Staring down on the world from his new position in Heaven, Castiel let his Grace sift through the misery, the joy, the peace and the prayers, searching for one that was the most familiar. Sensing Dean was not difficult, though being made to feel his pain was. It was not the only pain the angel felt...but it was the worst, because it was his.
The normal that had worked so well for a younger Sam Winchester had not sat well with his brother. Dean had left Lisa and Ben for the road a month ago, though Bobby rarely heard anything from him. The hollow pain that Castiel felt told him that, for Dean, Hunting alone had never been more empty.
Frowning down through the aether, Castiel knew what was needed to set things right, only it would not be possible for him to go himself. That Castiel venture back into Hell was expressly forbidden; forbidden by the Father as spoken through Joshua.
The Gardiner of Heaven was very firm on that little detail.
However. He never said Castiel could not send someone else in his place.
Perhaps he had been hanging around Dean too long, allowing his own will to override that of the Father of Heaven. Or perhaps he was only learning to 'think outside of the box'. Either way, as Castiel gathered his Grace to him, spinning it out to find the scent and signature of another, he knew the path he was on was the right one.
Though it was true he could not go himself, he had no doubt the angel he had in mind for the job was the right one. If Castiel wanted to pull Sam Winchester out from Hell from under Lucifer's nose, he would need a Trickster.
The phantom pain of having his Grace pour out of him through the mortal wound made by an angel's blade was nothing compared to the pain caused when that Grace slammed back into him, too much, too fast. He howled with the white burn that seared along every nerve, raking out from his chest down through his limbs and leaking out of the eyes he wasn't able to close.
Eventually the pain faded, leaving him to drop, panting, crouched on one knee to ride out the rest, every sense overloaded and painful. The first to return was hearing, the incongruous songs of birdsong slowly filling in to replace the ringing in his ears. Sight came next though Gabriel wasn't sure if he wanted to know who had brought him back; none of the options were particularly good.
If, against all odds to the contrary, the Winchesters had won, he was sure Dad wasn't going to be too happy with him...and if the much more likely had happened and Lucifer now walked the Earth...
Well Gabriel would much rather return to being scattered angel sparks, thank you very much. It would hurt less.
"I have need of you, Gabriel."
Gabriel's head snapped up in shock, the spinning world ignored in the shock of hearing so much Authority wielded in That voice. Because, either way the war had gone, the owner should have been just as screwed as Gabriel himself had been.
"How - in the Hell...Castiel??"
"Sam Winchester accepted Lucifer - "
"Damned sonofabitch, " Gabriel snarled, the pain (and the hurt if he were honest) too much to pretend indifference this time. If anyone had been able to resist his brothers, he had been willing to bet money (he *had* bet his life) it would have been Sam- and Dean-fucking Winchester. Guess he had been wrong.
"So that's why you brought me back?" he snapped, bitter. "Because the monkeys screwed the pooch and you wanted me back for the ride? Thanks, but no thanks."
"You misunderstand me - "
"What, you're telling me we're not screwed?" Gabriel demanded. "Because those look an awful lot like scorch marks on the pillars there Cas - "
"Shut up and listen!" Castiel demanded impatiently.
A certain wry appreciation at the difference in his baby angel as much as the plain words and anger shut him up. For the moment. He made a show of zipping his lips with his fingers, miming dropping the key into his shirt pocket.
"Sam accepted Lucifer in order to herd him back into the Pit. He jumped, pulling Michael in with him. I need you to get him out."
Gabriel looked around Heaven buying time as the images behind the words sink in. Okay, so...the Winchesters had averted the Great Destined Apocalypse, which meant the angels were at loose ends...and it was clear from the slightly war-ravaged look On High that Dad hadn't put in an appearance. So God was still AWOL and with Michael gone and Lucifer back in his cage, there was a power vacuum in Heaven, angels everywhere vying for the Throne...
A sharp look at Castiel, more than a bit ragged around the edges to those who knew where to look, and he did, told him that his little brother was in the thick of things, as usual, though he still wore a vessel in the form of Jimmy Novak, right down to the trench coat and tie. And knowing his insane relatives as he did, if he had to guess, Gabriel would say Raphael would have had a thing or two to say about that point. After all, Raphael had scattered Cas's Grace to the four winds on the say-so of a fanatic once already.
"Dead. Dean killed him."
"Huh." Good riddance to bad rubbish was all he had to say. *That* one had been a dick even before Gabriel had left. "So..."
"It was too late; the trap had already closed in on us. And even though Lucifer is back in in Hell, Heaven is at war, Gabriel," Castiel admitted, repeating, "I need your help."
Meaning even without Zachariah to egg the angels on, the trap had snapped over Team Free Will and the only way out had been to lock Lucy back in his cage, which the Winchesters had actually managed to do. No matter the cost. Personally Gabriel was surprised Dean had let his precious Sammy go down with the ship.
Gabriel used the minutia of Heaven At War to shove the pain of Sam locked in a cage with his brothers, trapped between two blood-feuding angels, out of his mind. No matter how long it had been in the world above, time in Hell ran differently...there was no telling what they had put Sam through.
Castiel, much more powerful now than he had been, had brought Gabriel back in order to break him out. And he was currently waging a war for the Throne of Heaven...a war the Winchesters were bound to be blamed for, both above and below ground...and Sam had been caught in Hell for months...
Unspoken was that Castiel was not allowed to interfere this time. But Gabriel could.
"Go," Castiel told him. "Save him."
Gabriel took one more look at his little brother and went.
They had Sam ripped between them, held and pinned with the righteous hatred and thwarted rage of brother arch-angels at war. The remains of Adam Winchester's soul lay in rags in the far corner of the cage.
Gabriel didn't waste a second making his Presence known. Popping in right under their noses, the arch-angel turned Trickster had Sam tucked under one wing before Lucifer or Michael stopped staring past him to glare at each other and realize he was there.
"Hey bro." Gabriel smirked, pulling Sam in tighter with one arm as he snapped the fingers on the other hand. "Bye bro."
And they were gone, leaving Michael and Lucifer to curse and rant and tear each other to pieces for all he cared.
Picking his head up off of his arms wasn't worth the effort so Dean didn't bother to move further than it took to take another gulp of Jack before telling the angel to get lost. "Go away, Cas." So his words were a bit slurred; wasn't like his intention hadn't been to get drunk in the first place. "'m a little busy."
"I can see that," Castiel intoned gravely. Damned angels and their patronizing crap. He didn't want it, didn't need it and damned if he wasn't tired of taking it. Well not anymore. Not from him. Not today.
"Leave, Cas," Dean told him. "Before I get out the knife, bleed Enochian all over the walls and make you."
There was moment of silence, though Dean could still feel the heavy weight of presence in the room as Castiel decided whether or not to take him up on that threat. Finally one word broke the silence.
Before Dean could curse, Cas had placed that damned familiar two fingered touch on his forehead and another crappy motel room faded away.
For the longest time, until time became a forgotten idea, Sam screamed in pain. Not even pain; he screamed in *agony*, a pain so deep and so hot that he had stopped having true thoughts long ago. He barely remembered where he was, and the memory of his jump to save Dean, completing the circle of self-sacrifice from father to son to brother, seemed more like a dream.
From one second to the next the pain was simply gone.
It took a few moments to remember to take a breath, almost longer to remember why he needed to. Agony still rang in his head, turning those breaths into sobs in his ears until the memories slowly faded with the strange feeling of being wrapped in layers of cotton and then locked behind a steel door. He could still remember them if he wanted to, though he couldn't imagine a time when he would *want* to. Only then was he able to look around through his tears to stare at the miles of lush jungle around him.
Trees, birds...there were even rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks rushing around at his unplanned invasion, making the bushes rattle. Was that...was that a herd of dear in a meadow through those trees?
"You like it?" Beside him Gabriel grinned from ear to ear. "Joshua outdid himself, if I do say so myself."
"What is this?"
"Your new Gardens, Sam." Gabriel told him with that same smug smile that Sam remembered the Trickster would wear after a particularly clever trick. "Welcome to Heaven Sam-my-boy!"
Heaven? But - this couldn't be Heaven...he - he was... "But...I was in Hell...and you're supposed to be dead..."
"I asked him to break you out," Castiel said, appearing beside them both with Dean in tow. He nodded. "Hello Sam."
"Cas, what..? Dean?"
"Hey Sammy," his brother smiled, tears in his eyes as he grabbed Sam in a hug. "Welcome back."
Sam still didn't know that he understood. Gabriel was dead. Cas was dead. And Bobby...Sam had watched, helpless inside his own skin as Lucifer killed him. Sam had jumped into Hell to save Dean...to save everyone...
Was this just another trap of Michael's or Lucifer's to torment him with? He grabbed a hold of Dean and hugged back while he could, just in case it was.
"No, Sam, it's real," Castiel told him. "*This* is real. Though we are in danger of losing it should the war not go our way."
"War? What war?" Sam demanded. "I - we..."
"Stopped the Apocalypse, yes. But as I explained to Dean on the way - "
"Explained? Handy as it is to just instantly *know* everything you want to tell me, you really need to work on that touch of yours, Cas." Dean grumbled. "Thought my head was gonna explode."
"- with Michael gone and God no longer interested in His Kingdom," Castiel shrugged, ignoring Dean with the ease of long practice. "There is much work to be done. And I do not trust Raphael's vision of a new, improved Heaven. Will you help me?"
"Yeah," Dean promised, gripping his shoulder as he stepped back. When he wiped his eye no one said anything, not even Gabriel. "We didn't save the freakin' world from demons just to have it wiped out by an orgy of angel on angel violence. Sammy?"
"Of course," Sam agreed, how could he even ask? "Cas, you've saved all of us at one time or another. Of course I'll help."
"Thank you." Castiel smiled, on of the rare, honest ones that reached his eyes. "But there will be time to explain more later, Sam," Castiel denied firmly. "For now you need rest, and peace. Both of you."
"Dean?" Sam frowned, worried as to why his brother would need peace when he had been... "Lisa? Ben?"
"I left them, Sammy. I couldn't..." he watched as Dean took a deep breath to gather the false bravado to say, "Just not cut out for the picket fence I guess."
Sam hugged him again, offering comfort instead of seeking it. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah." Dean held on a moment, and then, "Bitch."
Despite it all, Sam smiled. No chick flick moments. Right. Some things never changed. "Jerk."
Walking over to Castiel Gabriel threw an arm over his general's trench coat clad shoulder (because far be it from a self-respecting Trickster such as himself to miss something as ripe with the promise of playing major pranks on the dicks in his family as an all out angel war) and cooed, "Awwww. I'm gonna cry, I truly am. Hey, bro, Merry Christmas."
The younger angel turned to him in surprise. "What?"
"And here I thought I lost track of time." Gabriel was grinning as he pointed out, "Five minutes past midnight, bro. It's officially Christmas on Earth. Didn't you know?"
Castiel frowned. "No. I did not realize..."
"Raising Lucifer's vessel from the Pit right under the nose of Lucifer and Michael in order to give birth to a new Heaven, and in defiance of Dad's Law - the spirit if not the letter, and on such a Birthday - supposedly, anyway - well. Best Trick Ever! I can't wait to see what you come up with next."
Castiel groaned into his hands at the unforeseen drawbacks to having resurrected a Trickster for the fight. Well too bad; Cas raised him and now he was stuck with him and if Gabriel were going to wage war, he was going to make the point of doing it in style. Confusion was a handy weapon, and no one did it better than Loki.
For his part Gabriel merely reveled in the fact that he (and they, because let's face it, those boys tended to grow on an angel) were all once more alive and ready to cause trouble. From where he stood, for the first time in a long time, it was a very merry Christmas for sure.