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“Wherefore beware who so euyr bere lyons or a lyon in armys, that he do not ayen the nature and kynde of a lyon.”
And therefore let him who bears lions or a lion on his coat of arms beware: let him do nothing contrary to the nature and kind of a lion.
John de Bado Aureo, in Tractatus de armis (A tract on arms/heraldry), written for Richard II’s queen Anne of Bohemia (Bodleian manuscript Laud misc. 733, folios 5v-6r). In reference to the noble, king-like qualities supposedly possessed by a lion, and therefore by any knight or house or lord who had a lion as their emblem. This idealised lion, of course, was purely a creature of heraldry – of symbols and legends – with little or no reference to the way a real lion lives his life.

 


Pairings: Sex scenes are Dean/Gabriel and Castiel/Dean. Other established relationships exist - most importantly, as Gabriel is the alpha of the flock, he and his two betas are in an established sexual relationship with everyone else in the flock (including each other), excepting the underaged characters.

Rating: Explicit

Genre and tropes: Slash. Alpha/beta/flock fic. AU: all angels. Knotting, biting, heat, first time.

Word count: 30k.

Spoilers: None.

Summary: Even at fifteen, slim-winged and slim-bodied and with bruises on his face and body that Gabriel didn’t have to ask about, Dean hadn’t been the kind of person you could laugh off when he made you a demand like that. Gabriel had given his promise, to this bedraggled bull-headed kid who’d walked into his land and told him what to do; had given it even though he’d known better than Dean what it meant. Come back with us. Challenge another alpha, one who’d made violence and power a way of life. Kill the angel who'd killed John Winchester. Step up to the plate in another broken flock, this one almost entirely made up of strangers who had no reason to trust Gabriel or to tolerate his mistakes (strangers to whom an alpha was a dangerous thing), and try to pull them together again. And never, never screw up. Never let down a single person.

Warnings: Wow. This list looks heavy. See the notes below for a bit of context on how these things are handled and how they fit into the tone of the story. I promise it’s not actually as angsty as this makes it sound. Meanwhile, hover over underlined text for (spoilery) specifics about character and circumstance, if that’s likely to be a dealbreaker for any of these warnings.
The could-be-a-trigger warnings: Reference to past consensual sex between under-aged participants (both fifteen), and to past non-con and attempted non-con between under-aged participants (15) and an adult in a position of power. Sex used as a means of social dominance – negatively in the past, positively in the present, although there is a sense that it always has the potential for accidental or intentional abuse. Sex as a biological imperative (heat, in which the body demands sex with the flock alpha and/or betas).
The maybe-not-your-cup-of-tea warnings: Fraternal incest in a socially permitted context (between the alpha and his betas as a means of sealing social bonds). Alpha/beta/flock dynamics, including knotting, self-lubrication (in all sexually mature male characters), heat, biting and marking (sometimes breaking the skin, so slight bloodplay), sub/dom moments in sex scenes, and other negotiation of power dynamics (though with significant attempts from the leader of the flock to set up a system that eases the biological power imbalance). Virginity (more or less). Scenes of caring for infants, and one scene including some of the less dignified aspects of aged care.

Notes: ... So. This world got away from me and grew Issues. The fic explores some of the problems of power dynamics implicit in the alpha/beta/flock social model, especially where sex can be used as a tool for emotional and social control. The characters are, therefore, working to find a balance between biology and culture, the innate and the learned, the body and the mind. Because I like my characters and I didn’t want to go that dark, all actual abuses of that power are firmly in the past, and the character who perpetuated them is dead. However, the central characters of this fic, and the community in which they live, are still working their way through the after-effects of this. The overall tone is a combination of porn-with-plot and fluff with bonus angst and protective-boys – no one is as badly broken as they are in canon or suffers from PTSD – but there are definitely references to past events that could be triggery for some people, and some of the characters’ ways of dealing with their history may also be difficult to deal with for anyone recovering from childhood or sexual abuse. (Sam, Castiel, and Dean were all minors at the time, and the effects of it on them were mostly to emphasise or develop character traits that we see in them in canon – Sam’s difficulties with trusting anyone outside his immediate family despite having charming and easy manners, for example, and Dean’s over-protectiveness when it comes to people who are ‘his’.)
Originally written for the Team Free Love Secret Lover exchange, for sharys-aogail.

---

 

Glossary.
ALPHA. BETA. GAMMA. DELTA. OMEGA. PRIMING. FLOCK NAME.

 

Gabriel banner

Gabriel woke to the sound of an interrogative crow, and the tickle of his little brother’s hair against his nose.

His left side was cool, morning breeze and the prickle of dew; the right side, warm, with the weight of Castiel’s nestling body and the drape of his two left wings. Deduction: Pamela had wandered off to start her day, enthusiastically and obnoxiously early as always, and Castiel had turned up instead.

Castiel never slept away from Dean (and therefore Sam) unless his duties as a beta obliged him; therefore, deduction number two, Castiel had only just turned up, either for morning sex or because there was something Gabriel needed to know before he started his day.

Two whole deductions before he’d opened his eyes. Gabriel was brilliant in the mornings.

He huffed a bit of a sigh, still too lazy for a yawn, and rolled onto his side to wrap his free arm and left wings around his brother. Castiel mouthed something too formless to be called a kiss into his throat; and Gabriel’s blood stirred in him, sluggish and possessive and fond.

“Jo’s going into heat again,” Castiel rumbled, scratchy-rough from sleep and completely failing at lazy morning talk.

Gabriel grunted, and rubbed stubble against Castiel’s cheek to make him squirm and grumble. It grated, because Castiel kept forgetting that he needed to shave nowadays. “Thought she might be. You in?”

Castiel made a dubious little sound in the depths of his chest. “Not unless she asks for me particularly.”

“She might, you know.” Castiel’s cheek was all warm blood stirring under cool skin, fresh and familiar and Gabriel’s, and he let his lips trail down it as he spoke, a slurring line of syllables and tickles halfway to intent. “She’s kinda fond of you. And you aren’t half so bad with the women as you think you are.”

Castiel didn’t reply, which was his usual course when he felt that he’d already said all he had to say on a subject, because Gabriel’s littlest brother wasn’t the kind of guy just to keep talking for the sake of making noise. Instead, he stretched out carefully against Gabriel, the skin of his belly riding smooth over Gabriel’s dew-damp hip, and tipped back his head so that Gabriel could nuzzle in under his chin where the thrum of his blood was strongest. Castiel’s blood; Gabriel’s blood, in all senses but the most literal. Blood that Gabriel’s own recognised, blood calling to brother’s shared blood. Blood that carried Gabriel’s own mark on it, now: more powerful and a hell of a lot more right than the claim that had been on him two years ago when he’d found Gabriel in the woods. When Castiel should still have smelled like a child, unmarked by any alpha.

Gabriel’s blood. Gabriel’s brother. Gabriel’s beta.

He opened his mouth against the pulse of Castiel’s throat, too lazy and wet to count as a bite. Castiel made a pleased rumble of a noise and nudged one ankle in between Gabriel’s calves.

Tempting.

It had been almost two weeks since he’d had time for either of his betas. And lying spread open under Castiel, arching up into his touch, as Castiel worked his way in with those sharp, sweet little nudges of his hips, all narrow-eyed focus squarely on Gabriel like no one else; running his fingertips up the sensitive skin of Castiel’s ribs and into the feathers of his lower wings as they arched dark and bristling over him… tempting, yes.

But, “I should get up,” he grumbled instead, muffled around Castiel’s collarbone. “Before I have to go lock myself up with her in the chambers for the next two days or more.”

Castiel made a noise somewhere between agreement and peevishness. His fingers nudged at the back of Gabriel’s neck, slow and just as possessive as Gabriel’s hand on the small of his back. A definite suggestion that Gabriel should lift his head.

“I’ll see to it that the chambers are well stocked.”

Gabriel obliged willingly, murmuring “thanks” into the insistent warmth of Castiel’s mouth, letting the sharp corners of his brother’s canines catch at his lip.

He tasted like Gabriel, and like Castiel, and like home.

They could wait a bit longer. He and Castiel, they were strong together. The world wouldn’t end if they went a few more days with only a couple of words swapped, only a brush of a hand or a wing here and there. Once Jo’s heat was over – earlier, if there was a gamma Jo liked well enough to invite in, to give Gabriel and Balthazar a break – then Gabriel would make time. For Castiel, and for Balthazar.

Castiel sat up, though his heart was thudding warm and eager against Gabriel’s hand, under his skin and bone and flesh. Gabriel huffed out a sigh, and resigned himself to wakefulness. He rolled up to rest on his elbow and to his feet from there, letting each of his left wings in turn take a little of his weight: the first and highest, the gamma wing, the second and the third, beta and alpha, which had grown in in his mid twenties, after Joshua had stepped back and down in his weakening age and Gabriel had found himself taking on leadership.

But that had been in his old flock.

Here and now it was a bright morning, chilly and clear. The sun was just cresting the peak of the hills to the west, throwing sharp-cut gold shadows out from the foot of every tree, and the flock that was Gabriel’s now was waking up around him.

This was home, now: and home was more than one person.

Gabriel craned his neck around in vain, and scowled. “The hell did Pamela do with my pants?”

Castiel slanted him the blank look that meant he was pretending he wasn’t laughing at his awesome big brother on the inside, and caught the wrist of Gabriel’s nearest wing to pull himself to his feet.

 

---

 

Most flocks were a little more nomadic than theirs.

Sure, all flocks had some place that was the heart of their lands, and most had some kind of permanent structure or shelter or storage space there. But most used it seasonally, or only for heats and sicknesses and childbirths, or in passing while the angels moved back and forth across their territory. You couldn’t expect the land to sustain twenty or more angels in one place indefinitely, after all; and the Winchester flock was over sixty strong.

Nomadism wasn’t really practical for these guys anymore, though. For one thing, there were too many kids under ten. A couple would have been okay, but being on the move all the time with a bunch of small children, some of whom hadn’t even grown their wings yet, was just too awkward. And they had a lot of adults who, for one reason or another, weren’t really up for travelling much: a lot of stories there that Gabriel had never asked to hear, but which he’d learned (or maybe earned) gradually, over the first year he’d spent with this flock.

Ellen, who’d tried to get between Azazel and her husband Bill, only to lose him and the use of her right wing, couldn’t fly anymore. Bobby couldn’t walk, after trying to stand up to the former alpha when it had been the kids at stake. Pamela’s eyes had gradually lost their sight after Azazel had knocked her down, cracking her head on a rock; and though she moved confidently enough around their regular grounds (and could tire even Gabriel out in bed), she’d have been lost anywhere else. Then there was Ellen’s mother Viviene, slow with age and halfway back to childish in her mind, and a handful of others who, though not crippled, had old broken limbs or busted joints (mostly dating back to Azazel’s time) that would start to ache and worsen if put to the test of constant travel.

Azazel had left behind him a flock that he’d well and truly fucked over. In every sense. Gabriel’s nightly fear was fucking them up worse.

Gabriel had fucked over his first flock, after all. And he knew just how few alphas ever got a second chance.

They were still working out how to adapt. The path between what was bred in the blood and what was learned or reasoned was not an easy one to tread.

Gabriel stopped by the little garden, where Ellen and Lisa had been experimenting with cultivating various edible plants that were uncommon or inconveniently far away. Neither woman was there this morning, but three of the kids were busy separating clustered seedlings with little dirty fingers and all of childhood’s earnest pride in a job painstakingly done. (And if they could raise a generation of kids with skills like that to fall back on in lean times, they’d be doing pretty damn well.)

Gabriel got his knees hugged, and muddy hands tugging at his feathers, and a chance to agree that, yes, they had been keeping the birds away very well: only a few of the tiny green shoots had gone missing in the last couple of days.

Onwards, around the long grey-ridged hill that formed the centre of their home. People were stirring, or lazing, or up and about, or emerging in ambling and dishevelled couples out of the woods and caverns if they’d been feeling amorous last night. Some looked like they were preparing for a hunt – meat was getting low, and the spring game would be afoot. Usually a beta would go along on a hunt. Best make sure it was Castiel this time: that would give him an excuse not to attend Jo, and avoid any of those quietly raised eyebrows about his lack of enthusiasm for sex. Especially by comparison with Balthazar.

It wasn’t as if there was any rush to get him in on more of the sex-related aspects of being a beta. Most alphas made do with only one beta, or none at all, and Gabriel and Balthazar weren’t exactly over-worked there. And Castiel did enjoy sex, even if he didn’t actively seek it out with anyone but Gabriel and Balthazar; which was honestly better than Gabriel had hoped for him, once. Gabriel was mostly sure the rest would follow, in time. So long as no one pushed him.

Anna hadn’t been well – the winter hadn’t been a sharp one, but it had been long, and the damp had kept getting into her lungs, weakening them until it was hard for her to breathe – so Gabriel stopped to lie with her for a while, trading kisses and slow touches and scraps of conversation.

Gabriel wasn’t innocent enough anymore to believe in stories of the miraculous healing power of an alpha’s saliva, or blood, or semen; but they certainly soothed and reassured (or, you know, aroused, depending on the circumstances), strengthened the flock bond, told the body and the heart and the gut that you were home and safe and cared for. And it was simple sense that, the more comfortable you were, the quicker you could get better. Gabriel could do that much to help, anyway.

Then up and over the ridge, onto the lee side of the hill, and Gabriel tossed Dean’s grin and mocking salute back to him as he passed, calling out to the teenager to shift his lazy ass and find Balthazar for him.

He almost tripped over Lisa, and it was immediately obvious just why she wasn’t up and about just yet. Gabriel scooped up the wriggling seven-month-old reason, blew air all over his face to make him giggle, and informed him that they were going to give poor Mummy a break and go look at birds. Ben was a wonderful kid, but very intense, all focus and engagement and chatter, not at all the sort to sit quietly where he was put and watch the world. By the look of Lisa’s face, and the relief with which she curled back up in her woollen cape, last night had been one of those ones where he needed a feed and a re-settle every hour.

(Azazel had always knotted women in heat, with no regard for whether they wanted kids or not, or had a husband or wife who might want something to say in the matter. The result, of course, was a mini-flock of half-siblings between the ages of two and five, and two women dead in childbed because they’d been too old or sickly to last the course of labour. Since Gabriel had torn out Azazel’s throat, only two women had chosen to conceive: Rachel by her husband, and Lisa, who had neither a husband nor a use for one, by Castiel.)

So by the time Gabriel found Ellen and Sam, busy with the painfully slow process of helping her mother eat bean porridge, he had a busily flapping baby perched on his forearm (because Ben always insisted on facing out, in case he missed seeing something exciting, like a bird), singing loud shapeless vowels into the wind.

“Ah bah bah bah bah,” Gabriel agreed with him cheerfully, and messed up Sam’s hair with his free hand in greeting. “How’s tricks this morning, Viviene?”

Ben crowed with delight, and tried to dive for Ellen. She gave him a smile, but it was a bit distracted; and Gabriel lifted him up just a little higher, before he could start grabbing at her hair for attention, the way he’d learned to do this week.

Viviene was peering up at him, eyes filmy and far-away. “John. Is that John?” she asked after a moment, reaching out a hand towards him, seeming to forget about the spoon in it.

Ellen caught the spoon before it could overturn, and guided it back to the bowl. “Not John, Mother,” she reminded, barely an edge of tiredness under the patience. “John’s gone now. This is Gabriel.”

“Hey, John’s fine,” Gabriel garbled, around the baby fingers which were suddenly edging curiously into his mouth. “Just don’t start calling me Azazel and we’re golden. How’re you feeling this morning, sweetheart?”

“Azazel,” mused Viviene, with a faint frown, and Gabriel noticed with concern that the right side of her face and mouth were barely moving this morning, so that her speech slurred into mumbles, and her right hand was slack at her side. Some days that was worse than others: apparently today was a bad day. “He wasn’t very polite, was he. Such a pity. He had such beautiful wings, that boy.”

Sam pulled a face, out of her line of sight, half worried and half that awkward kind of grimace that came with hearing someone you were fond of saying the same thing they’d said yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, never realising they were repeating themselves.

Gabriel crouched down so Viviene didn’t have to look up, balancing Ben on his knee. The baby lunged for the facecloth that Sam was holding, and Sam let him catch it and investigate the stitching at the edge with his stubby little fingers.

“Yeah, he could have had better manners,” Gabriel agreed drily. “How’re you feeling, beautiful?”

“Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine,” she assured him, just like every morning. “I’ve got Sam here, you see. He’s been telling me stories. Such a lovely young man.”

Sam went pink. Ben made a noise like a goat, so Sam mimicked it back to him to make him squeal.

Gabriel smirked at him faintly, and winked. “Isn’t he just?” Sam wrinkled his nose and pulled a bit of a bitch-face, but he still looked kind of worried and worn. Gabriel made a mental note to send him and Dean on the next hunt – it would do him good to get out into the woods for a few days, to be active and busy with something that would tire him out in a less depressing way than this. “I might have to steal him later, just to see if he’s as good as all that. No, Ben, that’s not your spoon. Come here, you little scrapbucket.”

He stood up, slinging Ben up against his shoulder, and leaned down to press a kiss to Viviene’s cheek, then a softer one, more lingering, to the top of Ellen’s head. She leaned in against him, just a little, for a moment. If there was anyone in the flock who didn’t need Gabriel to lean on for extra strength, it was Ellen; but she appreciated it sometimes, all the same.

Sam followed him when he moved away, and Gabriel stopped just out of earshot of the two women, to wait for him. He was all length and scrawny limbs and big concerned brown eyes, and there was a quickness and thoughtfulness to his expression, even at fourteen, that made Gabriel think privately he’d make one hell of a man. Right now, though, his face was clouded over.

“Gabriel, is… do you think she’ll get better?”

Hell. Go for the easy questions, why don’t you.

He nuzzled at Ben’s hair, because the baby was bumping his face happily into Gabriel’s shoulder, and replied softly, “It’s old age, Sam. And old age is shit. Some days will be better than others, and on the best of them she still needs humiliating amounts of help. That’s gotta suck for someone who’s always tried so hard not to be a bother to her family. You gonna blame her if she prefers to live in her memories as much as she can?”

Sam opened and shut his mouth, then scuffed at the ground with one foot. “I know. I’m sorry. I just – um. Is it bad if I wish she’d stop telling that old story about Jo and the river crab?”

Gabriel snorted, a bit of a laugh. “Heard that one five times this week myself. Just keep listening to her, yeah? Like it’s the first time you’ve heard every one of those stories. She’s happy enough, you know.”

Sam bit his lip, and glanced back to where Ellen was dabbing gently at a little trickle of saliva escaping from the slack side of Viviene’s mouth. “I guess. I just… I remember when she used to be so…”

Gabriel threw his free arm around Sam’s shoulders, tugged him in against his side, and pressed a kiss against his temple. “Hey,” he murmured. “You’re doing good, kid. You know that, yeah?”

Sam’s face brightened, and reddened. The kid was so easy for praise - he just ate it up, always startled like he’d never thought anyone would notice him enough to think he’d done well. It was a bit scary, really, how easy it was to bring that shocked, open delight to Sam’s face.

Gabriel was pretty sure John had been harder on himself and his sons than on anyone else in the flock.

He still remembered what it had been like to be a gamma: to look up into the eyes of someone you knew to your bones was stronger than you, wiser, more right. Even if you knew in your mind that was bullshit, that an alpha could be as wrong as anyone else, that their strength could with effort be beaten down by two or more gammas, that the instinct was ingrained to prevent discord, it was so much easier just to drop your eyes and think, no, not just now, if there’s a problem someone else will raise their head and speak. It was very, very tempting to want to believe that your alpha would keep you safe, because if you believed that you didn’t have to think about fear.

No one had risen against Azazel, not properly. Not even when he’d followed the call of blood and the worst of instinct and nature so deep that his leadership had become something deeply unnatural. There had been no concerted, decisive resistance, even though there was no real reason why gammas couldn’t overthrow an alpha, then let one of their own gravitate towards leadership and sprout extra wings in the natural course of things. But at every step of the way, for every individual involved, it was just easier not to. Or not to help, if someone else did.

An alpha had too much power to screw with everyone’s minds, and that was fucking terrifying. How would Gabriel ever know if he messed up, before it was too late?

Balthazar’s sharp whistle cut through the morning air as Gabriel picked his way down the long side of the hill, hopping from boulder to boulder with little half-glides, making little whoooosh noises for Ben’s benefit. At Balthazar’s hail, Gabriel spread his wings properly and turned a landing into a downbeat instead. There was just enough lift in it to cruise over the rough patch in front of him and one of the dug-out cavern entrances, over to join Balthazar and Dean where they were making their way in his direction.

“So I passed Jo down at the stream,” Balthazar called out before he landed, “and whew, does that girl smell sweet. Hello, darling.”

“Aren’t you lucky she likes you cat-calling her?” Gabriel commented, leaning in for Balthazar’s wet tease of a kiss. “Where is she now?”

“Chambers,” Balthazar replied, detaching Ben’s messy fingers from the fine-cut shoulder of his tunic with a delicate grimace and stepping back out of grabbing range. “All systems go by the time you get there, by the smell of it. I’m guessing you wanted to tell me not to go scampering off about the woods with these boys?”

“Got it in one. Hey look, Ben, it’s a crow. That’s a crow. Can you see it? You might wanna see if you can coax Sam into going, Dean. I’ll make it an order if you can’t - it’d do him good to get out of here for a few days. Castiel too, if he’s up for it.”

Dean nodded easily, and Balthazar made a faint scoffing noise, the kind of fond impatience that he always seemed to pass off as scorn.

“What?” he added, catching Gabriel’s and Dean’s expressions. “That boy needs to have more fun.”

Dean set his jaw. “Don’t start.”

“Oh, pipe down, pipsqueak, I’m not about to toss your precious Cassie into anything he’s not hot and aching for.”

Gabriel stole Balthazar’s hand and nipped lightly at his wrist, because even fond teasing wasn’t always harmless. “Drop it, bro. Dean, less of the hackles, yeah?”

“Sure, sure,” agreed Balthazar lazily, and curled his hand opportunistically around the angle of Gabriel’s jaw. Gabriel cocked an eyebrow at him, ironic, and Balthazar’s sardonic mouth quirked up a bit at the corner before he leaned in to brush a touch of it against Gabriel’s cheek.

“See you in a day or two, then.”

“Keep an eye on Viviene and Lisa,” Gabriel warned, automatically, and held him there for just a moment longer to breathe in the feel of him before he let him go. Not that Balthazar really needed the reminder. Gabriel trusted him to take care of everyone well enough.

Balthazar was the brother who’d been at his side through everything, when Castiel had been young enough (thank the heavens) to send away to another flock when the sickness had struck. Balthazar had stuck by Gabriel’s side, nursing sarcastically and tirelessly, growing greyer every day, until the last of those too sick to flee to their neighbours had either died or recovered.

There had been only three who recovered. Gabriel had sent them away, to seek out the remnants of their families. A flock of five was no flock; and a lone alpha and his beta could hardly beg for admittance into even the most peaceful and accommodating of their neighbours’.

Gabriel wasn’t quite selfish enough (though sometimes he’d wished ferociously that he had been) to go to each of the flocks that had taken in some of his refugees and demand they come back to him. The blood of the adults, by that time, would have been attuned to the touch of another alpha; and though that could always be overwritten again, a sudden change of alpha screwed over your hormones royally, could leave some people confused or sharp-tempered or depressed for months. And it wasn’t like biology was the only thing that would be messing them up, not with all those memories and all that disruption.

And maybe they could have patched themselves together again, some crippled semblance of a flock built around the gaping holes left by the dead. But the kids – kids like Castiel – they deserved better than that. They deserved a flock that was hale and whole to grow up in, not the broken tatters of a thing that Gabriel would have had to offer.

So Gabriel had figured. He’d kept right on figuring it up until, three lonely years later, he’d met a rag-tag group of determined kids wandering in the heart of his old flock lands, led by his own brave quiet lion of a little brother who, at fifteen, ought to have been too young to smell sexually mature.

That had been how he’d learned that John Winchester had been killed and his flock name taken, as if they were back in the savage old days where one alpha would drive out another and slaughter his kids. That was when he’d first heard the name Azazel.

Gabriel hadn’t sent Castiel to safety after all.

Ben lunged sideways in Gabriel’s arms and crowed out that little laugh of his that sounded like a duck, the one that was meant to get your attention and keep it.

“Hey, little dude. That doesn’t come off, you know,” Dean murmured to him, as Ben grabbed hopefully at the amulet around his neck.

Ben beamed optimistically, wide and gummy, and Dean ruffled up his hair in a way that said ‘I am very manly and definitely not actually playing with this kid, he just happens to be a friend of mine and there’s nothing cute here at all.’

“Here, you,” Gabriel decided, and handed Ben over. “Take your husband’s kid and show him some exciting bark, would you?”

Ben gurgled and grabbed for Dean’s chin as Dean tucked the tiny flailing body snugly in against his own. “Hey there, buddy. It’s Uncle Dean’s turn to have his nose pulled off. Go be all manly, alpha,” Dean added, with the same eye-roll he always had when someone called him Castiel’s husband, more habit than protest.

Gabriel winked obnoxiously at him, and spread his wings.

Addressing the two of them like a married couple was honestly more a habit than a tease by now, as much as Dean’s reaction to it was. Gabriel was pretty sure they were a foregone conclusion, once Dean got around to hitting his first heat and sexual maturity. If it had been anyone else, a beta might have got some odd looks for spending all his time (and as many of his nights as he could) with a couple of unprimed kids, even if there was only a couple of months’ difference between his age and Dean’s; but this was Castiel, and he and Dean and Sam had (by all accounts) been inseparable ever since Castiel and Anna and Rachel and Inias had arrived here to beg asylum.

John Winchester had given Gabriel’s refugees a home; but it had been his sons who’d given Castiel a family again. That was something Gabriel never forgot.

So too was the first time he’d met Dean – really met him, not just glimpsed a child in the crowd in passing social or political visits years ago. Dean had been the kid who, no taller than Gabriel and a good deal skinnier, had looked him in the eye and sworn to end him if he screwed over Castiel or Sam.

Even at fifteen, slim-winged and slim-bodied and with bruises on his face and body that Gabriel didn’t have to ask about, Dean hadn’t been the kind of person you could laugh off, or look away from, when he made you a demand like that. Gabriel had given his promise, to this bedraggled bull-headed kid who’d walked into his land and told him what to do; had given it even though he’d half known as he gave it what it meant, probably better than Dean did.

Come back with us. Challenge another alpha, one who’d made violence and power a way of life. Kill the man who killed my father. Take our flock’s name. Step up to the plate in another broken flock, this one almost entirely made up of strangers who had no reason to trust Gabriel or to tolerate his mistakes, strangers to whom an alpha was a dangerous thing, and try to pull them together again. And never, never screw up. Never let down a single person.

Who the hell was Gabriel to take that on?

Any alpha who said he (or she) didn’t have favourites was a filthy liar. Everyone had to rely on you, and you had to rely on everyone – hells, you had to love everyone, and hope like fuck you could earn even a portion of that back – but you couldn’t be equally close to everyone, couldn’t be friends with everyone quite so much. It was a matter of personalities, pure and simple, just like it was for any angel. Gabriel knew better than to show favour, but there was something special about Dean, and about Sam: Sam because he’d looked at Gabriel with shining eyes right from the start, like they’d all been saved the moment Sam laid eyes on him, and Dean because he’d glared at Gabriel and not believed at all. Sam because he trusted, and Dean because he didn’t.

Not letting Sam down, and winning Dean’s trust. Some days it felt like it all came down to that. Those two unprimed kids were basically a shorthand for the whole flock, and everything Gabriel Winchester stood to mess up.

 

Forward.

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