchesters are on the road again a week later, on their way to Bobby’s. Sam is getting stronger every day, smiling more, sleeping less but sleeping well, and Dean’s finding it harder and harder not to hug the kid whenever he hears his laugh.
It’s closer to the old Sammy than he’s had in years. Better, because this is a Sam who’s lighter and happier than Dean’s pretty sure the old Sam had ever been. Obviously, they still have a lot of shit to worry about and deal with. But right now, the apocalypse has never seemed farther away. It’s one of the best weeks of Dean’s life.
It’s also one of the worst.
Because while he’s loving the fact that his brother is doing great and feeling better, he’s also hating what the bond he has to Loki is doing to him.
He says Loki, because most of the time, that’s who’s on the other side of the connection. Dean’s gotten pretty damn good at differentiating between the two. Where Gabriel is all light and heat, Loki is darkness and power. Not dark in an evil way, just darker than Gabriel. Edgier.
And when Gabriel is upstairs, scouting out Heaven and trying to find anything that can help his brother, most of the time he’s doing it as Loki. He locks the part of himself that’s an archangel away, probably so he isn’t detected, and lets the trickster god take over.
And Loki knows the ins and outs of sneaking around.
Sometimes, Dean doesn’t notice the connection at all. But those times are pretty rare, because when Loki’s up front, he seems to want to make sure Dean feels it. Feels everything.
So day after day, Dean grits his teeth against the contempt Loki has for Gabriel’s brethren, against the dark irony he finds in this war, against the pride he has in his abilities to move unseen in a place crawling with a family made up of enemies, while other times, he’s trying to ignore the sense of loss Gabriel feels, the way he wishes with every piece of his grace for his family to just be whole again. The way he looks out for Castiel even when Castiel is completely unaware.
And all the time, he’s ignoring the want. Because both aspects of Gabriel, no matter how well he’s color-coded and placed each emotion into a separate part of who he is – both aspects want Dean. Wholly, completely, and without reservation.
And Dean, bound and owned as absolutely he is, can’t help but want him in return. All of him.
On top of everything he’s feeling because of Sam and hunting and the fear that looms over him about who’s going to eventually try and come for him…
He doesn’t have a single moment of peace.
If Sam notices, and there’s no way he can’t, Dean’s at least grateful that his brother doesn’t say anything about it. Dean gets a curious glance occasionally, a worried frown or a crease between the eyebrows, but otherwise, Sam stays blessedly silent.
Bobby isn’t nearly so considerate.
“Boy, what the hell’s been goin’ on with you? Last few days, I’d swear you were cursed, way you been acting.”
This growled demand comes six days into their stay at the salvage yard, and a quick glance at Sam confirms what Dean feared. There’s no way he’s going to get out of this one.
Dean also notices that Sam stays seated right where he is, the little traitor.
“It’s… Bobby, it’s kind of a long story,” he hedges.
Bobby raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms. “I got time,” he says pointedly.
“You did what?! What the hell were you two idgits thinkin’?”
Dean cringes, crossing his arms defensively. Sam bites his lip and stares down at the scarred tabletop.
Amusement dances along the bond.
“I need a damn drink,” Bobby says.
Dean knows the feeling.
Gabriel drops by for the first time mid-way through their second week at Bobby’s. It was Bobby who decided they were going to lay low until things settled down one way or another, and he wasn’t taking no for an answer.
Neither Dean nor Sam had either the energy or the inclination to argue.
Dean doesn’t think it’s an accident that Gabriel shows up only minutes after Bobby's left to run some errands around town. Bobby knows who Gabriel is, and he definitely remembers his run-in with Loki, and Dean’s grateful they haven’t seen each other since, because he’s not sure Bobby wouldn’t banish the archangel a few times just on principle, if he couldn’t find a way to outright kill him.
Gabriel looks exhausted, his eyes vacant until they land on Dean and a little light comes into them. “Hey there, hot shot,” he says, and Christ, even his voice sounds tired. Strained.
Dean is out of the kitchen chair and pulling Gabriel into his arms before he’s had a chance to think about it, and the immediate sense of comfort that Gabriel feels is enough to keep him from drawing away when his mind does catch up. Because Jesus fuck, he's hugging Gabriel. “Everything okay up there?” he asks, swallowing down the discomfort, and the way it bothers him how little discomfort there actually is to swallow.
“Yeah,” Gabriel sighs into Dean’s shoulder. If he’s clinging a little, Dean’s sure as hell not going to be the one to call him on it. “As okay as you’d expect anyway. Lot of turmoil, lot of angst, lot of skirmishes that don’t really solve anything. A couple close calls with Cas, but I had his back. He’s outside checking on Sam now.”
It’s not often Dean hears Gabriel shorten his brother’s name like that, and it speaks volumes about how tired the archangel really is. Even if he doesn’t sleep, he should probably get some rest, since he’s here anyway. “C’mon,” Dean says, leading him toward the stairs and the guest room.
Gabriel follows without protest, his expression mildly assessing. “Hey, so, sorry if things have gotten a little intense for you. The bond…”
“I get it.” Dean nudges the door to the room open with his foot, leads Gabriel over to the bed and pushes him down until he’s flat on his back on the worn mattress before he slides in next to him. He carefully doesn't think too much about what he's doing. Gabriel curls into him, resting his head on Dean’s chest as Dean's arm goes around him automatically.
“This ‘cause you wanna be here, or ‘cause I want you to be?” the archangel asks quietly.
Dean sighs, closing his eyes. “Does it matter? You’d probably know better’n I would anyway.”
If Gabriel ever answers, Dean doesn’t hear it. He's already lost to the shadows of sleep.
Things go on this way for the better part of two months. Sam and Dean take a couple of cases that are close by, but for the most part, they stick to Bobby’s. If Bobby ever starts to get tired of having them there, he does a good job hiding it. He spends most of his time doing research on the bond between Dean and Gabriel, and on the blood spell linking Castiel to Sam. He gave up early on trying to find any information about Death’s wall, but when it shows to be holding steady after a couple months, he stops worrying about it quite as much – at least as far as Dean can tell.
While he researches and grumbles and orders the brothers around, they spend most of their time doing something they haven’t done a lot of in the past few years.
Mostly, it’s just random crap, anything that pops into their heads. There’s a lot of idle reminiscing, some regular discussion about the things going on in their lives. Occasionally, mostly due to Sam’s incurable girliness, their conversations teeter into serious territory, talks about futures, and pasts, and once, even about Hell. At first, Dean grits his teeth, forces himself to be honest, because damn it, they need some real honesty between them after all this. After a while, when he’s started to overcome all the emotional barriers he’s had in place pretty much forever, it starts to get easier.
Dean thinks his throat should be raw from all the talking they’ve done, and he’s probably in the process of trading his dick out for a vagina, but it’s… It’s good. Something between them is healing as time goes by, and things are better than they’ve been since they were kids. Since before Sam left for Stanford, at least.
By mutual silent agreement, they don’t talk very much about Castiel or Gabriel, and they don't talk about their relationships with either at all. Every day, he feels the pull of Gabriel, or Gabriel’s other persona, and every day, he ignores it as best as he knows how. Sometimes he sees Sam with his brow furrowed, idly rubbing his chest, and Dean understands now that, at these times, his little brother is thinking of Castiel.
But they don’t talk about it.
The angels continue to visit when they can, usually once a week, sometimes less, sometimes a little more. Sometimes they come together, sometimes they pop in at totally different times. They always stay tight-lipped about what’s going on upstairs, which both Sam and Dean agree really fucking sucks, but even the Jaws of Life would have a hard time prying information out of either of them. If Dean didn’t have the emotional connection to Gabriel that he does, which offers him at least something, he thinks he’d be tearing his hair out by now, and he doesn’t know how Sam stands it.
It would probably go on this way indefinitely, or at least until Raphael makes a serious move or some hell-bitch makes a play for Dean’s soul, except…
…then Gabriel gets hurt.
When it happens, Sam is out with Bobby on a grocery run. Bobby doesn't trust Sam and Dean to go together anymore after the last time, when they pretty much brought back beer and almost nothing else.
So when it happens, Dean is alone.
He feels it like a knife to the gut.
Doubled over, he gasps Gabriel’s name, closes his eyes against the intensity of the pain blazing through his insides, shredding him to pieces. It’s like every worst torture he ever endured under Alastair’s blade, worse even, and he can’t breathe, and he thinks he may be screaming even as he forces himself to his feet and lurches forward, blindly reaching for something he doesn't really understand.
There’s a shove against the bond, hard enough that he almost topples backwards as he claws at the air, but instead he pulls at the force, tugs hard on it, drags Gabriel to him.
Gabriel lands in his arms, unmoving and unresponsive and bleeding from his chest, and Dean doesn’t know what to do, because this sure as hell isn’t a fucking trick, not this time, not with the agony still slicing through every fiber of his damn soul.
He maneuvers Gabriel back a few steps, practically dragging the unconscious archangel until he can lay him out on the couch. From there he slices the shirt Gabriel’s wearing open using a handy switchblade, and briefly closes his eyes against the wound he finds underneath.
There’s so much blood, more than he’s seen since the last time he sliced into a broken soul down in the pit…and no, fuck no, he isn't going to think about that now, because this is Gabriel, this is his damn archangel laid out before him, and if he’s going to live, he needs Dean’s help.
Dean can damn well feel that much, the bond pulsing against his heart, beating in tune with Gabriel’s dwindling life force. Dean doesn’t know what happened, but it was bad. Really bad.
He’s not even entirely sure what he’s doing when he lays his hands over the wound. This sure as hell isn’t the first aid his dad taught him, but it feels right, some driving force in his subconscious telling him what to do, and he’s not going to fight it, not with Gabriel’s life on the line. He’ll ask the questions later, freak out about all of it later.
Right now, there’s only this. Gabriel, and him, and the bond, and as Dean spreads his fingers, as they’re quickly coated in sticky crimson blood, he feels the tie between them, stronger than he ever has.
He floods the bond with everything he has, all the energy and emotion he can feel swirling inside him. Doesn’t allow himself to think or to wonder or to move beyond pushing more, deeper, harder, everything…
It’s his life force he feeds to Gabriel, his strength he gives. He gives, and he gives, and he keeps giving, not even opening his eyes, not willing to let himself see…
Hands suddenly grasp his arms, just as spots are beginning to dance behind his eyelids and his body feels heavy with a weight he doesn’t understand. He thinks he hears yelling, thinks he can feel something clenching tightly around his heart, something that feels like fear, or wonder, or an emotion he refuses to put a name to. He tries to open his eyes, to tell whoever is yelling to go away, because he has to save him, has to…
Darkness claims him.
Dean drifts. He’s caught in a void, a deep abyss of nothingness, but it’s not bad. It’s calm, it’s peaceful, and Dean allows himself to rest as he floats along the edges of something beyond space, beyond even time.
It takes him a while to feel the first faint tickles against his soul. Flickers of something, someone, but it’s impossible to remember who, or how, or why, and it’s even harder to bring himself to care. The darkness is cool and soothing.
He thinks of the word ‘home’, but can’t recall its importance. He has a home to go back to, he knows, it’s with…someone…but he can’t remember what that means, can’t recall what ‘brother’ should mean to him, when that’s the word that comes to mind.
More flickers follow, growing frantic, bright colorbursts behind his eyes, and a voice, a voice he can almost hear, can almost understand if he listens just a little harder…
But he’s tired, and it’s so comfortable here…
Dean! Dean, damn you, come back to me!
He winces, it’s so loud, and he can’t make sense of what it means, he doesn’t want to. Why won't this voice leave him alone, why…
Don’t you leave me and Cas and Sam here to rot. We need you, damn it. We need you here, and I’m not ready to have to bring your ass to Heaven so soon! Please, Dean…please don’t leave Sammy. Don’t leave me.
Sam. Sammy. That name, familiar, meaningful. Everything, except maybe not quite, because the voice means something too, means…
Dean Winchester! You will come back to me, and you will come NOW.
A hard pull, deep inside, a feeling he can’t ignore, an order he is bound to obey, a master he’s grown to…
Dean Winchester opens his eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Sammy.”
“Dean. You’re being ridiculous.”
“I said no.”
“Damn it, you almost died for him! I think that deserves, at the very least, a conversation with your brother about why!”
Dean flinches at the reminder of just how close it had actually been. Saving Gabriel’s life had almost cost him his own, and he hadn’t cared, would gladly have died if it meant the archangel was safe.
And he can blame it on the bond all he wants, but the truth is, what he’d been feeling in those few aching, desperate moments had been all him. He’s self-aware enough to know that much, at least.
Sam squeezes his shoulder, and Dean gives a long-suffering sigh as he rolls over on the bed to face his annoying little brother. It’s been three days, and he’s barely been allowed to get up to even go to the bathroom, but he’s starting to feel stronger. Strong enough to at least throw a bitch-face to rival any that he’s ever seen Sam make.
Sam, of course, ignores it. “Why did you do it?” he asks, his tone calm and sure, like he already knows the answer and is just waiting for Dean to validate it.
“I had to,” Dean answers stubbornly. “The bond –”
“It doesn’t force you to die for him,” Sam says, a knowing gleam in his eye. “I asked Cas, and double-checked with Bobby for good measure. It also wouldn’t be the reason he sat by that bed for days trying to pull you back, or why he had tears in his eyes practically the whole time, even though he has access to your soul no matter where it goes now.”
Dean growls. “Damn it, Sam.”
“Tell me why.”
“He’s the only way I stay out of –”
Sam grabs him by the arm painfully hard, his eyes flinty. “Stop lying to me. I thought we were past that!”
Dean wrenches away, stares up at the ceiling. “Why are you pushing this?” he asks.
Sam is quiet for a long moment before he stands. Gazing down at Dean, he says, “You know, Dean, you’re going to be stuck with him for the rest of time, no matter what. Maybe you haven’t grasped how huge that is, but I can guarantee you he has. Forever is a hell of a long time. It wouldn’t actually be a terrible thing if you went and fell for the guy sometime between now and then.” And then the little bastard turns and leaves, closing the door quietly behind him.
Dean wishes he had something heavier to throw than a pillow.
He only realizes he must have fallen asleep when he’s waking up again and the house has gone dark and nearly silent. He’s shaking off the dream of being wrapped in angel wings, a goddamn cliché if he's ever heard one, and it takes him several moments to realize he’s not alone in the room. Habit has him reaching for his gun between one breath and the next, but the only beings he knows of who move so soundlessly are angels.
“Gabriel?” he questions, softly.
There’s a rustle of cloth, and Castiel steps into the very dim light coming in from the window. “Sorry to disappoint,” he says, lips twitching.
Dean rolls his eyes, relaxing. “Hey, Cas. What’s goin’ on?” He struggles to sit up, glares when Castiel steps forward and pins him with a too-strong grip on his shoulder. He’s getting damn sick of being kept in this fucking bed.
“Something is happening in Heaven,” Castiel murmurs. “I wanted to warn you, because I think it may somehow be related to your deal.” Dean’s blood runs cold, and he has to force himself to remember that he’s safe now. Safe always, as long as Gabriel is around. “There are channels open that should not be, lines of communication between Heaven and Hell. Someone is contacting the demons on a regular basis, and throughout the last few days, it’s been getting worse. Far more constant.”
“Could Raphael be trying to get the demons to join up with his army? Maybe getting ready for the big show-down?”
Castiel hesitates. “In another time, I would have said that Raphael would rather die than lower himself to such measures. Now, I simply cannot be sure. But Dean, be careful. Even Gabriel is having a hard time learning anything new, and I…worry.”
Dean’s heart clenches at the sentiment. “I’ll watch my back,” he promises. “Make sure you do the same.”
“Of course.” There’s that half-smile again, that expression that belongs solely to Castiel and always makes Dean outright grin. “I must return. Either Gabriel or I will do our best to keep you and Sam updated. You have my word.”
It’s more than they usually get, and Dean would thank the angel if he weren’t already gone.
Gabriel’s emotions are all over the place, so Dean’s emotions are even more all over the place. He lasts maybe another two hours in bed before he becomes too restless to stand it anymore, and then, despite the clock telling him it’s Way Too Early – or Late, depending on your point of view – he levers himself up and down the stairs and outside.
The Impala sits right where she always does when they’re at Bobby’s, gleaming and beautiful as only his girl can be. He pulls the door open, smiling fondly at the sound she makes, and climbs into the driver’s seat.
The steering wheel is smooth and worn beneath his fingertips, as familiar to him as the back of his hand, and he breathes in deeply at the feel of it.
Right now, Gabriel is nervous and anxious in a way Dean’s never felt before, and Loki is wary but excited to find out what’s coming, and both sides are feeling fiercely protective, and it all leaves Dean totally on edge, more than he already would be otherwise. And the waiting is going to kill him.
But here, in this car, the only thing he ever had resembling a home… Here, he can breathe.
So that’s exactly what he does, until the sun starts coming up over the horizon, and Bobby’s grumbling drifts out of an open window, and Sam’s answering laughter finally draws him back inside.
It was probably – okay, definitely – a stupid move, taking a case after Castiel’s warning. But, well, no one’s ever accused the Winchester brothers of doing the smart thing when lives other than theirs were on the line.
A warehouse full of innocent people, some of which included kids… Yeah, it was a flashing neon sign yelling TRAP! But it was still something they had to do.
Now, the people are out and Sam and Dean are, of course, trapped, and there’s a heaviness in the air, a weight that means something bad is coming. He shoots a glance at his baby brother, sees Sam looking back, and a lifetime of codes and signs and soundless communications flash through both their minds, but it’s too late. It’s too late, because when Dean pivots, takes a step toward the wall on the other side of the room, knife already moving to his arm as he tries to remember the fastest way to construct a devil’s trap, the demon is already there. Her voice freezes him cold.
“Tsk tsk, Dean, gonna have to move faster than that next time.”
Dean turns to face Meg head-on. “I should’ve fucking known.”
She smirks, holds her hand out and squeezes it into a fist. Gasping, Sam and Dean both drop to their knees, unable to move even the barest inch. “Unfortunately I don’t have time today to engage in our usual verbal intercourse, but baby, you know I would if I could.” Beside her, something growls, and the cold pit in Dean’s stomach churns. Hellhounds. She bends down, speaking to the invisible thing at her side even as she winks at Dean. “Get him.”
Sam yells, and Dean braces himself, ready to feel the weight shove him the rest of the way to the ground as teeth and claws shred at his insides. He’s so ready for it he can’t breathe, so when nothing happens, it comes as a shock.
A welcome shock, he’ll admit, but a shock nevertheless.
Meg stands slowly, her eyes piercing as they travel over him. He’s pleased to note that she looks pissed. “What did you do?” she demands. “Why won’t they attack?”
They? he wonders, swallowing.
She scowls harder, drawing a wicked-looking blade from her boot. “Doesn’t matter. More hands-on just means more fun.” Her lips twist.
Gabriel… Dean thinks, his thoughts centered on the bond. He prays Gabriel will be able to hear him. Remember the part where you’re supposed to be keeping my ass from these fuckers?
Meg lunges at him, her eyes fierce, and no matter how hard Dean struggles, he can’t move at all, and he’s going to be forced to kneel here and watch as she draws back, as that blade pierces into him, as –
There’s a rush of wind, a burning light, the sound of metal striking metal, and a dark voice – Loki’s voice. “I dare you to raise one finger against that which is mine.”
It’s all about the timing, Sugar, is what Dean hears in his thoughts, and he’s never felt so relieved, so thankful for Gabriel’s voice as he does right at that second.
There’s a snap of fingers, and just as Meg is crying out in pure rage, the bonds keeping Sam and Dean held release, and they both topple forward and scramble to their feet.
“It doesn’t matter,” Meg says, backing away from the archangel clearly getting ready to smite the crap out of her. “It doesn’t matter,” she repeats, and closes her eyes, and cries out the Enochian word for summoning before any of them can move to stop her.
Raphael and Castiel appear together, and Dean sees Sam with his head bent, one fist clenched over his chest, mouth moving in what Dean recognizes to be prayer. When Castiel arrives, it’s to Sam his eyes go first, even as Raphael is assessing the situation.
It is Raphael, because when his eyes find Dean, there’s no mistaking that expression, even if he wears a new face with light hair and fair skin and almond-shaped eyes. There aren’t many angels who have ever looked at Dean with that level of hatred. “What is this?” he asks, gaze shooting to Gabriel. His eyes go wide. “It can’t be.”
A pang of longing, of brotherhood, shoots through Dean just before it’s firmly squashed beneath the title of god Gabriel has made his own. “I beg to differ," Gabriel says, too calm. “It very definitely can and is, despite your best efforts. I suggest you leave, brother. You’re not getting your Righteous Man.”
Raphael snarls, his eyes shooting over to Dean and zeroing in on the hunter's arm. Dean realizes the sleeve is torn, the blended Enochian and Norse claiming mark clearly visible. What was already an angry growl turns into a sound of pure, rage-filled hatred.
Meanwhile, things are adding up in Dean’s head. Meg, a Lucifer loyalist bent on bringing her master back. Raphael, an angel who wants the apocalypse more than anything. They’d need to break the first seal all over again, and of course they’d need a righteous man to do it.
Dean’s return didn’t make his contract invalid, and his reasoning was just as firm as it had always been. He’d done it once, he could do it again.
Meg and Raphael, working together.
Meg stands, awaiting her orders, and Raphael gives them without preamble, his voice controlled now in a way his eyes aren't. “The elder is off-limits while bound, but the youngest has no such protection.” Her mouth curves as he looks back to Gabriel. “I’ll kill this thing that thinks it’s a god and then you’ll have your pet back in your clutches.” So saying, he draws his blade just as a half-dozen more angels appear and surround a furious-looking Castiel.
There’s a rough barking, and Sam’s backing away from something neither of the brothers can see while clutching at his chest, breathing hard while…
…Loki is at the forefront of Gabriel’s mind even as he brings out the archangel’s sword, lips twisted into something hard and nasty while facing down his brother, and…
…he and Raphael are lunging at each other, lightning and grace and wings and…
…Meg is cackling as Castiel fights for his life in front of him while her hound is stalking Sam and…
…is shining, grace-bright and ethereal and beautiful…
And the blade that appears in his outstretched hand could rival any of the other archangel’s.
Sam’s hand presses to her forehead and destroys Meg and her hellhound at the same moment as Gabriel’s – Loki’s – Gabriel’s sword slices into Raphael’s vessel, and there’s light, so much light, but Dean doesn’t have time to duck because he’s already grabbing up the fallen archangel’s sword and rushing to Castiel’s side. Castiel, who’s already managed to best two of the angels but is still outnumbered and losing ground.
A blur of time, a rush of moments, fragments of images…
All he knows is that when it’s over, they’ve won.
And all any of them can do is stare as blades clatter to the ground and the world regains some sort of meaning.
Immediately after, Sam locks himself away in the panic room, won’t talk to any of them, won’t even look them in the eyes. Dean watches as he curls up on the threadbare cot and begins to shake, and then he turns his incredulous eyes on the two angels standing silently by his side.
Castiel doesn’t even look at him. He pushes his way into the room, sits down by Sam’s side, and brings Dean's brother into a bone-crushing hug that has Sam crying out, trying to get loose.
Castiel’s furious whisper is loud enough to reach Dean’s ears, just as he feels Gabriel’s hand take his own, their fingers threading together like it’s something they’ve always done.
“You are not Lucifer, Sam. You are nothing like Lucifer, and I will not have you doing this to yourself now. Not after everything.”
“But I –”
Castiel pulls back, just far enough to pin Sam with his gaze. “Whatever bit of grace he’s left with you is no more tainted than you yourself make it. It is yours now, and has just as much potential for the good I know is inside you as it ever did for Lucifer’s evil. You are still you, Samuel Winchester.”
“But the wall –”
“It remains intact.” Castiel’s hands are brushing up and down Sam’s arms now, a soothing gesture Dean wouldn’t have necessarily thought the angel capable of. “It blocks the memories, but the grace that resides in my blood obviously released the grace Lucifer left within you. I’m only sorry none of us recognized it sooner. It was probably that bit of grace that made the wall so unstable to begin with.”
“I –” Sam looks lost, eyes too wide and too bright, hands clenched against his sides, throat working against whatever emotions are crowded inside him right now.
“You need to rest, Sam, preferably away from this room. You’ve been through much today.”
Finally, Sam can only nod, his eyes closing as he trembles. Castiel draws Sam back into his arms, places the softest of kisses against his lips, to soothe and to quiet him as much as to reassure him, and that's when Dean finally turns away and lets Gabriel take him elsewhere.
“So that was unexpected,” Dean says, flopping down onto the ridiculously large bed behind him. He doesn’t know where they are, but he’s guessing it’s one of Gabriel’s hideaways and that’s good enough for him.
He’s having enough trouble processing the last few hours to be really worried about much else.
“I don’t know how I didn’t sense it,” Gabriel replies, brow furrowed. He’s agitated, as shaken as Dean is, probably more so, given that it’s his fallen brother’s grace suddenly back in play, and right at the time he was forced to kill another brother.
Dean doesn’t know much about the archangels, but he can guess that, as family goes, they must have once been a close-knit group. He wishes there was something he could say, but Gabriel seems to find comfort just in the act of curling into Dean’s arms and sighing into his neck.
“Cas wasn’t hiding anything, was he? Sammy’ll really be okay? This is…I mean…”
“Everything Castiel said was true,” Gabriel promises. “Sam is…well, he’s never really been completely human, you know? Not since Azazel. But the grace itself explains why the demon blood was nowhere to be found when he got out of Hell. And it won’t alter his personality at all, any more than he allows it to. It’s all Sam in there, there’s just a little extra to him, now.”
“So is Sam…what, part angel?”
Gabriel shrugs. “Don’t really know for sure. Never heard of this happening before. But the grace inside him, now that I can see it, is pure. His soul cleaner than I’ve ever seen it. He’ll be okay, Dean. I swear.”
Dean releases a breath, lets some of the tension go with it. He and Sam are going to need to talk, he’s going to need to let Sam know that they’re okay, that he’s still Dean’s little brother. Always.
But it’ll keep, for now. Castiel will make sure Sam rests, Castiel is free now to watch over him, and seems to have the inclination to do so. And meanwhile, Dean has his own partner to look after.
Gabriel blinks, and a sudden pulse of absolute giddiness races through the bond. The archangel shifts so he can slide his eyes up to peer at Dean. “Did you just think of me as your partner?”
The flush happens despite his best efforts, but Dean thinks his cocky grin – way cockier than he actually feels – makes up for it. A little. “Maybe. That a problem?”
There’s that slow curve of his favorite smile, and Gabriel moves to straddle him, his hands curled around Dean’s sides as his eyes flash with a sudden craving Dean feels right down to his marrow. “I never thanked you for saving my life,” he says. Practically purrs.
“I think…saving mine twice kinda…makes up for it.” Dean’s gasping the words out, his eyes closed as every beat of his heart comes accompanied by a deep throb of desire. He’s gotten used to telling Gabriel apart from Loki, but as it turns out, there are times when they’re one and the same, and every feeling is magnified tenfold.
“Yes, I am.” Gabriel responds to the thought, not the spoken words, and Dean shudders. “Your god, in point of fact.” He leans down, brushes his mouth against the pulse point of Dean’s neck. “And maybe it’s high time I showed you how grateful I really am, having you by my side. Having you be mine.”
“That sounds like a good plan.” Dean pushes himself up on his elbows and captures Gabriel’s mouth in a greedy kiss.
He’s stuck with this archangel – this god – for eternity, an amount of time that’s starting to seem far more appealing without the threat of Hell looking over him.
He might as well make the most of it.
~ End ~