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The Rope

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Gabriel lay on the metal floor of his prison, shackled hand, foot and neck to it. He could barely stay awake; Asmodeus had drained his grace yesterday. These days, the cursed device seemed to sap more than his grace; it frequently also took his will to live, to fight, to struggle against his captivity. The only thing keeping him from exhausted slumber--or passing out; whatever you wanted to call it--was the thought of Asmodeus coming to him while he was asleep. Decades of torment had taught him that being jerked from his slumber was worse than when he was attacked when he was awake--even now, when he couldn't hear or see because Asmodeus had deafened and blinded him. He didn't expect the demon to come back so soon after draining him, but it had happened before.

His worst fears were confirmed when a hand suddenly clamped down over his mouth. He shrieked in surprise, although the hand probably muffled it--with his eardrums burst, he couldn't tell. He tried to jerk away, but the movement brought him in contact with...something. Another person? He was trying to think about the angles--yes, if they had wrapped an arm around his head to hold his mouth shut, their head would be behind him. He froze, though he still trembled. If he even looked as if he was fighting back, he'd be punished, and he didn't want that.

The hand over his mouth twisted until it became a finger, and made an obvious shushing sign against Gabriel's lips. He nodded slightly to show he understood. Asmodeus wanted him quiet, for some reason, and he wasn't about to disobey. Gabriel fully expected to be tested: for the demon to inflict pain until Gabriel screamed, just so the Kentucky-fried asshole could punish him for making noise after he had been told not to.

The hand disappeared, and Gabriel felt pulling at the iron collar around his throat. It wasn't the sort of pull that indicated he should move somewhere; instead, it seemed as if Asmodeus was disconnecting the collar from its chain. That was odd; usually he left the chain in place and just disconnected it from the floor so he could use the chain to lead Gabriel around like a dog. Gabriel bit down on his lips hard enough to draw blood to keep from letting out a whimper. Anything unexpected represented danger: it meant Asmodeus felt creative, and that was never a good thing for Gabriel.

The demon continued to free him from the chains. He left the angel cuffs on his wrists and the chain that went between them (Gabriel wasn't surprised), but removed the shackles on his ankles entirely. That meant they'd be walking somewhere. Gabriel continued to shake like a leaf in a windstorm; being taken out of his prison never boded well. Still, he shuffled around until he was on his hands and knees, ready to help push himself to his feet. Sometimes, if he showed enough willingness, Asmodeus would go easier on him. Sometimes.

Normally, he'd be unceremoniously hauled to his feet by an arm or his unwashed hair. To Gabriel's surprise--and he'd be lying if he didn't add to his horror--Asmodeus put an arm around his waist, and set his own arm around Asmodeus' shoulders. It was awkward, with the angel cuffs still on, but Gabriel did his best. The demon then pulled him to his feet, with--dare he say?--gentleness. Gabriel started to shake even harder; if there was one thing Asmodeus wasn't, it was gentle. What was going on? The single finger pressed against his lips again, and he nodded. That was strange, too--it wasn't like the demon to give him a second warning.

Gabriel tried not to lean on Asmodeus as he limped out of his prison, but he couldn't help it--it was all he could do to keep himself moving forward. Judging by the feel of the flooring on his feet, they walked through the demon's compound for a while, though not in any of the directions Gabriel was regularly taken. His level of fear was climbing into panic attack territory; what was going to happen to him this time? When they finally stepped through a doorway and he felt earth under his foot instead of stone or wood, he panicked and tried to pull back. Asmodeus had never taken him outside the compound before, and Gabriel was terrified of what the demon might do to him out there.

The grip around his waist tightened and a hand clamped down over his mouth again, even though he hadn't cried out. Had he? What? Gabriel wondered in the midst of his panic. The person holding him tugged forcefully, and Gabriel was pulled out the door before he knew what was happening--it wasn't as if he actually had the energy or strength to oppose the other being.

Gabriel was force-marched for a time, maybe five minutes or so, before he felt a shift around them. They had used a magical means of travel, even though Gabriel's grace was too low to determine what that might be or where they were now. What the fuck? Suddenly, he was released. He stood there, teeth chattering, hugging himself in order to try to calm himself down. Was this some sort of sick game? Was he supposed to try to run away, make it through some dangerous part of Hell or something for the demons' amusement? Wait, no, the material beneath his feet wasn't earth anymore. It was a man-, or, well, demon-made floor. Some sort of tile, maybe?

Gabriel started to smell...was that frankincense? What would that be doing in Hell? A hand took him by the elbow--he bit his lip again so he didn't cry out in surprise--and pulled him forward a few steps. The smell got stronger. The hand on his elbow left, only to pry one of his hands out from where he'd folded his arms across his chest. Gabriel let Asmodeus take his hand--he'd be punished if he didn't--and stooped slightly as the demon pulled his hand downwards. He nearly yelped when it encountered something warm and wet. Wait...that was water. Just plain old hot water, as far as Gabriel could tell. For now, he left his hand there when it was released. His other hand was pulled down to encounter an edge of some sort--the edge of the basin the water was in? The person guiding his hand slid it along the edge until he encountered what felt like a bar of soap, and then plastic bottles of some sort. Shampoo, maybe? Was this a...bath? He was supposed to take a bath? For what? He did not like to think about why Asmodeus wanted him to take a bath. Why on Earth would the demon drag him outside, though, and then take him to have a bath? Why didn't they just bring a tub of water into his cell? Why was he too stupid to understand whatever this was?

The hand that was 'showing' him things placed his on a stack of towels--no, not just towels, warm towels. And...maybe a robe? Gabriel wasn't sure, because he didn't want to take his other hand out of the water to explore. He felt the softness of the fabric under his hand, and nearly cried. It had been a long time since he'd felt anything like it.

The hand on his wrist turned his over, so it was palm-up, and began to slowly tap in it. It took Gabriel a few moments to recognize Morse code, so he missed the first few letters. R-E-S-A-F-E, the other hand spelled, then paused. What about a safe? Gabriel was still trembling. The hand started again, and this time Gabriel paid attention. 'Y-O-U,' the hand spelled, and his brain put two and two together when the next letters started to repeat. 'You're safe,' the other being was trying to tell him. But how could that be? Surely Asmodeus--this must be a trick. Asmodeus was trying to make it look as if someone had rescued him, and was then going to snatch all of that away, just to hurt him more deeply, to prove, once again, that he was worthless and that the demon had complete control over him.

Gabriel realized he should acknowledge the message--but how? After some time, he finally decided to tap back, still too frightened to make any sound. 'O-K,' he responded. The hand holding his stilled, and then started tapping again. Initially, Gabriel thought it was the same message, as it started with the same letters. 'Y-O-U-C-A-N-T-A-L-K.' Gabriel wasn't sure if it was meant as a question or a statement, so he just nodded. Yes, he was physically capable of talking. He wasn't sure if he was actually allowed to make noise again, though.

The tapping paused, as if the person with the other hand were thinking. Eventually, it tapped out, 'T-A-K-E-A-B-A-T-H." That was an order that Gabriel could obey. He had never worried much about modesty, and his dignity and pride were long gone, so he wasted no time in stripping out of his filthy rags and stepping into the warm water. It felt like heaven as he sank down into it. As he did, he realized that the water was scented--that's where the frankincense smell had been coming from earlier. He still didn't know where he was or what was going on, but at least, for a short time, he'd be clean.

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As he left the bathroom and the broken archangel behind, some tiny part of Crowley's mind was whimpering. What are you thinking? it demanded as he walked through his compound. He tried to tell it that he knew what he was doing, and that it had been purely selfish to take Gabriel away from Asmodeus. Why should the Prince of Hell get archangel grace, when the King of Hell could use it--maybe to stop all of these bloody feelings that the Moose had forced on him? Besides, Crowley had been working for years to weaken the power bases of the Princes, and it made sense to make a move on one of them...although, Asmodeus was hardly the best choice at the moment. Still, the longer Evil Colonel Sanders went without archangel grace, the weaker he'd be.

Crowley poured himself some Craig, and sat down in front of a roaring fire. He wasn't actually worried about Asmodeus--he probably should be, but he'd had plans to handle the Prince for centuries now. What was eating at him was the real reason he'd rescued Gabriel, which had nothing to do with the archangel's grace. Ever since Moose's blood, he'd been--ugh, he had to take a drink just to get the taste of the thought out of his mouth--feeling guilty. He'd known for years that Asmodeus had Gabriel; he just hadn't cared. And then Moose had given him his blood, and for whatever reason, the thought of leaving an angel--no, let's be honest now--his former angelic lover--at Asmodeus' lack of mercy became unpalatable.

So, while high on human blood, Crowley had learned as much as he could about Asmodeus' compound, killed all the demons who traded him the information, and snuck in by himself and rescued Gabriel. Like somehow having Sam's blood in his veins had made him the bloody Winchesters all of a sudden. What had he been thinking? Crowley let out a little whimper. And now he had Gabriel, and little to no idea of what to do with him. He'd kept the angel cuffs on, just so Gabriel didn't escape, although if Crowley let him regain enough grace, they probably wouldn't hold the archangel.

What he wanted to do--what he'd expected to be able to do--was to talk to Gabriel. Have a literal captive audience that seriously owed him, who might have information he could use to help him...that's what Crowley had wanted. But Asmodeus had ruined that; Gabriel couldn't see or hear, and Crowley knew there was no way he could heal an archangel. It would take both time and willingness on Gabriel's part. Worse, he couldn't just bloody talk to the archangel. Not that he knew what he'd say if he could, but talking was his strong suit. Morse code was extremely...limited.

"Bollocks," he said aloud, ignoring the burn as he swallowed more of his drink. He began to contemplate what he should tell Gabriel. Asmodeus had thoroughly broken the archangel, so Gabriel was unlikely to trust anyone who wasn't trying to use him for something. Luckily, that wouldn't be hard for Crowley to do, and it would satisfy the part of him that was still a demon. After due consideration, he snapped up some pages covered in Braille. He didn't return to the bathroom just yet, though. Instead, he finished his drink, snapping his fingers a few times to amend the manuscript. Only when he was happy with it did he stand, collect the pages, and head back to the bathroom.

Gabriel didn't react when Crowley opened the door and stepped into the bathroom, but the demon hadn't expected him to. The archangel had curled up in the space between the toilet and the cabinet under the sink. He was back in his rags; he probably hadn't thought himself worthy of the robe. Crowley made a face at the smell of them and snapped, sending the disgusting items to a landfill and replacing them with the black robe. Gabriel jumped when the clothes changed, whimpered, and then slapped a hand over his mouth before doing his best to fit himself into the space behind the toilet.

Crowley rolled his eyes. In other circumstances, he might have enjoyed the sight of an archangel cowering before him, but right now it just annoyed him. Crouching down, he reached out for the hand covering Gabriel's mouth. The angel twitched violently when he made contact, but allowed him to pull his hand away from his mouth and set it on the stack of pages he'd brought. Gabriel's face twitched a few times, and then his hand felt at the pages. Gingerly, he moved his finger to the top of the first one and began skimming it over the raised text.

The King of Hell watched as various emotions crossed the archangel's face. Gabriel clearly didn't believe all of what he was reading, but again, Crowley had expected that. The pages told him that he had been taken from Asmodeus by the King of Hell, who he was now to serve. He wouldn't be hurt unless he disobeyed orders or tried to escape. If he did everything asked of him to the best of his ability, he would be allowed to participate when Crowley killed Asmodeus. In the meantime, he was to wear a charm that would prevent Asmodeus from sensing him using his grace. The first thing he was to do with his grace was heal himself--first his eardrums, and then his eyes. If he didn't, he would be punished. He was to keep himself clean so he didn't offend the King with his stench. Each time Gabriel's fingers found another order, he nodded jerkily to show he understood. Gabriel was allowed to talk and make noise, as long as it didn't disturb Crowley.

The demon stood, waiting until Gabriel finished reading the pages. When he did, the archangel gave a final nod to show that he understood. Crowley crouched down again, placing an amulet on top of Gabriel's hand. It would prevent Asmodeus from learning the archangel's location--if the witch who made it knew what she was doing, of course. For her sake, she'd better have. Gabriel immediately put it around his neck. Once he had, Crowley took his hand and tugged upwards. Gabriel stood, though he was trembling. Crowley led him through a door and into a guest bedroom. He placed Gabriel's hand on the bed before snapping up another sheet of Braille. This one simply said, 'Stay in these rooms. I'll be back in the morning for a chat. Consider what you know about the trials necessary to close the gates of Hell." After Gabriel read it, he nodded--and then sunk down onto the floor next to the bed, curling in on himself once more.

Crowley found he didn't care if Gabriel slept on the bed or on the floor. Shrugging to himself, he left the bedroom, locking the door from the outside. He'd decided that he deserved a treat, so he was going to inject himself with more human blood and then watch some Lifetime movies. He wasn't sure if that made him a sadist or a masochist, but he didn't care about that, either.

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Gabriel sat with his head lowered onto his knees, arms around his shins. Especially with his back to the wall and side to...some piece of furniture, he wasn't sure what, this presented the least amount of surface area to the world. Normally, in any form, Gabriel was very much larger-than-life: the Chrysler building had nothing on him. Now, though, he wanted to shrink, and continue shrinking until he didn't exist any more. His rational mind--what was left of it--recognized the truth: the King of Hell had stolen him away from the Prince of Hell. His irrational mind had him jumping regularly at what he imagined could be touches, and was waiting for Asmodeus to wait for his ears to heal in order to laugh at him for even entertaining the idea he might be 'rescued.' The small amount of rationality he had left pointed out that Asmodeus was not actually that creative, but so many thoughts were whirling through his head that it was just one of many.

Both irrational and rational sections, however, noted that even if he HAD changed hands, he was still in deep, deep trouble. In the end, one demon was very like another. He'd heard of Crowley, though he thought he'd never met him. It was extremely rare for a rank-and-file demon like him to rise so far in Hell's hierarchy, which meant that he had to be clever, cunning, resourceful--and ruthless. Gabriel started to shake again; none of those were qualities one wanted in their captor. Assuming Crowley was his captor, and Asmodeus had truly lost him. Gabriel swallowed down the urge to retch--whoever had him had specifically told him to stay clean. Sometimes, if he did what he was told, they wouldn't hurt him as badly. Sometimes.

Gabriel eventually stopped shaking. Unfortunately, it wasn't because he was able to relax; it was because his muscles had run out of energy. The little bit of grace he was regenerating was going into healing his eardrums, as requested. They were just flaps of skin, so it should only take a day or two. He'd be glad when he could hear again; Asmodeus had been creative, in that respect. Not only could he not hear or see pain coming, he couldn't tell time. He had no idea how long it had been since he'd been led into the room he was in now: it could have been minutes; it could have been hours.

He smelled something foul, and then felt breath--a lot of it--on his hair. He jerked back away from whatever it was, and hit his head against the wall. Gabriel cried out--or thought he did, anyway--but it didn't stop whatever it was. A slimy, disgusting...appendage smeared itself all over his face. Repeatedly. He was pretty sure he was screaming like a little girl, now, as he brought up his hands to try to push whatever it was away. When his hands encountered fur, his brain nearly short-circuited. Oh, Father...it's a hellhound, he realized, freezing in fear. He knew what one of those could do to his vessel, if it wanted. When the animal bodily jumped on him, Gabriel passed out, half from fear and half from exhaustion.

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"BAD DOG!" Crowley yelled. "BAD DOG WORMWOOD!" The puppy had pushed its way around him as he entered the room with water and food--he knew angels didn't need it, but also knew it would help their grace replenish itself a little faster if they had access to it. "DOWN! GET OFF HIM!" Crowley set the tray he was carrying on the bed and then grabbed the German Shepherd with its gigantic paws and ears by its collar--what had possessed him to rescue that when he had plenty of hellhounds down below? Ah, right. He had been feeling sorry for himself because Rowena had never allowed him to have a pet, and thought getting a puppy might be a good idea. Instead of a puppy, though, the animal shelter had given him about three stone worth of hyperactive tongue and fur and teeth that chewed on /everything/. If he left it alone for more than ten minutes, it would start to howl. None of the hellhounds he had raised had ever given him problems like this.

The dog left Gabriel--who had stopped screaming and slumped over--alone, and began to try to jump up on Crowley. "NO. STOP THAT, YOU TOSSER!" Crowley roared at it, but it just barked happily and tried to wiggle out of his grip and lick him to death at the same time. He eventually managed to drag it out of the room by its collar, its claws scrabbling on the hardwood the entire time. Good thing this wasn't one of his nicer mansions. Crowley slammed the door in poor Wormwood's face and heaved a sigh. That animal was not going to be good for his reputation as the King of Hell. Not that he was doing that job right now; his demons didn't even know where he was.

Walking back over to the archangel, Crowley leaned down to survey the damage. Wormwood hadn't actually hurt Gabriel aside from a small scratch from one of his claws, but the brown-haired man was unconscious. Crowley had seen this sort of thing before, when torture victims had tried to keep themselves awake past their body's point of exhaustion. With another sigh, he snapped up a Braille-filled sheet of paper with directions on where to find the food and water, and set Gabriel's hand on top of it. He wasn't surprised when the archangel didn't even flinch at his touch; Gabriel would likely be out for a while. So much for his plan to talk with him any time soon. Crowley then moved the tray so Gabriel could easily reach it if he wanted to. He doubted the archangel would, but at least Crowley could say later that he'd tried. He still couldn't admit to himself why that actually mattered to him.

Grumbling to himself, Crowley left the room--using a well-placed knee to make sure Wormwood didn't re-enter. The hyperactive puppy barked at him, and then ran back down the hallway. It was probably going to fetch a ball or something completely pedestrian like that. No wonder Rowena had never let him have one.

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Crowley knew something was different as soon as he walked into the room: this time, Gabriel's empty eye sockets were pointed at the door, rather than staring straight ahead. "You can hear." Crowley stated it flatly, and was not surprised when Gabriel flinched violently. He wasn't surprised to see the food and water untouched where he'd left it, either.

"Yes, your majesty," Gabriel whispered, bowing his head. He had begun shaking violently again, and managed to clasp his knees even more tightly to his chest.

Crowley had to admit, he liked the sound of the title falling from Gabriel's lips. His goal wasn't to inspire fear, however. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "As long as you don't try to escape or do anything stupid. I was a crossroads demon; I can't lie." Exaggerate, bend the truth, leave important bits out, sure, but outright lie? Crowley was so above that. He settled himself on the bed, facing Gabriel's little hidey-hole as he allowed the archangel to absorb what he'd just told him.

It didn't seem to have much effect, but then, Crowley hadn't expected it to. Asmodeus had been much too thorough with Gabriel. Crowley suspected that the angel would actually respond better to threats and demands than to reassurances. "Now that you've healed your ears, I want you to heal your eyes," he instructed.

Crowley hadn't put any heat in his tone, but Gabriel's teeth still started chattering. "Y-y-y-yes, your majesty," he replied.

Crowley rolled his eyes since Gabriel couldn't see him. He was kind of looking forward to the moment when Gabriel realized who he really was, although he doubted the angel would defer to him quite as much once he did. "In the meantime...why don't you tell me what you know about the Tablets Metatron scribed?" He'd learned--from Gabriel, no less--to avoid asking directly for the information he wanted. Better that Gabriel think he was trying to find the Tablets than to cure the effects of the Trials.

Gabriel froze for a moment, as if he might disavow all knowledge of them, and then sagged. "They were written after I left Heaven, after Lucifer Fell. I don't know exactly how many there are. I know there's one for angels, one for demons, one for humans, probably some others... I don't know where they are, or what they say."

"If you had one, could you read it?" Crowley was genuinely curious. He knew Castiel hadn't been able to, and he certainly hadn't been able to, but Gabriel was an archangel.

"I d-d-don't know. M-m-maybe. I've never seen one."

Crowley was starting to have that weird feeling again--the one where your heart hurts and you want to hide in a cave for the rest of your life at the same time. Guilt. That's what the infernal thing was called. "I'm not going to hurt you," he repeated. "You're no good to me if you have to waste your grace healing yourself. So calm down." He watched as Gabriel forced himself to stop shaking so hard. It didn't make the feeling of guilt go away, but it lessened it somewhat--even though Gabriel was probably exactly as upset as he'd been before. Huh. Weird. "Why don't you...tell me what you know about demons?" he prompted, deciding that bowling the angel a full toss was the kindest thing to do at the moment.

Gabriel took a deep breath, and began to describe what he knew. Crowley occasionally interrupted him to ask a question, but otherwise just let him speak. The demon already knew the vast majority of the information Gabriel was giving him, but talking seemed to have an actual calming effect on the angel. Asmodeus probably hadn't hurt him when he was divulging useful information.

"Just a moment," Crowley said, when Gabriel had been talking for some time. "I want you to drink some water so you don't get hoarse. Hold out your hand." Once again, he tried not to put any heat into the instruction, but Gabriel still tried to push himself further into the wardrobe he was leaning against. His hand was trembling as he obediently held it out. Crowley sighed, but snapped up a glass of water and pressed it into Gabriel's hand. He made certain that Gabriel had a firm hold on it before he let go. "Drink."

Gabriel drank. At first he was hesitant, but once he realized it really was just water, he drained the glass. "Good," Crowley praised him. "Now, you mentioned exorcisms. Without using the exact words, tell me what you know about those." After all, Moose had told him that they got the idea for curing a demon from an exorcism.

The archangel took a breath, and then continued talking. Crowley nudged him every so often, to try to see what he knew--if anything--about the trials, but the more Gabriel talked, the less Crowley felt he knew about them. Bollocks, he thought. He would probably have to ask Gabriel outright. At this point, however, they'd been talking for hours. Wormwood, who was outside ruining the mansion's lawn, was undoubtedly howling and/or scratching the door in an attempt to get back inside. Besides, Crowley was getting peckish. He didn't need to eat, of course, but he enjoyed doing so. When Gabriel's latest explanation came to a halt, he nodded. "Fine. That's enough for today. I'll be back tomorrow. There's still food and water beside you, if you want it. Keep that pendant on, or Asmodeus will find us in a heartbeat--and neither of us want that, do we, love?" He smirked when Gabriel shook his head, then got up and left the room, locking it behind him.

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The questioning continued for the next few days, and Gabriel became increasingly confused. For one thing, he was having a hard time figuring out what the demon really wanted from him in terms of information. If he was looking for the Tablets, for example, he should have pressed him for more details about them. Second, this Crowley...was not acting like a demon. Oh, sure, he'd make little jabs at Gabriel, poke a little fun, but it had been several days and he hadn't physically hurt Gabriel, not even to slap him. In fact, he hadn't touched him. And the 'demon' didn't seem to go out of his way to hurt Gabriel mentally, either, unless the lack of torture was supposed to be a torture in and of itself. Gabriel began to wonder if it wasn't another being claiming to be the King of Hell.

Yet, this 'Crowley' was asking him questions he'd expect from a demon--about the Tablets, what he knew about demons themselves, what he knew about Lucifer, and so forth. Today, Gabriel was trembling violently as he told Crowley about the uses of archangel grace--at least, the ones he knew about, and how Asmodeus had gone about extracting it. He was having a very difficult time forcing the words out of his mouth; only the thought of what Asmodeus had done to him when he'd tried to hold back information was keeping him talking.

"Can it heal...afflictions?" the demon wanted to know.

"Yeah," Gabriel replied, glad that only a single syllable was needed this time.

"Is it addictive?" The question was a little sharper, a little more emphasized; Gabriel barely noticed as upset as he was, but he'd always been good at reading people, even if all he had to go by was their tone. "Once you have it, do you crave more?"

"Yes. I think so." Gabriel prayed he wouldn't have to elaborate; his teeth were chattering now, making it increasingly difficult to get the words out.

"Bollocks," the demon said. Gabriel should've felt relief, but didn't. Just because Crowley may not want to imbibe his grace didn't mean he wouldn't extract it for other reasons. The 'demon' was silent a few moments, and then added, "What makes you think so?"

Gabriel shuddered, and tightened his grip on his knees. "The way...Asmodeus made it seem like...he always wanted more," the archangel panted. "If I didn't have enough, fast enough, he'd...get mad." Also creative.

"Hmm." Crowley sounded frustrated for the first time, and Gabriel pressed himself harder against the wall and began to shed silent tears. Gabriel knew what happened when he frustrated his captor...well, his former captor, at any rate. "You can heal afflictions with your grace, though. Without anyone having to drink anything. Can you heal a demon with it?"

"Probably." Gabriel was careful with his words; he didn't want to upset Crowley by promising something he couldn't deliver. At the same time, he didn't dare ask questions himself, so he had no idea what Crowley was referring to. A curse, probably; a demon should be able to heal itself of cuts, burns, and the like. "I d-d-don't know for sure."

"Fuck." Now Crowley sounded annoyed. "Not very helpful, are you, angel?"

"S-s-sorry," Gabriel was terrified now. "If you want, I can try?" He spoke quickly to try to get the words out before Crowley could hurt him. Trying would likely mean failing, since he had essentially no grace in reserve, but maybe showing willing would save him a beating or two.

"Relax. I said I wasn't going to hurt you, and I meant it, love," Crowley said, likely reading his body language as opposed to his mind, although Gabriel couldn't be sure. "Keep healing your eyes. In the meantime..." the demon sighed. "Do you know anything about what happens when you give a demon human blood?"

Gabriel's face scrunched up in confusion, and he slowly shook his head. "N-no. I've n-never heard of that."

"Great. Just great. I rescue you for ONE reason, and you don't even--" Crowley cut off abruptly. "Relax, I said!" he suddenly roared at Gabriel, who was shaking so hard he'd cause an earthquake if he did have any grace.

Gabriel froze, more on instinct than anything else, but continued to weep silently. He was in for it now--especially if it was true that the demon really didn't need him for anything else. Asmodeus would probably pay a huge price to get him back, as would any number of other beings. Few of the nasties Gabriel knew would care if they became addicted to something, as long as the addiction came with enough power.

"I'll be back later," Crowley said after a long, tense silence. "l need to go..." He trailed off for a moment, as if about to say something else, then finished, "Drown my disappointment in you." Gabriel heard him get to his feet and head for the door. When he opened it, Gabriel heard claws scrabbling, and Crowley shouted, "DAMN IT WORMWOOD!" Suddenly, the large paws were back, scrabbling at Gabriel's knees. He could hear the thing panting...happily? What?

"You know what, that's good. That's what you can do. You can be the bloody dogsitter. Just keep him quiet and out of my hair," Crowley ordered before he shut the door--leaving the hellhound in the room with Gabriel.

Except it wasn't acting like a hellhound. It was pawing at him, yes, but not in an attempt to claw him open. In fact, its claws almost seemed...dull. And it kept making little excited squeaky noises that he was pretty sure no hellhound would be caught dead making as it found and ate whatever was on the plate beside him. Gabriel was even more confused when it started licking his hair. Sure, hellhounds were extremely loyal to their masters and acted like a normal dog around them, but this one didn't know Gabriel. It shouldn't be treating him like this, even if it were a puppy. Plus, had Crowley said /dog/sitting? Surely a demon like Crowley wouldn't have an actual dog.

And yet, the longer it pawed and licked and occasionally barked at him, the more he relaxed. Eventually, Gabriel realized that he didn't smell sulfur at all--and he would if this were an actual hellhound. He lifted up his head slightly, and the thing began to lick his face. He tentatively held out a hand and touched the wall of fur in front of him. It wasn't hellhound fur; it was regular fur. The animal pulled away, and then licked his hand before mouthing it. While the teeth were sharp, they were puppy-sharp, not hellhound-sharp.

Gabriel's mind didn't really know what to do with this newfound information, so he simply sat there, lost in thought for a while as the puppy chewed on his hand and arm. It wasn't long before the animal got bored, and left Gabriel to go whine at the door. That got his attention--'Crowley' had told him to keep the animal quiet. "Shh!" he hissed. "Here...come here."

Gabriel could hear the puppy come bounding back over, now that the odd being in the corner was offering it some attention. He didn't feel like talking to it, so he began to stroke its fur instead. He could tell it was large, especially for a puppy, but not much else. The fur seemed thick, but also soft. Perhaps a husky? What would a demon be doing with a husky? Gabriel couldn't even imagine, unless they needed it for some sacrifice. ...And there it was. The only likely reason that the demon had a dog. Gabriel stopped petting it for a moment, shocked at the thought.

The puppy whined, and somehow managed to shove its way onto his lap, pushing his knees down so that it could lean against his chest. After a moment, Gabriel put his arms around it, and hugged it close. "I'm sorry," he whispered to it, though he knew that sentiment was precious little to offer. The puppy licked his face in response and then plonked its considerable weight down across Gabriel's lap. He let out a surprised grunt, but loosened his hold and went back to petting it. The repetitive motions of his hands were just as soothing to Gabriel as they seemed to be to the puppy, who stilled after a few minutes and seemed to go to sleep.

Gabriel wondered briefly if this would be part of his torture--allow him to make a connection with the animal, and then kill it in front of him. But somehow, he didn't think so. If so, Crowley would've left the dog in the room much earlier. The dog and he were probably unconnected; hopefully they wouldn't share the same fate.

--------------------------
Crowley re-entered the room some time later, after a shot of human blood and the wave of emotions that accompanied it. Wormwood pricked his ears up and opened his mouth to pant, but didn't move from where he was laying across the archangel's lap. Gabriel himself was fast asleep against the dog's back. "...Huh." Crowley said. Aside from when he was completely exhausted, Gabriel had never failed to rouse when he'd heard the door open. After a few moments of staring at the unlikely pair, Crowley left the room and quietly pulled the door closed. He had been going to interrogate Gabriel further, but there wasn't much point. If Gabriel didn't know anything about giving demons human blood, there really wasn't much to ask him about. The best thing to do would be to wait until Gabriel got his vision back so he could see Crowley and knew who he was. Then...then they'd have quite the conversation. In the meantime, Crowley decided to go get drunk--one of the actual benefits of having so much human blood was the ability to get a little drunk now--and find a good-looking prostitute.

He found himself tiptoeing away from the door, harumphed, and started walking normally--or as normally as you can walk when you suddenly find yourself thinking about the way you walk (which is to say, rather stiffly and somewhat uncharacteristically). Maybe he should make it two prostitutes. He had plenty of money, after all. Hell, maybe he should make it a baker's dozen. Maybe -that- would erase the weird feeling he got upon seeing the archangel sleeping against the German Shepherd, who looked for all the world like he was protecting his master. Crowley had no idea what that feeling even was, but as a demon, it was upsetting. He really should lay off the human blood soon; it really messed him up.

Chapter Text

It was a few days later, and Gabriel had been able to make out the fact that Wormwood was a German shepherd, not a husky. His sight was still hazy, but he could now (mostly) see. He hadn't been able to make out the details of Crowley's true face yesterday when he had visited him, but he'd seen enough to know that Crowley was, actually, a demon. That fact made him spiral for an unknown amount of time after the demon had left; Gabriel had been hoping that his jailer was only pretending to be the King of Hell. Gabriel was shocked that Crowley still hadn't hurt him; even demons with the patience (or laziness) of saints--like Azazel or Ramiel--would eventually get angry and hit captives. Crowley yelled at him sometimes, but that was all.

Wormwood seemed to prefer Gabriel to Crowley, and had managed to sneak a ball into the room. Gabriel would toss it across the room, and the dog would leap over the bed and pounce on it, then run back around the bed and drop it next to Gabriel. There wasn't much room in the room for the dog to run around, but apparently it was enough. Crowley just seemed glad Wormwood wasn't bothering him any more. The puppy slept next to Gabriel almost every night, curled up in a little nest--Wormwood had thoroughly ripped apart the mattress and the pillows, and now there was stuffing everywhere. Wormwood had slowly relocated some of it from on top of the bed to the side of the room where Gabriel was curled up to make it more comfortable for them both.

Gabriel had taken to sleeping with his arms around the shepherd; it made him feel safe, like things couldn't sneak up on him as easily, particularly before he started being able to see. The puppy also responded well to feedback, such that when Gabriel cried out in pain from a particularly vicious nibbling, Wormwood would whine and then try to lick his face in apology. The dog soon found that chewing other things--the wooden legs of the bed, for example--was more satisfying than chewing Gabriel anyway.

As soon as Gabriel could see a little, he made certain to follow Crowley's rules and used the bathroom to wash off, so he didn't start to smell as badly as he had when he was Asmodeus' captive. He also used it to do what he could about Wormwood's accidents, which weren't really the puppy's fault--Crowley's schedule was far from rhythmic, so oftentimes Wormwood had no choice but to go in their room. Gabriel was trying to teach him to go in the bathroom, since that was more easily cleaned up, but the puppy wasn't particularly bright and didn't really care about being house trained.

Whenever Crowley would come in, Gabriel would dart back to the nest he and Wormwood shared, and curl up as small as he could again. Wormwood never seemed to know what to make of this, but would frequently stand between Gabriel and his captor, wagging his tail slowly and giving Crowley real puppy dog eyes. Occasionally, he would run away to grab a ball and drop it at Crowley's feet; hope springs eternal when you're a young dog.

Today, Gabriel could finally almost fully focus his eyes. Even if things were still slightly fuzzy, it was a big improvement from the day before. When Crowley walked in (Gabriel was already in his nest), something struck him as familiar about the demon's true face. He'd met thousands of different demons in his lifetime, and it was hardly a new trick of theirs to take on new (or use old) names, so he wasn't surprised by the familiarity. However, something continued to bother him, so he looked harder, frowning, trying to force his eyes to focus the last little bit.

Crowley noticed what he was doing, and held his hands to the sides so Gabriel could get a good look at him and his true face. The demon didn't say a word.

Suddenly, Gabriel realized what was familiar about Crowley's true face, and he sucked in a startled breath. "No. No, it can't--no."

"'Fraid so, love," Crowley used a mocking tone to respond.

"Ca--"

"DON'T call me that!" Crowley roared. As he stepped forward and raised his hand, he looked for the first time as if he was actually going to hit Gabriel, who shrank back toward the wall. Wormwood gave a distressed whine and climbed onto Gabriel's lap (he was convinced he was a lap dog, even though he was already much too big for that). Crowley breathed hard for a few seconds, lowered his hand, and then snarled, "The name's Crowley. Not--that other thing. I'm not him anymore. And you owe me big. So you can keep calling me Your Majesty."

Gabriel realized that his face was wet; he was crying, half over what had become of what was once such a beautiful being, and half because he was absolutely terrified. He was certain that he knew now why Ca--Crowley had refrained from hurting him up to this point: any pain he doled out would hurt twice as much now that Gabriel knew who he really was. Realizing abruptly that he still hadn't answered the demon, he forced himself to choke out, "Y-yes, your Majesty."

"Good," Crowley growled. He made a face at the destroyed bed, but sat on what was left of it after a moment or two since there was no other option. "So, let's chat, now that you know exactly how much you owe me, Halo." He paused to let that sink in. "I've a tiny problem, and you're going to help me solve it--one way or the other. Then, well, then we won't be even by any means, but I might feel generous enough to let you help me take out a certain Prince of Hell who's been taking up valuable space in Hell for too long. Understand?"

Gabriel was looking down at Wormwood's fur through Crowley's speech, still crying silently. "Yeah--yes, Your Majesty." He desperately wanted to ask Crowley what had happened to him, how he'd ended up a demon, but he also didn't dare as he wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his robe.

"Excellent. Now, sit back and relax; it's story time. Once upon a time, an obnoxious Moose and an even more obnoxious Squirrel decided to use Yours Truly to shut the gates of hell, after they found instructions on a tablet a little birdie named Kevin who lived in their asses gave them," Crowley told him.

Gabriel didn't have to guess who Crowley meant by Moose and Squirrel; the Winchesters were in the middle of everything, even when they weren't. Under other circumstances, he'd probably laugh at the nicknames and start using them himself, but for now he remained quiet. He did furrow his brow at the thought of closing the gates of hell, however; he hadn't known that was possible.

"Turns out, in order to shut the gates of hell, one of the things you have to do is 'cure' a demon." Crowley sounded as if he had made a face, and scoffed. "Moose drug me into a church, tied me up, and started injecting me with his blood. It was supposed to...I don't know, make me human again or something." He snapped up a glass of whiskey to clear the taste of the phrase 'make me human again' from his mouth. After taking a gulp, he set it down on his thigh. "Lucky for me, before I was cured Squirrel found out that in order to cure me, little brother would have to die. You know how those two are. Squirrel burst into the church, went all, blah blah don't kill yourself Sammy, it's not worth it blahdy blah, then they hugged it out as if they grew up hidden in an attic and--" He stopped himself, and appeared to change what he was about to say. "And now, I have the uncontrollable urge to inject myself with human blood. Think you can clear that up for me, Halo?"

Gabriel barely followed Crowley's speech; he did so only because he was used to punishment if he spaced out when Asmodeus was talking. "I..." he hesitated, because he wasn't actually sure. "I don't know. I'll try, though," he added hastily, "In a few days, I should have enough grace to try a healing." He was telling Dad's honest truth, because he knew better than to lie to Ca--to Crowley. Nervously, the angel started to pet Wormwood.

"Hmph." Crowley didn't sound happy, and he was scowling at Gabriel (who wasn't looking at him, and thus didn't see the scowl). "I suppose that will have to do." He didn't get up and leave, though--instead, the archangel heard ice clinking as Crowley took another gulp of whiskey. There was a long, strained silence, during which Gabriel started another trembling fit. "Aren't you going to ask me what happened?" Crowley demanded finally, sounding put-out and, of all things, slightly hurt. "Before, I mean. Not with the Winchesters."

"What--what happened, Your Majesty?" Gabriel knew what the demon was referring to, and yes, he was curious about it...but at the same time, he knew he wouldn't like what he would hear.

"Well. After you left, Raffie wasn't enough to keep Mikey and Luci from their little pissing contest," Crowley responded, tone harsh. "Dad finally put Luci in time out, and things...changed." His face twisted in another snarl. "Dad disappeared, and Mikey started walking around like he owned the place. He gave Naomi orders to prepare us for the Apocalypse. It was all fighting, or getting ready to fight, all the time." He snorted. "You know what I think about that." Gabriel did know; when Crowley had been an angel, he hadn't been a particularly athletic one, preferring to create art and music, not spar. "It wasn't the same without you; I had no one to talk to. Humanity...I started thinking that living as a human couldn't be that bad, compared to what I had to put up with in Heaven. So, once they had come out of their caves and started piling rocks on top of one another, I ripped my grace out and Fell."

Gabriel's face was a mask of tears, but he made no noise, having been taught by Asmodeus to cry silently. He couldn't imagine what Crowley had gone through. Not only would it have hurt terribly, Crowley wouldn't have even remembered he was an angel, just fallen to Earth and been born to some woman and...and then what? He didn't dare ask, in case Crowley was done sharing, but the demon continued his story anyway. "Then, my mother turned out to be a witch, left me to my own devices when I was still a wee little lad, I met a crossroads demon in a pub when I'd got a little older, no thanks to her, and, what is it the Yanks say? Oh, right, 'Bob's your uncle.'"

Gabriel dared to peek up at Crowley. The demon's vessel's face was twisted in disdain, likely remembering the torture that he'd gone through in order to become a demon after he had been dragged to hell. Gabriel knew something about what that was like now, after being at the not-so-tender mercy of Asmodeus for so many years. He still couldn't quite believe that the angel he had known and loved back in Heaven was now a demon--and not just any demon, the King of Hell. Of course, that did explain some of Crowley's rumored powers, but still. Gabriel found himself remembering how beautiful angel Crowley's wings had been. They had been checkered and striped black and white like a woodpecker's, with gorgeous red feathers on the wing joints that looked like eyespots on a butterfly when they were fully extended. Gabriel remembered many lazy days in Heaven that he had spent grooming those wings, feeling the feathers slide through his hands.

Gabriel wanted to say something, apologize, vow revenge, anything, but he hesitated too long, and the moment passed. Crowley stood up, vanishing his empty glass. "Who cares, right? Water under the bridge for both of us," he muttered. "You--you just be ready to heal me in a few days, Halo. Or you'll be sorry. Come along, Wormwood." The dog, recognizing its name (or more likely the chance of going O-U-T-S-I-D-E), stood up and shook itself, then made its way to the door.

On that rather disturbing note, Crowley left the room, taking the dog with him and locking the door behind him. Gabriel just stared at said door for some time after they left. The King of Hell was a former angel? Who else knew about this? Had anyone--besides the Winchesters--tried to 'save' Crowley? Could he? Would he, even if he knew how? Gabriel wasn't thinking about just fixing the issue with the human blood, whatever that was; he meant actually turning Crowley back into the being he remembered, or at least back into a human whose soul could eventually go to Heaven. Of course, he had no idea how to do that, and even if he did, he was stuck in a room, what little Grace he had bound to Crowley's will. Eventually, Gabriel curled up on his side and wept for the angel the demon Crowley used to be. After he fell asleep, red-eyed wings haunted his dreams.

Chapter Text

Crowley, true to his word, made his way back to the room a few days later. He’d allowed Wormwood back into the room; the dog was tiresome, and Gabriel kept it fairly quiet. Plus, if it was loose in the mansion, it constantly made noise and/or tried to get him to ‘play’ with it. You’d think it would’ve learned by now, but apparently it hadn’t.

He made a face as he walked in the room; it smelled of dog urine. He snapped his fingers and cleaned the mess up, putting the bed back to rights as he did so. He wasn’t about to sit down on a torn-up mattress. Wormwood immediately jumped up on him, trying to lick his face. “DOWN, WORMWOOD!” he roared. The dog just barked happily at him and jumped some more. “You need to train this dog,” he snapped at Gabriel, watching the blood drain from the archangel’s face.

Of course, that just made him feel guilty, which made him even more annoyed than he already was. Crowley couldn’t wait to get this human blood purged from his system so that he could go back to revelling in the fear he struck in his captives...not feel this sodding gut-wrenching emotion called guilt.

“I hope you’re ready,” he said as he took a seat on the bed (Wormwood had already started to dig at the mattress in order to restore it to its former torn-apart state) in front of Gabriel. He folded his arms across his chest, and glared downwards.

The archangel ducked his head, but nodded. “Yes, Your Majesty.” Crowley was surprised he didn’t have more trouble being properly respectful; clearly his time with Asmodeus had changed Gabriel.

“Well? Get on with it, then,” Crowley ordered, watching Gabriel tremble as the archangel got to his knees and gingerly reached out a couple of fingers. Rolling his eyes, the demon leaned forward so that Gabriel’s fingers touched his forehead long before they would have otherwise.

Crowley felt the grace probing at him, and suppressed an urge to shudder. It felt so wrong to be touched by something so...pure...now that he was what he was. Oddly, however, he felt a tiny piece of himself actually respond to the grace. He recognized it as the part that had been affected by the human blood. Unfortunately, after a moment or two, it didn’t seem to be decreasing or, better yet, disappearing. It just responded to the grace probe and then...nothing.

“Well?” he demanded, harshly, and Gabriel jerked his fingers away. Crowley caught a glimpse of wide golden eyes before he ducked his head and retreated into his corner, wrapping his arms around himself.

“I--I’m sorry, Your Majesty. I ca..can’t get rid of it for you,” Gabriel stammered, teeth chattering in fear. “It...can’t be destroyed with my grace.”

Crowley roared in frustration as Gabriel shrank back further. He’d sort of felt as much when the archangel had probed him, but he still didn’t like the answer. Leaping up, he began to pace the room. Wormwood whined, and then wagged his tail and jumped down from the bed to walk back and forth after the demon, clearly assuming Crowley wanted to play.

He wasn’t sure how long he paced, clenching and unclenching his fists. However, Crowley slowly became certain Gabriel wasn’t lying--the part of him that had responded to the grace had felt similar to it, and certain types of power, particularly grace, couldn’t be used to destroy things that were too similar to themselves. God hadn’t exactly made angel grace so it could destroy other angels or the good he’d put in humans, after all.

Crowley turned and punched the wall, putting his entire fist through the drywall and into the next room. He ignored Gabriel and the obnoxious puppy for now, as he swore in ancient Scottish. Wormwood barked at him.

Finally, he turned back to the cowering angel, eyes narrowed. “Could you...make me completely human again?” He wasn’t sure it would be any better than being a demon, but maybe it was better than being half in one world and half in another, too human to be a demon and too demonic to be a human. In either case, he wanted--no, needed--to know.

Unfortunately, Gabriel shook his head no again, and Crowley sighed, allowing his shoulders to slump. “Bugger.” He threw himself onto the bed, falling back but allowing his legs to dangle off of the edge. The damn dog of course jumped up and started licking his face. He shoved Wormwood away, but that apparently just made it a game to the stupid animal. “Get him off of me,” he snapped in Gabriel’s direction.

“Wormwood. Come!” Crowley heard Gabriel hiss at the dog, and was glad when it jumped down off the bed. The angel probably was holding it in place, because it started to whine after a minute or two. Crowley didn’t care. It seemed he wasn’t going to get past this addiction to human feelings--not with the ease of someone snapping their fingers, anyway. That left him with an archangel who was of little to no use to him, unless he wanted to extract Gabriel’s grace to use himself, which those human feelings he had made him feel conflicted about.

Easier to just keep the angel captive and make him use his grace on...on what? Crowley had most of what he wanted. Sure, having Gabriel would mean he could terrify his opponents, but he’d become a risk the more grace he got back. The collar and cuffs would hold him a while, especially right now, but it wouldn’t take /that/ long to for his grace to replenish, and then they wouldn’t hold him at all.

Crowley did need to do something about Asmodeus, he supposed, as he stared at the ceiling. The Prince of Hell would eventually figure out who had taken his pet angel, and then he and his supporters would be gunning for Crowley. Best take him out sooner rather than later. While the King of Hell hadn’t planned to allow Gabriel to help kill Asmodeus without curing him first, going after Asmodeus would likely use up Gabriel’s extra grace for a month or two /and/ get rid of an opponent that Crowley wasn’t 100% sure he could destroy himself. He supposed that decided it...IF he could be certain that Gabriel would be able to use his powers against Asmodeus. He’d have to work on making certain of that. But not right now.

Sitting up, he eyed the archangel, who was still cowering, only now he was holding the dog’s collar as the dog licked him. It wasn’t fair. /Crowley/ had saved the damn thing from the shelter, it should like /him/, not Gabriel. At least jealousy was an emotion that both his demon and his human sides were comfortable with.

“How long before you have enough grace to smite Asmodeus and any of his cronies that get in the way?” He watched Gabriel flinch violently at the sound of his voice and then again at Asmodeus’ name. He couldn’t bring himself to care about either.

“Maybe...a month? At least three weeks,” the archangel estimated quietly. “Your Majesty.” He didn’t ask any questions, which Crowley appreciated.

“Fine,” Crowley growled. “Tell me when you’re almost ready. And…” He hesitated. There was no use locking Gabriel in the room when he could be useful. Since he had such a great relationship with the damn dog, he could take care of it. “I’m going to leave the door unlocked. You take care of the dogs’ messes. And train him so he actually listens to commands. But you leave the grounds of this place, and I will lock you away again and start extracting your grace and using it myself. Are we clear?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Crowley never thought that Gabriel would ever be able to sound convincingly meek, but here he was. Part of Crowley wanted to slap him and tell him to grow his balls back, while another part really liked the idea of Gabriel on his knees, giving Crowley the respect he’d always deserved.

Having solved the problem of what to have Gabriel use his growing grace on and decided what to do about Asmodeus, Crowley stood up and walked out of the room, remembering at the last second to leave the door unlocked. He wondered how long it would take before the once-proud archangel actually ventured outside the room.