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In All Your Borrowed Finery

Chapter Text

            Sam did his best to straighten up the box of crumpled Post-Its and looseleaf. He smoothed and organized Kevin’s angel tablet notes like an officer packing a fallen soldier’s belongings one last time. He didn’t read the words. They passed under his eyes in a blur—a swarm of unhappy ballpoint scribbling. The same hands now stacking Kevin’s work had burned out his life several months earlier. Sam regarded his own scarred knuckles with a certain detached amazement. It was strange to think how many things his body had done without him over the years.

            “Find anything useful in there?” Dean asked, shuffling through the library in his antique bathrobe like some kind of hungover Man of Letters ghost.

            “What? No… I wasn’t really looking for anything useful,” Sam admitted.

            Dean hadn’t waited for an answer before drifting into the bunker’s kitchen, eyes screwed up against the light. He returned with a mug of coffee, promptly adding a finger of bourbon from a 1920’s-era crystal cruet.

            “You know, dumping your cheap convenience store crap into fancy decanters doesn’t actually make it taste better,” Sam observed.

            “Does so,” Dean mumbled, taking a deep breath of the steam pouring off his cup. He sank into an armchair, massaging the bridge of his nose. “Are you just gonna put that stuff in the file room?”

            “I guess. The angel tablet’s destroyed. I don’t see what we need it for anymore.”

            “Yeah, but angels have been hounding our asses for, what, six years now? If there’s anything that would give us an advantage over them….”

            “Look, I don’t really have the heart to read through it all. Most of it’s nonsense anyway.” Sam glanced at a sprawling, taped-together chart that bristled with symbols and question marks. It looked something like a family tree. That is, if family trees consisted of twelve parents to a child and several circular loops that would have made some members their own progenitors.

            “I get that,” Dean nodded, padding over on bare feet. “But it’d be stupid to toss this stuff. Look here—” He plucked a yellow sticky note from the pile: an elaborate glyph with some writing below. “‘To borrow an unworthy angel’s strength.' Sounds like my kind of nonsense.”

            Sam grimaced. “Dude, you have no idea what that means. ‘Borrow’ might mean draining an angel’s power. It might mean getting the power yourself in return. It might also mean exploding immediately afterwards. I would’ve thought the Mark of Cain had taught you a lesson in side effects.”

            A vein jumped in Dean’s temple as he clenched his jaw. “Fair enough. I’m just saying that, in a desperate situation, trying anything is better than doing nothing.”

            “And that’s exactly how we get ourselves into year-long battles with addiction, soullessness, and possession.” Sam folded the cardboard box closed with an air of finality. “So don’t you start carving random Enochian designs into the doorframes based on nothing more than a sleep-deprived doodle from Kevin. It might not even be an exact translation.”

            “Yeah, yeah,” Dean grumbled, waving Sam away as he carried the box off to storage. He strolled back to his bedroom and pressed the Post-It into his dad’s journal.

 

            Three weeks later, Castiel plummeted unannounced into their dingy, cowboy-themed motel room like a man recently ejected from a burning plane. Breathless and trailing curls of acrid smoke, he stumbled into the television, catching himself on the wall with a scraped and twisted hand. Wisps of grace sang out from a dozen small wounds, terrible and blue-white.  

            “Holy crap, man, what happened to you?” Dean lurched off the bed, throwing aside a bag of chips.

            “I was attacked.” Cas sank into a crouch against the baseboard, cringing.

            “No shit. By who?” Dean had snatched up one of their plundered angel blades from a duffel bag on the floor. Sam already held Ruby’s old Kurdish demon-killing knife at the ready, hazarding a look through the motel’s curtains.

            “Angels. I’m afraid Metatron has gotten messages to a few extremists who still considered themselves in his employ,” Cas hissed. He closed his eyes, clearly concentrating on healing himself. “You need to get warding sigils on everything—now.”

            “But Metatron’s still in prison, right?” Sam asked as he dragged the knife across his hand and daubed streaks of fresh blood onto the door.

            “If a mob boss can put a hit out on someone from the inside, I’m sure that son of a bitch can manage it,” Dean pointed out, rifling through their father’s beat-up journal on the nightstand.

            “What’re you looking in there for?” Sam protested. “Help me with the damn sigils!”

            Dean said nothing but dashed to the window, holding a scrap of paper in his teeth. He had barely sliced his palm and made the first mark on the glass before a torrent of noise and aching vibrations announced the arrival of Cas’ pursuers. The picture window came down in a rush of sharp slivers. Two hard faces appraised the room’s frantic little scene, features half-lit by the ugly neon glare of the motel’s vacancy sign.

            “Winchester.” The female angel shot Dean a nasty, pursed smile as she nodded her head in greeting.

            He punched up with the angelic sword, aiming to gore her right through the gut. She caught his wrist in a punishing grip, wrenching it so that the long spike skittered off past her into the parking lot. With her next movement, she threw Dean himself to the motel’s linoleum floor, stepping over the threshold of the wrecked windowsill as though going for an evening stroll.

            Seconds later, Sam had fallen over Dean’s legs, half-senseless with a knock to the head.

            Castiel climbed to his feet in a glittering rage, his own angel blade dropping from his sleeve. He stood over the brothers, catching a blow from the advancing male angel even as he turned aside a glancing thrust from the first.

            Dean watched their stabbing and feinting silhouettes whirling above him like dervishes in sickening slow-motion. Cas, still recovering from his long lack of grace, would not last against this pair. Scrabbling with one blood-slicked hand in the disorganized duffel, Dean came up with… a Sharpie. Brain buzzing along faster than it could take in the fuel of logic, he found himself squinting at the smudged Post-It he’d pulled from the journal. For lack of any other surface, he scrawled the glyph’s lines onto the flesh of his forearm in bold black ink.

            A primal screech tore from the female angel’s throat in the same moment Dean experienced a sizzling pain in his forearm. He grunted and writhed under what felt like the press of a branding iron, yet saw the angel’s body double over, marrow bones crunching audibly. She screamed again, collapsing to one knee. The specter of wings, pale and shuddering, burst over the ceiling and walls, leaving blinding sunspots dancing across Dean’s vision as in the aftermath of fireworks.

            The other angel gaped at her contortions. Seizing only on the fact that he’d somehow incapacitated or killed her, Dean snatched Sam’s unresisting arm and drew a second glyph.

            Cas stumbled back as the male angel howled, jerking like a puppet on a string. Two inflamed, burnt shapes shattered the air behind him as he crumpled over his companion. Moaning and stinking strangely, the two of them lolled on the floor, helpless.

            “Dean, what have you done?” Castiel demanded, rounding on him.

            "Saved your heavenly ass," Dean huffed, standing and rubbing at the fading pain. But he deflated a little under the seraph's unimpressed glower, holding out the sloppy symbol like a schoolboy caught with plagiarized homework. “I… found it. In Kevin’s notes from the angel tablet. It’s supposed to steal the power of ‘unworthy angels.’ I think.”

            “You think?” Cas snarled. He peered at the Enochian glyph, shoulders stiff. “But this… this is unthinkable.”

            “Well, it happened. Whatever it is,” Sam said, hauling himself onto the edge of the bed. “God, that hurt. Though not, I guess, as much as it hurt them.” He nudged at the angel closest to him with the toe of his work boot.

            “Do you know what exactly it did, Cas?” Dean withdrew his arm from the fixed, scowling gaze, a numb dread now creeping into his chest to replace the fight’s wild adrenaline. “Cas?”

            “Move to another motel. Lie low,” he said, as though he hadn’t even heard the question. “I need to take these two back to Heaven to meet their justice. I’ll return as soon as I can.”

            “But… what about this?” Dean prompted, tapping his arm.

            “I have an inkling. Enough to know you should not have done that.” Cas clapped a hand to each of the angels’ trembling backs, yanking them up by their collars. They all three disappeared with a rustle of his wings.

Chapter Text

            Sam and Dean had fled the trashed motel room before the cops had responded to the scene or the proprietor had worked up the nerve to confront them about the damage. They’d checked into even tackier accommodations across town: a place with hourly rates and plastic slip covers on the chairs. Other people’s cold cigarette butts still filled the bedside ashtray… which inspired no very high confidence in the freshness of the sheets.

            They sat up for hours, waiting on Cas’ return. When he didn’t show and neither of them noticed any alarming reactions to the spell Dean had cast with the glyphs, they fell to discussing the case that had brought them to Traverse City, Michigan in the first place. Concentrated high winds that fit no established weather pattern and the sinking of several small watercraft—pontoons full of tourists and a couple of sporty little sailboats—had first snagged their interest. Followed by reports of impossibly overgrown vultures. After a couple days’ investigation, the Winchesters had pretty well pegged down harpies as the culprits. Sam picked through the lore, searching for a way to kill the vicious avian humanoids, while Dean tried to chart the time and location of each attack, perhaps revealing a pattern.

            Their efforts ground to a halt around 2:30 with stifled yawns and bleary eyes. Sam and Dean took to their beds fully clothed—with t-shirts draped over the discolored pillows for good measure—and drifted into the wary sleep of hunters.

 

            Dean leapt awake around 7:00 am, baring his teeth in a rictus of irritation. A pins-and-needles itch boiled under the skin of his back, totally unbearable.

            “Goddamn it, I knew this place would have bedbugs,” he complained to Sam, contorting an arm to dig at the prickling pain. “Sam?”

            But Sam was in the shower, he realized, hearing the muffled drum of water from the bathroom.

            Dean sat up, inspecting his fingernails. No blood. He yanked back the bedspread and squinted into the nooks and crannies of the mattress without finding a trace of infestation. Yet the explosive itch between his shoulder blades only grew worse, feeling more and more like an army of fire ants struggling to erupt from the inside.

            “Fuck, what is this?” Dean growled to himself, dragging off his shirt and craning his head over his shoulder to inspect himself in the smudged mirror above the dresser.

            Dark, blistered patches stood out on his back, looking like nothing so much as the lurid, translucent skin of a rotting plum. “Oh, God,” Dean moaned, poking at the spot on the left. It throbbed, tender and bright with fever. Swelling visibly, it made the bile rise in Dean’s throat. “Sammy! Sam, get out here!”

            A muted crash rattled the bathroom door in its frame, but Sam did not emerge. Instead, Dean heard him cursing a blue streak, the shower wheezing off into dripping silence. “No, you get in here!” Sam cried.

            “I can’t—this is serious—” A shocking, bone-melting agony stabbed through Dean’s back, like a half-molten fire poker had plunged through his flesh. Only the impossible torments of Hell compared. Dean’s eyes rolled back in his head as he wobbled to the floor.

 

            Delirium swept through him in a pounding, suffocating flood. Pain hovered over his limp form like the grinning skeletons in a danse macabre, taunting, pulling, wailing. Or maybe the wailing came from him. He couldn’t say for sure. The sticky cold floor seemed to tilt under his clammy cheek like the rolling deck of a ship. He felt nailed down, impaled. Stuttering in and out of awareness nine or ten times, Dean vomited at some point, barely inching away from the sour puddle before passing out once again.

            With late morning light glowing through his fluttering eyelids, Dean finally pushed through the last dregs of the episode into a consciousness that did not immediately reel away from his grasp. He peeled his face from the motel floor, dragging a jittery hand over his eyes. Pure misery still radiated from every muscle in his upper back, but he could bear it.

            Starting to roll onto his side, Dean’s defensive instincts flared into focus as he got the distinct impression that someone was standing over him.

            He floundered to his feet, falling again within two steps. Confused, he looked for the figure that he knew had moved in his periphery just a moment before. But the room was empty. A chintzy cat clock ticked on the paneled wall, the only sound that met his ears.

            “What the hell…?” he croaked, trying to find his balance. He pitched backward this time, just managing to steady himself against the foot of Sam’s bed. He felt like he was working to stand upright against the pull of a crumpled, whipping parachute strapped to his back, which made no sense whatsoever. And then the sensation of company flitted past the corner of his eye again, setting his chest alight with fear.

            Dean spun wildly, but the presence seemed always behind him, a towering, weighty thing swaying over him, breathing down his neck—

            Dean stopped. He gawked at himself in the mirror and swallowed mechanically, his mouth as dry and dead as if it had been packed with mothballs.

            “Sam…” he said hoarsely. “Sammy!

 

            Colossal wings framed Dean’s battered body, two disheveled peaks of lean sinew and cream-colored feathers twitching in the still, stale air. No one chased him. He’d been reacting to his own spinning wings. But the terror did not fade. He did not laugh.

            The longer he looked at them, the more he understood that he could sense them as well. He could feel that huge expanse of himself extending beyond his human shoulders. He told the right wing to move—as he might tell his hand—and it snapped out like a sail in taut rigging, knocking askew a framed print on the wall some eight feet away. The violence of its reflexes startled him. With measured care, he retracted it back to what he judged was its natural resting position.

            Stumbling to the bathroom door, Dean pushed it open six inches only to find it wedged against some obstruction.

            “I’m in here,” Sam muttered, his voice the casual monotone of the profoundly shell-shocked. He said it as though Dean had intruded on him while on the toilet.

            “I know that—are you okay?” Dean asked, peering down at the sliver of space he could see. Blood flecked the bathroom rug and floral shower curtain. “Are you sitting against the door? Stand up, Sam. Come on.”

            Bumping and shuffling issued from within and then Sam opened the door himself, a towel around his waist.

            The brothers stared at each other for a drawn-out moment.

            Sam’s broad chestnut wings practically filled the small bathroom, coppery pinions lit from behind by the wall lamps flanking the sink.

            “I guess we know what those glyphs did,” he said, ducking into the main room. He had to hunch over, twisting his new extremities through one at a time behind him. Dean saw that Sam’s wings were proportionally larger than his own. Even tucked in tight, the tips of his longest quills still brushed the floor.

            “Fuck, dude….” Dean observed as Sam teetered under their rustling mass.

            “Fuck yourself,” Sam said without passion, indicating Dean’s impressive cloak of pale sandy feathers. He realized a second later what he’d said and only shrugged. “I mean that, too. Go fuck yourself, Dean. This is completely your fault.”

            “I—” Dean flushed and bit his tongue. “Yeah. Yeah, it is. You warned me, I remember. But I did it anyway. I’m sorry, Sam. More sorry that I did it to you.”

            Sam settled on the edge of the bed, wincing. He scratched a thin trail of dried blood from the small of his back. All considered, Dean would have expected a lot more gore from the whole process. “I can hardly remember the last time something hurt that bad. They still… ache.”

            “Mmhm,” Dean agreed.

            “So we directly ‘borrowed’ the angels’ strength. We stole their wings, Dean.”

            “I saw the shadows of their wings seem to… fizzle away last night. The chick’s when I marked myself, the guy’s when I marked you. You think these are literally theirs?” He glanced at the soft canopy curled about him, wondering if the clipped female angel would recognize the wings as her own. “Or do you think they’re like our bodies’ idea of wings?”

            “I don’t know, man. Yours are a little girly.”

            “What? No they’re not. They’re… they’re like off-white. What’s gendered about that?”

            “Turn around.”

            Dean contorted to see the backs of his wings in the mirror. A sheer glaze of saltwater green mantled the plainer cream color. The verdigris patina shifted in the light, winking in and out of sight depending on the angle. It concentrated toward the top and center, petering out further down the length of wing. Dean had to admit it was wickedly pretty. Too pretty for him.

            “Shut up,” he pouted.

            “Do you feel any different otherwise?” Sam went on. “I don’t. I mean… I don’t feel like I can teleport or smite people.”

            “Nah. I doubt anything could turn us into true angels. This is… a damn parlor trick. A cheap shot against them. I’m sure Cas can fix it somehow.”

            “Cas.” Sam nodded slowly. “Where the hell is Cas anyway?”

Chapter Text

            “I could go for an entire Las Vegas buffet right about now,” Dean grumbled, reverse straddling a chair to best accommodate his train of feathers. A portrait of boredom, he rested his chin on the chair’s back while flipping blindly through an automotive magazine.

            “Oh God,” Sam sighed. “Lasagna. Breadsticks. Endless crab legs. With butter.” He sat cross-legged on the bed, wings tented over himself in a gloomy fort that Dean had found terribly hilarious on first sight.

            “Ribs, dude. Chocolate pecan pie.”

            “Sprouting new limbs must be hungry work. I haven’t felt this starved since my 10th grade growth spurt,” Sam lamented.

            They had cleaned up the room and themselves as best they could, though shirts proved out of the question. Sam had sketched out plans to modify their flannels and jackets by slicing two ports up the back and introducing zippers that would fasten the clothing back together underneath the base of the wings. Dean had rolled his eyes, insisting that their predicament would not last long enough to warrant breaking out their dubious sewing skills. “Cas is gonna come back with a solution any minute now,” he’d opined.

            They had called his cell phone. Then prayed. But noon had come and gone without any word from the angel. Sam had tried to research the phenomenon but turned up nothing on winged humans that resonated with their situation. The Japanese tengu, Filipino ekek, and Norse valkyrie all sported more monstrous features than just wings. Same for the harpies the Winchesters had come to hunt. And Nephilim—the forbidden bastard offspring of angels and humans—were born, not made. They needed the rest of Kevin’s tablet notes, but Sam and Dean couldn’t justify walking out the motel door in broad daylight, much less driving 900 miles back to Kansas with a king size mattress’ worth of feathers jostling around the backseat.

            “Hey, d’you think we can, you know… actually fly?” Dean mused aloud, brightening. “If anything would be worth the annoyance of looking like a bedazzled chicken, it would be flying.”

             “Eh, Probably not. Birds and bats are really lightweight relative to their wingspans. I mean, these things may be 18 feet wide altogether, but I don’t even know how big they’d have to be to get 200 pounds in the air.”

            “Killjoy.”

            “Jumping off the roof might buy us ten seconds of gliding. You first.”  

            “I’m talking about soaring over the friggin’ treetops, man.”

            “No way.”

            Dean’s mouth twisted in exasperation. He looked away, drumming his fingers on his leg as he played around with the fine motor control of each wing: flicking and flaring out the tips, tilting each joint, crossing them over and under one another. Their mercurial sensitivity felt weird and uncalled for—like driving a car whose pedals responded to much lighter pressure than the Impala’s—but at least he could move them now without swatting furniture into the next county. And the initial rending soreness had abated to a level he hardly noticed.

            “Hey, do you think we could order pizza?” Sam proposed. “Some chains will let you pay online with a card, including tip. Then we could just tell the delivery guy to leave it on the step.”

            “Fuck yes.” Dean all but punched the table in approval, grabbing the laptop.

            “Get like… four. I’m not even kidding,” Sam urged, his wan face peering briefly out from the gap in his domed wings.

            “Done,” Dean agreed, clicking right and left as he scrolled through a menu. “And, holy crap, they have giant gooey chocolate chip cookies.”

 

            Forty-five minutes later, a smart rap on the door had Sam vaulting over the side of the bed and practically skidding to a halt on the threshold.

            “Pizza for, um… ‘Herbert Caruso’?” announced a pithy voice from the other side.

            “Yeah, that’s right,” Sam replied through the wood. “Listen though, we’re real sick in here—probably contagious—so if you wouldn’t mind just leaving the order on the ground there, we’ll get it after you’ve gone.” He paused to insert a rattling cough.

            “Sick. Right. Probably just naked,” came the pizza man’s muffled response. Dean sniggered into his balled fist.  

            “The, uh, gratuity was already included,” Sam assured him, sparing a small death-glare for Dean.

            “I’m not actually seeing that on the receipt, sir.”

            “No? I’m sure we…?” Sam opened his hands to Dean in a pantomime of frustration. “You added the tip, right?” he hissed.

            “Uh—of course.” Dean bobbed his head, looking less than certain.

            “Dammit, Dean.”

            “Don’t look at me like that, I was really excited about the cookies.”

            Sam fished a few bucks out of his jeans pocket and inched open the door, extending his hand. “Now, if you’d just set those boxes down…” he repeated with forced good cheer.  

            Dean’s amusement evaporated a moment later as the door burst open, cracking against Sam’s chin. Dean bounded to his feet, overturning the chair and reaching instinctively for his handgun.

            “Oh! Oh, sorry about that, Sammy boy,” the pizza man crooned in cartoonish distress. He stepped inside, uniform ballcap and polo framing a familiar ferrety face and shit-eating grin. “Nice new accessories you got there.”

           

            “Gabriel?” Sam choked, holding a hand to his face.

            “Who the fuck are you?” Dean growled around gritted teeth, bringing the gun to bear on the intruder. “Because the Trickster—Gabriel—he’s long dead.”

            “Oh, Dean, aren’t you used to people coming back from the dead yet?” Gabriel—or someone wearing his old look—jeered. “I faked my own demise so well the first time not even God came looking for me. You think I couldn’t do it again?”

            “Lucifer himself ganked you with a sword.”

            “Kinda like that time you ganked me with a wooden stake?”

            “Hold out your arm,” Dean demanded.

            “Pardon me?”

            “Put the food on the table and hold out your damn arm.”

            “You fluffy little fledglings are in no position to be ordering me around,” Gabriel smirked. But he slid the pile of fragrant boxes onto the table and offered his angular forearm. “I don’t know what you think—woah, ow!” 

            Dean had snagged an angel blade from a satchel next to the laptop and nicked his skin. The distinctive rarefied light of grace speared out from the cut.

            “Excuse you!” Gabriel yowled like an affronted cat, cradling his arm. Within a few seconds, the wound had closed.

            Sam and Dean stared at him, standing there brazen as anything in his khakis and plastic nametag (which read “Leonardo”). Both brothers’ wings had half-unfurled, poised in tense postures of aggression. Dean retreated a couple of steps, still pointedly gripping the blade.

            “Excuse you. You once got your jollies murdering me a hundred times in a row.”

            “Please,” Gabriel scoffed. “You don’t even remember that.”

            “I do,” Sam interjected, pushing the door closed. “What are you doing here?”

            “Bringing you sustenance! Victuals! The doughy, cheesy stuff of life!” He gestured to the pizza as though he’d just presented them with the Ark of the Covenant. “I don’t blame you poor chicklets for being hungry. Those bad boys must be sucking up a lot of energy.” He quirked an eyebrow at Sam’s massive russet wings in particular.

            “Uh huh,” Dean hummed skeptically. But he had edged open a box and extracted a slice of sausage-and-onion deep dish, tearing into it with absentminded gusto, focus still fixed on the archangel.

            “It’s a peace offering!” Gabriel smiled, his eyes crinkling to dark, indulgent slits as he jammed his hands in his pockets.

            “Right. Pass me some of that peace ASAP,” Sam sighed, still rubbing his chin. Dean gave him the box of veggie supreme.

            “Look, I’ve been living it up in Bora Bora in glorious anonymity for awhile now, but when I sensed this fabulous disturbance in the Force—” He twirled a finger at the both of them. “—I had to take a look for myself. You pinched yourselves some real live wings! Priceless! I haven’t seen anything like it in three millennia at least.”

            “So you know the spell. The glyph.” Sam indicated the dulling Sharpie that still stained his arm. “You know what to do about it?”

            “What to do about it?” Gabriel tossed his red cap neatly onto the bedpost as though he aimed to make himself at home. “I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m going to take you precious idiots under my wing.”

            “We already have a guardian angel, thank-you-very-much,” Dean said.

            “Dear Cassie? Oh? Where is he?”

            “He’s… busy,” Dean hedged.

            “Castiel has his priorities all wrong,” Gabriel declared, sweeping further into the room and looking Sam up and down like an officious runway manager. “Those suit you, Sam Winchester. Rugged. Earthy. Majestic moose wings, for sure.”

            Sam shot him a distrustful look.

            “And you!” Gabriel crowed, pacing a circle around Dean. “Hello-o, Liberace!”

            Dean swallowed a hot mouthful of pizza, spluttering. “They’re not that bad!”

            “Bad? They’re exquisite. Almost as nice as mine.”

            “What color are yours?” Sam broke in curiously.

            “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Gabriel teased. “So!” He went on, clapping declaratively. “I think we should kiss this smelly dive goodbye and go see what you boys can really do with all that borrowed finery. Whata’ya say?”

Chapter Text

            “Chop chop! Finish your dessert or you won’t get any supper!” Gabriel insisted. “By the way, I’m thinking we’ll dine in Shanghai tonight? Duck blood soup. Sweet-and-sour everything. You’ll love it.”

            “I like cheeseburgers,” Dean garbled hesitantly around a bite of cookie.

            Gabriel’s jaw went slack with grave disbelief. “That’s because you’re an uncultured swine.”

            “This is nuts. We can’t go anywhere,” Sam pointed out. “You might be able to shove your wings up your ass when you’re not using them, but we can’t.”

            The archangel rounded on him with a certain offended delight playing over his face. “My wings are spread out in a six-dimensional current of energy from here to Jupiter. I’ve never figured out to how to shove them up my ass. Besides, what do you think today’s lessons are for?”

            “Lessons?”

            “Well, those poor mutilated saps whose equipment you swiped didn’t happen to leave you an owner’s manual, did they? Eat, eat!”

            Despite himself, Sam did eat. His hunger headache slowly dulled as he offered up an entire large pizza to his snarling stomach. He felt a lot less panicked and woozy as the food settled. His body must have been nearer its breaking point than he thought after the morning’s trauma.

            He knew he ought to keep up his guard better in the presence of someone who had, on more than one occasion, been an enemy to the Winchesters. Yet Sam couldn’t quite summon the appropriate rancor. In fact, after his initial alarm, he had retreated into a kind of giddy turmoil that he could only hope wasn’t glaringly obvious.  

 

            Sam had one of those fluky, absolutely useless crushes on Gabriel. The kind of tiny, inconvenient torch you might carry for someone you knew you’d never actually touch. Not anything you dwelt upon or cried over late at night… yet a spark of excitement flickered in your stomach when they entered a room. Just enough to make you nervous.

            Gabriel in particular jabbed at some weird spot that Sam didn’t really understand. Far more handsome men often did nothing for him, yet there was something charming about the unconventionally attractive face and sweeping hair of this part-time pagan god. His rather exaggerated profile and thin, sardonic mouth drew Sam’s attention like the perfect symmetry of a supermodel never would. Even his small stature contributed to the appeal. Sam didn’t figure he had a “type” when it came to guys (since he markedly preferred women) but he did tend to go for the short ones.

            Of course, Gabriel had made a royal nuisance of himself in the past. He had very little respect for the Winchesters’ boundaries or safety. He’d put Sam through one of the most maddening experiences of his life—that string of endless, deadly Tuesdays followed by three dark months of hunting alone. The time had never really passed, but Sam remembered it nonetheless. Remembered the emotionless, robotic routine he’d adopted to keep himself from going completely bonkers. He’d wanted nothing more than to destroy the tyrannical asshole who’d killed Dean, but his obsession had been… layered. Even in his coldest fury, Sam had still looked at the Trickster through a haze of pointless attraction. Like good old Bela Talbot. He’d fought her by day and twitched through wet dreams of her by night.

            When Gabriel had given his last and most convincing impression of dying, Sam couldn’t say he’d mourned too hard. It wasn’t as if they’d been friends, after all, though Sam had finally felt his infatuation somewhat vindicated by the fact that Gabriel had perished trying to help humanity. After Ruby, Sam had started to worry that his fascination with the bad boys and girls said something about him on a fundamental level. He worried that his apparent hard-on for the most dangerous people imaginable meant he was too fucked-up to ever trust his sexual instincts again. But Gabriel had died well. On their side. Sam had appreciated that.

            And (late one evening when Dean had gone out solo) Sam had watched that personalized Casa Erotica 13 video all the way through. Only once. But he’d watched it.

            He hadn’t had any actual romantic contact with a guy since his Stanford days, since before Jess. But it seemed like even more than eleven years had gone by since he’d last sprawled on a basement couch with Brady, trading hickies and hand jobs. Usually buzzed and slaphappy, they’d had some good times that Sam didn’t hesitate to call sex, even though it had never gotten exactly penetrative. Of course, finding out that the real Brady had been hijacked by a demon on his account made Sam want to think about him as little as possible.

            In short, the agitation he felt upon seeing Gabriel alive and well was dredging up all kinds of memories he didn’t particularly want to address. Sam tried not to stare at the archangel as he rocked impatiently from heel to toe, nibbling a caramel he’d pulled from his pocket.

 

            “Ready? I think you’re ready,” Gabriel announced. And before Sam had a chance to protest or ask what exactly he had in mind, Gabriel had laid a finger on both brothers, hauling them through a pinpoint vortex of space and depositing their faltering feet on a plain of overgrown grass.

            “Dammit, dude! That wasn’t much of a warning! Where are we? I don’t have a thing on me—” Dean griped, patting down his pants for phone, car keys, weapons. “If you’ve stranded us in freakin’ Russia or someplace without even the shirts on our backs, I swear to God—”

            “Relax. We’re ten miles outside town. Cripes, overreact much?” Gabriel replied, striding away. His pizza delivery uniform had vanished, replaced by jeans and a very contemporary tan bomber jacket. Sam had to admit: it was an improvement.

            The field stretched long and narrow between two stands of trees, mostly heavy, swaying pines. A smart breeze scoured the sunlit expanse, raising goosebumps on Sam’s bare arms. At this latitude, not even June got too warm. Sam could see gulls wheeling in the distance, meaning the lake probably lay in that direction. Not the faintest hiss of traffic reached them through the woods. So no roads passed nearby.

            “Exercise Number One!” Gabriel barked, parading back and forth with his hands behind his back like a pompous general. “Flying.”

            “Now when you say ‘flying,’ you mean teleporting? Or flapping around?” Dean interjected immediately, his eyes shiny with a certain tentative greed.

            “You’re not an angel, bonehead. It takes a lot of mojo to wish yourself across the globe. No, you’ll have to try it the old-fashioned way. With hard work and birdpower.”

            “Wait a minute. Our bodies aren’t built for flight at all. There’s no way we’re doing more than a little awkward parasailing with these things.” Sam pushed his fingers through his hair nervously, looking back and forth between them.

            “I said you weren’t angels. I never said those wings weren’t magical. Have a little faith in me here, Sammy.” Gabriel shot him a winning (if slightly evil) smile.

            “Don’t—don’t call me Sammy,” Sam stammered.

            Gabriel tilted his head, smile ratcheting down several notches. He regarded Sam with an unblinking eye… the eye of an ancient, eldritch being zeroing in on the tiny, complaining flea before him. “Sure thing,” he said simply, turning away.

            Sam hadn’t meant to say it at all, but as soon as he had, he’d expected Gabriel to pounce with glee on this chink in his armor, making even more lavish use of the nickname. He’d certainly not expected that lapse into deadpan angel-mode (which made Sam’s palms prickle with sweat) or anything like acceptance. But only Dean could get away with “Sammy.” He hadn’t liked the sound of it on Gabriel’s lips.

            “Bend, stretch, do a little yoga,” Gabriel went on as if nothing significant had occurred. “Get those joints loosened up now.”

            Dean only rolled his eyes and his shoulders in a desultory way. “I’m not here for meditation and calisthenics. Let’s get this show on the road.”

            “Dean, I don’t get it—you’re terrified to fly,” Sam said, giving him the side-eye.

            “Yeah, in a goddamn plane. In an aluminum tube full of snotty people and explosive jet fuel. You have no control in a plane, no options. Flying a couple stories high under my own power’s a whole different deal. Everybody wants that, man.”

            “If you’re so gung ho, Dean, why don’t you try first?” Gabriel offered, bowing and sweeping out his arm with a suspicious level of deference.

            “I think I will,” Dean said, shaking out his wings.

            In the clear solstice sunlight, they shone with an almost glassy warmth. The strange green glaze on the back reminded Sam of the tide rolling over white sand. He still couldn’t quite believe they were attached to his gruff, goofy brother.

            Dean fluttered his wings like an Olympic sprinter shaking out his limbs (and nerves) before dropping into the starting line crouch. Then he skipped forward, beating down at the air as if flying was a feat of strength. He bounded along several yards, toes glancing and stuttering over the earth in a way that he couldn’t exactly have achieved without wings… yet no one would call it a take-off.

            Gabriel snorted. “Bravo. Now, would you care to listen to me?”

            Dean walked back to them, schlepping his wings along like a sulky kid dragging a blanket. “Yeah, okay.”

            “It’s not like doing push-ups, you big lump. Stop holding them so ramrod straight,” Gabriel fussed, grabbing at the end of Dean’s nearest wing. He pulled and prodded it into a more curved, horizontal position. “Cup them like an umbrella. Now. Try again, with a running start and real big, slow strokes. Once you get in the air, you can flatten them out more and coast.”

            Sticking his tongue out in concentration, Dean dashed away down the field. He could actually run faster than anyone Sam knew, despite his lax attitude toward disciplined exercise. A handful of more graceful wingbeats saw his legs lift away from the ground. He climbed ten or twelve feet before his arms began windmilling comically. He tumbled down after maybe fifteen seconds aloft.

            Sam expected him to be mad but, if anything, Dean was thrilled. Sam couldn’t remember the last time his face had looked so exultant, so unburdened. For once, he didn’t seem to care that their hunt and their lives had been derailed. “Did you see that, Sammy? I can fucking fly! You gotta try it!”

            “All right….” Sam might not have cared so much if he and Dean had come to the field alone or with Cas but, as it was, the thought of screwing up made him feel a little ill.

            He pulled in several controlled breaths and ran as swiftly as he could, feet pounding away at the matted summer grass. Rowing his wings in a deep, scooping rhythm, he hurtled into the breeze and saw the field spinning away below him with alarming rapidity. It was working! With an effort, he forced himself to snap his head up, to look where he was going. Yet, like Dean, he didn’t quite know what to do with his body and felt himself faltering, tipping erratically. He skimmed back to the ground, pulse jumping.

            “Dude! You must have gotten a good thirty feet under you!” Dean hollered, slapping Sam on the shoulder when he returned. “It’s cause your wings are bigger. It’s cause his wings are bigger, right, Gabe?”

            “No,” Gabriel chided. “Yours are perfectly suited to your size. Sam is just better at it.”  

            “Not for long,” Dean gloated, tearing off in the other direction and throwing himself into the sky.

 

            Over an hour later, the brothers wavered in a state of satisfied exhaustion, their backs sore and their faces burned pink by wind and effort. They had achieved some proper, sustained flights under the tender guidance of Gabriel’s shouted insults. Sam and Dean could both stay airborne for a couple of minutes at a time, changing direction and landing without killing themselves.          

            Sam’s heart hammered in his chest, his fingertips brushing the crowning needles of an old pine as he whipped past. Equal parts fear and exhilaration bubbled up in him each time he found himself higher than he last remembered.

            “Get your show-off asses back here!”

            Gabriel lazed in the grass a football field away and a good hundred feet below, but Sam could always hear his voice clear as a radio.  

            He and Dean touched down, breathing hard. Dean looked practically stupefied with delight, his face wide open and punch-drunk.

            “Try the hovering one more time,” Gabriel mumbled over the rim of a champagne flute he’d conjured for his own refreshment. He sipped thoughtfully. “Yeah. Definitely the hovering.”

            “Aw, hovering sucks,” Dean scoffed.

            “You only suck at it,” Gabriel returned. “Go on. Prove me wrong.”

            Sam hated it as well, though less vocally. Keeping a fixed position without losing altitude had proved damnably hard. Only a rotating and perfectly steady pattern of beats could maintain the maneuver, but Sam’s flightless human brain just couldn’t make sense of it. Nevertheless, he and Dean leapt aloft once more to try—reeling like seasick drunks.

            “Backwing, backwing, backwing—you’re losing it!” Gabriel ordered, his tone growing more urgent.

            But they were both too tired in body and mind to correct quickly enough. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam saw Dean’s wings folding too fast, pitching him forward. Sam fumbled it a moment later, plummeting with a face full of feathers. His stomach jammed in his throat—

            And then his shoulders wrenched in their sockets as two arms scooped under his own and bore him up.

            Sam gasped, coughing. His feet pedaled the empty space below him in confusion.

            “I think we’re done for the day,” Gabriel’s voice said, unmagnified and shockingly close. Sam rolled his neck back to find the archangel’s smug face peering owlishly at him, upside-down. Gabriel’s slighter body was all but curled around him from behind. And two blazing golden wings churned in the air above them. Sam stared in awe even as his mouth fell open in a soft, wordless noise of wonder.

            “Oh, sure, catch him.”

            Dean’s exasperation cut through the fog in Sam’s head. He looked down to where his brother sat fuming in the dirt, his left ankle pointing in a decidedly unnatural direction.

Chapter Text

            Dean gritted his teeth and pried off his boot. The broken ankle had swelled up like a grapefruit already, but no blood seeped through his sock, so the bones had at least not breached the skin.

            “A little help here, almighty archangel?” he hinted loudly.

            Gabriel lowered Sam to the ground like the world’s biggest puppy, casually snapping away his shining amber wings as he approached Dean. The air shimmered as in a heat wave for a moment, but then it was as if they had never been.

            “Sorry about that, bucko. Have you fixed up in a jif.” He squatted down before Dean and touched two fingers to the warm, puffy skin. Dean felt the sick ache of the fracture ebb away within seconds.

            He flexed and circled his foot experimentally, jamming the shoe back on and brushing the dust from his jeans. He felt a little strange when he stood—probably just a quick spike in his blood pressure and endorphins. But not even the harsh surprise of a busted ankle had totally killed his good mood. He would not let go of the mindless thrill of tearing through the air at 40 miles per hour anytime soon. It felt like the wind had scrubbed all the crap and cobwebs from his head. 

            “You okay, Dean?” Sam asked.

            “Yeah, I’m good. Nothing compared to growing freakin’ wings this morning.”

            “Ah, you mortals don’t even know pain,” Gabriel professed with a toss of his head. “Get back to me after you’ve been bound to a rock for a hundred years while a venomous snake’s acid drips into your open mouth. That stings.”

            “Sounds like something you’d deserve.” Dean gave him a tight smile, wondering if Gabriel remembered that both Winchesters had served sentences in Hell.  

            “Wait, did that really happen when you were Loki?” Sam interrupted, suddenly every inch the avid mythology enthusiast. “I remember some Men of Letters research on the subject and they found most of those stories to be apocryphal.”

            “Oh, well, if some dead nerd’s term paper says so….” Gabriel drawled, rolling his eyes. “I’m telling you, Norse deities have no sense of humor. They concoct the most absurd punishments for the tiniest offenses! The damn snake wasn’t even good company.”

            “So,” And here Sam’s mouth gave a droll, tell-tale twitch. “That time when you transformed into a mare so you could seduce a stallion and ended up giving birth to an eight-legged foal—”

            “Please. 13th century fanfiction. I didn’t say it was all true.”

            “Enough, enough! You guys talk about ye olde bestiality on your own time.” Dean shivered dramatically. “We should get back to the motel anyhow.”

            “Oh, we’re not staying at that dump,” Gabriel said dismissively. “We’ll find someplace much nicer. Maybe—” His eyes lit up with happy devilry. “—a castle. I’m sure there must be a few not in use.”

            “Wait a minute, we’re working a job here. People are dying,” Dean pointed out. “Nobody’s taking a world tour with you just yet.”

            Gabriel blew out an explosive sigh. “Fine. We’ll keep the new digs local. But if you wait until people stop dying to take a little time out for yourself, you’re going to be waiting one lo-o-ong time.”

            “That’s the idea,” Dean shrugged.

            The angel ignored him, tapping his chin pensively with one finger. “Ah! I’ve got it.”

            “Got what?” Sam asked.

            “The perfect retreat.” He snagged the brothers’ hands as if preparing to skip off into the sunset with them. “Hold onto your lunch.”

            Gabriel yanked them all from the field and to another breezy someplace that tingled with a different character of fresh air.

            “Wow.” Sam nodded appreciatively.

            The three-story log chalet before them butted right up to the shore of a lake, where a slightly off-kilter dock threaded out into the lapping water. Evergreen needles blanketed the drive and two browsing deer bounced off into the woods at their sudden appearance. A wrap-around porch, wavy old windows, and four visible chimneys showed the house’s age, but the pewter door handles and scrollwork on the shutters showed its class as well. It looked too well-kept and too valuable to be abandoned.

            “Are you sure nobody lives here though?” Sam questioned, giving voice to Dean’s suspicion.

            “Oh, the Abernathy-Williamses of Charlotte, North Carolina own it. Charming couple. This is just their summer home,” Gabriel said.

            “It is summer,” Sam replied woodenly.

            “If you would let me finish—” Gabriel scolded. “I was going to tell you how they are both in Copenhagen until August for Mrs. Abernathy-Williams’ job. A caretaker comes once a week to check on things. And I’ve arranged for it to slip the caretaker’s mind for the foreseeable future.”

            “Is this Traverse Bay? Doesn’t seem like I should be able to see the other side of it…” Sam wondered, shading his eyes as he squinted in that direction.

            “It’s Elk Lake—and don’t get your panties in a twist, Dean, we’re only twenty minutes out Route 31.”

            “But Baby’s not here,” Dean fretted to himself, peering up and down the empty driveway.

            “Oh, your silly pet machine. I’ll go get it,” Gabriel allowed.

            “You drive my fucking car and I’ll make a feather boa out of those pretty gold wings of yours,” Dean warned. The idea of the Trickster behind the wheel of the Impala filled his guts with ice water.

            “Take it easy, Cruella de Vil! I don’t need to drive your precious deathtrap. Give me two shakes.” He disappeared with a pop and returned with the boys’ duffel bags and laptop. The car rocked to a standstill a few yards away.

            Dean ran his hands over her, looking for any evidence of tampering. He went to slide into the driver’s seat only to find himself jammed against the steering column, his left wing hanging askew out the open door. He couldn’t sit back properly. Or really do much of anything.

            “Dammit, didn’t you say something about learning how to stow these things?” Dean asked, extracting himself from the car in a ruffled mess.

            “Yeah, I’d like to be able to wear a shirt again sometime,” Sam agreed.

            “Don’t be modest! You look like a centerfold,” Gabriel remarked fondly, bumping Sam with his left hip. Sam blushed all the way down his neck, looking as though he’d dry-swallowed his retort whole. Dean snorted.

            “But yes,” Gabriel continued. “We should work on that.” He hopped up the front steps and strolled through the seemingly unlocked door. Sam and Dean followed.

            The twenty-foot ceiling of the main room had exposed wooden beams and an attractive mishmash of timeless furniture. Burgundy rugs sprawled over the polished oak floor. The shallow cabinet covering one whole wall revealed a flat-screen TV and bookshelves when Dean levered open its French doors.

            “Okay, I gotta admit you found a pretty sweet house,” Dean said, glancing into the warm, understated kitchen. He snagged a bottle of water from the fridge and drank most of it in one go, his thirst from the afternoon’s exercise hitting him all at once. He threw one to a grateful Sam as he returned to the living room.

            “Gabriel, I don’t see how we’re meant to hide these,” Sam said, eyebrows pricked up skeptically. “I get that we just gave a big middle finger to physics by flying, but concealing them—or stretching them out in a cosmic wave or whatever—seems like it would take the kind of power we just don’t have.”

            “Well…” Gabriel seemed to consider it, veering over to Sam and brushing at one of his huge burnished wings. He drew it out like a curtain between two pinched fingers, examining the long primary feathers. Sam stood very still, as though expecting to be pinched or jabbed at any moment. “There’s residual grace tied to them. From the angels. Your bodies could never tolerate the wings without it. The trick will be tapping into it.”

            “You think we can really use the grace?” Dean asked.

            “Can you feel it? A little extra something? Like gum stuck to the sole of your soul?”

            “What?” Dean laughed. “No. I can’t feel my soul, period.”

            “Humans are hopeless,” Gabriel lamented, throwing up his hands. “Concentrate. Does it feel like… someone you don’t know is looking over your shoulder? Or do you have any vague impressions or memories that don’t seem like your own?”

            Dean actually thought about it this time. “No. Honestly, no. I felt like that for a minute when I first woke up with them, but I think that’s just cause I saw the wings from the corner of my eye and thought somebody was behind me.”

            “Or your weakened defenses brought it to the surface. Could be that you’re too alert now. It might all come out in your dreams. We could try some guided meditation—”

            “We could not. Yuck.” Dean flopped face-first onto a leather couch, scrunching a decorative pillow under his cheek. “Sam would love to, I’m sure.” He winked surreptitiously at Sam, reveling in his brother’s obvious distress. “Let me know what you find out.” And before anyone could argue with him, Dean turned the other way, snuggled further into the couch, and fell asleep.

 

            Sam had been trying to sniff out the lingering grace for at least half an hour, eyes closed and thoughts turned inward.

            Gabriel had employed a hundred increasingly ludicrous metaphors to try to lead him toward what it might feel like. Nothing helped, though Sam had burst into half-stifled laughter a number of times and received a swat on the nose in return.

            “We’re getting nowhere like this. You’re much too stupid. But maybe I can give you a little jumpstart,” Gabriel’s voice said, shifting as though he was pacing.

            “Oh?” Sam quirked open one eye, leery of any sudden movements from the angel.

            “Sure. With my grace.”

            Sam leaned away from him, wishing that Dean would choose this moment to wake up. “I don’t know about that.”

            “It’s nothing, Sam. A one-percent possession. Less than that even. And temporary.” Gabriel spread his hands innocently.

            “I’ve been possessed by angels before. It’s not really my scene.”

            “You’ve been possessed by dicks—wow, that came out wrong. Gadreel and Lucy? Give me a break. I think I’ve got a little more to recommend me than either of those uptight—”

            “Gabe, you’re a notorious dick.”

            “Only in the best ways! Look, I’m gonna stay right here in my body and you’re gonna stay right there in your body. I won’t read your mental diary or paw through your childhood photo albums. I’m just going to look for that grace and tug it out into the open for your tiny moose brain.”  

            “Good teachers don’t insult their students so much.”

            “I’m a terrible teacher. Ask anyone. Ask Cas. Besides, ‘stupid’ is a term of endearment.”

            “If you say so.”

            “Is that a yes?”

            “No, I was responding to the ‘stupid’ thing—nevermind.” Sam rubbed his eyes. He knew damn well he couldn’t access the grace on his own. The concept was as unfathomable as if Gabe had asked him to pick up the Earth and throw it into the Sun. If Cas didn’t return with some more permanent solution, he and Dean would have to adapt to their new physiology somehow. And, in their current condition, they were more likely to be hunted than to do any hunting.

            “Okay,” he finally agreed, sinking onto an ottoman. “What do I need to do?”

            “Nothing much. Just hold still. And pay attention.” Gabriel knelt on the rug in front of him, his eyes focused to hard, glittering points. Sam flinched away despite himself when Gabriel leaned forward as if to touch their foreheads together. “Take a chill pill, kid. It won’t hurt.”

            “Okay…” Sam whispered again, trying to keep it together.

            Gabriel ducked in so near that Sam could smell the clean new leather of his jacket. He planted both palms on the ottoman to either side of Sam. And then the angel breathed out the faintest curl of clear blue grace, letting it hang in the air as a smoke ring would… before suddenly blowing it forward like dandelion fluff. Sam, mesmerized by the sight, hardly had time to react before the wisp darted into his mouth, filling it with an uncanny glacial vapor. Sam hiccupped in surprise, horrified and embarrassed.

            “I said hold still.” Gabriel seized Sam’s jaw with both hands, cupping his face so his fingers splayed over his temples. “You’re all right.”

            And then Sam sensed the connection, a fishing line of pure purpose bobbing past his mind, through his heart…. Sam zoned out, following the thread. It dove into a dim, distant place that Sam could just barely see. But he clung to the tail of Gabriel’s gossamer leash with conviction, eyes wide. And there it was. More grace, different grace: a tiny irregular pearl of it pooled at the bottom of some soulbound well. Sam skimmed it with his consciousness, felt how it was his and not his as the same time.

            “Now associate that sensation with the wings,” he heard Gabriel say.

            Sam did. He understood.

            “Pull everything you feel about the wings into the place I showed you. Reel it into that particle of grace there. Don’t worry, there’s infinite room.”

            Since everything had become both physical and non-physical to Sam, this did not seem an unreasonable suggestion. With a gasp, he gathered up the mass of the wings and tossed them down into that astral obscurity.

            “Good! First time’s a charm! Check it out, Sam.”

            He struggled to see with his actual eyes for a moment but, when he could, he glanced over his shoulder. The wings had gone, their weight no longer dragging on his shoulders.

            “Now I’m going to take back that little crumb of grace I sent over….” Gabriel gave a tiny whistle and Sam felt it zip through his bones, leaving as quickly as it had come.

            Sam swayed, silent, for a long moment. He focused on the sunlight throwing patterns over the hardwood floor and on the feel of the cushion beneath him. Gabriel was still so close. He remembered the electric sensation of Gabriel’s hand touching his wing earlier. The static jolt of pleasure that had leapt up out of nowhere—

            “Oh shit!” Sam was all but thrown from the ottoman, flailing, as the wings burst back into the room like a clumsy albatross, bits of tawny down whirling all over.

            Gabriel laughed and stood up. “Ha! Oh well. I didn’t expect you’d be able to hold it for long. But now that you know, you’ll get the hang of it fast. Pro tip: don’t think about wanting them back. Or they’ll assume they’re needed, the naughty buggers.”

            Sam steadied himself, taking a deep breath. It hadn’t hurt this time, but he’d given himself a fright. “Yeah… yeah, I think I’ll be able to do it again.”

            “I see you’ve managed quite well without me.”

            Sam wheeled around at the new voice, finding one hell of a stone-faced Castiel standing in the doorway.

            “Hey!” Sam exclaimed. “Where have you been? Look: Gabriel’s alive.”

            “I can see that. Hello, brother.”

            “Is that Cas I hear?” Dean rumbled from the depths of the couch, still half-asleep, his tousled head poking out from its nest of throw pillows. One wing had flopped to the floor. The other draped over the back of the couch in an impressive silvery green spread.

            Cas stared straight over Sam, gawking at Dean as though he’d never met him before. Sam may have imagined it in the shadow of late afternoon, but Cas looked somehow drawn, with gray circles under his eyes. The seraph swallowed mechanically and cleared his throat. “Uh… the assassins are safely imprisoned. Stable but… very wretched without their wings.”

            “That’s all you have to say? Did you know this is what would happen? What about Metatron? Has he got more of a following?” Dean asked all at once, sitting up to stretch both arms and wings. The sleep had not fully left his face as he blinked callowly at them.

            Cas looked sharply away, addressing his answer to Sam and Gabriel. “Hannah and I questioned Temeluchus and Ambriel. They swear they are the only angels Metatron contacted. But we have our doubts. I also learned what I could about the angel tablet symbol Dean used. It is a device of intent. It passed over me and targeted the others because Dean saw them as ‘unworthy.’ And it is not so much a weapon as a terrible penance—a kind of castration that no one even speaks of in Heaven anymore. No human has ever used it.”

            “But angels did, once upon a time,” Gabriel added quietly. “Did you find out how the seraphim first came to be, baby brother? Six wings instead of two? Heaven’s little disciplinarians, they ripped them off their disorderly brothers and sisters and wore the spoils around like trophies. The six wings come standard now. But the old school heavyweights—like Zachariah—they stole theirs.”  

            “Oh, that’s fucked up,” Sam groaned. “So they were all… mismatched like Frankenstein’s monster? Three pairs of different colored wings?”

            “No, they matched,” Gabriel replied, looking puzzled.

            “But you just said—”

            “You are not wearing Temeluchus’ original wings, Sam,” Cas said. “Neither is Dean wearing Ambriel’s. Gabriel has a morbid flair for the dramatic, as I’m sure you already know. Their wings were destroyed. Irrevocably. You took their strength and filtered it through your own soul as a seraph would have filtered it through his own grace. Those wings are your creations. You couldn’t give them back if you tried.”

Chapter Text

            Sam and Dean sat on the porch in the cool, cedar-sweet evening, sipping bottles of El Sol and not saying a word to one another.

            Dean had tried not to let his unease blossom into panic in the wake of Cas’ news. But even after Sam had demonstrated his (somewhat questionable) ability to retract and expand the wings at will, Dean still felt weighted down by the apparent gravity of what he’d done. Sure, he’d spent time as a ghost, a vampire, and a demon, but an endless chain of loopholes had always gotten him out of it. And if there had been no cures for those problems, well, he hadn’t really minded dying in deference to what was right. Except now he didn’t know what he was. Surely not anything so bad he needed putting down…? But not all human either. Cas’ awkward, doom-laden attitude had convinced him there was something terribly, secretly wrong about their new wings. They were too bright and pretty. Too fun. And nothing good ever happened to the Winchesters without strings attached. It all smelled of trouble.

            When Sam made a move to get up and go inside, Dean couldn’t hold his tongue any longer, bursting out with “Do you think we’re a new species? Of monster? Sam, are we Alphas?”

            “What? No, of course not,” Sam said, furrowing his brow at Dean and sitting back in his Adirondack chair. He’d had his wings stowed for a good half hour and had even tentatively donned a t-shirt.

            “Why not though?” Dean pushed on. “There’s an origin story for everything. Maybe we’re the first of… whatever we are.”

            “Dean, Eve created the true Alphas. She’s gone. We’re just some guys who had a freak accident.”

            “But if we had kids would they grow wings? When we die do we go to Purgatory? Do we, you know… count anymore? As people?”

            “Dude, what’s wrong with you? You know we’re people. It’s a spell, not anything to do with our genes.” Sam looked at him sideways, scowling. “Chill. We’re going to learn to hide them as good as any angel. And then no one will even know. But I bet they’ll come in handy every once in awhile. Maybe even when we chase down these harpies.”

            “Yeah, maybe. But what if—just hear me out—what if two other angels used that symbol against us? And took the grace and wings for themselves?”

            “I think it would probably kill us.”

            “You don’t know. We should ask.”

            “Dean, you were happier this afternoon than I’ve seen you in years. Flying was good for you. Why are you brooding about it now?”

            Dean planted his elbows on his knees and frowned out over the lake striped with the dying light of day. He had liked flying an awful lot. Besides, he would never have children. Purgatory he could take. If other hunters came after him, he could take that too. But he shouldn’t have dragged Sam into it. The idea that he might have saddled his brother with any such burdens made him sick with guilt.

            “I don’t know. Don’t pay any attention to me. It’s dumb.” He took a final swig of beer and blew a low, mournful whistle into the empty bottle.

            “Hey, you’ll feel better once you learn to stow them. You’ll feel more like yourself,” Sam encouraged with a cramped smile.

            “Yeah. Yeah, probably. You wanna show me how to do that?”

            “I told you, man, I can’t. It’s trippy as balls. Cas can show you.”

            “I don’t think Cas wants anything to do with me at the moment,” Dean answered with a forced chuckle, his stomach twisting.

            “What? Nah, that’s not true,” Sam insisted, his face faltering.

            “Yeah it is. You saw how he was all afternoon.”

            Castiel had done all he could to avoid speaking to Dean since his return, bringing an icy unpleasantness down on the house. Even Gabriel had withered under his blank, tight-jawed stares. The archangel had made a great show of conjuring and cooking dinner (a delectable, if overly sweet, affair), but Cas hadn’t even deigned to sit with them while they ate it. He’d stood out on the dock alone, trenchcoat billowing and head bowed. Dean had found himself craning to look out the window every few minutes, reassuring himself that Cas hadn’t simply left without so much as a parting reproach. Everyone had noticed.

            “Look, I’m sure he’s just got a lot on his mind. But it’s not like he won’t help if you ask him,” Sam urged, heading for the screen door and the low, happy hum of the television inside. “We all know Cas can never say no to you.”  

 

            “No.”

            Dean gaped uselessly at Cas while the angel’s eyes bored resolutely into the wall just above Dean’s head. He half-expected to find a fire catching in the cured wood logs under the force of that scorching focus.

            “Uh, okay. I’ll just fuck off then…” Dean trailed off. The refusal had offered absolutely no leeway for negotiation. He turned to leave, still a little gobsmacked.

            “Gabriel is perfectly capable of guiding you,” Cas added. “Since he seems more than willing to stick around.”

            “Yeah. Yeah, of course.” But Dean didn’t want Gabriel’s wisecracking guidance. He didn’t want that smartass poking at him, laughing at him, calling him grasshopper and padawan.

            “I need to return to Heaven,” Cas said, and Dean couldn’t tell if he meant this by way of an explanation or a change of subject.

            “Wait a second,” he sighed, spinning back to him. “I get that you’re pissed at me or whatever, but—”

            “I am not ‘pissed’ at you, Dean.”

            “Then you’re doing a damn fine impression of it. Look, I know I messed up. I used some long-lost angelic piece of torture that you obviously find really disgusting. I wouldn’t have done it if those Metatron groupies weren’t about to kill you. I’ve been thinking, though, and if it’s so awful, maybe some other angels could cast the spell against us and take the wings away—”

            “You and Sam would die. Tearing the wings off an angel very nearly undoes them at the seams. A human trying to endure the same would be completely annihilated.”

            “Well, then what do you want me to do, Cas?" Dean cried, throwing his hands in the air. "Hack ‘em off with a bonesaw?”

            Cas finally looked at him head-on, his eyes narrowed to incredulous slits. “Why would you say that? Of course I don’t want you to mutilate yourself. You didn’t know the taboo nature of that glyph. Your… wings… are not a problem.”

            “Then why are you acting like they’re the biggest freakin’ problem you’ve ever seen?” Dean demanded, wanting to reach out and shake him. “What do they mean, Cas? What aren’t you telling me?”

            The steely mask slipped from Cas' face under this onslaught. His eyes drooped in artless confusion. He opened his mouth, closed it, glanced once more at Dean with a flash of terror… and promptly disappeared.

           

            “What the fuck,” Dean muttered to himself, kicking his way down the hall toward the bathroom.

            Sam poked his head out from a door to his left. “Everything all right?”

            “Cas blew me off. I told you, didn’t I?”

            “Seriously? What’s his deal?”

            “I don’t know. I guess it’s just this crap with Metatron,” Dean lied.

             “Yeah, well, he’ll come around.” Still, Sam squinted at him skeptically. “Hey, do you care if I take this bedroom?”

            “Huh?”

            “It’s the only one on the ground floor. But it has a king size and this cool window—”

            Dean peered around Sam into the dim, moss green room, spying several paintings of ducks on the walls and a bed the size of a private island. “Yeah, whatever floats your boat. I’ll sleep upstairs. And Gabe can just… do whatever angels do at night,” he said with an inarticulate wave. “Uh! Nevermind. I don’t think I want to know what Gabe does at night.”

            “I was thinking something along the lines of a Three Stooges marathon,” Gabriel supplied, looking up at Dean and casually twirling a purple lollipop around his mouth as though he’d been standing there the whole time.

            “Dude! Could you even pretend to respect our personal space?” Dean barked.

            “Nah,” Gabriel hummed around the lollipop and, just for good measure, gave Dean’s right wing a vicious tickle.

             Dean twisted away with the urgency of a startled cat and the raw skill of a contortionist, his face truly something to behold. Gabriel only snickered.

            “What about you, Sam? Down for a tickle war? You’ll lose, of course. But I’ll make it worth your while.”

            Sam flinched, eyes round. “No. No, I’m good.” He backed into the doorframe in his haste to be out of reach—and gave an undignified yelp as his caged wings burst onto the scene, tearing his shirt to ribbons.

            “Dammit.” Sam checked his watch in a defeated slump. “Hour and a half.”

            Gabriel howled with mirth, backing away down the corridor. He slipped around the corner with a wink. “Rain check on that tickle war.”

            “Oh my God. I’m gonna lose my damn mind living in the same house with him.” Dean shook his head, patting down his ruffled feathers ruefully.

            “Uh huh.” Sam stared down the hallway like a wary rabbit on the lookout for a hawk. “Hey, Dean, can I ask you something?”

            “Sure, man, what?”

            “Are your wings like really… sensitive?”

            “You mean how they move? Yeah, they’re jumpy as all get out.”

            “No, I mean like sensitive to touch,” Sam clarified, shrugging off the sad remains of his t-shirt and balling it up in one fist.

            Dean pushed out his bottom lip, bemused. “No? Don’t think so. I mean, I didn’t want Gabe’s grubby little fingers on ‘em, but not any worse than if he’d tickled me in the side, y’know?”

            “Ah. Okay.”

            “Why? Something wrong with yours?”

            “No, it’s nothing,” Sam hedged. “I’m just gonna… hit the hay.”

            “It’s like 9:30, Sam.”

            “I know. But I’m beat. It’s been a weird day. Weirder than usual.”

            “You said it.”

 

            Later that night, Dean lay awake listening to the almost too perfect cricket-song drifting through the open windows.

            He’d chosen a room on the second floor, at the back of the house where he couldn’t hear Gabriel banging around the kitchen and living room. It had its own bath (and no stupid duck paintings).

            The wings largely confined him to sleeping on his stomach, which he didn’t mind. They arced over his back and legs like a big, living comforter, feeling heavy and protective.

            Dean picked at the edge of one, running his fingernail through the bristles of a sleek long feather over and over in the dark. He wished he could like the wings. He wanted to like them without reservation or apology. They made him feel alive and not quite so worthless as usual. But…

            What was so bad about them? So bad that Cas couldn’t even stand to look at him?

Chapter Text

            Sam woke himself at dawn when he tried to roll and succeeded only in tangling the entire sheet around his wings. He batted at the bedding, yanking it free and burrowing his face back into the pillows.

            He’d made no attempt to keep the wings concealed while he slept, considering it wasted effort. And, overall, they’d interfered less than he’d feared. Eyes drifting closed once again, he stretched them up and out—grateful for the house’s high ceilings—before settling them back on the bed in a rustling drift of feathers. It felt like sleeping in a pile of fallen leaves.

            Not in any hurry to get up for once, Sam registered the lavender light of morning peeking through the blinds, but elected to ignore it. He continued to drowse in the middle of the wide bed, mind wandering.

            It wandered more or less directly to the idea of deft fingers carding through his wings. The imagined sensation gave Sam pleasant chills, as someone playing with your hair might. And then he couldn’t help but imagine his own hands digging into a mirror-bright expanse of flaxen feathers….

            Gabriel, he remembered with a start. Gabriel who really had touched him like that. Gabriel who really had revealed a pair of flawless golden wings while choosing to rescue him and not Dean. Gabriel who flirted with him and who was still somewhere in the house.

            A knot of excitement and unease clenched in Sam’s stomach. He’d hardly thought of the angel for five years and now here he was losing his shit over him in a single day. Part of him wanted to enjoy the thrill of infatuation while another, more mature part wanted to stamp it out like a smoldering fuse. A fuse that led straight to a big-ass pile of dynamite.

            Because that’s what Gabriel was. Sam no longer believed him a threat, but he would always be trouble. He knew from experience that the trickster god enjoyed callous jokes and would go to tremendous lengths to execute them. His sudden compliments and come-ons exhibited all the hallmarks of a trap. Sam suspected Gabriel had sniffed out his little crush and decided to poke fun at it. He’d probably take it as far as Sam would let it go. Hell, he’d probably sleep with him just for kicks, falling into a fit of hilarity at Sam’s expense afterwards.

            Sam chewed his lip, curling tighter into the blankets. He wouldn’t allow that to happen. It wasn’t worth it.

            But Gabriel didn’t have to know what he thought about in the privacy of his own bed….

            Sam sighed, trying to let go of ugly, stupid reality and recapture the contentment of a few minutes earlier. Recalling Gabriel’s warm leather-and-citrus scent from the day before, Sam daydreamed about breathing in that smell without restraint, his face tucked tight against the nape of Gabriel’s neck. He thought too about biting the archangel’s shoulder from behind, holding his hips and grinding him into the mattress—

            Sam’s right hand had just found its way down his boxers when a prim knock on the door about made him jump out of his skin. “Wha—what?” he called, voice cracking.

            “I seem to recall you fellas being too heroically worried about a certain infestation of harpies to even consider leaving Traverse City,” Gabriel announced, strolling right in. “Yet here you are lolling around in your pajamas while the old buzzards singlehandedly take down Michigan’s recreational boating industry. What fine hunters you are.”

            “Shit,” Sam croaked. “Was there another attack?”

            “Last night. Some partiers letting the good times roll on a houseboat down at the other end of the lake. Whole thing capsized out of the blue. News mentioned a survivor.” Gabriel’s eyes roamed about the room as he relayed this information, settling right where they had started: on Sam’s disheveled, sleep-wracked form.

            Sam pushed a lock of hair out of his eyes, brow furrowed. “Ugh. Crap. Well… I guess we have someone to interview today.”

            “You mean you have someone to interview today. Deano isn’t going anywhere until he looks like a person again.”

            “Right.” He’d almost forgotten. “I guess you’ll have to show him.”

             He didn’t exactly know why he considered it natural for Cas to show his brother the inner workings of his new wings. Except that he remembered the eerie intimacy of the experience and couldn’t quite picture Dean sharing that with Gabe. Of course, Castiel had fled in a huff and Dean could hardly hide in the lakehouse forever.

            “Just what I wanted to do with my Saturday,” Gabriel quipped, leaning against the doorframe.

            “It’s not like anyone’s keeping you here,” Sam pointed out.

            Gabriel smiled a strange, wicked smile. “No. Not technically. Hey, how ‘bout some pancakes before you hit the road?”

            “Huh? Oh. Sure. I like pancakes.”

            “Blueberry or banana praline?”

            “Um, blueberry?”

            “That is the wrong answer,” Gabriel sang out like a scandalized game show host.

            “Then why did you even… ask…” Sam said to no one in particular considering Gabriel had disappeared with a flick of his wrist the moment before.

 

            The smell of coffee and the hiss of batter hitting the skillet drifted out from the kitchen as Sam crept across the living room on bare feet. He met Dean stumping down the artfully roughhewn staircase.

            “Morning, Sammy.” Dean took a deep breath, eyebrows raised. “Man. I gotta admit: I could get used to the way he’s feeding us.”

            Gabriel had donned a red Kiss the Cook apron, Sam saw as he took a seat in a worn wicker chair.

            “Where are your manners, Sam Winchester? A gentleman doesn’t leave his wings out at the table,” Gabriel scolded, rapping the spatula on the counter.

            Sam made a wordless noise of protest, gesturing pointedly at Dean, who had draped his pale wings around himself in the most conspicuous way imaginable. Only his hands peeked out just below his chin as he sipped his coffee.

            “He doesn’t know any better. Now go put on your Fed threads like a grown up.”

            Dean sniggered into his cup before coming abruptly to his senses. “Wait, why do you need a suit?” 

            “Harpies strike again,” Sam called on his way back to his room.

            He returned complete with dress shoes and tie, doing his level best to forget the wings that hibernated just below the surface. He had no intention of shredding his only formal jacket with a careless thought.

            Dean had booted up the laptop in the meantime, pulling up an article on last night’s so-called accident.

            “Seven people anchored near the shore,” Dean narrated as he skimmed through the information. “Heavy drinking, but they planned to stay the night…. Boat’s at the bottom of the damn lake with six of the passengers. One chick, Deborah O’Bannon, jumped clear and was sober enough to swim to shore. What're you thinking, FBI or insurance adjuster?”

            “Did the boat belong to the survivor?” Sam asked, temporarily distracted by the teetering pile of flapjacks Gabriel had slung in front of him. Crowned with a sticky glaze of chopped pecans and a dusting of powdered sugar, it looked too rich for Sam’s blood. He longed for a plain glass of orange juice and some oatmeal.

            “Uh… no,” Dean read. “The ‘Midlife Crisis’ belonged to a… Steve Flege. The woman was no relation.”

            “Okay, then I can claim to be from his insurance company and she won’t know. FBI gig works better with two anyway.”

            “Yeah,” Dean conceded, stuffing half a pancake into his mouth at once. “Okay, these are awesome,” he chuckled, swallowing.

            “I’m glad someone appreciates them,” Gabriel replied archly from his post at the stove.

            Sam shoveled down several forkfuls of his breakfast before Gabriel’s wounded pride turned sour enough to swap out his praline topping for a nice helping of caramelized cockroaches.

            “All right, I’m going,” Sam announced, wiping his mouth. “Keys, Dean?”

            “Guard her with your life,” his brother warned, handing them over.

            “Cross my heart,” Sam swore, tucking his handgun into a vertical shoulder holster and grabbing up an empty but official-looking briefcase on his way out the door.

 

            He drove north toward Elk Rapids, stopping first at the scene of the sinking. The police had divers sweeping the placid water, evidently retrieving the bodies trapped within the houseboat. Some debris—mostly folding chairs and tacky decorations—had bobbed to the surface or washed up on the sand. Sam also noted a couple of dead trees freshly snapped and felled despite the lack of bad weather.

            When the cops began to glare at him over the caution tape barrier, he merely nodded and moved on. If he wanted to get a closer look at the slim wreckage, he would come at night. The witness mattered more.

            Only one beat-up hatchback sat in the driveway of Deborah O’Bannon’s modest ranch. Good. Sam didn’t care to fight his way through a mess of sympathizers bearing casseroles to the bereaved.

            He rang the bell, summoning up a professional demeanor.

            “Ms. O’Bannon, I hope?” he asked of the pinched, unsmiling blonde who answered the door.

            “Yeah… you from the police again already?” She lifted a cigarette to her lips with unsteady fingers.

            “No, I’m from Mr. Flege’s insurance company. I’m sorry for intruding on you, but this really is a huge claim and we’d like to get moving on it as quickly as possible. Could I ask you a few questions?”  

            She heaved a sigh, a lost look wavering across her face. “I guess so. Might as well get it over with.” She pushed open the screen door for him.

            Deborah’s unwashed hair and bunny slippers weren’t doing her any favors at the moment, but she probably cleaned up pretty nice with a tan and a bikini. In her early forties, Sam could nevertheless see her as somebody who liked to cut loose on the weekends.

            “How did you know Stephen Flege, Ms. O’Bannon?” he started.

            “Steve was a friend of my boyfriend, Dirk. Group of us’d hang out on his boat most Friday nights in the summer. Play cards. Drink. Shoot the shit.” She perched on the edge of the futon, taking long drags on her cigarette.

            “And did you notice anything different about last night? Did Mr. Flege mention any problems he’d been having with the boat, for example?”

            “No. He worked on that money pit every spare moment he had, tuning it up and whatnot. If it’d been acting screwy, he wouldn’t have taken us out. We cruised out to our usual anchor spot same as always around 8:30. Nice night. Nothing weird.”

            “Was there any warning before the capsizing? Any disturbance or obvious malfunction?”

            “There was a wave. Around 11:00,” Deborah said slowly, blinking at the floor. “A big roller. Threw our beers off the counter and made Tracy fall, hit her head. Dirk figured it was the wake off some speedboating asshole who’d passed too close to us. People do that sometimes just to be jerks. He went up on the flybridge cussing. Then he screamed.”

            “Did he hurt himself? Get thrown overboard?”

            “No…” Deborah mused, chewing her lip near raw.

            “Then why did he scream?”

            “Something flew into him. Like a tree branch.”

            “Like a tree branch?” Sam pushed, latching onto her uncertainty.

            “Well. It didn’t come from the direction of the shore. It came from the open lake side. It was a big whooshing… thing… that knocked into him and scratched him all up.”

            “We’ll come back to that,” Sam reassured her. “What happened next?”

            “Everybody freaked out. The boat was rocking like crazy. I don’t know where the wind came from so fast, but it was like a tornado. I had started to climb the ladder to help Dirk, but water was coming over the railing, washing all the stuff off the deck. Another huge wave hit us and I got thrown right off the ladder. I landed in the water, and I guess it was just dumb luck that I wasn’t under the boat when it turned.” She paused, taking a long, steadying breath.

            “It’s okay. Take your time.”

            “When I came up—it was dark and I flipped around underwater for way longer than I cared for—the hull was still above the surface, but bubbles were coming up all around and it was going down. I grabbed onto a cushion from one of the benches—they’re made to float—and called and called, but nobody answered. The wind had died down again, just like that. I used the cushion like a paddleboard and kicked over to the shore. Lost my phone and everything. Had to walk all wet and barefoot to the gas station for help.”

            Tears had begun to leak down her face, though she didn’t sob or stutter. She patted at them with a wadded up tissue and looked hopelessly at Sam, waiting for another question.

            “This wind. Did it… sound strange? You said it was like a tornado, which people often describe as sounding like freight trains. Anything like that?”

            “It was high-pitched, actually. Screechy. Like a fire alarm.”

            “And can you tell me anything more about the object that ran into your boyfriend? It doesn’t sound like it could have been a tree branch.”

            Deborah looked away from him, her face setting into coarse, determined lines. “I don’t know.”

            “Then just tell me what you think. What it seemed like at the time.”

            “Look, I was doing Jello shots all night. Like I told the police, it didn’t make any sense.”

            “Ma’am, I listen to a lot of strange things in this line of work. Even if it seems stupid, I’d like to hear it.” Sam gave her his best puppy eyes. He knew he wouldn’t charm her in her state—traumatized and with her boyfriend freshly killed—but maybe she’d take pity on his curiosity.

            “This is so dumb. Can’t believe I’m even saying it out loud. But it looked like a… like a person. A freaky little person. With these long raggy wings.”  

           

             Sam made his way back to the Impala parked on the curb. He counted his breaths, gnawing fiercely on the cap of the pen he carried.

            Holding in the wings for so long had proved more difficult than he’d expected. The distress he felt aligned roughly with that of a pressing bodily function. As if he needed to pee really badly, but more vague.

            He glanced nervously over his shoulder, making sure that Deborah had no inclination to watch him go. But the blinds stayed shut, the door closed. So rather than hopping directly into the car, Sam made a beeline across the street, crashing into a fortunately dense stand of trees and shrubbery. Worming his way through the clinging honeysuckle, he made absolutely certain no houses remained in his line of sight before whipping off his jacket and shirt.

            The tremendous copper wings unfurled into the leaves and dappled sunlight of the woods. Sam could have cried with relief. He stood there for several quivery, heart-pounding moments, clutching his clothes and gun to his chest.

            Just as he decided he could stand the thought of folding them back in and making the return drive to the lakehouse, a snap among the foliage drew his attention. He spun around, hoping against hope for a dog or squirrel and not a flabbergasted child—

            A hatchet-faced someone leered at him from less than a yard away, crouched ape-like on a tree limb with her bruised, toothless mouth stretched wide in an appalling grin. A pair of greasy gray wings hung from her shoulders.

Chapter Text

            Dean stood on the slim, white sand shore of the lake, flexing his shoulders uncomfortably.

            He understood just fine how to keep the wings interred in his soul, but he sure didn’t like it. It felt like wearing a straightjacket. Or needing to sneeze and forcing yourself to stop. Something binding and irritating that he knew he could solve instantly if he so chose… only he continued to choose not to.

            Gabriel swore up and down it would become more natural with practice, and Dean knew he needed to learn to cope if he didn’t want to lead the life of a hermit. Not to mention Castiel’s distaste for the wings. He hoped that Cas would gradually come around now that he’d dealt with the physical evidence of his mistake. They’d forgiven each other for much worse things, after all.

            But a lingering disappointment still needled at him. Swooping over that field the day before, he’d realized with a jolt of excitement that Cas could join them. That he and Sam and Cas could all three take wing off Mount Rushmore some day if they wanted, chasing and diving. He’d looked forward to the rather backward angel unpacking his own black wings (they were black, right? Dean wondered yet again) and maybe enjoying himself for once.

            He couldn’t see that happening now. Cas would never go flying with him. He was stupid for even thinking of it.

            Dean’s phone vibrated in his pocket. Sam. He swiped a thumb over the screen and answered.

            “Hey, you find out anything—”

            “Dean!” Sam’s voice was buffeted on all sides by drumming wind interference. Dean held the phone away from his ear, instantly annoyed.

            “Dude, are you driving with the windows down? I can barely hear you.”

            “No, I’m sort of—shit!—in the air at the moment,” he shouted.

            “What the fuck, Sam? In the middle of the day? Where are you?” Disapproval quickly gave way to worry in Dean’s mind.

            “…over Lake Michigan.”

            “Are you freakin’ kidding me, Sammy? What happened?” Dean stormed up through the yard, heading for the driveway before he remembered Sam had taken the car.

            “I tried to chase it! It was dumb, but I tried to chase it, Dean—”

            “Chase what? A harpy? You find a harpy?”

            “Yeah, the situation kind of got away from me. I’m gonna… chjk… have to…” The call dropped. Dean cursed and dialed him right back. No answer.

            He took the front steps two at a time, bursting in on Gabriel as the angel lunged through a repertoire of sun salutations in the living room.

            “Woah now, you are radiating tension there, big guy,” Gabriel observed, swooping up from the floor chest-first like a cobra. “You sure you don’t want to take a spin on the yoga mat? The ladies love it.”

            “You gotta go get Sam before he takes a nosedive into the bay,” Dean snapped without preamble.

            “Oh, do I?” he said, hopping to his feet. “How dramatic! What exactly has our darling moose gotten himself into?”

            “Honestly? I don’t really know.”

 

SOME TIME EARLIER:

            Sam reeled back from the harpy’s bug-eyed stare. The carrion stink of her repulsed him, but not as much as the rapt look on her face.

            “Ohhh,” she crooned, as if to a baby. It surprised Sam more than almost anything else would have. He retreated another step, hunching his wings in what he hoped was an instinctively challenging posture.

            “Pretty. Pretty winged boy. What are you?” she lisped over soft gums.

            He couldn’t decide whether to answer her or shoot her. But he didn’t know if a bullet would have any effect. Better to bide his time.

            “I’m human,” he croaked.

            “No, no.” She shook her scraggly head. Her matted net of hair draped over her shoulders and chest like a threadbare cowl. “Humans are fat wingless worms,” she spat. “Like the smoky one in the house. I smell her. Smell her sweat, smell her guts. Humans are food. You are not human.”

            Well, that had escalated quickly.

            “You got me,” Sam lied wildly. “I’m not a human. I’m a—” He ransacked his brain looking for a suitable word. “—a tengu.” He only hoped she didn’t know the species, didn’t know that tengu had long, beaky noses and cherry red skin to complement their wings.

            The harpy nodded sagely, as though she had suspected it all along. “Lovely, lovely.” She clicked her incredibly overgrown fingernails on the tree branch, thick, curling talons stained a suspicious red-brown. Peering closer, Sam saw that a downy layer of feathers covered most of her torso like a pelt. Her wings looked almost pitiful: bony, disproportionate appendages that draped haphazardly down her back and dragged on the muddy ground below. If Sam didn’t already know they could kick up hurricane-force gales, he’d hardly believe them flight-worthy.

            “Are there more of your kind here?” Sam ventured. “I know no one like myself.”

            “Oh yes!” she burbled, puffing herself up. “So many. My whole clan. I will take you to them. But I must tear this girl first.” She offered the excuse in a polite, matter-of-fact tone as if to say “You know how it is.”

            “Ah. Right. ‘Tear’ her?”

            “She did not drown with the rest. In our territory, on our waters. Nasty humans. Scare the fish. I must tear her.”

            “Of course. That sounds very important,” Sam agreed. “Perhaps you could just tell me where the clan is? So I can find them myself.”

            The harpy cocked her head like a bird of prey sizing him up. “Nooo, pretty tengu. It’s secret. I will have to show you. Stay. Feed with me.”

            Sam could tell she extended the invitation with the greatest sense of generosity.

            “Oh, I’ve just eaten so many humans today already…” Sam evaded.

            “I will give you the liiiver,” the harpy intimated in a cloying, sing-song voice.

            Sam didn’t know what to do. Stay with the harpy until she made an attempt on Deborah’s life? Take his leave and come back with more firepower, hoping no harm came to the woman in the meantime? Try and kill the monster now? But if she could lead him to the rest....

            The harpy perked up suddenly, swiveling her head toward the street beyond their small covert of trees. An eager, gobbling sound bubbled up from her throat, followed by the tiniest of screeches. It made Sam’s ears ring, regardless. “Smell it, smell it?” she gulped, becoming less and less intelligible in her excitement.

            No, but Sam heard the low clunk of a car door. Deborah had left the house.

            “Come!” the harpy called to him, careening off the branch. She fluttered and hop-skipped from one tree to another.

            Panicking, Sam launched after her with the greatest difficulty, the close confines of the foliage interfering with every jerking wingbeat. He dropped his shirt and jacket, tucking the gun into his waistband, and half-climbed a creaking, protesting birch.

            “Wait!” He scrabbled after her, managing to catch one filthy, clawed foot. He yanked her from her perch and they both tumbled through the splintering honeysuckle into a heap.

            The harpy flailed against him, spitting and clicking. Sam had had all the breath knocked out of him when he landed flat on his back. He gasped, chest burning with effort, as her nails gouged into his biceps.

            “Why? Stupid boy!” Her sour breath hit him right in the face. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” She dug at him with her gnarled hands, blood welling up from the scratches, until Sam heaved against her, throwing her off him and into a stump.

            “We will tear you, too!” she shrieked, scuttling away. She jumped into the air, flapping away on her rotten gray wings.

            Sam swore colorfully, checking the position of his cell phone and gun as he scrambled to his feet and took off after her.

            Breaking through the sparse canopy, he remembered all too clearly where he was. Several blocks of homes spread out below, dogs running along fences and kids tumbling around backyard swing-sets. He wheeled to the southwest, where he saw more green than rooftops, and skimmed low over the woods.

            The harpy had no such qualms. She shot over the neighborhood in a churning ball of anger and feathers. Sam kept her in his sights as best he could, following in a nervous, zigzagging pattern. It was too much to expect that no one would see them on such a clear June morning, but perhaps any isolated observers would be dismissed as delusional. Still, Sam dreaded bursting out directly over a crowded soccer pitch or some other large gathering.   

            When he found himself gliding over the leaping turquoise waves of the bay, his anxiety lessened only marginally. Boats floated here and there, though the tricky depth perception of the open water might confuse any witnesses as to his size. A giant winged man viewed from a distance might look like a hawk seen at closer range.

            Sam followed the diminishing figure of the harpy westward until the bay deepened and turned black below them. Land faded to a mere blurred line on the horizon. Sam’s stomach lurched with the dreadful sensation of having swum farther from shore than you intended… the bottom falling away beneath your toes like a yawning trench, the waves rolling just underneath your craning chin, your limbs growing a little too weary for comfort…. He fought to remain calm, focusing on the fact that his wings slid over the broad air currents quite easily. No hint of fatigue yet cramped them. Taking heart (and greater care not to look down) Sam put on a burst of speed, seeking to close a few dozen yards on his retreating quarry. He didn’t need to catch her. But he did need to see where she made landfall. Then he and Dean could come clean out the nest at their convenience.

            Thinking of Dean, Sam realized he ought to check in, let his brother know where he’d headed in case something went awry. Dean thought he’d gone on a milk run, a standard interview and recon—not a headlong, solo goose chase. He gingerly extracted his phone from his pocket. Only one bar of reception pinged up on the screen as he made the call. He hoped it would be enough.

            He heard the pitch of Dean’s voice on the other end, but couldn’t make out what he’d said. It didn’t matter.

            “Dean!” he shouted, only catching bits and pieces of his brother’s responses as he admitted to his little ill-advised adventure. Dean sounded pissed, he could tell that much.

            “Yeah, the situation kind of got away from me. I’m gonna follow as long as I can. But I’ll have to head back as soon as I get a lead on where the rest are, since we don’t know how to kill them and I’m pretty sure they’ll rip me to shreds if they get a hold of me—Dean? Hey, Dean?” Sam squinted at the screen through the reflected sun-glare. He’d lost the call, though he didn’t know when. He pursed his lips in annoyance and contorted to tuck the phone back in his pants, sparing a glance down to make sure he got it safely situated.

            A shrill noise like a tea kettle on the verge of erupting made him recoil and miss a wingbeat. Sam floundered briefly, looking ahead.

            The harpy had circled back, whipping through the sky at breakneck speed toward him. Sam cringed as she screamed again, the air ballooning and warping around her wings in a deeply unnatural way.

            Sam folded his wings dove like a falcon—but too late. The force of the harpy’s mythical wind glanced over him, spinning his body and tugging loose a spray of bright brown feathers. He spiraled wildly toward the water, somehow knowing it might just break his neck if he hit it from such a height. Snapping out his wings like a parachute, he gritted his teeth against the painful drag until he’d righted himself.

            The lake lapped along unconcernedly twenty feet below. A fish jumped and plopped back into the waves.

            Sam clutched his throat, wheezing in terror for several long moments. The harpy appeared to have fled after her attack.

            “Nice save, kiddo.”

            Sam gasped in alarm yet again, nearly somersaulting in his hurry to find the source of the voice.

            Gabriel bobbed past over the waves, reclining on a lime green pool raft. He pushed a pair of aviators back into his wavy, golden hairline and smiled up at Sam. “What a mother hen Dean is. You don’t need me at all.”

            “He sent you here?” Sam circled the raft, eyes wide.

            “Yep.” The angel wore a pair of swim trunks and nothing else. He tapped his sunglasses back onto his nose and threw his hands behind his head as if preparing to nap.

            “Do you maybe want to help me?” Sam hinted, doing his best to hover as he’d been taught.

            “Help you with what? You’ve got some fetching love-scratches there, but you look just fine to me.”

            “With the harpy.”

            “I’m no hunter,” Gabriel reminded him with a sly quirk to his mouth. “If you want to spend your time chasing after those bird-brained hags, that’s your business.”

            “They’re killing people, Gabe.”

            “So? I kill people.”

            That sent a chill through Sam’s blood. It was, after all, perfectly true.

            “Yeah, but… bad people…” he mumbled weakly. Only Gabriel’s superhuman hearing would have allowed him to catch it.  

            “And what are ‘bad people,’ exactly?” the trickster drawled philosophically. “Does a dashing, cocky professor who sleeps with his students really deserve summary execution? Hell, I’d sleep with my students if I were a dashing, cocky professor. And if you had a lick of sense, you’d kill me for the monster I am.”

            Sam stared speechlessly at him, but Gabriel forged on with a blithe lack of concern.

            “You’d kill me in a heartbeat if you didn’t wanna get in my pants so damn bad.”

            A dead, flinty look fell over Sam’s face. He ground his teeth, gave the angel a dangerous parting glance, and shot away in the last known direction of the harpy.

            “Hey, wait! Come back! I actually like that in a prospective suitor!” Gabriel called after him over the tossing water.

Chapter Text

            Dean had just about resolved to make his way to the nearest house and hotwire a vehicle when he heard the rumbling purr of the Impala rolling up the drive. He rushed to the porch in time to see Sam easing himself from the car, his white dress shirt half-buttoned and creased with dirt. A few dark blossoms of blood stood out on the fabric.

            “Shit, Sammy, I sent Gabe after you like two hours ago. What happened?”

            “Oh, he found me all right, but I ditched him.” Sam pinched the bridge of his nose with a grubby hand, trudging up the porch steps. Pausing in front of Dean, his eyes slid away for a moment. “Wait… he’s not back?”

            “No.” Dean shrugged. “But go get cleaned up, man. Have a drink and tell me what’s going on.”

            “Yeah, yeah, of course.” Sam shook his hair out of his face and went in.

            He told Deborah O’Bannon’s account of the sinking as he dabbed antiseptic into the angry red scratches crisscrossing his shoulders and stomach. Dean leaned against the bathroom doorframe, waving his hand impatiently.

            “And? The harpy?” he pushed.

            “It was staking out Deborah’s place, waiting to kill her. The ‘one that got away,’ you know?” Sam said from the depths of the sink as he splashed a couple of handfuls of water over his face.

            “Right there outside her house?” Dean asked incredulously. Most monsters’ secretive instincts led them to strike at night or at least lure their victims into isolation first.

            “Well. In the woods across the street. But it would’ve jumped her right there in the front yard, daylight and neighbors be damned.” Sam slipped past Dean and across the hall, rummaging through his bag for a clean shirt. “I got the impression they’re more like animals than most things we hunt.”

            “What made you even look in the woods across the street?”

            “I wasn’t really looking, per se. I, um, just needed a minute alone. Out of sight.”

            Dean pulled a wry face. “Uh huh. Poppin’ a wing boner?”

            “Dude, shut up,” Sam sneered back.

            “Hey, I’m just sympathizing. Holding these things in is like trying to wish away a hard-on in the middle of 8th grade gym class while the girls bounce all over the friggin’ volleyball court.”  

            Sam had to laugh, shaking his head at the floor. “You’re not wrong.” Wandering back out to the living room, he threw himself into the corner of the couch and toed off his shoes. “But you’re all squared away now? Gabe gave you the run-down?”

            “I’m your average four-limbed Joe again, aren’t I?” Dean said, spreading his arms proudly.

            “Yeah, that’s great. But, uh, how’d it go?”

            “How’d what go?”

            “Gabriel doing that thing. With his grace.” Sam was giving him a weird, pinched look, ten different kinds of awkward shifting over his face.

            “Wha—fine? I guess? Right after you left he fired a speck of grace at me—while I was trying to eat my damn pancakes, I might add—and showed me the spot where the wings come from. I figured it out from there.”

            Sam gaped at him. “What an asshole.”

            “Well, I mean, he did let me finish the pancakes after…”

            “No, not that. I mean, he did something way different with me.” Sam jumped up and pounded off to the kitchen without warning.

            Dean followed close on his heels, eyebrows slowly climbing his forehead. “Oh yeah? This sounds juicy. What’d that smartass make you do, huh? Did it involve stripping? I bet it involved stripping.”

            “Aw, leave off, Dean. It was nothing. He just made it seem a lot more… personal… than it apparently needed to be.” Sam rummaged around the fridge and cabinets. “And he never actually stocked the kitchen! He’s just conjuring food as he goes along. Shit. We’ve got bottled water, mustard, and sardines.”

            Dean watched his brother slamming doors and drawers with a wary sort of amusement. “Hey. Sammy. Calm down. We can stow the wings now, remember? We can go to the freakin’ grocery store. We don’t need him.”

            “I know. I know.” Sam took a bottle of water in lieu of anything alcoholic and slumped against the counter in a dark huff.

            “What’s going on with you, man? You say you ditched him, but you’re mad he’s not here. You don’t like his cooking—yeah, I can tell—but you seem to expect more of it. You just got back from some insane aerial hunt, but here we are talking about Gabriel instead. Something is wrong with this picture.”

            Making no answer, Sam picked at the paper label on the bottle and set his jaw into a brooding, off-kilter clench.

            “Dude’s been flirting with you like crazy. That have anything to do with it?” Dean ventured tentatively. He’d not planned on pointing this out, but he would’ve needed to wear earplugs and a bag over his head to overlook the way Gabe had been picking on and playing favorites with Sam.  

            Sam had told Dean about Brady. In the vaguest way possible. “We had a thing,” he’d confessed in the midst of that whole tangle with Pestilence, Crowley, and the demon possessing his old college pal. In the urgency of the moment, Dean had understood Sam’s impulse to clear the air himself rather than wait for the demon to blurt it out as a nasty surprise. It had made perfect sense.

            It was only later that Dean had really thought about it. Sammy had had a boyfriend. A kind of scandalized adolescent wonder had come over Dean with that realization. Sam was his little brother, his buddy, and a badass to boot. He liked women just fine. None of that had fit with Dean’s unexamined preconceptions of straight and gay. Yet it was true. Sam was the same Sam he’d always known… only he’d slept with a guy. Maybe had feelings for a guy. Dean had quickly decided it made no difference. So Sam had spent four years on his own in sunny, liberal California and had the guts to do who and what he wanted. While Dean had spent those same four years under the baleful eye of good old, ex-Marine Dad, only asking how high each time John said jump. Maybe Dean was even a little jealous. Not that he wanted a boyfriend, exactly. Of course not. It was just the principle of the thing….

            Neither of them had mentioned it in the five intervening years. Dean had made an effort to quit calling Sam gay or a girl every time he did something sappy. Otherwise, Dean had practically forgotten about it.

            But now Gabriel had obviously made a move or two, and Sam looked nothing less than miserable. Dean’s knuckles itched to punch the archangel right in his smarmy face.

            “Hey, it’s probably for the best he doesn’t come back, you know?” Dean suggested. “That guy is a shitstorm of suffering under a bit of shiny gold wrapping paper.”

            “I know that,” Sam grunted. “I’m just—nevermind. Let’s get back to the case.” He showed no signs of embarrassment, only weary annoyance.

            “Sure. Absolutely,” Dean agreed, always more than willing to skirt a sensitive subject.

 

            Sam explained the rest of the harpy’s behavior and his reckless pursuit of her across the entire eastern arm of Grand Traverse Bay. He’d just barely managed to track her to the tip of the spindly peninsula that extended up beyond Traverse City, where a small state park provided decent cover. Sam had seen more than one far-off figure wheeling over a dense and hazy patch of marshland before turning back, curiosity appeased. Now he pulled up a map on his laptop and zeroed in on the area.

            “Brinkman Bog,” he read aloud, turning the screen for Dean to see. “Smack dab in the middle of the peninsula. I figure that’s where the rest of the clan is.”

            “Do you think it knew you followed that far? Won't they all just blow that popsicle stand if they know we’re onto them?” Dean speculated.

            “I’m not sure,” Sam admitted. “She may have thought she killed me when she sent that blast my way. But I’m also guessing a creature that’s basically a bird of prey has pretty good eyesight… she could have seen me again later from a distance. She seemed stupid in some ways and clever in others.”

            “Well, we need to figure out how to gank these fugly things before we lose ‘em. Or before they eat that Deborah chick.”

            “Yeah. There’s just not as much lore as I would expect. You’d think with how indiscreet they are, there’d be more accounts of people killing them.”

            “Unless there are just so few of them left?” Dean wondered aloud. “You said it acted like the water was their territory. And it didn’t like humans disturbing the fish. Maybe we aren’t even their natural prey. Maybe they usually live out at the ass end of Canada eating bugs and trout, not bothering anybody, but something made this clan wander into a populated area.”

            “That’s not a bad theory, actually. It wouldn’t be the first time a predator got pushed out of its preferred habitat and only then started clashing with people,” Sam sighed, typing more. “Though they do have a history of going after ships. Ancient Greek mythology confirms that at least.”

            “What else do the ancient Greeks say?” Dean asked.

            “Jason and the Argonauts rescued King Phineus from a flock of harpies,” Sam muttered, scrolling.

            “Rescuing ain’t killing.”

            “I know. In most accounts, they were only driven away. But in one, they were slain by a pair of Argonauts, Zetes and Calais… two half-human, winged brothers.” Arching back from the computer screen, a faint smile quirked the corners of Sam's mouth. “That sounds like just what we want.”

           

            Dean drove to the supermarket while Sam continued his research. Grabbing some staple foods (along with a Winchester’s supply of beer and whiskey), he made a point of picking out a couple pretty steaks for dinner. The Abernathy-Williamses owned one hell of a fancypants grill. Squatting in their house might be against the law, but the true crime would be failing to fire up that fine piece of work at least once before leaving.

            He passed a roadside produce stand on his way back and bought some fresh, silvery ears of corn to roast as well. And tomatoes. Sam would like the weird heirloom tomatoes.  

            Standing out in the lush green yard with the water at his back and the savory scent of medium-rare Black Angus in the air, Dean decided it was okay to be happy for a minute. Of course, he could never hope for a lasting happiness. He knew that. But he afforded himself little mental vacations here and there—spacing out as he detailed Baby or listened to a favorite song—and it kept him basically sane. They’d eat an all-American, summertime supper here in an old lakehouse… and that would be enough for the moment. Tomorrow would probably suck. But when didn’t it?

 

            “They cut off the harpies’ wings,” Sam declared, banging a fist on the table and rattling all the silverware.

            “Oh yeah?” Dean perked up from his post at the sink, rinsing dishes. The food hadn’t disappointed. Best steak he’d had in months. And Sam had all but fawned over the tomatoes.

            “Yes. And then stabbed them with bronze swords. In the liver,” Sam continued, his face lit by the white glow of the laptop. Though the sun had not yet set, the surrounding pines had cast their long, purple shade over the house and sunk the kitchen into pleasant, dreamy shadow.

            “Is cutting off the wings strictly necessary then? Or just something they did to ground them?” Dean asked, eyes narrowing.

            “It’s not clear. But the one I met seemed to place a lot of stock in wings as a mark of status or… or sentience. She only saw me as an equal because of my wings. And she offered me Deborah’s liver like it was a great treat. Maybe the liver holds special meaning for them,” Sam mused.

            “Where are we gonna get bronze swords, dude?” Dean griped at the ceiling as he sluiced soapy water over a plate. “Knives, sure. But swords? That's going old school.”

            “Internet. Swordsmiths would still make them for collectors and movies and hobbyists, I’m sure,” Sam said.

            “By ‘hobbyists,’ do you mean LARPers?” Dean smirked.

            “You know, geeks and history buffs.”

            “LARPers.”

            “Whatever, Dean,” Sam laughed, rolling his eyes. “You were a natural-born LARPer. You would've stayed in Moondoor another whole weekend if I’d let you.”

            “Would not,” Dean pouted, tipping the last dish into the drying rack and taking a seat. Okay, maybe he would have. And he certainly couldn’t begrudge Sam his lightened mood.

            “Ah ha. Found a guy with ready-to-ship, authentic Bronze Age weapons…. Gonna have to max one of these credit cards though.”

            “Go for it. We’ll get new ones,” Dean said. “Listen, I think I better take a watch on Deborah O’Bannon’s house tonight. They might still come back for her.”

            “Good call,” Sam nodded, clicking the laptop closed with satisfaction.

Chapter Text

            After Dean left on his stake-out, Sam unpacked his wings for the night, stretching and fluttering them with unselfconscious abandon as he moved about the house. The wholesome soreness of a hard workout had steeped into all the long muscles and tendons, but Sam didn’t mind. A bright, healthy ache, it only meant he’d done something useful with his day.

            The uneven gouges from the harpy’s talons, on the other hand… not so much. They felt dirty no matter how he flushed or disinfected them. None looked like they wanted stitches, but they prickled in a foul way. Sam resolved to watch the surrounding skin closely for red blotches or track marks, not discounting the possibility of blood poisoning.

            He brushed his teeth and took to his room, pulling the latest brick in the Song of Ice and Fire series from his duffel. Settling cross-legged on the bed, he allowed his wings to trail behind him however they pleased, fanning out and twitching in a way not dissimilar to the absentminded tail spasms of a relaxed cat.

            But the dense gritty print of A Dance With Dragons shifted out of focus under his eyes. His thoughts meandered back to Gabriel, floating on that stupid pool raft miles from land. Would that be the last Sam ever saw of him? Had the novelty of the Winchesters’ latest predicament grown stale so quickly? Now that he and Dean knew how to use (and not use) their wings—now that they had gotten back to the hunt at hand—Gabe had lost his position as the center of attention. He probably didn’t care for that one bit.

            Dean had the right idea, of course. Best to kiss the Trickster’s capricious ass goodbye and thank his lucky stars they hadn’t gotten more involved. Gabriel was bad news: always had been, always would be.

            And why did that turn him on so much?  Sam threw the book over the side of the bed, leaning forward until his forehead touched the sheer, expensive weave of the bedspread. He wanted Gabriel like you might want pain to feel more alive. It went against all logic, and Sam didn’t really care. He sighed against the duvet, wishing it were the flesh of Gabe’s flushed, sweat-glazed back—

            “You rang?”

            Sam lurched upright, horrified. “You have got to stop doing that,” he rasped, chest tight.

            “What? Showing up exactly when and where you want me to?” Gabriel smiled. “You’re right, that is so rude of me.”

            He crossed his arms and planted a shoulder against the wall. Sam couldn’t help but notice the sleeves of Gabriel’s fawn-colored jacket were a little too long for him, bunching over his hands. It was about the cutest damn thing he’d ever seen.

            “Where were you all afternoon?” Sam challenged, trying to ignore the archangel’s knowing, sidelong look. 

            “Oh, I had stuff to do,” Gabriel said dismissively.

            “Stuff?” Sam repeated.

            “You have your stuff, I have my stuff. Those cuts are going septic, by the way.”

            “What? Oh.” Sam glanced down at his bare stomach and the ugly, ragged scratches. “I’m not all that surprised.”

            “May I?” Gabriel asked, his eyes shiny and complacent.

            “I guess you’d better.”

            Sam tried not to react as Gabriel took one exaggerated, sliding step to the foot of the bed and jabbed two fingers to the center of Sam’s chest. A soothing chill washed over the dark lacerations, like clean snow blanketing a festering, muddy field in one fell swoop. They disappeared instantly.

            “Thanks,” Sam said. Yet the anger he’d felt earlier at the way Gabe had been toying with him chose that moment to flicker back to life, bubbling through him like heartburn. Gabriel’s subtle, circuitous seduction over the last two days had made Sam feel weird and vulnerable. Given a choice between that and righteous resentment, Sam went with righteous resentment.

            “Why are you even here, Gabe?” he blurted out, his voice a note higher than he really cared for. “I don’t just mean right here, right now, but why show up at all? Why bum around Michigan with us when you could be doing, y’know, anything else? What’s your deal, dude? What’s your—your endgame?”

            A furtive pull at the edges of Gabriel’s lips threatened a smile. He’d not retreated from Sam’s space after healing him. With the most flagrant insolence imaginable he tipped his head to the side and said only, “I think you know why I’m here, Winchester.”

            Oh, fuck that.

            “Why can’t you just give me a straight answer?” Sam cried. He bounded off the bed and propelled Gabriel into the wall with a rigid forearm against his chest. The back of Sam’s throat itched with frustration as he glared down him.

            Gabriel did not resist this sudden violence but merely blinked and looked around in a willfully obtuse way. “A straight answer? Why, I don’t think much at all about this is straight, do you?”

            “Ugh!” Sam all but roared. “You are awful!”

            “Then kick me out,” Gabriel invited, worming free of Sam’s grasp and circling him with a kind of enthralling, perilous deliberation, hands behind his back. “Say the word and I’ll never darken your doorstep again.”

            A dirty move. He knew Sam didn’t want to kick him out. It killed Sam that he couldn’t. Couldn’t wipe that smug look off Gabe’s face by calling his bluff.

             “Go on. Tell me to take a hike. Tell me to go to hell. I deserve it.” And as he passed by, Gabriel’s hand snaked out, giving Sam’s right wing a long, savage stroke.

            Sam swallowed the shuddering gasp that threatened to completely undermine him in that moment, but only just. Not precisely sexual or vulgar, the sensation nevertheless tugged at his deepest pleasure centers. His brow knit into a hard line, and he bit the inside of his cheek in a desperate attempt to redirect his focus.

            Gabe raised his hand again, fingers wiggling suggestively, but Sam snagged it. Twisting his much larger hand around Gabriel’s wrist, he flung his wings well out of the way. He tried to gather them into himself, to disembody them as he knew he could, but they wouldn’t go. The great mass of them rustled and shook behind him like a giant, neon target.

            Ducking away and just barely managing to break Sam’s hold on his arm, Gabriel used exactly none of his angelic strength, and that somehow infuriated Sam. The close-quarters clash quickly devolved into the worst sort of floundering, hair-pulling slap fight this side of a schoolyard scuffle. Sam spluttered indignantly, trying to extract himself.

            “Enough! This is ridiculous!”

            “It is, it really is,” Gabriel snickered, his eyes creased with mirth.

            Sam couldn’t take it any longer. With a burst of effort, he caught Gabriel, pushed him against the doorframe, and kissed him as fiercely as he’d wanted to ever since the trickster had first barged into their motel room.

            All the wriggling tension melted from Gabriel’s body immediately. He mellowed under the kiss’ pressure, smiling against Sam’s lips.

            “I win, I win, I win…” he mumbled over and over again in a sated, chuckling chant as Sam slid away, mouthing over his jawline and throat.

            “Declare victory all you want,” Sam panted, pulling back to meet Gabriel’s eyes. “But don’t you dare laugh.”

            At me. Don’t you dare laugh at me. The words hung unspoken at the end of the sentence, a silent plea for a single moment of sincerity. Sam had lost the battle with his better judgment the moment he’d touched Gabriel, but he couldn’t bear the thought of this turning out to be a sick prank.

            Gabriel’s self-satisfied grin froze in place and then faltered. The haze of arousal fled from his eyes as he looked at Sam with sudden, shrewd focus. “Hold up. What do you think this is?”

            “Frankly… some sorta trap.” Sam almost felt bad saying it. Almost.

            “Oh.” Gabriel gave a little grimace of distaste. “Look, Sam, I may have dirt poor standards of conduct, but I don’t trick people into sex. Or lead them on only to pull the rug out from under them. Or whatever other low blow you’re expecting. Hell, look at you! All surly and awkward and a hundred feet tall—” He gestured inarticulately as if to emphasize these dubious compliments as obvious desirable traits. “And with those virgin wings so sensitive you can hardly stand it? Gimme a break! I’m diving headfirst into that bed with you because—shocker!—I’d really, really like to.”

            Sam followed this spiel with a kind of hopeful disbelief, jerking his head in stiff acknowledgement. “Oh—okay.”

            “‘Okay’? Come on, Sam, you can do better than that.”

            But he couldn’t. Sam didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t just wax poetic on his wretchedly tangled feelings out loud, right to Gabriel’s face. Panicking slightly, Sam hurriedly crushed his mouth against Gabe’s with renewed passion, pivoting his head to the best angle and pulling the angel’s lower lip between his own. It felt as good as he’d ever wanted it to in his guilt-ridden daydreams. Gabriel hummed in approval, kissing back hungrily. He opened his mouth just enough to swipe his tongue once against Sam’s and then broke the contact.

            “Good enough.” He kissed the dip in Sam’s collarbone (an easier reach than his mouth, in truth) as his hands skated mischievously over Sam’s lean sides and back.

            Sam shied away instinctively at the inevitable touch to his feathers. He wanted to feel it—oh, did he—but the enormity of the sensation also kind of terrified him. He was never meant to have wings. His brain didn’t seem very well equipped to deal with the eerie, heart-stopping signals they tried to transmit to it.

            “I regret freaking you out before,” Gabe breathed against Sam’s chest, fingers stroking down his spine. “I’ll behave myself this time, I swear.”

            “I really doubt that,” Sam snorted.

            “Well. Within reason,” Gabriel shrugged.

            “Just… just take it easy, okay?” Sam hated the way that sounded, but he knew he couldn’t bear Gabriel roughly digging his hands into the feathers with no regard for the consequences.

            “Scout’s honor.”

            His fingertips ghosted over the lowest, shortest quills in the center of Sam’s back, petting and then quickly skipping away.

            Sam flinched with each touch. It was like pinching a dancing flame over and over again. Heat, delight, and a primal dash of fear leapt up in his gut each time Gabriel made the slightest contact with the feathers. And, like playing with fire, it was addictive. Do it again, do it again, a little voice in Sam’s head urged each time the feeling faded. Yet when Gabriel laid a warm palm over the base of Sam’s left wing, holding it there and merely flexing the pads of his fingers into the downy surface, Sam’s breath hitched and he very nearly fell over the smaller man. “Oh my God,” he stuttered, his forehead dropping to Gabe’s shoulder.

            “You still with me, little fledgling?” Gabe sniggered.

             “Yeah,” Sam choked out against the leather of Gabriel’s jacket, eyes screwed shut. He felt like someone had dipped him straight into the sun. Only he hadn’t died.

            “Sure about that?” Gabe slid his hand around and scratched ever so gently at the dense underside of the wing.

            “Fuck!” Sam half-screamed, half-whimpered, knees sagging. He heaved for air, totally wrecked by the flood of bliss.

            “Woah, you are on,” Gabriel remarked, withdrawing his hand and smiling. “I’ve never seen the like. You must be crazy about me.”

            “Shut up,” Sam shot back weakly.

            “So,” Gabe went on, hooking his thumbs into Sam’s waistband at the point of each hip. “About that sex.”

            Sam had virtually forgotten about it. But as the previous fog of pleasure evaporated and he regained his motor skills, Gabriel’s words hit him right where it mattered. Sam wanted him more than ever. Half-hard in the space of a moment, Sam practically growled, kissing Gabriel and pushing his jacket off his shoulders.

            Gabe joined in enthusiastically, letting the jacket fall and tearing at the buttons of his own shirt. Discarding it with a wild flourish, he herded Sam closer to the bed until their legs bumped against it.

            Unfastening Gabriel’s worn-in jeans, Sam let them slouch down on his hips a couple of inches. He pawed over the wide, soft muscles of the angel’s lower back, dipping his hands over the topmost curve of his half-clothed ass.

            Moaning against Sam’s breastbone, Gabriel seemed to find that all manner of hot. The firm outline of his erection nudged against Sam’s thigh.

            “Hey—um—what exactly is on the table here?” Sam found the wherewithal to ask. He realized he didn’t know precisely what he expected. Blow jobs? Probably blow jobs…?

            “Well, I’m awfully partial to the idea of you bending me over the foot of the bed and fucking me speechless,” Gabe mused. “But I’m open to suggestions.”

            Doing his damndest to contain the slightly incredulous thrill this sent through him, Sam nodded numbly. The notion of Gabriel being rendered speechless by anything Sam could do to him… well, it did some very choice things to Sam himself, thank you very much.

            But a twinge of nerves clung to the coattails of his excitement. He and Brady had never fucked in the true sense of the word. And a good cross-section of women weren’t interested in anal sex at all. Amelia, bless her heart, had liked to try every once in awhile though. It had usually meant one hell of a long bout of foreplay, slowly working up to it, but Sam hadn’t minded. The level of comfort and intimacy they’d enjoyed had allowed them to keep an open line of communication throughout, and it had served them well. But he had no experience of what Gabriel liked and felt he’d just about have to throw himself into the lake if he screwed this up.

            “I—I could do that.”

            “Fantastic,” Gabe snarled, working open Sam’s belt and fly. Pulling no punches, he insinuated a hand into Sam’s pants, giving him a brief, taunting squeeze through the cotton of his boxers. “Oh, yeah. I can work with this,” he declared with an air of great professionalism, running his palm over Sam’s increasingly stiff length. “This is gonna rock my world.”

            Impatient with this treatment, Sam pushed down his pants and stepped out of them. Gabe dropped his as well.

            “You don’t wear underwear?” Sam asked before he could stop himself.

            “What for?” Gabriel shrugged, standing there naked and golden and ready. He raised an eyebrow at Sam’s plaid shorts. “They only get in the way.”

            “Right, right,” he agreed mindlessly, shucking them off.

            “Wait—wait, Sam. Oh dear,” Gabriel gasped, his face gone slack with shock.

            “What?” Sam froze, bent over, midway through the act of yanking his boxers over his right foot. “What is it?”

            “You have this—why, what could it be?” Gabe went on, eyes round. “Something, just there, behind your ear…” He reached out, brushed aside a curtain of hair, and flicked his fingers over the shell of Sam’s ear. With a deft sleight-of-hand movement he revealed a clear tube of liquid. “Oh, my bad, it’s just a bottle of lube.”

            Sam punched him.

            Not hard. Not half as hard as he deserved. But Gabriel recoiled nonetheless, holding a hand to the offended shoulder. “Ow! Is that any way to treat someone who’s about to show you a good time?”

            “There is something seriously wrong with you,” Sam griped, all too aware that his face had gone beet red.

            “Yeah. I don’t know what you see in me,” Gabriel allowed, but then he was sidling up to Sam, pressing their bodies together. Sam’s cock rubbed against the warm skin of Gabe’s stomach and God if that didn’t feel great….

            “You gonna pull a condom out of thin air next?” Sam murmured against Gabe’s sweet-smelling hair, heart pounding.

            Gabriel gave him a disparaging look. “Silly moose. Germs are for humans.”

            “Fair point,” Sam croaked. He gripped Gabriel around the waist and manhandled him around. Sam planted a hand on the nape of his neck and shoved him face-down over the edge of bed, lighting up at the tiny, breathless noise this elicited from Gabe. It wasn’t a noise he’d ever expect to hear from him. Gabriel squirmed a little, but Sam flattened a big, calloused hand square in the middle of his back, holding him there.

            “This is what you asked for, right?” He leaned forward, tilting his hips against Gabe’s bare, upturned ass. He let himself slide harmlessly over the cleft in his cheeks, biting his lip hard to keep from groaning. His cock jerked restlessly.

            “Holy shit,” Gabriel murmured more to himself than Sam. “Yes—yes.”

            Sam snagged the lube off the bed where Gabe had dropped it, flipped the cap, and squeezed a gelid dollop onto his fingers. He rubbed it around, warming it up (and making Gabriel wait, testy little sighs escaping him every few seconds) before drawing his fingers up Gabe’s perineum in one rapid movement. The angel shivered and pushed back against the hand idling around his tight entrance. Sam dipped in his slick middle finger, slow as dripping honey, and watched Gabriel’s partly obscured profile with keen interest. He’d closed his eyes, mouth half open, and a deep pink sheen of heat had settled into his cheeks. Sam drank in the sight, more fascinated with Gabe’s face than his rear end even as he worked in and out of him, tentatively twisting in his index finger as well.

            Hissing like a cat, Gabriel’s muscles twitched. He wasn’t using an ounce of magic to help him along here. Sam deemed this sheer stubbornness on Gabe’s part, but he couldn’t very well complain. He found he had no desire to cheat. He quite liked teasing Gabriel open, gloating over the sharp spasms and curses he was wresting from the goddamn archangel spread out before him.

            “How you doing?” he asked, bending over and pressing a hot kiss to the crest of Gabriel’s spine.

            “Riding high,” Gabe answered in a low breath.

            So, adding more lube, Sam made a tapered V of his three center fingers and worked them deep into Gabe’s ass with deliberate, halting pressure.

            “Fuck, Sam,” Gabriel seethed as Sam’s knuckles dragged over his prostate. His legs, now planted somewhat less firmly on the floor than when they’d started, trembled ever so slightly.

            Sam bit back a grin, loving how quickly Gabe had come undone. No more snide comments, no more jokes. Everything had been stripped away, reduced to this one act.

            Sam began to kiss and nip at Gabriel’s exposed back in earnest, sucking cloudy, wine-dappled hickies into his skin. Gabe huffed and thrust shallowly against the bed each time Sam’s mouth slicked away from another blooming bruise. He lingered in the small of Gabriel’s back and finally sunk his teeth into the tender, salty-sweet flesh of his left hip, just above his ass. Gabe made a sound only dogs should have been able to hear, and no wonder, since Sam had also crooked and spread his cramping fingers, grinding right against the angel’s prostate.

            “Sam. Sam. I’m fucking ready, okay? I’m ten thousand years’ worth of ready—”

            The rest of this tirade degenerated into a muffled moan. Because Sam had slicked up his leaking cock in one hell of a hurry and was guiding it just past Gabriel’s stretched rim. He liked to think his dick was suited to the scale of the rest of him, and there could be nothing quick about this. With a punishing grip on Gabe’s waist, he slid deeper, letting out an almost drunken sigh of relief.

            Buried as far as he could go, Sam rocked tamely against Gabriel, not quite daring to pull out and slam back in. He shoved down a boiling wave of desire, quivering and sweating his way through the few moments it took to get his act together.

            “Sweet motherson of a bitch—” Gabe was swearing, his face shoved into the crook of his elbow. “You are—you are packing some real heat there, Sam.”

            “Are you all right?” Sam gasped back.

            “I’m more than all right. Go on. Do it. Fuck me straight back to the Dark Ages.

            All the carefully collected, filed, and labeled frustrations of the nine years in which he’d known Gabriel came flying out of Sam in that moment. He pounded Gabe into the mattress, getting the best sort of charge out of the raw, wordless cries of encouragement this earned him. The heedless, billowing flap of Sam’s wings and the perfect, obscene slap of skin on skin filled the room as Gabriel clutched fitfully at the bedspread, biting the heel of his own hand.

            Sam’s vision was blurring, staring down at the elegant rumpled mess of a man before him. The love-bites marring his pale back looked like some kind of debauched constellation, a souvenir star map of Sam’s lust. So close, so close now. He canted Gabriel’s hips up off the bed enough to slip a hand between and stroke his cock, rigid and painted with pre-come. Gabe’s smaller hand met Sam’s, clamping over it and spurring a faster pace.

            Gabriel came with an almost hysterical sob, covering Sam’s hand and falling bonelessly into the mattress. He grinned hugely to himself, shaking all over. “Oh,” he murmured, a strained streak of hoarseness in his voice. “Sam. Give it to me, Sam. Come on, give it to me.”

            It didn’t take much. Another handful of thrusts and Sam was spilling himself dry in Gabriel, cursing nonsensically. He slumped over the archangel’s much abused back; every nerve and muscle melted like butter.

            “Oh my God,” he babbled, running his hands all over Gabe. “That was insane.”

            “You’re telling me.” Gabe winced as Sam pulled out.

            “You gonna heal yourself?” Sam asked absently, tonguing over the bruises on Gabe’s back and thinking how he’d miss them as soon as they vanished.

            “Hell no, honey bun,” Gabriel chuckled. “Limping around sex sore for a day or two is one of my favorite things.”

            “That’s really hot,” Sam admitted, tucking his forearms under Gabe’s chest and levering him up with him as he stood. Gabriel wilted rather dramatically against Sam’s body, letting his head roll to the side. A few copper feathers helicoptered through the air around them, shaken loose at some point.

            Sam closed his eyes, remembering who it was he held against his chest. He waited for the snappy one-liner. The “gotcha!” moment. The punchline.

            There wasn’t one.

 

Chapter Text

            The alarm on Sam’s cell phone chirped out its electronic chime at 6:00. He remembered reaching for it, and he must have thumbed over the snooze button since he also remembered it shutting off. Shifting the pillow under his head, he resolved to get up in fifteen. He knew he had somewhere to be. But fifteen minutes would set him straight. He’d cut short his time in the shower to make up for it….

           

            “Sam! Hey, Sammy!”

            Coughing and rearing up out of the sheets in confusion, Sam saw entirely too much light streaming in the window for the modest hour of 6:15. The thump of his brother’s boots approaching unnerved him. And why was that? It was only Dean—

            “Shit,” Sam hissed. Dean expected him to take over guard duty right about now. Except a tiny pagan god lay curled underneath Sam’s wing, breathing the measured breath of sleep and clutching his goddamn cell phone.

            “Gabe. Gabe, wake up,” he ordered in the most forceful whisper he could muster.

            “Mm?” Gabriel hummed with a guileless blink of his amber brown eyes. “Oh. Morning, studmuffin.”

            “You have to go,” Sam insisted, lifting the canopy of wing very pointedly, as though showing a rude guest the door.

            “Really, Sam Winchester, your bedroom manners leave everything to be desired.”

            “Did you turn off my alarm?”

            “What alarm?” Gabriel asked shiftily.

            “Ugh.” Sam snatched the phone from him. “Why are you even sleeping? What does an angel need with sleep?”

            “Oh, I taught myself how years ago. Helps pass the time—”

            “Sam, you dead in there or what?” Dean’s voice called from the hallway.

            “I’m fine!” Sam replied loudly, skidding out of bed and hopping into his rumpled pants. “Gimme a minute!”

            Stretching and combing his hands through his disheveled hair like a moving portrait of luxury itself, Gabriel showed little inclination to make himself scarce. A cold bubble of distress spread through Sam’s stomach. Gabe had no motivation whatsoever to conceal this from Dean. In fact, he would probably like nothing more than to expound at length on the events of last night over cinnamon buns and lattes.

            Sam hitched a knee up onto the bed and half-crawled over the preening archangel. Gabriel fell back rather languidly beneath him.

            “Gabriel. Listen to me. If you leave this instant—silently—I will make it up to you ten times over the next chance I get.”

            A slow Cheshire grin spread across Gabriel’s face. “Are you embarrassed, Sam? Scared your big meathead brother will find out you bat for both teams?”

            “No,” Sam bristled. “Dean knows that. But he would rip me a new one for sleeping with you.”

            “Pssh,” Gabriel scoffed. “That’s only because Dean hates fun and wants to eradicate it wherever it’s found.”

            “Argue with me later. Leave now.” Sam kissed him square on the mouth even as he made little shooing motions with his hands.

            “Promise you’ll argue with me later?” Gabriel murmured against Sam’s lips.

            “Yes.”

            “Deal.”

            And then Sam was kissing mattress because Gabe was gone and he’d faceplanted right into the still-warm bed.

 

            Dean went to the john, washed up, and had poured himself a bowl of cereal before His Majesty deigned to emerge from the bedchamber.

            “I hope all that beauty rest didn’t go to wa—woah.” Dean’s friendly jab trailed off into a squinting wince as he stood transfixed, cornflakes cupped in one hand and dripping spoon poised in the other.

            Scruffy to the core, the Sam that came slinking into the hallway had a wicked case of bedhead and a very distinctive sex funk lingering about him.

            “Dude. Did you get laid last night?” Dean asked, taken aback.

            Sam gawked at him like a cornered dog accused of eating all the mail from the coffee table. He gave a kind of amorphous vacillating nod that only served to further confound Dean.

            “Do we… do we have company?” Dean mouthed silently, jerking his head at the bedroom door. Retracing his verbal footsteps since returning to the house, he hoped he hadn’t shouted anything batshit crazy about harpies or murder.

            “No, not—not anymore.”

            “Gotcha,” Dean nodded wisely. “Love ‘em and leave ‘em. You start eating breakfast with your hookups and the next thing you know, you’re being asked to brunch with the parents.”  

            “Right,” Sam mumbled, stalking to the bathroom without further ado.

            Shrugging at Sam’s excessive stoicism in the face of good sexual fortune, Dean returned to the kitchen and finished his cereal as he checked the local news on the laptop. Nothing pinged his harpy radar. And Sam’s little stunt the day before had evidently escaped the notice of any resident conspiracy theorists.

            Dean hoped the one night stand he’d managed to pick up had helped blow off some steam for Sam, helped snap his priorities back into place. For his part, Dean wouldn’t mind if he never saw Gabriel again.

            By contrast, Castiel’s absence niggled at him like an invisible splinter. Dean reminded himself that he’d only run back to Heaven for a day, but the long night alone in the Impala with nothing but a no-show harpy and the occasional flutter of bats to keep him company had done nothing to discourage him from overthinking it. He wouldn’t have minded Cas skipping out on them if only Dean didn’t think the angel’s avoidance signified so much more.

            He needed sleep, even though he didn’t particularly want it. The bronze swords wouldn’t arrive until the following day even with expedited shipping, and nothing much needed his attention in the meantime.

            Sam ran out with little more than a granola bar and his wallet a few minutes later, and Dean hauled himself upstairs to see about that sleep thing.

            It escaped him, as it often did, so he took to the master bath attached to his room, eyeing the sparkling white depths of the Jacuzzi with hesitant interest. Those jets probably felt just as good as the ol’ Magic Fingers, but he also kind of suspected there was no manly way to sit solo in a Jacuzzi.

            “Ah, fuck it,” he muttered to himself, throwing his jeans and t-shirt to the pale checkered tile.

            He balled up a towel to use as a pillow and just about dissolved into the pulsing water. Better than the springy vibrations of skeezy motel beds, the jets pummeled his back like a rough Swedish massage. After awhile, he spread his wings and let them hang over the open side of the tub. He wondered if they’d ever get dirty, ever need bathing. And how did a guy do that, exactly? The things wouldn’t fit in anything short of the bunker’s open shower room. Cas would know what kind of care they required. If, that was, Cas ever came back….

 

            That evening upon his return, Sam reported no further harpy activity, but the bad news came in the form of Deborah catching onto their constant presence.

            “I was parked down the street, just keeping an eye on the trees, but she came storming over and knocked on the window. Accused me of stalking her, said she’d seen the car the night before, too. Yelling about how someone from Steve’s real insurance company had contacted her and of course didn’t know anything about me. I think she’ll call the cops if she sees me again,” Sam sighed, sinking into a chair with a take-out grilled chicken sandwich. “She doesn’t know your face yet, at least. But you can’t take the car.”

            “Aw man,” Dean complained around a mouthful of the burger Sam had brought him. He’d managed a three hour nap after his soak but still kind of felt like shit. “You want me to squat in the bushes with binoculars all night? They’re probably not even coming back for her at this point. Not after you ran off that first one.”

            “We don’t know that, Dean. They might just be biding their time. She’s our only connection to them until we make our move tomorrow. And you’d be kicking yourself if she lost her guts just because we didn’t want to play babysitter for one more day.”

 

            So Dean squatted in the bushes with binoculars all night, grumbling and humming AC/DC tunes to himself. It grew mucky and damp, until he buried his hands in the armpits of his canvas jacket for warmth, but he stayed. Until the sun ghosted over the horizon and gilded the eastern windows of the neighborhood pink.

            Stiff and feeling old, he gave the woods one more cursory sweep and headed back.

            “You owe me big time, Sam,” he announced as he banged through the screen door of the lakehouse. “It’s your friggin’ turn to creep on the harpy bait.”

            A muffled crash issued from Sam’s room. Followed by a good deal of rustling. And big yeti footsteps that could only belong to his brother. Dean squinted and cocked his head.  

            “Yeah, absolutely,” Sam said brightly, zipping out the door and past Dean like his ultimate goal in life was to never look him in the eye again. “Let me know when the swords are delivered!”

            “Right,” Dean said to the back of Sam’s head as he jogged down the porch steps.

            Pacing nonchalantly down the hall as if he had nothing better to do, Dean tapped open Sam’s slightly ajar door. The bed looked a little too well-used. And the duck painting over the headboard had slipped to the side. Either Sammy had experienced some epic thrashing nightmares or some epic thrashing sex while he’d been gone.

            A dreadful notion slithered through Dean’s head.

            “Gabriel!” he roared at the empty house. “If you’re here, you show your sorry weasel face right now!”

            Nothing. Dean was hollering at nothing.

            He dragged a heavy hand over his face and chuckled darkly at his own behavior. Sam had better instincts than that. And the archangel had surely dumped them for greener pastures.

            He collapsed into his own bed as soon as he made it there, too tired and achy to stew in his thoughts for more than a minute or two. Only the insistent ring of the doorbell woke him quite awhile later.

 

            Sam, the LARPer gear has landed, Dean texted. He set the phone on the counter and slit open the long cardboard box with a switchblade.

            Cool, I’ll be there ASAP, Sam replied.

            Two finely honed leaf-shaped swords rolled out of the bubble wrap inside, their beveled lengths cut with blood grooves and their simple wooden hilts wrapped in brown leather. The cool metal had a rippling amber radiance about it that gave it away as bronze alloy. They looked like something a Tolkien elf would take into battle. Maybe he’d give his to Charlie after they finished here.

            Sam had ordered two backup blades a foot or so shorter as well. Too substantial to be termed knives, they would nevertheless fit comfortably on a belt in case of emergency.  

            When Sam got back, they packed up the car and drove into Traverse City. The twenty mile stretch of peninsula that followed passed by in near silence. They pulled onto the grassy shoulder of the one road leading to Brinkman Bog, parked, and stripped off their shirts.

            “How many do you think there are?” Dean grunted, tossing his faded Henley into the Impala’s front seat.

            “Maybe five, maybe twenty,” Sam said, following suit and unfurling his wings. “But I don’t think the environment could support a whole lot more large predators without it being even more obvious.”

            Dean hefted his sword, testing the balance and liking it. He swung the weapon at a tall clump of flowering weeds and silently approved of the neat slice of leaves and stems that fell away. “You sure we should be doing this by day? They’ll see us coming, man.”

            “It’s almost the new moon, Dean. We’d be flying blind at night and killing ourselves on the trees alone. Unless you want to wait who knows how many more days for a clear, bright night? And they might still see better than us in low light.”  

            “Yeah, point taken,” Dean said. “No time like the present. Hey, what happened to your scratches?”

            “What?” Sam asked, a wild look coming into his eye only to disappear just as quickly.

            “Those scratches from your harpy friend the other day. They were real doozies,” Dean drawled, tipping his sword in a casual gesture toward Sam’s tan and perfectly unharmed chest.

            “I, uh, took care of ‘em. They weren’t that bad. Faded fast,” Sam said, busying himself with fitting the short sword’s scabbard to his belt.

            Dean shook his head and stode away into the humid, squelching marsh, wings ready and weapons in hand. “Sam,” he declared from several paces off, “You are my brother and my best friend, but you are one rotten liar.”

Chapter Text

            Sam’s footsteps slogged after him. “Hey, wait up!” he called. “What are you talking about?”  

            “Those didn’t heal on their own, Sam. I saw them,” Dean sighed, rolling his eyes to the pale disc of the sun overhead. He stopped, flicked away a grasshopper that he found tickling through the fluff of his left wing, and rounded on his brother. “Gabriel’s been back, hasn’t he?”

            “Gabriel? He—he split, Dean.”

            “Yeah, but when?”

            “Like the other day?” Sam shrugged expansively, giving him just about the biggest “what the fuck do you want from me?” face imaginable.

            “Then Cas has been back and you haven’t told me!” Dean barked, the words tripping off his tongue before he’d considered the implications.

            But the implications hit him hard. Dean deflated instantly, feeling like a drowned rat. If Cas had spoken to Sam, healed Sam, and made a point of doing so in a Dean-free moment—if he’d instructed Sam not to even mention the visit—then his anger ran far deeper than Dean realized. Something had broken. Something had frayed away between them like a rotten length of rope and Dean would just have to cling to it, knit it together as best he could until Cas forgave him—

            “No, why would I do that?” Sam practically sneered.

            “I don’t know!” Dean cried, taking a step back and sinking ankle-deep into a stagnant brown pool. He shook out his boot, scowling. “Never mind! I regret bringing it up.”

            He did, too. They were standing in the middle of a swamp, arguing about something neither brother really wanted to address at all while, in all likelihood, a nest of sinister birdwomen watched from the trees. They'd probably popped popcorn by now and opened up speculation on the unfolding drama.

            “In case you haven’t noticed, we kind of have a job to do,” Sam pointed out, lips pursed. 

            “I know that,” Dean returned, stomping through the brush and swarms of gnats.

            “Dean, I don’t know what your deal is, but you need to drop it. Now. We can’t go into this distracted,” Sam hissed.

            Dean understood Sam’s reasoning but, for his part, he never actually minded diving into a fight half-cocked and angry. It got his blood moving, made the slaughter just fly by. Still, he took a deep breath, wrestled his concerns about Cas, Sam, and Gabe into a dark but frequently used corner of his mind, and took a good hard look ahead.

            “You see any movement? I don’t see any movement,” he muttered.

            “No. You think we should walk in or fly in?”

            “I don’t relish the idea of them coming at us from above.”  

            “Me neither,” Sam agreed, spreading his wings. “Ready?”

            The increasingly deep muck of the bog hindered their running start, but both managed to haul themselves aloft and circle a couple times, testing the wind and the range of their sword-arms. When Dean gave a sharp whistle through his teeth they shot forward in unison, the steamy brown foliage rolling by beneath them.

            More than two hundred yards into prime harpy territory and no alarm had sounded. No hardened flock of warriors rose to meet them. So they doubled back, giving the nooks and crannies of the wooded marsh their undivided attention. They succeeded in flushing out only one gangly heron, a frog clamped in its beak.  

            “Nobody home?” Dean called to Sam in a low voice.

            “Sure looks that way,” Sam replied. “But I wanna take a look at that clearing over there. Maybe we’ll find some clues.”

            “Right,” Dean nodded, banking and wheeling toward it.

            Stumbling to the ground in the thick stillness of the glade, Sam and Dean stood back to back, craning to look in all directions at once.

            “Sam?” Dean gulped.

            “Yeah.”  

            “That’s a lot more than twenty harpies.”

            “Shut up, we need to get out of here,” Sam said through gritted teeth, his wings jostling against Dean’s. Dean sensed his brother’s panic arcing like an electric current in that moment. And he couldn’t say as he blamed him.

            Dozens of orange and tawny green eyes had locked onto their position. Balding elders stared at them from branches and knotty islands of vegetation, pale scraps of trout flesh clutched in their arthritic hands. Hatchlings clothed in clouds of down like cotton candy shuffled in their nests, their wide, veined mouths gaping for food. And a small army of gray and sandy-feathered adults cocked their heads with owl-like focus, darting blue tongues wetting their lips.

            “Go, go, go,” Dean urged under his breath, elbowing Sam.

            They took off just as a piercing shriek of “Tengu, tengu! Tear them!” broke the pregnant silence.

            “Sammy, why they callin’ us tengu?” Dean shouted, beating his wings with all his might.

            “I’ll explain later!” Sam yelled. “If we get a later!”

            A big, wiry-muscled harpy slammed into Sam like a scrabbling airborne cat, kicking at him with her horny feet and screaming fit to burst their eardrums. Sam spun haphazardly in the air, glancing her with his sword and pulling away a streaming trail of black blood.

            “Poison!” she wailed. “Nasty sneaking tengu with poisoned blades! Eat them, sisters! Eat them to the bones!”

            “Tear them, tear them!” the rest cawed, rising up from the camp like a mob of pitchfork-wielding villagers.

            Latching onto the fact that the bronze had done its job, Dean hacked wildly at the first harpy that hurtled toward him. She went down with one wing all but lopped off, crashing as good as dead into the mud below. Dean’s heart leapt, but he knew that even if he and Sam made a break for the Impala and reached it, the clan would follow. They’d slash the tires with their talons, smash the windows with rocks. They’d pull Sam and Dean from the car piece by piece if necessary and feast on Grade-A Winchester liver that night.

            Sam had felled another, stabbing her through her speckled midriff. But he’d lost his sword in the process, getting it irretrievably lodged in her ribcage. He’d freed his backup blade and lashed out with it, but the crowding harpies were bearing him to the ground under a buffeting whirl of wings and limbs. Dean caught a glimpse of his face through the churning mass of feathers. It was bathed in blood.

            Growling, Dean managed to kill another two before he felt, at all once, as if his spine had been ripped out by the roots.

            He lost all coordination, back arching and wings stuttering uselessly. The ground surged up to meet him, and Dean heard a foul crunching noise next to his head upon impact. He spluttered out of a murky puddle, fumbling around for either of his swords, but his fingers closed only on sticks and the tangled threads of fish bones.  

            Warm drops pattered onto his face. Blood. Turning his head in a maneuver that wracked his back with pain, Dean saw the great curve of his wing hanging askew above him at an odd and crumpled angle, a spreading stain of red seeping through the white and green plumage.

            And he couldn’t help but notice a greedy snuffling approaching from behind, soft splashes punctuated by hungry little cooing sounds. Dean groaned, expecting claws in his guts at any moment.

            Was Sam dead? His eyes burned and his throat closed, but Dean couldn’t think of a damn thing to do.

            Not a damn thing except wish for Cas so hard it hurt worse than his mauled back, worse than his broken wing. And then he took the force of that pain and crammed it into the wish as well, praying a wordless screaming prayer that ranted and raged against this humiliating death. Too bad Cas wouldn’t have his ears on. Too bad Dean had ruined everything

            The corpse of a harpy tumbled down not two feet in front of his face, her eye sockets hollow and smoking.

            Staring, Dean didn’t immediately know what to make of it. He saw double, his vision flaring and kaleidoscoping, but then a hand landed heavily on his shoulder, pulling him back to his senses, and Dean turned into the glare of the sun to see a two-headed silhouette towering over him….

            Cas. It was Cas. Propping up a gasping Sam against one arm.

            Castiel took away the stinking mud and the ear-shattering clamor of the harpies. Or rather he took Sam and Dean away from it. Dean ground his teeth and tried not to cry out at the sudden shock of finding the lakehouse’s rough pine porch underneath his battered body.

            “Sammy, you all right? Cas, take care—take care of Sam,” Dean hissed into the floorboards.

            “Triage, Dean,” Sam croaked. “I think you’re a little worse off than I am.”

            Sam staggered into a chair, the gash on his forehead spilling a curtain of blood over his face and neck. However, it looked far more dramatic than it probably was. He cradled one hand gingerly, three of the fingers obviously broken.

            “Be still, Dean,” Castiel ordered in a low rumble. “Your back is badly lacerated and you have fractured vertebrae. I’m surprised you’re not paralyzed.”

            The angel knelt down next to him, gently pushing Dean’s good wing aside. It made Dean shy away, a strange quivering sensation struggling to be felt over the pain.

            Cas laid a broad, cool hand over the back of Dean’s neck and his agony fluttered away like wet newspaper before a storm.

            Dean took several long, steadying breaths, his head still swimming with the shock of the battle. Cas had stood and gone to Sam, wiping away the damage done to him with a single pass of his fingers.

            “Baby,” Dean said suddenly, mind racing. “We can’t leave her there to get trashed.”

            “Your car’s in the driveway, Dean,” Cas murmured, turning toward the steps with a stiff set to his jaw as though he meant to take the express train back to Heaven already.

            “Wait!” Dean blurted, clambering up into a sitting position. He clung to the porch railing and concentrated on stuffing his wings back into his soul where they belonged. He had to show Cas he could do it now. But, desperate as he was, they wouldn’t go. Dean cursed and tried again, finding that they only twitched feebly.

            “Dean, what are you doing?” Cas asked, casting him a heavily hooded side-eye.    

            “Trying to—trying to fold these fuckers in,” Dean complained, slamming a fist on the wooden floor.

            “But why?”  

            “Because I know you don’t like them, and you’re about to leave again!” Dean practically yelled.

            Sam looked at him as if he’d left the better part of his mind back in Brinkman Bog, but Cas’ damnably inscrutable face revealed nothing, his hard blue eyes just barely crinkling at the corners.

            “It’s fine, Dean—they’re fine. Leave them be. I won’t go anywhere.”

Chapter Text

            Sam’s eyes bounced back and forth between Cas and Dean like he’d taken to following the world’s most awkward tennis match.

            “Well, I think I’m going to go wash the blood and harpy shit off myself,” he announced, his voice just a little too chipper. “And then try to figure out what their next move will be. Since we screwed up that raid pretty royally.”

            “That’s great, Sammy,” Dean replied absently.

            Sam edged around Dean’s wings splayed all over the porch and disappeared through the front door.

            “You’re behaving very strangely, Dean,” Cas observed the moment he’d gone.

            “Look who’s talking,” Dean snapped, climbing to his feet. “We grew freakin’ angel wings and you started treating us like we had the plague.”

            Dean stumped heavily down the steps, bedraggled feathers trailing after him over the lawn.

            “I had real business in Heaven, Dean,” Cas protested, a shade of irritation clouding his words. “And Gabriel was here to help you. I could never be of more use to you than an archangel.”

            “Ha, right!” Dean laughed cynically. “Gabriel! You’re worth ten of that dick.” 

            “Thank you?” Cas ventured as though unsure whether he’d been complimented or reprimanded.

            A hot flush colored Dean’s neck. Good thing he had his back to the angel. He hadn’t meant—well, he didn’t know what he’d meant.

            “He’s flown the coop anyway. Hasn’t been back for a couple days,” Dean mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.

            “Really?” Cas said noncommittally, following Dean into the yard and glancing around as if scenting the air. “I feel him here.”

            “You—what?” Dean spluttered. “Now?”

            “Yes,” Cas confirmed, nodding soberly.

            “That son of a bitch,” Dean declared, spinning around and heading for the house. “I knew it!”

            “I wouldn’t go looking for him if I were you,” Cas warned, a thread of urgency in his voice.

            “And why is that?”

            “It is my understanding that most humans have an aversion to walking in on others’ intimate moments.”

            A steely, deadpan stillness came over Dean’s face. “‘Intimate moment,’” he repeated. “Is the asshole who murdered me a hundred times in a row having an ‘intimate moment’ with my brother right now?”

            “I’d prefer not to spy on them directly, but if you insist—”

            “Ugh!” Dean cried, throwing up his hands. “What the fuck are you thinking, Sammy?”

            “I imagine he likes being with someone who understands his new anatomy…” Cas offered rather too casually, looking askance.

            “What’s there to understand?” Dean groaned, rubbing his eyes with a filthy hand and immediately regretting it. “They’re wings. They fly. But other than that they just get in the way!”

            “They do more than that, Dean. They’re tied directly to an angel’s grace. Or to your soul, as you well know. The sensations produced by them can be quite… pleasurable.”

            “Aw, gross,” Dean whined. “Man, I don’t want to think about that!”

            Something like distress seemed to seize Cas by the scuff of his neck. He braced his shoulders as though Dean had threatened to hit him. “Of course. Of course not.” He walked toward the pier, striding right past a number of ducks milling about. When Dean followed, they scattered indignantly into the shallows. “Would you like to hear my suspicions about Metatron?” Cas hazarded as if he didn’t quite know what else might set Dean off.

            “Yeah, okay,” Dean sighed. He had no right to take out his annoyance on Cas like this. Cas deserved it least of all. Squatting and dipping his hands in the water, Dean rinsed the grime from them and then cupped a few cold handfuls over the back of his neck. Doing so reminded him of Purgatory, where fresh water had been damn near the only luxury a guy could come by.

            “Hannah and I have confronted him, of course, but he laughs in our faces,” Cas began. “Temeluchus and Ambriel sit in their cells like statues, speaking to no one. This kind of… living death seems to me like more than the loss of their wings. It’s as if they’ve been shut down by an outside force. They react to nothing. Hannah disagrees, but I believe Metatron may have chained their wills somehow. Why else would they continue to do his bidding after he’s fallen from power?”

            “Loyalty’s a strange animal, Cas.”

            “I know, but does Metatron seem the type to inspire it with anything but success and fear? I am not the best judge of these things, but it seems to me he is not loveable? He is not charismatic or generous.”

            “You got me there,” Dean admitted, standing. The mud on his jeans was drying, cracking away in pieces whenever he moved. He had the urge to peel them off and go skinny-dipping, but not while Cas hovered over him. Still, Dean felt relief that he’d returned and that they were at least talking about something real and concrete.

            “Metatron knows more about angelkind than anyone except God,” Cas went on. “He could have planted certain spells and traps before his capture that would allow his revenge to carry on without him. I worry he’s done something beyond anyone’s understanding. I worry he may have more angels under his thumb somehow.”

            “He is one hell of a conniving bastard.” Dean frowned. “But if you can figure out what’s going on with the two whose wings we clipped, maybe you can out the others before they make a move?”

            “Perhaps. But no one puts much stock in my concerns. They think it started and ended with Temeluchus and Ambriel. Besides, Hannah and I have examined them thoroughly. I couldn’t find any evidence.”

            “Maybe you want to try to decipher Kevin’s angel tablet notes?” Dean suggested.

             Cas paused, considering. “It wouldn’t hurt. He did unearth the glyph that allowed you to steal an angel’s wings, and that was considered all but lost in time.”

            Dean nodded. It was a plan, at least. He strode off in the direction of the Impala and retrieved the bunker’s puzzle box key from the warded trunk. “Here,” he said, holding it out to Castiel.

            “Are you not coming with me?” Cas asked tentatively, taking the carved wooden box.

            “Well…” Dean stopped, glanced up at the house and then back to his feet. God only knew how Gabriel and Sam had defiled the house. Fleeing the state sounded distinctly appealing. And he could take advantage of the bunker’s magnificent showers. “Yeah, I suppose I will.”

            Cas gave him a lopsided smile, the first since this whole mess had started. “Okay. Let’s go.”

 

            After leaving Cas and Dean to their staring contest on the porch, Sam threw himself into the shower with a vengeance, scrubbing perhaps too hard under the scalding water. His wings didn’t really fit. They tented out the bamboo-print shower curtain and spilled water onto the bathroom floor with every move Sam made. But since he didn’t know whether disembodying them would serve to clean them or whether they’d pop out still covered in bog slime the next time he called on them, he rinsed them as best he could. Not worth the chance.

            “Hello, soldier,” came Gabriel’s coy voice from the other side of the curtain.

            “Oh my God,” Sam groaned. “This is really not the time, Gabe.”

            “No?” Gabriel returned nonchalantly. “Fight didn’t get your juices flowing? Come on, post-battle sex! It’s a classic!” 

            “Maybe after a winning battle,” Sam griped, now sluicing suds from his hair.

            “So I’m here to console you.”

            “You can console me by tracking the rest of the harpies. I’m sure they’ll have abandoned the bog now.”

            “Moose,” Gabriel chided. “What have I told you? Not a hunter, never will be.”

            “But it would be so easy for you,” Sam sighed, exasperated. “I’m asking as a personal favor.”

            “I’d be happy to grant you some other choice personal favors,” Gabe coaxed.

            “Don’t change the subject.” But Sam’s irritation waned just a little as heat pooled low in his stomach. What, really, would it hurt to let Gabriel join him for a minute?

            Tucking his wings away, Sam turned to the shadow on the other side of the curtain. “Fine. Get your unhelpful ass in here.”

            Gabriel laughed, clothes hitting the floor in record time. He stepped in and immediately draped his arms around Sam’s hips, tongue laving suggestively over one nipple.

            “God, quit that!” Sam stuttered ticklishly.

            “Not your thing? Fine, fine. Hey, you want to play Hot and Cold? I’ll lick somewhere and you tell me whether I’m getting warmer,” Gabe proposed, wiggling one flirtatious finger down Sam’s chest.

            “Why does everything have to be a game with you?”

            “Hello, look at who you’re talking to, Sam,” Gabriel grinned, flipping wet locks of hair out of his eyes. “It’s in my nature. You like it.”

            “Yeah, about that,” Sam drawled, fighting a smile.

            But Gabriel was ignoring him, dipping down to lick the crook of Sam’s elbow like an excited dog, and Sam couldn’t help but roll his eyes and accept it. “Ice cold,” he laughed, recoiling.  

            “Shucks, I thought that would drive you wild,” Gabriel complained, drawing his tongue over Sam’s clavicle instead.

            “Um, tepid,” Sam shrugged, though he’d rather liked it.

            Gabriel proceeded to test Sam’s earlobes, his wrists, the tip of his nose—every silly and innocuous place he could think of—acting for all the world like he just couldn’t figure out what might turn a human on. It was so stupid. Yet, with the steam and soft glow of the shower all around them, with Gabriel snickering and nuzzling into every secret spot he could find, Sam found his fondness for it all growing. Gabriel seemed to fascinate him no matter what he did.

            “You are a puzzle,” Gabriel lamented helplessly, sweeping down Sam’s stomach.

            “Well, that’s warmer.”

            “You don’t say,” Gabe purred, sinking to his knees… and licking a long path up Sam’s inner thigh.

            It ought to have been a disappointment, but something about it turned Sam straight to jelly. “Hot. Real hot. Nevada in July.”

            Gabriel didn’t comment, only lapped over the rivulets of water running down his thigh. He grazed his teeth over the peak of Sam’s hipbone and then kissed him hard right in the tender hollow of his leg and groin.

            “Ugh, you’re killing me here,” Sam muttered, swaying and leaning against the cold tile to better ground himself in reality. He’d been hard since this started, but that little move had released a coil of pure lust that made him feel as if he might just float away.

            “Oh, we don’t want that,” Gabe breathed over his dick, taking just the head and letting it rest blithely on the flat of his outstretched tongue.

            Sam groaned, willing himself not to move—that would be rude—but he did skim a hand through Gabriel’s soaked hair, shuddering.

            And then, all at once, Gabe gave a sly little chuckle and let the rest of Sam’s cock slide right down his throat.

            Sam practically doubled over, curling around Gabriel. But Gabe shoved him back into the slick wall with a pair of suddenly strong hands, bobbing his head shallowly. On every forward push, his nose touched the faint trail of hair below Sam’s navel.

            “Oh my God, Gabe. Molten lava. Supernovas,” Sam seethed, cracking the crown of his head rather sharply against the tile. His cock pressed into the soft confines of Gabe’s throat over and over and over and, fuck, the angel was swallowing around him—

            “Ah, Gabriel, I’m gonna—I’m gonna—”

            Humming happily in a reverberating moan, Gabriel only wrapped his arms around Sam’s hips and hugged him closer.

            Sam came without a sound. His mouth opened and his vocal chords strained, but nothing came out. He was too astonished to think in words, too wrecked to scream, pulsing hot and heavy down Gabe’s throat.

            When he’d finished, Gabe withdrew with a faint, slippery pop, cracked his jaw, and stood up, smirking.

            “How do you do that?” Sam gasped, still reeling.

            “Many eons of practice,” he answered with a little shrug that spoke volumes of false modesty.

            Cranking the water off with one scrabbling hand, Sam tore the shower curtain aside, grabbed Gabriel around the waist with one hooked arm, and stepped out of the tub with him.

            Gabe kicked playfully at Sam’s shins. “What are you—oh!”

            Snatching every towel in the room, Sam whipped them to the floor and collapsed into this frankly terrible nest with Gabriel underneath him.

            “This is all so crazy,” Sam murmured, pressing Gabe into the heap of warm terrycloth and kissing down his chest.

            “I don’t think so,” Gabriel replied conversationally, squirming just a little.

            “That’s because you’re crazy,” Sam said, sucking a tiny pool of water from the dip below Gabe’s breastbone. “It’s wonderful,” he added.

            One of the things Sam liked about Gabriel was his unearthly level of cleanliness. It had nothing to do with the perfunctory shower they’d just taken. The archangel always smelled the same, always felt the same. No dry skin or oil or soap residue or any of the myriad little impurities of the human body inconvenienced him. It made Sam feel a hopeless mess by comparison, but he tried not to think about that.  

            “I, uh… haven’t done this in awhile,” Sam coughed in a sudden fit of self-consciousness, avoiding looking up from Gabe’s stomach.

            “Define ‘awhile,’” Gabe replied, reaching down and twirling a finger through Sam’s hair.  

            “Like… eleven years.”

            “Please.” Gabe waved a hand as if shooing the entire issue aside. “I’ve taken eleven year naps. I slept through the entire French Revolution.”

            “I just—I don’t think I can deep throat like that or anything….”

            “That’s okay,” Gabe insisted with far more gentility than Sam was accustomed to hearing from him.

            In a way, Sam couldn’t shake the fear that Gabriel might yet make fun of him for any slip-up, any weak moment, any truly earnest thing he said. He still couldn’t quite believe the archangel had chosen to hang around just for him. Just for this.

            Sam stroked up Gabriel’s erection with one hand. Gabe was uncut—which Sam wasn’t used to—but considering he’d probably hijacked his vessel from some European village a thousand or more years ago, it would have surprised Sam far more if he’d happened to comply with the 20th century American fashion of circumcision. Sam didn’t mind. He found it made a handjob go more smoothly, facilitating a kind of easy gliding motion that did half the work for him. He didn’t know how that might carry over to oral sex, but he found out well enough, taking a velvety hard mouthful of cock while continuing to slide his fist over the base.

            No problem. He could do this all day.

            But Gabriel proved quite unmanageable, writhing all over and whining out a string of pleading curses as he scratched fitfully at Sam’s shoulders. Sam practically had to pin him down with his forearms.

            “I feel like I’m chasing you across the bathroom floor,” Sam complained, withdrawing and stifling a laugh. “Hold still or I’ll stop.”

            “Oh, you are cruel,” Gabriel said with distinct admiration. “My imaginary playmates are never so cheeky.”

            “And how’s that work out for you?”

            “Gets boring,” Gabe admitted, his face falling incrementally. “I can’t really surprise myself, after all.”

            “Do I surprise you?” Sam asked despite himself, immediately regretting how fervent and thirsty for praise it sounded.

            “More than I care to say, yes,” Gabriel said, his eyes dark.

            Sam quickly hid his face by ducking away. And getting back to the task at hand.

 

            The Men of Letters had built their Lebanon bunker like a gentleman’s club in some ways and a barracks in others. The bathroom followed the latter theme, with a row of showerheads going down one bare wall. This practicality worked to Dean’s advantage now as he fired up three at once and spread his wings to their full width.

            At first the feathers seemed to resist the pounding spray, and Dean watched the water bead up and slip away as if off a duck’s back. But then he felt it soak through, making the wings sag heavier and heavier by the moment. Curls of pink and flecks of dirt swirled down the drain.

            Dean watched it for a full minute, staring at his feet as water dripped off his eyelashes and filled his ears.

            He’d left Cas in the library with Kevin’s notes. It had taken him a good fifteen minutes to find where Sam had shoved them in one of the storage rooms (filing was not Dean’s forte), but Cas had shown no impatience. Dean reckoned, from the few times that the angel had visited, that he rather liked the bunker.

            Castiel had warmed up. Stopped addressing Dean like a stranger. But a guarded hesitation still influenced his posture. Dean wanted to ask, but he worried another confrontation would only drive Cas away. Better to have him around than not. Especially when he couldn’t count on Sam not to skip off into Gabriel’s arms at any moment.

            Ugh. Dean had harbored a suspicion, of course. But thinking it and knowing it proved very different. If Sam didn’t keep his wits about him, Gabriel would play him for the world’s biggest fool. Who in their right mind would sleep with the Trickster?

            Dean turned off the water after going through the motions of his shower routine and realized immediately that he had no idea how to dry the drenched mound of feathers now weighing him down. Grumbling as he toweled off the rest of his body, he tried stuffing them back in. They dutifully disappeared, but when he unfurled them again they continued to drip, mocking him.

            “This is fucking stupid. Stupid—useless—magic.” Dean flapped them in frustration and startled himself by spraying the whole bathroom with a monsoon’s worth of water. “Well, hey, that’s an idea….”

            The mirrors, sinks, and shelves all streamed with water by the time Dean had finished shaking himself like an exuberant dog. The sound was tremendous. He made a mental note to do this outside whenever possible. The green mantling still looked a little dark with dampness, but it would do. He stowed them, put on fresh clothes (that had, luckily, been inside a locker), and joined Cas in the main room.

            The angel’s eyes turned up from the stack of paper he held and froze.

            “See, told you I could put them away,” Dean smiled, dragging out a chair and sitting. “Much better, right?”

            Cas cleared his throat. “Right. Yes.” He shuffled the notes with a seeming lack of purpose. “Better.”

Chapter Text

            “Sam, we talked about this! I thought you agreed we were better off without Gabriel,” Dean fumed.

            When he and Cas zapped back to the lakehouse with the notes, Dean had promptly snagged Sam from his oh-so-innocent pose on the couch and insisted the two of them go out for a bite to eat. The dim bar-and-grill style joint they found in Traverse City had served up a mean Italian sub for Dean and a colorful salad for Sam, but neither brother had finished anything but their beer.

            “Did you bring me out here to yell at me because you think Gabe’s listening in at the house?” Sam jeered. “Dean, he could be anywhere. He could be sitting in the booth right behind you.”

            “And don’t you think that’s a little creepy?” Dean whispered loudly.

            Sam had the grace to back down an inch on that front. “Well. Yeah. But I don’t think he really is.”

            “Why not?” Dean demanded, going for another swallow of beer only to find his glass still empty. He scanned around for the server to no avail. He hadn’t achieved the appropriate buzz for this conversation. “It’s not like he hasn’t done it before.”

            “I don’t know,” Sam fished around for words. “I just think… he might not be as bad as we thought.”

            “Dude, listen to yourself,” Dean growled. “I know he fought Lucifer. I know he probably isn’t trying to kill you. But Gabriel is all about Gabriel. Do you think he really likes you? Do you think you really like him? Come on.”

            “It’s nothing, Dean. It’s just sex,” Sam muttered, and Dean didn’t like that at all. Sam was retreating, shutting down, making excuses.

            “Right. Just sex,” Dean repeated with leaden gravity. “Sorta like it was ‘just sex’ with Ruby?”

            Sam shot him a dangerous glare. “That was a long time ago. And Gabriel’s not a demon.”

            “Our record with archangels is about as good as it is with demons,” Dean countered, tearing off a bitter mouthful of salami and provolone from his sandwich.

            “You know what?” Sam declared, slapping both palms to the table with an air of finality. “It’s none of your business, Dean. I’m 32 years old, not 16. You can drop this concerned parent bullshit.”

            “Look,” Dean cast around desperately, sighing. “Can’t you find some other short, floppy-haired guy to bang?”

            To Dean’s dismay, this seemed to anger Sam more than anything. His face scrunched into a hard mask of disdain. “Do you think this is just about me seeing men? That this is just about me being bisexual? Dean, I could go the rest of my life without sleeping with another guy if that’s the way it worked out. It’s not like a quota I need to fill. I’m just interested in the people I’m interested in and every once in awhile they’re male.”

            “And every once in awhile they’re criminally insane!” Dean shouted as loud as a person can shout in a half-full restaurant without attracting complaints.

            Sam’s eyes went wide and his mouth opened to respond, but a waitress chose that moment to approach. “I’m so sorry!” a blonde woman in a smart green apron blurted. “Megan had a family matter come up and had to take off. I’m Deborah, and I’ll be your server for the rest of your meal—you!”

            “Us?” Dean choked, baffled.

            But it was Sam she stared at in reproach, retreating several paces from the booth. “You following me to work now? What is your problem? I’m getting my manager.”

            “No, no, no!” Sam pleaded, waving his hands harmlessly. “It’s just a coincidence—I didn’t know you worked here!”

            Dean looked at the woman harder. “Ohhh,” he cringed. “Deborah O’Bannon. Small world.”

 

            After being escorted from the restaurant by the bumbling assistant manager and making the strained drive back to Elk Lake, Sam retreated to the kitchen with his laptop and a fifth of whiskey, tersely protesting the need for further harpy research. No sign of Gabriel. Cas, on the other hand, had taken over the smallest and most old-fashioned bedroom, poring over Kevin’s meandering charts.

            Dean checked in with him a little before midnight, finding him hunched over a decorative antique school desk with a notebook in his hands. Dean couldn’t help but smile seeing an Angel of the Lord crammed into that tiny, fixed chair, his knees bowed out to the sides and his suit pants riding up to show his socks.

            “Hello, Dean,” Cas said from the small pool of light cast by the lamp at his side.

            “Having any luck?”

            “Not really. I think Kevin Tran may have been rather… unwell… for a good deal of this attempted translation.” Castiel ran his fingers over the vicious ballpoint scribbles as though trying to sense the dead prophet’s intentions through the paper.

            “Yeah,” Dean granted. “Kid wasn’t a robot. Nobody could have spent twenty hours a day trying to decode the friggin’ Word of God without jumping the tracks a little.”

            “There are ten pages here on the physical structure of Heaven, yet it bears no resemblance to any Heaven I’ve ever seen,” Cas lamented. “It goes on and on about a ‘hard shell’ and a ‘sweet center.’ It makes no sense.”

            “Okay, but don’t discount stuff just cause it doesn’t jive with what you know. The point is to go beyond what you think you know. About Heaven and angels,” Dean pointed out.

            “Heaven is not a piece of candy, Dean,” Castiel insisted, squinting.

            Dean stifled his chuckle, looking away. There was the Cas he’d missed. “Maybe it’s, y’know, metaphorical.

            Shaking his head, Cas flipped through several more pages, but Dean could tell he’d stopped reading.

            “You know what you said earlier?” Cas went on, narrowing his eyes at the ink-stained oak of the desk. “About me not liking your wings?”

            “Yeah?” Dean grunted, a little chill skittering up his back as if the wings knew they were being talked about. As if they had a bit of an inclination to come bursting out of his back unbidden.  

            “Don’t resent them on my account, Dean,” Cas said. “If you have your own reasons for it, that’s fine. But my initial reaction was… uncalled for.”

            “Oh.” Dean considered this for a long moment. “So… there’s nothing wrong with them?”

            “That glyph should not exist,” Cas said carefully, as though treading down a thorny and broken path. “But that’s not the point. The wings are yours now. And there is nothing wrong with them.”

            “Great,” Dean nodded, crossing his arms and trying not to show his profound relief. “That’s, uh, great. Cause you kinda had me worried for awhile there.”

            “I apologize,” Cas insisted a little too seriously.

            “Hey, no need, man. We’re cool,” Dean huffed and scratched his head. “Listen, I’m gonna hit the sack. Wake me up if you find anything exciting, okay?”

 

            Kevin’s notes must have remained as impenetrable as ever because Dean woke on his own a little after 5:00. Evergreens rustled in the pre-dawn breeze that skated through his window, and a few venturesome birds had begun to burble and chirp.

            Dean Winchester had grown used to the hermetic staleness of motel rooms, where windows didn’t open (and where the air would’ve smelled like freeway exhaust and fast food even if they had). Or the bunker, which he liked very much, but which had a timeless, tomb-like quality that made telling night from day rather difficult. He so rarely woke without an alarm, without Sam throwing a shoe at him, without a nightmare…. But in this house, for once, he could actually feel the morning. The only thing that really compared was sleeping in the Impala on some wooded old byway—which he’d always secretly enjoyed despite the lack of creature comforts.

            Sitting up in the sheer blue-gray darkness, Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed and padded down the hall wearing only the thin sweats he’d donned to sleep. No light came from the room where he’d left Cas though the door stood ajar. Dean tapped on the doorframe and stepped in, but he found the room cool and empty, the angel tablet materials stacked back in their cardboard box.

            Goosebumps raised on his bare arms. Dean drew his wings around himself like a cloak. “Cas?” he called hoarsely.

            The room had a tiny balcony that jutted out among the steep eaves of the house, and Dean pulled open the paned glass door leading to it. No sign of the angel outside, but he stepped out onto the dewy floorboards with a pleasant shiver.

            Birch and pine framed the house, revealing only a sliver of sky—still starry but fading. Everything smelled old and comfortable, with a breath of fresh green lake water always lingering on the edge. For a minute, Dean felt like the only person in the world. Sam, the harpies, Metatron… all that was an hour away at least. Might as well have been a lifetime.

            “Good morning, Dean.”

            It didn’t startle him, though it should have. Dean looked over his shoulder and found a tousle-haired silhouette perched on the roof above him, trenchcoat flowing out like the cape of a brooding superhero. Dean’s face broke into a slow smile. “Morning. What’re you doing?”

            “The same thing you’re doing,” Castiel’s quiet voice answered.

            Dean started to ask about the angel tablet notes but something stopped him. He realized that he didn’t really care. Not for that moment, anyway. It would have been disingenuous to pretend that’s why he’d wandered out here at five o’ clock in the morning. Somehow the stillness of their surroundings made him feel more honest.

            “You know what would be awesome right now?” he said, turning back to the view.

            “What?”

            “A flight over the lake.”

            Dean had never had the chance yet—not for the pure joy of it, anyway. Not without a mission or a plan or Sam and Gabe pestering him.

            “That’s a fine idea,” Cas agreed.

            “You should come with me,” Dean offered a little too quickly, hardly even hearing the words leave his mouth.

            Castiel didn’t answer right away, but Dean heard a creak as he swung down from the roof. “You don’t need me, Dean,” he finally said in his rough, sonorous voice.

            “Ain’t about need,” Dean shrugged. “Hell, Cas, I’ve never even seen you fly.”

            “Angels teleport. Flying is slow and undignified by comparison. I’ve had no reason—”

            “You do now.”

            Dean said it with no force whatsoever—he had no desire to push or badger the angel—but he wanted Cas to join him. If not now, when?

            “Very well,” Cas murmured, throwing his coat over the railing. He stood rather stiffly at Dean’s side as if chewing over a lot of thoughts. “Though my wings are quite… plain. Nothing like yours.”

            “Yeah, well, I look ridiculous,” Dean interrupted, feeling it pretty keenly. The jeweled sheen of his feathers still bothered him now and then. As far as he was concerned, Sam had gotten the better bargain. “Coming?” he quickly changed tack, hitching a foot up onto the banister and crouching on the edge.

            Nodding silently, Castiel let two long, sharp shapes billow out from his back. Like Gabriel, he didn’t need to remove his vessel’s shirt. They seemed to pass through and come to life without any of the harsh physicality the Winchesters displayed each time they unfurled theirs.

            Dean stared over his shoulder, blinking. More jet black than he’d imagined, Cas’ wings had none of the spangled volume of Gabriel’s. None of the variation of his own. Sparse and angular as a tern’s, they curved around the seraph’s shoulders, sleek and scythe-like.

            “Shit, Cas, I’d trade you any day,” he laughed nervously.  

            “They are soldier’s wings, Dean. Nothing special.”

            But they reminded Dean of Baby somehow. Intimidating. No-nonsense. Classic.

            “Shut up, they’re cool,” he insisted. And jumped.

            The vertigo hit him hard for a second before his wings snapped out and Dean found himself gliding down a corridor of swaying trees. He coasted along, only flapping once he’d soared out over the shore and had the whole basin of Elk Lake spread out before him.

            He could barely see Cas in the thick shadow, but he heard the whisper of his wingbeats overhead.

            Nebulas of mist curled out of the lapping lake as the beach blurred into deep blue obscurity behind them. Dean imagined he might have shot right into space, so empty and alien were his surroundings. But the tiny forms of birds or bats whisked past here and there while Cas remained a constant presence—always behind or above him, always just out of sight.

            A dozen times Dean almost said something. But the words jammed in his throat, all too stupid to voice. How could he whoop and carry on as he had with Sam in that field? The building silence seemed to forbid it. Instead, he held his tongue and simply flew until a faint pink glow began to color the surface of the water below.

            The coming light meant they couldn’t stay much longer, and Dean climbed higher, aiming to get in one big swooping dive before they had to turn back. He surpassed Cas, skimming along above the angel for the first time. Holding his breath and gathering his nerve, Dean folded his wings so that he slipped forward all at once like a descending rollercoaster.

            “Dean?” Cas snapped, jerking sharply in the air as Dean rocketed past.

            He hadn’t counted on that.

            The tip of Dean’s right wing snagged against the tip of Cas’ left, startling him half out of his mind. A veritable mushroom cloud of sensation accompanied the accidental touch, making him gasp and lose all coordination.

            And then water flooded his nose and ears, swallowing all sound. Dean flailed at the sudden cold lack of movement—the abrupt end to his flight—but quickly righted himself. The angle of his dive meant he’d speared rather shallowly under the surface instead of plunging hard. Of course, he hadn’t really intended to go for a swim at all—

            “Are you all right?” Cas called, hovering ten feet overhead with an expression of highest concern.

            “Yeah, yeah, I meant to do that,” Dean spluttered lamely, spreading his wings over the low waves like a raft while treading with his legs.

            Cas gave him a look of deep mistrust. “If you say so.”

            Luckily, Dean saw the western shore spread out within easy reach. Because he sure couldn’t have taken off from the confines of the water if a great white shark had been gunning for him at that very moment. He kicked and paddled toward the trees, heart pounding.

            Cas splashed down in the shallows next to him, wading through the licking weeds and rolling rocks with an air of intense curiosity. Dean struggled onto land somewhat less gracefully, shaking torrents of water from his feathers and shivering uncontrollably. 

            “That was reckless, Dean,” Cas observed. “And now you’re cold.”

            “No, I’m good,” he lied, sitting down hard in the damp, clinging sand. His thin pajama pants adhered to his legs like plastic wrap, streaming water.

            Cas cocked his head in that familiar way of his. “You’re getting mud in your feathers.”

            “It’s fine, I—”

            But Cas had stooped down next to him, squinting. He swiped a clump of sopping gray grit from the dense secondary feathers of Dean’s right wing.

            Catching his breath and flinching, Dean swore he felt every ridge of Cas’ fingerprints make contact with the wet plumage. It made no sense. It almost hurt.

            “I’m sorry,” Cas choked, snatching his hand away. “I’m sorry, Dean, I didn’t even think about it—”

            “It’s—it’s okay,” Dean chattered, eyes wide. But he wasn’t so sure. “Why does it feel like you’re… like you’re touching my insides or something?”

            Obviously mortified, Cas stared back at him. “I told you. Wings are very sensitive.”

            “What for?” Dean almost cried.

            Castiel looked cornered. “Social… bonding? It’s meant to feel nice.”

            “Fuck,” Dean muttered weakly. “Okay, try it again.”

            “What?”

            “Try it again,” he said more gruffly. “I’m not a wuss. You just surprised me, that’s all.”

            Cas gawked at him like he couldn’t believe he’d understood correctly, but he nevertheless reached out with one hand, never breaking eye contact. He touched two fingertips to one long cream feather and then stilled, waiting.

            Dean felt like every nerve in his body had refocused to that spot, quivering with anticipation. He chewed his lip, watching Cas pet down the center spine of the sleek outer feather. It made a halo of warmth bloom in his chest, calming the shivering.

            “Okay,” he huffed, getting control of himself. “Okay. I see now.”

            “You don’t,” Cas said almost too low to hear, his own wings rustling restlessly behind him. “That’s only the tip of an iceberg.”

            Dean knew. He knew that touching wing to wing in the air like that had been the proverbial iceberg. But if he said it out loud, it would make it real….

            Castiel sunk into the sand, puddles rising around the knees of his suit pants. He winnowed his fingers through the edges of Dean’s wing, slicking away water and mud, scratching into the downy undercoat. Dean found no voice or will to protest. A fervent tingling had built up between them like static electricity. He didn’t want it to stop.

            It turned out he could withstand a lot more than he’d imagined. But it went slowly. Pale gold light shattered off the pebbles of the beach and gilded the dark gray waves by the time Cas drew his hands over the widest curve of Dean’s wing, making him practically melt into the earth.

            Cas’ tired blue eyes bored into Dean, worried, intense, as though waiting for an inevitable explosion. But he couldn’t seem to let go. He quirked his own sparse black wing forward and let the longest quills hover a few inches from Dean’s.

            “Is this… Dean, is this acceptable?” he asked, almost awestruck.

            “Yes,” Dean whispered back stupidly.

            “Touching like this? I did not think that you would ever want… I didn’t know this was acceptable. Between friends.”

            “I don’t really know that it is,” Dean admitted. “Normally.”

            Cas gave every sign that he wanted to lean forward into the sphere of Dean’s arched wings but remained at a tense standstill a foot or so away. And Dean, God help him, had curled in on himself like a small wild animal, totally transfixed.

            “If I’d known,” Cas continued, sounding bewildered, “I would have done so all the time. I would have touched you all the time, Dean.”

            “You mean… even before I had wings?”

            “Yes. Is that awful of me?”

            If someone had told him only yesterday that he and Cas would have this conversation, Dean would've scoffed. And promptly run in the opposite direction. Even now, it didn’t seem very possible.

            “It’s okay, Cas,” he said, voice cracking. Had the angel who hauled him out of Hell and followed him around for years really wanted him the whole time? Not just as a comrade, but like this? He’d never shown it, never pushed that boundary….

            “I didn’t think I needed it,” Cas went on as if he’d heard Dean’s thoughts. He said it almost absently. With a kind of dawning wonder. “I thought it didn’t matter.”

            “It matters, Cas,” Dean gulped.

            He didn’t know what to do. Cas was in love with him, and Dean wanted to scream in denial (because that’s what he should do, right?) but he also felt—

            “Dean, are you all right?”

            He felt better than he had in years. Like a rusty, pitted anchor had been pulled from his chest.

            “Yeah, Cas. I’m good. I’m good. C'mere.”

            Cas’ flinty resolve cracked right down the center. He nearly fell forward, bearing Dean down into the sand and kissing him with desperate, open-mouthed gasps. He gripped Dean’s shoulders and the strong scapulars of his bared wings, throwing their bodies together with a complete lack of doubt.

            “Oh, Christ,” Dean groaned, shaking all over. He threw his head back, letting Cas kiss his exposed throat. Terror and arousal crashed together in his head, but a profound sense of safety had also descended on him. What did he have to fear from Castiel? Nothing. Their lives were already more entwined than Dean ever would have believed possible when he’d first met the stonefaced advancing thing in that barn all those years ago. He already knew he would never leave Cas. What more harm could they really do by giving in to this?

            Cas’ hips pushed against his own soaked, clinging pants, and Dean moaned like he’d never experienced the miracle of friction before. He’d had dreams like this. For a long time. He never thought much of them—a guy couldn’t help what his brain cooked up on its own, after all—but it happened. Never perceiving much detail, Dean usually knew little more than that the limbs tangled up with his were Cas’. That dream Castiel was warm, heavy as lead, and on him. He’d wake breathless and quickly shove the memory aside. Not this time.

            He needed to give Cas something. He deserved something good. Reaching out, Dean worked his hands under the canopy of Cas’ gleaming black wings, running his fingers through the short feathers closest to the base.

            Cas sobbed once against his shoulder, sounding more broken than Dean had ever heard him.

            “Was that wrong?” he backpedaled, worried.

            “No, Dean,” Cas panted, the breeze fluttering his choppy dark hair as the angel pulled back to look him in the face. “Not at all.”

            Fitting his wings over the splayed outline of Dean’s in the shifting sand, Castiel fanned their two coats of feathers together, throwing every shred of decency to the wind. It blew the last dregs of Dean’s uncertainty into oblivion.

Chapter Text

            Sitting on the porch and sipping fretfully at his still too hot coffee, Sam had just begun to consider waking Dean when his brother instead came traipsing out of the bushes slathered in dirt.

            “What the hell, Dean?” Sam asked, going to the railing.

            “I felt like flying,” Dean offered by way of explanation, bare feet slapping wetly on the steps.

            “Looks like it went well,” Sam observed with a little quirk of his mouth. “Have you ever yet managed to land on purpose?”

            Dean ignored the jibe, yet something in his face looked almost bashful as he banged through the screen door with a hefty, contented sigh.

            Sam couldn’t quite wrap his head around Dean’s mood, but this fresh onset of dopiness certainly constituted an improvement over his insufferable harping on the subject of Gabriel.

            After only a few days, Sam had begun taking Gabe’s visits rather for granted... but the archangel hadn’t shown last night. Sam had woken at least five or six times expecting to find that Gabriel had swept unannounced into the bed beside him, and though every noise had jerked him to attention—though every tug of the breeze on his sheets had felt like a flirtation—Sam had met the morning alone. And didn't much like how that bothered him.

            He wouldn’t pray. Not yet. Sam Winchester didn’t need constant reassurance—

            A sound from the nearby trees set Sam’s teeth right on edge. A smart crack like the pop of a gun, though not half as loud. He peered at the foliage, expecting perhaps a handful of spooked deer. Which pointedly failed to show themselves.

            Sam walked backwards to the door and ducked inside, taking up his 9mm and the single short bronze sword that had made it back with them from Brinkman Bog. He slipped down the stairs and edged along the side of the house, not terribly certain that the noise warranted any brandishing of weapons but trusting his hunter’s hunch.

            A shape darted between two protesting pines, sending dead limbs crashing down, and then hurtled onto the lawn in an elaborate, posturing display. The harpy that landed in front of Sam puffed up her chest and flashed her wings like an angry peacock, crabwalking back and forth on short, sinewy legs.

            “Don’t strike, don’t strike, tengu,” she hissed urgently.

            “You’ve got about thirty seconds before I do,” Sam barked, blade ready. “What are you doing here?”

            “Tracked you down. Smelled you. I come alone.”

            “Right,” Sam sneered, immediately casting an eye to the skies. “And why would you do that?”

            She blinked briefly before her pallid face crumpled into a rictus of grief. Fat crocodile tears welled in her enormous eyes. “Because—because I am alone!” she wailed at him as though he ought to know better than to ask.

            Sam spread his hands in impatient confusion, glaring at the creature pointedly.

            “The clan, they will not have me,” she gurgled. “I am banished.”

            “Why?”

            “It is all my fault. They say so. For leading you to the home nest.”

            “I see,” Sam said slowly, taking in her very nearly mortal level of distress. She might well rip out his throat in retribution at any moment, yet he sensed no such malice for the moment. Her strange stance looked more defensive than anything. “Are they still there? At the—the ‘home nest’?”

            “No,” the harpy mewled, twisting a handful of her own hair.

            “Where’d they go?”

            This earned him a baleful yellow glare. “So you can fly there? Kill the old ones and the hatchlings, too?” 

            “Uh…” Sam floundered, reminded that the harpy was not quite as stupid as he’d hoped.

            “You come with poison and you stab, stab, stab!” she cried.

            “We had to. You were drowning people.”

            “Yes, yes, drown them, tear them! So? Were they yours?”

            An idea bubbled up in Sam’s brain: he needed to think like a harpy, like an animal. It didn’t matter what nonsense he spewed so long as she bought it. “They were. They were our humans. In our… territory. Tengu territory.”

            “This is all yours?” she gaped.

            “Yes, for many years. I lied when we first met. There are four in my clan.”

            Sam immediately wondered if he’d overestimated by one. Gabriel would want nothing to do with this venture. If he even returned.

            “Only four?” she wheedled, appraising him sidelong.

            “Yes. But we’re powerful. We’re bigger. And have the poison. And can… burn with our hands.” Again, Sam could only hope not to get caught in this exaggeration. She would have seen how Cas smote down her sisters, and Sam didn’t mind her assuming he and Dean could do the same. “All the lands and lakes here belong to us.”

            “I said we should not come so far south,” the harpy sighed to herself. “I said.”

            “So why did you?”

            “Grigora.”

            “Sorry… what?” Sam had to ask, at a total loss.

            “Grigora,” she repeated, flapping her hands impatiently. “She is in charge. Since grandmother fell. In the deep snows.”

            Somehow it had never occurred to Sam that they might have names. “This… Grigora… led everyone here?”

            “Yes. When the snows melted, the filthy miners came. Grigora said the place was cursed, so we must move. But it is worse here! Much worse!”

            Sam considered this for a long moment, fingers flexing on the hilt of the bronze blade. “What’s your name?” he finally asked.

            “Podarge,” she piped up, putting on a brave face and blinking back her tears. “It is an old name. Old names are best.”

            “Yes, they are,” Sam nodded, almost charmed by her earnestness. “My name’s Sam. It’s an old name, too.”

            “Sam,” she lisped back.

            “Podarge, if your clan could find a new home nest with lots of fish and no humans, would you stay there?”

            Her wrinkled little face lit up, but fell just as quickly. “Yes, yes. But Grigora would say no. She hates the humans now. Wants their stringy old guts all the time even though fish is better.”

            “Uh-huh,” Sam hummed, wheels turning. “So… she’s wrong? Isn’t she?”

            “Wrong! She banished me,” Podarge seethed, flecks of spittle foaming on her lips.

            “Would you show us where they are now if we promised to kill Grigora for you and then showed you a place where the rest would be safe and well-fed?”

            “Only Grigora?” she asked.

            “Only Grigora. I swear.”

            “Swear on your wings,” she snapped.

            “I… I swear on my wings?” Sam stammered, unsure if he was meant to do something more.

            “Good,” Podarge crooned, looking guardedly hopeful and a little greedy. “Good. Now. I am very hungry. I only got a small bit of the girl on my way.”

           

            Dean stripped off his sodden pants and rinsed away the creases of sand that stuck insistently in the spaces behind his knees and ears—and more personal areas besides. He didn’t much mind. He felt light on his feet. Almost as if he’d not yet woken up at all.

            Stepping back into the bedroom freshly clothed and rubbing at his hair with a hand towel, he saw Cas had materialized at the window, his wings gone, his demeanor completely normal.

            A sudden jolt of unease twisted up Dean’s throat. Cas looked so much as he always had—the holy tax accountant in a JC Penny dress shirt and several layers of distant angel mojo. Not the needful, strangely compelling guy who’d just kissed him senseless in a flurry of black and white feathers. Dean wondered if he was here to apologize or recant in some way. To take it all back and expound soberly on how foolish they’d been….

            Instead he turned and looked at Dean with a kind of wide, celestial intensity that had Dean backing up a couple steps before he knew how to react. “Can I stay here for awhile?” Cas asked in his lowest voice.

            “Of course. You can always hang with us, Cas,” Dean said with a shaky smile.

            “Not always. You haven’t always wanted it.”

            A prickle of remorse made Dean cringe. He'd pushed Cas away more than once. Shit, he'd found the guy human and homeless in Indiana and taken him to the bunker only to kick him straight out again. Sure, that had been at Gadreel's insistence, but Dean had done the dirty work of telling Cas. Of watching the angel's confused, weary face crumple in disappointment. “I haven’t always allowed it. But I always wanted it. I’m real stupid sometimes.”

            “No. You always had your reasons,” Cas mused, closing the gap between them. “I just hope there won’t be any more. Reasons.”

            “Me too,” Dean half-choked, swallowing hard.

            Cas looked at the floor then, the back of his hand trailing up Dean’s forearm in a kind of questioning, accidental way. It was just about the most heartbreakingly endearing thing Dean had ever seen.

            He grabbed Cas’ face, cupping his hands around the angel's stubbled jaw and kissing him hard. Dean nudged him against the nearest wall and pinned him tight, their bodies sealed together in a long, immodest column of heat and sensation. It still felt new in a way that made Dean’s stomach flip-flop.

            Dean hadn’t really considered the significance of Cas inhabiting a male vessel. A pesky technicality, not a dealbreaker. This was the Cas he knew and Dean didn’t want him any other way. But Dean had never slept with a man despite a little twinge of interest that, like the dreams, he’d always dismissed as ordinary curiosity. He’d watched some porn he didn’t feel the need to advertise to the world. And sheepishly flirted with a few guys for “case-related” reasons. The revelation that Sam had dated his college friend had confused and amazed Dean in a way that he’d refused to acknowledge as personal—but it was. The idea that maybe he too could like another man without having to change anything else about who he was felt… good. Bisexual was a term he knew, of course, yet Sam’s ease in using it surprised Dean. He didn’t know if he’d call himself that. But he did know he wanted to be with Castiel.

            “There isn’t time right now,” he groaned into Cas’ neck, his hands kneading petulantly at the angel’s sides.

            “Time for what?” Cas breathed, kissing him again.

            “For everything I want to do to you,” Dean returned. “Sam is sitting downstairs. It’s like seven in the morning. We’ve got shit to do.”

            “I can wait,” Cas said with real warmth. “It doesn’t bother me. Now that I know it will happen, everything else is just details.”

            “It bothers me,” Dean insisted. He’d always had to seize on closeness the instant he found it, lest it slip through his fingers. Roving all over the way he did, losing people the way he did, Dean tended to crash into bed with women the moment he was permitted—before they could die, before he could die. He stole scraps of affection from the world’s great sprawling table, only holding them to his lips for a few short hours before stumbling away. He rarely got his fill. And when he did (as he had with Lisa during that impossible year of normalcy) he couldn’t trust it. It had made him almost queasy with dread, always sensing that his time there was borrowed. As it had been.

            So Cas might exude all the serene patience in the world, but Dean couldn’t get on board with it. He would engage in some form of mental hand-wringing all day until he could have Cas pressed up against him again.

            “Dean!” Sam yelled up the stairs as if on cue.

            “Yeah?” He retreated a step from Cas, one hand still fisted in the angel’s collar.

            “We’ve got a… situation.”

            “Just a sec!” He sat on the edge of the bed and jammed his boots on his feet. “This blows,” he added to himself, getting up and rushing out the door with Cas on his heels.

           

            Half an hour later, Dean couldn’t quite believe the "situation" in question had boiled down to watching his little brother wrestle an unruly harpy into his Jacuzzi for something resembling a bath.

            “If you’d let me put it down when I wanted, we wouldn’t be here now,” Dean complained from the open door. Wispy gray feathers littered the floor and counters, and Podarge’s ugly little head peeped over the edge of the tub, streaming suds.

            “She’s a temporary ally, Dean. I’m not letting you stab her,” Sam warned, dumping a cup of warm water over the harpy. She spluttered and whined, clearly unhappy with the attention. “Close your eyes and it won’t sting,” he added to her. “You want to be clean, right?”

            “No,” she pouted.

            “Well, it’s important among tengu,” Sam chided.

            “It admitted to attacking that woman!” Dean cried, throwing his hands up. “And you’re treating it like the family pet! Look, Sam, I’m sorry I never let you have a dog, but this is not the way to handle it.”

            “I only nibbled a bit of ear,” the harpy grumbled. “She got away.”

            “Go find Deborah and make sure she’s okay. Give her the nightmares-are-real talk and let her know we’re handling it,” Sam said, waving a hand at Dean.

            “Fine.” Dean rolled his eyes. “Cas, stay with Jane Goodall here and make sure he doesn’t adopt any more mythical monsters.”

            “Okay,” Castiel chimed in from his post behind Dean. He’d observed the Winchesters’ argument and the ensuing bathing of the harpy with a kind of wry aplomb, not yet daring to offer an opinion.

            “All right, move aside, you yahoos, I’ve gotta see this,” Gabriel announced out of nowhere, shouldering past Cas and Dean into the bathroom.

            “Aw, what the hell are you doing here?” Dean groaned.

            But Gabriel had already slumped against the sink, shaking with nearly silent laughter. “Oh my God, Sam,” he wheezed, taking in the scene. “You are too fucking precious for your own good.”

            “Why can’t any of you appreciate the fact that I have a plan here?” Sam blurted, his face every bit as red as his flannel shirt.

            “I admire you for seeking out a more peaceful resolution to the problem, Sam,” Cas interjected seriously. This only elicited another peal of half-stifled merriment from Gabriel.

            “Are you going to braid its hair, too? Please tell me you’re going to braid its hair.”

            Podarge, meanwhile, had clearly become agitated by the number of people crowding into the small space. She flailed and hissed at Sam, his big hands full of her soapy feathers, and attempted yet again to crawl out of the tub.

            “Okay, too many cooks in the kitchen—ruining the buzzard stew,” Dean declared. “I’m out.”

 

            Dean had to pick the lock on Deborah O’Bannon’s back door when she—not surprisingly—failed to answer the bell. He cornered her in the hallway and snatched the snub-nosed barrel of the semi-automatic she pointed at him, dumping the clip into his pocket for good measure.

            “Cool it, sister, I’m here to help,” he said, backing away with his hands where she could see them.

            “Who are you guys?” she sniffed, fumbling in her hoodie for a stained washcloth, which she proceeded to press to her torn left ear. A streak of blood had dried in her long hair. “What is going on?

            “We’ve been keeping an eye on you because you’re in danger. I’m sorry if we scared you, but it’s the harpies you need to be worried about.”

            “The… the harpies,” she repeated, mouth gone a little slack.

            “The thing that jumped you? And killed your friends? Harpy. They’re real as mountain lions or sharks, and you got in their way. My brother and I, we hunt things like them. Things that people don’t normally believe in.”  

            “Like… like Bigfoot and shit?” she whimpered, looking more exhausted than surprised.  

            “Well, Bigfoot’s a hoax. So are aliens. But pretty much everything else you can think of is lurking out there somewhere.”

            After coaxing her to take a stiff drink and to let him take a gander at her pitiful excuse for an ear, Dean drove Deborah to the hospital in Traverse City for some shots and skin glue. They told the doctor on duty she’d been attacked by a raccoon trapped in her shed.

            Armed with a clean bandage and a couple of prescriptions, Deborah had calmed enough by the return drive to ask Dean to give her apologies to Sam.  

            “Oh, it’s okay, he’s used to being mistaken for a serial killer,” Dean chuckled.

            “No, really,” she went on, rolling her eyes. “Thank you. I was just about losing my mind when you showed up. That awful smelly creature flew at me and started trying to peel my skin off—and it was all I could do to kick it away and get in the house. I didn’t know if I could call the police or an ambulance. I thought it might still be out there, but it’s not like anyone would believe me. I barricaded myself in the laundry room and cried for like an hour.”

            “You did good saving yourself. Both times. You’re a tough lady, I can tell,” Dean said, turning onto her street.

            “Not tough enough,” she sighed.

            “No, you are. You’re gonna be okay. Believe that.” Dean parked in her driveway and killed the engine. “Sam and me, we killed a whole lot of ‘em just yesterday. And we’ve got a plan for the rest. I want you to stay put until we give you the all clear though. What’s your number?”

            They exchanged contact info, and Dean walked her to the door. Easy as pie. He drove back to the lakehouse feeling a little better about the whole situation.

 

            “Gabe, can you twitch your nose and conjure something for her to eat? I’m thinking like a whole salmon?” Sam asked, parting the curtains and checking that Podarge hadn’t left the balcony. She didn’t like the indoors and had escaped the moment Sam had finished drying her. At least she smelled better.

            “Here,” Gabriel drawled, holding out a dressed and deboned fish by its tail. “Don’t say I never get you anything.”

            “Sweet, thanks,” Sam replied absently, taking the chilled salmon and poking his head out the door. “I brought you a fish, Pod.”

            Podarge burbled excitedly, her pale feathers ruffling. “Fish, yes.”

            Sam plopped it onto the boards of the deck and stood back, watching her poke at the glassy-eyed offering with her terrifying nails. She prodded and turned it about, peeking into the slit belly.

            “Is there something wrong with it?” Sam asked.

            “You ate the guts, didn’t you?” she muttered accusingly.

            “Oh,” Sam winced. “Yeah, my bad. What about some liver?”

            “Moose liver? Moose liver is best,” she rasped almost unintelligibly, eyes wide as saucers.

            Gabriel was giggling so hard behind the door Sam considered throwing the dead salmon at his insolent face, but a plate of slimy purple meat was being passed to him before he got the chance. Sam set it down for Podarge and tried not to smile as she cooed and fussed over the gift before slicing off strips with her claws and swallowing them in big, bloody gobbets.

            The roar of the Impala announced Dean’s return. Sam left the harpy to her rather nauseating meal and went downstairs to meet him.

            “Everything go okay?”

            “Yeah, she’s short about half an inch of ear, but I got her patched up. Told her to lie low until we’ve for sure got this under control,” Dean reported, falling onto the couch. “How goes the taming of the harpy?”

            “Uh, pretty good. She’s eating moose liver on the balcony as we speak.”

            “No relation, I hope?” Dean smirked.

            “Shut up.”

            “So when do we gank this Grigora?”

            “Well, not before I’ve found the perfect relocation for the rest of them,” Sam admitted. “Gonna have to spend some quality time with Google maps. Plus she’s still a little reluctant to say where they’ve gone. I think some more bribery’s in order. Short story: probably not this afternoon.”

            “So… you guys don’t need me for anything right now?” Dean surmised, looking strangely cagey.

            “I guess not?” Sam shrugged.

            “Great.” Dean lurched up off the couch and disappeared faster than Sam could lodge a protest.

Chapter Text

           Castiel took Dean apart in a kind of strange and masterful way that he really hadn’t expected when he'd first hauled Cas around the back of the house and several hundred feet into the woods. Dean had bypassed what felt like miles of poison ivy and last year’s leaf rot before finally stumbling into a clear patch of sweetgrass and dragging Cas to the forest floor by his coat lapels.

            Cas had tolerated this treatment only momentarily before rolling Dean over and sitting astride him, pulling aside his shirt and mouthing all down his exposed chest. It startled and elated Dean, sweat prickling the back of his neck and arousal fluttering up low in his stomach. His brain kind of shorted out when Cas reached his waist, but the angel chose to leave his jeans untouched, seizing instead on one of Dean’s hands. He kissed each splayed finger and all the spaces in between.

            And so it went. Cas didn’t follow any script Dean knew. He would lick into Dean’s mouth, pulling moans out by the roots, only to veer away and spend an interminable amount of time simply petting at Dean’s face and neck while shrugging off his own trenchcoat and shirt in gradual stages. He would run his hands over Dean’s shoulders and then his crotch as if there was no difference between the two at all. Maybe there wasn’t. Maybe, from Castiel’s half-corporeal perspective, every inch held equal significance.

            All this unselfconscious amateur fervor totally disarmed Dean. He had a hard time not smiling at every move Cas made. The angel clearly cared very little about putting on any sort of performance. He just did as he pleased, drinking in Dean’s every reaction. Awkward and surreal as all get out, it nevertheless felt… uncomplicated. Pure as Purgatory.

            “Don’t get me wrong, Cas—this is great—but you’re torturing me,” Dean finally intimated after Cas had crisscrossed their legs together and spent so long simply rolling into Dean’s clothed hips that it had started to feel like some sort of ordeal specially designed to test his fortitude.

            “What do you want, Dean?” Cas rasped, eyes darkening.

            “Less fabric, more you.”

            “All right.” Deft hands unfastened Dean’s jeans. Cas shimmied them down and slid a warm palm over Dean’s rapidly rising and falling stomach before diving into his boxers and cupping experimentally at his erection.

            Almost panicking for more, Dean writhed into the touch. He half sat up to yank his shorts off into the grass, unable to meet the angel’s eyes for the moment. “C’mon, Cas…” he panted, voice sounding strangely small to his own ears. He wrapped the fingers of both hands into Cas’ waistband like it was the edge of a cliff over which he hung suspended.

            Cas nodded, seemingly more to himself than Dean. He let Dean unzip his pants and push them away, folding himself back over Dean the moment this apparently trivial task was complete. Still, he gripped quite willingly at the flesh of Dean’s bare thighs, tilting them more open.

            The soft press of skin on skin, head to toe, gave Dean chills. He held his breath despite himself, trying to process the feeling of another firm cock lined up alongside his own.

            “Should I…” Cas started, paused, and looked away as if going through a mental catalogue of what might be appropriate. After a moment, he took both their dicks in hand, stroking in the most deliberate, agonizing way possible. “Should I go on?”

            “God, yes,” Dean groaned, eyes threatening to roll back in his head. “And a little harder.”

            The rich bed of grass matted and itched on Dean’s back as he was thrust into it over and over, but he hardly cared. Everything smelled like fresh sweat, earth, and wild mint. Cas gasped half-formed words of devotion into his ear the whole time, and Dean gasped no words back, too stunned and on the verge of losing it to compose a complete thought.

            “Ah—oh, f-fuck, Cas—” he stammered, spine curling and lifting him up from the ground. Dean gripped a handful of Cas’ hair and spilled a halting ribbon of come over his stomach.

            Looking almost humbled by what he’d done, Castiel stilled, staring down at Dean breathlessly. He kissed Dean like he wanted to suck all the air from his lungs.

            “Go on, don’t stop on my account,” Dean managed to laugh, feeling blood rush to his cheeks. His ears sang and his fingers still tingled.

            “I… Dean, I don’t need—”

            “Don’t give me that ‘need’ crap,” Dean growled back, wrapping a fist around Cas’ still hard cock. He jerked faster than Cas ever had, holding him close in the crook of his free arm while listening to the hitched and stifled sounds the angel made. “Doesn’t matter whether you need it,” he said in a low, burning voice. “I don’t care if you can go from 60 to zero in two seconds flat. We’re exorcising that boner the old-fashioned way.”

            Cas was moaning against Dean’s throat when he finally seized up, trembling, and coated the both of them in white hot spatters. His fingers dug into the surrounding turf as though his life depended on it.

            Dean instantly loved it more than his own release.

            “Okay, you may have been right,” Cas croaked with a guilty smile, sliding off Dean in one sinuous movement and slumping into the grass beside him. He left Dean dry and comfortable, the mess of come having vanished.

            “That was… easy,” Dean realized aloud, raising himself up on his elbows.

            “What do you mean?” Cas asked, now plucking and examining clover in between glances at Dean. A focused spear of sunlight passed through the trees above to land square on his cheek, bringing out every pore and whisker. The day had grown almost hot, insects buzzing and humidity rising.

            But Dean didn’t know how else to say it. “Easy,” he repeated, taking the sprig of clover from Cas and turning it over in his hand. The paper-thin leaves felt strange between his calloused fingertips.

 

            Sam cursed and nearly slammed his laptop closed but refrained at the last moment, hand poised over the screen.

            “This is harder than I thought.”

            “How so?” Gabriel inquired. He was lying back on one of the exposed timber beams of the ceiling, his legs dangling to either side. Cool evening light filtered through the windows, leaving the archangel in shadow above. Sam could just make out his bare feet kicking languidly to and fro.

            “Well, I’ll find what looks like a great spot—like this small chain of islands in Lake Superior or a river out in Manitoba, but then I have to check: is there any tourism through there? Are any companies looking into that land for logging or drilling? Is it part of a park that might be surveyed now and then? And I don’t want to send them too far north. They’re obviously used to cold, but I don’t know if they’re used to tundra—”

            “You’re overthinking it,” Gabriel sighed, rolling off the rafter in a horrifyingly nonchalant way. He fell upright on the couch, promptly snaking an arm through Sam’s and resting his chin on his shoulder.

            Sam tensed, not relishing the idea of Dean strolling through and spotting this casual display of affection. But both Dean and Castiel had been disappearing on and off all day. They were meant to be keeping an eye on Podarge from the bedroom adjoining the balcony, but Sam hadn’t heard a peep from either since dinner.

            “Shut that off and come to bed,” Gabe suggested, nudging Sam in the side with an elbow.

            “I can’t. I’ve got to find a—a harpy reserve before they get into any more trouble. We’ve got to get moving on this. This hunt’s taken too long already.”

            “Tell you what, kiddo,” Gabriel said with a toss of his head. “I’ll show you the perfect place. I’ll scope it out down to the last detail for you. If you walk away from that laptop right now.”

            “I thought you were strictly opposed to helping with the harpies,” Sam said, eyebrows raised.

            “I have no interest in fighting your fights for you. I’m just giving you a push in the right direction.” He pawed at Sam’s arm and side, urging him off the couch. “Which is, right now, the direction of the bedroom.”

            “Oh my God. Fine. But you better present me with a set of coordinates on a silver platter in the morning.” Sam stood, placed his computer on the coffee table, and scooped up Gabriel with an arm behind the shoulders and an arm behind the knees. The archangel made a rather undignified sound of surprise, which went a long way toward improving Sam's mood.

 

            Twenty minutes later, he had Gabriel squished against the headboard, both of his wrists wrapped in one large hand and held against the pillows. Sam knelt between his naked legs, leaning down to kiss under Gabe’s jaw.

            “Let’s get this show on the road,” Gabriel pleaded, raising and hooking his calves around Sam’s sides. He kneaded and pulled with them, trying to entice Sam to get on with it already.

            “Why are you so impatient all the time?” Sam muttered against his neck. “You’ve been around for thousands of years and you’ll be around for thousands more.”

            “You never know,” Gabriel grumbled, grinding against Sam. “Gotta seize that day—or dick, as the case may be. Carpe priapo, Sam. Carpe priapo.”

            Sam snickered. “Wow, man, that’s deep.”

            “No, it’s not. That’s my point.”

            Choosing to ignore this, Sam drew a long breath and gathered his nerve for something he’d been thinking about all week. “Can I ask you something?”

            “Shoot.”

            He sat back of his heels and released Gabriel. Studying the angel’s frisky, irritable mood, he wondered if he’d picked the wrong time after all.

            “Would you get your wings out?”

            Gabriel froze, something flaring up in his eyes. “I don’t think so, Sam.”

            “Okay, cool,” Sam assured him in a hurry, cramming his disappointment to the back of his mind. “I mean, that’s your business. It’s just that you’ve played with mine….”

            Folding one leg over and around Sam, Gabriel sat up next to him, chewing his bottom lip. “Look, that’s just not something I really do.”

            “It’s fine,” Sam insisted, feeling the exchange getting exactly as tricky as he’d feared. “Forget I asked. It was dumb.”        

            But Gabriel still looked flustered, frustrated. “It’s not dumb. But you don’t understand. Wouldn’t know it to look at them, but my wings are old and… thin. They’re as oversensitive as they are powerful. It’s hard to describe in English—and I’d break your ears if I told you in Enochian.”

            “What if I just looked and didn’t touch?” Sam proposed, more fascinated than ever.

            Gabriel remained silent so long Sam began to wonder if he’d gone elsewhere, leaving the shell of his body like a placeholder until he felt like returning to the conversation. It unnerved Sam, seeing the cocky, boisterous Trickster sitting there with his hands balled up in the sheets, his eyes unblinking and far away. He looked both smaller and inexplicably larger than Sam had ever seen him.

            “That might work,” Gabriel admitted, coming to life all at once and startling Sam.

            “Really?”

            “Yeah, I showed ‘em to you once, I can do it again.”

            “Last time wasn’t nearly enough.”

            “Oh you,” Gabe crooned with mock bashfulness, sounding a little more like himself. “Lie on your back. If I’m going all spread eagle here, I’ll need some room.”

            “I don’t think that’s what ‘spread eagle’ usually means,” Sam snickered, relieved, even as he scooted down the bed and dropped his head to the pillow. He shivered as Gabriel crawled over and straddled him.

            “No, but who cares?” Gabe gave Sam’s dick a few rough, rousing pumps with a hastily lubed hand. Fairly well prepped before they’d managed to interrupt themselves, he got into position and unceremoniously sunk down over Sam’s cock like it was the most natural and effortless thing in the world. His little hiss of pained pleasure belied him only slightly.

            Sam’s heart and hips kicked up something of a fuss, but he willed himself calm, focusing on each anticipatory breath rather than the slick, tight feeling around his dick.

            “Hold onto your hat,” Gabriel chuckled, sitting up straight atop him—and letting loose an absolute torrent of golden feathers.

            Wholly unprepared for the sheer sensory overload, Sam threw his forearm over his eyes as though shielding them from a bomb blast. Slowly, he lowered it, his pupils contracting painfully as they took in the almost reflective metallic glare of the wings fanned out behind Gabriel.

            They seemed to take up half the room when extended—not as long as Sam’s, for sure, but more full in shape. Somehow, they hadn’t looked so intimidating in broad daylight, in the open space of the field. Now, confined to the four walls of the bedroom and poised directly over him, they struck Sam as monstrously divine—beyond good or evil or beauty itself.

            He gasped wordlessly at Gabriel, hoping this would be enough to convey his existential distress.

            “You all right?” Gabriel smiled, squeezing Sam’s sides with his knees and drawing himself up in a way that looked an awful lot like preening.

            “Little overwhelmed,” Sam choked, blinking. “Can you… turn down the wattage?”

            “No,” Gabriel teased, beginning to ride him in earnest now. He rocked back and forth, his palms sliding over Sam’s abs with each movement.

            Quite certain Gabe could have if he’d only wanted to, Sam squeezed his eyes closed, trying to get lost in the sex. But Gabriel felt so much heavier on him. And he could still hear the sinuous, sliding rustle of feathers. They even sounded different than his and Dean’s. Higher-pitched, somehow. Unnatural. The air smelled overheated, rarified—as though it had passed through the heart of a star. The old Michigan lakehouse smelled like desert sands and glittering minerals and outer space and a dozen other things Sam shouldn’t have been able to identify.

            He only realized that hot tears had begun to slip down the sides of his face and into his ears when he felt Gabriel bend close and swipe at them with the pad of his thumb.

            “I’m sorry, Sam. I'm sorry. I didn't realize it was freaking you out so bad. I'll stop,” he promised. “You can look now.”

            Sam didn't dare. He could still see the photo negative of Gabriel’s wings burning bright black and green on his retinas.

            “C’mon, Sam. Look at me.”

            Squinting through his eyelashes, Sam did, meeting Gabriel’s softened gaze, his speckled brown eyes. Beyond that, feathers the color of ripe wheat still loomed but looked only distantly related to the overblown things of a minute before.

            “That’s better,” he said shakily.

            “I’m sorry,” Gabriel repeated, sitting back with a half-sick expression. “I—”

            “Later,” Sam interrupted, grabbing hold of the angel’s thighs and silently begging him to continue. He needed to chase away the suffocating feeling that continued to clutch at him.

            Gabe nodded a little frantically, resuming the pace. But for all his urgency, the passion had gone out of it and Sam could tell.

            He gritted his teeth and bucked up into Gabriel, putting everything he had into pounding the both of them into something resembling true arousal.

            Rougher and rougher, they all but tore at one another, grinding and growling and swearing until Gabriel finally looked too strung out to take it anymore. “Enough,” he snapped despairingly, stilling Sam with one uncompromising touch of his hand. “Enough. This is awful.”

            “I know,” Sam sighed, looking away. Going half-soft the moment Gabriel withdrew from his lap, he felt bruised in body and ego. “Let’s just… let’s just get cleaned up and forget this even happened.”

            “Wait, we can make it work—”

            “Not right now we can’t.” Sam shook the hair out of his eyes and swung his legs over the side of the bed. “I’m distracted, you’re obviously miserable, and we’re about to break the bed just trying to feel something. We can start fresh in the morning.”

            Gabe looked ready to protest further, but he managed to keep his mouth shut, curling into a cross-legged position at the foot of the bed.

            Sam slunk into the bathroom with pajamas, taking his sweet time rinsing himself of sweat, lube, and lingering dissatisfaction. He swung by the kitchen before returning, two embarrassingly full tumblers of booze in his hands.

            “Here,” he muttered, handing one to Gabe, who had conjured up some boxers and a soft white t-shirt for himself in Sam’s absence. The neatly turned down bed looked nothing like how they’d left it.

            Sam slouched down next to him, taking a long, bitter draft of his drink. “I shouldn’t have asked for that, Gabriel. I think I’ve kind of managed to forget what a big deal you really are.”

            He expected a bit of snark in return but did not get it. “No, I was stupid. I thought you could handle it. Not my trueform, of course, but just a taste of what things look like to me. That’s how your wings look to me all the time, Sam. That’s how you look to me.”

            Batting his hand out dismissively, Sam snorted and took another swig from his glass.

            “Really,” Gabriel went on. “This house is alive with memories. I can see them walking around. I can see fear and excitement imprinted on the door handles—wistfulness in the windowpanes and love all over the damn kitchen. It’s like that everywhere I go. People shine at me in ways you can’t imagine. You’re one of the worst. But I like it. I keep coming back for more.”

            Sam regarded the archangel blearily, his flaxen (and thoroughly corporeal) wings tucked politely around himself, his whiskey cupped in both hands but otherwise untouched. “That sounds exhausting,” Sam said truthfully.

            “It is. That’s why I sleep sometimes.”

            “Is it like that for all angels when they come to earth?”

            “Yes and no. I’ve been here for a long time, Sam. Sometimes I think I've... absorbed... too much of the world.”

            “I don’t get it, Gabriel,” Sam admitted. “I must seem like a drop in the ocean to you. An ant. Here one minute and dead the next.”

            “You’d think so,” Gabe said with a wry, sad smile. “I spend a lot of time treating people that way. Trying to see them as most gods do. Disposable, insignificant. But, in the end, I know better.”

            Sam stared at Gabriel over the rim of his glass. Last of the archangels. Vengeful pagan deity. With a sea of blood on his hands. And Sam felt sorry for him. He also quickly realized that he’d already made peace with it.

            “You like what we have here, don’t you?” Sam asked through the whiskey burn in his throat. “It makes you happy? Like actual happy and not whatever the hell kind of fucked-up trickster glee you’ve been getting by on?”

            Wincing, Gabriel shrugged. “Well… yeah.”

            “Gabe, it doesn’t matter that we fumbled this play,” he said, gesturing at the bed, at their shared demoralized posture. “Shit happens. But I want you to stick around. I don't want you to disappear just cause things got a little weird.”

            “You sure?”

            “Yes. Now give me that if you’re not going to drink it,” Sam replied gruffly, lifting Gabe’s drink from his slack hands.

 

            A little while later, somewhere between buzzed and pleasantly numb, Sam found himself with his head resting in Gabriel’s lap. Only several minutes in did he realize that the faint, dragging touches on his upper arms were not the angel’s fingers but the tips of his hunched wings.

            “You’re… you’re doing that on purpose?” he asked stupidly.

            “Well, I won’t say they don’t sometimes have a mind of their own, but yes,” Gabriel said.

            “They’re real pretty, Gabe. Have I told you that?”

            “I don’t think you have.”

            “They are.” He stretched one hand toward the nearest gleaming quill, but stopped short. Gabriel had not said he could touch back. He folded the hand back over his chest.

            “Here,” Gabriel’s voice said behind his head, and then something was descending in front of Sam’s face—a single feather pinched between two fingers. “Take it.”

            About the size of a small leaf, it felt smooth as satin in Sam’s hand. He held it up, watching light play through the translucent filigree of gold. “Do you want one of mine?” he asked, concerned he’d just stumbled into some angelic ritual the significance of which he did not understand.

            “Maybe later,” Gabriel answered softly. “Right now, I think you need some shut-eye.”

 

            When Sam woke the next morning, a silver platter with a set of coordinates waited on the bedside table.

            Gabriel himself was nowhere to be found.

Chapter Text

           Dean jerked awake later than intended, naked and face-down in the narrow twin bed of what he’d already come to consider Castiel’s bedroom.

            “Oh, fuck,” he said under his breath, reaching to fish his pants out from under a chair.

            The previous day and night had passed in a whirlwind of stolen moments. Every time Sam had left the room, Cas had leveled that special brand of stare at him until Dean had stopped pretending not to notice and kissed him. Things had started to heat up again before supper, but they’d reeled it in and behaved themselves long enough to sit at the table with Sam and Gabriel. And then last night…. Ostensibly watching out for Podarge (who’d flown high into a nearby pine and begun singing herself a series of sad little ditties) they’d backtracked one slow step at a time from the balcony to the bedroom, locked the door, and thrown off their clothes with a kind of hushed, adolescent giddiness. Or at least Dean had. Cas retained an almost eerie level of composure, never faltering, never saying more than he meant to. Dean liked that. He needed the grounding force of Cas’ steady nerve or this probably would’ve all felt a lot weirder to him.

            They’d gotten tangled up on the floor and across the bed in pretty short order, mouths and bodies and hands meeting in a dozen feel-good combinations, but that had all seemed to fall away when Dean’s wings entered the picture. Castiel had dug into them with a perfect vengeance. And Dean had lost all sense of his surroundings, a quivering mess draped over Cas’ shoulders, his arms clasped behind the angel’s neck. He’d known nothing but the dry slide of skin and the aching want in his wings and the cool ozone scent of Cas. Sam probably could’ve barged right in with Dean none the wiser. It had gotten so out of control that he hadn’t quite known how to float down from the high once Cas stopped, and even though the wing sensations were never precisely sexual, sexuality had seemed the easiest place to pour the overflow of feeling. Cas had clutched him tight, given him a few soothing strokes, and Dean had come almost instantly. Like a damn teenager sweating through his first handjob in the backseat of a car.

            He knew it was kinda sappy, all this desperate huffing with the lights out, all this communing with nature like freakin’ hippies… but he felt so much better for it already. Dean couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt safe enough to enjoy something so blackout raw, so candid. Normally, he’d have fled from it, pushed away whoever had had the gall to make him forget himself that way. A hunter never had the luxury of forgetting himself. Except, apparently, with an angel. An angel who could keep one eye on him and a hundred thousand on the nasty, tooth-and-claw world outside.

            Seeing Cas’ trenchcoat slung over the balcony railing, Dean surmised he’d slipped out to the roof again. Mouth dry and feet ice cold now in the harsh light of morning, Dean hurried down the hall to get properly dressed, gargle, and rub the sleep from his eyes.

            He returned to a situation quite unlike the one he’d left.

            “Give me those right now before you swallow them,” Cas’ voice issued through the door. “I can recover them from your stomach if I have to, but I promise you won’t like it.”

            “Wouldn’t swallow them. Not a hatchling,” Podarge retorted, her wounded scorn perfectly clear. It was also perfectly clear, by the slurred state of her words, that she rolled something about her mouth as she spoke.

            “I said spit them out, Podarge.”

            “They belong to me.”

            “They belong to a seven-year-old the next house over, and I’m returning them before he notices.”

            Dean hurried through the door to the balcony and found Cas looming over a bristling Podarge. The standoff had the both of them flaring and fluffing their wings in possibly the most ridiculous confrontation Dean had ever seen.

            “Am I interrupting something?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

            Cas shot him an exasperated glare. “She’s been roaming around while you slept. Naturally, I followed. She stole a cigar box full of marbles from a boy’s open window. They belonged to the boy’s grandfather. They’re special to him.”

            “How can you tell that?” Dean half-scoffed.

            “I can tell,” Cas replied seriously. “And now she’s stuck several in her mouth to keep them from me,” he went on, looking about as boggled by this development as Dean had ever seen him.

            “Welcome to the joys of parenthood, Cas,” he snorted.

            “I fail to see how I could in any sense be considered this creature’s father.”

            Dean just smiled. “Give ‘em up, Pod,” he ordered, turning to her.

            She shuffled away, phony innocence evident in every line of her face.

            “Now,” Dean insisted, biting off the word and making her watery yellow eyes snap up to meet his. He extended his hand.

            With a sigh to rival Sam’s all-time bitchiest, she expelled half a dozen tiger’s eyes and agates into Dean’s palm, slimy with saliva. One last glittery orb fell off her raspy blue tongue and clinked among the others.

            “Thank you. Cas, go put these back where they belong,” Dean continued pleasantly, holding out the none-too-tempting handful to the angel.

            Cas blinked once at him, but gingerly took the marbles—and promptly disappeared.

            Podarge recoiled in shock, but Dean promptly went to work distracting her. “Fly off like that again and we’re gonna have a serious problem, you hear me?” The thought of some little kid wandering back into his room to find a harpy leering through the open window, snatching marbles from his shelf, inspired nothing but exhaustion, quite frankly. It would mean another whole round of civilian damage control for the Winchesters. “But, hey, I bet Sam and Gabe have more liver for you.”

            “Actually, uh, I was just coming to ask you for the car keys,” Sam interjected, peering around the doorframe. “I’ll need to go to the store for more liver.”

            “Why?”

            “Because Gabriel’s not here,” Sam answered, his face blank.

            “Course he’s not,” Dean drawled, throwing up his hands. “He can make a nuisance of himself all day until we actually need him for something and then of course he’s not here. Tell your boyfriend he needs to work on his timing.”

            “He’s not my boyfriend, Dean.”

            “Could’ve fooled me.” Dean tossed Sam the key to the Impala, turning away as Cas reappeared. The angel smoothed his trenchcoat and stowed his wings, looking faintly embarrassed by the entire morning. God, it was cute.

 

            Sam bought every ounce of every type of liver the grocery had in stock, a number of disposable Styrofoam coolers to transport it, and two large bags of ice.

            The high school girl at the checkout had started to grant him a shy little smile until her eyes landed on the slew of meat in his cart—at which point she’d clearly decided Sam belonged to some grim cult with a mighty need for animal organs and kept her smiles to herself.

            Not so far off from the truth, actually.

            Driving back to the house, Sam caught himself running a red light. He shook his head, thankful for the lack of traffic but also annoyed with himself.

           When he pulled into the driveway, an icy wave tumbled through his stomach. He hesitated on the porch with his armload of supplies. Gabriel wouldn’t have returned. But Sam couldn’t help but hope he might be there, aggravating Dean with an mischievous twinkle in his eye as though nothing had happened.

           Sam knew he’d come off as alternatively stiff-mannered and wistfully drunk last night, and he didn’t really care to remember it. He’d wanted to make things right this morning, wanted to indulge in some slow, whispery sex under the covers, even wanted one of Gabe’s syrup-slathered breakfasts. But now he felt hollow and only half-awake, not sure how long he’d have to wait to do any of those things. Or if they’d even be the same. Why did Gabriel insist on taking off without a head’s up? After Sam had specifically asked him not to?

           Dean met him in the kitchen, taking in Sam’s haul with a low whistle. “Dude, you planning on feeding an army?”

           “Maybe,” Sam shrugged, tearing the plastic from a large cut of pig’s liver and slopping it into a bowl. “Here,” he said, handing it to Dean.

           “I usually prefer bacon for breakfast, but it’s the thought that counts,” Dean said, clapping Sam on the shoulder with a goofy grin.

           “Shut up. Hey, so I know you’re not his biggest fan, but Gabe left us some coordinates,” Sam said before Dean could leave. “For the harpies. I don’t think it’s a trick. I’m going to look them up now.”

           Dean scowled, considering, but nodded. “Okay. That’s great, I guess. Let me know what you find out. I’ll be upstairs birdsitting your mangy stray.”

            “Thanks.”

            Folding open the laptop, Sam dug a hand into his pocket for the slip of paper with the coordinates. But his fingers closed on the small puff of feather that Gabe had gifted him as well. He pulled it out, smoothing it and checking for damage.

            “What is that?” a sharp voice asked from the doorway.

            Sam peered over the coolers stacked on the table to see Castiel, his eyes round and concerned.

            “Nothing. I mean… it’s a feather. Obviously. But it’s nothing.” He shoved it back in the breast pocket of his shirt and set about some mindless tapping on the laptop.

            “One of Gabriel’s feathers,” Cas said in a low breath, coming round toward Sam and standing by the counter.

            “So?” Sam grunted, shifting in his seat and avoiding Cas’ laser-like interest.

            “So an archangel gave you a part of himself. How long have you had that?” Cas sounded almost frightened on Sam’s behalf.

            “Not long. And what’s the big deal, Cas? I’ve shed a bunch of little feathers.”

            “Yes, but you and Dean are alive in ways we aren’t,” Cas pushed. “You lose hair and cut your fingernails and make more of yourselves all the time. That feather didn’t fall out. Gabriel would’ve had to pull it out. It won’t ever grow back. What did he say when he gave it to you?”

            “Nothing,” Sam answered truthfully, an unwelcome lump growing in his throat. He didn’t want to have this conversation with Cas. Why had he come down here anyway? Why hadn’t he just stayed upstairs with Dean?

            “Nothing. Really?”

            “I… I think he could tell I wanted to touch his wings. But it didn’t seem like he could let me do that, so he gave me this instead. And then he left. That’s it.”

            “You’ve never touched his wings?” Cas went on, obviously taken aback. Quizzical. “But I thought….”

            “You thought what?”

            “I thought the two of you were…? Lovers?”

            Sam pushed away from the table, chair legs screeching. He buried his face in the refrigerator, taking way longer to locate the orange juice than he had any right to considering it was the only item on the top shelf.

            “I’m sorry, was that not the right word?” Cas asked behind him.

            “I don’t know,” Sam sighed, pouring himself a glass and going to stare out the window.

            “Dean doesn’t know what word to use either. I’m not sure what’s so important about it.”

            Before Sam could ask why Castiel had been discussing such things with his brother, the angel spoke again. “I assumed wings were the source of your connection in the first place. It surprises me that he wouldn’t want you to touch them.”

            “You’re making me feel great here, Cas. Just super.”

            “You’re… being sarcastic.”

            “Bingo.”

            “I don’t think it’s for lack of feeling toward you,” Cas ventured, unfazed. “The feather shows that. If anything, Gabriel has been burdened with more feeling than half the heavenly host put together. Balthazar used to joke that God never made any more archangels because Gabriel broke the mold,” Cas offered with one of his crooked little smiles.

            “That’s a lame joke. Which I know you told to cheer me up,” Sam hurried to clarify, having no real desire to take out his discomfort on Cas. “And thanks anyway, but I don’t really ever know what to think about Gabriel.”

            A muffled crash from upstairs heralded some sort of trouble for Dean, and Sam abandoned his orange juice to bound up the steps two at a time, grateful for any distraction.

           

            After wrestling Podarge inside and plying her with food and various reflective objects, Sam finally returned to his computer. The harpy had made a break for the lake, eager to chase a man whirring by on a Jet Ski, and Dean had only narrowly managed to prevent it. Sam now regarded a great green blur on his laptop screen—a satellite image of a vast and largely unmarked wetland (in Manitoba after all).

            “So? What do you think?” he asked the sullen harpy at his feet after having described the habitat to her.

            “Sounds like home,” she mused, picking at the down on her arms with the shiny pair of tweezers they’d given her.

            “Good. It’s about 800 miles northwest though,” Sam cautioned, unsure if she understood units of distance.

            “Show me the stars.”

            “What?” Dean asked from his seat across the room. Cas had promptly healed the long scratch Podarge had left on his arm, but he’d pouted and harrumphed about Sam’s bad taste in friends nonetheless.

            “The stars,” she hissed, spraying Sam with a bit of spit. “The stars of the place. Then I will know.”

            “Um… okay, I can swing that,” Sam nodded, pulling up an astronomy app he never got to use as much as he would’ve liked. It prompted him for a date and exact location, then displayed a sparkling chart of the night sky in Nowheresville, MB as of June 26th. He turned the screen toward Podarge.

            She cooed and purred to herself, looking it over. “Far. It is far. But not farther than we came before. The hatchlings will slow us. Have to carry them. Best to fly at night. Nights are short now. May be it will take two nights.”

            “Is that all?” Dean asked, perking up.

            “Geese can migrate 500 miles in a ten hour day, Dean,” Sam pointed out. “And you never saw how fast harpies go out in the open. Podarge, I’m going to give you a paper with these stars. And some pictures of the land, with the rivers and lakes. Just like how it looks from above. Okay?”

            “Yes,” she lisped.

            “Are you ready to show us where the others are? Ready to kill Grigora?”

            “Yes.”

 

            Sam fastened a small canvas bag around Podarge’s neck containing the maps he’d promised her. He also cobbled together a length of silver chain from the Impala’s stash of vampire supplies and looped that around her neck as well, hoping it might help to impress the others and cement her status among them. She all but drooled over it, thanking Sam and petting his arm.

            Podarge’s circuitous description of the clan’s new hideout had finally led Sam and Dean to nail it down as being near the Antrim County Airport some 25 miles away on the outskirts of Bellaire. Her recollection of a near straight eastward jog over two large bodies of water—along with her complaints of the noise made by “the humans in their stupid flying boats”—pegged it as the only location that made sense.

            “Just what the locals need,” Dean had groaned. “Some hurricane force winds blowing across their runway without warning.”

            They bundled Podarge into the backseat of the Impala under a blanket. Sam rode next to her to keep her still (Dean would strangle him if she so much as snagged the car’s upholstery) while Cas took shotgun. Sam had expressed some surprise at his accompanying them—hunts like this weren’t really the angel's usual style—but Cas had simply shrugged and said he might as well be of some help since his research into Metatron’s plans seemed to have hit a dead end for the moment.

            “Okay, so these woods you mentioned,” Dean called over his shoulder as they rolled slowly down the main drag of Bellaire. “To the east or the west of the airstrip?”

            “West,” Podarge gulped miserably. She’d gotten carsick once already, and they’d barely managed to pull over in time for that catastrophe. Now in the middle of the town’s business district, they could hardly afford to let her hang out the door and puke. She swayed back and forth under her old woolen shroud, looking like nothing so much as ET in the basket of Elliot’s bicycle. “With a skinny little river. Lotsa frogs.”

            Dean pulled off the road when they got past the edge of town and let the Impala trundle down a disused dirt track. Once out of sight of any passing traffic, he parked and they all spilled out into the woods, some more gracefully than others.

            Everyone took a moment to stretch their wings. Looking around at the motley assortment of black, brown, gray, and shifting green, Sam shook his head in disbelief. They made a strange team.

            “I got the sword,” Dean said, retrieving it from the car.

            “I can simply smite this Grigora, Dean,” Cas leaned in to tell him.

            “I know, but—”

            “Give me the poison blade,” Podarge piped up, looking less green around the gills now that she’d escaped the confines of the car. “I will kill her in the liver. If tengu can catch her first.”

            “Fair enough, she’s your archenemy,” Dean allowed, holding out the leather-wrapped hilt to her.

            “What does Grigora look like, Podarge?” Sam asked, ducking through the clinging foliage.

            “Big heavy harpy. Scar on her face. With dun feathers.”

            “That’s like a dull yellow, right?” Sam checked.

            “Yes.”

            “Dean, that’s the one that slashed your back and broke your wing. I’m sure of it,” Sam said. “I’ll know her.”

            “Good.” But Dean paused, holding out a hand. “You hear that? Splashing?”

            “They’re right up ahead. By the stream,” Cas confirmed as mildly as if they’d all gone out for a Sunday stroll.

            Slipping forward now with slow, controlled footfalls, the four of them came up behind a fallen oak on the edge of a small ridge. Ten feet below and a dozen yards away, the clan hopped about in the mud of a lazy, swirling creek, scooping up tadpoles from sheltered pools and eating them like popcorn. Wild-feathered young ones brought wriggling handfuls to the eldest. Sam realized with a start that the wheezing teakettle noise they all made was some species of laughter.

            But the bulky form of Grigora brooded over the harpies from a craggy stump, looking displeased. She’d painted her muscular wings with streaks of dried blood like war paint, and Sam wondered immediately whether any mangled human bodies lay nearby.

            Sam indicated her with a jerk of his chin, but Cas and Dean had already picked her out as well. Dean flashed the hand signal for attack on my mark, followed by another one they’d recently had cause to devise: by air.

            Dean’s instruction was rendered moot, however, as Grigora suddenly stiffened, most likely taking the measure of their scent. Her head snapped toward them and she spread her grisly wings with a kind of sure, stately rage, looking like some hypnotic beast straight out of a William Blake painting.

            “Now,” Dean added, half-shrugging.

            They leapt into flight, jumping over the fallen tree. The clan shrieked and scattered for cover, but Grigora barreled right toward them, air currents shimmering around her for a brief second—just before Sam ran into a deafening wall of wind.

            Knocked down among cracked saplings and whirling leaves, Sam gasped in pain. Dean’s boot was in his face and a sharp branch dug into his back. Dean managed to kick him again as they both flailed to their feet.

            Cas had withstood the harpy’s cyclonic blast and he grappled with her now, both of them half-flying but dancing sporadically to the ground here and there. Dean threw himself in without hesitation or a word to Sam, latching onto Grigora’s right wing and letting his weight drag her to the forest floor. Rushing forward to pin down the other wing, Sam found himself just about kneeling on her shoulder. She howled at them, but had no hope of freeing herself under their combined mass.

            “Stinking tengu worms! I will tear you! Tear your eyes from your heads! Throw your guts to the four winds!” she spat, straining every muscle and tendon.

            “It is your guts that we scatter,” a wicked little voice asserted, creeping up behind them all.

            “You! Banished! Nameless! Kill her, sisters!” Grigora demanded the moment she caught sight of Podarge.

            But no one dared. Only a few faces peered through the underbrush, tadpoles and allegiances forgotten.

            Podarge brought forth the bronze short sword, let the light glitter off its edge for Grigora to see, and brought it down through her abdomen, stabbing straight through her feathery flesh and into the soft earth below.

Chapter Text

           If anyone had told Dean Winchester when he’d first rolled into town hunting harpies that’d he’d end up sitting around a campfire with a whole hoard of them, he’d have busted a gut laughing.

            Harpies were monsters, plain and simple… but the twenty pound hatchling currently playing with his shoelaces looked a lot more like a fat little partridge than a predator, and even Dean didn’t make a habit of killing baby monsters who’d not yet harmed anyone.

            He’d made worse exceptions.

            They all liked his colorful wings. The shiny green mantling had been the subject of much fascination among the clan after Podarge had coaxed them out and sworn on her wings that the tengu would hurt no one else. And especially after Sam had sealed the deal by retrieving his liver smorgasbord from the car.

            After serving this bloody peace offering for the harpies’ immediate and raucous consumption, Cas and the Winchesters had swept the perimeter of the camp, checking for human remains. Relieved to find nothing but mangled possum and rabbit skins, they’d nevertheless interrogated some of the more coherent members of the clan as to their recent activities. A nearly white old harpy with purplish speckles patterning her bald scalp had told them how Grigora had continually urged an assault on the airstrip—but also how glad she herself was that they would not have to attempt it. They had not taken any humans since abandoning their previous nest in the bog.

            “So you’re telling me there are no male harpies at all?” Sam was saying to the same elderly harpy—Agrios was her name. At some point Sam had flipped a switch into full-blown nerd mode and was taking the opportunity to flesh out the Men of Letters’ cache of harpy lore with some firsthand research.

            “No, never,” she replied.

            “Then how do you breed? How do you make hatchlings?” Sam asked, indicating Dean’s curious little friend. He’d tried talking to it, but it had only cooed uncomprehendingly at him.

            “Eggs,” Agrios told Sam in a long pitying lilt. She clearly considered him some manner of idiot who required gentle humoring.

            “But…?” Sam gaped, temporarily at a loss for words. “Dean, are you hearing this? All the books assume that male harpies are just very rare or live apart. But it sounds like they reproduce asexually! That’s unheard of in a species this complex. And they’re not clones! You can see that,” he rambled, waving an arm at the diverse bunch of creatures that fluttered about the fire and trickling stream. The sun had swung low in the sky, painting the wood a dark and hazy shade of orange. Long shadows flickered behind the bounding harpies, making their intentions look more sinister than Dean now knew they were.

            “Riveting stuff, man,” Dean nodded, poking the embers of their fire with a branch.

            Sam looked as if he had absolutely no time for Dean’s lack of interest. He turned back to Agrios. “When do you lay eggs if there’s no male to… start them?”

            “When we are ready,” she expounded sagely, as if this explained everything.

            “Which is…?”

            “When we are ready.”

            “Is this what your life is like when I’m not around?” Cas asked of Dean, striding up behind him and sinking down on the same petrified log.

            “Not exactly. You take care of Grigora?”

            “Yes.”

            Podarge had wanted most urgently to disembowel the usurped leader and throw her innards to the four cardinal winds—evidently a great dishonor among harpies, but Dean had vetoed this plan—as it had involved soaring over Bellaire and a number of nearby farms. They’d offered Castiel’s services instead, promising that he could dispose of her in the four furthest corners of the world. Podarge had liked this idea, as had the rest, who’d all harbored very little love for Grigora.

            Cas regarded Dean for a long moment, one angular hip tucked up next to his on the narrow log. The angel looked good. Fond. Content. His dark hair stuck out in all directions from the earlier tussle, and the smoldering light of early evening did his cheekbones a hell of lot of favors.

            “Not now, Cas,” Dean muttered, ducking his head. As entrenched as Sam was in birdwoman biology, he probably wouldn’t miss the two of them making out by the fire.

            “I know.”

            “Not to be, y’know, weird about it,” Dean continued. “It’s not… it’s not a secret.”

            “It’s not a secret. You just don’t want anyone to know.”

            “Well, when you put it like that,” Dean complained, trying to keep his tone light.

            “I’m not offended, Dean. It’s new. I understand you want to keep it to yourself for awhile.”

            “Exactly,” Dean agreed, latching onto Cas’ words. His relief led him to slide the folded peak of his right wing up against the side of Cas’. The gesture sent a major thrill shooting down his spine, but he had to admit that it aroused him no more than looking at Cas’ stupid face had. He smiled and turned back to Sam.

            “It’s getting dark, Sammy. We should get this wagon train moving.”

            Sam waved him off impatiently, now mid-conversation with a different, dark-feathered harpy.

            “Sam.”

            “I know, I know,” Sam huffed, standing and kicking dirt over the fire. “Podarge, you ready?”

            She hopped over, nodding.

            “I’m going to give you one more thing for that bag, okay?” Sam told her, pulling an old cell phone from his jeans. They’d fully charged it beforehand and activated the GPS tracker. “This is very important tengu magic. For protection. I don’t want you to play with it or take it out of the bag. Just carry it.”

            Podarge accepted the phone with reverence, tying it up in the canvas satchel she wore.

            “Good. Remember, no one lands or strays off-course without permission. No screeching, no yelling. Now come on, it’s time to go.”

            With a great, collective leap, ten or twelve harpies took off at once, spiraling up through the trees. Another round followed, and another. They clutched the smallest hatchlings in their arms, having no other baggage or belongings at all. Sam, Dean, and Castiel followed with the last group, double-timing it to the head of the flock.

           

            Dean had never flown for more than a half hour at a time. All the deep tissues of his shoulders, back, and wings screamed with effort by midnight, and his cheeks had gone perfectly numb in the face of the incessant wind. The clouded black above and the watery black below reminded him of a few nights in Hell—suspended in an airless void with no sense of time or self while fresh and unseen torments were cooked up for him elsewhere. But these clouds were just clouds, and this water was just water, and this night… this night would end. Sam was with him. And Cas, who reached out with a wingtip to brush his arm every so often. He just needed to hold steady, coast along, save his strength.

            Though the first time someone had wordlessly tried to pass him a hatchling, he’d almost dropped it.

            The harpies shuffled them about from one clan member to another every twenty minutes or so. Which made perfect sense, as it prevented any one carrier from growing fatigued. But Dean had still let out an undignified yelp when some unknown harpy had swooped in front of him without warning, backwinging at a phenomenal rate and shoving a wriggling ball of fluff into his arms. Protests proved useless. So he did his stint in the hatchling transport division, discovering that the downy bundle pressed against his chest provided a rather nice measure of warmth. When someone dove in to relieve him of it, he almost didn’t understand why she wanted it back.

            “We’re approaching Lake Superior,” Cas finally announced from the darkness to Dean’s far left.

            “Oh, thank God,” Dean groaned, sagging wearily. It was the agreed upon boundary at which they would leave the harpies to fly on alone. An escort out of the immediate region had seemed in order, but Sam and Dean could not hope to make such a long migration without greatly slowing the clan (and likely dropping of exhaustion somewhere mid-Ontario). Trying to follow by car on the looping highways of Wisconsin would have frequently left them a couple hundred miles away while the harpies traveled directly over lakes, forests, and national boundaries. The cell battery would hopefully last long enough to allow Sam to track their continued progress and confirm the exact location of settlement. If they grew distracted before that, well… Cas could always zap by and take care of business.

            “It’s been very interesting getting to know you, Podarge,” Sam was shouting over the wind. “I’m sorry we couldn’t work this out sooner. Without killing the ones we did.”

            “War is war,” Podarge screeched back. “Clans kill, clans join. I am glad I did not tear you.”

            “Yeah, yeah, peace, love and Kumbaya all around,” Dean muttered to himself.

            “So I guess this is goodbye.”

            “Goodbye, Sam!”

            A chorus of trilling, sing-song farewells rose up all around them, and then Cas’ strong hand was darting down, grabbing Dean by the scruff of the neck—and unceremoniously depositing him on the couch.

            Dean flailed and knocked over a lamp with his churning wings, body not quite believing that it had stopped. A moment later, Sam collapsed next to him, feathers flying.

            “Whew, good workout,” Sam said, folding his wings away and reaching for a half-empty bottle of water on the coffee table.

            “Oh, fuck off,” Dean panted, doubling over. “My back is killing me. We’re getting too old for this, dude.”          

            “Maybe you are.” Sam took long drafts of water while pulling up the harpies’ GPS location on his phone. “We’ll have to keep an eye on this. I’ll set alarms and check it every hour. But I have a good feeling about it. I think they’ll be okay.”

            “Better be. I’m so done with harpies. And I’ve got a hot date with that Jacuzzi.”

            Sam shook his head with a pursed smile. “Right. Night, Dean.” He stretched out on the couch as soon as Dean vacated it, flipping on the TV at low volume.

            “Baby?” Dean asked of Cas, taking a few steps toward the stairs and raising an eyebrow.

            “Yes?”

            Dean swallowed a laugh. “… Baby? My car? She’s gonna start feeling unloved getting left all over the great state of Michigan like this.”

            “Oh! Of course,” Cas blurted out. “I’ll get it. You go on to your… hot date.”

            Tired to the bone, Dean nonetheless made his way upstairs with a hopeless grin on his face.

 

            “You thought I was calling you baby, didn’t you?” Dean smirked, his head tipped back over the side of the tub and his eyes closed.

            The Jacuzzi’s balmy water billowed and pulsed around him, beating away at just about all 200 pounds of his sore muscles. The white noise of the churning bubbles had almost drowned out Cas’ soft footfall. Almost.

            Cas didn’t answer, instead crouching down by the tub and running a hand forward through Dean’s hair.

            “It’s all right if you did. It was cute.”

            “You should show me some respect.” Cas’ warm, low growl vibrated against his ear, making Dean chuckle.

            They remained like that for some time, Cas’ hand swishing through the water or roaming up Dean’s half-submerged arm, no urgency to the touches whatsoever.

            “You’re very tired,” Cas eventually pointed out. “I’ll leave you to sleep undisturbed tonight.”

            “Who says I don’t want to be disturbed?” Dean protested, cracking one eye.

            “Your circadian rhythm.”

            “Oh, I burned that out a long time ago,” Dean said truthfully. “Stay.”

Chapter Text

            They remained at the house for another two days, checking the harpies’ coordinates and making feeble excuses not to leave. Dean grilled out again, Sam went running, and Castiel continued to peruse the angel tablet notes. If not for the occasional baring of wings, their trio might have appeared almost normal.

            For his part, Sam couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted to flee Elk Lake immediately or spend the rest of the summer there. Everything about the place called up images of Gabriel. At least the bunker held no memories of him at all. Returning there would probably put this whole affair into distant perspective. Make it feel over. And that was also exactly why he couldn’t leave.

            He threw himself into exercise and training, loping down hiking trails in the fog-bound mornings, swimming in the afternoon, practicing a few knife skills in the evening. He crashed hard for a few hours—physically if not sufficiently mentally tired—and then roused himself to track the harpies’ flight trajectory by night. They made landfall in the wetlands of Manitoba on the second dawn of his watch. A couple hours later, the cell battery died. Sam smiled grimly, hoping he’d done well by them.

            “Hey, if we leave tomorrow instead of today, we can stop in Chicago and catch the Cubs playing the Reds,” Dean suggested that morning around a hearty mouthful of doughnut. “Cas has never been to a baseball game.”

            “You’re not itching to start another case?” Sam asked, brow pricked up. “Last time I checked, you kinda hate downtime.”

            “It’s one day, dude. I can handle one day off.”

            Sam chose not to point out that Dean had taken more like three consecutive days off now, pleasantly surprised by this development. His brother slept late, ate more than he drank, laughed easily and without irony. And now he wanted to take Cas to a baseball game. Either something was terribly wrong with him or terribly right. For once, Sam actually suspected the latter.

            “Fine by me,” Sam sighed, standing and setting his coffee mug in the sink. “In that case, I’m going out to the lake for awhile.”

            “Again?” Dean wondered aloud, trying and failing to wipe the doughnut glaze from his fingers with an all-too-sticky napkin.

            “Is that a problem?”

            “No, just seems like you spend a lot of time out there.”

            “Seems like you spend a lot of time in your room and I don’t say anything about that.”

            Dean flushed and took a hasty gulp of coffee. “Yeah. Well. Trying to catch up on like thirty years of shut-eye.”

            “Uh huh.”

            Sam changed into the swim trunks he’d bought in Traverse City but also snatched up A Dance With Dragons, figuring he’d maybe read a few chapters on the dock while waiting for the day to warm up.

            But half an hour later, the June sun beat down on the crown of his head and glittered through his eyelashes, making it hard to look at the stark white pages. Setting the book aside, Sam reclined on the creaking boards of the dock and let his legs hang over the edge. The water felt feather-light on his feet, the sun brassy and suffocating on his face and chest. He tried not to think about Gabriel crouching over him, wings singing with celestial power….

            If only he hadn’t lost his cool about the whole thing, maybe Gabe would’ve stayed. Maybe he’d be here now instead of on a beach in Bora Bora, surrounded by supermodels and Mai Tais.

            “Hey, Moose.”

            Sam leapt to his feet, inadvertently jarring a loose slat out of place. Overbalanced, it catapulted up and whacked him in the knee like something straight out of a silent film gag reel. He staggered and frowned at Gabriel, who stood in the yard with his hands in his pockets and a guilty twitch playing over his lips.

            “For once, that was so not me,” the angel attested before Sam could complain.

            “Where the hell did you go?” Sam demanded, scowling as he toed the offending board back into position.

            “I just had—”

            “If you say you had ‘stuff’ do to, I swear to God I will arrange for that board to hit you in the crotch.”

            Gabe looked as if he’d gulped down his tongue, evidently rethinking the flippancy of his excuse. He came forward to sit cross-legged on the end of the dock, patting the spot beside him until Sam deigned to occupy it. “I’m sorry,” he said after a few heavily pregnant seconds. “I know how this must look to you.”

            “Oh, do you?” Sam snapped. Everything he’d been holding in, holding back from Cas and Dean, seemed to surge up, searing the back of his throat. “Tell me, how does it look, Gabe?”

            “Like I keep dialing you up for booty calls and then skipping out every few days?”

            “Which would be fine, if you had the courtesy to tell me!” Sam felt a headache pounding to life above his left eye socket. “If you’d take a sec to say “Bye, Sam, see ya next week!’ I wouldn’t have to assume you’re just done with me every time you disappear. I don’t know whether to move on or look forward to you coming back.”

            “You’re absolutely right,” Gabe agreed, nodding sternly to himself. This upstanding air didn’t suit him, and Sam wondered whether he was being mocked. But the angel also wore the unhappy bearing of a penitent dog around his sagging shoulders, his face gray and restless. Sam appraised him more closely. He looked not at all like a man who’d spent the weekend in Bora Bora surrounded by supermodels and Mai Tais.

            “What’s wrong with you, anyway?” Sam asked.

            “Just stupid is all.”

            “You’re lying.” Sam’s heart stuttered coldly in his chest. He felt certain something had happened.

            “Look, I wish I could tell you some life-or-death caper dragged me away the other night,” Gabe explained, furrowing a hand through his hair. “I wish I had a tall tale to tell you about how I’m caught up in something way over my head—some real 007 archangel action—but, fact is, Sam… I’m just some guy with secret wings and a shitload of anxiety. I didn’t plan on coming back. Because you don’t need me and what’s the point of pretending this is going anywhere? I left you the coordinates like I said. It all worked out, didn’t it?”

            “Yeah. But I wanted you more than I wanted those coordinates,” Sam replied, almost angry that Gabriel thought he had any right to decide whether Sam needed him or not.

            “That’s nice of you to say.”

            “It’s not nice, you jackass, it’s true,” Sam spat. “Believe me, liking you is not in my best interest but I do. I liked you when I thought you were nothing but a smartmouth janitor. I like you now. I liked you all the time in between. I’d appreciate it if you’d just believe me and stop second guessing it.”

            Gabe looked Sam over as though examining him for signs of concussion. “You actually want me to stay? You want me to—to take you out to dinner when you’re on the road? Visit you in that top secret Bat Cave I hear you’ve got?”

            He said it as though these things were absurd. As though this were the most sarcastic comeback he could cook up.

            Sam was having none of it. “Well, why not? Dean already thinks you’re my boyfriend.”

            “Deano gives me too much credit,” Gabe snorted. But he sounded flattered. Sam glanced at him sidelong and saw the fractured tension in his face had softened.

            “Believe me, he doesn’t. But he’ll get over it. If you can quit acting like a tool, that is.”

            “Never,” Gabriel purred back, nuzzling abruptly under Sam’s jaw. “I’ll have you know I’m a board certified tool. With an advanced degree in douchebaggery.”

            “You still never told me where you were,” Sam pointed out, squirming away ticklishly.

            “Of course I’m also accomplished in the fine art of cuddling,” Gabriel mused on, curling into Sam’s side. “Helps take the edge off all the rest.”

            “You’re not getting away with just anything by buttering me up all the time,” Sam chided, shoving him.

            A moment later Sam choked back horrified laughter as a great splash leapt up into his lap. He’d pushed Gabriel right off the dock.

            “Shit, my bad, I really didn’t—gah!”

            A hand had darted up, snagged his ankle, and swept Sam over the edge with one harsh tug. The lake rushed over his head, his whole world suddenly warped, wild, and green.

            Sam burst back to the surface, gasping. His hair streamed into his eyes and he whipped it back with a jerk of his head. Similarly soaked but still fully clothed, Gabriel grinned at him across a short span of lapping water.

            “Fair enough,” Sam conceded, closing the gap with a couple of kicks. He kissed Gabe, water dripping down their noses and flicking off their eyelashes, goosebumps raising all over Sam’s chilled flesh. But it was the bubble of delight in his stomach that drew Sam’s attention. It felt like too much. It felt out of control. Contrary to all his attempts to mitigate and reason his way through his attraction to Gabriel, it felt like everything.

            Sam Winchester was in trouble.

 

            It rained that night for the first time since they’d occupied the lakehouse. Lurid purple thunderheads raised their hackles over the horizon shortly after dinner, an electric stillness rolling out before them to silence birds and leave the lake millpond smooth. A few minutes later, a few fat drops pelted down and a gust of wind practically flattened the smaller pine saplings out front. Thunder rumbled back and forth overhead.

            “Nobody told me it was bowling night,” Gabriel had quipped, making everyone but Cas groan.

            Dean had held his tongue on the subject of the archangel’s reappearance. Sam was behaving like a friggin’ bashful bridegroom and had obviously risen far above whatever objections Dean had to offer. In any event, Dean had better ways to spend the last night of his vacation than arguing over Sammy’s sex life. Namely: attending to his own sex life.

            Upstairs, with the door locked and the storm rattling the old windows in their frames, Dean stripped in the space of a moment, throwing jeans and Henley to the floor in a playful fury. This earned him a lopsided grin from Cas, who stepped straight into his arms without an ounce of apprehension. It felt exhilarating and dirty to brush up against a fully clothed Castiel with nothing but his own bare skin. Vulnerable and good at the same time—and Dean Winchester was not at all accustomed to accepting vulnerability as a good thing.

            But soon enough Cas was pulling off each of his own starched layers, locked onto Dean’s gaze the whole time. Dean didn’t watch, studying instead the strange mix of adoration and determination that flitted across Cas’ face as he undressed. Every instinct spurred him to look askance when Castiel regarded him like this, but Dean couldn’t do it. He felt compelled to take it like the gift it was.

            Besides, naked, Castiel’s whole bearing seemed to change. He radiated quiet confidence, unstudied poise. Dean even tended to catch himself thinking of Cas as taller. Angels simply weren’t meant to wear clothes, Dean had decided.

            Without a word, Cas unfurled his wings and bowed them around Dean, letting long, cool quills skate along his sides, his back, his ass. It felt like a hundred ghostly kisses at once, ten times as thrilling as the worldly touch of cotton and polyester less than a minute before. Cas nudged him toward the bed, and Dean willingly sprawled across it, pulling Cas down by a hand. Cocooned under the seraph’s dark, faintly musky feathers, they kissed and pawed at one another, the thunder and lash of rain muted and unimportant by comparison.            

            “Hey,” Dean interrupted with a hard swallow, gathering his nerve to say what he’d been considering all day. Something about their impending departure hardened his resolve. “Uh, what would you say to, y’know, actual sex?”

            Castiel tilted his head in that familiar, cat-like way and asked, with complete equanimity, “What is it that we’ve been doing?”

            “Well, sex,” Dean chuckled, laying the charm on thick to cover his discomfort. Cas’ apparent inability to follow Dean’s drift suddenly made him feel as if he were suggesting something crazy. “But, um, I’m talking about like… full-fledged fucking.”

            The angel’s eyes widened. “You want me to do that to you, Dean?” Hushed disbelief filled Cas’ voice even as his wings jerked and tightened around Dean’s body. Tense. Possessive.

            “Oh,” Dean cried a little too loudly. “I mean, I was actually kinda thinking—I don’t know what I was thinking,” he finished lamely, knowing full well what he’d been thinking. That he would take point on that fucking, thank-you-very-much, not Cas.

            The thought of letting Castiel… of letting anyone… Dean’s brain locked up. Throbbing doubt unfolded in his chest. Along with some very choice throbbing elsewhere. Oh, God. He needed to ignore that. He need to reframe the question to Cas. Cas, who surely suffered from no preconceived value judgments on the subject of bottoming versus topping, would probably be perfectly obliging once Dean explained. And yet….

            “I’ve done something wrong,” Cas was saying very slowly, as if spelling it out for himself. He pulled back, extracting himself from Dean’s tangled limbs and tucking his wings into businesslike peaks. “You seem distressed. I apologize.”

            “No, no, it’s fine,” Dean insisted, coming up off the mattress to pull Cas back into place. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” And then his tongue sort of seized up. How the hell was he supposed to say It’s cool, man, I figured I’d be pitching but, now that you mention it, the thought of your dick in me is kinda making me go all hard and soft at the same time? He wanted to crawl into a ditch and never be seen again.

            “Dean, I’m having a difficult time discerning what you want—”

            Dean narrowly avoided blurting out “Yeah? Join the club.”

            “—perhaps we should proceed as usual and you can direct me as we go.”

            Well, that sounded reasonable. No commitment there. “Uh, yeah, okay,” he managed.

            “Good.” Cas gave him a shy smile and pressed his broad lips to Dean’s, dispelling the obligation for Dean to say anything further in that moment. He drove their tongues together, rekindling the arousal that had threatened to leave Dean high and dry as he shuffled through his mixed emotions. Dean stiffened in the warm hollow of Cas’ hip. A coiling thread of want lit up his insides, traveling low between his legs, twitching in the muscles of his thighs, fluttering deep in—

            He stopped himself, alarmed by the direction of his thoughts.

            “You have no idea how much I want to make you feel good,” Cas was saying, skimming his mouth along Dean’s jaw. “How much I want to make you feel better.”

            “You do, Cas.” Dean found the big, swooping curve of Cas’ wing and stroked it.

            “Not good enough,” Cas growled gently into Dean’s throat.

            Dean tried to laugh. “Of course it’s good enough. Best time I’ve had in years. What are you aiming for, some kind of out-of-body experience?”

            “Perhaps,” Cas confessed, sliding down Dean’s torso. When he reached the soft breadth of Dean’s stomach, he mouthed past his navel, around each hipbone—over his very interested cock.

            “You should release your wings as well.”

            “Huh?” Dean gulped, too distracted by the hot, damp huff of breath on his dick to notice the words associated with it.

            “Your wings. So our feathers can touch if you need reassurance at any point.”

            Dean wanted to protest, to play dumb. Reassurance? What for? He was fine.

            Instead he sat up, silent, and threw his wings out to either side, savoring the stretch. He settled cautiously against the haphazard mound of pillows strewn across the headboard, wiggling around to find the least offensive position. It felt strange resting any weight on the strong, plush coverts closest to his back.

            But then Cas was there, kissing the flushed skin of Dean’s inner thighs, touching him wingtip to wingtip. He hummed happily into Dean’s flesh, making Dean’s breath catch and his dick jump. But Cas wouldn’t touch it. Not with his hands at least.

            Looking down at the angel bowed between his legs, Dean ran straight into Castiel’s uncanny blue stare. Cas held the eye contact as he laid a hot, open-mouthed kiss to the base of Dean’s shaft. As he closed his lips around the head.

            “Ngh,” Dean groaned, resisting the urge to thrust further into Cas’ mouth. He needed to let Cas figure this out at his own pace. But, God, what a tease.

            Cas lapped up the vein that ran along the underside of Dean’s cock, contracting and releasing the sinfully sweet draw of his mouth. And then one of his roaming palms pressed warm and intimate below Dean’s balls, cupping at the cleft in his asscheeks. Dean squirmed.

            “I think it would be enjoyable to stimulate you here as well,” Cas ventured, withdrawing briefly from Dean’s erection to speak. The pad of one finger rubbed suggestively.

            Dean froze, torn. But the idea of Cas massaging him from the inside, meeting every pull of the blowjob with a push of his long fingers sounded… sounded fantastic. Nevermind what it implied.

            “Well,” he stalled, feeling his ears grow hot. “We could probably use a little, uh, liquid help with that—”

            “You mean lubrication,” Cas interjected. “Of course. I know how human anatomy works and doesn’t work, Dean.”

            “Right,” Dean gasped back, following Cas with his eyes as the angel leaned off the side of the bed to root around in his discarded trenchcoat, producing a couple of thin foil pouches. They looked like medical samples. “Cas, do I want to how long you’ve been carrying around travel size packs of lube in your pocket?”

            “Only since it seemed they might become relevant,” Cas assured him nonchalantly, tearing one open.

            “Wow, dude, I—oh.”

            Cas had slipped a well-glossed finger between Dean’s angled legs, bearing down on his entrance. It felt weird—like something he should resist—but his muscles gave way and then Cas was stroking against a slick inner wall as he returned the rest of his attention to Dean’s erection.

            So that was why guys liked this. The slow slide of movement, the pressure on his… was that his prostate? Dean didn’t care, it made him want to throw his arms back and grip the headboard for dear life. It made him want to tremble and grind down on Cas’ hand.

            As always, Cas took his time. He wetted Dean’s cock with his mouth, hollowing his cheeks around it here and there but never giving him enough to tip him over the edge. He caressed insistently with what soon enough turned into two fingers until Dean had his hands balled up in the sheets and his knees in the air, framing the angel’s shoulders. Dean didn’t know how well he liked the sensation of openness, of being on display, but he couldn’t seem to help his descent into mindless writhing. Intermittent wing touches punctuated the shallow pumping of Cas’ hand, and Dean wanted it all like he couldn’t believe.

            “Relax, Dean,” Cas whispered against his abdomen, making all the fine, fair hairs across Dean’s arms and stomach stand on end. “And tell me if you’re all right.”

            “Shit, Cas, you’re making me feel like a freakin’ virgin on prom night,” Dean objected breathlessly. “Will you quit with the touchy-feely crap?”

            “If by that you mean checking on your wellbeing: no, I will not quit,” Castiel replied, still working his fingers—which had, at some point that Dean didn’t even remember, become three—in and out. In and out.

            “Yes, I’m all right!”

            “And what do you want? Do you want me to bring you to climax like this?”

            Dean thumped his head back into the pillows, a thin whine building in the back of his throat. His whole being sang with impatience like an over-taut violin string. And Cas was going to make him say it, goddammit.

            “No, not yet, I—” He swallowed, trying to loosen his parched tongue. “—I want you to fuck me.”

            Cas’ forehead dropped to Dean’s hip at that. He looked as if he needed a moment to compose himself. “Really? And you’re ready?”

            “Yeah, Cas.”

            Withdrawing his hand and reaching for the second packet of lube amid the rumpled blankets, Cas moved up and forward to kneel between Dean’s legs. He rocked back on his haunches, fumbling with the foil.

            “Let me do it?” Dean suggested, taking it from him and slicking up his own hand. He smoothed it over Cas’ hard length, provoking a small moan from the angel. Now that he'd finally made up his mind, Dean felt momentarily suspended in a dreamlike limbo, the room slashed by lightning, the shape of Cas’ wings towering over him. Gripping Cas in his palm, he registered the girth of him, the heat of him, but it didn’t seem real. None of it seemed real.

            Cas took over, lining himself up at Dean’s faintly sore rim. And, in a stoke of something like genius, he pitched his wings forward to meet Dean’s, combing and rucking their feathers together in the most needful, breathtaking way imaginable. Dean tumbled into the experience body and soul, totally unaware of what words may have escaped his mouth—and then Cas was in. Just in him, easier than Dean would have thought possible.

            “Oh fuck,” Dean hissed, a flood of endorphins rushing in to replace the wing sensations as Castiel reeled his wings back. Dean arched into Cas even as he began to shake. Holy hell, this was actually happening. This blunt, comforting fullness that completely made up for any anxiety left over from his earlier exposure.

            Gasping and rolling hesitantly against Dean, Cas planted his hands on the headboard and touched their foreheads together. Dean gave him a whimpery snarl and locked his legs around the angel.

            “Do you like it, Dean? Tell me you like it,” Cas practically begged.

            “Ah—I do. God, I like it, Cas.”

            So Cas picked up an unhurried rhythm. It felt like something inexorable and true—like the tide or the spinning of the earth. He kissed every inch of Dean’s face. His brow, his cheeks, even his fluttering eyelids. Cas crushed their bodies together over and over until Dean completely forgot the distant burn in his ass and felt only that thick, molten drip of pleasure in his veins. Tears streaked Dean's face and he didn’t know where they’d come from, but Cas was kissing them as they fell, and Dean understood deep in his gut that they weren’t bad. They were nothing to worry about. Cas could take them.

            Castiel spoke to Dean in a low voice, slow-fucking him as though this were some kind of ritual, some kind of secret heaven only he had found. And somehow Dean was coming, coming from nothing but the friction of his cock against Cas’ skin and the strangely similar friction of the angel’s voice. He pulsed and sputtered, drunk on undiluted relief.

            “You feel so good,” Cas moaned into Dean’s shoulder, pounding into him now with a loose abandon that Dean’s body seemed perfectly able to take.

            Mind clearing as the punch of his orgasm melted into a steamy afterglow, Dean realized how different it was for the sex to go on after he’d come. Content and indulgent from his release, it felt nice for Cas to thrust on anyway. It felt unexpectedly powerful. He could look at Cas with an affection detached from his own pressing desire to come. Cas needed him now and Dean could just watch him fall apart.

            He slung his arms around Cas’ neck, pulling him in and raking fingers over the scapulars of his coal black wings. “You gonna lose it, Cas? Huh? Tell me again how good it feels.”

            “Ah, Dean, I—” He broke off as Dean tipped the ends of his wings forward and grazed them down the edges of Cas’. A clap of thunder drowned out Cas’ strangled shout. Almost.

            He bit into the meat of Dean’s shoulder—not hard enough to hurt—and his hips skipped to a heavy standstill. Wings and chests rose and fell as they both breathed hoarsely into the charged air.

            “Cas, I gotta tell you, that was not what I thought I wanted, but it sure as hell is now.” Not unlike falling for his rather male best friend in the first place.

            “I would be amenable to trying it again any time,” Cas sighed eagerly, sitting back and slipping out of Dean. He began passing his hands over the both of them, taking away the clinging wetness just as Dean’s head cleared enough to realize it was there. Dean shifted curiously, taking full stock of the empty ache in his ass and thighs. No doubt he’d be walking into Wrigley Field with a little hitch in his gait tomorrow afternoon.

            Cas put away his wings and Dean sat up properly to do the same. They both floated there for a moment, rain washing over the windowpanes and sleepiness washing over Dean. Without preamble, Cas lurched forward on his knees to deliver a kiss to Dean’s forehead.

            Dean registered Castiel’s lips forming a burst of unspoken words against his slack brow. They felt a lot like I love you, too.

Chapter Text

           “When will you humans quit using all the facilities?” Gabriel griped, making a sweeping entrance to the kitchen and glaring daggers at Dean’s spattering skillet of sausage and eggs. “I just cleaned in here.”

            “I’m not driving to Chicago on an empty stomach,” Dean declared very decisively, checking his watch.

            “And excuse me for needing to pee,” Sam added in an undertone.

            “You knuckleheads told me to erase all evidence of occupancy, and now here you are flinging your grease and bodily fluids all over the place again,” the archangel lamented. He took a seat and thunked his feet up on the table with exaggerated sloppiness. “Might as well just debase every surface with our sexual misadventures while we’re at it! What are the chances the Abernathy-Williamses are going to take a blacklight to the counters anyway?”

            “Dude, keep those thoughts to yourself,” Dean objected with a grimace, rolling the sausage links onto a paper towel. “And, besides, it’s not like it’ll take you more than a second to blink this away.”

            “It’s the principle of the thing,” Gabe went on, finagling Sam’s coffee away from him only to pull a face at its plainness and hand it back. “By the way, what’s this about a baseball game? What kind of use of our time is that? The Cubs suck.”

            “It’s an American pastime,” Dean drawled around a mouthful of food.

            “Oh, my sweet summer child, you think anything’s a pastime if you do it for a hundred piddly years or so. If you’d let me zap us all right to the bunker like I offered—”

            “I like to drive,” Dean interrupted.

            “What are we going to do at the bunker now that we can’t do later?” Sam asked with a frown, giving Gabriel a suspicious once-over. “And since when are you so against having fun?”

            Gabriel opened his mouth to protest, but Cas chose that moment to shuffle into the kitchen, his hands brimming with looseleaf.

            “I may have found something,” he announced to no one in particular, eyes fixed upon the paper.

            “Oh yeah?” Dean encouraged.

            “Yes, it’s just a few fragments. Amid a very colorful tirade on Enochian phonetics. But here Kevin wrote: ‘Beware favors in Heaven. Angels who owe big pay big.’ Pay is underlined three times. And then a few lines later, he says: ‘One angel can take another into servitude if the debt is large enough. A life for a life.’ I’ve never heard of such a thing. It must be a very old and barbaric tradition, like the glyph. Gabriel, do you know what this means?”

            Gabriel adopted an affronted air, fingers splayed just below his throat like a haughty actress. “Are you calling me old and barbaric?”

            “… yes?”

            “Well, I have no idea what your pet prophet meant,” Gabe admitted with a sniff. “Plus, y’know, I goofed off a lot in angel school. Reciting all those lame-ass rules, to say nothing of the choir practice—”

            “There was no choir pr—” Cas began with a quizzical squint. He paused. “Oh. You’re being facetious. Of course. Dean, what if this is real and Metatron has taken out a claim on the lives of angels who owe him? It’s like what I’ve proposed all along. If we can look into Temeluchus and Ambriel’s personal histories and see if anything has ever gone strangely right for them, maybe we’re looking at some kind of bond created from their indebtedness.”

            “Seems like a bit of a stretch, but it’s something.” Dean glanced up abruptly, eyes shrewd. “Wait, you’re not bailing on the game, are you?”

            “No, I would very much like to see it.” Cas smiled softly. “But I will go to speak with Hannah about this during your drive.”

            “Sounds like a plan,” Dean grinned.

 

            Ten minutes later, Sam tossed his bags in the trunk and took a moment to lean against the Impala, yawning expansively. He and Gabriel had finished making up in rather spectacular fashion the night before—with a few delicious bruises to show for it. Thoroughly recovered from any fears that their bedroom chemistry had fizzled out, Sam recalled Gabriel’s wild, heedless desperation with a certain level of awe. It had been something to behold, that was for sure.

            But Sam had taken more than an hour to fall asleep in the aftermath, gnawing on his lip and debating whether he ought to say something. Something about that terribly big feeling that had sidled right up and stabbed him in the heart earlier. As infatuated as he’d always been, Sam had still never quite expected to get so wrapped up in all the trickster’s perfect imperfections. Despite himself, Sam loved Gabe’s stupid puns and occasional lisp. Loved his strange sense of timing nearly as much as the blue knotwork tattoos on the soles of his feet (which, Gabe explained, had belonged to his vessel in 9th century Northumbria). Yet Sam hadn’t voiced any of it. He’d mulled over these things so long that when he’d finally turned to see if the angel seemed in a receptive mood, Sam had found Gabriel already sleeping in his customary fetal position.

            Probably for the best, considering Gabriel had yet to prove himself capable of sticking around for even two consecutive days. Heartfelt confessions most definitely did not belong on the table. Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, laughing darkly to himself. He felt ridiculous. Nothing like this would ever happen to Dean.

            Speaking of which, Dean had just stepped out of the house, bags in hand and Castiel in tow. Sam hurriedly tucked the golden feather he only now realized he’d been fondling back into his pocket.

            “Ah ha, so you did keep it,” Gabriel murmured, the car sinking incrementally under a new weight. Sam turned to find the archangel sitting cross-legged on the hood and winking pointedly.

            “Get your ass off that car!” Dean barked from across the yard. But he’d halted in place, evidently distracted by a situation with Cas. The seraph was uncharacteristically glued to his cell phone, a scowl on his face.

            “Sure I kept it. Angel feathers are valuable spell ingredients,” Sam quipped, smiling.

            “Except you’ve conveniently forgotten to lock it in the trunk with the other valuable spell ingredients,” Gabriel smirked back.

            “Shut up,” Sam laughed, levering Gabriel into a fireman’s lift and depositing him safely away from the Impala’s paint job before Dean had an aneurism. “Are you coming to Chicago with us or do you have something better to do?”

            Gabriel insinuated both hands into Sam’s back pockets, looking up at him with guileless warmth. “No worries, Sam. Hanging out with you is my top priority today.”

 

            Dean kissed Cas in the shadow of the doorway before bounding down the porch steps of the lakehouse for the last time. He’d formed a bit of an attachment to the place considering everything that had passed there, but getting Cas into his own bed back at the bunker would, he was sure, make up for it entirely. The storm had given way to a clear sky and wet grass. Everything smelled clean and earthy at the same time, and it looked like one hell of a good day.

            … with the exception of one Gabriel-shaped buttprint currently defiling his Baby. “Get your ass off that car!” Dean yelled.

            But the trilling notes of Castiel’s cell phone rang out from his trenchcoat pocket before Dean could go back up his words with fists. Fishing it out, Cas stopped in his tracks and cocked his head at the number displayed on the screen.

            “I don’t recognize this caller.”

            “Probably a wrong number. Dare you to answer it with ‘Winchester’s Pleasure Palace, how may we be of service?’” Dean challenged with a crooked grin.

            But Castiel was picking up with a gravely, expectant “Hello?” that was actually much hotter.

            He listened for a few seconds and then burst out with a baffled “Hannah? Wait one moment, I’m putting you on speakerphone.”

            Cas gingerly tapped the button and held the phone away from his ear. “All right, go on.”

            “I’ve taken a new vessel,” a sonorous male voice said. “I had no desire to, of course, but this man had already given himself to another angel and I needed some point of contact with Earth, however briefly. Castiel, I don’t know how, but Temeluchus and Ambriel have escaped.”

            “Aw, what the fuck?” Dean groaned.

            “And Metatron?” Cas urged, ignoring Dean.

            “Still in his cell, looking… gleeful. I’m at Heaven’s portal now with a large company of others. It’s the only way for the wingless angels to return to this plane of existence, and we will intercept them.”

            “Thank you for telling me,” Cas sighed. “Do you need any assistance? I can join your watch. I think I may have information to share.”

            “It’s in hand. And I would prefer you be nowhere nearby during their few seconds of freedom. You were their original target, after all.”

            “I understand. Call me when you’ve recovered them and I’ll meet you.” The call disconnected and Cas returned the phone to his pocket, striding off toward the car and shaking his head. “Dean, I would prefer you let Gabriel take you and Sam directly to the bunker rather than remaining open to attack on the road. Hannah may believe she will head them off, but if she cannot—”

            “Don’t get overprotective on me now,” Dean replied with a kind of pleasant disdain. “It’s not like anything’s changed. I’ve dealt with a lot worse and I’m not going to go hide under a safety blanket every time—shit.”

            Two figures stood several yards off from the car. A lantern-jawed man and a dark-haired woman. Whose angelic stiffness looked all too familiar.

 

            Cas’ blade dropped from his sleeve just as Sam dove for the car and their own cache of salvaged angel blades.

           Dean took in Sam’s mad dash, the light glinting off Cas’ sword as he flipped it up into his palm, Gabriel standing as if transfixed… but none of it mattered. Because, Dean realized with a chill, this was never meant to be that kind of fight.

           Grinning like a fiend, the female angel rolled up the sleeve of her blouse. An effortless gesture. Horrifyingly innocent. Dean sprinted forward, heart hammering, hoping only to—only to what? Interrupt her with the task of killing him? Too late, it was happening. She was painting out the marks on her vessel’s wrist. Already sealing the deal when Dean barreled into her, falling—

            The noise that echoed off the mirrored surface of the lake hit Dean much harder than the soaked ground that rushed up to meet his knees and elbows. The wind-torn howl at his back sounded more bereft than a whole river of Hell-bound souls. He rolled over Ambriel, kicking and snarling at her, scrabbling frantically at her arm. She laughed as one might at an attacking puppy—but then Sam was shouting to him, pressing an angel blade into Dean’s open hand. Dean stabbed Ambriel in the throat without another thought, her blue-white death nearly blinding him as grace fled her eyes and gushed from her almost comically surprised mouth….

            Dean scrambled to his feet, spinning. Cas lay in a heap behind him, his tan coat scorched black. He grimaced into the trampled turf, back twisting in serpentine spasms of agony. A thin hiss escaped his mouth, remnant of the scream that had already told Dean everything he needed to know.

            Stumbling toward Cas, vision blurring, Dean hardly registered that the male angel was speaking to him.

            “Your effort is admirable, Winchester, but Ambriel’s death was assured the moment she cast the spell,” he intoned. “Neither of our damaged forms could take the stress of absorbing the unworthy seraph’s wings now. But she was glad to do it. To undo Castiel the way you have undone us. Enjoy watching him rot away in the short time you have before the One True God Metatron makes his final move.”

           All too ready to put an end to this speech, Dean looked over his shoulder with measured, nightmarish deliberation and saw, to his grim satisfaction, that Gabriel had materialized a mere arm’s length from Temeluchus, blade drawn.

           “And you, dear brother, have played your part so well,” Temeluchus went on, directing his words to Gabriel with a chilling lack of fear. “Metatron appreciates the added effort to spin a juicy story. He said you should—what was it?—‘look into a career in soap operas.’ But it’s time to go now. You’ve served your purpose here.”

           Gabriel’s features contorted in some flitting burst of hatred. When he spoke, it was with such dark, dangerous anticipation that Dean hardly recognized his voice. “So have you, brother,” he said—and plunged his sword straight into the unwitting angel’s back.

           Blood and light poured off Temeluchus’ tongue. Curls of grace burst over the ground in all directions as he slid off Gabriel’s blade, falling forward in a boneless sprawl.

           When the smoke of burning grass cleared, drifting over the lake in a sickly blue haze, Gabriel was gone.

Chapter Text

           Sam drove with deathly, single-minded fervor, eating up miles of freeway and roaring past every vehicle daring to travel the speed limit. On the two-lane straightaways of western Michigan he could get away with doing 90, though construction south of Chicago slowed them around midday. A couple hours after that they sped over the broad, brown Mississippi into a dusty Iowa heatwave.

            No one spoke. Unless you counted the hushed nothings Dean muttered to Castiel as he stroked the delirious seraph’s hair and sluiced ice water over his burnt and blistered shoulder blades.

            Dean had cut Cas’ coat and shirt down the centerline, flaying the material open to leave his injured back exposed. The cold water helped exactly nothing, he knew, but it was something to do for the next thirteen hours. He pillowed Cas’ head on his lap in the backseat, quietly apologizing and reassuring him for mile after glaring summer mile. The nauseating scent of vaporized flesh and feathers filled his nose and every corner of his mind.

            Somewhere outside Omaha, Dean became aware of Sam’s eyes on him in the rear view mirror. They skated back to the road the moment Dean glanced up, but it made Dean realize he’d been giving himself away with something like ten straight hours of lovesick murmuring. He also realized that he didn’t care. Let Sam infer whatever he wanted. The kid had far worse things to think about.

            Dean had wanted to take out his frustration on Sam for all of two minutes, biting back a dozen damning reproaches. Sam had trusted Gabriel. Sam had given that two-faced son of a bitch the best cover imaginable for sniffing around all week when it otherwise would’ve started to look a lot more suspicious. How could he have fallen for Gabriel’s scumbag charm and never seen an ulterior motive? But… Dean hadn’t exactly thrown Gabe out either. Or paid very much attention to his mysterious sojourns. Even Cas had seemed to take his intentions at face value. Besides, discovering that his spankin’ new boyfriend had been in Metatron’s inner circle the whole time was surely more than enough punishment for Sam. The fact that Gabe had offed Temeluchus counted for pretty much zilch. Even that had probably been one of Metatron's orders. Just tying up loose ends....

            Before they’d ever left the driveway, Dean had hit redial on Cas’ cell phone, trying to get a hold of Hannah. No one had picked up. Dean had left a vaguely hysterical voicemail for “Jon Massad” warning Hannah that their jailbirds were old news and what they needed to look out for now was a friggin’ archangel attempting to spring Metatron himself. Gabriel had probably freed the first two and could do it again.

            “Come on, let’s carry him in,” Sam’s voice urged from the open rear passenger door, startling Dean out of his dark reverie. It took him a moment to realize the car sat on the unkempt pavement outside the bunker rather than beneath the florescent lights of yet another gas station. He slid out of his seat and helped Sam ease Castiel out of the car and into the shadow of the defunct power plant. Cas made weak noises of distress as they maneuvered him down the stairs, but when Dean finally had him spread out on his own memory foam mattress, a pillow under his pallid cheek, Cas relaxed incrementally, his eyes opening just long enough to take in his surroundings before closing once again.

            Sam went to retrieve the rest of their things from the Impala while Dean removed the remains of Cas’ clothing above the waist and poured himself a stiff drink. Settling in beside the bed, Dean quickly realized he had nothing left to do but wait, the same as in the car. They’d gained safety here but no more knowledge. Dean had no clue how long it might take Cas to revive.

            “So you and Cas,” Sam said from the open door, dragging a hand through his limp, sweaty hair. “You’re… in love with him?”

            Dean considered deflecting. That was, after all, a pretty big statement. But what the hell. Something in him had begun to fray last night during that thunderstorm and had snapped without further ado when he’d seen Cas lying there so mangled and in need of help. Of course he loved Cas. “Yeah,” he muttered, taking a sharp sip of bourbon.

            “Does he know?”

            Dean cracked a wry, sad smile into his half-empty glass. “He started it.”

            “Wow. I never figured you’d…” Sam exhaled. Began again. “Well, it doesn’t matter. Is there anything I can do?”

            “No.”

            “Dean, I’m sorry, okay? I’m so sorry.” He sounded awful. Right on the edge of shattering.

            “It’s not your fault, Sammy,” Dean replied gruffly.

            “It is though. If you’ve forgiven me, that’s great, but don’t tell me it’s not my fault.” Sam was spoiling for a fight. Dean understood. Sam thought he wanted a distraction in the form of a shouting match, only Dean was in no mood to give it to him. A terrible calm had descended on him. It felt like he was speaking to Sam across a long, foggy distance.

            “If you need it to be your fault, fine: it’s your fault. But I’m not gonna yell at you, Sam. Go to bed. Maybe Cas’ll come around tomorrow.”

 

            Sam lost it in the shower.

            He really didn’t mean to. Wearing a stoic face all day had helped keep a good deal of his horror at bay and having a job to do—no matter how mindless—had helped more. He’d had every intention of maintaining a stiff upper lip indefinitely. A brief, clinical shower followed by a thoroughly exhausting night spent with his computer and a pile of books. The illusion of productivity… yes, that would do just fine.

            But the first warm spray on his cheeks seemed to jerk a pure physical reaction out of Sam. He sobbed once into his fist and squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden, stuffed-up sting of tears. He shouldn’t have talked to Dean. The deadpan disinterest in his brother’s voice had hurt worse than a punch to the face. Sam finally knew what had been making Dean so happy—and his own blind grasping for happiness had ruined it.

            Maybe not directly. But Gabriel. Gabriel had orchestrated it. All those times he’d left without a word and changed the subject when Sam asked why. All the lies. He’d ferreted out Sam’s crush and used it to the hilt, probably secretly shocked at how well it worked, at how pathetic Sam Winchester turned out to be. Every fake kiss, every fake moan countered by a real kiss and a real moan from Sam… he choked on the lump in his throat, disgusted. It felt more personal than Ruby’s betrayal ever had. At least Ruby’s endgame had been apocalyptically huge, far outweighing whatever time she’d spent with Sam on the side. And at least Sam had always known he couldn’t really love her. He’d knifed her himself and felt only the barest regret. But the thought of killing Gabriel—

            Oh, God. If they got the chance, they needed to kill Gabriel. Sam tried to picture it, to focus all his queasy rage into a need for revenge… but it wouldn’t come together.

            He wouldn’t be able to do it.

 

            Some time later, Sam collapsed into a chair in the darkened war room, fantasizing not about stabbing Gabriel but about spilling out all his troubles to him. Which was absurd. He wanted to tell the Gabriel he’d almost loved about the Gabriel who’d done this to him, as if they were two separate people. His brain hadn’t caught up to the fact that there had never been a Gabriel worth loving, and Sam couldn’t help but mourn the loss. He felt as if the Gabriel he knew had died. He felt as if he should be building a funeral pyre.

            The feather.

           With a jolt, Sam remembered the feather. He stormed up to the shower room and tugged his discarded shirt from the hamper. The little gold tuft fell from the pocket into his palm, mocking him.

           Sam retrieved a lighter and a clay carafe of holy oil on his way back. Spreading these materials out on the illuminated map table, he dipped the feather in the viscous, myrrh-scented oil, set it in an ash tray, and flicked the lighter to life. Sam stared at the wavering flame for a good five seconds. Five turned into ten. He let the flame die and tried again.

           This time. This time he was definitely going to do it.

 

            In the small hours of the morning, Sam woke with his cheek plastered to the outline of Southeast Asia, the foreign smell of holy oil thick in his nostrils. The feather drooped, untouched, in its brown glass ashtray.

            The faint sound that had likely roused him echoed again through the tiled halls of the bunker. A cough. A shuffle.

            “Dean?” Sam called softly, making his way up the short flight of stairs to the library and from there to the dormitory corridor. He found Dean’s door ajar, dim amber light peeking through the crack.

            “Dean? Are you awake?” Sam asked.

            “Come in, Sam,” Castiel’s ragged voice returned, punctuated by an awkward hacking.

            Sam found the angel sitting mostly upright on the edge of the bed, hands gripping his knees for support. The skin of his back still shone black and red with raw, scaly patches like crusted lava. Dean had evidently stepped out.

            “He’s just gone to the bathroom,” Cas offered without prompting. “I’ve been awake for a minute or two.”

            “And you’re healing?” Sam ventured.

            “Yes,” Cas grimaced. “But it will take days. And far longer for me to grow accustomed to the… disconnect… I feel when I call on my wings and they aren’t… they aren’t there. Another angel could help soothe the external damage though.” Cas peered around Sam into the hallway, as if waiting for his other half to appear. “Sam, where’s Gabriel?”

Chapter Text

            “It was all real then,” Castiel muttered to himself, hunched next to Dean at the kitchen table. He’d requested a short break from his sickbed despite unmitigated misery and shaky legs.

            Dean swallowed a dry mouthful of toast he didn’t really want in the first place and looked questioningly at Cas. “What was real?”

            “Gabriel, last year,” Cas clarified. “He visited me in what turned out to be a... constructed reality… designed to convert me back to Metatron’s cause. After it fell apart, I assumed Gabriel was only part of the illusion, not the creator of it. When he showed up in Michigan I asked him about it one night—asked if he’d really been there—and he had no idea what I was talking about. Said he hadn’t spoken to Metatron in millennia. Of course, that’s exactly what he would say…”

            It was the longest continuous string of words he’d put together since coming around. Dean gave him a little squeeze on the shoulder.

            “He’s always been a liar, Cas. Don’t know how we forgot that.” Dean took another bite of toast, chewing unenthusiastically. He had a headache and a parched throat, and he couldn’t quite find the energy to address either.

            “Wishful thinking. We all wanted him to be good.”

            They both fell silent as Sam entered the kitchen and went poking around in the refrigerator. He came in shirtless, which made Dean suspect he’d just barely remembered to stow his wings before entering the room. Both Sam and Dean had kept their stolen wings under wraps in Cas’ presence in unspoken agreement that flaunting them might be in poor taste. Dean hadn’t loosed his since leaving Elk Lake. It had started to wear on him, but what was a bit of niggling pressure between his shoulder blades compared to Cas’ pain?

            Sam had settled down with a bowl of cereal and Dean had just offered Cas an arm to lean on so they could make their slow way back to the bedroom when Castiel stiffened and tilted his head, listening. “Dean, I hear my cell phone ringing in your room. Please get it.”

            Dean sprinted off, sliding over the library floor in his socks, and managed to snatch the phone from Cas’ discarded coat just before it went to voicemail. “Hello?”

            “Dean, I presume?” Hannah’s voice asked.

            “About time,” Dean spat, making his way back across the bunker. “I leave you a message telling you Cas is half-dead and it only takes you 24 hours to call back?”

            “I’m sorry, I wanted nothing more than to help, but your warning about Gabriel has set Heaven on fire with rumors. We thought the time of the archangels was over. The news that Gabriel’s alive and striking up political alliances is destabilizing everything I’ve built here. I cannot let him get to Metatron, Dean. You must understand that has to be my first priority.”

            “Here’s an idea,” Dean growled, reentering the kitchen. “Kill Metatron like you should have months ago. Gabriel can’t do much with a dead Scribe of God.”

            “Dean, give me the phone,” Cas instructed, holding out his hand wearily.

            “Besides, I called to offer my assistance now. While I still can. I’m willing to come to your location and see if there’s anything I can do for Castiel,” Hannah went on without a break before Dean could pass off the conversation to Cas.

            “That would be just peachy,” he admitted, unwilling to pass up any chance to give Cas a little relief. “Do you know where we are?”

            “I know that you’re nowhere within anyone’s perception. Which means you must be in your Men of Letters retreat. I can’t fly in. You will have to come to the door.

            “Sure. When do you think—”

            “Now, Dean. I’m at your door now.”

            “Oh. Right. Just a sec. She’s here to see you,” he elaborated to Cas upon hanging up.

            “Hey, that’s great,” Sam chimed in, looking between them hopefully. “Isn’t it?”

            “We’ll see.” Dean hurried off to the spellbound steel of the front door, opening it to find a wall of gray rain and a slender, dark-eyed man. Reverently, Hannah stepped over the threshold, peering about at the bunker’s construction.

            “This place is… masterful. I can see the magic running through every inch of its walls. I never imagined humans could build like this.”

            “Home sweet home. You could say we inherited it,” Dean grunted, showing her the way to the kitchen. They found Cas with his head on the scuffed oak table, face hidden in the crook of his arm. Sam spoke to him in a low, concerned voice, but Cas seemed to be conserving his strength in every spare moment away from Dean. The thought made Dean’s heart swell painfully.

            Evidently sharing Dean’s dismay, Hannah inhaled sharply and rushed to Cas’ side. “Oh, Castiel,” she nearly groaned, eyes welling with sympathy. “I am so sorry this happened.” She closed a hand around Cas’ wrist, continuing to regard him much more intently than Dean would expect.

            “Thank you for coming,” Cas greeted her, sitting up with white-knuckled effort. “You didn’t have to. Metatron and Gabriel are more important right now.”

            “If I had done a better job of managing Heaven, you wouldn’t be in this position,” she replied firmly. “Now let me see what I can do for that damage.”

            Laying a tan and angular hand over Castiel’s spine, she let a soft whorl of healing power flow from her palm. Cas winced and squeezed his eyes shut as the scarred flesh knitted and paled. When Hannah withdrew her touch, Dean could only make out two pink, indented furrows in Cas’ back.

            “This is stubborn, ugly spellwork,” Hannah gasped, reeling away and holding a hand to her forehead. “I don’t think it will let me go any further. I’m not sure why.”

            “You’re right,” Cas agreed, a shadow of bewilderment passing over his face. “I feel much better, but the wounds will not close entirely. I can feel something—like a tiny splinter—preventing it.”

            “Hannah, you had Temeluchus and Ambriel in prison for days while they recovered on their own,” Sam piped up. “Did their vessels heal without scarring?”

            “Yes, I believe so,” Hannah admitted cautiously. “And we have recovered their bodies. I will inspect them again myself right away. Maybe it’s simply too soon for you, Castiel. It is not as if I’ve seen many such cases until now.”

            “Perhaps,” Cas conceded. “But I thank you anyway. The prospect of several more days of that discomfort was… daunting.”

            “You’re welcome,” Hannah beamed at him, color rising in her stubbled cheeks.

            Suddenly, Dean was very much ready for her to go.

            “You’ll let us know the second you have any intel on anything?” Dean asked, effectively putting an end to the visit.

            “I promise,” Hannah nodded, giving Cas a parting pat.

 

            “I don’t like her,” Dean blurted out of the blue, ensconced in the library later that afternoon.

            Sam had rebuffed all attempts at conversation after breakfast, slinking off instead to the bunker’s firing range—which boded rather ill for his state of mind, but Dean could hardly blame the guy needing to blow off some steam. Dean had given over his attention to a bottle of whiskey and Cas’ entertainment since then, ordering the angel to continue to take it easy. He’d directed Cas to a leather sofa and given him free rein with the record player. So far, he’d passed up Dean’s best Rolling Stones and Queen albums in favor of the Men of Letters’ dusty stash. The distinctive voices of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra had given way to Billie Holiday now as Cas set up Music for Torching and gently dropped the needle to it.

            “Hannah?” Cas questioned, looking up in confusion. “What’s the matter with her?”

            “I dunno. She’s too nice,” Dean mumbled petulantly.

            “That… doesn’t make any sense. How much have you had to drink?”

            As it turned out, Dean had had just enough to drink that he abruptly had no problem saying, “You know what it is? I’ll tell you what it is: she’s into you.”

            Castiel opened his mouth, paused, and sighed. “Yes, that is so. She told me as much before she gave up her previous vessel, Caroline.”

            “Was that vessel as pretty as this one?”

            “You think Hannah’s vessel is pretty?” Cas asked without a trace of the teasing Dean would expect from anyone else.

            “Wha—no. Nevermind. Besides, aren’t you all supposed to be related or something?” Dean deflected, waving his hand inarticulately.

            “‘Brother’ and ‘sister’ are only approximate translations of the actual Enochian terms,” Cas explained patiently. “But that’s irrelevant. I have no romantic interest in Hannah.”

            “No?” Dean asked a little glumly. “I mean, Hannah’s a real angel. Not some… some stitched-together human with wings. She healed you when I couldn’t do a damn thing—”

            “Hannah took away my physical pain and I’m grateful for that,” Cas interrupted, a spark of exasperation flaring up in his previously soft eyes. “But you’ve already done more for me than she ever could, Dean. Your jealousy is unwarranted.”

            “Never said I was jealous.”

            “Besides,” Cas went on without pause, “your wings may be borrowed, but our faces are. Neither of Hannah’s bodies belong to her and neither hold any interest for me. Yours, on the other hand…”

            Dean flushed, looking down into the amber depths of his glass.

            “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’ve been hiding your wings since the moment I lost mine,” Castiel said quietly.

            Dean coughed and made a face. “Things’ve just been hectic.”

            “Things are not hectic now and you know it. We’re just passing time, Dean, waiting for news, waiting to feel better...”

            “Yeah, Cas, exactly. I want you to feel better,” Dean hissed unhappily. He rose from his chair and joined Cas on the sofa. “I never deserved these things. I ripped them off somebody else without even knowing what I was doing, and look what happened. You’re the one who’s supposed to have wings. Showing off mine now would just be kinda… kinda sick or something.”

            “Dean,” Cas chided, pursing his lips impatiently. “I do not expect you and Sam to conceal your wings forever on my account. And I have every intention of continuing to shower attention on yours.”

            “I don’t—”

            “If you say you don’t deserve it, I swear I’ll smite you. I can still do that, at least.”

            Cas’ face was heartbreaking, all hollow, starved eyes and teeth clenched against—against what? The threat of tears? God, if Cas started crying, Dean didn’t think he could handle it.

            So he fitted his lips to Cas’, framing the broken angel’s jaw with both hands as if drinking from a bowl, as if sipping from Cas himself. Dean kissed him long and carefully until his own head swam with tipsy, anguished affection.

            “’M not trying to start anything, I promise, I just—” he murmured against Cas’ chapped pink mouth.

            “What if I want you to?” Cas interjected, voice shredded with swallowed emotion. His fingers twisted in Dean’s t-shit. “I want you to start something. Take me to the bedroom. Show me your wings. Spread me out and… and fuck me. Is that what you want, Dean? Is that what you meant last time? I can do that, I can—”

            Now it was Dean’s turn to interrupt, alarmed by this sudden rush of uncurbed desperation. Cas was supposed to be the confident one, the subdued one. He made this not weird for Dean by behaving as if it all made perfect sense. If Cas lost his cool…. “Shhhhh, stop it, Cas, you’re just barely recovered. We don’t need to be doing that right now.”

            “I’m as well as I’ll ever be,” Cas argued. “But everything is falling apart and I need to know I can still please you, I need to know you can still love me—”

            “I do love you,” Dean spat fiercely, the sentiment leaving his tongue before he even thought about it. A tangle of terror tightened in his stomach a moment later. Dean Winchester didn’t say that. At least not coherently, in the middle of the day, in so many words. It was dangerous, and it hurt.

            But Cas only nodded, big blue eyes searching his. “Come on then.” He stood up, all business, and took off down the hall toward Room 11 without even checking to see if Dean followed.

            Dean scrambled off the couch after him, records and drink forgotten.

            In his room, with the door firmly latched behind him, Dean dragged his t-shirt over his head barely in time to save it from the tidal wave of feathers that spilled from his back. It felt so good to free all that crackling pressure, and Dean gasped, nearly doubled over with shocked relief. He’d never stood a chance of keeping them locked up indefinitely, he realized.

            “They’re so beautiful, Dean,” Cas was saying as he hurriedly toed off his shoes, unbuttoned his shirt. “When I first saw them, I couldn’t believe how rare and… and stunning they were. I know you don’t think they suit you, but they do.”

            Dean ducked his face away from this praise, unsure how to respond when he couldn’t very well compliment Cas’ wings in return. “Cas, really, if it’s my wings you want, maybe we should just wrap up in them and talk—”

            “I need this right now, Dean. I need all of you.”

            “Okay.” Dean’s nod was as wild as it was uncertain. He’d wanted so much for Cas to admit he needed the sex for his own sake… but not like this. Cas seemed as if he had something to prove where he never had before. It frightened Dean more than a little. “Okay, I get it. But you sure you don’t wanna do me again? I wasn’t just humoring you when I said I liked it.”

            “I liked it, too. And I hope to experience it a thousand more times—”

            Dean blushed again, the memory of being filled up to his very seams with Cas making him squirm on the spot.

            “—but not today.” Cas peeled off his pants, stepped forward into Dean’s space.

            Ten fond fingers nestled straight into the downy undersides of Dean’s wings, dragging all sorts of sensations to the surface. His mother tracing ticklish designs over his face to soothe him to sleep. Sand between his toes. The cool side of the pillow. It was all those things and more.

            Dean shuddered and folded against Castiel, snaking his arms around the angel’s torso to run the tips of his own fingers up the deeply creased marks in his back. He wanted Cas to know they didn’t disgust him. Dean was awfully used to scars, after all.

            Cas let out a sad moan, his hands falling from Dean’s wings. “It still feels good,” he whispered more to himself than Dean. “Why does it still feel good?”

            “I don’t know, but don’t question it, just take it,” Dean murmured back, sidestepping around Cas’ warm, naked frame to embrace him from behind. He crossed his forearms over Cas’ chest, dropping small kisses to the nape of his neck, the backsides of his ears. “How do you wanna do this?”

            “I’m not sure,” Cas breathed, pushing back against Dean’s still clothed erection. “This is nice.”

            “Front to back, you mean? On your stomach?”

            “Yes.” And just like that, Cas was draping himself over the bed and gathering a pillow into his arms, waiting restlessly while Dean discarded his own jeans and rummaged through the nightstand for the bottle of lube he kept in reserve for those times he really took his time jacking off. He brought it with him but left it unopened for the moment, instead crawling over Cas to kiss his spine, to lie atop him and knead his hands all along the angel’s muscular sides and thighs, over the swell of his ass…

            Dean couldn’t stand the impatient wretchedness that seemed to have driven Cas to want this right here, right now. So he resolved to counter it with the most unreserved, unhurried sex he could imagine. It would be downright worshipful, goddamnit.

            Scooting down, Dean hummed and mouthed over the silvery pink scars. Cas’ breath hitched and he turned his face into the bunched pillow.

            “Hey, it’s all right,” Dean said, even letting his eyelashes flutter against them. Cas’ back was heaving in a way that suggested silent, hiccupping sobs. “You’re… you’re beautiful, too, Cas. You think I would do this with just anybody?”

            Cas made no answer, but slowly he stilled, becoming more pliant under the attention. So Dean shimmied further down, palming over Cas’ hips and the back of his legs, kissing each round butt cheek. He might’ve laughed at himself under any other circumstance, but this was no time for laughing. Dean nuzzled over Cas’ ass with perfect earnestness, tasting the only faintly human luster of salt on his skin, breathing in the balmy heat of him. And Dean didn’t mean to do it—had made no plan for it—but Cas was so clean and so right there that Dean found himself nudging his face right between Cas’ parted cheeks, touching his lips to the tight hotspot of nerves at Cas’ rim…

            Cas gave a muffled, plaintive cry, thrusting once against the mattress. Smiling faintly, Dean pushed the flat of his tongue to Cas, grinding and purling it against the now lightly pulsing ring of muscle.

            “Dean,” the angel pleaded, his hands clawing at the sheets.

            “That was okay, wasn’t it?” Dean asked, freezing up a little. Fuck, he’d never even thought of doing that before. Where had that come from?

            “Yes, yes, I just need—”

            “More?” Dean suggested, taking up the bottle of lube.

            “More,” Cas agreed, obviously trying and failing not to wriggle around beneath Dean.

            “Right there with you,” Dean huffed, coating his fingers and winding his wrist in a smooth, compelling key-turn of pressure until his middle finger breached, slowly driving in…

            “Oh,” Cas gulped, clenching around Dean’s hand.

            “You’ll tell me if you don’t like something, right? You don’t have to just put up with it,” Dean took the time to say, his own arousal suddenly in incongruous overdrive. His cock felt hot and downright ponderous between his legs, beaded with pre-come.

            “I know.”

            “Good.” Desire bled through every layer of Dean’s flesh as he took his slow, hypnotizing time sliding in and out of Cas. He thought about Cas’ fingers in him, the secret, slippery push of them, until the then and the now blurred together into a single mouthwatering feeling. Dean watched the little muscle spasms of Cas’ back, smoothing his free hand over them, his eyes wide and unfocused.

            When he at last had three thick fingers buried to the last knuckle Dean heard himself asking—with rather less composure than he would’ve liked—“Can I? Can I, Cas?”

            “Please, yes—now, Dean,” Cas answered, writhing.

            Adding more lube, Dean positioned himself, steeled his self-control, and sunk into Cas over the course of one long, bated breath.

            His eyes batted shut, a groan of pleasure catching in his throat. Dean covered Cas head to toe with his own body, wings beating fitfully at the air before settling in a tense dome over the bed.

            Cas rolled his hips between Dean and the mattress, evidently trying out the friction and liking it. “Go on, Dean,” he urged, turning his head and butting at Dean’s chin with his forehead like a doting cat. Dean nudged him back, kissing Cas’ temple and running fingers through his hair as he picked up a comfortable pace.

            Cas clung to the edge of Dean’s left wing like a lifeline, even pulling free a few small feathers while he gasped and trembled, face suddenly as clear and wide open as the ocean. And Dean told him everything. In broken, panting, over-honest sentences, knowing Cas would believe it in that moment. He told Cas about the dreams he’d had ever since they’d met, about how they might’ve done this in Purgatory if Dean had been braver, about how bad it hurt when he thought Cas didn’t want to be around him. In between words he sucked soft, wet kisses into every inch of skin he could find until Cas finally interrupted, his voice high and almost reedy in its breathlessness—“Touch me, Dean, please, I’m—”

            Sitting back on his heels so far he nearly pulled out, Dean gathered up Cas with him and held the angel in his lap with one firm hand while reaching down to stroke him with the other.

            Cas tipped his head back over Dean’s shoulder and came in a rush of gathered and released tension that tugged hard at Dean, drawing out his own climax like it had tapped right into the foundation of his soul. Dean moaned and bucked up into Cas until he couldn’t anymore, eyes falling shut as hazy, colorless blooms burst behind his eyelids.

            Gingerly pulling away from Dean and reaching to the nightstand for tissues—a distinct conservation of his powers that Dean didn’t miss—Cas sighed and shivered contentedly through the clean-up, finally lying down in a lithe tangle of limbs at Dean’s side.

            “Well, which do you like better?” Dean asked, trying and failing to tame Cas' sex hair with one extended hand.

            “I don’t know, Dean,” Cas replied in a brash flare of excessive innocence. “I guess we’ll just have to keep trying to figure it out.”

            For the first time since the attack, Dean laughed, a gentle chuckle that almost convinced him everything would be all right.

 

            Sam strode into the library, palms tingling and ears ringing with the reverberation of too much target practice, to find the record player skipping and hissing over the end of some forgotten album. The lonely sight of it somehow struck him as eerie and he hurried over to set it straight, fumbling to slip the old disc into its sleeve just as a pounding roll of noise made him practically jump out of his skin.

            Staring in momentary confusion at the shattered record at his feet, Sam’s eyes swept up toward the antechamber and wrought iron staircase of the bunker.

            Knocking. Someone was knocking.

Chapter Text

            No one ever knocked on the bunker door.

            Girls Scouts and Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t exactly think to solicit at the basement door of a power plant that had burned its last shipment of coal in 1966. And only a handful of friends and allies knew of the Winchesters’ home base—none of whom had ever arrived unannounced.

            Sam stood rooted to the spot, a clammy sweat creeping under the collar of his shirt.

            “Who is that?” Dean yelled, emerging from the direction of his room shoeless and rubbing at a disheveled head of hair. He looked as if he’d just stumbled out of a deep sleep.

            “I… I don’t know. Hannah already?” Sam suggested without a shred of conviction.

            The battering ram thunder of sound echoed again just as Sam’s cell phone blew up at max volume in his back pocket. He jumped half a foot, more spooked than if a ghost had just given him an icy grope. Sam retrieved the phone and stared at it uncomprehendingly.

            “What the…?” Dean mumbled, peering around Sam’s shoulder to read the rather unlikely number of “007” blinking on the screen.

            Within seconds, Dean’s phone sounded the alarm as well, same caller, same exceedingly unwarranted volume. Cas hurried out from the back hallway with his own screaming cell, looking between the brothers for some crumb of enlightenment.

            “It must be Gabriel,” he put forth with a scowl a moment later. “He knew we were headed here.”

            “You answer your phone, Cas,” Sam said in a rush, certainly not trusting himself to act as spokesman.

            “I suppose one of us should…” Cas admitted hesitantly, thumbing over his screen and immediately setting it to speakerphone. “Yes?”

            “Ah, so it’s little bro Cassie who picks up first—would’ve lost money on that bet,” Gabriel’s voice issued from the speaker in a dry aside before picking up energy to say, “Look, Cas, need you to do me a teeny-tiny favor.

            “What’s that?” Castiel asked, face closing down into a hard mask as he leaned closer to the phone.

            “Let me in.”

            Dean barked a vicious laugh. “Right! Because you know what this cozy little refuge is really lacking? Metatron’s newest MVP painting the walls with our blood. No freakin’ thanks.”

            “I could’ve killed you in your sleep every night for the last week, but I didn’t.” Gabriel’s tone had gone still and fathomless. It reminded Sam of the way the archangel had looked at him in that field when he’d asked not to be called Sammy. Out of nowhere, he pictured not clever-faced little Gabe standing at the door but a looming, wolfish colossus the size of Kansas, crushing the surrounding world into a glittering black hole. Sam remembered the smell of stars and burning time and—and banana praline pancakes. He felt a little like throwing up.

            “If you’ll just let me two steps through the door, I can explain everything.”

            “Explain away, asshole. We’ve got all day and a full cell battery,” Dean sneered.

            “I can’t. I know it sounds ridiculous, but—uh!” Gabriel cut out, his voice sharp and feral. When he resumed, it was with a very brittle attempt at sounding composed. “I have a limited amount of time out here, okay?

            “No, Gabriel,” Cas told him quietly.

            This met with a crackling silence, finally followed by: “Is Sam there?

            Two pairs of eyes shifted to Sam’s frozen stance and back again. “Yeah, he’s here,” Dean grunted reluctantly.

            “Can I talk to him?

            “You are talking to him.”

            “Privately?

            “Hell no.”

            Not even fully aware that his hand moved, Sam reached out and touched the icon to put Gabriel on hold.

            “What are you doing?” Dean gaped, looking worried.

            “I—I’m not sure. I just wanted to talk without him hearing. What, um… what do you guys think about putting down a ring of holy fire at the door and letting him in that far?”

            “There’s no need for that risk, Sam,” Cas answered, shaking his head. “He can’t get through the bunker’s defenses.”

            “So, what, we stay down here until we starve?”

            “No, we call Hannah to bring the whole heavenly host down on him.”

            “And he’ll give them the slip,” Sam pushed on breathlessly. “You know he will. At least if we have him confined—”

            “You want to hear what he has to say,” Dean deadpanned, drawing himself up to his full height with cold incredulity. “Man, I understand you were head over heels for the guy, and I do not blame you for what happened, but Cas lost his wings because of Gabriel. Did you hear him say ‘sorry’ at any point just now? Did you hear anything but selfishness? Cause I sure didn’t.”

            “I…” Sam shuddered, hard pressed to deny it. “I know. But trapping him and letting him talk… it might get us something useful. I’m not advocating that we usher him in with open arms.”

            “Shit. Cas, if we call Hannah, what will she do with him?” Dean asked, dragging a hand over his face like a beleaguered referee struggling to remain impartial.

            “I expect she’ll put him in prison,” Castiel sighed, evidently knowing this answer would do nothing to assuage Dean.

            “Fuck that noise,” Dean growled as he headed toward the stairs. “If we don’t believe whatever bullshit he spins, we douse him in oil and light him up.”

 

            “I’m not asking you to do it, Sammy,” Dean stipulated five minutes later as they painstakingly dribbled out a circle of fragrant oil on the chipped tile of the entrance balcony. “We can have a warning hand signal. Give you time to leave.”

            “No,” Sam muttered, averting his eyes.

            “‘No’ you want to stay, ‘no’ you want to do it yourself, or ‘no’ we’re not doing it at all?” Dean asked, his earlier fury tamed somewhat by Sam’s obvious bottled-up agony.

            “I know we probably need to,” Sam said. “I know jail won’t hold him. But I’m not going to go hide while you kill him. If it even kills him,” he added, a thought wriggling to the surface of his mind. “Cas Molotov’d Michael with it and he came back.”

            “Michael has always been superior to Gabriel,” Cas mused ruefully. “And he was free to leave—to teleport himself to space or the bottom of the ocean before the flames wholly consumed him. But Gabriel would be trapped. Long enough for the fire to do its work, I think. I can’t say it would be pretty.”

            Pouring out the last several inches of oil with shaking hands, Sam placed the urn to the side where it would be obscured by the door when it opened. “He’s got to expect we’re doing this,” he pointed out.

            “Yeah, probably. But he’s the one that wants in. He can either step into the trap or cool his heels out there same as before,” Dean said. “Ready?”

            “I think so.”

            “Cas, stand back till we’ve got it lit, okay?” Dean urged, stepping protectively in front of the angel and practically pinning him against the Art Deco railing.

            “Of course, Dean. I’m not stupid.”

            “I know, just… can’t be too careful.” Dean twisted to plant a swift peck on Cas’ stern brow—and as chaste and urgent as it was, something about it made Sam’s chest tighten and cramp.

            But shoving aside the feeling, Sam unlocked the door, threw it open, and backpedaled away, stumbling out of the barely visible circle of oil.

            No storm of golden celestial wrath flew in to incinerate his eyes. No claws or chains or screeching Eye of Sauron filled the doorframe. Only the same jeans-and-jacket-clad Gabriel as before, who took a pointed glance down at the floor—and stepped in anyway.

            He shut the door behind himself and made no move at all as Sam dropped a match to the oil, wrapping the archangel in a flickering cage that threw off a disproportionate amount of heat and seemed to instantly bake the air dry as a prehistoric desert. Sam swallowed uncomfortably, his throat raw.

            “Hey, fellas,” Gabe said quietly, fingers fanning out in a trite wave. “This is… pretty much exactly the welcome parade I deserve, I guess.”

            “You’ve got five minutes, man,” Dean barked. “Use ‘em well.”

            Gabriel sucked in a long breath, blinked… and started talking as if he knew precisely how much his life depended on it. Not a trace of hostility colored his speech. It sounded rehearsed, which should have made Sam discount every word, and yet…

            “Let me first say how sorry I am to you, Cas. I didn’t count on that happening, and I wouldn’t wish that sort of violation on my worst enemy—well, I might wish it on Metatron, but that’s a separate issue. I’m sorry. And I’d make it up to you if I had any idea how. I’m glad you look like you’re doing better.” He paused, shoved his hands in his pockets, and went on as if weaving together a charmingly casual opening statement to judge and jury.

            “So yeah, I’ve been acting on Metatron’s orders. For awhile now. Yes, that was really me who appeared to you last year in Casa Erotica 14, Cas—a little mission that didn’t quite work out. My first, actually. My first after Metatron resurrected me.

            “See, I hate to break it to you, but old Bag-o’-Dicks Lucy did kill me. I tried to fight Satan with magic he invented and, not surprisingly, he won. And do you know what a relief it was? Not existing, even for just a few years? I mean, I’ve never not existed before! It’s a lot easier. But then Megadouche had to go and become Big Daddy God and decide he’d earned his own personal archangel on a leash. He wasn’t quite arrogant enough to touch the Cage or even tangle with Raphael, so he picked me. The smallest of the giants.

            “I guess your life’s just about the biggest debt you can owe—even if you didn’t want it in the first place—and Metatron knew exactly what he was doing. I lied when I said I knew nothing about that indentured servitude clause in the angel tablet, Cas. That’s how he got me. I realized that I was alive one minute and that I was at the beck and call of some sniveling desk jockey who’d gotten too big for his britches the next. Defying him felt like having every fiber of my being shredded and sewn back together in a more compliant order.

            “He had others like that, too. He wrote the book on how it worked, after all. Ambriel? She was one of the few who took Lucifer’s side against humans back in the bad old days. All Lucy’s friends were going to be cast out with him, but Metatron spoke against it. Advocated forgiveness. She got to stay in Heaven and repent because of him. Temeluchus, he fathered a Nephilim with a mortal woman in ancient Jerusalem. One of only two still around in the modern world. When Metatron needed a Nephilim’s heart to close Heaven, he chose the other one—telling you, Cas, that she was the last—and spared Temeluchus’ son. Pretty big debts, wouldn’t you say?”

            He obviously intended the question as rhetorical, but Sam took the opening anyway, jumped into the pause, unable to hold his tongue against the question burning a hole in it. “If that’s true, why didn’t you tip us off? Maybe we could’ve stopped all this before it got out of control. Maybe we could’ve helped you.”

            Gabriel regarded him with big, honey-colored eyes. He’d kept his gaze fixed mostly on Cas and Dean or the floor since he’d started speaking—anywhere besides Sam—but now Sam felt the full force of his attention. He took a step back, flushing from more than the shimmering heat of the fire.

            “Because I couldn’t, Sam. First rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. Metatron never had as secure a hold on me as he did on the rest, but he had that pretty well locked down. Even dancing around telling you was excruciating. I would forget or suddenly find myself talking about something else. Or he’d call me away for a little chat. I got on his nerves, I know. The others were perfect little puppets, but me—not so much. He could never control my thoughts even when he had a hold on my mouth. It all took a lot of effort. Once he got himself thrown in jail, he conserved his mojo by letting me do mostly as I pleased so long as I obeyed the base rules. I was never the terrifying secret weapon he wanted because making me do big things was too difficult. Sure, he managed to keep me in line enough to spy on you, even to let Temeluchus and Ambriel free. But a dozen times a day he asked me to kill you and I fought it. He asked me to trash Heaven, crucify Hannah with angel blades for the rest to see, and I fought it.”

            “So how are you able to tell us now, hotshot?” Dean asked skeptically.

            “Because I’m here. In the most warded place in the world.” Gabriel turned his eyes to the vaulted concrete ceiling as if parsing out all the enchantments threaded through it. “I physically could not tell you on the phone outside, but now that I’m trapped here I’m—ironically—as free as I’ve been since this all started. You guys have no idea just what neurotic overachievers your Men of Letters ancestors were. Being in here is like walking into a bubble of nothing. No unwanted outside signals getting through at all. Fuck, how I kept hoping you’d finish up your hunt faster and take me here with you so I could spill. But that was another ‘little’ thing Metatron felt he could manage. Keeping me from helping you with the harpies, keeping me from pushing too hard to come here…”

            “Yet he let you come here today?” Sam wondered, eyebrow raised.

            “Oh, hell no. He was tearing at me like a maniac through our telepathic connection. I’m supposed to be springing him from prison, not running back to you. Waiting on that doorstep just now was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I think he might’ve ripped out most of my memories of the Triassic and the Renaissance in his panic. To say nothing of my Monty Python trivia.”

            “Well, that’s all very cute,” Dean jeered, “but where’s the proof?”

            “I don’t know—common sense?” Gabriel returned, the first sign of irritation flaring to life. “Do you really see me teaming up with that putz on purpose? And why wouldn’t I have killed you all by now if I wanted to?”

            “Was telling you to sleep with me one of the ‘little’ things Metatron managed? Was that his idea of a joke?” Sam interrupted with deceptive calm, his fingernails digging into the heel of one hand as he strained to keep it together.

            “No, not at all,” Gabriel replied immediately. He shot Castiel and Dean a sidelong look as if wishing they’d kindly fuck off, but then stepped right to the edge of the circle, speaking for Sam and Sam alone. “He thought it was hilarious when he found out, but our time in the sack was all me. In fact, uh—I think it was the only thing keeping me sane. You gave me something to… to hope for, y’know?”

            Sam stared at him, silently begging for it to be real. The idea that Gabe had faked it all while judging the hell out of him had tied Sam in knots for the last two days. But the very new possibility that Gabe had been forced into it against his own inclinations as some kind of punishment from a frustrated Metatron made Sam far sicker still. The flames danced low between them as Sam scanned the archangel’s eyes for any sign of a hidden truth… finding only the most intense look he could ever remember receiving from anyone. Gabriel’s eyes shone slightly wet in the crackling heat, and Sam realized that he himself was perfectly capable of reaching across the protective ring and touching Gabe’s face—

            “Excuse me while I dry my tears,” Dean said woodenly, “but I think your five minutes are up.”

            “Dean, you can’t be serious,” Sam hissed, his stomach just about falling out into the void that seemed to open up beneath him.

            “Sammy, do you believe him? Newsflash: trickster! He. Lies. About. Everything.”

            “Gabriel’s story does fit with everything I theorized,” Cas pointed out carefully, his eyes darting between the tense standoff. “We should keep him here, take the time to contact Heaven and see if some of the details hold true about Temeluchus and Ambriel—”

            Dean snarled some unintelligible response and made a move toward the still half-full carafe of holy oil in the corner.

            “Don’t!” Sam cried out, lurching forward.

            Without hesitation, Sam brought a booted foot down on the boiling line of oil, extinguishing the flames. The sole of his shoe came away from the floor sticky and half-melted even as he moved to stamp out more.

            But the ring of fire seemed to operate on the same principles as a devil’s trap and as soon as the circle was breached, Gabe was darting out past Sam, whispering hastily against his ear, and wrenching open the door. With one parting glance toward Cas, the dying fire, and a scrambling Dean, he fled from the bunker in a rustle of feathers.

Chapter Text

            Keep the feather safe.

            “Keep that feather safe,” he’d said, hot and fleeting against Sam’s ear. The order—no, the request—had felt almost like a prayer. A prayer from the archangel Gabriel to Samuel J. Winchester of Lebanon, Kansas. The absurdity of such a thing struck Sam like a Mack truck.

            But Dean was shouting at him, pulling Sam back to the present. The urgent, decidedly ugly present.

            “Sam, what the fuck?”

            “I’m sorry, do you want me to apologize for not letting you set him on fire?” Sam fumed. He turned to his brother, screwing up his eyes against the incense reek of dissipating smoke.

            “I wasn’t going to torch him, you idiot!” Dean roared, face lit hellishly from below by the dull red glow still flickering across the floor in places. “Maybe if you’d been able to tear your eyes off him for three seconds you’d’ve noticed the fire was burning out on one side! I was just gonna replenish the oil so we could keep him here longer like Cas said! God!” Dean kicked out at nothing, pivoting on the tile with the force of it. “And now he’s gone again. There’s no way he’ll be back after that! What did he say to you?”

            “What?” Sam snapped, already halfway down the stairs in search of a fire extinguisher.

            “You heard me. What’d he whisper to you on his way out?” Dean demanded, jerking his chin up in a way that said don’t you dare lie to me, man.

            “Nothing, Dean. All he said was ‘thank you,’ okay?”

            “You are so full of shit—”

            “Dean, stop, we need to get to Heaven’s portal. I have to get up there and help,” Cas was saying as he curled a hand around Dean’s bicep. “I’m not convinced Gabriel told the whole truth or that he’s not dangerous, but I am inclined to think Metatron is forcing his hand. And Gabriel may be more vulnerable now than ever. If Metatron is capable of goading him into significant action, my bet is that it will be now.”

            “No, I am not letting you beam up alone into whatever shitstorm is about to rock Heaven,” Dean seethed, and Sam took the opportunity to slip away unnoticed, leaving Dean to tame the fire and his temper.

            Casually snatching the golden feather from its ashtray and wiping the tacky, half-evaporated film of oil onto his sleeve, Sam hurried to his bedroom and shut the door. Bedraggled and dark with dampness, it still shone like the gilded pages of an antique Bible. Sam shoved it inside his pillow case—along with a handful of the burnished brown fluff he’d shed himself at some point while stashing his wings and changing clothes—and stepped back uncertainly.

            No one would have cause to look through his bed linens, right? And, if they did, some stray, bronze-tinted bits of down would hardly look out of place. Sam would’ve carried the feather on his person, but he somehow felt the bunker safer than his body, especially after everything Gabe had said about it being one of the only truly isolated places on earth.

            And why was he doing as Gabriel said anyway? He didn’t know Gabe hadn’t lied. Perhaps Sam was playing right into his wicked little hands yet again based on nothing more than a fond look and a plausible story. How much had his personal investment in the goodness of Gabriel clouded his judgment? How much more would he hate himself if this turned out badly?

            Sam sunk heavily to the edge of the bed, hands coming up to cover his face. Probably a lot. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, and all that. Dean was right to yell. Right to consider him the world’s biggest sucker. And yet, all Sam could think about was how—if what Gabe had told them was true—the angel had been fighting a raging battle every moment they’d been together. How every sudden disappearance had been part of a secret bid for control or defiance….

            How he’d wrestled down his directive to kill Sam and managed to love him instead.

 

            The broad, sleepy suburbs of Springfield, Missouri boasted the sole portal to Heaven these days: a hypnotic spirograph of lines sown in a children’s sandbox. Dean cursed the six hour drive, and even Castiel—accustomed to flitting back and forth in the blink of an eye—seemed taken aback by the distance. But, as Sam pointed out, the angels might just as well have chosen the Himalayas.

            Dean wished they had slapped the freakin’ portal at the top of Everest. Then at least there would be no question of going. But Cas had insisted, only just barely managing to persuade the Winchesters by assuring them that he intended to kill Metatron in his cell, consequences be damned.

            “If he dies, the spell should break instantly, right?” Sam asked, sliding habitually into to the passenger seat to Dean’s dismay. He would’ve preferred Cas up front. Sam didn’t exactly rank shotgun in his book right now.

            “If there is a spell,” Dean muttered.

            “I would think so, yes,” Cas replied from the back as Dean gunned it away from the bunker, sun low at their backs. It glinted in the rear view mirror, looking dark orange and sinister. Like a fat, sated cat. Dean didn’t much care for a single thing that had happened ever since he and Cas had risen from bed. Much better to have stayed there.

            Within ten minutes of hitting the highway, Cas’ cell phone buzzed. “It’s Hannah,” he announced, leaning forward as Dean killed the radio.

            “Castiel, I have some news.

            “So do we,” Cas sighed. “But you go first.”

            “Very well. I inspected Temeluchus and Ambriel’s bodies. Their wing wounds had sealed over completely, as I thought. Their backs show no signs of your scarring.”

            Dean turned to observe Cas scowling pensively. “I see. Anything else?”

            “Yes, actually. Something odd no one noticed before. A decorative pattern stained on the soles of their feet.”

            “What?” Sam all but squawked, rearing upright in his seat. “Hannah, what did you say? A pattern on their feet? Was it sort of like Celtic knots? Was it blue?”

            “Easy, Sammy—” Dean started to say, but he was interrupted by Hannah’s bewildered answer.

            “It was. Just as you say. How did you know that?

            “Gabriel has the same markings. He told me they were his vessel’s—some medieval tribal thing—but if the others have it too it’s got to be related to the spell!” Spots of color had risen high in Sam’s cheeks. He looked on the verge of ejecting himself from the car in his excitement.

            “What spell is this? Castiel, what is he talking about?” Hannah asked hesitantly.

            As Cas backtracked to inform Hannah about the passages he’d found in the angel tablet notes, about Gabriel’s visit (and subsequent departure—the details of which he blessedly left out), about Gabriel’s claims of magical coercion, Sam turned to Dean and spoke under his breath so as not to override the angels’ conversation.

            “See, it’s all falling into place,” Sam hissed. “Even you have to admit that would be a pretty huge coincidence.”

            “Unless Gabe’s planting all the evidence,” Dean cautioned. “Dude can completely alter reality at a glance, remember?”

            “Dean, come on, why? Why would he need to do this?” Sam groaned, exasperated.

            “I don’t know, why has he ever needed to do anything to us?” Dean grumbled. “For the thrill of it. For the cat-and-mouse game of it. For the sake of a good story—which is one thing he does have in common with Metatron, by the way.”

            “Shut up. Just shut up, Dean,” Sam returned with a hard clench of his jaw. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned stiffly against the door.

            “Look, I’m sorry to keep raining on your parade and I promise I will shut up for the rest of this ride, but let me tell you one thing, Sammy: I am not letting you get yourself killed over this. Over Gabriel. Whether it turns out he deserves your sympathy or not.”

 

            The remainder of their drive passed in darkness and thick, twisting silence. With the windows down, midsummer night air and the occasional swelling chorus of frogs whipped through the car. Every once in a while Cas’ hand strayed to Dean’s shoulder over the back of the seat, and Dean leaned into the touch just enough to get what they both needed from it. The Impala still smelled a little like singed feathers, making it hard not to remember their last torturous ride—if, indeed, Cas remembered it at all.

            At least Cas was well. And mostly whole. He was still a seraph, Dean reminded himself, still superhuman and older than dirt and eminently capable of carrying out a mission. And Metatron needed to die regardless of what happened with Gabriel.

            But the thought of loitering around a playground like a creep while Cas went upstairs alone to take care of business didn’t sit well with Dean.

            “That’s our exit,” Sam pointed out, sitting up straighter and clearing his throat.

            The clock read 2:49 AM when Dean navigated through the final stretch of residential avenues to a clean-cut, modern little park, its natural emptiness jarred only by a single slender figure suspended on a swing.

            Dean exited the car with Sam and Cas in tow to make out the details of a lanky black girl—maybe 15 at the outside—with braided locks neatly tucked behind her ears and uncanny eyes that didn’t fit her face.

            “Oh, so Hannah’s too ‘progressive’ and whatnot to keep a vessel, but it’s fine for the rest of you guys to hijack kids?” Dean muttered as they approached.

            “This ‘kid,’ as you call her, accepted possession on her deathbed,” the angel within said. “She’s in Heaven, and her family lives a thousand miles away. My name is Zephon, and I am hurting no one.”

            “You couldn’t’ve healed her instead?” Dean sniffed.

            “Dean, this is not the time,” Cas cautioned, approaching the gatekeeper. “Open the portal, please.”

            “Why?” Zephon asked pertly.

            “Because I need to meet with Hannah. Nuriel let me pass the last several times. Where is she?”

            “Reassigned to guarding Metatron. She and many others. From Gabriel as well as you.”

            “Me?” Castiel questioned and, despite the unfriendly turn to the conversation, Dean couldn’t help but privately appreciate the powerful scrape of his voice.

            “Yes. Hannah holds you in the utmost regard, Castiel, but your friend here has expressed his hostile views on Metatron to Hannah—and it is clear to everyone with eyes, ears, or even a sense of smell that you will do quite a lot for Dean Winchester.”

            “I don’t deny it. But finishing Metatron has become the only logical course of action at this point,” Cas snarled, tactical lies evidently deemed moot at this point. “Look at the resources Hannah has had to invest in placing constant protective details on him. How long can this go on?”

            “And if Metatron is the one making Gabriel a threat, the easiest way to end that threat is to go for the source, not the symptom,” Sam added impatiently.

            Zephon looked on the verge of a retort when the sandbox some yards away chose that moment to flare up white and foggy, a nebula of dancing particles and divine radiation. Hannah stepped purposefully out of this impressive little maelstrom and pinned them all with a stern look. “Castiel, Sam, please believe me when I say I’m taking your concerns about this binding spell seriously. If it’s true, two guiltless angels have already died as a result of it. We are doing our best to unravel the details so we can sever the link. There may even be more besides Gabriel that Metatron is keeping in reserve.”

            “Yes, exactly,” Cas pleaded hoarsely. “Which is why we have no time for delicacy. They could be the ones you’ve set to the task of breaking the spell! They could be Metatron’s guards! Unless you’ve checked the feet of every single angel above—”

            “You think I don’t know that?” Hannah hissed, her face crumpling into ragged, desperate lines for a brief second. “But, Castiel, I will not begin my stewardship of Heaven with executions.”

            “One. One execution,” Dean corrected, more gently than he expected to. “And if it’s your moral high ground or legacy or whatever that you’re worried about staining, then don’t. Just… make a little slip. A ‘mistake.’ Let us kill him for you and call it an accident afterwards.”

            “I—” Hannah began, her soft black eyes blinking a frustrated staccato and then popping wide as a thunderous crack made them all jump and reach for weapons.

            The sky over the playground sizzled lurid violet, like pyrotechnic sparks right on the edge of human perception. Another low ripping sound seemed to shiver through Dean’s bones and then the sandbox was swirling, its interlocking circles glowing around a huge, staggering shape.

 

            Sam stared at the silhouette until his brain all at once resolved it not into one large figure, but Gabriel, wings spread and accompanied by a writhing Metatron.

            “How did you—?” Hannah cried, lunging toward them with Zephon at her back.

            Gabriel’s hand shot out, an arresting palm forcing the angels back to a respectable distance. Mulch skittered under their feet. Even Cas and Dean wore the irritated, obstructed look of those who found they couldn’t move forward. Sam toed the line, inching out of place, but could not find anything holding him back. He stilled a second later, keeping the advantage to himself.

            “Please. I was finding secret holes in the universe before Dad even built Heaven. If you think I can’t sneak past a few goons into my own house, you’re really deluding yourself,” Gabriel quipped, panting in a decidedly unangelic way. A thin trickle of blood dripped from his nose. He raised one hand to it and stared down in almost drunken confusion at the smear that came away on his fingertips.

            Metatron bucked and twisted against Gabriel’s headlock, his eyes squeezed shut as if concentrating so hard his nerves might fry at any second. His lips curled back around crooked teeth. “That’s enough,” he managed. “Bad dog.”

            Wings twitching, Gabriel buckled as if an invisible assailant had kicked his knees out from behind. He straightened, but his hold on Metatron faltered and was suddenly reversed as the angry scribe lashed out to grab the back of his jacket collar.

            A good hands-breadth shorter than Gabriel, Metatron dragged the archangel down to eye level and spat at him. “I told you to get us out quietly.”

            “Nothing like a few firecrackers to get everybody’s attention,” Gabe laughed back through teeth outlined pink in blood.

            “God, you are useless,” Metatron lamented, all but frothing at the mouth. “Worst investment I ever made. I would’ve ordered you to kill yourself months ago if I thought I had any other way of getting out. And it certainly took you long enough.”

            “Well, count me proud to be useless,” Gabriel breathed. He sounded thoroughly cracked, his eyes glassy and wild as they skated back and forth between Metatron and their flabbergasted audience.

            “Still time to cut my losses,” Metatron sneered. “I don’t need you following me around like a poorly behaved stray anymore. Give me your sword.”

            “Go fuck a cactus.”

            “I’d have a sword from one of these fine ladies and gentlemen if I thought it would do more than tickle you. An archangel’s blade for an archangel.” Metatron frisked Gabriel as if the sword were physically holstered on him. “Come on! The first thing you did when I brought you back was beg me to kill you! Don’t tell me you’ve got cold feet now!” he cackled.

            Sam couldn’t think what to do. He had a standard-issue angel blade at hand for this meet-up, of course, but breaking ranks now to make a move on Metatron might lose him a better chance. The sandbox was several yards away—plenty of room for Metatron to see him coming. But Sam didn’t know how much longer Gabriel could hold out. Seeing him so abused was striking at every furious, heartsick chord in Sam’s body. One fraying thread of insolence was the last thing tying the trickster to life right now and all Sam wanted to do was throw him a stronger line.

            “GIVE IT TO ME!” Metatron screamed, all the taunting banter stripped away as he took to shaking the archangel’s half-limp body by the lapels, the sudden violence of it making everyone jump.

            Haltingly, like a tangled marionette, Gabriel’s hand moved to his jacket. The silver blade flipped and dropped from his trembling fingers into the sand.

            “Gabriel, no,” Cas moaned from Sam’s right. Even Dean made an abortive noise of distress.

            But Sam barely noticed. Metatron was bending, reaching for the sword, and all Sam needed to do was slam a blade into the back of his neck before he ever rose. Gabriel’s eyes flicked up, dizzy and distant, and locked onto Sam’s. He blinked, reeled, focused again. With what seemed like a Herculean effort, he tugged out of Metatron’s distracted grip and sunk sideways.

            Sam flung himself on Metatron, bringing the blade around even as he felt a wicked, raking pain scrape over his ribs. He gasped wetly, his blade only grazing Metatron’s hunched shoulder. Grace-light dazzled him as it sang out in strobing rays from the wound. Sagging into the sandbox with the howling scribe, Sam just managed to fling Metatron away onto his back and clap a hand to his own side. Metatron had dropped Gabriel’s blade in the tussle, its grooves running with blood. Sam looked down to see more soaking through his shirt in a dark flood.

            “Don’t you dare!” Dean was yelling, grabbing Sam from behind, one arm crooked protectively around his throat.

            “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he babbled, blindly reaching for Metatron. “Dean, get him—”

            And then both brothers were falling out of the sandbox as a percussive wave of pale grace shot over and around them.

            Sam choked, tears streaming down his face, unsure if he was dying and just as unsure who was dead.

            “You can look now,” a small, war-torn voice said to him from a few feet off. “Open your eyes, Sam.”

            Gabe knelt over Metatron’s body, the lesser angel’s ashen wing-burst splayed out over the surrounding ground like a fossilized etching. One had even glanced Gabriel himself, a dusting of black featherprints trailing down his arm and thigh. He withdrew his blade from Metatron’s chest with something like weary awe.

            “Oh,” Sam hiccupped, so relieved he could hardly process it. The pain in his side was swelling, drowning him from within… but several strong hands were buoying him up. Castiel and Hannah had both rushed in to heal him.

            “You okay? Is he okay?” Dean demanded, passing a hand over the soggy stain.

            “I’m good,” Sam assured them truthfully. “Thank you—thank you.” He scrambled forward to Gabriel, physically hauling him out of the blood-spattered sand to a patch of grass on the far side.

            “Are you gonna be all right?” he gulped, coaxing Gabe’s pale face up by the chin. “He didn’t do anything to you just now, did he? The spell’s broken. It’s broken, right?”

            Gabe nodded, shell-shocked and woozy but increasingly alive. “Yeah,” he wheezed. “It’s over. I just—God, I can’t believe I managed to kill him. I know I couldn’t’ve without you.”

            “All I did was run in and get myself cut to ribbons,” Sam huffed, smiling crookedly.

            “No, you brought me back,” Gabriel insisted, pawing aimlessly at Sam’s shirt for emphasis. “I was done. Outta gas. I coasted through the jailbreak—because that’s what Metatron wanted, after all—that didn’t hurt, but wrestling him down here on my terms, fighting with him… that was… that was a whole ‘nother ballgame.” He curled forward in exhaustion and Sam hugged him hard, rocking back and forth in the cool, dewy grass.

            “And the feather,” Gabe added, jerking back to alertness as if waking from a falling dream. “You kept the feather.”

            “I don’t understand how that helped,” Sam admitted, petting the wavy hair at the nape of Gabriel’s neck.

            “It’s still me, Sam. It’s still part of me. Whenever Metatron was working his mojo, I could feel it like a lifeline tying me to the real world. To someplace safe. Not that I knew that would happen when I plucked it. I just wanted you to have it cause sometimes I’m a real sentimental bastard like that,” he blurted in an awkward rush. “But you—you took care of it even when you didn’t want to—” He stopped, shuddering. “Sam, touch my wings.”

            “What?” Sam croaked, too beat-up and stupid with euphoria to follow the change of tack.

            “Touch them. You can. I—I was afraid before but now I’m not.”

            Sam wanted to ask if he was sure, ask if Gabe could really handle it so soon after nearly losing his mind, but some beseeching eagerness in Gabriel's eyes jammed the words in his throat, forgotten. Reaching out, Sam laid one hand over the warm, golden curve of Gabe's left wing.

            As soft as it was powerful, the wing jumped a little under Sam’s palm, like a leaf about to flutter off its branch. Sam pulled back, leaving only a couple of fingertips in contact, and cradled Gabriel to his chest with the other arm. He listened to the angel’s breathing and looked out over the deserted, moonlit park. The voices of Cas, Dean, Hannah, and Zephon registered on the edge of his consciousness as they talked amongst themselves and gathered up Metatron’s body. They seemed satisfied to leave Sam and Gabriel alone for the moment.

            “Thank you.” Gabe dropped a shaky kiss to Sam’s collarbone and nudged his wing forward so that Sam felt his fingertips ruck up under the surface feathers to the down underneath. Gabriel gasped, but held the connection.

            “You’re going to stay with me this time, right?”

            “You bet, Moose. For the duration.”

Chapter Text

            When the four of them staggered down into the bunker somewhere past 5:00 am, Sam decided he could afford to skip Gabriel's grand tour of the facilities. There would be time for all that in all the coming days. He merely deposited the angel in Room 21, excused himself to wash the crust of blood and sand from his skin, and returned in time to fall face-first into Gabriel and possibly the deepest sleep of his life. His profound exhaustion caught even him off guard. It wasn't as if Sam Winchester hadn't weathered far worse fights and far longer stretches without rest. All he could figure, in the twenty or thirty seconds before he drifted off against a warm, yielding shoulder, was that he’d been suffering some level of anxiety ever since Gabe had first shown up and now he simply… wasn’t.

 

            Blinking his way back into consciousness a good while later, Sam couldn’t initially place where he was.

            As grandiose and stylish as many aspects of life in the bunker were, Sam’s room had never been one of them. It had the air of a storage closet: a bed surrounded by four dingy walls and almost nothing personal. Sure, his razor rested on the sink and his clothes lay folded in the dresser, but Sam had never really moved in in the same way Dean had. He kept a lot in boxes and pointedly hung no pictures. And while Dean spent time in his room just for the sake of it, Sam merely slept in his own brick-and-plaster cave, favoring the library for everything else of consequence.

            So when he became aware of some rich scent as removed from the familiar dank stillness of his bedroom as Heaven was from Hell, Sam woke a little quicker than usual… At which point his bleary eyes met not with the typical gray smear of light across the ceiling but rather a stained glass glow of rose-gold that more rightly suited a Mediterranean sunroom.

            “What the… Gabe…?” he muttered, propping up on his elbows.

            The archangel sat on the edge of the bed. Or, rather, Sam assumed so. He couldn’t actually see Gabriel, per se, only a rustling mound of teak-colored feathers. Fingers flashed over the edges of the longest primary quills, preening and straightening.

            “Oh, hey," Gabe chirped from behind the veil of wings. “Hope you don’t mind me sprucing up the place. No offense, kiddo, but it was seven levels of depressing in here. Didn’t suit our little happily-ever-after at all.”

            “What did you do to my room?” Sam asked in growing wonder, eying the marble swirl of the floor and the burnished clarity of the mirror. Everything was technically as he’d left it—Gabe hadn’t been so overbearing as to throw out the files on the shelf or import a baroque four-poster—yet the effect was no less dramatic.

            “Bit of the ol’ white magic. I mean, I can snap it back to ‘prison chic’ any time you want, but if I’m gonna be living here, you should know I have standards.”

            “No, it’s cool, I… I like it. What’s that smell?”

            “Oh, I wasn't sure you'd notice. It's—” He made a syllableless noise that set Sam’s ears to ringing.

            “It's what? Wait, no, don’t repeat it,” Sam hurried to say.

            “Sorry, there’s no good English translation. Maybe 'musk'? Anywho, wings tend to produce it during intensive grooming. Which I haven't done much of in, hell, 200 years?"

            "Seriously?"

            "What can I say? You make me want to gussy up. But I’m finished now.” He turned coyly, peeking over the broad scapular of his right wing like a courtesan making eyes from behind a fan. “And you’re awake.”

            “Uh, yeah, guess I am,” Sam replied, feeling strangely shy. He’d gone to bed in his softest, loosest boxers and they tented a little under Gabriel’s gaze.

            “You are too damn cute,” Gabe observed, his eyes crinkling to dark slits in an invisible smile.

            “Shut up,” Sam protested. He shifted awkwardly and sat up further.

            Sam had never had a whole lot of safe time with Gabe until now, he realized. There had been a lot of dashing about and worrying and shoving him over furniture in between, but not much time to just look at him. Or be looked at. He felt more naked than he was. He felt dangerously truthful.

            “Hey, you okay?” the angel asked.

            “Yeah, I think I’m just a little overwhelmed.”

            “Aww,” Gabe cooed in a gentle taunt, finally turning around. His wings puffed up like those of a bird who’d just finished splashing happily in a puddle and threw off a small cloud of that sweet, alluring scent. 

            “It’s like this can’t be real.”

            “Glamoring will do that to you,” Gabriel allowed, casting an airy glance around the modified room.

            “Not that,” Sam breathed, shaking his head as he surged forward and scooped Gabriel into his arms. Gabe gave a small grunt of surprise but reciprocated immediately with such a rib-crushing hug that Sam thought his heart might just burst under the force of it.

            “I love you,” Sam gasped all at once. He had to say it. It might be stupid. It might not be the right time. But he had to. 

            “After... after all the dancing around and bullshit and lies we just went through?" Gabriel asked incredulously, looking up. "Sam, I haven’t even had a chance to make it up to you yet. I haven’t—”

            “I don’t care,” Sam blurted. “You don’t have to win me over with anything, Gabe. I’m just so relieved you’re here. Thinking about what you went through with Metatron—all alone like that—it kills me. He said you wanted to die and I believe him. I’ve wanted to die when I wasn’t allowed to, too, and it’s one of the worst things there is—”

            “I did. In fact, I believe I told you that myself when you had me caught in the fire—”

            “God, and that,” Sam lamented, chest clenching. “I’m so sorry—”

            “—but I don’t now,” Gabriel talked over him as if there had been no interruption. “Shut your cakehole and listen. I don’t give a fuck about the holy fire, Sam. I don’t give a fuck about Metatron. He’s dead and we’re not. For once, we’re about as far from dead as two people can be.”

            Gabe kissed him before the last word was even fully out, scrabbling at Sam's back with blunt nails until he took the hint and loosed his wings.

            They’d never had them out at the same time before and Sam took care not to let them touch. Gabriel could barely hold it together under a couple fingertips, after all, and Sam didn't want to cross some line he didn't really even understand. But soon there were eager hands working through his own dense wing coverts, making Sam shiver, and then—

            A small explosion of sensation. Gabriel had met him wingtip to wingtip in only the lightest tease of contact, yet it felt something like diving breathlessly into a snowbound hotspring—with all the exhilaration focused to one quivering spot. Sam could feel every overheated atom at the surface of Gabriel’s feathers, every last scrap of nervous desire.

            “Sam, Sam, Sam…” Gabriel was keening nonsensically, pulling out of the kiss only to press frantically cheek-to-cheek and nose-to-nose. Sam felt the warm streak of a tear on his face and knew it wasn’t his own. “It’s perfect, you’re perfect, please don’t go.”

            “I’m not going anywhere,” Sam reminded him, giving Gabriel an affectionate head-butt.

            “I’ve never done this before,” Gabe gasped, wings jerking away in fits and starts only to come back for more.

            “Me neither,” Sam laughed, practically stupefied with delight.

            Gabriel gave one more writhing push with his wingtips and then reeled away, clearly too overstimulated to continue. He floundered off the foot of the bed and stood for a moment, hands braced above his knees as if he’d just run a marathon. He straightened, concealing his wings with a pleased grimace, and rubbed at the tears clinging to his eyelashes with a rough fist. “Holy shit,” he wheezed to himself.

            “You said it,” Sam agreed, following suit and folding in his own wings. He didn’t really know what was expected of him right now. He didn’t know what Gabriel needed. He sat up at attention on the bed, eyes darting over the archangel for any sign of greater distress.

            “I wouldn't've thought... You’re not an angel, Sam. Your wings will always be more physical than celestial. I thought that might make it easier. Shows how much I know, huh?”

            “It didn’t hurt you, did it? I mean, it felt pretty great to me, but—”

            “Doesn’t matter. I needed it. Like a good slap. I’ve always gone for easy, Sam. No strings, no complications, no ‘putting myself out there.’ No love. Because loving my asshat brothers too much is what screwed me up in the first place, right? I’ve killed people and gods and even ideas because it was easier than caring about anything. That just now? That wasn’t easy. Admitting that I love you isn’t easy.”

            “You don’t have to…”

            “Of course I do, you idiot.”

            And then Gabriel was on top of him, shedding clothes like a madman. Sam gave way to it, letting Gabe drag his boxers off as they collapsed back onto the mattress. Gabe slid over him, soft and flushed and somehow ideally fitted to the planes and angles of Sam’s body. It felt wonderful. It felt like they were building something in that slow glide of skin, writing goofy love letters with roaming fingertips, soaking each other up. For the first time, Sam's bedroom felt like home. Gabriel tangled his arms around Sam’s neck as he kissed him, hands skimming under the pillows….

            “What’s this?” he murmured against Sam’s lips, suddenly producing a small curl of gold between two fingers.

            “Oh. Uh. Well, you told me to keep it safe,” Sam replied, seeing the feather out of the corner of his eye and feeling himself blush.

            “So you put it in your pillow? God, Sam, keep this up and we’ll be eloping to Vegas before the year’s out.”

            “Been there, done that," Sam admitted wryly.

            Gabe’s face seemed to fall for a moment until Sam pulled him in with a smirk and said, “We’ll just have to make Dean get ordained online.”

 

 

            Dean woke from a sketchy dream in which someone who looked an awful lot like Sam, only smaller, lay slashed in his arms. It’s all right, Dean. I’ll heal him, Cas’ voice reassured in a too-slow, molasses drip. But when Dean turned, Cas looked all wrong. Pale and… pared down somehow. Dean reached for his hand and it felt powdery as old paper. Cas was lying. He couldn’t help little Sam. He couldn’t even help himself—

            “Ugh,” Dean complained into his pillow, the loopy details of the dream already fading as his brain caught up and supplied the real events of last night. Sam was well. Cas was well. Even Gabriel was well—which contributed not insignificantly to Sam’s wellness, unfathomable taste in men as he had.

            Sure, Hannah and her revamped God Squad might nurse a bit of a grudge for awhile, but even they had deemed Metatron’s death just in that moment. He’d been an escaped prisoner, armed and ready for violence. Taken down by a third party not even associated with Hannah’s stewardship. A regular PR cakewalk.

            Of course, they’d spent a good deal of time questioning Gabriel about other tasks he’d done for Metatron, about how the spell operated, and about how he’d gotten in and out of Heaven’s most secure cells. He’d complied while idly entertaining himself on the swing set, though Dean couldn’t understand a good half of the archangel’s answers. Privately, he doubted Hannah could either even as she nodded somberly along with every word. Half-asleep at a picnic table with Sam, Dean could’ve sworn he’d heard something about the “hard shell” and “sweet center” of Heaven’s cosmic structure at one point. He’d sniggered to himself, making a mental note to say something about it to Cas later. Heaven is not a piece of candy, Dean, indeed.

            “What are you laughing about?” Cas’ voice asked, much closer than Dean expected. Dean’s eyes fluttered open as he realized the suspiciously firm surface under his cheek was not his pillow but, in fact, Castiel’s thigh, swathed in a pair of Dean’s old sweatpants. He hadn’t thought he’d chuckled aloud.

            “Nothin’, angel pie,” he slurred, curling further into Cas’ lap and wrapping an arm around the closest knee. He wondered how long Cas had been sitting up against the headboard, letting Dean sleep practically in his crotch. Ah, well. Happy accident.

            “I’ve never heard of angel pie,” Cas mused. “Angel food cake, yes, but not pie. What is it?”

            “You. It’s you.”

            “But if there is no such thing—”

            “I’ll invent some, okay? Something with… blueberries. And whipped cream. Right after I learn to bake.”

            “Would you like to learn to bake?”

            “Sure. Think of it. Sittin’ around covered in flour ‘stead of blood… maybe I could finally let myself get fat…” Dean was dozing off again, his thoughts becoming more and more disjointed.

            “You’d give up hunting?” Cas interrupted, surprised.

            “Huh? Who said anything about…? No. Not yet.”

            “Of course. Not yet,” Cas agreed, as if placating a child. A hand came to rest on Dean’s head, fingers pushing lightly through his hair.

            “Can’t tap out before ‘m even forty,” Dean mumbled. “Dad was fifty n’ still kickin’ ass... front lines…”

            “But you don’t have to stay on the front lines till you die, Dean.”

            “I know, I know… Cas, we still gonna do this when I’m old?”

            “Talk in bed? I hope so.”

            “Yeah, but with my head in your lap?” Dean turned his face and planted a rough kiss on Cas’ leg.

            “If you like,” Cas replied, a smile in his tone. “Your physical age means very little to me, Dean.”

            “I got old once. Pain in the ass.”

            “I can always heal your ass.”

            “Gee thanks.”

            “Speaking of which, I sense it’s rather sore now.”

            “Dude, shut up,” Dean laughed, rolling his eyes without even opening them.

            It was though. Cas had laid into Dean like a force of nature when they’d returned to the bunker, driving them both to messy, elated orgasm within minutes. The prep had been rushed, and though Dean had been unabashedly into it at the time, he now felt the consequences in spades.

            “That was rash of us. I should've been more careful with you,” Cas said, obviously thinking back on it as well.

            “Nah, I was begging you for it. Felt good. Victory sex, y’know?” Dean ran a hand up Cas’ leg, over the angle of his hip, and under the hem of the t-shirt he wore. Dean didn’t fully recall getting cleaned up or re-dressed, but he could be glad of it now. They lay tangled in fresh pajamas, the sheets cool and dry. “What time is it?”

            “1:30.”

            “Shit. Should probably get up. You think I’ll be able to talk Gabriel into conjuring some waffles?”

            “You did nearly burn him alive just yesterday, Dean.”

            “Hey, I apologized for that. And Sam’s probably apologized way more.”

           

            Turned out Gabriel was currently engaged in padding around the bunker barefoot, poking into all the remote wings and closets like a small dog thoroughly checking out new digs.

            “It’s like Fort Knox with all the amenities,” Gabe enthused, returning from the garage with all its flashy vintage cars. “Liquor… weapons… an honest-to-God dungeon. It’s a hunter’s wet dream! Not to mention I think we could build a pretty sweet blanket fort in the library.”

            “Maybe later,” Sam chuckled, snagging Gabriel’s arm as he passed by and pulling him into a kiss that made Dean want to loudly clear his throat. Hey, if he could keep his hands off Cas like a goddamn adult, they could at least show him the same courtesy.

            “What’ve you got in mind here, honey bun?” Gabe smirked, knotting his fingers in Sam’s shirt and leaning in to speak in a stage whisper every word of which Dean could hear with no difficulty at all, “Afternoon delight? Again? I’d be down for a romp in that shiny Model T out there. It’ll be just like Titanic.”

            “Oh my God, Gabe, we’d break it!”

            “The Impala then?” Gabriel went on with a diabolical glint in his eye. “Dean would haaate that. Oh, it would just about serve him right for doubting me.”

            “Absolutely not,” Sam hurried to say. “If we start shit with Dean, I’ll be waking up with dicks drawn on my face for a month.”

            “Oh, Sam darling.” Gabriel made a pouty face, patting Sam on the cheek in the most condescending way possible. “I can take your big brother in a prank war with both hands tied behind my back.”

            “I’m literally standing right here,” Dean reminded them.

            “How about some food, everybody?” Sam interjected a little too loudly, obviously keen on keeping the peace.

            “Sure thing,” Gabe agreed. “What’d you have in mind?”

            “Waffles,” Dean supplied.

            “Was I talking to you?” Gabriel asked with a snide lilt.

            “Waffles are fine, waffles are fine!” Sam insisted, herding the rankling archangel into the kitchen.

 

            In the end, they indulged in a wildly unplanned feast of waffles and bacon, eclairs and oatmeal, malted milkshakes and fried potatoes. Because anything anybody mentioned (or, Dean suspected, even thought about) seemed to appear at hand. When Cas joined them, creeping into the room with an adorably advanced case of bedhead, Dean coaxed him to try a bite of everything until he picked a favorite. The seraph went on about glucose and protein and sodium for awhile but eventually deemed the malt most tolerable as it had the smoothest texture.

            While they ate, Dean browsed the laptop for new cases, teasing Sam about a possible West Virginian circus haunting as thoroughly as possible (“You know, in case you wanna hang out with more clowns than that one you’re currently sleeping with”). When he looked up, it was to find Gabriel staring curiously across the table.

            “C’mon, I’m just kidding,” Dean drawled, taking a swig of coffee.

            “Huh? Oh, yeah, whatever,” Gabe said with a dismissive wave. “I know. I was just taking a gander at Cassie here. You been trying anything… special… on those wing wounds?”

            “What?” Dean spluttered. “No. What’s there to do?”

            “I don’t know. I thought nothing. But—well, I guess you can’t see it—there’s a bit of a… shine… to them this afternoon.”

            Cas, who had been sitting sideways on one of the table’s stools, craned his head over his shoulder. “I don’t see anything.”

            “No, maybe even you can’t,” Gabriel mused, standing and slinking around the table with shrewd focus. He touched Castiel’s back as if feeling for a pulse. “But it’s like they’re still trying to… be.”

            “Ambriel drew the glyph, but she died before the wings were hers,” Sam chimed in. “Maybe that matters.”

            “Maybe. And the fact that they refused to heal over all the way,” Gabe went on, squinting.

            “I have felt some obstruction preventing them from closing entirely,” Cas admitted. “And it… well, it still feels nice when Dean touches there. I don’t know why that would be unless….”

            “Wait a minute,” Dean snapped, suddenly a little scared and a little hot under the collar. “Are you saying Cas’ wings might be growing back? Because I swear to God, Gabe, if you are just saying that and getting his hopes up—”

            “I wouldn’t joke about this, Dean,” Gabriel said absently, peering even closer. “I think… I think 'growing back' is exactly what they’re doing.”

            Dean released all his tension in one strangled breath, feeling like every Christmas for the rest of his life had just come early. He'd accepted that he would never get to see Cas' entrancingly black wings again, but had worried that his human understanding could never fully grasp how much the loss meant to an angel. Cas might claim to get used to it, might never once complain, but they would've both always known it could've been different. And now he was suddenly so happy for Cas it almost hurt.

            “Well, that’s awesome news,” Sam grinned, beaming at them all.

            “Don’t schedule the party just yet,” Gabe cautioned, straightening and coming back around to sit at Sam’s side. “Angels operate on a much longer timeline, y’know. It might be several years before the regrowth is anything worth writing home about.”

            But Castiel's face had brightened into a portrait of bewildered joy. He looked about at all of them in turn, finally settling on Dean. “That’s all right. Really. I can wait. Can you wait, Dean?”

            Dean found the angel’s hand under the table and squeezed it. “Yeah. Yeah, Cas. I can wait.”