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Crawling Through the Last Damnation

Chapter Text

Don't cry. Don't fucking cry. You can't fall apart now. There's work to do.

Sam repeated the mantra in his head until it turned rhythmic. Still, his hands were shaking as he pushed open the door to the outside. He was walking willingly into a horde of demons. More specifically, he was walking into a horde of demons without Dean.

Sam twitched as he considered grabbing the demon blade tucked in his coat pocket, but he decided against it. The demons were there to help him with the Leviathans; he had no reason to threaten them. Anyway, if they wanted to him take him down, they had the numbers to do it with very little effort. Sam didn't consider that the worst possible outcome.

Grouped behind the front gate of Sucrocorp were a hundred bodies, staring up at him through a hundred pairs of unblinking black eyes. Sam shuddered, then drew himself to full height, and let his voice boom authoritatively over the crowd.

"Dick Roman is dead." A pause, to let the words sink in. "The Leviathans are inside. They don't know what to do without a leader. We need to make damn sure we take them all down before they figure it out."

Sam indicated a section of the group. "Find machetes, knives, anything sharp enough to take a head off. Also find borax. You are going to throw borax on anyone you come in contact with and make sure they are really a chomper before you harm them. They've been running experiments here, and some people in there might be human. If you come across any humans, you let them go." He made sure his tone left no room for argument.

"If you encounter a Leviathan, separate the head from the body, put it in a bag, and bring it back here. We're going to make sure the heads end up as far away from the rest of these guys as possible."

"You," Sam indicated another part of the crowd, "are going to blow up the Sucrocorp laboratory."

"Why would we bother with that?" a demon up front demanded.

The phrase"because I made a promise"died on Sam's tongue.

"They've been doing work here that should never see the light of day," he said instead. "Believe me when I say this is in everyone's best interest. You have your assignments. Come report to me when you're done."

To his amazement, the demons obediently broke into their groups and headed towards the front door in an efficient and orderly fashion. Sam trusted that Crowley had given him a capable work force, so he left them to do what they did best. He had something more urgent to attend to.

A screech came from the shadows and Dean fumbled back against a tree. His breath was coming in gasps, and he couldn't see anything but the occasional glow of red eyes flashing between the branches. His skin prickled. There was a low growl somewhere nearby, and Dean swore he felt something breathing down the back of his neck, but when he spun around to face it there was nothing there.

With a shudder, Dean pressed his back flush against the tree beside him, and squeezed his eyes shut briefly to collect himself.

"Crossing purgatory off my list of honeymoon destinations," he muttered to himself. "Dammit Cas, where are you?"

There was a loud snap! and Dean grabbed a branch off the ground to defend himself. Castiel's parting words echoed in his mind:It's more likely we'll be ripped to shreds. Well, that was fine for the broken angel, but Dean wasn't going out that easy. He definitely wasn't going to go out being hunted like some common freak.

The growl was right beside him this time, and Dean swung blindly in the direction of the sound. The branch made hard contact with something, and that something got pissed. There was a snarl and the snap of teeth. Dean turned and found himself face to face with a very angry looking wolf.

Dean swore and swung his stick again. The blow caught the wolf -"Werewolf, probably, "Dean's brain registered - across her muzzle, and she whimpered slightly before rounding back and grabbing the branch with a determined bite. Eyes wide with terror, Dean planted his feet and pulled back, but the wolf dislodged the weapon from his hands with a few easy shakes of her head and tossed it. Her eyes locked with his, and she bared her teeth and snarled before advancing on him.

Suddenly, there was a familiar rustling sound, and a flash of light. The wolf whined and fell over, a long blade protruding from her side.

"Cas," Dean breathed his name, relief surging through him at the familiarity of the tattered trenchcoat. Then his eyes fell to the object in Castiel's hand. "Is that an angel blade? Where did you get that? Where the hell have you been?"

"The blade was here. I don't know how or why." Castiel stepped forward and withdrew the blade from the body, wiping the blood off on a nearby plant as he did so. "Angels don't go to Purgatory. Some other creature must have fallen with the blade in hand. I heard it calling to me and went to retrieve it. I thought you'd be able to manage on your own for a few minutes."

His eyes flicked down to the werewolf corpse, and he let the "apparently not" remain unspoken between them.

Dean shifted awkwardly and nodded his thanks. "Right, well you didn't happen to stumble upon a super juiced up weapon for me too, did you?"

"I did not. You will have to rely on your wit and cunning for the time being."

Dean threw Castiel a glare before bending over to pick up the stick from where the wolf had dropped it. With a grimace, he poked at her body, still lying in a heap on the ground.

"Is she really dead?"

"No," Castiel answered. "Beasts of Purgatory never actually die. They tear each other apart, then come back to do it again, a little more broken than before." He looked sadly down at the fallen wolf. "In effect, every time you kill a monster here, you're just creating a worse one."

"But that's not all bad, is it?" Dean asked. "It means we can't die."

"You and I don't belong here. Our spirits - soul, grace, whatever they may be at this point - are not designed to acclimate to this world. If we die here, we die for good. No heaven, no hell, no second chances. Just oblivion."

"Well then that sounds like something to avoid." Dean sighed and took a moment to digest his surroundings. "No use standing here like sitting ducks waiting for she-wolf to wake up. Let's pick a direction and start walking."

Castiel looked from the stick in Dean's hand to the sword in his own.

"Perhaps it would be best if I walked ahead."

"Yeah why don't you do that," Dean muttered. Castiel oriented them, and they started deeper into the forests of the damned, with Dean throwing bitchfaces at the back of the angel's sassy, self-righteous head.

The Impala sat patiently where Meg had left it, surrounded by broken glass. Sam stepped gingerly around the shards, his hand sliding across her body in an almost soothing motion as he bent down to inspect the damage. Not bad, all things considered. Her front left headlight was shattered, and there was some pretty serious denting on the hood and bumper, but it all looked superficial. It seemed like Meg knew how to crash a car with class.

Meg, right, he should figure out what happened to her.

Sam slipped into the driver's side of the Impala, grunted in annoyance when he had to adjust the seat, closed his hands around the wheel, and inhaled deeply. He had missed this car. She was Dean's baby, sure, but she was the only home Sam had ever really known. This was where the Winchester boys had grown up, and, come to think of it, the Winchester men had done a fair bit of growing up in these seats as well. Sam's chest ached as his eyes fell on Dean's cassette collection. He wondered briefly if Dean and Baby had gotten a chance to say goodbye.

Sam turned the key that was dangling forgotten in the ignition, and the engine began to purr softly in response. There was comfort in the smooth vibration of the seat, but Sam couldn't bring himself to smile.

"Going somewhere?"

Sam jumped. His hand automatically went to the butt of his holstered gun, and it was halfway drawn before he processed the sight of an unarmed girl standing next to the open window of the car. He relaxed, though not completely. He recognized her; he'd seen her only moments before.

"No, I'm not. I just wanted to make sure she was all right."

A smirk pulled at the girl's lips, and she flicked her dark brown eyes down the length of the Impala.

"She? A bit attached aren't we? It's just a car."

"She's my brother's car," Sam corrected. "And she's important. I don't expect you to understand. You don't strike me as the caring type."

"Rude," she quipped, but her voice held the faintest trace of laughter, and her eyes danced as Sam stepped out of the car and stood over her.

"Oh yeah? How old is that girl you're riding? Seventeen? I might care too much, but at least I care about something."

"Demon," was her reply. She blacked her eyes to make the point. "Empathy isn't really in the job description."

Sam frowned at her but said nothing, just leaned back against the Impala and did his best to look threatening and nonplussed.

"You can call me Arin, since you didn't ask." Sam didn't respond. "And you're Sam Winchester. They used to tell us stories about you. Lucifer's vessel. You were going to help lead an army out of hell. The Boy King, our great salvation. Lucifer valued you so. Your charisma, your intuition, that great mind. Seeing you in front of that crowd, I can see why he did. You're so like him, Sam. They saw it too."

"They're all following Crowley's orders," Sam retorted.

"No," Arin persisted. "You spoke to them as a leader."

"I'm not your leader," Sam hissed. "And I've been entangled with enough blonde demon bitches for a lifetime, so you can save it."

"Fine," Arin said with a shrug. "I wouldn't trust me either, I get it. Mostly I'm curious though. You rally demons to fight your monsters for you, and then sulk off to sit by yourself in a broken car. One might be led to think the man doesn't fit the legend."

Sam met her eyes, regarded her with a calculating stare. Her eyes were brown again, and Sam processed for the first time her demure smile, the way she had her white gold hair pinned back from her face. Arin held herself with just enough poise to come off as innocent, though there was a subtle snark about her that betrayed the blackness in her heart. Manipulative, Sam's brain finally settled on the right word. This girl was a master manipulator, and Sam really wasn't in the mood to have his strings pulled.

"What are you fishing for?" he asked.

"I know you aren't hiding. I think you're plotting. I just want to know what. We already have the Leviathans."

"I'm not plotting anything."

"Please." Arin tilted her head condescendingly.

"Why do you care?"

"Why I care isn't your concern. But I am about to walk in and take down a bunch of creatures that can kill beings a lot more powerful than me without batting an eye. I think you could spare me a little honesty."

Sam clenched and unclenched his jaw. "My brother is gone. Crowley has him, or at the very least knows where he is."

Arin nodded. "I don't doubt it. Crowley knows everything."

"I need him to tell me."

"And how exactly do you plan on squeezing that information out of our beloved king?" Arin asked.

"Haven't gotten that far." Sam pushed off the car and gave her a curt nod. "But when I do I'm sure you'll be the first to know."

"Sam!" Arin called after his retreating form. He pretended not to hear her.

Castiel was a soldier.

Castiel was a lot of things, but he had been a soldier first. Even with a few screws loose, he could still rouse at the battle drums if he was needed. He had proven that much with Dick Roman. Purgatory was hissing like a furnace from the shadows in every direction, waiting to descend on them, waiting for one of them to let their guard down. Castiel didn't care much about his own life at this point, but he had no intention of leaving his friend to fight the shadows alone.

The show of loyalty was not lost on Dean. He followed Castiel closely, stick clutched firmly in his hand, feeling for the first time in a long time like he had an angel watching over him again. Maybe he was a little rough around the edges, but Castiel was there, weapon in hand, shoulders hunched, jaw set, and there was no one Dean would rather be stuck in this other worldly abyss with. Sam perhaps, but the shadows howled and he really couldn't bring himself to wish Sam was with them. At the very least Sam was safer where he was.


Castiel stopped short and his hand reached back to press against Dean's chest. Dean stopped obediently.

"What is it?"

Castiel shushed him.


Castiel kept looking forward, his neck tense, his ear twitching slightly like he was registering a sound outside Dean's range of hearing.

"To your right."

Dean swung without a second thought. Whatever he was swinging at managed to duck, and then kicked hard against Dean's hand. With a cry he'd never admit to making, Dean let go of the stick he was brandishing and it fell to the forest floor with a soft thud. Damn it, he was getting really sick of these freaks disarming him.

The snarky thought cost Dean enough time for said freak to grab his wrist, and twist it up behind his back. A second hand wound around his throat. Castiel stepped forward, knife poised threateningly at Dean's captor, but Dean saw the slightest bit of uncertainty flash in the angel's eyes. He wasn't going to attack, not while Dean was being used as a shield.

"Call off your dog, Winchester." A voice hissed in Dean's ear. He knew that voice. God damn it. No. Not him.

"Gordon?" Dean asked, trying to twist his head around to see if he was right. He gave up and looked ahead to meet Castiel's eyes. "It's ok, Cas. I think." Castiel lowered his blade, but didn't take his murderous eyes off of the thing manhandling Dean. "Gordon, is that you?"

The hands holding Dean captive let go, and Dean stepped quickly over to where Castiel was, rubbing his wrist with annoyance. His eyes blinked rapidly as he tried to convince himself that it was not Gordon Walker, standing in front of him grinning like a hungry wolf. Well, hungry vampire, technically.

"Dean Winchester," Gordon crowed. "Is that really you? My my, what mess do you have yourself in this time?"

His eyes fell to the blade in Castiel's hand.

"And what are you doing with my knife?"

Sam stood with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans as the demons began to pile bags containing Leviathan heads in a small mountain at his feet. Each demon looked at him for approval as they made their offering, and he gave each one a nod before they went back to work.

It shouldn't feel like such a dizzying rush, Sam knew, but he couldn't help it. He was getting off on the power trip. Every dirty piranha that a demon split in two was falling in his brother's name. These demons that he'd hunted, and been hunted by, were willingly and obediently following his orders. He knew why, of course - Crowley's command, common enemy and all that - but seeing these dirty cockroaches all but on their knees for him? Yeah, Sam liked that a little bit.

Somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, Lucifer laughed gleefully.

"Winchester." Sam turned and saw a well-dressed demon coming towards him with a file in his hand. "We found this in Dick Roman's office. It seems like most of the Leviathan were here today, but there's a few dozen still scattered around the world, mostly in major cities."

Sam nodded, giving the file a cursory perusal. "Organize a few teams to take them out, but be discreet. Some of these guys have taken on big name faces. We don't want to cause a global panic."

The demon didn't seem too concerned with the concept of a global panic, but he agreed anyway. "The explosives team also says the lab is ready to go."

"Take the bodies these heads came from, and put them in the lab," Sam directed. "And then bring the detonator to me."

Most of the demons scattered to take care of the remaining Leviathan, but fifteen or twenty still remained by the time the makeshift bomb switch was pushed into Sam's hand. Arin, he realized, was not among the crowd. He tried not to let himself dwell on it.

"All right," Sam called out to his small but attentive audience. "You guys ready to see a show?"

He thumbed the trigger for a moment, the smallest trace of a smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

"This one's for Kevin Tran," he said so quietly he was sure no one else could hear him. "Advanced placement."

And then he pushed the button.

The explosion was deafening. Warmth washed over Sam's face even from where he stood, and he could feel the winds pushing his hair back. It was beautiful. Smoke rolled from the windows in huge fiery clouds, flames leaped into the air, and loud groans sounded forth as the foundation of the building started to weaken from the blast. The mission was successful. The Leviathans were dead, the lab was burned, Dick Roman's empire had fallen.

Sam turned back his entourage and gave them a stone-faced nod of appreciation.

"You guys did great, thank you. Do something with these heads, pour them in concrete, put them at the bottom of the ocean, I don't care. Be creative; just get them far from here. Otherwise, our work here is done."

The demons nodded and dispersed. Sam looked up at the ruins of the Sucrocorp lab once more, smiled, then headed back in the direction of the Impala.

The closest motel was about a fifteen minute drive away, but Sam didn't remember the trip. He didn't remember paying for his room. He didn't remember what name he had given them - that was something he should try to recall at some point - or whether or not he'd gotten dinner on the way back. All he knew was that he was now standing in the middle of a motel room, duffel bag slung around his shoulder, staring down at two beds.

He had gotten a double room. Of course he had. That's what happens when you let yourself go on autopilot, habit wins out. Sam thought about going back and asking for a single instead, but he honestly couldn't remember what name he'd checked in under, and he really didn't feel like explaining his mistake to the receptionist. They'd probably charged him already, anyway.

Sam walked over to the bed farthest from the door and put his duffel bag down on it before kicking off his shoes and curling up above the covers on the other bed. Dean always put himself closest to the door, ever since they were kids. If anything came bursting in, he was going to make sure he was the first line of defense. He would stop it before it got to Sammy; that was his job. At this point Sam didn't even know if that was still a conscious thought, but that was still how they slept.

Now, Sam laid there fully dressed with his arms wrapped around what would have been Dean's pillow. He pulled a knife from his jacket pocket and stuck it underneath the other pillow, under his head, where he could draw it easily if by some chance he needed to. He doubted he would. Still, always prepared.

With that thought, the tears started falling from Sam's eyes. He choked out a loud sob, not needing to worry if anyone heard him. No one was around to care.

Dean picked his stick up, with the intention of using it to violently smash in every one of Gordon's fangs.

Gordon laughed. "All right big guy, you'll have plenty of time for that. How about first I show you guys the way to some shelter?"

"What shelter?" Dean demanded, fixing his grasp on the stick in his hand. "This place doesn't seem to be swimming with convenient hidey holes."

"Convenient, maybe not. But there's always a place to hide if you know where to look."

A look passed between Dean and Castiel, but both knew they were in no position to argue. There were unseen beasts in every direction, and there was no use in waiting around for them to pick up the smell of fresh meat. Still, there was hesitation in Dean's eyes as he silently begged Castiel to think up an alternative. Gordon could be leading them anywhere, but after a long moment of silence, they both agreed with a short nod that it couldn't be anywhere worse than where they already were.

"Thank you," Castiel said finally.

"Yeah well you can thank me when we get there in one piece. Fall in line and keep your guard up. I've got a set up not far from here."

Dean and Castiel obediently - albeit begrudgingly on Dean's part - positioned themselves behind Gordon and held their respective weapons at the ready. As Gordon started to lead them down the path, Dean had the presence of mind to make introductions.

"This is Cas, by the way," Dean said, indicating the angel on his right. "Castiel, to you. Cas this is Gordon. He' old friend of the family."

"Castiel," Gordon repeated thoughtfully. "I know that name. I've heard whispers of you around these parts. You're an angel."

"I am," Castiel confirmed. Gordon let out a dark chuckle.

"Angels. That's something I never came across in my day. Can I ask you something?"

Castiel grimaced, though only Dean saw it. "I expect you're going to either way."

"All the hell that was loose on God's green earth - if angels exist, which apparently they do, thought I can't say understand the wardrobe." He cast a glance down Castiel's white hospital scrubs. "Where the hell were you guys?"

"As a general population angels are what you might call...giant dicks," Dean explained with his usual tact. "I just lucked out and apparently my personal angel has a rebellious streak."

"So Dean Winchester gets a messenger of God on his shoulder, and me and my sister get this." Gordon's tone remained even, but Dean could observe the tension building in his shoulders. "Can't say I'm on board with this God character."

"We're not heading up his fan club at this point either," Dean agreed. "Did you ever find her, your sister?"

"Once. I had to let her go. By the time I got here she was too late. She's somewhere in the shadows now."

No one said anything for the rest of the walk.

Gordon's shelter turned out to be a small cave carved into the side of a hill. Some brush blocked the entrance, and Gordon pushed it aside to let Dean and Castiel enter, then replaced it behind him.

It didn't look like much from the outside, but the inside of the cave was enough to get a low whistle out of Dean. The place was fully stocked and loaded. Piles of food had accumulated against the back wall, and the two remaining walls were covered with every kind of weapon you could imagine, all held in place with makeshift twine.

"Quite an arsenal you've collected here," Dean complimented. "Where'd you even get all of these?"

"Oh here and there," Gordon answered. "Some I made, some I found. I'm always expanding my collection." His eyes fell hungrily to the blade in Castiel's hand.

"This belonged to one of my brothers," Castiel said firmly. "It is staying with me."

"I have no quarrel with you, angel. If it's important to you, you can keep it." Castiel nodded his thanks. Gordon shrugged and added: "A Leviathan fell with it in hand awhile ago. I tried to use it on a shifter and I guess it got lost in the shuffle somewhere. I'm glad you recovered it; I'd rather you have it than one of those things out there. That's a powerful blade."

"A Leviathan?" Dean asked.

"Leviathans can kill angels," Castiel reminded him. Dean didn't miss the sad gaze Castiel cast down on the blade as he cradled it more gently now in his grasp.

"Leviathan can kill anything," Gordon added. "We were lucky to be rid of them. A few fall here and there, my best guess is that they're killing each other when they do. For the most part they're your problem now. Or, whoever's left up there."

Dean and Castiel exchanged a look, and Dean felt his heart ache. Sammy.

Gordon sat down on the floor of the cave and looked up at Dean expectantly. "So how'd you end up here, anyway?"

"That's a really good question," Dean answered. "The best I can figure, we took a wrong turn somewhere."

"Funny," said Gordon. "I hate to tell you this, Dean, but funny won't help you here."

Dean's responding smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "And what will help me here, Gordon? You?"

"I was considering it."

"And why would you do that?"

"What are you, Gordon?" Castiel cut in. "You aren't like the lost souls out in those woods. There's a...sanity, about you."

Dean rolled his eyes and ran a hand over his face. "Well, sure. If I wasn't in the Twilight Zone before..."

"It's simple, angel," Gordon replied, casting a glower in Dean's direction. "Those souls have all been ripped to shreds countless times."

"What?" Dean interjected. "You're telling me in all the time you've been in Purgatory, you've never died?"

"Never once."


Castiel tilted his head at Gordon and chewed the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. "I believe he's telling the truth, Dean."

Gordon grinned, and Dean shuddered at the sight of his fangs.

"You don't get it. Life here is just one big hunt, Dean. And I am a fantastic hunter."

"And I'm the one that hunted you, you bastard - " Dean advanced threateningly at Gordon until Castiel stepped between them, and grabbed Dean by the arms to slow him down.


"No Cas, this guy is crazy."

"Dean," Castiel said again, trying to get the hunter to focus on him. "You need to listen to me. We need to listen to him. I am not going to continue fighting for your life if you aren't fighting for it as well."

It was a lie, they both knew that, but Dean got the point. He stepped back and settled for glaring at Gordon menacingly.

"You're going to have to let go of your bigotry," Gordon said, his eyes dancing at his own prophecy. "I won't be the last...old friend, you run into here. Don't make the mistake of turning the rare person you find that isn't trying to kill you into your enemy."

"What a lovely philosophy," Dean said, narrowing his eyes. "Is that why you're helping us?"

"No," Gordon said with a smile. "You're no concern of mine. I'm just absolutely tickled you ended up here. Youwilldie, Dean. I figure if I help you arm yourself, I might at least get a decent show out of it. There's no cable in Purgatory, you see. I've complained, but..."

"You're a real class act, Gordon."

Gordon smirked as Dean grabbed a knife off the wall and settled himself against the opposite corner with his stick.

"What?" Dean asked in response to Castiel's inquiring gaze. "It's come with this far. I might as well sharpen it into a halfway decent weapon."

Castiel said nothing.

It was early afternoon when Sam finally managed to drag himself out of the motel room and throw his stuff in the back of the car. A thought struck him, and he pulled out his cell phone. He scrolled down through the contacts quickly, then leaned back against the Impala as the line tried to connect.

The sound of Dean's voicemail shouldn't have been unexpected, and the failure to complete the call didn't catch Sam off guard, but Dean's voice mocking him through the small speaker of his phone was enough to twist Sam's stomach. When the beep prompted him to leave a message, all he wanted to do was hang up and redial so he could hear Dean speak to him again, but he knew there was no point.

"Dean it's me...don't know why it took me a full day to think to call you, but...if by some miracle you get this message just... Wherever you are, Dean. Whatever happened. I'll find you. I'll bring you both home, you and Cas. You gotta help me out man, please. Some kind of sign, anything. Please. Call me."

Sam hung up the phone, feeling more alone than he ever had before.

"They say bargaining is the third stage of grief, I'd say you're moving along nicely."

Sam's head shot up and he found Arin standing in front of him, looking pityingly at the phone clutched in his hand. He tossed it in the open driver's window and turned away from her.

"I'm really not in the mood, ok? I've gotta get going."

"Going where?" Arin asked, moving with him.

"In a perfect world, somewhere you can't follow me."

"I'm not following you, I just have a message for you."

Sam met her eyes hesitantly, and was concerned by the intensity with which she was staring at him, and by the smirk playing across her lips.

"A message from who? Crowley?"

Arin scoffed. "Please. Crowley delivers his own messages. No, I don't actually know who it's from. Someone stopped me on my way back from talking to you yesterday. Gave me an address and time, told me to bring you along. It seemed important."

"That doesn't sound sketchy at all." Sam pursed his lips thoughtfully for a moment, and then shook his head. "Sorry sweetheart, I think I'll pass."

Arin smiled. "He said you'd say that."

Sam sighed. "All right. I'll bite. What did he tell you to say in response?"

"That Loki was waiting. He said you'd know what he meant."

Sam's hands curled into fists at his sides and he breathed out a light, humorless laugh.

"Son of a bitch."

Chapter Text

It was hours before Dean figured out the sun didn't rise. It should have occurred to him, of course. The sun didn't rise in hell either, but the shroud of blackness overhead here looked so convincingly like the night sky that he just assumed it would fade into dawn in due time. When it didn't, he realized it wasn't a starless night he was looking up at; it was the hood of the abyss.

After that, Dean started to get depressed.

Castiel seemed depressed too. He watched woefully as Dean picked through the rations, selected the ones that offered the most nourishment while adding the least amount of weight, and put them in a rucksack Gordon had given them. He offered only mild nods of opinion when Dean asked about weapons they should take. Mostly, he just sat in the corner, clutching the angel blade to his chest and mindlessly doodling Enochian symbols in the dirt with a stray twig.

Eventually, Dean came and crouched down next to him.

"I know you're doing your best, Cas," he said quietly. "But I need you to stay focused here. It's not just about wanting you as my wingman anymore. If you check out right now, neither of us are making it out of here."
There was gentleness in Dean's voice that Castiel hadn't heard in a long time. It was, to be frank, the voice Dean used to talk to children, but Castiel was still visibly relaxed by the dulcet tone.

"We should stay here," Castiel murmured. "There's food, there's shelter. I like Gordon…"

"We can't stay here forever," Dean said, his voice still soft. "I have to go home. Sammy's all by himself."

Castiel frowned and shook his head petulantly. "Let him find us, then. I don't want to fight anymore."

"So you've said." Dean ran a hand over his face and tried to swallow his frustration. "Just think about it, ok? I'm going to keep packing for now."

With his jaw clenched, Dean rose and walked to the mouth of the cave. He leaned against the wall there, and his eyes took in the expanse of nothingness out in front of him. It was exciting in a primal way. A hunt that spanned for miles where he was both outmanned and outgunned, but he knew he could make it. He could win. He could survive, just not alone.

"Little guy lost his spark pretty fast there, huh?"

Dean turned his head slightly to acknowledge Gordon's sudden presence beside him.

"Yeah, I was worried this might happen, to tell you the truth. Cas is the most dangerous thing I've ever encountered when he needs to be. Lately though…he's been through a lot. I don't think he knows what he's fighting for anymore."

"I think he's fighting for you, kid." Dean raised an eyebrow, and Gordon laughed. "I've read the bible a time or two. Angels can fuck your shit up if they want to. Back out there when we were facing off, I felt like the righteous fury of heaven was about to rain down on me."

"And now?" Dean asked, gesturing towards the angel huddled in the corner.

"Not so much," Gordon admitted.

"It's pointless," Dean sighed. "I can't make him go back out there if he doesn't want to. It's suicide."

"It's survival," Gordon argued. "I think the trick is getting him to want to survive."

Dean frowned, expecting Gordon to say more, but Gordon just gave him a knowing look and sauntered back into the cave.

Any doubts Sam had about Arin's motives vanished the second they stepped into what had appeared to be an abandoned building. As soon as they crossed the threshold, Sam was hit with an onslaught of sounds and colors. A row of pinball machines beeped melodically to his left, a ticket counter whirred happily to his right. Neon orange high scores flashed ostentatiously in every direction, and several machines gleefully announced winners, even though no one was playing them.

In the center of all the madness, with the stick of a lollipop poking out from between his lips, stood Gabriel. He was immersed in what appeared to be some kind of racing game.

"That's him," Arin whispered. "You know him?"

Sam let out a breath that might have been a laugh under different circumstances.

"Yeah, we've met."

Gabriel's game dinged victoriously, and he let out a celebratory yelp as a long stream of tickets spat from the front. Sam set his jaw, too impatient to play around, and stepped up to him.

"Sorry, Loki was it?"

"Sammy!" Gabriel cheered.

Sam cringed. "Don't call me that."

"Sorry, of course, my mistake. It's good to see you, Sam," Gabriel said with forced seriousness. "Sorry about the cloaks and daggers, you never know if you can trust these demon types." He flashed Arin a quick smile. "No offense, dear."

"Where the hell have you been?" Sam demanded. "We watched Lucifer kill you."

The corners of Gabriel's mouth twitched upwards. "One of my better tricks, wouldn't you agree? Managed to pull off the wings and everything! Nope, I've been alive and well. But Lucifer bested me, and I really didn't want to do the encore performance of that. You Winchesters have this nasty little habit of calling in favors, so I figured I'd save us all a few rounds of puppy eyes and go off the grid for a while."

Sam's glare deepened, and Gabriel grinned in response. "Sorry. I've been keeping an eye on you, though! Congrats on the whole averting the apocalypse and escaping from Hell thing. Really, top-notch work. I didn't have my money on you, but I can admit when I'm wrong."

"Stop rambling and tell me what you want," Sam said coolly. Gabriel's smile faded.

"To make sure you're ok." Sam looked at him blankly, and the angel raised his hands in a show of innocence. "I mean it. I heard about Dean pulling a Houdini."

"That happened yesterday, how did you – " Sam sighed and turned to look at Arin. "You were spying for him? Really?"

"Thought I was working for Crowley?" Arin asked with a smirk. "Sorry Sam, no such luck."

"I'd have checked on you myself, but I've got what you'd call a memorable face, didn't want to draw up any attention." Gabriel tilted his head at Sam apologetically. "I'm sorry if sending Arin in was underhanded, but I was concerned. I thought you might be coping…poorly."

"I'm fine."

Gabriel smirked and nodded at Arin, who was standing with her arms crossed behind Sam.

"Would you mind excusing us for a second, sweetheart?"

"I'll be outside," Arin agreed, and Sam watched her depart before turning back to Gabriel's pitying face.

"I was there last time, remember?" Gabriel asked softly.

"Vaguely," Sam murmured. Yeah, he remembered. He hadn't asked Gabriel to come that night, hadn't even known him as Gabriel back then. When "The Trickster" had shown up, Sam was half convinced that the whole thing was a ruse, that Dean lying torn and hellhound-mangled in his arms was another stupid game. Gabriel hadn't come with a life lesson that time, though. He had just helped wipe the blood off Sam's face, and stood with him until he was strong enough to leave.

"I helped you bury Dean's body when Bobby wouldn't. I tried to talk you out of running off with Ruby. We were friends once, remember? Well, between all the times you tried to kill me that is."

"We weren't friends," Sam spat. "You did nothing but fuck with my head."

"I tried to help you, Sam."

"You didn't even tell me your name! Ever since Springfield it's been nothing but lies and tricks. And now you show up here with a demon in your back pocket and what, I'm supposed to trust you all of a sudden?"

Gabriel frowned, and gestured to Sam with his lollipop. "This is where Arin would tell you to stop being a racist." Sam rolled his eyes and turned to the door. "Sam, wait! Look, you end up meeting some shady characters when you spend your days hugging the shadows, but I've always been willing to give everyone their fair shake. Arin and I share some common goals, that's all. I don't trust her and she doesn't trust me. It's a beautiful camaraderie."

"I don't really care who she is or what you're doing with her," Sam said evenly. "I don't want anything to do with it. So unless you can tell me what happened to Dean, we're done here."

"Don't be silly Sam. I know exactly where Dean is."

When Dean walked back over, Castiel had moved on from the sigils, and was drawing what looked like a vase of roses.

"Daphne used to keep flowers in the house," Castiel murmured as he swirled the stick to make the folded petals. "Roses were her favorite. I like the way they made the living room smell." He looked up at Dean. "Do you think she wonders where I went?"

"Sam made me stop to see her after we left you at the institution," Dean replied quietly. "She…wasn't thrilled to hear the truth, but she said she'd always known there was something special about you, something about how you must be too good to be true." Dean sank down on the dirt floor next to Castiel. "She cried on Sam's shoulder for a bit and then we left, but I'm sure she's fine. She seemed like a smart lady."

Castiel nodded. "She is. She reminded me a lot of you; I think that's why I trusted her. I felt safe with her."

Dean shifted at the compliment, and forced what he hoped looked like an easy smirk into place on his features.

"Well she did have my eyes, come to think of it."

Castiel smiled up at him, but then his eyes fell on the backpack slung around his shoulder, and the smile vanished.

"You still want to go out there."

"We've gotta find a way out of here, Cas," Dean said softly. Castiel frowned.

"What are we going to do, just keep walking until we find an exit sign?"

Dean didn't really have an answer to that. Truth be told, he hadn't quite figured out where they were going once they left the cave. All he knew was they had to go somewhere. They'd keep going until they found the next shelter, and then the one after that, until they gleaned enough information about this world and how it worked to break down the walls. It wasn't the greatest plan, but it beat sitting on their thumbs and relying on Gordon to protect them.

Castiel nodded at Dean's silence and leaned his head back against the wall of the cave.

"It's better that we stay," Castiel whispered. "You're safe here."

"Look, I know you and I haven't had the smoothest ride lately," Dean rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. This was way too close to talking about feelings for his liking. "I know I can be an insensitive dick. But fighting Roman felt good, right? Having the old team back together? It felt like we were starting to fix whatever this thing is between us."

"There was a nostalgic aspect to it," Castiel agreed.

"I have to go back out there, I'm going to fight my way back to Sammy if it kills me, which hey, it might. I know I have no right to ask you to make any more sacrifices for me –"

"That's never stopped you before," Castiel said. The comment was cutting, and Dean's shoulders went slack like all the air had been pulled out of him, but then Castiel turned his head and smiled, and Dean couldn't help the small smile that pulled at his lips in response.

"I deserve that," he admitted. "If you really insist on staying here with Gordon, I'm not going to force you to come with me. But to be honest – and God help me, Cas, this is one of the sappier things I've ever said to another dude – if I'm about to go out there and die, I'd rather not be alone."

"Don't sell yourself short, Dean. I've heard you say things at least that sappy to Sam. And Bobby," Castiel said with a small laugh. "And me. Not to mention that time you got poetic about the apple pie at that diner in Wisconsin –"

"I get it," Dean cut him off. "Well if I'm such a chick are you really going to send me into the cold and the dark all by myself? Don't I get a knight in shining trenchcoat or something?"

Castiel tilted his head. "Is misogyny really your best argument right now?"

"I was hoping it would appeal to your chivalry, or whatever."

Castiel chuckled and twirled his sword idly between his fingers. "And I was hoping your survival instinct might outweigh your hero complex in this one instance, but predictably I was incorrect."

A hopeful smile dared across Dean's face. "So are we doing this?"

Castiel swallowed hard. There was a fear in his eyes, and Dean saw it for what it was. Fear that he wasn't the soldier he used to be. Fear that he would make a mistake and get them both killed. Fear that he just didn't have all his marbles in place and something was going to go horribly, horribly wrong. They both knew, however, that none of that mattered to Dean. Even at half power, Castiel was more valuable to him than any arsenal Gordon could arm him with. Dean had never been good at fighting on his own, never liked it very much. Besides, he trusted Castiel to pull through if he needed to. They'd made it this far already.

Finally, though hesitantly, Castiel nodded.

"What happened to my brother and Cas?" Sam demanded.

Gabriel sighed. "Let's have a lesson in critical thinking, here, Sam. They disappeared when Dick died, right?" Sam nodded. "Ok, so what ride could they have hitched out of that lab?"

"Dick's soul," Sam said quietly. "Are we talking Purgatory?"

Gabriel pressed the side of his nose in affirmation, and Sam let out a small sound like he had been punched in the stomach.

"How am I supposed to help them there? It took Crowley over a year to open the gates, and Cas almost died trying. Not to mention the fact that's how the Leviathan got loose. I can't just go prying it back open."

"No," Gabriel agreed. "Not without the proper backup."

Sam scoffed. "What? You and the sulfur princess back there? Not exactly the army of nightmares, Gabe."

Gabriel closed his eyes briefly to gather his patience, then spoke to Sam slowly, like he was trying to talk a child down from a tantrum.

"Sam, you are a smart kid. Stop channeling Dean for five minutes and think. You're strong enough to do this without wearing your brother's skin, I promise. You won't fall apart. Just work with me here."

Gabriel took Sam's silence as agreement and continued on. "Ok, so tell me, what do you know about the political atmosphere in Hell?"

Sam scrunched his eyebrows and concentrated, as he tried piece together all the information he had gleaned between his various interactions with hellspawn.

"I know things were hectic after Lucifer went back into the cage. Crowley taking over was a controversial choice, but a successful one, ultimately. I'm guessing not everyone is pleased with his new regime. I know Meg was on the run."

"Yes," Gabriel confirmed. "And she's not an anomaly. Arin was smart enough to bow down to the new king when he called for it, but she wants Crowley gone, and she's not alone."

"So why don't they stage a coup?" Sam asked.

"It's not that simple," Arin's voice sounded from behind him, and Sam jumped. "Sorry, I felt like I was missing the fun part."

"What isn't simple?" Sam asked as she moved up beside him to join the conversation.

"Demons aren't leaders by trade. There's a lot of us that want to see Crowley dethroned, but it's never going to work unless there's someone to take his place. When he took over Hell, the first thing Crowley did was take out his competition. No one is going to step up for us."

"So why don't you do it?"

Arin laughed. "No one's going to follow me, Sam. I spent my first century in Hell groveling at Lillith's feet. I've never presented myself as the authoritative type. No, what we need in something big." A smile rolled over her lips, and she placed a hand on Sam's arm. "Like the return of Azazel's boy king."

Sam's eyes shot up and met Gabriel's gaze, which was already boring into him.

"You're in on this?"

Gabriel sighed. "Do I love it? No. But Arin makes some good points. Crowley needs to be knocked off his high horse – "

"Why do you care who's in charge of Hell?" Sam asked.

"- and Hell is Purgatory adjacent," Gabriel continued as if he hadn't heard him. "With an army of demons we can open a portal to Purgatory, make sure nothing comes in or out while it stays open just long enough to grab the little bastards out of perdition and bring them home. And once we do that you can renounce your title and sit someone else on the throne. In fact I'm sure Dean will insist on it."

Sam cringed at the thought of his brother coming home to find him ruling Hell.

"Gabriel, this is a bad idea."

"Sammy, our brothers are down there." Sentiment flashed in Gabriel's eyes, sentiment Sam had only ever seen when he was talking about his family. Somehow, he didn't feel inclined to correct the nickname this time. "As far as I can tell, all the other angels are dead. Castiel is the only family I have left. And what do you have without Dean?"

Sam ran a hand through his hair and let out a long breath. "How do we even open Purgatory?"

"You can leave the voodoo to me," Gabriel promised. "But we can't even get that far without you. I'll be there to make sure nothing bad happens to you." Sam made a face. "C'mon Sam, give me some credit. You might think I'm a douche, but I'm still an archangel. I am probably one of the most powerful beings you've ever met."

"Yeah, ok, quit bragging," Sam said with a smile. Then, like he realized what he was doing, the smile vanished as quickly as it had come. Gabriel pretended not to notice.

Dean was more geared up than Castiel had ever seen him. There was a double barreled shotgun full of salt rounds strapped to his back, a smaller handgun that resembled his old pearl handled revolver resting at his hip, and a pistol with silver rounds holstered on his thigh. A machete crossed the shotgun on his back in an x shape, a second knife was hidden at his ankle, and Castiel knew he had stowed away a smaller knife more suitable for things like sharpening sticks in his rucksack.

Incidentally, the stick was clutched firmly in Dean's right hand. The top was sharpened to a spike, while the bottom was flat and suitable for weighing against the dirt as he walked. All in all, Dean looked ready for battle.

Castiel had no desire for such things. Human weaponry was clumsy in his hands, and he didn't have the experience or expertise to wield it like Dean. So Castiel took just the angel blade, and neither Gordon nor Dean tried to argue with him on the point. He could do more damage with that blade than either of them could do with an entire arsenal, and they knew it.

Gordon had also scrounged up an extra set of clothes for Castiel. It wasn't much, but Castiel would better into his surroundings much better wearing jeans, a gray thermal shirt, and combat boots than he ever would in his stark white hospital scrubs. Gordon had also dug up a leather vest, which Dean had chuckled at when Castiel slipped it on, but it did add a layer of weak makeshift armor to his uniform.

Reluctantly, Castiel agreed to fold up his trenchcoat and stick it in the bottom of their rucksack. It took up too much space, and added a little unnecessary weight, but Dean couldn't bear to force Castiel to leave it behind. For all he knew it would even come in handy.

"You sure you don't want to come with us?" Dean asked as he was lacing up his boots. "I thought the whole point of you helping us was to see the show."

Gordon smiled in a lecherous sort of way. "Don't worry. I see everything that goes on around here. I'll have an eye on you, but that doesn't mean you should expect me to keep you out of trouble. I've done my part, and I have a record to maintain. From here on out you boys are on your own, you hear?"

"Yeah we hear." Dean stood and nodded to Castiel, who then swung the rucksack over his shoulder and straightened up into a soldier's stance. "I suppose that's it then. We'll be on our way."

"Thank you for your hospitality," Castiel inclined his head at Gordon graciously. "We owe you much."

"Good luck to you both," Gordon said quietly. "You're going to need it."

The sticks crunched beneath their feet as they moved slowly through the wooded thicket. Castiel moved ahead of Dean as if he knew the direction they were supposed to be moving in, and Dean followed behind him dutifully as if it mattered.

It seemed, luckily, that Dean and Castiel were not high on anyone's priority list, at least not for the time being. They managed to slip past unnoticed as larger and more terrifying things were methodically and repeatedly torn to shreds. Dean almost stumbled into a fight between a vampire and a wendigo, but Castiel managed to jerk him back by the collar before either creature acknowledged his presence, and they took care to be gone before the fight ended, and the victor went looking for his next kill.

Dean eventually found himself wondering how time passed here. In Hell, days were measured by shifts. He would know a new day was starting when Alistair offered him a chance to climb off the rack – or later, when Alistair had him make that same offer to someone else. There was a schedule of sorts, nothing terribly strict or reliable, but paired with his own internal clock, he had figured out the general passing of days, weeks, decades – it wasn't an exact science, but he had an estimation of how long he had been in Hell.

Here it was different. Purgatory existed on its own plane, and time here seemed to stand completely still. The light never shifted, no creatures they passed ever seemed to be asleep, or even to be contemplating the idea of sleep. There was no whistle, no bells, no event to indicate that one measure of existence had ended and a new one was about to begin. Of course this had no effect on Castiel. Heaven had a similar feeling of timelessness. The only real way the angels had to gauge the fact that they were moving forward was by watching history unfold on the earth below. The construct of time was irrelevant to them, of course. Angels weren't designed to die; the idea of a measured and finite existence was the construct of mortals.

Angels also didn't sleep, and sometimes forgot that other beings did. When those other beings happened to be Dean Winchester, sometimes they neglected to mention it as well. So while Castiel was content to keep marching forward, deeper and deeper into the shadows, fatigue was starting to weigh Dean down little by little, until finally his legs gave out and he slumped heavily against a tree.

"Cas," he rasped. "We've been walking a long time, man. I need a breather."

"Of course," Castiel walked back and helped Dean settle on the ground beside a fallen log. Once he was situated, Castiel frowned at him in concern.

"You should have told me you were tired, we could've looked for shelter."

"Yeah, I know, sorry, guess I just wanted to keep going." Castiel pulled a canteen from their pack and handed it to him. Dean accepted it gratefully, and took a long swig. "It's not the proudest feeling, being the only thing in the whole joint that gets worn out."

"Rest," Castiel said quietly. "It's fine. I'll keep a lookout."

Dean laughed, but his eyes were already sliding shut. "What, are you just gonna sit and watch me sleep?"

"I'm going to make sure you can sleep safely. Rest, just for a little while. When you have your strength back we'll move on, maybe find somewhere we can camp out for a bit."

Dean murmured something that sounded like agreement or gratitude before curling up against the log and drifting off to sleep. Castiel sat perched on the balls of his feet. His arm rested across his lap, and his fingers tightened around the hilt of his blade, and there he stayed, as Dean's watchful protector.

Chapter Text

The clock chimed the half hour, and Sam still sat on the floor with his brother's mangled corpse in his arms. The hellhounds had left with Lilith; if there were other demons they hadn't bothered him so far. He knew he'd have to get up eventually, to move Dean's body, to figure out where Bobby had gone. For now though, he had pulled Dean's head into his lap, shut his eyes, and Sam couldn't bring himself to stop staring down at his brother's lifeless face long enough to move.

There was a fluttering sound, something like a gust of wind, and a hand was suddenly weighing heavily on Sam's shoulder. He reached instinctively for the knife and swung back, only to have his wrist caught in a vice-like grip before it stabbed into anything. He looked up and saw the Trickster staring down at him, something like sadness coloring his features.

"Sam," he said quietly. "I'm sorry."

"Fix this," Sam rasped, his voice hoarse from crying. "Bring him back."

"This isn't my game," the Trickster answered, sounding regretful. "I can't bend the rules. He's gone. I'm sorry."

A sob tore from Sam's chest, and he bent down over Dean's body until his forehead came to rest against his brother's cold flesh. The tears from his eyes fell on Dean's cheeks, and his hands wound tightly in the tattered fabric of his shirt, as if holding tightly enough could keep some remnant of Dean from slipping away.

"I told you this was coming," the Trickster said. It fell like a taunt to Sam's ears, but it didn't sound as if the demi-god was getting any pleasure from the words. "There's nothing you could've done."

"Why do you care?" Sam asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I like you, kid," the Trickster answered. "Believe me my life was a whole lot more fun when I didn't, but…"

"Save it."

The Trickster sighed and knelt down next to Sam. "Believe it or not, I know how you feel. I had brothers too, once. I know what it's like to have your family ripped to shreds in front of you. I was never brave enough to try to stop it. Not like you. It was foolish, what you did, but you tried, and I have to give you credit for that. Please, let me help you here."

"Sam!" Sam lifted his head at the sound of Bobby's voice echoing down the hallway. The older hunter ran in, breathing heavy, and stopped short in the doorway when his eyes fell on Dean.

"Sam, I –" Bobby's voice caught and he removed the hat from his head in a gesture of respect. "Sam… I'm glad you're alive. I'm sorry it took me so long to get back here, there was a whole mess of demons outside."

"It's ok Bobby," Sam said quietly. "There's nothing you could have done."

Bobby swallowed hard, and nodded.

"Who's this?" he asked. He pointed his gun at the Trickster and frowned. "Friend of yours?"

"That's not the word, I would use, no," the Trickster answered, rising to his feet. Bobby's gun followed his movements, and he held his hands up to show he meant no harm. "Don't worry, old man, I'm just leaving."

"Who are you calling – " But the Trickster was already gone.

Sam awoke with a violent start. It took him a moment to remember where he was, why he was there, and why there was an archangel in the corner thumbing through a magazine.

"If you're having bad dreams, I can whip you up a more comfortable bed," Gabriel offered without looking up. "These ratty hotel mattresses can't be good for your back."

Sam muttered a quiet "No, thank you," and Gabriel lowered his magazine to quirk an eyebrow at him.

"So you'll whore yourself out for a good cause, but you won't let yourself enjoy the perks?" he asked. "Is this a no kissing on the mouth sort of thing?"

Electing not to respond, Sam threw the covers off himself, and pulled on the jeans he had discarded the night before. Gabriel watched him carefully, and Sam could feel that analytical gaze following his movements as he shoved his things into his duffel. Finally, he met Gabriel's stare, huffing in annoyance.

"Can I help you?" he snapped.

"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed," Gabriel stood and walked over to Sam. "You all right?"

Sam shifted away from him, and nodded stiffly. "All things considered I'd say I'm doing just peachy." He slung his bag over his shoulder, and gestured towards the door. "Can we go get breakfast now?"

"Yeah, whatever you want, buddy." Gabriel ignored the final glare that Sam threw him before they headed out.

A little while later, they sat across from each other in a booth, eating in silence. It wasn't until Sam finished his second cup of coffee that Gabriel spoke again.

"So you wanna tell me what the deal with the hunter PMS is?"

Sam poked at his eggs. "Sorry. I guess I'm just having a really messed up sense of déjà vu here." He set down his fork and met Gabriel's eyes. "I mean, what are we doing? Throwing in our hats with another demon? Planning to march on Hell? Wasn't this the plan last time? We almost got an apocalypse out of that deal. And now we've decided the second time's the charm?"

"Well," Gabriel said thoughtfully around a mouthful of chocolate chip pancake. "We could try something revolutionary, and you could listen to me this time instead of going off on a bender with a demon."

"I resent that." Sam jumped at Arin's voice behind him.

"He wasn't talking about you," he murmured, scooting over to make room for Arin in the booth. She slid in next to him.

"Well I have fantastic news," Arin said, her voice thick with sarcasm. "Now that the Leviathan situation is handled, Crowley has revived the order for your head."

Sam frowned. "Why didn't he just have the demons kill me after we blew up the lab?"

Arin shrugged and stole a piece of fruit off Sam's plate. "Well the situation wasn't fully handled then, was it? As of this morning the last Leviathan head has been encased in concrete and thrown into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Now you're back to public enemy number one."

Sam sighed. "Well, then I guess the idea is to find Crowley before he finds us, right? We should get a move on then. I'll go settle the bill." Arin let Sam out of the booth, then sat back down and raised an eyebrow in response to the contemplative look Gabriel was giving her.


"Why does Crowley want Sam dead all of a sudden?"

"Because Sam has every reason to want Crowley dead first, and for all I may detest Hell's Lord Sovereign, he's not an idiot." Gabriel's eyes were still boring into her, and Arin gave an exasperated sigh. "Really darling, there was a time that you trusted me."

"We all make mistakes."

"Indeed. Plenty of people might say trusting an angel is the gravest mistake I could make. But here I am."

Gabriel sighed and sat back. His eyes flicked to Sam, who seemed to be uncomfortably averting the flirtations of a waitress with long brown curls. He shook his head and looked back at Arin.

"Sam hates you."

She laughed. "Charming."

"Let me finish. He hates me too. Sam hates everything right now. But we need him to trust us if we want Crowley gone."

"And your brother back, of course," Arin added sweetly.

"Yes," Gabriel agreed, not rising to the bait. "If you do anything to convince him you're an enemy, that's it. We lose. Do you understand?"

"I haven't done anything," Arin said simply. "We still have the same goals, Gabriel. Just worry about your pet for now." She rose to her feet and zipped up her denim jacket, as if the temperature outside really affected her. "Keep me updated on your movements. I'm going to try to gather some more information on what Crowley is planning to do next."

Gabriel nodded. "All right. Be safe."

Arin smiled at him. "Yes, you too."

"It's been long enough, Sam." Bobby sounded as if he was trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. "We need to give Dean a hunter's funeral."

"No," Sam answered stubbornly. He downed the whiskey in his hand in one long gulp, and slammed the glass down on Bobby's desk. "I'll bury him."

"You know, I had this same conversation with Dean when it was you lying dead, and I didn't like the road that one lead down."

Sam laughed darkly. "Right, you'd prefer I had stayed dead; I forgot."

Bobby's expression turned angry. "Dammit, that's not what I meant, and you know it!"

"No, it's fine. Makes two of us." Bobby didn't respond, and Sam waved him off. "Whatever, are you going to help me bury Dean's body or not?"

"Not unless you tell me what you're planning on doing with it."

"I don't know!" Sam shouted in frustration. "Something, anything. He didn't give up on me; I'm not giving up on him. This isn't over, not yet."

Bobby shook his head. "I'm sorry. I can't be a part of this. You need to put your brother to rest and move on."

Sam nodded, his fists curled tightly at his sides. "Fine. Then I'll do it myself."

Over the course of his life, Sam had dug more graves than he cared to count. This one was by far the hardest. Every shovelful of dirt felt like it weighed twenty pounds. He was only a few feet down when his arms gave out, and he sunk to his knees in the shallow hollow of land, grief washing over him heavy and sudden. The vomit rose in his throat before he could stop it, and he emptied his stomach on the soft overturned earth in front of him. It was too much.

A rustling sound like he had heard once before reached his ears, and the hairs on the back of Sam's neck prickled suddenly. He gripped the handle of the shovel, ready if he needed to strike. When he looked up from the ground the Trickster was standing over him, looking annoyingly sympathetic. Sam didn't care that he was sitting in a hole, covered in dirt with vomit drying on the front of his shirt. He straightened his back and did his best to appear intimidating.

"What do you want?" Sam demanded.

"I told you before," the Trickster said with uncharacteristic gentleness. "To help."

When Sam didn't answer, he knelt down to assess Sam's work and nodded. "You know I can have this dug out for you in about three seconds."

"No," Sam snapped. "I'm going to dig it."

The Trickster sighed but didn't argue. Instead he stood, and Sam saw a shovel materialize in the Trickster's hand.

"It'll go faster with two."

They dug together in silence for the better part of an hour. When they were done, the hole was deeper than it probably needed to be (at Sam's insistence) and perfectly rectangular along the sides. Satisfied with their work, Sam climbed out of the grave, and the Trickster appeared on the even ground beside him.

"What are you planning on burying him in?"

Sam shrugged. "A tarp, some ropes. It's crude, but it'll work."

"May I?" the Trickster asked, and Sam watched as he conjured a swirl of gold magic – Sam couldn't think of a different word for it – and a long pine box appeared.

"It's nothing fancy," the Trickster said as Sam ran his hands along the casket. "But it'll keep him safe."

Sam nodded. He tried to say thank you, but the words got caught in his throat. Instead he gave the Trickster a tightlipped smile, and went to get Dean's body from the car.

When Dean was buried, the Trickster did Sam one last favor and produced a crude grave marker. Sam didn't want it to be anything too noticeable – not burning Dean was risky enough, he didn't need to send out a beacon to their enemies of where the vacated body of a Winchester was ripe and waiting – but the wooden cross was enough that Sam could find his way back.

"Thank you for your help," Sam whispered as they stood by his brother's finished gravesite. The Trickster nodded.

"My pleasure. Can I ask what comes next?"

Sam took a deep breath, and shook his head. "I have no idea. I have to do something." He frowned and shrugged helplessly. "Got any friends in high places you wanna tell me about?"

The Trickster laughed a little too loudly. "Can't say I do. None that would be itching to help, at any rate. Sorry kid."

"I'll think of something," Sam whispered, speaking down at the ground like a vow. "If I have to pull him out with my own two hands, I will think of something."

"If you need anything," the Trickster offered.

"How would I let you know?" Sam asked.

"Just…wish really hard. Trust me. I'll find you."

Sam and Gabriel passed through three more towns before they decided to stop and put their heads together to make a game plan. They got a motel room – not because they needed one, could just whip up any kind of hideout they wanted – but because the routine made Sam more comfortable. They got a single room, since it was cheaper and Gabriel didn't need to sleep. It earned them a look from the girl at the front desk, but that wasn't anything Sam wasn't used to.

Sam spread out on the bed with his laptop, researching what lore he could that was specific to Crowley. There wasn't much. In comparison to Lucifer, Crowley hadn't been in charge of Hell for anytime at all, and the stories hadn't had a chance to build up.

"So assuming we get to Crowley," Sam said thoughtfully as he scrolled through useless article after useless article. "What then?"

"Then you leave him to me," Gabriel answered from his seat in the corner. Sam opened his mouth to protest and Gabriel cut him off. "I'm serious Sam. No plans of attack for you. No psychic training, no demon blood. You are coming out of this in one piece. I can take down Crowley on my own."

Sam looked contemplative for a moment. "Then why haven't you?"

"Because without you as a figurehead, there's no point. A Hell full of demons running around with no guidance doesn't serve anyone. A bad ruler is better than no ruler. Trust me."

Sam nodded and went back to his research, chewing on his bottom lip thoughtfully. After a while he looked up at Gabriel and sighed.

"What if they won't follow me?"

"Don't give them that option," Gabriel replied simply. "Honestly, I don't think you'll have any trouble. Once you bring them Crowley's head they'll fall into line."

"Lucifer still has loyalists in Hell; won't Crowley too?"

"Crowley hasn't done a whole lot to earn loyalty." Gabriel quirked his lips and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "You're worrying about nothing, Sam. I have the muscle you need, and Arin knows how politics work in Hell. If anything happens, we'll deal with it. Just work on looking intimidating for the paparazzi and getting Dean out of Purgatory. That's your main goal here."

"But –"

"Samuel," Gabriel said with a groan. "I really am not equipped to deal with this depressed teenage version of Sam Winchester, ok? I understand you have some self-esteem issues, your skin's acting up and Susie didn't ask you to prom, but please, please, just shut up and be a big girl about this, ok?"

Sam frowned and looked back down at his laptop.

"There's nothing wrong with my skin," he muttered.

Gabriel smiled.

There was a shadow outside the window. It appeared so briefly that Sam thought he might have imagined it, but then there was another, and now Gabriel seemed to be noticing it too. Sam slid off the bed, and walked slowly towards the door. He pulled the demon blade out of his pocket, drew it back, and nodded to Gabriel before throwing the door open.

Arin jumped at the sudden movement, and looked uneasily at the knife Sam had poised to strike her.

"I come in peace," she said carefully, and Sam apologized before stepping aside to let her in.

"It's fine." She looked tense as she perched herself on the edge of the bed. Her long blonde hair was tied back in a messy ponytail, and her forehead was shining with sweat. White dust showed in splotches on her black pants, and her breathing was heavy, as if she had been running not too long ago.

"What happened to you?" Gabriel asked. Sam looked outside to make sure no one was following her before shutting the door and latching it.

"Nothing, nothing, I'm all right. I just wanted to get here as fast as I could." She looked at Sam, her brown eyes shining with excitement. "Crowley is about five miles from here. There's an empty warehouse he's using for interrogations. He's trying to find out where you are. If we move in before the night's over, we can take him by surprise before he leaves again."

"Great," Sam looked at Gabriel, who nodded his agreement. "That's fantastic."

"You're going to want to capture him, not kill him," Gabriel told Sam. His eyes were dark with intent. "We'll take him down to Hell and kill him in front of a captive audience. That'll be the most effective way to usurp, by winning on his home territory."

"But we can really do this." Sam dared to sound hopeful. "And we can do it now. And then I can save Dean."

"Opening Purgatory will still take time," Gabriel warned. "But yes, this is the first step, and we can do it now."

A sudden rap on the door made all three of them jump. Arin stood quickly and backed away from the door.

"Are you two expecting someone?"

There was another knock. Sam looked through the peep hole, and saw a teenager wearing the motel logo on his t-shirt.

"Mr. Turner," the kid said loudly through the door. "There's a problem with your credit card."

Sam sighed. This happened sometimes when you ran card scams for a living. He unlocked the door and gave the boy his most winning smile.

"What seems to be the problem?"

"You're a hard man to track down, Sam," the boy said with a laugh. He blinked, and his eyes were black.

Sam swore and stabbed at him with the knife, but the demon was faster. He ducked and pushed Sam backwards into the room. When Sam stumbled, the demon took the opportunity to grab the wrist holding the knife, and twist it around. There was a snap, and Sam cried out, the knife falling from his grasp.

The demon lunged to grab the weapon, but before he could do so Gabriel was there. He wound his arm around the demon's throat, pressed a hand to his forehead, and with a bright burst of light it was over. The body fell to the ground in a heap. Gabriel helped Sam to his feet, and laid a gentle hand across his broken wrist.

"Ah, thanks," Sam said breathlessly, turning his healed joint to test it. Satisfied that it was fine, he bent over and picked the knife up off the ground.

Gabriel rushed at Arin and grabbed her roughly by the arm. She cried out, and Sam noticed the faint glow around Gabriel's hand where it was digging cruelly into her bicep. His grace was flowing still; it must have been burning her.

"What did you do!" Gabriel demanded.

"Nothing!" Arin shouted back, gritting her teeth against the pain in her arm. "I swear, Gabriel! They must have followed me here!"

"Gabe," Sam's voice was a warning. Two more demons came through the door. Arin pulled herself away from the angel's grasp. She slipped past the demon that was advancing on them, leaving him for Gabriel to handle, ran up behind the one that was approaching Sam, and kicked him hard in the back of the knees. The demon stumbled and she held him steady by the shoulders so that Sam could plunge the knife into his chest.

"You two have to get out of here," she ordered when both demons were dead. "There's more coming."

"What about you?" Gabriel asked.

She waved him off. "I'll hold them, we'll meet up later, just go."

Gabriel grabbed her by the wrist, more gently this time, and made her face him. "Arin, they know you're helping us now. They're going to take you back to Crowley." His eyes fell on the sleeve of her jacket, where a black handprint was scorched into the fabric. "Dammit, I'm sorry," he said quietly. Arin just glared at him.

"There will be time for that later. You need to get Sam out of here, now."

Two more demons appeared at the door, and beyond them two more walked through the parking lot. Arin grabbed the knife from Sam's hand and shoved him roughly at Gabriel.

"Go! Now!"

With a grimace Gabriel put his hand on Sam's shoulder, and transported them out to the Impala.

Ruby reached up and wiped the blood from the side of Sam's face. He leaned into her touch, watched the curve of her throat as she swallowed hard, concentrating on his wounds.

"That could have gone better," she observed quietly. "It's ok, we'll keep working on it."

"I can't do this," Sam whispered. "I'm not strong enough. I'm not going to be strong enough. There's no point."

"If you want to get Dean back –"

"It would be easier just to go down and join him, wouldn't it?"

There was a bolt of pain as Ruby's hand came in sharp contact with Sam's face, disregarding his cuts and bruises, or perhaps aiming for them specifically. He pulled back and held his cheek where she had slapped him, more out of shock than pain.

"Don't you ever say that again," she warned. "You have no idea what Hell is like. Neither of us are going there as servants, do you understand me? I am not going back, and you are not giving up."

Sam sat dumbly, and Ruby started shaking with frustration. She threw down the rag and alcohol she had been using to clean the gash on his face, and Sam watched as she wordlessly walked out the door, slamming it behind her. He was sure she'd be back, eventually, but he knew he'd pissed her off good this time.

With a sigh of defeat, Sam fell into a nearby chair and dropped his head into his hands.

"This is me wishing really hard. You said you'd come."

Nothing happened. Sam didn't really expect that it would. He sighed and crossed the room; he might as well clean the guns before Ruby came back to reprimand him. As he picked up his revolver, there was a gust of wind behind him, and he spun around, gun aimed to fire.

"Easy tiger," the Trickster said, holding his hands up in surrender. "This is hardly the way to treat invited guests."

"You came," Sam lowered his gun, genuine surprise on his features. The Trickster nodded and relaxed his arms.

"Told you I would. Damn Sammy, you look like shit."

"Don't call me Sammy."

"What kind of trouble are you in?" the Trickster asked. His head tilted, and Sam felt like he was under a microscope. "There's something…not quite right about you."

"I found a way to save Dean." Sam set his gun on the table and sat back down. The Trickster pulled up a seat across from him, listening intently. "I have these…powers, I guess you could call them. These abilities. If I can hone them, if I can get strong enough, then I can fight my way through Hell and pull Dean out."

"Sam," the Tricksters voice almost seemed to fail him for the first time. "No human can become that powerful. What you're talking about would be difficult for the most divine beings. Do you have any idea what you're getting yourself into?"

Sam wrung his hands together anxiously. "Ruby – she's the one who's helping me – she says that there will be some things I have to do before I'm strong enough. But that it's possible."

"I don't even want to know what kind of unsavory plans this girl has for you," the Trickster murmured. "Listen to me, kid, please. Don't do this. Dean wouldn't want you to."

"Dean doesn't want to be in Hell, either," Sam looked up the Trickster with glassy eyes. "Look, I'm scared. I don't know what's going to happen, and so far, I'm not doing so great. You're stronger than me, stronger than Ruby. We could really use your help."

"Sam?" Ruby's voice came from the door. "What's going on here?"

The Trickster stood, and Ruby's eyes blacked as she fell into a defensive posture. With a humorless laugh, the Trickster ran a hand through his hair, and gestured at her wildly.

"Well look at you." He turned to Sam. "Bad idea. Very bad idea. I don't know what lie she's feeding you to keep you in her court, but this is not going to end well."

"She's different," Sam placed himself between the Trickster and Ruby. "She's helped me, she's fought with me. I trust her, ok?"

"Because you are of the most sound mind to decide who is and isn't trustworthy," the Trickster shot back. His eyes flicked to Ruby. "You're taking advantage of him. You're going to get him killed."

"What are you?" Ruby asked, her voice shaking enough for Sam to register the fear. The Trickster laughed.

"Right now honey, I'm your worst nightmare."

"Enough!" Sam yelled. "Stop. You said you wanted to help me. This is what I'm doing. This is how I'm going to save Dean. If you want to make good on your promise, now's the time. Otherwise leave."

The Trickster's eyes flicked to Ruby again, and Sam drew himself up to full height, as if his mass gave him any sort of advantage over the Trickster's magic.

"Do not touch her."

"Sam – "

"No, forget it. I thought you wanted to be my friend. But that's fine, I've learned who I can count on. Ruby's saved my life as many times as you've tried to end it."

The Trickster looked offended at this. "To be fair I never really wanted to end your life just – "


"Fine." He looked at Ruby one last time, and she huddled behind Sam as if his gaze could kill her. He then nodded his goodbyes to Sam and vanished.

"You trust her."

Gabriel had been lost in thought, eyes fixed at the trees moving past them on the highway, when Sam's voice pulled him back.


"Arin." Sam was frowning. "She said she didn't sell us out to Crowley and you believed her, just like that?"

"Oh." Gabriel frowned too. "Yeah I guess I did."

"Why?" Sam glanced over at Gabriel before turning his eyes back to the road. "I thought you hated demons."

Gabriel shrugged. "Probably as much as she hates angels."

"Don't worry, we'll get her back."

Gabriel shook himself out of his own head, and plastered on a big grin for Sam. "No worries, big guy. She always pulls through. What we need to focus on right now is how to get the drop on Crowley, since he obviously knows we're coming."

"We're not going to be able to," Sam said grimly. "This isn't a covert operation anymore. We have to go in with guns blazing."

"You're probably right," Gabriel agreed. "Too bad Arin took your knife."

Sam shrugged. "I've got an arsenal in the trunk and an archangel riding shotgun. Somehow I think we'll manage."

"That's what I like about you, Sammy," Gabriel said with a smile. "You've always had faith."

Chapter Text

The sun didn't rise in Purgatory, but the rain certainly liked to fall. The first time they got caught in a storm, Dean had been happy for all of five seconds. He loved the rain, always had. There was nothing more refreshing to him than rainwater on his face, washing away the blood that was inevitably caked into his hair, the dirt that was surely streaking across his brow. Rain was nice. Rain was clean.

It didn't take long for Dean to figure out that this was not ordinary rain. For one thing, it smelled wrong. There was a bite to the air, like the smell of burning metal, and the strength of it made Dean nauseous. For Castiel, it was even worse. There was redness where the rainwater touched his skin, but it took a minute for the pain to register. When it did, however, Castiel made an agonized sound, and when Dean looked he could see that the rain was burning Castiel's skin.

"Shit." Dean knew without having to look that there was no shelter within sprinting distance. He swung his knapsack off his shoulders and quickly reached in, relief entering him with a breath when his fingers closed around a familiar, heavy fabric.

"Here," Dean said, draping the trenchcoat over Castiel and drawing it up over his head like a blanket. "Hunch under this; don't let the water touch you. I'll get us somewhere safe."

Dean wrapped an arm around Castiel's waist and checked to make sure the coat was shielding him completely from the poisonous rain before he started them in the direction that he hoped would bring them to shelter. There was something that looked like a wall of rock not too far away, and Dean hoped desperately that luck would let them find some kind of cave carved out there.

It was obvious that Castiel was uncomfortable being led, and Dean couldn't really blame him. There was a difference between trusting Dean Winchester to be reliable backup in a boss battle against a demon, and trusting him to lead his handicapped friend blind without walking said friend headfirst into a tree. There wasn't a whole lot of precedent for Dean to successfully coordinate walking like this, but he'd had to carry Sam through similar terrain plenty of times when they were kids, and Sam hadn't suffered any permanent brain damage as far as he could tell. Besides, right now they didn't have much choice.

Dean kept his free hand on the back of Castiel's coat-covered head to keep him from trying to look up and see where they were going. They were moving slower now, despite Dean's desperation to get Castiel to safety. The smell of the rain was everywhere, metallic and rancid, and Dean felt himself gagging as he breathed it in. With every step forward it felt like they were being pulled downward, both by the weight of the water soaking through Dean's clothes, and by the heavy disillusion in his mind as the lack of clean air made everything go dizzyingly green.

They stumbled, and Castiel said his name in a tone that may have been either agitation or fear. With a murmur of reassurance, Dean shook his head to clear his vision. They were close to the rock formation now, and while there was no cave to be seen, there was a small natural overhang built into the shape of the rocks. It wasn't perfect, but it would do.

The last hundred feet were the hardest, but finally Dean pushed Castiel out of the rain. The overhang was small, but they could both sit completely under it if they hugged their knees to their chests. Dean slumped to the ground and pulled the trenchcoat off of Castiel before helping him maneuver into a comfortable seated position. When they were both situated, Dean took inventory of Castiel's injuries. The burns covered his face and hands extensively and there were streaks of red across the back of his neck as well. The coat, it seemed, had at least kept Castiel's clothes from soaking through, and it didn't seem like any further damage was being done. Dean made a note to himself to avoid any kind of physical contact with Castiel until his own clothes and skin had dried.

"Can you heal?" he asked hoarsely. The nausea was hitting him in waves now, and he tried his best to swallow down the urge to vomit. He didn't have enough calories in his system to sacrifice any over a weak stomach.

Castiel looked down at his hands, assessing. Dean noticed with a frown that Castiel's breath was coming hard. He didn't think he'd ever seen the angel look this worn down. After a moment, Castiel nodded and leaned his head back on the stone behind him.

"I need time."

Time- that was something they had plenty of. A silence fell between them, permeated by nothing but the sound of steadily falling rain just beyond the boundary of their shelter.

Dean wished he could sleep, but even if he hadn't needed to stand guard right now, the sick feeling in his stomach wouldn't quiet long enough to let him relax. He stared out at the rain, watched as it bounced off a nearby rock. What was this stuff? Purgatory was just getting stranger and stranger with every passing day.

The worst part was that Castiel seemed to be growing weaker. Not in stamina or determination; there was still no one Dean would rather have fighting by his side and Dean didn't regret their decision to venture out into the unknown. The weakness was showing in Castiel's powers, though. He couldn't zap them anywhere (not together anyway) and he was barely strong enough to teleport by himself. His intuition remained sharp for now, but somehow Dean knew Castiel wasn't hearing the world around them quite the same way he used to.

Even now, Dean could see the wear on Castiel's angelic powers by the weak attempts his vessel was making at repairing itself. The burns were healing, but slower than they should have been, and the process was taking an obvious amount of energy out of Castiel. Dean had been entertaining the thought of what it would be like for Castiel to suddenly become human. It would be devastating, surely, at least for Castiel. Waking up one day without wings had to be similar to waking up without legs. As far as their current situation, however, Dean didn't think it would make much difference. He could teach Castiel how to hunt, how to defend himself, how to patch up wounds through medical methods as opposed to ethereal ones.

Mostly, his mind went through a list of things to avoid: painkillers, orgies, hemp-based fabrics. It hadn't escaped Dean's notice that Castiel was heading down a road, especially since taking Lucifer's scars from Sam, to which Dean had already seen the destination. The thought was terrifying. Worse was that Dean had no one to share his fears, or tell him they were misplaced. He was the only one who had seen the endgame he thought they'd avoided; he was the only one who could make the connections to what he was seeing now.

See you in five years, Dean.

Here it was, three years gone, and still two years from the point of convergence. When Dean looked at where they all were, in respect to where they were all theoretically headed, they appeared to still be on track to the inevitable finale. Even if they had averted the technical apocalypse, there were plenty of things out there that still wanted to burn the world. It seemed like Destiny had a backup plan for any new development, and Dean didn't like the feeling that his strings were still being pulled.

He had to get out of here. He had to stop it. There was still time to knock everything off the rails.

I have to get home to Sammy.

The thought kept him going. Dean remembered being seven years old, lost in the woods outside a little cottage in Wisconsin. He wasn't supposed to be playing out there alone, but he knew he'd be fine. He'd wandered farther than he intended, and when night fell, it fell quickly.

It had been terrifying, but he remembered the thought that kept him going: Dad doesn't know how to make Sammy's oatmeal right. John always made Sam's oatmeal too watery, and Sam would refuse to eat it. Dean was convinced that if he didn't make it home, Sam would starve to death because he was too stubborn to eat the food that John made him. That thought had carried Dean through two miles of forest before he finally stumbled out of the tree line and was scooped up into his father's waiting arms.

He'd gotten yelled at for wandering off; John had been absolutely furious. Rightly so, Dean realized later, when he had started understanding the need to follow orders. The next morning though, he had made Sammy his oatmeal and Sam had stared up at him like he was the best older brother in the world. It didn't matter if Dad was upset with him. He had made it home and he could look after Sammy.

Things weren't like that anymore. Now Sam took care of him almost as much as he took care of Sam, or more often recently they just took care of themselves. That was fine; they were adults and he couldn't keep resenting Sam's independence forever. Still, they needed each other, if for no other reason than they were all they had. Who did Sam have now? Was Sam all right? Was he looking for them? Had he figured out what happened to them yet?

Castiel made a sound that pulled Dean out of his thoughts. It took Dean a long moment to figure out that it had been a snore. Castiel was sleeping. Dean let out a long sigh and ran an anxious hand through his hair. Sleeping angels were never a good sign.

There was a hissing sound in the bushes nearby, followed by a screech that if they were anywhere else Dean would've shrugged off as two cats fighting in the alleyway. Dean swallowed hard and pulled his machete out from its sheath. The rain had quieted now and Dean could hear clearly the screams of the nearby battle. He stood, careful not to disturb Castiel, and flattened his back against the rock. His knees bent and his hand curled tightly around the handle of the machete, ready to strike if anything approached him.

A wail sounded loudly from the direction of the tussle and Dean knew there had been a victor. He tried to remain quiet, hoping that whatever was out there would be satiated with its kill and stalk off to bother someone else. He stood perfectly still, barely breathing. Then his ear caught a sound from the opposite direction.

Dean turned just in time to see something coming at him. He didn't even know what it was but holy hell- it had wings. And teeth. Really big fucking teeth.

Dean swore, swung his machete, and missed. The thing dodged easily to the left and flew again at Dean's face, emitting a high pitched battle cry as it did. Dean ducked quickly and rolled out of the way. Not expecting the sudden loss of target, the thing failed to slow in time, and ran face first into the stone wall Dean had been leaning against. It seemed disoriented but not defeated as it rose back up, and now its focus turned to Castiel, sleeping unprotected right next to it.

Oh hell no, Dean thought and dove at the creature, cutting it cleanly down the middle with the machete. The two halves fell to the wayside, temporarily dead. Dean took a moment to kick the carcasses into the nearby underbrush from which they had come. They'd definitely have to get moving before that thing pieced itself back together.

There was a growl behind him, and Dean's eyes rolled irritably back in his head at the realization that he had gained the attention of the very thing he had originally been trying to avoid. He twirled the machete easily in his hand, shrugged his shoulders to loosen them, and turned to face the next fight.

He wasn't expecting what he saw, though he had known she must be here. Of all the things he could stumble upon in Purgatory, there were very few that could send a legitimate wave of guilt up his spine. There she was though, crouching down in front of him, lizard-like green eyes blazing with the victory of the kill, long claws dripping with blood, poised to tear away at his flesh.

"Amy," Dean breathed. Recognition flashed in her eyes, but Dean really didn't expect it to save him. If he were in her position, he'd slash those claws right across his throat.

If there was one thing about Amy Pond he hadn't taken the time to find out, however, it was that she was full of surprises. Amy rolled back on her heels gracefully and drew herself up to full height. Her mouth stayed in a tight line, and Dean didn't detect any of the softness or compassion he'd seen in her when they first met. He knew immediately that Amy hadn't been as lucky as Gordon – she'd seen plenty of the battlefields of Purgatory and had fallen to them more than once. There was something monstrous carved into the lines of her face, but Dean could see the lucidity there as well.

"Dean." Her voice sounded curious, and also had a raspier quality to it than Dean remembered. "Fancy seeing you here."

"Yeah, who knew we frequented the same getaways." Dean stepped back from her and held his hands up and away from his body. "I don't want to kill you, Amy."

"I think that shows real growth of character," Amy spit sarcastically. She narrowed her eyes. "Why are you here? You're human. You don't belong here."

"Trust me sweetheart, I'm doing my best to get gone." Dean nodded towards the overhang under which Castiel was, somehow, still sleeping. "My friend and I have found ourselves in a sort of predicament here, and I could actually use your help."

Amy glanced at Castiel and back at Dean, frowning. "Why the hell would I help you?"

"Because you aren't a killer; you're a sweet girl who's been put in a bad place and had to live like a monster." Dean grimaced. "Which is my fault, I know, and I paid for what I did to you. The guilt almost killed me, hell Sam almost killed me. And now I'm here, so as you can see I have not been leading a highly successful life since you died."

Amy raised an eyebrow and chewed thoughtfully on the inside of her cheek.

"Where's Sam?"

"He's not here. He's back home dealing with God-knows-what all by himself. I'm trying to get back to him."

Amy crossed her arms over her chest, claws resting on her biceps, and regarded Dean with a calculating look.

"What do you need?"

Dean blinked. "So you aren't going to kill me?"

"Not yet," Amy replied. "Not unless you give me a reason to. If Sam needs you, the least I can do is let you keep your pulse."

"The afterlife has made you snarky," Dean noted with approval. He sheathed his machete and gestured once again to Castiel. "My friend is hurt. If I recall, you have some medical training?"

"I was a mortician," Amy corrected.

"And a mom," Dean supplied. "Do you think you could just take a look?"

Amy nodded, and they walked together over to Castiel. They both knelt down next to him, and Amy looked over the burns marring his skin carefully. Dean noticed they did seem a little better, but the skill was still red and raw, and it looked incredibly painful.

Castiel's eyes shot open suddenly, and when he saw Amy his hand immediately went towards his blade. He'd half drawn it when Dean said his name quietly and laid a hand across Castiel's arm to still him.

"She's not going to hurt you," Dean told him, and Castiel looked at him, confused, and visibly scared. Hands shaking, he put down his blade, and looked up at Dean for answers.

"This is Amy Pond," Dean explained carefully. "She's a friend of Sam's."

Castiel's eyes flicked down to Amy's claws and back up to her eyes, and he frowned.

"Your brother has strange friends."

"Yeah, the soldier of God probably shouldn't be throwing stones," Dean muttered, and Castiel cocked his head as he considered that point.

"You're right. My apologies, Ms. Pond."

"Call me Amy. Let me see your hand."

Castiel obediently raised his hand and Amy took it by the wrist, careful not to touch any of the sensitive patches of damaged skin.

"I can make you a salve for this," she said finally. "It will take the edge off."

"It's not necessary, I'll be fine," Castiel insisted.

"Shut up Cas." Dean nodded to Amy. "Do it."

Amy glanced between them and then rose to her feet.

"Help me collect ingredients," she said, gesturing for Dean to follow her. Dean looked down at Castiel

"Will you be all right by yourself for a few minutes?" he asked.

Castiel nodded, but Dean could see the fatigue on his face. Dean squeezed Castiel's arm in a reassuring gesture, promised to return quickly, and then rose to follow Amy into the trees.

Amy plucked a five-pointed leaf off of a low-hanging branch and handed it to Dean for inspection.

"I need about twenty of these," she told him, and Dean obediently started gathering.

"Thank you," he said softly, carefully avoiding looking at her. "For helping Cas, I mean. I know I don't deserve it."

"Your friend didn't do anything wrong," Amy answered, and they both fell quiet. She busied herself pulling roots out of the ground, while Dean reached up high to get the peculiar leaves she needed. When he had a couple dozen, he offered them to her. She reached out for them, and Dean placed them in her hand, his fingers closing over hers lightly. Amy tilted her head up at him in question.

"Just so you know," Dean said, looking at her hand instead of her eyes. "I didn't kill your son."

Amy stood slowly, her eyebrows knit together in confusion. Dean swallowed hard and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly with his free hand.

"He came in right after – " Dean sighed and squeezed his eyes shut. "He told me he'd never killed anyone, so I let him go. I know you were feeding him, so he's probably killed people since then to survive, which I admittedly didn't think through all the way, but the last time I saw your kid he was breathing."

Dean dropped Amy's hand and stuffed both of his in his pockets, obviously uncomfortable. Amy frowned, and looked down at the plants in her hand thoughtfully.

"Do you have food, Dean?"

Dean looked confused. "What?"

"What have you been eating?" Amy asked. Dean shrugged.

"We have some supplies. Not very many," Dean admitted. "Why?"

"Come with me."

Amy wandered over to a row of bushes, and Dean trailed along behind her. When they caught up, she plucked a red berry off the bush and handed it to him.

"A lot of the plants here will be toxic to you," she said, speaking slowly and clearly to make sure Dean understood her. "These berries, however, should be all right."

Hesitantly, Dean brought the berry to his lips, paused, and then pushed it into his mouth. It was a little bitter when he bit into it, but not entirely unpleasant, and he was pleased to find that he did not, in fact, drop dead upon eating it.

"Wow," he said quietly, grabbing a handful of them from the bush. "Thank you."

She showed him the roots in her hand, the ones she had been pulling up for Castiel's medicine. "These are edible too, though they're tough, you might want to boil them in some water before you eat them. Also boil all the water you drink, and if it has any kind of metallic smell after you boil it, leave it alone."

"Yeah I would've guessed that one," Dean murmured. He looked at Amy, and the gratitude in his eyes was genuine. "Thank you. Sam would've probably known all of this, but I make a terrible boy scout."

"You're welcome," Amy said shortly, and Dean knew that in her mind, they were even. "I need a couple more things for your friend; let's get them so we can hurry back."

The three of them sat in a circle on the ground while Amy used a rock as a makeshift pestle and ground the plants she had collected into a thick paste. When she was done she put the goopy mix in Dean's hand, and instructed him to spread it on Castiel's burns.

Dean placed Castiel's hands in his lap and gingerly began to apply the salve to the raw skin there. Castiel hissed at the contact, but then visibly relaxed as the pain began to fade.

"Thank you," Castiel said, half to Dean, half to Amy. They both smiled at him, and Dean applied another layer of the green paste to Castiel's knuckles.

"Let's avoid getting caught in the rain from now on, huh?" Dean suggested, and Castiel smiled in agreement. Beside them, Amy rose to her feet.

"If that's all, I should go."

"You don't have to," Dean said quickly, turning to face her. "I mean, you definitely know the area better than we do. If you wanted you could stay, join the team."

"If I stay I'm going to gut you in your sleep, Dean," Amy said honestly. "I'm not really a team player. And even if I were, this is the wild. Kill or be killed. I don't want you guys slowing me down."

Dean nodded his understanding. "Take care of yourself. I will tell Sam you helped us, when I see him. I'll leave out the part where you were licking blood off your claws when we met."

Amy smiled. "That's sweet of you, thanks."

She turned to walk away, and Dean called after her one more time.

"Hey, Amy?"

She spun around to him. "Yes?"

"You don't happen to know how we could get out of here, do you?"

"Out of Purgatory?" Amy looked incredulous for a minute, then thoughtful. "Well I suppose that would depend on how you came in."

With that, she turned once more and was gone. Dean blinked at her departing form, processing her words carefully, and then turned back to Castiel.

"We'll get out of here, Cas," Dean promised, reaching up to spread salve over the burns on Castiel's face. "We'll figure it out."

"I admire your optimism," Castiel said quietly, eyes sliding closed as Dean's hands skated over his wounds, leaving a relaxing painlessness in their wake. "But I don't see how."

Dean sighed and spread the rest of the ointment over the relatively small wounds on Castiel's neck. He didn't know how, either, but what Amy said was echoing in his mind, and he felt like they'd received their first clue. It wasn't much, but there was something about it that was eating at Dean's mind, and he knew, if he just thought about it from the right angle, it would give him some place to start.

"We'll figure it out," Dean said again, softly.

Castiel's skin felt red hot under his hands, and Dean looked at his friend with concern. If he didn't know any better, he'd say Castiel had a fever. That was it; they were definitely not standing out in the rain again. He didn't know what kind of bad mojo was going on with the rainwater, but Castiel obviously couldn't handle it, and Dean wasn't terribly well equipped to play nurse.

When all of Castiel's burns were covered, Dean wiped his hands on the grass nearby to get the last residue of the salve off of them. He turned back and grinned when he registered how ridiculous Castiel looked with the green goop smeared all over his face.

"That's a good look for you," Dean said, laughing. He patted Castiel affectionately on the shoulder and stood before offering down a hand to help the angel to his feet. "C'mon, we're too exposed here. Let's find somewhere else to camp for the night."

Castiel accepted Dean's hand, and allowed himself to be pulled up, but wavered unsteadily as soon as he was vertical. Dean swore and wound an arm around Castiel's waist to keep him upright. Great, this was just great. Dean said a silent prayer for Castiel to get back to full strength quickly, in a probably-futile hope that the act of praying would give Castiel some modest boost.

In the meantime, he slung Castiel's arm around his shoulder so that he could support him while they walked.

"We'll find some place close," Dean promised what felt like the millionth hopeless promise he had made to him that night. They began their slow progression forward, Castiel leaning heavily on him for support, and Dean hoped to God that something, anything, would help keep them safe for one more night.

Chapter Text

Dealing with a frustrated Gabriel was every bit as fun as Sam would've expected it to be. The only thing that could have made it worse was if Gabriel was in denial about how frustrated he was, but that would never happen. The archangel was far too mature and self-aware for such things.

"Gabe," Sam scolded, not looking up from his laptop but still sure the sound of Gabriel snapping his fingers didn't indicate anything good. "I'm trying to concentrate."

"Listening to you concentrate is boring," Gabriel shot back. He had transformed the floor of their motel room into a sandy beach, and was now conjuring up hermit crabs and setting them in a small ring made out of seashells to duel to the death. "And it's not like you're actually getting anywhere."

Sam sighed and looked up at the petulant deity tiredly. "I know you're worried about Arin –"

"I'm not worried about her," Gabriel muttered. "Just bored of your face."

Sam almost felt sorry for Gabriel. Hours had passed since they left Arin. They had driven until they were sure there was no one following them, then camped out at a motel with an hourly rate so that they could figure out exactly where it was Crowley was hiding and the best way to approach his set-up. Gabriel had been perfectly fine on the drive out, but now that they were stagnant he was buzzing with nervous energy that he couldn't quite contain. He wanted to be doing something, killing something, anything but sitting and watching the sky grow darker out the window as Sam patiently researched the area where Arin had indicated seeing Crowley.

"I think I found the warehouse she was talking about," Sam said, hoping the announcement would calm Gabriel's temper. "Let's wait until the sun goes down completely and then you can zap us over there, ok?"

Gabriel nodded and produced a mango. He split it in half, taking one portion for himself and offering the rest to the hermit crab that had been victorious. The pit he threw at Sam's head.

Sam looked longingly at the sky and hoped night would engulf them soon.

Dean hadn't slept. It wasn't just because he needed to stand guard; he could have easily woken Castiel and had them take shifts (in fact he was sure if Castiel was more lucid he would've insisted on it). It was because he needed to know Castiel was all right. Angels weren't supposed to sleep, angels weren't supposed to burn, angels weren't supposed to get so weak on their feet they collapsed and had to be carried (or dragged) the last three hundred feet to shelter. Right now Castiel was less angelic than Dean had ever seen him, and Dean was afraid if he took his eyes off him, there wouldn't be anything left when he looked again.

The steady rise and fall of Castiel's chest indicated to Dean that they were still in the clear. Castiel had been all but unconscious for the last leg of their journey, finally succumbing in the middle of a field that was auspiciously marked with signs of a fresh kill. Not wanting to stay and find out exactly how fresh, Dean had pulled Castiel's dead weight as far as he could until he found a place with passable shelter. At that point it had been easiest to simply collapse, so Dean did, letting Castiel fall on top of him in a heap. They had adjusted since, and Castiel's head was now cradled comfortably against Dean's stomach, while Dean's hand rested on Castiel's chest, pressing against the leather of his vest and feeling the steady rhythm that told him his friend was still alive.

There was a rustle in the leaves outside and Dean stiffened at the sound, but whatever it was passed by them without any trouble. Dean's movement had prompted Castiel to adjust himself however, and Dean found his eyes drawn down to the face that was half buried in his shirt. The salve Amy had made was washed off now – Castiel insisted that he felt better and that the paste was starting to itch – and Dean could see the pale red marks where the rain had burned at Castiel's skin. With Amy's help, the healing process had gone smoothly. The wounds were closed for the most part and didn't look like they were in danger of getting infected. Still, Dean noticed that the redness itself was refusing to fade, and he wondered if these marks were going to become scars.

That would be kind of cool, he mused. Castiel had never had battle scars before; he'd never encountered anything strong enough to permanently mark him. It would be awesome if his first scars, his only scars, were more prominent than any Sam and Dean had, displayed on his face and hands instead of marked in places easily covered by clothing. He'd look like a real warrior.

Dean scolded himself silently at this train of thought when he realized Castiel might not regard the scars with the same splendor he did. It would probably be best not to mention it.

Dean fell asleep. He hadn't meant to; he wasn't even aware that he had until he was waking up, the reality of which suggested he had fallen asleep at some point. His brain kicked into high alert and his muscles twitched in panic when he realized the weight that had been pressed against him before was suddenly gone.

"Cas?" he rasped, his voice hoarse from the dryness of the air around him.

"I'm here, Dean."

Dean turned and saw Castiel sitting a few feet away, perched back on his heels with the angel blade firmly in his grasp. He was at his post, watching over Dean as he slept. Upon waking he had evidently fallen back into his role of guardian without a second thought. Dean felt a smirk tug at the corner of his lips.

"How are you feeling?"

"Better," Castiel assured him. "Thank you for taking care of me."

"Thanks for not dying on me," Dean replied. Castiel nodded, smiling, and rose to his feet.

"Come on, we should keep moving."

Night inevitably arrived, and Sam and Gabriel set about storming the castle. Sam armed himself with a sawed-off shotgun and a pocketful of extra salt rounds. Gabriel didn't appear to have any weapons, and Sam wasn't sure if that was out of cockiness or trickery. When Gabriel claimed to be ready Sam assumed the latter. They decided it was time to go, and Sam squeezed his eyes shut as Gabriel's fingers pressed against his forehead.

When he opened his eyes again the first thing he saw was a building that, from the outside, looked like it was about to collapse to the ground. Years of rust had eaten through the metal to the point where there were gaping holes in places. Sam gestured towards one such hole on the side of the building closest to them, and he and Gabriel crept up to it in order to take a look at what was going on inside.

Gabriel stiffened, and Sam grabbed his wrist to prevent him from doing anything rash, though if he were being honest Sam understood the impulse. From where they were standing they could see that Crowley had Arin under a devil's trap. Chains attached to the floor connected to shackles around her wrists. She stood in only her underwear, and blood ran down her body in such stark contrast to her pale skin that Sam and Gabriel could see it clearly from where they stood.

Crowley was circling her now, and came to a stop with his back facing the place they were spying from. He stepped close to her – seeming not to care that there was a devil's trap overhead, Sam noticed – and took her face in his hand, forcing her to look at him.

"What is Sam Winchester planning to do?"

"Whatever it takes to get Dean Winchester back," Arin replied evenly.

"You know his plan." It wasn't a question. Crowley tightened his grip. "Tell me."

Arin gasped but otherwise didn't lose her composure. "Even if I did know, it wouldn't save your skin. You know what Sam Winchester is capable of." She smirked. "I can see the fear in your eyes, my king."

Crowley backhanded Arin across the face with enough force that she almost fell to her knees. The sound of the contact had not stopped ringing in the air before Sam noticed Gabriel was no longer beside him.


Gabriel's voice reverberated through the walls of the building with a force that demonstrated the sheer power contained in his tiny vessel. Crowley turned and looked surprised to find the angel staring at him murderously.

"Well well," he said, cocking an eyebrow in interest. "This is a turn up."

"Shit," Sam muttered, running a face over his hand in frustration. He couldn't see Gabriel's face from where he stood, but there was a familiar ping in the air that Sam had come to recognize as the resonance of angered grace. Angels gave off a very specific kind of energy when they were poised to kill, and it was radiating off of Gabriel right now to the point that Sam got goosebumps in response, even from his removed position. He grabbed his shotgun and hurried towards the front door.

"This girl is a little below your pay grade, isn't she?" Crowley asked Gabriel, gesturing to Arin chained up behind him. "Unless you're slumming it like your brothers? I do have to say, after Castiel and Raphael I thought maybe it was just the one Garrison that had sunk so low, but it seems my parties are attracting angels from all over these days."

"The Garrison is dead," Gabriel said darkly. "All the Garrisons are dead. Well, just about. But you knew that."

Crowley arched an eyebrow but did not respond. Gabriel took the opportunity to look at Arin, who met his eyes with weak defiance. Now that Crowley's gaze was off of her the pretense had fallen, and fatigue was showing heavily on her face.

"And the young Mister Winchester graces us with his presence as well," Crowley announced cheerily as Sam came blustering through the front door. "This truly is a gathering of the minds isn't it? And to think I didn't put on a pot of tea." He turned to Arin, who bristled under his gaze. "In death just as in life, isn't it darling? Half a millennium and you're still a troublesome little c-"

"Let her go, Crowley!" Sam cut him off, aiming the shotgun in his hands at Crowley's face. "I'm the one you're after. Let her go and we can talk."

Crowley looked at the barrel of the gun aimed in his direction and scoffed.

"Is this how you normally start conversations?"

"Sam, be careful," Arin pleaded.

"Put the gun down, Sammy," Gabriel said quietly. "If you miss you'll hit her."

"I won't miss."

"It won't do any good!" Arin shouted at Sam desperately. "He's not a demon."

Gabriel's expression stayed steady, but Sam's whole face contorted in confusion.

"What are you talking about?"

And then, as if to prove her point, Crowley stepped easily towards them and out of the devil's trap.

The break of light through the trees made Dean's heart jump. It wasn't sunlight by any means, but it was something brighter than the engulfing darkness their eyes had long since adjusted to. Dean insisted they walk towards it, desperate to find what was waiting out there.

Castiel had raised no protests, just somberly followed along behind Dean, though his demeanor suggested he was much less enthusiastic about what they might be headed towards. Nonetheless they had to keep moving, and moving toward a set destination was much more appealing than wandering aimlessly through the forest.

Their path took them miles onward, and they didn't appear to be getting any closer to the illusive light. Twice Castiel had to grab Dean by the arm and pull him under a log or behind a tree to hide from something crawling in the night. Dean's awareness was completely shot; he was too fixated on reaching the end of the path to notice that the shadows around him were still bloodthirsty and breathing.

When Dean failed to notice something hissing at him from a nearby tree, it almost cost him his head. Castiel jerked Dean violently forward just as a set of teeth descended from the branches to take a bite out of his skull. When the creature slithered back up into the darkness, Castiel grabbed Dean by the front of his shirt and shook him violently.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Castiel demanded. "You're supposed to be a hunter; you could at least act like it."

"I am a hunter," Dean retorted, shoving Castiel off of him. "Jesus, chill out. We're almost there."

"We're not almost anywhere, Dean." Castiel's voice vibrated with frustration. "We've been walking for hours and we aren't any closer than we were when we started. You're chasing wishes. There's nothing out there. Right here, this is real, this is actually happening. I'm trying to keep you alive and you're making it very, very difficult."

A calm fell over Dean. He didn't care what Castiel thought. Wandering aimlessly was getting them nowhere. They had no real leads, no theories, and no quests. Nothing but the desire to stay alive kept them in a constant state of motion. Now there was a light. Dean knew that Castiel found the idea of a light at the end of the tunnel ominous, but he didn't see it that way. It had taken him awhile to realize, but what he was feeling now was hope. He was experiencing real hope for the first time in a long time, and he had to find out what was out there. Even if it was something horrible that they'd have to fight, it was still something. That was the important part.

"There's something out there worth seeing. Maybe it's nothing, maybe it's everything; we won't know unless we get there."

"Dean – "

"Cas," Dean interrupted. "Have a little faith."

Castiel grew very still, sizing up the intensity in Dean's gaze before nodding once.

"Will you at least try to keep your eyes open?"

Dean smiled briefly, and nodded in return.

Sam kept his gun carefully pointed at Crowley's face, though he was convinced now that it wouldn't do any good.

"What are you?"

Crowley smirked at Gabriel, who was being uncharacteristically quiet. The two shared a silent exchange, and Sam could feel the air around them starting to hum at the standoff. Crowley stepped closer to Gabriel, lowering his voice for effect.

"Would you like to field that one, brother?"

Gabriel's eyes held murderous intent, but not surprise. He stared Crowley down, and Crowley backed out of Gabriel's personal space with a short, barking laugh.

"I do have to say I'm impressed. You're the first in a millennium to figure it out. Castiel knew something was off about me but he could never quite place it."

"You're an angel?" Sam demanded.

"He was an angel," Gabriel corrected. "Now he's something darker."

He regarded Crowley with disgust.

"An abomination."

Sam shifted uneasily. He never liked facing off against angels. There was something about it, a whisper in the back of his mind that told him it was wrong. Even if he pushed past the moral issues, he had a hard time stomaching the creatures when they were turned against him. Zachariah had made him taste his insides one time too many, and now Sam flinched when Crowley turned to him, smiling coyly.

"Does he – Does he still have his grace?" Sam asked, eyes fixed on Crowley but addressing Gabriel.

"What little grace he had," Gabriel said dryly. "See Crowley here was a pretty low-ranking angel, weren't you buddy? So low on the totem pole you could barely see the bottom of our feet. No wonder you never revealed who you were before: A lowly seraph who followed Lucifer out of Heaven only to be his whipping boy in the end. Not even the twisted insects you rule would follow you then. You'd be laughed out of Hell."

"A lowly seraph, but a clever one," Crowley corrected. "Clever and ambitious in a way angels weren't in those days. A few of us followed Lucifer when he fell – very few indeed. Some tried to go crawling back to Heaven when the heat of the underworld got to be too much. Lucifer smote them on the spot. Some were just annoying. He killed those too. I myself managed to get a place in his order. King of the Crossroads! A true honor indeed."

"A tiny crown for a tiny man," Arin growled behind him. Crowley turned and snapped his fingers, and a shackle appeared around her neck with chains tying it to the matching ones around her wrists. It fit loosely now, but Sam could see it steadily shrinking down. Arin looked panicked; soon it would strangle her.

Crowley turned back to Gabriel, whose expression was flickering with his obvious effort to appear neutral. There was the sound of clanging as Arin struggled against the chains on her wrists, desperate to claw away the iron noose tightening around her throat. The short leashes held her arms to her sides, however, and despite her struggles the metal started to press against her neck.

"Well," Crowley said. "This has been fun. But alas, all good things must end. So I'm going to kill Arin. And then I'm going to kill you, Sam." He looked at Gabriel steadily. "I'm not sure I can take you down, to be honest. But trying will be fun, eh?"

"Gabriel," Arin whimpered.

"Go to her," Gabriel murmured. Sam looked at Gabriel uncertainly, but Gabriel nodded his head reassuringly and gestured towards Arin. "Please, Sam."

Sam gave Crowley a wide berth as he passed, but Crowley seemed uninterested in stopping him. His eyes were fixed on his brother. Sam and Arin were just background noise.

"I'm not just going to let you kill them," Gabriel said, conjuring a blade. "You should know better than that."

"Oh, I do. Lucifer had a special place in his heart for you, you know," Crowley replied, drawing an identical blade from the folds of his coat.

Gabriel smirked. "Lucifer stabbed me."

There was a deafening clang as Gabriel surged forward to stab Crowley and their blades collided.

"We've been walking for hours." Castiel said quietly. Dean smirked.

"How could you possibly know that?"

Castiel didn't answer, for which Dean was grateful. In truth they had been walking for a long time. He would need to sleep soon, and Castiel could probably use a rest as well. However, Dean kept pushing forward. He was convinced if he went on just a little farther, it would be worth it; they would find something spectacular.

They carried on in silence. If every step forward was further convincing Dean that they were on the right path, it was convincing Castiel of just the opposite. Each time Dean glanced over Castiel's jaw seemed to be clenched tighter, but he remained diligently silent, putting one foot in front of the other in pace with Dean and holding his blade stiffly by his side in case he needed to strike something down.

The air around them was changing. In the last mile or so the temperature had dropped noticeably, and Dean felt a shiver run through him. A tangy smell was surrounding them as well – something like salt, but not quite. Dean looked questioningly at Castiel, who had his head inclined in curiosity.

"Anything pinging the angel radar?" Dean asked uncertainly. He drew a silver knife from his belt and poised it in front of him as he walked. Castiel was quiet for a moment, and then shook his head.

"No, but I don't trust my senses completely right now."

"Forward, then?"

Castiel nodded. "Forward."

The trees seemed to be getting thicker around them, until the light ahead was all but lost. They were different now, too. Heavy leaves hung low from sturdy branches. The endless lines of green they had been following were giving way to thick displays of gold, red, and yellow. A chirping sound was resonating high up above them, but Dean figured it sounded too far away to be of any real concern.

"Where are we?" Dean asked as they wandered deeper into the strange new forest. A romantic whisper in his brain missed the concept of sunshine. He could only imagine that the sunlight bouncing off of these warm colored leaves would be absolutely beautiful. A branch of reddish gold foliage hung low in his path and Dean pushed it aside. His hand lingered over the rough texture of the leaves.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Castiel murmured in response.

The chirping was louder now, and Dean flexed his fingers around his knife. Even while his body was tense, however, Dean found himself oddly relaxed. They hadn't reached the light yet, but they had encountered something different, and for Dean somehow that was justification for dragging Castiel along on this wild goose chase. These trees didn't lend themselves to the darkness the same way the green or leafless trees did, and Dean felt their warmth inside him almost as if he were seeing daytime again.

"I told you this was a good idea," he said to Castiel with a grin.

Castiel was about to respond when the chirping sounded again, this time much angrier, and worst of all, right behind them. Dean felt himself getting tackled before he had time to react. Something was wrapped around him, and they were somersaulting backwards together.

Scaly hands wrapped around Dean's throat, and when they stopped rolling Dean found himself flat on his back with a grey-faced, lizard-like creature screeching down at him. Somewhere in the distance Castiel was shouting his name, but the creature's claws were tight around his throat and Dean couldn't respond. He swung blindly with his knife-wielding hand and managed to graze his attacker. It was just enough that the grasp on his windpipe loosened, and Dean could roll away.

He massaged his throat in annoyance and glared at the thing trying to kill him. Wing-like appendages extended from its neck, and it let out another string of high pitched chirps before lunging at Dean again. Dean jumped out of the way, stumbling over a rock in the process. He fell hard and tumbled sideways. It should have hurt, but the ground where Dean landed was unusually soft. When he looked up, the lizard-like thing was in midair, about to land right on top of him. Dean threw his knife, and it landed cleanly in the center of the creature's chest. It fell to the ground with a thud, dead.

"Dean!" Castiel hurried to Dean's side and helped him to his feet. "Are you hurt?"

Dean shook his head and walked over to the carcass of the thing that had attacked him. It wasn't anything Dean recognized, and that was unsettling. It was small enough, and had been easily killed. If there was one new enemy, however, there were bound to be more, and the next may give more of a fight. With a sigh Dean pulled his knife free from the body. Castiel picked up the creature and easily flung its remains deeper into the trees. Hopefully when it woke up it would be too disoriented to find them again.

"Hey Cas," Dean said quietly. He pointed to the ground beneath their feet. "Is this sand?"

It was. The hard forest floor had given way to a soft expanse of sandy earth. Dean and Castiel shared a look, and followed the changing ground forward.

It was only a few hundred more feet before they finally broke through the tree line. Without the shadows of the forest canopy hanging overhead, a noticeable brightness engulfed the pair. Dean was sure they were still encompassed in unspeakable darkness, but relative to what they had adjusted to this was a noon-day light. That wasn't the part that had Dean taken aback, however. In front of them was a beach, and beyond that, spanning far into the horizon, was a beautiful expanse of ocean.

Sam fussed with the locks around Arin's wrists, but it was useless. They were bound by magic. The only way Arin was going to escape was for Crowley to free her, or die. A cough and a wheeze escaped her as the shackle around her throat tightened, and Sam took her face in his hands, forcing her to look at him.

"I just need you to hang on for a few more minutes," he told her, running a hand comfortingly through her hair. "Just a few minutes, please."

"Sam." Arin gasped his name. "Do something."

Sam stroked her hair again and ran his thumb soothingly across her cheekbone. There was nothing to be done. He could only imagine what kind of magic Crowley had her at the mercy of. Demons couldn't be choked to death. Sam knew that for a fact; he had tried. However, the metal around Arin's neck was warm to the touch, and something else was acting on it, making it a weapon that could be used against her. There was no doubt that she was dying. Slowly, and filled with fear.

"Dammit," Sam swore as Arin coughed again. The shackle tightened a fraction more, and she started to gasp.

"Gabriel!" Sam shouted over his shoulder. "She's not going to last much longer."

Arin could raise her hand enough to grab the hanging fabric of Sam's jacket, and she tugged his attention back towards her.

"Tell him it's not his fault," she whispered.

"Stop that," Sam scolded her. "You can tell him yourself."

Arin smiled up at him affectionately. "Secretly you were always my favorite. Such a noble heart."

"What are you talking about?" Sam asked, confused.

Arin's smile faltered and her eyelids fluttered as she started to fade out of consciousness. Sam wrapped an arm around her torso to keep her upright, and she flinched as he pressed against the gashes on her body. Blood started to stain his jacket.

"Gabe!" Sam shouted again.

Crowley and Gabriel stood, blades pressed together, staring daggers into each other's eyes. Then, with a sudden movement, Crowley twisted the blade in Gabriel's hand out of his grasp and sent it clattering across the floor.

"You are special, Gabriel, there's no denying that," Crowley drawled with a smile. "But you're a messenger. You're not a warrior. And Lucifer taught me all of his best tricks."

"You forget what I am," Gabriel said darkly. His eyes flicked over to Sam, who was holding Arin in his arms, looking desperate, and then back to Crowley. "And the time for fighting fair is over."

With a snap of his fingers Gabriel turned Crowley's cufflinks into the root of a vine, the tendrils of which then wound themselves up around Crowley's wrist, thorns biting into his flesh as it pulled tight. The vine tightened until Crowley dropped his own blade, and continued to wind up the length of his arm and around his throat, where it quickly cut off his supply of air in a cruel parody of what he was doing to Arin.

"Goodbye, brother." Gabriel said softly. He pressed his palm to Crowley's forehead, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Crowley screamed, the unholy shriek of his true form. His eyes burned white, and then there was silence. He was gone.

Gabriel looked down at the six-winged shadow by his brother's fallen body, and sighed sadly. When he heard Sam saying his name he snapped his fingers, and the chains and shackles binding Arin fell to the ground. The devil's trap disappeared as well.

After a moment of reflection, Gabriel walked over to his friends. Sam was sitting on the floor with Arin curled in his lap. She was shaking violently and the whole of her exposed body was painted with her own blood, but she was alive.

"Are you all right?" Gabriel asked, extending a hand down to Arin. She nodded and took his hand, and with a combined effort he and Sam got her steadily to her feet. Gabriel's eyes fell to Arin's upper arm, where a bright red scar was raised from her pale skin. It was his handprint, from when he had grabbed her earlier. His grace had left a permanent mark.

"I'm so sorry," he said. Arin crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head.

"It's over now."

When he saw she was still shaking, Sam shrugged off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. Arin turned and smiled at him gratefully. Then she looked to Crowley, lying on the ground a few feet away.

"Is he really dead?" Arin whispered.

"He's really dead," Gabriel confirmed. Arin looked at Sam.

"It all falls to you, then." She smiled and fell into a graceful curtsy. "My lord."

Sam shifted uncomfortably, but both Arin and Gabriel were beaming at him. Gabriel patted Sam strongly on the shoulder and gave him an approving nod.

"You're going to take the throne now, Sammy. And you're going to get your brother back."

Chapter Text

Dean sat with his knees hugged to his chest and his chin resting atop them. He'd been sitting here for hours, watching the tide pull in and out, leaving a pale red tinge to the white sand. Sounds came floating back to him from out among the waves, squeals and shrieks not unlike those he'd been hearing on land. There was another whole world out there beneath the sea. Creatures he'd never encountered swam with monsters he couldn't imagine, killing each other just like they did out here, failing to die like everything else. Dean sighed as the gravity of his insignificance sunk in. He couldn't even bring himself to care anymore.

Castiel returned from scouting and sunk down next to Dean. He looked from his friend to the blood stained beach and back, frowning.

"It seems like we've reached a perimeter of sorts. I couldn't find anything of interest." Castiel deepened his frown as Dean's eyes fluttered shut against his words. "Of course my findings could be incomplete. Perhaps if we walked the beach for awhile -"

"It's pointless, Cas," Dean said, his voice hollow. A silence fell between them, permeated by nothing but the crashing waves and the familiar drone of Purgatory. It was suffocating. Castiel felt like he should be doing something, saying something, anything at all. He could feel Dean's despair and wanted to soothe it somehow, but he didn't know what he was supposed to be doing, or even if there was anything he could do. As he was busy racking his brain for some kind of wise gem to offer, Dean spoke.

"We're going to die here," he said, his voice even as if he were stating any other fact. "We might as well just let something find us. Let our bodies get washed into the ocean." He glanced sidelong at Castiel. "Although I guess you've already died like that once, haven't you? It probably wouldn't be the most appealing way to go a second time."

Castiel shifted awkwardly and shook his head. "No, I think I would prefer to stay on land. I have negative connotations of the water."

"We'll go back into the forest then," said Dean, winding his hands in front of himself and looking at them thoughtfully. "We'll stop hiding. We'll stop fighting. We'll just go for a nice walk through the trees and see how far we make it."

Castiel's hand came down suddenly to cover Dean's. Dean blinked at the contact. His brain registered the lines on Castiel's skin, the burns that would never truly heal. The angel's hands were small against his own, but the grasp was firm. There were tears in Dean's eyes when he looked up at Castiel.

"You're not giving up," Castiel told him without question. "You never give up. You're stronger than this."

"Stronger than what?" Dean asked with a humorless laugh. "Than Purgatory? Than every god forsaken creature in this pit who wants nothing more than to taste my blood? I can't keep pretending we're going to be ok, Cas. We're not. We both know it. You're weak, I'm even weaker. We don't stand a chance."

"That's never stopped you before."

Dean shook his head, unable to verbalize a response. With a sigh, Castiel tugged one of Dean's hands towards him, and laced his own thin fingers between Dean's, stroking his thumb over patches of skin calloused with years of guns and knives and steering wheels. He longed for his grace, for the ability to pour power through a contact as innocent as this one and heal wounds, at least the physical ones, maybe even touch on the ones sitting a little farther beneath the surface. Unfortunately, as his scars proved, he could barely heal the physical harm to his vessel these days. There was no possibility of him alleviating the burden Dean had taken upon himself.

Instead, he stroked at Dean's hand, offering the small physical comfort as a gesture more than anything else. Castiel loved Dean's hands. He always felt safer when they were around him, more content when they were in his hair, more cared for when they tended his wounds. Now he touched Dean's hand with a gentleness mirroring the touches Dean always offered him, and he could only hope he was doing it right, and if he was that it would chase some of the pain away.

He noticed after a time that Dean was watching him. Castiel froze at the sudden bareness of the moment, expected Dean to jerk his hand away from the intimacy, but Dean just looked at him softly and curled his fingers so he was holding Castiel's hand in return.

"I'm sorry," Dean whispered. "I was just so sure we were going to stumble upon something here, you know?"

"We found an edge," Castiel pointed out. "Of sorts. That's something."

Dean scoffed. "How is that something?"

Castiel shrugged and looked down at their joined hands.

"I find personal comfort in the knowledge that Purgatory isn't infinite."

The fingertips on Dean's free hand came up and brushed the scarred skin on Castiel's cheekbone, then fell to trace the line of his jaw. With a hum of contentment, Castiel leaned into the touch. Dean decided right then that he wouldn't walk into the ocean, he wouldn't walk into the trees; he would keep fighting as long as Castiel was fighting alongside him. Nonetheless, the fact remained that they'd walked to the edge of Purgatory and there was no door to the outside waiting for them. He'd stay alive as long as he could, but Dean was still sure they were going to die here.

So, what the hell did he have to lose?

Dean leaned forward and pressed his lips against Castiel's.

Arin's hands were shaking as she carefully painted a series of symbols on the wall of Sam and Gabriel's hotel room with goat's blood. She was concentrating so hard that she didn't hear the footsteps behind her, and when a pair of hands came to rest on her shoulders she jumped.

"Easy," Gabriel said softly in her ear. "Just coming to make sure you're ready."

Arin frowned and glanced over at Sam who was sitting nervously on the edge of the bed.

"I am," she answered, lowering her voice so only Gabriel could hear her. "He's not. We should've left Crowley alive. Killing him in front of the demons would make an impression. Now we're just waltzing in with a Winchester and telling them to bow down. How do you think that's going to go?"

"You're right," Gabriel agreed. "Next time you're chained up and being slowly tortured and killed by a deified creature I'll just let it happen. So I don't mess with the plans or anything. That was my mistake."

Arin glared, Gabriel glared back.

"You're welcome, by the way," he added.

"Do you really want to play the who owes what to whom game right now?" Arin demanded.

"You guys suck at whispering," Sam informed them. Gabriel and Arin both looked over guiltily to where Sam was watching them.

"When Crowley and Cas first opened the door to Purgatory," Sam said slowly. "They used the power of the souls in Hell, right?"

"Partly," Gabriel confirmed.

"And if we do this, I'll have access to that power?"


"Then why don't you spend less time bickering, and just open the damn door to Hell. We'll deal with the demons when we get there."

The strength of Sam's words was undercut by the slight wavering in his voice, but his point came across. Arin turned back to the wall and Gabriel put a strong hand on Sam's shoulder, offering a hollow gesture of comfort that did nothing to soothe the sick twisting in either of their stomachs.

Ten minutes later Arin had finished drawing the symbols on the wall, and Sam and Gabriel stood in a huddle behind her as she chanted the incantation that would lead them into Hell. In that moment she looked more demonic that Sam had ever seen her. The air around her hummed with a vibration that made Sam nauseous, a dark glow seemed to form an aura around her body, and Sam knew that if he looked her eyes would be that endless black he'd come to loathe so strongly.

He recognized most of the Latin as she spoke it, and realized it was a prayer to the devil, begging entrance to the realm and presenting an offering of light. It was symbolic of course, the air around them began to thin even though there was no devil to receive the words, but as someone who understood greatly the power of words and symbols, Sam listened to the chant and was struck with the weight of what they were about to do. All the magic of Hell was centered around the idea that there was a great leader waiting down below. All the words were prayers to Lucifer, all the fear was fear of being in his servitude. Even when Lucifer became Crowley, there was still a boss to come home to. Now, for the first time since Lucifer's fall, Hell didn't have that leader. Those were the shoes Sam was going to be expected to fill. Suddenly he felt dizzy.

Arin's voice rose to a shout and Sam felt the air around him shudder, and then there was darkness. Not the slow adjusting darkness of a starless night, but the encompassing darkness of descent. They were nowhere, there was nothing. Sam wondered briefly if they were dead before realizing it wouldn't really make a difference.

Finally a glow of orange erupted around them, a dull light that seemed impossibly bright to Sam's eyes, still dilated from the dark. It wasn't the light that brought Sam's previously slight nausea to it's peak, however. It was the heat.

They pulled apart, Dean's face searching Castiel's features for some kind of reaction. There was something there, a kind of glazed over, eyebrows raised look that Dean had really only seen on Castiel during his trip to the future long ago, and it wasn't an expression that he knew how to read.

And then Castiel laughed.

It should have been insulting, or at least confusing, but the sound was so sweet and his smile was so vibrant that Dean couldn't help but laugh too. The air of tension around them broke. All the philosophizing about death and detriment faded away until it was gone, and it was just the two of them as they always were, sitting easily together on a blood soaked beach.

A lot of things had changed about Castiel. He was something new now, something that echoed the solider he had once been, and reflected the broken shell Dean knew he could become. This in-between angel wasn't completely broken yet, though he had been through his low points, there was just something resoundingly human about him. The humanity was never more apparent than in that moment he squeezed Dean's hand lightly and climbed on top of him as if it were the most natural thing for him to do. Castiel straddled Dean's thighs, and the hunter tried not to let himself be taken aback by the brazenness of the action. Instead, he focused on the warmth of Castiel's mouth as it descended on his own and thought that while this might not be the first time he'd had a lapful of angel, it was definitely his favorite.

A snarling from the direction of the water pulled them both back to their senses. The aquatic creatures couldn't hurt them as far as they knew, but there were plenty of things on land just itching to hunt them down. They'd already stayed in one spot for far too long. Dean broke apart from Castiel, sighed, and leaned his head forward to rest briefly on the other man's chest.

"Nothing to do but keep walking," he murmured.

"Yes," Castiel agreed. He climbed off of Dean, rose carefully to his feet and offered a hand down. Dean raised his eyebrow at the gesture but allowed it anyway. When they were both standing Castiel nodded in the direction of the forest.

"We'll be safer under the cover of the trees."

Safer was a relative term, but Dean withheld his comment. Instead he curled his fingers around Castiel's shoulder and directed him away from the tranquility of the ocean.

Sweat broke out on Sam's brow in the time that it took everything to come into focus. He felt hands guiding him in one direction and allowed himself to be led, not really trusting his self-navigation skills as he tried to adjust to the blistering heat. Every inhale felt like fire, and his skin ached like he had a fever. Arin's warnings floated through his addled mind. They need to trust you. You need to come off as confident. You need to seem like a leader. Sam did his best to stand straighter and look more menacing, but it was difficult with his insides writhing in protest against the new atmosphere.

Sensing his friend's discomfort, Gabriel reached up and pressed two fingers to Sam's temple. Relief flooded Sam instantly, and while he still wished Hell would consider installing central air he found that his mind was clearer now and his lungs didn't feel quite so ready to explode.

"Thank you," Sam murmured.

"Yeah no problem. Sorry, I guess I thought you knew what to expect."

Sam shook his head. "This wasn't my Hell. Lucifer liked his cage a little cooler. Most of the time, anyway."

For the first time he looked around and absorbed what he was seeing. It truly looked like the bowels of the Earth – endless caverns carved from ancient stones. In some places the walls were so high that their ceilings were imperceptible, in others there were passages so narrow that it seemed impossible to squeeze through them, leading to unknown rooms from which pained howls were leaking through. The design of the landscape itself was beautiful, and had an artistry to it that Sam knew all too well to be the taste of its original creator. Lucifer's poetic soul was etched in every spire and it made Sam shudder as he imagined the devil's careful hands digging Hell out of the forgotten underworld.

The shudder only grew stronger as he remembered that, while his Hell had been something much more intimate, this Hell was the one that Dean had known. Sam couldn't stop his mind from painting the earthen floor with his brother's blood, and he grew sick as he imagined briefly that Dean's memories were his own.

Arin's voice pulled him out of his reverie. He realized that they had positioned themselves so that they were standing on a sort of elevated platform of rock, Sam and Gabriel in the background while Arin stood forward. She appeared to be addressing the demons around them, whom Sam had not previously noticed.

"Crowley is dead," she said flatly, her voice echoing against the stone walls around them. Several demons stopped short and turned to face her.

"You're lying," one close by snarled at her.

"Prove me wrong," Arin accused, and her confidence turned even more heads. "Go find him. You won't be able to. I saw the light leave his eyes myself. I bear the scars from where he tried to kill me, he did not succeed. And that can only mean one thing."

No one else spoke, so Arin continued. "Your king is dead. You are again without a ruler. Demons cannot rule themselves, believe me. I've seen them try."

"So who do you nominate?" A different demon than the one before sneered. "You? You're a child Arin. You know nothing."

"I know this," Arin snapped back. "I know that I turned black under the whispers of a messiah, hand chosen by Lucifer in an age before any I'd been alive to see. I know that my time down here has been shorter than some, but there isn't a man among you who didn't hear those whispers too, and wonder if they'd ever come to pass.

Crowley was never meant to rule!" Arin exclaimed, and the room fell silent under the force of her voice. "There was another. He has known Lucifer better than any of you. He is our true king, the boy king. I have brought Sam Winchester here to put the crown of thorns upon his head, my brothers. I have brought you your leader."

Gabriel gave Sam a little shove forward, and Sam obediently stepped up beside Arin. He held himself at full height, chest puffed out authoritatively, eyes scanning the endless hordes of demons who he was meant to control. A tremble went through him, but he kept his eyes steady. He knew he had the upper hand here.

"I killed Crowley," he announced to the room. It wasn't technically true, but Gabriel didn't really want the credit for that one anyway. "I can kill any of you. I can kill you with my knife, I can kill you with my mind. Don't think your numbers or any cunning you might have can hope to overthrow me. My brother is dead and I have nothing left to lose."

That part was true, at least technically. Every demon in the room seemed to know it, too. Even those too young to remember Lucifer's reign knew of the Winchesters. They knew what it meant when one of them died, knew what the remaining brother would be capable of, and no one wanted to cross Sam Winchester upon that announcement. Not as individuals, and not as a mob. Nobody made a sound.

"Lucifer taught me many things," Sam went on. "Some of you will find the spine to cross me, and you'll learn about them. Above all, however, Lucifer taught me that Hell is my domain, my kingdom, and I was born to rule here. You can accept me as your ruler, or you can accept your fate."

It was a gamble, he knew. He was never destined to be the king of hell, though Arin assured him that the stories had been twisted to depict otherwise. An eternal game of telephone between Lucifer and his children had played out to the point where vessel somehow became king. Every young demon was taught that Sam Winchester would bear the light of Lucifer and shed it on his beloved creations. A ruler who could rule from beyond the confines of a cage. It was a day many of them feared, a day some of them even looked forward to. The gamble, however, came in to play with the question of whether or not these demons still held faith in fairy tales. After centuries of the Winchesters acting like homicidal maniacs towards their kind, and with the failure of the apocalypse to pass, there was a chance they'd rebel and lynch him where he stood.

Some combination of fate, luck, and the pure terrifying skill of Sam Winchester worked in their favor, however. Slowly, one demon after another bowed their heads, accepting their servitude and welcoming their king. The last demon to bow was the one who had originally spoken out against Arin, and he held her eyes for a long time before finally taking a knee and bowing his head towards the ground.

The tightness in Sam's chest began to alleviate. Gabriel and Arin stood behind him, both shorter than him by a wide enough margin that it created the visual of them being his supporters rather than his protectors. Not entirely accurate, but this seemed to be the day for half-truths, even symbolic ones.

Dean let Castiel lead as they began to once again stomp through miles of darkness and underbrush. The relative light at the beach had been refreshing in a way, as if it had tricked his brain into thinking it was getting real sunlight. Now they were plunging back into the darkness, and Dean wasn't looking forward to that, but he tried not to think about it. As he watched Castiel walking ahead of him, he tried not to think of anything at all. No analyzing, no freaking out; any over-thinking whatsoever was entirely against the rules. They were in Purgatory, they were going to die in Purgatory, and an existential crisis wasn't going to do anyone any good. He was going to take things as they came, and then just let it be.

They wandered quietly for awhile, and Dean felt the weight of the backpack more acutely than he had before. Sighing, he adjusted the pack on his shoulders. He wasn't even sure where they were going at this point, but Castiel's pace was quickening, and Dean had to hurry to keep up.

"Where's the fire?" Dean asked. Castiel ignored him, just kept moving forward. He was close to breaking into a run.

"Cas," Dean called, breath coming harder now. "Wait up."

"Don't you hear it?" Castiel called over his shoulder. Dean frowned and adjusted the pack on his shoulders again as he tried to speed up.

"Hear what? I don't hear anything. Cas wait."

But Castiel was determined to get wherever he was going and seemed to have no interest in waiting for Dean to catch up. A fallen log came across their path, and Dean managed to get just close enough to catch sight of Castiel vaulting over it and out of sight.

"Oh son of a bitch," Dean gasped, finally giving up and dropping his hands to his knees so he could catch his breath. He called Castiel's name, voice breaking into a rasp on the vowels as his lungs struggled, but got no response. After a few more steadying breaths he started forward again.

"Fucking angels," he swore to himself as he struggled over the log that Castiel had hurdled easily. Sometimes Dean managed to forget how physically inept he was next to Castiel, and then something would happen to restore his clarity on the subject. This was one of those times. He wandered in the direction he guessed Castiel had gone, getting more and more frustrated when he found no trace of him.

He was about to give up and go wait by the log when a sound reached his ears. It was faint to him, but it must have been the sound that Castiel was chasing. Dean closed his eyes and tried to focus on the direction it was coming from.

He walked uncertainly through the trees, but to his relief the sound started growing louder. It was turning into a distinct buzzing as he moved closer, and while Dean couldn't quite figure out what would be making that sound, he drew his gun anyway, just in case.

"Cas?" he called cautiously. The sound grew louder still, and Dean was sure he must be right on top of it. He pushed a low hanging branch, walked through, then froze at what he saw.

"Cas?" Dean asked, stepping forward and bringing his gun up in front of him. Castiel was there, but he wasn't alone, and as Dean approached Castiel looked at him reproachfully.

"You're scaring them," he said.

"What are they?" Dean asked, raising his voice slightly over the buzzing. Castiel raised an eyebrow at him.

"Honeybees, Dean. Honestly, I shouldn't have to tell you these things. The gun, please."

Dean holstered his pistol. Hundreds of bees were flying around them, but they didn't look like they meant them any harm. Castiel looked positively delighted.

"Bees go to Purgatory?" Dean asked, not quite sure he understood what was going on here. He was even less sure when Castiel suddenly sat cross-legged in the dirt and made himself comfortable. Apparently they were staying here for awhile.

"Sit, Dean," Castiel said, and Dean frowned, but when Castiel patted the ground beside him he did obediently sink down onto the ground beside him.

"Why are they here?" Dean asked, leaning back on his hands.

"Fascinating isn't it?" Castiel's eyes were glistening with a madness that Dean had hoped was forgotten, but apparently he wasn't so lucky. "Monstrous little creatures, designed by Eve actually, as were their brothers the wasps, though that might be more believable to you. Honeybees however were born out of this basic evil and found in their meager existence a purpose that makes the world so much better for them being there."

"They still go to Purgatory when they die though," Dean pointed out.

"Well, yes," Castiel confirmed. "They are what they are. But it isn't what they are that matters to them. They've still realized that their lives can be remarkable."
Castiel held a finger out and a honeybee landed on it, and seemed to nuzzle him briefly before flying back up to join its brothers. The grin on Castiel's face was manic, but somehow relaxed. Dean cleared his throat uncomfortably.

"Is that why you like watching them so much? I thought you said they followed God's plan for them."

"God likes taking credit for the plans that go right," Castiel murmured. "They follow their own path, they make their own choices. The world keeps turning because they are there to help it along. But in the end they come here, where God always meant for them to come, and he takes credit for the good they've done along the way."

Castiel sighed and looked up at the honeybees with a kind of forlornness in his eyes. "It's my faith in him that's broken, Dean, not my faith in you. You and Sam are like honeybees."

Castiel turned his expression to Dean, his expression still unsettlingly tender.

"And I always follow the bees."

Gabriel and Arin worked together to fashion a private room for Sam. They took what used to be Crowley's meeting room, and Gabriel added a bed and some food while Arin worked on repelling sigils to keep out anyone that might have funny ideas during the night. Once they were satisfied that he was safe, they told him he could go to sleep, and Sam thanked them weakly before disappearing into the room and quickly falling unconscious. Arin watched him for a long moment before she turned and headed towards Crowley's throne room. Gabriel trailed after her.

It wasn't Crowley's throne room anymore, of course, it was Sam's, but Crowley had been the one to convert it in the first place. It was a wide open space with, predictably, an enormous marble throne looming on the far end. To the left of the throne was a space for Crowley's personal hellhound, and along the sides were spikes which held the heads of people who had publicly wronged the King of Hell. They had decided to have a coronation of sorts for Sam the next day, so the room had to be altered to fit the new king. Gabriel waved a hand and the rotting heads vanished. That was a start.

Next he got rid of Growley's dog bed and instead brought up two smaller chairs at either side of the throne itself. He then added three rows of chandeliers to the ceiling and filled them with lit candles, throwing a warm glow over the room.

"Mood lighting," he said with a shrug when Arin gave him a look.

"Are we seducing the demons into complacency?" she asked. Gabriel laughed.

"It's an idea I've been working on."

Arin raised an eyebrow, and Gabriel's expression softened. He reached forward to tuck her hair behind her ear, then stopped himself, half ashamed by the humanity and sentimentality in the gesture. Instead he rested his hand against her cheek and curled his fingers under her chin to make sure she was looking at him.

"You know what comes next," he said quietly. Arin nodded.

"We need to break into Purgatory and get Dean."
"And Castiel," Gabriel added. "My brother's down there too remember."

"I won't leave them to rot," Arin promised. Her eyes shone in the warm candlelight. "But if there is any way this can happen without me -"

"I can't promise anything."

"You can promise that you'll try."

"I'll try," Gabriel whispered. His hand left her cheek and slid down to her arm, pausing to squeeze gently on the scar he'd left there. "We've been through a lot together, huh?"

Arin smiled a little. "A lot of something, yes. Though in life I consorted with all kinds of meddlesome creatures. I can't imagine why death would be any different."

Gabriel smiled too "So I'm just another client?"

"A particularly troublesome one."

"I've been called worse." He trailed his fingers down to hers, and brought his other hand to her waist. "Dance with me."

"And why would I do that?" Arin asked, her mouth twitching in amusement at the demand.

"Because we might die tomorrow," Gabriel answered.

Arin tilted her head. "We might not."

"Well, let's play it safe for once." Soft music started playing from nowhere, and Arin did her best to look annoyed as Gabriel led her into a slow waltz. The expression didn't last, however, and soon she was laughing as the room around her began to spin. He hummed the tune in her ear as he swept her to and fro, his hands strong where they held her and his movements light and fluid. Arin rolled her eyes and made a comment about the grandiose qualities of his form right before she was spun quickly twice more and dropped unceremoniously onto Sam's throne. She made a sound of surprise and glared up at Gabriel, who had laughter in his eyes. He looked like he was going to make a quip at her, but paused instead, and stepped back as if he were trying to get a better view of something.

"You look good up there," he commented, tilting his head thoughtfully. "Nothing against Sam, but it should've been you."

"They wouldn't follow me," Arin insisted with a shrug, but she straightened her posture anyway and tried to convey a queenly presence. "What do you think? Would anybody buy me as a ruler?"

"Given the last crowned king I'd say the demons have a pretty low bar for what passes and fails," Gabriel commented, and Arin laughed. She gestured at him with an imaginary scepter.

"That's treasonous talk, Sir Trickster," she scolded. "One year on the rack."

"Only if you promise to never call me 'Sir' again," Gabriel agreed with a shudder. Arin bit her lip to hold back her giggling and nodded her agreement.

"So it shall be."

Gabriel smiled, then tilted his head and gave her a look of understanding that conveyed the fact he was just as worried as he could tell she was underneath her laughter.

"Sam will be fine," he assured her. "We'll make sure he is."

"Yes," Arin agreed with a sigh. "The fate of the world falls to us again. Fancy that."

Gabriel grinned. "Who else could do it?"

Chapter Text

Dean liked kissing Castiel, and it was one hell of a way to stay warm. Purgatory seemed to be growing colder, though it wasn't apparent if they were experiencing seasonal changes, or just a shift in climate. It was impossible to know. These small details, such as understanding how their surroundings functioned, were luxuries not afforded to Dean and Castiel, so they were forced to just go with it, huddling together for warmth when the night's chill got to be too much. Neither of them seemed to mind.

Sometimes it was for comfort more than warmth. One day they woke up to the sound of rain falling outside their makeshift shelter. Castiel immediately scrambled into the corner, his heart pounding so hard it was almost audible to Dean's weak sense of hearing. Dean had followed after him sleepily and wrapped his arms around Castiel's shaking shoulders. The presence seemed to be comforting, but it wasn't enough, and Dean recognized the symptoms of a panic attack as they wracked Castiel. It was heartbreaking to see the angel fall to such a human condition, and Dean had pulled him into a kiss with hopes of distracting him. It had mostly worked.

Their problems weren't always so easily solved, however, and for the most part they had to keep going. A rhythm soon developed. Long stretches of movement followed short bursts of rest, and every night when they collapsed Dean was so tired that he could barely move, but there was a new fire in them. They fought harder, killed faster, hid less than they attacked, and ran like hell after each victory because, after all, nothing was permanent here.

Dean killed a wraith, just barely. The battle had been unnecessary and rough, and by the time the creature fell Dean was bleeding from the face and panting as if every ounce of strength had left him. Castiel rushed forward as he saw Dean double over, but by the time he reached his side Dean had righted himself and shook his head at Castiel's offered assistance. The angel frowned, a million lectures running through his brain as he tried to decide on the best way to chastise the reckless hunter, but then a rustling came from the bushes and there was no time. Dean grabbed Castiel by the hand and they took off into the thick of the trees, leaving their predators behind them.

When they finally stopped running, they found themselves under the shelter of an enormous oak tree. Dean slumped against the trunk, breathing hard with a grin plastered across his face. Castiel clenched his jaw and started to say something about how stupid Dean was being, but then his face was sandwiched between Dean's calloused hands and their mouths were pressing together, hard. When they pulled apart Dean was laughing.

"What's so funny?" Castiel demanded.

"I have no idea," Dean replied, and he kissed Castiel again. It was possible that he was losing his mind, that Castiel wasn't the crazy one anymore. It was more likely that he had simply lost all ability to care. Death, life, limbo, it didn't matter. In that moment he had Castiel, warm and alive against him, and if that wasn't just the best damn news he'd had all year he didn't know what was.

The woods around them were mercifully silent as their interlude carried on. Dean silently thanked the entities of the nothingness around them for the moment they had been granted, and slipped his tongue into Castiel's mouth. He wanted. It wasn't even something specific that he yearned for, he just felt the overwhelming sensation of want, something so selfish and visceral and foreign in this world of survival first that the sensation itself was enough to make Dean unsteady. While he wasn't sure what specifically it was that he wanted, or even what Castiel would allow him, the endless things he couldn't have were so apparent it was painful. Tearing their clothes off was a death sentence. Letting their guard down in any way would be enough to get them killed. It was hard to care, however, when Dean's hips were grinding mindlessly against Castiel's and the angel was responding with a series of light, breathy moans that would've been enough to make a stronger man than Dean Winchester come undone.

His lips fell to Castiel's neck and the dirty, sweaty skin there tasted morbidly human. He kissed it anyway, smiled against it when Castiel whined and rolled his hips in response. Dean cast a wary glance around to satisfy his paranoia, then grabbed Castiel by the vest and yanked him down to the ground. They collapsed on a pile of leaves that crunched noisily beneath their weight, but their surroundings remained still and they didn't pay much mind to the sound. Dean entwined his legs with Castiel's and rolled him onto his back, and, receiving no protest, attached his lips to Castiel's.

They kissed slowly, but hungrily, like they could devour each other if they tried hard enough. Kissing turned to touching, hands exploring curves over the barriers of cloth and leather, which turned to unhurried rutting, both of them lost in the full body sensations of contact, of each other. Dean buried his fingers in Castiel's waist, and panted against his lips. Castiel skimmed his fingers over the dried blood on Dean's face, wishing he was strong enough to heal him, and lifted his hips in an easy rhythm. By the time Dean gave up on patience and started moving hard against Castiel in search of release, both of them were shaking all over. Castiel made a noise as the unfamiliar punch of an orgasm hit him, and Dean swallowed it down as he thrust through to his own. It didn't take long, and as spots of warning appeared in his vision Dean bit down high up on Castiel's neck to silence his own cries of pleasure.

It was messy, and undignified, and they were both going to be uncomfortable until they found some water to clean up in. The rush of endorphins made that a worry for another time though, and as Dean looked down at Castiel's kiss-swollen lips and lust- addled eyes, he couldn't help but smile.

They sat up and leaned against the base of the tree, and suddenly Dean was exhausted. He swayed a bit, and his eyelids drooped. Castiel noticed and carded a hand affectionately through Dean's hair before guiding him down to lay across his lap.

"Sleep," Castiel commanded gently. "We're safe for now."

Sleep was a gift. The day's events had been grueling, and it had taken Sam no time at all to succumb to a dreamless unconsciousness. When he awoke, he was almost surprised to find that he was still in the room in which he'd fallen asleep. It had been real.

Arin walked in almost the second Sam stepped out of bed, as if she'd been waiting. When he saw her she dipped into a low curtsy and grinned.

"M'lord," she greeted him.

"It's really hard for me to take this seriously if you don't," Sam informed her, though it was difficult for him not to smile in return.

"Never trust a demon to take things seriously."

"Never trust a demon," Sam retorted, and Arin nodded thoughtfully.

"Yes, that too." She stepped forward and reached up to run a hand through his hair. Her teeth caught her bottom lip pensively as she ran the same hand down his cheek, and Sam almost leaned into the touch before Arin grabbed his chin and jerked his head sharply to the right.

"You're too pretty," Arin complained. "Perhaps I should rough you up a bit, give you a more powerful visage."

"I like my face the way it is, thanks."

Arin frowned, but released her grip on his jaw.

"Are you powerful enough to kill a demon? I was told you have some psychic abilities."

"Not without a jolt," Sam said. When Arin seemed to contemplate that option, he amended his answer to a firmer "No."

"We could have Gabriel do a show of strength I suppose," Arin said with a sigh.

"I thought you wanted me to be the one they're afraid of."

"And you will be. A dog is only as frightening as the length of his leash. They fear your strong man, they fear you." Arin looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged. "No matter. I'll think of something. You just be in the throne room as quickly as you can. And try to look less pretty."

She left and Sam sank down on the edge of his bed. His stomach was tight with apprehension, and with frustration. So far Arin and Gabriel had done a fine job of jerking him along and turning him into the figurehead for their personal mission – whatever that was, Sam had sort of lost track – but they shushed every mention of Dean, and his inquiries about Purgatory were met with a dismissive promise. "All in due time."

It wouldn't do any good to worry about that now. They were in the middle of Hell, and Arin and Gabriel were his only barriers from a fiery and painful death. He had to do as he was told.

A small crowd had already assembled by the time Sam entered the throne room, and he did his best to do what Arin wanted. She had told him to act like he owned them, but Sam found it easier to regard the demons with contempt. The benefit of disgust was that it didn't have to be faked.

Many of the demons bristled at his entrance, but none approached him. By the time Sam reached the throne every eye in the room was on him. Gabriel was already there, sitting patiently in the smaller seat to Sam's left. He smiled warmly as Sam sat upon the throne, and leaned over to whisper.

"Arin told me you were being difficult."

"I wouldn't let her punch me in the face."


More demons arrived and the room became crowded quickly. Just as Sam was about to choke on the force of his own pulse beating in his throat, Arin walked in and bid the room to be silent. She stood in front of the throne like it was her stage, and everyone was gathered to watch her perform.

"This is a momentous day," she projected her voice so it echoed through the stone walls. "A day long foretold. The day that the human boy with the demon blood in his veins rises to join with the Prince of Darkness. Unfortunately Lucifer is not able to extend a hand of greeting to our new king, so we will do it on his behalf. Let us take this child whom our morning star did deem worthy and take a knee before him, to prove that we do not forsake his judgment. And when we rise, let it be known that we rise under the reign of Sam Winchester and do so willingly and honorably pledge ourselves to his service, and his work."


A voice in the back cut through Arin's speech, and all heads turned.

"Show yourself," Arin demanded, and as the crowd parted a demon walked forward with his head held high, defiance burning in the black of his eyes.

"I will not kneel," he declared. "Not to a human. Not to a Winchester. A child."

"I am older than you know," Sam said darkly.

"It is not your place to question -" Arin started.

"And it is not your place to speak!" The demon cut her off. "Our king has lips of his own, does he not? I'd like to hear that he also has the brains to use them."

"Learn your place, or I'll teach it to you." The words came out of Sam's mouth with such ease that he was almost sure Arin said them, but no, that was him. Years of watching Dean be a good little soldier, and hating him for it, and here was Sam, sitting on the throne of perdition and playing a puppet to a demon. If Sam had the capacity for it he would've hated himself, but he was too cold now, too numb.

"I. Will. Not. Kneel," the demon repeated, his eyes daring Sam to do something about it.

Sam nodded once.


Gabriel snapped his fingers, and the scream that came after sent a shuddering silence through the whole room. With a sickening crunch the demon's legs snapped in half mid-thigh, and the bones cut through the fleshy meat there. An invisible hand grasped the exposed femurs and pulled upward, dragging with them the entire skeletal structure of the demon's legs one slow bone at a time.

When they had all been withdrawn the demon slumped to the floor, a bloody mess, and watched as the bones that had once been inside him swirled in the air, colliding with each other and changing shape until they formed something that looked very much like a crown. The shaped mass spun a few more times, shaking off the blood droplets that had tinted pink rivulets onto its white canvas, and then stopped and hung in mid-air.

There was another snap, and another scream, and now the demon was levitating. His back was curved at a sharp angle as he fought the magic that held him in the air, but to no avail. Slowly he floated towards the crown of bones and his hands reached up to grasp it through no will of his own. Blood from his butchered legs left trails on the polished floor as he was pulled towards Sam, slowly, until he was close enough to touch, and only then did he lower the crown onto the head of the new king.

Sam watched with a cold, unfeeling expression as the demon crowned him. It was obvious that he was in pain, and it was obvious from the faces of the onlookers that the spectacle had made an impression. This was Hell, however. Pain was expected, and healing was inevitable. When this peon healed, Sam would have a real enemy.

"Kill him," Sam ordered. Gabriel nodded once, stood, and pressed his hand to the demon's forehead. One last bitter scream and a flash of brilliant white light, and then the demon screamed no more.

Sam looked out on his audience, trying to keep the wariness out of his eyes. They had just seen a display that they would not soon forget, and Sam could sense their hesitation in the air. They feared him; that alone spoke success. Sam realized that whatever Arin and Gabriel hoped to achieve had been accomplished here, and after his failure to save Dean thus far a little success felt good.

"Does anyone else have something to say?" Sam asked. He was met with silence. He turned to Gabriel and Arin and gave them both a short nod.

"Then we're done here," Arin said, rising to her feet. "Carry on, and tell all you meet what you witnessed here."

The crowd sat stunned for a moment, and then slowly began to disperse. As they left, Arin placed a hand on Sam's shoulder and leaned in to whisper to him.

"You did well."


A shout sounded from nearby and Dean woke with a start. He looked up to find Castiel already looking at him, concerned. They got up, Dean grabbed their backpack and slung it over his shoulder, and they wordlessly headed in the direction of the commotion. Something didn't feel right. That shout had sounded too human.

They walked quickly, knowing the commotion couldn't be too far out. It was Castiel who saw it first, and he grabbed Dean and roughly pulled him down to crouch behind a boulder so they could observe. Two women faced each other. They could see the face of one, curled into a twisted snarl, human except for the blacks of her eyes. The second woman, shorter in stature, stood with her back to their hiding place, but they could see a knife glinting in her right hand.

"That one's not human," Dean whispered.

"Demon," Castiel said with a nod. Dean frowned.

"But demons go to Hell."

"Demons live in Hell," Castiel corrected. "They die here. They die very rarely though, which is why we haven't seen that many. You and Sam have killed your fair share with that knife, but normally demons just get exorcised."

The women began to circle each other slowly, and Dean frowned again.

"Everything else we've seen here has it's monster face, why isn't the demon just a cloud of black smoke?"

"A demon is a human soul that has been twisted and tortured into something monstrous," Castiel explained. "What is reflected in Purgatory is that soul. The demon's original human form."

"But with black eyes."


Neither opponent seemed willing to strike first. They continued to round each other, and when the face of the smaller woman came into view it was Castiel's turn to frown.

"That one's not a demon. Is she human?"

He seemed unaware of the fact Dean had gone rigid beside him. A long silence followed, until Dean finally shook his head and started to rise slowly to his feet.

"No, she's not human. She's an Amazon."


Dean ignored him. He rose completely to his feet and took a step before Castiel was able to make a scrambled grab at him and yank him back down.

"What are you doing? We can't fight a demon, we have no weapons that would work on her. She'll kill you in a breath."

Dean's eyes were bright green with anger as he shook Castiel's hands off of him. Maybe it was reckless, maybe it was even suicidal, but there was one thing Castiel just couldn't have understood.

"Cas, that's my daughter out there."

Before Castiel could respond, Dean was on his feet again, and then he was gone. Castiel clenched his hands into fists tightly at his sides, anger and fear and adrenaline all coursing through him in a wave. He didn't follow, however. He stayed safely hidden, and watched.

"Leave her alone," Dean demanded. The demon turned to look at him with interest as the Amazon regarded him with wide eyes.


"Hey Emma," Dean said softly. He was aware of the knife in Emma's hand, and the fact that it had once been aimed at his back. It was probably the same weapon; she must have fallen with it. It had been in her hand when Sam shot her after all. Somehow right now, Dean was sure Emma wasn't going to hurt him. It wouldn't have been the first time he'd been wrong, but the demon facing them down seemed to be a more pressing concern.

"Dean Winchester," the demon purred. "Never thought I'd see you here."

"Yeah that seems to be the general reaction," Dean replied with a grimace. He put a hand on Emma's shoulder and guided her backwards with slow, careful steps that put distance between themselves and the creature. "I don't want to fight you."

"No, you don't," the demon agreed. "I can see that. You are still human, aren't you Dean? The rules of Purgatory don't apply to you. You can die here. I can kill you and you will rot into the ground like no being before you has done. What a delicious possibility."

"There's plenty of meat here for you to stick your claws into," Dean said carefully. "I just want her. Let us go and get on with your life. Death, whatever."

"Like you let me go?" the demon asked with a cock of the head. Shit. Dean swore to himself. Castiel was right. Most of the demons in Purgatory would've been put here by him, or Sam, or someone on their side. Mercy wasn't something Dean expected from a demon to begin with, but certainly not from a demon he had personally ganked.

"I suppose it's too late to grovel for forgiveness?" Dean asked, forcing a humorless laugh into his voice. He stopped backing up, and instead led Emma around so she was standing behind him.

"You're being ridiculous," she hissed in his ear.

"I already let you down once," Dean whispered back. "Give me this one."

"You really are stupid," the demon said with a chuckle. She stalked forward until she was face to face with Dean. He shook at the proximity, thought briefly of Cas and apologized in his mind, hoping that it would reach Castiel like a prayer and that he would forgive him for leaving him behind.

The demon reached up to wrap her hand around Dean's throat, but when she grasped there was only air between her fingers. Dean and Emma were both gone, just like that. She looked around, confused, then growled in frustration. How did that damned Winchester always manage to survive?

Chapter Text

The bone crown that Gabriel had fashioned hung loosely from Sam's fingers as he sat on the edge of the bed. Mere hours had passed since the coronation. His title was hollow, he knew that, but he was not above taking joy in the fear of the demon's he'd laid claim over. It was a cruel pleasure, a cold pleasure, but these creatures had haunted him his entire life; it seemed high time he had the opportunity to haunt them back.

There was a knock on the door, then it opened and Gabriel wandered inside. He spotted the crown in Sam's hands and grinned.

"That was a nice touch don't you think?"

"Very effective," Sam agreed. He laid the crown down on the bed, then folded his hands together as he looked up into Gabriel's eyes. "So how long are you planning on jerking me around?"

The smile vanished. "Something troubling you, Sammy?"

"It was cute," Sam said, holding Gabriel's gaze steadily. "Playing the concerned brother card to get me on your team. Playing on my empathy. Pretending you give a damn about Cas just so you can -"

Sam's words were cut off as his windpipe suddenly closed. He grasped at his throat as if he was trying to pry off an invisible hand, but there was nothing to grab.

Gabriel watched silently as Sam turned red and fell forward off the bed, onto his knees. The archangel's face remained stoic except for the smallest twitch at the corner of his lips. Then, right when Sam was sure he was about to black out, there was a snapping sound and oxygen rushed into his lungs.

"Never," Gabriel said gravely as Sam gasped in large gulps of air. "Presume to tell me how I feel about my family."

Sam glared up at Gabriel from the ground. His vision was blurry, but he didn't need to see the cold rage on Gabriel's face to know he'd pushed a button.

"Wasn't Crowley your family too?"

Gabriel gritted his teeth. "Yes, he was, and if the idiot hadn't tried to kill Arin we would've dethroned him, faked his murder, and hid him away safe and sound. Crowley was out of control and Arin came to me asking me for help. It wasn't supposed to be a blood bath."

"You were naïve if you thought he'd give up Hell just like that."

"Crowley was a clever moron. He looked out for himself. I thought he could be convinced."

Gabriel offered a hand. Sam hesitated slightly, then grasped it and together they pulled Sam to his feet. He eyed Gabriel warily, expecting further punishment, but Gabriel just shook his head.

"I like Cas. I want him safe. You want your brother safe. We do have the same goals Sam, whether you believe that or not."

"Then when are we going to do something about it?" Sam asked cautiously.

Gabriel sighed, and there was a sense of resignation in that sigh that told Sam the time had come for unfortunate truths to come to light.

"Getting control of Hell was half the battle," Gabriel began. "Now we have the venue and we have the power of the souls. Opening Purgatory takes a lot of energy, but we figured out a way to do it. There's only one small catch."

Sam narrowed his eyes. "A catch?"

"Think of the entrance to Purgatory like a door. It's there, but it's heavy, and it's stuck. The only way to budge it is to have someone pushing on one side and pulling on the other. There's some complicated ritual stuff too but that's the meat of the issue."

"Right," Sam said slowly, processing Gabriel's meaning. "So we can't open Purgatory unless there's someone already in Purgatory to help us out."

Gabriel pressed a finger to his nose. "Bingo Sam-o."

"Is there a way to contact Castiel?"

"I've been trying," Gabriel sighed. "But communication between realms is tricky under the best of circumstances, and the kid's mojo is shot. I even tried reaching Dean, but it's no good. They can't hear us."

"But you have a backup plan," Sam pressed.

"Demons go to Purgatory when they die." Gabriel made the statement matter-of-factly, but Sam didn't miss the way his eyes darkened.



Sam let out a breath. "Okay, well, that's good right? We're opening the door, she'll be able to come right back through."

"In theory," Gabriel agreed. "But if anything goes wrong, she'll be stuck there. There won't be any coming back."

Silence followed. Gabriel watched Sam carefully, waiting for a reaction, or a decision. Sam felt the scrutiny, but ignored it, his mind racing as he chewed his lip in thought.

"How does Arin feel about this?"

"She would prefer I didn't kill her if we could find another way," Gabriel replied. "However, for some reason she has a real soft spot for you, or the closest thing to soft she's capable of. She'll do it."

Sam nodded, and there was another pause as he processed.

"Well, all right then," Sam said finally. "Let's go find her."

He headed towards the door, but Gabriel was in his way before he could make it two steps across the room.

"You would just let her die?"

"I would take the chance of her dying if it saves Dean," Sam shot back. "If she does her job, everyone will make it home in one piece. If not I'm not going to mourn a demon while I have my brother back."

He tried to move forward again but Gabriel pushed him back.

"She's your friend."

"And you're in love with her. You make your peace and I'll make mine."

Sam brushed past Gabriel, this time without interference, and walked out.

The demon was gone, and they were safely under a cluster of trees Dean recognized. They'd camped here a few stops back. He blinked in confusion, trying to figure out how they'd ended up here. Emma was standing next to him, looking dazed and equally disoriented. Dean's eyes finally fell on a figure curled up around a rock and shaking.

"Shit," Dean swore. He ran to Castiel and gently turned him on his side. His eyes were barely open, and blood was dripping from the corners of his mouth. His entire body was trembling violently, and when Dean touched his face the skin there was cold.

"What did you do?" Dean demanded, panicked. "Did you zap us here? You moron, you know you don't have the juice for that."

"She – was," Castiel coughed and blood splattered his chin. "kill – you."

"Shhh," Dean ran a hand through Castiel's hair in an attempt to soothe him. "Catch your breath, Cas. We're safe now."

"What's the matter with him?" Emma asked. She was standing back from them with her arms crossed over her chest. Whatever was happening to Castiel obviously frightened her.

"He just saved our lives," Dean answered her. "Just hang back and let him get some air."

Dean turned back to Castiel. He was still shaking, but he had stopped clinging to the rock like his life depended on it and now seemed to just be letting it comfortably support his weight. His eyes had also managed to open halfway, and he was looking up at Dean with something resembling affection.


"Hey," Dean replied with a small smile. "You brought Emma with us."

"She seemed important to you," Castiel murmured.

"Thank you."

Dean looked over his shoulder at Emma, and then back to Castiel, whose eyes were slowly sliding closed again.

"There's a little cave near here, right? Do you think we can get you upright long enough to reach it? You need to rest and I'd like to talk to my kid somewhere with a little distance from you. I don't really trust her not to put a knife in your neck."

"I'm not so easily killed, Dean."

"I'm not taking any chances."

They struggled, but together they managed to hoist Castiel to his feet. Dean supported most of his weight on one side, and swung their rucksack over his free shoulder.

"Don't move," Dean said to Emma. "I will be back for you."

Emma stared at him for a moment, then sat down against the trunk of a tree and curled her knife-wielding hand against her thigh.

Dean and Castiel made slow work of getting Castiel to shelter, but eventually they reached the small cave-like alcove Dean remembered and he got Castiel situated against the far wall, as removed from wandering eyes as they could manage.

"I'll be back," he promised. "Get some rest."

Before he left Dean pulled the trenchcoat out of the rucksack and laid it out over Castiel. Castiel smiled at him gratefully, and Dean gave his hand a quick squeeze before getting up to leave.

Emma was still waiting beneath the tree when Dean returned. She looked up at him curiously when he approached, waiting for him to say something. For once, however, Dean seemed to be coming up short on words.

"I wouldn't have died," Emma said finally. "Not really. Interfering was foolish."

"There are things worse than death," Dean said, crouching down in front of her. "Emma, if you die here you become -"

"A monster?" Emma finished for him. "I'm already a monster, Father."

"You didn't kill anyone."

"I would have killed you if Sam didn't stop me."

"I'm not convinced you would have."

Emma frowned down at her knife.

"I still could."

"Yeah I know you could," Dean said with a humorless laugh. "But I'm thinking you won't. You owe me one right now."

Emma tilted her head at him. "You assume I'm honorable?"

"I'd like to think you are. You're my daughter after all."

The look that Emma gave Dean was almost pitying. "You know the reality of this, right? I'm here forever. I died and this is where I ended up. You can't save me, I'm already gone."

"But Cas and I are breaking out of here," Dean told her, his voice low like he was sharing a secret. "And if you can behave yourself and squash down those charming little homicidal tendencies of yours, you can come with us."

"How are you planning on doing that?" Emma asked.

"We're working on that part."

Emma appeared to contemplate that for a long moment. Her hand tightened around the handle of her knife, but she made no moves to raise it.

"Sam wouldn't be pleased if you came back with me in tow."

"Sam will live," Dean assured her. "You're family. But Emma if we're going to help you, we need to be able to trust you."

Dean watched as the knife turned in Emma's hand. She looked thoughtful, and tense. When she raised the knife Dean tensed in return, but then he saw she was offering it to him hilt-first. He reached a hand out and took it from her, a cautious smile playing at his lips.

"You can trust me," Emma said.

It didn't take Sam long to find Arin. She was entertaining a small group of demons Sam recognized as her friends, and though he couldn't hear what was being said, it was obvious that they were hanging off every word that came out of Arin's mouth. When she saw Sam approaching she grinned widely and excused herself, and the other demons looked mildly impressed when she walked up and kissed their new king on the cheek.

"Good to see you." Her mood was brighter than Sam had ever seen it. "I hope you got some rest."

"Yeah," Sam said quietly, squeezing her arms with a kind of halfhearted affection. Now that he could lay eyes on her, Gabriel's point was beginning to sink in. Arin was a demon, sure. She was hard-headed and manipulative, and difficult to get along with sometimes. But she was also brilliant, and more loyal than Sam had any right to expect, and she had been a true friend to him and Gabriel both. She had put herself on the line for them once already, and almost died because of it. The idea of asking her to do it again set an unpleasant guilt gnawing at Sam's stomach.

Arin tilted her head at him, her smile fading but not disappearing entirely. "Are you all right, Sam? You seem troubled."

"I am, but -" Sam felt the eyes watching them and made a point of pulling Arin over to the side. With the added touch of a withering glare cast towards the curious demons, they were granted at least the semblance of privacy.

"I just talked to Gabriel," Sam said quietly. "About Dean. About Purgatory."


Her eyes locked on something behind Sam, and he saw her jaw clench. Then she nodded slowly and looked up at him.

"Whatever you need."

"Arin." Gabriel's voice startled Sam. He hadn't heard him approaching, but now the three of them were all there. A silent conversation passed between Gabriel and Arin, and Sam felt uncomfortable at being left out of the loop.

"We made him a promise," Arin insisted after a tortuous silence. "Sam has been good on his word, I can be good on mine."

"Fine time for a demon to adopt a moral code," Gabriel snapped. "You don't have to do this. I can find another way. I just need more time."

"Sam?" Arin broke her gaze away Gabriel and looked Sam straight in the eyes. "If you ask me to do this, I will. It's up to you."

Sam could feel Gabriel's glare stabbing daggers in his back. Arin on the other hand looked fearless. If she had any qualms about going to Purgatory she was careful not to show them to Sam. There was something in her soldier-ready stance that reminded Sam too much of Dean, and he couldn't show Gabriel the consideration he knew his friend was hoping for.

"It's been too long already," Sam said in a quiet voice, as if a low volume to his words would keep Gabriel from hearing them. "The longer we wait the longer Dean and Castiel are stuck down there. I'm sorry Gabriel, I need her to go."

"You can't do this without me either," Gabriel said, enraged. "I don't need to let this happen."

"But you will," Arin assured him calmly. Another look that Sam couldn't decipher passed between the two of them, and then Gabriel turned and stormed off.

"Where is he going?" Sam asked, confused.

"To sulk. Don't worry, he's just conflicted. If I remind him how insufferably human he's acting he'll be on board in no time."

Sam was unconvinced, but Arin just put a gently reassuring hand on his arm and smiled.

"Trust me. Go to your room and wait."

So he did. The time he spent alone staring at his wall seemed to drag on forever. He felt ten years old again, like he had been banished to his room after John and Dean had a fight, had been told to let the grown ups handle things. He wound an anxious hand through his hair, the guilt at sending Arin into a pit of monsters still needling away at his gut, but his mind was more preoccupied with the fact that this was it: this was the crescendo. Soon he would have Dean back. Soon he could start living his life again. It was just a waiting game now.

It might have been hours later, it might have been days, but eventually Sam's door opened and Arin trudged in with Gabriel in tow. He didn't look pleased to be there, in fact he didn't even look like he was there willingly. Arin's hand was firmly grasping the lapel of Gabriel's shirt and she was leading him like a dog on a leash.

"All right, now that we're all present and accounted for, time to get to work."

Arin looked determined. She released her grip on Gabriel, though not without a glare that promised terrible things if he tried to leave. Sam watched curiously as Arin shrugged off her jacket and handed it to Gabriel. She then drew a knife from her pocket and ran it across her forearm, leaving a bright stripe of red where it cut into her skin.

"Come here Sam," she instructed, and Sam froze. "Don't worry, it's not for you. Not to drink. The king of Hell controls the souls. You have the power here, you need to be the one to draw the gate."

Sam walked over to her, still hesitant. He wet his hand with the blood dripping from her arm, the looked at wall uncertainly.

"I don't feel any power. I don't know how to call it up."

"You don't have to," Gabriel assured him glumly. "It's yours. Just do as she says and the rest will follow."

Arin patiently guided Sam through drawing a complex design on the wall in her blood. When he was done they stepped back to admire the workmanship, and Arin nodded and deemed it passable.

"I'm taking some of Gabriel's blood with me," she told Sam, and she held her hand out to Gabriel, who handed her a jar full of thick red liquid. "When I have Dean and Castiel, I'll draw a sister sigil to this one, and you two will see the gate start to glow. Gabriel knows the incantations to speak at that time. The door will only be open very briefly; this takes a lot of power and it's not sustainable, so we'll have to time it just right."

Gabriel looked sullen as he walked towards Arin. Nerves and agitation were rolling off of him, and Sam did his best to slink aside and leave them alone. The sound of dragging metal pierced the tense silence, and Arin seemed to go stiff as she eyed the archangel's blade suddenly in Gabriel's grip.

"Don't you think there are less romantic ways to do this, Gabe?"

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to stab you. Here." He took her hand and closed it around the hilt of the blade. "Take this with you. For protection. Nasty stuff out there."

"Thank you," Arin said, looking both surprised and oddly touched. She twirled the blade in her hand to get a feel for the weight and then, satisfied, gave Gabriel a small smile.

"I am coming back."

Gabriel didn't answer. Instead he reached up and wound his hand in Arin's hair, pulled her towards him and kissed her. Sam looked away. After a brief moment of indulgence, Arin pressed her hand to Gabriel's chest and gently pushed him away.

"What did I just say about being romantic?" she scolded him.

"Be safe," Gabriel said softly.

"You too."

Gabriel put his hand to Arin's forehead and with a thought poured his grace into her mind. Her eyes and mouth glowed white, and then she went limp in his arms. In a flash Sam was there. He lifted the burden of Arin's body out of Gabriel's grasp and laid her down on the bed. It looked like she could be sleeping, if demons did such a thing.

"Now we wait?" Sam asked. Gabriel nodded.

"Now we wait."

Emma and Dean sat in the shade of the tree, enjoying their momentary peace together. Once or twice Dean had tensed at noises in the distance, but they turned out to be nothing.

"So how is this going to work?" Emma asked. "You just tell everybody I'm your weird monster baby and they'll accept me into the family?"

Dean tilted his head at that point. "Truth be told there's not a whole lot of family for me to bring you back to. There's Sammy, and yeah he'll take some convincing, but I'm the big brother so what I say goes." Dean smiled and gave her a little nudge with his elbow. "I'll make sure he likes you, don't worry."

"And then what? Will you teach me how to hunt?"

"Maybe we'll take a break from the hunting for awhile," Dean suggested. "Take a shot at being respectable. We'll give you a chance to be a teenager away from that freaky cult of yours. I think we've all earned a little vacation time, don't you?"

"Yeah," Emma agreed, and she smiled. "So where does Cas fit into our little family picture?"

"Well that's a good question," Dean admitted. "Lately he seems to mostly be putting ripples in the water, and honestly I don't know how well he'd do going domestic. But it's a wait and see game, I guess."

"And what happens if he doesn't want to settle in with you?"

"He's an angel, Emma. He can do pretty much whatever he wants."

Emma opened her mouth to respond but Dean quickly shushed her. He closed his eyes and listened carefully to the trees. There was a shift in the air, something was different.

"Something's not right," he said finally. He jumped to his feet, and Emma got up after him.

"Where are you going?"

"To check on Cas. Something's wrong I can feel it. He's a sitting duck right now."

"But Father -"

"Here," Dean offered Emma her knife back, and she took it hesitantly. "Arm yourself and stay close."

Emma followed silently behind Dean as they started to trek back through the woods.

Arin heard the water before she saw it. When she opened her eyes it was there, though it was eerily still for a river. When she leaned over she could see her own reflection, a reflection she hadn't seen in over five hundred years as best as she could figure it. Though last time she had gazed at this form the eyes had been a little different.

"Human face," Arin muttered to herself. "That should make things interesting."

She tore a strip off the bottom of her t-shirt and used it to tie her long brown hair up out of her eyes. Then, with Gabriel's blade in hand, she began trudging onward.

It didn't take long for her to realize there was an ulterior motive behind Gabriel giving her his sword. It seemed to be guiding her forward, and she could only assume that meant it was guiding her to another angelic presence. It felt like the sword was calling out, like it wanted to be found, wanted to be held by someone more worthy to wield a blade than her. Arin didn't let herself be insulted by this. As long as it led her where she needed to go, the opinion of a piece of angelic weaponry was not high on her list of concerns.

There were shortcomings to using a sword as a compass, and Arin learned them quickly. For one thing, it seemed more interested in the quickest route than the safest one. Less than a mile down the road and Arin had already shed more blood in Purgatory than she cared to quantify, but there was luck in the fact that none of it was hers. Gabriel's blade was an effective weapon, and so far she had easily cut down everything that came across her path. Swiping the sword through the air did seem to disorient it, however, and it always took a minute to get her back on track.

Another mile and the sword began to hum in her hands. It led her through the densest thick of trees she had encountered so far, and it was so eager to jerk her forward that she found herself bumping into trees as she went. Finally, she broke through to a place where the foliage was more evenly dispersed, and that was when she saw the opening of the cave.

She walked up to it quietly, not sure to expect. There was someone there, but they didn't seem poised to attack her. In fact they didn't seem poised to do anything. Arin ventured further into the cave, and that's when she saw that the huddled mass in the corner was a man, a man with scars on his face curled tightly underneath a tan trenchcoat.

"Hello," she said softly, kneeling down beside him. "Are you Castiel?"

Castiel opened his eyes groggily and looked at her. If he'd had the energy he would've jumped back at the sight of the black eyes staring blankly at him, but as it was he just stayed still and blinked back at them in response.

"If you're going to kill me can you do it quickly? I'm having what you might refer to as a 'rough day'."

Arin smiled and shook her head slowly. "I'm not going to kill you. I'm here to help you. Sam Winchester sent me."

Castiel's eyes focused on something, and Arin followed his gaze to find that he was staring at the scar on her arm. She shifted uncomfortably.

"Sam Winchester did not give you that mark," Castiel murmured.

"No, that was your brother, Gabriel." She hesitated. "We're friends, truly."

Castiel smirked. "Consider yourself lucky. I've seen friends of Gabriel's end up in much worse shape than that."

"You believe me then?" Arin asked hopefully. Castiel did his best to shrug.

"Believe you, don't believe you, it makes no difference. You're here, you have what is clearly an archangel's blade, and you haven't thrust it into my heart yet. I might as well listen to what you have to say."

"I can take you home, you and Dean," she told him. She quickly explained their plan to him, and Castiel laughed.

"You show up here with my brother's prized sword and a jar of his blood. Either you killed him, or you're telling me the truth. Either way I think you're my new best friend."

Arin beamed. "Good, that's a good place to start."

"Don't tell Dean," Castiel added as an after thought.

"Where is Dean anyway?"

Castiel tilted his head, listening for a moment to something that Arin couldn't hear. Then he pointed to the mouth of the cave just as Arin made out the sound of footsteps outside.

"Cas? Everything okay?" Dean's voice called. He walked in, saw Arin, and froze. Arin saw a girl come up behind him, but Dean put up an arm to keep her back. His gaze stayed fixed like he was looking at a ghost; not one that haunted him, but the kind the he was more used to, the kind that he wanted to kill. Arin met his gaze steadily, careful not to move or react. She had known he wouldn't take kindly to seeing her. The fact that he hadn't thrown a knife at her yet was about the best she could hope for.

After a long moment Dean took a few steps forward, as if being closer would add more clarity to what he was seeing. He put a hand on the holster of his gun and shook his head slowly, obviously losing a silent argument with himself. It was cute; it was something Arin remembered finding endearing about him.

"Bela?" Dean asked finally.

Chapter Text

"Bela?" Dean asked again. She was standing right in front of him, but he couldn't believe the sight of her. Bela Talbot was a ghost, a memory that Dean would rather not face at a time like this. Or any time, really.

"Hi Dean," Arin said as she slowly got to her feet. She didn't think Dean would react well to sudden movements. "It's been awhile."

"It's okay," Castiel rasped. "She's not going to hurt us."

"No offense Cas but I know a few things about her you may not." His hand clenched around the butt of his gun. "Step away from him, Bela."

"I mean your friend no harm -"

"Prove it. Step away."

Arin put her hands up and obediently moved a few paces away from Castiel, though she couldn't achieve much more distance than that in the small cave.

"Her eyes are black," Emma pointed out. "She's a demon."

"Clever little one," Arin replied. "Does this belong to you?"

Dean's jaw clenched a little at the taunt in Arin's voice. "Emma is my daughter."

Arin gave Emma a little nod, though she didn't dare to move much more than that with Dean's eager fingers playing at his gun.

"Hello, Emma. I'm an old friend of your father's. You can call me Arin," she added with a pointed look at Dean.

"Arin, is it?"

"Not all of us were lucky enough to be pulled out, Dean. Bela Talbot died under Lilith's whip lifetimes ago. You wouldn't have recognized her by that point. And then Arin was born."

"Changing your name doesn't change what you are."

"Changing what you are can change your name," Arin spat back. "You went under for a holiday. After five hundred years of hellfire would you still call yourself Dean Winchester? Really?"

"Quiet, both of you." Castiel forced his voice to an audible level and Dean and Arin both fell silent. "In case anyone has forgotten, we're stuck in Purgatory. Dean, I'm weak. There are things here that want to kill us. You can't fight them all on your own. Arin says she can get us out of here. We should listen to her."

"I don't trust her," Dean said, leveling his gaze with Arin's. Castiel sighed.

"You don't have a choice."

"May I?" Arin asked, and Castiel nodded. She picked up her jar and sword from the floor beside him. Dean tensed at the weapon in her hand, but he saw that Castiel didn't and forced himself to relax as well.

"This is a key," Arin said, holding the jar out to Dean. "I just draw a sigil and say an incantation and the door opens. Your brother is waiting on the other side of it."

"Sammy?" Dean asked, turning the jar slowly in his hands. "What is this?"

"Blood of an archangel," Arin said flatly. Dean looked from jar to the blade in her grasp, then back to Castiel.

"Did she kill someone we should be concerned about?"

"The spell doesn't work if he's dead," Arin answered for him. "Gabriel and I are working with Sam. They want you home safe."

"Uh huh," Dean said, not quite believing her. "And where's your cut in all of this?"

Arin's stance tightened at the question. "Sam helped me resolve a problem I was having in Hell."

"In Hell?" Dean tossed the jar back to Emma and without another thought his gun was drawn and he was advancing on Arin. "What did you do to my brother?"

Arin squared her feet and lifted the angel's blade to defend herself. "Easy, Dean. Only one of us can die here."

Dean pulled back the hammer of his gun. "Yeah but I can turn you into a savage, you worthless bitch."

Anger flared in Arin's eyes, and with practiced ease she swung around and knocked the gun out of Dean's hand. Before he could even process what had happened her sword was at his throat and she was twisting the point against his skin.

"You already played your part in that."

"Stop it!" Emma yelled, but Arin ignored her.

"I don't want to keep dancing with you Dean. Tell me we're good, and I'll take you home. Otherwise I'll just tell Sam I got here too late."

"He'll know you're lying."

"Honestly? I'm willing to play those odds." Arin gave a condescending tilt of her head and let herself smile. "Don't be an idiot."

Dean nodded. "We're good."

"All right then." Arin lowered her weapon and Dean let out the breath he'd been holding. "Go see to your angel. I'll start working on the spell."

"There is a condition to this," Dean said as he moved over to the corner where Castiel was still crouched beneath the trenchcoat. "Emma's coming topside with us."

Arin looked over at Emma, who was standing awkwardly with her arms crossed in front of her chest, then back at Dean.

"Dean -"

"Not up for negotiation," Dean said. Castiel was shivering and Dean wrapped his arms around him to help warm him up.

Arin sighed. "There are dangers associated with taking someone through the gateway who has been as exposed to the elements here as she has. And it will take an enormous amount of power to pull a fourth body through at all."

"You're a smart girl. I'm sure you can make it work."

The conversation was closed at that point, Arin knew, when Dean closed his eyes and leaned into Castiel tiredly. She wanted to argue, but instead she grabbed the jar full of Gabriel's blood from Emma, twisted the top off of it, and knelt in front of the wall. Now that it was no longer fresh the blood had cooled and darkened considerably, but it still held power that Arin could feel as she dipped her fingers and started painting the complex symbols on the wall of their alcove.

Emma came over and knelt beside her.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked. Arin shook her head.

"I've got it, thank you. Just hang tight."

"Are you going to let me come back?" Emma asked, picking absently at her clothing. "Or are you going to push me out at the last minute?"

Arin sighed and looked at her. "If we make it back without you, Dean will kill me on the spot. You'll have to come. I'll make it work."

The silence that followed between them was tense, but pointed. Emma sat quietly with her hands on her knees and watched the slow, precise movements of Arin's fingers as she decorated the wall with strange languages.

Arin's work was slow, partly because of the intricacy of her designs and partly because she was stalling as she tried to figure out how to summon the extra energy needed to keep the path open for Emma. She wasn't planning on leaving Emma behind, but if her plans failed and she had to make the choice, Dean and Castiel were the ones she'd promised to return home. Well, Dean, Castiel, and herself. She wasn't staying behind, not for this girl.

In the corner Dean and Castiel shifted closer together in their half-awake states. Castiel looked sleepily up at Dean. His hair was a mess, matted with dirt, and there were bruises and scrapes along his brow and across his knuckles, but Castiel wouldn't take him any other way. This was his Dean, he'd survived, they both had, and now they were almost home.

"Eyes closed, Cas," Dean murmured. His eyelashes fluttered as he tried to force his tired eyes open enough to see Castiel in front of him. "You gotta sleep, get your strength back."

"Does it bother you that Sam's working with Gabriel?"

Dean shook his head slightly. "I don't want Sam mixed up with this Hell business, Gabriel has nothing to do with it. Though I was under the impression he was dead. Lots of dead faces popping up in this business."

"Well yes," Castiel said flatly. "We're in Purgatory."

"You know what I mean."

Dean's head rested heavily back on the wall and Castiel turned his attention to Arin, writing on the walls in his brother's blood. He could read what she was writing, and nodded to himself. She was casting a real spell, and a good one. She had definitely learned it from someone like Gabriel. For some reason Castiel trusted her, and everything so far was reinforcing that trust. Still, he knew Dean didn't share his confidence. Dean had a history with this girl that Castiel couldn't fully understand, but he knew it wasn't a good one.

"Dean?" Castiel asked.


"What did she mean when she said you played a part in making her savage?"

Castiel felt the muscles in Dean's abdomen clench, then his chest heaved and he brought his fingers up to card through Castiel's sweat slick hair.

"The last time I saw her, she was Bela Talbot. She wasn't a demon yet. And she was on my rack."

"In Hell."

"Yeah, our deals ran up around the same time. When Alistair found out I had a friend down there...however loose a definition of 'friend'...he used her. He put a razor in my hand and put her on my rack to make me prove I was his. That I would do anything he said."

Castiel was quiet for a long moment before asking: "Then why do you seem to hate her so much more than she hates you?"

"Because," Dean said, tightening his grip around Castiel just slightly. "That was the first time I liked it."

"Just about ready," Arin announced loudly. "Dean, try to get Castiel over here."

Dean ran a hand over his face. "Yep, we're coming." He nudged Castiel lightly. "You ready buddy?"

"I'm fine," Castiel assured him. "Just help me up."

Together they struggled until Castiel was upright. The trenchcoat slipped, and Dean caught it and hung it over Castiel's shoulders. Then he hooked an arm around his waist for support and they made their way over to where Arin was standing, ready.

"We'll have to move fast," Arin told them. "But we should all be able to make it."

"Okay, good," Dean nodded at Emma. "You ready kiddo?"

Emma's expression was serene, and her eyes seemed far off for a moment before finally she answered.

"Yes, I think I am."

"All right, everyone hold on and get ready."

Arin held her hand out to the sigil and the words that left her lips were unlike any Latin Dean had ever heard. She whispered the incantation with a lyrical voice, and only by the rapt attention Castiel was paying to her words did Dean work out that she was speaking Enochian.

The letters painted on the wall began to glow, and the glow seemed to reach out and wrap itself around Arin's extended arm. She shook like she was in a trance, and the floor beneath their feet shook as well. Dean grabbed Castiel's hand and laced their fingers together tightly.

"Steady," he shouted over the ruckus of the spell, and Castiel squeezed his hand in response.

"Gabe," Sam said, hitting at Gabriel's arm excitedly. "It's happening."

Gabriel let out a visible sigh of relief and stood up to the wall where the characters written on stone a dimension away were glowing through. He held his hand up and took a deep breath. The air around him started to crackle and a swirl of glowing energy trailed from his fingertips to the wall, where it spidered outwards and created the outline of the door that Arin should be returning through any moment.

"Stand back Sammy," Gabriel warned.

"Do you think they're gonna make it through okay?" Sam asked as he pushed himself back against the far wall.

"If I have anything to say about it."

Arin could feel the strength draining from her. Gabriel was responding to her call, and she could feel his energy, feel him taking some of the weight off her shoulders. It wouldn't be enough though. They had to fit four people through this portal. It was going to take everything she had.

Emma saw the fatigue on Arin's face and her stomach twisted. No matter how optimistic everyone around her wanted to be, someone wasn't making it through that portal. Someone was getting left behind.

"No," Emma said aloud.

"No what?" Dean asked. The energy was creating a wind tunnel around them, and they had to shout to hear each other over its force.

"We aren't all going to make it," Emma said. "It's not going to happen."

"Just relax and be ready to run," Dean tried to assure her. "It's all going to be okay."

"No father," Emma grabbed Arin's sword. "It won't be."

Arin automatically went to grab her blade back, but as she did the energy she was channeling faltered. She turned back to face the wall and shot Dean a helpless look.

"I can't move."

Gabriel frowned and concentrated harder, throwing perhaps too much grace into the connection between them and Purgatory. Sam saw the shift in his stance and grew concerned.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I don't know," Gabriel answered. His voice sounded strained. "Something's wrong."

Sam felt trapped against the wall behind him. He wanted to help, but knew better than to get in Gabriel's way.

"They're going to make it through, right Gabe?" Sam asked. "Right?"

"Just shut up Sam," Gabriel snapped. "I'm doing everything I can."

"Emma, stop it," Dean demanded. "This isn't the time to play games."

"But the answer is so simple father," Emma insisted. "Three people can make it through no problem, right? And we need Arin to keep the channel open. But Castiel – you said yourself he causes ripples. That we might get out and he might just go his own way. We don't need to save him, father. He's weak. He'll only hold us back. If we drop his weight we can surely make it through!"

"You're insane," Dean shouted at her. "He's not going anywhere. Emma. Put the knife down. You're just excited. We can all go through together."

"Dean." Arin's voice was strained. "Dean, grab Cas- you're gonna have to run."

"You're going to be right behind us, right?" Dean asked. "Both of you."

"Of course, but Emma's right. Cas is weak. We have to get you guys through. Then we'll be right there."

Dean hesitated, but he could feel Castiel's weight against him and he knew they were right. They had to get Castiel to safety – or to whatever laid beyond. He drew his arm tighter around Castiel's waist, and threw Castiel's arm over his shoulder for added support. The doorway began to glow brightly, and then it was a solid wall of white.

"No!" Emma lunged at Castiel with the knife poised to strike. Dean wouldn't have time to maneuver, not with the extra weight. With a sinking heart, Arin broke away from her connection with the door and threw her arms around Emma's torso to stop her.


"Go Dean!" Arin screamed. "Now, now go."

Dean hesitated, but without Arin's support the doorway was already falling. He threw his full strength into carrying Castiel across the threshold. As they pushed through the doorway, Dean felt Castiel being lifted out of his arms. He chanced a glance backwards, and at the same moment Arin looked up from the ground, where she was still grappling with Emma. Their eyes met in a silent goodbye, and that moment was all the time Emma needed to grab Gabriel's blade and stab it straight down into Arin's chest. Arin screamed, a blood curling scream, and Dean felt his stomach move up to his throat. The door might have closed right on top of him if a pair of hands didn't reach out and jerk him violently backwards, back into the room on the right side of the door.

"Dean." The hands were on his shoulders now, on his face. Someone was trying to pull him back to reality. It wasn't until he was pulled into a bone crushing hug and found his face pressed against the familiar smell of Sam's shirt that he realized he was home. His hands grappled for purchase against the soft cloth covering Sam's back, and all of a sudden he was boneless. He could have fallen apart right there and never gotten back up.

"Sammy," he murmured into Sam's shoulder. "Oh God, Sammy, you're really here."

"Yeah," Sam laughed and held Dean tight against him. "Dammit it's good to see you."

"Cas," Dean said, jerking suddenly back out of Sam's grip. "Is Cas -"

"I'm here," Castiel's voice came from beside them, and Dean all but launched himself into Castiel's arms.

"We made it," he laughed. "Holy shit, we made it."

Sam smiled softly at the sight of his brother and Castiel celebrating, but then he turned to Gabriel and his smile evaporated. Gabriel was standing where the door had just been, his fingertips pressed lightly against the wall, a look of complete emptiness in his eyes.

"Gabe," Sam said softly. The sympathy in his voice was enough to draw Castiel and Dean's attention to what was going on.

"She promised," Gabriel said, his voice barely a whisper. Guilt tugged at Dean's gut, and he stepped forward to put a gentle hand on Gabriel's shoulder.

"She saved us," Dean told him quietly. "She can't die there, but she was stabbed. She'll be different now. Whatever happens to those souls when they get taken changes them. You can't go back for her, Gabriel. It's too dangerous."

"She kept my blade with her?" Gabriel asked. Dean hesitated, rubbing at the back of his neck as he tried to drum up some degree of tact.

"She kept it close to her heart. I know that for a fact."

Gabriel nodded, then looked at Sam. He wanted to say something, and all the half-somethings he could muster were written all over his face. Sam nodded, he understood. No more words had to pass between them.

"So I'm almost afraid to ask," Dean said, looking around. "But where are we?"

"Erm," Sam shifted his weight awkwardly. "Well, we're in Hell."

Castiel's hand found Dean's before Dean was able to process a proper reaction. They looked at each other, and Dean's stance relaxed. They were obviously safe in whatever pocket of the netherworld they were in, and even if they weren't – they'd been here together before.

"I've been...sort of...running the place," Sam muttered, and Dean processed that just fine. Blank anger showed on his face and Gabriel couldn't help but snort a laugh.

"Don't worry Dean-o, your brother has fulfilled his end of the bargain. He can just pass his kingship to me and we'll all be square. You guys can go on your way."

"Pass it to you?" Sam asked. He hadn't been filled in on that part. "Was that your plan all along?"

"Well of course," Gabriel said, shrugging as though it were obvious. "Come on Sammy, you're great and everything, but an angel has always ruled Hell. It doesn't function otherwise."

"Do you know what you're doing?" Castiel asked. "Do you understand what it is you're taking on?"

"Lucifer was my brother," Gabriel stated firmly. "And Hell was his chunk of the greater design. It needs a leader, it needs to keep moving. I'm strong enough to be that leader, and frankly this is as far below the radar as I could hope to be. Below everything, really."

Castiel frowned. He looked like he wanted to argue, but Gabriel waved him off.

"This is how I do right by our family, Cas. Please. Just let me."

"Did Arin know this is what you wanted?" Sam asked.

"She did, and she would've been beside me every step of the way. The plan has seemed to reach a hiccup there."

Gabriel walked over to the bed where Sam had laid Arin's body out to rest. He sat beside her and brushed aside the long strand of blonde hair that had fallen in her face. The moment was private, but somehow Sam seemed welcome in it. He stood beside Gabriel and looked down at her as well, mourning quietly for his friend.

Dean realized then that Sam had no idea who Arin was, and that it didn't matter. Arin wasn't Bela. Arin was the girl with blonde hair lying lifeless before the two people she'd somehow managed to make herself matter to. She'd been someone else to him, and there was no need to tarnish that memory. After a long moment of silence, Gabriel looked up at Sam with emotion in his eyes.

"You'll need to announce the passing of power. It doesn't need to be a large ceremony, but if we could just do one thing..."

Sam nodded his agreement.

They built a pyre in the middle of Sam's throne room and placed Arin atop it. Demons from all corners of Hell came to see their fallen sister. It was not common for demons to die, but when they did it was even less common that their deaths were recognized in any kind of ceremonial fashion. No one knew what to make of Arin's funeral, but they all saw the darkness fall over Gabriel's eyes as the flames engulfed her, and even those who hadn't had the sense to be afraid of him before felt uneasy now in his presence.

Sam stood up at his throne and all eyes went to him.

"I, Sam Winchester, King of Hell, speak to you today for the last time as your ruler. A human cannot rule those more powerful than himself, and frankly I have never been the one you feared. Hell has always been the domain of the fallen angels, and in that tradition I hand you over to the capable hands of the archangel Gabriel. Abide him, follow his command. If you do not – may God have mercy on your souls."

Dean and Castiel stood in the corner and watched as Sam placed his bone crown on Gabriel's head. They laced their hands together and looked at each other. With the help of his brother, Castiel was in fine form once again. The scars he earned in Purgatory were fainter, but still visible, and Dean wondered if Castiel had requested they not be completely healed. Dean wouldn't mind if he had. Battle scars made the warrior.

After the crowning, Sam made his way over to his brother and their angel. If he noticed the intertwine of their hands he didn't comment. He simply smiled and looked at Dean the way he'd been looking at him since they brought him back – with complete awe at the realization he was actually standing before him.

"Those are all the I' and T's," Sam said, grinning. "Ready to bust out of here?"

Dean looked over at Castiel. "What do you say, Cas?"

"I say we're ready to go home."

They all looked over and gave Gabriel a final wave goodbye, and then Castiel fitted his hands to the shoulders of both the Winchester boys, and as they dissolved into a blanket of white, they all knew that this nightmare was finally over.