The only good thing about all of this, Dean thought for a half moment of calm insanity, was that he had Sam back. His little brother, the kid he’d raised, and he was standing beside Dean, clutching at his jacket like he was young and terrified, desperate for Dean to make things right. His little brother, not that bitch’s toy, not Heaven’s key piece to starting the apocalypse and, oh yeah, letting Lucifer out. Just his little brother.
Who seemed to be trying to step away from Dean, fear and panic in his eyes again, but it wasn’t aimed at the opening in the floor but at Dean, and he seemed to not even realize that his fingers were clenched around Dean’s jacket.
“Sam,” Dean began, but Sam shook his head frantically.
“I, I can’t, I know, I know you’re here to, I know w-what I deserve, just, just, just-“
He wasn’t making a lick of sense. His eyes were blown and he was shaking, and he still wasn’t letting go of Dean. His big brother senses kicked into overdrive as he placed his hands over Sam’s. “I’m here to get you out of here,” he said in as soft a tone as he could. The light was getting brighter and louder, and they had to go, now. “Sam, c’mon, we gotta go-“
“I’m sorry,” Sam said suddenly, and his eyes filled. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t, I didn’t know-“
“I know you didn’t, look we got played-“
“Please just make it quick-“
“Sam what the hell-“
“Just, I’m sorry, please-“
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Dean exclaimed. Because the light was almost flooding the entire room and Sam wasn’t budging, and any second, they were going to be met with a pissed off archangel.
Sam choked back a sob. “You, you said in your voicemail-“
Dean was getting a very very bad feeling about what Sam was saying. And Sam still wasn’t moving towards the exit. “I said I was sorry and that we were still brothers. What do you mean ‘make it quick’? Because you can’t seriously mean-“
Sam stared, and tears began to run down his face. “No, no, you said I was a monster, you said, said there was no saving me, no going back.”
Zachariah. That so dead sonuvabitch. Dean snarled. “I’m going to kill Zachariah when I see him next. He told me you’d need a ‘nudge’. I didn’t say any of that, and I’m sure as hell not going to kill you.”
Sam didn’t say anything for a minute. His fingers tightened underneath Dean’s hands. “You’re not?” he said in the smallest voice Dean had ever heard.
Dead. Deader than dead, that was Zachariah. “C’mon, we gotta go-“
The hole in the floor had nearly taken over the entire space, too wide to cross, and it quickly began to encroach on where they were standing. Sam seemed to have finally pulled himself out of the mindset that, fuck, Dean was going to kill him, and he flinched from the blinding light. “Dean,” he said helplessly, and no, they were not going to die here. Not yet, not until Sam understood that Dean didn’t hate him, that Dean wanted them to break past what had divided them for the past year and make them brothers again-
There was nowhere to go. Dean cursed and grabbed Sam, hauling him towards the wall. “Get down!” he yelled and crouched, curling himself around his brother.
The light grew and the piercing sound cut through his eardrums. He winced, shut his eyes as tight as he could, and kept his arms wrapped around Sam.
A sudden popping sound made him jump, and he felt Sam jerk in his arms. But the high buzzing sound had disappeared, and when he dared to open his eyes, the light was gone, too. Something brushed against his ear and he flicked it away anxiously, only to frown at the brightly colored…confetti?
Dean looked up. And stared.
There was no archangel. There was no light, no noise. Instead, a banner hung in the middle of the room, suspended from nothing, with the word, Congratulations! across it in big bold letters. Confetti continued to fountain from the hole in the ground.
As one Dean and Sam both said, “What the-?”
“Yeah, so. Guess it’s time to talk.”
Dean whirled around towards the chapel doors. There, standing and leaning in the corner of the room, was the trickster. “I gotta give it to my siblings,” he continued. “They cornered and played you two pretty well.”
It took a minute for his words to sink in. “Siblings?” Sam asked, sounding just as appalled as Dean felt. “You’re an angel?”
The trickster – angel – shrugged. “Just a minor one. They call me Gabriel.”
Even as Dean tried to work past that mental note – the trickster was Gabriel, a friggin’ archangel – the guy stepped into the room, unconcerned by the lack of a floor. “That’s sort of not the biggest concern right now. Truth is, I gotta get you two somewhere else and clean my mess up, and fast.”
“Your mess?” Dean asked, before his eyes caught the confetti still sprinkling down into the room. That did pretty much scream trickster. Or, well, archangel, he guessed.
He wasn’t sure how much more his head could take but he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get a say in the matter.
“What did you do with Lucifer?” Sam asked suddenly. “If he’s not in Hell-“
“Okay, I need you both to zip it,” Gabriel said, and Dean suddenly felt his lips smack together, hard. He tried to open them but got nowhere fast. “The less they hear, the better. Where’s a safe place to go? No, you know what, I know exactly where a safe place for you two yahoos is. Hold on tight. I don’t usually fly angel express anymore but I guess it’s time.”
He snapped his fingers and suddenly Dean found himself standing in the middle of Bobby’s living room. Beside him, Sam stumbled at the sudden transition, and Dean automatically caught him by his arm. Sam glanced at him, startled. Right. He definitely needed to talk to his little brother.
Except that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon, not with Bobby jumping up from his seat once he caught sight of them both. “The hell-?”
“Hiya, Singer,” Gabriel said cheerfully. “So today has been educational for everyone all over the place and it ain’t over yet.”
The growl that Bobby gave was impressive. “I got a stake with your name on it,” he threatened.
As much as Dean would’ve typically encouraged it, that wasn’t going to happen today. Not if he wanted answers, which he definitely did. “Won’t work. He’s got wings.”
Bobby blinked, processed that, and pursed his lips. “Then I’ll get an angel blade. If you hurt either of these boys-“
“Relax. I just saved them. Because trust me, Heaven was about to descend and take them both prisoner.” For the first time since he’d shown up, Gabriel’s face twisted into something unpleasant. “And that’s not something you want. It’s not something I’d wish on anybody, least of all these two.”
“Not that I don’t appreciate that, because I do,” Dean said, “but Sam’s right, where is-“
“Give me a minute to put up some wards,” Gabriel said, waving him off. “They’ll keep ears from hearing. And trust me, we don’t want anyone else hearing this. So don’t ask where he is or what happened until after I get back.”
He disappeared without any fluttering of wings. Dean stared at where he’d been, then slowly let out a breath it felt like he’d been holding for hours. The last few hours felt like a clusterfuck of emotions, and it didn’t seem like it was about to let up anytime soon. If they had a minute to breathe, he’d take it.
Right. Taking stock. Bobby was alive but looking at them now for an answer that they really didn’t have. Cas was who knew where. And Sam…
Sam was desperately trying to disappear into thin air just by hunching into himself more and more. Screw that.
“You okay?” Dean asked him. Sam bit his lip but gave a small nod. “You sure? She didn’t hurt you?”
“Didn’t give her a chance,” Sam admitted. “God Dean I should’ve, I should’ve known by the way she let me-“
“Hey, look, this wasn’t on you,” Dean insisted. Sam didn’t look convinced. “I’m telling you, Heaven had this planned alongside Hell. Heaven wanted Lucifer out. They could’ve stopped you at any point but they didn’t. We both got played, Sammy.”
Sam shut his eyes tight at the nickname and looked as if he’d cry again, which, honestly, was the last thing Dean wanted right then. Bobby cleared his throat. “You’re both all right, then?”
“Far as I can tell.”
“Then come in and sit down, eat, get something to drink. Then you can both catch me up on what the hell’s going on before that stupid angel gets back.” He glanced at Sam who was now staring at the floor. “Don’t know when you last ate food,” he said gently, gentler than Dean had ever heard Bobby speak, “but if it was when I thought it was, you need somethin’ in your gut. C’mon, kid.”
Sam blinked a lot, doing his damnedest to fight tears. “Yeah, okay,” he said, voice breaking. He headed into the kitchen behind Bobby, and with a deep sigh Dean followed after.
They were alive. Everything else could come later.
Listening to Dean…hurt. Everything hurt, but Sam wasn’t about to point that out just then. For some reason, Dean wasn’t trying to gun him down, Bobby wasn’t throwing him outside to the cold morning. Lucifer was…not out. The trickster was really Gabriel. Ruby was dead. Lilith was finally toast. Heaven had manipulated them both. They were sitting at the kitchen table and poking at leftovers.
His head really hurt.
“So this Zachariah, he told you he’d give Sam a ‘nudge’?” Bobby was saying. Sam tried to pull himself back to listen in. The leftover pot roast in front of him looked less than appealing. The carrots just looked sad. He forced himself to put some of it on a fork anyway.
“Yeah,” Dean said angrily. “Sonuvabitch sent Sam a fake voicemail from me. I tried to call Sam after I talked with you, tell him I wasn’t Dad, that we were still brothers. I frickin’ apologized and he never let it get to Sam.”
“Then what did you get?” Bobby asked, turning to Sam.
Million-dollar question. Sam bit his lip hard enough to hurt. “Not that,” he finally said. Thinking about the venom-filled words in Dean’s voice made his chest feel like it’d been caved in with a sledgehammer.
Dean gave him a calculated gaze. “Give me your phone,” he said and in a minute he had Sam’s phone in hand. Sam would’ve given him anything he wanted at that point, as long as he kept treating Sam like he was still a little brother. Like he still cared, still loved him.
He knew the instant that Dean got to the voicemail. His brother’s eyes went wide and round, his lips parting in shock. The next instant, his face clouded with rage. Sam shifted back in his chair without thinking, and Dean immediately reached out, his free hand wrapping firmly around Sam’s. It didn’t feel like he was trapped, though. It felt reassuring, comforting.
When he was done listening to it, Dean handed it over to Bobby, already waiting with his own hand out. Never once did he let go of Sam’s hand. “That wasn’t what I left you,” Dean said, voice trembling in anger. “I would never have said that to you, even at my most pissed off. Ever.”
Beside him, Bobby cursed low and hard. “You don’t gut that angel first,” he said, “and I just might beat you to it.”
Something in Sam shifted yet again. Not quite back to what he’d call ‘all right’ but nowhere near the hollowness that had resided inside of him when he’d heard Dean’s voicemail. His world had been turned upside down at least three times so far in the past few hours, and his stomach was still jumping. The world looked as if it were shaking around him, vibrating deep under his skin.
It was only when Dean tightened his grasp that Sam realized it wasn’t the world shaking, it was him. “Sam,” Dean started, but he didn’t look like he knew what to say, only that he needed to say something. Because he was a big brother and that’s what he did.
Sam felt his eyes go hot. Even as Dean’s own eyes widened in horror, he managed to get his other hand up to cover his burning eyes. “Aw, kid,” he heard Bobby mutter, and then there was a firm hand on his shoulder. Like that was supposed to help any. He was starting to feel smothered by love, and after everything, the roller coaster of the last day, it was just about the last straw. He’d been forced to detox, gotten away somehow and told Bobby to kill him, knocked Bobby out, gotten into a drag-down fight with Dean and seriously hurt his brother, heard Dean utter the words that still haunted him from his dad, almost changed his mind until the voicemail that he could still hear, drained a possessed woman, killed Lilith, killed Ruby, let Lucifer out-
“Easy,” he heard Dean murmur, suddenly very close and right in his ear. At some point while he’d been lost in his memories, Dean had shuffled forward and caught Sam around the shoulders and hauled him in. He buried his face in Dean’s shoulder and let the tears flow freely.
“Easy,” Dean said again. “Easy, Sammy. We’re all right.”
“I was going to turn back,” Sam whispered miserably. “You’d called and I was going to turn back. Then I heard the voicemail and-“
Dean’s grip tightened to the point of pain. Bobby’s own hand was still there on his shoulder, a silent comfort. “I’m sorry,” Sam managed. “Both of you, I’m so sorry-“
“You ain’t gotta apologize to me,” Bobby said. “Not the first time one of you’s knocked me out. It’s not even the worst time. Your brother holds that distinction when he was about seventeen.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Dean said petulantly. “You’re gonna keep bringing that up until your dying day.”
“You managed to hit me in both the front and the back of my head. That’s special.”
Despite everything, Sam couldn’t help but snort through his tears. “You’re special,” Dean muttered, but his hand came up to palm the back of Sam’s head. “And I already told you that you don’t owe me an apology. We’re good. We’re good, Sammy. I promise. If you believe nothing else that I say, at least believe that.”
“You always were quick to forgive him.”
Sam wasn’t even surprised at the wry voice that came from the opposite corner of the kitchen. Dean, however, tensed around him. “How long have you been spying on us?” he demanded.
Gabriel gave a snort. “You have no idea. House is warded to keep ears from hearing and unwanted angels from landing. Anyone you want in, I’ll put their name on the guest list.”
“Cas,” Dean said immediately. “Castiel. If he’s even still alive.”
“Well, he’s not dead, if that’s what you’re asking. I can still feel him. Where, I don’t know, but his celestial wavelength hasn’t been chopped short yet.”
Slowly Sam raised his head. His eyes were swollen and angry, and the throbbing in his head only felt magnified by the turmoil his body couldn’t contain. Gabriel’s gaze went from its usual snarky to almost sympathetic. “Should’ve said something about the brain pain, kiddo,” he said. He reached his hand out and touched Sam’s head before Sam could do anything. “That’s something I can fix.”
The pain immediately disappeared, and even his eyes didn’t feel as swollen. It gave him a greater measure of control back over his emotions that were still going everywhere. “Thank you,” he said, and discovered he meant it.
When he glanced at Dean, though, Dean look torn between glaring at Gabriel and worrying over Sam. “Why didn’t you tell me your head hurt?” he said, focusing on Sam.
Because I still thought you wanted me dead. That you’d given up on me, that I’d gone past the limits of your love. Because I wasn’t sure if I was aching because of my power or the demon blood, and I didn’t want you to look at me like I was afraid you would. He settled for shrugging.
There were days that Sam wasn’t sure Dean couldn’t read his mind. That or maybe he just put it all on his face. Either way, Dean’s features twisted in pain as if he’d been slapped but had halfway expected the hit.
“Think you owe us an explanation,” Bobby said, earning Sam’s gratitude. Dean still looked like he’d swallowed something vile.
Gabriel sighed. For the first time since Sam had ever known the trickster – sorry, archangel – he looked small and defeated. “Yeah. If you’ve got alcohol, bring it. I’m going to need it.”