Crusaders
by San Antonio Rose

Prologue
The Shadow of the Past

November 16, 2009
Sioux Falls, SD

Dean wasn't sure if he was getting drunk or if he was just in shock. He'd been numb before they started drinking, apart from the ache in his heart over losing Jo and Ellen, and nothing much seemed to be changing except maybe his vision going a little fuzzy. He wasn't even sure how much whisky he'd had. The bottle had been full when he opened it, and over half of it was gone, but he was sharing it with Sam and Bobby and Cas, so he couldn't have had that much.

He thought.

He set his shot glass on the table beside the bottle, and the others set theirs down in a line behind it. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Dean blinked. He counted again. Still five. Then he looked up—and frowned at the last being he'd expected to see.

"Wha'th'ell are you doin' here?" Okay, maybe he was getting drunk, but...

"Shut up and give me some Scotch," replied a pale and visibly shaken Gabriel.

Still frowning, Dean filled all five glasses. Gabriel grabbed his and tossed back the drink so fast Dean barely saw him move. Then he looked at his glass for a moment and turned it into a bottle of vodka.

Dean turned to Sam. "'M I seein' things?"

"Don' think so."

"If y'are, I am, too," Bobby added, picking up his own glass.

"You're not," Cas confirmed, looking worried as Gabriel chugged down an inhuman amount of vodka. "Gabriel?"

Gabriel just shook his head as he swallowed. "No, Castiel. Not tonight. You don't... no."

"Have you just come from Carthage?"

"No. Nothin' to do with Carthage. Well, maybe sort of, but you know I've seen worse than that."

"So where have you been?" asked Sam, reaching for his whisky.

"Exploring." And he took another swig of vodka.

The humans exchanged a look at that and downed their shots in unison.


The Winchesters rose late the next morning and found Cas and Bobby finishing their breakfasts while Gabriel nursed a cup of coffee. Dean didn't want to know how much alcohol it took to get an archangel drunk—but from the looks of things, Gabriel wasn't suffering from a hangover, just from whatever shock had convinced him to show up at Bobby's in the first place. Sam sat down heavily beside Bobby, Dean beside Cas, and Gabriel snapped a plate and a cup of coffee in front of each of them without looking up.

This was not encouraging at all.

Dean looked at Bobby, who shook his head in warning, then at Sam, who shrugged. So they ate their breakfast in silence, waiting for Gabriel to speak.

Finally, when their plates and Gabriel's mug were empty and Cas had cleared the table, Gabriel pulled himself together enough to look at the others. "So. I guess I owe you guys an explanation."

"That'd be nice," Dean nodded.

"You said you'd been exploring," said Sam. "What did you mean?"

"Exploring options. Possible futures. Probable futures." Gabriel shook his head. "They're all bad, guys. Dean says yes, Dean doesn't say yes, doesn't matter. Even if we can stop it, even if we shove Luci back in his cage—dunno why I said we, I'm dead by then—things still fall apart. Sam dies and comes back without his soul, and Dean has to make a deal with Death to get it back. Heaven's in chaos. Hell's in chaos. Monsters gone haywire. Tiamat comes back, and she's been in Purgatory for... ten thousand years, I guess, maybe longer. Calls herself Eve, which is just insulting. And you, little brother... you don't even want to know what you turn into." He sighed. "I can't believe Mike thought this would work. Hell, I can't believe we thought Dad wanted it to work. It isn't time yet, and we're only making things worse by trying to force the end to come now."

Well, at least the drinking binge made sense now.

"So what do we do?" Bobby asked.

"That's what I've been trying to figure out, and I keep coming back to the same answer. We have to stop it from starting."

Dean frowned. "We already tried that. Twice—once this spring, once in '73."

Gabriel shook his head again. "No. Further back than that. Much further."

"How much further?" Sam prompted.

"Try the twelfth century."

Sam and Dean blinked at each other.

"Okay, that's... kind of random," Dean remarked.

"Not really," Gabriel returned, leaning back in his chair. "You probably aren't aware of this, but you're not the first Sam and Dean in your family. And as rare as archangel vessel bloodlines are, they tend to get a lot of attention Downstairs as well as Upstairs. As it turns out, that other Sam and Dean were not only a lot like you in looks and personality... they also had a run-in with Azazel."

Cas' eyes went wide in comprehension.

Sam frowned. "I thought Azazel didn't get the plan for the special children until 1972."

"He didn't," Cas replied. "His attack in 1125 was an attempt to end the line of Michael's vessels. But John of Winchester escaped, and it is thought that in 1148, either he or his sons were responsible for sending Azazel back to Hell until his final escape in 1970."

Dean leaned forward. "So if we kill him in 1148, none of this happens. No deal with Mom, no fire, nothing."

"That's over 800 years, son," Bobby cautioned. "Plenty of time for somebody to come up with Plan B."

"Yeah, but look how long it took for Lilith and Alastair to get topside," Sam noted. "And that was after Jake opened the Devil's Gate. If we kill Azazel, some other high-level demon like Alastair will have to escape to make contact at St. Mary's, and it's not likely that'll happen by '73. We'll be in the clear. I mean, we can't postpone the Apocalypse indefinitely, but we can stop it from happening now—assuming that it's even possible to change history."

"It is," Gabriel assured him. "Zachariah never was completely honest about the nature of temporal dynamics. I don't know exactly how it should have played out without that little jaunt to '73, but I do know that Zach deliberately set it up for Dean to walk smack into a predestination paradox. Nobody Upstairs or Downstairs—well, except Dad—will have enough of the pieces of Luci's plan in 1148 to interfere."

"Awesome."

Dean nodded. "Besides the Colt, what do we need?"

"Whoa, hoss," said Gabriel, holding up a hand. "There is no we. You muttonheads can't come with."

"Why not?" the Winchesters chorused.

"For one thing, you don't speak the language. For another, you'd confuse the locals. For a third, if this works, you'd either be stranded in the twelfth century or come back to a world that you don't recognize."

"Though it might recognize you," Cas continued. "We have no way of knowing whether deeds done in this timeline would still have effect once the timeline is altered."

Dean shook his head. "Look, Gabe, no offense, but this doesn't sound like a one-man job, even for an archangel."

"It's not." Cas turned back to Gabriel. "I will go with you."

Gabriel blinked. "Why?"

Cas sighed. "I should have had the courage to rebel against Zachariah sooner. I could have prevented Sam from leaving the panic room, but... I was too afraid to disobey. By helping you, perhaps I can atone for my own folly." The corner of his mouth twitched upward as he continued, "Besides, I have more practice in reasoning with Sam and Dean."

Sam grinned. "He's got a point, Gabriel. The Mystery Spot kinda backfired, remember?"

"Not to mention TVLand," Dean agreed.

Gabriel narrowed his eyes in annoyance. "Fine."

Dean turned to Cas. "You've got the Colt, right? I mean, you grabbed it when you yanked us out of there?"

"Yes." Cas reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out the gun.

"Hang on." Dean hurried out to the Impala and returned with the bag of bullets they'd gotten from Crowley, then loaded all five chambers of the Colt's cylinder and handed the gun and the spare bullets back to Cas.

"Thank you, Dean."

"Cas... don't miss."

"I won't."

Gabriel snapped his fingers... and the timeline ended.