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Once And Then

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Once before, Gabriel had seen his brother stand in the face of Judgement. Once before he had seen Lucifer, proud and beautiful and defiant, stand against all enemies, all judgement, all derision, with nothing but contempt, and loss, and desperate defiance. Once before. Once.

And now, this time, again.

This time, though, it was not before their Father's court. This time it was not before the ranks of Heaven, the accusing faces of his brothers, and Yahweh was conspicuous in His absence. No. This time, it was before a court of gods, an alliance of wounded mothers and slaughtered sons, of fathers and husbands and tricksters and death. Not for a shattered Heaven, but for a shattered Earth. For the world they shared between them that Lucifer would destroy, for their blood that stained his hands, for the sake of a game he had no right to end. For the sake of those things, they came to judge, and hold accountable.

What could he say? Gods had always been good at that whole eye-for-an-eye thing.

They'd stopped the Winchesters. Champions, yes, pieces on the board, and it had been Gabriel's plan that sent them here, but this wasn't about games anymore. Gabriel wasn't dead, and Lucifer wasn't playing by the rules, had decided to smash the board, and his god and his goddess had called him to fight, this time. To stand, once again. A voice from Above, calling out to stop a sacrifice. Once before, Gabriel had done that, too.

Abraham ... had taken it considerably better. There were times Gabriel really despaired of the Winchesters. Getting off the hook, for anyone else, would have been a good thing. A reward. Hey, you don't have to die! But they wanted to know why. They wanted to know who would stop Lucifer in their stead.

They wanted to know who the hell else was going to stand up.

Kali had answered them. The Baron had answered them. Janus and Coyote and Ganesh had answered them. Loki had answered them.

And in the end, too ... Gabriel had answered them. In that alley, in the darkness before the dawn, no longer playing games, he had answered.

And now, he stood. His god within, his goddess without. His playmates these long centuries ranged around him. His little brother at his back, a stern and righteous echo of all they had once been, of a court that would never sit again. And the Winchesters. The Champions, in paranoid determination to see this done through, to see it done right, to be sure, this last time, that Gabriel was not playing a trick.

He was. Oh, he was. But not on them. Not this time.

Lucifer glared at them. Smirking, unimpressed. Lucifer had torn them apart, not weeks before, shredding vessels and earthly forms like paper. Destroying Ganesh. The Baron. Odin and Mercury and Loki and Gabriel. Destroying them. Or so he thought. Lucifer, lounging in his tiny room, painting pictures in the frost-work of his frozen heart, looked on them with contempt.

It was Kali who stepped forward. Kali, blue-bright and blood-dark, and softly smiling. Kali who turned, ignoring the Prince of Lies with her son's blood on his hands, and faced Sam Winchester. Faced the human two among them, four rings clenched in his hand, and smiled.

"Draw the gate," she murmured, a bubbling darkness. "I promised Gabriel I would not kill his brother. Draw open the gate to Hell and to his Binding. And I will put him through it."

"Will you now," Lucifer purred, standing and staring down at her with dark interest. "And how, my dear, were you planning to do that?"

"You can't!" Sam said, always the faster of the two in matters like this, always the student, quick off the mark. "It would be the same as Michael fighting him! It'll tear the world apart!"

"Fuck that," Dean chimed in. Succinctly enough, Gabriel thought, and granted the boy silent points for that.

"Well now," Loki murmured through their lips, his god's sly tongue tripping softly, a Trickster softly sneering. "That all depends, doesn't it?" And Gabriel grinned around their mobile mouth, and threaded grace through Loki's soul in sly delight, in black amusement at their game.

"Depends on what?" Lucifer asked, soft and sibilant, resting bright, beautiful eyes upon them. Gabriel flinched, inside. Just a little, for the ache in his chest from the memory of a blade, and Loki curled around him, through him, and quivered with a jotun's anger at what had slain them.

And then, slowly, gracefully, like the moving of mountains, Kali stepped forward once more. Kali, the Destroyer, wearing no human form now, but the full Incarnation of all she was, shining blue-black in the darkness, with eyes of blood and a lolling, laughing tongue. Kali, the goddess, the warrior, the mother and protector. Kali, who had seen her son destroyed. Kali, who had seen her family murdered. Kali, who had leapt full-formed to the fight, and slain demons with her first breath. Kali, the Destroyer, and the humans turned from the sight of her, cursing in pain from the raw reality of her.

"It depends," she said, with a laughing darkness, "on whether I choose to fight you in this world." A twitch of that laughing tongue, four arms rolling in languid shrug, and then Loki bounced them forward to her, smiled sly-bright beside her, and she turned laughing to him. To them, smiling to Gabriel inside the god. "We are not mortals, or angels, Kinslayer. We are gods."

"And gods have a lot more options," Loki purred, wiggling their fingers in mocking salute.

Lucifer looked at them. Looked at the gods gathered at their back, and the rings clenched in Sam's hand, and the raw, bright darkness that was Kali. Lucifer looked at them. And Lucifer fled.

Tried. Tried to flee. But not now. Not this time.

Coyote tripped him, a flash of movement and the smell of sweetgrass, laughing as he spun from the angel's hands. Castiel, with a slow, thoughtful look on his face, cast a ward of banishing on the outward wall, a quick sketch in his own blood while Gabriel looked on in fascination, and drove the once-archangel back inside. Samedi, solid, immovable, barred the door.

And Kali, bright, beautiful, terrible Kali, seized hold of the Devil's arm, and tugged him to her face. "Stay with us, Morningstar," she hummed, and pressed a searing kiss to his forehead as he struggled. She could not hold him long. Not Lucifer. But she did not have to.

As one, then, they turned to Loki. To Gabriel. To the Trickster and architect, and the pivot of their choice. And Gabriel, with his god inside his breast, with the soul of a jotun stretched to his fingertips, turned and offered his hands to Janus, the god of doorways, and Ganesh, who removed all obstacles from the path. He opened his hands to the gods, and together they drew open their own doorway.

The world twisted, turned upon itself, thinned and frayed into a window, a door. And through it ... For a moment, as it opened, they saw a tree, impossibly vast, stretching above and beneath and around, their world cradled in its branches, their lives hung upon its leaves. For a moment, and then the world tipped downwards, then the door opened lower, past the creeping ice and falling fire, past the dragon gnawing at it's roots, and touched ... something beyond. Some remnant, some shrunken opening, but what rested beyond was vast. What remained was infinite, a shimmering darkness, a yawning void. An opening, to something great beyond.

"... What is it?" whispered Sam, behind them. A human, stunned and hushed, but Gabriel wasn't much better. He was an archangel. He was born to awe.

"We call it Chaos," Janus murmured softly, his very being the door unto its embrace, his faces watching it with soft understanding. "To Kali, it is the Unmanifest. To Gabriel ... Father. But here, in this place and at this door ... it is Ginnungagap. The Yawning Void."

"Raw creation," Kali whispered, falling towards it, tugging the Devil in her wake. "The wellspring. The source." She laughed, turned to her prey. "Fight me there, Morningstar. Fight me over and over, as many times as we may fight and fall, and the world will not fall for it. This Midgard, this Earth, will not be touched. While we fight at the base of creation, our shudders will but gently rock them to sleep."

"No," Lucifer snarled, and wrested himself free. "No! I won't be caged, not by you! I won't play this game!"

"Why not!" Gabriel snapped, sheared past rage by the throbbing memory in his chest, the ache of a brother's blade. "So happy to see us play yours, brother! Don't like it when the tables turn?" He grinned, a hard, savage expression, one he'd learned from the god within his breast, one he wore with Loki's black approval. "Well, too bad. That's what Tricksters are for, bro. To make the tables turn. And this time ... This time, Lucy, the trick is most definitely on you ..."

"Don't do this," Lucifer pleaded, switching suddenly from arrogant archangel to desperate brother, hiding the hate in his eyes under soft supplication, the very prince of lies. Gabriel knew it. With the memory of a blade, he did know it. But oh, how his heart shuddered with that look. How he longed to reach out. "Brother, if you let them do this, she'll kill me!"

"She will not," the Baron rumbled suddenly. The loa moved forward, his skull gleaming beneath his skin, his essence shining out from the man he rode. The Baron moved forward, and smiled. "You caged Death once," he said, spitting to the side. "Chained him, forced him to take lives before their time. Have to tell you, petit, he be real unhappy with you right now." He grinned, a skull's grin, nodding to Kali. "So I won't be digging no graves this day. Death, he won't be touching you. She may destroy you as many times as she please, tear you to pieces and shovel them through the hole if she want. You'll live. Whatever happens. You'll live."

"Jesus," Dean Winchester said, very quietly, in the background, and Gabriel smiled an old, sad smile.

"No-one ever said mercy had to be kind," he whispered softly, looking into his brother's eyes, seeing, for the first time, the fear in them. "Didn't you remember that, Lucy? He can take, and He can give, but no-one ever said He had to be nice about it. Don't you remember, Lucifer?"

"Let me go," Lucifer asked, very quietly, very softly. "Brother, please. Let me go. I can't be caged again. I won't be caged again. Kill me, if you want, but please ... don't do this. Not this."

And it was Castiel, soft and puzzled, Castiel who asked, with the quiet, terrible simplicity of thought that made him one of the most dangerous angels Gabriel had ever seen:

"Why not?"