"Where in hell are we?" Sam didn't quite screech because hardened hunters didn't screech or squeak, so there. But even if he had, he’d have been totally justified given the rather bizarre place he found himself in. After all, when Gabriel had promised him a vacation, he'd been thinking Hawaii or Mexico maybe; not wherever this washed-out and spooky landscape actually was.
The smile the archangel turned on him could only be described as beatific; in other words: scary. "Got it in one."
There was a moment of silence during which Gabriel beamed at him, and Sam‘s mind told him emphatically that he would not want to understand, nope. Alas, Sam had always been too smart and too stubborn for his own good.
"...we're in Hell?" Okay, that was a screech. Sam whipped around, hand going for a weapon, not that that would be any help in Hell, but it made him feel better at least. When no demons -- or other creatures of the Pit for that matter -- materialised, he relaxed marginally and reexamined his surroundings in light of this new information.
Sam's brows furrowed. Last time he’d been in Hell, it had looked - and smelled and sounded - more, well, hell-ish. Admittedly he didn’t have much in the way of recollection of his brief stint there, and boy, was he ever grateful for that. This, however, didn't jive with what he did remember. There was nothing particular infernal here as far as he could tell. Behind him was an immense wall, rising too high into the sky for him to see the top, and extending too far in both directions for him to see either end (if it ended at all). He thought it was curving inwards, but he couldn't be sure. All around him, facing the wall, were some very large mansions. He and Gabriel were standing at the entrance of one of those, right before the door. Well, more like gate...Sam looked at it, noting skull and bones pattern decorating the bottom edge. He leaned forward, trying to get a better look at it, and the skull closest to him winked. Fuck! Startled, he took a step back, and then another, then two and a half more for good measure, because, hello, winking skull. His rapid retreat was halted, though, when he stumbled over something behind him and fell flat on his ass. Gabriel snickered, bending forward and clutching at his belly as the snickering turned into full-out laughter.
"We're not really in Hell, are we?" Sam huffed, as he extricated himself from -- a giant shoe? He blinked, finally taking in the equally gigantic doorknocker, mailbox, and Welcome mat. He began to suspect that Gabriel had zapped them into a movie version of Alice in Wonderland. Or maybe Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Gabriel suppressed his laughter long enough to quip,
"We're in 'ell, minus one 'l'," with a fake Cockney accent.
"Your puns suck," Sam replied, then did a mental double-take. No, no way. Hel? Norse mythology 'Hel'? "I thought people went to Heaven or Hell, Christian Hell, after they died."
Gabriel clucked his tongue. "Not everyone's a Christian. Or Jewish for that mat-"
"-ter. Death's bad enough. Imagine being sent somewhere you'd never even heard of after shuffling off the mortal coil."
"The First Commandment?" Sam asked pointedly. He was pretty sure he’d heard non-believers were sent to Hell. Gabriel seemed to read his mind (possibly literally).
"What? You think Dad would send someone to eternal damnation just because they didn't believe in Him?" He sighed. "These things are a bit more flexible than you think. 'The Ten Rough Guidelines' just doesn't have quite the same ring to it, though."
"Uh." Sometimes Sam wondered how he could still be surprised that nothing ever was the way Pastor Jim had described.
"I told Dad he should have included footnotes," Gabriel continued blithely, "but no one had heard of footnotes back then, and Old Mo wasn't much of a stonemason anyway. He started complaining ‘bout his hand halfway through the Third Commandment."
"Uh," Sam repeated stupidly. It wasn't everyday that an archangel waved aside the tenets of your faith. When Sam didn't say anything else -- he was still contemplating Holy Footnotes --, Gabriel snorted at him and turned towards the giant door. He snapped his fingers once, and the doorknocker moved, banging against the wood with a loud THUNK -UNK -UNK. Sam put his hands over his ears, but it did nothing to keep the reverberations from making his teeth clack together and his brain vibrate in his head.
THUNK -UNK -UNK.
THUNK -UNK -UNK.
When the last of the sound had drifted off into the ether of Hel (and the ringing in Sam's ears had somewhat subsided), Gabriel cocked his head, apparently listening for something, harrumphed, and dropped into a crosslegged position. He patted the floor beside him and raised an eyebrow at Sam. "It'll take a while; Ganglati's not the fastest servant ever." Keeping hold of his head in case it decided fall off, Sam sat down gingerly and waited.
"So," he said after a while, "Hades? Duat? Naraka?”
"Sure," Gabriel answered, absently. He shoved a hand into his pocket, pulling out two Mars Bars and handing one to Sam. "Here, have a bite before we go in. I love my daughter to bits, but her cooking skills are abysmal." Sam blinked at him, took in the size of Gabriel’, Loki’s, vessel, remembered the race of the supposed mother, and decided that this did not compute.
Apparently it was Pick-Through-Sam's-Brain-Day because Gabriel grinned at him. "I have a certain type," he said, wraggling his eyebrows and leering, "It's 'large'."
"Ugh," said Sam. Then, “Dude.”
Besides, that still didn’t explain how...or whether the giantess had even felt anything if.
“I’m bigger on the inside.” “Dude. You did not just quote Doctor Who at me. And your insides aren’t important in this context anyway.”
“Sure they are, Sammy." Gabriel didn’t get a chance to elaborate on this, however, -- and Sam wasn’t entirely sure if he should be grateful for that or not; he was leaning towards yes -- since the large door began to swing open to reveal..another shoe. Sam scrambled to his feet and tilted his head back, and back.
"WELCOME." A voice boomed from above. "COME IN.”
The giant, for it was a giant, looked down at Sam with an air of bored indifference. His gaze drifted towards Gabriel, and Sam saw a flicker of recognition pass across his face before it settled back into blankness. Gabriel waved at him, then grabbed Sam’s arm and pulled him past the giant and into the darkened foyer of the mansion.
"MISTRESS," Ganglati roared from behind, "IT IS LOKI." He paused while Sam tried to decide if his eardrums were still in one piece.
“AND A HUMAN,” he added as an afterthought.
“GUIDE THEM INTO THE HALL," another voice roared back. Ganglati grimaced as if the answer physically pained him (Sam could honestly say that he sympathised) and sighed deeply. The air streaming out of his mouth would have knocked Sam down if not for the grip Gabriel had on his arm. Sam swore and grumbled at him to watch it, but the giant didn’t look as if he cared, nor did he give any indication that he’d even heard. With a frown directed towards his invisible mistress, Ganglati shoved the door shut with one hand, then looked back down at Sam and Gabriel. "FOLLOW ME.”
The hall they were led to was damp and reminded Sam of the Great Hall in the Harry Potter books. Rain and snow fell down from the ceiling, but instead of stopping high above the heads of the people at the tables, it drenched them and the food in front of them. And yet, no one seemed to mind this overly much. Or maybe they were simply used to it. For a moment, Sam wondered why he wasn’t getting wet, but a look upwards showed that he was standing underneath an umbrella that Gabriel must have snapped into existence while Sam was distracted. He threw the archangel a grateful look.
"FATHER.” At the sound of her voice, Sam turned his attention to the giantess walking towards them with measured steps that shook the floor far more than Ganglati’s shuffling had. She was still pretty far away, so Sam took the opportunity to look at her in her entirety. The skin of her face was white but mottled with black, emphasising her sad expression. Her hair was so dark that it seemed to suck the light from the surroundings, and her eyes...were the exact same shade as Gabriel’s vessel. Sam knew; he’d been staring into them more than once over the past several months.
“Hel,” Gabriel said. There was a softness to his voice that Sam had never heard from him before. It spoke of fondness, longing; the love of a father for his child. Hel’s lips quirked slightly and it transformed her whole face. “Her mother was just as stunning,” Gabriel told him in a whisper.
“HAVE A SEAT,” Hel said when she was but twenty feet away. She nodded towards the nearest table. While Gabriel dragged Sam to an empty spot, the umbrella keeping pace with them, Hel dismissed Ganglati with a wave of her hand and settled down on the floor. “WHO IS THE MORTAL?”
“Hel, this is Sam. Sam, Hel." Hel nodded at Sam; Sam, who was going to play this cool, dammit, nodded back. Shaking hands would have proved a bit difficult and possibly lethal for him, he supposed. “He won’t stay,” Gabriel continued, “but I wanted the two of you to meet, you know; get to know each other.”
“You haven’t introduced me to anyone since Sigyn,” Hel commented, staring at Sam critically. Sam shifted in his seat, feeling a sudden rush of self-consciousness when she added, “He’s rather small.”
“But smart,” Gabriel replied, and yes, he was most definitely looking for approval from Hel. Sam swallowed, realising that this was much more serious than he had thought. He put on his most charming expression, the one he used on witnesses who were just a tad reluctant, and said “I’m tall by human standards.”
God, smooth, Sam, real smooth. You couldn’t sound like a bigger idiot if you tried.
Hel made a strange noise -- it sounded a bit like thunder, he thought at first, but after a moment he realised that she was laughing.
“I KNOW.” She looked at Gabriel. "HE'LL DO.”
Gabriel relaxed and smiled. “So, how have you been? Got anyone interesting recently?”
“NOT SINCE I LET YOU GO LAST MARCH.”
...well, that explained Gabriel’s mysterious reappearance after Lucifer killed him. Awesome archangel powers, Sam’s ass; he’d just hatched his bets. And how exactly could he have gone to Hel instead of, say, Valhalla, when he had died in battle, Sam wanted to know, opening his mouth to ask then thinking better of it.
Gabriel kicked his shin anyway -- really, he would have waited! --, hissed a quiet “Sunday Dinner” under his breath, and addressed his daughter again. “And I’ll forever be grateful to you, Hel.”
And yeah, okay; if the Apocalypse was Sunday Dinner, then being killed by Lucifer was just a family dispute gone awry. Still, it made him wonder if Hel, at least, knew her father’s true identity.
“IT WAS MY PLEASURE, FATHER. PLEASE, HAVE SOMETHING TO EAT." She nodded at their table, pulled out a knife -- it was called Sullt, if Sam was not mistaken -- from seemingly nowhere, and reached towards the nearest dish -- the carcass of a sheep, burnt, roasted?, nearly to a crips. Sam looked at the rest of the dishes. Yep, there was absolutely nothing that wasn't either over- or undercooked. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gabriel's put something quite unidentifiable on his own plate, expression carefully neutral. Hel smiled at him.
"So, how have you been?"
It was the most surreal dinner conversation Sam had ever been part of, and that was really saying something. While most of it consisted of Gabriel telling Hel what he’d been up to the last several months (up to and including having sex with Sam, oh God) and Hel listening attentively (oh, God), there were the odd questions about common aquaintances and family members (And how has Odin been doing since he came here?), the ubiquitous inquiry after the weather (RAINY. SOMETIMES SNOW.), and the familial kind of ribbing (YOU'VE SHRUNK, HAVEN'T YOU?). They both ignored Sam for the most part, which was fine with him because most of the time he just said something stupid. Hel seemed to find this terribly amusing, though she didn’t laugh again, which was just as well. Sam’s tablemates, scary-looking Norsemen the lot of them -- though scarier than their looks were the symptoms of the illnesses they'd died of, and Sam really hoped that he couldn't catch anything from someone who'd been dead for thousands of years... in any case, his tablemates found the fact that she had laughed at all quite unsettling apparently, or maybe it was her presence alone, and the space around Sam and Gabriel grew steadily. (Though truthfully, that might also have been because of Gabriel/Loki’s increasingly gruesome tales of Retribution on Uppity Mortals).
When Sam’s stomach started complaining loudly -- he’d tried the food and even eaten a little to leave a good impression with his...with his partner’s kid, but yeah, it did suck --, Gabriel checked his watch. “We need to get back,” he said, tone apologetic and clearly reluctant. “I’ll come back soon, though."
Hel nodded, looking rather downcast.
“Ah, screw it," Gabriel huffed, jumped off the bench, and walked towards his daughter, leaving Sam to stare in amazement as he doubled in size with every step, so that by the time he’d reached Hel, he was tall enough to pull her up into an embrace. Sam turned away to give them their privacy and was thus more than a little surprised when he was picked up by a giant hand and deposited on Gabriel’s shoulder.
“Later," Gabriel spoke into his mind, striding towards the entrance hall. “First I need to shrink and you need your body back."
“Only the dead can go to Hel, Sam; well, and gods and the like, of course.”
Sam thought about punching Gabriel in the earlobe. He thought about it hard. “Dude, I can’t believe you killed me!”
“It’s just a little death,” Gabriel said as he pulled open the door and stepped outside. He raised his fingers to snap, then thought better of it, and simply waved his hand.
“...we’ll see how many of those you get in the near future.” Sam snapped back before darkness enveloped him.