Title: Hunting for Salvation
Author: [livejournal.com profile] sarkywoman
Artist: [livejournal.com profile] angrydumpling
Fandom/Genre: Supernatural AU
Pairing(s): Castiel/Dean, one-sided Michael/Dean, Sam/Jess
Rating: R
Word Count: 36560
Warnings: Non-con (drugs), swearing, captivity

Summary: Earth-Country is still recovering from the Demon War when the Angels attack. Severely outmatched, the Hunters are taken to Heaven, the glowing land across the seas. King Michael keeps Dean as leverage, guarded constantly by his loyal soldier Castiel. But Dean's influence and Michael's erratic behaviour begins to stir doubt in Castiel's mind and with Lucifer making dangerous plans of his own, disobedience might be the only way to save the Hunters.

Thank you so much to [livejournal.com profile] angrydumpling for the art! I was lucky this year! :D

Art link: Art Masterlist


Gabriel's palace was situated as the third point of a triangle, with Michael and Lucifer's palaces at an equal distance from him in either direction. He had the smallest palace of the three and back when Raphael was alive, he had shared the space. They had got on each other's nerves more than any Angel ought to irritate another, but years after Raph's death, Gabriel still felt the palace was too big. The fact that he refused to keep any staff might have had something to do with that. So sue him, he'd rather be waited on hand and foot by illusory people. At least they didn't have any real feelings.

Hilda was giving him a footrub. Every time he recreated her, he made her with tinier, stronger hands. It was becoming an odd fetish, even for him. He'd create some friends soon and have them stage an intervention.

A knock on the door was extremely unusual. The last time someone had knocked on the door it had been Michael, demanding Gabriel's assistance one final time in the crusade against the Hunters. Gabriel had slammed the door in his face.

“I'm on my way,” he called as the knocking continued. With a click of his fingers, Hilda vanished into thin air and he was fully dressed in his court clothes. He stepped forward and appeared outside, directly behind the person knocking on his door. He slid his blade back into its sheath when he recognised Castiel, facing away from him. “Something I can help you with, Castiel?”

The lower Angel jumped and turned to face Gabriel. He looked rough, like he hadn't taken rest in a long time. He looked emotional. Gabriel had seen this development coming from a mile away.

“I need to talk to you. It is extremely urgent. I'm aware this is...inappropriate, but please.”

Gabriel sighed. He knew what this would be about. “Do you have a problem with the way the Hunters are being treated?”

Castiel nodded, relief clear on his face. “Yes!”

“Too bad.”

In a blink, Gabriel was back inside on his sofa. Perhaps he had some of the meat left from dinner. He could put it in a sandwich...

“You can't honestly be happy about it,” Castiel said, appearing in the middle of the living room.

Oh, that was too far. “You have any idea how out of line it is for you to enter an Archangel’s chambers without permission?”

“I’m keenly aware. That is why I knocked. However, you have left me little choice. I must speak to you about the conditions in which the Hunters are being kept.”

“It sucks, I know.” Gabriel shrugged. “What do you care?”

“We should all care, or this entire war was for naught!”

“Of course it was for naught!” Gabriel yelled, standing from his sofa. “Our Father is their Father. He made us all. You really think he wanted the bigger brother to go and smash up the little brother’s play area? All we did is kick sand in their eyes and take their toys. We’re not changing anything, we’re embarrassing ourselves! Any idiot could have seen that. Why do you think I stayed here?”

“So… you’ll help me?”

“Help you what, Castiel? Save all the Hunters? Yeah, because Michael really listened to me when I told him to shove his religious agenda up his ass last time.”

“That was sarcasm.”

“And realism. The Hunters are done for. The best we can hope for is a decent breeding program to keep them from dying out and thicker blankets.”

“You have the power to change this,” Castiel said, irritatingly earnest. “Why won’t you?”

Gabriel heaved a sigh and sat back down on the sofa. It wasn’t Castiel’s fault. At least he had the brains to doubt, even if he was a little late to the party. “The Holy War wasn’t the endgame, Castiel. Michael’s long-term objective is not to save the Hunters. The Holy War was just a battle in a bigger fight. It was political. Religion was just the spoon he used to feed you this shit. The real fight has been going on a lot longer, maybe even longer than the Hunters have been in existence.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sit down.”

Castiel did, his hands folded neatly in his lap as he sat down beside Gabriel on the sofa. Always so tense and awkward.

“What I’m about to tell you can’t leave this room. For your own safety. I shouldn’t even be telling you, but you’ll only get yourself in deep trouble if you carry on championing a cause that contradicts Michael’s.”

“But it doesn’t,” Castiel insisted. “That’s what I don’t understand. Michael wanted to save them, that’s all I want too!”

“Michael doesn’t care about the Hunters!” Gabriel snapped, his voice rising in volume to match Castiel’s. “He just needed a cause that sounded noble so that he could rally the Angels under his banner and dispel the social stagnation that’s giving Lucifer a loyal following!”

For a moment, Gabriel expected the younger Angel to confess confusion again, or maybe to jump straight into denial. But though Castiel seemed lost in his thoughts for a little while, eventually his blue gaze hardened with resolve.

“I care for the Hunters, even if Michael does not.”

Gabriel chuckled and a bottle of white wine appeared in his hand. “Yeah, yeah. You’re both just obsessing over the same piece of Hunter ass. There’s nothing charitable about that.”

“Again, I don’t understand your words.”

“You aren’t keeping the right company, Castiel,” Gabriel lamented before taking a sip of his wine from the bottle. “Ahh. Right. What I’m basically saying is that you and Michael both profess a love for the Hunters, but you actually mean carnal lust for the Clan-Mother. Not that I blame you. If I was ever inclined to want a Hunter, I’d probably want that one.”

“Michael does not… it is a sin.”

“Everything’s a sin, Castiel. Haven’t you been paying attention? It’s only because Michael ran out of things to condemn here that we ever went near the Hunters. We couldn’t polish ourselves anymore, so we found a species a little messier to work with. Pretty sick, isn’t it?”

Castiel looked more shell-shocked now than he had all evening. Clearly the poor little fool had been adhering to the nonsensical behavioural codes better than most. Suddenly, some new revelation had Castiel’s stubbled jaw dropping and the Angel launched himself to his feet.

“Michael wants Dean.”

Then he was gone. Gabriel sipped at his wine, recreated Hilda the masseuse and tried not to think about the horde of suffering Hunters huddled in the cold under his brother’s palace.

*

The room was spinning when Dean woke. He curled his fists into the bedsheets and stared at the ceiling. The creme-coloured swirl pattern veered left and right and he moved side-to-side, trying to compensate. He hadn't felt this rough since he got into Dad's firewater stash aged sixteen. He was freaking out and he knew it but that only made him freak out more because he couldn't remember where he was or what had happened and... Angels. He remembered the Angels.

He forced himself upright quickly, like ripping off a bandage. For a moment his vision almost faded completely to black, his view of the bright, airy room narrowing to a small tunnel. After a little while sat there swaying side to side, Dean was able to see without blinking frantically and breathe without feeling like he was going to puke.

Now that the pleasantries were out of the way, Dean noticed something else unnerving. He tested himself with a little...clench...

“Motherfucker.” Ha, that was almost funny. A pun or something and shit, shit, shit, it was Michael, wasn't it? Dean was alone now but bits of the night were beginning to bleed back into his memory. Sometime after his bath Michael had arrived. Dean had allowed the bastard to rub a towel all over his body. Something in the bath, must have been.

Feeling very much like he was going to hurl now, Dean forced himself out of the bed. His legs didn't want to co-operate, still under the influence of whatever he'd been given. He stumbled and landed hard on his knees. He had to get out of here. Now. Before the pattern on the ceiling wrapped him up in its fucking swirls and gave him back to Michael. But Angels, they were everywhere. Nowhere in here, but everywhere out there. He had to get past them, had to get to the Clan, get help…

The book! It was under the bed, hidden from sneaky Angel eyes. Dean tugged it out from the mattress and clutched it to his chest for a moment. He had no idea where Bela had found the thing, but the secrets in its pages would prove invaluable. He’d been studying hard.

But the door was still a major obstacle, as he found when he crawled over to it. He couldn’t figure out a way to make it unlock. It had to be Cas or Michael and Dean really didn’t want to wait for Michael to come back.

“Yes, yes, just like that. Little Hunter whore, my temptation and ruin…”

Dean vomited into the corner as more of the night came back to him. He had done nothing in his own defence, forced into easy compliance by whatever magic Michael had used on his mind. But he’d felt weird before Michael’s arrival, hadn’t he? In the bath, he’d gotten real sleepy and dopey. Could Cas have been the culprit? Drugged him up and handed him over to Michael? He was obedient to a fault. It was the only thing Dean didn’t like about him. That and the fact that he’d apparently assisted Michael in humiliating the Clan. Dean couldn’t even imagine trying to explain this to his Dad. Fuck, Sam would be livid.

He could worry about that when he reached them. Dean shook himself, realising belatedly he had fallen into shock in the corner, trembling and thinking when he needed to be working and fighting. With shaky hands he flicked through the pages of his book until he found the picture he was looking for.

Then he returned to the bed and found the shiv under the pillow that he had made out of a broken bathroom tile. To think, if he’d been himself last night he could have rammed this right into Michael’s fucking eye.

On his way back to the corner near the door he tripped and almost impaled himself. How long would it be before this spell or potion wore off? He wouldn’t get far in this state.

Dean put the book out flat on the floor before him and began cutting and painting, smearing his own blood around the wall to mirror the illustration. By the time Castiel burst through the door Dean was woozier than before, but he had finished his task.

“You’re hurt,” Castiel said first of all, as though Dean’s injuries were more important to him than the warding on the wall.

“No shit,” Dean said before slamming his hand down in the centre of the bloody symbol. There was a flash of light and an odd shriek that could have come from Castiel. When Dean opened his eyes again, Cas was gone. The door was still open.

It wasn’t easy to clamber to his feet, but Dean had no intention of crawling to safety. He stumbled out through the door and way glanced both ways down the tilting, blurring corridor. Left. He was pretty sure it was left. Eventually his chosen route brought him to some stairs, which Dean didn’t recall from his trip to the dungeons or the banquet hall.

Dean wasn’t sure how much time passed during his wanderings before the realisation hit that he was utterly lost. He held back a sob, consoling himself with the fact that at least he hadn’t encountered any guards yet. Obviously Michael didn’t think Dean was up to escaping. Well, he’d soon see.

Sounds of movement nearby led Dean to hide on various occasions – behind doors, under tables, in little cubby-holes. Angels didn’t seem to be in the habit of thoroughly checking their surroundings though, just walking right on by when Dean was certain they would catch him. At least Cas hadn’t sounded the alarm yet, but it would only be a matter of time. They’d follow the trail of blood he was leaving.

One door led him out of the palace. Dean knew he had taken a wrong turning now, but it had been so long since he breathed fresh air that he couldn’t force himself back inside right away. It was a nice evening. One hand on the stone wall to steady himself, Dean walked a little further around the palace so that he wasn’t noticeable right by the door. There was a wild little hedge that the gardeners had missed. Dean sank down to the ground behind it, ignoring the scratching of the bendy little twigs against his skin. Fuck, he’d have to swipe some clothes from somewhere before he went back to the Clan, otherwise they’d be devastated by the sight of him.

Maybe he wouldn’t even tell them what happened. They’d be happier that way. If he could get his ritual clothes back he could just meander down into the dungeons and free them without mentioning any of the nasty stuff. Sam and Dad would hug him, help him bandage his arm, then they could all find their way home together.

Dean rested his head against the stone wall and closed his eyes, dreaming of Earth-Country. He knew he had to get up and go find the Clan, but he was just going to rest for a moment.

Just a moment more.

*

John Winchester was in exactly the same place as he had been for the past two months and it was beginning to grate. Not just for him, but for everyone around him. At first all the irritation and frustration had been concentrated on their powerful captors, but as the anger built up the Hunters had enough to go round. Blame had fallen on the Angels first of all for their senseless attack, but everyone had since then found time to blame the Demons for picking at their defences ahead of time and then most recently, they were blaming the Clan-Father.

It was difficult to remember the last time someone had questioned the authority of the Clan-Father. In peace-time there was little to complain about. In war-time the Clan banded together tighter than ever to fight their external enemies. To question the Clan-Father was to destabilise the Clan. It was John's job to ensure he never drove his people to doubt him. It wasn't a job he had done particularly well, even before the Angels attacked. When the Demons murdered Mary he had very nearly marched his people into Hell for vengeance. Only Dean had been able to calm him down and help him see all the ways that they could fight without unnecessary sacrifice.

Now the Angels had his boy. The Clan-Mother. John was the sword, but Dean was their shield. Mary had taught him the wards and the exorcisms and the ancient lore. Dean was the heart of the Clan, always ready with a funny word and a grin and more importantly, always convinced that there was a way to win. Dean would die before he stopped fighting for his people. Whenever John's orders had left the Clan bitter and grumbling, Dean always won them back to the chosen path of action. Without him, John was having difficulty rallying them into any coherent plan of attack.

That was mostly Sam's fault. The younger son had possessed a hint of rebellion since youth. At first it had been dissatisfaction that Dean was in line to be Clan-Father and his wife would be the Clan-Mother. Sam had never hidden the fact that he thought himself more capable of guiding the Clan. When they lost Mary, Sam's attitude changed. Now that Dean was the Clan-Mother, Sam focused all of his displeasure on John. Whenever a voice raised a concern in Clan meetings, it was nearly always Sam. Sam found fault with every order and every plan, so it came as no surprise to John that his son twisted this impossible situation to reflect badly on him.

Ever since he had begun meeting with Lucifer, Sam had been spreading dissent among the Hunters. He had been telling them of his intention to break free of this prison, gathering like-minded members of the Clan to make it a more plausible possibility. He claimed he had the backing of one of the Angels. Didn’t take a genius to figure out who.

John didn’t trust any of it. Sam was a smart boy, but their hopeless situation was leading him to make poor decisions. None of the Angels were to be trusted. There was no way Lucifer’s plan would give the Hunters anything but death and John had said so, voice rising over Sam’s until they were both yelling at each other. Without Dean around to mediate, the arguments found no resolution. Instead the Clan split down the middle, siding with either Sam or John. The problem was, John had no idea of an alternative plan of escape. Sam’s plan was almost tempting because it was the only plan, but John refused to back an idea that would use his people as cannon-fodder. Dean would never forgive them.

“…humiliating us, abusing our Clan-Mother!” Sam shouted, standing in the corner of his cage to speak to all the Hunters with their faces pressed up against the bars. “It can’t go unpunished! We’ll storm from this dungeon and take Dean back and we’ll return to Earth-Country with Michael’s blood on my blade!”

“Are you sure about that?”

Every head turned at the quiet, calm voice of the King. John hadn’t even noticed the bastard until he spoke. He must have just appeared there, like the Angels had a habit of doing. With him stood Lucifer and Uriel. Uriel was a frequent unwelcome visitor to the dungeons.

Sam spent a moment looking like a man with a gun pointed his way, but recovered quickly and held his head high. John could be proud of that, at least. “I’m certain. I won’t rest until Dean is returned to us.” Kneeling by her husband, Jessica reached up and grasped his hand tightly.

Michael’s mouth quirked at the edge, as if he had almost learned to smile. Then he turned away from Sam and walked down the row of cages until he reached John’s. “I feel very much the same way,” he said loudly, his voice carrying through the room. “Dean is quite the prize, but elusive. I thought I had him. Imagine my surprise when I returned to find him gone and his guard expelled.”

John’s heart almost beat from his chest. He’d forgotten what hope felt like. “That’s what you get for underestimating my son.”

Michael leaned down to the bars. In a much quieter, lower voice intended for John’s ears only, he said, “I thought he’d sleep longer after the potion I gave him and the hours of vigorous fornication.”

“YOU BASTARD!”

He dove at the bars, shoving his arms through to throttle the Archangel that had dared to touch his boy. Michael smiled as he grabbed John’s wrists and pressed them together so hard that the Clan-Father could actually feel the bones grinding against each other.

“Dad!” Even after weeks of slander, there was panic in Sam’s voice as his father was driven to his knees.

“I have warned Dean what would happen if he left,” Michael said, voice still deadly calm. “His co-operation ensures the wellbeing of his Clan. For every day that he hides from me, one of you will pay the price.”

“We would all gladly die to keep him away from you,” John growled.

But still Michael smiled serenely. “We’ll see how many Hunters I cut through before I encounter one that says otherwise.”

Over the glow of the Angel blade, John met his son’s eyes and knew that Sam would do whatever he had to do. For Dean, rather than the Clan.

That would have to be enough, because with a slash of an Angel blade, Sam became Clan-Father.

*

Castiel had been banished before. Back in the Demon War, centuries ago, one of the more enterprising younger Demons called Crowley had discovered sigils and wards that could be used to entrap or expel Angels. As Castiel's garrison approached the tower where the Archangel Raphael valiantly fought their foes, they had paused to inspect a symbol painted on the wall in blood. They discarded it as nothing of interest and moved only a little further on before a Demon had appeared and put a hand to it. The sudden blast of burning light had haunted Castiel for a long time. At that late point of the battle, not all of his garrison had been strong enough to survive the sudden relocation. Even those who had survived were lost to Heaven for a long time. Balthazar had been gone for almost one-hundred years before finding his way home.

Luckily for Castiel, Dean's banishment did not send him so far. The Angel fell from the light and hit the dusty floor of Haven in Earth-Country. For a few moments he sat there, bewildered and pained. The expulsion had burned away some of his grace, which ached. He rose to his feet and looked around.

Earth-Country was a sad sight now. There were signs of past life laying abandoned all around. Burnt, crumbled huts and tents. Discarded weapons. Clothes hanging from lines strung between the trees, splashed with blood. Some Purgatory beast must have prowled through the camp, as the corpses of slain Hunters had been stripped of their meat.

It was utterly silent. Castiel put his hands together and sent a prayer to his Father. He needed forgiveness. They had made a terrible mistake.

Eyes wet with unshed tears, Castiel gathered his composure and stretched his wings. This could never be made right, but perhaps there was some redemption to be found. Dean had been hurt. His Clan were still in danger. Castiel might not be able to make a difference but he would not sit back and watch with apathy, like Gabriel. He would do his best to set things right. He felt it was what their Father would want, even if Michael had chosen a different path.

As he flew back to Heaven, Castiel wondered where Dean had found the book that had taught him the banishing symbol. He did not have it prior to their dungeon visit, so that would suggest one of the Hunters had passed it to him. But where did they obtain such a text? Angels had taken all literature depicting them away from the Demons and had been certain that the Hunters possessed nothing but a few allusions to Angelic existence. The only way the Hunters could have obtained knowledge of Angel banishing sigils was through another Angel.

Thinking on the logical problems allowed Castiel to keep his thoughts neutral for much of the flight back to Heaven, but emotional contemplation of Dean was inevitable. Dean had taken up so much of his thoughts recently that Castiel’s mind had developed a habit of returning to him whenever more pressing ideas didn’t engage him. Even in Castiel’s meditation and trances Dean had appeared before him with a smile on his lips and nothing but freckles covering his skin. The fact that Dean had been the one to send Castiel away was painful. Dean had clearly realised Castiel’s unwitting complicity in Michael’s scheme. Had Michael harmed him badly?

Thoughts of Dean’s blood painting the wall moved Castiel’s wings faster. Dean might have banished him, but it was very unlikely the Hunter would manage to evade Michael for long. Castiel had no intention of allowing Dean to come to further harm.

He flew low as he reached Heaven, looking across the waterways, fields and forests in an attempt to spot a guard patrol. If Dean had escaped the palace, Angels would be combing the area for him. Since Castiel could see no search taking place, he had to assume that Dean remained in the palace. Perhaps he had not even escaped his chamber, considering the state he was in. Castiel tried not to think on it too much as he landed outside the gates of Michael’s palace. If Dean had escaped, he most likely would have gone straight to the dungeons to find his Clan. Castiel should start his search there.

As he moved to open the large gate, Castiel noticed a smudge of red across the stone wall. He rubbed his finger across it and found it tacky against his skin. Blood.

Immediately he was examining the vicinity and following the trail he found. It led him further around the wall, sinking lower and lower until…

“Dean?”

The Hunter was slumped behind an unruly hedge, naked and bloody. Even in the darkness Castiel was able to see Dean was deathly pale. Pressing his hand to the man’s face, he found him far below the correct temperature for a Hunter. Castiel shrugged off his long, tan robe and wrapped it around Dean, who began to stir.

Blinking sleepily up at him, Dean murmured, “Cas?”

Castiel rubbed his hands up and down Dean’s back and arms, hoping to transfer some heat to the Clan-Mother’s body. “I am here, Dean. You are safe.”

Dean shook his head and tried to fight Castiel’s grasp. “No, no, you’re Michael’s bitch, you… you drugged me. Fuckin’ trusted you, you dick…”

It was no struggle to hold Dean firm, not after the ordeal the Hunter had been through. Dean’s struggles were weak and his eyes were glazed, his speech slurred and disjointed. The potion that Michael had requested Castiel put in Dean’s bath was clearly still affecting him. The only symptom that had faded was his docility, replaced by understandable aggravation.

“I didn’t know, Dean. He’s my King, I never would have imagined he would do such terrible things.” Though the signs had been there for a while, now that Castiel looked back on it all.

“I trusted you!” Dean cried out again, distressed, trying to hit at Castiel but only flailing weakly at his chest. “I knew not to and I kept trying not to but you were so fucking easy to talk to and… damn it, I wanted you so bad…”

Emotions of any intensity were relatively new to Castiel, but he hated whatever it was he felt in that moment. It was as though his chest twisted in response to Dean’s admission and the knowledge that Dean had thought of him in the way that Castiel liked to think of Dean. Despite all of that, Castiel had betrayed him without even realising. Dean had cared for him and Castiel had passed him to Michael.

Castiel pulled the Hunter into a tighter embrace, not knowing how to correct the situation or even how to explain himself in a way that would satisfy Dean. “I didn’t know, I swear to you, please. Had I known what he intended, I would never have left you with him.”

Dean lifted his right hand and Castiel expected another weak strike. Instead, the Hunter ran his knuckles over Castiel’s cheek. “You’re crying.”

In amazement, Castiel put his hand to his own cheek where Dean’s fingers had been. He felt the dampness and held his fingers up to look at them glisten. “That’s never happened before.”

For a moment, Dean just stared at him. Then he shook his head. “Know what? I’m too fuckin’ tired. If you’re gonna give me back, just do it and get it over with. Maybe I should just say yes to Michael, tell ‘im I’ll get the Clan to convert and then at least they’ll be free.”

“No,” Castiel growled, surprising himself with his aversion to the idea. From the very beginning of Michael’s crusade he had known it was wrong, known that the Hunters were an innovative and intelligent people who deserved to live in peace. But he had called that knowledge doubt and locked it away, believing Michael’s agenda of religious salvation. No longer. “We will find a way to free your people.”

Dean sighed wearily, sagging down deeper in Castiel’s arms. “I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t. They need me to save them and…” With a choked sob, Dean pressed his face to Castiel’s shoulder. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t even save myself.”

“You don’t have to,” Castiel said quietly, the words falling like an oath from his lips. He shifted his grip on Dean so that he could slide an arm beneath his legs, then stood up and lifted him. Dean was barely conscious against him, but the movement woke him somewhat.

“The Clan,” he said, reaching out for the palace wall. “I can’t leave them, we have to go back.”

“Not like this. You need rest and healing.”

“Cas, no,” Dean hooked his fingers around one of the stones in the palace wall. “Take me to them, please.”

At that moment, a voice rang out in the courtyard. Michael. “I want him found! He can’t have gone far. If any of you harm a hair on his head I will have you thrown in the dark with the Hunters! Go!”

The sound of feathers startled Castiel into action. Supporting Dean’s weight with one arm, he pressed his fingers to the Clan-Mother’s forehead and willed Dean into sleep. The Hunter released his grip on the wall and his arm fell limp. Castiel flew them both quickly to one place he hoped they could find help, though he was not terribly optimistic.

He appeared in Gabriel’s living room without warning. The Archangel was having his feet massaged by a woman with miniscule hands. When he saw Castiel, the Prince groaned and clicked his fingers. The woman vanished.

“You kidnapped Dean.”

“What? No! I found him.”

Gabriel raised his eyebrows. “Oh? Okay, well let’s send him back to Michael before more Hunters get slaughtered.”

Castiel sighed. He should have known Gabriel would suggest obedience. “I am not returning him in his current state.”

“Well then we’re going to see a lot more dead Hunters.”

As Gabriel stood from the sofa to inspect Dean, Castiel took advantage of the empty space and lay Dean down across it. “Michael is not deranged. He won’t murder Hunters simply because he can’t find Dean.”

“He started with the Clan-Father.”

There was no sign of mirth on Gabriel’s face, no sign that it was a sick joke.

“What?”

“When Deano vanished, Michael took it out on the Clan. I think he hoped Dean would go back to prevent further bloodshed.”

“That is madness!”

Gabriel shrugged. “Yeah, well I guess you could say our King’s crazy about the Clan-Mother. You have to give him back, Castiel.”

“He’s hurt,” Castiel said quietly, imploring Gabriel with his eyes to do what was right.

“Oh, for…” Gabriel interrupted himself with a huff and knelt down beside the sofa. He took hold of Dean’s bloodied arm and Castiel was satisfied to see the flesh knit together even faster than it would have done through the application of his own damaged grace. Gabriel frowned a little as he drew his hand back. “He’s under the influence of something.”

“Michael bade me add a concoction to his bath. Is it poison?” The thought was almost too much to bear.

“It would have been, if it went unchecked. Luckily you brought him to me.”

“You are the most capable healer we have.”

One hand rested on Dean’s chest, Gabriel’s grace sending a pulsing glow through the Hunter. The Archangel looked up at Castiel without a smile. “That’s not the only reason you came here.”

“No, it isn’t. I thought to ask you once more if you would champion their cause.”

Gabriel’s jaw clenched and he looked away. “Why? Why would you dare ask me that again? You do remember I’m your Prince, right? An Archangel? Why do you think it’s okay for you to bring your pet cause to me again when I’ve already told you I want nothing to do with it?”

“Because I fear I will fail if I attempt it alone and the Hunters deserve to be saved.”

In response to that, Gabriel sighed and said, “You don’t get it, do you? Michael wants them as slaves and Lucifer wants them dead. You’re talking about getting between the two of them and snatching the toy they’re fighting over. That’s what you’re asking me to do.”

“You risked their displeasure when you refused to go to war.”

“And they took my troops anyway,” Gabriel replied. “So what does that tell you about their opinion of my opinion?”

“I don’t recall seeing any of your troops slay a Hunter,” Castiel went on. “It was almost as though their orders differed from everyone else’s.” Balthazar had made vague references to Gabriel’s distaste for the war and given that Balthazar was to Gabriel what Castiel was to Michael, the younger Angel felt the information was reliable.

“They’re fun little people. Seemed a shame to tear them apart. I used to like playing with them.” Oh yes, there had been rumours about Gabriel’s wanderings, though most of them assumed he had been playing on the Purgatory Isles. Earth-Country had never seemed interesting to the majority of Angels.

“Were you the one to give them knowledge of banishing sigils?” Castiel asked. If Gabriel had bestowed such knowledge on past Hunters it would explain how Dean came to possess the book.

But Gabriel looked confused. “What, for expelling us? Hell no. I’m not stupid. They know how to banish us?”

“Dean has a book that provides specifics. I believe it was passed to him by one of the Hunters in the dungeon, as he has been reading it since our visit. But no matter. Gabriel, I know that you care for the fate of the Hunters and…” Castiel stopped speaking as Gabriel held up a hand to silence him.

“It does matter, Castiel. It matters a lot. If the Hunters were given that book by an Angel, it can’t have been too long ago. Someone wanted this to happen. They wanted Dean to try and escape.”

“So someone else is sympathetic to their plight?” Castiel asked. Had he been too rash in condemning his peers for what he perceived as a lack of empathy?

“I don’t think so,” Gabriel said, deep in thought. “There’s no way Dean could escape from Heaven without being assisted by Angels. Someone wanted him to try and fail. But I don’t see…” The Archangel trailed off. Then suddenly he snapped his attention back to Castiel. “I have some things to check up on. I’ll be back. Just wait here and don’t answer the door if anyone comes knocking.”

Before Castiel could say anything, Gabriel had flapped his golden wings and vanished.

“I’ll just…wait here then,” he said to the room, which was empty aside from Dean’s sleeping body. Castiel sat down beside the sofa and admitted to himself that really he didn’t like to be anywhere these days that was not by Dean’s side. Michael had complimented him on his devotion to duty, but Castiel knew it was not duty that led his thoughts to dwell on Dean.

It was perhaps an hour or so later when Dean woke. The time had been uneventful. No Angels had come to search for Dean here. Gabriel’s palace, though smaller than the other two, was still intimidating. Most Angels were not desperate enough to approach an Archangel with anything but flattery.

“Cas?”

“Dean, you’re awake. How do you feel?”

“Like I had a massive hangover that’s mostly gone away.” Dean sat up and pushed down the tan robe that Castiel had left draped over him as a blanket. “I’m naked. Uh…”

“I assume you fled as soon as you woke and were not coherent enough to cover yourself.”

For a while, Dean was silent. He stared at the end of the sofa without really looking at anything. Clearly he was trying to gather his memories of the previous night. Eventually Dean turned and put his feet on the floor, still keeping the robe covering his genitals. It seemed rather pointless, as Castiel had already seen them, but he kept silent on the matter.

“Where are we?”

“Gabriel’s palace. I brought you here to be healed. I also wished to request his assistance in freeing the Hunters.”

Slowly, Dean nodded. “I remember you saying you wanted to help. But I also seem to recall you dosing my bath with something freaky and letting Michael have his wicked way with me.”

“Had I known what he intended I would never have agreed to it. He lied to me, told me the potion would make you feel better. It never occurred to me that he saw you in that way.”

“What way?” Dean asked, glaring.

Castiel took a deep breath and said, “The way I do.”

For a few moments, Dean didn’t seem to know what to say. But the silence couldn’t last forever. “And how do you see me?”

“You have the most perfect soul I have ever seen. The most beautiful eyes… your voice lifts my spirits when I wasn’t even aware my spirits were low. You mystify and intrigue me and make me wish for things I am forbidden to think of. I have never been so sure of right and wrong as I am right now. I could never have imagined that I could be so certain in my disobedience. Understand that I don’t expect you to forgive me for my part in this, but I hope I can earn back enough of your trust that you’ll let me help you.”

Dean was staring at him and Castiel wasn’t certain of the emotion behind it. That made him nervous and he fidgeted under the heavy gaze of those green eyes.

“It’s not like I’m spoiled for options right now,” Dean said with a little shrug. “Besides, I don’t think… I mean, this is probably gonna come back and bite me on the ass, but I don’t think you knew what Michael wanted. Hell, I don’t think you know what you want half the time.”

“I think I know. Recently, anyway.”

They stared into one another’s eyes for a few moments. Castiel hoped his thoughts were clear, as he wouldn’t insult Dean by sounding blunt and insistent. The Clan-Mother had been through enough without having to worry about Castiel’s desires as well.

Castiel stepped further away from the sofa. “I will try to find you some clothing.”

Turning away from Dean, Castiel almost walked straight into Gabriel, who had reappeared without a sound.

“So, we have a problem,” the Archangel said, clapping his hands together.

“Can it wait one moment? I was just about to find something for Dean to wear.”

Gabriel clicked his fingers and suddenly Dean was wearing his Clan-Mother outfit. Even the red scarf and white robe were there. Dean stood from the sofa and handed Castiel’s tan robe back to him.

“What’s the problem?”

“I think that book you got came from Lucifer.”

“What? Why?” Dean seemed shocked and confused. “I thought Lucifer hated us.”

“Oh Castiel, haven’t you caught him up on goings-on around here? Honestly, I have to do everything myself.” Gabriel turned back to Dean and began explaining himself, waving his hands around in grand gesticulations. “Lucifer and Michael are sick of each other. Lucifer would probably happily see Michael dead at this point and vice versa. But while Michael’s got the power he isn’t going to do anything to upset the Angels like, say, killing his own brother. Lucifer has a small following, but nowhere near enough to stage a takeover or so I thought. Seems times are changing. I’ve just been out and about in various guises, talking to a few folk, and it sounds like support for the Morningstar has been increasing lately.”

“He is rallying Angels around him,” Castiel realised. “But to what end? And what does this have to do with the book?”

“Michael hasn’t been himself since we captured the Hunters. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. His interest in Dean became obsession early on.” At Gabriel’s words, Dean shifted awkwardly. Castiel reached out and squeezed his shoulder gently. Gabriel continued to speak. “Lucy’s been encouraging it. He’s given him questionable books about Hunter culture, he’s made snide comments about Dean.”

“Has he?” Dean asked.

“Trust me kid, you don’t want to know. The point is, Lucifer has been keeping Michael focused on Dean. If Michael’s busy obsessing over his Hunter pet, Lucifer can take advantage of it. He can convince other Angels that Michael’s not fit to rule.”

“But surely Lucifer would still lack the necessary numbers to take the crown,” Castiel mused. “Many remain loyal to Michael. His conquest of the Hunters won him much respect.”

“Not among us,” Dean snapped, shaming Castiel back into silence.

“Ah.” Gabriel pointed dynamically at Dean. “Now that brings us to the Hunters, who apparently, are taking presents from Lucifer like that little book you had. What does that tell you?”

Castiel was distracted from the question by the sudden stricken look on Dean’s face. Only when the Hunter spoke, did he realise the implications of Gabriel’s words.

“They’re in league with Lucifer. He’s won over the Hunters. Shit… Dad must be desperate to strike up a deal with him. No way Lucifer has our best interests at heart. I’ve seen enough of the guy to know he’s a psycho.”

Gabriel licked his lips nervously and glanced at Castiel. “Uh, Castiel didn’t tell you?”

“I didn’t want to upset him while he was recovering,” Castiel explained. It was only partially the reason. In all honesty, the idea of upsetting Dean at all was so unappealing that he had been unable to bring himself to tell the Hunter what had happened.

“Tell me what?” Dean turned to him, looking for answers. “Cas?”

“Michael took your escape poorly. He decided to make his displeasure known through the execution of your father. I’m sorry.”

Dean sank back down onto the sofa, devastated. Castiel could not imagine his pain, but assumed it was comparable to the loss all Angels had experienced when Father left them. Worse, most likely, as Father might yet return whereas John Winchester would not be able to accomplish such a feat. Castiel longed to comfort Dean, to pull the Hunter into his arms, but he felt that such comfort would not be welcomed from an Angel. Not when the Angels were responsible for all of Dean’s pain.

“I’m assuming this makes your brother the Clan-Father,” Gabriel said, pressing on with the matter at hand. Dean nodded, but remained silenced by his grief. Gabriel raised an eyebrow at Castiel. “Kinda coincidental, wouldn’t you say? Considering we all saw Lucifer drag him off to learn his lesson over a month ago.”

“Dad tried to warn me,” Dean said, his voice a low mumble. “He said Lucifer wasn’t hurting Sam. I was just relieved to hear he wasn’t being tortured. I didn’t think.”

“Even with the Hunters,” Castiel said, “Lucifer surely doesn’t have enough of an army to topple Michael. The Hunters are an unpredictable foe, but a small Angel force would be capable of stopping them quickly. There must be more to Lucifer’s plan.”

Gabriel nodded. “I agree. Perhaps they have some sort of trick up their sleeve? Something they didn’t have the chance to use against us during the invasion?”

Both Angels looked over at Dean expectantly, but the Clan-Mother just shrugged. “I don’t know. All I know is that my Clan will be slaughtered if Lucifer pits them against Michael’s army. I can’t sit back and let that happen. Dad would expect me to stop this somehow.”

“Okay.” Gabriel nodded. “I’ll head back out and see if I can find out anything new. But if you remember anything that might be useful to us, you let me know.”

Dean agreed to do so and Gabriel left them alone in his home once more. At a loss as to the correct behaviour, Castiel slowly approached the sofa and sat down beside Dean. He racked his brains for the appropriate mourning ritual. Years of studying Hunter culture and at a vital moment, he could remember none of it.

It seemed that sitting in silence was acceptable.

A tear slid down Dean’s cheek and dripped onto his robe. Castiel reached out, hoping he was not crossing some sort of line, and took hold of the Hunter’s hand.

Dean’s hand turned so that their palms met and their fingers threaded together. Nothing needed to be said.

*

Michael’s rage was like a storm, sweeping Heaven with a voice like thunder and flashes of grace like lightning. Angels scattered before him, fearful and frantic. It had been a long time since Michael’s temper had been so uncontrolled – not since the war against the Demons, when Raphael was slain. Even then his rage had been focused. Embroiled in battle against the Hellspawn, he had unleashed his righteous fury upon them. Today it spilled out of him and attacked the Angels he would have help him.

Damn Dean Winchester. Michael would chain him for this, so that he might never escape again.

Pausing in the hall, the King leaned on the wall for support as his mind was assaulted with the image of the Clan-Mother chained to his throne.

“You haven’t found him yet, then?”

Michael narrowed his eyes at Lucifer. “No, I have not. The search would move much quicker with your assistance.”

“Hey now, I don’t see you pestering Gabriel for help. In fact,” Lucifer tapped at his chin in thought, “I haven’t seen baby brother for a while.”

It was true, Gabriel had been notably absent from court of late. Michael assumed it was due to the Hunters. Gabriel had been against their war from the start, too weak to heed Father’s will and save the Hunters from their heathen ways. He still persisted in his foolish ideas of pacifism. As if Father would reward his apathy and cowardice.

“I will fetch Gabriel to assist in the search, but do not think his contribution removes the need for yours, Lucifer. Continue looking. Search everywhere!”

Lucifer nodded, still with that damn serene smile on his face. Michael’s misfortune amused him, it seemed.

With a flutter of his large black wings, Michael flew from his palace and crossed the distance to Gabriel’s home. It took no time at all for an Archangel. This time he chose not to knock, simply appearing in his brother’s decadent living room.

Castiel and Dean sat together on the sofa. Their eyes widened when they saw him. Castiel immediately stood, putting himself between Michael and his beloved.

“What is the meaning of this?” Michael asked calmly. Castiel had been devoted to him for a long time. He ought to have a chance to explain himself.

“Dean was wounded by your actions. I found him and decided that he was safer away from you.” Castiel hesitated before adding, “My Lord.”

“You are wrong,” Michael replied calmly. “I treated Dean exactly how he desired.”

At that, the little Hunter entered the fray, jumping to his feet and brimming over with rage. “You drugged me and raped me, you son of a bitch! I didn’t desire any of it!”

Michael smiled at the stubbornness. “Of course not. It’s alright, Dean, we can pretend your willingness was entirely the product of the potion…”

“It was!”

“…And not an effect of your forced celibacy these past months. I know how much it must have grated on you, Clan-Mother. Your people are sexually liberal and you are so used to pleasing them that your isolation would have been a terrible shock. Forgive me for that, I hadn’t realised.”

Dean gaped at him for a moment before finding his voice. “Who the fuck have you been talking to?”

“Lucifer has been giving him inappropriate and misleading literature,” Castiel said.

“Little brother, you glorify these creatures, but they’re base. They have such simple needs. I’m beginning to suspect it is useless to try and save them. Perhaps it would be better just to sate them, to train them to obey with positive reinforcement.”

“You speak of sexual slavery,” Castiel said, wrinkling his nose in distaste. “My Lord, can’t you hear yourself? What’s happened to you?”

Michael fanned his wings and in a blink of the eye he stood beside Dean, cupping the Hunter’s face in one hand. “I found revelation. It was what I sought when we conquered the Hunters, but only when I conquered this specific Hunter did I find it.”

“Get your hands off me.” The revulsion on Dean’s face did not bother Michael in the least. He knew how to be rid of it, knew which touches would lead Dean to moan with pleasure and part his thighs like a whore.

“Please, Michael,” Castiel begged. “The Hunters are worthy of a better life than that. They deserve to be free.”

“Your disobedience is beginning to trouble me, Castiel.”

He expected the younger Angel to recoil and apologise, but though Castiel flinched, he regained his composure quickly. “That word is losing its power over me. Disobedience is a necessary evil at the moment. Your judgement is impaired, my Lord.”

“Castiel, are you telling me that you will not permit me to take the Clan-Mother?”

Dean watched Castiel nervously. Eventually the lesser Angel nodded. “That’s correct. Dean deserves more than…”

Michael interrupted him with an open palm against the chest, shoving Castiel violently across the room so that he crashed into the opposite wall, leaving a large dent in Gabriel’s lavish décor. The Angel stumbled to his feet and brandished his sword. It was a truly pathetic sight.

“Put that away before you hurt yourself. You’ve served me well, Castiel. I would rather not execute you.”

“You will have to before you take Dean from me,” Castiel replied, his dark wings fluttering around him. He was still weak from the banishment. It would truly be no fight at all.

Still, if Castiel insisted on finishing this in violence…

When Michael stepped forward, there was a tug on his arm as Dean tried to stop him. “Don’t. Please!”

“Adorable.” Michael reached out and pressed his fingers to Dean’s forehead. The Hunter crumpled to the floor as sleep suddenly overtook him. Michael sheathed his blade and lifted the Hunter into his arms.

“No!”

With a thought he flung Castiel away again. “Be grateful my beloved wants you unharmed and that I am gracious enough to indulge him.” He turned away with Dean held close to his body and fanned out his wings for flight. “Be warned though that if I see you near him again, I will have you executed for treason.”

Michael returned to his own bedchamber with his precious burden. Dean would remain here from now on. Michael would spoil him with treasures and sexual satisfaction until Dean forgot he even had a Clan. They would rule the Angels together.

He lay the Hunter down on the bed and sat beside him, idly tracing the Clan-Mother’s full lips with his finger and wondering how barbarians could create such divinity.

Then the peaceful moment was shattered by the sound of war bells.

They were under attack.

*

Since Uriel walked through the dungeon unlocking the cages Sam had been experiencing doubts. But all the drawbacks of this plan were outweighed by the single advantage – it was the only chance they had.

Still, he had shed tears when Jess stood before Lucifer and allowed him to remove her anti-possession tattoo. The pretty little tattoo that Dean had painstakingly drawn onto her only a few years before. It had been a wedding present, a stylised version of a necessary mark. Jess had smiled at Sam over Dean’s shoulder the entire time he was working. Today, in the dungeon, she had stared at him fearfully while he promised all of the Clan that he knew what he was doing.

Once Uriel had released them all, they poured from the dungeon. A horde of possessed Hunters. Lucifer’s secret army, with the skill of Hunters and the power of Demons.

Not all of the Clan had been on-board with the idea. The older Hunters were the most vehement in their objections, still clinging to his father’s memory and resenting him for taking the man’s place. Bobby had scared a few Hunters off of the plan, telling them a first-hand account of Demon possession. In the end, it didn’t matter. Bobby, Ellen, Rufus, all of the Hunters they dissuaded, they still had to follow the plan. Uriel just held them down while Lucifer worked to remove their protective marks.

When they were back in Earth-Country, breathing fresh air again, the Clan would forgive him. They would understand he had done what was necessary for them. They might even respect him more for it.

“Sam.”

He turned to Lucifer. They were out of the dungeon now, stood in the lower levels of the palace where the light was bright enough to hurt Sam’s eyes. The Morningstar was wearing what the Angels considered to be full battle gear – Silver breastplate, shoulder and armguards made of that strange red mineral that seemed to sparkle, and normal cloth trousers. Lucifer’s blade was already dripping with blood. In his other hand he held a small jar full of crimson, which he offered to Sam. Demon blood.

Taking the jar, he glanced around to make sure his Clan didn’t see. They had been livid with him back in Earth-Country when he began consuming the essence of their enemies. So livid that he had been forced to quit it. He could understand their anger, but needs must.

“Don’t worry about them,” Lucifer said with a smirk. “They’re not your Clan at the moment, remember?”

As Jo and Ava tore into an Angel guard unfortunate enough to enter the corridor, Sam saw their eyes turn black and realised it was the truth. None of the Clan would be able to judge him yet.

The blood tasted just like ordinary blood, but there was an amazing power to it. It was unlike any Demon blood Sam had drunk before. “Where did you get that?”

“An ally loaned it to me,” Lucifer replied. “Should make you more of a match for my brother.”

“You’re coming with me, right?” Even with the blood, Sam wasn’t certain he could face down an Archangel.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I need to co-ordinate my forces. You could wait for me, but I thought you’d rather play the hero to your brother’s damsel in distress. Michael returned to the palace with him not long ago, he can’t have hurt him terribly yet.”

“Which way?” Sam asked.

Lucifer lifted an arm and pointed to the left. “Down that way. You remember where the banquet hall is. Turn right after that where the corridor splits then left at the next branch. Up those stairs. I believe Michael has Dean in his bedchamber. He’s quite taken with him.”

Sam growled and sprinted off in the direction he had been told with the intention of ripping Michael to pieces. He ran past Jess, ignored the Demonic darkness in her eyes.

It was the only thing he could do.

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