Now

And Castiel was off, little bare feet smacking against the marble floor. He took the length of the Hall with astounding speed, he's nearing the corner... oh, a close shot! Almost smacked into the wall, but have no fear! He bounced right back, like a little ball on uppers, I think we should have him checked for those.

The next corridor on our route is rapidly losing to Castiel's tiny, but capable feet. It looks like, YES, ladies and gentlemen, he's gonna make it, he's gonna-

THUD!

-trip over his white robe and fall on his face. Again.

Gabriel shook his head, and walked on. He passed Castiel's little form, not even looking back. Cas was big enough to get his butt up on his own.

Except apparently he didn't, 'cause several feet later the Archangel still wasn't hearing the sounds of his little brother hurrying after him.

So he stopped, turned around, and sure enough, Cas was laying on the floor. On his stomach, face turned to the floor, arms spread wide and feet together.

The cross game again, oh goody.

Gabriel sauntered over to his brother. He grabbed the back of the white robe and easily lifted Castiel upwards. He let the kid dangle for a moment, then set him gently on his feet.

"C'mon, kiddo. Don't want to be late, huh?"

Castiel didn't answer. In fact, he looked troubled by something. Little brows drawn together, little lips pursed into a tight line. His blue eyes serious, and thoughtful and... old. Crap, they were almost aware!

"Gabriel?"

"Yeah, lil' bro?"

"This is not right." Ah, the one sentence he hadn't missed at all.

"What do you mean?"

"...my body." Castiel indicated his six-year-old vessel, confused blue eyes turning to look up at his brother. "Wasn't I... bigger?"

Yeah. Yeah, you were bigger. But that was before Sam got you to come down here, before Jimmy Novak's body had been de-aged. But Cas wasn't supposed to remember that.

So Gabriel crouched down with a teasing grin, and ruffled Cas' brown hair. "Well, you're still growing, baby bro. You'll get used to your own legs sooner or later."

"But... but it's wrong. I shouldn't have to get used to them."

Gabriel tried not to sigh. "Cas-"

"And you were different too. You were... different."

Gabriel had to close his eyes for a second. "Yeah. I was."

"And... it's his fault, isn't it?" This time, it was hesitant. Shy. Not sure.

"Whose fault?"

"His. Sam's." A painfully confused frown – like that of a child not understanding something it knew in its heart. "He's bad."

Well. Only one way to deal with ithat/i. "Why?"

A blink of wide eyes. "Huh?"

"Why's he bad?"

"Because... um... cause..."

"Cas." Gabriel waited for those big blue eyes to focus on him before continuing. "We were abandoned. A long time ago, we got left all alone, to fend for ourselves when we hadn't known how. Bad things happened. To you, to Dean, to Sam."

"To you?"

"...yeah. To me too. And Sam... Sam got mad because of all that stuff, and he did something to keep us all safe. He does it still, so we can be happy together."

That old, familiar glint slowly dimmed in Castiel, leaving only the wide-eyed innocence of a child. "Cause he loves us?"

"Yeah. Cause he loves you and Dean very much."

A teasing smile. "And you too?"

Gabriel answered with a grin. "Of course he loves me too." He stood up, and reached for his brother's hand. "Now c'mon. Don't wanna leave Dean waiting, right?" The mention of Dean worked like a charm, like always.

"No!" Castiel crowed, shaking his head wildly. He started running again, though because he didn't let go of Gabriel's hand, the Archangel had no choice but to keep up.

./.

Gabriel didn't bother knocking. Just opened the door, and walked in, like he always did.

"Gabriel!" Dean greeted him with a shriek, and launched himself into the Archangel's arms. Gabriel hugged him back, and bounced him a little, stepping further into the cheery, colorful room.

"Hey, buddy! How was school?"

"It's not school, Gabriel." Dean said with all the exasperation a five-year old could muster. "It's pre-school."

Gabriel grinned. "My bad." He set the kid down, and stepped back so that Dean could run to the door, and glomp Cas in greeting. Gabriel never did understand why Cas always hesitated before entering the classroom. The kid always clamped up when he asked. Didn't matter much to Dean, cause after the glomp was done, Dean pulled Cas inside and over to his work space, to tell him about what he had done today.

Gabriel watched them go, then turned to Dean's teacher. A lovely young lady, doing her down-time for shooting her abusing bastard of a husband, and then offing herself. But she was great with kids, and Dean loved her, so he wouldn't hold that against her.

"So, what's today's verdict?" He asked, rocking back on the balls of his bare feet.

"He's made excellent progress with his numbers, but he still has problems with letters."

Gabriel frowned slightly. "He knows that ABC song." He knew Dean did, they practiced it nearly everyday.

"Yes, and it shows. The problem is with how the letters look, recognizing them, drawing them, like that."

"You're thinking dyslexia?"

The teacher shook her head. "It's too early to tell, really. I think he just needs more practice."

"Okay. We'll work on that today." Gabriel turned to where Dean was showing Cas a drawing he did. "Guys! Time to go."

Both kids obeyed without much protests. "Okay. Bye, Mrs. Fellellowitz."

"Bye, Castiel. See you tomorrow, Dean."

Dean pulled on Gabriel's robe. "Say bye, Gabriel, it's rude not to."

The Archangel chuckled. "Bye-bye."

"Good-bye, my Lord." The teacher bowed low, then went to sit in her chair in the corner. She'd wait there till it was time for the next lesson. All alone in a colorful classroom full of a kid's drawings.

She claimed it was better than the rack, so Gabriel didn't have too many regrets on closing and locking the doors behind them.

He grabbed the kids' hands, and guided them back to their suite.

./.

When small faces and hands were washed cleaned of the debris they had made their lunch into, the two kids were tucked into their bed. Castiel was curled up comfortably, eyes half-closed and his stuffed book-with-eyes-and-a-smile-how-creepy-is-that (as Gabriel called it) clutched in his skinny arms.

Dean, of course, was all about the questions.

"But why can't Cas go to pre-school with me?" he asked petulantly.

"Because, like I've told you five-hundred and seventy two times already – Castiel knows all the stuff you're learning, so it wouldn't be fair to force him to sit through it again."

"Yeah, he's smart."

"So are you. We just gotta get you some practice with your letters, and you're gonna be as smart as him." He handed Dean his beloved stuffed Impala. "Now sleep."

The kid yawned widely. "But I'm not sleepy."

"Uh-huh. Is that why you almost nodded off in your noodles?"

"I did a lot of stuff today." Dean said defensively.

"I know, buddy."

"Will Sammy be here when we wake up?"

"Sammy has business, you know that."

"Read us a story?"

"No can do, buddy. You get stories at bedtime, and this isn't bedtime. It's naptime." Gabriel leaned down, and planted a soft kiss to the kid's forehead. "Besides, Sammy's the one who reads you bedtime stories."

"He doesn't do voices too good."

"He tries his best. Now sleep."

"Kay." Dean rolled over, so that he was facing Castiel, and dropped off like a rock. The Archangel shook his head at the speed, then petted Cas' little mop of hair till he too closed his eyes in sleep.

Gabriel worried about that sometimes. Them needing naptime, despite their age. He managed to get a hold of some parenting books when it became clear he'd be doing this full time, but none of them said anything about five/six-year-olds needing regular naps.

Then again, it wasn't easy on the body to be alive and growing in this place. Sometimes, even Gabriel could barely manage to get through the whole day. So he tried not to worry too much.

He still sat next to them for a long while, just watching over their peaceful sleep. How easy it was for them.

./.

Half an hour later, he heard knocking. He made sure the kids were sleeping once last time, then got up, and went to answer it.

The demon that used to be Bobby Singer stood on the other side, eyes black as they regarded him.

"He has need of you." was all Gabriel was told, but it was enough for him to understand perfectly. It was starting to be routine, really.

"Fine. Guard the door, but don't enter."

The demon nodded, stepping back to allow him passage. He knew the rules well.

Gabriel locked the doors for good measure, then sauntered off. Through the long white Halls. Past staircases leading to the torture chambers. Past doors barbed in demon blood where the gods who didn't run were. Past doors leading to cages so small you couldn't even stretch your wings in, where the angels stupid enough to fight were.

Past the room Zachariah was dismembered and disemboweled in, over and over and over, till the rest of Time Itself.

Past all those rooms, and into the Throne Chamber.

The giant doors swung open slowly, and Gabriel painted on an arrogant, self-assured smirk. He stepped with pride and confidence into the room full of demons, past the ones being judged, past those that plotted and that would die for those same plots. Most often repeatedly. He made sure to add a small waggle to his hips, the white robe swishing around his feet, brushing against the tips of his large wings, pulled out just to emphasize who he was. Who he had been.

He walked up the the throne and bowed with all the submission he could muster, smiling at he who sat upon it.

Samuel, the King of Demons. He who had conquered an Archangel, Heaven's most feared weapon, while still just a human. Not one to fuck with.

At a nod from Sam, Gabriel climbed up onto his lap, splaying his wings wide to the watching, blood-thirsty crowd. They were still beautiful, even after everything. They could still inspire awe, even in demons.

He let loose his Grace slightly, so that he could inspire some pain in them too. Sam liked it when they suffered under his Light.

Sam's finger flicked a lock of his hair, and he grinned at the Archangel.

"Get out." He said softly, though his voice boomed across the room, every demon hurrying to obey. The reputation Sam made for himself – enslaving an Archangel, torturing all of his friends till they either died or turned demon, burning the world, then taking over down here with little trouble – made him something not to be trifled with.

When the large room, more of a palace really, was empty, the merciless glint dimmed in Sam's eyes. He closed his eyes with a groan, and leaned back, stretching slightly.

Gabriel leaned back, and tucked away his wings. "So, how was your day?"

"Same old. Won't bore you with the gory details." He smiled, eyes still closed. "I'm glad you came."

Gabriel was called into the Throne Chamber for two reasons – either Sam was horny and wanted to fuck him brutally in front of his army to reassert and show off his power or he was fed up with dealing with demons, and needed a break.

"You tired?"

"Fuck yeah." Thank Dad for that. He still ached from the last time the first option had been the reason.

Gabriel leaned forward, and pressed his palms against Sam's chest, rubbing it and his shoulders soothingly, trying to help him relax.

Sam smiled warmly at that, and caught one of Gabriel's hands in his. He brought it to his face, and kissed the palm, nuzzling at the thumb.

The action was too tender to indicate sex, so Gabriel didn't react much. Just let it happen, like a lot of things lately.

"How's Dean?" Came the inevitable question.

"He misses you."

"He knows I have important stuff."

This was Sam's problem, mostly. It had been his idea to de-age Dean, to give him a chance at a childhood that he quote fucking deserved unquote, and 'do Cas too so Dean'll have a playmate'. But he often forgot that that meant Dean was a little kid now – he needed a little more than what Sam was used to giving him.

"Doesn't change the fact he misses you."

"...I'll try to make it to dinner."

"And to lunch tomorrow?"

Sam give a small smile that could almost be tender. "We'll see." He slid his hand up the side of Gabriel's head, cupping his cheek. "Does it still burn you? When we touch?"

"Not so much anymore." And it really didn't. Each time they touched, or kissed, or had sex, a tiny part of Sam's Darkness tainted Gabriel's Light, making it easier for him to be touched by Evil. It'd probably never be enough to turn him into a demon, but it was already impossible for him to go back home.

"Good. You know I don't like hurting you."

Gabriel didn't answer. Didn't smile, like his learned response told him to. He was too tired today. So he just closed his eyes, and snuggled close. Concentrating on the sting that was the Demon King's touch.

Once, at the beginning, he had toyed with the idea of running away. Just taking Dean and Cas, and flying away. But his wings were regularly clipped, a tracking spell carved painfully around his neck like a collar. He had no way to run, not anymore.

And he really wasn't looking forward to what Sam would do to him when he found them again. And that's a when, not an if.

So instead, he stayed right here, in the very center of Hell, drowning in an ocean of demons, Sam's insanity, and two little hands clasped in his own. He just had no other place to go.