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The Ancient Cinders of a Heart

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~ooooOOOoooo~

 

“I don’t like it.” Gabriel’s voice was deceptively calm, as was his posture. Both Winchesters could feel the throb of his disapproval and upset like a struck nerve along their bonds.

“I promised Jimmy we’d check on Amelia and Claire,” Dean explained again, loading a freshly-stocked cooler into the backseat. “And Lisa’s place is on the way. We got time just now and I ain’t backing out. Not after…” Dean’s voice dropped off, pain lancing through him again. It hurt to even think about what Castiel had done to himself in an effort to reach the Beautiful Room, to try and rescue a mate he believed would forsake him.

“You still shouldn’t be traveling without us.” Gabriel looked at Sam, hoping that at least one of the humans in his flock might see sense. “Can’t you reason with him?”

“I agree with him,” Sam replied, showing no outward sign as he internally braced himself. Sure enough, Gabriel’s disappointment washed over him like the muddy waters of a river overflowing its banks. Refusing to show how it affected him, Sam finished his check of the weapons cases. “It’s not like we haven’t traveled without you before, and you’re a mental shout away if we need you.”

“That’s not the point, Sam,” Gabriel retorted acidly. “We’re not exactly working with an excess of time here. Abbi or Mal can check on these humans for you; that’s part of the job I assigned them, and I can have them add this Lisa chick to the list if it’s all that important.”

Dean swung his gaze to Gabriel, clearly surprised. “You assigned them to keep an eye on Jimmy’s family?”

For a moment, Gabriel paused, and then decided to make a clean breast of it. “The day I mated Sam, I had them assign a cherubic guard to Castiel’s vessel’s family. I can do the same for this woman you’re so concerned about just as easily. We don’t have time for distractions, Dean. We need to focus on the bigger picture.”

Sam nearly winced openly as he watched Dean’s eyes flare angrily. “I made a promise, Gabriel. Now, I appreciate that you’ve got them under guard, but I need to see for myself that they’re all right. Maybe if you hadn’t been wearing that poor schmo you’re in now since the damn Middle Ages, you’d understand why. And Lisa and Ben might not make it into the ‘big picture’, but that doesn’t mean they ain’t important.”

“You know that’s not what I meant,” Gabriel warned, genuine anger fraying into his voice. “You have a mate that’s still weak and needs you with him. Every minute that we get closer to a showdown between my big brothers means more portents of the Apocalypse: earthquakes, storms, fires, floods, plagues, demonic attacks, all manner of shadow beasts going mad. And all of that means there are people dying everywhere, Dean. People just like Amelia and Claire and Lisa and her kid. And now that you know you can check on Amelia and Claire with a shout to Abbi or Mal, then we both know that digging in your heels to go see them is just an excuse. You really gonna tell me that you’re willing to spend the lives of the people that will die because of that couple days’ delay just to go check in on your extra-bendy ex-weekender?”

The back door of the Impala slammed, a telling sign of how close Dean was to losing his temper. “I gotta check the room,” was all he said.

Sam waited until Dean was back in the motel before speaking. “He needs to do this,” he offered quietly. “He needs to see them. He just lost the chance to be sure that they’d be all right no matter what; it’s got him nervous.”

“There are no guarantees in this life, Sam,” the archangel replied, his voice tight and unhappy. “Even if Dean had said yes, if it comes down to a fight, Michael could lose.”

“I know.” Sam finished loading the trunk, then tipped his head at his mate curiously. “Your vessel… who was he?”

“No one,” Gabriel replied, almost too quickly. Sam threw a bitchface so fierce that Gabriel actually flinched. “He never was, Sam. If I’d actually picked someone in my vessels’ bloodline, Heaven could’ve tracked me down in less than nothing flat. This devastatingly sexy meatsuit you’re so helplessly attracted to is little more than a golem.”

Sam blinked. “What do you mean, a golem?”

“I mean it’s a tailor-made body that never had a soul,” Gabriel replied. His even tone betrayed nothing; a sure sign that Sam was asking questions that the archangel would prefer not to answer. “No consciousness or sentience if I’m not home. If I had to bail for any reason, it’d be the best sex doll your kinky little heart could desire.”

Inspiration had Sam’s face relaxing, his lips pulling into a vaguely lascivious smirk that hollowed out the space under his cheekbones and brought his dimples out in force. “If you’re interested, I might be convinced to put on a show for you.”

Calling Gabriel’s bluff worked. Instead of staying aloof or upset, those glorious amber eyes widened in shock, and then Gabriel threw back his head with a peal of golden laughter. “Oh, Father… how did I manage to miss how kinky you are when we first met?”

“Too busy fucking with mine and my brother’s heads,” Sam replied with a shrug.

The hunter closed the distance between them as he said it, and Gabriel willingly let Sam fold him in, burrowing his ear against Sam’s chest and letting Sam’s heartbeat drum reassuringly against his cheek. “Wasted time,” he murmured. “Should have told you both then… warned you what was coming.”

“Leave the might-have-beens to the kids writing fanfiction about those crazy books,” Sam chided gently. “We’ve got too much to do to get mired in that.”

“Exactly why this trip isn’t a good idea,” Gabriel countered instantly.

Sam released his angel just as fast with an irritated growl, flinging his hands in the air. “What do you want me to say, Gabriel? Dean needs this; he feels like he owes Jimmy and he made him a promise.”

“That doesn’t mean he needs to make the pit stop at the ex-whatever-she-is!” Gabriel shouted. “Castiel is still weak-”

“And Ben might be Dean’s son!”

The angel fell silent. Sam felt his temper ebb. “Lisa said she had a blood test done when Ben was a baby, but I don’t buy it and Dean only pretends to. She didn’t have any of Dean’s blood for them to compare with Ben’s. And that’s not even counting the possibility of Heavenly intervention to obfuscate the truth. That’s enough reasonable doubt for a jury and more than enough for us. Dean needs to know that Ben’s okay. We’re doing this. Cas needs to rest and you need to protect him, so you two are holing up until we get back. End of discussion.”

For a long moment, Gabriel stared up at his hunter, his amber eyes molten as they bored into Sam’s agate-hard hazel. Finally, he found his voice, impressing himself that he remembered how to keep it flat and even. “I think we’ve just had our first real fight, gorgeous. Guess the honeymoon’s over.”

“Looks like it.” Sam tried to uncurl his fists, to make himself reach out to his mate and end the tension between them. They’d disagreed plenty of times since their mating, but never without resolving it before they parted. But this time, Sam wasn’t going to back down. He knew Gabriel wouldn’t, either.

Dean came back out of the motel to find the mates staring each other down, Sam’s jaw set and the muscle in his left cheek ticking. “We ready?” he asked, ignoring the obdurate gaze of the archangel his brother adored.

“Yeah,” Sam confirmed shortly. “We’re ready.”

“Don’t do this.” It wasn’t quite a command, was sharper than a request. “Let my cherubim handle it. Nothing good is going to come of this trip, Sam.”

“We’ll see you in a couple days, Gabriel,” Sam replied evenly.

The archangel stiffened even as his mate turned his back on him, watching with disbelieving amber eyes as both Winchesters slid into their normal seats in the Impala. Doors closed, the engine Dean so scrupulously maintained roared to life, and Gabriel could only watch as his beautiful, unpredictable, impossibly stubborn mate drove away without him.

Sam had once again managed to surprise him.

* * *

Castiel watched as Gabriel fidgeted, unable to sit still in a haven created to cater perfectly to the elder seraph’s comfort. “I believe your restiveness is causing my vessel nausea.”

Looking up sharply, Gabriel tried to assess the state of his younger brother’s health. “You’re still weak enough to feel that?”

“Yes.” Castiel settled back against the wall of pillows. Gabriel couldn’t help thinking he was oddly adorable: with his rumpled trench coat gathered about him and looking rather cross about the whole business. “It’s frustrating.”

Sighing softly, Gabriel crossed the bedroom from where he’d been trying to read in the low recliner and clambered into the nest beside Castiel. Ever uncertain of his welcome, he almost perched at the edge near Castiel’s ankles, an expression of concern written across his sharp features. “I shouldn’t have let them go,” he admitted, the words a half-apology. “You need Dean here. I can’t understand either of them.”

“He senses the connection,” Castiel informed him solemnly. “Both he and Sam do. They have not asked, and I have offered nothing, but it is enough that they suspect. Dean’s wish to go is… understandable, and I would not wish for him to go there alone.”

“You’re still letting him carry your sword, and yet you don’t trust him?” Gabriel’s tone was shocked and dangerous and just vaguely sorrowful.

“It is not a question of that.” Castiel’s eyes bored into Gabriel’s, serious as ever. “You trust Sam with no reservation, do you not?”

“Of course I do!”

“Would you wish for him to go alone, however briefly, to visit with the mother of his child?”

There was a momentary flicker behind Gabriel’s eyes, a hint of his visceral reaction to the image Castiel had conjured. “There were still better ways for them to do this.”

“Perhaps, but you know as well as I that the Winchesters are as stubborn as any angel.” Castiel smiled faintly. “It is part of their charm.”

The rare moment of humor in his often-dour younger brother brought a smile to Gabriel’s face. “Mating’s done wonders for you, little brother,” Gabriel observed wryly. “I approve.”

“You have changed much from your tie to Sam as well.” Castiel’s eyes were deep and full, an expression hovering at the edges of his face that Gabriel was shocked to recognize.

Faith.

“Don’t do that,” he blurted. Without meaning to, Gabriel shot up from the bed and backed away from the younger angel.

“You accept it from Abariel and Gamaliel,” Castiel argued, shifting to rise from the bed on unsteady human feet.

“Bull!” Gabriel’s voice went up a decibel, his grace surging in his fingertips. “Abbi and Mal know better. They know I’ll disappear again in a heartbeat if I have to and they know how to fend for themselves. I’m not Michael or Uriel or Anael, Cas. I don’t need faith and I don’t want it.”

“It is mine to give to whom I will,” Castiel replied stubbornly. “And I choose to give it to my flock. That includes you now, whether either of us like it or not.”

Gabriel recoiled as though slapped.

Castiel’s eyes widened as the echo of the words trembled in the room, his own temerity shocking him. “Gabriel-”

“Don’t.” Gabriel’s eyes shuttered, his entire being closing up and walling away. “It’s not like I didn’t know… or don’t deserve it. Just took longer than I thought for you to admit it.”

Internally, Castiel battled: his need to soothe the hurt he’d dealt and his unresolved anger with the archangel that had been set aside for the greater good and his instinctive obeisance to a higher seraph clashing in a three-fronted war within his grace. “You hurt them,” he finally ground out.

“I did,” Gabriel admitted. “More than you know.”

“You hurt me.”

“I couldn’t risk you tattling on me.” Gabriel was still, not quite regretful. “I knew what they’d do if they knew.” He chuckled softly. “Or I thought I did. Those two have a knack for surprising people.”

Castiel’s gaze was steady. “You abandoned Heaven long before any of this started in earnest. You must have seen the signs in these last few human years, especially when Dean and Sam first crossed your path. And yet you did nothing.”

Gabriel’s chin lifted, his expression a mask. He made no verbal reply for a long moment, the flickering in his golden eyes the only hint that Castiel’s words had even moved him. Time stretched out between them: two creatures who transcended it. Finally, Gabriel broke the silence, the weight of Castiel’s stare nothing to the guilt he’d carried for far too many years. “I know.”

“I don’t know how to…” Castiel sighed deeply then, a long exhale of frustration. “You do not make forgiveness easy, Gabriel, no matter how much you have changed. No matter how good for Sam you have been or how dedicated you are to stopping Michael and Lucifer. Especially when you would deny me the faith needed to sustain an act of such compassion.” He wobbled then, his worn-out grace wavering.

“Sit down, Castiel.” It came out an order, and Gabriel wavered a moment himself before going to the younger angel, taking him by the upper arms and physically pushing him back down onto the bed.

Castiel’s hands snaked out and caught Gabriel’s waist just above the hips. The elder archangel glanced down, his expression wary and vulnerable behind a mask not dissimilar to the one Dean always wore. It came to Castiel suddenly that his elder brother and his mate really weren’t all that different; not when it came to their hearts.

The apple of Gabriel’s throat bobbed. “Cas…”

“I am not happy that we have had so little time,” Castiel finally said, the words coming to him as they might if it were Dean before him, and no less true for one than they would be for the other. “There is too much unresolved, and no time to address it. In the absence of that, I must have faith, Gabriel. To not have faith would be to always doubt you, mistrust your commitment to Sam and to the cause of stopping the destruction that both Michael and Lucifer would rain down in the ultimate expression of their despair. We don’t have time for anything else.”

Gabriel was staring down at him, just gazing into the too-blue eyes of his vessel with the amber fire of the archangel’s. For too long, it seemed that they stared into each other, until they were seeing beyond the limits of the mortal flesh and only the grace, shining and roiling beneath the surface. Turmoil and second-guesses, love and loss and caution and fear, resentment and insecurity and the unspeakable gaping wound that was their Father’s absence, His Power forever fueling their graces but His Love no longer a soothing balm to heal the injuries to them.

And then the moment broke and they fell back into themselves, Gabriel reaching up to tuck an errant wisp of hair away from Castiel’s temple. “No, we don’t. And even I need it, I suppose. We all get a little insane without it.” He chuckled. “Crazy enough that two angels who barely know each other and certainly have no reason to trust each other would bond with a pair of brothers who are erotically codependant?”

“They have never acted on those impulses,” Castiel reproved mildly.

“And they may never,” Gabriel agreed. “Not beyond things like what happened that one night in that motel. But it’ll always be there, Cas. Even their bonds to us aren’t strong enough to weaken what’s between them.”

Another sigh, and Castiel felt fatigue settle over him. He was tired of fighting for every moment of wakefulness without Dean by his side, tired of battling in every aspect of his existence. Before Gabriel could stop him, Castiel tipped his head forward until his face was pressed into the elder seraph’s stomach, and he could smell the lilies and mint surrounding the archangel. And just beneath, imperceptible to their human mates, the scent of rich loam and dark power.

Gabriel uneasily pressed Castiel back until the Power was once again curled up on the bed, his dark tousled hair resting on a pillow and his trench coat gathered around him like a security blanket. “You should be resting.”

“Someday, Gabriel,” Castiel murmured quietly. “Someday, I will find a way to induce you to tell me your secrets. I will find a way to trust you, and you me.”

“You can believe that, if it gives you comfort, little brother.” Gabriel was about to sit, to try and find some rest himself and maybe a way to help Castiel heal without Dean being there…

And then they were both acutely aware of the brothers’ uneasiness, a spike of adrenaline and instinct and fear their mates would never admit to piercing across the angels’ senses.

Castiel found it first; it had never been used on Dean before. “Blood was taken. Someone intends to use blood magic tonight, and the Winchesters are their targets.”

“I know.” Gabriel was glad for the confirmation; Sam’s soul was latticed with marks from previous blood magicks, making it hard to discern. But it wasn’t hard for Gabriel to ascertain what was surrounding his mates, making it nearly impossible to retrieve them remotely. “Oh, no… oh, Father damn their hides.”

“Gabriel?”

“No, this is my fault. I was warned this might be in the offing, and I should have known better… should have known Her better.” Gabriel raked a hand through his hair and snarled to himself. “Fuck.”

“Gabriel.” This time not a question, but a demand for information wrapped into a few growled syllables. Castiel was once again sitting up, his expression slanted with determination.

“It’s Kali,” Gabriel expounded. “She’s gathered a strike force; from the feel of it, Isis is there with Her. They want the boys for something; probably bait.” His face was grim as he turned to Castiel. “I have to go after them.”

“We both will.” Castiel started to rise.

Gabriel put him back down. “No, Castiel. These gods are likely to kill any angel they find. I have an ‘in’, and I can get the boys out without pinging their radar… assuming our recalcitrant mates will cooperate.”

“And if they don’t?”

Something even darker crossed the archangel’s face just then, something that had Castiel instantly regretting their argument. Something that made the younger angel doubt that his flock would return to him unharmed. “I’ll cross that rotting rope bridge when I get to it. You stay here. I may need to throw them and leave another way, and I need you ready to catch them if I do.”

“We should relocate to a motel near them then.” Castiel didn’t like the idea of staying behind even a little, but Gabriel had too many good points to argue with. “The closest we can find.”

Gabriel nodded, and with a thought, they found the place they needed. “Wait for us.”

“I will.” Castiel watched his brother go, wishing that he could pray for his flock’s safe return.

It wrenched something in his grace to remember that such prayers were likely to go unheeded.

Chapter Text

~ooooOOOoooo~

 

“Their blood, as requested, my Lady.”

Kali took the vials into Her long, delicate hands. Blood was life, held power beyond imagining in an adept’s hands. And She was more than adept. Folding the slender glass tubes into Her palm, She brushed a thought through the contents, verifying…

And then almost crushed them in Her fury.

“Convene the council,” She ordered, dark eyes blazing as Her gaze snapped back up to Jupiter’s messenger. “And bring those miserable apes to me on their knees.”

“At once, Kali.” Mercury fled the room.

Baldur stared at His wrathful lover, concern filling His timeless face. “What is it, my Love?”

“He thinks to play Us for fools,” She snarled, Her features tingeing blue.

“Who, Kali?” Baldur insisted.

With monumental effort, She drew Herself up, retaking Her composure. “Go to the banquet room; I will be there shortly.” When Baldur hesitated, Kali’s eyes narrowed slightly, their exotic slant becoming far more pronounced. “Do not gainsay me, Baldur. Beautiful things can be replaced.”

Stiffening, He left. Kali sat slowly, Her eyes returning to the vials in Her hand. “He will regret this,” She murmured, Her true voice threading the words.

The air around Her trembled at the dread sound of a Goddess’ wrath.

* * *

By the time Dean and Sam found themselves being dragged into the banquet room, every seat in the hall was filled save three. The sheer power in the room buffeted their senses as they stumbled to a halt, scanning the gathering to assess the threat, only to reel back in shock.

Odhinn One-Eye. Baldur the Beautiful. Baron Samedi. Ganesha. Mercury. Isis. Zao Shen.

Gods of the Old Ways, weakened by the loss of human supplicants but still more powerful than any being in existence. All eyeing the Winchester brothers with barely concealed hostility and disdain.

A woman entered, taking her place beside Baldur at the head of the assemblage. Dean remembered her from the restaurant: coal black hair, eyes of glittering onyx, skin like honeyed mocha. A dangerous beauty, tempting as a predatory flower. Those eyes were blazing now, that danger seething from every pore as she stalked to her place before them. A queen and more, her manner imperial and smothering the will for defiance.

“Bring them here.”

The brothers struggled, resisting the strong hands that claimed their arms to haul them forward. But preternatural strength was defined by Gods, and the hunters were flung down to their knees before Her, held down when they tried to rise.

“Does he believe us all to be fools?” Her voice was glacial rage, Her eyes sparking with power. “Did he think we would not know you for what you are on sight?”

“Look, lady: whatever set off your PMS-”

The rest of Dean’s words were choked off. Sam could only cry out in dismay, held back as Dean was lifted by the throat and slammed supine onto the nearby table. “You will speak to my Sister with respect, you filthy mortal whelp,” snarled the hulking God currently pinning Dean down with a massive one-handed grip. “Or you will have just enough time to watch Her eat your insolent tongue before you drown in your own blood.”

“Not yet, Ganesha.” Her voice cracked sharply, a sound like the bones of the Earth breaking. “There will be time enough. But he is not the one I’m interested in just now.”

Sam fought to control his breathing, to keep his head even as Dean redoubled his efforts to break from the elephant god’s grip. “Who are you?” It came out a croak of fear, his entire body coiling from the pure adrenaline rush.

She came around the tables, cornered him, a smile playing at Her blood-red lips. “I am Kali,” She replied. “The Destroyer.”

Sam’s heart rate rocketed in his veins. Dean was still fighting, now not only to free himself but to reach Sam. Sam knew who She was. Kali: protector of women, goddess of death and rebirth, dark aspect of Parvati. She was power, ancient and inexorable, equal to Gabriel’s Father and then some.

The rational, intellectual part of his mind took over, protecting itself from the paralysis of fear. Sam didn’t know why She wanted him, but fighting back the way Dean was wouldn’t get them anywhere. They needed information. He needed to think for them both.

Before he knew he’d done it, Sam’s will forced his muscles to relax, sliding down out of his half-rise in Dean’s defense. He folded into a kneeling bow, lowering his head, every line of his body reaching for obeisance to soothe Her pride. “Please ask Lord Ganesha not to harm my brother. His blood-oath to protect me was sworn when I was still in my cradle.”

A pause. Crimson-lacquered fingernails scraped his scalp as Her grip slid into his hair and his head was yanked up and back until his spine bowed. He was exposed, vulnerable. Her beauty filled his vision, Her expression murderous. “Do you think to pacify me with pretty words, boy?”

“I’m asking you to spare my brother’s life,” Sam replied evenly.

Whatever showed in his eyes, She seemed mollified, dropping his head from Her grasp and speaking quickly to Ganesha in a foreign tongue. Hindi, possibly? The language of immortals? Sam couldn’t tell and knew better than to ask. Ganesha flung Dean to the floor at her command, and Sam had to resist the urge to gather Dean close and check his injuries. Dean was breathing, if half-choked by the god’s mammoth grip. It was enough. “Thank you, Kali.”

“Save your gratitude, boy.” Kali stood before him, rage still pouring from every line of Her elegant frame. “At best, you’ve bought him hours.”

“Hadn’t we better get on with this?” boomed another voice behind them. “I’d like to find out exactly why you’ve accelerated the timeline before we skin them.”

“Don’t you feel it, Odhinn?” Baron Samedi’s rich voice poured like funerary oil over the senses. “The Vessels we’ve gone to such pains to collect are bound from their destinies. The archangels can no longer use them.”

Baldur joined Kali between the banquet tables. Without a word, He crouched and pulled Dean up to his knees, tearing through three layers of fabric to expose Castiel’s mark on his left arm. “Seraphic mating bond,” He confirmed, cultured tones dripping disgust. “He’s the mate of a Power; useless to the Firstborn… and us.”

“Perhaps,” Kali purred. The mild tone in Her voice was somehow more terrible than Her anger. “But this one isn’t.” Before Sam could move, slender hands had taken his shirt and ripped it from collar to waist in one jerk. The remnants were tugged down past his shoulders, restricting his movement, and there was no way to hide the piercings glittering against his skin. “This one is the mate of the Herald.”

Sam froze. Dean was staring, wide-eyed, at the silver glinting in the fluorescent light. The air seemed to hang too heavy to breathe…

“Oh, sonuvabitch, Sammy! First the other thing and now this?”

All eyes turned incredulously to Dean, who was pushing out of Baldur’s grip and staggering roughly to his feet. “I mean, come on. Nipple piercings?”

“Very observant,” Sam snapped back, pushing to his own feet and stepping closer to his brother. “Maybe you should apply those keen insights next time I tell you there’s something not right about the weather.”

“Oh, don’t be a little bitch,” Dean sneered. “Though judging by those, it’s a permanent condition.”

“Like I don’t hear you moaning like a whore for Cas every night!” Sam returned hotly. “Don’t project your issues on me just because Man’s Man Dean Winchester spreads for his angel like the dorm slut.”

“Leave Cas out of it! He’s got nothing to do with this.”

“Yeah, right-”

“If you two don’t-” Ganesha rumbled.

“Just a sec there, Jumbo.” Dean actually stepped up on Sam. “You got something to say, Sammy?”

“You think I haven’t noticed by now that when your masculinity is threatened, you go after mine?” Sam threw off the remnants of his shirt, his muscles flexing openly as he towered over his elder brother. “You’ve only been doing it since I was a teenager.”

“Your little family dispute-” Baldur started.

“Dude, in a minute.” Sam cut him off with barely a pause for breath. “Your problem is: now, not only are you with Cas, who out-Alpha-males you just by walking into the room… but you get off on the fact that he does.”

“You get that outta Cosmo, princess?”

“Go ahead: deflect. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”

“Will you both-”

“In a minute!” they practically shouted in unison.

Kali was thunderstruck.

“You know,” Sam went on, “I’m amazed that damn ring of holy fire was enough to do the job of finally getting you and Cas together. You’re so emotionally constipated, it’s a wonder you can even talk.”

“At least I don’t have to talk myself up to the main event. Might be why you couldn’t ever get laid before he decided you got a pretty mouth.”

“Just ‘cause I wasn’t a man-whore like you doesn’t mean you’re better at it, Dean. Quality over quantity, remember?”

“Careful, Sam; that’s awful close to ‘size doesn’t matter’, an’ I’ve been trying to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Screw you.”

“Get in line.”

They were barely an inch apart when the double doors behind them slammed open. Perplexed gods and squabbling mortals alike turned to see a lithe figure with sunset hair stroll in as if he owned the place. “Can’t we all just get along?”

“Loki.” The word hissed out from between Baldur’s teeth.

The bright-eyed Trickster regarded the god with a slightly sardonic twist to his lips. “Baldur. Good seeing you too. Guess my invitation got lost in the mail, huh?”

“Why are you here?” Baldur snapped.

“To talk about the elephant in the room.” Ganesha let out an indignant growl and took a step towards him. “Not you. The Apocalypse. We can’t stop it, gang.” He paused briefly, as if a thought suddenly occurred to him, and then looked at the hunters in the middle of the aborted melee. “But first things first. The adults need to have a little conversation, boys. Check you later!”

The fingers of both the Trickster’s hands clicked simultaneously, and the hunters vanished in a waterfall tumble of rainbow light.

Chapter Text

~ooooOOOoooo~

 

Sam was barely breathing when they landed back in the room Mercury had assigned them upon checking in, his adrenaline still pumping madly in his veins. Dean was laughing weakly, stumbling into the bathroom to wet a towel in cool water before wrapping it around his abused throat. “I can’t fucking believe that worked,” the elder hunter managed wheezily.

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” Sam kvetched, barely getting his legs to obey his commands and carry him to the low couch. “Did you see the look on their faces, though?”

“Priceless,” Dean agreed. “Bet they’ve never had a couple mortals get into a bitchfight right in the middle of their ‘bow before us, puny humans’ routine.”

“Doubt it.” Sam chuckled softly, glancing up at Dean almost hesitantly as the moment died away.

Dean was gazing back, eyes on Sam’s still-bared chest. Nothing reflected through the bond; Sam had no idea what his brother was thinking. A faint blush started to creep steadily up his neck, made worse as Dean drew closer. Breath held, uncertain, Sam watched as fingers which had gauged the severity of a thousand hunting wounds, soothed fevers and nightmares, fed and dressed and even bathed him since before his earliest memories stretched out towards the seraphic silver shields braced across his areolas by the barbells transfixing his nipples. The pads of those fingers paused, hovering barely a breath away, and Sam dared a glance up at Dean’s face.

Viridian eyes were careful, guarded, not wanting to give anything away. Sam couldn’t be sure if it was because Dean was afraid of hurting Sam or of getting hurt himself. “Why?

A single word. Too much emotion behind it to sort out. Sam swallowed back the knot in his throat and gave the best answer he could. “It felt right.”

Those fingers finally fell, grazing across the metal circlet bearing Gabriel’s sigil. “Sam…”

“Cas is written into your entire body,” Sam blurted, afraid for reasons he couldn’t name. “He saved you from becoming a demon, rebuilt you when you were…” The words choked off. Sam went around them. “You don’t need tats or piercings or marks to feel him under your skin. And you’re under mine, Dean. Not quite the same way, but you are. I wouldn’t be alive without you; wouldn’t be me… wouldn’t be human.” Sam looked away, eyes focusing half-lidded on the piercings Gabriel had fashioned from grace… from love.

“I know what it feels like to try and compete with something like that,” he went on, not wanting to see the expression on Dean’s face that went with the confused throb across the bond. “So he can mark me any way he wants, because he loves me too, and there’s enough room in here for you both.”

He didn’t look up, not until he felt the way Dean almost seemed to test the strength of the bond between them: a vaguely hesitant pulse of affection and devotion that flowed into the younger human like warm molasses. Sam let his gaze meet Dean’s then, watched the way those blue-green eyes were soft and not quite bright with tears, and he smiled at Dean as he sent a pulse of love right back, stronger and more certain, trying to leave no room for Dean to doubt.

“I knew it was a bad idea to let you two hop on this little pleasure cruise.”

Sam’s head jerked around in time to see Gabriel brushing past Dean, a frisson of grace healing the elder hunter’s abused throat almost absently as the archangel unabashedly climbed onto Sam’s lap, sank his hands into Sam’s hair as he straddled his mate and pressed into the younger Winchester’s long torso, melding their mouths together into a kiss that was nothing short of ruinous.

For a moment, everything vanished for Sam but his mate’s warmth and scent and weight pressed reassuringly against his own. Everything but Dean, who Sam felt close by and wanted so badly to draw closer. To bring into the circle of their arms and keep both of the people he needed most in this world safe. But he couldn’t. This amorphous thing had always been there between them: an intimacy closer than siblings’, yet not close enough to be lovers’. The result had been a strange kind of limbo, born from too many years in emotional and often physical isolation, only able to trust or depend upon one another to fill the roles that were usually filled by outsiders.

Dean let out a snort but otherwise turned away, giving the mates a moment of privacy. The intensity that blazed between Sam and the archangel was all too easy for him to feel whenever he wasn’t laser-focused on something else, and just now it made him yearn for the feel of his own angel in his arms. His own safe place, where the world didn’t rest on his aching shoulders.

A questioning impulse floated across the bond from Castiel. Don’t you dare, he admonished silently. We’re hip deep as usual and in a place that angels should fear to tread if they’re not masquerading as pagan gods. I want you safe until you’re 100% anyway. We can handle this.

*I never doubt that, beloved,* came Castiel’s placid reply. *I will never understand why you equate a willingness to relieve you from being required to handle something alone with a belief that you cannot do so.*

Dean fumbled a little at that, having no reply. Castiel chuckled warmly in the depths of his mind, sending warmth cascading through his human lover. *Gabriel and I relocated to a nearby motel when we sensed the danger to you both. Unless you have need of me, I’ll await you here as you wish. But be careful, Dean. Of all that you are capable, that is the one thing you seem to refuse to do.*

I will, Cas. Dean took a breath, sending a tendril of love at his angel. The wave of emotion he got back nearly took him off his feet, and he was blinking tears back when the quasi-orgasmic haze receded from his senses.

“You two really know how to step in it up to your knees,” came a voice razor-edged with sarcasm. “It’s a good thing Cas still takes orders, or I’d never get anything done.” Gabriel was sliding reluctantly from Sam’s lap, his expression etched with irritation borne, Dean sensed, from fear for their safety. “Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, we’re getting you two yuckleheads out of here.”

“Not without the other hostages,” Sam insisted automatically.

“Casualties of war,” Gabriel rejected just as fast. “The longer you two are anywhere near this little war council Kali’s cobbled together, the more likely it gets that my cover’ll be blown.”

“You mean Loki?” Dean asked tersely. Gabriel stiffened slightly. “Kinda high profile for angelic WitSec, ain’t it?”

“He owed me a favor,” Gabriel replied, sensing Dean’s disapproval. “And a guy whose favorite aliases are internationally-renowned rock stars shouldn’t throw stones.”

“But how’d you fool them?” Sam asked. He’d been curious before, when Gabriel had first let his pagan pseudonym slip, but this latest revelation took it to a whole new level. “Human disciples, maybe… but Odhinn? Baldur? They know the real Loki.”

For a long moment, Gabriel was silent. “This is Loki’s Vessel,” he finally admitted. “Slightly modified for my use. Gods can’t possess humans for more than a few minutes; hours at most, and even then only carefully controlled conditions. Most of the time, They merely mold a Vessel and pour Themselves into it. Loki owed me big; I convinced Him to let me assume His place, Vessel and all. That’s why I can shapeshift, manifest physical wings and a whole host of other things Cas can’t do in his human suit. It’s finite. Mine’s not.”

Sam was staring. Dean sucked in a breath. “Sonuvabitch… you don’t do much by halves, do you, Trickster?”

“Now can we please take the opportunity to get you two out while they’re distracted?” Gabriel insisted. “Or do you want me to have to watch Kali start carving Sam like a pot roast?”

Remembering the barely contained power that vibrated in the wake of Kali’s touch, Sam shuddered. “Why? What does She want?”

“It’s pretty obvious She’s gunning for Michael and Lucifer,” Dean surmised. “I’m guessin’ the original plan was to use us as bait for ‘em and try to take at least one of ‘em out.”

Sam caught on all too quickly, his expression drawing in horror. “Except They can’t now, since we’re mate-bound. But if They can draw Gabriel here by using me…”

“It’s no secret that I ‘vanished’ after my chat with Mohammed,” Gabriel supplied with a nod. “If Kali’s anything, She’s clever enough to know that using me for bait will draw my big brothers here almost as fast as you two would’ve. If we’re gonna avoid that without making me sit on my hands while She tortures Sam to death, then we gotta leave.”

“But They could help, couldn’t They?” Sam interjected, suddenly hopeful. “If we explain what we’re doing, that we’re trying to derail the apocalypse-”

“No.” Gabriel’s voice was flat, almost angry. “Any other time in history, it’d either be a fair fight or They wouldn’t be dumb enough to try. Kali’s a balance goddess, and so is Isis: They’ve got… we’ll call it ‘influence’ over the others. Right now, They’ve got the others spoiling for a fight and there’s been enough resurgence of faith in the other pantheons to have Them all feeling juiced up. But Michael and Lucifer are both powering up on deep magicks. They’ll turn this bunch’s Vessels into fingerpaint.”

“The other humans trapped here are gonna die if we don’t get them out,” Dean protested, already moving past the idea of allying with the gathered deities. “We ain’t leaving without them.”

“We can’t chance it,” Gabriel disagreed.

“We can’t just turn out backs on ‘em, either,” Dean shot back. “Just because you’d rather run from a fight and don’t give a shit about anyone but us-”

Thunder. It was the only way to describe the sound that roiled out. Sam didn’t even have time to protest before Gabriel had Dean laid out across the floor, his jaw nearly dislocated from the force of the angel’s blow. The elder hunter was glaring up at Gabriel in mute blazing rage, and the archangel met his gaze with a baleful fury that Sam hadn’t seen in months.

“You… don’t know anything about me,” Gabriel bit out, voice frigid. “You have no idea how hard it was to walk away from them… how much strength it took to leave Mary and Abbi and Mal… I don’t give a shit? Do you know how many lives I’ve saved by capping abusive bastards? How many businesses are still feeding families because I took out asswipe columnists or corrupt businessmen? How many kids are finishing college educations because I gave predators and bullies what was coming to them?”

*Mate.* It was soft, placating. Sam was reaching out with his entire being, trying to ease Gabriel’s pain and anger. *Please…*

Dean watched those amber eyes shutter from his vantage point on the floor. Took in the ripple through Gabriel’s body and grace, a tangled net of guilt and self-reproach and loss that tightened like a spider’s cocoon of death even as Sam tried to dispel it.

Maybe he didn’t know how hard it was to walk away. Maybe he’d never been that strong. But Dean knew how being the one left behind destroyed pieces of the spirit, tore it apart in little chunks and threw it on the floor to be ground under the heels of boots walking out the door.

“Gabe…” It was an apology without voice, a concession that only family would understand. “Me and Sam… this is what we do. Bigger picture or not, this is the package. Don’t ask us to leave innocent civilians to die when we can help them.” A beat. Heavy silence within and without. “Please.”

Sam was holding his breath, not sure if Gabriel understood how far Dean was bending, how much it took for Dean to ask, rather than just do as he wanted regardless of the archangel’s objections. Gabriel could just yank them out, of course, no matter what Dean wanted, but for Dean to ask…

Finally, Gabriel’s shoulders dropped and his eyes rolled. “Okay, okay… I’ll do what I can to keep the grown-ups occupied while you let the rugrats out. But it’s not going to be easy. Kali’s suspicious and pissed and it’s almost impossible to deal with Her when She’s like this.”

“Whatever you need to do.” Sam’s voice was quiet, almost forgiving.

It brought Gabriel’s gaze sharply to his mate. One glance and he was softening even further in the face of the puppy-eyes, stepping closer and slipping one slender hand into Sam’s massive grip. “Never that far, Sam. Not anymore. But She and I had a fling, once upon a time. It might buy me the time you need.”

Sam nodded, squeezing Gabriel’s fingers before letting him go. “Be careful.”

“You, too.” Gabriel flickered away with a snap.

Before his afterimage had faded, Dean was already moving. “C’mon… we ain’t got much time.”

Chapter Text

~ooooOOOoooo~

 

There would be barely enough time. Dean and Sam had gotten a decent layout of the place before being captured, but the gods were restless. Gabriel knew his hunters were putting their lives at risk… again.

Well, and so was he. They knew it, and they’d still asked him to let them do their ‘saving people’ thing. He could only play the game and try not to lose.

Kali was half-dressed in Her darkened suite, the moonlight casting blue tones across the dark mocha of Her skin. Gabriel smiled softly. She had always been glorious; he even loved Her, after a fashion. Not the way he loved Sam, or his Father, but She commanded both love and fear with Her very presence. It was that affection that he needed to concentrate on now; thinking about Sam would make it too difficult to continue hiding his identity from Her.

“You’re still beautiful,” he offered softly.

Kali turned, regal even in swiftness, Her expression softening for a fraction of a heartbeat before a mask slid into place. “And you still play games. Nothing has changed, Loki, save that the time for games is over.”

With a thought, Loki lit Her candles, a rose proffered with a twist of nimble fingers. “Does Baldur make You laugh like I once did?”

“No… but He’s far less complicated than You were.” Kali gave him a measured glance. “I thought You might take this seriously. But You really believe We should allow the angels to destroy this world.”

“Why not? Ship’s sinking, it’s getting boring here, and You’re nowhere near as appreciated as You should be.” He drew nearer, brushing the rose down her cheek. “Let’s forget this marble; check out Pandora, or M25. We can go start life someplace completely different; it doesn’t even have to be carbon-based.” Kali chuckled, a sound filled with warmth and dark power. “C’mon…” he wheedled. “Run away with me; we’ll leave tonight. Whaddya say?”

Her dark eyes were limpid in the flickering light, large and luminous. She reached up, long fingers trailing the arch of his cheek, tendrils of fire and ice coiling through his skin in their wake. Beauty and cruelty. Life and Death. Darkness and light. She was intoxicating to his senses… an alien Alpha and Omega, and yet strangely the same… Her burgundy lips were lifting towards his, and his eyes shuttered closed…

A gash of pain tore through Her spell. Gabriel let out a low cry as Her hand on his chest shoved him back, those bottomless eyes hard as obsidian now. It took far too long for him to register the bead of blood leaking down his now-healed neck.

“Did you truly believe you could play Me for a fool, Gabriel?” Her voice was the crack of Doom, fury crackling palpably in the air. “I knew the moment I saw the marks of your possession in the younger ape’s blood. Did you think this betrayal would go unnoticed, let alone unpunished, merely because you amused Me once upon a time?”

“Kali-maa…” he started, voice placating.

Silence.” Her hand lifted, holding a delicate crystal phial. “You belong to Me now, Herald of YHWH; your life is Mine as surely as your mate’s and his pugnacious, presumptuous sibling’s. And I have yet to decide how long I shall allow you to keep them.”

A flicker of Her will, and Gabriel was back in the banquet hall, bound to a chair. A single flex informed him that the iron bonds were inscribed with sigils that would prevent his grace from being used to break free. If he was fast and clever, he might be able to slip them.

He doubted he had that kind of time.

* * *

By the time Dean and Sam were dragged back into the banquet hall, the gods were reassembled, save Ganesha and Baron Samedi, who were doing the dragging. They’d managed to free the humans trapped in the kitchens, but only just barely. As they were shoved into seats near a bound Gabriel, Dean figured their success was only thanks to the fact that the deities were more interested in skinning the three of them alive than snacking on a few random humans.

“So,” he murmured, leaning towards the archangel as they were bound to their seats as well. “How we doing?”

Gabriel quirked one tawny eyebrow at him. “Same as always.”

“That bad, huh?”

The archangel shot him a hard glare as Kali entered, Her composure regained if tightly controlled. “So… the spy is unmasked.”

“I was never a spy,” Gabriel spat. “I’ve spent the last millennium avoiding anything to do with my brothers’ pissing match.”

“Yet you’re here,” Odhinn observed, “wearing our Trickster’s face. And what have you done with Him, I wonder?”

“Nothing the little bastard didn’t deserve, I’m sure,” Baldur muttered bitterly.

“Family disputes aside, Baldur,” Isis put in smoothly, “an archangel masquerading as a deity at this time is a danger to Us all.”

“And what have you told them, little birdie?” Ganesha rumbled. “What songs have you been singing for your brothers when Our backs are turned?”

“I haven’t.” Gabriel sighed. “Read me if you don’t believe. Even now, I’m shielded from all YHWH’s children. They have no idea where I am.”

Kali considered for a moment, then moved to seat Herself on the arm of Gabriel’s chair. Sam fought back a surge of jealousy as one elegant hand curled down the side of his mate’s face, Her dark eyes intent. “So you are,” She murmured after a moment. “It changes little. You are still their brother, and you bear what We need.”

The hand on his jaw disappeared, gliding down into his jacket. Sam felt the alien power ripple and echo through Gabriel’s grace, forcing it to yield. The violation of it made him want to retch.

“Copping a feel from a married angel?” Dean snapped, his own perception of what Kali was doing provoking defensiveness of both his brother and archangel. “Just a bit desperate, your Worshipfulness.”

“Dean…” The hiss came from Gabriel, sounding pained, but more words died as Kali’s grip closed on Her target. The sword She drew from within his jacket gleamed in the bright lights of the hall.

“An archangel’s sword,” She purred, holding it aloft for all those assembled. “The only weapon in all Creation that can reave the life from Michael and Lucifer.”

“You’ll never get close enough to use it,” Gabriel protested, voice quiet and deadly serious. “Kali, they’re both being infused with more power by the day. Even if You have the sword, they won’t give You the chance.”

Her gaze returned to the captive angel. There was a cast of bloodlust in Her features that set off every alarm in Sam’s head. “Perhaps… or perhaps their grief and anger over your death will make them careless.”

“Kali…”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Mercury put in, suddenly uneasy. He was a Messenger like Gabriel, had befriended him once in the days when their pantheons had walked the same patches of Earth. “We haven’t even tried talking to them, Kali. They might see reason; We could use him as a hostage-”

“No.” Kali’s eyes never left Gabriel’s. “We will show YHWH’s childer that We are not so weak that We cannot defend what is Ours. They forget so easily that their Father played only a part in the making of this world. Yet they have the temerity to try its destruction without even His consent?” A dark, rich laugh. “Never. I will never allow it. If anyone will destroy this world, it will be Me.”

“Kali, see sense,” Gabriel tried again. “Michael and Lucifer are both powerful, seasoned warriors and they don’t get flabby or forgetful during peacetime like humans. They will drive You from this plane, render your Vessel useless… how will You defend this world if You cannot walk it?”

“You speak to protect your family,” She sneered. “And your own hide.”

“Yes, I do.” He saw surprise flicker across Her face at the admission. “All of You, Who provided me solace unknowing. My mate and his brother, who are the best chance we have of stopping this catastrophe in its tracks. My younger brother, Castiel, who chooses his human mate at every crossroads, just as foretold. I am trying to protect my family: the family I chose. Please, Kali… please.”

For a moment, indecision flitted over Her eternal features. Sam held his breath, hoping… praying…

Her expression hardened. Hope died. “No. This is the way.”

Dean was struggling, cursing. Sam saw her arm shift, drawing the blade back, saw the point dropping. “Kali, he’s the love of my life,” he tried.

“Then do not look.”

“Leave him alone, Kali!” Sam cried out, taking one final chance.

She ignored him, pausing only a moment before driving the blade forward.

Time slowed. Sam felt it drag out, sound indistinct as if heard through water. He’d been able to do this once, with no blood or darkness to aid him. He saw the blade cutting the air, about to cleave through Gabriel’s flesh and grace…

Grace he could touch. Grace he could use.

Desperate, Sam reached out and flung his will through his mate’s grace, striking out with everything he had.

The Hindu Goddess of Death and Rebirth was tossed across the hall like a rag doll, Gabriel’s sword clattering from Her slackened grip as She was slammed through the opposite wall like it was made of rice paper.

No one breathed.

Kali stood, staggering to Her feet, eyes huge and disbelieving as She stared at Sam. Sam met Her gaze, his entire being humming and alive. He’d forgotten the feel of his own power untainted by the coppery tang of demonic blood.

“I asked You to leave him alone.”

Chapter Text

~ooooOOOoooo~

 

The room was silent. Gods stared at the trio; or, more specifically, the youngest of them, who sat radiating power strong enough to lay a Goddess low.

“That’s impossible,” Baldur breathed.

“Does that word even mean anything to guys like You?” Dean asked, pushing through his own shock and letting his game face slide on. His priority now was the same as it had ever been: in the face of the enemy, back the play that’s working.

“Even immortals have limits, Dean Winchester.” The cool voice of Isis washed over them, her Nile-blue eyes speculative. “There are boundaries even We may not cross. In some ways, We are even more strictly circumscribed than humans.”

“Coulda fooled me,” Dean retorted acidly.

Isis smiled once, her hand lifting until her index finger rested in the curve below her lower lip. Her expression was speculative, penetrating in a way even Kali’s menace couldn’t achieve.

There were three jangling clatters as the chains binding the Winchesters and Gabriel fell away. Kali made a sound of outrage. “Oh, be still!” Isis snapped irritably. “This entire situation is far from Our original estimation, Kali-maa. Do not dishonor Yourself or Us by refusing to acknowledge it.”

Kali stiffened, eyes blazing. Isis returned Her gaze to the Winchesters. They were standing now, ready for nearly anything. A long, inscrutable smile drew across Isis’ mouth. “Little warriors,” She murmured. “You truly believe you can win this fight alone, don’t you?”

“Losing ain’t an option,” Dean bit out, feeling suddenly uneasy. He didn’t like the look on Her face.

“You all created this world for us,” Sam put in, looking beyond Isis to the other deities. “It was Your gift. Why is it so hard to believe we’ll fight to keep it from being destroyed?”

“It would take far more than a pair of archangels having a slap-fight to destroy this world,” Odhinn remarked, his tone vaguely reproving. “We saw to that when We made it.”

“But it can be changed,” Ganesha rumbled. “It’s happened before, and it’s Ours to shape… to allow the change or not.”

“You made us like You, though,” Sam countered; ever the lawyer, debating as shrewdly as Lucifer might. “Doesn’t it make sense that we’d feel ownership of it like You? Responsibility and possessiveness?”

“Responsibility,” Odhinn sneered. “When have you infants ever shown that?”

“He has a point, though,” Mercury reasoned diffidently.

“What’s done is done,” Zao Shen rumbled in Chinese. “They had their chance to stop it and failed; it’s Our time now to control the outcome.”

“No,” Gabriel countered, also in Chinese. “You don’t have the strength without them. My mate just proved that.”

The bickering continued around them. Dean barely heard it; his awareness had narrowed to Isis, Her Nile-blue cat eyes boring into his, the space between them insignificant as She gazed down into him… through him…

“Enough.” The moment receded as Isis commanded the others to silence, though Her eyes never left Dean’s, Her expression unreadable. “We will aid where We can, and put whatever resources you require at your disposal.”

“Isis, don’t be a fool!” Kali snapped. “We cannot trust them to end this!”

“We will, and must.” Isis turned, her cat eyes meeting Kali’s with no less resolve. “They know what is needful to end this, Sister. They understand the meaning of sacrifice.”

A chill swept the room. Dean tried to stop himself, then told his restraint to fuck itself and reached out, dragging Gabriel closer as he stepped back towards Sam. His family was safe. They were here and safe and he wouldn’t let anything happen to them…

As it turned out, his unconscious attempt at a fledgling shield came far too late.

Gabriel went stiff, his wings slipping free and flapping anxiously. Baron Samedi was the next to sense it, His power more closely tied to the mortal plane than the others’. “I sense death,” He warned. “Coming fast.”

“Lucifer,” Gabriel confirmed, his voice faintly sick.

“How?” Dean snarled, his gaze darting around the room. Gods and Goddesses were tensing, battle ready.

All but Mercury, whose power was rarely meant for battle. “Sam’s use of Gabriel’s grace,” He informed them, drawing closer to the trio. “Powerful but clumsy, and noisy as Vulcan’s forge.”

“So he’s here because of me?” Sam’s face contorted, guilt over everything roaring back to life.

“He thinks I’m in danger,” Gabriel negated, pushing reassurance at Sam. “Something that loud is as good as a distress call. But They would’ve forced me into the open one way or another, Sammy, and Luci’s spent way too long Caged to ignore my suddenly showing back up on the chessboard.”

Odhinn was barking orders, marshalling Their forces. Gabriel watched the gods vanish as the building rattled from an impact of unimaginable force. “Mercury, You have to take Kali and Isis and get out of here.”

“I will not run,” Kali snarled. “If he gets this far, Lucifer will learn the price of his temerity.”

“Dammit, Kali!” Another muffled boom. The wall Sam had smashed Kali through groaned from the stress.

“She will not listen.” Isis shook Her head, Her eyes resigned. “I wouldn’t either, had I not seen what I have.” She fixed Her gaze on Gabriel. “You’ve seen it, too, I think.”

Gabriel nodded. “Yeah… I know how this dance ends. Go, Isis, before he gets through.”

She nodded, vanishing before the gesture was finished. Mercury looked at Gabriel. “I can get you all out. He won’t even know you’re gone-”

“No, my friend.” Gabriel shook his head. “He’ll track me no matter where I hide, and these two-”

“You don’t have to give them a choice,” Mercury reminded the archangel.

The sounds of fighting grew louder. Gabriel’s mouth dropped into a lopsided smile. “If you only knew. Go, Mercury. I’ll take care of my flock.”

Mercury nodded. “Your Father and Mine look after you, old friend.”

“And you.” Gabriel sighed as the Messenger God vanished, then focused on Kali. “Kali-maa…”

“Do not tempt me, archangel.”

“That solves that,” Dean interjected, finally finding his voice to get a word in. “You think you can take him?” he asked the archangel.

Gabriel laughed mirthlessly. “Stall him, maybe. Depends on how fast he gets to the angelicidal mood.”

“Maybe we should just run,” Sam hedged, panic starting to take root. “All of us; you can hide again once we’re clear.”

“No, Sam.” Gabriel’s voice was fell, old in ways Sam rarely heard. “I can’t run. Not this time.”

The doors burst open. Lucifer stood in the frame, blood splattered in chilling patterns across his crumbling vessel’s face. It took less than a moment for his slate-blue eyes to fix on Gabriel, and something crossed his face that Dean couldn’t believe he was seeing.

It was the same relief that Dean had felt wash through him when he’d returned to that rotting house in Cold Oak to find Sam alive again.

Kali didn’t let the moment last. In half a heartbeat, She unleashed an inferno, engulfing the Morningstar in blue-white flame. Lucifer, Prince of Hell, turned it back on Her with a contemptuous flick of his hand. A startled cry escaped Her lips as Kali was driven back, stumbling over a toppled chair and sprawling across the floor.

Dean didn’t even think. He tore Castiel’s sword from its sheath at his back; it flashed end over end as it scythed from his grip to catch Lucifer through his left arm. A hasty throw, but it served its purpose; Lucifer’s attention was diverted from the goddess long enough for Sam to spring forward and drag her back to their line behind an overturned banquet table.

There was a sickening slurp of blood and clinging flesh as Lucifer drew the sword from his arm. Those icy eyes focused on Dean, mercy totally absent. “Hello, Dean. Nice to see you’ve taken to mating so well; I’m glad I forced the issue.”

“Yeah.” Dean’s smile was all challenge. “Remind me to thank you for that with a holy-oil IED sometime.”

Lucifer’s answering smile was ruthlessly indulgent. “Charming, to the last.”

Castiel’s sword came hurtling back at them. Would have driven clean through Dean’s stomach with the force of a cannonball…

Until Gabriel blocked it, his own sword flashing in his grip. “Leave them out of this, brother,” he rumbled dangerously. “It’s me you’re here to see.”

Lucifer’s eyes swept them, then widened as his attention finally broadened away from Gabriel to read the whole picture. “You.”

“Kewpie doll to the winner.” Gabriel started edging his humans and Kali towards the half-collapsed wall, sword canted at Lucifer in threat. “Me.”

“Fifteen centuries, I don’t know if you’re dead or alive,” Lucifer purred menacingly. “This is the last thing I expected to find upon seeing you again, brother.”

They reached the opening. Dean slid through first, helping Kali across the rubble. “Sam!”

“I’m not leaving you,” Sam declared again to his mate, his voice low and insistent.

“Go on, gorgeous,” Gabriel urged. Much as he wished he could, he didn’t dare take his eyes off Lucifer, didn’t let himself indulge in the fierce need to drink in his mate’s face and reassure him. Dean, get him to safety. Take him and Kali, run and don’t look back.

“Sam, come on!” Dean reached through and grabbed his brother’s wrist, tugging him away.

“Go, mate,” Gabriel commanded again, his true voice lacing his tone. “I’ll be right behind you.”

An agonized moment later, and Sam was gone, the humans and Kali at a dead run towards the parking lot and the Impala waiting outside. A brilliant flash consumed the air in their wake, enveloping the archangels in momentarily blinding white light. When it subsided, the wall behind Gabriel was whole again, sealed and impenetrable.

There was now only one way out.

“You stole something of mine, brother.” Lucifer’s voice was singsong, almost playful as he began to turn, watching as his brother circled towards the gaping hole where there had once stood large wooden double doors.

“You know better,” Gabriel said coldly, his sword angled between them. “The bond is entered willing or not at all.”

“He was made for me, Gabriel.” Still playful, like a cat toying with a mouse, Lucifer’s voice was laced with menace. “Or have you been slumming with the lesser gods for so long you didn’t recognize him?”

Gabriel knew he was sealing his fate, but there was no way out. He was between Lucifer and Sam, and he wouldn’t abandon that place living. “I knew, Heylel… and I claimed him anyway.”

Lucifer’s eyes widened, his grace flaring as he took a threatening step closer. “You love him,” he snarled. “More than me… your own brother…”

“You burned that bridge an eternity before the boy was born.” Gabriel sensed Sam getting out, getting away. Precious seconds more, and both Castiel’s sigils and Kali’s shields would be enough; Lucifer wouldn’t find them… Sam would be safe… “And that precious mortal child outshines you on your best day, Morningstar… which is why I fight for them now. Not Heaven or Hell… I fight for them.”

“No.” Lucifer turned from the illusion, caught the sword arm of his real brother where Gabriel had been poised to strike behind him, his deadly slate eyes burning. “That’s why you die for them.”

Sorry, gorgeous…

* * *

Sam lurched forward as pain seared through him: a bright flash of agony that burned white hot, leaving a hollowness in its wake so vast it was worse than the flames. He didn’t know he was screaming, didn’t hear Dean calling his name or feel the Impala pull over.

Only when strong hands pulled him upright and terrified viridian eyes found his did Sam manage to choke the words out. “He killed him… Lucifer killed him…

It was the last he could manage as anguish swept through him, razing everything in its path. Two feminine hands found his temples and there was an ancient strength rushing over him, and Sam gratefully accepted oblivion.

Chapter Text

~ooooOOOoooo~

 

It wasn’t until they reached Cas that Sam woke, proximity to the angel’s grace prodding him out of the safety of unconsciousness. Castiel had just looked at him, gentle understanding in the deep blue of his eyes. Oblivious to the fact that Dean might mock him forever for it, a sob had wrenched free: a wrecked, tearing, inhuman sound.

He’d been crying ever since. And Dean… who hated chick flick moments and mercilessly mocked Sam for being a giant girl… Dean had drawn Sam’s curled-up body across his lap and held him, silently giving Sam an anchor while he wept.

Days passed. Sam was inconsolable, incapacitated by grief. The space where Gabriel had been inside him throbbed in its emptiness like an infected wound. Nothing felt real except Dean’s solid weight wrapped around his own, refusing to leave him asleep or awake. Cas brought food Sam had no appetite for and Dean stolidly forced warm herbal teas that Cas brewed down Sam’s throat. Excepting rare moments to deal with their bodies’ needs, which were few and far between since Sam refused almost everything ingestible and Dean barely ate himself out of worry, Dean wouldn’t let him out of range. His brother didn’t even demur from climbing in the shower with him, hands careful as they washed Sam’s hair and body.

Sam remembered this touch, the way Dean attended him. It was how Dean had taken care of him a lifetime ago, when they were children growing up in motel rooms, Dean being mother and father and brother and best friend all in one, caring for Sam when there was no one else to do so. Sick or well, Dean had seen to his every need from the earliest moments of his memory. Had done so with the same gentle, loving touch that now tried to nurse Sam through his grief.

It did nothing to assuage the numb, blinding pain. It was a tether to reality, a silent reminder that he wasn’t alone. It was all that kept Sam sane, but nothing changed the searing loss that kept shattering him every time Sam tried to pull himself together. Sam would think he’d found a hold at last, gotten control enough to move away from the comforting warmth of Dean’s body… the nearly symbiotic need for contact with his brother…

And then something small and ordinary would cross his senses… the scratch of inferior sheets or a candy wrapper on the floor or the way his nipple piercing caught inside his shirt, tugging just a little… and Sam was lost again, grief sweeping through him like storms across a summer plain, collapsing into Dean and sobbing as if his heart would never again be whole.

Dean held him through everything, no snark and all silent support. Sam didn’t know how he would ever convey his gratitude. He wasn’t sure he’d recover enough from this to even try. He hoped Dean knew anyway.

* * *

How much time had passed, he didn’t really know. Drained by grief and aching in both mind and body, Sam left his eyes closed as a snatch of conversation drifted across the bond, focusing on it in an attempt to ignore the raw, knifing pain threatened to consume him.

*I’ve never seen him like this, Cas… not since he was a kid and I had to tell him about Mom. Even Jess’ death didn’t rip him up this bad.*

*When Gabriel returns, he will recover, Dean. There is nothing we can do for Sam except care for him until Gabriel makes his way back to us.*

*Why’s he reacting like this? I mean, it’s not like he doesn’t know Gabe’s coming back… right?*

Even with his eyes shut, feeling tacky and swollen from leftover tears, Sam could sense Castiel’s glare at Dean. It was almost enough to twitch a smirk at the corners of his lips.

*What?*

*You aren’t stupid, Dean. Pretending to be is beneath you.* There was a flush of chagrin from Dean. *This isn’t like what happened when I used the banishing sigil, Dean. You could still sense me on this plane: scattered into a billion billion fragments, but here. Gabriel’s grace has slipped through the Veil, inexorably drawn to our Father as all angels who die are. He is dead, Dean. Sam’s mind knows that his mate will return, drawn back even from the light of our Father by their bond. But-*

*But in his gut, he’s still gotta deal with the fact that his mate died.* Dean’s hand stroked Sam’s unkempt hair, gentle and soothing even though Sam seemed sound asleep. *Yeah… okay. I get it. I do… I just…*

*You want Sam to focus, because it hurts you to see him in so much pain.* A shift of weight on the mattress; the soft sound of a chaste kiss to some part of Dean’s skin. *I know, beloved. It will be over soon. You will have to remember that for the both of you.*

*Can’t you help him?* Dean pleaded suddenly. *Go to wherever Gabriel is and bring him back, like you did for me? There’s gotta be a way for you to find him…*

*No, beloved.* Castiel’s thought was tinged gray with remorse. *Gabriel has gone to our Father, and you know all too well how I’ve tried, and failed, to find Him. I would have to die to follow where Gabriel has gone, and then… it would be as if, instead of making your crossroads deal, you’d jumped into the Pit through the Hell Gate that was opened in Wyoming. You would have found Sam, certainly, but then you would both have had to fight your way back to life. And so it would be for me, even if I was willing to put you through my death in order to try and lead him home. It wouldn’t be the same as my rescuing you from the Pit. I wish it were otherwise.*

*So we just wait?* The thought was pinched, tight with stress. *We just sit and wait for who the Hell knows how long until he finds his way back on his own? Cas, we can’t just do nothing. Sammy’s-*

*You seem to forget that he wasn’t just Sam’s mate, Dean! He was also my brother. My elder brother, and the one of the few siblings I have left that will not kill me on sight! Does that mean so little to you? Or have I simply killed so many of them for the sake of your cause that you believe it no longer means anything to me?*

Sam winced at the thunder crack of Castiel’s voice and then started to sit up, groaning slightly as his muscles cramped from being requested to move when they were stiff and dehydrated. Dean immediately sat up straighter, his eyes focused on Sam. “Sammy?”

“I’m fine,” Sam lied, surprised at the roughness of his own voice. “But if you two are gonna fight, I’m gonna grab a shower as my excuse to leave the room. There still juice in the cooler?”

“Yeah,” Dean replied absently. “OJ, I think. Sam-”

“I’ll be okay for a few minutes, Dean.” Sam pushed himself up, lingering for a moment as he flexed his feet to work through the tightness in his leg muscles. He didn’t want to leave the haven of Dean’s arms, not when he already felt so bereft and hollow. But it was obvious that his brother needed at least a few minutes alone with his angel, and Sam couldn’t bear to deny them that, no matter what he was feeling just now. “I promise, I’ll be fine. You two need to talk.”

Both man and angel waited until Sam had walked on unsteady feet to the bathroom, pausing long enough to grab a bottle of juice from the watery cooler before stepping inside and shutting the door. The water was running before Dean spoke. “He heard every word… sonuvabitch.”

“We will not allow him to push himself,” Castiel promised his mate softly. “You and I can keep him from trying to ignore his grief should he misapprehend what we said.”

“You have no idea, Cas.” Dean shook his head regretfully. “Sammy’s like Dad in more ways than either of ‘em would ever have admitted. If he decides he’s gonna bury this, not much anyone’s gonna do to keep him from it.”

“A trait you both inherited.”

Dean’s eyes shot up to Castiel’s face, his expression slightly wide and a little bruised. Castiel reached up, sliding gentle fingers along Dean’s jaw. “I do not say it to injure you, beloved. It is merely an observation.”

It took Dean a long moment to relax into that touch, to close his eyes and lean into the warmth of his angel’s hand. Slowly, like warm molasses, they shifted and flowed until it was Dean curled up in Castiel’s arms, the elder hunter finally having a moment to indulge his own grief. He knew Sam wouldn’t be forever, knew he couldn’t break down completely. But they were right there, threatening the dam at the corners of his eyes and tying a knot in his throat. “If I hadn’t insisted on taking this stupid trip,” he murmured, voice broken over tears he couldn’t let free.

“If I hadn’t allowed him to convince me to let him go alone,” Castiel countered softly. “We can blame ourselves all we wish, Dean. It will not help bring him back, and it will only distract us from the fact that our choices only put Gabriel in that position. It was Lucifer that chose to end his life. He could have chosen otherwise. Our actions did not make Gabriel’s death inevitable. Lucifer’s choices did.”

A tear slid free, warm saline curving around beneath his eye and dripping from the dip of his temple onto the pillow beneath their heads. “I hate not being able to do anything about it… he’s out there, wherever he is, and he’s alone. What if he can’t find his way back? Or what if Sammy’s supposed to be helping him somehow, but he can’t because he’s such a wreck and I can’t get his head into the game? What if-”

The thought was cut off by a gentle brush of Castiel’s mouth across Dean’s own. A sound that Dean would deny forever was a whimper rolled in the back of his throat, and Dean twisted his head away before he could give in to his urge to deepen the contact. “Don’t, Cas… I can’t hold it together if you do that.”

“I understand how you feel, Dean.” Castiel elected to rest his forehead against Dean’s, his hands rubbing soothing circles into the taut muscles along Dean’s spine. “I haven’t been able to accept Gabriel into this flock as easily as it has appeared. I pushed everything aside because there has been no time for lengthy debate over my reservations, and his love for Sam is genuine no matter what other factors should be resolved. I told him… before he went to rescue you both, I had finally told him that I was still not entirely reconciled to his presence among us.”

Wet jade eyes opened, and a smile tugged at Dean’s lips. “So you learned regret from us, too, huh?”

Castiel smiled back, the tiny half-curl of lips that somehow changed his entire face into warmth. “You’ve been a very bad influence on me, Dean.”

The shower snapped off. Dean took the last few moments they would have and wrapped around Castiel, pressing the full length of their bodies together. “It means something to me,” he whispered. “I never wanted you to have to kill your family so that I wouldn’t have to kill Sam. It means something.”

“And the loss of my brother is not so profound as Sam’s loss of his mate,” Castiel murmured back. “But he will return to us, Dean. And when he does… we can begin to make amends.”

Dean nodded, breathing in Castiel’s scent until the bathroom door opened.

Chapter Text

~ooooOOOoooo~

 

The moment Gabriel entered the room, finally finding his way back after a blur of uncounted days, Sam sat up so fast his head swam. He wobbled as Gabriel sat down beside him, gathering him into a comforting fold of arms and warm opal wings and grace begging forgiveness. “I’m sorry, Sam.”

Another sob left Sam as the raw emptiness left by his mate’s death filled and he sagged into Gabriel’s embrace, wrapping the smaller, familiar body tightly against him as if he wanted to draw Gabriel into his own flesh… keep him safe inside his own body… “He killed you.” Sam’s voice was a hiccupy mess of accusation and pain. “I felt him kill you… I felt it…”

Gabriel tilted Sam’s face up, brushing the tears away with his thumbs. “Not even death, Sam… I promised. Remember?”

“I shouldn’t have left you behind,” Sam berated sharply, angry with himself. “I left you there… he wouldn’t have killed me… he wouldn’t hurt me; he can’t if he wants to use me, right?”

“He can,” Gabriel corrected. “He can heal or resurrect you just like any other angel, Sam. And he would have hurt you… would have made me watch as he slowly carved your life from you as punishment for claiming you in the first place.” Gabriel stroked his hair, smiling a gentle smile tinged with infinite regret. “I needed you safe, Sam… that’s worth dying for.”

Castiel nodded unconsciously, and Dean pressed a hand to the angel’s chest, hating the angry fading scar of the banishing sigil that Cas had carved into his flesh. Both angels had taken terrifying, awful risks to keep their Winchesters one step ahead recently. Their Winchesters had barely gotten through the experience, and neither wanted to let the angels out of their sights.

Sam surged up into Gabriel, catching the archangel’s face in his hands and kissing him, hard and insistent and demanding Gabriel’s surrender. Gabriel gave it, understanding what Sam needed, yielding to the hunger in Sam’s touch.

Dean, who hadn’t moved far even after Gabriel’s return, pulled Castiel down to straddle his lap. Cas melted into him with a small startled sound that Dean swallowed as he stripped Cas bare, hands hungry and a little desperate as his lips seared over the strong column of Cas’ throat, teeth nibbled at the collar bone, tongue rasped over nipples already hard from arousal. Cas actually whimpered as Dean’s tongue traced the healing sigil, slow and deliberate, and Gabriel echoed the sound as Sam’s fingers shoved cumbersome material aside and slid around the curving length of the archangel’s need.

Death was all around them, battling through their defenses, too close, too inexorable. Clinging to life, to hope, to love, the Winchesters did war upon their clothing and that of their lovers until warm living flesh was available wherever fingers or lips or tongues wanted to touch. Sam’s fingers brushed Dean’s briefly, so briefly, as Sam passed him the lubricant; a spark of recognition laced through their blood, something hazy and strange and familiar all at once, and then Sam was guiding his archangel down, hands controlling the motion of those slender hips.

Catching the almost longing expression on Castiel’s face, Dean guided his angel down onto his knees behind Gabriel and slid deep, hard and fast. Gabriel’s wings swept back in almost the same moment as Sam’s hips drove up against his, the soft feathers framing Castiel’s body.

Dean had to wrap a firm hand around the base of Castiel’s erection to keep his angel from climaxing before they’d barely even begun.

Shuddering, gasping, Cas keened high in his throat and reared back against Dean, bracing his hands against Gabriel’s back. Gabriel let out a tiny cry of shock. Sam held him locked in place, making him take it, making him feel it, withholding the friction they both yearned for. Dean watched in utter fascination as Castiel’s head dipped, his talented mouth finding the junction where Gabriel’s right wing erupted from his back. That agile tongue darted out, laving the sensitive joint.

Gabriel came, overcome, something in unintelligible Enochian bursting past his lips. Sam’s hips arched hard into his, riding the archangel through the orgasm, prolonging it when he found the right angle and slammed into Gabriel’s prostate. Dean’s hands framed Cas’ hips as he rocked back, then slid to the hilt, claiming Cas in a slow, tidal rhythm that had Cas moaning against Gabriel’s wing bone, a sharp contrast to the furious passion with which Sam reclaimed his angel.

Long after he had nothing left to spend, Gabriel’s body shuddered under the onslaught, his orgasm still raging through his blood. The fingers of Dean’s right hand threaded into Cas’ hair as he rode Cas with unhurried strokes, absorbing every shiver in Cas’ skin and tilt of Cas’ head as Cas lavished attention on the muscles at the base of Gabriel’s wings, the thin, sensitive skin covering the bone. Sam’s left hand slid up from Gabriel’s hip, joining the efforts of Cas’ tongue, stroking through the soft feathers. Gabriel cried out, shreds of his true voice cracking through.

Experimentally, wondering what would happen, Dean slowed his pace even more, until he was still now, the only friction coming as Sam’s thrusts into Gabriel rocked Cas back into him. His knees slid further apart to brace more solidly, and then his left hand slid up Cas’ back. Cas whimpered into Gabriel’s feathers as Dean’s fingers stepped up his spine, finding the flexing muscles that mirrored the placement of Gabriel’s… pressing in, massaging… finding a rhythm that matched Sam’s…

The shadows of Cas’ wings erupted, manifesting sleek and black, a sharp contrast against the pale skin of Cas’ back. They couldn’t manifest fully in a purely human vessel, but the grace-fueled shadows of them crackled with power as they threaded through Gabriel’s.

Gabriel screamed, his body locking down on Sam’s as another climax slammed through him, wings beating and shaking, loose feathers flying free. Sam exploded up into Gabriel with a hoarse shout, barely hearing the way Cas keened as Dean’s fingers dug back into his hips and he pulled back and drove in hard, angling for Cas’ prostate. Sam was leaning up, drawing Gabriel in for a long, wet hungry kiss, his hands framing Gabriel’s face, and Dean couldn’t tear his eyes away as he finally reached down, stroking Cas’ arousal in time with his thrusts until Cas was clutching around him, climaxing with a strangled cry. Dean let himself be taken over the edge by the deep pull of Cas’ muscles and the sweet, throaty whisper of his name as Cas’ orgasm began to ebb, vision dimming as he saw Sam break the kiss with Gabriel, their eyes meeting over their angels’ shoulders.

Sated and shivering, nearly exhausted, Sam barely managed to reach through the bond and trigger Gabriel’s grace, changing the sheets, cool magic brushing over them to clean away the mess before he curled onto his side, pulling Gabriel down with him and spooning the archangel against his heart. Dean slotted into place behind him, back pressed to back as he tucked Cas under his chin and cradled him.

*Okay… so this isn’t even the least bit weird,* Dean murmured through the bond.

Shut up, Dean, Sam murmured back.

*I’m just sayin’: the fangirls-*

Cas?

A gentle, tired rush, and Dean’s mind fell silent as he tumbled easily into sleep.

Sam lay awake for what felt like hours, warm and safe and relishing the feel of Gabriel’s wings folded against his body. When Gabriel finally noticed that the little strokes of Sam’s hand weren’t unconscious, he rolled in Sam’s arms and kissed him, soft and loving, the gesture sending Sam into deep, untroubled slumber.

* * *

Sam woke to the steady pulse of Gabriel’s grace, bright and alive within him despite his mate’s absence. A glance around the room proved Castiel gone as well, and it took only a moment’s probe along the bond to determine that they were together.

“They went to get breakfast,” Dean murmured. Blue-green eyes opened as Sam rolled to face his brother, both equally aware that they were lying naked in the same bed. “Chuck better never publish this shit; Becky’d go completely stalkerazzi on us.”

Sam chuckled, glad for the blankets that could be tucked up a little higher under his arm. The handprint on Dean’s shoulder was clearly visible, and part of Sam wanted to reach over and see if it felt like the ones Gabriel had left on his hips. “I think Cas might’ve mentioned it if the soon-to-be ‘Winchester Gospels’ were X-rated.”

“You never know; Cas plays the ‘never-tell-the-whole-story’ game pretty well.” Dean’s smile drifted off his face a moment later, his body tensing in uncertainty. “So… that happened.”

“Yeah,” Sam sighed, more than a little hesitant in the face of this discussion. Especially since Dean was the one starting it. “That happened.”

“Yeah.” Dean’s eyes lowered, the lace of his eyelashes flitting briefly against his cheek. Sam was close enough now to see the faintly russet tone to them. He hadn’t seen the red highlights in his brother’s hair since they were children and they’d spent a sun-soaked summer in the Tennessee mountains. “You okay with that?”

“Are you?” Sam was hedging and he knew it. Dean was looking for his reaction here. But Sam was on unfamiliar ground right now, and he was still raw enough from Gabriel’s death to want his elder brother to forge the path for them both, just like he’d done for so many years.

It had been a very long time since Sam had admitted, even to himself, that it didn’t matter where they went so long as he had Dean to lead them there.

“It’s different for Cas and Gabe, you know.” Dean lay there, shifting so that he was propped up on his right arm, the nimble fingers of his left hand unconsciously drawing devils’ trap symbols across the silk sheet beneath them. “When they say they’re brothers, they don’t mean the same thing we do. And Cas never… he never did anything before he hooked up with me, but he sorta told me once that other angels get their freak on with each other, so that’s something Gabe’s probably done before…”

“Dean.” Sam reached out unthinking, tangling his fingers into Dean’s and keeping his brother’s hand still.

It forced Dean to look up at Sam, his viridian eyes surprisingly vulnerable. “I guess what I’m saying is that it’s something they might want, sometimes. Maybe even something they need. And I don’t know about you, but there’s not much I actually wouldn’t do for Cas, so… I’m okay.”

“You sure?” Sam was honestly surprised. There had been a few women that had expressed an interest in being sandwiched by both brothers over the years; Pamela had only been the most recent. Dean had never been even remotely interested in the idea. “You never have been before.”

“Never had someone that’d be around forever before.” Dean’s eyes lowered, gaze briefly brushing over their still-tangled hands, then lifted back to Sam’s. “Not really. It’s…”

“Different,” Sam finished. And he got it, more clearly than he’d ever understood anything about Dean in his life.

That they had never shared a lover was the last boundary keeping them separate people, keeping every last iota that made Dean up from being inextricably bound to Sam and vice versa. Every other aspect of their relationship was hopelessly muddied by the physical and emotional and psychological isolation intrinsic to their upbringing. Dean understood quite clearly what might happen if they started blurring this last line in the sand. If it was going to happen at all, it had to be with someone, or in this case two someones, that understood how deeply they were connected, that wouldn’t call their bond unnatural after the urge for kinky sex had been sated.

That would understand just how far they could fall if this last safety net was taken away, and would love them anyway.

And Sam surprised himself, thinking about it, in how very much he wanted to know the depth the chasm they hovered at the edge of.

“I’m okay with it,” Sam assured his brother softly. “Not much I wouldn’t do for Gabriel, either… or Cas for that matter.”

“Can’t say I’d exactly move mountains for your man,” Dean snarked, his eyes sparkling with mischief and his generous mouth curving in a teasing smile. “After all, the guy did kill me a few hundred times.”

“Cas called me an abomination,” Sam retorted on a chuckle, pushing himself up so that he was propped on his left arm, mirroring Dean’s pose. “First time I ever met him, he called me ‘the boy with the demon blood’.”

“Aww, gee, Sam.” Dean’s expression was mock-pitying. “Killed a whole bunch of times… called a hurtful name. Yeah, I can totally see the balance there. You’re absolutely right; I should totally forgive Gabriel like you have with Cas. Bygones are bygones.”

“Jerk!” Sam pulled his fingers free of Dean’s and gave his brother a playful shove in the left shoulder.

“Bitch,” Dean shot back automatically, reaching up and mussing Sam’s hair so it looked like he’d been hiding in a hayfield during a windstorm.

The intensity of the discussion died away in the fraternal joviality of the moment, leaving only companionable silence in its wake. Sam smiled at Dean as he shook his head until his hair fell naturally around his face, and Dean was smiling back, a lightness in him that hadn’t been there for a very long time.

A flutter of wings. Gabriel and Cas were back, laying out the breakfast they’d gathered for their humans. Gabriel was chattering a mile a minute, trying to convince Castiel of something.

“We’re going to beat him,” Dean assured Sam softly. “Lucifer… we’re gonna beat him.”

That wasn’t what Sam heard. The words Sam heard his brother say, along the bond and from lifetime of experience, were: “It’ll be okay, Sammy. We’ll be okay.” “I know.”

Careful not to look at each other, both Winchesters found something to wrap around their hips as they slid from the bed to greet their angels.