A/N: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 13x13! Last chance to turn back!

Otherwise... omg you guys, I have literally been waiting for this for EIGHT YEARS! :D I KNEW he had to come back, I knew it! Seriously I was so excited at the last ten seconds of that episode that I'm pretty sure I scared the neighbors.

But obviously I couldn't leave things as they were, so...

Thanks Aini NuFire for beta reading! I don't own any of these characters.


Everything hurt. From the pulsating ball of grace deep within that howled to be released, to his battered body that couldn't heal, to the inflamed puncture marks on his face where the twine had been brutally driven through flesh to sew his mouth closed.

Gabriel curled in on himself, hunching low with his head over his knees, the perfect look of broken defeat.

But looks could be deceiving.

This was the worst position he'd ever been in. No amount of bravado or trickery could dispute that unfortunate fact. It wasn't like he'd never been taken prisoner before, for crying out loud; he was a hot commodity and a valuable instrument. But this was definitely the worst. With nothing but a windowless cell, and the irregular intervals when Asmodeus would come to rough him up, and the sigils that locked him down so thoroughly that God himself probably wouldn't have sensed him here, Gabriel had no indication how long he'd been Asmodeus's dubious "guest".

But if that ridiculous little prince really thought he'd ever turn Gabriel into his puppet, he was sadly, grossly, hilariously mistaken. Gabriel had never jumped to the beat of Michael's drum, nor Lucifer's. And he sure as shooting wasn't going to bend to the will of a demon in a slimy white suit who sounded like a reject villain from Dukes of Hazzard.

Of course, it was a little easier to be tough about things when he hadn't taken more than some minor damage for quite a while now. And of course, his good luck had finally run out. The tiny window on Gabriel's cell door slid open, his only connection to the outside world. The archangel unfurled. If Boss Hogg was coming to beat up on him some more… actually, there wasn't much he could do about it. Couldn't even fire off his normal witty rejoinders. Gabriel's mouth burned again as he instinctively tried to pull his lips apart to offer a snappy one-liner, and he had to force down an agonized shudder.

"Allow me to make an introduction," the now familiar voice drawled. "Mr. Ketch… meet the archangel Gabriel."

The look on this "Mr. Ketch's" face was the most gratification Gabriel had been allowed in a long time. If only the shock and horror was because of Gabriel's might instead of the wretched state he was in, but he could pretend. Slipping into his charade, Gabriel met the human's eyes with an expression of fear and brokenness.

"How?" the Ketch guy gasped. "Our intelligence-"

"Was incorrect," Asmodeus finished, eyes lighting with fiery sadism. "As you can see. I've had Gabriel under wraps for some time now, working on shaping him into the perfect weapon. Even the most untrainable dog can be whipped into obedience, given enough time."

Gabriel didn't allow even the slightest flicker in his expression to give him away. Perfect; he had the demon right where he wanted him.

…Yeah, okay, he was screwed.

Gabriel's grace still struggled to burn through the warding that bound him in an impenetrable net, invisible wings straining against equally invisible chains. He stiffened when the bolt of his cell door ground back with a harsh scream of rusted metal to allow his tormentor into the room.

The human followed, still looking awed and a little too intrigued. Gabriel allowed himself a soft whimper, playing at being as cowed as Asmodeus believed him to be. The delight it brought to the demon's face gave him another pang of gratification at a successful trick. But he couldn't stall forever…. Gabriel needed to escape, and fast, as it sounded like whatever nefarious plan the prince had was coming closer to fruition.

Demons poured into the cell behind Asmodeus, all bearing angel blades and eyeing the beaten archangel like they couldn't wait to make him into a pincushion. Again. Gabriel closed his eyes and turned his head as Asmodeus reached towards him. Rough hands yanked him upright and thrust him forward. Gabriel's legs could barely support him, and he felt the cold edge of a dozen blades pressing in closer in preparation to run him through if he made a single wrong move.

"So, Gabriel," Asmodeus said conversationally, propelling him towards the door. "Let's see if you're ready yet. I did have an angel to put you up against, see if you would follow commands, but since he's gone, it looks like we'll be improvising."

Gabriel didn't have to fake his limp, but he did play it up as much as possible. Movement sent fire through every nerve ending, the pain so intense that he almost missed the sudden shift as he passed the threshold of the cell… and the wardings.

Desperately, Gabriel tried to summon his strength, to tap into his grace, but after being bound for so long, he was too numb to gather enough power to do anything against this bunch.

The slump of defeat was real this time as the archangel yielded to the hands forcing him down the stone hallway, probably to another warded room where he'd be locked down again. Gabriel could handle pain, but he was frankly tired of it and didn't want any more. And now, with his one chance, he couldn't even break free.

But… maybe if he could send out a message? Gabriel didn't know who was still alive, and didn't have time to figure it out. But if the chips were down, there was only one angel with the guts and idiocy to come to his aid.

Castiel…

He whimpered through stitched lips again as Asmodeus's grip tightened on his arm, looking resigned and frightened and alone.

Castiel!

But looks could be deceiving.

SPN SPN SPN

Castiel sat in the library of the Bunker, watching his two friends as they waited for Donatello to come up with more information from the demon tablet. Though his face was an outward mask of calm, it belied the multitude of feelings flowing beneath the surface.

Relief, for one.

Though he could easily maintain a stoic demeanor in the face of the demons' taunting, Castiel couldn't deny to himself that he'd been frightened. Asmodeus hadn't actually hurt him in any way, but there was a sinister chill in that demon's voice when he'd said they hadn't forgotten about Castiel, that there were plans for him.

He didn't know whether that involved torture, or maybe a trap for the Winchesters. He was just glad to have avoided whatever it was.

Also, gratitude. Castiel didn't hold it against the Winchesters that they hadn't realized he'd been taken captive or that they'd been fooled by Asmodeus on a daily basis for so long. After all, the demon was a masterful deceiver. But Dean and Sam had looked so crushed when he'd told them, and Dean sounded so contrite when apologizing for not knowing it hadn't been Castiel. He could tell that they truly cared, and that meant everything.

Castiel was also anxious, though. True, he was free of Asmodeus, but this was far from over.

The brothers seemed in agreement, quietly discussing options, when the vision hit Castiel so suddenly that he bolted upright in his chair with a cry.

The prisoner sat in a cold, dark cell identical to the one Castiel had just escaped, but with a heavy iron door in place of bars. He was in pain, so much pain. His mouth, oh god-

"No!" Castiel instinctively cried out.

"Cas!"

He thrashed out as a hand gripped his shoulder, hitting something solid that released him with a grunt. Castiel's vision cleared for a second, staring wide-eyed at an alarmed pair of brothers and one bemused prophet. Shaken, Castiel shook his head.

"I-"

It hit again without warning, blanking out his current surroundings to show him the cell instead. The captive tipped his head back more, scant light shining on his face so there was no mistaking his features, even as bloodied and beaten as he was. Asmodeus loomed overhead and smiled with Hellfire in his gaze.

Castiel!

"Cas, what's happening? Damn it, Cas, answer me! Cas!"

The angel's head swam, returning to reality once more to find himself on the floor of the library, clutching the chair with one arm and Dean with his other.

"What was that?" Sam demanded.

"I… I don't… it's impossible…"

"What is? What, something pop up on Angel Radio?"

"N-no… no, it was a targeted message to me. But… it can't… he's dead."

Dean's free hand came up to grip the back of Castiel's neck, forcing their eyes to meet. "Who?"

"….Gabriel. Dean, Gabriel is calling out to me. He's in trouble."

The hunter stared at him. Beside them, Sam heaved a sigh.

"Cas, I- I know this isn't what you want to hear, but… Lucifer killed him. Years ago."

Yes, it was impossible. But then, Castiel had witnessed countless impossible things since his path had first crossed the Winchesters'. Pushing himself to shaky feet, the angel snapped, "Lucifer killed me years ago, too. As well as more recently. It was him. Asmodeus has him. I- I need to go back."

"Wh- go back?" Dean gasped, as he maneuvered himself to stand in front of Castiel again. "Are you crazy? That's just what Asmodeus wants!"

"Asmodeus wasn't trying to get me!" Castiel retorted. The image of his older brother lingered in his memory like a nightmare, leaving him almost breathless with dread. If Gabriel had been a prisoner all that time… the things he must have suffered at the demon's hands… "Lucifer is the one he wants, so I doubt very much he would waste his time setting a trap for me."

"Cas, wait, think," Sam pleaded. "We know Asmodeus has been pretending to be you. How do you know he's not just imitating Gabriel now to catch you off-guard? Isn't that a much more likely explanation than Gabriel somehow being alive?"

It did make more sense; Castiel was no fool. But… "I can't take that chance," he murmured, reaching out to clutch Dean's shoulders in an earnest plea for his friends' support. "Dean… what would you risk for your brother, no matter how slight the odds? I have to go back. What he showed me- I can't leave him there. Not like that."

Castiel turned away, already trying to calculate how much time it might take him to drive back to Asmodeus's lair, kicking himself for leaving Gabriel to his fate even if he couldn't have possibly known his brother was so close at hand. A firm grip pulled him back around to face two grim Winchesters.

"Anything," Dean growled.

Castiel blinked. "What?"

"I would risk anything for my brother. Even following his stupid ass right back to Asmodeus. So just hold your horses, because we're coming with you."

"We stand a better chance as a team," Sam agreed before Castiel could argue. "We need a plan. And… I might have an idea. Maybe we can get Gabriel back and get rid of Asmodeus for good."

They were serious. Castiel hadn't expected them to back him up verbally, let alone accompany him on such a dangerous mission. Especially given the very tentative footing the Winchesters had been on with Gabriel before he died. Relief and gratitude flooded his core once again as Castiel returned Dean's reassuring squeeze.

Hold on, Gabriel. If you can hear me, just hold on. We're coming.

SPN SPN SPN

Gabriel liked to think of himself as a pretty tough customer, but in reality he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold on. He lay on the frigid floor of his cell, not even able to move from where he'd been thrown back in. There wasn't a single part of his body that didn't burn, throb, or ache. His mouth hurt so badly that it made his head swim, vision going spotty, from where he'd been straining at the stitches in an attempt to scream.

Okay… so he'd pissed Asmodeus off pretty good, it seemed.

They'd taken him to a dark, stone arena of sorts, in which he was apparently supposed to be trained into Asmodeus's personal attack dog, to kill on command. The first couple of victims had been easy. Gabriel had considered resisting just on principle, but they were demons and he'd found himself vindictively grateful for the opportunity to slaughter them.

The third had been a human, and he refused.

Asmodeus wasn't pleased. So the endless torture had started all over again. And now he was back in his cell, the fresh lash marks oozing blood, with his grace bound even more tightly than before. And in the end, Asmodeus had probably killed that human himself anyway, probably much slower than Gabriel would have done, and the archangel was starting to wonder what the point in resisting had actually been.

Every breath he took shuddered through his body, raspy and thick with agony. Who knew how long he'd be left in the darkness this time, before Asmodeus decided to try again. Or how much more torture the demon might dole out first in another attempt to break Gabriel's spirit.

As though in answer to his question, Gabriel could just make out the furious pounding of feet vibrating through the stone of the floor, getting louder as they approached. In spite of himself, the archangel swallowed hard as dread welled up in his heart. Not again…

"I must say," Asmodeus's voice trickled faintly through the warded iron door of Gabriel's prison, "I'm bewildered as to how you found out, but no matter. I was hoping for you to see him anyway, before your unfortunate escape. But since you were so kind as to hand yourself back over to me, for which I must thank you…"

Gabriel curled in on himself, trying to focus, but the pain had clouded his mind enough that it was getting hard to think. Who had handed themselves back over? What had they found out? Weakly, the archangel tilted his head towards the door as he heard the bolts being thrown open. The hinges groaned and then he had to squint against the sudden light that outlined several silhouettes.

"There he is," Asmodeus's slimy drawl cooed. "Your beloved Gabriel."

The archangel's vision cleared enough to finally make out the shapes before him. His breath caught. No…

Asmodeus stood to the side, while a cluster of demons held another angel tightly in their grasps with angel blades pressed to his throat. Castiel. So he was alive after all. And must have received Gabriel's message, and now the stupid seraph had gotten himself caught, and it was Gabriel's fault for having called him there. The expression on Cas's face was frank horror and dismay—probably Gabriel wasn't cutting his normal, handsome figure.

Cas tried to throw his captors off of him, but they held him fast and pressed the blades in more fiercely. "I will kill you," Castiel hissed, and though his gaze was leveled on Gabriel, he seemed to be directing the venom-filled words to Asmodeus, as the prince chuckled.

"Oh, Castiel. Had I known what a delight you could be, I would have done this so much sooner. Take a good look, because the next time you see big brother, he's going to slit your throat. And the longer it takes him, the more I hurt you. I rather look forward to that."

So that was the idea, Gabriel thought in exhaustion and despair. That would be his final test; when he was willing to kill another angel on command, Asmodeus would know that Gabriel was broken. Mutely, the archangel shook his head even though the movement caused another fiery tongue of pain to lash across his body.

"Yeah," another voice suddenly spoke up. "That's actually never going to happen."

The crowd of demons whirled, dragging Cas around with them. Through the gaps in the legs, Gabriel could just make out the owner of the voice. And when had he ever been so happy to see a Winchester?

"Thanks for leading us to Gabriel, though," Dean added with a smirk. Whatever he was holding seemed to be alarming to the demons, because Asmodeus disappeared in the blink of an eye, right before the hunter threw the device to the floor. It exploded so brightly that Gabriel closed his eyes against the flash and the brief resulting screams.

"Demon bomb," Gigantor Winchester said from somewhere out in the hall. "Did we get him?"

"No, I think the bastard took off," Dean snapped. "Damn it!"

Gabriel didn't open his eyes. It hurt too much. Everything was starting to go foggy again, and it took a second to register the hand that now clutched his shoulder.

"Gabriel… Gabriel! Stay with me, brother. You're safe. Please, just don't die."

Try as he might, the archangel couldn't stop the muffled whimper as Castiel's grip on his beaten body brought another wracking wave of pain. The hand disappeared, but the soft voice whispered again,

"Stay with me."

Then everything went dark.

SPN SPN SPN

Castiel stared at his unconscious brother, sitting back on his haunches with weak disbelief. It was just as bad as he'd seen in the visions—worse, even. The cruelty of what Gabriel had suffered was more than he could process. Even Sam and Dean had fallen silent behind him as they moved in closer to see for themselves exactly what had been done to the archangel.

Castiel was at a loss. How could they even begin to help Gabriel heal? He stared at the barbaric twine sewing Gabriel's mouth closed, and thought he might be sick.

"Guys, we need to move," Sam finally spoke up, soft and careful as he set a hand on Castiel's shoulder. "We have to get him out of here. Before more come."

"I can't heal him," Castiel whispered. "There's too much damage. And if these sigils have bound his grace for long enough, he might not be able to heal himself until it's too late."

"We'll worry about that after we have him safely back at the Bunker," Dean growled firmly. "Sammy's right. Cas, you and Sam get Gabriel, and I'll make sure the path is clear."

Castiel nodded mutely, knowing he had to focus for Gabriel's sake. He shifted forwards to scoop his brother's motionless body up in his arms, wincing as he felt hot blood coat his hands from various wounds. Sam reached out to help, but Castiel shook his head. Gabriel had been right here, only a few hallways down from where Castiel had been kept relatively unscathed for weeks.

And then Castiel had escaped and left his brother behind to this.

It was enough to make his gorge rise, but Castiel forced it down and adjusted his grip, hoping he wasn't causing the unconscious archangel more pain. Together, the three made their way swiftly through the enemy stronghold, with Dean taking point and Sam bringing up the rearguard. Castiel tried not to let his impatience show as they trekked out to the waiting Impala, hidden off the side of the road; without his wings, driving back in the car was the best they could do. Hopefully, Gabriel would stay unconscious until they'd gotten him safely to the Bunker and tended to his wounds.

The Winchesters helped Castiel maneuver the archangel into the car, lying him in the back seat with his head pillowed on Castiel's lap. Gabriel didn't even twitch when the Impala grumbled to life.

Hold on, Gabriel, Castiel pleaded again. I'm so sorry… I didn't know. What did he do to you? How was the archangel alive? How had Asmodeus gotten his hands on him? And for what purpose?

The ride home was silent and tense. Castiel caught both the brothers occasionally shooting worried looks towards the backseat, but Gabriel remained blessedly asleep. Without the sigils holding him bound, it was a bad sign that he had yet to wake up or start healing.

By the time they reached the Bunker, Castiel's nerves were nearly shot, but he said nothing as Sam and Dean once again hurried to help him get Gabriel situated. Dean rushed to hold the door open so Castiel could carry his brother down the stairs, wordlessly heading for his own room to deposit Gabriel on the bed. At least most of the wounds had stopped oozing, though the dried, crusted blood left evidence of the damage done. The archangel's back was a shredded mass of deep welts, but there was enough blood on his chest that Castiel doubted he'd be any more comfortable if they laid him on his stomach.

"Okay," Dean said, running a hand through his hair. "Um… now what?"

"I don't know," Sam answered. He gestured helplessly. "I mean, where do we start?"

"We need to free his mouth." Castiel's fists tightened as he gazed down at Asmodeus's handiwork. Each puncture mark was raw and inflamed from Gabriel's evident struggle against the stitches.

Dean nodded his agreement and stepped backwards out of the room. "I'll, um… grab the first-aid kit."

Silence fell as both Castiel and Sam stared down at the broken figure of an archangel. Sam took a breath, then murmured,

"Cas, you saved him. You were right to go back."

"What if I wasn't in time? What if…" Castiel turned to his friend. "Sam, you don't understand. I left him there. If I'd known, if I'd had any idea Asmodeus was holding him…"

"You would have done everything you could to reach him, like you just did. I know that." Sam paused, then straightened. "I think he does, too."

Castiel whirled around. Gabriel was watching him, eyes glazed with disorientation and pain. A strangled sound emerged from behind sewn lips, which made the archangel reach to feel the twine still in place. His gaze snapped back up, now fixed on Sam with clear mistrust, bordering panic. Castiel hurried forward, hands held up.

"You're safe now," he assured his brother. "It's alright."

Gabriel made another painful, muffled sound, gesturing to his mouth with more open pleading than Castiel had ever seen in the proud archangel. If only they had had time to get those stitches out before he woke… little wonder Gabriel looked so alarmed, expecting a rescue but waking to find himself still silenced.

"We're going to get those out," Castiel promised. "Dean's gone to get some things to help. No one's going to hurt you, Gabriel, I swear to you."

Sam nodded earnestly beside him, though he seemed to realize that Gabriel didn't want him to get too close. Dean hurried in a second later with a tackle box under his arm. He paused to see Gabriel awake, but quickly collected himself and set the box down on the nearby chair. He opened it to reveal a multitude of first-aid items, then pulled a pair of scissors from the top drawer.

"Um, maybe Cas should do it," Sam whispered, still keeping his distance. From the look Gabriel was shooting Dean and the heavy breaths the archangel was taking, Castiel had to agree.

Dean didn't argue, merely handed the scissors off. Castiel looked down at the gleaming instrument, then moved slowly to his brother's side; he couldn't miss the way Gabriel's eyes flicked rapidly between him, the Winchesters, and the scissors.

"I'm afraid this might be uncomfortable," he apologized. "But I'm going to be as careful as I can. Alright?" Castiel paused, not moving the scissors any closer to Gabriel's face until his brother nodded. Taking extreme care not to pull on the stitches and cause any more pain than necessary, he snipped each criss-crossing thread until only the ends were left sticking up like bristles. "Don't try to move," he warned. "Let me get those out."

Gabriel huffed through his nose, but his eyes were resigned rather than annoyed. Castiel paused, then twisted to Dean. "We'll need water and cloths to clean him up," he pointed out. He didn't know how long it would take Gabriel's grace to return to normal after an extended captivity, and was loathe to see his brother in such a state.

"Right, okay," Dean agreed. "Uh, Sam, come give me a hand, huh?"

Gabriel's wary eyes followed the two Winchesters out of the room, then looked back to Castiel. Again, the level of pleading in his expression wrenched Castiel's heart. Gabriel never looked like this. Never. Again, Castiel wondered what Asmodeus had done to him… and why.

"Okay," he assured the archangel. "I- I'm sorry about this." Retrieving a pair of tweezers from the tackle box, Castiel grasped one end of the twine and began to pull as firmly and carefully as he could. Almost immediately, Gabriel let out a tight cry through his closed lips. His eyes clenched shut, as did his fists, but Castiel knew it had to be done.

Swallowing, he continued to pull. "Easy," he murmured, letting the scrap of twine fall to the floor and reaching for the next. "I'm sorry, Gabriel. Here we go." One by one, the angel removed each stitch that had kept his brother's mouth closed, feeling every muffled half-sob like a punch to the gut. Gabriel arched off the mattress in agony, but didn't push Castiel away, and finally the last of the threads were gone.

Gabriel collapsed panting onto the bed, mouth opening at last as drops of blood welled up from the holes, as well as the cracks on his lips from lack of moisture. He gasped for air as his eyes blinked open once again. Castiel took a prudent step back in case the archangel lashed out, but Gabriel didn't move.

Shakily, Gabriel croaked out, "Ah… damn it. Th-thanks."

"Are you okay?"

The archangel shot him a look. "Swell."

Right, dumb question. Watching him closely, Castiel tried again. "Your grace… is it… are you…?"

Gabriel slumped on the bed. Castiel noticed he hadn't unclenched his fists from the sheets yet. "Still there," the archangel rasped. "Wouldn't be… any use to that dickbag… if he couldn't charge me up."

Castiel winced at the bitterness in his brother's voice, but approached slowly again. "Can I check on the rest of your injuries?" he asked, holding up a hand. "They were too extensive for me to heal you all the way, but perhaps I can focus on a bit at a time while you're still recovering."

"Don't… don't waste your time. I can… make it from here." Gabriel moved as though to sit up, but collapsed back onto the bed on his side with a strained cry. For a moment, he just breathed, shuddering as he curled in on himself.

Castiel shook his head. "No," he declared. "You're in no condition to move. Gabriel, please, let me help you. Please."

Gabriel didn't try to pull away, but maybe that was just because he couldn't move at all. As long as he had his back off the bed, Castiel decided he might as well target the deep lashes that marked his brother like a checkerboard. He set a ginger hand over the area, allowing his own healing grace to pour out with white-gold light, bathing Gabriel in the warm glow.

The archangel contorted in the bed, arching the other way with another shout.

"Okay," Castiel quickly pulled away, stomach twisting at the mess of dried blood left by whatever Asmodeus had used on Gabriel. Whatever it was, it had gone deep and damaged more than just Gabriel's vessel. It had been designed for an angel—for an archangel. "Sorry."

"Brought you some water and towels and stuff," Sam spoke up from the doorway, drawing both the angels' attention. Dean stood next to him, holding up some supplies of his own as evidence. "And a change of clothes. Do you want some help? It'll go faster with all of us."

"I'll be fine," Gabriel rasped; the sweat pouring down his brow belied this assessment though.

Castiel understood. There had been a time when he, too, would have balked at the idea of showing any vulnerability in front of humans, so used to being supremely powerful. Gabriel had spent who knew how long at Amodeus's mercy, and found none; now, in a very real way, he was equally at the mercy of the two Winchesters. Even though they would never try to hurt him, Castiel doubted his brother wanted them so close.

"I'll do it," he assured the two hunters, hoping they understood. To his relief, Sam gave him a knowing nod and set the bowl of water and cloths down on the nightstand.

"Just let us know if there's anything you need."

"Yeah, we'll be right out here," Dean agreed, also depositing his towels on the bed and then beating a swift retreat with Sam.

Alone with his brother again, Castiel dipped one of the cloths in the water and started to dab gingerly at the crusted blood staining Gabriel's face. Beneath, he could see several layers of bruises and slices that must have been added to over time.

"How long?" he couldn't help but ask.

"Don't know. Cas, you really don't have to do this. It's not like you owe me anything."

Castiel didn't know if the regret he thought he heard was real, or just a product of his own hope that Gabriel was sorry for having left Heaven, leaving the younger angels unprotected from Michael's corruption. Or for the less than warm reunion in his pocket dimension.

"It's not about owing you," Castiel explained, continuing to clean the archangel up as best as he could. "You're my brother."

"So's Lucifer. Just a word… doesn't mean a thing."

Castiel snorted as he moved on to start on Gabriel's back again. The cloth quickly soaked through with blood, so he grabbed another. "Lucifer has never been a brother to me," he countered. "You… you were. And you're wrong, it does mean something." Castiel paused, head drooping as he closed his eyes. "I would have never left you to go through all this-"

"Save it, kiddo. I heard you with Samsquatch. You-" He cut off with another hiss of pain, hands clenching even tighter into the blanket. Gabriel didn't try to finish.

After that, Castiel worked in silence, cleaning and then dressing the horrific slices in Gabriel's back as well as he could. Maybe after a while, he'd be able to convince the archangel to let Dean take a look at his handiwork and fix anything he'd done incorrectly.

Gabriel's torso was a little easier, mostly cuts and punctures rather than shredded skin that had been flayed to ribbons. Every movement clearly continued to cause him pain, but the archangel endured Castiel's ministrations with clenched jaw and determined eyes. Finally, Castiel helped his brother change painfully into the sweatpants and t-shirt that Dean had brought.

"You look much better," Castiel tried.

Gabriel only snorted. "Looks can be deceiving." He sank back down onto the bed with a sigh.

Another silence fell over the two. Castiel sat back, unsure of what to do or say now. There were so many questions he still had, but Gabriel had been through so much. Perhaps he should wait until the archangel was back on his feet. But, what if he healed up and simply took off again? Castiel hadn't even had a minute to process that the brother he'd believed dead was actually alive, really and truly still here. Remembered grief nearly stole his breath.

Clearing his throat, Castiel stood. "You, um… you should rest," he murmured. "Gabriel…"

The archangel looked up at him, then his battered face softened just enough to almost be reminiscent of the older brother Castiel knew from his fledgling days.

"Doubt I'm going anywhere anytime soon," Gabriel grudgingly muttered. He paused, then finished, "Thanks. Thanks for coming after me, Cas. I didn't know if you actually would."

"What- of course I would."

But the archangel was already passed out again, pale and mottled against the white blankets. Castiel draped another thick quilt over his brother, then stood back.

If only there was more he could do. But Gabriel was a fighter, much more so than many gave him credit for. Castiel had to believe he would pull through this. And he himself would do everything he could to help. Asmodeus had been cocky, as was Lucifer, and probably Michael in the other reality as well. And sure, maybe the ragtag group—two disheveled angels and two weary hunters—didn't look like much.

But as Gabriel pointed out… looks could be deceiving.