There were twelve faceless figures in silver and gold, standing on the hills around them. Always dancing, always out of reach, always lulling you to sleep as you watched.
They weren’t real. Or rather, they weren’t real creatures. Not a blip on the monster radar.
That didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous.
They didn’t sleep, and they didn’t stop walking. When one stumbled, or let his eyes fall shut, one of the others would coax or cuff or curse him back into wakefulness.
Neither Castiel nor Gabriel mentioned what had been interrupted. Wasn’t exactly casual conversation; and given the tentative new threads of connection intertwining between Castiel and Dean, Gabriel wasn’t too keen on going all I Know What You Did Last Summer unless he and Castiel were alone.
In fact, he wasn’t too keen on the whole subject at all. And avoidance had worked for him for years, so hey, why stop now? He’d bring it up sometime. Soon. Sometime when Dean was asleep. And Castiel wasn’t grouchy. And Gabriel wasn’t exhausted. And... any time now. Yes.
Dean cast suspicious eyes over the velvet, somnolent landscape, and wondered whether all those dead angels were here somewhere, fading away. Balthazar, and Raphael, and all those other consciousnesses whose memories would be fading but not yet faded: who would know them, and be drawn to them.
Words were costly; and so Gabriel said only that he didn’t know.
Castiel didn’t know how to say no to Dean, and so he explained, very flatly, that nobody had ever known what happens to angels when they die.
Dean cleared his throat, and looked pointedly at Gabriel.
Gabriel felt the irritable urge to growl like an animal. But he was more than an animal, more than Dean’s pet. Gabriel was greater than Dean could conceive of, and yet Dean looked at him like he got it. Like all Gabriel’s masks were nothing.
He scoffed, instead.
“You wanna know how long it’s been since I was only an angel, kid? Hell of a lot longer than since those vamps were only human. Empires have risen and nose-dived, and so have gods. There’s nothing pure about me.”
Purgatory sang on, sweet and soporific. And it danced.
It was the red poppies that finally kicked Gabriel’s ass into gear.
They weren’t really poppies, to look at. They were more like broad, velvety petals, scattered thick over the earth. Some floated just above it, ankle-height, stirring and rustling softly as you walked through them. But the impression they gave - the vast, softly curving meadows sweeping out on all sides, carpeted with red that nodded and rustled and smiled - was of a good old Flanders field, painted in wistful indistinct strokes in memory of the old boys who never came home.
And the smell - sweet, soft, curling slowly into your notice, but strangely heavy (and heavier every minute) with the opium-thick promise of rest, just for a minute, just because you deserved it, just long enough to gather your strength... and it truly felt as if a rest here, amongst these soft sanguine scraps, would ease not only the body but the heart, that all irritations and worries could be soothed, that everything would be alright if only the eyelids might fall shut for a minute or two.
In retrospect, Gabriel really should have cottoned on sooner. But... well, sue him. Archangel. Not used to having to watch out for that sort of influence. It was usually aimed at the humans.
So it made sense it was Dean who noticed that Castiel wasn’t just stumbling but slumping, staggering slowly to his knees and curling up in the red with a contented yawn. And it was Dean who cursed him and shook him and yelled at Gabriel with a sleepy-thick voice until Gabriel got enough of a clue to kick himself in the shins and get over there and help Dean drag Castiel, pick him up and keep his head clear of the not-flowers that clung innocently to his face and hands, until Castiel was blinking grouchily at them like a rumpled owl and the poppy things were fading into the ground.
“This is crap,” Dean said afterwards, angry, and “Why you, Cas?” like he thought this implied Castiel was weaker and he’d punch anyone in the face who dared to say so, including Purgatory, the universe, and Castiel himself.
Only it wasn’t that, was it? It wasn’t weakness. It was just a desire for sleep, and a willingness to let go.
Castiel believed that he didn’t deserve to keep going.
Bad enough in a human, even with their resilience of soul and all their various wealths of cultural information about depression and punishment and suicidal thoughts, ways of understanding what their minds were doing and structures of thought to cling to about finding their way out.
Angels only had archangels. An angel wasn’t made to choose, and neither was he made to reflect on his past choices. Or to grant himself absolution.
Time for Gabriel to man up.
Angel up. Archangel up. Whatever. And none of that half-assed bullshit he’d been pulling so far. He was going to have to do this properly.
Hells. Talk about a bull in a china shop.
... where the china was painted with lovely lurid pictures of the bull’s family at the slaughterhouse.
Because Gabriel might be a bit slow right now, with a lot of Amnesiac Gabriel’s memories to reconsider in the light of, well, actually knowing shit, but he wasn’t stupid. He’d got the gist of it. There had been glimpses of thoughts and impressions from both of them: there was the fact that Leviathan had got into the world, and a muttered “he went full-on Dark Phoenix there” from Dean a while back, and the betrayal there between them that went both ways, the betrayal almost entirely papered over by now with worry and protectiveness. And then there was the severing of Castiel’s ties, the burnt dead ends where he should have been entwined firmly with a whole host of brothers.
Heaven had been ready for self-destruction for millennia. And the Apocalypse had been one of those make or break deals. Gabriel couldn’t imagine what kind of a sorry, vicious mess would have been left after that débâcle; and he didn’t want to imagine what would happen when you threw an angel with Castiel’s will and hopeless faith and cluelessness into the mix.
He didn’t want to imagine, but he kinda had to.
They holed up for the “night” high up on a peak of granite, sheltered in a cave whose floor was covered with something like heather. Only one entrance; and the slopes clear enough for a long way around that Gabriel would feel anything coming well before it found them.
And Dean went to sleep.
Castiel paced the boundaries of the cave, hands skimming quick and clever over the walls, checking for anything amiss. Castiel washed his face and hands. Castiel made sure Dean was asleep, and sleeping well. Castiel went to the entrance of the cave and looked out, scanning the land outside critically. Castiel just generally moved about the cave doing purposeful things while Gabriel sat there and wondered vaguely how to say “hey, maybe we should”. Then Castiel knelt in front of Gabriel, hands tucked between his knees, and waited.
Well, that decided that.
He really knew how to work the whole human stare thing, Gabriel thought stupidly. Steady and clear and unavoidable.
Gabriel reached out and rested his hands on Castiel’s knees.
“No take-backs,” he warned.
“I trust you,” Castiel returned, like it was as simple as that. Like he meant it.
It was nothing new, really: the terror of holding more than someone’s life in your clumsy hands. And you couldn’t show fear. You had to be the one strong enough to be trusted.
“Take off your shirt.”
Castiel didn’t move. He just tipped his head to one side and peered at Gabriel, with that quizzical blue stare that always made Gabriel feel approximately the size (and prickliness) of a hedgehog.
“Why are you helping, Gabriel?”
Because, long ago, to be an archangel meant to lead and protect, not to drill and to punish. Because there was a time when when orders were not about destruction, and there had been no need for doubt and mistrust because nobody had done anything to violate belief and trust. (Nobody had been put to the test.)
Because it went wrong and there was division and betrayal. And doubt had been the first thing to be punished because it was a new and terrifying thing, a symptom of what they had all lost, and it was easier to hurt than it was to stop and heal.
Because sometimes you needed someone else to forgive you.
“Because this is the way it used to be,” was all he could find to say. “Let me take it on for you, brother.”
Castiel’s breath stuttered out of his body and his eyes fell, like a flinch; but the twist of his soft mouth was amazed and lost, not hurt. Gabriel swallowed hard, and leaned forward to press the pad of his thumb into the corner of it.
It felt like it could learn to be a smile.
“Shirt,” Gabriel reminded him thickly.
Castiel’s fingers fumbled for the hem of the grubby white thing (and why the hell was he wearing hospital scrubs anyway?); tugged, stopped, pulled the coat off his shoulders and away, then drew the shirt up over his head. His eyes stayed fixed on the ground, but Gabriel let his own wander over James Novak’s lean strong body, the runner’s muscles that would never atrophy or develop again. The stomach quivered with each short huff of breath, and the skin around the nipples was tightening with the exposure to the air and Gabriel’s gaze.
Not relaxed. Far from relaxed.
And apparently catching Gabriel’s eyes was too much right now. So either Gabriel could force that, use it to push his way through Castiel’s resistance, or...
He leaned in, close enough that he could feel the faint stir of Castiel’s breath tickling at the scruff around his mouth: laid a hand on Castiel’s forehead, and drew it gently downward.
Castiel hesitated for a moment, lashes fluttering against Gabriel’s palm as it passed. Then he closed his eyes.
The rush of warmth in Gabriel’s stomach shouldn’t have been surprising. He knew he got off on the whole dom thing, after all, almost as much as he did on its opposite. But this wasn’t about sex. It was just... about the same things that made that kind of sex a head rush. Only more so.
Still, an obedient Castiel sitting there loose-limbed and - and trusting - eyes closed, already a little more relaxed, just because Gabriel had put him there... that was beautiful. Surreally beautiful.
Gabriel wrapped Castiel in the warmth of his approval, and kept the disbelief to himself.
“I’m not... pure, anymore,” he warned, and wondered when his voice came out low as if it might be that which stirred Dean’s sleeping form to wakefulness.
Castiel’s mouth did its irritable little twitch. “Neither am I, Gabriel. Stop screwing around.”
Gabriel manfully resisted calling him a mouthy bottom. Analogies were no fun when you had to take ten minutes to explain them. Also, it was probably Gabriel’s fault for harshing the vibe.
He let his hand fall away slowly, fingertips lingering for a moment over Castiel’s lips. Then back up, to push the hair back from his forehead, his temple, in front of his ear: firm slow touches, like possession.
Faint wrinkles appeared in the middle of Castiel’s forehead. A foreign thought, a doubt. Gabriel pressed his thumb there, firm; then hard, almost a rebuke; then soothed it until it vanished with soft brushes of the pad.
The corner of Castiel’s jaw was rough under his touch, growing out into fuzz now that Castiel was conserving his energy and letting the body take care of itself. Not so pristine now. But then, Castiel was right: they had neither of them been that for quite some time.
Gabriel leaned in on impulse, slid his fingers around to squeeze the back of the neck and opened his mouth against the bolt of Castiel’s jaw. Castiel’s throat bobbed, but there was no other sign of surprise, and nothing of resistance. Good: he was sinking into that space where he didn’t have to be responsible, where it was up to Gabriel to own and care for him, body and mind, until he emerged.
The shaggy stubble was rough against the sensitive skin inside Gabriel’s lips, scratched against his tongue; but under it there was warm skin and traces of sweat, and the rich subtle scent of an inhabited body.
He mouthed there, for a minute. Castiel’s breath was deeper now, still faster than Gabriel wanted it, so he followed its rhythm with the soft pushes of his mouth and the kneading at the base of Castiel’s skull. Followed it, then slowed, deliberately - hypnotically, if he was lucky - trying to coax it into imitation.
It worked, after a fashion. Gabriel could feel Castiel’s awareness narrowing to a single point, to the sensation of Gabriel’s hands and mouth on him and the firm wraps of his mind swaddling Castiel’s; but he could also feel the slow increase, deep in his veins, of hormones associated with sexual arousal.
Which was unexpected. And also probably explained the way Castiel’s head was tilting slightly to the right, exposing his neck just a fraction.
Well, at least he was relaxing.
Gabriel swept his thumb up in a slow arc from Castiel’s collar bone to the hollow behind his ear, nestled it there, used it to nudge Castiel’s head just a little more to the right, took his mouth away and blew cool air over the wet skin.
The muscles in Castiel’s stomach clenched, and a stuttered breath fell out of his mouth.
Okay. Unexpected, given that Gabriel had never got the impression the kid was so deeply settled in his vessel as all that, but he could work with it. And if he could balance it just right, he might be able to use the endorphins to harness the pain, when they got to that.
... or he could screw up Castiel’s sex responses for the rest of his existence.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, was precisely why Gabriel didn’t do responsibility. Fuck.
He distracted himself before Castiel could pick up on his jitters: nuzzled his lips in under Castiel’s ear and opened his mouth there, traced a hot line down his neck, around the top of his collar bone, to nip at the hollow of his throat.
This time Castiel’s breath was definitely half a moan, startled and rough: and Gabriel shivered, and reached out a tendril of awareness to check that Dean was still deep in slumber.
He withdrew, slowly, to let things settle, leaving just one steadying hand on the back of Castiel’s neck. There was no flash of protest to Castiel, as Gabriel was sure as eggs there would have been if he’d been in completely control of himself (because he’d definitely be a demanding son of a bitch in bed once he knew what he wanted, and Gabriel needed to not think along those lines right now or he’d skew his priorities). He just knelt there, fingers pressed into his own thighs, waiting for Gabriel’s next touch with his cheeks a bit flushed and his lips a bit parted and blood starting to collect heavy downstairs, and... trusting.
Right. No getting distracted.
Gabriel dug his fingers into the half-stiff muscles of Castiel’s shoulders - too tense for too long - and kept them there, while Castiel made a grumbling sort of noise in his throat and the muscles eased bit by grudging bit under his touch. Then, all at once, in a little rush as if they’d suddenly realised how to let go, and Castiel’s head fell forward to slump against his chest.
“Good,” Gabriel murmured, voice catching dry in his throat, and Castiel shuddered at the word; so Gabriel ghosted the tips of his fingers light and fond over the pressure points, to spirit away the ache.
With so little tension in the muscles Castiel’s neck was slack and pliant under his hands, and Gabriel lingered there for a while. Two fingernails running down the top of the spine made Castiel sigh; slow repetitive circles with the thumbs in the hollow just behind the shoulder blades, while the palms and fingers cupped the shoulders, lulled his body into a pleasant sort of buzz, aroused but comfortable; hands squeezing firm and proprietary around the shoulders then sliding down his upper arms drew out a soft, surprised noise, then the sweet surprise of extra weight on Gabriel’s arms as Castiel leaned into the support of his touch.
He took his time, gentle as he would with a frightened virgin on an altar, mapping out Castiel’s torso with his hands. Gentling him, or laying claim, as Castiel’s breathing slowed and evened out, the rhythm easing out into something steady and deep under Gabriel’s touch.
Once, when Gabriel’s hand drifted low across Castiel’s stomach and brushed the hard inner angle of his hip, the muscles twitched under his hands, and Castiel’s eyelashes fluttered - almost open, a quick flash of white and dark unfocussed blue under there, gone again in a moment.
Gabriel realised that he himself kept forgetting to breathe. Which explained the slight dizziness in his head. Right. Supplement the oxygen or let the body breathe for itself, check.
He took Castiel’s right hand in both of his, eased it loose of its grip in the muscle of the thigh. Most people didn’t pay enough attention to their hands, in Gabriel’s opinion: they were a pretty damn awesome piece of natural engineering. And there were a lot of very fine muscles crowded in there which deserved attention.
This, too, he took at a leisurely pace - because he was being thorough, not because he was putting off the inevitable - working at the ball of the hand and teasing over the small bones until every muscle was loose. Then lavishing attention on each finger, one by one, all the way from the webbing to the nail, and down again, with a brush of lips against the knuckle of each as he finished with it; then back again to the palm and the heel of the hand, as far as the soft skin on the inside of Castiel’s wrist; and then, the right hand settled loose and open in Castiel’s lap, and everything all over again with the left hand.
And Castiel, deep and drifting in the cradle of Gabriel’s touch, was definitely more than half hard in those scrubs.
Sensual, Gabriel would have called this, not sexual. And in a creature with so little physical experience as Castiel, it couldn’t be anticipation turning his crank. It had to be the touches themselves doing it for him. All of this - being cared for. Having someone focussed entirely on him, on looking out for him, on taking the weight off him for a while. Having his family there, small and pathetic as it was now. Feeling - yes, Father, that was it - feeling that he was loved.
... Love? Gabriel was in deep shit here.
He set down Castiel’s left hand, and looked up at his face. Skin smooth of expression, but faintly flushed. Serene in the way of rest, not of emptiness; and yet not quite relaxed. His mouth was just slightly open, and Gabriel could see the tip of his tongue in there, just flicking at the inside of his lips. Curling about behind there uneasily. Restless, blood-heavy and tingling. And the angle of his head - open, yearning. Wanting.
Castiel couldn’t ask for himself - probably couldn’t articulate a desire to himself, he was so deep under. It was up to Gabriel to know what he needed - wanted.
Gabriel swallowed that stupid twisty feeling in his gut, shuffled forward so his knees knocked the outside of Castiel’s, and kissed him.
Castiel’s lips parted, warm and damp under his. When Gabriel lifted his hand and thumbed encouragingly at his chin, his mouth slipped open, a hopeful welcome, and his breath huffed against Gabriel’s tongue.
It shouldn’t have been a shock, the whirl of sensation that came with it, sweet and deep. Itemised, there was nothing strange or new here. Just a kiss. Just the give of lip against plumped-up lip, the satisfaction of finding just the right angle for mouths to mould against each other like they wanted nothing more than to reshape themselves in the image of their new friend; just the taste of another mouth, faint at first then stronger as Gabriel coaxed with his tongue at the slick inside of Castiel’s lower lip; the catch of dry lips, soon lost in wetness, and the more lasting scrape of shaggy stubble above the upper lip and tickling at Gabriel’s sensitised lips when he nuzzled in helplessly against the corner of Castiel’s mouth.
There was no reason for the giddy pounding of his heart and the sweat on his palms. And while the barely stifled terror made sense, because hurting Castiel was a horribly real possibility, there was no reason for it to be mingled with this stupid, heady sense of delight.
Almost of homecoming.
It could only be that it had been a while since he’d done this sort of thing. That, and reacquainting himself with the sensations of a body. It must be that.
Castiel groaned against him, a guttural sound that vibrated against Gabriel’s swollen lips, and Gabriel echoed it hungrily back to him. All the vast energy that was Castiel was rich and purpled with lassitude, tangling itself around and through Gabriel slow and strong as fig vines. Not just Gabriel doing the embracing now: both of them, intertwined, clinging to each other inside and out. Closer than Gabriel had let anyone get to him in centuries.
Castiel’s lower lip fell between Gabriel’s and he cherished it: cradled it there like something soft and fragile, soothed it with his tongue, felt it yield against him and enjoy it.
It was the strangest timelessness of spirit, as if they were drifting in some hazy otherwhere and couldn’t be touched by the world; but at the same time, Gabriel’s mind was racing.
Because here, like this, Castiel would let him do anything.
Which was the point, after all. But it raised the question of - what the hell was he doing? How far did Gabriel think he was going with this?
Endorphin rush, pain, fine, yes, but the actual mechanics of doing this with both of them in vessels? To work through the vessel and relate the sensations to the reality of their true bodies’ intermingling? To own Castiel entirely, inside and out?
It didn’t have to be sex. But apparently Castiel was powerfully enough engaged with his vessel and its responses that it could be. And Gabriel hadn’t expected that.
He drew back for a moment, straining for breath. Castiel’s mouth fell open in his wake, waiting (pleading?). It was full, and wet, and deeply pink, and must be tingling like Gabriel’s at the prickly shock of the cool breeze wafting through the cave mouth. And his hair was a mess. Probably because Gabriel’s hand was combing through it, tugging gently at the strands, cupping the back of his skull at the end of each stroke.
Gabriel could do it. It would work, too. He could lay him out and open him up slow and tender, hold him down and shove into him inexorably, burrow into him with body as well as mind. Make the pain part of the punishment and the pleasure part of the absolution, overwhelm the vessel as well as the true form.
What if Dean woke up?
But it wasn’t just that, was it? It was the look that would come into Dean’s eyes when he saw, when he knew the situation. He’d look at Gabriel not with that easy fondness, the brotherly irritation, the relaxation of knowing he was safe. It would be the way he’d used to look at Gabriel back when he’d been a Trickster, a monster. Only worse: betrayal.
Dean would call it rape.
And sure, you could argue that it was an angel thing: that Castiel was definitely on board with Gabriel getting inside him and going all judgement of Heaven on him, and everything that came with that, which, since they were in vessels, had to involve bodies somehow; and that the body was just this insignificant object, sort of a side effect, necessary to the whole but irrelevant beside it; and sex didn’t have the same cultural weight that it did for humans, with all those tangled issues of identity and self-worth and pleasure, so it wouldn’t be a violation in that sense, especially when Gabriel had already been invited in, and...
But they weren’t just angels anymore, were they?
The body meant more to Castiel than a suit he’d borrowed to do a job. It meant his humanity, and his choices, and everything he’d done and everything he’d become and everything he’d learned about the world and how you lived in it. And it sure as hell meant something to Gabriel. Humanity wasn’t just a species: it was a culture too, and it was infectious.
Gabriel needed consent: proper, informed, discrete, voluntary consent, not an assumption. And not a hasty nod from a Castiel hopped up on the rush of arousal and obedience.
No. He’d have to go with the original game plan, the method by which lesser angels could access the soul within a living body.
He pressed in, closer and hotter - knees forward to straddle Castiel’s lap - and slid back into the sweet wet touch of his mouth. He lost all his breath into Castiel’s at the wonder of it: of being given this, allowed this.
And - this kid was full of surprises. Passive, obedient, sure - but apparently it didn’t mean he couldn’t respond, couldn’t curl his tongue slowly against the questing press of Gabriel’s, couldn’t lean into it a bit and make a breathy, stuttered sound that felt like a cat stretching out in a sunbeam, shape his mouth to the hot slide of the kiss, and return it. It didn’t mean he couldn’t make this experience his own, and take what he chose from it. Even though the whole point of this was to relieve him of the burden of choice.
It should have been impossible, but apparently Castiel didn’t make a habit of submitting to possible.
Gabriel made a noise he was in no way prepared to own up to, splayed his hand in the centre of Castiel’s chest and shoved. Castiel landed on his back, sprawled wide out over the heather-cushioned rock; and his eyeslids didn’t even flutter. Laid out (an offering), waiting for Gabriel. Arousal clear and evident in the colour of his skin and the complete inability of those old cotton pants to hide anything; chest rising and falling with the slow breaths sucked deep into his lungs, his pulse a deep steady thud that Gabriel felt (and echoed) in his bones.
Even his hands were loose, curled open in the bracken. And not a move made to control his fall.
In Gabriel. The creature who had barely an ally he hadn’t double-crossed.
“Good,” he growled again, and this time his voice obeyed him, a low powerful rumble that curled into the veins of Castiel’s deepest being and tugged. The word acted like a physical touch, making Castiel’s mouth part around an answering groan and his head sink back into the heather with relief.
Gabriel slid forward to straddle his hips, pinning him tight between his thighs, and let the power shiver through him until it was something almost tangible, hovering just below his skin.
Then he drew his sword.
This was important. Forgiveness was meaningless if it was given freely: if the judge was too partial to withhold it, if there was no possibility of punishment taking its place. Gabriel had no intention of giving Castiel so much as a paper cut, not with this blade, not with something that could do him real hurt; but Castiel couldn’t know that.
For Castiel to believe himself absolved, he had to believe he was truly judged.
This, Gabriel didn’t play around with. He just laid the flat of the blade, cool and stark, across the line of Castiel’s exposed throat.
Castiel made another sound, softer than the last, and it was not a sound of pleasure. It was broken, and it was anguish and surrender; but it was not a protest.
Gabriel leaned forward, planting his left hand on the rock beside Castiel’s head, and breathed Castiel’s name as he pressed the sword down: letting Castiel feel the full weight of it, and its cool cruel burn. Letting him feel what it meant.
“... The hell?”
The peaceful background hum of Dean’s sleeping mind vanished, replaced with a surge of shock and adrenalin. His voice was sharp, rough with sleep, and it scattered the tender incredulous haze that had enveloped Gabriel.
He snarled, a brute visceral reaction to the alarm thrumming through Dean’s veins, before he could even remember to reach for words: hunched over his brother protectively and flashed bare teeth at the human.
Dean’s eyes were shocked-wide, clear with that childlike openness that sometimes clung to him right on the edges of sleep: open enough to show fear. They were flicking rapidly over Gabriel’s fingers digging into Castiel’s chest, the blade, the pained puffs of breath drawn through Castiel’s throat. Castiel’s closed eyes, and Gabriel’s snarling teeth. Then at the air above them, where Gabriel could feel his wings shimmering on the edge of visibility - menacing shadows they would be to the human eye, shot through with veins of gold.
The sleep cleared out of Dean’s features, and his face went very blank and careful.
Dean uncurled his fingers from the handle of the machete and raised both hands slowly, like he was talking to a madman with a gun.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he said cautiously, “but what the freaking hell, man?”
And who was Dean to decide what counted as good and bad, or take the moral high ground on things he didn’t understand? Gabriel wasn’t hurting Castiel, and it was none of Dean’s damn business, and now there was caution in Dean’s eyes, all closed over and wary like they hadn’t been for a long time, and any minute now that would morph into contempt and anger. And it would burn.
“Angel BDSM,” Gabriel snarled, because he didn’t do begging, and drove his sword into the ground by Castiel’s head. Dean flinched - Castiel didn’t.
Castiel opened his eyes.
Gabriel’s hands were suddenly on Castiel’s chest, spanning the fragile torso that housed him, that contained the steady thud of his heart and the push and pull of breath. Still steady, no confusion, no panic - and when he slipped one hand up to cup the side of Castiel’s face, to cradle his jaw carefully and seek deeper into him (as Castiel turned his head to fix his eyes on Dean), there was no turmoil underneath. Castiel was still as he had been - he was deep under, he was still in that space of submission and of faith - and yet he was looking at Dean. Exercising independent judgement, and actually disobeying that one implicit order - the closed eyes.
Wrong, wrong, this was wrong.
“Scourging. Stay out of this,” Gabriel growled in Dean’s direction, letting the bass rumble of his larger voice shake the room, the weight of his wings fill the air with the scent of ozone and of blood, of burnt sacrifice and days long gone of blood-wet paws padding through dark forests. Because this was what he was, all of him, angel and much else, and if the impudence of this human who pretended to be his friend - Castiel’s friend - if he damaged Castiel with his foolish timing -
Dean didn’t square his shoulders, or reach for his weapon, or cower away, or anything that Gabriel’s raging instincts of protect and command and alienate could sink their teeth into. He just scooted forward a bit on his knees, reached out, and gripped Gabriel’s shoulder.
“Hey. I trust you, man. I do. But this? This doesn’t look so good. And you don’t wanna know how many times I’ve seen Sam or Cas - or something wearing their face - doing something that made it look like there was nothing of them left to trust.” His eyes flicked down, and snagged for a moment on Castiel’s peaceful gaze. “So yeah, you bet your ass I’m gonna ask questions before I let you rip into him.”
Castiel sighed out a breath, catching and holding Dean with his eyes in that deeper-than-words way they had that Gabriel would never understand: something distant, something fond, and just a hint of reproach that probably would have been a full-on pissy scowl if he hadn’t been all spaced out. Then he groped with spaghetti arms for Dean’s hand.
“Huh?” Dean let Castiel latch onto him, and his expression slid from Judging Gabriel And Finding Him Wanting to his Castiel-specific awkward softness when he found his wrist being nuzzled by a dopey angel.
Dean, trust Gabriel? Not likely.
... well, except for all those times that his turncoat memory pushed forward for inspection. Dean, curling up to sleep, relaxed in the knowledge that Gabriel would keep him and Castiel safe. Dean, stepping out across a rope bridge. Dean taking it for granted that a creature vastly more powerful than he was, who had no concept of sex or of consent, would lay off the inappropriate touching when he said stop.
But that hadn’t been Gabriel. That was some cuddly pet Dean had collected in Purgatory. It wasn’t the old god and ancient angel and untrustworthy sleazy man Dean had known before, the person he’d have killed if he could. The person who hadn’t been good enough to stand up and fight.
Castiel turned his head to look at Gabriel, and wordlessly pressed Dean’s hand over Gabriel’s, so that they were cupping his face together.
His eyes were deep and clear, even scrunched up into his weird little half-frown, and... hell. Gabriel couldn’t deny him anything. Couldn’t even keep his hackles up when the kid was looking at him like that.
“You want him in this, huh?” he asked, and eyed the limpet grip Castiel had on Dean’s wrist, the half-awkward curl of Dean’s hand against the side of Castiel’s face.
Castiel nodded, closed his eyes, and turned his face in against Dean’s wrist with a small sigh.
Of course he did. Practically his Dad-substitute, after all.
Dean raised an eyebrow at Gabriel, and Gabriel had no idea whether it meant “I win, you freaky creep” or “we good, man?” or “help I seem to have an angel attached to my arm what do I do”.
Gabriel narrowed his eyes and stared at him for a long minute, while the heart pounding in his throat slowed to the point where he didn’t feel like he needed fangs and claws right this moment.
“We can work with that,” he allowed at last, then stuck one finger in Dean’s face. “Don’t argue.”
Dean’s mouth quirked, half a grin. “Come on, man,” he wheedled, like he thought Gabriel needed to be humoured. “I’m a delight to work with. What’re we doing?”
“You,” Gabriel informed him with a dangerously sweet smile, running his fingers down over Castiel’s ribs, “are holding his hand. And maybe petting his hair later, when it gets bad. He likes that.”
... so maybe it wasn’t “dangerously” so much as “besottedly”. Not his fault, when Castiel felt so rich and warm woven through him and having family in him again was screwing big-time with his emotions.
“Okay,” Dean allowed carefully, and looked down at the angel breathing into his wrist. “And you? What’re you doing? ‘Cos ‘scourging’ doesn’t sound like a nice easy evening with beer and cable.”
“Fixing his head,” Gabriel snapped, rising to his knees and laying a hand on Castiel’s hip. “Castiel. On your belly.”
Castiel rolled over, lithe and easy under Gabriel’s body, keeping firm hold on Dean’s wrist. Dean followed the movement with his eyes, then glanced up at Gabriel through his eyelashes, visibly biting down an argument.
Gabriel twitched his lip into a half-hearted sneer, and laid a gentle hand on the back of Castiel’s neck. It earned him a sigh, and shudder of assent.
Dean shifted uneasily at that, looking for a moment like he was going to make a stupid comment so he could laugh it off. But he held his tongue: frowned, and looked down at the tangle of his fingers in Castiel’s, and settled down properly to sit on the ground by his angel’s head.
“You’re here for him, you get that?” Gabriel said, low, and Dean shot him a half-annoyed look that said obviously. “If he needs to draw on you, to use you as a rock, you let him. Can you do that?”
Dean’s eyebrow cocked. “Dude, I’ve been doing that since I was four.”
Something turbulent flurried through Castiel’s mind, too fast to follow, tasting like bewilderment and love. Gabriel slid his hand up from the nape of his neck to knot his fingers into Castiel’s hair, just this side of too tight; waited as he felt Castiel tense under it, then relax; then ran it soothingly back down his neck again, to rest between his shoulder blades.
“Not for him,” Gabriel pointed out, with a curl of his lip. “In fact, there’s a couple of cracks in his pretty little head that wouldn’t be there if you’d remembered to do exactly that a bit more often.”
Dean’s jaw set, and his expression darkened into something challenging and stubborn. “You do your job, angel, I’ll do mine.”
Gabriel fluttered his eyelashes at him, smirked, and dug his nails hard into Castiel’s back. The slight shock of pain flared out over Castiel’s back as a shiver, welcomed and subsumed into a gratified buzz that made Castiel’s shoulder blades roll back into the touch.
Good as it was going to get. Everything wired where he needed it.
Gabriel took a deep breath, shot a warning “keep your shirt on” look at Dean, and plunged a hand into Castiel’s back.
Castiel screamed, body and mind. The fingers of his free hand clamped bruisingly tight around the wrist of Gabriel’s spare hand where it was planted beside his head. But he was arching up into it, taking it, welcoming it, and the fierce glow where Gabriel’s hand vanished into him was the red of human flesh, not the white of damaged grace. Gabriel held his consciousness apart long enough to shoot a look at Dean, to see his tight-set face and the catch of his teeth at his lower lip and the hands clutching around Castiel’s hand and the back of his head, to make sure he wasn’t going to freak out and shake things up; then he dove in to join Castiel.
A whirl of impressions: pain and blood and desperate fury. Dean’s face, laid over with a righteous, noble tinge that Gabriel didn’t see when he looked at him, with one side of his face warm and approving and the other hard with rejection. A vast, bitter drive to fix things, to make the world right. The charcoal outlines of wings burnt into the ground, dozens, thousands, overlapping into a terrible mosaic. And regret that blazed so hard that its embers, when it burned low, had the acrid tang of self-loathing.
Then everything was there, laid out before him. Gabriel saw everything; and, open and defenceless, he lost himself in grief inside Castiel’s mind.
The inseparable Cheniyel and Sammen, struck down both with the one slash of Castiel’s sword.
Sabathel, with his mischief and child-like trust.
Raphael, all alone at last.
Balthazar, who must have known it was coming but who had loved Castiel enough to try anyway.
Hivrayel and Cammath and Iudith and Revekil and fields and fields of others, dissipated into the stars.
The war, come again. All the deaths Gabriel had fled from witnessing, so long ago.
And Castiel, aching, carrying the poison inside him.
Gabriel raged, at Castiel and at his own helplessness and at the blind, stupid universe that set them up for this. He seared through Castiel, white-hot and raw, blasting his way into every dark corner and burning the rotten spots out of him. Because Castiel was his, and Castiel had to be safe, and that was the only thing Gabriel could do, and it would never be enough.
It seemed to go on for a very long time: the ferocious pain, the scorch of his strength into Castiel’s deepest recesses, all laid open to his touch even as they quivered with hurt and relief. But it was, in the end, complete: everything flayed raw and tender, scrubbed clean and breathing easy.
And it was the vastness of Castiel that was the incomprehensible thing: these yawning, dizzying, tangled depths, grand and fierce and terrifying and dark. Greatness of soul, Gabriel would have called it, in a human; but it wasn’t that common, even among them. And he had never seen something like this in an angel.
This was not native. Castiel had delved this all himself, as any human must: out of his emotion and his experiences and his determination to choose, to choose even the hard paths, rather than the blinkered easy one that never changed you.
No wonder that, even while completely surrendered to Gabriel, he had been able to hear Dean’s alarm and decide that he needed to help to soothe it. He had made himself so fundamentally a creature of free will that even in the act of surrender he retained himself, became more truly himself by allowing it. It wasn’t just one moment in which he gave himself over, but a continuous process, every moment, so that every single thing Gabriel did to him he allowed freely and specifically. Making an active thing of submission.
Gabriel simply hadn’t known that it was possible for an angel to make of himself such a creature of this, a creature in which, as in humans, he could see a faint echo of his Father. It was, in the most fundamental sense, awe-inspiring; and it was humbling.
They came down together, floating slow in this bizarre buzzed-out space, like they’d been tripping a serious high.
Gabriel remembered that other self, the one who hadn’t really been him, wondering like an innocent where Castiel’s orders were meant to come from if he hadn’t been designed for free will. And the answer had never been their father, not really. Not where it mattered. Father had only ever decided the what, and that in pretty broad terms. The what was the big one, the one Castiel had been driven to choose for himself: purpose, ideas of right and wrong, the distant vision of a good future. It was the how that should have belonged to the archangels - all those petty little realities of day-to-day implementation, of interpretation, of how to get there - and look at the hash they’d made of it. Hardly surprising if a confused kid who’d never chosen a thing in his life before should screw a garrison of pooches in figuring it out.
He came back to the sight of his own hand pressed wide and flat against the flat of Castiel’s back. The skin under and around his hand was faintly reddened, but incredibly every muscle remained loose and relaxed. And there was Dean’s right hand combing slow through Castiel’s hair, and Castiel’s tear-streaked face pressed in against the wrist of the left.
There were a bunch of broken blood vessels under grip that Castiel had on that wrist, Gabriel noticed muzzily. Hell of a bruise bracelet that’d leave.
Dean was singing, low and a bit hoarse, like he’d been doing it for a while. It was “Hey, Jude”.
Castiel sighed, a heavy release of breath against Dean’s dampened wrist. Then he eased up his grip, fingers stiff, and moved his head the smallest, weariest fraction to press his mouth in against that spot.
The singing faltered, and stopped.
“Hey,” Dean murmured instead, thick and low. “You with me?”
“He’ll do,” Gabriel croaked out, through the white noise in his head. “Give’m a minute t’remember where up is.”
Dean’s eyes flicked up to him, like he’d forgotten Gabriel was there, which Gabriel would probably get around to finding insulting at some point that wasn’t now, when he wasn’t running his hand down Castiel’s back and thinking desperately at him, good, good, so good, so beautiful, did so well, all over, alright now, both here, both got you, well done.
“And how’re you holding up, man?” Dean asked, and that fond burr meant for Castiel was still there in his voice. “You, uh. Looked like it got rough for a while there.”
“Me?” Gabriel blinked at him, and dragged a hand across his eyes. It came away wet. Which, huh. Explained that tickling feeling: water, sliding down his face, dripping down his chin. And he was shaking.
“I,” he said intelligently. Then he scowled, and leaned down to press a kiss to the base of Castiel’s neck.
He ended up falling over a bit, but he turned it cleverly into a totally-meant-to-do-that slide off Castiel and onto the ground beside him, so it was completely uncalled-for that Dean sort of grabbed him halfway down to stop him bumping his head or whatever.
Gabriel batted him away and pressed up against Castiel’s side, because Castiel was still shaky and needed to feel comfortable in his skin again, and it wasn’t cuddling because that would imply Gabriel wanted to cuddle.
Castiel made a small noise, and dragged his eyes open. They were still blurry and not very focussed, but it was Gabriel he was looking at; and there was something wondering and peaceful there that Gabriel hadn’t felt from him for a very long time.
He swallowed a lump, and dropped a kiss on Castiel’s nose.
“Daddy’s little trooper,” he crooned, and Dean snorted, and Castiel narrowed his eyes then pulled a faint echo of his you-are-tiresome-and-inappropriate-but-
Yeah. He’d be okay.
Dean’s hand slipped down to the back of Castiel’s neck, and tightened there.
“Cas, man,” he said, soft and urgent like he’d been holding it in for hours. “You gotta know I’m sorry, right?”
The dozy irritation slid right off Castiel’s face and left it open and shocked-bare.
“You, uh,” Dean said uncomfortably to Castiel’s stare, and drummed his fingers like he’d forgotten they were actually on someone’s skin. “You didn’t know. Right. Well. Now you do, okay?”
Castiel’s smile was small, but it was warm as a winter hearth.
“Sure,” Gabriel muttered, “swoop in at the end when all the hard work’s done, Winchester.”
“You know you’re kinda cute when you’re pissy,” Dean drawled at him, all Kansas and smug and barely covering up tangle of uncertain things underneath.
“Fuck off,” Gabriel instructed him with dignity. And then, because he couldn’t let that slide, “I am not pissy. I do not get pissy. This is divine wrath.”
Dean smirked. “Looks good on you, cupcake.”
Gabriel glowered at him, over the pale width of Castiel’s body. “As soon as we get out of here I am changing every album in your car to Spice Girls.”