The first thing that hit Dean’s senses was the smell of sewage. Wonderful.
The tunnel was pitch-black dark, with no light source to be seen. The Winchesters could barely see their noses on their faces, let alone the path in front of them. They had no choice but to feel along the side of the wall as they walked, the slimy moss-covered wall that was lined with god-knows-what kind of gel film over top.
Between that and the smell of decomposing something in his nostrils, Dean was trying his best not to up-chuck his dinner right then and there.
“How long do we have to go through here Dad?” Sam’s voice was hushed as he tried to make his footsteps equally quiet. As much as he wanted to imagine that this was an epic adventure, he was also old enough to know that if they got caught down here, especially with no ID papers, they would probably end up dead.
“Only a couple miles.” Was the gruff reply.
A few minutes later, Dean felt something large and furry scurry over his boot and he froze eyes wide. There was a small squeaking noise that was coming from close to the ground and Dean bit his lip to keep from whimpering.
He could fight angels. He could fight demons. He could take on a pack of hellhounds and not even blink. But god help him…. He was terrified of rats.
“Dean you still there?”
He felt another one brush past him, and he took a deep breath to collect himself. He didn’t notice that Sam had stopped to wait for him, or that his little brother was totally aware of his fear of rodents. But he did notice when Sam started slowly pulling him forward to continue moving on.
They traveled through the underground tunnel for another hour or two, Dean sending up prayers for deliverance from the rats every five minutes. So, by the time they made it to the tunnel exit, the three Winchesters were very much so ready to get out.
The opening into the city consisted of a rusted-over metal ladder that led up top to a manhole placing them in an alley of a side street.
They had made it.
“Well, this is… interesting.” Sam muttered, gazing around the back-alley that they were now standing in. “I thought this place was supposed to be filled with glass skyscrapers and diamond gates and crap.”
Dean wasn’t sure if it was possible for an eighteen-year-old to look like a disappointed toddler, but Sam was definitely giving it his best try. There was a slight pouty lip and everything.
“Mmmm, never really bought into the whole ‘Pearly Gates’ thing, but yeah, I would have thought it would have been nicer than this…” John replied, gazing into the street that didn’t look much better than the alley. There was mud and trash filling the road and ragged clothes hanging from lines between buildings. The roadway was narrow and cramped, lined by rundown buildings with boarded up windows.
“This place is a dump…” Sam whispered, wrinkling his nose.
John stopped and turned to look back at Dean, who was standing very still with his lips pursed and his brow creased. “You’re very quiet. Want to share with the class?”
Dean’s gaze shot over to his father. “This is not the angelic part of the Citadel.”
John tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, studying his eldest child. “What do you mean?”
The fair-haired man sighed, running a hand over his face, “Man, you guys really don’t know anything about this place, do you?” He glanced between the two of them, taking in their confused looks, before puffing out a breath and continuing on quickly, “In most parts of Michael’s territory, humans are put under strict rules and otherwise ignored. But here, there are things to be done, buildings to be maintained, and high-status angels to be served. In the Citadel, angels keep humans as slaves.”
Both Sam and John’s eyes widened in horror.
“Some angels keep personal slaves, they wait on them hand and foot, all day and every day. Other people are just used for general purposes, are collected when they’re needed…. they live here.”
“Angels use humans as slaves?! Are you kidding me???” Sam burst out, unable to keep in the outrage and shock any longer. His lips were trembling and his jaw quivered slightly.
It was like Dean could physically see a piece of innocence burn away from his brother. Damn, I’ve only been with him a week and already I’m corrupting him. Great job Dean.
“How do you know this?”
The question hit Dean smack in the chest, the force of which almost made him step back. His father hadn’t asked him anything about his experiences and his past this whole time they had been traveling. He cleared his throat and forced away the nausea building in his stomach.
“How do you not know this?” Dean threw back. “What? You have this masterplan to sneak in here, for who-knows-what reason, on this super-secret mission, probably pimping yourself out for some random angel and you don’t know basic information about this place?!” He was tired, his flashbacks had been haunting him in the tunnel, and now his baby brother was being thrown into the realities of the real world because of some mission John was dragging them on. He was so tired.
“Watch your tone, boy…” The warning low in John’s throat.
“No! Tell me what we’re even doing here! Huh?! What the hell is going on?” He would later berate himself for allowing so much emotion to show and losing control, but right now? He was so tired.
“That is none of your business, Dean!” John took a deep breath, calming himself, “The less you know, the better. This job is dangerous, and I don’t want you two involved.”
“Then why did you bring us here?” Sam’s voice cut into the argument, stilling both men for a moment.
“I- I need to keep you close, Sammy. Otherwise, how can I protect you?” John glanced over at a stiff Dean before turning back to Sam, “But that doesn’t mean that I can tell you everything about this.”
“Sometimes you don’t make a bit of sense, Dad.”
John chuckled softly at his youngest’s pinched face, “Don’t I know it.” He glanced out the alley once more before turning back to look at Dean, “So is this macho-fest done? Or do we have to start pulling punches in the middle of enemy territory to get you to fall in-line?”
Dean lifted his chin in defiance, “You didn’t answer my question.”
John bit back a small smile, “And I’m not going to.” He lifted his pack on to his shoulder and headed into the street, Sam and a begrudging Dean following behind.
There were very few people on the streets, just a figure here and there huddled in a corner. None of them spoke to them or even acknowledged them. John kept checking street signs, quickly weaving them closer and closer to the center of the city.
It wasn’t long before they came to a low stone wall separating where the humans lived and where the angels lived. Dean had picked them up some ragged slave clothes on the way there, having everyone change to blend in before they entered the main city.
When they passed through the gates to enter the city center, all three Winchesters let out silent gasps.
It was beautiful.
“Oh my god…”
There were clear crystal skyscrapers reaching toward the sky lining broad and spotless streets. There were thousands, maybe even millions, of angels. Running here. Flying there. Their wings were fully visible and unfurled.
And wow, were they magnificent.
Dean had never angel wings that weren’t covered in mud and damaged by war. But these, they were gorgeous. So many different colors, all reflecting the sunlight and groomed to perfection.
Dean hated angels with a passion, that much was certain. But their wings? Perhaps after a few shots, the man might admit that he had a “thing” for wings. Maybe even a kink, if he was feeling frisky.
“Dude, holy crap. Look at these buildings…”
Dean glanced over to see Sam gazing wide-eyed around him, unbelief written on his face.
Sam could care less about the angels or their wings, what had captured his attention was the city as a whole. It was the most modernized place he’d ever seen. After traipsing through the slaves’ quarters, this part of the city made him feel as though he was stepping into the future.
“This is incredible…”
“Boys, we need to get moving. Enough with the star-struck looks okay? Let’s blend in. The building we need to go to is just down the street.”
Sam and Dean dutifully followed their father’s lead and blended in with a group of slave workers shuffling toward a construction site in the same direction.
“Hey, Dean?” Sam whispered to his brother as they shuffled in rhythm with the others. A sort of gloomy mood had seemed to suddenly overtake him, as though a particular thought had just been realized.
“I just… I don’t know, I just I thought that…” Sam dropped his head slightly in embarrassment. “I just thought that angels were supposed to be the good guys? You know? They’re powerful and righteous. Warriors of god and all that. I mean, I know they’ve hurt us, and they were even hunting us that one time, but… I just thought that those were a couple of bad eggs. You know? But-but this… they enslave humans…” His eyes seemed to get watery, denial at the tears vivid on his face as he turned to his brother beside him. “Angels aren’t good guys. Are they Dean?”
If Dean still had an unbroken piece of his heart left at this point in his life, it shattered right then.
“No, Sammy…. They aren’t.” The look of pain on Sam’s face at the loss of his childhood ideals was tearing through to his soul. He wished he could say something, anything to make his brother feel better. But all the experiences he had with angels involved when they were trying to kill him.
And then it hit him.
“But… not all of them are bad, Sammy.” Dean laid a hand on Sam’s shoulder as they continued walking.
“Really?” Damn, Sam was doing a fantastic puppy impression, and it was killing Dean.
“Yeah. Really. An angel even saved my life once.” Dean tried not to choke on his words, the thought of Blue Eyes was bringing up all sorts of memories, good and bad.
Sam’s eyes went wide, and a little bit of sunshine returned to his face. “Are you serious?! What happened??” Dean scuffed his shoe against the pavement.
“I’ll tell you some other time. But, he-he saved me. So, not all angels can be bad, now can they?” Dean finished with a grin, flashing his white teeth at Sam in what he prayed would be a hopeful smile.
“I guess not.” Sam returned the grin, “That’s good to know.” He nudged his brother with his shoulder fondly. “Thanks for telling me, Dean.”
“Of course. Never stop looking on the bright side, little brother. You got to keep the sunshine in my life.” Dean laughed and that scrunched face Sam made.
“Dude. That was so chick-flicky.”
Dean just laughed at his little brother embarrassment, feeling a small spark of joy in his soul.
A few minutes later, the three Winchester had parted from the downtrodden group of humans and made their way to the back of one of the tall buildings.
“Stay here. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t even look at anyone. I’ll be back soon.” John turned to go as he felt a hand reach out and grab his arm lightly. He turned to see a begrudged Dean squinting at him.
“You, uh, you sure you don’t any back-up on this? You said yourself, this job was dangerous.”
John hid the small smile that twitched at his lips and shook his head, “Nah. I got this. You stay here.” He glanced over at his youngest child. “And watch out for Sammy.”
John made his way through the building’s back stairwell, inputting codes when necessary that he had been given before by his employer.
Sure, he was nervous.
He had no idea what to expect. The small-time angel that had contacted him as a messenger had barely been a threat. But this guy? He had no idea what to expect. He really really hoped this wasn’t a trap. Dean would never let him live it down.
Finally, he reached the door with the correct number, knocking thrice, then twice, then four slow knocks. The door swung open and presented a young angel girl, black raven hair and smoldering dark eyes.
“Come in. Human.”
John ignored the shiver that ran up his spine and followed her into a lobby-type looking room. She told him to wait there, then disappeared past an adjoining door.
Five minutes later, she returned and gestured for him to go inside.
“He will see you now.”
John slowly walked through the door, hearing the girl close it behind him. The room inside was white and spotless, but pornographic art hung on the wall, almost like an affront to the implied angelic purity of the room’s design.
An angel with golden brown wings was lounging in a reclining chair in the corner of the room, reading from what looked to be a skin mag.
“Hey there, Johnny boy.”
John forced the shake from his voice before he spoke, his nerves racked up to a ten. “Hello…sir.”
Twin, round, whiskey-colored eyes rose to meet John’s gaze.
“Please. Call me Gabriel.”