The first thing Adam notices is the silence.
It’s never quiet in Hell, and even in the Cage, the sounds of the rest of Hell had filtered in. Adam can feel light, too, burning against his eyelids, and while he takes a second to be glad he has eyelids, it’s just wrong. The Cage is murky and dim, a perpetual red-tinted twilight.
Adam opens his eyes, shielding them with his arm. It’s bright, brighter than he’s seen since the blinding white of Michael’s true form. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust, for him to take in his surroundings.
It’s got to be a trick.
Ages ago, back when Michael and Lucifer first got bored of plain torture, they’d made worlds for Adam and Sam to survive, running them through them like rats in a maze. The angels had become bored of that after Sam escaped, but they must have decided to give it another shot.
Adam’s lying in the middle of a street paved with golden-red stones, the bricks hot and rough under his hands. The angle of the sun feels different from what Adam vaguely remembers, closer and brighter, and there are heat waves shimmering over the stones of the street. The sky is clear and oddly flat, as if it doesn’t fade to smudged blue-white at the horizon like it’s supposed to.
Adam’s skin is starting to feel tight and prickly from the sun. It’s an effort to drag himself onto his feet, but he manages, stumbling through a row of tall arches into a covered walkway that runs along the large building that lines the street. It’s shady underneath, and the coolness sinks into Adam’s skin like a balm.
Now that the sun’s out of his eyes, Adam takes another look at the street. It’s long and even, curving in a smooth line away from him on both sides. There are tall buildings either side of the street, mirror images of each other made from the same terra-cotta stone of the road. They’ve got deep overhangs and arches facing the road, like some mimicry of a Roman aqueduct. Adam stays against the archway he’d entered through. He’s bone-tired, and he feels like he hasn’t slept in years. He probably hasn’t. There’s no real rest in the Cage.
Behind him, in the wall of the building, there’s another set of arches, farther apart than the ones in the walkway, and more door-like. They’re also less inviting, with nothing but pitch-blackness behind them, and Adam’s not ready for that. He stays where he is.
He allows himself to slide down until his back’s against the stone. There’s a sharp flash of pain when he braces himself with his hand, and he lets out a surprised hiss. The skin’s hot and blistered where the sunlight hit it, but Adam doesn’t think he was out long enough to get sunburned. This world’s not real, though; it doesn’t play by the rules. Adam frowns at his palm, but it’s not like he’s not used to pain. He curls his hand against his stomach and drifts into sleep.
Adam wakes up to the sound of breathing.
It’s the first foreign sound he’s heard here, and he starts, then freezes, waiting for pain that doesn’t come. Then he remembers where he is and opens his eyes.
The sun is still up, but it’s low in the sky, casting long black shadows against the stones. There’s a girl standing in one of the doorways, staring at him. Adam stares back. She clears her throat.
“Are you a monster?” She’s about ten, with dark eyes and long hair in two braids down her back. Her plain dark dress and frilly white pinafore look about two hundred years out of date.
“No,” Adam says, on reflex.
“Oh.” She frowns, suddenly crestfallen.
“Sorry,” Adam says awkwardly. She looks like she’s about to cry.
Something’s off here. Adam can’t place it, but he knows something’s wrong. He feels like he should know, but his head’s fuzzy and his memory’s dull and fragmented, and he’s a little grateful for that.
The girl’s still frowning at him. “If you’re not a monster, are you a person?”
“Um, yeah, I guess.”
She brightens a little. “That’s fine then.” She steps towards him, stopping when she’s about a foot away. She sinks to the ground next to him, skirt pooling around her. “You seem nice,” she tells him, cocking her head slightly. “I think we could be friends.”
“Sure,” Adam says, but he’s starting to feel uneasy. He remembers what’s wrong now; there’s never other people in the archangel’s made up worlds. Animals and monsters, yes, but never people.
The little girl’s frown has turned into something that’s almost sadness. “We could be friends,” she says again, “but I’m so hungry. Sorry.” She smiles, and there’s too many teeth and they’re too sharp.
Her fingers are turning into talons, and then she’s lunging at him. Adam scrambles back like a crab into the sunlight. His palms burn where they touch the stone, but Adam doesn’t care. He just needs to get away.
The girl tries to follow him, but she stops on the edge of the shade, hissing.
Sunlight, Adam realizes. Teeth equal vampire, vampire plus sun equals ka-poof. Right. The sun’s setting, though. Adam can feel its light growing dimmer, the shadows getting longer, and it’s not going to protect him for long.
The vampire-girl knows it too. She smiles from the shadows, light glinting off her fangs.
Adam’s familiar with the rules now. If Sam was still here, they’d stay and fight, but Sam’s gone, and that’s left Adam with the only way to fight he knows: run.
His sneakers catch on the rough cobblestones and he almost trips, but he catches his balance and keeps going. As weak as it is, the sunlight burns into the back of his neck, pushing him forward and reminding him of how little time he has left. He knows that if—when—he dies here, he’ll just wake up in the Cage again, but he wants to put it off for as long as possible. Even vampires and radioactive sunlight are better than Michael and Lucifer.
He needs shelter. There’s no way the girl is the only monster out there and the sun’s setting fast. He can’t remember what Sam told him about vampires, back in the first few years when the angels fought each other and ignored the brothers, leaving them to huddle in a desolate corner of the Cage. Sam had protected him, tried to keep him sane in those first few horrible months. It had only gotten worse from there, of course, but Adam still remembered a few of the stories Sam had told him—the emotions if not the words. It was a lifetime ago, after all.
There’s growling from the shadows to his right, and Adam runs faster. He’s to the curve in the street that had been the end of his line of vision before, and he’s just hoping it doesn’t lead to a dead end.
The street opens up into a circular plaza, and Adam manages to run a little faster. There’s a round tower with a comfortably solid-looking door at its base in the center of the plaza, and Adam makes for it. He knows there’s no guarantee the tower’s any safer than the street, but he’s fine with risking it; the noises from behind him are getting closer, a muttered chorus of growls, snarls, and worst of all, a high, demented giggling.
The tower door is unlocked, and Adam half-falls into the darkness inside. He slams the door shut and leans against it, bracing it with his body, breathing hard.
It’s not completely dark inside. There’s a faint green glow like bioluminescence that, while not particularly bright, keeps Adam from being completely blind.
From what Adam can see, the tower’s empty. There’s nothing on the bottom floor, not even furniture, and when he turns to latch the door, there’s no lock either. There’s just an iron staircase, curving up around the wall of the tower and a trap door at the top, maybe twenty feet over Adam’s head.
Adam takes the steps two at a time. The trapdoor’s not locked either, and he pushes it open carefully, expecting something nasty to jump at his head at any moment. The attack never comes, and he pulls himself through the door without incident.
The top of the tower is just one room. The green light is stronger here, and Adam can see a little more clearly. A cool breeze ruffles Adam’s hair, and he looks up. There are little arched windows set high in the wall, but there’s no moon or starlight coming through. The sky outside is a perfect velvet black. Adam’s distracted by that for only a second. Then he sees the obvious thing he was missing: the room has furniture—a dusty bed, a low table, a stool with a cushion, and—yes—a long, wicked-looking knife.
It looks like someone was living here, but whoever it was, they’re long gone. Adam crosses the floor carefully, looking for tripwires or booby traps, and when he doesn’t find any, he picks up the knife. It’s heavy and cool in his hand, and he feels better already. You behead vampires. He remembers now.
He’s been so focused on the knife before that he hadn’t noticed why the light was so different in this room. Downstairs, it had been a diffused glow that came out of the stones themselves. Here, the luminescence looks like it’s been painted onto the walls in complex sigils and swirls. Adam recognizes some of them from Sam’s impromptu Hunter lessons and his brother’s attempts to hold off the archangels. There are signs to repel or contain demons, ghosts, and angels that Adam recognizes, and far, far more that he doesn’t know but can guess at. He’s realizing now why the tower doesn’t have locks to keep the monsters out: it doesn’t need them.
So, either whoever was living here was a seriously hardcore Hunter, or this is just Michael and Lucifer messing with him. Adam’s leaning towards the latter. Still, he’s here, and it feels safe, and Adam’s still exhausted. He collapses onto the bed, raising a small cloud of dust.
He expects to fall right to sleep, like he had earlier, but it turns out the night isn’t as quiet as the day. It sounds like every creature that was on his trail is waiting below the tower, and their wordless moans and howls drift up through the windows. It takes Adam a long time to fall asleep, and when he finally does, he has nightmares.
Adam wakes up to sunlight. It’s the crisp, pink light of early morning, and Adam’s never been so glad to see it. The city’s quiet now, the monsters gone, and Adam feels—not healed, not by a long shot—but better, rested. Like he can actually try and beat this thing.
Like you can, the snide voice in his head that sounds a little bit too much like Michael says. You used to have the great Sam Winchester on your side and you couldn’t. Now it’s just you. Right, good luck there.
But the thing is, Sam always tried to win, to kill the Big Bad, to save the day in whatever nightmare world they’d been thrown into. Adam’s not like him. He’s not brave like Sam; he’s not strong like him. He’s not a Hunter. He’s not stupid, though. He can hide, he can stay here, and keep out of the monsters’ way, and even if he stays here, he won’t be in the Cage. Anything’s better than that.
His sunburn is already healing, and Adam’s thankful for that. His throat’s dry and scratchy, and it’s a familiar need for something that he’s forgotten. He shoves it away, locks it up with all the other things he’s trying to forget. He has to survive. He can do this.
His first step is to try and get his bearings. The windows are a little too high for him to look out of, so he pulls the stool over and stands on that.
The tower isn’t that tall by Adam’s standards, but it’s still higher than any of the other buildings around him. He hadn’t been sure what to expect—some echo of Hell perhaps, or maybe the horizon would be nothing but a jagged black cliff, but the view out the window looks surprisingly normal.
It’s clearly a city; it’s too big to be anything else, and the stone buildings stretch as far as he can see, graceful concentric rings of streets and buildings identical to the ones he’d woken up by. There are other towers, rising up above the terra-cotta roof tiles at regular intervals. Adam thinks he’s looking towards the center of the city, because the circles are getting smaller. He can’t quite see what’s at the heart of the city; it’s almost like there’s a veil hiding it from sight right at the edge of his vision. If he looks at it out of the corner of his eye, he can almost see something tall and dark behind it, but it’s little more than a mirage.
He steps off the stool and sinks down onto it, running his hands over his face. The thing is, it’s easy to think he’ll just stay here, but that mist over the epicenter of the city is haunting him. He can probably make it there before nightfall; all he needs is something to keep the sun off his skin. He has the knife; he’s not completely defenseless.
Adam sticks the knife in his belt and pulls the sheet off the bed, wrapping it around himself like a shroud. He knows this is crazy, but he can’t stay here and not know what’s going on. The thought crosses his mind that this is exactly what Sam would do. Maybe he’s more his father’s son than he’d have liked to think.
The sun stings against his face when he steps outside the tower, but he pulls the sheet further over his head. He’s too hot almost immediately, and the cool of the walkway is too promising to resist. He just has to run the second he sees anyone else. Easy.
The streets are empty and peaceful, but now that he’s looking for it, Adam can see flickers of movement behind the dark doorways. He pulls his knife out, hefting it in his sweating hand.
It doesn’t take him long to realize that there’s a rhythm to the layout of the streets. Each ring has several of the round plazas with a tower like the one he’d stayed in, and each plaza has a short alley that leads into the next ring. Adam’s trying to keep track of how far he’s gone, but it’s difficult. The streets are identical and there are no markers to tell them apart.
Before long, Adam’s realizing that he didn’t exactly think this through. He gets distracted by what looks like glowing eyes in one of the doorways and loses his count, and then all he knows is that he’s still heading into the heart of the city and away from the one safe place he’s found here.
It’s also farther than it looked from the tower. Even in the shade, Adam’s light-headed and a little dizzy. He tries to find things to focus on, like the pattern of the bricks under his feet, or the way his nose itches. It works, for a while.
He thinks he’s getting close when the sun starts to set. Adam freezes for a second, remembering how quickly it had gotten dark the night before.
He wants to run, but feels like that would be a mistake. He can feel eyes watching him, and he doesn’t want to give them something to chase. He keeps going, almost stumbling more often than he’d like. Adam tries the door of the next tower he finds but the door’s locked. He tries to break it in, but the door’s solid as well. He moves on.
After he tries the tower, he starts to head back into the shade. Then he thinks he sees someone watching him, someone small, with long braids and skirts. He pulls the sheet up and sticks to the middle of the street after that.
An hour after the sun begins to set, Adam breaks into a jog. He should have turned back hours ago, he should have tried to make it back to his tower while he still could, but he doesn’t have a choice now. He has to keep going.
Then, the last flare of orange vanishes from the sky, and the city is left in darkness. Adam’s breath is deafening in his ears, and he feels horribly alive and vulnerable in a way he’s forgotten he could.
“Hello there, pretty,” someone—or something—hisses from the shadows.
The city’s not completely dark, he realizes. There’s lines of the faint green phosphorescence running down the sides of the street, like lights in a movie theater, though Adam can’t believe he can remember that and not what his mother’s face looked like. It doesn’t matter though, because he can see, just enough that he doesn’t miss the turns.
The monsters are close on his heels, of course. Adam’s not sure how many there are, doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t look back.
Then Adam stumbles to a halt. He’d made the turn, taken the alley out of the plaza, but there’s only a blank stone wall ahead. It’s at least twice his height, solid as anything, and it’s blocking his way while the alley behind him fills with creatures out of his worst nightmares.
Adam makes one futile leap for the top of the wall, but it doesn’t even come close. Someone behind him laughs.
He turns around, pressing his back against the wall and holding the knife out. “Stay back,” he says, and it’s too weak and raspy to carry any weight. Looking out into the darkness, Adam can see the edges of shadowy forms, hints of teeth and talons grotesquely lit from beneath by the green light. His palms are clammy, and he shifts his grip on the knife to hold it with both hands. He’ll be back with Michael soon.
The thing closest to him—Adam thinks it might be another vampire—lunges and Adam strikes. The knife must hit the thing, because it snarls and jerks away. Adam presses forward, swinging the knife like a sword. He feels the tear of claws across his shoulder a second later, and the impact almost knocks him to the ground. He recovers and flails wildly. He thinks he might have tagged whatever it was, but between the darkness and the press of inhuman bodies around him, he can’t be sure.
He’s losing blood fast too. Adam knows he only has a few more minutes of fight left before he passes out. The pain’s not too bad at least, but Adam’s not sure if it’s because the Cage has completely messed up his perception of pain or if he’s going into shock.
Then something has Adam by the throat, and it’s holding him up against the wall. He gasps, stabbing up with the knife. It doesn’t faze his attacker, and the knife falls from his hands as he claws at the hand cutting off his air. Then the hand’s gone, and he’s on all fours gasping for breath.
There’s only a second of relief before they’re tearing into him again, and this time Adam doesn’t have the knife, or even the strength he would have needed to wield it. All he can do is curl up and wait for the pain to stop. He can already almost feel Michael’s fingers digging under his skin, dragging him back to reality.
Just before everything goes dark, there’s a flash of bright white light from the plaza, illuminating the street up like a lightning strike. Huh, Adam thinks, then even that’s gone.
Adam wakes up and he’s not in the Cage.
He’s back in the tower room, lying on the bed with a thick blanket pulled up to his chin. Someone’s taken off his shoes.
“So, he lives.”
Adam tenses. He hadn’t noticed he wasn’t alone, but now he doesn’t know how he missed him.
There’s a man sitting, or maybe lounging, on the stool, and Adam’s never seen someone lean so far back on a stool before without toppling over. The man’s legs are kicked out in front to counterbalance him, and he looks utterly bored.
Strangest of all, the man looks normal. He’s kind of short, with a face that looks far too comfortable with arrogance, and curious eyes that don’t match his nonchalant expression.
“Who are you?” Adam asks, and, wow, his voice sounds even worse than it did earlier.
The man tuts and languidly stands. Adam shrinks away, but the man ignores him, crossing to a large clay jar under one of the windows that Adam had ignored earlier. He takes the lid off, and fills a small cup with whatever is inside, and walks over to the bed. “Here,” he says. “Drink this.”
Adam wants to pull away, to resist, but he’s too weak, and he can’t help but think that if this guy, whoever he is, wanted him dead, he probably would have done it already. He lets the stranger tip the cup towards his lips, lets the cool liquid wash down his throat.
He’s been thirsty. All this time, he’s been terribly, terribly thirsty, and he didn’t even remember what it felt like. He knows now, and he can’t get enough water.
“More,” he gasps when the cup’s empty.
The man chuckles. “Easy there, tiger.” He refills the cup, though, and Adam thinks he might love him a little, just for that. He won’t even care if the guy’s a vampire. He makes Adam drink the second cup slower, pacing himself, but as long as there’s more water, Adam’s fine with that.
Finally, he sets the cup back on the table and sits back down. “So,” he says, eyes fixed to Adam’s face. “You’re Adam Winchester.”
“Milligan,” Adam corrects automatically. Then, “How the Hell do you know who I am?”
The man makes a vague, all-encompassing hand gesture. “The general aura of Winchesterness gives you away. Also, reckless stupidity seems to run in the family.”
“And who are you?” He doesn’t look like a monster, but Adam’s learned the hard way that things don’t always look the way they are.
The man frowns, pushing his lips out. “You can call me Gabriel,” he says after a long second, “and I’m your knight in shining armor.”
Adam tries to think back. “So, in the alley…”
“I saved your sorry ass. Got there a little too late, though. They’d already torn you apart.”
“I was dead,” Adam fills in. But if he’d died…
“Yeah, more or less. It’s not like you can really die here.”
If he’d died, he should have woken up back in the Cage. And Michael and Lucifer never give him allies, even ones that might stab him in the back later. Which mean that this—
“Where am I?”
“In general?” Gabriel asks, raising his eyebrows. Adam nods. “Oh, this is Purgatory.”
Nothing’s adding up.
Logically, Adam knows that there’s no way he could be out of the Cage, except that this place isn’t following any of the archangels’ rules, and Michael is very big on rules. Sam got out, he can’t help but think. Somehow Sam escaped.
Gabriel’s been watching him for his whole mini-revelation. Adam thinks maybe he was thinking aloud, because after a while Gabriel says, “You’re honestly excited that you’re in Purgatory? Knew you couldn’t have all your screws in right if you’re a Winchester.”
Adam opts to let that slide. “Do you know me?” He’s fairly sure that he’s never seen this man in his life.
Gabriel shakes his head. “Not even remotely, though I did hear of your death a while back. However, I have had the dubious honor of meeting your brothers.”
Adam ignores the sharp stab of pain at the mention of Sam and Dean. He’s still not ready to face that particular demon. “If you’re in Purgatory,” he says instead, “that means you’re some kind of monster, doesn’t it?” Adam had never really paid attention to how the whole Heaven/Hell/Purgatory thing was supposed to work, which he’s starting to regret.
Gabriel’s face goes still, and Adam has a second of panic that he’s really messed up now. “Not quite,” Gabriel says finally, his expression still a frozen mask. “I was killed, and it was a choice between this and Oblivion. I was starting to wish I’d picked Door Number Two.”
Adam doesn’t know what to say to that, and the silence stretches on for long enough that he’s starting to feel uncomfortable. Then something shifts, and Gabriel’s face relaxes.
“But now you’re here,” Gabriel says, rubbing his hands together. “You and me, Adam, we’re going to break out of here.”
Really, Adam’s not too sure about that. Hungry monsters and supercharged sun aside, Purgatory’s not that bad, and Adam’s more than aware of just how much worse it can be. Not that he really remembers the Cage. It’s still there, every touch and agony, but it feels far away and disconnected, like it’s something he watched on TV. He’s fairly sure he should be a drooling mess, but if this fuzzy half-amnesia is the alternative, he’s more than fine with it. He tells Gabriel as much, editing out the more sensitive bits.
Gabriel snorts in answer. “Trust me, you won’t feel that way after awhile.” His face darkens. “This is a prison, Adam, and it’ll break you just as surely as Hell.”
Adam’s still unconvinced, but Gabriel has been here longer. Maybe it’s a cumulative thing. “How are you going to escape?”
“Purgatory has rings of defenses, with the door out somewhere in the middle. There was a big jailbreak a while back, and the biggest nasties of the bunch got out then. I tried to follow them, but I didn’t make it in time. Still, there should be a weak spot where they passed through.”
“So I had the right idea,” Adam says slowly. “I was trying to get to the center of the city.” He absently picks at the fabric of the blanket. He’d been so close…
“Even if you’d made it through the gateway, there still would have been more layers, more gates.” Gabriel’s responding to his thoughts more than his words, and it’s disturbingly familiar. Adam glances up at Gabriel, but the other man isn’t even looking at him. He’s looking up out the window at the clear blue sky.
It’s the stillest Adam’s seen him yet, and it doesn’t seem right. There’s something ancient and terrible there that he couldn’t seen before, and it scares him a little. Adam remembers the lightning flash back in the alley, and shivers.
“What will happen,” he asks finally, “once we’re out?”
Gabriel shrugs. “What, you think I know?”
There’s a long silence where Adam tries not to think about where he might end up if they do escape. He’s fairly sure he won’t end up in the Cage again, but there’s no telling. That’s counting on if he really is in Purgatory, too. He’s still not 100% on that one.
Then something else occurs to him, and he has to fight back sudden nausea. “We’re going to have to get past all those monsters, aren’t we? We’re going to have to fight them.”
“Oh, there’s going to be a lot more monsters than that,” Gabriel says cheerfully. “And even though they can’t exactly kill you, they can make you wish they had.”
Adam frowns. “But—last night. Didn’t they kill me then?”
“More like they hit your reset button. I found you on the street where you first arrived.”
“Huh.” Wait… “You’ve been watching me?"
Gabriel looks offended. “Come on, disruption as big as you comes through, and you think I wouldn’t check it out? I would have introduced myself right off, but I didn’t want you to panic.”
“And this is where you’ve been living?”
“More or less. I’ve been moving around some, trying to find the exit door.”
Adam’s frown is becoming a permanent fixture. “But the center of the city—”
“—Is unpredictable. Luckily, being a Winchester, you’re more unpredictable. You might just be our key out.”
Adam’s not sure how he feels about that. Not that he can really do anything about it.
“When do we leave?”
It’s already too late in the morning to start out, so Adam sleeps for most of the day. He wakes up a few times, and rations himself some of the precious water. He’s not sure it’s really necessary, but he’s been without water for so long that now he’s rediscovered it, he can’t imagine giving it up again.
Gabriel’s gone the first time Adam wakes up. At some point during the day, Adam thinks he hears the trapdoor close, but he’s too far under for it to really register. When he wakes up again around twilight, Gabriel’s still gone.
He tries to go back to sleep, but it’s just not happening. He swings his legs out from underneath the blankets and stands up, wincing as every joint in his body tells him just what they think about spending a most of the day on a hard bed. Adam stretches, then crosses to the window, climbing up on the stool to look outside.
There’s someone watching the tower from the shadow of the nearest building.
For a second, Adam’s still sleep-addled brain thinks it’s Gabriel, but the man is far too tall, too broad, and too wrong. He has gray hair and a weathered face, but he still feels strong. Strong and dangerous. He must see Adam watching, because he smiles, cold and predatory, and it reminds Adam far too much of Lucifer.
The man turns away, melting back into the shadows. As he turns, his eyes catch the light, and, just for a second, they flare a bright, sulfuric yellow. Then it’s gone, and Adam blinks, wondering if he’d imagined it. There’s no sign the man was even there.
Behind him, the trapdoor bangs, and Adam jumps. He turns around so fast he almost falls off the stool, but it’s only Gabriel.
“You cut that close,” Adam snaps, letting his fear bleed into his voice as annoyance.
“I’m not as tasty as you,” Gabriel says lightly, ignoring both Adam’s attempts to not fall on his face and the sharpness in his voice. “I found more weapons,” he adds, letting the backpack Adam hadn’t noticed he was carrying drop onto the bed. Something inside clinks.
Gabriel tips out the backpack’s contents. There are two more knives, a slingshot, and what Adam is fairly sure is a torch. He pokes at it gingerly.
“They don’t like light,” Gabriel explains.
“That flash last night—how did you do that?”
“By being pure awesomeness.” Gabriel looks so smug that Adam can’t decide if he’s joking or not.
Everything trails off into awkward silence for a few minutes, while Gabriel tests the sharpness of one of the knives with his thumb and Adam acts very interested in the sigils on the walls.
“Being a Winchester,” Gabriel says eventually, “I’m guessing you won’t have a problem with fighting your way through monsters?”
“I’m not a Winchester,” Adam says, starting to feel he should just go ahead and get a t-shirt made. “The first monsters I met killed me and my mom, stuffed us in a crypt, and used me as a trap for the oh-so-perfect Winchesters.”
Gabriel shrugs. “So, you’ve got issues. Still not helping the not-actually-a-Winchester argument. Point is, though, you can fight. Right?”
Adam looks down. “Sam taught me a little. It didn’t really help.”
Gabriel’s punch comes out of nowhere. One second he’s on the other side of the bed from Adam, the next he’s right in front of him and swinging at his face. Adam throws up an arm automatically, barely blocking the blow. Gabriel laughs.
“See? You can fight. You just need incentive.”
Adam wants to say something about how he had plenty of incentive the night before, and look how well that turned out for him, but Gabriel’s already distracted.
“We’re not going to be able to go through the streets like you did,” he tells Adam, craning his neck to look out the window. “It takes too long and there’s just not enough daylight. We’re just going to have to cut through the buildings.”
“But there’s—there’s things living in there.”
“Exactly. Hence the weapons. You can have the torch.” He says it like it’s a great honor that Adam should be grateful for. All Adam can manage in response is an uncertain nod.
Gabriel sits under the window and watches the sky after that. Adam goes back to bed, but he sleeps restlessly and wakes up feeling more tired than he’d been before. Gabriel wakes him up as soon as the sky begins to lighten, turning a slightly paler shade of dark blue on the horizon.
It’s colder outside than Adam would have guessed. He would have thought that all the stone would have absorbed some of the heat from the day, but the stones are gray and cold and Adam’s breath frosts in the air.
Gabriel doesn’t seem to notice the temperature. Once they’re outside, he takes the torch he’d given Adam before they’d left the tower, and turns away from Adam. He does something Adam can’t see, and there’s a rushing crackle as the torch catches fire. He hands it back.
The fire is oddly comforting, which surprises Adam a little. He’d have expected have had his fill of fire, but when it’s not turned on him, it feels like raw power, and he remembers how the monsters ran from the light the night before.
His newfound confidence is short lived. He’d expected them to take the streets for a short distance, at least until it was light, but Gabriel has other ideas. He marches across the street and into the shadows of the awning, then pauses, glancing back at the still-frozen Adam with a well? Come on! expression written across his face.
Once he’s inside, there’s a panicked moment where Adam forgets to breath. The dark presses in on him, and the air is slightly warm and smells like blood and decay. It’s desperately familiar, and just for a second, Adam feels like he’s home. He’s fallen to his knees on the cold stone, the torch guttering on the ground a foot away, before Gabriel realizes he isn’t behind him. Adam feels Gabriel pulling him up with surprising strength for his size, but it’s distant, disconnected. Gabriel’s saying something, but it’s hard to listen through the screams and soft, gentle laughter echoing in his ears.
“Come on, Adam! Work with me here.”
He’s moving, and he thinks it’s Gabriel dragging him through the darkness, but for all he knows, it could be Michael. He wants to fight, but if it is Michael, he knows it’s not worth it.
Then he’s outside, the sky’s turned from blue to gold-pink, and he can breathe. It feels like coming back to life.
Gabriel gives him a minute to re-learn how to breathe. “What was that?” he asks, once Adam’s stopped gasping like a fish.
“I can’t—don’t make me go back in there.”
Gabriel takes a step towards him, and Adam flinches back. Gabriel freezes, his face twisted into something complicated and uncomfortable. He squats down beside Adam, carefully reaching out a hand to cup Adam’s face. His hand is cold.
“Adam, what went wrong?”
“You can’t make me go back.” Adam’s half-sobbing, his words coming out in strangled bursts. Some part of him is dimly aware that he’s not making any sense, but the cushion separating him from his memories has burned away, leaving Hell close enough that Adam can almost feel its flames. “You told me I wasn’t there now, you can’t make me go back. Please, don’t make me go back.”
“Shh, it’s okay.” Gabriel pats his back, the movement awkward and stiff. Still, it grounds Adam just enough that he can remember that he’s outside in the sunlight, and the Cage is nothing more than a bad memory now. He looks up, meeting Gabriel’s oddly gold eyes that are comfortingly nothing like Michael’s.
“I’m all for dramatic breakdowns,” Gabriel tells him lightly, “but even I think that was a little intense.”
Adam doesn’t respond, just keeps heaving in gulping breaths of air.
“Where were you?” Gabriel asks, and his voice is gentler, less mocking.
“Hell,” Adam says simply.
Adam’s perfectly willing to just stay right where he is, but Gabriel has other plans. He grabs Adam’s hand, hauling him to his feet with strength disproportionate to his size.
“I’m sorry,” he says, once Adam’s vertical, “but we still can’t take the streets. We’ll try and move fast.”
“Okay.” Adam hadn’t really expected another option, but he wants to get out of here now. The warm fuzzy feelings he’d still been hanging onto are gone, and all he wants is to leave this place behind. He still remembers Heaven, vaguely, and he wants its peace so badly it hurts.
He’s going to get out of here.
The second building isn’t as bad.
Adam can still hear Hell, still smell it, but he can deal. Gabriel helps, keeping close beside him, near enough that Adam can feel his presence. He’s conscious of keeping the torch up, too, and its light forms a small circle of known in the darkness.
This time, Adam’s able to focus on the actual sounds of the building instead of the imagined ones. They’re not much better. There’s all of the noises the creatures had made when they were chasing him, as well as a few new ones—a scuttling rasp of shifting claws and scales against stone, and a rattling groan that reminds Adam unsettlingly of an old zombie movie.
The passageway through the building is straight and comparatively short, and whatever is in there, it’s leaving them alone. Adam’s not sure if they have the torch to thank for that, or if it’s the aura of wary protectiveness he half-imagines is emanating from Gabriel.
They make it outside, cross a blessed twenty feet of blistering stones and sunlight, and then the ordeal starts again.
Adam loses track of how far they’ve gone and how many lightless houses they’ve passed through. It’s getting late, the sun low and red over the city, and Gabriel’s starting to walk faster. They’d been attacked last time they’d been inside, but it had been half-hearted, and they’d fought them off with without too much trouble.
“Are we getting close?” Adam asks once they’re back outside.
Gabriel glances up at the sky, then at the street, like he can see some kind of landmark that Adam can’t.
“Yeah,” he says. “Almost there.”
Adam wants to ask, are you sure? but he can’t bring himself to actually say it.
He can feel they’re getting closer, though. As it grows closer to night, the monsters are becoming restless. One had tagged Adam with a claw a few houses back, and the slice above his eyebrow is still bleeding sluggishly.
There’s movement in the streets now too, twisted things stirring in the shadows, and Adam’s not sure if it’s because of the dark or if there are just more monsters this close to the heart of the city.
Then, finally, when Adam’s just about ready to fall down from exhaustion and nerves, they stumble out into a plaza instead of yet another street and Adam knows they’ve arrived.
It’s larger than any of the others Adam’s seen, and its paving stones aren’t the same golden-red as the rest of the city—they’re scorched black in a wide ring that emanates from the tall tower in the center of the plaza and reaches almost to the buildings, the ragged edges of the scorch marks inches away from Adam’s feet. They’re so close, maybe fifty feet from the tower, but Adam can’t bring himself to step out onto the burnt stones.
“It’s okay,” Gabriel tells him, but he doesn’t sound too sure. He walks slowly towards the tower, wincing slightly when he passes into the fire-blackened section.
Adam follows him warily. There’s a crackle across his skin that feels like static electricity, and Adam shudders but presses on anyway, hurrying to catch up with Gabriel.
Gabriel stops when he gets to the door of the tower, and Adam, who’d been watching the flickers of movement around the edge of the plaza, almost bumps into him.
Gabriel frowns. “This door isn’t actually supposed to be used. It’s locked, and I’m not sure what kind of a key we need to actually open it.”
“Seriously? And you didn’t bring this up before, why?” It’s almost dark. They’ve only got a few minutes before they’re under attack, and Gabriel forgot the keys. Adam resists the temptation to roll his eyes. He should have guessed something like this would happen.
“Don’t be like that,” Gabriel tells him, without looking. “I’m sure it’s something simple.” He looks at the door for a long minute, then pulls his knife out of his belt. He pushes up his left sleeve, then draws the knife across his forearm, grimacing as blood wells up in a stark red line.
“What the—?” Adam starts, but Gabriel’s already sticking his knife back and running his fingers through the blood. He paints a symbol onto the door with his fingers, smooth curves that look a little familiar, and Adam thinks it might be Enochian.
Gabriel draws the last line, then steps back. The symbol glows slightly in the gloom, and Adam holds his breath. Then, absolutely nothing happens.
“That should have worked.” Gabriel’s frowning at the door like it’s personally wronged him. He absently wipes his hand on his pants, then turns the frown on Adam. “Hmm—” He reaches out, swiping his hand over the cut on Adam’s forehead.
He paints the symbol again, and this time, it glows brightly. The light bleeds out into the rest of the door, following the grain of the wood, then it flares brightly. When it fades, the door is gone.
Gabriel grins. “After you.”
Adam takes a careful step through the doorway. It’s dark inside, and there’s none of the green phosphorescence that had lit the tower he and Gabriel had stayed in. The torch is still burning, and it illuminates the stark interior—like the other tower there’s nothing but a staircase spiraling up the walls.
“Keep moving,” Gabriel hisses from behind him. “Don’t look now, but we’ve got company.”
Adam swallows hard and takes another step into the darkness. “How many?”
“Um, lots? Do you want me to paint you a picture?”
There’s an echoing thud as Adam’s foot hits the bottom stair, and he winces.
“Adam,” Gabriel says slowly. “You should probably run now.”
Something snarls in the dark behind Adam, and Gabriel shoves Adam up the stairs. Adam lurches forward, almost losing his balance as he tries to swing the torch around. Its light bounces in a panicked arc, casting nightmare shadows of claws and horns against the walls. Gabriel’s standing at the foot of the stairs, somehow looking taller than his five-foot-whatever-inches, his hand stretched out like he’s holding the creatures back with sheer willpower, and damn, maybe he is. “Up the stairs, out the window, go!” he growls, not taking his eyes off the monsters in the doorway.
Adam runs, feeling ten kinds of coward. The steps are narrow and steep, and he nearly puts his foot through one that’s almost rusted through. There’s the sound of a fight from below, and he can hear Gabriel shouting through the din of shrieks and snarls. This tower’s taller, and Adam’s out of breath by the time he gets to the top. Just as he reaches the trapdoor there’s a flash of light, like the one in the ally the other night, and everything goes quiet.
Adam freezes halfway through the trapdoor, panting slightly. “Gabriel?” His voice comes out as a croak. He holds his breath, listening.
There’s something coming up the stairs.
Adam can’t see it around the turn of the staircase, but the can hear it, a thud of boots that’s too heavy to be Gabriel.
Adam scrambles away from the trapdoor and pulls it shut with an echoing bang.
Out the window, Gabriel had said, but there’s no window. Adam holds the torch up, desperately hoping he’s wrong, that he just missed it, but the walls are solid stone all the way up.
Adam swears. He’s the metaphorical rat in a cage now, the cowboy up the blind gulch with the outlaws closing in on him.
There’s an arch of stones set out in relief from the wall that’s big enough to be a window—or a door. It’s solid stone inside, but was so was the door into the tower.
Adam’s hands are shaking slightly as he sets the torch down, leaning it against the wall, and pulls out his knife, drawing it across his arm in an imitation of what Gabriel had done. The pain flares bright and sudden, but it’s easy for him to ignore it.
Remembering the symbol Gabriel had drawn is the hard part. Adam has a second of panic after he finishes drawing the sigil and nothing happens, but then the blood begins to glow, the turns blinding white as the stones within the arch crumble to dust. Beyond where the wall was, there’s nothing but blank blackness, and Adam shivers.
The sound of footsteps coming from the stairs has stopped.
“Gabriel?” Adam’s breath is too loud as he listens, straining to hear any sign that he’s not alone, one way or another.
Then something bursts up from the trapdoor, a writhing mess of shadows and flickering yellow lightning that’s just wrong. It makes right for Adam—or for the open doorway behind him—and he stumbles backwards, fumbling for the torch. Something hits him hard, knocking him backwards, and before Adam can catch his balance, he’s falling out of the tower and into the darkness beyond.
It’s raining when Adam wakes up.
This strikes him as fundamentally unfair, because he’d been cursing his jacket for being too hot ever since they’d left the tower that morning, and now it’s already soaked through and freezing cold. Sometimes, Adam wonders if the universe—take your pick of which one—really is out to get him.
He’s laying on his back in yet another street, which is starting to feel a little too familiar. It’s still night, or at least, still dark, and the rain is pouring down, forming icy puddles on the pavement around him.
It’s not just the rain that’s different. His little patch of street is lit by the dim warm glow of a streetlight, and he’s lying on asphalt. It’s normal, and safe, and Adam’s starting to feel something that he’s fairly sure is hope. It’s been so long, he’s almost forgotten what it was like. They made it out. Exactly where they are, Adam isn’t sure, but they made it.
“Ow.” It’s coming from Adam’s left. It sounds like something dying.
Adam rolls over. Gabriel’s lying on the sidewalk fifteen feet away, his knees drawn up, and his arms wrapped around his ribs, making high, tight noises in his throat.
Adam scrambles onto all fours and lurches forward, ignoring the stab of pain in his arms, the rough pavement skinning his knees through his jeans.
Gabriel’s eyes are screwed shut, but he blearily opens one when Adam leans over him with a soft “hey.”
“Ow,” Gabriel says again, but there isn’t as much force behind it.
“Here, let me look.” Adam pries Gabriel’s arms free of their death grip around his body. There’s blood on Gabriel’s shirt, and even with the rain staining the fabric dark, it looks like a lot. He pulls the fabric up gently, wincing when it sticks. He’s seen just about every injury that can be inflicted on a human body—many of them on his own—but that doesn’t mean he’s completely desensitized.
Then he stops short. “Seriously?” All that blood was coming from a jagged scratch across the bottom of Gabriel’s ribs. It’s long and nasty, but not very deep. Adam had gotten worse falling off his bike.
Gabriel opens both eyes and peers down at his chest. “Would it make a difference if I told you that it was a lot worse when I got it?”
“Yeah, whatever. I think you’ll live.”
“Thank you, Dr. Sexy. I kinda had that figured out.”
It takes Adam several tries to stand up, but he makes it eventually. Gabriel’s still sprawled on his back looking mournful, so Adam offers him a hand. Gabriel raises his eyebrows, but takes it, letting Adam pull him to his feet.
“Come on,” Gabriel says, “let’s get out of the rain.”
They don’t have to go far. By unspoken agreement they don’t try any of the doors in the buildings around them, but one has a deep awning that mostly keeps the rain off.
“Where are we?” Adam asks once they’re under cover. “This isn’t Heaven, is it?”
Gabriel frowns. “You were expecting it to be?”
He had kind of been assuming that’s where he’d end up. He is fairly dead, after all, or at least he had been until the angels decided to pull a miracle on him. He isn’t too worried about the being dead bit; he just wants to know where he stands.
Gabriel makes a dismissive noise. “Nah, we’re still in Purgatory. Your luck isn’t that good kiddo.”
“Right…” Adam leans back until he’s supported by the wall, then lets his head thunk against the bricks.
“Hey, buck up. We’ll be out of here in no time, and you can get back to your harp-playing.”
Adam must not look very convinced, because Gabriel adds, “Don’t be like that. I told you I’d get you out of here, didn’t I? I may be many things, but I never break a promise.”
Adam pushes himself off the wall. He rubs his hands over his face and cards his fingers through his hair, trying to shake off some of his bone-deep weariness. All he wants is to sleep, but that isn’t looking like an option. Sleeping in the rain isn’t something he particularly wants to try. They don’t know what’s out there in the dark, either, so they just stay huddled under the scanty cover of the awning, listen to the rain, and wait for morning.
The city feels a world away from the last one. Even once morning comes, the skies stay dark, with only a pale glow seeping through the cloud cover. The rain is relentless.
Adam doesn’t see any monsters, at least none like before. He does hear voices, though, sounds of life that seem only a few feet away, but when he turns to try and find their source, there’s nothing there. There are flickering shadows, too, that Adam almost thinks look like people, hurrying along the street with their heads down, never looking up but always managing to avoid him and Gabriel. They don’t seem to be dangerous, but the ghost-like shadows make Adam’s skin crawl.
They walk for what Adam guesses is most of the morning. Gabriel seems to know where they’re going and Adam’s too tired to second guess him, even when the buildings and streets start to look familiar.
There’s more variation in the landscape here, and that’s the only reason Adam can even begin to guess that they’ve been going around in circles.
“Hey,” he says, after they’ve passed the same peeling white door for the third time. “Are you sure about this?”
Gabriel freezes in his tracks and Adam almost crashes into him. “This isn’t right.”
Adam resists the urge to roll his eyes. “You think?”
“I don’t get lost. It’s a physical impossibility.”
Adam just stares at him, because, seriously?
Gabriel waves it away with an odd flapping motion that Adam can’t quite interpret.
“And we’re in Purgatory,” Adam adds. “Is really much of a leap that we’re trapped inside of a giant 3-D Escher painting?”
“I suppose you could be right,” Gabriel says, in a way that suggests he really doesn’t want to admit that he can’t be completely infallible in every situation, but kind of knows he isn’t anyway.
“Hey,” Adam says, trying for supportive, “you got us this far.”
Gabriel gives and exaggerated shrug, then looks forlorn, and it’s such an angsty drama-queen move that Adam kind of wants to punch him.
Adam resists the temptation, and tries again. “Do you want to check out the houses? We could try and find shelter, heal up.” Adam’s been trying to ignore it, but his arm’s throbbing where he cut it, and he just wants to rest. He can’t imagine Gabriel’s ribs are exactly feeling like a basket of puppies right now, either.
Gabriel looks up from where he’s been sullenly studying the pavement. “You want to go inside? Are you possessed?”
“This whole place freaks me out. It can’t be that much worse inside. Anyway, I want to sleep. Now.” Adam’s starting to feel like, as far as lack of sleep goes, the Cage was the equivalent of a hundred finals weeks. He feels like he could sleep for months.
“All right then.” Gabriel pushes himself up to his full, not very impressive, height. “Onwards.”
They try a disconnected, two-story building that Adam thinks might have been a store, or maybe a deli, in a previous life, with a glass front and a striped awning that might have been cheerful once, but has now faded to shades of dirty gray.
There’s nothing visible through the windows, so Gabriel tries the door. It opens with a creak of rusty hinges that sound like something straight out of an old horror movie, and Adam, hanging behind Gabriel and trying not to freak out, wonders if this makes him the nervous girlfriend.
It’s empty inside, however, and there’s no sound of movement from upstairs. The walls are lined with dusty shelves and faded advertisements so old and eaten by mildew that Adam can’t tell what they were originally selling. It’s creepy, but it’s just on the edge of familiar and normal.
There’s nothing overtly dangerous downstairs, so Gabriel gives it a cursory glance, then climbs the stairs, the warped wood protesting under his weight. Adam follows him slowly, wincing at each shuddering creak.
It’s empty upstairs too. It’s really just one room, low-ceilinged and dusty, with two deep-set windows overlooking the street. It looks like someone tried to make it homey, a long time ago, and there’s torn, faded curtains hanging haphazardly from the windows, as well as a stained rag rug on the floor. There’s furniture, too: two small beds—almost cots—against one wall, and a rickety round table like the one in the tower.
“Home sweet home,” Gabriel says, letting his backpack drop onto one of the beds. An ominous dust cloud rises when it hits.
“Yay,” Adam says, and tries not to sigh.
Dust or no, Adam would have no problems sleeping, but Gabriel doesn’t let him.
“Give me that,” he demands, gesturing at Adam’s arm. He glares at the ugly red line across his forearm like it’s personally wronged him. “You’re just lucky you can’t get infections here. It’s times like these when I’m so glad I’m not human.” His voice is quiet, like he’s just talking more for the sake of it than to actually tell Adam anything, but it’s too good of an opening for Adam to pass up.
“So, you’re not human?”
Gabriel scoffs. “Hardly. How else do you think I ended up here in Monster Central? Not all of us get a human-only ‘get out of Hell free’ pass like you did.” Gabriel’s carefully sponging at the cut with a damp cloth, and Adam’s not sure where it came from. For all he knows, Gabriel has superpowers. All he’s sure of right now is that he’s feeling pleasantly warm and sleepy, and Gabriel’s voice is calm and soothing.
“Then what are you?” Adam says, and if comes out a little mumbley, who’s to know?
There’s a long pause. Gabriel dabs something cold that stings onto Adam’s arm, and it’s almost enough to wake up him up. Almost. Finally, Gabriel says, “I was a god. Trickster, actually. That’s how I ended up here.” He hesitates again, and it’s the closest to uncertain that Adam’s heard him. “Before that, I was an angel.”
Huh, angel. Gabriel seems about as un-angelic as Adam can imagine, but given the angels he’s met—Wait—an angel, named Gabriel, powerful enough to be a god—crap.
Adam jerks away, sleepiness gone, a warning burst of adrenaline making the blood pound in his ears.
“You’re an archangel,” he says, and he’s not going to let his fear show, except that he totally is.
There are cold hands everywhere, pulling him apart, then piecing him back together, and Adam doesn’t know which one is more unbearable. The air is filled with the smells of death and burning flesh, and from far away he can hear his brother, first pleading, then screaming, until the sound is abruptly cut off—
Adam scrambles away from Gabriel, breathing hard, the sense memory of the angel’s fingers on his arm burning worse than the cut.
“Um, yeah I’m an archangel,” Gabriel says, frowning in confusion. “Actually, I kinda thought you’d have figured it out by now. I’m not the first angel you’ve met, am I?”
Adam shakes his head dumbly.
Gabriel just looks at him, like he’s not sure what Adam’s problem is. “Oh,” he says after a long moment, and Adam thinks maybe he’s finally got it. “That’s what wrong, isn’t it?”
Adam’s heard Michael and Lucifer talk about their little brother, and while it sounds like he might have been different from his older brothers at some point, who knows how death’s affecting him? From what Adam had heard in the Cage, Gabriel was dangerously capricious, and as likely to turn you into something horrible as help you. He’d killed Dean, for God’s sake, over and over again, just to prove a point, and Adam didn’t even have a guarantee that this wasn’t all just some elaborate construction on Gabriel’s part. He’d been so focused on Michael and Lucifer messing with his head that he hadn’t even been looking at the other possibilities.
“Adam,” Gabriel says slowly. “Whatever’s going on in that wacky head of yours, I want to help you.”
Shit. If he’s an angel, then he’s probably reading Adam’s mind. Which means that everything he’s said, everything he’s saying, could just be what he knew Adam wanted to hear.
“Adam,” Gabriel says again, and there’s a hint of warning in his voice now, like he’s this close to losing his patience. Adam knows what that means in an archangel, and he knows what happens next. He turns and runs, almost falling down the stairs.
“Adam, wait!” Gabriel calls from the top of the stairs, but Adam’s past listening. All he knows is that he has to get out of here, has to get away from the promise of pain that that comes from just being near an archangel.
Adam crashes down the stairs, across the creaky floorboards, and out the door. The rain has slowed to a misty drizzle that’s cold and sharp against Adam’s skin. It wakes him up, makes him realize exactly what he’s doing by trying to strike out on his own. It’s stupid and reckless, but Adam’s past caring. All he knows is that he can’t see Gabriel as anything but an enemy right now.
It’s still light out, so Adam walks. He doesn’t really have a plan, but adrenaline’s driven away any chance of sleep. He heads in the direction he vaguely thinks is towards the center of city, but he’s not too sure if it is. When it starts to get dark, Adam braces himself and tries the door of the nearest house. The wood sticks, but Adam shoves it hard and it opens, revealing a narrow hallway and a steep staircase.
There’s a faint odor, but the buildings here don’t have the same smell as the ones in the yellow stone city—it’s not a dead smell, just the lingering, pervasive scent of dust and mildew. Adam ignores it.
The apartment doesn’t look that different from the upstairs of the store, but there’s a tiny sink with what looks hopefully like a faucet. Adam tries the tap, but nothing happens. He sighs, acknowledging that it was too good to be true, and trudges over to the bed. The mattress is too thin, and he can feel the springs digging into his back. The blankets are threadbare, and he’s not even sure if they make much difference. Still, he falls asleep quickly, too tired to do anything but curl into a ball to conserve heat and drift into uneasy unconsciousness.
He has nightmares, but that’s not really unexpected. He wakes up covered in sweat and shivering, the echoes of screams he thinks are his own ringing in his ears.
“Sleep well?” a smooth voice that’s far too close asks, and Adam freezes, instantly awake. “You really should have locked the door,” it goes on, stepping into the yellow square of light cast by the streetlight outside the window.
It takes a second for Adam to recognize him. Then he does, and he’s scrabbling on the nightstand for the knife. Just as he finds the handle, cold fingers close around his wrist.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, sonny,” the yellow-eyed man says pleasantly, and Adam carefully lets go of the knife. “That’s better.” The man releases his arm, and steps back, settling down onto the edge of the bed. Adam rubs his wrist, a dozen increasingly dumb plans tumbling through his mind.
“Who are you?” Adam asks, trying to win time, though he has a pretty good idea.
“Friend of the family,” the yellow-eyed man says and smiles. The glint of teeth in the dark is sharp and predatory, and Adam shivers. “You can call me Azazel.”
“What do you want?”
“I want out of here,” Azazel says simply, and Adam has no doubt that he’s telling the truth. “You were kind enough to open the gateway here, and I’ve no doubt—” He pats Adam’s leg in a way that’s almost friendly, and Adam twitches away from his grip. “—that you’ll be just as helpful opening the final doorway out of this devil-forsaken place.”
“Somehow I’m not thinking that would be a good thing,” Adam says, unable to stop himself. Azazel’s hand finds his leg again, and now it’s all sharp fingernails and bruising pressure. Adam bites back a yelp.
“Do you know who I am?
Adam hesitates, weighing his options, then nods once. He’s heard stories.
“Then you know what I’m capable of.” Azazel smiles. “I killed your daddy, Adam-boy, and don’t you forget it.”
Adam swallows hard, fighting back bile. Like he could forget that. From what Sam had said, Azazel was responsible, directly or not, for the death of half his family, and almost all of his brothers’. He’d also indirectly killed both of said brothers, and Adam’s fairly sure he wouldn’t hesitate to add Adam to his count.
Adam doesn’t think he could exactly be killed here, but there are worse fates, and while Azazel isn’t quite on Michael and Lucifer’s level, he’s not some inexperienced lower-level demon. The only way out of this that Adam can see is to play along for now, then escape once he can get some distance between himself and the demon.
“You should have stuck with the angel,” Azazel says, and Adam’s been trying not to think exactly that. “We leave at daylight.”
To his surprise, Adam actually manages to go back to sleep after that. It’s uneasy, and while he can’t remember his dreams, he wakes up feeling like he’s run a marathon. Every time he wakes up during the night, Azazel is standing by the door, watching him. It’s creepy as Hell, and Adam should know.
Morning finally comes, and it’s just as gray and damp as the day before. The only difference is that there’s a heavy blanketing of thick white fog, substantial enough that Adam can barely see the pavement under his feet.
When they leave the apartment, Azazel takes the knife, but he doesn’t even bother threatening Adam with it, and Adam’s not sure if he should be comforted by how much easier it’s going to be to escape without a knife at his throat, or indignant that Azazel considers him to be so little of a threat.
Azazel seems to know where they’re going, but so did Gabriel. He keeps Adam unreasonably close, his hand clamped on Adam’s arm like a vice, and Adam wonders if he knows his plans to slip away and escape.
“I still don’t know why you need me,” Adam says after they’ve walked in silence for what feels like the better part of an hour.
Azazel sighs. “You’re something alien here; your blood is the only thing that will open the doorways through Purgatory. Why do you think we don’t have more breakouts? I’m sure that’s why the angel kept you around—it’s not like he could get free on his own, either.”
“Will you let me go once we’re out?” Adam asks. He doesn’t believe for a minute that the demon will, but maybe if he can make him think Adam’ll play along…
“What, let you go back to Heaven and your mommy? We’ll see how well-behaved you are. On the other hand, I could just throw you so far into the depths of Purgatory that, even with your powers here, you’ll never find your way out. Just a little something to bear in mind.” He smiles brightly.
Adam doesn’t talk again for a long time.
Adam’s feet are killing him by midday, but Azazel doesn’t slow down, let alone take a break, and Adam has no option but to stumble along beside him. His arms hurt, too, quick stabs of pain from the cut on his left arm, and a numb ache from Azazel’s grip on his right. He doesn’t bother complaining about either; he can’t imagine the demon really has any deep moral compunction about causing pain.
It’s the silence that finally gets to him. Adam doesn’t have any problems with quiet. It’s more that the lack of conversation lets his mind wonder, and that’s pretty much the last thing he wants right now, with centuries of the Cage threatening to overwhelm him.
“So,” he says finally, “back on the other side of the…gateway…there were monsters everywhere. Are there any here?”
Azazel just looks at him like he’s an ill-behaved dog that’s suddenly started talking.
“Oh yes,” he says eventually. “They’re here.”
Adam hadn’t thought having shelter at night was as important here, but Azazel seems to disagree. As soon as it even starts to get dark, he’s dragging Adam inside one of the buildings, this time another dusty, cleaned-out store. For a second Adam wonders if it’s the same one he and Gabriel had found, but the posters on the walls are still legible. At least he thinks they are until he actually focuses on one, and his eyes slide off the print, the letters making no more sense than a random jumble of letters. He’s fairly sure that even all his time in the Cage didn’t make him forget how to read, so the effect of something supernatural here seems the best guess.
Azazel ignores the posters. He pushes Adam up the stairs, and Adam trips on the bottom step, almost falling. There’s no furniture in this apartment, and the walls and floor are blackened and scorched. One of the windows is broken, spider-web cracks radiating out from a fist-sized hole. There’s nothing cozy or safe here. It feels like a long-abandoned crime scene.
Adam’s shoved into the room, and Azazel slams the door behind him, boots thudding back down the stairs. When the sound of the demon’s steps fades, Adam crosses to the window. All he needs is some kind of ledge, or maybe a convenient tree branch or roof. There’s nothing, though, because he’s in Purgatory, and he’s got sucky Winchester luck.
He’s considering how many bones he’d break and how far he’d be able to run if he just jumped when Azazel’s tromping back up the stairs. Adam turns, half-guilty, when he opens the door, but Azazel ignores him.
“We should be safe now,” Azazel says, not looking at Adam. There’s more than a little unintentional irony in that, but Adam’s not going to point it out.
Azazel fiddles with the doorknob until it clicks locked. Then he finally seems to remember that Adam’s there.
“Get away from the window,” he says.
Adam obeys, not really wanting to test the boundaries of the demon’s patience right now. Adam edges towards one of the side walls. He’s exhausted and just wants to lie down, but the wood looks diseased, and he ends up awkwardly sitting on the floor, trying to touch as little of the boards as he can.
There’s a long, painful silence. Adam sits still and tries to breathe quietly, and Azazel just stands there, an unmoving barrier between Adam and freedom.
Adam’s just starting to fall asleep when there’s a faint scratching noise from outside the window. He’s awake in an instant, torn between hope that it’s either Gabriel or a distraction he can use to escape, and fear that it’s something even worse than Azazel.
“Stay down,” the demon hisses. He crosses to the window, holding himself back against the wall, the knife a bright glint of metal in his hand.
“Adam?” There’s a voice now, coming from somewhere in the street below the window. “Adam, please, you’ve got to help me.”
He knows that voice. It’s hoarse and cracking, but that just makes it more familiar. He glances up at Azazel, who’s frowning out the window.
“Is that my brother?” Adam asks. When Sam had disappeared, he’d assumed he was free. He’d never thought that maybe Sam was still trapped—
“No,” Azazel says, voice sharp.
Adam knows he should drop it, but he can’t help himself. “Are you sure? ‘Cause that sounded a lot like him.”
Azazel’s eyes flash gold. “Do you think I wouldn’t recognize my own blood? It’s just a trick, a lure.”
Adam knows he’s probably right. It doesn’t help.
“Adam—they’re going to find me. Please, please help me.”
“Don’t listen,” Azazel says, still looking out at the street.
Adam tries, he really does. Then Sam’s screams start, the terrible, familiar cries of someone who’s just screaming because they have nothing else left. Adam buries his head between his arms and tries to think of anything but what’s around him. Outside, it starts to rain.
He thinks he falls asleep eventually, waking melding seamlessly into nightmares, but he doesn’t really remember. All he knows is that, when he opens his eyes, it’s morning, or what passes for it, and Azazel is still standing by the window.
“Sweet dreams?” he asks, not looking at Adam.
Adam contemplates aiming a few well-chosen expletives in the demon’s general direction, but he settles for just thinking them really hard. It’s not as satisfying as saying them, but it’s probably a lot less painful in the long run.
It’s still cloudy, but it doesn’t seem quite as gloomy as it had the day before. Still, there’s an odd, oily quality to the air, and Adam feels like he’s almost choking on each breath. Azazel doesn’t seem to notice, but Adam’s not sure if he actually breathes in the first place.
The street under the window is empty. Adam looks anyway. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for; blood or maybe even Sam, wounded or dead, an echo of a place Adam’s trying to forget. There’s nothing there, though, just grimy pavement and the remnants of puddles from the night’s rain.
Azazel walks as quickly as he had the day before. Adam had been hoping that Azazel would lose interest in him, and let his guard down, give Adam the chance he needs to escape. The demon has other plans though, and he keeps Adam as close as he had before too.
There’s a subtle difference to the city now though, and it takes Adam far longer than he’d have like to realize it—the city isn’t silent now It’s whispering, a low, constant murmur that Adam’s sure he’s heard before and isn’t sure why. It sounds like something that’s always been there, as much a part of the city as the asphalt and the rain, and it scares the Hell out of him. It’s not, objectively, that frightening, just a bunch of creepy whispers, but Adam doesn’t feel like being objective right now, and there’s an undercurrent of menace to it that makes him move a little closer to Azazel.
“What is that?” Adam whispers.
The demon meets his eyes and smiles. “That, sonny-boy, is what’ll happen to you if, I don’t know, you try something stupid like, say, running off?”
Demons lie, Adam knows this. Still, he’s beginning to think he’ll need a better escape plan.
Adam keeps hoping that the whispering will stop, but if anything, it gets louder as the day wears on.
By what Adam thinks is about mid-day, it’s loud enough that he can almost pick out words. It’s a constant, insect-like buzz that’s as good a torture as anything in the Cage. It’s not just affecting Adam; Azazel’s jaw is tense and set, and he’s walking faster now, fast enough that Adam has to jog to keep up.
“What’s going on?” he asks, curiosity winning over caution.
Azazel’s eyes are glowing yellow in the gloom. “We need to find shelter,” he says. “Now.”
There’s a harsh, splitting crack of thunder, and Adam jumps. The sky flashes blue-white for a second, and the next roll of crashing sound chases on its heels.
Azazel stops dead in the center of the street. “Too late.”
There’s a cold wind swirling lazily down the street towards them, picking up dust and scraps of paper. It should be innocent, benign. Adam has a sinking feeling that it isn’t.
“Adam?” It’s Sam’s voice again, coming from behind him, and Adam whirls around. His brother, or something wearing his brother’s face, is standing in the road. He’s half-transparent, ghost-like, dripping silvery blood from cuts too numerous and too deep for anyone to survive. Of course, that isn’t really an issue here.
“Hey,” Adam says. There’s something thick in his throat that he has to make an effort to talk around.
“You didn’t help me last night,” Sam says. “You didn’t help me, after everything I did for you, everything I took for you.”
Adam swallows hard. He knows this isn’t Sam, but it’s still hard to see him like this, like something broken and dead. Sam takes a faltering step towards him.
“Please, Adam,” he says. “You can still help me.”
Adam’s step backwards mirrors Sam’s approach. Thunder cracks again, a little further away, but still loud. Adam flinches.
Then the rain lets loose, stinging against Adam’s skin. It burns cold, and he’s soaked and freezing in an instant. The sky’s almost dark now, and the light’s going fast. The wind picks up, and the whispering voices grow louder, carried on the air.
The Sam-thing flickers and reappears a foot away, looming over Adam. In all the years they’d spent together, Adam had never been intimidated by his brother’s height, but now Sam looks like a giant. Adam almost trips as he scrambles backwards again, stopping just short of running into Azazel.
That’s when he realizes that they’re surrounded.
He doesn’t recognize their faces, but judging from Azazel’s bitten off curse, maybe the demon does. That or he’s just vocalizing how very screwed they are.
They’re everywhere, drifting out of the houses like ghosts, shimmering into existence in the road. They’re all as pale and dead-looking as Sam, with the same translucent quality that keeps them from looking quite real.
“Please,” they say, and it doesn’t even sound like fifty people speaking; it sounds like one person speaking with fifty mouths. “Please, why don’t you help us?”
They’re pressing in all around Adam and Azazel, like they’re the plot-relevant sacrifices in a zombie movie. The one that looks like Sam is closest, but he’s speaking with the hollow, broken voice of the group now. It helps, a little, to distance the walking nightmare in front of him from his brother.
The first outstretched, pleading hands reach him, fingers catching on his shirt, his hair. Adam shrinks in, trying to avoid their grip, and trying not to think that this is just the continuation of his fight with the monsters back in the alley.
It takes him a frantic second to realize that they aren’t reaching for him. He’s just in the way. They’re aiming past him, trying to pull themselves over him, to get at Azazel. There’s an opportunity here, and it hits him the split second after he realizes he’s not the creatures’ target.
Adam lets them push past him, ducking low so he can slip between them and out of the crush of non-corporeal bodies.
He’s almost free when something grabs him, cold fingers digging into his wounded arm. It’s the one that looks like Sam, his face set in some twisted, complicated thing between anger and desperation. “Please,” he says again, and the rest echo him like an otherworldly Greek chorus.
Adam yanks hard, ignoring the splitting pain as his arm protests. It works, somehow, on the first try. Adam’s not sure if he could have tried again.
He runs, which is starting to feel as familiar as breathing. He doesn’t know where he’s going, and that’s okay, because if he doesn’t know, maybe Azazel won’t either.
Adam can still hear the ghosts/monsters/whatevers several blocks away in the road behind him, but he doesn’t look back to see if they’re still swarming around Azazel; he really doesn’t want to know.
It still isn’t completely dark; the light’s staying somewhere around a dim twilight, just bright enough for him to see where he’s putting his feet, more or less, but still dark enough that the shadows take on weird, twisted forms. At least the rain’s slackened off.
Adam stops for breath a half-dozen blocks from where he’d left the monsters. He bends over, hands on his knees, just trying to relearn how to breathe normally. The city’s quiet again.
Then there’s a soft splash from the road to Adam’s left and he freezes. He straightens up slowly, trying to see into the gloom of the road. All that’s visible are patches of deeper darkness and faint silvery reflections where puddles catch the light, but Adam knows there’s something—or someone—there. That or he’s finally cracking.
“Are you going to stand there like an idiot,” a familiar voice asks. It sounds annoyed. “Or are you just going to run off again?”
Adam can almost see him now, a small, blurry shape maybe twenty feet away and getting closer.
He can run. It looks like Gabriel’s limping, and archangel or no, Adam should be able to outpace him.
“Give me a reason to trust you.” Adam backs away, keeping the distance between them.
“Um, I died for your brothers? Don’t tell me that doesn’t win me some points.”
Maybe Sam—the real Sam—had mentioned something about that, but it had been centuries ago, and he can’t quite remember the whole story. Crap.
He’s up against the wall now. He could still dart around the corner and run, but he’s tired of running. He didn’t do all that great on his own, and while he’s hoping the ghost-things took care of Azazel, he can’t be sure. Gabriel, at least, kept him more or less safe, and regardless of what else he may be, Adam would rather have him loose on the world than Azazel.
“Adam?” Gabriel sounds less certain now. He’s still advancing, slowly, painfully, and there’s only maybe ten feet between them. “Come on,” Gabriel says, and it’s almost gentle. “Let’s get inside, then we can talk.”
Adam’s tired, tired enough that even trusting an archangel doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
“Fine,” he says. “Lead the way.”
Apparently, they’re only a few blocks away from the empty store where they’d spent the first full night here and he’d left Gabriel. Adam’s not sure how that works; he’s pretty sure he’s been heading steadily away from there for the last two days. All he’s knows for sure is that he’s ready to be back where things make sense, wherever that might be.
Gabriel’s definitely limping, and Adam’s not sure what could hurt an archangel like that. He’d kind of like to know, and he makes a mental note to ask later.
After the horrible apartment he’d stayed in with Azazel, the store almost feels like home. The narrow cot is soft, and it’s nearly enough to make Adam relax. Gabriel’s already settled onto the other cot with a sigh, lying back against the headboard with his eyes closed. He could be asleep, but Adam knows better.
“So,” Gabriel says casually, not opening his eyes. “What happened to you?”
Because that’s not a broad question at all. It’s easiest to start at the beginning. “Your brothers.”
Gabriel doesn’t open his eyes. “Ah,” he says, then, “my brothers as in ‘angels in general’ or as in ‘immediate family’?”
“That last one.”
The conversation lulls after that, and Adam finds himself becoming unreasonably interested in the patterns of water damage on the ceiling.
Adam’s almost asleep when Gabriel breaks the silence. “So, Dean never did give the Big Yes to Michael?”
“He might have eventually,” Adam says carefully, which is mostly to disguise that he’s trying not to yawn, “but Michael got impatient.”
Gabriel sighs. It’s verging into over-dramatic territory, but Adam’s starting to think that’s just how he is. “Sounds like something Mikey would do. He never could wait for the nice toys.” He cracks an eye open and makes an apologetic face at Adam. “No offense.”
Adam shrugs. He always knew Michael considered him second-best to Dean; the angel had never been shy about telling him exactly that.
“And Sam?” Gabriel’s eyes are closed again, a look of complete disinterest settled comfortably across his face, but Adam knows it’s just a front. He can see the tension in the angel’s body, hard lines of muscle that don’t match his aura of careless nonchalance.
“He said yes to Lucifer,” Adam tells him. “Then dropped all four of us into the Cage. The angels got him out eventually. Don’t know where he is now.” Hopefully somewhere better than this.
“Ah.” The tension’s still there, but it’s lessened. “I thought maybe he had it in him.”
Neither of them says anything for a long time. The ghost-things are still out there; Adam can hear them somewhere in the darkness, but it’s faint and distant, and the store feels safe, at least for now.
“We should be out of here by this time tomorrow,” Gabriel says. “Earlier, if we’re lucky.”
Adam had almost been asleep again, but he’s wide awake now. “Really? How?”
“We were just coming at it at the wrong angle, like your demon friend was. I think I have it now.”
“Is that why we were looping around—hey!” Adam turns to glare at Gabriel. “How do you know about that?”
Gabriel shrugs, unconcerned. “By the time I picked up your trail, he’d already beaten me to you. I figured it would be safer for you if he didn’t know I was there, so I just followed behind you. Also, I was hoping he knew the way out, and could lead us to the gateway.”
Huh, the real reason. Adam’s ready to tell Gabriel exactly what he thinks of his messed-up priorities, but then he remembers exactly what Gabriel is: he’s not Adam’s friend, not some kind of guardian angel that can be tamed and taught manners, he’s an archangel, and he’s going to do whatever the Hell he wants to. For all Adam knows, Gabriel doesn’t see him as anything more than a way out. It’s a sobering thought, but one Adam knows he can’t forget.
“Alright then,” Adam says, lying back down. “Guess it all comes down to tomorrow.” He rolls over on his side, his back towards the angel, and this time, he does fall asleep.
Adam wakes up buzzing with nervous tension, the same feeling he used to get before a big test back in school. He’s kind of amazed he can still remember what that feels like, like the centuries of Hell never even happened. It’s oddly encouraging, and it makes him hope that maybe he’s not as broken as he’d thought.
He’d expected them to leave as soon as the sun came up, or rather, as soon as it was light. Gabriel fusses around in the morning, though, like he’s trying to remember to pack everything, even though they don’t actually have anything to pack. So, Adam spends what feels like half the morning sitting in the middle of his cot, feeling increasingly irritated.
He does take the opportunity to ask Gabriel about his plan, though he doesn’t get a straight answer, and try and find out what happened to Gabriel’s leg. In response to that, Gabriel had muttered something about how he thought guys with tentacles only existed in porn and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Adam had decided maybe he didn’t really want to know.
By the time they head out, it’s finally stopped raining, and the clouds have even burned off some. For the first time, the sun is shining through, and Adam’s almost excited about that until he realizes that, like the circle of Purgatory before this one, the sun’s just wrong. Here, it’s too red, staining the sky a livid, unnatural orange. He tries to ignore it and just keep moving.
Gabriel doesn’t seem to have a definite plan, leading Adam on a circuitous path through the city. It feels completely random, for a while, Adam wonders if it is. It takes Adam longer than he’d care to admit to realize that they aren’t really wandering aimlessly—they’re following a trail.
There’s a faint line of scorch marks that’s close enough to the burnt stone surrounding the last gateway that Adam feels like he should have recognized it as important earlier. Once he realizes what they’re following, the scorch marks are everywhere. He stops to take a closer look at the nearest one, a long line like a whiplash waist-high on the wall, soot-black against the gray concrete.
Gabriel stops, too, then takes a few steps back to bring him level with Adam. “So,” he says, “you noticed.”
Adam reaches out towards the wall, but stops before he actually touches it, fingers hovering over the mark. “What did this?”
“Something bigger and badder than you’d ever want to meet in the real world. The door was open, and they sure as Hell weren’t hanging around.” Gabriel shrugs. “I found one that didn’t make it out yesterday, and sent it back into the far reaches. It told me what happened first, though.”
So that was what had happened to his leg. “And they’ll lead us out?”
“It might not be the most direct route, but at least we have something to follow. It won’t lead us in circles.”
Which is about as good as they’re going to get. Adam straightens up and starts walking, eyes scanning the walls and pavement for the next mark, Gabriel stalking ahead of him.
About mid-day, the trail ends. Adam’s watching the ground, and doesn’t even notice when Gabriel stops until he almost bumps into him.
Gabriel doesn’t answer, just jerks his chin towards the road ahead of them. Adam follows his gaze up, and—oh.
It’s not the even circular scarring that surrounded the last gateway. It’s a tangled, writhing mess of the scorch marks they’ve been following, like the site of a battle, or maybe a massacre, blackened stone dark like dried blood against the asphalt.
Adam swallows hard.
The building it’s centered around doesn’t look like much. It’s taller than most of the houses and stores around it—maybe three stories tall—and blocky, perhaps a bank or something similar. It’s made of the familiar gray stone and blank concrete, its façade featureless and uninviting. There are no windows, but about halfway up, something’s smashed its way inside, leaving gaping holes in the walls.
There’s something else about it, too. Adam can feel the echoes of Hell from where he’s standing, and he knows it’s coming from the building. They’ve reached the exit, but all Adam wants to do now is run as fast as he can back into the city.
“Adam?” Gabriel’s watching him, eyebrows drawing together in the beginnings of a frown.
“We—we’ve got to go in there, don’t we?”
“Um, yeah, that’s the idea.”
Adam takes a deep, shaky breath. “I’m ready.”
They’re maybe a block from the building, but it feels like farther. There’s a real door at least; it’s tall and narrow, and it takes both of them pulling on the handle to open it.
Inside, it’s dark and humid. It’s hard for Adam to get much of a picture in the gloom, but there don’t seem to be floors—instead, it’s open to the ceiling, most of which is gone, collapsed into a small mountain of broken concrete and wooden beams that stick up at odd angles like the broken ribs of a prehistoric sea-creature. The light is dim, but the holes in the ceiling and walls let some light in, pale shafts of sunlight that stain the floor a milky yellow.
He’s fine until he and Gabriel take more than a few steps inside. Then the smell hits him. It’s fetid and rotten with a sharp, metallic tang of copper, and the warm, damp air only makes it worse. It’s like the houses they’d had to cut through before, and it’s all Adam can do to keep himself from throwing up, passing out, or both. He makes himself keep going.
They’re about twenty feet in when the door slams shut behind them. Adam jumps, instinctively edging closer to Gabriel. “What was that?”
“Hey.” Gabriel’s voice sounds carefully nonchalant in the dark. “You didn’t happen to notice if we were followed, did you?”
“He’s not very observant.”
Adam can’t see the speaker, but he doesn’t have to. Oh shit.
“I think it’s a family thing,” Azazel goes on. Now that Adam’s eyes have started to adjust, he can almost see him—a dark blurry shape and a pair of pale golden eyes that shine in the gloom. “His brothers and daddy never seemed that bright either.”
“Have to agree with you on that one,” Gabriel says. He’s moving carefully around so he’s standing between Adam and the demon. “Still, they had enough brains to kill you.”
Azazel’s standing on the far side of one of the pools of light now, and Adam can see him well enough to recognize the demon’s shrug. “I was having a bad day. It happens to the best of us.”
Adam’s not sure what their plan is. They’ve only got a few options, really—out the door (pointless), try and open the gateway before Azazel catches up with them (snowball’s chance in Hell), or fight and defeat Azazel (not likely, unless Gabriel can be badass enough for both of them).
“You know,” Azazel says, “I remember you, Gabriel. Back in the old days, before I became Lucifer’s. You might have been impressive then, with your regalia and your father’s favor, but you were never more than a pompous fool hiding behind your stronger, cleverer brothers. And now, stripped of all that, you’re nothing.”
Gabriel’s harsh snort of laughter is startling in the dark. “And you still love the sound of your own voice way more than is healthy, Azazel. We’ve all got issues.”
He’s edging backwards, slowly pushing Adam towards the center of the room. Adam lets himself be herded, moving his feet carefully so he doesn’t trip. Most of the rubble is centered under the impromptu skylight, but the ground is still treacherous and uneven. For a moment, Adam thinks that Azazel hasn’t noticed their retreat. Then he realizes that the demon is mirroring their movements, a steadily approaching shape in the darkness.
“You’re going to run?” Azazel calls. “I’d expected more from you. Not a lot, sure, but something.” He’s fast, and in the dark it seems like he’s moving the same way as the ghost-things, flickering closer and closer.
“Adam,” Gabriel hisses, “make for the top of the pile, draw the sign, and wait. If Azazel gets past me, go ahead and jump.”
“It’ll close up when you’re through.” He gives Adam a hard shove.
For a second, Adam doesn’t even know if he’s going to follow Gabriel’s orders. He’s never liked being bossed around, and, whatever else he might be, he’s not a coward. Still, he’s already proven just how well he can fight Azazel. He turns and runs for the light, shoes sliding on the rubble.
Behind him, there’s a faint ring of metal as someone draws their knife. Adam doesn’t look back, but he can hear them as he runs, thuds and bitten-off curses. He’s halfway there—maybe only forty feet away, when he hears Gabriel cry out. He half turns, blinking to adjust his eyes to the dark again after staring into the dim light.
Gabriel’s still standing, his knife held loosely in his hand as he tries to staunch the wound on his left arm. He’s backing away from Azazel, who’s advancing towards him with his knife held out and a cold smile on his face. Adam sees the second when Azazel realizes that Adam’s standing frozen in the middle of the room and Gabriel’s no longer between them. Adam makes the connection an instant too late.
An invisible force rams into Adam like a semi-truck, throwing him sideways until he hits the wall, hard. The impact knocks all the air out of him, but the expected fall to the ground never comes. He’s pinned, feet dangling three feet from the ground, helpless.
Azazel strides up towards him until they’re separated by maybe ten feet, which is, in Adam’s opinion, far closer than he ever wanted to be to the demon again. Halfway across the room, Gabriel gives a low angry hiss.
“Now, now,” Azazel says. “You’d better be careful.” He makes a slight movement with one hand, and Adam slides a few inches further up the wall. “You wouldn’t want me to panic and accidentally kill young Adam, would you?” His expression shifts from a pleasant smile into something darker. “Drop the knife.”
There’s a long moment where Adam thinks Gabriel’s going to refuse, that he’s going to take the opportunity of the demon’s distraction and charge. Adam kind of hopes he does. Then the moment is over, and the knife hits the floor with a dull ring of metal against stone.
“That’s better. Now, listen carefully. You are going to stay nice and cooperative while Adam opens the final gate for me. If you both behave, I might even let you live. Or you know, whatever.” He gestures with the knife. “Back up.”
Gabriel obeys. As soon as the angel is almost against the opposite wall, the invisible bonds vanish and Adam falls the last few feet to the floor. He lands badly, his legs giving underneath him, and he ends up on all fours, concrete digging into his knees and the palms of his hands. Also, now that the pressure’s gone, he’s realizing that it wasn’t just Azazel’s power making his ribs hurt. Every breath feels like his chest is on fire, and he’s trying not to notice the way one of his ribs is poking out oddly under his tee-shirt.
“Up.” Azazel pokes at his chest with a booted toe, and everything goes black for a second. “Up,” he says again. “I don’t want to have to carry you, but I will. You don’t have to be alive for this to work.”
Adam’s not sure how he managed to drag himself up and start the long walk to the center of the room again. Some part of him is dimly aware that it’s the same instinct that kept him going when he was in the Cage, but all he’s conscious of is that he hurts like Hell.
Climbing the rubble is even worse than walking. Every movement jars his ribs, as well as the dozen other smaller injuries. By the time he reaches the top, Adam’s gasping for breath and cold sweat is dripping down his nose and making his shirt stick to his back.
He’d expected the top of the pile to be, well, the top of the pile. He hadn’t expected for the rubble to be pushed back around a raised, flat disk, like the caldera of a volcano. The disc itself is maybe four feet across, and it’s covered in runes and sigils in what Adam thinks might be Enochian, or something older. Azazel, who’s been following him closely all the way up, freezes on the lip, and Adam realizes that there’s a Devil’s Trap working into the designs, though the symbols don’t match the ones Sam had taught him.
“Here.” Azazel tosses Adam the knife. Somehow he manages to catch it, though he almost drops it when the hilt hits his skinned hand. Adam takes a deep breath, winces, and re-opens the barely healing cut on his arm. Azazel’s knife is sharper than Gabriel’s had been, and he barely has to apply pressure at all before the warm blood starts to trickle down his arm. He slides the knife into his belt.
He takes another breath, shallower this time, and carefully draws out the symbol he’d used to open the first gateway. When he draws the last line with a sweep of dusty, red-stained fingers, he jumps back. He’d prefer to go through a more dignified way than the floor opening up underneath him, and anyway, he’s still hoping he and Gabriel can both get out of here. He’s not leaving the angel to face Azazel alone.
He stands on the narrow lip of broken cement and waits.
“Are you sure you did that right?” Azazel asks, voice dangerously low. “Because, I’m sure a nice ritual sacrifice would work if that’s all you’ve got.”
“It didn’t work because he didn’t know that right sigil.” Adam hadn’t heard Gabriel climbing the pile, but now he’s standing on the lip, the third point of their makeshift triangle.
“Here,” Gabriel says. “I helped build this place, so that ought to count for something. Why don’t you try this?” He crouches down and draws a pattern in the dust. Adam and Azazel both crane to read it, but Gabriel casually blocks the demon’s view with his body.
Logically, Adam’s never seen this collection of symbols before. There’s something familiar about them though, and he wonders if that’s just a side effect of having an archangel in his head. He glances between the design and Gabriel. The angel’s smiling, a wide, predatory grin that’s not quite comforting. Still, it’s the best they’ve got.
Adam’s attempt at copying the symbol is sloppy and uneven. The lines don’t look quite right, and drawing in blood is harder than satanic priests make it look on TV. It’s more complicated than the first symbol, too, and it takes him a few tense minutes to finish tracing the lines in what he hopes is enough of an approximation to work. He scrambles back quickly when he’s done; he’s not sure what Gabriel’s up to, but he doesn’t want to get caught in it.
He can feel the change in the air almost immediately, and he knows it’s working. There’s a wisp of an air current that grows into a wind, twisting around them and rustling his hair. Instead of dispelling the foul smell, it makes it worse, and Adam has the sinking feeling the unnatural wind is coming from wherever the gate is opening into.
The runes and words on the disk shift and move, re-forming around the edges of the circle. In the center of the ring, a dark hole opens, swallowing the stone down into its depths, and Adam has a sharp flash of memory back to a similar hole, one that lead to the darkest corner of Hell.
The pit has almost opened to the edge of the disk. Adam had expected white light, like when he’d opened the first gateway, but instead it’s black shot through with flashes of nightmarish red, and maybe his sense of déjà vu wasn’t completely unfounded. Adam’s looking into Hell.
Across the circle from him, Azazel snarls, eyes shining bright in the reflected hell-fire.
“Not a wise move, sonny-boy.”
Adam stumbles sideways, because he’s figured out Gabriel’s plan now. The rubble shifts under his feet, and between the pain in his ribs and arm and the dizziness from the stench and the mere presence of Hell, Adam’s about ready to pass out. He makes it around the edge of the pile, then freezes. Azazel’s nowhere in sight.
Someone grabs him from behind, and Adam twists around, almost falling. Azazel has his right arm in a tight grip, and when Adam turns, the demon catches hold of the other one.
“Not bad,” Azazel says. “I’d give it maybe, uh, 6 out of 10? For effort, at least. The execution’s considerably more shoddy.”
Adam knows exactly what he needs to do. He can’t help but wonder if this is how Sam felt, the instant before he took all of them down into the Cage; it’s actually kind of peaceful. Yeah, just like drowning.
It’s surprisingly easy. All he as to do is shift, and let his own weight do all the work. Azazel realizes what Adam’s doing a second too late. He leans back, tries to get his footing, but they’re already falling. Adam closes his eyes.
There’s a hard jolt and their fall is suddenly and painfully stopped. Adam’s hanging upside down, Azazel still holding onto his arms, and Gabriel’s leaning over the edge of the gateway, holding his ankle.
“Not so fast,” Gabriel pants.
Adam twists wildly, trying to dislodge the demon without bringing Gabriel over with them. He manages to get his good arm free, and pulls his fist back.
“Do that.” Azazel sounds almost desperate. “And you’ll never find out who released you from the Cage.”
Adam punches him, hard, which does nothing except make both arms hurt like Hell. He winds his arm back again, then realizes that there’s something sharp poking his thigh. The knife. He scrabbles for that instead, gasping in relief when his fingers close around the hilt.
“Wait…” Azazel starts, but he never finishes. Adam drives the knife up and in right under the demon’s ribcage. Azazel’s grip loosens, then goes slack. “Winchesters,” he gasps, like a curse, as one by one his fingers release themselves from Adam’s arm. Then he’s falling into the shadow and flame of Hell.
“Adam.” Gabriel’s trying to pull him back up. “Give me a hand here.”
Adam’s not sure how Gabriel manages to get him back onto solid ground. Once he’s up, the angel gives him a quick, sweeping once over, and turns to face the gaping pit. He says something, a few words in a language that hurts Adam’s ears, but it seems to work. Starting at the edges, the hole begins to close, the symbols shifting back to their original places.
Adam can feel the difference as soon as the gateway closes; it’s like he can breathe again. He leans back against a chunk of ceiling, and just feels glad he’s not in Hell. Again.
It takes him a moment to realize that Gabriel’s talking to him. “Adam, we’ve got to go.”
“What?” Adam’s aware that he sounds only half-conscious, but he doesn’t really care right now.
There are shapes around them on the floor below—the sprit-things from the city, as well as other, more solid forms. There’s a flash of long braids, and Adam almost thinks he can see the vampire girl from his first day here.
“I’ll do it.” Before Adam can protest, Gabriel’s swiping a hand over his still-bleeding arm and kneeling in the center of the circle. He’s better at drawing symbols in blood than Adam is, and it only takes him a few seconds. When he’s done, he jumps back up and stands next to Adam.
“Where will that open?” Adam asks.
Gabriel shrugs. “Not one hundred percent sure. I was actually kinda surprised you managed to open the gateway into Hell.”
There’s light glowing from the heart of the circle now, but it’s not forming a hole. It’s blossoming outwards, creating a rift in the air that’s almost too bright to look at.
Gabriel helps Adam up. “Come on,” he says, “walk into the light.”
Adam takes a faltering step, and lets the light envelop him.
Adam’s lying on his back, sunlight burning at his skin and something rough prickling at the back of his neck. His chest is still throbbing, which doesn’t seem fair. Shouldn’t Heaven take care of things like broken ribs?
There’s birdsong somewhere close by, and it’s the most beautiful thing Adam’s ever heard. There’s the dim feeling that he should get up, or at least open his eyes, but moving sounds like work, and it’s perfectly comfortable to just lie here and listen to the birds. Adam hasn’t heard birds in centuries.
“Hey,” a voice nearby says. It’s Gabriel, and Adam’s glad he made it out too. But then again, he’s an angel. That would just be weird if he didn’t make it into Heaven. “This is actually pretty damn close to where I was aiming!” He sounds far too pleased with himself.
So, that’s all right then. Adam should probably see where they are, though, just to be sure. He opens his eyes and sits up. He’s moving slowly, but it’s still too fast, and his ribs scream at every slight jostle.
They made it. They actually did it, which means Heaven looks like—Adam focuses on his surroundings, blinking as his eyes adjust. It takes a moment for the landmarks to sink in and the disconnected shapes to resolve themselves into something he can understand. He’s sitting on dry brown grass, and the sky above him is blue and clear, with only a few wispy white clouds. He’s in a clearing surrounded by trees and shrubs, and around him there are tall shapes that look like tombstones. That are tombstones.
Adam’s memories of this place are hazy at best, since he wasn’t exactly in the driver’s seat last time he was here, but he still recognizes it, and it’s definitely not Heaven. He swears again, out loud this time, because this is not what he was hoping for.
“Welcome back to the land of the living.” Gabriel’s standing on the edge of Adam’s vision, looking weary and beat-up, but very much alive. Which is kind of the problem. “Is it just like you remember?”
“This is where Michael and Lucifer met isn’t it?” Adam asks. “Where Sam opened up the Cage?”
Gabriel shrugs. “Dunno. I guess. I’m guessing my spell found a weak spot and pushed us through there.”
Adam staggers to his feet, swaying as the world goes disturbingly wavy and every bone in his body protests.
“Look, are you going to pass out or something?”
There’s a hand at his elbow, and while it’s not much, it keeps him from falling over. Gradually, the world settles.
“Thanks,” he manages.
“No problem. Just don’t throw up on me.”
Adam’s alive. He’s escaped Hell, he’s escaped Purgatory, and he’s alive.
“So,” he says, “what do I do now?”
Gabriel steps back and watches him carefully for a second. Apparently whatever he sees satisfies him, because he smiles and shrugs, then turns, and starts to walk away.
“Wait!” Adam doesn’t even know which state he’s in. There’s no way Gabriel can just leave him here—“Gabriel!”
The angel turns back, face set in over exaggerated annoyance. “Well, are you coming?”
“I—I don’t know.” Adam knows one thing: if he goes with Gabriel, there’s no chance he could ever have his old life back. He’ll never go back to school, he’ll never just hang out with his friends and have coffee; all of that will be out of his reach. He’ll be an outcast, living on the wild fringes of society, and he’s not sure if he’s ready for that.
Gabriel shrugs again, and resumes walking. Adam watches him go, feeling like there’s something unfinished, something he needs to say, but he still doesn’t have a clue what it is.
When he realizes what it is, Gabriel’s almost reached the road. Adam’s figured it out though: all the best heroes are outcasts.
It’s weird, but this could be a second chance. A real second chance, not the kind the angels had tried to pass off his shoddy resurrection by Michael as. He knows what’s out there now, and he knows what the world will be like if it wins.
“Hey, Gabriel, I’m coming with you! Wait up!”
The angel half-turns and gives him a cheery wave, but doesn’t slow down. Adam swears under his breath, and starts to run across the cemetery at a painful jog. He catches up with Gabriel before he reaches the road.
“Took you long enough,” Gabriel says, but Adam thinks that maybe that’s just his way of saying he’s glad Adam decided to come with him. He hopes.
“Here,” Gabriel adds, and wraps an arm around Adam’s waist. It helps make him feel less like he’s going to keel over at any second. Gabriel’s surprisingly strong.
They hobble out of the cemetery gates together, looking like some sort of bizarre three-legged race contestants who got mugged on their way home. There’s a whole new world out there for Adam, filled with danger and adventure, and he’s ready to meet it.
Yeah, Adam is so screwed.