Author's note: Has it really been years? Yes it has. Oh boy. But here we are. A short update. This is only half of what should have been chapter 7, but I've discovered that I am a lot more comfortable with a shorter format, and so we'll try this for now.
Thank you so, so much for your continued interest in this story! Thank you everyone who sent me messages asking me politely to get off my butt and keep writing.
As for the next instalment ... I won't make any promises. I've learned not to do that. But as I said on tumblr, I will not give up on this story until Supernatural is over. Maybe not even then. So just ... stay tuned.
EDIT 28.01.15: Taking a break from SPN to see where the show is going.
About three hours later, Sam and Dean were standing in front of Ted Garth's motel room door. They knocked several times without receiving a reply, so in the end Sam picked the lock, while Dean kept a lookout, gun drawn and held discreetly behind his back.
The lock clicked and the door opened soundlessly. The room was dark, but the light from the door revealed bloodied sheets on the bed. Sam flicked the switch, and a single, shaded lamp sputtered to life in the ceiling.
Ted Garth was lying on the floor. On all of the floor. The floor had a wall-to-wall carpet that consisted mainly of bits of Ted. Sam and Dean covered their noses and mouths against the overwhelming stench of blood.
Sam coughed. "Aw … God. Ugh."
The man's head was one of the few things left intact, placed on the table in some sicko's idea of saying a proper hello. His features were twisted in terror.
"What the hell?"
They stood helplessly just inside the doorway, unable to comprehend what they were seeing. No Djinn would have done this; they were too clever for such savagery, and too hungry to waste blood this way. A family of Djinn trying to keep up a permanent residency in the area could not afford to do something like this.
"Dean." Sam pointed to the far wall, where blood had been used to spell out a message.
Kiss your Cass goodbye
Dean grabbed for his cell phone so fast that he almost dropped it, hit speed-dial and waited impatiently. "There's no answer." He paced a step forward, turned sharply, mouth twitching restlessly while he waited for someone to pick up. "There's no answer!" He hung up and tried another number. And then another. "Nothing!" He made a motion to throw the cell across the room, but Sam grabbed his wrist.
"Keep it together. We have to get back."
For a moment, the two brother's stared each other down. Then Dean took a deep breath and dropped his shoulders. "It's a three-hour drive."
Sam smiled grimly. "Not if we fly." He let go of Dean, closed his eyes and began to move his lips in a silent prayer. A moment later, Dean did the same.
I don't give a fuck how busy you are. Get your scrawny angel ass down here. Cas is in trouble.
"You could have just said so," came Gabriel's voice.
When Dean opened his eyes, he and Sam were standing on the front porch of Bobby's house, with the Impala parked in the pitch dark yard behind them. Dean threw himself at the door, into the house and down the hallway, with Sam on his heels.
Bobby lay sprawled face down across a mattress on the living room floor. His cap had fallen off and there was blood in his hair. Gabriel was already there, kneeling beside the body.
Sam and Dean stopped short in the doorway, Dean put his hand to the wall to stave off a wave of dizzy nausea. "Bobby!"
"Don't worry, boys," Gabriel said. "It's just a little case of the deaths. Easily cured." He placed a hand on Bobby's head, and suddenly, Bobby breathed in. The blood in his hair and the pallor in his cheeks was gone.
"Bobby." Sam knelt down and gripped the old man's shoulder.
Bobby groaned, his eyes blinking open. "What happened?" He pushed himself up on his elbows, looked around and frowned at their worried faces. "What the hell happened?" He noticed the blood staining the floor and touched his head with a sudden movement, but there was no bruise or scratch there anymore. His eyes darted to Gabriel, who grinned and wiggled his fingers.
"It's that magic touch, baby."
"Where's Cas?" Dean demanded. He went to the stairs. "Cas? Castiel?" he called, but there was no answer from above.
Bobby got to his feet, shook his head and set narrowed eyes on his surroundings. "I put him to bed upstairs when ..." His eyes widened. "She killed me!"
"Who killed you?" Sam asked as Bobby stalked past him into the kitchen, leaning over the counter and peering out into the darkness beyond the window.
Dean ran upstairs without waiting for answers. The door to his and Castiel's room hung crookedly on a single hinge. White light from the lamps in the junkyard came through the shutters, which hung in tatters, like someone had tried to pull them down. Dean flicked the switch, with his stomach lodged in his throat, but this time nothing happened, no light came on. His heart pounded as he stood helplessly in the doorway, waiting for his eyes to adjust. Slowly, the black scorch marks on the walls became visible to him, the singed bedclothes and the broken light bulb in the ceiling. But there were no bodies, big or small. Before his inner eye, the scene unfolded as it must have happened only an hour or two ago. Little Cas fighting off a group of assailants with feeble bursts of light, quickly exhausting what little mojo he had, until they overwhelmed him.
Dean came back downstairs just as Bobby returned from the yard, Sam trailing him like a big, worried puppy.
"What happened?" Dean demanded. His lungs felt screwed tight, and it was easier to reach for anger than acknowledge the panic hammering deep in his stomach.
Bobby grabbed a beer from the fridge and plopped himself down at the kitchen table. He stared at the bottle, jaw working silently. "She broke this place open like a can of beans. Sigils, salt line, traps, all of it gone."
"What happened?" Dean shouted.
Bobby glared up at him. "Give me a moment, boy, I just got murdered by the local law enforcement."
Sam scowled mutinously, his big arms crossed over his chest. "It can't have been the Sheriff, Bobby. She must have been a shifter."
"Might have been," Bobby confessed to the tabletop. "I ... didn't really check."
Dean snarled. "You didn't check?"
Bobby rose abruptly. "Neither did you!" He poked his finger into Dean's chest. "You let her in first! Jodie came knocking in the middle of the night, saying she needed help, so I figured she'd gotten in trouble with the case. She had your damn cassette player with her!"
"Yeah, can we assign blame later?" Gabriel cut in. He was leaning forward on the kitchen counter and looked restless, frustrated. "This place stinks of sulphur. Whoever or whatever your Sheriff was, she was working with demons."
"The Djinn hunt was a trap," Sam said, running a hand through his hair. "Garth is dead." He had his thinking face on. Dean watched him, waiting for the conclusion. Sam inhaled. "They sent a shifter in to study us, spent days setting up a diversion for Dean and me, and completed the extraction without a hitch. This was a carefully planned operation. Demon grunts aren't that thorough." He looked at Gabriel and at Bobby, but avoided Dean's eyes. "I'm calling it: it's Crowley."
"Why would a shifter work for Crowley, though?" Bobby said. "He tortured their alphas. Not exactly bosom buddies anymore, the demons and the monsters."
Sam shrugged. "Enemy of my enemy? Cas went on a month-long no-holds-barred killing spree. They'd put aside their grudges to get him, I'm pretty sure. Or Crowley found someone willing to be bought. In the end it doesn't really matter what our Sheriff was."
Dean, meanwhile, had noticed that Gabriel's shoulders were raised as if he was shielding himself from the rest of the room.
"What do you know?" Dean asked.
Gabriel shook his head.
Dean stalked around the table, grabbed Gabriel's shoulder and dragged him around. "What do you know?" he growled. He didn't give a fuck that he was threatening an archangel, he didn't give a fuck if Gabriel decided to smite him where he stood. It was, oddly enough, not the image of Castiel's chubby baby face that was filling Dean's head, but rather his adult face, stubble, narrowed-eyed confusion, bedroom hair and all. His bones ached with the knowledge of just how much Crowley must hate that face.
Gabriel glared right back at Dean, but Dean saw that Gabriel looked tired. Not in the immortal kind of way, the heaviness in the eyes that was often detectable in higher beings, but in a human way. He looked drawn, with grey circles around his eyes, and greasy hair.
Maybe Gabriel realised what Dean was seeing, because he was the first to look away. Dean grabbed him by the lapels. "Talk, you useless son of a bitch!"
Gabriel's eyes flashed and the kitchen window exploded outwards.
The sound of glass raining down on the gravel below was the only sound as the three humans held their breaths.
But Gabriel deflated, grimacing in pain. "It's my fault. Cas was my responsibility. It's all my responsibility."
Dean let him go, leaving the angel to sullenly tug his lapels back into place.
"We've had Crowley under watch," Gabriel said without looking at anyone. "I should have been told if he so much as scratched his ass. But I've fucked up. I chose wrong."
"Who's watching Crowley?" Sam asked.
"I thought he'd be eager! I thought no one would do the job better."
Dean held himself back from violence by the skin of his teeth, impatience pounding in his temples.
"Who?" Sam asked again.
"I picked Raphael," Gabriel said reluctantly.
Bobby held out his beer. Gabriel took it and drank.
The old man tipped his hat back and leaned back in his chair. "So you didn't count on him hating Cas more than he hated Crowley. Honest mistake."
"But this is good news," Sam said, voice taking on urgency. "That means Raphael might know where Crowley is."
"Oh, he'd better," Gabriel said. "Or I will make him wish he was never born. I'll find Raphael. You three get ready for Crowley."
He was gone almost before the words were out.
Sam pushed himself away from the counter. "I'll make some more holy water. I think we're low." He hesitated for a second. "We'll ... we'll get him back, Dean. If Crowley wanted Cas dead he wouldn't have taken him." He looked like he wanted to clap Dean on the shoulder or something, but thought better of it and left. Dean's skin felt too small on his body.
"Dean," Bobby said, his tone new and low, and Dean didn't want to hear it. "I am so sorry. I let my guard down. It's my fault Cas is gone."
Dean tried to speak. Bobby wasn't to blame. No more than Dean himself, or Gabriel, or anyone.
"How about we blame Crowley?" he managed finally.
"Sounds fine for now," Bobby said, rising from the table. "I'm gonna call the Sheriff, see if she's okay. Maybe I can at least figure out what kind of creature finally got me." He snorted. "Can't believe I've been dead."
"Yeah, it's a real trip," Dean said.
He was about to head out to the Impala for their weapons, but his eyes caught on the mattress in the living room. Dean figured Bobby must have brought it all downstairs for Cas; maybe the angel didn't want to sleep upstairs alone. The duvet was upstairs, but the pillow remained here. Bobby was pacing in the backdoor hallway, so there was no one to see Dean pick the pillow up and press his face into it, inhaling Castiel's familiar scent. He hadn't really been aware of the smell until now, but his brain knew it, and as it filled his nose, his heart twisted painfully. He left for the yard with burning resolve. They would get their angel back, and make Crowley pay.
There was a moment, as he was pulling weapons out of the trunk, that Dean felt like he was going on any old monster hunt, ticking off the things he would need against the monster of the week in his head and shoving it all into a duffel bag. Then the moment was over and his hands were trembling again. He was still full of the adrenaline that had kicked in when they discovered Garth, and it had no outlet.
They had all been together only three hours ago. It felt like years. He wondered if Cas was scared, wherever he was, and whether Crowley understood that Cas was just a baby now, that he couldn't be held accountable ...
Just as he was about to slam the trunk, Dean had an epiphany. All he had to do was pray. Cas probably didn't have the mojo to come to him, but at least Dean could reassure him. He closed his eyes and bowed his head.
Cas, can you hear me, buddy? We're coming to get you, okay, but you have to be brave and hang in there. I know you can do it; you're the bravest little guy I know. I promise that when we're back home, you and me are gonna talk. You can tell me everything you're feeling, and this time I'm gonna listen. I swear I'll get you home safe. I swear.
He kept his eyes closed for a moment longer, unable to not nourish some hope of hearing the flutter of wings and Castiel's little voice saying his name.
And someone did come, but they did not appear with a rustle of wings; Raphael and Gabriel crashed into the yard like thunder. Raphael stumbled into existence, caught himself and turned just in time for Gabriel to come striding after him.
"You! YOU speak of treachery?" Gabriel shouted, his voice quivering on the edge of something that made Dean's ears hurt. "There is a beam in your eye, brother; look to it!"
Raphael backed away, but his expression was unaffected. He was tall, dark and imposing, even in the face of all of Gabriel's thrumming power. "It must be so nice for you, after you ran away like a coward, to come back and receive father's favour. The prodigal son returned. Let's slay the fattened calf in his honour, give him the best robe and the sandals. Give him the whole farm! It's not like he doesn't deserve it!"
Gabriel's little frame was shaking with rage. "Is that what this is about? You sold a child to the King of Hell to make yourself feel better about your spanking?"
"Sold a child?" Raphael echoed with disbelief, lips curling. "All I did was spread a little gossip. Beneath me, perhaps, but then I have come down in the world." He cast a disparaging glance around the yard, eyes passing over Dean like he wasn't even there. "You told me to watch Crowley, you didn't say we couldn't chat. He asked after Castiel. I obliged him."
Gabriel closed his eyes. Fatigue took over, crushing his fury. "You know Father is watching us, and yet this is how you spend our second chance? You threw it away for petty revenge?"
If Raphael had been the type that laughed, he would have laughed at that. "Have you done so much better, Gabriel? What is Zachariah doing these days?"
"Zachariah is taking lessons in humility, and he had it coming."
Raphael stood like a immovable pillar of black stone, but there was something triumphant in his expression. "But you see that it is up to us to dispense justice to the deserving that our Glorious Father seems to have forgotten, and if Zachariah, that cog in the wheel, had it coming, what then of Castiel, slayer of thousands, betrayer of his own kind?"
"Are you blind?" Gabriel shouted, eyes sparking again. "Castiel is a child!"
"Castiel is an abomination."
Dean grabbed the nearest gun and shot Raphael in the head.
Raphael grimaced briefly, before turning slowly to look at Dean. "Winchester."
Dean gave him a mirthless smile. "I get that you guys have issues, but I couldn't care less who is to blame for what, or who Daddy loved most, or whose butt hurts more. Tell me where Crowley has taken Cas, or I will make you wish God had banished you to the cage!"
Raphael's eyes stormed with ancient grace. Dean stood his ground. Raphael leaned in. "I don't know where your pet is, Winchester, but I hope Crowley is chewing on his bones."
Dean shot Raphael in the head again.
Gabriel grabbed the gun and wrested it out of his hand. "Not productive, Dean."
"But you two arguing is?" Dean shouted.
Gabriel ignored him in favour of turning back to Raphael. "Do you know where Crowley took Cas?"
Raphael shook his head calmly.
"You are not in my way, Raph," Gabriel said. "This is me, giving you a chance to make up for what you've done. Tell me where they are."
"I don't know," Raphael insisted. "Crowley must have prepared a place while I was looking the other way."
Gabriel sighed, disappointed. "You never look the other way. Fine. I leave you to Father's mercy."
"Woah, woah, that's it?" Dean asked, surprised at the sudden dismissal. "How are we supposed to find Crowley?"
Raphael laughed, low to himself. "Don't worry, Winchester. Gabriel commands the Heavenly Host. Never mind that few of them would actually consent to help in Castiel's rescue; to my dear brother we are nothing but soulless automata anyway. He doesn't respect our boundaries."
Gabriel grew visibly pale. "That's not ... true."
"And yet you intend to make them all give up their work to search the globe for Castiel. Am I wrong?"
Gabriel looked down. Dean wanted to say something. Of course that was what they would do! Screw every one of those winged dicks! What did it matter? But he held his tongue. Sensed that there was a struggle going on in Gabriel that might be resolved here.
When Gabriel lifted his head, his eyes were determined, his face calm. "Am I willing to abuse my power to save my little brother? Yeah. Yeah, I am. Cause it's the right thing to do. Now get the fuck out of my sight."
Raphael only hesitated for a second before fluttering off.
Gabriel closed his eyes on a deep breath. "Okay. I'll be back in a sec with the location."
"You're making yourself unpopular," Dean said.
Gabriel shrugged and gave him a half-smile. "Maybe with some, but I know one little guy who's gonna think I'm the coolest big brother ever. We just gotta find him."
"Hop to then. We'll be ready." They shared a look that spoke of their common need to see Castiel safe. Then Gabriel was gone too.