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It was all just one long nightmare.

The demon blood was burning through his veins like fire, and yet Sam just wanted more. It felt like it would kill him if he didn't get more. He couldn't stop the screams that tore from his throat, couldn't help but cry out to Dean and Cas and Bobby—anyone—to help him, even though somewhere in his delirious mind, he knew they wouldn't. Part of him knew they couldn't—the other part of him thought he didn't deserve their help anyway.

He wondered why the demon blood tore into his insecurities the most. Maybe it was to make him dependent on it, because the hallucinations were almost worse than the pain. This was the price of his betrayal. To himself, to Dean, to…everyone. He hadn't been able to resist Famine's pull on him, and now he was paying the consequences. But still in the forefront of his mind whenever he closed his eyes, was Dean's face when he realized what Sam had done, that he had failed and given in to his addiction. Again. That hurt more than anything, and he couldn't even blame hallucinations on it, because that, he was positive, had been real. He could never forget that look.

How many times was he going to let Dean down?

"Oh my, look at this pathetic excuse for a little maggot."

Sam's eyes flew open at the voice. He looked over to the corner of the room and saw Zachariah standing there, hands in his pockets, grinning as if he were enjoying watching Sam's suffering. Knowing him for the sadistic bastard he was, Sam figured it was probably making his day.

Sam thumped his head back against the thin pillow on the cot. "Why you?" he groaned, preparing himself for the abuse this new hallucination would bring.

"Oh, I think you misunderstand," Zachariah said, striding forward, until he was standing over Sam's cot, and the hunter suddenly felt very vulnerable chained up as he was. He remembered the first time he had detoxed when a hallucination of Alastair had come and tortured him, and wondered if Zachariah would do the same.

"You see, Sam," Zachariah said, smiling like a cat who had a mouse at his mercy. "I'm not in your head. It's actually me here."

Sam stared at him, trying to make sense of it in his brain muddled with the burning fever. "No, y-you can't; the warding…"

"Works against pretty much anything but angels," Zachariah said with a smug grin. "A bit of an oversight, really, especially if Lucifer got wind that you were just sitting here all tied up and ripe for the picking. I gotta say, I'm glad I got to you first, Sam. We certainly wouldn't want that to happen."

Sam squirmed on the cot, tugging at the cuffs. Zachariah chuckled and crouched to look at him at eye level. "Now, Sam, you have an important role to play. You're going to help us get your brother to embrace his destiny. Who knows? It might even be enough to atone for all your dirty little sins."

Sam struggled more violently. "Dean! Dean, help!"

Zachariah laughed at him as he straightened up and tugged nonexistent creases from his suit jacket. "Come on, Sam, you know Dean's not gonna fall for that. No, you are completely at my mercy, and there's nothing you can do about it." He reached down and before Sam could scream for help again, Zachariah had touched his forehead and everything went blank.

~~~~~~~

Castiel sat on Bobby Singer's couch, watching the old hunter search through the piles of research on his desk while he tried to ignore the muffled screams that could be heard from the basement. Dean had told Castiel he needed air and gone outside, probably to drink alone in the rain since he hadn't come back in yet. Castiel's chest ached with each of Sam's agonized cries, not blaming Dean for leaving.

He couldn't help but think that if he hadn't been so weak, if he hadn't let Famine get to him, he would have been able to prevent this. Could have stopped Famine before the demons found Sam. Castiel knew how hard it had been to resist, and he was an angel—or some weak semblance of one, anyway. Sam had really had no chance—none of them had. Except Dean, who had been so broken inside that Famine's pull had had the exact opposite effect on him. Castiel's heart ached for both of his friends.

He slumped against the side of the couch, feeling useless, a hand cautiously resting on his queasy stomach. As an angel he had a very high metabolism, even in his falling state, but that didn't stop him from getting a stomachache from the hundreds of hamburgers he had consumed, not to mention the tray of raw beef he had also been unable to resist. His stomach turned over sickly at the thought and he had to swallow down the urge to vomit, then wondered wryly if that wouldn't make him feel better.

A weary sigh came from Bobby's direction and Castiel turned to him. "Finding anything?" he asked.

Bobby gave him a longsuffering look. "Well, it's hard to tell what is just general apocalyptic crap or what's definitive omens," Bobby said. "But we took out War and Famine now so that only leaves us with Death and Pestilence—my personal favorite."

"We know Death is risen," Castiel said. "But he will be the hardest to find. He is the most powerful of the Horsemen."

"And until there's news that the Black Death is back on the menu I guess we can figure that Pestilence hasn't gotten topside yet," Bobby admitted, running a hand tiredly over his face. "Guess all we can do is keep plugging away."

Castiel nodded, somewhat glad that they would be spending the next few days researching. Even he needed a break after the hunt for Famine.

The lights in the room flickered slightly and Castiel frowned, looking up at the nearest lamp, but the episode only lasted a second.

"I really hope that was a thunderstorm brewing," Bobby muttered.

Castiel stood up, looking around the room, half expecting some supernatural creature to come out of the woodwork. That was the way it always seemed to go around the Winchesters, after all. But by then he had noticed what else was wrong.

"It's quiet," he said cautiously.

Bobby had already noticed, a grim look on his face. "You better get down there and check on Sam. I don't like this."

Castiel didn't either and he flitted into the basement without bothering to walk, saving time. Sam wasn't screaming anymore, in fact, Castiel couldn't hear anything on the other side of the door. He slid open the peek hole first and started as he saw the cot was empty. He and Dean had made sure Sam was secure, how could he have possibly gotten loose, especially since he seemed too delirious to pick a lock?

He started unlocking the door and yanked it open with a screech. He half expected to see Sam cowering in a corner, or caught in some sort of fit, but there was no sign of the younger Winchester anywhere in the room. Castiel even looked up as if Sam could have possibly found a way out that way, but the panic room was completely empty and completely sealed.

He turned his attention back to the cot where the manacles rested—still closed.

The nauseous feeling his Castiel's stomach came back with a vengeance, this time having nothing to do with the hamburgers, and he flew back upstairs, giving Bobby a start as he reappeared, papers fluttering off the hunter's desk.

"What's wrong?" Bobby demanded.

"Sam's gone," Castiel replied, already thinking frantically about what they were going to do, and even more important, how he was going to explain this to Dean.

"The hell you mean, he's gone?" Bobby demanded.

"He's just gone! It's as if he disappeared," Castiel said frantically. "There was no way he could have gotten out and his manacles were still locked."

"Balls!" Bobby cursed, wheeling his chair around the desk toward Castiel. "You sayin' something took him?"

Castiel swallowed hard. "I don't know what else to think."

Bobby shook his head, a million emotions crossing his face before he stared back up at the angel. "Well, you better go find Dean. We got a whole new bucket of problems now."

~~~~~~~

Dean sat against the side of the Impala, his bottle of whisky almost empty. The rain was still spitting from the clouds, making his clothes damp, soaking into the backside of his jeans, but he hardly cared right now. All he wanted was for something to give, because he was starting to feel like he had given just about all he could give right about now—for real this time. He wasn't sure whether it was the confirmation that he was broken and hollow inside, or seeing Sam fall off the wagon again, but he was damn tired of giving to this cause, their so-called destiny, right now. If God was out there somewhere, all Dean wanted was some aid, some guidance. Was that too much to ask? Even just a confirmation of his existence would be nice at this point so Dean knew there might be a higher power out there who had reasons for what was going on—as horrible as those reasons seemed to Dean right now. He just wanted to know that there was an end in sight because he was just about done.

And Dean didn't really blame Sam for drinking the demon blood this time. How could he really? Just because he hadn't felt Famine's effects, he had seen what it did—to Cas even, and he was an angel. Dean regretted being unable to keep the disappointment, the horror, off of his face when Sam came into the diner hopped up on demon blood again. It had just brought back too many memories. But he knew Sam was suffering from his failure just as much as Dean, and he knew the kid would beat himself up about it if he had any strength left after the detox. Dean took another long pull from the bottle. Listening to Sam scream for his help when there was nothing he could do was the worst part.

Footsteps crunched on the wet gravel, and Dean looked up slowly, not even caring right now if demons or angels were there to kill him or cart him off. But it was only Cas.

The angel hurried toward him once he spotted Dean. "Dean, we need you back inside now."

His urgent tone made Dean's insides clench and he started to force himself up from the wet ground, his body stiff. "What's wrong? Sam…"

Cas' face told Dean everything he needed to know. He stepped forward and grabbed the front of Cas' trench coat. "Cas? Did something happen to Sam?"

There was a sudden sense of vertigo and Dean blinked, finding himself in Bobby's study, the older hunter looking angry and helpless.

"Cas!" Dean demanded.

"I went to check on Sam, and he's gone," Cas said simply.

"Gone? What the hell's that mean?" Dean demanded, already on his way down to the basement. The door to the panic room was open and he pushed his way inside, looking around. "Sam? Sammy?"

"Dean, he's not here, I've looked everywhere," Cas told him tiredly, as he appeared behind him.

Dean was already inspecting the cot, yanking experimentally on the manacles, and frowning as he saw they were still locked. "But how the hell did he get out?"

"I don't think he got out by himself."

Dean spun around and stormed back out and up the stairs, Cas following behind him.

"Then who got him out of here? It's warded against fricken' everything."

Castiel was silent for a moment as they got back to the den, but Bobby spoke first.

"Well, not strictly everything," the hunter admitted grimly.

Dean looked at Cas and suddenly his nausea ramped up so much he thought he was going to be sick. "Son of a bitch," he breathed, running a hand through his hair. "You don't think that…"

Cas was silent, but the grim expression on his face told Dean that the angel shared his fears. "Cas? Does Lucifer have my brother?" he said in a low, careful voice.

"Dean, I don't know," Cas tried, holding up his hands but Dean was already in his face, grabbing the front of his coat again.

"Does that son of a bitch have Sam?" he screamed.

Cas glared then and grabbed his wrists, forcing Dean to let him go. "Dean, I. Don't. Know," he said deliberately. "All we know for sure is that something took him, and the most likely candidate is an angel."

Dean turned and gripped his short hair in his hands, not even knowing what to do right now. The thought that Lucifer could have Sammy now while he was delirious and vulnerable was consuming him. And while that was the worst-case scenario, any other possibility was just as bad.

"We gotta find him," he said, already on his way out the door.

"Dean, you just hold on a damn minute," Bobby snapped at him, rolling his chair forward to intercept the younger hunter. "We need to find out exactly what we're dealing with. We don't even know what has Sam and where it's taken him."

"If it's Lucifer—"

"He'll kill you before you get within twenty yards of him," Bobby growled. "Use your head, idjit; you ain't gonna help Sam if you get yourself dead!"

"Bobby's right," Cas said. "I have no way of tracking Sam, and even if I did, we have to know what or who we're dealing with before we go off guns blazing as you are wont to do." Dean didn't miss the exasperation in Cas' voice. "Until then, it's best if we—" He stopped, his eyes squinting up as if he had a headache as he put a hand to his temple.

Dean frowned and took a cautious step toward the angel. "Cas?"

"Dean," Cas said, looking up at the Winchester, his face tight. "I'm getting something through angel radio."

"About Sam?" Dean demanded, stepping closer as if he could listen in too.

Cas held up a hand and Dean waited a few more seconds, which seemed like an eternity as he watched Cas' face get darker and tighter.

"What?" he finally demanded.

"It's not Lucifer that has Sam," Cas said first.

Dean's stomach unknotted slightly. "Well, that's good news, isn't it?"

"Not exactly," Cas said grimly. "Lucifer may not have Sam…but Zachariah does."

Dean's stomach plummeted again, and he had to swallow hard not to vomit on Bobby's floor. "Son of a bitch," he growled. "I'm gonna kill him."

He went over to his duffle bag and started pulling out his weapons; checking his gun and pulling out the angel blade before stowing it in his jacket.

"Dean, we can't just go after him," Cas said. "I have no idea where Zachariah is and if he doesn't want to be found, he won't be. He'll have taken Sam somewhere secure and probably warded it so even other angels can't find it. He wouldn't want to risk Lucifer finding him either."

Dean cursed, slamming a fist down on the desk. "Dammit, Cas, I'm not gonna leave Sam with that sadistic asshole!"

"Dean, listen to me," Cas said, stepping into Dean's personal space. "There's only one reason Zachariah would want Sam and that is to use him as leverage for you. If you go off after him with your typical recklessness, all you're going to do is get yourself captured too, and Zachariah will probably kill Sam to get you to say yes."

"That won't stop him from torturing him in the meantime," Dean growled.

A dark look washed over Cas' features. "No, it won't. But as long as you are free Zachariah needs Sam alive as leverage. That will give us time to find his location and decide on the best course of rescue."

Dean spun away, shaking his head. "That's not good enough."

"It's all we can do right now, son," Bobby told him.

"No, it's not. I can give myself up," Dean said firmly.

"Dean, no," Cas growled.

"I'm what they want!" Dean shouted. "This is the only way and you know it!"

"The hell it is!" Bobby growled. "You don't get to quit like that, boy, not after everything we've already been through. What would Sam say?"

"At least he'll be alive!" Dean retorted.

"Dean, listen to me," Cas snapped and Dean was slightly startled by the dangerous light flaring in the angel's blue eyes. "Zachariah will kill Sam as soon as you say yes. And then Michael will have you, and we'll have lost both of you. I won't let that happen."

The air got suddenly static with Cas' anger, several of the lights flickering. Dean swallowed hard, biting back the angry retort he wanted to make, because he knew it wouldn't make any difference. Cas could put him to sleep and lock him up in the panic room if he and Bobby thought he would try and make a run for it.

Dean spun toward the kitchen and grabbed a sixpack from the fridge before making for the door.

"Just where do you think you're going?" Bobby demanded.

"I'm gonna sit in my car," Dean growled. "Just—I need to clear my head."

"Dean…" Cas started, stepping forward, but Dean was already out the door, trudging through the rain again back to the place Cas had found him. He yanked the Impala's door open and slumped in the front seat, cracking open the first can of beer and downing half of it in one go. There was too much to think about right now and nothing he could do. All he knew was that Sam was somewhere with that bastard Zachariah who was probably torturing him on top of the pain he was already going through with the demon blood detox.

By the third beer, he felt himself slipping into exhaustion, not even sure when the last time he had slept had been. It was kind of hard to tell anymore.

But he let himself go, taking the moment of oblivion when he could get it.

~~~~~~~

Sam woke, not sure whether he was really awake or not, or whether this was just another hallucination. He instantly realized he was no longer in the panic room—at least he wasn't seeing the panic room at the moment—but in a place that looked more like a morgue; tiled floors, clean white walls, overall cold sterile feeling, except it was grungy from disuse. Most of all he noticed he was strapped to a stainless steel table in the middle of it.

He instantly struggled against the restraints, his heart pounding in his chest, as he frantically tried to figure out where he was. "Dean? Bobby? Cas?" he called. "Help, please help!"

His pleas fell on deaf ears though. No one was there. Or at least…no one was coming.

He finally stopped struggling, exhausted, his body aching, and slumped on the hard cold table, panting from the effort of his struggles. Cloudy memories flitted through his mind of seeing Zachariah, but he couldn't be sure whether he had hallucinated the angel or not. Of course, there was the fact that after Zachariah had put him to sleep, he woke up here, and the angel had said that he was using Sam to get to Dean.

"Is anybody there?" he shouted, but his voice just echoed off the cold walls. "Please, just answer me! Anyone!"

He could still feel the demon blood rushing through him. He couldn't have been out for long then, because it still hadn't worked its way out of his system. Of course, if Zachariah did take him somewhere, that didn't mean he wasn't already halfway around the world.

He was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of a door opening. He craned his neck and caught sight of several figures coming into the room. And at their head was indeed Zachariah.

"Sam, glad you're awake," the angel said, pretending a congenial attitude as he came and stood over Sam. "Can't say you look so good, but that is one of the hazards of drinking demon blood. Filthy stuff and hard to shake." He shook his head in mock sympathy. "I always knew you were an abomination, Sam. Looks like I was right."

Sam shook his head. "You're wrong," he tried to convince himself as he said it.

"Am I?" Zachariah raised his eyebrows. "If I was, would you be here right now?" Sam glared up at him and Zachariah sighed.

"Don't worry, Sam. I'm actually here to help you. I'm going to cleanse you of your uncleanness." The way he said it with a barely concealed smile told Sam exactly what he had planned. He began to truly understand, with growing horror, what it must have been like for Cas when he had to suffer through the 're-education' in heaven.

"I'm not unclean," he protested, again trying to convince himself along with Zachariah.

"Oh, Sam, don't fool yourself," Zachariah sneered. "You've always been unclean. The demon blood, well, that was just the straw the broke the camel's back, so to speak." He nodded to the other angels who came over, dragging a cart with them.

Sam shifted uncomfortably, trying to loosen his bonds again as he could guess what was coming next. He watched as the angels took an iron brazier that was filled with glowing coals, and poured something from a pot over it, causing it to flare up with high-reaching flames. Sam could feel the heat on his face and flinched. His body was already burning off the demon blood and the thought of being anywhere near fire made him sweat even more.

Zachariah took up a brand that had also been on the cart and placed the end into the brazier. "The only true cure for uncleanness is holy fire. We'll see if this can't burn away some of your filth." He pulled the brand from the flames and its end was glowing red hot. Sam began struggling all over again, jerking at the bands that held him to the table, but it did little good.

"No, don't," he warned as Zachariah came closer with the brand. "No! Stop! No!" The hot metal descended and Zachariah pressed it right to the center of Sam's chest. The hunter screamed, the smell of burning flesh, and fabric from his shirt, filling his nose as he was consumed with the agony. This was so much worse than a regular burn. It was like it was going right past his skin and flesh and into his soul. He could tell instantly that the holy fire did not mix well with the demon blood. The poison was roiling even more furiously inside of him and the pain was like nothing he had ever experienced before.

"That's better," Zachariah said with a pleased smile as he watched Sam writhe on the table. "Making progress already, aren't we, Sam?"

Sam could only let out a half moan, half sob, clenching his teeth as he waited for the pain to subside, even though it didn't seem like it was going to lessen any time soon. Before he could even get his breath back, Zachariah had lowered the brand again and pressed it into his side. Sam screamed so hard he thought he would shatter his vocal chords. Zachariah thankfully lowered the brand after that, though Sam wasn't stupid enough to think this was the end of it.

"You know what I think, Sam? I think it's about time Dean knows what's going on here. We'll see how far big brother will go to secure your wellbeing."

Sam groaned, knowing what road that would lead to. "No, please," he managed to choke out.

Zachariah just gave him a patronizing smile and handed the brand to one of his lackeys who put it back into the brazier for a reheating. "Keep him occupied. I think it's Dean Winchester's nap time."

Sam wanted to protest again for all the good it would do, but by then the angel lackey had taken out the brand and applied it to his skin again and he forgot everything else but the pain.

~~~~~~~

Dean was dreaming of driving down the highway alone in Baby when Zachariah appeared in the passenger seat. He instantly slammed on the breaks and pulled off to the side of the road.

"Where the hell is my brother, you dick?" Dean demanded.

Zachariah gave him an infuriating smile, holding up his hands in surrender. "Whoa, calm down, Dean. We'll get straight to it if that's what you want. I see you've figured out I have Sam, so we can skip the introduction. I suppose you probably also know what I want in exchange for him."

Dean swallowed hard. "Yeah, kinda obvious."

Zachariah nodded. "Good, then we can talk terms. I'll trade the life of Sam Winchester for one yes."

Dean smiled humorlessly. "You really think you're gonna get me that easy?"

Zachariah gave a dramatic sigh. "Of course not. You two are the most stubborn hairless apes on this planet. I never expect you to do anything easy. Which is why I took some…shall we say…collateral measures?"

They were suddenly standing in a sterile room that looked like something you would find in a hospital morgue and Zachariah was smiling in a way that Dean really hated. "Here are my terms, Dean. You agree to meet me at the appointed spot at the appointed time and I will let your brother go free if you say yes to Michael."

"And if I don't?" Dean growled.

Zachariah shrugged nonchalantly, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Well, if you don't, then I keep doing this to him."

A table suddenly materialized in the room with Sam strapped to it and two angels standing over him, one holding a glowing brand. Sam's cheeks were streaked with tears and there were several burn marks already in his shirt, showing the red flesh underneath. His eyes blew wide as he saw the brand coming again, pleading before it was pressed to his flesh and an inhuman scream emanated from his throat, tearing Dean apart from the inside out.

"You son of a bitch!" he snarled at Zachariah, grabbing his angel blade, and raising it above his head.

"Ah-ah, Dean," Zachariah said, shaking his head. "You can imagine killing me if it makes you feel better but it won't really do me any harm. We're only in your head, after all. The best thing you can do for Sam is comply with my terms." He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "This is the address and time of the meeting spot. I suggest you be there."

Dean snagged it, and went to stab the bastard anyway, but Zachariah was already gone, as was Sam.

~~~~~~~

Dean woke with a gasp and realized he was still in the Impala, in Bobby's scrap yard. Empty cans of beer littered the seat beside him and he had the information Zachariah had given him in his head—along with the image of Sammy screaming in agony.

Dean didn't even waste any time. He pulled the keys from his pocket, put them in the ignition, and with a roar of the motor, Baby was off, already heading to the meeting spot, which was several hours away.

Dean just hoped that was enough time to figure out a plan, because otherwise he was totally screwed.

 

Chapter Text

Castiel looked out the window, feeling as if the weight of the dark night was on his shoulders. He had found himself wondering more and more often how things had gone so wrong. Dean, and in conjunction, Sam, had been his charges on earth to watch over and offer guidance if it were needed, and now he couldn't seem to keep them safe. And it meant so much more to him now that he succeeded in that as they were no longer just his duty, but his friends. Really, his family—the only one he seemed to have now after being cut off from heaven.

A bitter thought crossed his mind as he considered his recent reunion with Gabriel, the lost archangel everyone had thought was surely dead. More importantly though, Castiel's elder brother. One he had loved dearly as a fledgling and young warrior in the garrison—before Gabriel had left without a word during the conflict between Michael and Lucifer. And now Gabriel wasn't much better than they were. He was still trying to force Sam and Dean into their roles in the Apocalypse, even though he himself seemed to be too much of a coward to join in. Always the one caught in the middle, but more willing to run away than actually try to help repair things. Maybe Castiel was still bitter for the loss of one of his favorite brothers right when he needed him most, but he would be lying if he said it didn't make him angry. Just like he had been confused when Gabriel left heaven and never bothered to say goodbye. But…maybe he thought it was only fair since their Father had left the same way.

He reached into the pocket of his coat to touch the amulet he had borrowed from Dean. He had been searching for months and there was still no sign of God. Castiel refused to give up hope, not yet, but deep down, he was loosing his conviction. He knew his Father wasn't dead, but in a way, that was worse. Because then it truly meant that he knew what was going on but wasn't going to do anything about it. Still, Castiel knew there had to be a reason he had been brought back. He knew it. He just wished he knew what it was.

"You gonna stand there all night, feathers?"

Castiel shook himself out of his dark thoughts at Bobby's gruff voice. Right now they had other, more urgent problems. He turned back to the hunter sitting at his desk, looking at his computer.

"I'm not sure what aid I can offer," Castiel said. "It would be better if I went out to search for Sam, though even then, I'm not sure I would be able to find him."

"Well, keep tuned in to angel radio," Bobby told him. "Someone might let something slip."

Castiel nodded. "It's possible, but I think Zachariah only let the news get out before because it wasn't a secret. They know I can still listen in even if I can't speak to anyone. Probably wanted me to know that I had…failed to protect one of the humans I joined in rebellion."

Bobby sighed heavily and picked up a cup from the desk, frowning as he saw it was empty. "Well, pour me a fresh cup of coffee then. Once we can get Dean's head in the game, we'll figure out where we go from here."

Castiel refrained from sighing and reached over for Bobby's cup. He went into the kitchen to refill the cup, and was pouring the coffee when the rumbling of an engine sounded somewhere outside. Castiel frowned in confusion, but didn't register the significance until he heard Bobby curse from the other room. Castiel ran back into the study and saw Bobby looking out the window. He followed the hunter's gaze and saw taillights disappearing into the distance. He suddenly realized what had happened with a growing pit in his stomach.

"Dammit, Dean!" Bobby yelled. "What the hell does he think he's doing?"

"He's going after Sam," Castiel said certainly, his stomach knotting up all over again. These increasingly human emotions and feelings made concentrating on problems rather difficult. "Zachariah must have found a way to get a message to him."

Bobby cursed again, taking his ballcap off to run a hand through his hair, slapping it down on the desk. "Well, what do we do now?"

"I need to stop him, find out where they're supposed to meet," Castiel said, already wondering how he was going to manage it if he couldn't track Dean and Zachariah was sure to stay under the radar. "If Dean says yes…"

"I know," Bobby growled and ran a hand over his face. "Balls, those boys are going to be the death of me."

Castiel set a hand on the hunter's shoulder. "I'll do everything I can to get them both back."

"I know." Bobby chewed his lip, obviously angry he wouldn't be able to join Castiel. "And Cas, don't get dead."

Castiel offered a small smile. "I'll do my best." And then he took off, trying to find any sign of Dean, Zachariah, or Sam.

~~~~~~~

It was only an hour after dawn when Dean got to the meeting place, a no-where town in Kansas that barely looked alive this early in the morning. The address Zachariah had given him, it turned out, had been for an old warehouse on the edge of town. Dean gave the place a once over as he pulled up in front of it.

"Well, this is original," he grunted to himself as he cautiously opened the Impala's door and stepped out, looking around for any potential danger. He wasn't stupid enough to know Zachariah wouldn't use force if necessary. He checked to make sure the angel blade and his gun were still on his person before he made his way toward the warehouse.

As of now, Dean still didn't know what he was going to do. He didn't want to say yes, but he certainly wasn't going to let Zachariah keep torturing Sam either. Maybe during the meeting he would find an out. Hopefully.

He cautiously opened the door of the warehouse and stepped inside. It was dimly lit by several skylights letting in the pale morning light and it looked to have been a storage place for a contracting company as there were still stacks of windows and lumber scattered around. There was no sign of Zachariah yet, though.

Dean checked his watch, finding it was only a few minutes until the agreed meeting time. He paced restlessly, his mind continuously flashing to the image Zachariah had shown him of Sam the night before, being tortured by his lackeys. Dean knew the douchebag could have easily made him see anything he wanted to, but he wasn't delusional enough to think Zach wasn't making Sam suffer. The dick had been out for them since the whole vessel thing had started and it was no secret he enjoyed making people suffer. Dean just wondered what kind of shape his little brother would be in when he got him back, and countered that image with the thought of paying Zachariah back in kind.

He was interrupted from his dark musings by the sound of flapping wings. He turned around and saw two angels standing behind him, dressed neatly in suits, their hands clasped in front of them. Dean glowered at them.

"Where's Zachariah?"

"He sent us to handle business for him," one of the angels said, a broad-shouldered bruiser type.

"Well, sorry, pal, but I ain't dealing with stunt angels two and three. I want to speak with your boss personally, and you can tell him to bring my brother with him while he's at it."

The second angel gave him a tolerant smile. "Zachariah told us not to give you anything until you say yes."

Dean chuckled, shaking his head. "Really? Well, he should know I'm not gonna do that until I know Sam is safe. And I sure ain't giving you a damn until I get to see him in person."

The angels seemed annoyed by this, and Dean began to wonder whether he had made a mistake not bringing Cas along to the meeting. If it came to a fight, he didn't think he had much chance of winning.

"Actually, our orders were to bring you with us, so this will work out just as well," the shorter angel smiled, advancing on Dean.

Dean took a step back, reaching into his coat for his angel blade and holding it up defensively. "Hold up. Zach told me we were gonna meet here. Those are the terms I agreed to. I'm not letting you drag me off to points nowhere so Michael can 'persuade' me to let him jump my bones."

The bruiser angel actually smiled. "Well, Zachariah didn't specify that you had to come quietly. After all, we can always heal you later."

He flicked his hand toward Dean and the hunter flew backwards and crashed into one of the piles of windows, glass and frames shattering and cutting into any exposed skin. He grunted at the impact, losing his hold on the angel blade as the bruiser angel strode over and reached down to grab the front of Dean's coat, hauling him up off his feet before he threw him down, hard on the ground, knocking the wind from him. Both angels had their blades out now and they moved to stand over Dean as the hunter just tried to get his breath back, looking for any opening he could find.

"Humans really are pathetic creatures," bruiser angel said as he reached down and grabbed Dean around the throat, cutting off his air and pulling up off his feet. "Sometimes I wonder why Michael would ever want such a poor example as you to be his vessel."

"Yeah, well, I've taken it up with him, trust me," Dean grunted out, clawing at the angel's hand.

"Time to go," the other angel said.

And then the tip of an angel blade appeared through bruiser angel's neck. The blast of light that exploded out of his eyes startled Dean as the hunter was dropped back to the ground, gasping for breath and covering his eyes. He heard the other angel scream too, then another explosion, and then carefully uncovered his eyes to see his rescuer.

He expected it to be Cas, as he was pretty sure the angel would have followed him, and was kind of surprised he hadn't shown up yet, but as he looked up and saw the face of his rescuer, his heart turned to ice.

"Hello, Dean," came the nonchalant voice. "It's good to see you again."

"Lucifer," Dean breathed, and instantly scrambled for one of the dead angels' blades.

"Ah-ah," Lucifer cautioned and was right in front of him in a flash, his foot firmly panted on Dean's outstretched hand. Dean grunted and glowered up at the devil.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded, trying to pretend he wasn't completely terrified.

Lucifer gave him a small smile. "Well, saving you, of course. See, I got this funny little message through the grapevine that Michael and his lackeys have my vessel, held hostage so you will say yes." He shook his head mockingly. "But I thought, well, two can play at that game. And Dean is certain to show up at some point to save his precious baby brother." Dean growled, then winced as Lucifer crouched suddenly and gripped his chin. "So, I stopped by to pick you up myself. Won't Michael be surprised when he finds out I have his Sword to do whatever I please with. Because you see, Dean, I get it. I know the only way into Sammy's pretty little head, is through you." He leaned in close and Dean couldn't help a shudder as he felt Lucifer's breath on his ear. "And soon enough, you'll find out just how persuasive I can be."

Before Dean could even think of doing anything so stupid as to fight back, Lucifer grabbed his arm and the hunter felt himself yanked into the ether.

~~~~~~~

It took Castiel most of the morning to track down Dean, and then it was only because he felt two angels die in a place nearby. Of course, he couldn't be certain that it was Dean, but considering the fact that the angels had taken his brother and were not about to give Sam up without a fight, it only seemed logical to assume that Dean was more than willing to fight.

It was certainly a more appealing assumption than Dean saying yes to Michael.

And when Castiel finally pinpointed the spot, he was relieved to see the Impala there so Dean had to be nearby.

But when Castiel entered the warehouse all he found were two dead angels and evidence of a quick and brutal fight. He sensed some of Dean's blood among the shattered glass from several broken windows on one side, but other than that there was no sign of the elder Winchester. He bent to pick up an angel blade from the wreckage, likely the one Dean carried, and then frowned as he looked over at the dead angels.

If Dean had lost his blade, how had he killed the angels? None of the blades had blood on them either.

Castiel felt the worry re-knot his stomach as he studied the scene. Something wasn't right here. It was possible Zachariah had taken Dean, but these angels were obviously working on his behalf so who would have killed them? Zachariah might have been a petty bully, but he wouldn't just kill his own men, and Castiel felt sure Dean hadn't killed them. No, he was sure someone else had taken Dean. But who?

Castiel quickly pulled his phone out and dialed Dean's number but it only went to voicemail. He snapped it shut and decided to fly back to Bobby's and at least let the hunter know what he had found out. Perhaps they could find a way to track Dean.

He appeared in the middle of the hunter's study, starling Bobby so that he spilled coffee on his desk.

"Dammit, feathers," he growled, grabbing a napkin to wipe it up. "Don't you knock?" He looked up then. "You find Dean?"

"I found his car and two dead angels," Castiel said grimly. "But no, I haven't found Dean."

"Balls!" Bobby yelled. "Why the hell do those boys always have to do things the hard way? I swear they'll be the death of me."

"What's more worrying is that I don't know who took him, as it obviously wasn't Zachariah," Castiel said.

"You mean the angel's don't have him?"

Castiel shook his head. "I don't think so. Dean didn't kill the angels at the meeting place. Something else must have him." The dark thought he had been trying to keep at bay started to roll in as he considered the other options. Mainly demons. Which meant that he was probably on his way to Lucifer…

"I may be able to track Dean, but we need to do it quickly," he said, and started looking around Bobby's study. "I'll need some things."

With Bobby's help, and his hunter supplies, Castiel was able to find everything he needed for a tracking spell. He cleared off a place on the desk and drew a sigil in chalk before placing the items for the spell in a bowl.

"Why couldn't we do this for Sam?" Bobby asked.

Castiel shook his head. "Zachariah would have warded against any tracking spells. It would be pointless to try." Bobby grunted in acceptance.

"Now we need something of Dean's," Castiel said. "A personal item; hair, or…" He narrowed his eyes and slipped his hand into his pocket, pulling out Dean's amulet. "This will work."

Bobby nodded and Castiel placed the amulet on the sigil, then turned to the hunter again. "I need human blood."

Bobby rolled his eyes, but reached over to grab a penknife from the desk. "This had better work if I'm bleeding for it." He sliced the base of his thumb and let some blood drip into the bowl. Castiel nodded in thanks and said the incantation before he lit a match and threw it into the bowl.

Normally, he would feel slight vertigo as the spell showed him the location of the person he was looking for, but this time, as soon as the ingredients flared in the bowl, Castiel had the impression of slamming into a wall at terminal velocity. He had no idea what had happened and wasn't even aware he had obviously blacked out until he came to to find Bobby looking down at him from his wheelchair as Castiel sprawled on the floor.

"What the hell was that?" the hunter demanded.

Castiel sat up slowly, his head aching. "I'm…not entirely sure," he said. "I think that's what happens when you try to locate someone who is heavily warded."

"So what does that mean?" Bobby asked grimly.

Castiel pulled himself to his feet. "Nothing good."

"Balls," Bobby growled.

That was when Castiel was overcome with another splitting headache. He cried out and gripped the edge of the desk to steady himself as an uproar of voices screamed through his head.

"Hey! Cas! You okay, son?" Bobby demanded, reaching out and gripping his elbow.

Castiel pressed a hand to his head, eyes blown wide as he tried to make sense of what he had just heard.

"Maybe you should sit down," Bobby told him.

"No, it's…angel radio," he said, turning to the hunter. "Bobby…"

"What?" the hunter demanded.

"It's Dean," Castiel said, horror creeping through him as the news was finally registering. "Lucifer has him."

~~~~~~~

Sam swam through semi consciousness, still delirious with the fever and now the added pain of his injuries. Zachariah and the other angels had spent the better part of half an hour burning him with holy fire before he had simply passed out. He wasn't sure how long he had been unconscious, since there was no way to tell the time wherever he was being kept, but his dreams had been restless and full of pain and horror, and he was almost glad to be awake again.

Except that he knew it likely only meant more pain coming.

He wondered vaguely whether Dean was coming for him. Zachariah had said he had contacted Dean, but Sam wasn't sure whether he wanted his brother to come or not. Of course he would like to be rescued, but he knew that if Dean said yes to Michael Sam would lose all the conviction he had in this fight. Dean and his determination to escape their destiny was the only thing keeping him going. As long as he could believe in his big brother, he knew he wouldn't say yes to Lucifer. Dean had always been the one to keep his feet on the ground. To keep him human. But if Dean was just Michael's meatsuit, who would Sam have? Look what happened when Dean went to hell. Sam wouldn't even be in this mess now if he hadn't lost Dean the first time. He knew he needed his brother, and that was that.

But the look of disappointment on Dean's face when he saw Sam drink the demon blood again came back to Sam's mind. And he couldn't help but wonder whether Dean hadn't given up on him. Maybe Zachariah had been right, maybe he was just an abomination, a monster, and he wasn't even worth saving.

Sam shook his head as his eyes welled up with tears. That was just the demon blood talking. No matter what, he knew his brother would always come for him. He had to know that. No matter what he had done, Dean had still been willing to sell his soul for Sam, and whenever Sam had doubts about their relationship, all he had to do was remember that.

And he also vaguely recalled Dean's soft words as he was forced to strap Sam down on the cot in Bobby's panic room, making sure to wrap cloths around Sam's wrists and ankles first so the cuffs wouldn't rub his skin raw as he struggled. "We'll get you through this, Sammy." It wasn't much, but Sam could tell that Dean didn't blame him, and that made it okay. Gave him strength to get through the detox even though the hallucinations had already started by then.

Right now he was exhausted and would give anything to be back in Bobby's panic room. Anywhere but here.

He started to hear voices outside the room, and frowned, wondering if they were in his head or actually real. Sometimes it was hard for him to tell with the demon blood pounding through his veins. Although, he seemed a little more attached to reality now, so maybe it was finally working itself out of his system.

One of the voices was slightly hushed and Sam couldn't make out what they were saying, but the other that rose in anger he definitely recognized as belonging to Zachariah.

"What do you mean not there?" he demanded.

The other voice sounded apologetic, rambling on and on, before Zachariah cut in again.

"Get to the point! It's not going to make it any easier on you the longer you take to say it!"

A few more rambled words and then Zachariah exploded.

"What?! Well, find out where he went! I can't afford to have him running all over the place. And remember, it's my ass on the line, so you had better find out quick before Michael gets wind of this!"

Sam's ears quirked up, wondering if Dean was coming after all. Maybe he had escaped Zachariah's meeting and had a better plan to get Sam out. Sam wasn't sure whether Cas would be able to find him or not, but he hoped that the angel could maybe keep his brother from doing something completely stupid if Dean was insisting on a rescue attempt.

The door slammed open and Sam flinched. Zachariah came into view, looking disgruntled. Sam couldn't help but smile a little, despite his pain and exhaustion.

"What's wrong? Still haven't gotten employee of the month?" he asked.

Zachariah sneered and struck Sam across the face. "Your insolence isn't going to do you any favors, you little pissant. The only reason I give a damn about you at all is because you're the key to getting your brother to say yes."

"And how's that going for you?" Sam asked, ignoring the numbness in his face from Zachariah's blow.

The angel raised his hand to hit him again when the door flew open.

"Sir," an angel came in, pale and looking like he might pass out when Zachariah spun around to glare at him.

"What?" he demanded.

The angel swallowed hard. "Um, there's a message…"

Zachariah cast his eyes toward Sam and then strode toward the door angrily and yanked the other angel out with him, slamming the door closed. Sam strained to hear, his heart pounding as he hoped it was about Dean. If Zachariah was angry then that was probably a good thing and meant his brother was still out there somewhere.

"Are you absolutely sure?" Zachariah's voice came through the door.

The other angel sounded like he was groveling a little, but Sam still couldn't make out the words.

"Fine. I'll handle this from now on. Obviously no one else is competent enough. Let me know if anything changes." The door slammed open again and Zachariah came in with the two other angels from the last torture session. Sam felt suddenly nauseous. The messenger seemed to have disappeared and was probably glad of it.

Zachariah looked extremely angry now. Even more so than before. He waved at Sam. "Get him strung up. I need something to take out my frustrations on."

"No, don't," Sam grunted as the angels undid the straps across his chest and legs and hauled him from the table. Sam's legs gave out, but it didn't matter. The angels dragged him a few feet from the table and then manacled his hands in front of him threading a hook they had pulled down from the ceiling through them and raising it until Sam was barely able to touch the floor with his toes, which he realized for the first time were only covered in socks. For some reason that made him feel even more vulnerable.

Zachariah didn't even wait until the angels had stepped away. He leveled a heavy fist into Sam's stomach, causing him to swing in his chains and choke out a yelp, scrambling to get some sort of purchase on the floor. But then Zachariah just swung several more times, the blows fast and heavy, until most of Sam's body was aching. He gasped for breath, watching as blood dripped from his nose onto the floor at his feet.

Zachariah shook his head in disgust. "It's amazing anyone would want you, Sam. Why Lucifer even bothers to go to all this trouble for you, I'll never know. You're a pathetic, mewling, abomination."

Then he swung again, and Sam didn't want to admit that Zachariah's words had hurt him more than the blows.

~~~~~~~

Dean landed roughly, although that might have had something to do with the fact that Lucifer practically threw him to the floor upon reappearing out of the ether. They appeared in what looked like the basement to some old industrial building or perhaps an abandoned factory. Either way, it was dimly lit and had high ceilings and probably a lot of nothing around it so no one would hear him scream. Dean rolled and came up on his feet, his gun instinctively in his hand.

Lucifer rolled his eyes. "Seriously? You think that's going to do anything?" He casually flicked his hand to the side and the gun was wrenched from Dean's grip to clatter across the floor. "Really, Dean, I just wanted to take this time to chat. Get to know each other. Obviously, I am kind of interested in the guy who's chosen to be my big brother's vessel. Michael's kind of a picky one, you know, and I'm not quite sure what he sees in you." He looked Dean up and down. "I mean, no offense, but you don't really seem to be his type."

"I don't want to have a chat," Dean growled at him, glad his voice didn't waver. He was trying to keep his body from shaking. He wasn't sure he could recall the last time he was this terrified about anything, but standing toe to toe with the devil would do that to you.

"Oh come on," Lucifer wheedled. "We're gonna have to do something while we wait for the big hostage exchange—that is, providing Michael agrees to it. All I've got to talk to here are demons and between you and me, they just aren't great conversationalists."

"Yeah, or, counteroffer," Dean said. "You can just let me go, because I'm pretty sure we have nothing to talk about."

"Oh, but you're wrong, Dean," Lucifer said, walking slowly toward him. Dean backed up until his back hit a wall and Lucifer crowded him, only inches away. And Dean got after Cas for his personal space issues. "We actually have a lot to talk about. About what happens once I take your brother. The things I'll make him watch me do to you…"

"Sam will never say yes," Dean gritted out. "And I won't either."

"But you don't actually believe that, do you, Dean?" Lucifer asked. "I think you know exactly how this is going to end, you're just trying to delay the inevitable."

"Talking about inevitable," Dean said, glancing up at the side of Lucifer's face where the skin was peeling, looking like a really bad sunburn. "Is that a skin condition or something? You know you can probably get a cream for that."

Lucifer smiled tolerantly. "I have no need to worry about that. I'll have my true vessel before it becomes a real problem. Mark my words." He reached up and took hold on Dean's jacket lapels, making motions to straighten them before he turned his gaze up and Dean froze as the devil met his eyes. "Because I have the one thing in the world that little Sammy Winchester is willing to give himself up for."

Dean felt himself go cold, and was still frozen as Lucifer hauled him away from the wall and dragged him over to a door at one side of the room.

"Perhaps a round with my demons will make you more amiable," Lucifer said. "Plus, I did promise them a little fun. They're really no better than dogs, you know, they need their treats too." He wrenched open the door and shoved Dean inside. The hunter stumbled and fell on his hands and knees. He looked up to see half a dozen demons, their eyes flicking to black as malicious grins spread over their faces.

"Have some fun," Lucifer called to them. "Just make sure that you leave me something to play with later."

Then he shut the door and bolted it behind him and Dean scrambled to his feet, looking for any escape as the demons advanced on him.

"Well would you look at that," one said, tossing her hair over her shoulder, a hungry look on her face. "A Winchester, trapped like a mouse."

"I've been waiting for an opportunity like this," another said, cracking his knuckles.

Dean bolted to one side where he saw another door, hearing the demons call and heckle him from behind. He almost thought he was out when the door opened before he could reach for the handle and smashed him in the face. He stumbled back with a startled yelp and looked up to see a huge demon grinning down at him.

"Going somewhere, Winchester?" he grinned, then reached down and grabbed Dean by the front of his coat, throwing him backward.

Dean only got a chance to shout before the demons were on him.

Chapter Text

"Lucifer?!" Bobby shouted. "Lucifer has Dean?"

Castiel sank into a chair by the desk and put his head in his hands. His head was still aching from the failed tracking spell and now from the enormity of what was happening.

"Yes," he said weakly.

"Well, then how the hell do we get him out of this?"

"I don't know," Castiel said, looking up at the old hunter again.

"Dammit!" Bobby snarled.

Castiel felt his pain. He reached over to the desk and took up Dean's amulet, holding it in his palm. If only he could find God…but Castiel knew there was no time for that right now. Even if he could find him there was no guarantee he would help, and it could still take months to track him down. Time Sam and Dean certainly didn't have. He looped the necklace over his head and tucked it beneath his collar for safekeeping before he looked back over to Bobby.

"If Lucifer has Dean and knows about Sam, I can only assume he is planning on a trade. Vessel for vessel."

"And will Zachariah do it?" Bobby asked. "Will he give Sam up for Dean?"

Castiel thought a moment of his superior, and shook his head. "No," he admitted grimly. "Zachariah will treat this as a power play. Even if he could gain Michael's vessel through a transaction, he will never make a trade with Lucifer. Especially since he knows Sam is the only way to get to Dean."

"So it's a Mexican stand-off. This just gets better and better," Bobby sighed, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "I'm guessing neither of them are just gonna sit back and try to wait the other out, are they?"

"No," Castiel growled, standing up again, and angrily clearing up the ingredients for the failed tracking spell. "They'll likely do everything they can, short of killing Sam and Dean, to try to persuade the other party to make a trade. And I'm sure you can imagine the lengths they will be willing to go to."

"Balls," Bobby said wearily, reaching into the bottom desk drawer and pulling out a bottle of whisky, adding it directly to his coffee mug. "So where does this leave us?"

"We need to get them out as soon as possible," Castiel told him firmly. "Or at least one of them so that we can better control the hostage situation. Because as long as both Zachariah and Lucifer have them, Sam and Dean are in terrible danger."

"Oh, great," Bobby said sarcastically. "And just how do you plan to go about springing someone from the devil and hell's angels?"

Castiel shrugged. "I don't know yet. It depends on where they are being kept, how many guards they have around the vicinity…"

"Cas," Bobby said firmly. "There's no way in hell you can do this alone."

Castiel raised his hands. "I don't have much choice."

Bobby cursed and ran a hand over his face again. "I may be able to call some other hunters…"

"We can't risk it," Castiel snapped. "We have no way of knowing how the hunters may feel about Sam and Dean being the vessels of heaven. They were the ones who started the Apocalypse, Bobby; some of the hunters have already figured that out. Do you really think they will care whether Sam and Dean die or not?"

Bobby glowered at him, but didn't argue. Castiel felt suddenly bad for snapping at the hunter. He knew Bobby was just as worried about the boys as he was. He was practically a father to them, after all.

"Okay then," Bobby continued. "How about other help?"

"Like who?"

"Well, Gabriel for example," Bobby said, and Castiel flinched at the mention of his brother. "I know he wasn't exactly pro-Sam and Dean, but he may be the only game in town. At least the only one we know who might have a snowball's chance against Lucifer."

"Gabriel won't help," Castiel snapped. "He never put a foot forward before, he's not likely to start now." Anger born from a long-lasting hurt surged through him and he tried to swallow it down. He didn't know why Gabriel's reappearance seemed to have made him so angry.

"Okay then, what do you suggest?" Bobby asked with barely concealed exasperation.

Castiel sighed. "I suppose I will have to go alone. There may be several angels who will still talk to me, I'll see if I can get information from them. Demons I can interrogate…" He turned to meet the hunter's eyes. "I will find them, Bobby."

"I know it," Bobby said surely. "Just don't get killed in the process. And let me know if I can help."

Castiel nodded. "I will. I'll keep you updated." Then he took off, looking for any possible clue of the location of his two friends.

~~~~~~~

It was a five-star hotel in the middle of New York City, almost as nice as the Ritz, and certainly not the sort of place anyone would expect a gathering with such strange company as this to meet. Perhaps that was what amused Gabriel most about it, the fact that all these humans going in and out of their rooms and complaining to the concierge that their pillows weren't plumped properly, had no clue that one of the rentable conference rooms was currently being occupied by a plethora of old world pagan gods and goddesses.

It had been a while since Gabriel had seen any of them, he'd moved on the last few decades to go his own way and had actually been surprised to get the message from Kali that there was a meeting happening that he should come to. Just the thought of seeing the beautiful Hindu goddess again had been enough incentive to pop in—even if it ended up being just to rile the others up and then pop out again to let the chaos unfold.

He could already hear an argument in full swing as he got to the room and swung the door open, striding in with a devil-may-care grin as if he owned the place.

"Can't we all just get along?" he appealed mockingly.

The noise stopped and every pair of eyes were on him as he stood in the doorway.

A handsome, dark-haired man stood up with a look of disdain on his face. "Loki."

"Baldur." Gabriel smirked and greeted the 'fellow' Asgardian as he strode forward and plopped down in an empty seat, instantly tipping it back and kicking his feet up onto the long conference table. "Been a while. I can see from the look on your face that you still haven't gotten over that little…accident. I swear I didn't know Hodur was going to stab you with the spear, I mean, what a klutz, am I right?"

Baldur stiffened. "I don't recall inviting you."

"No, I did."

Gabriel looked up to see the beautiful Indian woman who was now standing up next to Baldur.

"Hey, Kali," he said with a grin and a wink and lowered his voice seductively. "Haven't seen you for a while either."

She leveled a glare at him, but Baldur spoke, turning to her with anger. "Why did you invite him? The Trickster will only make this worse, he has no use here."

"He is powerful, and we need all the power we can get," Kali said firmly as she sat back down and glared at Baldur until he did the same. "We cannot afford to let our differences effect us anymore."

Gabriel narrowed his eyes as he watched Kali place a hand on Baldur's arm, stroking slightly. Seriously?

"I agree with Kali," one of the others piped up—Mercury. Flighty little guy; Gabriel had always thought he was a bit of a suck-up. "If Loki is willing to help we could use his expertise."

"So what exactly is this little pow-wow about?" Gabriel asked, glancing around at the usual suspects. Ganesh, Artemis, Hephaestus, Odin—Gabriel was glad Thor hadn't shown up. That rowdy bruiser was the last person he wanted to see today. And then several European woods and hearth gods and even some Celtic ones no one even knew the names of anymore. Sheesh, and Baldur thought Loki was the bottom of the barrel.

"The Judeo-Christian Apocalypse," Odin snorted as if it were amusing. "I assume you must be aware of it by now."

Gabriel gave a noncommittal shrug. "Sure, it's messy out there, but not exactly Ragnorak, am I right?"

Artemis scoffed and folded her arms over her chest. "Please. As if anyone could believe the world will end between a wolf eating the sun and a giant sea snake wreaking havoc in this day and age."

"Like it's any different than your titan grandfather eating his children so they wouldn't take over the throne," Odin sneered.

"Well, at least you actually have an apocalypse," Bodb Derg, a Celtic god said bitterly. "After St. Patrick came around my people's followers lost all their faith in the old ways and we lost so much power that we became what people call 'Faeries' now. We can barely get out of Tir Na N'Og anymore."

"Alright, everyone has issues, we've established this at a thousand other meetings," Gabriel said. "Why is this particular end of the world getting everyone's panties in a bunch?"

"Because we will have no choice but to be caught in the crossfire unless we do something about it," Kali said.

Ah, so that was what this was all about. Gabriel narrowed his eyes at the other beings in the room, tallying up their combined resources. It wasn't much firepower, that was for sure. Like Bodb Derg said, most of them had been living on bravado alone for the past several centuries. They were like a bunch of out of office presidents. Lucifer and Michael would eat them alive if they saw them as a threat.

"So what are you going to do about it?" Gabriel asked. "I mean, I'm in, let's stop the apocalypse, but you're gonna have to give me a good reason to risk this incredibly dashing hide of mine."

"Michael and Lucifer's vessels," Baldur said. "We're going to capture them."

Gabriel was actually caught off guard. "Uh, come again?"

"If we can capture the vessels, we will have something to bargain with," Kali said. "Then Lucifer and Michael will have to agree to our terms if they want to get them back. The world isn't just theirs to destroy and they need to know they have no right to destroy us along with it."

Yeah coming from the—admittedly beautiful—goddess of Destruction herself. Gabriel dropped his feet back to the floor. "Guys, this is an uber bad idea; you get that right?"

"And why is it so bad?" Ganesh asked. "It's about time we stood up again."

"Yeah, but none of us have the power we used to," Gabriel said. Well, him excluded, of course. He turned to Artemis and Hephaestus. "You two know well enough what happened to the Titans, this is the same kind of deal. Seriously, Michael and Lucifer will mop the floor with you if you so much as look at them. You think they care if a bunch of pagans get caught in the crossfire?"

"Of course not, that's why we'll have the vessels to trade, for collateral," Odin told him as if he were a simpleton.

"Oh, great," Gabriel replied sarcastically. "Yeah, then they'll just tear you limb from limb to get at them. That's a hell of a plan."

"It doesn't matter anyway," Artemis said with a dark look. "The vessels have already been taken."

Gabriel glanced over at her. "What do you mean, taken?" Had word gotten out about his little TV-land trap? Kind of late news if that was the case.

"We've been hearing rumors that the warring factions have kidnapped the opposite sides' vessel," Baldur told him.

Oh, that was definitely not good. Gabriel frowned in thought. If Michael had Sam and Lucifer had Dean, then they were both royally boned for sure. Gabriel shook his head. That was so like his brothers. Instead of actually going out and fixing their own problems, they had to needle each other by breaking the other's toys, and this time it was two humans who would suffer for it. Gabriel wasn't sure why that made him angry, but it kinda did. And then he was annoyed at his own reaction because hadn't he done the exact same thing to get Sam and Dean to play their roles? This almost made him glad the Winchesters were so damn stubborn. If it gave Mike and Luci a run for their money, Gabriel actually had to respect them for it. He didn't really want to admit it, even—well, especially—to himself, but after the TV-land incident, he was kind of heading toward Team Winchester. Yeah, as if the whole apocalypse wasn't already bad enough, now he was almost rooting for those two mooks. And that led Gabriel to another fleeting thought. If Sam and Dean were both kidnapped, then where was Castiel in all this? He'd been hanging around with the Winchesters since he fell and Gabriel hoped that the kid was all right. He also kinda felt bad for how their last meeting had gone. It wasn't exactly going to win him any brother of the year awards, but he'd done what he had to do to keep Cassie out of the way.

And on top of all that, all he could see was everyone in this room dying bloody as Michael and Lucifer tore them apart. Sure, they might be pains in the ass but they were his adoptive family.

So he was sentimental, so what?

"So why are we even having this conversation?" Gabriel asked Baldur. "If Michael and Lucifer are holding the vessels captive, it's already over. Eventually, someone will give and then it's hello Armageddon."

"It's not too late," Odin slammed a fist onto the table. "We can still retrieve the vessels ourselves. We were going to set a trap for them anyway, this will just involve a little more leg work."

"Yeah, right into the Death Star," Gabriel scoffed, looking around at everyone in the room. "You have all got to see that this is suicide, right?"

They all seemed to be ignoring him though, planning amongst themselves.

"Mercury or Hermes could do it," Hephaestus said. "The messengers are fast enough to escape detection."

"But not strong enough," Artemis protested. "I am a warrior, I would have a better chance."

"I could craft a war machine or something for a distraction," Hephaestus added.

"My warriors could help," Odin offered. "The Vanir may not be what they once were but we can still bear weapons!"

"As will mine," Bodb added. "They've been itching for a fight."

"Guys, stop!" Gabriel said, standing up. Surprisingly the room actually quieted.

"And do you have a better idea, Trickster?" Ganesh asked skeptically.

"I do, actually," Gabriel said. "I'll go in and get the vessels."

"You," Baldur stated nonplussed, raising an eyebrow.

"Yep, you're looking at 'im."

"Alone?" Artemis inquired.

Gabriel winked. "Chicks dig a hero."

"Loki, no," Kali said and Gabriel finally turned back to her.

"Why not?"

"Because you just got through telling us it was suicide," she said and Gabriel was touched to actually see a little worry in her eyes. "What makes you more qualified to succeed than anyone else?"

"Hello, Trickster?" Gabriel grinned. "Trust me, I've got tricks up my sleeve that no one else here has. Besides, I've tangled with those flying assmonkeys once or twice and come through it okay. I know how they work."

There were skeptical looks all around the room. Gabriel knew he had to play this right because if he made them feel like he thought he was better than them, they were all going to rush off and throw themselves at Michael and Lucifer to prove him wrong. Gabriel couldn't let that happen.

"Look, guys. You're all obviously the masterminds here, I'll do the grunt work for you and once I retrieve the vessels you can go back to Plan A if you feel the need."

Several people were nodding and Baldur even looked like he was going to agree; though of course he wouldn't have any problems sending 'Loki' off on a dangerous mission.

"Very well," the Asgardian said, gaining a surprised look from Kali. "You will retrieve the vessels if you think you can do it, but I warn you, Loki. Do not fail. If they get wind that we're planning anything…"

"You're dead, I know," Gabriel cut in and smiled. "Trust me, guys. I may be the Trickster, but you are my family. And to me, that counts for something." A pang went through his chest as he said the words. It still meant something to him when it came to both his families. As he had told Sam and Dean, he still loved his brothers. He loved them more than anything. But even with that said, Gabriel would never give up his adoptive family to watch his blood brothers kill them. If he could avoid that, even if it meant he would have to tangle with Michael and Lucifer themselves, then he was going to take that chance.

Besides, then he could do whatever he wanted with Sam and Dean. And what exactly that might be, Gabriel wasn't sure yet. He just didn't want the pagans to have them because there was no way that would end well for anyone. Either they would kill Sam and Dean and then be slaughtered by Michael and Lucifer, or they would try to make a deal, and Michael and Lucifer would slaughter them anyway. It was a lose-lose.

"I appreciate the sentiment," Baldur said dully. "But we are working on a schedule."

"Yeah, I get it," Gabriel said. "Guess I'll be off then. Don't serve too many of the other guests as entrées. Laters."

He turned and strode toward the door. He had just slammed theatrically through it in what he thought was a rather well done dramatic exit, when he realized someone was following him.

"Loki, wait."

He turned around to see Kali standing behind him with a look of disbelief on her face. "Are you insane?"

"I usually prefer to call it daring—it sounds sexier that way," Gabriel told her with a wink.

She made an exasperated sound in the back of her throat and crossed her arms over her chest. Gabriel raised an eyebrow.

"What did you expect? You were the one who invited me here, sugar."

"Because you're an asset," Kali told him.

"Oh, so is that all I am now?" he demanded.

"Oh, please, let's not do this here. Not now," she growled.

But Gabriel was already starting. "Oh, so you weren't hanging all over Baldur in there."

She tossed her hair defiantly. "He's uncomplicated. And it's not like you've been around."

"But really, Kali. Baldur?" Gabriel asked skeptically. "The same Baldur I recall you saying was a real stick in the mud. Self-righteous, perfect son, real riot at Yule parties, Baldur?"

She snorted. "Like you haven't been off enjoying the time you spend with every virgin who will throw herself at you."

"Hey, now, I like ladies with experience. I'm not that old fashioned. And sure there've been a few…dozen…but it's been centuries, and you know you'll always be my best girl."

Kali slapped him hard, and Gabriel almost smiled if he didn't already know that would only gain him a knee to the family jewels. Now that reminded him of old times.

"Sometimes, I just don't believe you," she scoffed. "And, you're right, Baldur is dull but he's… sweet."

"Which you hate, if I recall."

Kali opened her mouth but sighed in exasperation. "I hate you."

"I know." Gabriel grinned.

She glanced up at him through her dark lashes. "That doesn't mean I want you to die. Let me come with you."

"Kali, no."

"I am not as weak as some, Loki," she protested. "I can at least offer you aid. You don't know what you're walking into. I could help by creating a distraction."

He shook his head. "No. Trust me, Kali, you don't want to get anywhere near those two and their brotherly spat."

She narrowed her eyes. "You seem to know an awful lot about them."

"Like I said; tangled with 'em before. I can show you the scars if you want," he bobbed his eyebrows cheekily.

Kali sighed. "You really are impossible. And infuriating."

"And if I recall, that was why you fell for me," Gabriel told her with a smirk.

She shook her head. "Fine, go get yourself killed, I don't care."

She turned back toward the room, but Gabriel grabbed her arm and pulled her back, wrapping his arm securely around her waist. "Kali."

"Let me go," she said half-heartedly.

"Not without a proper farewell," he said. "I may die, after all."

Kali groaned and gave in, reaching up to take his face between her hands as he leaned over to kiss her. It felt good to hold her again, Gabriel decided. It had been way too long.

The kiss didn't last nearly long enough, and Gabriel regretted it instantly when she pulled away.

"There, now leave," she told him, but there wasn't much fire behind her words now.

"Kali, what do you say when this is all over, we go on a little vacation," he asked her.

"We have to survive first," she told him, and then pushed him away roughly as if she didn't want him to convince her to stay longer, and returned to the room without looking back.

Gabriel sighed. Well, he supposed it was time to get to business. Wouldn't the Winchesters be surprised when it was him who showed up to save their asses?

~~~~~~~

Sam slumped against the tile wall in the morgue-like room Zachariah was keeping him in. After the angel had finished with beating the crap out of him, he had left his lackeys to chain him up in a corner of the room with a small lead chain that was long enough for him to reach the bucket they had so kindly left for him, but not much else. It didn't really matter anyway, because his body was aching so much he didn't want to move. There was still blood dripping down the back of his throat from his broken nose, giving every swallow a metallic aftertaste, and he was pretty sure that he had a few cracked ribs.

What he really wanted was some water. The demon blood was pretty much gone from his system now, leaving him jittery, but at least with his mind to himself once again. No more hallucinations. But it had left him dying of thirst and with a hollow pit of hunger in his stomach. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd eaten. He wondered if Zachariah would bring him food or if starvation was just another form of torture on the menu.

He also wondered what Dean and Cas were doing. He was sure that if Zachariah had captured them, Sam would be the first to know about it, so he had to hold out hope that they were still out there, looking for him.

Or maybe they weren't.

Sam shook his head again, knowing there was no way Dean wouldn't come for him, but that was a problem too. Zachariah couldn't be allowed to get his hands on both of them. Sam knew that if Zach started torturing him Dean would say yes just to stop it.

So that left only one plausible option: he was going to have to escape by himself.

Of course how he was going to go about doing that was something he would have to figure out. Until then he was going to have to endure the constant abuse that wasn't likely to stop.

As if on cue, the door opened and Zachariah strode in, casting a disgusted glance at Sam. He went over to the corner and reached down to grab a handful of Sam's hair, leaning over and twisting his face upward to sniff at him.

"Hmm, well, the demon blood is working itself out of you finally. It appears the cleansing worked."

"It would have been gone by now anyway," Sam grunted and decided to hack up some of the blood in his throat and spit at Zachariah's feet. Zachariah's foot slammed into his hip, nearly toppling Sam over.

"I can still burn you some more. Make sure it's all gone," the angel snarled. "Might do it anyway, just for fun."

"Then do it," Sam said, glaring up at him defiantly. "Give Dean more of a reason to kill you when he gets here."

Zachariah narrowed a look at him, but surprisingly didn't have anything to say about Dean. Sam wasn't sure why that unnerved him, but he was distracted as the door opened again and an angel he hadn't seen before entered somewhat cautiously, Sam thought, casting a glance at him before turning his full attention to Zachariah.

"Sir, Castiel has been trying to contact me."

Zachariah frowned, glancing at Sam, before seeming to think he wasn't important and stepping over to the newcomer. "And why is that?"

The angel shifted uncomfortably and Sam watched with bated breath. "We…used to be in the same garrison. I think he is looking for answers about Sam Winchester."

So they were looking for him. That gave Sam a little strength for whatever was coming. He shouldn't have ever lost faith in his brother and the angel.

"Is he," Zachariah stated blandly.

"Yes, sir, I wasn't sure what you wanted me to do about it," the angel said.

"Well, Josiah, I'm glad you came to me," Zachariah said, suddenly congenial. "As I'm sure you're aware, Castiel is a rebel and must be stopped."

Sam's stomach squeezed. This was not good.

"So what do you want me to do about him, Zachariah?" Josiah asked.

Zachariah seemed to consider. "Go to him. And when you get there…" He cast a sly look back at Sam that made the hunter's empty stomach turn sickly. "Call me. I think it's high time, Castiel and I had a nice long chat."

"No!" Sam yelled, but Zachariah waved a hand and Sam's head slammed back against the wall, causing stars to burst before his eyes.

"Don't worry too much. I'll be sure to keep Castiel alive long enough for him to know that Dean gives himself up to Michael." He nodded to Josiah and they left the room, leaving Sam to jerk fruitlessly on his chains even though he knew it would do no good.

He wished he had some way to warn Cas, but the angel couldn't receive prayers anymore. He would go blind into the trap Zachariah was setting and all for Sam's sake. And without Cas to stop him from doing something stupid, Dean probably wasn't going to be far behind—if he wasn't with Cas right now.

Sam brooded on the multitude of horrible possibilities that could come out of this, when the door opened again; but this time only one of the angel lackeys came in. Sam tried to sit up straighter, but a stab of pain went through his side and he was just left gasping for breath instead. The angel sneered at him, carrying a tray, which he clattered down next to Sam.

"Zachariah said to keep you hydrated. We can't have you dying on us, after all."

Sam looked down and saw the tray contained an old rusty dog bowl full of water. He swallowed back the indignity, and glared up at his captor.

"You're never going to get Dean to say yes, no matter what you do."

"Zachariah thinks differently," the angel told him, then turned. "But I'm not in the mood for talking to an abomination like you."

Sam watched him leave the room, and then turned toward the bowl. He picked it up awkwardly with his manacled hands and some water sloshed over the side but he managed to drink it all and it helped a little, even though it wasn't nearly enough to quench his ravenous thirst. As he put it down, his hand caught on a sharp part of the bowl.

He picked it back up and inspected it closer, finding a sharp part in the metal. A thought came to his mind. Maybe he could figure out a way to get out of here after all.

~~~~~~~

Dean let out a moan as he felt someone nudge him in the side, kicking him onto his back. His body sang with pain. He forced his eyes open—at least the one that wasn't already swollen shut—and looked up to see Lucifer staring down at him.

"Oh my. They really did play rough with you. I might have to do some repair work if you're going to last through the next session."

"Ugh, eat me," Dean grunted, forcing himself up onto his elbows, and then looked past Lucifer to an unexpected sight. The demons who had spent the better part of an hour toying with him until he's lost consciousness were all lying on the floor, dead. He looked back up at Lucifer, confused.

"Oh," the devil said with a shrug, looking back over his shoulder without a hint of remorse. "Yes, well, you see, Dean, this vessel, Nick is his name, needs a little more care than my true vessel will. So I have to drink demon blood power shakes to keep him…together."

"You kill your own people?" Dean asked, unable to keep the disgust from his voice. Not that he cared about demons, but still, that kind of sucked.

Lucifer smiled as if he found something amusing. "Demons are not my people, Dean. You do remember I'm an angel, right?"

"But they follow you. You made them. Hell, they worship you."

"And worship involves sacrifices," Lucifer told him. "They give their blood so that I can carry out my plan while I'm waiting for my true vessel. Besides, it's not like I don't have plenty of demons. Hell is crawling with them, after all."

Dean froze in terror as Lucifer knelt in front of him, staring at him. "Hm, broken cheek bone, collar bone, cracked ribs—internal bleeding." He tsked, shaking his head. "They did do a number on you. This won't do though, you're barely conscious." He reached out and Dean flinched as Lucifer's fingers rested on his forehead and then he was overcome with a sudden icy chill that emanated from his very core.

He gasped soundlessly, his breath ripped from his lungs. This was nothing like when Cas healed him. That always felt slightly warm and like an energizing electric charge, which only lasted a couple seconds. This was slow and agonizing.

When Lucifer pulled away again, Dean was left gasping, curled around himself, the center of his chest still cold. Lucifer looked amused.

"What the hell?" Dean gasped.

"Probably should have warned you. See, contrary to popular belief, I actually burn cold."

Dean shivered as Lucifer reached down and hauled him to his feet. His body might be whole again, but he wondered how long the coldness would take to leave his bones.

Lucifer hauled him out the door and into the wide open space of the factory building. "Now, Dean, I think it's time we had a chat. Just you and me. And maybe later we can let Sammy in on it too."

Dean glanced up at him. "How?"

"Like I did when he and I first met. Through his dreams."

Like Zach had gotten the message to Dean. Great, the last thing Sam needed was to know that Lucifer had him.

Lucifer manacled his hands together, giving Dean little chance to fight back, then waved a hand and a chain appeared out of the ceiling. He hooked Dean's manacles to it and the chain started rising until Dean was hanging at least a foot off the floor. His shoulders were already screaming and he could feel the manacles cutting into his wrists. He grunted, kicking slightly in protest, but that, of course, only made it worse.

Lucifer looked up at him like he was the best Christmas present he'd ever had. "Oh, this is going to be so much fun. I'll admit, I was kind of disappointed to just find you in that warehouse and not your brother, but I think it's going to be so much more delicious for Sam to imagine what I'm doing to you in between the little sneak peeks I'll give him."

"What is your game?" Dean demanded. "Trade us?"

"Oh, no, no," Lucifer said shaking his head. "No, why would I just hand Michael's vessel over to him? Then I wouldn't get to have any fun. No, I need you, Dean. Michael will demand a trade, but then, he was always a traditionalist. Had to have things perfect, the whole 'bloodline' thing. Obviously, it is important that you find a vessel who doesn't…leak. But really, he doesn't need to be so stuck up about it. No, Dean. You are here for the sole purpose of me getting Sam to say yes. And he's going to do it right under Michael and Zachariah's noses because I'm going to get him to say it before he even gets out of there."

"He's never going to, Lucifer," Dean told him firmly. "No matter what you do to me."

Lucifer sighed wearily. "Please. You two try to pretend but you're really all the other cares about, I mean, who cares about the world, right? As long as precious little Sammy is safe."

"You know what, screw you, Satan," Dean grunted, glaring down at him. "It's not like you would understand."

He realized he'd said the wrong thing as soon as Lucifer's eyes went cold, all mocking and taunting gone, replaced by icy anger. "Wouldn't I?" he asked softly, gathering a fistful of Dean's t-shirt in his hand. "I have brothers I love too, Dean. And you know what?" He voice suddenly raised to a shout. "Because of you filthy, scummy, little human maggots, I have to kill my big brother!" He gripped Dean's shoulder and yanked down hard, and Dean screamed as he felt his shoulder pop from its socket. Stars danced in front of his eyes as the pain made him want to vomit. He couldn't stop the keen from escaping his throat as Lucifer grabbed his shirt in his hands and shook him, bringing his face up close to Dean's. "So I'm going to repay the favor, and make your brother kill you. That's the first thing I'm gonna do when Sam says yes, Dean. I'm going to take his body and make him watch, make him feel your bones shatter, and the heat of your blood on his hands and face. I'm going to make him taste it. He's going to hear you scream as your life is torn away, and he's not going to be able to do anything about it."

He shoved Dean hard, and the hunter swung back and forth in the chains, crying out at the increased pressure on his shoulder, before Lucifer stopped him with a hand to his chest. "And now," he said quietly. "I'm going to give you a free sneak preview of how that's gonna go."

~~~~~~~

Castiel waited nervously in the forest, looking around at every sound that he heard. He was wondering whether Josiah had been a good choice. Most of Castiel's friends from the old days were dead, taken out by Uriel when he was trying to get angels to defect to Lucifer's side. And others were certainly loyal to Michael and wanted Castiel dead. Josiah had never been overly zealous, but he had been a good friend to Castiel and a good comrade to have at his back during a fight. But Castiel had become disconnected from many of the brethren after he fell, and wasn't sure who might be a friend still or not. Josiah had simply been one of the better options, and he held out hope that the angel might be willing to give him a tip.

"Castiel."

Castiel turned, ready to slide the angel blade from his sleeve, but it was just Josiah, and he wasn't armed, so Castiel stayed his hand for the moment, though still went cautiously.

"Josiah," he said. "Thank you for meeting me."

"This isn't a good idea," Josiah told him, his eyes casting about as if looking for danger.

"I know, and I'm sorry for asking this of you, but I don't have many I can turn to," Castiel said. He was growing more and more anxious both for himself and for Josiah. He knew that if it was found out that Josiah had talked to him, he would be taken for 're-education' and Castiel knew all too well what that was like. "I need to know where Zachariah is. Where he is keeping Sam Winchester."

"I can't tell you that," Josiah said, nervous.

Castiel took a step toward him. "Please, I don't need to know exactly. Just tell me a general location. Josiah, you know nothing good will come of both the vessels being held as hostages. Zachariah and Lucifer will tear them apart. They will never agree to exchange them. They will certainly be tortured if they haven't been already."

An uneasy look crossed Josiah's face, and Castiel frowned. He stepped forward again, and this time the other angel wouldn't meet his eyes. "Josiah," he said slowly, suspicion niggling at the back of his mind. "Have you seen Sam?"

"I'm sorry, Castiel," Josiah said quietly.

"What do you mean?" Castiel demanded, about to reach for the other angel when something cold and sharp pressed against the underside of his chin.

"He means it was a trap, you pathetic wretch," came an all too familiar voice.

"Zachariah," Castiel growled.

"Hello, Castiel," his superior said as more angels came to restrain him, yanking him around to face Zachariah's grinning visage. "I think it's about time I finally put you in your place."

Castiel fought desperately, but to no avail. The other angels were at full power and they were far stronger than he was, so they simply tightened their grip and dragged him into the ether after Zachariah to whatever torment likely awaited.

 

Chapter Text

Castiel, along with his guards and Zachariah, arrived in what looked like an old abandoned prison. He wasn't exactly paying particular attention to his surroundings though, because they were already shoving him into an old cell, and chaining his hands to rings set into the wall. He was slightly relieved that they were still on earth, and then he wondered if maybe Zachariah wasn't willing to go back to heaven for fear of Michael's wrath. Castiel couldn't imagine the archangel would be very pleased to find out that Lucifer had his vessel. That gave Castiel some satisfaction, but also meant that he would have to be careful because when Zachariah was angry, he got even more cruel and petty than usual, especially when it was his creditability on the line. Of course, Castiel might also be able to use that to his advantage.

"Well, this is a long overdue chat, Castiel," Zachariah said after Castiel had been secured and the guards stepped back to let their superior in. Zachariah already had his angel blade out, and Castiel tried to still his heartbeat, knowing well enough what was coming. It wasn't like he hadn't been in this position before.

"Funny, I was thinking the same thing," Castiel said, trying to channel some of the bravado he had seen Dean exhibit when faced with his enemies.

Zachariah smiled and then struck him across the face with the hilt of his blade. "The attitude isn't going to do you any favors, Castiel. You have been around those maggots too long. It has corrupted you beyond repair."

Castiel spat some blood on the ground at Zachariah's feet, and chose to ignore his comment. "I am curious what Michael thinks of the hostage situation," he said carefully. "I can't help but notice you chose to keep me here on earth instead of dragging me back to heaven to let everyone else know you caught the 'traitor'. It leads me to wonder whether Michael knows at all." He watched Zachariah's face getting darker. "I think you might be hoping to keep it from him for as long as you possibly can in the hopes that you can get Lucifer to trade before he finds out."

"You insolent little worm," Zachariah sneered and hit Castiel again and again, driving the hilt of his angel blade into the side of his face and several more times into his ribs. Castiel felt one crack and bit back a scream. He could feel Zachariah's anger in his blows, but he also realized there was nothing methodical at all. The angel was furious, and that meant that maybe Castiel could get him to make a mistake. To reveal something. Although, even if he did, Castiel would have to find a way out of there to be able to use the information.

"I'll take that as a yes," Castiel said, spitting some blood onto the floor, before looking back up at Zachariah. "You know Lucifer isn't going to trade Dean so easily. He will kill him to get Sam to say yes. Any hostage situation is likely to turn into all out war."

Zachariah smirked. "It will be war eventually anyway, Castiel. Besides, either Sam or Dean can say yes at any time, and when we trade, I'll make sure that Dean does. He'll have no choice when he sees what will happen if he refuses."

"And Lucifer will just return the favor," Castiel shook his head. "Sam and Dean will die before they say yes."

"You know what I think, Castiel?" Zachariah asked, as he reached out and started to unbutton Castiel's shirt. The captive angel tried to keep himself from squirming in discomfort. "I think you have fallen and decided to put your faith into two scraps of meat who really aren't all that you seem to think they are."

Castiel glared. "Dean is the righteous man. And Sam is not the abomination you make him out to be."

Zachariah smirked. "Yeah, unfortunately, we have to take what we can get these days." He pulled the sides of Castiel's shirt apart to bare his chest and caught sight of Dean's amulet that Castiel had looped around his neck. Zachariah picked it up on the tip of his blade, an amused look on his face. "Let me ask you, Castiel, how is the search for God going?"

Castiel glowered at him, ignoring his question. "Sam and Dean will not fail. And I know they will do what is right."

Zachariah tsked and shook his head. "Oh Castiel. You have fallen so far, you don't even know what 'right' is anymore."

"Is that true?" Castiel asked him. "Because I could say the same thing for you, Zachariah. If you ever did."

The higher angel sneered, pressing the tip of his blade into the center of Castiel's chest and pressing until a drop of blood formed and slid down his skin. "You're lucky I have use for you, Castiel, otherwise I would simply skin you alive and enjoy the pleasure of watching you die slowly and in exquisite agony."

Castiel frowned, momentarily distracted from the pain. "And what, pray tell, is your use for me?"

Zachariah twisted his lip in distaste. "As much as I hate to admit it, you might be able to help us track down Dean and, in conjunction, Lucifer."

Castiel actually managed a short laugh. "You think that if I could have tracked Dean down, I wouldn't have already done it? I tried tracking him, and got nothing. Lucifer has him warded."

"And you were so good as to carve protective sigils into the Winchesters' ribs," Zachariah said with distaste. "But Dean also bears the mark you left on his soul when you dragged him from Hell." He tapped Castiel's shoulder in the same place Dean had the handprint scar. "It is no light thing to pull a soul from Hell. You have to lay claim to it, and that gave you a certain…bond." The sneer was obvious in his voice. "In retrospect, probably not the best idea for an impressionable weakling like yourself.

Castiel bit back a retort, knowing it would do no good, but he also mulled Zachariah's words over. Was it true that he could use the mark to track Dean? He truly hadn't even thought of it. Not that he was about to use it to help Zachariah. He leveled his gaze at the superior angel. "Even if I could use it to track Dean with my diminished powers, what makes you think I would ever do anything for you?"

Zachariah smiled, bringing the angel blade up and pressing the point into the soft part under Castiel's chin, tipping his head back to expose his throat. "Because if you refuse it will not end well for you. And you know how…thorough I can be." He pressed the blade into Castiel's skin enough to create a drop of blood that slid down the edge of the blade. "And by the time I'm finished with you, Castiel, you will know your place."

"I already do," Castiel said firmly, eyes defiant. "It's with Sam and Dean."

"Then I'll make sure you're there to see them fail before I kill you," Zachariah told him. "In the meantime, I ain't gonna lie. I am really going to enjoy tearing you apart."

Castiel ground his teeth together and bit back a scream as Zachariah's blade dug into his flesh.

~~~~~~~

Dean came to with a gasp, gripped with a sudden chill that was slowly overcoming the fiery agony of his body. His eyes flew open and he looked down to see Lucifer standing next to him, hand pressed to the center of his chest. When he pulled it away, Dean took several deep ragged breaths, shuddering from the cold and still hanging in the chains, but his body was whole again, even if his position made it harder for him to draw breath. Although there were still copious amounts of blood on his t-shirt and jeans, not to mention pooled on the floor under his dangling feet.

"Well, I have to give you this, Dean," Lucifer told him. "You have fantastic endurance. I almost went too far with that session because I was so interested to see how far you could go. Alastair trained you well on both fronts it seems."

Dean glowered at him. "Eat me, Lucifer."

"Not really my thing," Lucifer said as he paced in a slow circle around Dean. The hunter tried not to show his discomfort at having the devil behind him. He could feel Lucifer's eyes on him the whole time, boring into his back, and suppressed a shudder.

"You know," Lucifer said, as he came back around. "It's kind of a shame that we're on opposite sides of this thing, Dean. I mean, under other circumstances, I might actually really grow to like you."

Dean smirked. "Well, I do have a winning personality."

"You're rebellious, defiant, but yet you do it all for the right reasons," Lucifer said. "I really do respect that. It reminds me of myself. I mean, telling Michael and his followers where to stick it? That takes some serious balls." Lucifer laughed, but soon shook his head again. "But…well, I think we both know that it's not going to mean anything in the long run. I mean, I will take Sam as my vessel, Michael will ride your ass, and then I'll have to kill him."

"Why can't you just refuse to fight him?" Dean asked, wriggling slightly to see if he could work himself free, but his hands were so numb by now it only made him swing uncomfortably.

Lucifer gave a humorless laugh. "Refuse? I don't want to refuse. If I refuse, do you just expect Michael to forgive and forget? Oh, maybe we'll hug it out and go get a milkshake." He was suddenly in Dean's face, sneering. "No, I wouldn't expect a pitiful maggot like you to understand. If I do not kill my brother, I will be thrown back into the cage, and I will not go back there, Dean. And if you try to put me there, I will snap every bone in your body while Sam watches. And let him see what your entrails taste like."

Dean swallowed hard, licking his lips with his suddenly dry tongue.

"I will win, Dean. And though it is regrettable that my brother must die by my hand to do so, I will not shy away from doing anything I can to win." He tapped Dean on the chin and then turned away.

Dean licked his lips again. "You're wrong, you know."

Lucifer stiffened and looked over his shoulder. "About what?"

"That I'm like you," Dean said. "I'm not defying my destiny because I want to play by my own rules, I'm doing it because either way, no matter who wins, earth is screwed, and I can't let that happen. I've spent all my life saving humans from evil sons of bitches like you and I'm not gonna stop here just because two archangels want to have a slap fight."

Lucifer turned around and cocked his head, raising his eyebrows.

"And another reason we're different is because I would never kill my brother," Dean added firmly. "No matter what was at stake, no matter who told me to do it, I would never kill Sammy."

Lucifer sighed wearily, shaking his head. "Well, I'm happy to tell you that will likely never happen, seeing as I am going to make sure Sam kills you first. Perhaps that will change your mind and see why I must kill Michael."

Dean just glared at him. He was really getting tired of everyone telling him what was going to happen. Maybe he was just in denial, but he thought that, surely, everyone else's cocky attitude was going to get them dead. All he cared about was that they didn't take the world with them. Or Sam.

"This has been a good chat," Lucifer suddenly spoke up again, folding his hands together in front of him. "But I think it's time we let Sammy join us, don't you?"

"Don't," Dean protested half-heartedly, knowing it wasn't going to do anything to sway Lucifer. "I told you he's never going to say yes."

"Oh, maybe not yet," Lucifer shrugged with a small smirk on his face, as he pulled out his angel blade, checking the tip of it. "But everyone breaks when you find the right pressure point. Right, Dean?"

Dean clenched his jaw and watched as Lucifer advanced on him, waiting for the next round of torment.

~~~~~~~

Sam had fallen asleep at some point without really knowing he had until he started dreaming. At least he figured it was a dream since he was standing out in the middle of a field, fresh air swirling around him in the mist of the morning. The treetops just lit with the rising sun. It was…peaceful. Sam would have liked to just sit back, close his eyes, and enjoy the miraculously benign interlude in the horror that was his life right now.

Of course that wasn't going to last.

"Hello, Sam. It's been a while."

Sam turned and saw Lucifer standing in the clearing with him and was instantly on alert, his heart pounding in his chest.

"Miss me?" Lucifer pouted.

"Go away," Sam snapped.

"Sorry I didn't bring a picnic lunch," Lucifer said. "This is a business call."

"You know what my answer is going to be. Same as last time," Sam growled. "Screw you."

Lucifer smirked slightly. "Oh yes, you and your brother really are so much alike. More than Michael and I ever were, actually."

Sam started to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What do you want?"

Lucifer shrugged and held up his hands in mock surrender. "Alright, no small talk, I get it. Let's get to business then." He snapped his fingers and Sam started as the scenery changed to a dark warehouse or something. Of course, the surroundings were the last thing on his mind as he saw the new addition to the meeting.

"Dean!" he gasped, surging forward.

"Ah-ah, you can look but not touch, he's not really here, after all, Sam. We're in your head, and Dean…well, he's with me."

"You son of a bitch!" Sam snarled. "I will rip you apart the next time I see you!"

"Good, that's good," Lucifer said with a pleased smile on his face. "I like that anger, Sam. Keep it up. That anger is what is going to keep you on a path straight to me."

Sam breathed heavily, hands clenching into fists at his sides. "You wanna turn to me to the dark side, the last thing you want to do is touch my brother."

Lucifer raised his eyebrows. "Oh, I'll do more than touch him, Sam. I already have." He turned to Dean who was suspended about a foot off the ground, his t-shirt and jeans already torn and bloody, looking like Lucifer must have tortured him and healed him previously. Sam swallowed hard as he saw the pool of blood on the ground under Dean and wondered how many times it had been.

Lucifer pulled out an angel blade and slowly cut into the flesh underneath Dean's collarbone. The older Winchester gritted his teeth and bit back a moan, swaying slightly in the chains. Lucifer smiled and slowly pushed the blade into the tender flesh of Dean's armpit. Dean squeezed his eyes shut, inhaling sharply.

"Come on Dean, give me a scream," Lucifer coaxed. "We want a good performance for Sammy don't we?"

"You think hurting him is going to make me say yes?" Sam demanded incredulously, shaking with barely controlled rage. "It's just going to make me want to kill you more than I already do."

"Oh Sam," Lucifer said sadly, as he dragged the blade casually across Dean's stomach, finally getting a yelp out of him. "I love how you think you can beat me. Eventually, you'll realize that refusing me will be the worst mistake of your life. Especially when I use your brother as my personal punching bag. Or maybe let my demons play with him…again. And boy, can they be creative."

He swiftly slammed the hilt of his blade into Dean's side and Sam heard ribs crack from where he stood, swiftly followed by Dean's breathless scream.

"You son of a bitch!" Sam yelled, surging forward to grab Lucifer's arm, but stumbled and fell onto green grass. He spun and leapt to his feet, back in the field. Lucifer appeared again, his clothes spattered in Dean's blood. Sam swallowed hard.

"Tell you what, Sam," Lucifer said. "I know Zachariah has you, probably planned on using you as leverage to get to Dean, right? Well, we can cut out the middle man—you and me. You say yes to me right here, right now, I'll get you out of wherever Zach is keeping you and we can come back here for Dean together."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, and you seriously expect me to believe that you'll just let Dean go?"

"You don't trust me?" Lucifer asked, pouting mockingly, clasping a hand to his heart. "You wound me."

"Forget it," Sam snarled. "But I will find Dean, and when I do, I will kill you myself."

"Now, don't be like that, Sammy," Lucifer cajoled.

"This conversation is over," Sam informed him and woke up.

He came to with a gasp, jolting up from the hard tile floor, his chains rattling. He breathed heavily, his body aching and uncommonly cold. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, huddling in the corner of the room. Now he knew what Zachariah was keeping from him, the topic he had been dancing around. Lucifer had somehow gotten his hands on Dean.

Sam squeezed his eyes shut as he thought of the pain Lucifer was inflicting on his brother at this very moment. He didn't want Dean to have to go through anything like Hell ever again, and Lucifer would probably be making sure that was all Dean was thinking about while he tortured him in order to break him down even further. And now Cas had probably been caught too. Bobby was immobile…they were all in a horrible predicament and Sam felt suddenly overwhelmed with it all. They had gotten two Horsemen's rings already, things should have been looking up, but then everything had just completely gone to hell as usual. And Sam couldn't help but feel that it was his demon blood addiction that caused it all. Again.

The cut across his palm hurt as he clenched his fists and he looked over to the metal tray that was currently hiding his escape plan. He really hoped it worked, because now he knew no one was coming for him, and he really didn't have any other options.

~~~~~~~

Gabriel searched around for any sign of angelic activity as he flew over the Continental US. Okay, maybe they weren't keeping the vessels there, but he figured it was a good place to start. He could get no trace at all on Lucifer, but then, he figured he had probably warded himself to the nines so Michael didn't come a-knocking before he'd gotten a chance to play with Winchester the Elder. Lucifer was also unlikely to make a mistake, Gabriel had learned most of his tricks from his big bro, and knew exactly how sneaky the bastard could be when he didn't want anyone to find him. So, Zachariah was where he would start.

Gabriel figured that Michael was still in heaven since he wasn't likely to show up until his vessel was procured for him. Typical. He always had liked sitting around on his ass, giving orders to the underlings so they could do all the dirty work for him. But it would be Raphael or Zachariah working under him, and Gabriel had heard through the grapevine that it was Zach handling the hostage situation on the side of Team Michael.

Gabriel had entertained the idea of finding Castiel, but wasn't sure the kid would even want to talk to him after what had happened the last time they met. And he couldn't really blame him; he had put Cas through a rather…harrowing experience…to say the least. Several, actually. But it was most likely they would meet up at some point as Castiel was likely looking for the Winchesters too, so if they did happen to cross paths, who could blame him for wanting to try and partner up?

He was actually surprised to recognize an angelic aura coming from up ahead. He had figured that Zach would have warded himself and Sam's position too, but then, maybe not. Sloppy work, if he hadn't, but then, Zachariah was always a little hasty with things. Gabriel had never liked him. Too full of self-import and unnecessarily cruel to the younger angels who were wont to cause minor infractions of the rules—some of them at Gabriel's urging. He was sure that if Sam Winchester was in the hands of Zachariah, he would be little better off than Dean would be with Lucifer.

But as Gabriel got closer to the position, he recognized several other angelic auras, one of which was clearly radiating pain. He frowned. That was odd. The other odd thing was that he detected no humans, though they could have simply warded the spot they were keeping Sam in, if this was the place, but it was all still somewhat strange.

He landed outside the building he sensed the angels in. It was an old abandoned prison, the kind of place he could see Zach keeping prisoners. Gabriel could sense four angels inside, including the one who was obviously in pain. Maybe Sam had gotten the drop on one of them, or maybe someone had gotten into a scuffle with demons or Lucifer.

But then Gabriel felt a sudden flair up and heard a scream tinted with an angel's true voice. One that was oddly familiar to him.

His blade fell into his hand, and he strode forward into the building cautiously, not sure what he might find in there.

He wrinkled his nose as he stepped inside. It was filthy and left little to the imagination about the kind of people that would even think of coming here. Probably those not too different than the ones that had been housed there when the prison was still in use. Gabriel stepped through the entrance cautiously, and headed in the direction of the pained screams. He winced as an angelic voice joined the vessel's a splitting, pained sound that ruffled Gabriel's wings the wrong way. Yeah, he had a feeling he was close to Zachariah.

He didn't quite get that far though, because he was waylaid by two other angels who appeared in the hallway in front of him.

Gabriel grinned, opening his arms wide. "Fellas, maybe you can help me. See, my car got a flat…."

"Gabriel," one of the angels said with sudden recognition, a look of surprise on his face. "Is it really you?"

Gabriel grinned. "Guilty."

"But you left heaven centuries ago," the other angel said, just as surprised. "We thought you were dead. What…are you doing here?"

"Oh, y'know," Gabriel shrugged. "Just thought I'd hop on over to see what's going on with the whole Apocalypse situation. Never really thought it would happen, I mean, Michael and Luci were going at it for years and it never really got anywhere, but now, well, I'm gonna be honest, I wasn't sure the rumors were true."

The angels looked slightly confused. Gabriel went on, using that to his advantage.

"Then I heard a rumor about the vessels being held hostage."

The angels instantly went on guard. "Where did you hear that?"

"Oh, around; you would be surprised how far rumors can travel," Gabriel said, looking over their shoulders as another agonized scream came from down the hall. "I'm looking for Zachariah…he around anywhere?"

"This is not the best time," one of the angels protested.

Gabriel raised his eyebrows. "Um, excuse me, archangel here. I kinda outrank you, in case you don't remember."

The other angel stiffened and affected a stern look. "You are an outcast. Angel turned Trickster. We do not have to follow your orders anymore."

Gabriel inhaled through his teeth, cocking his head to one side in mock regret. "Hmm, well, I guess that's all I can expect from the upper management. Totally forgot about me." He shook his head. "But I am still an archangel, so that means I can still do this."

He snapped his palms out and the two angels flew through the air, skidding down the hall. Gabriel strode down after them as they tried to scramble upright, reaching for their angel blades.

"Nuh-uh," Gabriel warned, throwing them flat again and flicking a finger to one side so that their blades skidded out of reach. He walked over until he was standing right over top of them. "Now, I'm going to have a nice chat with Zachariah, and you two can catch up later, 'kay?" He reached down and touched their shoulders, sending them to the other side of the world—somewhere in the middle of the Australian Outback. That would keep them busy for a bit.

He then turned back down the corridor from which he could hear the angel being tortured. This was one of the old cellblocks of the prison and it appeared that one of the cells was occupied.

He could hear Zachariah tsking, talking to whoever he had in there.

"You are too stubborn for your own good. Are you going to force me to completely cut you apart?"

Gabriel glanced around into the cell seeing Zachariah's back, obscuring the prisoner he was torturing. Gabriel could hear the pained breaths, smell the blood of the angel's vessel mixed with the spilled grace. The tortured angel groaned.

"Do what you have to," a hoarse voice said, in barely a whisper. "It's not going to stop me from doing what I know is right."

"Again with the right and wrong," Zachariah sneered.

"I will not help you find Dean."

Zachariah sighed. "Very well, then, we'll try another reevaluation. I just hope there's some of you left so I can at least give you a public execution. It would do the other angels good to see what happens to naughty, rebellious angels." Zachariah stepped closer to the prisoner and leaned over next to his drooping head. "Last chance."

The prisoner finally raised his head to look at his captor, defiance in his blue eyes. "Go screw yourself."

Gabriel's heart leapt into his throat as he finally recognized the figure. Zachariah's prisoner was Castiel.

The poor kid looked like he'd gone through a meat grinder—and that was being generous—covered in blood from head to toe. His shirt was open and there were deep cuts and stab wounds from neck to waist, and more slicing through his trousers and sleeves. Gabriel could tell he was hanging onto consciousness by a thread. Anger flared inside of him, wishing he could tear into Zachariah the same way the douchenozzle had torn up his little brother, but if Gabriel had learned anything about anything in his long travels, it was that playing it cool and uncaring was usually the best way to go.

Zachariah pretended to sigh, but he was obviously not too broken up about Castiel's further refusals. "Fine. Have it your way. Let me see if I can find a piece of you I haven't taken my blade to yet."

That was when Gabriel stepped into the room, announcing his presence with a low whistle. "Yikes. Is this how you have to get your dates these days, Zach?"

Zachariah spun around, blade raised. His look of anger turned to shock as he registered Gabriel.

"You?" he demanded incredulously. "I thought you were dead!"

Gabriel shrugged. "Yeah…not so much. Just taking a sabbatical. Sowing the wild oats and all that, and boy, do I mean a lot of oats, if you catch my drift." He winked, and leaned against the door of the cell. "So how about you, Zachariah? Still picking on everyone smaller than you, I see."

"I'm doing what I must to serve in the Apocalypse," Zachariah said, raising his head in that infuriatingly self-absorbed way of his. "What are you doing?"

"Me? Whatever I damn well please, pretty much," Gabriel said, taking a couple steps forward. "Unlike you. I mean, I can see it, Zach, you can't really think you're hiding it. I get it, you screwed up and want to make everything right with the bossman again, but really? Losing Michael's vessel to the opposition?" Gabriel grimaced comically. "Yeah, don't think big bro is gonna be too jazzed about that."

"What do you want?" Zachariah snapped. Yeah, that had hit a nerve. Gabriel refrained from smirking.

"What do I want? I want to help you, Zach. I want to take Sam Winchester off your hands."

"And why the hell would I let you do that?" Zachariah asked slowly.

Gabriel shrugged. "Well, partly because it's gonna save your ass, and also because after what happened the last few times the Winchesters and I met, they'll be willing to do whatever I suggest just to make sure I don't throw them into another pocket dimension. In short…" Gabriel took a step forward and bowed theatrically. "I am your new hostage negotiator."

Gabriel heard Castiel groan, probably in protest, but he ignored the kid for now, keeping his eyes on Zachariah. "Come on, you have to admit it's a great idea," Gabriel said, spreading his arms invitingly. "I have a way better change of going to a meeting with Lucifer and coming out of it alive—he always was my favorite brother. We make the exchange, no harm, no foul, and we can all skip over to Tahiti for a relaxing vacation, 'cause, no offense, Zach, you look like you could use one."

Zachariah smiled slowly, chuckling. He shook his head. "Gabriel, you forget that I am accustomed to your tricks. You really think for a minute that I believe you'll bring Dean Winchester back to us? I know who you have been slumming with these past millennia. The minute you make the exchange, you'll likely whisk the vessels off to your little pagan friends and play the hostage game all over again. I'm sure they would love to have some leverage in the upcoming battle."

Gabriel paused, then threw his head back and laughed. "Ya got me, Zach. Never could pull one over on you, could I?"

Zachariah smiled. "No. And you know what I think? I think Michael would very much like to see you again. I think I may just take you back to Heaven and let Michael deal with you himself. Just another of his wayward brothers."

"Oh, Zach, am I too much for you to handle?" Gabriel said mockingly. "Well…you're right."

He waved his hand and Zachariah slammed back into the wall opposite Castiel with a startled yelp. Gabriel slid him up the wall to smash into the ceiling before he let him fall back on the floor. Zachariah cursed and glowered up at him as Gabriel looked down with a smile.

"So, counter offer…You run away and tell my brother just how badly you screwed the pooch, and I keep on as I am. A one man army with my own agenda."

"You insolent—" Zachariah started sneering but Gabriel sent him away to the North Pole before he could finish.

"I hope you freeze your balls off, dickhead," Gabriel said to the open space. Sure, it wasn't nearly what Zachariah deserved, but it would do for now. Maybe he would get chewed on by a polar bear or something. Right now Gabriel had other things to see to.

One being his little brother who was currently bleeding all over the floor.

He turned to Castiel who had completely slumped in the chains now that he no longer had to be defiant. Blood was dripping from a dozen wounds as well as his mouth and nose, as Gabriel mojoed the manacles to release. He just barely caught Castiel before the younger angel fell to the ground, his body giving out with a moan.

"Woah, easy, tiger," Gabriel said, lowering him gently to the ground, which produced another groan from Castiel.

He finally managed to lift his head and his eyes focused on Gabriel's face, a frown appearing in his brow. "G-Gabriel?"

The archangel gave a cocky smirk. "The one and only."

"Why are you here?" Castiel's voice was accusatory, but that was the only response he gave before his eyes roll back in his head as he fell completely limp.

Gabriel looked down at him with a sigh. "Shizzlesticks." Just another totally awesome family reunion under his belt.

He stood and gathered Castiel into his arms, before he took flight. First things first; he had to get his little brother taken care of.

 

Chapter Text

Sam was trying to see if he could work his chains free from the wall if he dug the water bowl into the tiles around the metal loops, but wasn't having much luck. The bowl was the wrong shape for the job and the angels would be able to see what he was doing before he could get enough progress to work with. He finally threw the bowl to the ground in frustration and slumped against the wall, the cold tile feeling not too terrible on his aching head. He wasn't even sure how long he had been in here now, or how long the angels had been gone, but he couldn't help but wonder where Zachariah was now.

Of course, as soon as he said that, he heard angry shouting and footsteps sounding through the hallway outside the room, and Sam straightened up as the door was flung open, slamming into the wall.

Zachariah strode in, something white and dusty falling off of his clothes…snow? Sam frowned, but was soon distracted by the look of rage on Zachariah's face.

Sam couldn't help a small smile. "Wow, you woke up on the wrong side of the bed."

Zachariah strode over to him and kicked him in the ribs so hard that Sam was slammed against the wall, his breath punched from him.

"Don't try me, you filthy abomination," Zachariah snarled, spit flying from his mouth as he did.

Sam grimaced but still looked up at him. "You failed to tell me Lucifer has my brother," he said when he got his breath back.

Zachariah stopped. "You know about that?"

Sam nodded once. Zachariah cursed. His two angel lackeys hurried into the room.

"Sir," they said breathlessly.

Zachariah turned around. "Where the hell have you two been?!"

"It was Gabriel, sir, he sent us away…"

"We don't have time for this," Zachariah snapped. "Take the abomination. We need to get to a new location in case he knows where we are."

Sam frowned. Gabriel? What was he doing now, and why had he been tangling with Zachariah's men? He was so busy thinking that over that he almost forgot what he had been planning all along. But not too late.

The angels unlocked his manacles and reached down to haul him to his feet, but Sam kicked out at one of them and threw himself toward the metal tray the angel had brought his water on earlier. The angels grabbed his legs to pull him backward but Sam managed to flip the tray over and reveal what he had hidden underneath it: an angel banishing sigil.

"NO!" Zachariah shouted but it was too late. Sam slammed his hand down on it, and the three angels disappeared with a flare of light.

Sam stayed there on the floor with pent up breath for a second, listening for any other footsteps, but when he heard nothing, he forced himself up with a groan, his body aching and weak from hunger. He staggered to the door, arm folded protectively around his injured ribs, and took a deep, steadying breath.

"You're going to make it out of here," he growled to himself through clenched teeth. Then he put one foot in front of the other until he got to a door and forced it open with a loud creak.

Daylight hit him, and he had to shade his eyes against it. The fresh air as well as the idea of simply being free gave him a boost of energy and he hurried off, hoping to get far enough away from the place before Zach and the other angels came back so that they wouldn't just capture him again.

Now all he had to do was find out where he was and how to get to Bobby and Cas so they could find Dean. Because Sam wasn't going to leave him with Lucifer for any longer than he had to.

And when he found the devil, he was going to do his best to keep his promise and kill him.

~~~~~~~

Castiel came to slowly. The world seemed slightly fuzzy, and he felt as if his head was stuffed with cotton. But there was a lingering warmth emanating from his core, and he could sense the traces of another angel's grace as if he had been recently healed. For some reason that idea filled him with dread. Why?

Then he remembered: he'd been betrayed by Josiah and Zachariah had been torturing him, trying to get Castiel to help him track down Dean. He groaned. The fact that he was healed could only mean Zachariah was probably wanting a clean slate to start over with. Castiel had experienced that on more than one occasion so he knew how Zachariah worked. Still, it was best to face what was coming head on.

But as he opened his eyes, he was surprised to see that he was no longer in the filthy abandoned prison, but lying in a soft, huge bed with more pillows than he could count. Bewildered, he looked around the room, at the elaborate furnishings, the full bar in the corner and the plush carpet on the floor. There were voices too, that he had taken to be angels speaking together, but when he looked over at the other side of the room, he saw a giant television. It was on, and showing people acting dramatically and speaking Spanish. But it wasn't that that caught Castiel's eye, but a familiar figure reclining in a comfortable looking chair, watching the screen with a giant bowl of popcorn in his lap.

Gabriel.

Castiel furrowed his brow, suddenly wary. He tried to push himself upright, but between the plush bed and his weakened body he just ended up floundering humiliatingly.

"Seriously, Carlota, will you ever learn?" Gabriel shook his head at the television before he turned around to look at Castiel, and smiled. "Hey, bro, wondered when you would wake up."

"Gabriel," Castiel said, deciding it was best to stay still for a moment before he really embarrassed himself, even though he definitely wasn't going to let his guard down. "Where have you taken me?"

"Sheesh, I save your life and this is all you have to say?" Gabriel raised his eyebrows and stood up, rounding the bed, to look at Castiel more closely. The lesser angel glared up at him and Gabriel sighed. "It's not a pocket dimension if that's what you're wondering."

Castiel shifted slightly, his glare hardening. "Well, that's something at least."

"For the record, I am sorry about that," Gabriel said, cocking his head to one side. "The Vikings…and the cannibals, not to mention the zombie pirates."

Castiel frowned even more. And Gabriel sighed in defeat. "Okay, and the killer giant mole rats, but you have to admit that was pretty unique. Point is," he snapped his fingers and a chair appeared by the bed for him to sit in. "I'm hoping we can work together."

Castiel cocked his head incredulously. "Really? And why are you all of a sudden so interested in helping me, or getting into this fight at all?"

A dark look passed over Gabriel's face but he was quick to hide it. "Because I've done some soul searching since the last time we met and I decided I'm not Team Apocalypse."

"And what, pray, made you change your mind?" Castiel asked blandly.

Gabriel was silent for a moment before he said, "Believe it or not, Cas, I get it. I get why you dropped out. And for the record, I think you did the right thing. Humanity shouldn't have to be destroyed, and they won't fair well whether it's Michael or Lucifer who wins. Sure, they're flawed, but a lot of them try to do better, right? Maybe we can take a few pointers from that."

Castiel watched Gabriel with some interest before he gave in and said, "I always believed we were supposed to be the humans' shepherds. Not their murderers. I think a lot of us seemed to have forgotten that."

"Exactly," Gabriel said, pointing a finger at Castiel.

"But I don't understand," Castiel continued. "How did you find me?"

"Well, I was actually looking for Sam and Dean, so I was looking for Zachariah who I figured was in charge of keeping the Sasquatch in check, but then I found him using you as a chew toy instead."

Castiel placed a hand on his newly repaired chest as a phantom pain flashed over him. He set his jaw firmly as he looked back at Gabriel. "Why do you want Sam and Dean?"

"Don't worry," the archangel said, rolling his eyes. "I promise not to throw them into any more time loops or pocket detentions or anything of the sort."

"Then what?" Castiel asked, then something floated into his memory, the half remembered conversation he had overheard Gabriel having with Zachariah while he was barely conscious. He forced himself up onto his elbows, finally making it. "You're not actually going to give them to the pagans, are you?"

"Chillax," Gabriel told him, then shrugged. "I mean, sure, that's what they think I'm going to do…but that was just my own BS to make sure they didn't get into the crossfire," he added quickly as Castiel opened his mouth to protest. "Trust me, Cas, I know better than anyone that handing the Winchesters over to the pagan crowd would be a death warrant for all involved. I did this to protect them. All of them."

Castiel heard the sincerity in Gabriel's voice. He knew very little about what Gabriel had been up to since he left Heaven, but Castiel could tell by the way he talked that the archangel really did care about the pagans.

"Fine," Castiel grunted, as he forced himself into a sitting position against the copious amount of pillows on the bed and started to button his shirt back up, realizing for the first time, his clothes were whole and without bloodstains again. "But what are you planning on doing with the Winchesters?" He got to the last button, and for the first time noticed, that Dean's amulet was no longer around his neck. His eyes cast around the bed in alarm, wondering how he would explain it to Dean if he lost it.

"This what you looking for?" Gabriel asked and Castiel quickly snapped his eyes up to see Gabriel dangling the amulet from his fingers. "Not really your style, Cassie."

"It's not mine," Castiel said, reaching out for it. "And I need it to…to find Father."

Gabriel looked up slowly, a longing in his eyes but a sad truth behind it. "You know that he won't be found if he doesn't want to be, Cas. No matter what you do."

Castiel glared. "I have to try."

Gabriel studied him for a long moment before he slowly handed the amulet back to Castiel and the younger angel quickly slipped it back around his neck. They were silent for a long time, and Castiel studied his brother out of the corner of his eye. In so many ways it could have been any time in the past, Gabriel sitting by his bedside as he was recovering from injuries, when it wasn't Balthazar or Anna; but it had been so long, that he didn't know who Gabriel was anymore. At least, he was pretty sure he didn't. Gabriel couldn't really be the same as he had been. None of them could. But still, he needed all the help he could get, and he had no one else to turn to. Maybe working with Gabriel wouldn't be a bad idea.

But then Castiel recalled everything Gabriel had done to Sam and Dean, recently too, to get them to 'play their roles' in the apocalypse. Could he really trust Gabriel not to try something similar again? And there was the obvious fact that Gabriel still loved Michael and Lucifer no matter what they had done, or could do. If push came to shove, Castiel knew Gabriel wouldn't take that extra step to kill Lucifer even if it was necessary.

"I should go," Castiel suddenly decided and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He didn't get all the way to his feet before his head spun and he felt arms around him as the blackness came over his eyes, lowering him back to the bed.

"Yeah, I don't think so, kiddo," Gabriel told him as Castiel blinked away the black spots. "You're stuck with me."

Castiel gave him a halfhearted glare. "I don't know if I trust you," he admitted, but his voice sounded more sad than cautious even to his own ears.

Gabriel clapped a hand to his chest. "Now, that hurts, Cas. Really. But right now? I don't think you have much choice. I mean, your chances of going up against Lucifer are between zero and zilch. And that's if you still had all your grace. But let me remind you that you were just out for five hours and that was after I had to heal you because your vessel wouldn't stop leaking. You're not at full power, and you're gonna get yourself killed on this one man crusade before you can even find the Winchesters. And you know it."

Castiel gritted his teeth, but knew his brother was telling the truth. Even though he didn't want to admit it.

Gabriel folded his arms over his chest. "I know you're angry with me, and you have a right to be. But face it, Cas, I'm all you've got. And I promise you that when we find Sam and Dean, I will let them go on their merry way to be pains in Michael and Lucifer's asses."

Castiel looked up at him again, narrowing his eyes. "You give your word?"

"Hells yeah," Gabriel replied. "You think I actually want the world to end? What would I even do without wine, women, and sugar infused snack food? Besides," Gabriel dropped his tone to a more serious note. "The pagans aren't going to get out of this. And I know they're flawed too, and it's way past their time and all, but y'know, they're kinda my family, and mean just as much to me as my angelic brothers and sisters." Gabriel shrugged with a small smile. "I mean, they argue and fight amongst each other, and a lot of them hate my guts, but I can't help but love 'em at the end of the day."

Castiel thought of Sam and Dean, and how he had come to view them as more than just friends. They truly were his family now; they had taken him in when he had lost his family in Heaven and stood with him when no one else would. His face softened as he looked back up at Gabriel. "I think I understand. Perhaps our reasons for fighting are not so different after all."

Gabriel smiled. "Exactly what I've been telling you, bro." He offered Castiel his hand. "Now, what do you say we kick this in the ass together?"

Castiel hesitated only a moment before he took his hand and allowed Gabriel to pull him to his feet. "Agreed."

He really hoped he wasn't making a bad decision.

~~~~~~~

Dean yelped as the tension in his arms suddenly gave out and he crashed to the floor. Lucifer had released his shackles for the moment and he crumpled into a broken, bleeding heap on the cold concrete floor of the warehouse. He wanted to scream from the pain in his body—for the moment mostly centered around his shoulders, which had taken all the strain from his body being suspended for countless hours—but he had no breath to scream. Nor really the energy.

"Well, that was fun," Lucifer said, crouching down and studying Dean with a contemplating look. "Your brother is really determined, isn't he. I like that about him. It will be a good aspect of his character when I finally turn him to my way of thinking."

"Don't…hold y'r…breath," Dean grated out, rolling onto his back slightly to take all the pressure off his shoulders. He squeezed his eyes shut with a moan.

"Well, I'm sure you're feeling a little deserted, Dean," he continued. "I mean, Sammy pretty much said that he didn't care what happened to you. That he's okay to let me carve into your meat while he sits around being stubborn, when the only thing that he needs to save you is one itty bitty word." He pouted. "That's gotta smart."

"Oh…bite me," Dean huffed.

"Only if you ask nice, big boy," Lucifer told him with a wink. "I guess I'm going to have to get really creative if we're gonna get Sam to say yes." He reached out to pluck at Dean's shredded t-shirt, causing the man to squirm as the fabric stuck to his wounds with dried blood. "Especially since you had Alastair as your chief tormentor for thirty years in hell. I mean, he was a master, even I'll admit that. Don't know if I'll ever be able to compete." He dug a finger into a wound in Dean's side and the hunter jerked, crying out. "Of course, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve, but I've always found that half the fun of torture is the spontaneity. Keep changing it up. I'm sure you can attest that it gets boring for both parties after a while. You were Alastair's student, maybe you can share some tips? What was your favorite method, Dean?"

Dean held his breath as Lucifer leaned over him, face only inches from his. This was something Alastair had always done too, usually to unnerve and distract Dean before he slid a blade into his guts. He shut his eyes for a moment before he renewed a defiant glare.

"Screw you, Lucifer," he whispered.

"Oh, come on!" Lucifer groaned, leaning back dramatically. "Can't you come up with anything new, Dean? Thirty years under Alastair's blade and you can't come up with more creative comebacks?"

"He usually cut out my tongue when he got bored," Dean said grimly.

Lucifer raised his eyebrows. "Now there's an idea…."

Dean's stomach flipped, and he instinctively pressed his lips tightly shut. But before Lucifer could make good on his threat, footsteps could be heard coming into the room and one of the demons appeared.

"My lord. The…reinforcements have arrived."

"Ah, perfect, I could really use a pick-me-up," Lucifer said, standing up as Dean sagged in relief. "I'll be back, Dean. Gonna go have my vitamin shake and while I'm gone, I want you to come up with something more interesting for us to talk about." He strode off and Dean lay there, enjoying the rare breather. He wondered vaguely how long he had been a prisoner. It was impossible to tell the time of day in the warehouse, and he had no distinction of how many hours passed between the times Lucifer tortured him into oblivion to the times he revived and healed him to start all over again. This was all too much like hell for Dean's liking.

Of course, there was one advantage, he thought as his eyes turned to the direction Lucifer had disappeared. He was still on earth, and Lucifer was an angel, which meant….

He hurriedly pushed himself up onto an elbow, his shoulder screaming with pain. He forced his numb and tingling hands to work as he pressed his fingers into one of his wounds with a wince and started to smear his blood onto the floor in the shape of the banishing sigil Cas had taught him.

Cas. He suddenly wondered where his friend was and what he was doing. Obviously, Cas and Bobby had probably figured out what had happened by now. Maybe even who had him. Not that it would do any good, as he was likely warded against angels. Besides, Dean hoped that Cas would have the sense to go after Sam first. Of course, that meant he would have to go up against Zachariah and with Cas at barely half his power and only Bobby as back up—Dean suddenly didn't like the odds of the angel getting out of this situation unscathed. This might very well be the end of Team Free Will for good, Dean thought wryly.

Unless he could get out of there.

"Dean."

He froze, hand outstretched to trace the last few lines of the sigil when he felt Lucifer's presence return to the room. The fallen archangel was suddenly on top of him, bending low so that his mouth was just behind Dean's ear. His knee was pressing into Dean's bruised ribs and his angel blade was suddenly resting against the hand Dean had been drawing with. Dean couldn't breathe.

"Is that a banishing sigil?" Lucifer asked in a frighteningly calm voice, underneath which held a cold threat.

"Um, no?" Dean tried, but Lucifer's other hand curled into his hair and pulled his head backward slowly so Dean could look up at him. The hunter offered a small smirk.

"Were you trying to banish me?" Lucifer asked again, his voice raising an octave.

"Funny story, I was actually trying to draw a pony, but I kinda suck at drawing so—"

He had no warning, didn't even see Lucifer change positions, he only knew that he was on the ground one minute and the next, Lucifer had him around the throat, dangling him above the floor. Dean choked, clawing weakly at his hand.

"How dare you," Lucifer sneered, eyes glowing red, and threw Dean into one of the support beams of the warehouse about twenty feet away.

Dean hit hard, feeling the left side of his ribcage and his hip give with an audible crack. Unbelievable pain flooded his senses and he screamed before he hit the ground like a sack of rocks. Lucifer was suddenly crouching over him, dragging him into a semi-sitting position by the front of his shirt and Dean nearly passed out from the sheer agony tearing through his body, having no air left to do more than croak.

"That's good Dean. I much prefer you screaming anyway," the devil said, settling him against the pole. "Now, let's see if we can have some real fun."

Dean only barely saw the fist Lucifer raised before his world turned to bright, hot agony.

~~~~~~~

Sam stumbled through the woods as fast as he could, ignoring the things tearing into his feet, which were still only clad in socks. He found the tree cover not far from the abandoned morgue Zachariah had been keeping him in, and had instantly gone in there among the trees, hoping it would offer him more places to hide. He wasn't stupid enough to think that Zachariah wouldn't be coming for him as soon as he got back from wherever angels went when you banished them. And he was also sure that if Lucifer somehow found out that he had escaped, he would be sending demons out to find him as well. Sam knew there was a very grim reality about being caught between the two factions and needed to get to a safe place as soon as possible.

But first things' first. He had to get some new clothes and some food and water.

It was almost miraculous when he found a cabin in the woods with no one around. He peeked into the window and saw evidence of people having been there recently but they must have been out hiking or something. He wasted no time hurrying inside and running to the kitchenette.

He grabbed a water bottle off the counter and downed it in only a few minutes; he drank so fast he almost made himself sick, but he got his stomach under control and his throat felt so much better now that it had been touched by something wet. He also found some granola bars and jerky and his stomach flipped sickly, way beyond hunger. He grabbed a granola bar and ate it as slowly as he could, knowing it had been several days since he'd eaten and he couldn't risk overdoing it.

While he was chewing, he went into the small bathroom and almost blanched as he saw himself in the mirror. His whole face was covered in blood and bruises, and the rest of his body wasn't much better. He wished he had time for a shower, but knew he needed to be on his way. He washed the blood off as well as he could in the sink, and he looked a little better after that, even though it did little for his aching body.

He hurried back out to the main cabin and grabbed a duffle bag, dumping it out on one of the cots. He found a new pair of jeans and a flannel shirt and jacket and quickly shucked out of his torn and bloodstained clothes. He hissed as the ruined fabric pulled away from his burns and other wounds, but didn't have time to worry about that now. The new clothes were a little small, but he didn't complain, especially when he also found a pair of tennis shoes. Those too were a little small, but they were better than running barefoot through the woods. He grabbed the now empty duffle bag and went back to the kitchen were he threw some of the food and water into it, then finally left the cabin, worried it's occupants might come back.

He felt kind of bad for stealing from them, but he was desperate and they at least could go into town and grab some more food.

That was when Sam noticed the small pickup truck parked out behind the cabin.

He bit his lip, considering it for a moment and then ran for it, hopping in and finding the key under the sunscreen. Hopefully the truck would get back to its owners after he ditched it, but right now, Sam needed to save his brother and he was willing to do anything to save Dean.

He drove out of the woods and into town, finally finding out that he was in Colorado. At least it wasn't on the other side of the world. He stopped at a gas station and went to the payphone with some change he'd found in the truck.

First he dialed Cas, but got nothing, even though he tried several times. Then finally he dialed Bobby.

"Who is this?" the older hunter growled.

"Bobby? It's Sam," Sam said breathlessly, relief flooding him.

"Sam?" Bobby demanded. "What the hell, son? Where are you?"

"I got away from Zachariah. I—I guess I'm somewhere in Colorado." He shook his head. "Bobby, Lucifer has Dean."

"I know," the hunter replied grimly.

"Is Cas with you?" Sam asked.

"I haven't heard from Cas since he left to get information on where you were being kept," Bobby told him.

"Dammit," Sam cursed, closing his eyes and resting his head against the top of the phone stall. "I think Zachariah may have caught him."

"Balls!" Bobby growled. "Alright, well, we'll figure this out later, why don't you just get over here as fast as you can."

Sam bit his lip and looked behind him as if Zachariah might be standing there. "I can't do that, Bobby."

"What the hell do you mean, you can't?"

"Zachariah is going to be after me, and your house will be one of the first places he looks. If he captures me again, there's no finding Cas and Dean."

"Sam, don't you dare do anything stupid, you hear me?" Bobby demanded warningly.

"Sorry Bobby," Sam said quietly. "But I've gotta save my brother."

"Sam—"

Sam quickly hung up the phone, closing his eyes. He hated making Bobby angry, especially since he knew the older hunter couldn't do much right now, but he also knew that he had a better chance of evading the angels and the demons if he were alone, and he was the only one who had a chance of getting Dean and Cas back safely.

He headed back to the truck and started it up again. Now he just had to figure out where Lucifer was keeping his brother.

Chapter Text

Dean was jolted awake by a splash of icy water. He inhaled sharply, body jerking before the pain from his injuries caused by the sudden movements nearly made him black out. His ribs were on fire with every breath, and he was pretty sure his left hip was broken because he could barely move the lower half of his body without some of the worst agony he had ever experienced. On top of that, Lucifer had enjoyed digging his blade into every pressure point and nerve ending in the human body. Dean's nerves were frayed, and his body was shaking and shocky from bloodloss and trauma. He had actually screamed his throat bloody—or that might have been blood from a punctured lung, he wasn't sure.

"Hey, Deano, you back with me?" Lucifer asked, crouching in front of him and reaching out to cup Dean's face between his hands in a mockingly careful way. "That was a fun session, wasn't it?"

Dean's voice was all but destroyed so he flipped Lucifer off instead. The fallen archangel gave a small sigh and stood up. "I think even Alastair himself would be impressed with what I did to you today. Imagine what your brother will think."

Dean's stomach flipped over at the thought of Sam seeing him like this. He couldn't exactly see himself, but he knew he must look like death warmed over—probably worse actually. He certainly didn't want Sammy to have to see him like this when he himself was captured and unable to do anything about it. Not that Dean wanted Sam anywhere near Lucifer, but still, he knew how his brother thought.

"Think it's time to give baby brother another candy gram?" Lucifer asked.

"Just kill me," Dean whispered, glaring up at him.

"Oh, no, Dean, we've been over this; that would be much too easy. Where would the fun be if we didn't get to experience seeing poor Sammy's face when he sees your broken body, and knows it can get so much worse. Because despite what you might think now, I promise you, it can." The smile on Lucifer's face chilled Dean to his core. "You know what, Dean? I actually think I'm going to patch you in this time. That way you can see baby brother's expression first hand."

"S'not gonna change anything," Dean said, voice barely audible.

Lucifer just offered a tolerant smile. "Only time will tell who's right, and I assure you it will be me. Now." He crouched down and reached out to touch Dean's forehead. "I feel Sammy drifting off to sleep. Let's go pay him a visit, shall we?"

~~~~~~~

Sam had been on the road for several hours, not really knowing where he was going, just trying to get as far away as possible from Zachariah. But his body was weak from the abuse and the detox, and he was flagging badly. He needed to pull over and get some food and sleep. And also to tend his wounds, because the last thing he needed right now was to get an infection. He could push through the pain, he'd done that a thousand times before, but fever and delirium would do no one any favors.

He found an abandoned house on the edge of a town, and pulled the truck into the drive. As he stepped out of it, he barely made it to the ground without losing his footing, his legs wobbling. Somehow though, he managed to stay on his feet, and grabbed a few things he had found in the truck—some camping lanterns, the duffle bag of supplies he had taken from the cabin, and a sleeping bag that had been stuffed into the back of the cab. That, he was grateful for because it was chilly that night and he didn't feel like sleeping on a hard cold floor again tonight.

The house wasn't too bad, no worse than he and Dean had stayed in before, and it was shelter, most importantly. He quickly drew some warding sigils Cas had taught him, and hoped they would work, before he settled down for some food and water.

He felt a little better after having some beef jerky and another granola bar, drinking two bottles of water to work on rehydrating himself, but after that he needed to see to his wounds, having put that off for too long already.

He had grabbed a first aid kit from the cabin as well, and spread out what he would need on the sleeping bag, before he carefully undressed to his boxers so he could more easily clean and bandage any of the bad wounds.

The burns were the worst, and also hurt more than anything else, scraping on his clothes. He carefully dabbed at them before applying some burn cream he had found and patching them with gauze. Besides that, there were the cuts Zachariah had made when he took the knife to him, some of which probably needed stitches, but Sam just butterflied them together, too tired to deal with that at the moment. There was nothing he could do with the bruises, which covered the rest of his body. His tentative fingers found a couple cracked ribs, but there wasn't much he could do about that. He would just have to deal with it.

He took a couple Tylenols and carefully dressed himself again before slipping into the sleeping bag. The warmth—the first he'd felt in however long it had been since the demon blood had stopped burning through him—was so welcome that he instantly felt drowsy in it's comfortable cocoon, and it wasn't long after that he drifted off into an exhausted sleep.

Lucifer, of course, was waiting for him. So much for getting rest.

"Sam, glad to see you again," the fallen archangel said, pressing his hands together in front of him with a small smile. "Dean and I have been waiting for you."

Sam growled at him. "Stop hijacking my dreams. It's not going to change anything."

Lucifer's eyebrows raised. "Oh? Well, maybe this will."

They were suddenly standing in the abandoned warehouse place Lucifer had shown him last time, and Sam's eyes instantly fell on his brother.

Dean wasn't suspended in chains anymore; instead he was just slumped against a metal support beam, looking like he had been run over by a semi. Sam's breath caught in his throat as he took in Dean's injuries. His torn t-shirt and jeans showed multiple wounds. His left leg was held at an awkward angle, and Sam could tell from the swelling in his hip that it was probably broken. His breathing was also shallow and wet sounding, probably because of a punctured lung. His face was so swollen it was hardly recognizable. It was almost too much for Sam, but he would not, would not, let Lucifer see how much this was effecting him.

Of course, then he realized that Dean could see him this time, as his eyes, no longer green, but dull grey, looked up at Sam, telling him more than a thousand words.

"Dean," Sam choked out past the sudden lump in his throat. "I'm going to get you out of here."

"S'mmy," Dean whispered, his head shaking imperceptivity as Lucifer strode over toward him.

"You two and your oh-so-sweet brotherly moments. Sickening." He shuddered mockingly. "Not to mention empty promises from Sam's side." He lifted a foot and pressed it into Dean's injured hip. The sound Dean made, more akin a wounded animal than a human, made Sam see red, and surge forward.

"Leave him alone!" he demanded.

"What are you gonna give me for it?" Lucifer asked coyly, his smile infuriating. "Come on, Sammy, you know the rules. All I need is one little word and then this all ends."

Sam worked his jaw, as he tried to keep his emotions under control, glaring daggers at Lucifer. "Screw. You."

Lucifer groaned and gave a dramatic eye roll. "Ugh, you too are so predicable!" He kicked Dean again for good measure, causing him to crumple with a strangled scream and curl onto his side. "Why, Sam? Why are you so stubborn?"

"Because I have to believe I have another choice in this," Sam told him firmly, glancing toward Dean. "I've gotta prove than I'm not…"

"Not what?" Lucifer asked, cocking his head, and finally stepping away from Dean to advance slowly on Sam. "The boy with the demon blood? The outcast? The abomination? The…freak?" The last one made Sam flinch the most and Lucifer was happy to see he had hit a sore spot. "Face it, Sam, you always were all of those things. But that's why I like you, kiddo! You were never meant to be normal, Sam! You and me, we're both outcasts! It makes us who we are! It makes us able to rise above the mundane and create something new!"

"Yeah, the end of the world," Sam replied blandly. "I'm not going to be a part of that, Lucifer. I'm not."

"Then Dean is going to suffer in the meantime," Lucifer said with a nonchalant shrug. "Until Zachariah meets my demands and gives you back to me."

Sam shifted slightly at the mention of Zachariah before he could stop himself, but it was enough to get Lucifer's attention. The devil cocked his head, studying Sam as he pushed further into his personal space.

"Hold on…there's something different about you this time. I didn't quite notice before, but…yes, you're clearer." A sly smile spread across his face. "Sam, did you escape Zachariah without telling me?"

Sam glared at him again, but said nothing. He saw Dean look up at him with some hope in his eyes. It was too late anyway, Lucifer already knew he'd been right. Dammit.

"You did, didn't you, you sly little thing," Lucifer said, delight in his voice. "Oh, I bet Zachariah is pissed right now." He laughed, clapping Sam on the shoulder, causing the younger Winchester to flinch. "This is good, Sammy. Now you can come find me yourself. Cut out the middle man."

Sam leveled his gaze at him. "The only thing I'm cutting out, Lucifer, is your heart. When I find you, I will kill you. That is a promise."

"Is it, now?" Lucifer asked with amusement. "Well, I'll hold you to that. But I will tell you, Sammy, you had better get here fast because there's no telling what I'll decide to do with Dean next." His slow grin made Sam sick to his stomach.

"Sam," Dean's breathless voice came from behind Lucifer. "Don't even think—"

Lucifer snapped his fingers and Dean disappeared leaving Sam alone with the devil again.

"I'll be seeing you soon, Sam," Lucifer told him.

"I look forward to it," Sam assured him.

His eyes flew open and he sat up in the sleeping bag, his wounds protesting so badly he nearly fell back again. He shivered uncontrollably, cold from the inside out. He ran a hand through his hair, for the first time actually wondering how the hell he was going to do what he had to?

Because killing Lucifer was first on his list, he just didn't know if it were possible or not.

Sam covered his face with his hands, thinking, not for the first time, that he had bitten off more than he could chew.

~~~~~~~

Dean curled up on the floor at Lucifer's feet, the agony in his body finally taking second place to what he had learned. Sam was free, was his first thought, and the next was that he was coming for Lucifer. Dean didn't want that to happen. Lucifer would force Sam to say yes one way or another. There was no way the kid would be able to defeat the devil by himself, especially wounded. He was walking into a trap, and Dean was the bait. Which made him all kinds of pissed off.

Lucifer reached down and pressed two fingers to his forehead, and Dean felt the all too familiar surge of ice through his veins. He gave a breathless scream as his bones were snapped back into place, and lay gasping when the healing was finished. Lucifer reached down and hauled him up by the back of his shirt, dragging him over to the manacles again.

"Time for another round. But first…" He secured Dean and then went over to one side of the room, and knocked on a door there. Dean watched as several demons appeared, standing to attention in front of their dark lord.

"Get some backup. Go out there and bring me Sam Winchester," Lucifer said. "He's on the run from angels, and probably warded, but I'm sure you and your network of demons can find him."

"Yes, my lord," the demons said.

"Oh, and don't worry about roughing him up a bit if he's uncooperative," Lucifer added. "I can always put him back together once you get him here."

The demons seemed pleased by that, and nodded again. "Yes my lord."

"Go," Lucifer commanded before turning back to Dean. He grabbed something that was hanging off a wall, and Dean saw it was a length of chain. Lucifer wrapped part of it around his fist, but left a three-foot length to dangle from his hand, clinking as he walked.

Dean hung in his manacles, glaring at him. "You'll never find Sam," he said halfheartedly. He hoped it was true, but he knew the reality was that Sam would likely be caught before the day (or night?) was out and be dragged here as the demons' new punching bag until he said yes.

Lucifer chuckled, giving the chain a practice swing. "Your confidence in your brother is rather amusing. But we have other things to see to, you and I." He raised the chain and Dean clenched his eyes shut as the first blow landed.

~~~~~~~

"So where to first?"

Castiel looked over at his elder brother as they stood in the middle of a forest somewhere in Northern California where they had stopped before heading out for their search.

"I'm not sure," Castiel admitted, feeling slightly self-conscious. "I was searching systematically before but I'm sure that wherever they have Sam and Dean they will have warded it."

"And you clapped the sigils of protection into their ribs so tracking them like that is out too," Gabriel said. "Maybe we should look for demons instead. Lucifer is bound to have a few dozen around his hideout. Especially since he's going to be chugging demon blood in order to keep his vessel from going kablooey."

Castiel nodded thoughtfully at that. "That may be our best course of action. Although…" He recalled what Zachariah had said when he had been torturing Castiel, about the handprint scar on Dean's shoulder and the connection it made between them. Castiel doubted it was enough to follow, since he had never been able to use it to track Dean before, but maybe it could be of some help.

"Wanna share with the class?" Gabriel asked and Castiel realized he had stopped talking, deep in thought.

"Is it possible to use a connection with a human to track them?" Castiel asked.

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "What kinda connection?"

"A soul claim," Castiel told him. "When I raised Dean from perdition I had to claim his soul. There's a scar on his shoulder where I gripped him. As his guardian here on earth it offers a connection of sorts between us." It had helped the psychic, Pamela, track him down from the other end. Castiel still regretted the fact he had burned out her eyes when she refused to leave him be. But it was possible that the bond would work both ways.

Gabriel looked thoughtful. "It's a rare thing, I never really was good with the lore and all—never paid attention in class. But it's plausible that you could use it to help track him down if you could orient yourself."

"I could dream walk," Castiel said suddenly. "Perhaps Dean knows where he is. Even if he doesn't, he could give us some clues."

"It's all we've got to go on for the moment, I guess it's worth a shot," Gabriel said with a shrug.

"And if Dean is free, then Zachariah will want to contact him again about a trade for Sam," Castiel continued, starting to think that they may be able to make this work after all. If he could continue to trust Gabriel throughout the mission.

"So now you've just gotta wait until Deano gets his beauty sleep…which might be easier said than done, considering Lucifer probably isn't giving him many breaks between their, er, sessions."

Castiel's stomach twisted at the thought of what Lucifer might be doing to Dean just then, and forced those thoughts from his head, knowing he had to concentrate on the job at hand. "I'll get through to him someway."

"Well, let's go then, troll for demons while we're waiting."

Castiel nodded and followed Gabriel as he flew off. Castiel didn't want to mention how he was having some trouble keeping up with his elder brother. His wings were not as strong as they once were, in fact, flying for long periods tired him out more than he wanted to admit and left his wings aching and weary. It was just another sign of his fall, his weakening grace, and he hated it. Hated his weakness when he needed more than ever to be strong.

Gabriel stopped suddenly, and Castiel had to backtrack to land next to him. They were somewhere in Colorado, and Castiel turned to his brother with a frown. "What is it?"

"I feel a demonic disturbance in the Force," Gabriel told him, his blade sliding into his hand.

Castiel retrieved his from his coat as well. "Where?"

"Couple miles south. You ready to rumble, little bro?"

Castiel narrowed his eyes slightly, but nodded. "Let's go."

They appeared right in front of the party of demons, about ten in all, and they all stopped, eyes turning black as they beheld the angels. Gabriel grinned.

"Hey fellas. We were just passing through, and caught a whiff of sulfur." He pulled a face. "I gotta ask, which one of you dealt it?"

One of the demons sneered, stepping forward, obviously the leader of the pack. "You had best run off to your friends, little angel. Getting in our way right now is a bad idea unless you wanna hurt."

Gabriel winced at his syntax. "Yikes. Even B-movie toadies can do better than that. Besides, I think you missed the most important part here," he stepped forward, blade raised, and eyes starting to glow blue. "It's archangel, you ass."

The demons, to their credit, did step back, but didn't flee in terror as Castiel thought they probably should have.

"Hi, I'm Gabriel," the archangel said with a smirk. "I'm looking for my brother. Maybe you've seen him? He's kinda a dick, sorta psychotic—got this thing about taking over the world—you know who I'm talking about?"

"Archangel or not," the head demon said, pulling a knife from the back of his belt. "We have a mission and you're not going to get in the way."

Gabriel sighed in a longsuffering manner and turned to Castiel. "You hear that, Cassie? They're gonna make us do this the hard way."

Castiel glanced toward the demons, seeing they weren't likely to back off, and gave a slight nod to his brother, gripping his blade tighter.

As if by some unspoken consent the two angels and the group of demons surged at each other with a roar. Castiel caught one right away, stabbing her through the sternum and shoving the body off his blade to meet the next attacker, coming at him from behind. He may not have been able to smite demons anymore, but he could still wield a blade as well as ever.

Gabriel, though, was like a whirlwind. Castiel had almost forgotten how well his brother could fight. Just because Gabriel didn't care for conflict didn't mean he was a terrible fighter. Sure, he wasn't as elegant as Michael or as precise and brutal as Raphael or Lucifer, but he was quick and efficient, dodging between the demons and taking out nearly half of them before Castiel could finish off two. Before he knew it there was only one demon left, the leader of the group, who was now on his knees with Gabriel's hand clenched around his wrist.

A sudden thought struck Castiel and he hurried toward his brother.

"Wait!" he shouted, stopping Gabriel by grabbing his sword arm before he could strike the demon. "We can use him. He can tell us where Lucifer is hiding."

Gabriel's eyes narrowed shrewdly, but he lowered his blade and nodded in agreement. "Good thinking, little bro."

"Kill me," the demon snarled, keeping up his bravado. "I will never give up my father's location."

Gabriel chuckled and looked to Castiel. "Did you hear that? They call Lucifer Daddy. Oh that is rich. Well, loyal or not, a few one-on-one rounds with me, bucko, and you will sing like a bird."

Castiel shook his head, turning back to the demon. "More are probably on their way," he said to Gabriel. "We should get him to a secure location."

"You got a Batcave somewhere, Cas?" Gabriel quirked an eyebrow.

"It's…a house, I don't think there are bats in it. Nor is it a cave," Castiel frowned at him.

Gabriel rolled his eyes in a way that reminded the lesser angel a lot of Dean. "No, kiddo, like, a super secret hideout where demons can't find us."

"Oh, well something like that," Castiel said with a little amusement as he thought of Bobby's salvage yard, and reached down to grab the demon's shoulder, hauling him to his feet. "Follow me."

He flew, sensing Gabriel right behind him and landed in the front yard outside of Bobby's house. Gabriel, landing beside him, looked around incredulously at the scrap yard and ramshackle house.

"This is your Batcave?"

Castiel sighed in exasperation. "Bobby Singer is a good man. You will treat him with respect."

Gabriel held up his hands apologetically. "Hey, no worries here, kiddo. I'm on your side, you know. Even though I'm obliged to say that you used to be a lot more fun."

Castiel bit his lip to keep from replying scathingly to his brother with the demon within earshot. It would be difficult indeed to have been the same young angel Gabriel had known after all the things that had happened to him, least of all heaven's re-education. But this was not the time to discuss such things. His priority was finding Sam and Dean, and this demon was the best lead they had.

They strode up to the door and Gabriel reached out to open it before Castiel stopped him.

"Wait, Bobby may not take kindly to someone he doesn't know walking in."

Gabriel shrugged in agreement. "True. The last time I saw him he did think I was the Trickster. Kind of threw him around a little—it's possible he could hold a grudge."

Castiel rolled his eyes and knocked on the door. "Bobby? It's Castiel, can I come in?"

There was a pause and Castiel thought he saw the curtain in the window move before he heard Bobby's voice. "Come on."

Castiel opened the door, shoving the demon ahead of him as he led Gabriel into the house. They turned toward the study where Bobby sat in his wheelchair with a shotgun pointed at them.

"Cas?" he asked cautiously. "Who are your friends?"

"This demon is a prisoner," Castiel told him, and then bit back a sigh before he nodded to Gabriel. "And this is…Gabriel."

The archangel smirked. "Remember me?"

Bobby's eyes narrowed slightly. "Yeah, I remember you." He flicked his gaze back toward Castiel and then finally lowered the gun. "What the hell happened, Cas, you can't pick up a phone?"

Castiel stopped himself from replying that he was certainly capable of picking up a phone, and instead gave Bobby the answer he knew the old hunter wanted. "I was captured by Zachariah when my contact sold me out. I lost my phone somewhere along the way."

"Balls," Bobby cursed, and Castiel knew the hunter wanted to know where Gabriel and the demon fit into all this, but he also recognized the urgency of the situation. "Get that creature into the panic room. We got a lot to talk about."

Castiel helped Gabriel drag the demon into the basement and to the iron panic room. He had to break the devil's trap on the outside of the door to get him through, but after that he would be completely contained. Gabriel gave a low whistle.

"Okay, this is officially cooler than I was expecting," he admitted.

Castiel grunted as he pulled a chair over to the middle of the room and shoved the demon into it. The demon did nothing but glare at him the whole time he tied him up, but Castiel hoped that he would talk eventually, when he realized what would happen to him if he didn't.

Gabriel patted the demon's cheek with a grin. "Be back later, big boy. Then you and I are really gonna have some fun."

The demon snarled and spit at Gabriel. The archangel gave him a longsuffering look. "Now that's just rude." Then backhanded him across the face.

He followed Castiel back upstairs after closing the huge iron door of the panic room, and they joined Bobby who had already poured himself a glass of whisky. Gabriel grabbed the bottle and poured himself a glass without asking, sprawling out on the couch. Castiel's glare matched Bobby's but he ignored his older brother for the moment and turned to the hunter. "What did we need to talk about, Bobby?"

The hunter took a long pull from his glass. "Well, Sam called me while you were gone. Apparently he escaped from Zachariah."

Castiel's eyes widened. "He's out? Where?"

Bobby shook his head. "He said somewhere in Colorado when he called, but I have no damn clue where he might be now. He said he needed to keep moving."

Castiel shared a look with Gabriel. "That's where we found the demons."

"Probably a search party then," Gabriel replied with a nod. "I wonder if that means Lucifer was somewhere in the vicinity as well."

"There's one way to find out," Bobby said, glancing down at the floor.

"Right," Gabriel said standing up, and gulping the full glass of liquor with a satisfied sound. "Time to get to work," he cracked his knuckles.

"Perhaps I should—" Castiel began but Gabriel cut him off.

"I got this, Cassie. But I'll call you in if we need to play good cop, bad cop."

Castiel tried to protest but Gabriel disappeared, already downstairs. He huffed a sigh, but Bobby said, "Let him do it. The sight of an archangel is probably enough to make any demon piss his pants."

Castiel didn't want to admit how much that comment hurt him. He too used to be able to drive fear into the hearts of demons. Now he was just a falling angel who couldn't even smite anymore. He recalled being captured by Lucifer in the ring of holy fire while his demon, Meg, taunted him, calling him 'impotent'. Well, he was, he could hardly use half his powers. He hadn't even been able to heal himself after Zachariah's tortures.

"I thought you said Gabriel wouldn't join this fight," Bobby continued, when he didn't reply, casting a sidelong glance at Castiel.

The angel flattened his lips into a thin line. "I was surprised myself. I'm still not entirely sure I trust him."

Bobby set down a book he had been flipping through to turn his full attention to Castiel. "He is your brother."

"So is Zachariah, and yet he continually finds opportunities to torture me—and not in the traditional ways of sibling rivalry," Castiel replied bitterly, remembered pain from the last session with the higher angel dancing across his chest.

"Yeah, but Gabriel is the one here helping you when he doesn't have to." Castiel glanced up, eyes narrowing as Bobby shook his head. "I'm just saying, maybe you should give him a chance. He's the only game we got right now."

Castiel sighed and slumped down onto the couch. "I know. And I am—giving him a chance. It's just…been so many years—centuries—since I've seen him. I'm just…I'm not sure how to make this work anymore."

Bobby leveled an understanding look at him. "Well, Sam and Dean spent four years apart and came back good as new, working the family business again. That's how family is, Cas. They can be a pain in the ass, and there's always gonna be some that you can never like and can never forgive—trust me. But true family is always there for you through thick and thin."

"But he wasn't," Castiel gritted out, stiffening as he recalled his first real reprimand from Zachariah—not long at all after Gabriel left heaven, as if he had just been waiting for Gabriel to be out of the picture before tormenting the younger angels. Even though the memory was slightly fuzzy, Castiel could remember the distinct feeling of being abandoned by Gabriel. The archangel had always interceded for the younger angels when they did something to displease Zachariah, and when he left…well, things got a lot more strict, and they didn't always get off so lightly. He knew he shouldn't blame Gabriel for that, but still. He couldn't deny that it had hurt him as a young warrior who was thrown among the wolves, so to speak, without the brother he looked up to to act as his protector anymore, to share knowledge and guide him in his duties.

"Family makes mistakes too—hell, I know that more than anyone," Bobby said grimly, a sadness creeping into his voice that told of many things Castiel wasn't going to ask about. "But if I've learned anything, it's that if they come back for you, trying to do better, then you're an idjit to push them away. Family don't last forever, Cas. You gotta appreciate them while they're still around."

Castiel looked over at the older hunter, and nodded slightly. "I do realize that. And I am…grateful to have him back. Sometimes I just wonder if looking back is ever for the best."

"Well, you won't know until you give it a shot, and hope it doesn't come back to bite you in the ass later," Bobby told him.

Castiel offered a small thin-lipped smile and then said. "I think I may have a way to contact Sam and Dean. Perhaps if Sam can tell me where he is, Gabriel and I can go to him."

Bobby frowned. "How?"

"I can enter their dreams. All I have to do is wait until they're asleep, and then I should be able to talk to them."

Bobby nodded. "It's worth a shot, I guess."

Gabriel strode back into the room at that moment and Castiel looked up at him expectantly.

"Well?" Bobby asked.

"He's not talking yet, but I'm going slow, letting him get a false sense of security. He'll talk eventually, if he knows what's good for him."

Castiel nodded and then felt something tug at his subconscious. He closed his eyes and listened.

"Cas?" Bobby asked him.

He opened his eyes and looked over at the hunter again. "I believe Dean is falling asleep. I will try to talk to him now."

Bobby nodded and Castiel closed his eyes again and tried to connect with Dean's subconscious, eager to find out if Dean could tell him where Lucifer was keeping him.

Of course he was also anxious to find what state his friend might be in. Still, one way or another he had to know, and time was running out for all of them.

 

Chapter Text

Castiel found his way into Dean's subconscious easily enough, and looked around, startled, but not surprised, to see that the dreamscape resembled hell. Screams sounded in the distance and shadows were cast by flickering torches scattered around as Castiel looked for Dean, wondering with some trepidation whether the elder Winchester would be the tortured or the torturer in this particular nightmare.

When he caught sight of Dean on the rack though, he realized it was the former. The hunter was strapped spread-eagled on the rusty, blood-crusted plank, clothes tattered and bloody, as Alastair stood over him with his razor, currently slipping it into the flesh between two of Dean's ribs as the hunter screamed.

"Come on, Dean, you can do better than that," Alastair chided and dug the blade deeper. "Have you forgotten everything? You know what I like best; what do you say we go more… guttural next time?"

Dean shuddered and whimpered, eyes following the track of Alastair's blade as the demon trailed it down toward Dean's stomach, before he dug the blade in with sheer delight, ready to gut him.

"Dean," Castiel called, forcing himself toward his friend, reminding himself this was just a dreamscape and he was not really in hell again looking for the Righteous Man.

Dean's head whipped over to him, and Alastair faded and slipped away as Dean's focus fell on Castiel. "C-Cas?"

"It's actually me, Dean," the angel assured him.

"You're in my head?" Dean asked, glancing around suddenly as if ashamed. The straps that held him disintegrated too, but he made no move to get off the rack.

"Yes, and we probably don't have a lot of time," Castiel said urgently, looking around. "Do you know where Lucifer has you?"

Dean stared at him. "I-I don't know."

"Is there anything you can tell me? Anything you remember?"

"It's—some old warehouse I think, or factory," Dean said. "Could be anywhere."

"I will find you, Dean," Castiel said earnestly.

"Look for Sammy," Dean said urgently. "He's free, Lucifer sent demons after him…"

"Oh, looks like we have a visitor."

Castiel spun around to see Lucifer standing in Dean's mind as well, knowing instantly that he was no trick of Dean's brain. The Winchester inhaled sharply and Castiel instinctively stepped in front of him.

"Hello, Castiel," Lucifer said with an oily smile. "It's good to see you again."

"Lucifer…"

"You're not welcome here," Lucifer told him calmly, striding forward. "Dean Winchester is mine now."

"Cas, go," Dean breathed.

Castiel honestly wasn't sure what Lucifer could do to him inside Dean's head, but the fallen archangel surged forward and grabbed him by the front of his coat, throwing him across the floor. Castiel came to a stop against a wall with a grunt before Lucifer had him again, lifting him up off his feet and slamming his head back against the wall.

"Word of advice, Castiel. Stay away from my things, or you will regret it."

"I will find Dean, and I will kill you if I have to," Castiel said with false bravado. He knew a falling angel like himself would have no chance against Lucifer.

Lucifer pouted mockingly. "Aren't you just adorable. Tell you what. If you can find him, I'll leave you alive long enough to watch the show—front row seats to the apocalypse. But now, I think it's time for Deano here to wake up. Can't have him getting too lazy, after all."

"Cas—!"

Dean and his dream faded as Lucifer threw Castiel backwards into a growing abyss.

~~~~~~~

Castiel cried out, eyes flying open and saw he was in Bobby's study again. He nearly fell off the couch as he went to clutch his head, the splitting headache a shock to him.

"Cas? Cassie, hey." He heard Gabriel and felt his brother's hands on his shoulder and flat against his chest, keeping him from falling onto his face. "You good, kiddo?"

Castiel tried to shrug him off, blinking through the dissipating headache. "I'm fine."

Gabriel didn't look convinced, though he did let go of Castiel after he settled him back more firmly on the couch, even if he stayed crouching beside him. "What happened then?"

"Lucifer joined us," Castiel said ruefully, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Dean doesn't know where he is, but he said he was being kept in an old warehouse somewhere."

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Again with the abandoned warehouses."

Bobby cursed. "Well, that gives us about a billion possibilities."

"No, we just have to make sure we get the right one first," Gabriel said standing up again. "I think it's time I paid our demonic friend another visit."

~~~~~~~

Dean jolted awake as a heel thudded into his cracked ribs and he yelped, curling around his middle, chains clinking as he shifted on the hard concrete floor. He looked up to see Lucifer standing over him, anger clouding his face. Dean knew this was a dangerous look on him and made some poor attempt to scoot backwards across the floor. Lucifer sneered in derision, reaching down and hauling Dean up to his knees.

"Don't get too excited. Your little pet angel won't find us," Lucifer told him.

Dean winced as his body was jostled. The last beating Lucifer gave him with the chain hadn't been the worst by far, but it had been painful, leaving bloody welts all over his body. "I don't know about that, Lucifer. Cas is one tough and determined son of a bitch. He got me out of hell, after all."

Lucifer's eyes trained to the hand-shaped burn scar on Dean's shoulder, which was now visible through his torn t-shirt. "I am aware of that. But keep in mind he was also a full-fledged angel then and had an army to back him up. But even if he still had all his powers he would be no match for me."

Dean swallowed hard, knowing Lucifer was right. He didn't doubt Cas' bravery, but he also knew his friend wouldn't last two minutes in a hand to hand fight against the devil any better than he would, and the thought of seeing Lucifer tear Cas apart made him sick to his stomach.

Lucifer shook his head and dropped Dean back to the ground carelessly. "I need to keep him out of your head. We can't be having any more little conversations behind my back whenever you pass out, can we?" He cocked his head to one side, before he reached down and pressed two fingers to Dean's forehead.

Pain lanced through his skull, making him gasp breathlessly and topple over. It was over in a second, but the dull throb that continued right in the center of his forehead made him grit his teeth and squeeze his eyes shut.

"What the hell?" he ground out.

"Warding sigils, like the ones on your ribs," Lucifer told him. "Angels can't get in your head now, nor will you be able to send prayers to them. Of course, Castiel couldn't hear you even if he wanted to, being cut off from the host, but just in case you try to contact Michael as a last resort…"

"I'm not saying yes to that dick, no matter what you do to me," Dean snarled.

Lucifer shrugged. "Oh, I believe you, but I do know that desperation can make people do some very stupid things. Drive them to things they never would have considered. And things are going to get very desperate for you, Dean, before this is all over."

Dean tried to put on a front of bravado, but he was really getting tired of being tortured. He'd had more downtime between sessions in hell.

He was almost relieved when a demon walked in before Lucifer could come up with his next creative method of torture—until Dean remembered the demons sent after Sam, and his stomach flipped in trepidation.

"My lord," the demon said slowly, and the discomfort on his face suddenly made Dean feel better.

"What?" Lucifer demanded shortly.

The demon shifted. "Well, sir, one of the patrols you sent out was…killed."

Lucifer's eyebrows shot up. "All of them?"

"Yes, my lord. It looked like the work of angels," he said. "Only…"

"What? Spit it out!"

The demon braced himself. "Well, one of the demons was missing. We think he may have been taken prisoner."

Lucifer leveled a cold stare at the demon. "Will he talk?"

The demon hesitated, then said unconvincingly, "He would never betray you, my lord."

"Of course he would, he's a demon. You have no sense of loyalty," Lucifer snarled in disgust. "That's it, we're leaving."

"Wait, what?" Dean asked. "Where are we going?"

"Somewhere, no one will find you," Lucifer told him, reaching down and hauling him up, snapping the chain that was still attached to his manacles from the ceiling before wrapping it around his hand like a dog leash. He turned back to the demon. "Gather a few men to follow me. I'll let you know where I am when I get there. Oh, and in the meantime, set a nice trap here for whatever angels come snooping around. Use all the equipment I gave you. If your friend talks, someone will be by to rescue the damsel in distress sooner or later, and it's probably going to be the insufferable little Castiel. I would dearly love to see the little angel again."

Dean grunted as Lucifer hauled him upright roughly, then got a better grip on him as he led the hunter through the warehouse and up a flight of stairs to a large metal door. Dean could barely walk, his body protesting every movement and jostle, but Lucifer didn't really care, practically carrying him up the stairs and toward the door. He flung it open and Dean was almost blinded by the sudden sunlight before he felt the sickening vertigo of angel travel and they reappeared in a stony area that looked like a giant cave somewhere in who knew where.

Lucifer threw Dean to the ground unceremoniously, and knelt to hammer his lead chain into the hard ground with a nail so he wouldn't be able to go far. Dean was feeling more and more desperate by the minute as he tugged experimentally on his chain. He didn't see himself being able to run from Lucifer, Sam was out there somewhere alone, probably hurt, being hunted by both angels and demons, and Cas was about to walk into a trap and there was no way Dean could warn him.

Lucifer watched him with some satisfaction, seeming to know what he was thinking. "I told you you wouldn't win this one, Dean. You should have listened to me."

Dean slumped against the hard cave floor, letting the coldness sink into his body and relieve the aches and pains a bit. Then he shut his eyes and tried to pretend that everything wasn't screwed to hell.

~~~~~~~

Sam knew sleep would be impossible now, in fact, he wasn't planning on sleeping again until he found Dean and did something about Lucifer. He couldn't stand the thought of the devil being in his head again when he was vulnerable in sleep.

So, he just wouldn't sleep.

He rubbed his eyes in exhaustion as he tried to hydrate himself and got some more food into his stomach. He was feeling a little better, a little stronger now that he'd had nourishment, but his body was still aching, and he knew that his rescue mission was going to have to run on adrenaline alone because he didn't have much else.

He looked out the window of the abandoned house he had holed up in, seeing the glow of dawn on the horizon and knowing it was probably about time he move on. Lucifer probably had demons out to get him, and he knew Zachariah was still looking for him, so running as fast as he could was his only option.

But where would he go? He had no idea where to find Dean. Lucifer could have him stashed practically anywhere, the surroundings Sam had seen in Lucifer's visions told him literally nothing. He began to wonder whether it might be a good idea to let Lucifer contact him at least one more time and demand a meeting point. Of course, if Lucifer did agree, Sam had no idea how he was going to get Dean away without saying yes to Lucifer, and even then, despite Lucifer's promises, Sam wasn't stupid enough to think that the fallen archangel wouldn't kill Dean in an instant and make sure Sam knew about it.

Sam shuddered at the thought of Lucifer using his own hands to kill Dean. No, there was no way Sam could let that happen. He would never say yes, never let Lucifer in. He was just going to have to find Dean himself. Track Lucifer somehow, look for omens maybe. Maybe he should call Bobby again and see if he could help. Maybe Cas would show up, but Sam was seriously worried about the angel. If Zachariah still had him, Sam didn't even want to think about what that asshole was doing to his friend, especially since he no longer had Sam to take out his anger on.

No, in reality, Sam knew he was screwed no matter which way he looked at it. The only thing he could do now was make sure that none of the people he cared about died for him. He was done with that.

Decision made, he started to pack up his stolen duffle bag again, rolling the sleeping bag and giving his wounds a cursory check. There was some blood seeping through the gauze he had taped over the wounds, but he couldn't be bothered to worry about that right now. Most of them were probably infected or on their way to being so already, but he could collapse later when he had Dean and Cas back safe and sound; until then he was just going to exercise sheer will to keep himself on his feet.

He threw his stuff into the truck and hit the road again, still with no real destination in mind. He figured he could drive to the next town, maybe find a library where he could do a little research to look for omens.

But first, he needed to gas up the truck and also grab some food, preferably a cup of coffee. Or three.

He drove a few more miles before he pulled off the highway into a small town and pulled into the first gas station he came across. He parked the truck at the pump, grabbed some money out of the duffle bag, and went inside to pay for the gas and grab some breakfast.

The place was open, but he frowned slightly as he realized that there was no one at the register. But the cashier was probably just in the back or something. Sam figured that by the time he had finished getting his breakfast someone should be back.

He was filling up a large cup of coffee and eyeing a case of danishes nearby when he heard the door open with a cheery ring. He didn't think much of it, until he heard several pairs of feet tromp through the small store, spreading out in a systematic way. Sam quickly ducked down the farthest aisle, thinking he was probably just paranoid—hoping he was.

But then he heard one of the people speak. "I thought I saw him come in here."

"He's giant, he can't really escape notice," another voice scoffed.

Sam's breath caught in his throat, knowing then that these must be demons out looking for him. Or angels. Neither scenario was good.

He glanced toward the door and decided to try and make a beeline for it, crouched low behind the shelves, but one of his pursuers had obviously thought of that, because Sam was cut off as soon as he rounded the aisle by a large man with a smirk on his face.

"Winchester," he said, sounding pleased. His eyes flicked black. Demons then.

Sam instinctively reached for a weapon before he realized he didn't have his demon knife, or an angel blade, or even any holy water. He was screwed.

He swallowed nervously and took a step back, wondering if he could grab some salt, but quickly spun around as he heard footsteps behind him to see two more demons approaching, one wearing a vest and nametag, obviously the store clerk.

"What's the rush, Sam?" one asked tauntingly. "Trust me, the only place you're going is with us. Our boss wants to see you."

"Yeah?" Sam inquired, raising his eyebrows. "Well, you can tell him to go to hell."

The big demon who was blocking the door smirked, striding toward the hunter. "You can tell him yourself. I'm sure he'd rather hear it from you. By the way, your brother, not doing so good last time I saw him, but boy, he sure does scream pretty."

"Shut up!" Sam lunged at the demon, unable to stop his gut reaction, but one of the others caught him from behind, arms hooked into Sam's, wrenching his arms behind his back. Sam cried out as his copious wounds protested.

The big demon strode forward, reaching out to grab Sam's face in one meaty hand. "Now, don't be like that, Sam. We don't want to hurt you—unless we have to. So just come quietly."

A sudden thought—a royally stupid thought—came into Sam's head. But he figured he was screwed either way, so he may as well try it. He smirked at the demon. "You should know by now that Winchesters don't do anything quietly."

Then he looked up and shouted. "Hey, Zachariah, come get me!" and sent a mental image of where he was, hoping he got through angel radio or whatever.

The demon slammed a fist into his gut and the other tossed Sam to the floor as he doubled over with a gasp, clutching his already broken ribs.

"You little bastard," the demon snarled at him.

But he didn't get a chance to say anything else. The lights in the gas station started flickering and several popped as a wind blew through the door, slamming it open.

The demons all turned just in time to see Zachariah blow in, his face red with rage. Sam staggered to his feet, edging away from the two parties about to converge. The angel's eyes instantly fell on him.

"Sam. There you are, you little maggot. I will make you pay for what you did."

"That's our prisoner, featherduster," the big demon said, thrusting his chest out in self-importance. "We're taking him directly to Lucifer and you can't stop us."

"Oh, I can't, can I?" Zachariah scoffed and raised his hand.

Sam didn't stop to watch. He forced his legs to work and threw himself into the back room of the store and out the back door. He raced for the truck and jumped in, the sounds of a supernatural struggle and demons screaming blocked out as he slammed the door shut and gunned the truck out of the parking lot and down the road, ignoring the speed limit entirely. Thankfully it was still early and there weren't that many people out and about.

He didn't relax his death grip on the steering wheel until he was several miles away and back on the highway. He took a trembling breath, adrenaline still pumping through his veins as he thought about how close a call that had been. Yes, he needed to get to Lucifer, but he was going to do it on his own terms.

He just had to avoid capture long enough to do that.

~~~~~~~

Castiel and Bobby waited silently as they listened to the demon screaming from the basement below. Castiel was on edge, hands clenched in his trench coat, as he thought about how they would get Dean away from Lucifer even if they were able to find out where he was being kept. Lucifer wasn't so stupid as to think he wouldn't be expecting them to come at some point in the near future. That meant he would be ready for them, try to trap them. Of course, Castiel was fairly certain he still didn't know about Gabriel's involvement. That may play to their favor.

The screams finally stopped and Gabriel emerged a few seconds later, a satisfied expression on his face. Castiel stood expectantly.

"Well?" Bobby demanded.

"Got a location, as I told you I would," Gabriel said, cocking his head to one side. "It's an old abandoned factory in Detroit."

Castiel's blood chilled at the mention of the city. He recalled what Dean had told him after Zachariah had sent him into the future to see the destruction wrought by his failure to say yes to Michael. In the future Lucifer had told him Sam would say yes to him in Detroit. He must have been planning for Sam to come there all along.

Bobby also looked uneasy. "You sure?"

Gabriel looked slightly offended. "Oh, trust me, he wasn't lying. I made sure of that." He scrunched his face up. "Eh, sorry in advance about the mess I left. I promise to clean it up if we don't die."

Bobby grunted, but turned to Castiel. "Just go get Dean, and be careful. If you two bite it, no one is getting those idjits out of this mess."

"I promise I'll get them both back, Bobby," Castiel told the old hunter firmly. "No matter what."

"That mean you're ready to go then, kiddo?" Gabriel asked him. "Cause I think sooner rather than later is the best bet for Deano."

Castiel swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes. Let's go."

He followed Gabriel into the ether and within minutes they appeared outside of the address the demon had given them. Castiel raised his hand to reveal the concealing sigils.

"This looks like the place. Can we get in?"

Gabriel studied the sigils. "Lucifer must get in and out. These are more for hiding and concealment than keeping people out once they manage to find it. He's too big-headed to let that bother him."

"Which obviously means he has enough demon guards to make him comfortable," Castiel said grimly, slipping his blade into his hand. "Do you sense him?"

Gabriel furrowed his brow for a second before answering. "No. But that doesn't mean he's not in there. What about you? Getting anything from your special Dean sonar?"

Castiel reached out to search for his friend through their connection, but could feel nothing. Worry gnawed at his stomach. "No."

Gabriel glanced at him with something akin to reassurance. "Don't worry, Cas. I'm sure it's just the warding. Now, come on." He drew his own blade and strode toward the door.

Castiel was right on his heels, wary all of a sudden.

As soon as they stepped in the door he knew something was wrong, but it was too late for him to shout a warning because they were already surrounded by a bunch of demons. Worse still, they had stepped over a sigil on the way through the door that had knocked out their power.

"Well, crap," Gabriel muttered.

Castiel leveled an 'I told you so' stare at him, which the archangel returned with an indignant glare. "What? It's not like I planned on this."

"Exactly, which was the problem," Castiel hissed.

The demons stepped forward, grins on their faces as they began to surround the two angels. Castiel made mental calculations. There were at least a dozen of them, too many for him and Gabriel to take down without their powers. His anger at Gabriel's overconfidence and lack of planning strengthened.

"Well, well," one of the demons said with a smile. "What have we here? Two birdies caught in a trap. Won't Lucifer be pleased."

Gabriel and Castiel traded another glance and Castiel turned away with a sigh, relinquishing his blade as the demons came to take them prisoner. This was just getting worse and worse.

~~~~~~~

Gabriel protested continuously as the demons manhandled them into manacles, shoving him and Castiel back to back and hooking their manacles to a chain above their heads. Yeah, so not the heroic rescue he had planned.

"Hey, hands off the merchandise, bucko," Gabriel snapped as a demon got too friendly with him as he was searching for weapons.

The demon sneered and punched him in the face, which only caused Gabriel's head to snap backwards and slam into the back of Castiel's. The other angel grunted in protest.

"Shut up," the demon said.

Another demon hauled the chain they were attached to upward, until Castiel's feet were only scraping the floor. Unfortunately, because of his and Gabriel's height differences, the archangel was left fully dangling above the ground.

"I really should have picked a taller vessel," he grumbled, wriggling like a hooked fish and feeling all kinds of humiliated.

"This isn't exactly fun for me either," Castiel grunted. "But it would be easier if you stopped struggling."

Gabriel huffed, and then watched as another demon came along, pouring something in a circle around them. "Oh, no, guys, come on. Holy oil? Really? Man, Luci really pulls out all the stops, doesn't he?"

The demon's only response was to smirk as he lit a match and tossed it to the floor, which lit the circle of holy oil so that it flared up, hot and bright around the captured angels.

"That's rights, birdies, you're not going anywhere," the demon said, obviously pleased with himself. "Lucifer is going to be so pleased when he hears we have you."

"Yeah? Well, I'd actually like to see Lucifer. Been a while since my bro and I caught up," Gabriel said. "How about we have that meeting now instead of me having to look at his butt-ugly demon lackeys for eternity."

"Gabriel, what are you doing?" Castiel hissed behind him.

"Relax bro, I got this," Gabriel said with a winning smile that Castiel couldn't see.

The demon laughed. "Oh, Lucifer has no interest in you two right now. He's off dealing with more important matters. But don't worry, I'm sure he'll stop by at some point to show off his new vessel. He wouldn't want you to miss the final showdown."

Gabriel felt Cas stiffen against his back, yanking at the chains. "Sam Winchester will never say yes," he growled.

The demon laughed and rounded the ring of fire so he could see Castiel now. Gabriel tensed, hoping his little brother could keep his cool. "Oh, but little Sammy would do anything for his big brother, and you should see what Lucifer has done to Dean. And the things he has planned…well, they would make anyone say yes."

Gabriel grunted in protest as Castiel yanked his chains again, as if he could actually break them and get across the ring of holy fire to strangle the demon. "I will not let that happen! As long as I draw breath, Sam and Dean will not be used in this fight!"

"Cas, shut up," Gabriel muttered.

The demon chuckled again. "Well, I'm afraid you'll have to break your promise. I know Lucifer will want to keep you alive at least long enough to see your darling human pets succumb to their destiny. He's certainly not gonna let you miss watching him tear Dean apart once he has Sam's body. None of us want to miss that."

Gabriel felt himself wrenched backwards as Castiel lunged in his chains with a hopeless growl. The demon taunting them laughed and sauntered away.

"Stay cozy, we'll be back later for some fun. Maybe see how many pretty feathers we can pluck from your wings, eh?"

The rest of the demons followed, throwing meaningful leers, and taunts over their shoulders at the two angels. Gabriel sighed in exasperation. They were so screwed. He felt Cas still trembling in rage and turned his head to see his little brother out of his periphery.

"Hey, Castiel, you need to cool down," he said sternly. "They want to make you upset; you can't let them get to you."

"This is all your fault!" Castiel snapped suddenly, turning his head too so that Gabriel could see one of his eyes glaring darkly at him. "If you had planned better, we wouldn't be in this mess."

"Well, excuse me, but you could have pitched in at any time with suggestions. I just spent all morning torturing a demon to get this location."

"Yes, and did you ever think the reason he gave it up so easily was because there was nothing to hide? That Lucifer had already moved Dean and this was just a trap?"

"Did you?" Gabriel retorted.

Castiel opened his mouth, but snapped it shut again, turning back around, shaking his head. "I knew I never should have accepted your help."

"Oh yeah, because you had so much of a choice," Gabriel said scathingly. "Don't forget I was the one who had to save your ungrateful ass from getting flayed by Zachariah, not to mention carry you to safety and heal your wounds for you. How well do you think you could have handled that group of demons we came across earlier if you were alone, hm? You would be mincemeat by now, or close to it."

"Gabriel, why are you even here?" Castiel demanded in exasperation.

"Um, because I got captured with you, moron!" Gabriel shot back.

"No, why are you helping? It's not like you ever did before!" Castiel was obviously letting out some pent up emotions. Gabriel decided, despite his instinct to return in kind, that he should probably listen if he was working on being more understanding now. "You left Heaven when we needed you most, when I needed you most!" Castiel accused. "You never even had the decency to say goodbye."

Gabriel bit his lip and cast his eyes down to his dangling feet. Yeah, if you put it that way he did kind of come across as sort of a dick.

"And then you show up again out of the blue, torture my friends—and me—and then expect me to trust you when you randomly come to my rescue when you were never there the thousand times I could have used your help before?!"

"Cassie," Gabriel said softly, his little brother's words driving right into his heart despite his attempts to keep that from happening. Damn those stupid emotions.

"Don't," Castiel snapped, obviously wanting to finish. "I rebelled, Gabriel. I fell because I thought I was doing what was right; I still do. But no one was there for me when I needed guidance most. Most of the brothers and sisters who I trusted had turned against me, or were dead. I thought you were dead too and that was almost easier. Because now that I know you're still alive, I have to wonder why you never—"

He stopped, voice wavering and Gabriel felt his body stiffen as if he were trying to hold in a thousand emotions that were threatening to tear him apart.

Gabriel took a deep breath. "Cas, listen to me for a second here. There are a lot of things I regret—I mean Woodstock? Yikes. But one of the things I regret most is leaving you and the others. I couldn't stand to see Lucifer and Michael fight anymore so I ran, but…I guess I never really thought about what it was doing to you younger angels too."

Castiel didn't reply, and Gabriel knew it was probably going to be a while before the kid was even willing to talk to him again. Which, considering the fact that they only had each other for company was going to be a real drag.

Of course, the demons seemed more than willing to converse. They appeared again after Gabriel and Castiel's little heart-to-heart. Kinda embarrassing…

"Aw, looks like the angels are trying to work out their feelings," one of them said, pouting mockingly. "Well, I think we can help with that."

"Yeah, I bet there will be all kinds of feelings after we have our fun with you two," another leered.

Several more demons converged and one brought a long spear, which Gabriel did not like the look of considering it could reach them over the holy fire—obviously the demons' intention. He grinned at them. "Hey fellas, glad you could make it. I was getting a little bored. I mean, you chain me up like this, I'm gonna expect a follow through."

The demon with the spear smirked at him and used the butt end to slam into Gabriel's stomach. The archangel huffed and Castiel grunted as they were both jostled.

"I don't think you'll be disappointed," the demon smirked and raised the spear again, this time pointy end first and leveled it right at Gabriel's eyes.

"Fellas, please, not the face," he half-joked.

"Oh well, we can always find something else to cut off, I suppose," the demon said with a wicked grin.

The archangel gulped and braced himself for a world of hurt—but as long as he could take the brunt of it and keep their attention off of Cas, then he wasn't exactly complaining.

However, before the demon could follow up his threat, a huge banging sounded out through the abandoned factory and Gabriel looked over to the entrance just in time to see the door slammed open with what could only be supernatural force.

For a moment he entertained the idea that it was Lucifer or maybe Michael. That orders had gotten mixed up and Lucifer didn't want him tortured, or Michael had stumbled on them looking for his vessel. But he should have known better. It was neither of Gabriel's brothers who strode through the door.

He did recognize his rescuer though. Goddess of Destruction herself—Kali.

Gabriel watched in fascination as the demons all turned to face the intruder, slack-jawed and having no clue what they were up against. Flames burst across Kali's arms as she strode forward determinedly. Several of the braver demons rushed forward and tried to stop her, but they had no idea what they were up against. She flung two of them against a wall and the third, she grabbed around the throat, burning the skin of his meatsuit. Another demon ran forward with one of the captive angels' blades but Kali caught his wrist and twisted the blade out of his grip before she used it to stab both the demons before going after the others.

In only a matter of a couple minutes, all the demons were either dead or too injured to get up and Kali finally turned her attention to the captives.

Gabriel gulped.

"Kali," he said, his mouth suddenly dry, wary of what her appearance meant.

She strode over to the ring of fire, the angel blade still in her hand and stared up at him. "Hello, Loki."

The inflection on his false name and the look in Kali's eyes told him all he needed to know.

Gabriel slumped in his chains and closed his eyes. "Well, schizzlesticks."

 

Chapter Text

Gabriel watched silently as Kali found a bucket of water and doused the ring of holy fire. He could practically feel the questions Castiel was wanting to ask, but kicked the younger angel in the ankle to keep him quiet. The tenseness in Castiel's shoulders told him the kid was annoyed but let him be. It was better than being dead.

Though Gabriel suspected it was too late for that hope anyway.

Once the fire was gone, Kali stepped toward them, looking up at Gabriel. The archangel figured that a cheeky grin wouldn't be the best thing right now so he asked instead, "How did you find me?"

In answer she reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small hex bag. "A little security. Baldur didn't trust you."

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "That little bastard." He supposed he should have been a little suspicious at how easy it had been to get Kali to give him a goodbye kiss. So much for feeling loved.

Kali raised a hand and clenched it into a fist. Gabriel heard the chains above him creaking and when they suddenly broke, both he and Castiel dropped with a yelp, catching themselves on their hands and knees.

Gabriel didn't have time to recover or ask for Kali to get the manacles off before she had ducked around him and grabbed Castiel. The younger angel grunted in protest as Kali hauled him to his feet, the angel blade pressed against his throat.

"Whoa!" Gabriel cried, jumping up and holding his manacled hands out. "Kali…"

"No harm will come to him if you talk to me," Kali said, though the fact she pressed the blade even harder against Cas' throat didn't exactly lend to that promise.

"Who is this?" Castiel grunted, blue eyes accusing as he looked at Gabriel.

"Just stay quiet, kiddo," Gabriel pleaded and turned back to Kali. "Come on, Kali. Don't hurt the kid, he had nothing to do with this."

"Then you had best get to talking, Gabriel," she said, voice dangerous and scathing.

Gabriel winced at hearing her use his real name. "How did you know?"

She smiled humorlessly. "I've suspected for a while, but it was the way you talked about Michael and Lucifer at the meeting. No one would be that adamant about people they had only met in passing. You know so much about them because they're your brothers."

Gabriel shrugged helplessly in admission. "Guilty. But that doesn't change anything between us."

"Really?" Kali cocked an eyebrow. "So you weren't running off to join them just now?"

Gabriel scoffed, holding up his manacled hands for exhibit A. "Kali, what part of you finding me chained up made you think that? I promise you I am not on the side of either Lucifer or Michael. I never was! Why do you think I left heaven in the first place? I left so I wouldn't be forced to choose sides!"

"Then if you're not a part of it, why were you so quick to offer your services in retrieving the vessels?"

"It's not what you think," Gabriel said.

"I don't know what to think about you anymore!" Kali said, and forced the point of the blade up under Castiel's chin, forcing his head up and causing a drop of blood to drip down his neck. "I will hurt him if you don't talk."

"Okay, Kali, stop!" Gabriel pleaded, holding out his hands again, eyes flicking desperately toward Cas who was standing rigid and uncomfortable in Kali's grip. Gabriel shut his eyes and gave a heavy sigh. "You wanna know the truth? Here it is, and I promise I'm not lying," he said. "Sam and Dean Winchester are probably everyone's best bet of stopping the apocalypse. I don't know how they'll manage it, but they have pulled off stuff before when everyone and everything was against them and still came out—more or less—on top of things. The best thing for everyone is for them to be out there doing what they do best: Being a pain in the ass to any supernatural baddies they come across."

"You were going to just let them go?" Kali demanded, fury rising in her eyes and Cas stiffened in fear. "Our only chance of getting ahead in this insufferable war?"

"Kali, listen to me!" Gabriel pleaded, hoping she wasn't going to stab Cas out of spite. "I told you, and everyone else before, that no matter whether you have Sam and Dean to trade or not, Michael and Lucifer will not let you survive this. You invite them in for a hostage trade and the first thing they will do is kill you and then take the Winchesters from under your corpses. Trust me on this if nothing else. They will make sure you are all dead so you won't be in their way. But if you lie low, and let the Winchesters do what they have to, then maybe we will all have a chance to survive this. At the very least a hell of a better one than if you actually make a play date with Lucifer. And if you think Michael would be any more merciful, you're wrong."

Kali stared at him, not saying anything, but Gabriel thought he saw her reflecting on his words. Hopefully, she would see the sense in them. He continued.

"Kali, no matter whether you choose to believe me or not, I am doing this to protect you and to protect the people in this world." He looked at Cas as he said this too, and noticed the younger angel's eyes were on him. "I'm not gonna let my brothers kill my adoptive family. After everything we have been through together, you gotta at least believe me on that."

Kali stayed silent for another few long seconds before she finally seemed to come to some conclusion and lowered the blade from Castiel's throat, shoving him to the side. Gabriel sagged in relief as he hurriedly stepped forward to pull his brother toward him. Cas shook his hand off his shoulder, but at least he was all right and that was all that mattered.

"Alright, I believe you," Kali said. "But what are we supposed to do then?"

"You stay the hell out of it," Gabriel said firmly.

"And what if the Winchesters fail?" she demanded. "Where are we all then?"

"They will not fail," Castiel said firmly. "Sam and Dean are good men, and they will do everything in their power to stop Lucifer and Michael."

"How can two humans truly stop an apocalypse?" the Indian goddess scoffed.

Castiel shook his head. "They have surprised me countless times with their tenacity. I firmly believe they can win this too."

"He ain't lying," Gabriel had to admit. "They pulled one over on me, and I am the Trickster."

Kali rolled her eyes slightly at him, but seemed to be more convinced. "Fine. Though I do not share your faith in these humans, and despite the fact that you lied to me, I do trust that you know Michael and Lucifer better than anyone. And if you are correct then…thank you for the warning."

Gabriel smiled slightly. "Thanks for the rescue." He held up his manacled hands. "Can you…?"

Kali glared at him, but put her hands on both manacles and within a second they fell away. Gabriel rubbed his wrists as she turned to Castiel and did the same. He cast a look at Castiel then, which the younger angel returned with a glare before Gabriel raised his eyebrows meaningfully. Cas rolled his eyes as he finally got what Gabriel was trying to get across to him, and bent to pick up his angel blade from one of the fallen demons.

"I'll…go see if there are any other demons," he said and quickly turned his back on the two.

Gabriel turned to Kali who was still inspecting the archangel's own blade. That reminded him that he should be careful not to say the wrong thing.

"I'm gonna want that back, you know," he told her, pointing to the blade.

Kali looked up at him again, and finally handed over the blade hilt first, if not reluctantly. Gabriel tucked it into his jacket, admittedly feeling a little safer now that Kali didn't have the one weapon that could kill him. "So…does it bother you that I have wings?" he raised his eyebrows.

Kali gave him a onceover, folding her arms over her chest before cocking her head to one side. "Not as much as I thought it would at first. It was the fact you lied that bothers me most."

"Would it make you feel better to tell you I'm sorry?" Gabriel asked, only receiving a cold glare. "No? Okay, I guess that's what I deserve." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Look, my name may have been a lie, but despite that, I always was me, and you and I—that was all real, Kali. Apart from the role-play, obviously, but…"

"Just stop," she said, holding up a hand, but he thought she didn't seem quite as angry as she was leading him to believe. "I understand that no one could know where and who you were, but why did you never tell me?"

Gabriel was taken aback by that. The thought had truly never even crossed his mind. He had been Loki for so long that for a while, he truly had forgotten who Gabriel was. "I guess…I guess I liked what we had and I didn't want that to end because of who, or of what, I was. Besides, it was a life I had chosen to run away from at the time. I didn't want to think about it myself."

"Why now?" Kali asked. "Why retake your identity now when this would be the best time for you to run?"

Gabriel shrugged. "I guess I just got tired of running. I never stood up to my brothers before—I never really stood up for anything before. I want this fight to be over. I used to think I didn't care how it ended, but then I realized that the humans in this world don't deserve to die because of a fight they aren't even part of. And I guess in part it was those damn Winchesters who made me realize that. Bastards."

Kali nodded slowly. "I suppose I understand. But you do know, that we will stand by you if you need us."

Gabriel smiled, and took the chance to reach out and tuck some hair behind her ear. She didn't slap his hand away so he took that as a good sign. "Aw, you know me, sweetheart, I tend to fight better alone. But I appreciate it. And thanks again for the save."

She stepped closer, a hand descending to touch his wrist before sliding up his arm. "Wouldn't be the first time."

Gabriel smirked down at her and snaked an arm around her waist. "You always were there when I needed you. But now I need to be there for the people who are fighting this thing. And I want you and the others to lie low."

"What should I tell them?" Kali asked.

"I'm sure you'll think of something," he told her and leaned closer until his nose was almost touching hers. "Just do one thing for me."

"What?" she whispered.

"Dump that idiot Baldur," he said.

Kali pulled back and slapped him in the shoulder, but with a lot less force than usual. "You are impossible."

"That's why you love me," he told her with a smirk.

She shook her head but leaned close to him again, lips grazing his ear. "By the way, the wings…I'm definitely not opposed."

Gabriel leaned over to kiss her neck. "What do you say when this is all over, I'll show them to you?"

Kali pulled back slightly to meet his lips with hers, pushing him back against a pillar in the middle of the room. Gabriel pulled her against him and nearly onto her toes as he sighed happily against her mouth.

They were really getting into the kiss, hands wandering everywhere, when he heard someone clear their throat nearby. Kali broke off the kiss and Gabriel looked over her shoulder to see Castiel standing there with a frown, his cheeks slightly red and eyes unsure of where to focus.

Kali stepped away from Gabriel, straightening her clothes. "I suppose I should be going. I have to give the others your warning."

Gabriel sighed, brushing down his mussed hair. "I know. Just try to convince them as well as you can."

Kali nodded. "Be safe. And if you need me, don't hesitate to call." She leaned up to kiss him on the cheek again. "Goodbye. Gabriel."

"Catch you on the flipside," Gabriel told her as he watched her walk out. He then turned to Castiel who still looked less than amused.

"What?" Gabriel demanded.

"You have some…" he motioned to the general area of his face and Gabriel brought a sleeve up to scrub Kali's lipstick off of his cheek and mouth.

"Don't give me the stink eye, it's all completely natural," Gabriel told his younger brother indignantly.

"We have a job to do. Sam and Dean are in danger, we don't have time for your…rendezvous," he said. "We need to find Sam before the demons do, and I have not felt him fall asleep. I think he may be worried Lucifer will contact him. He probably has already."

Gabriel nodded, forcing his upstairs brain into gear again, knowing the kid was right, though he wasn't going to apologize to his little brother. "You got the com, kid."

"Bobby said Sam was in Colorado last time he heard from him," Castiel said. "We should start there."

"Let's go then," Gabriel said and without a word, Castiel walked to the door and leaned over to slash his blade through the power knock-out sigil that was by the door. Gabriel instantly felt his powers rejuvenate, healing the aches and bruises he had sustained. Castiel only gave him a nod before he started flying to their destination. Gabriel refrained from sighing and followed.

Yeah, his conversation with Kali might have gone surprisingly well, considering, but he still had a lot of patchwork to do with Castiel.

~~~~~~~

Dean must have dozed off because he was startled awake by a kick to the back of his head.

"Wakey, waky, Dean," a voice said mockingly. Dean stilled, heart stuttering as, for a moment, the cold hard ground, the chains, and the words, made him think he was back in Hell about to either be put on the rack, or made to torture others already there. But as he looked up and saw Lucifer standing over him, he couldn't decide what was worse. He groaned and rolled onto his back before he remembered the horrible bruising there from his beating. He bit the inside of his cheek to bleeding as the devil looked down at him unimpressed.

"You gotta look alive there, Winchester, we're coming down to it. My demons are closing in on Sammy, and they'll bring him here soon enough. And I'm sure your angel boyfriend has probably already found his way to Detroit, and gotten caught in the trap I left especially for him. Don't worry, I told my demons to leave enough of little Castiel to be able to watch what I make Sam do to you, but you can be sure they'll still have their fun with him. It's not every day they get an angel to play with."

Dean chose not to say anything, knowing it was pointless. It wouldn't make Sam and Cas any safer the more he denied they would get caught.

Lucifer seemed disappointed by his silence and kicked him in the hip. "What's the matter, no snappy B-movie comeback?"

Dean finally met his eyes. "Yeah, thought I'd try something different today. Figured it was your turn to run your mouth; not that you ever needed an invitation."

Lucifer kicked him again, harder, and stepped over him to the mouth of the cave where Dean could see the sunset in the distance. He shivered in the chill of the cave, wishing for some sunlight right about now. He would be lucky if he didn't have hypothermia on top of all his other issues once the night settled in.

He saw Lucifer's shoulders stiffen, and for a moment, he wondered if he had caught sight of something, if Sam had somehow found them, and Dean's stomach clenched sickly at the thought.

"Well, what is it?" Lucifer asked.

A shape materialized out of the twilight, and Dean saw it was a demon. Which could be good or bad. However despite the news the demon was likely to bring there was at least one good thing about the disruption, he realized. And that was that Lucifer was finally not watching him. Dean turned his attention to the metal pin the fallen archangel had secured his chain to the floor of the cave with and started tugging at it, then found a rock that he could use to start prying it up. He didn't really have a good plan for what he would do if he got free, but figured that it would be better than nothing.

"My lord," the demon greeted. "I come with a report."

Lucifer looked the demon up and down. "What happened to you? Did you catch Castiel?"

The demon nodded. "We did, my lord."

Dean's heart went into his throat and he caught his knuckles on the rock, scraping them painfully. He winced but kept at it. After all, Cas would have a better chance if he could get free.

"And?" Lucifer prompted.

"Well, sir, there were some…complications." The demon shifted uncomfortably.

"What kind of complications?" Lucifer demanded.

Dean listened with bated breath, hoping that Cas had somehow managed to get away. The pin started to ease out of the rock and Dean felt desperate exhilaration rush through him as he worked more determinedly.

"Well, it was him and another angel, and we caught them well enough, but then this crazy chick tore into the place and took out most of the other demons and rescued the prisoners. I was lucky to live."

"Excuse me, you said a 'crazy chick'? Who could have possibly done that?"

"Not an angel," the demon said surely. "Don't know what she was, but she knew what she was doing."

Dean frowned but decided that any crazy chick who could get Cas out of trouble wasn't that terrible. Maybe the angel had found an ally after all. And on that subject, who was the other angel Cas was with? It wasn't like he had a ton of allies in the God Squad.

"So, let me get this straight," Lucifer said, holding up a hand. "You had Castiel and this other angel safe and secure, and then this woman comes in and takes out all of your comrades and rescues the angels on top of it?"

Dean could hear the demon swallow from where he was. "Y-yes, my lord. That's how it happened."

Lucifer sighed. "It is so hard to get good help these days." Then he pulled out his angel blade and stabbed the demon in the throat. Dean watched in horror as Lucifer bent to drink the blood spurting out, obviously needing another pick-me-up—his vessel had been looking pretty bad of late. Dean used this distraction to pull the pin the rest of the way out, and then cast another look at his captor, seeing he was still occupied with his demon blood energy drink.

He used the pin to cut his palm, and hurriedly attempted to draw a banishing sigil again. Maybe this time, he could make it…

Of course, he could never be that lucky. Lucifer dropped the body, and turned around with blood covering his mouth and the front of his shirt. Dean froze and Lucifer's eyes went instantly toward his hands. Dean swallowed hard, knowing he was screwed, as Lucifer's eyes turned red and a snarl curled his lip.

"Oh, Dean. I warned you not to do that," he snarled as he strode forward.

"Just kidding," Dean stuttered out with a half-hearted grin before Lucifer was on him. He flicked a hand and Dean was thrown backwards, plastered against a huge rock in the cave, his back bent over it uncomfortably in a completely vulnerable position.

"You little, filthy pissant!" Lucifer snarled, grabbing Dean by the throat and slamming his head against the rock for good measure. "You just will not stop! Well, this time, I'll make you stop." He picked Dean up by the front of his torn t-shirt, ripping it further, and threw him against the wall of the cave.

Dean went down hard, all the breath knocked out of him. Lucifer strode over and lifted a foot before Dean could curl up to protect himself and brought his heel down on Dean's collar bone, snapping it with a loud crack. Dean screamed as the pain and shock tore through him, making him unable to ready himself for the next set of blows that came.

"You will be grateful when I let you die, Dean," Lucifer told him, thumping a foot into his stomach so hard, Dean was slammed back against the wall. This was followed by several more brutal kicks to his abdomen before Dean was sure he felt something vital give deep inside of him and finally got the sense to curl up and protect his midriff. Lucifer just kicked him in the legs instead until Dean was nearly unconscious and practically beyond caring what happened to him anymore.

Finally Lucifer reached down and grabbed him by the back of his shirt, hauling him up. The agony that tore through Dean's body made his stomach heave, but all that came up was some blood-tinged bile. He coughed miserably, unable to stop Lucifer from hauling him outside the cave into the dying light. His legs wouldn't work so Lucifer dragged him to where he wanted to take him, and then dropped Dean on some rocks like he was baggage. Dean curled in on himself with a whimper before Lucifer grabbed the chain attached to his manacles and started dragging him a few more feet.

"I'll make sure you don't run away again," he said. "And this, if nothing else, should make little brother come running."

Dean was in too much of a haze of pain to realize what Lucifer was doing until he felt his legs dangling off of something. He cracked his eyes open and realized he was on the edge of a cliff. Panic surged up and took some of the pain away as he struggled against the devil.

"No," he breathed. "Please don't."

Lucifer smirked at his distress and grabbed both of his wrists, wrapping the extra chain tightly around them, before taking his weight completely and dangling Dean's entire body over the precipice. Dean couldn't breathe, heart pounding in his throat, black spots coming over his vision.

"Word of advice. Don't try to get out of this one, Dean. You won't like the results."

Lucifer lowered him down until his body was completely hanging off the side of the cliff. Dean's broken collarbone was on fire, but he couldn't even think of that anymore. All he could think about was the hundreds of feet of nothing but air below him his dangling feet. The chains tightened around his wrists, and he was almost glad for the security even though it was painful. Lucifer finally drove another pin into the rock above Dean's head, keeping the chain that bound him secure.

Dean shuddered as Lucifer crouched down to stroke his head mockingly. "Sleep tight, Dean. Hopefully, for your sake, Sammy will be here by morning." Then he stood, making sure to kick some rocks down on Dean in the process and left.

Dean shuddered, breathing raggedly, vertigo nearly making him pass out—he wished it would. His cheeks were wet with tears of horror, but he didn't even care. Heights were one of his worst irrational fears. He didn't think he'd ever been so terrified in his entire life.

He hated himself for even thinking it, but he almost hoped that Sam would show up.

"C-Cas?" he choked out, before he remembered the sigils that Lucifer had branded his skull with. And Cas' falling state that wouldn't allow him to hear Dean's prayer anyway.

Dean hadn't felt this alone and terrified since he'd died and woken up in hell.

~~~~~~~

The sun had sunk beyond the horizon by the time Sam finally pulled over into a rest stop, exhaustion in every inch of his tall frame. He turned the truck off and just sat with his hands on the steering wheel, his head lowered to rest against them as he took several deep breaths. He didn't want to do this, but he had no other choice. What was the harm really? He knew he wouldn't say yes to Lucifer…in his head or otherwise, and if contacting the devil could tell him where Dean was, well, he was all out of other options.

"Okay," he muttered, then louder. "Okay, you son of a bitch, let's talk." Then he lay back in the seat and closed his eyes.

He was so tired it took him only moments to slip off into sleep, and as soon as he did he was standing on a mountaintop somewhere and Lucifer was right in front of him, smiling in an infuriatingly knowing way.

"Sam," he said. "I'm so glad you decided to talk."

"This isn't a chat," Sam snarled, stepping toward him until only a few feet separated them. "This is a negotiation. Tell me where you want to meet."

Lucifer cocked an eyebrow, obviously in no hurry. "Are you telling me you're ready to consent to me?"

Sam clenched his jaw, shifting on his feet. "I'm going to save my brother."

A small smile turned up one side of Lucifer's mouth. "That's good, Sam. But you do know the price required, don't you?"

Sam shook his head, trying to rein in his anger, giving a Dean-worthy smirk. "I'm not that easy."

Lucifer was in front of him in a second, one hand resting on his shoulder before slowly traveling down Sam's arm. Sam shivered at the touch and only refrained from pulling away because Lucifer had his other hand in the front of his jacket, keeping him there. "There's only one way to end this, Sam. You know that. You know I won't give Dean up unless you give me what I want."

"And I know you'll just kill Dean anyway once you have me," Sam snapped.

"Now, don't be like that," Lucifer said with a pout, shaking Sam slightly. "I care about you, Sam, I will craft you into a better, stronger, you so together we can rule the world. How does that sound?"

"Like a lie," Sam said firmly.

A dark look passed through Lucifer's eyes as he suddenly reached up and grabbed the back of Sam's neck, spinning him around to look out over the mountains. "Maybe it is, maybe it isn't," he said. "But this is the truth here and now, Sam. Look over there and tell me what you see."

Sam swallowed hard and did as he was told, scanning the scenery where Lucifer was pointing. He frowned as he caught sight of something that was obviously not supposed to be there, but it took him a moment to actually recognize what it was.

When he did, he couldn't help his cry of horror.

"Dean! Oh god!" Dean was hanging off the side of the cliff with nothing but a chain to keep him from falling to the rocks hundreds of feet below.

Lucifer was chuckling with delight. "See, Sam? At any moment I could just decide to cut the chain and, whoops… no more Dean Winchester. And if he dies, you know what will happen, don't you?" Sam's skin crawled as Lucifer leaned close to speak into his ear. "He'll go to Heaven, right into Michael's clutches. And there will be no way to get him back then. Michael will do whatever it takes to get him to say yes, and they can be creative up there. You can probably ask your little friend Castiel about that."

Sam took a shuddering breath, closing his eyes so he no longer had to see his brother in that perilous position. "Where?"

"Is that a yes?" Lucifer asked.

"Not yet," Sam growled, finally shoving him away. "You won't get anything from me until Dean is off that mountain and somewhere safe. But I will come to you." The words tasted like poison in his mouth. He had no idea how he was going to get out of this, but he was going to do everything he could. And hopefully, he would be able to kill the devil in the process.

"Very well, I can respect those terms," Lucifer told him. "I'm at Devil's Head, Colorado."

"Original," Sam muttered, but was glad he was only a few hours away.

Lucifer smirked. "Now Sam, don't leave Dean on this cliffhanger. I expect to see you tomorrow bright and early." He reached up and touched Sam's forehead, and everything went blank.

~~~~~~~

Sam jolted awake with a gasp, again with that cold feeling he always had when Lucifer entered his dreams. Frantically, he searched in the glove box of the truck for a road map to find Devil's Head. Once he located it and tracked his rout, he started the truck and was out of there as quickly as possible.

He was running out of time before the demons and Zachariah closed in on him but at least now he had a destination. Dean was also running out of time, and Sam hoped that he wouldn't be too late to save his brother.

He also hoped he wouldn't have to break all the faith Dean had in him to do it.

 

Chapter Text

Castiel couldn't help the anger that coursed through him. He wasn't even sure why he was so angry, he was just…tired. He was tired of his friends being in danger, tired of being too weak to help them, and tired of Gabriel trying to make excuses for what he had done in the past as if it changed anything at all. As if it could help anything that had happened now.

"Hey, let's take a breather," he heard his brother say.

Castiel wanted to protest but the truth was he was flagging—which Gabriel had probably noticed. His wings were aching from exertion and if he continued for too much longer, he was probably going to crash into a mountain or a tall building or something. So he followed Gabriel and lighted down in a patch of woods that was currently unoccupied in the cool grey of early night. He winced as he stretched his wings out, feeling the muscles trembling from the overexertion.

Gabriel cast a sideways glance at him and reached out a hand. "You need some pep, kid?"

Castiel sidestepped his touch, rolling his shoulders briskly to help alleviate the ache. "I'm fine," he said sharply.

Gabriel sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Okay, talk to me, Cas."

"About what?" Castiel growled.

"About what's eating you," Gabriel demanded, crossing his arms. "Look, I get that you're pissed, but can you at least explain why?"

Castiel spun around, jaw clenched. "You shouldn't have to ask."

Gabriel huffed, shaking his head. "Is it because Kali held you hostage? Because, I admit it, that was on me. I didn't know she would show up, but she did save us, and she is an ally."

"This isn't about your girlfriend," Castiel snapped. "Though you did not have to engage in…making…out…while we have a mission."

Gabriel shrugged. "Hey, that's just how I roll, kid, I'm not gonna apologize for that. I am a dashing hero after all—it has its perks with the ladies."

"And that's exactly my problem," Castiel informed him.

Gabriel raised his eyes. "Hey, if you want to get laid, I make a good wingman too—"

"Gabriel, stop!" Castiel demanded, taking a step forward, hands clenching into fists at his sides. "It's that that's the problem. Your inability to take anything seriously. Is everything a joke to you?"

"It's better than sitting around moaning, isn't it?" Gabriel asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Some of us don't have that luxury," Castiel growled.

Gabriel finally sobered and he leveled a more serious gaze at Castiel. "Did you ever think that maybe I keep this up to keep myself from going places I don't want to go?"

"You mean as an avoidance tactic?" He knew about that well enough with Dean. But he also knew that Dean had problems sharing his emotions verbally, even though anyone could clearly see them written across his face with every false smile. Gabriel wasn't quite so easily read.

Gabriel shrugged. "Sure, if you wanna call it that."

Castiel shook his head with a bitter chuckle. "You don't even know, Gabriel. You have no idea what we went through. Michael and Lucifer's fighting was bad, but after Lucifer was banished, the higher angels cracked down on all of us. Any hint of rebellion or thinking outside the box, was beaten out of us and we had no one to stand up for us anymore. Though now I wonder if you would have, even if you had stayed."

Gabriel frowned. "Cas, you can't mean that. You know what I did for you and the others."

"Exactly my point. You know what happened after you left, after we joined the garrison?" Cas demanded. "You remember Anna?"

Gabriel nodded. "Yeah, of course, she was a spunky kid, thought she'd go places."

"She tried," Castiel said bitterly. "But she took a step too far, and they punished her. So she cut out her own grace and fell. And then when she got it back and tried to help in the coming apocalypse, Uriel dragged her back to heaven and tortured her until she broke. She went mad, decided to go back in time to kill John and Mary Winchester so Sam would never be born. She's dead."

He saw the hurt and sadness on Gabriel's face and was almost glad he had got some of his point across.

"Cassie, I'm sorry," Gabriel told him quietly, but Castiel shook his head. He wasn't done yet.

"You know what happened the first time I even thought of helping Sam and Dean? When I tried to warn them about what the angels really had planned—once I had finally figured it out myself? I got ripped from my vessel and Zachariah spent hours 'reeducating' me and you know what that means. He made me betray my promise to my vessel to protect his family, nearly got him killed before I could get back to him. He made me cast my friends away, go against them when I knew in my heart helping them in their fight was the right thing to do, and I almost didn't see what I had done wrong and when I did, it was too late and I will never forgive myself for that. Sam may feel the guilt of letting Lucifer free, but the truth is, it's on me, and it always will be. I knew what would happen, and I couldn't work up the courage to say what needed to be said."

Gabriel was silent, his look unreadable. But Castiel was letting everything out now so he may as well continue. "We needed you, Gabriel. Michael and Raphael were always tyrants at heart and I know you know that. We needed you to balance them out, especially since Father was no where to be found, to offer us guidance." He felt emotion building in his chest, threatening to choke him, but he somehow managed to continue. "You know, when Zachariah was trying to erase my defiance—I don't remember much, but I do remember that in my delirium, as a last resort, I even called out to you for help. Even though I knew you wouldn't come."

His voice finally broke and he turned away from his brother, unable to look him in the eye anymore. Castiel couldn't understand the violence of his emotions but they were there. Probably a product again of his fallen state, but maybe it was just finally a realization of his pent up anger about so many things.

"You were one of the few I always knew I could count on," Castiel whispered after a long beat. "But when I realized that I couldn't even count on you…I think that hurt most of all."

He heard Gabriel's footfalls as the archangel strode around to stand in front of him again, reaching out to clasp his shoulders with an earnest expression.

"Okay, first of all, I admit to all those sins," he said sincerely and Castiel raised his eyes to look at him. "And I do understand why you are pissed now, so that's something. But I also have to ask—is there anything I can do to make up for it? I know sorry isn't enough even though I am. Completely, totally, and undeniably sorry. I can grovel if you want me to." He quirked his eyebrows. "On my knees, on my face even—kiss your feet, the whole nine."

Castiel huffed and rolled his eyes. "You're too dramatic," he said but without any real accusation.

"That's how I roll," Gabriel repeated from earlier with a small smile. He took one hand and reached up to cup the side of Castiel's neck. "Cassie, you're my little brother, you know I love you. If I didn't I wouldn't be here right now helping you find those two insufferable mudmonkeys. And I am sorry that I wasn't there for you and the others. If I could do it again, I would do anything to make sure history didn't repeat itself. Truly. Like I said before, it's one of my biggest regrets, and I have a crapton of those, believe me. I know I can't fix what happened, but I can at least keep it from happening again, and that is starting right now."

Castiel took an unsteady breath, seeing the sincerity in his brother's eyes.

"Can you give me a second chance?" Gabriel asked.

Castiel swallowed hard and gave a jerky nod. "Of course. That's…that's what family does, isn't it?"

Gabriel smiled broadly and clasped Castiel's shoulder tighter. "It is, kiddo."

Castiel offered a small smile. "Thank you. For helping me."

Gabriel shrugged. "Eh, you know me. Can't pass up an opportunity to annoy the hell out of Michael and Lucifer."

Castiel shook his head fondly and Gabriel clasped his hands together briskly, brushing off what Castiel knew Dean would have called a 'chick-flick moment'. "So, now that the guilt trip is over, let's think about where we go next."

"Well, we still haven't been able to track Sam," Castiel said, looking around helplessly as if the younger Winchester might just pop out of the surrounding trees. "The demons and Zachariah will be tracking him as well, possibly closing in. He will be getting desperate. He might try to contact Lucifer just to end it and find Dean."

"You say he won't say the big yes, though, right?" Gabriel inquired.

Castiel hesitated. "I know that it is the last thing Sam would ever do. But the lengths he and Dean will go to to save each other…"

"It won't save Dean," Gabriel said firmly. "Lucifer probably can't wait to use Sam to kill his own brother. That's the kind of dick move he would love to pull."

Castiel winced at the certainty. "I know. Lucifer told me as much when we met in Dean's head. Regardless, Sam needs our help. If we can't find him, is there a way you can find Lucifer?"

"Probably given enough time…time we likely don't have," Gabriel said, then furrowed his brow in thought. "Unless…" he turned to Castiel, a sudden light in his eyes and held out his hand. "Give me that amulet."

Castiel's hand instinctively went to the small amulet at his throat. "What? Why?"

"It's made for tracking things," Gabriel told him as Castiel reluctantly pulled it over his head and handed it to his brother, curious as to what Gabriel was getting at. "In this current instance, Dear Old Dad, but I bet if we fiddle with it a bit it can be recalibrated."

"What do you mean?" Castiel asked, frowning.

Gabriel ran his hand over it and the amulet started to glow slightly. "I bet you can use your soul bond with Dean to pin point his location. Just channel your connection through this and it should lead the way."

Castiel watched incredulously as Gabriel handed him the still glowing amulet. Castiel took it by the string, staring at it. "How?"

"Focus," Gabriel told him. "Think about the connection."

Castiel wasn't entirely convinced, but he closed his eyes and tried to solidify his connection with Dean. He pictured pulling him out of hell, leaving the scar as he brought Dean's soul back to earth. His friendship with the hunter, turning from simple camaraderie into brotherhood. Dean was his charge, he was Dean's guardian, and Dean needed him now more than ever. Needed Cas to find him.

Suddenly, there was a slight tingle running through his grace. It was weak, and Castiel sensed a deep agony attached to it, but he would recognize Dean's aura anywhere. He latched onto it and poured that feeling into the amulet.

He finally opened his eyes, and saw the amulet had moved in one direction, tugging on the cord Castiel still held. He looked with surprise at Gabriel who was smirking proudly.

"Told you it would work," he said. "Now, what do you say we go rescue that idiot?"

~~~~~~

Sam drove through the night on roads he probably wouldn't have wanted to attempt in the dark normally, but he couldn't let anything stop him. He even drove the speed limit, as frustrating as that was, because he couldn't stand the thought of a cop pulling him over and wasting any of his time.

The whole way to Devil's Head, Sam couldn't get the image of Dean hanging off the cliff out of his mind. Dean hated heights, Sam knew they were one of the few things that made his big brother weak in the knees. He could hardly get on an airplane, so this, dangling with nothing under him for hundreds of feet, must be pure torture. Obviously what Lucifer had intended.

"I'm coming," he muttered to reassure himself more than anything. "I'm coming, Dean. Hang on."

Finally as the dawn light was coming over the mountains he was starting to see trail signs for Devil's Head and he made it to the park entrance and came to a stop in the parking lot. He wasn't sure where Lucifer was, but he figured the fallen archangel was keeping Dean somewhere less likely for tourists and hikers to go. Sam checked a trail map and looked for the least marked places.

As he was studying the map, he heard something in the woods nearby and spun around. He still had no weapons aside from a knife he had found in the truck, but he flicked it out and cut his hand in anticipation of making an angel banishing sigil if it was Zachariah and his lackeys. If it were demons, they were likely here to take him to Lucifer.

He ducked behind the sign all the same, considering it might also just be some wildlife, but when more footsteps sounded out behind him, he spun around, heart in his throat, raising the knife instinctively.

"Well," said a nonchalant voice. "I guess we know the cause of all those sasquatch sightings in the area now."

Sam stared wide-eyed at the two figures who had appeared out of the trees. One short, with a snarkily cocked head and golden eyes, and the other in a rumpled trench coat and a weary, desperate expression on his face.

"Sam?" the trench-coated figure inquired in shock, eyes blowing wide.

"Cas?" Sam returned, hauling himself to his feet. "You're alright!" Before the angel could say anything else, Sam had stepped over and folded him into a firm embrace. Cas grunted in surprise, but raised a slightly awkward hand to Sam's back. Sam pulled back with a grin of relief. This was the first good news he'd had in a long time. "I thought Zachariah had you."

"He did," Cas said grimly. "But Gabriel found me." Sam looked over Cas' shoulder to the archangel. He was somewhat surprised to see Gabriel here, after their last meeting, but he wasn't going to complain either, if he was willing to help.

"Sup?" Gabriel greeted, raising an eyebrow. "I can do without the hug, thanks."

"What are you doing here, Sam?" Cas asked, ignoring his brother.

"Lucifer, he told me he was keeping Dean here," Sam said, looking around helplessly. "I was supposed to meet him."

"We came to find him as well," Cas said, holding up the object Sam just realized he had in his hand. Sam saw with surprise that it was Dean's amulet. "I've been tracking Dean with this."

"I thought…it was supposed to be for finding God?" Sam frowned.

"It can track anything you need it to with the right persuasion," Gabriel offered. "Cas and Dean have the whole soul bond thing going for them so he can find him that way."

Cas rolled his eyes but turned back to Sam. "We know he's here somewhere nearby. We can use this to find the exact location."

"We need to hurry," Sam said, desperation coming back to him. "We need to get to him…"

Gabriel caught his sleeve to stop him from going on just then. "Hold on there, Gigantor. What we need is a plan of action, now that you have actual backup."

"And you're injured," Cas said, his brow furrowed in worry as he took in Sam's appearance.

Sam huffed. "Yeah, I got to experience Zachariah's hospitality."

An angry, pinched expression overcame Cas' face as he turned to Gabriel. "Gabriel, can you heal him?"

"What do I look like, Florence Nightingale?" the archangel demanded, but rolled his eyes as Castiel glared at him. He reached up to touch Sam's forehead. Sam winced as he felt his wounds knit back together almost instantly. Except when Gabriel pulled away he could still feel the burns. He slowly lifted his sleeve and pulled a bandage from his forearm. Gabriel frowned.

"Why didn't these heal?" he asked.

Gabriel made a disgusted face. "Holy fire, right?"

Sam swallowed hard and nodded. "Yeah, Zachariah said it would…cleanse me."

Gabriel shook his head. "That bastard. Yeah, holy fire burns are one of the only things we can't heal."

Cas' face darkened. "I'm sorry you had to endure that, Sam. I don't know what Zachariah said to you, but I can assure you that none of it is true. I know you to be a good man, not at all an abomination. It was not your fault that Famine's influence was too strong for you. I should know."

Sam felt a deep compassion for the angel as he saw Cas' own inner struggles and reached out to clasp his friend's shoulder. "Don't worry, I didn't take it to heart. Now, let's make a plan, and work on rescuing Dean."

Cas and Gabriel both nodded firmly and Sam followed them on their long hike up the mountain.

The plan was hashed out as they hiked and Sam was genuinely glad that Cas had found him. He was even glad to have Gabriel there, now that it seemed like the former Trickster had joined the fight after all. Having an archangel on their side was a good thing when they were going up against Lucifer.

They crouched at the top of the trail they had taken, hiding behind some bushes and scanning the surroundings.

"There," Gabriel said, pointing to the opposite side of a ravine. There was a lone figure standing there, arms crossed, looking out as if he owned the place. Sam felt his stomach clench, knowing instantly that it was Lucifer.

"So we found him," Cas said grimly and Sam saw his hand clench into a fist. "Now what?"

"I go over and talk to him," Sam said. "Pretend to offer terms while you find Dean. While I have Lucifer distracted, Gabriel will come in and stab him."

Gabriel looked over at him sharply. "Um, hello? When did we decide that?"

Sam frowned. "I thought that was obvious. You're the only one who has a chance against Lucifer. You have to be the one to take him out. This is the best opportunity we have to get rid of him once and for all and we would be stupid not to take it!"

"Well, excuse me, who died and made you boss?" Gabriel snapped.

Castiel turned to his brother reluctantly. "Sam is right, Gabriel. You are the only one who could have any chance of survival taking Lucifer on in hand-to-hand combat."

"I'm not denying that, I'm just saying it ain't gonna happen," Gabriel said almost petulantly.

"Why?" Sam demanded, anger and desperation rushing up in him. "I thought you were in this fight!"

Gabriel lowered a deadly gaze at him. "Are you insinuating I'm a coward?"

Sam swallowed hard. "No, but I don't understand your hesitation. Lucifer needs to be stopped! There's no way we're getting Dean and ourselves off this mountain alive unless Lucifer is dead!"

"I can't kill my brother," Gabriel snapped at him.

Castiel ducked his head, and Sam kept Gabriel's gaze. "Can't or won't?"

Gabriel lifted his chin before looking away and swallowing hard.

Sam sighed deeply. "That's what I thought." Truthfully he couldn't blame the archangel. Wasn't he fighting this war so he wouldn't have to kill his own brother? Even if it wasn't his own will, Sam knew he would never survive if he had to watch Dean die by his own hands. But if his brother were evil, if Dean was trying to take over the world and kill millions of people, wouldn't he have to be the one to take him out? Wouldn't that be Sam's duty so his brother wouldn't have to be that person anymore?

Cas shook his head. "Either way, we're running out of time. Dean is in terrible agony; I can feel it from here. If we cannot save him…"

Sam swallowed hard. "He'll die, and Michael will have him."

"That is the worst case scenario, yes." Cas nodded and turned to Gabriel. "Gabriel, You are the only one who can fight Lucifer. You have to help."

Gabriel clenched his jaw, but finally gave a sharp nod. "Alright. I'll do my best to keep him off your back as long as I can. But Cas, when I give you an opening, you take it and you run with the two idiots okay? I promise I won't let Lucifer touch you, but I can't keep that promise if you act like a dunce. No heroics this time, little bro."

A slightly indignant look crossed Cas' face before it was softened by a look of understanding. He ducked his head and nodded. "Okay."

"Promise me," Gabriel insisted, reaching out to grip his shoulder.

Cas looked up to meet his eyes. "I promise."

Gabriel grinned and ruffled his hair fondly, before he turned to Sam. "Okay, Samsquash, you ready?"

Sam nodded and turned to Cas, clasping the angel's shoulder. "Just…find him," he pleaded.

Castiel nodded firmly, determination in his eyes. "I promise I will find him. Just keep your head, Sam. Lucifer will try to turn it, but you must stay firm."

Sam clenched his jaw. "Don't worry. I'm not going to let him have me." He turned to Gabriel then and let out a deep breath. "Okay, let's go."

Gabriel grabbed his shoulder and suddenly they were on the other side of the ravine, concealed from Lucifer by several large boulders. Sam took a deep breath as he looked at Gabriel and the archangel gave him a nod.

"You're in the spotlight, kiddo, best go before Lucifer gets impatient. I'll be right here."

Sam nodded and stood up, bracing himself before he stepped out from behind the boulders and started toward the spot where Lucifer was standing.

The devil's back was turned to him, and Sam stopped about twenty yards away and called to him.

"Hey, Lucifer. I'm here."

Lucifer turned slowly and Sam could see him smile even from that far away. "Hello, Sam. I'm so glad you could make it."

Suddenly, demons appeared and surrounded Sam. He shrank back from them instinctively, but they closed in, two of them grabbing his arms and hauling him forward. Sam struggled, but they held him tightly, pulling him toward their leader who stood and watched in obvious anticipation as Sam was hauled before him and forced to his knees.

Lucifer finally strode over to meet him and he reached down to gently stroke a hand through Sam's hair, before letting it rest on his cheek. Sam shuddered, hating the all too intimate touch and closed his eyes, trying to find his calm.

"Sam, my vessel, finally I get to see you in the flesh again. You have to admit it's so much more…exhilarating than in your dreamscapes."

Sam finally opened his eyes again and glared up at Lucifer. "Yeah, I can see that you were hiding most of your…skin condition."

Lucifer smiled indulgingly. "You see how Nick's body is failing me. It's true that my need for my true vessel grows by the day. So what do you say, Sam? Is it a yes?"

Sam leveled his gaze, meeting Lucifer's cold eyes dead on. "I already told you that I would give you nothing until you released Dean."

Lucifer's hand moved from his cheek lighting fast to tangle in Sam's hair, yanking his head backwards painfully. Sam's breath caught in his throat as Lucifer leaned in close, his eyes flashing red.

"Let's get something straight here, Sam. I'm the one making the rules, you are going to follow them or there will be consequences. And I'm sure you can imagine what those will be."

"If you kill Dean, you'll have no leverage," Sam said firmly. "And after that you can do what you want to me, because I will never say yes."

Rage flowed through Lucifer's face before he obviously fought to tamp it down. His hand clenched tighter in Sam's hair, making the hunter wince, but Lucifer's grip finally loosened a bit as he cocked his head to one side. "Fine. Let's talk your terms then."

~~~~~~~

Castiel could tell Dean was close and it wasn't just because the amulet was now glowing. Channeling his bond with Dean for the tracking spell had focused it more than usual and he could easily find his way toward the spot his friend was.

He tucked the amulet back into his pocket, no longer needing it, and crept forward cautiously. He figured all the demons were occupied with Sam as he saw them surrounding the younger Winchester as he was talking to Lucifer now, but he couldn't be sure. Though, considering Dean's precarious position Lucifer probably hadn't bothered putting up a guard. He hoped Sam was going to be okay, but he couldn't allow himself to worry about the younger Winchester right now. His job was to find Sam's brother.

Castiel's ears then picked up shuddering breaths, and he looked over to the sheer edge of the cliff and saw a metal pin, the only thing holding a set of chains that were disappearing over the side. With a gasp of relief, he hurried over and fell to his knees, bending over the edge to see Dean dangling in thin air, his body shuddering uncontrollably and swaying slightly in the wind that tore through the mountains.

"Dean," he called, distress clouding his voice as he took in his friend's plight. He reached down to touch one of Dean's freezing hands, and the man jerked, crying out at the pain the movement must have caused, his swollen, bruised face turning upward with some huge effort. Cas watched as his slitted green eyes widened as they beheld the angel.

"C-c-cas?" he stuttered, voice barely a whisper.

"It's me, Dean," Cas said gently, already checking his bonds to see if there were any sigils that would warn Lucifer if he were released. Thankfully there didn't seem to be any.

"Y-you came?" Dean seemed shocked and Castiel's chest ached at the thought that he was surprised someone had come to his rescue.

"Of course," Castiel told him. "Sam, Gabriel and I are here."

"Sammy?" Dean demanded, and shook his head slightly. "No, no, he c-can't…"

"He's fine, Gabriel will make sure nothing happens to him," Castiel said as reassuringly as possible.

"Cas, get me up," Dean pleaded, eyes showing his obvious terror. "Please."

"Hold on, Dean," Cas told him, inspecting the chains to see the best way to get Dean up.

"Please, now, I can't—" Dean was starting to breathe heavily in panic and Castiel wished he could heal him, end his suffering, but he couldn't.

"Alright," he said and reached down, grabbing one of Dean's wrists firmly with one hand, while he pulled out his angel blade and used it to try and hack through the chains.

As he was doing that, part of them slipped, and Dean jolted in his grasp, slipping another foot down the mountain so that Castiel was practically lying down now, keeping him from sliding further.

"Cas!" Dean yelled, practically sobbing. "Cas, don't drop me!"

"I won't drop you, Dean," Cas told him firmly. "I promise. I have you."

Dean choked out a whimper and Castiel slammed the blade into the chains with one last effort and the links sprang apart, loosening completely now. Dean cried out as Castiel took all his weight, but the angel wasted no time in dropping his blade and reaching over to grab Dean with his other hand, hauling him up over the cliff edge as quickly as possible.

Dean collapsed against his chest with a cry of relief and Castiel sank back against a boulder, just holding his friend for a moment, feeling him shudder violently against him.

"It's okay, it's okay, Dean," Castiel told him as he quickly snapped the manacles from Dean's wrists before he started to take stock of the hunter's injuries. His clothes were in tatters, from more wounds than were on his body now, but there were still plenty to worry about. Dean's face was a mess of bruises, and Castiel could clearly see the misshapen lump on his right shoulder that told of a broken collarbone. He winced in sympathy, imagining how painful hanging by his wrists all night must have been with that injury. As Dean collected himself, Castiel eased him back against the boulder and shifted to inspect him for other wounds. He could see a bruised abdomen through tears in Dean's t-shirt and as he lifted the tattered fabric up to inspect the site closer he swallowed hard. He knew even before he pressed cautious fingers to Dean's belly and felt the swollen rigidity there that Dean was suffering from serious internal bleeding. On top of that, he was cold to the touch and probably suffering from shock, both from the injuries and his traumatic position.

Rage burned through Castiel as he witnessed his friend's suffering. He decided that if Gabriel wouldn't kill Lucifer, he wouldn't mind trying himself.

Dean shifted and groaned, disturbed by Castiel's ministrations, his eyes fluttering open again as he looked around. "S'mmy," he mumbled and looked like he was trying to push himself up. "Gotta find S'mmy."

"Dean, no, you're grievously injured," Castiel nearly pleaded, pressing him back as gently as possible.

"He's going 'gainst Lu-Lucifer…" Dean gasped out, eyes frantic. He reached out and clasped Castiel's wrist. "We got—gotta… stop him."

"Dean," Castiel said firmly, taking the hand away from his wrist and placing it in Dean's lap. "I promised Sam that I would keep you safe. That is what I'm doing. You are in no condition to fight—you can't even stand. Going out there will just give Lucifer something to use against Sam. You know Sam will do something rash if he sees you about to be hurt more than you already are."

Dean shifted again but quickly slumped back against the rock, a pitiful moaning sob escaping his throat. "He's all alone," he whispered.

Castiel shook his head, putting a hand on Dean's shoulder where the handprint scar was visible through his tattered shirt. He felt a light energy spark through the connection and tried to channel calm into Dean that way since he couldn't heal him. "He's not. Gabriel is there, he's making sure Sam is safe." He swallowed hard and added firmly. "He—he always looked after me. He'll look after your little brother too."

Dean met Castiel's eyes for a long second before he seemed to believe him. He slumped back against the rock again and his eyes slid shut, his body shuddering anew as he seemed to surrender. At least his mind was somewhat at peace, if nothing else.

Castiel quickly tugged his trench coat off, knowing that shock victims needed to be kept warm, and folded it over Dean's shuddering frame, his heart aching for the fact that he couldn't heal him. He would just have to wait until this was over so Gabriel could do it. Hopefully his brother would be able to successfully defeat Lucifer in some way and get out of there with the rest of them unscathed.

Hopefully Dean would survive that long.

Castiel, unable to do anything else but offer what awkward amounts of comfort he was able to, returned to sit next to Dean and attempted to share whatever body heat he could with the badly injured hunter. He thought worriedly for a second of Dean's continuous demands he learn about 'personal space' but Dean simply slumped against him, still shuddering, head coming to rest against Castiel's shoulder. The angel carefully wrapped an arm around Dean and looked over to where the rest of their family was probably about to be fighting for their lives.

Chapter Text

Sam swallowed hard, looking up at Lucifer who was still way too close for comfort. The fallen archangel was waiting for him to speak and Sam's mouth was suddenly dry.

"Well?" Lucifer inquired, raising an eyebrow.

Sam steeled himself, reminding himself that Cas had probably rescued Dean, gotten him out of there by now. Hopefully his brother was all right. "Okay, here's how it's going to go," Sam said.

Lucifer held a hand up, pressing a finger against Sam's lips. "Hold on, first of all, you don't get to say how it's going to go, Sam. Once I'm inside you, I'm on top, so you need to learn who's running the show now. It will be easier for you."

Sam clenched his jaw, jerking in the demons' grasp, but they still held him tightly, bruising his arms with their grip. "If you won't even hear my terms then we have no deal."

"Oh, so I should just drag your brother over here and we can see how long you hold out while I carve him into steaks?" Lucifer inquired. "Because I will, Sam. You know it." He straightened up and motioned to one of his demons.

"Not if you can't find him," Sam said quietly.

Lucifer spun back toward him and grabbed his chin forcefully. "What was that?"

Sam offered him a small defiant smile. "Screw you, Lucifer."

Rage burned in the devil's eyes. "Oh, Sam, you will wish soon enough that you had consented when you had the chance. Because now I'm going to have to force a yes out of you."

Before he could make good on his promise, there was a surprised scream from a demon at the back of the group. Lucifer released Sam and straightened up, an incredulous frown on his face. Sam's demon guards released him to turn toward the threat as more demons screamed and fell. Sam smiled as he watched the attacker slash his way through the demons, with blade and bright bursts of light.

Gabriel finally put his blade through the throat of one of Sam's guards and let the dead demon slide off the blade and thump to the ground before he turned nonchalantly toward Lucifer.

"Wow. Your bodyguards suck, bro."

Lucifer just stared at him for a long second, eyes narrowing. "Gabriel."

"That's right," Gabriel told him, bobbing his eyebrows. "I think it's high time we had a chat, don't you?"

~~~~~~~

Castiel saw Gabriel take out the demons from where he was sitting with Dean. He knew he should get Dean out of there, but he was also worried about the elder Winchester's condition. Castiel could take him to a hospital, and come back for Sam, but didn't want to leave Dean anywhere he would be vulnerable to any angels or demons who happened by. Besides, Gabriel and Sam might need his assistance and Castiel wouldn't leave them to Lucifer's mercy, whether for Dean's safety or not. He wasn't going to leave any of his family on that mountain.

Dean groaned and shifted, coughing slightly before the act left him gasping in pain. Castiel tried to soothe him as best he could, but he wasn't very good at such things. He only vaguely recalled times when he was a young angel where Gabriel would ease his sparring injuries, or scraped knees and bent feathers when he was still a fledgling. And then later Anna or Balthazar might sit by his bedside when he was injured in battle and he would return the favor, but perhaps Dean wouldn't respond to the same things. He was human after all. Castiel wished he could at least give Dean something to drink as he was likely severely dehydrated on top of everything else, but he didn't have any water and there was no way to get some.

"Dean," he tried calling quietly. "Perhaps it is best if you try and stay awake."

Dean's eyes fluttered weakly. "S'm?"

"No it's Casti—Cas," he replied, reaching up to touch Dean's forehead and frowned when he felt his skin was clammy and still too chilled for his liking. He slipped a hand under his coat that still covered Dean and pressed his palm to the hunter's chest to monitor his heartbeat and breathing. His pulse was thready and his breathing was ragged.

Dean scrunched his face up and squirmed. "Gon-gonna—buy me…dinner first?" he whispered, eyes finally opened.

Castiel sighed in exasperation as he tucked the coat back around Dean's shoulders snuggly. "You are very badly injured, Dean."

"Yeah…got that," the hunter replied. "Where's Sam?"

Castiel felt warmth in his chest as he always did witnessing the two brothers' devotion to each other. "Gabriel is looking after him as I told you he would. He'll be here soon." He hoped.

Dean still looked anxious, but that was only to be expected. "Alright." He rested back against the rock again and Castiel decided to check his broken collar bone, try to get his arm resting in a more comfortable position, when Dean's eyes suddenly went wide, looking at something past Castiel's shoulder. "Cas!"

Castiel spun around, stopping as an angel blade appeared right in front of his face. He caught his breath, following the tip of the blade up the arm that held it, finding a face he knew all too well.

"Zachariah," he said bitterly, a sinking feeling in his stomach.

"Castiel," the higher angel said, a pleased note in his voice that Castiel hated. "I am so glad to find you here. As well as Michael's vessel."

Dean shifted behind him, a growl escaping his throat. "You son of a bitch."

Castiel quickly reached back to put a hand on his uninjured shoulder to make sure he stayed put. He could feel the rage and hatred surging through the elder Winchester and shared his sentiments.

"Don't be like that, Dean," Zachariah said. "I'm the only angel here who can heal you. Poor little fallen Castiel certainly can't. You let me take you to see Michael right now, I can have you back good as new in no time."

"Pass," Dean said.

"I won't let you touch him," Castiel snarled viciously, trying to remember where his blade was. And then he realized that in his haste to get Dean to safety he had left it over by the cliff. He clenched his jaw, cursing inwardly as he tried to keep a straight face.

"Quite possessive, aren't you?" Zachariah quipped. "Guess I'll have to put the guard dog to heel first." He swung the hilt of his blade, smashing it into the side of Castiel's face.

The lesser angel collapsed against the rock, just barely keeping himself from falling on Dean and leapt to his feet, standing in front of his charge, the taste of blood in his mouth. "I'm warning you, Zachariah. I will not let you have Dean. If you try to take him by force, I will kill you."

Zachariah chuckled. "Oh, Castiel. You really are pathetic. You think you can stand a chance against me?"

He lunged again and Castiel grabbed his sword arm, punching him firmly in the face, and delivering a firm roundhouse kick to his chest before he dove for his own blade. He snatched it just as Zachariah was recovering, and spun around to see the higher angel reaching down to grab hold of Dean. The hunter cried out as Zachariah hauled him upright and slammed him back against the rock.

"Stop!" Castiel demanded, taking a step forward, his blade raised threateningly.

Zachariah ignored him and turned with a smirk back to Dean. "Last chance. I can either heal you or make it worse right now, and I would be lying if I said I wouldn't enjoy it. Michael never has to know."

"Screw you," Dean choked out, managing to kick Zachariah in the fork on his legs.

The angel angrily slammed him against the rock again before throwing him to the ground and delivering a sharp kick to Dean's already abused midsection. Dean let out a whimpering cry and curled around himself.

But he was out of Zachariah's grip and Castiel took his chance. He snarled and leapt at the higher angel, sending them both to the ground. He stabbed down at Zachariah but the other angel caught his blade and, despite Castiel's better position, was the stronger of the two.

Zachariah laughed and forced the blade up sharply, throwing Castiel back before he slammed the hilt of his blade into Castiel's ribs, knocking him to the side with a grunt of pain. Castiel scrambled to his feet at the same time Zachariah did, effecting a fighting stance, his blade held at the ready. Zachariah, seeming to tire of the fight, lunged forward. Castiel got a slice in, cutting deep into Zachariah's side, before the higher angel grabbed his arm and twisted viciously. Castiel cried out as he felt something twang. His blade fell out of his nerveless fingers and Zachariah kicked at his knee. The joint cracked and Castiel screamed as he collapsed, pain radiating up his leg. Zachariah knelt and grabbed his rumpled tie, using it to haul him up close to his face as he readied his blade to stab down at Castiel.

"You've been a thorn in my side for too long, Castiel," Zachariah growled. "It's finally time you to cut you out."

Castiel grabbed his hand with his good one, desperate, but knowing there was nothing much he could do. This was it. Dean would be taken to Michael and it was all his fault. He had failed the one cause he had left.

"Cas!" he heard Dean's soft cry and hoped his friend wouldn't try anything stupid.

"That's right," Zachariah smirked. "'Cas' isn't going to be able to protect you anymore."

"This isn't over, Zachariah," Castiel gritted out.

The higher angel chuckled cruelly. "For you it is." He readied his blade and started to bring it down toward Castiel's throat.

~~~~~~~

Gabriel reached down for Sam and hauled him to his feet. "Get out of here, kid," he said calmly.

Sam sent a stupid look his way, wrinkling that big dumb forehead of his, but Gabriel glared at him. "Now."

Sam finally got the sense to stagger out of Lucifer's reach even if he still didn't run away to Cas and Dean for some reason. But Gabriel figured that was all he could ask for so he took it. Hopefully Sam would have the common sense to haul ass when the actual fighting started.

"Little brother," Lucifer said to Gabriel, a small smile on his lips as he looked him up and down. "You look…well, as well as can be expected for slumming with the pagans." His face scrunched up in distaste. "I hope you didn't catch anything."

"And you look…what is that, leprosy? Or is your vessel just corroding from disgust?" Gabriel quipped back.

Lucifer let out a chuckle. "Oh Gabriel, always joking. You know, I actually kind of missed that."

Gabriel smiled. "Well, I'm afraid joking is off the table today. I came to talk." He spread his arms. "I mean, what the hell, Luci? You think all of this is going to prove anything in the long run? I'm sorry you feel wronged and all, but what are you gonna do about it? Chain yourself to a tree?"

Lucifer shook his head, taking several steps closer to Gabriel. "You never could take anything seriously. You never understood either."

"Oh, I understood," Gabriel snapped. "How could I not? You were angry that Dad paid more attention to the humans than us; angry at Michael, who you always thought was on your side, for taking Dad's and then you decided to throw a fit. Am I missing anything?"

Lucifer's eyes narrowed. "You make it sound so petty."

Gabriel laughed. "Uh, yeah, because it is."

"No," Lucifer snarled. "The humans are nothing, they are weak, filthy creatures. We are their superiors and yet we were supposed to bow to them? How can you not see where I am coming from, Gabriel?" He stepped forward and Gabriel flinched slightly as Lucifer reached out to grip his shoulder tightly. "Join me, Gabriel. Like in the old days. We can fight this together. Michael will have no chance against the both of us."

Gabriel shook his head with a smirk. "Pass."

"Are you with Michael, then?" Lucifer growled. "Is that it, little brother? Because I never would have expected that."

Gabriel's eyebrows shot up. "That loser? No way. I kinda got stuck with those losers," he motioned to Sam still standing to one side. "Because I actually stand with the humans, Lucifer. You gonna kill me for that?"

Lucifer was silent, and Gabriel actually felt a worm of fear eek through his chest, but then he heard distant shouting, and Lucifer was distracted long enough to turn around. Gabriel slipped a hand into his jacket, for his blade as he heard Lucifer growl.

"That little piece of filth," Lucifer growled.

"Gabriel," Sam gasped out, and Gabriel glanced over to where Lucifer was looking and saw where Castiel and Dean were hiding out further along the mountain top, but there was another figure there, and Gabriel instantly recognized him.

"That bastard," he said under his breath as he saw Zachariah smash a blade into Castiel's face. Anger surged through him, but he knew he had to keep Lucifer from going over there or Cas and Dean were both dead.

Decided, he pulled his angel blade from his coat and was about to stab it into Lucifer's back before he could think any more of it, when his brother turned around, palm glowing, and hit Gabriel directly in the chest with a ball of power.

Gabriel was thrown backwards, skidding over rocks and brush before he was stopped by a boulder. His blade had been torn from his grip, and pain sang through his body as Lucifer strode over to him, looking down balefully.

"Really, Gabriel? You try to kill me?" he demanded. "As if you could. You really have fallen, haven't you?"

Then he strode off toward the others.

Suddenly Sam was at Gabriel's side, gripping his shoulder and trying to haul him up. "Gabriel, come on, get up!" he pleaded. "We have to go stop him! He'll kill them all!"

Gabriel groaned and forced himself up against the rock with Sam's help. The sasquatch practically lifted him to his feet, and Gabriel staggered for a minute before he got his footing again and slapped Sam's giant hands away.

"Hands off the merchandize, kid," he snapped and bent to retrieve his blade. "Let's go save our brothers."

~~~~~~~

"I've been waiting a long time for this."

Castiel refused to close his eyes to meet his end. He met Zachariah's instead and saw some annoyance there that Castiel was obviously still defiant, but it didn't stop the other angel. Nothing was going to stop him…

Until a shadow appeared suddenly over him, accompanied by an angel blade popping out of his throat. Castiel jumped in shock as Zachariah gagged and then blinding light flared from his eyes as his grace exploded. Castiel did close his eyes then, and as the light faded, he felt Zachariah's weight collapse on top of him, causing a jolt of pain to stab through his body, but also relief.

The weight was suddenly lifted and he opened his eyes, expecting to see Gabriel, or even Sam standing there, but froze in horror as he saw who it really was.

"Castiel," the growl that came from Lucifer's throat as he stared down at him made Castiel go cold inside. "I told you not to take my things."

He cried out as Lucifer reached down and snagged the front of his shirt, hauling him to his feet and forcing Castiel's weight onto his injured leg. Lucifer had him by the throat now, his angel blade teasing at the top button of Castiel's shirt as pure hatred burned in the fallen archangel's red eyes.

"Oh, I will make you hurt for that," he snarled.

"I don't think so dickwad."

Lucifer turned at the voice and Gabriel lifted a hand, flinging a ball of energy toward Lucifer. It hit the older archangel on the underside of his chin and flung him backwards, head over heels to slam into the dirt. Castiel staggered as Lucifer's grip was ripped away from him and Gabriel caught the lesser angel as he collapsed.

"Gabriel," he choked out, clutching at his brother to stay upright.

"Told you I wouldn't let him touch you, little bro. Or…well, not too much anyway." Gabriel looked a little worse for wear, the front of his shirt was singed, but he had kept his promise. Castiel felt a surge of emotion wash through him.

But Lucifer was stirring, a groan ending in a growl coming from him. Castiel knew he would be back on his feet before long. Gabriel carefully infused a little healing grace into Castiel. It wasn't much, but it was enough to dull most of his pain and allow him to stand on his injured leg. "Get them out of here, kiddo."

"Gabriel, no, let's all go," Castiel pleaded, grabbing his sleeve.

Gabriel shook his head, a devil-may-care grin on his face. "Nah. I'm more of a loner anyway."

"Dean!"

Castiel turned to see Sam running up and falling to his knees beside his brother's crumpled form, taking his face between his hands. Dean's eyes opened and he forced a smile as he saw Sam but he was in pain and fading fast. Sam's eyes were filled with tears of relief mixed with worry to see Dean in such a state and Castiel turned back to Gabriel with a sudden sincerity.

"Promise me you'll come back," he demanded. "Promise this time."

Gabriel just smiled at him a bit sadly and Castiel's stomach clenched. Gabriel nodded toward the Winchesters. "They're your family now, Cas. Your brothers. Go with them."

"You're my brother," Castiel said desperately, gripping Gabriel's sleeve. Lucifer was regaining his feet, growling in rage and Castiel was getting more and more desperate.

Gabriel gently pried his fingers off of his coat. "Go, Cassie. I'll be fine."

"Gabriel!" Castiel pleaded, but Gabriel had shrugged him off and was already standing his ground, arms open, waiting for Lucifer to steady himself.

"Well, bro? You wanted to chat? Let's chat!"

Lucifer surged forward with no warning, taking Gabriel to the ground, rolling around. Castiel hurriedly stepped out of the way, and joined Sam and Dean, wincing at the bruises from his fight with Zachariah.

"Cas," Sam said, eyes wide, as his hands rested on Dean's shuddering frame. "He's really bad off."

Castiel moved across from Sam, resting a hand on the top of Dean's head. His hair was soaked in sweat but his skin was still too cold.

"S'mmy," Dean murmured, then coughed, blood spattering his lips. Sam gripped his hand and placed his other on the side of Dean's neck.

"Hold on, Dean, don't try to talk," he pleaded, unable to stop a tear from sliding down his cheek as he looked up at Castiel hopelessly. "What can we do for him?"

Castiel swiftly checked Dean's battered stomach again, knowing that Zachariah had only worsened the internal damage, and the dark red splotches of bruising told their own story. Castiel swallowed hard as he pulled his trench coat over Dean again. Why couldn't he heal Dean? What good was he if he couldn't even look after the humans under his charge, his family?

"Ideally I should get you out here, but I don't know whether flying is a good idea with my failing energy and Dean's internal injuries," Castiel said, sick to his stomach with the realization. "It…It could possibly make it worse and he's in a delicate position as it is."

Sam closed his eyes and squeezed Dean's unresponsive hand harder. "Gabriel can heal him."

"If he lives," Castiel whispered and cast a glance over at his older brother, currently locked in a desperate fight with Lucifer. Castiel didn't think he had ever felt so helpless. He simply put his hand on Dean's shoulder and kept vigil over his human family as he watched his heavenly one fight to the death.

~~~~~~~

Gabriel just barely dodged a swipe that would have gutted him and kicked out at Lucifer in return. His big brother caught the blow on his shin and punched Gabriel in the face instead. Gabriel staggered back, blood dripping from his nose, taking a moment's breather as Lucifer shook his head.

"You have gotten rusty. All that vacation time did not do you good, little brother."

"You're one to talk," Gabriel countered, and stabbed quickly toward Lucifer's shoulder, only to have his blow parried and have to block another blow himself. "You have been in the Cage for millennia. Surprised you're not flabby."

"What can I say? I had a purpose. That's more than you ever had, Gabriel." Lucifer struck again and grazed him across the ribs. Gabriel hissed and darted backwards, his blade held out as he and Lucifer circled each other again.

Gabriel shook his head. "Lucifer, you're my brother and I love you," he said. "But you are a great big bag of dicks."

Lucifer's brow furrowed. "What did you say to me?"

"Look at you," Gabriel said, licking his lips as he waited for the next attack. "Boo-hoo. Daddy was mean to me, so I'm gonna smash up all his toys."

"Watch your tone," Lucifer said coldly, advancing again.

Gabriel took several steps backwards. He had to sell this, get Lucifer where he needed him and the best thing he had to do it with was the truth he had been keeping inside for a long time. It was just too bad if Lucifer didn't like what he had to say. "Play the victim all you want. But you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best. More than Michael. More than me. Then he brought the new baby home, and you couldn't handle it." Lucifer took a more determined step as Gabriel continued to retreat. "All of this is just a great big temper tantrum," he added. "Time to grow up."

Lucifer growled and lunged at him. Their blades clashed, and sparks flew off of them. They traded several blows, before Lucifer punched Gabriel in the ribs and sent him staggering back a few steps.

"Gabriel," Lucifer said, shaking his head, holding his arms out. "If you're doing this for Michael—"

"Screw him," Gabriel scoffed, straightening up. "If he were standing here, I'd shiv his ass too."

Lucifer smiled without humor. "Oh, you disloyal—"

"Oh, I'm loyal," Gabriel informed him firmly, holding himself ready for the next assault. "To them. To people." He looked over to where Castiel and the Winchesters crouched, broken, bleeding and human. They had already given more to this fight than Gabriel ever had. It was only fitting that he should help them survive it.

"So you're willing to die for a pile of cockroaches?" Lucifer inquired incredulously as he lunged forward again and clashed blades as Gabriel danced around him. "Why?"

"Because Dad was right," Gabriel gritted out as he made a backhanded sweep with his blade and caught Lucifer across his corroding cheek. He actually thought it improved the leprosy look he was going for. "They are better than us."

Lucifer's eyes filled with rage and disbelief. "They are broken, flawed abortions!" He struck again, but Gabriel caught his wrist as Lucifer countered his blow the same way.

"Damn right they're flawed," Gabriel said almost proudly. "But a lot of them try to do better. To forgive—And you should see the Spearmint Rhino." Lucifer sneered and threw him backwards. Gabriel staggered but kept his feet, shaking his head. "I've been riding the pine a long time, but I'm in the game now. And I'm not on your side, or Michael's." He smiled, no sarcasm, just a genuine smile. "I'm on theirs."

Lucifer shook his head in derision, sweeping his bade toward Gabriel and catching him across the arm. Gabriel faltered, and allowed Lucifer to get close enough to grab him by the front of his shirt. He braced himself for the pain to come, but Lucifer hesitated.

"Brother, don't make me do this," Lucifer said quietly, his blade at the ready.

Gabriel shook his head. "No one makes us do anything," he said truthfully. He was almost there. He almost had Lucifer in the right position. Just another second…

"I know you think you're doing the right thing, Gabriel," Lucifer said, his eyes looking so sincere that for a moment Gabriel almost thought he had his old brother back—before Lucifer had gone insane and power hungry and bent on destroying the world. Something deep inside of him wanted to break, but he couldn't allow it to. Not yet. A soft, almost apologetic smile spread over Lucifer's features. "But I know where your heart truly lies."

Gabriel was almost ready to strike. It was now or never.

But before he could, Lucifer's eyes darkened again, and he spun around toward the real Gabriel, standing on the edge of the cliff, blade raised above his head, ready to strike. Damn. The ruse hadn't worked as planned.

Lucifer's blade buried itself into Gabriel's chest.

"Right here," the older archangel said.

Gabriel cried out, pain and shock ripping through him. His decoy disappeared as his power faded, unable to keep it up anymore. He tried to get his blade up, but Lucifer caught his wrist, directing the blade deep into his thigh instead of his chest. Painful, but not a mortal wound. Gabriel had failed.

He almost fell, but Lucifer reached out to grip the back of his head, keeping him upright. Gabriel reached out to grip Lucifer's shoulder, digging his fingers into his shirt.

Gabriel looked up at him, speechless. Of course he had known this was a possibility, but the fact that Lucifer had actually stabbed him…it hurt in more ways than one.

"Amateur hocus pocus," Lucifer said, shaking his head in disappointment. "Don't forget, you learned all your tricks from me. Little brother."

Gabriel swallowed the blood that was bubbling up in his throat and shook his head once. "Not all of them," he gritted out.

Lucifer's eyes narrowed and he cocked his head questioningly but it was too late. Gabriel reached for his own blade, still stuck in Lucifer's thigh and twisted. The fallen archangel screamed.

Gabriel smirked at his brother triumphantly. "I am the Trickster, and I just don't die that easy." Then he grabbed the front of Lucifer's shirt and yanked him with him as he stepped backwards off the side of the cliff.

 

Chapter Text

Castiel watched in horror as Lucifer figured out Gabriel's plan with the decoy, and turned to stab the real Gabriel.

"No!" Castiel screamed, surging to his feet. His mostly healed leg was still wobbly and it almost collapsed until him, but he still kept his footing. Sam was on his feet right after him though, grabbing Castiel by the arm and holding him back.

"Don't," he nearly pleaded. "Lucifer will kill you." There was pure horror in the younger Winchester's eyes, and Castiel knew that this was probably it for all of them. Lucifer would finish Gabriel off and then come and take his revenge on them. Castiel cast his eyes down to Dean's prone form, wondering whether it was worth it to risk his internal injuries with angel travel. It wasn't like they were going to survive if they stayed here.

Then he looked back up at Gabriel and Lucifer just in time to see them both fall over the cliff.

"Gabriel!" Castiel screamed, disbelief and grief surging through him. He shrugged Sam off and staggered over to the cliff, collapsing on the edge and looking down at the drop. There were many rocks and scrubby brush all the way down. He couldn't see anything. "No, Gabriel, you idiot!" he ground out when he still saw no sign of either of them. "Why did you do that? You promised! Dammit!" His eyes squeezed shut against the stinging sensation in them that he only realized were tears when he felt wetness on his cheeks.

Then he heard a tsk tsk sound from behind him. "Cassie. I never knew you to be one to swear."

Castiel spun around and saw Gabriel standing behind him, one hand clutching his wound, the other his angel blade.

"Gabriel?" Castiel breathed, surging to his feet despite the pain and, overcome with relief, he simply threw his arms around his brother. Mimicking the kind of reunion Sam and Dean usually shared when parted for a long time, or after surviving perils.

Gabriel groaned and Castiel quickly pulled back, remembering his wound as he helped steady his older brother. "How? Is Lucifer…"

"Gone," Gabriel said bitterly. "Soon as we hit the bottom, he vamoosed. Was gonna lay there for a while, but figured I had better check to make sure he hadn't come back to nab you three."

Sam joined them then.

"Is Lucifer…" Sam hesitated, waiting with bated breath.

"No," Gabriel bit out, something Castiel couldn't quite read in his eyes. "He was beat up pretty bad, though. Guess he went off somewhere to lick his wounds. He's gonna need to chug a buttload of demon blood to repair his vessel."

Castiel could almost feel the anxiety wafting off Sam as he reached up to clench his hands in his hair. "What the hell, Gabriel?"

"Oh, quiet, sasquatch," Gabriel replied tiredly. "It was an awesome plan and you know it. Just didn't work perfectly. We'll learn from our mistakes next time." He staggered and groaned, hand pressing more earnestly to his wound. "Yikes. Don't think I'm just gonna walk this one off."

Castiel looked at his brother worriedly, then a noise made him cast his attention to Dean who had started choking up blood again. Sam quickly knelt next to his brother, propping Dean's head on his knee and running a hand through his hair to try and soothe him as he turned his face upward to look pleadingly at Castiel. "Cas, he's…he's really bad off."

"Well, lucky for you I have one last act of charity to use up today," Gabriel grunted as he knelt down next to Sam and reached out toward Dean's forehead. Castiel watched anxiously as Gabriel poured healing grace into the elder Winchester.

Dean suddenly gasped as his bruises faded and surged upright, looking around. As soon as he saw Sam he reached out to grab his coat as if he didn't quite believe he was there. "Sammy?"

"Dean!" Sam replied and swiftly yanked his brother into a tight embrace, needing the reassurance that the other was all right. Dean's hand tangled in Sam's hair as his younger brother rested his head against Dean's shoulder, and the elder brother exhaled as if he hadn't breathed in a long time.

Gabriel rocked back on his heels, hand clutching his wound still. "Well, I think that all could have been worse." And then he collapsed to the side.

Castiel just barely caught him and frantically reached out with his grace to touch Gabriel's. He was only slightly reassured as he felt a weak answer. The wound in Gabriel's chest was bleeding profusely, grace mixing with the blood. Castiel hurriedly pressed a hand to it for the little good it did.

"Cas," Dean's voice cut through his worry, and Castiel looked up to see the two brothers watching him and Gabriel worriedly.

"Let's get back to Bobby's," Dean told him.

Castiel sagged and nodded, cradling Gabriel against his chest as he reached out to touch Sam and Dean so he could teleport them all. He only hoped he hadn't saved part of his family only to lose another.

~~~~~~~

Dean's eyes opened to familiar surroundings as he felt the vertigo of angel travel ease away. He, Sam, and Cas with the wounded Gabriel propped against him were all kneeling in the middle of Bobby's study.

"What the hell?" Bobby demanded as he rolled in from the kitchen, a shotgun across his lap, then his mouth dropped open as he saw them staggering to their feet.

"Hey, Bobby," Sam said quietly.

Bobby opened and closed his mouth several times, before he finally burst out with, "I oughta tan your hide, boy—all of you! And you…" he jabbed a finger at Dean who instantly ducked his head. "What the hell were you thinking running off and getting captured by Lucifer himself?! Idjit!"

"Sorry, Bobby," Dean mumbled.

"What was that?"

"Sorry, sir," Dean said louder, head snapping up to meet the older hunter's eyes.

The anger faded from Bobby's face and he shook his head, rolling his chair over to see them, reaching out to grip their arms. "Still, it's damn good to see you boys back. I swear you're going to be the death of me."

Sam smiled and Dean shook his head before he heard Cas stir behind them. Bobby looked past them and frowned at the two angels.

"What happened to him?" he asked, nodding to Gabriel.

"Gabriel has been wounded badly," Cas said. "May I borrow a bed to put him in?"

Bobby's eyes lingered on the wounded archangel on the floor, still unconscious, and his eyes widened. "Yeah, sure. You can take one of the rooms upstairs, I'm not gonna use any of them."

"Here, I'll help you," Dean said, crouching next to Cas and taking hold of Gabriel's legs as Cas supported his shoulders and they lifted him up.

"I'll grab some first aid supplies," Sam offered, hurrying off.

Dean glanced back at his brother, who still looked worse for wear and was wearing oddly small clothes, but then he realized that he was still dressed in his torn and bloodstained clothes, most of his skin exposed. At least he was whole again, though, he had never known such pain as he had with Lucifer. Hell hadn't even been the same since it hadn't been his physical body enduring the torment. It was somehow different on earth.

He and Cas laid Gabriel down on the bed, and Dean swallowed hard as Cas started to pull the archangel's clothes aside to better see the wound. Dean wondered if Gabriel wouldn't have been so bad off if he hadn't healed him.

Sam came in with the first aid kit, and Dean took it from him, rummaging through to find some gauze.

"Should we stich it?" Sam asked, wincing as he saw the gaping wound in the middle of Gabriel's chest.

Cas looked down at it indecisively. "He…should be able to start healing himself soon once he rests for a while. I think we should bandage it for now and if there's no change after a couple hours…then we can take further measures."

Dean nodded and handed some gauze over. He helped hold up Gabriel's limp form while Cas pulled his bloodsoaked shirt off and wrapped bandages around his chest. Then they laid Gabriel back as comfortably as possible, and pulled a blanket over him.

Cas just stood by the bed, looking down at his older brother and Dean glanced over at Sam who had finished cleaning up the first aid stuff. Sam offered him a small smile before heading out the door.

Dean sighed. "I'm sure he'll be alright, Cas," he said. "He really stepped up to the plate for us. I gotta say, I didn't exactly expect that."

"Nor did I," Cas said, his voice melancholy. "I…I didn't trust him for a long time. Kept old hurts and grudges, I suppose. But I never should have doubted him. He did see this through, and he would have killed Lucifer too."

"Hey," Dean said, looking at him. "We'll still find a way to kill Lucifer. Believe me, I want to gank that son of a bitch more than anyone now. But we'll do it on our terms. And there's no reason Gabriel has to be the one to kill his brother when there's a bunch of us standing in line."

Cas gave him a small wry smile. "I suppose you're right." He glanced toward the open door where Sam had disappeared. "Do you…need help with anything?"

"No, Cas, stay here with Gabriel. Get off that leg." Cas huffed as he realized Dean had noticed him favoring his bad leg. "I guess Zach did a number on you."

"Sam too," Cas said grimly as he finally pulled a chair over to the bedside. "Zachariah burned him with holy fire. Gabriel couldn't heal those wounds."

Dean's jaw clenched. "I wish I had ganked that bastard sooner."

"He's still gone, though," Cas said tiredly. "That's all that matters."

Dean rested a hand on his shoulder as the angel slumped into the chair. "Get some rest, Cas. We're all okay for the moment…mostly. We may as well get rest now while we still have the chance."

"Yes," Cas replied in agreement.

"Oh, and thanks," Dean said, somewhat awkwardly. "For getting me off that cliff."

"You and Sam really get yourselves into a lot of trouble," Cas said gruffly, but Dean thought there might have been underlying affection there that almost reminded him of Bobby. He smirked and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

He found Sam sitting at the kitchen table as Bobby put a sandwich and cup of coffee in front of him. Dean's stomach turned sickly with hunger as he saw the food and suddenly realized he'd had nothing to eat or drink for…however long he had been captive. Damn.

He collapsed at the table and grabbed the sandwich things, barely bothering with clapping the ham and cheese between two slices of bread before he had his mouth around it. Sam's eyes widened and Bobby gave him a warning glance.

"You had best slow down, son, or that's all just gonna make a return visit," the older hunter cautioned.

Sam hurriedly got up and filled a glass of water for Dean as the elder Winchester tried to slow himself. He knew Bobby was right, but he was starving. He did stop to gratefully take the glass of water from Sam though, gulping it so eagerly he choked and Sam had to take it back and slap him on the back as he doubled over, clearing water from his lungs.

"Told you to slow down," Bobby said as Dean came back up, eyes watering. Sam gave him a worried look, but he was better now and drank more slowly, thoroughly enjoying the cool water on his parched throat.

After he and Sam had both eaten two huge sandwiches and gotten rehydrated, Dean finally turned to his brother.

"Okay, let me see," he said, leaving no room for argument.

"Dean, I'm fine," Sam told him half-heartedly.

Dean folded his arms over his chest. "Cas said Zach burned you, that even Gabriel couldn't heal them. Just let me look, at least."

Sam rolled his eyes, but shrugged off the too-small flannel overshirt he had been wearing and winced as he did the same with his t-shirt. Most of the wounds were still taped over with gauze but in his mad dash and the ensuing fights, some of the bandages had gotten loose and the burns had rubbed against the shirt, gathering fibers. Dean pulled his chair over to sit in front of Sam as he examined his brother's injuries, getting angrier and angrier as he went.

"That son of a bitch," he muttered as he gently removed the bandage from a particularly nasty burn across Sam's ribs.

Sam flinched. "Not much you can do for them."

"I've got some burn cream," Bobby offered, anger on his face too.

"Why don't you go shower, it will loosen up some of this gunk stuck to them," Dean said. "Just be careful."

"I know," Sam said but without his usual fire. Dean could see how exhausted he was as he gave Sam a hand up out of the chair.

"I'll grab you some clean clothes," he offered and Sam didn't protest.

"You too," Bobby told Dean. "Those clothes you're wearing should be burned. You can wash up in the bathroom down here."

Dean consented, not wanting to admit how good a shower would feel right then, and grabbed his own clothes after he had deposited Sam's in the other bathroom, retreating to the shower and turning on the water almost scalding hot.

The hot water against his skin made him remember how cold Lucifer had been. The chill that seeped into his bones and stayed for a long time afterward when the fallen archangel had healed him. Just the memory made him cold, but it was over now. Even though it would take a while to forget this, it was over for the moment, and he was going to enjoy a couple days of rest and recovery. He thought he was entitled.

He dried off, dressing in clean non-bloody clothes and found Sam sitting on the couch in the living room, Bobby setting the first aid stuff out on the coffee table.

"I can do that," Dean offered as he came into the room.

Bobby looked up and nodded, knowing the brothers needed their patching up ritual after everything that had happened. Dean took a seat on the coffee table across from Sam and started to dab burn cream onto his little brother's wounds.

"Sam," he said after a few minutes of his brother's silence. "I just want you to know that no matter what happened, you can't blame yourself for it. Not drinking the demon blood, not Zach catching you and Lucifer grabbing me. That's all on them."

Sam sighed heavily, head hanging so that his still-damp hair fell into his face. "But it was my fault, Dean."

"No," Dean said firmly. "Because you know what? You were right before. We are not stronger apart. If this is the kind of thing that happens when we get separated, then we need to stick together. If we do that then they can't use us against each other."

Sam sighed deeply and finally looked up at him. "But they will, Dean."

"They can try, but we'll take the fight to them," Dean told him firmly. "As long as we stick together, as a united front, they can't do anything we don't want them to. Especially since this whole thing kinda depends on us saying yes."

Sam narrowed his eyes at him. "You're not as doom and gloom anymore."

"I'm done with that. Now I'm angry," Dean told him. "Lucifer is a dick, and I sure as hell am not gonna be an angel condom for the side that did this to my little brother." Sam rolled his eyes, but didn't protest. "Besides, who says you can't beat all that destiny crap? I say screw destiny, right in the face. We take the fight to them and we do it our way."

Sam met his eyes and Dean saw the determination there. "Okay."

Dean raised his eyebrows. "That's it? No rallying speech to go with that?"

Sam huffed. "What do you want? I'm shot, Dean."

"Okay, I'll give you that." Dean smiled fondly as he finished taping the last bandage to Sam's shoulder and then helped him get his arms into his shirt sleeves. "You're in luck, because I think we have some R&R with our name on it." He patted Sam's knee and stood, cleaning up the first aid stuff and handing his brother the remote. "Find something decent, I'll be back soon."

He put the first aid stuff away and then grabbed Cas' trench coat from the floor where it had ended up when they got back. It had still been draped across Dean's lap from when Cas had given it to him on the mountain to keep warm. Dean closed his eyes as vertigo and remembered agony washed over him again, as he recalled hanging off the cliff. But he shook that off. No need to think of that now. It was over and they were all back in one piece, more of less.

He went upstairs to see if Cas needed anything and when he saw the angel, Cas was still sitting by Gabriel's bed, but his head was tipped back in the chair and he was snoring slightly. Dean smirked, but deep down he was also worried. He hadn't seen Cas sleep before apart from when he was wounded and fell unconscious like Gabriel was now. He knew his friend was falling even farther. The image of future Cas sprang into his head, and he swallowed hard. Was he really doing the right thing by defying his so-called destiny? Would Sam still get jumped by Lucifer? Would Dean still become a hard-ass guerilla leader? Would Cas become a drugged up hippy?

He wasn't going to believe it though. For all he knew that was just a storyline Zachariah had cooked up to scare him into saying yes. In fact, that was probably the truth of the whole thing. In any case, Dean wasn't going to let it dictate his next moves. He still thought that fighting and taking their own side was the best thing. And if they were screwed, then they would go down together.

He shook out the trench coat and draped it over Cas' sleeping figure before he left the room again, going back down to the living room and slumping next to his brother on the couch where Sam had found an old movie to watch on TV.

He leaned back against the couch, just trying to let himself go for a moment, reminding himself that all the people he cared about were safe again, if not a little worse for wear.

Sometime during the movie Sam dozed off and slumped against Dean's shoulder. Dean didn't even care at the moment whether this was too chick-flicky or not, and simply draped an arm over his brother's shoulders and leaned his head back against the couch himself and closed his eyes. It wasn't long before he was completely out.

~~~~~~~

Gabriel hit the ground at the base of the mountain hard. Okay, maybe not the best plan ever but pulling a Reichenbach hadn't exactly been his first plan either. You had to make do sometimes with impromptu ideas.

Another body lay beside him and for a moment he thought Lucifer might have broken his neck—not that it would have stopped him long—but then the other archangel stirred with a groan and pushed himself up, yanking Gabriel's blade out of his thigh.

Oh, he was so screwed now. Gabriel couldn't speak—and boy, would that be a surprise to everyone—as Lucifer leaned over him. It was only then he realized he still had Lucifer's blade sticking out of his chest. Funny the things you could forget when you had just fallen off a cliff.

Lucifer reached out for the blade and Gabriel knew this was it. Just a few inches correction and Lucifer could angle that blade through his heart and that would be the end of Gabriel, AKA Loki God of Mischief, AKA the Trickster—well at least he couldn't say he didn't live a full life.

He met Lucifer's eyes as his older brother leaned over him, gripping the blade stuck into Gabriel. "I'm going to be extremely generous and let you off with a warning this time," he said. "Because I hope that some day you will come to your senses and join me. If not, I will hunt you down, and I will kill you myself, brother. It will be slow and painful and befitting your betrayal. So reevaluate your side, Gabriel, or next time I won't miss." He yanked the blade out, which tore a ragged scream from Gabriel's throat, and then staggered to his feet. He dropped Gabriel's blade down next to his hand. "I hope to see you soon, little brother."

And then he was gone. Gabriel lay there for a moment, gasping. He could hear Castiel screaming for him up top and his heart—so nearly perforated—ached. So, no. If Lucifer saw him again, he would just have to kill him, because Gabriel really did know where he belonged and on what side he fought for. And he was not gonna change it now.

~~~~~~~

Gabriel's eyes opened with a sharp inhale of breath. He looked around at his surroundings, half expecting to see nothing but mountain and sky above, but he wasn't lying at the bottom of a cliff anymore, that had just been memories. Now he was in what looked like a room in some abandoned place—no, wait, that was definitely the smell of whisky and gunpowder, this must be Bobby Singer's house.

He glanced down at the blankets covering him, and slowly brought a hand up to where his chest was still aching—getting stabbed with an archangel's blade would do that to you. All he found there were bandages though, and he was too tired to undo whoever's work that had been. He was too tired to do much of anything, truth be told.

He tilted his head to one side and was slightly surprised to see Castiel sitting in a chair beside his bed, covered in that ridiculous Columbo coat, head tipped back and snoring gently. Gabriel frowned at first. Angels weren't supposed to sleep, but Castiel was falling, and it could only be expected after a while for him to be pretty much human. But at the same time, with his wings wrapped around him—which would be undetected to the human eye—the kid looked pretty innocent and adorable, like he had as a fledgling—not that Gabriel would ever admit that out loud.

He made the mistake of trying to sit up and was unable to help the yelp that escaped him as fire shot through his body. That startled Cas who jolted upright. His coat slid to the floor and he looked over quickly toward Gabriel, eyes widening as he saw he was awake.

"Gabriel! You're awake!"

Gabriel slumped back with a wince. "Reconsidering it."

Castiel was standing over him, pulling his blanket down to check his bandage. "How do you feel?"

"Like I got stabbed," Gabriel replied blandly.

Cas gave him a slightly annoyed look, but he couldn't hide his relief either. Uh-huh, the kid had been worried about him, he could deny it.

"Are you…healing?" the younger angel asked hopefully.

Gabriel could feel his grace stirring, culminating around the site of his wound. It was sluggish, thanks to his charity of healing Dean Winchester, but it was working. "I think I'll be okay before too long. Just gotta get a little more rack time. Hey, they got pay-per-view in this joint?"

Castiel sat back in the chair, still just staring at his face until Gabriel was starting to squirm. "You know, you keep looking at people like that, they may get the wrong idea, kiddo."

Castiel sighed softly. "I'm just…glad you're alright. I was afraid for a moment back there that…"

He looked away and Gabriel raised his eyebrows, gently prompting him. "That what?"

Cas looked up at him, deep regret mixing with the relief in his eyes. "That I had lost you. Again. And without a proper goodbye. Again."

Gabriel mustered a smirk. "Hey, you know me, Cassie, I don't die easy."

"But I doubted you," Castiel said earnestly. "Almost this whole time. I was…angry at you still."

"Which you had every right to be," Gabriel assured him truthfully. "You already gave me your reasons for that."

"I know, but all the same…you are still my brother, Gabriel, and I should have at least given you that much."

"Well, considering what some of your other bros have done, I don't blame you," Gabriel said. "I mean, Lucifer, Zach, they would have killed you, you know that."

"But you wouldn't," Castiel said firmly.

Gabriel smiled, and reached out to knock his knuckles against Cas' arm. "No. I wouldn't."

Cas slumped, relief overcoming him and making him weary again. "I'm just glad you're okay. And I'm glad you're back."

Gabriel shrugged, then winced. "Well, if everyone is determined to get me into this war after all, I may as well get to choose the side I want to be on."

"And you are?" Castiel asked, hopefully. "On our side, I mean?"

Gabriel settled his hand over Cas'. "I am, kiddo. Promise."

Cas shifted until his hand was facing palm up and wrapped his fingers around Gabriel's. Normally, Gabriel wouldn't have stood for anything so touchy-feely but the kid was obviously tired. He reached out with his grace to touch Castiel's and the younger angel returned the favor, feathers bristling in relief. Gabriel was tired too, and it was safe here, so he closed his eyes, but not before he said, "For what it's worth, Cas, I'm glad to see you again too."

He was slipping off into his recharge mode again, but he could feel a spark in the younger angel's grace as Castiel smiled back at him; a real genuine smile, like Gabriel hadn't seen since Cas was a fledgling. That in itself made him realize he had made the right choice.

~~~~~~~

Dean jolted awake, heart pounding as his breath caught in his throat. His hand clutched at his chest where a cold ache had started, but it was only a memory, as were Lucifer's red eyes and dark chuckle that lingered in his head. It was dark in the room, but the television flitted light across the familiar surroundings and Dean knew he was safe—they were all safe.

Sam was still sleeping against his side, and Dean closed his eyes and gave a fervent prayer of thanks for that. He carefully slid off the couch, and lowered Sam down into a more comfortable position, lifting his long legs up onto the couch as well. He grabbed the blanket off the back and draped it over his little brother, taking a moment to watch him breathing deeply in sleep, the familiar sound he had known all his life. He smoothed some of Sam's hair off his forehead before he straightened, working a crick from his neck as he made his way to the kitchen, still thirsty and hungry.

He was just pulling stuff out of the fridge for another sandwich when he heard a footstep in the doorway and turned around to see Cas, fully dressed in his trench coat again. He straightened up with a small smile. "Hey, how's Gabriel?"

Castiel nodded slightly and came to sit at the table as Dean did the same. "He is healing. He woke up for a bit earlier and seems lucid enough. I think he will be okay."

"That's good." Dean could clearly see the relief in Cas' face at the knowledge his brother would be okay. Sure, Dean and the archangel hadn't exactly been on the best of terms previously, but if Gabriel was willing to help them out, then he wasn't going to complain. Besides, Cas obviously cared about him and Dean was glad to see his friend reunite with his heavenly family members—especially ones who didn't just want to ostracize and kill him.

Dean motioned to the sandwich fixings spread on the table. "You want any?"

Cas shook his head, a hand subconsciously going to his stomach. "I am still not ready to eat anything after the hamburger incident," he said wryly. "Besides, it probably will not be long before I have to eat to sustain this vessel."

Dean instantly felt less hungry at Cas' own, almost casual, admittance that he was getting worse and worse. To make his friend feel better though, he forced a smile and said, "Well, if that happens, you'll just have to learn moderation. No more burger binges."

Cas shook his head, then turned his gaze back on Dean. "How are you, Dean? And Sam, is he all right?"

Dean spread some mustard on a piece of bread. "I'm all right. Sammy's not too bad. He could use a few days of sleep from the looks of him, and I guess I could too, but his burns aren't too bad. He'll heal up before long."

Cas cocked his head to one side and gave him a slightly longsuffering look. "And everything that isn't physical?"

Dean focused on his sandwich, putting it together carefully. "What can I do, Cas? It happened, I survived. There ain't nothing else to it."

Cas looked pained, turning his gaze toward the wall. "If I had gotten to you sooner…"

"Hey, this is not on you," Dean said firmly. "Cas, you can't blame yourself for this. I was the idiot who ran off to Zachariah. I know you think I should have taken you with me, but even if I had, Lucifer would have just gotten both of us, you may not have gotten out alive." He swallowed hard. "Cas, like I said, what happened happened. There's nothing we can do about it now but keep swinging. Keep going after Lucifer and finding a way to defeat him. Yeah, what happened to me and Sam wasn't good. In fact, it was horrible, and both physically and psychologically draining, but if I stop and think about it, I'm just gonna end up rocking myself in a corner somewhere. So you know what I'm gonna do? Keep fighting, just like I always do, and so are you—so is everyone else, because that's what we do. Team Free Will, remember?"

Cas stared at him a moment and nodded. "Yes. You're right, Dean. We cannot afford to give up now."

"Good," Dean said, and took a big bite of his sandwich. "How did you find me anyway? You never said."

Cas reached into his coat pocket and pulled out Dean's amulet. The hunter frowned.

"That? I thought it only found God?"

"So did I, but Gabriel said I could reroute it, so to speak, if I used our soul bond."

Dean choked, glancing at the angel. "Our what?"

Cas rolled his eyes. "That scar on your shoulder. It's where I took hold of you to pull you out of Hell. I had to lay claim to your soul to do so. It left a…bond of sorts."

"Well, that's not gay at all," Dean muttered under his breath, slightly uncomfortable.

Cas gave an exasperated sigh. "There is no innuendo behind it, Dean. I am your guardian, after all. You and in conjunction, Sam, were the charges I was sent to watch over. It just helps me be more connected to you, though with my failing powers it does little good. You may think of it now as a bond of friendship or brotherhood if it makes you feel better."

"Hey, I'm comfortable with my masculinity," Dean snarked. He cautiously raised a hand to his shoulder to touch the scar hidden beneath his shirt. Well, if it turned out he had his own angelic GPS tracker, it was good that Cas was the only one who could use it, he supposed. It could be worse.

He cleared his throat. "So, something I wanted to ask you. Lucifer carved something onto my skull so you couldn't get in my head again. Like the sigils on my ribs. Think you can get rid of it?"

Cas frowned and reached out to touch Dean's forehead and closed his eyes in a few seconds of concentration. "I can remove it if you want me to, but are you sure you do?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Dean asked.

"Because it will also keep any other angels out of your head. Michael will not be able to contact you like that, nor will Lucifer be able to torment you further if he chooses to do so."

Dean thought a moment, and then shook his head. "Yeah, but you'll have no way of contacting me either. If one of us looses our phone and needs help, we'd have no way to reach each other. I don't think we should risk it."

Cas looked at him for a long moment and then nodded in consent and reached out to touch Dean's head again. Dean couldn't help a small yelp as he felt a burn across his skull, but it was over it a second and Cas was sitting back in his chair, and all that was left was a dull ache.

"Thanks," he said, rubbing his head before he went back to his sandwich. "By the way, where is my car?"

"Still at the site you were supposed to meet Zachariah," Cas told him.

Dean cursed. "Alright, well, tomorrow, you can fly me there and I'll pick up my baby and bring her home," he said. "Hopefully no one has found our weapon cache yet."

He ate in silence until Cas opened his mouth to speak again. "Dean, this whole thing, even though it was bad, it still proves that we have a chance against Lucifer. We got out of there alive, without you or Sam saying yes. I think that we should count it as a victory."

Dean nodded slowly, his eyes on the table in front of him. As much as it had hurt, what he had gone through, and knowing what Sam was going through at the same time, he knew Cas was right. Maybe if he could keep thinking of it like that, he would be able to make it through the next few weeks without a nervous breakdown.

"You're right," he said after a while. "We should count it as a victory. But I still can't help but wonder if it's enough?"

Cas was silent and cast a look back toward the den where Sam was still sleeping on the couch before he faced Dean once more. "I think…that having family support you is always enough. No matter what happens. You just have to remember not to let go of that."

Dean's eyes narrowed slightly at Cas' words, surprised to hear them from the angel, but he nodded with a small smile. "Agreed." He stood up to put the sandwich stuff back in the fridge before he crossed the room, clapping a hand on Cas' shoulder as he passed him and looking down at his friend. "Thanks again, Cas. For being there."

Cas looked up at him with a small nod. "I will endeavor to always be that," he said.

Dean left the kitchen and cast one last glance at the angel, his second brother, before he grabbed a sleeping bag from one of Bobby's closets and went back to the den. He spread the roll on the floor next to the couch and laid down on it, glancing up to look at Sam's sleeping figure one more time before he closed his eyes and fell asleep to the familiar sound of his brother's breathing.

~~~~~~~

Sam woke the next morning feeling genuinely refreshed. He sat up on the couch with a yawn and rubbed his eyes.

"About time you woke up."

Sam looked over to see Bobby sitting at his desk, working on his computer. He smiled tiredly, standing up to stretch his back out. "Well, I haven't slept much for a few days." He looked down and saw the sleeping bag still laid out on the floor. "Where's Dean?"

"He and Cas went to get the Impala," Bobby said and wheeled his chair around the desk. "You hungry?"

Sam's stomach growled just at the thought. "Yeah. But you don't have to make anything, Bobby."

"I was gonna make some breakfast anyway. Come on, son."

Sam followed him into the kitchen and grabbed stuff for Bobby as he worked on making eggs and bacon. They were just sitting down at the table when Gabriel appeared in the doorway, looking a little ragged, maybe a little pale, but much better than he had when they got him back.

"Hey," Sam said in surprise. "You doing okay?"

"Aw, were you worried about me?" Gabriel asked as he came in and sat down in one of the vacant chairs. "I've been worse. Been better too, though." He looked around. "Where's the other set of bros?"

"Out to get the car," Sam said, then glanced at his plate. "Um, want some breakfast?"

"I'm not that bad off," Gabriel said. "Could use some sugar though."

"Well, there ain't much of that," Bobby said.

"I'll settle for a beer then," Gabriel said and snapped his fingers. A bottle from the fridge appeared on the table. Gabriel shrugged. "Still got the mojo."

"So what happened with Lucifer?" Sam asked as he ate his breakfast. "Did he just fly off somewhere?"

"Pretty much," Gabriel said, taking a drink. "I'm not sure what his deal was."

"What I'm wondering is why he didn't kill you," Bobby said.

"You and me both," Gabriel muttered.

Sam watched him for a minute but decided not to press it. Gabriel might have stepped up to the plate for them, but Lucifer was still his brother. Sam and Dean had had some pretty intense fights in the past, and while they'd never intended to actually kill each other, the hurt afterward was hard to deal with and took a while to smooth over. Sam could tell Gabriel was still rattled, and wasn't willing to press the issue. If the archangel didn't want to kill Lucifer, then the rest of them could do so easily.

"So what now?" Sam asked him to change the subject.

"Well, I thought I would look around, try to drum up some more help," Gabriel said with a shrug. "I also got a few feathers to unruffle with some old friends."

"But you're in this?" Bobby asked.

Gabriel gave him a longsuffering look. "Yeah, I am now. For better or worse. Now that Luci knows I'm with you, it's not like I'm gonna change sides or anything. I'm afraid you're stuck with me."

"Well, thanks," Sam said sincerely. "I don't think any of us would have gotten out of there without your help."

"Ya think?" Gabriel quirked an eyebrow at him. He gave a short chuckle and took another drink of his beer. "And to think, that this ended the way you wanted it to after all. Doing your own thing, and dragging me along with it. I spent all that time making those pocket dimensions to persuade you for nothing."

"Yeah," Sam said. "And for the record, don't ever do that again."

Gabriel gave him a smile but didn't say anything. Sam decided not to read too much into that for his own good.

After they finished breakfast, Sam helped Bobby research until Dean and Cas got back early in the afternoon. Cas looked relieved to see Gabriel up and about.

"I see you're feeling better," he said.

Gabriel grinned. "Yep, just about good as new."

Sam greeted Dean as he watched the two angels out of the corner of his eye. Cas stood rather awkwardly next to Gabriel who was sitting on the couch.

"So," the younger angel said. "Are you going to be leaving now?"

Gabriel shrugged. "For a while, just to see if there's any help I can find, and uh, to check in on Kali and the others."

Cas sighed slightly. "But you'll be back?"

"Couse, kiddo, I'm in this now too," he assured him, standing up and clasping Cas' shoulder. "Team Free Will?"

Dean grunted. "Yeah, that's right."

"Oh, by the way," Gabriel said and crossed the room to Bobby. He settled a hand on his shoulder and the old hunter glared at him before his eyes widened slightly. "You're welcome," the archangel said with a smirk.

"Bobby?" Sam asked, frowning, unsure of what had just happened.

The hunter was shaking, and as he started to push himself up out of his wheelchair, Sam and Dean shot forward to stop him, but then stopped in their tracks as they watched him climb slowly to his feet, a look of shock on all their faces.

"Bobby?" Dean breathed.

Bobby took a step away from the chair and tested his balance before he looked over at Gabriel with wide eyes. "Thanks," was all he said.

The archangel winked. "We need all the help we can get. And as much as you were rocking the Professor X look, I figured this was more helpful to all of us."

Sam and Dean looked at Gabriel with gratitude, and Cas gave his brother an almost proud look.

"So," Sam said. "What do we do now?"

"Today, we regroup and recover," Dean said firmly, going over to Bobby's desk where he took up one of their angel blades. "Tomorrow, we figure out a way to ice the devil."

Cas nodded. "Agreed."

Sam looked around at the small group of people and angels who were willing to go up against one of the most powerful forces they had ever faced. But despite their lack of numbers and firepower, he still had every faith that they could win. Because if they didn't the world would end, and they weren't going to let that happen.

Sam figured that was just part of being a hero. And really, there was no one he'd rather stand at the end of the world with than the people in this room.

He caught Dean's eye across the room and knew he felt the same. He picked up a shot gun and started to break it down for cleaning.

"Let's get to work."

The End