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Pairings: Almost gen - Castiel/Dean pre-slash.

Rating: Teen.

Genre and tropes: Theoretically fluff and crackfic, though Sam keeps trying to angst. Episode tag to 5x04. Trickster!Gabriel, temporarily-fem!Gabriel.

Word count: 3400.

Spoilers: Postscript to 5x04 (and AU from there)..

Summary: Set after 5x04. There are several things Sam doesn’t understand. One is pretty simple: how the hell (hah) are he and Dean meant to hold out against two sulky archangels who both want a ride to the prom? Others are “what on earth went down in that weird alternate reality Zachariah put Dean in,” “why is Dean looking at Castiel so strangely now,” and “who is this woman with pink hair who’s just turned up and decided they’re all going to take a day off to visit the zoo.”

Warnings: Gabriel using a glamour to appear female. References to 5x04, and other angst of season 5.

Notes: Originally written for the Team Free Love Secret Lover exchange, for verucasalt123. To a mish-mash of her prompts - “Dean/Cas, Sam and Gabriel trying to force them to acknowledge their feelings for each other” and a bit of “the Trickster playing tricks”. Gabriel also tries to make the story fit the “crack” request, but alas, the boys aren’t really in the mood.

“So you’re the missing archangel,” Sam tried. She bit the end off her giant candy snake and grinned, all teeth and sparkle. “Not really missing. More sort of temporarily misplaced. Like the One Ring.”

---

A hotel room, back in the right year. The common grubbiness of we-can’t-be-bothered-cleaning, not the violence and desolation of zombieland. And a smirking balding angel in centre-stage.

“How do I know that this whole thing isn’t one of your tricks? Huh? Some angel hocus-pocus?”

“The time for tricks is over. Give yourself to Michael. Say yes and we can strike. Before Lucifer gets to Sam. Before billions die.”

“… Nah.”

“‘Nah’? You telling me you haven't learned your lesson?”

“Oh, I’ve learned a lesson alright. Just not the one you wanted to teach.”

“Well, I’ll just have to teach it again! Because I got you now, boy, and I'm never letting you—”

The sound of wings.

 “That’s pretty nice timing, Cas.”

“We had an appointment.”

“… Don’t ever change.”

And the sound of wings, again. And Castiel’s voice, sharp and wary.

“Why are you here.”

“Nice to see you too, little bro. Haven’t you been teaching the kid manners, Deano?”

“You will not touch Dean Winchester.”

“Keep your socks on, sweet cheeks. Tall-dark-and-broody’s all yours.”

“Wait, wait. Who the hell is this chick?”

“That… chick is Gabriel.”

“… As in the archangel Gabriel?”

“Guilty.”

“Okay. Gotta say, lady, never thought I’d meet an angel with bubblegum-pink hair.”

 

---

 

Whatever Sam had been expecting to wake up to that morning, it hadn’t been the sound of his phone ringing, half an hour after he’d finally found a motel and crashed.

The ringtone, for some probably ungodly reason, was “Heat of the moment.”

“Dammit, Dean,” he growled, as he scrabbled for the phone. “You know I hate that s-”

He had a moment to realise, with a sickening lurch, that Dean wasn’t there and wouldn’t be again, before he focussed on the screen of his phone and saw his brother’s name flashing.

“… Dean?”

Dean’s voice was nothing like the deadened weariness of five hours ago. This time it was a combination between wary, rueful, and trying not to grin. “So, you’re not gonna believe this one…”

 

---

 

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. He needed more coffee for this. Between Dean’s smart-ass comments and tangents and the way he kept going quiet all of a sudden and looking at Castiel like he was seeing somebody else there, and Castiel’s rigid posture and epic frown and deadpan anvil-subtle hints about people who were in the habit of running away and abandoning other people and not seeing things through, and the way the fourth person sitting at the table kept grinning and jumping topics like a grasshopper on speed and throwing innuendos at Dean’s head, Sam was having a hard time keeping the conversation straight.

“So you’re the missing archangel,” he tried.

She bit the end off her giant candy snake and grinned, all teeth and sparkle. “Not really missing. More sort of temporarily misplaced. Like the One Ring. Think you stashed it safely in your pocket and it worms its way out and goes bouncing down into the dark to twinkle at stray hobbits. Only the dirt on the ground turns out to be way more interesting than staring adoringly at somebody else’s pocket fluff.”

Okay. Angel. Allergic to helpful answers. And probably playing some ridiculously complicated long game to get them to do something Sam hadn’t even heard of yet.

Only… well, girl. In thigh-high boots and a flouncy skirt, with a mouth like a sailor’s. It was really hard to snap back at her like he would to Zachariah, or any other sanctimonious neat-suited man-shaped angel they’d met.

“Okay,” he said, kind of lamely, and smiled carefully. So sue him, he was a big guy and he was used to smiling carefully at tiny girls to keep the conversation going. “So you’re, what, here to help us?”

Her eyes narrowed, and there was a flash of something dangerous there, old and dark; but the smile was so bright and sly that Sam wasn’t sure he hadn’t imagined it. “Mostly I’m here because Zachariah was muscling in on my turf. ‘The time for tricks is over’? Seriously? If anyone’s going to be tossing people into hallucinogenic fake realities around here, it’s not that middle-management cretin. And have you seen his vessel’s hair? How does he manage to spend a minute in that thing without rushing off to a day spa for a serious makeover? And prodding all its hair follicles back into action?”

“Hold on.” Dean leaned in across the table and jabbed a finger at the air in front of her face. “Fake realities? You saying he didn’t dump me in the real future?”

“Dean,” Castiel said quietly, and Dean whipped his head around like Castiel was some kind of eye-magnet or whatever. “No angel can travel forward to that which has not yet occurred. But archangels, or those with access to an archangel’s power, can create memories and worlds that seem real to the minds trapped within them. Just as Zachariah did to yourself and Sam before you ever met him.”

Dean went very still for a moment; and when he spoke again his voice was rough, curt in the way that meant he was covering up. “Okay. Okay, good. So all we have to do is stick together, and not get you hooked on – on anything nasty, and make sure you get to see all the good parts of being human and not – and Sam and I stay together and don’t go anywhere near Detroit. Okay.”

… Sam was definitely going to be pressing for details about what exactly had gone down in that other world. Just as soon as they got some time to themselves. Which, not going to happen anytime soon, what with the whole Apocalypse thing dragging at them like cement thickening around their ankles.

Castiel’s eyes were wide and puzzled and soft, and Gabriel was watching him and Dean with a strange expression, mouthing thoughtfully at the gummy end of her snake. Her eyes were a soft hazel-golden colour, long-lashed and crinkled at the corners like she saw a joke no one else did, and she had hands that punctuated everything she said with little flicks and gestures and sly little movements. Jess had had hands like that, too.

… Angel. Not woman. No matter that she acted a hell of a lot more human than any other angel they’d ever come across. Even Anna had had a sort of ethereal, other-worldly quality about her.

“Guess it would be too much to expect that the Righteous Man gets to be the Articulate Man too,” Gabriel tossed in cheerfully after a moment.

Dean shot a glare across the table – “Screw you, lady” – then went back to gazing strangely at Castiel, which, what? What had gone down there, and why was Dean’s whole body language basically screaming that Castiel was his turf?

Gabriel grinned like a panther.

Sam cleared his throat, because seriously, guys. Priorities. “So Dean said you’re not on board with the whole Apocalypse plan? That you’re going to help us?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Put away those earnest eyes, puppydog. I never said that.” She stretched out in her chair, arms linked behind her head, and the dark green silk of her little sarong top thing rode up on her belly, showing a clear two inches of skin, which Sam definitely was not looking at. “I said I like this whole life-on-earth thing and I’m not down with my brothers playing competitive pinball with it. Never said I was actually going to help.”

… Great.

Sam couldn’t help the slump of his shoulders, the way his face twisted up. Not that he’d pinned much hope on this. She was obviously as slippery as the rest of them, no matter how many times Sam had read the name “Gabriel” as a kid and got that little thrill of wonder, built up this idea of that one angel of hope and power and sheer joy.

Should have known better, of course.

She leaned forward, and rapped Sam across the knuckles with her snake. “Hey, sulky. Look around you.”

Sam glared at her, and looked.

It was mid-afternoon. Nice and sunny, relaxed kind of breeze wandering through the trees that leaned over the big cat pens, stirring the vines growing on the trellis over the tables of the coffee shop that overlooked them. The lions were sprawling in the sun, big and golden and lazy in their strength; the tiger was presumably somewhere in her jungle of a habitat, probably watching them and making sly tiger plots; the leopards in their cages were invisible too, and a black jaguar paced back and forth in a worn path at the front of her exhibit, frustrated and glaring.

Nothing strange there. No odd breezes, cold spots, none of the shiver of malevolent power creeping over Sam’s skin that meant there was a demon or an angry angel nearby. None of the cats (or the birds hopping about in the vines) acting like anything other than what they were meant to be.

They had the space outside the coffee shop to themselves. And sure, it was a Tuesday, and zoos were probably busier on weekends, but still…

“The people,” Dean said, and there was a nasty note of suspicion creeping into his voice. “What have you done with the people?”

Gabriel tossed something small and pink in the air, then flicked it in Dean’s direction. He caught it automatically: a small candy heart, with the name ‘Castiel’ carved on it.

“Nothing, Sherlock. It’s what I’ve done with you that’s the trick.”

Dean rolled his eyes and threw the candy down on the table. Castiel blinked at it cautiously.

“Another fake world, right? Go on, then – hit me. What’s your game?”

“Nope. I’m flying under the radar. Just a time-loop. I’m giving you a day off, kids!”

“A day off,” Sam repeated flatly.

“Sure! Or, you know, a month. Or whatever. A break. Figured we could all do with one, what do you think?”

The grin was too wide, too clever by half.

Find the flaw, the inconsistency. Work it,

“Why did you get rid of the humans but not the animals?” Sam shot at him.

“Oh, animals are easy to time-loop. Every day’s a loop to them, especially in here – sun up, sun down, feeding time, snoozing time. Humans are the ones that get all uptight about tiny little things like finding out it’s always Tuesday when they keep expecting it to be Wednesday.”

Sam twitched. Gabriel winked at him.

… the hell?

“Okay, you know what?” Dean was on his feet, solid and glaring and carefully reined in, with one hand closing protectively around Castiel’s shoulder. “Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t know what you’re playing at, but we’re not buying. Drop us back where we came from.”

“No can do, Deano.” And there, all of a sudden in her dancing golden eyes, there was the ancient angel, the weight and gravity and sadness. “Here’s the deal. You two yahoos are at breaking point. Castiel, he’s getting near it. Right now, it’d take just the right touch in the right place to break you right apart and give my big brothers everything they want. And you’re in end days, kids. You need to pull yourself together pretty damn quick, and that ain’t gonna happen when the world’s throwing rains of fire and squabbling archangels and cambions and horsemen at your heads. What you need is time out. And this way you’ve got it – no cost, no overheads, no catch. Make the most of it.”

… There had to be some kind of trick. A few days off wasn’t exactly a solution, but right now it just sounded too… well, too heavenly to be real.

Dean opened his mouth, looked at Sam weirdly, looked away, closed his mouth again, and scrubbed his hand across his face. Castiel was staring narrowly at his big sister, like if he just squinted hard enough he could work out what she was up to.

Gabriel winked at Castiel.

“And also,” she added, sweet and sharp-edged, “big brother Winchester and little brother angel need to have a serious talk about feelings. What better than a romantic day at the zoo? Man up, bucko!”

“What? No! If I get a day off, I’m spending it flat on my back in my bed.”

“Yeah? Want an audience?”

Sleeping, lady.”

 

---

 

Dean didn’t win out there.

 

---

 

Playing for time. Time to relax, and think, and reason. Time to remember who you were, and who you wanted to be.

At the otter enclosure, they all hopped over the fences to chat to them, since there were no keepers around to tell them off and Castiel was curious about the noises they made.

At the south-east Asian rainforest exhibit, Dean made rude comments about the tapirs’ eating habits while Castiel earnestly informed him that they were in fact of perfectly average weight for their species, and that he should not assume their build meant they did not possess speed and formidable gashing teeth. Dean’s respect for the badassness of tapirs visibly went up several notches.

At the sea-lion enclosure, the big bull hopped out of the water and wriggled his way up towards them, demanding with querulous barks why he hadn’t been fed yet this morning. Dean tried to ‘whoa, buddy’ him into calmness, but Castiel (on Sam’s whispered advice) summoned a bucket of fresh salmon, and handed the fish to Dean one at a time so that he could toss them to the big guy (and his girls, when they got the courage to flollop up onto the shore and surround them). Dean, because he was both a bit of a dick and a fascinated kid, took to handing all the fish to them tail-first, because he was fascinated by the way they’d toss them up in the air to swallow them down head-first.

Castiel just kept sneaking stunned sideways looks at Dean’s hand, like they were a strange new porn he’d never even thought of.

In the giant aviary, Sam and Gabriel hung back and let Dean and Castiel go up ahead. With no other humans about the birds leapt up onto the boardwalk, pecked about on the handrails, fluttered between there and their swamps and glades and hanging baskets and branches without a second thought, wings stirring up Castiel’s hair with the flurry of their passage. Dean looked like he was caught between tentative “this is awesome” and making another crack about kid stuff, or chick flick moments. Castiel’s eyes, though, were wide and awed, far beyond delight, as if here in this shabby old zoo Castiel had at last discovered the deadbeat Dad he’d been searching for without hope for too long now; and when Dean saw that, something shifted in his face, and he reached out to touch Castiel’s arm with a tiny shaky smile that made Sam look away.

By the time they reached the deserted ice-cream stand, Sam and Gabriel were deliberately lingering a long way behind. Dean hopped over the counter to make Castiel up an exaggeratedly with-the-lot cone and insist on him trying ever flavour; and Castiel took it, with a perplexed forehead and a bemused wrinkle of his nose.

Gabriel grinned, and snapped up an ice-cream of her own.

 

---

 

It was more than a bit surreal, wandering around the empty zoo. But hey, all the angels they’d met had been kind of mad one way or the other, all of them wanting Sam and Dean to do something to live up to their idea of what ‘Sam-and-Dean’ had to be, and if all Gabriel wanted was for them to relax a bit and wind down while snickering at hippos… well, Sam could deal with that.

At least until the trick appeared.

And to be honest, trying to get Castiel and Dean to do more than stare soulfully at each other? That would make Sam’s life a hell of a lot easier. And… well. Sam wasn’t going to be around forever. Whether he fell off the wagon, or Dean got sick of him and his freakishness and sent him away again, or Lucifer’s sweet-talking in his dreams got too much for him, or Sam just… lost his edge, for one reason or another, and something was just a bit too quick, got just a bit of a jump on him, and took his life away before Lucifer could notice it and drag him back… whatever way it happened. Sam wasn’t going to be around for Dean forever, and if Dean had someone else.

If Dean had Castiel.

Maybe Sam could be okay with that.

“Hey!”

Gabriel’s fingers snapped in front of Sam’s nose.

“Hey. This is crack fic, Sammy. Time out from reality while everyone gets to decide where to go from here. And make hilarious faces when they fall into the hippos’ pool. Pull yourself together.”

Sam scowled at her. “You don’t get to call me that.”

“Sure I do, big guy.” She grinned, charming and sweet, dancing backward up the path in front of him in chunky pink heels, and never missing a step. “You and me? We know each other a hell of a lot better than you remember. You might wanna work on that. Speaking of, kid, seriously? These two have been hanging around making cow-eyes at each other for a year and you haven’t bothered to drop a hint?”

Persuasive, and charming. Far more so than any other angel Sam knew. Castiel had his own kind of awkward charm, but he didn’t know how to use it, and he didn’t mean to have it. Gabriel was used to playing human – to playing humans – and she was dangerous.

“What’s with matching them up, Gabriel?”

“Shits and giggles?” she tried, quirking an eyebrow to check his reaction.

He glowered at her.

She rolled her eyes, and punched his shoulder. “Maybe I think they’ll be good for each other. Solid. You don’t think they need that, Sam?”

It was so eerily close to what he’d been thinking himself that he drew back and stared at her, as the macaques whooped behind her. “So you guys can read minds?”

She didn’t smirk this time, didn’t grin and play off him. She just shot him a guarded look, then another one, more open and eerily familiar, though he couldn’t place quite where he’d seen it before.

“Someone who isn’t you, just like you need someone who isn’t him. You’re walking the path they’ve laid out for you. You’re weakness and strength to each other, Sam. The angels know it, too.”

Where, where had Sam heard that before?

“Hey, you guys should see this. This monkey has climbed onto this other monkey’s head, and they’re –”

“They’re apes, Dean, not monkeys.”

Dean rolled his eyes, but the grin he tossed in Castiel’s direction was soft, not mocking at all. “Whatever.”

Only Castiel didn’t see it. He was peering at Gabriel with his head on one side and a puzzled little line between his eyebrows. “Gabriel. Why are you wearing a glamour over your vessel?”

Gabriel looked shifty. “Because it’s better to be dwarfed by Mulder and Scully here when you’re wearing a hot chick than some scruffy middle-aged guy?”

Sam made a small squeaking noise, and hastily readjusted his gender pronouns. “You mean you’re actually a guy under there?”

Gabriel wiggled her – his – some eyebrows at him. “Baby, I can be whatever you want me to be.”

Castiel gave Sam a puzzled look, as if he couldn’t quite account for that reaction. Then he looked back at Gabriel, and that was definitely his judgemental face. Odd – Sam had thought that was an angels-are-judging-you judgemental face, but maybe it was just a Castiel one, because even the archangel was squirming under it.

“Gabriel. Any demon here would see only that you are an angel and care for nothing more. Any angel would see your true form, regardless of your vessel. The only creature you can be hiding your vessel from is a human, and the only humans here are Sam and Dean Winchester. What is it that you are trying to conceal from them?”

Gabriel stared at him for a moment, and there was that something back in his - her eyes, so fierce, so resigned, and so very tired.

“… Fine.”

His features changed.

“Son of a bitch!”, Dean snarled, and grabbed for his knife, for all the good that would do.

Well.

Sam had known there’d be a trick somewhere. He just hadn’t thought it’d be this literal.

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