Dean was ready for the game to up another notch as they had just pissed off the Trickster on top of whatever they had done to catch his eye this time. Any minute now, the Trickster would snap his fingers and the sitcom would melt away. Who knew what it would be replaced with? Probably some lame-ass cop show.
But the inevitable snap of fingers was preceded by an audible crack and a shriek of inhuman pain. And the Trickster's face at the unexpected interruption was a new source of confusion. Dean didn't think Tricksters could even fake guilt. A strangled sound that Dean couldn't even define, and their surroundings didn't so much dissolve or flash as much as suddenly . . . not . . . be . . . there.
"I forgot! I forgot!" the Trickster is flapping uselessly over Castiel who is uncharacteristically slumped to the floor.
"You didn't forget, Gabriel," Castiel grit through his teeth. "You weren't paying attention. You never pay attention!"
"You weren't actually supposed to fight them, bro," the Trickster muttered, not meeting the righteous-blue-stare-of-guilt-inducing-doom. "I said I was sorry."
"Um, actually you didn't," Dean decided to add his own two cents. "And for those of us mud-monkeys . . . you want to clarify what you did do?"
"Dean!" Sam hissed, yanking him around. Bitchface #12: "I can't believe we're related" was firmly in place. "That's Gabriel! The archangel!"
"Yeah, I heard Cas. I also heard Cas scream, and if no one explains that soon, I'm gonna find some Holy Oil and barbecue us an archangel."
Sam couldn't argue with that.
Castiel rolled his eyes and made to stand, but his big brother (and weren't they just crawling out of the woodwork) pushed him back down. "It is nothing Dean. Merely a broken wing. It has happened before."
Dean didn't miss the sideways look of accusation on Castiel's part or the shame on the archangel-Trickster-whatever. "Uh-huh. And how do we go about fixing it? Holding hands and thinking good thoughts?"
Castiel tilted his head as the sarcasm went over his head. Gabriel actually glared over the younger angel's head, and Dean's a little impressed that he still has eyes, being on the other end of a glare like that.
"No, Dean. It must be set, and I will be grounded for a few days."
"Oh, no you won't," the archangel countered. "I'll fix it. Not like I haven't done it before."
"It was your fault then too," Castiel glowered, sinking further towards the floor. Dean didn't think vessels were supposed to get that pale.
"Argue later," he cut them off. "Fix now."
Castiel patiently refrained from smiting Dean. It wasn't that simple. Even putting whether or not Gabriel could be trusted aside, there was the matter of setting the wing which would hurt even more than the initial break before any healing could be done.
And it's been a long time since Castiel trusted a brother enough to do the healing. He hadn't forgotten the first time that he'd suffered a broken wing as a result of Gabriel's carelessness.
Gabriel cut a glance at him irritably. "I said I was sorry, Castiel."
"That was thousands of years ago," Castiel pointed out. His new falling status and greater exposure to the Winchesters had developed his ability to hold a grudge.
Gabriel flushed, and promptly turned his ire on two more convenient targets. "Hey! Tweedledum and Tweedledee, make yourselves useful."
Dean scowled. "Sam, go get the first aid kit out of the car."
"I do not require-"
"Tough, Cas. Sam, go get the first aid kit." Dean approached Gabriel warily. Castiel knew that Dean only had a gun. It was useless, but Dean wasn't above putting a few holes in Gabriel on principle. "What do I do? Hold him still?"
Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Castiel could swat you like a fly with two broken wings and a dirty look on his worst day." Which wasn't true, but it was generous of Gabriel to say so. "I'll be holding him still, and you'll be setting bones."
"I've never set . . . wing bones . . . before," Dean protested.
"Guess you'll learn," Gabriel decided far too cheerfully for Castiel's taste.
"I can't even see it!"
"Oh, right," and they all flinched when Gabriel snapped his fingers, but dark wings were revealed, spilling from Castiel's back, and suitably awing the human-even broken as the left one was. Castiel bit back a wave of annoyance. Of course it was the same wing.
"Can I really fly all the way to the top of the Tree in the Garden?" a certain bright-eyed fledgling asked gravely, small fingers and feathers tangled in his older brother's wings.
"Higher," Gabriel answered absently, distracted by Anna's demonstration in a garrison drill some distance away. Her fiery wings set her apart from the other soldiers. "Now get off. No time like the present."
Castiel reluctantly released his grip on Gabriel's feathers and slid off his brother's back. Gabriel sighed and brushed him off, setting feathers to rights that seemed to muss themselves into complete disarray just by Castiel existing. "And I'll be able to fly in circles, and dive, and soar, and visit all the stars by myself and . . ."
"Yeah, yeah," Gabriel nodded, not really listening to Castiel's babble. That didn't deter the fledgling. It was enough to share the presence of one of the archangels, and know the safety of an older brother's arms. He didn't need the attention too. Archangels had more important things to worry about than fledglings, and Gabriel had a very important job.
Yet he had decided to take Castiel flying for the very first time. Castiel didn't know what to do with such good fortune.
"Alright, bro, let's get started." Gabriel abruptly seized Castiel, and launched them both into the air. Castiel stifled a yelp, and buried his face in his brother's neckIt took longer for Dean to set the bones than it had taken Anna. The process was just as painful as Castiel remembered-only prolonged by the human's inefficiency and anxiety.
Gabriel laughed. "C'mon, Castiel. You'll never learn that way."
"I changed my mind."
"Too late. Go ahead and flap your wings a little. I won't let you fall."
It was nearing the evening hours with the last rays of light by the time Castiel felt brave enough to try it on his own, but he quickly adapted and began playing tag with the last sunbeam as Gabriel began showing off for their gathering audience.
Gabriel eventually flew down to speak with Anna, and Castiel continued to play in the moon's glow. But eventually little angel wings tired just as fast as little human legs, and Castiel began to drift lower and lower.
He realized that for all the tricks that Gabriel had taught him today, the archangel never went over the more rudimentary art of landing. Castiel called for Gabriel too late, already skidding and tumbling over the celestial floor.
Blue eyes welled-up with tears, and Castiel cried out in surprise and pain. A wingbeat later and the fledgling was being swept up in his older brother's arms which was all very well, except Gabriel was holding him too tightly and Castiel's wing hurt.
"Very irresponsible, Gabriel," a feminine voice lectured, gentle grace stroking the feathers down, infusing his wing with grace to ease the pain.
"I forgot," the archangel mumbled into Castiel's hair, petting the fledgling with both hands while still managing to crush Castiel into his chest. "I forgot."
"You forgot me?" Castiel howled, his awe, dignity, and respect for archangels gone in the uncertainty of the moment.
"Shh, shh, I'll fix it," Gabriel promised.
"Oh, no, you don't," Anna huffed. "Let me set it first or it'll heal wrong, and then Raphael will have to get involved. You don't want Raphael to find out about your carelessness."
Gabriel acquiesced reluctantly, and Anna pressed a kiss to the top of Castiel's head while simultaneously fixing the archangel with a dirty look. Castiel waited anxiously, and Anna's hands soothed him.
"I need you to be very brave, Castiel," she urged. "It will hurt for a moment, but then it will be done and Gabriel," a pause for more pointed glowering, "will undo the damage that his negligence has caused. Can you be brave for me?"
Castiel nodded, dug both small fists into Gabriel's wings, and shut his mouth tightly. Anna was swift, and the sharp crack was as instantaneous as the breaking had been. Castiel didn't make a noise. Gabriel let out a squawk at the squeezing imparted on his own wings, and Anna took Castiel in her own arms as the archangel's grace faded.
Castiel flexed his wings with relief, but made no move to leave the haven of an indignant and protective sister's arms. Anna stared at Gabriel, and Castiel turned to watch, resting his head against Anna's shoulder sweetly. Gabriel appeared to be warring with the desire to take him back to hug him again or to throttle him. Castiel tangled his fingers in Anna's feathers.
"Tell him you're sorry," Anna ordered. Castiel had never heard anyone order an archangel to do anything, but that didn't seem to bother Anna who glared Gabriel into submission.
"I'm sorry," Gabriel muttered, and Castiel virtuously forgave his older brother as he had been taught. Anna bore him away then to ensure his continued survival, although Gabriel gave him a much better flying lesson the next day.
Castiel found himself once more hiding his face in Gabriel's shoulder with both hands fisted in the archangel's wings. Such a position prevented Dean from seeing the full-effect of the damage.
With a final snap, Dean stepped back hastily. "Think I got it. Do your thing, Florence Nightengale."
Castiel gets a momentary image of Dean being forced to ride in an Impala gifted with Sam's conscience. It's an odd vision for Gabriel to be indulging, and Castiel wishes that he had not picked up on it. The archangel's pop culture references were as obscure as the Winchesters.
Before he can make his complaint known, his being is infused with the grace to heal the injury three times over and his own stores have been replenished. Gabriel's guilt complex is still a powerful thing, the younger angel considers. He pushes away from Gabriel and hides his wings from sight as Dean gives him a hand up.
"The first aid kit is unnecessary, Sam," Castiel instructed as the younger Winchester returned.
"Sure, Cas?" Sam asked, circling around Gabriel with caution.
"I am fully healed," Castiel reported.
"Good." And Dean drops his lighter, igniting the circle of Holy Oil that Sam had just lain around the unsuspecting archangel. "Now where were we?"
Following a much more satisfactory flight lesson with the full run down on landing under every circumstance, Gabriel sprawled casually along the second highest branch of the Tree and gazed up at Castiel, perched at the very top of the tree.
"Hey, Castiel. What's the difference between an angel with two wings and an angel with only one?"
Castiel frowned. "I do not know, Gabriel. Such a thing has never happened before as far as I am aware."
Gabriel waved him off. "It's a joke, Cas. Not a Proverb. See, the difference between an angel with two wings and an angel with one . . . is just a matter of a pinion." Gabriel chuckled. "Get it?"
There was complete silence for a long moment.