Dean tried very hard not to think about Loki's proposition. He tried not to think about what it might take for him to leave his life and his family (which was the implication) and go with the trickster god. He tried most of all not to think that it might not be so bad. After all, the god hadn't hurt him yet. All he'd done was a little supernatural stalking that generally ended in stolen kisses… Really, if Dean was being honest with himself the kisses weren't stolen.
He could have pulled away at any time, could have told the god to stop. He could have at least made it known that he wasn't interested instead of accepting what Loki gave him, instead of melting a little when he was kissed.
He also didn't want to admit that he still dreamed about the god. That the nights when he dreamed about Loki and not disturbing images of monsters that his father hunted or strange, disjointed realities were some of the best and most peaceful times he had. There wasn't a lot of respite for him these days. Between pressure from his father and hunter training, of taking care of Sammy and making sure the kid didn't implode, Dean sometimes felt like he had very little time to be himself. He felt guilty about those thoughts too, as if he didn't quite deserve the time it would take to relax and just worry about himself for a change.
"Dean," Sam' voice interrupted his thoughts, the kid looking at him from the table where he'd spread out his homework. "Are we actually having dinner tonight?"
Dean frowned. "What the hell kind of question is that."
Sam gave him a look that clearly asked if he were that stupid or just pretending to be. "I mean something more than baked beans and toast. Something like a real dinner."
"We can order Chinese," Dean offered, feeling that was a reasonable compromise given their current lack of groceries and his lack of culinary skill. "Or pizza. We've got takeout menus by the phone."
Sam sighed heavily, and Dean thought his brother was probably the only kid in the world who would turn up his nose at takeout food. "No," he answered, "it's fine."
"We could go out to that diner up the road," Dean suggested, thinking about the money he had in his wallet. Definitely enough for a couple of decent meals and maybe some dessert for afters.
But Sam just shook his head again. "Beans are fine," he said, in that way that he did when he really meant it wasn't fine at all.
"Well what do you want me to do?"
"Nothing, Dean. It's fine, ok?"
Dean sighed and got up to look at the takeout menus anyway. Sam was unhappy, which meant he naturally had to do everything in his power to change that. The thought that he wasn't doing everything in his power snuck up on him while he was reading the menu for Golden Rice takeaway. The realisation came to him, sly and sneaky, while he read the prices listed under the heading 'pork'. Dean theoretically had the powers of a god at his disposal, should he ask for them. One request and he could make sure that Sam never had to sigh over baked bean dinners again.
He glanced at his brother, picturing what Sam would want if he had the chance. A normal life. A normal family with a house of their own and just one school for years at a time. Friends. Ones he would actually be able to have over without feeling embarrassed.
Dean looked away. He knew what the price would be if he wanted to ask for that. He didn't think he was strong enough to offer himself as repayment.
He ordered sweet and sour pork, beef in black bean sauce and a serve of special fried rice. He paid for it with money won betting with a fake ID in an illegal game and wondered what it would be like not to worry about where the next meal was coming from.
If his mother were alive John could be happy. If she'd never died they'd be living that normal life in that normal house, the childhood home in Lawrence that he remembered only vaguely. He could hardly even remember what his mother looked like without needing to dig out the few old family photos John had saved for their life on the road. The photos sat now in the bottom of the impala's trunk, folded neatly into an old manila envelope and kept safe from being squashed or torn.
He wondered if Loki could give that back to them, if the god was powerful enough to change the past, to resurrect the dead.
"Anything," the god told him in his dream that night, stroking fingers through his hair. "I can do anything you want me to, anything at all."
"There's always a catch," Dean replied, voice choked as his dream-self recalled that hazy happiness from before his mother had died. "There has to be, right?"
Thin, gentle lips pressed against his own. "The catch is you, Deano. You know that."
"Yeah," Dean sighed, the dream beginning to melt into something else. "I guess I do."
Loki smiled at him and the next second he'd disappeared. In the morning Dean would recall only the tail end of the dream that first one had turned into. He'd remember swimming underwater with talking fish and wonder why he felt so affected. As if something else had been going on without his knowing.
Dean spent the next couple of weeks in a kind of haze, trying to come to terms with the decision he thought he might have finally made. He hadn't said it aloud yet, hadn't called for Loki or tried to summon the god. He'd just thought about it, watched what remained of his family, and tried to imagine what life would be like in the future he was choosing.
He was more affectionate than usual, more obedient towards his father and more indulgent with Sam. Though it wasn't until he saw his father's face as he left for a hunt – grim, determined, and angry – that he really, truly decided.
Dean tucked Sam in for the night, guilty at the thought of leaving him alone. But, he rationalised, it wouldn't be alone. Not if Loki could give him what he asked for.
He'd never summoned the god before, wasn't even sure it was possible.
He snuck a look in his father's books but there was nothing helpful there. In the end he just decided to set up in the living room of their apartment, a single candle in front of him because candles never hurt. Dean cleared his throat nervously. "Loki?" he asked. "Are you about? I gotta talk to you about… something. About that thing you said…"
The god appeared on the couch beside him, reclining against the armrest as if he'd been there forever. "Talk away, kiddo," he said with a smile. "I'm all ears."
"So I've been thinking," Dean began, then stopped. It was difficult for him to say exactly what he'd been thinking aloud. He swallowed the lump rising in his throat and took a breath before he tried to continue, barrelling on with a confidence he didn't feel. "I've been thinking about your offer. About how you said you'd offer me anything I wanted to go with you…?"
"The offer still stands," the god confirmed.
"Then I know what I want," Dean answered, each word falling from his lips like a lead weight on his soul. "And if it's within your power to give it, then I can tell you what it's going to take."
A hand, deceptively gentle and small for a man, landed on his knee. Dean looked down at the hand and found it easier to talk to it than to Loki's face. "I want my family to be happy. I want Sam to grow up and have that normal life he's always on about. I want dad to be like he was before mom died. I want… I want her not to have died."
The god was silent for a moment. When he spoke again he almost sounded coy. "That's a tall order. When you ask for things, kiddo, boy do you ask big."
"If you can't do it…" Dean made as if to move but the hand on his knee tightened to stop him.
"I didn't say that."
Loki didn't say anything more after that, not for a while. Seconds passed far too slowly. Dean dared to look at the god's face and found him pensive. A look on his face like he was weighing the options and deciding whether or not Dean was worth the price that he had set for himself.
"You know what the catch is," Loki said finally, brown eyes strangely serious. "Don't you? You realise you won't be in their lives. You can't have what they'll have. You can never go back. This is it. The final decision, the life-changer. If I do this for you then that's it, there won't be any changing your mind later on. It just can't be done."
Dean swallowed again, the enormity of it pressing in on him and making his head spin. His stomach dropped, butterflies dancing uncomfortably up and down his spine. "I know," he answered, voice rough with emotion. "I get it. I just want them to be happy."
The god smiled at him. Loki raised a hand to caress the side of his face, brushing away a tear that Dean hadn't been aware of shedding. "You'll be happy too," he promised. "I swear it by my very soul."
The creature that Gabriel had become was a perversion that twisted the traits of beings both holy and pagan alike, an abomination without a soul to speak of, grace forever tainted. He paid the price for his new life in the souls of others, souls sent to both heaven and hell alike. He played games with them, the rules made of their baser natures, and these were games he never intended them to win.
The Trickster smiled at the boy who was almost his, sure that the sadness that Dean felt would melt away soon enough under his doting attention. He knew, of course, that human lives were short, but under his care the boy could live almost forever. It was a lifetime to get over the loss of his family. And the knowledge that they were happy with their new lives would go a long way towards healing.
"Then you can consider it done," he told the boy, already thinking of the things he would do, the places he would show him to impress and distract him. "Just as soon as I snap my fingers the world will be as if Mary Winchester never died…" He smirked. "With just one small exception."
He watched the boy steel himself, spine straightened and jaw set. "I'm ready."
The Trickster's smirk grew, then faded. He cocked his head to the side. "There's just one thing I need you to do first."
He knew full well that there was no going back now or he never would have asked for it, would have waited until later when Dean had settled, when it wasn't so new or so frightening anymore. "I need you to swear yourself to me," the Trickster said, brown eyes locked with wide, sparkling green. "Swear that you belong to me and nobody else, that no other being can have you. Promise, and I'll make sure your family get the life they deserve."
The boy hesitated, caught on a natural reservation against making promises that big. Or maybe just overwhelmed by the magnitude of the commitment he was expected to make. "Ok," he said finally, voice cracking.
"Do you swear?" the trickster prompted.
"I swear," Dean nodded. "I… belong to you."
The Trickster snapped his fingers, and this time as he left he took the boy with him. The place they were moved to didn't technically exist, a pocket dimension of his own creating. The perfect domicile for a 'god' like himself. Spacious, windows filled with iconic views that shifted to reflect his mood, and a modern décor that was just this side of tacky.
Dean stood awkwardly in the middle of the living room. He looked around, noticed the fact that the Trickster was suddenly dressed in nothing more than a plush chocolate-coloured robe, and took a breath.
"I want proof."
"Proof?" the Trickster asked, conjuring himself a glass of some fruity, sugary cocktail. "Proof of what, kiddo?"
"Proof that my family are happy. That you did what you said."
A sharp look aimed itself toward the boy, softening when he saw the barely-hidden fear in his eyes. The trickster smiled. "Of course you'll get proof, cookie. Even Belle had her magic mirror."
The Trickster snapped his fingers and a small oval mirror appeared on the wall. He gestured towards it. "Go on, look in. That's your window back home right there. One way only, no two-wave to be found there. I thought it might be a nice touch, keep you from feeling too sorry for yourself around here."
The boy stepped up to the mirror, face sceptical. His expression quickly changed to one of shock, and then something bittersweet that made the Trickster want to hold him and feed him candies until it was replaced with a smile. The scene in the mirror was one of domestic bliss. A chaotic family breakfast, Sam at the table with a bowl of cereal, Mary brewing coffee in the background and telling off John for drinking milk out of the cartoon and setting a bad example. The house was the same as the one Dean remembered from those hazy childhood memories… It should have been. It had been plucked right out of the boy's memories for this express purpose.
The Trickster came up behind him, gently settling his hands on the boy's waist. "See? Happy as clams."
Dean didn't answer. He stayed at the mirror until the Trickster drew him away to sit down on the big purple couch in the middle of the room. Dean sat and stared down at his hands, then at the white rug on the floor, and arched an eyebrow at the classic pinup paintings on the wall behind the TV.
"You know, I thought a god's house would be a little less… modern."
"Yeah, well. What can I say? I move with the times."
Dean looked at him. "So… what now, Loki?"
The Trickster smiled at him. "Whatever you want to do… But if you're feeling a little too space-case to decide then I'm gonna say monster movies and caramel popcorn. How's that sound?"
"Fine, I guess."
"Don't stress, kiddo." The Trickster patted his human's knee, the TV flicking on without the need of a remote. "We've got a while to figure out the small stuff."
Dean shrugged and slumped back against the couch. "You're the boss, Loki."
"I told you," the Trickster replied, already making plans to woo the boy properly now that he had him to himself, "you can call me Gabriel."
When John Winchester came home from his hunt, unexpectedly early, it was two in the morning and the apartment was dark. The remains of a burnt out candle sat on the battered coffee table, wax forming a solid puddle right in the centre. He shook his head over the mess and decided to deal with it later, choosing instead to look in on his boys before he went to bed.
He peered in on the second bedroom, immediately noticing that something was amiss. Only one of the two single beds was occupied, the other still neatly made and untouched.
At first he suspected that Dean had snuck out to meet a girl, but when he called his son's cell to tell him to get right home now dammit he heard the muffled sound of a ringtone coming from his son's duffle by the door. A quick check revealed that Dean's wallet had been left behind on his nightstand.
A sinking feeling came over the hunter.
He shook his youngest son awake to ask the urgent question. "Sam, where's Dean? Where's your brother?"
The sleepy eleven year old glared at him in the darkness and looked over at Dean's bed. The scowl dropped off his face, replaced by genuine confusion. "I don't know…"
"Dammit," John cursed softly. And what worried him the most was what he could see there on the windowsill, what he'd seen in a clean, unbroken line across the threshold. Salt, with no evidence that it had ever been disturbed. "Dammit," John cursed again.
He dashed back to the living room and the burnt out candle, Sam trailing along behind him. John needed to figure out where Dean had gone. He couldn't trust that his son had just gone for a walk, or downstairs to the vending machine in the laundry.
Not with the life that they lived.
In a strange sort of house in the middle of a place that doesn't exist Dean Winchester gave up everything to a trickster god who pretended that nothing about him was the slightest bit holy. They live together in a suspended state, never in total truth but sharing everything just the same. Dean always thought that this was as happy as he could be, loved completely and unconditionally, travelling to exotic places and forever trying new things. If every so often he felt a pang of sadness and felt the urge to look in a mirror as his brother grew up and his parents got old he told himself it didn't matter. He had Gabriel, he had a life full of fun and adventure.
He could never have thought of a better trade.