Castiel disappeared with a blinding flash of light, and somehow their brains seemed to autopilot. They half ran, half staggered out of Crowley's morgue, back to Bobby's, saying nothing, thinking nothing. Dean felt he should be screaming out, crying "Oh shit, Castiel has gone off the deep end and there's nothing I can do". He couldn't get past the "oh shit".
The rain pelted them, the mud sucked at their feet, the wind screeched about them, demons and angels conspicuous in their absence.
The three grown men made it to the panic room in a fit of blind terror, locking the door and mumbling banishment and protection rituals as they went. Sam was still weak from whatever soul-searching he'd been doing while he was out. He was shaking, for god… for… Pete's sake, he looked like he was in shock. Bobby was grim, and confused, and did what came naturally; he took care of Sam. He knew how to treat shock. Caring for someone, fixing a problem he knew he could deal with. That was his way of regaining control over the situation.
Dean just felt his ragged breathing in his chest, not quite taking in as much of it as he should. Where his mind had been near empty before, now his thoughts sprung to life, so many of them so conflicted that he could actually feel his head spinning. He looked at the ceiling.
"Bobby…" He croaked, finding his voice unusually tight and hoarse. "You need to get some new lights in here."
"What are you talking about, Dean?" Bobby didn't look up from where he was trying to get Sam to drink from some bottled water.
"It's not lit properly. It's all dark in the corners."
"Have you gone…?" Bobby started, but he was cut off when Dean passed out on the floor.
A day passed.
They heard nothing. Bobby ventured out of the panic room more and more often.
Bobby managed to convince Sam and Dean to come out into the main house. It was all angel and demon-proofed, and correctly, this time. Sam had taken it upon himself to explain what had happened while he was out, and Bobby had reciprocated by explaining what Sam missed.
Dean hadn't spoken a single word since he came to. He smiled, at times, listened and understood what Sam and Bobby said, responding to their questions, but he said nothing.
They knew, deep down, that if Castiel was as powerful as he had said, all the angel-proofing in the world couldn't protect them, but it was a small comfort.
They heard nothing from any angels. They heard nothing from demons. They heard nothing from Cas.
Bobby got phone calls from other hunters, asking whether he knew anything about the weird fluxes of monsters, migrating, it seemed. The surge of odd events and unexplainable phenomena. He did, but he had no idea how to begin explaining it.
Bobby unplugged the phones.
Dean can't fix cars. He can't go outside. He sits in his room, listening to a Led Zeppelin CD he found. His smile, which was forced over the first few days, and weary more recently, now becomes even weaker and rarer. He angles the speakers on the stereo so that the noise cocoons him.
Sam finds himself reminding Dean to eat and sleep. He tries to help Bobby, but with what, he's not sure. It's been so long since he just spent time on himself, rather than dedicating every moment to the next hunt, or the next stage of their plan… so long since he wasn't running. He doesn't know what to do.
Bobby suggests they sort out all the books and paper that are strewn around the office. Dean silently abstains. Sam is glad of the distraction.
They hear an almighty crashing outside, like the entire scrapheap is being torn apart and thrown away. Dean stumbles downstairs, looking wide eyed and alert for the first time in days. Sam tries to see out of the window, but can't make anything out. There is a knocking, no, a hammering at the door.
A desperate, terrified slamming against the door, begging for entrance. More as a reflex than anything else, they all grab weapons before moving towards the source of the noise. The door opens to reveal a girl, about fifteen years old, her white and yellow summer dress torn and dirtied, her long black hair hanging unkempt down past her shoulders. Her skin is pale and her face is gaunt. A combination of blood and grime cover what parts of her skin aren't covered by the ruined dress. She is small, some would say petite, but also scrawny. Sam thinks she may not have eaten in a while.
Her eyes, a sort of grey-green that isn't quite hazel and isn't quite pewter, flash dangerously as she stares from one to the other, holding herself up by gripping onto the doorframe. She is ragged, but she has not come this far to step wrong now.
"Winchester?" She whispers, or croaks. The word sounds foreign on her tongue, but the suspicious men nod. She almost sighs with relief, but the exhalation is absorbed as her entire form sinks to the floor, as she cries and falls asleep, mumbling a word in a language Dean doesn't know.
"So what is she?" Sam stared down at the scrawny girl. She lay unconscious on the bed in the panic room. The fact that they got her in there suggests that she's not demon or angel, but the one thing they can agree on is that she's not human. Bobby puffed air out through his cheeks.
"Be damned if I know. I've never seen anything like this before."
Dean was standing at the back of the room, arms crossed, mistrusting. None of them could stop staring at her legs.
None of them would say they'd ever paid particular attention to any fifteen year old girl's legs, and they'd certainly never stared at any, but this wasn't that kind of staring.
Her arms, her face, her neck…. They were pale, milk-white. But, where her legs emerged from the ripped and torn dress, they saw her legs were black. They were ashen, and, though they felt like flesh, they were the colour of coal. Burnt embers. Volcanic rock. Whatever she was, she wasn't human.
Bobby covered her with a blanket, before turning to Sam.
"What was that she was saying as we brought her in? I couldn't catch it."
"Helly don? I don't know, something like that." Sam shrugged, straddling a chair and staring at her. Something about her worried him, and not just the fact that she'd turned up looking like she'd crawled out of a grave and collapsed in front of them. While she was out, they'd tested her for everything they could think of, and gotten no definitive answer.
"Helligdom." The word was hoarse, and scratchy, and caused Sam and Bobby to stare at Dean. "It's Norwegian. It means "sanctuary"."
Sam stared at Dean. He shrugged.
"I looked it up. I'm good at guessing accents."
"Alright." Bobby nodded, seemingly happy enough to pretend this wasn't the first thing Dean had spoken in nearly two weeks. "So we have a Norwegian something turning up on our door and begging for sanctuary. Now we know what kind of lore to look at."
They agreed to take it in shifts; one person watching the girl, one person reading through every scrap of information on Norse Lore Bobby had (Sam was now very glad they'd sorted out all of his research when they had the chance) and one person sleeping. Dean was the first to sleep. He took over from Sam on the research, and found a few possibilities, but nothing concrete. After five hours, Bobby suggested he go down to the panic room. Sam looked up from where he had been staring at her,
"Is she… does she seem familiar to you?"
"Familiar?" Dean paused for a moment. "When I was in high school, I used to know a girl about her age who'd throw herself at me like she threw herself through the door…"
"No." Sam tried to look exasperated, but he couldn't help but feel relieved at the idea of his brother joking once more. "There's something about her. Something really familiar. Like lead-weight-in-my's-stomach kind of familiar."
"Huh… or, maybe you need some sleep."
"Well, that is a possibility." Sam shrugged. He had just stood up to go, when the girl sat bolt upright. She looked at Sam and Dean.
Sam and Dean looked at her.
She was, in an instant, up against the wall, eyes wide with fear, pointing a dagger at them (Dean wondered where she'd been keeping it that they wouldn't have found it while testing her). She was yelling at them, an angry stream of foreign words.
"Hvem er du? Hvorfor er jeg her? Du kan ikke stoppe meg, Jeg finner ham, jeg bare vil ha min far, vennligst…"
"Woah! We're… we're ok." Dean crouched down slightly, so he could look her in the eyes, and held up his hands. The international sign for "please don't stab me". Sam followed suit.
"Do you speak English?"
"English?" The girl repeated, more to herself. She stopped for a moment, deep in thought, and then nodded. "Yes. I can do English." Her accent was surprisingly British, as though she had been born and raised there, although the fact that she was speaking Norwegian five seconds ago suggested otherwise. It wasn't as clipped or refined as Balthazar's, and it wasn't as rough as Crowley's, but it still had an edge of the Tea-and-Scones about it. She lowered her knife, slowly.
"Are you the… Winchesters?"
"Yes. I'm… I'm Sam, and this is Dean."
"Yes. I remember now. Sorry." She relaxed a little, stepping forward from the wall. She was still tense. Now she was stood, and calm, Sam looked at her. She was a little over five foot tall, and her hair, when it was clean and not all tangled and dirty, was probably a blackish brown and naturally straight, hanging down to her shoulders. Right now, it was a muddy rusty red mess of knots and tangles. He realised she wasn't holding the knife any more.
"Great. So you know who we are. Want to return the favour?"
Bobby, his timing impeccable as ever, stormed into the panic room, holding a large and dusty book.
"I know who she is. She's Hel."
"Yes." The girl smiled, looking a little embarrassed. "But I know how confusing that can get in a Judeo-Christian based society such as yours, so… You can call me Hella, if you want."
"Oh, of course." Dean nodded, and then turned to Bobby. "Expand?"
"She's the Norse goddess of Death."
"Hardly." She smirked, a lopsided almost-sneer that stirred the feeling of familiarity in Sam once more. She sat on the edge of the bed, kicking her feet as they scraped the floor. "I'm the overseer of Helheim. I take in whoever comes seeking bed and care, which will be those who die of old age or sickness. I'm the social worker of the nine worlds, basically."
"But that's not all she is." Bobby was watching her very carefully, as if afraid of what she might do. Sam thought that was a little strong. Sure, she was a goddess, but she didn't look particularly aggressive.
"Well done." She smiled again, another very familiar smile. "You've been doing your research. That's actually what I came here to talk to you about."
"What?" Dean growled, picking up on the tense atmosphere. "Does someone want to tell me what's going on?"
"Hella here is technically only a demi-god. She's part Frost Giant, her mother is Angrboda. And her father…"
Sam looked at her. She pulled herself up to her full height (admittedly not much), and stuck her chin out. As the light caught her eyes, the grey-green shone, and for a moment, at just the right angle, there was enough yellow in them that they looked oddly gold.
"Her father is Loki. Aka the Trickster, aka…" Bobby sighed, and rolled his eyes. "The archangel Gabriel."
There was something of a stunned silence. Sam, for some reason, had guessed it before Bobby said anything, and had really been hoping he was going to say just about any other name. Dean nodded twice, thinking over this information, before flashing a sarcastic smile.
"Nice meeting you. Get the hell out."
"Is that a pun? Because it's not a good one, if it is." She pulled her legs up so that she sat cross-legged on the bed, exposing her coal-like shins. "And calm down. I've heard a few things about your… history with my dad. He's not the easiest of people to get along with. But I came here to ask for your help, and I'm not leaving 'til I get it."
"What do you want?" Sam was intrigued. She had a few of her father's mannerisms, although seemed somewhat more petulant. He supposed, if Gabriel was a teenage girl, he'd act something like this. Then he realised what a weird thought that was, and hoped Hella didn't have any sort of mind reading ability.
"This whole "soul, purgatory, crazy angel upstairs" thing…" She started, then clicked her fingers, and looked surprised when nothing happened.
"If you have any of your dad's angel-powers, they're not going to work in here." Bobby said, watching her very carefully. She sighed, irritated.
"Well can I go and get a sandwich or something then? And a shower? I've been on the run for, like, weeks."
"Not until you tell us what you know, how you know it, and what you want from us."
"Alright, god… Sorry, that was probably poor taste." She deadpanned, before jumping to her feet. "Look, you want your buddy off the crazy juice and with his head out of the clouds, right?"
"You mean Cas?" Dean's face was a collection of hard lines. He was unreadable, or being as unreadable as he could make himself.
"No, Orville. Yes, Castiel. Now, I happen to have it, through the rumour mill, that he's not quite as omnipotent as he thinks." Her eyes shone. This was a speech she had prepared, and she spoke slowly, making sure everyone was on the same page. "There's apparently some deep, arcane lore of angel-ism or whatever that can counteract this sticky mess he's gotten himself into. But there's a catch, and one I was coming here to tell you about when the whole world went to shit."
"What catch?" Dean was intrigued, no matter how hard he tried to act neutral.
"Only the archangels know it. And, unless I'm very much mistaken, Raphael was the last one before he went… splurt." She made a fan movement with her hand, as if the point needed emphasising.
"So what do you suggest?" Dean was watching her closely. Sam knew his brother hadn't trusted Gabriel, but putting the mistrust on his kid seemed a little unfair.
"Bring Gabriel back."
Then again, thought Sam, maybe not.
"Gabriel's as dead as Raphael." Bobby crossed his arms, scrutinising her. "It'd make more sense to free Michael or Lucifer, and god… uh… Godiva knows we ain't doing that."
Everyone had been oddly cautious in their "taking god's name in vain" habits lately. Partly out of fear of incurring Castiel's wrath, and partly out of fear of incurring Dean's.
"You guys are so slow." Hella was not impressed. "Look, the archangels know how to deal with the Castiel sitch, right?"
"Did you just say "sitch"?"
"And I know how to get you an archangel."
"Seriously, Sam, you heard her say "sitch". Who is she, Kim Possible?"
"Well, I can do anything."
Hella and Dean stared each other down.
"How can you get us an archangel?" Sam was curious, even if everyone else just wanted to bicker.
"Loopholes." She grinned. It was the same, manic, slightly predatory grin as her father. "Dear old Dad wasn't just an archangel. He became established in the Norse faith as Loki. And, as far as the Loki myth goes, he cannot die until Ragnarok. Which, as any good Viking will tell you, is our end of times story and it hasn't happened yet."
"So… it's like there's a part of him that has to still be alive?"
"Exactly. Good thing you're not as dumb as you look." She smiled at Sam. "But then if you were, you'd be in a coma."
"You think you can bring Gabriel back, just like that?" Dean was more sceptical. Hella shrugged.
"It's not that easy. There are stages. Things have to be done just right. It's a difficult spell to weave."
"But you can do it?"
"Yes. Well… Ninety percent sure."
Dean found his reason to give up.
"Nothing doing." He stormed out of the panic room. Hella ran after him.
"Oh come on! You get your angel; I get my Dad… if I pull this off, everyone wins."
Dean stopped. He turned, looming over Hella. He stared at her, as though she had said something earth shattering.
"Please." She sighed. "I just… want my Dad back. That's why I came to you. You guys can understand that, right?"
Sam poked his head around the doorway of the panic room. Dean glanced at him. Sam shrugged slightly. It seemed like their best bet. If they were going to try anything, it would be this.
Dean sighed, and turned his back on Hella.
"Bathroom's first door upstairs on the right. We'll talk more tomorrow."
Hella bounced on her toes for a bit, yelling "thank you" at Dean's retreating back. Bobby sighed, and said he'd make them something to eat if Hella wanted to get herself cleaned up. Sam smiled, and picked up Bobby's book of lore. She was... well, the next few weeks would be interesting.