After the cacophony of open warfare, the silence was almost deafening.
Dean opened his eyes.
He saw stars. A clear night sky. The storm had dissipated as quickly as it had appeared.
Dean rolled over and pushed himself to his feet. The splash of water as he moved was abnormally loud. He had been lying in a puddle. He was soaked to the bone, coated in mud and his clothes were plastered to his skin. He was probably cold. Maybe that was why he felt so numb.
His gaze took in his surroundings. The fire was gone, leaving scorched earth in its wake. The ground was covered in shattered glass, the ashes of wings and the bodies of dead vessels. Dean wondered if these people had known what they were agreeing to when they let the angels possess them. He wondered if they had expected to be returned to their families, safe and sound, when the angels were done with them. They were dead now. Dean had killed a few himself. Maybe it had been a mercy. But their families would be grieving, and they would never know what had happened.
There were no live angels in sight. The presence of Michael could no longer be felt. The spell must have worked. Technically, they had saved the world.
Dean wasn’t sure it was worth the price they had paid.
Sam and Bobby looked okay for the most part, if a little worse for wear. Dad was cradling Mom’s broken body in his arms.
Dean tried to speak but no sound came out. He cleared his throat. “Is she-”
Dad just clutched her tighter, tears rolling silently down his cheeks.
Bobby moved to check on her. Dad resisted at first, but Bobby managed to wrap his fingers around her wrist. “There’s a pulse!” he reported.
Dean exhaled a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding.
“It’s weak and thready, but it’s there.” Bobby held a hand up to her mouth. “And she’s breathing. John, she’s alive. She’s in a bad way, but if we get her to a hospital soon…”
Hope returned to Dad’s eyes. He stood up, quickly but carefully, holding Mom bridal style. “How far?”
“10 minutes if we floor it,” Bobby said. “I’ll get the truck.”
“I’m coming with you,” Sam said. “But – wait – what about Cas?”
Dean’s heart thudded once, painfully. He didn’t want to look, he didn’t want to see, but his gaze was pulled inexorably to his angel.
His feet moved of their own accord. He found himself kneeling in the mud at his angel’s side and he couldn’t remember how he got there.
The trench coat was dirty. The white shirt was stained crimson. There was a gaping wound where Castiel’s throat should have been, and his blue eyes stared up at the sky, lifeless.
Dean reached out trembling fingers in the vain hope of finding a heartbeat, but Castiel’s chest was still beneath his hand. No breath. No signs of life.
Cas was dead.
Dean’s hand closed around a fistful of shirt. It was an anchor. He remembered a night, long ago, when he had woken from a nightmare and Cas had been there to comfort him. He had thrown himself into the angel’s arms and sobbed into this shirt until he had no more tears to give. He had been a child, and Cas was his safety.
Cas was more than that now. Cas was his hope. His strength. His saviour. His friend. His family.
Most days, Cas was the only thing holding Dean together.
Cas was dead.
Dean couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t cry. Pain clenched and unfurled in his gut and snaked up to coil around his heart, constricting, choking.
His knuckles turned white, a stark contrast against the blood-soaked shirt.
His lungs struggled to supply oxygen, but his throat was closed.
He wanted to scream and rage and sob himself sick, but he couldn’t.
The rain had stopped. Dean was drowning.
His world was falling apart.
Vacant blue eyes stared blankly. Dean had seen them filled with pain and concern and confusion and amusement and love. Now they were empty.
His body shuddered once. Twice. Then the shaking set in and it wouldn’t stop.
Dean had endured a thousand agonies at Alastair’s hand, but no torture had come close to this. He felt like he was dying, and not just in body. His soul, his spirit, was screaming out in terrible anguish.
But he couldn’t make a sound.
Helpless, broken, all Dean could do was curl in around the crushing pain. He rested his head on his angel’s chest, seeking comfort a final time.
He wanted strong arms to encircle him and a deep, rough voice to tell him that everything would be alright.
But Cas was dead.
Dean’s silent grief was painful to witness. Sam wanted to pull his brother away from the body and hug him tight, but he could not intrude on this moment. No matter what he did or said, he couldn’t make this okay.
Dean had just lost the one person in his life who had always been there for him. When Sam was being an irritating little brat of a brother, or when Mom was hiding the truth, or when Dad was yelling, or when the kids at school were calling him a freak, Cas had stayed true at his side, making Dean feel wanted, accepted, cherished and loved.
With Cas gone, Dean would never be the same.
Looking at him now, curled into Cas, trembling, unable to even cry in the wake of devastating grief, Sam realised that Dean might not be able to recover from this. Not after everything else he had been through.
There was only so much a person could take. Dean had been pushed over the ledge, and Cas had caught him. He had been barely holding on, but Cas had refused to let him go and there had been a chance, a small chance, that someday Dean could find solid ground again. Without Castiel’s hand to hold, Dean was in free fall.
Sam didn’t know how to save him.
If he could, he would save Cas. He would bring the angel back to life and give him stern instructions to never leave his brother like that again.
But he didn’t have that kind of power.
No one did.
No – wait. No human had that power. But angels did.
Granted, after what they had just done most angels would rather kill them than help them at this point, and with the spell in place they wouldn’t be able to come near them anyway. But Gabriel had helped them in the fight against Heaven, and his blood had been used to create the spell. If he was still around, and if he was willing, maybe he could help Cas.
Except… Sam had seen Gabriel fall. Caught up in his mother’s injuries and Dean’s grief over Cas, Sam had forgotten that the archangel who had come to their aid and risked everything to stand against his family was lying in that crater back there.
But he was an archangel. Sure, he had been fighting Michael, but maybe he was okay. Maybe Michael hadn’t killed him for his betrayal.
Filled with a mixture of dread and desperate hope, Sam scrambled over the slippery ground and up the crusted edges of the crater. He peered down into the hole, afraid he would see a broken body and the ashes of wings.
But the crater was empty.
“Gabriel?” Sam called. “Gabriel!”
There was no reply.
Did archangels leave the same remains that ordinary angels did when they died? Or had Gabriel’s power imploded on impact, vaporising him instantly?
Sam was crushed. It was his fault the archangel had come here. If Gabriel was dead, he had died in a fight he had wanted no part of. Sam had dragged him into this.
He knew it was selfish, but while he grieved for the angel he was even more upset that his one hope for Cas was gone. He had felt sure that Gabriel could help. Without him, Sam was afraid Cas was lost to them for good. Which meant that Dean was lost to them, maybe for good as well.
“Gabriel, please,” he whispered.
Someone poked him in the ribs, making him jump.
“Behind you, little guy.”
Sam whirled. The archangel was there, as large as life, grinning mischievously.
He booped Sam on the nose. “Gotcha.”
Sam slapped his arm. “You ass! Now is not the time for games.”
“I’m the Trickster!”
“I thought you were dead!”
“Yeah, I have a knack for faking my own death. Had to make it convincing for Michael, you know? He was going in for the kill and if I hadn’t taken the swan dive he would have atomised me.”
“You saved your own hide.”
“It’s my hide, I have a right to it.”
“Fine, okay, I’m glad you’re not dead after all. But we’ve had some casualties…”
Gabriel looked out over the car yard and took in the sight of Dad cradling Mom in his arms, waiting for Bobby to bring the car around.
“Oh, it’s just a concussion and a few broken bones. Easy fix.” He flitted away, appeared at Dad’s side and pressed two fingers against Mom’s forehead. She heaved a deep breath and as Dad was crying out in relief and happiness Gabriel popped back to Sam. “There, all better.”
Sam breathed a little easier. “Thank you.”
Gabriel tapped a finger on the top of Sam’s head, too. “Fixed up all those little scrapes and bruises for you. Left the sigil, though.”
Sam looked down at his arm. He hadn’t noticed it before, but where he had cut his arm to draw blood for the spell an exact replica of the sigil had been branded into his skin.
“I have one too,” Gabriel said, showing off his own mark. “Your whole family will have one, and it will be passed down through future generations. It is part of the spell. See, this here is the common banishing sigil.” He traced it. “These two lines here, intersecting with the triangle at the top and the circle at the centre, act as a lock that makes the spell permanent. It is powered by your blood and broadcasts constantly, so any angel other than me who tries to come within 20 miles of you guys will be bounced straight back home. These extra symbols on either side are Michael and Lucifer’s names in Enochian, making the spell target them in particular so they have to stay put in Heaven and Hell, respectively. It’s pretty clever, actually-”
“That’s great,” Sam interrupted. It was good to know another angel attack was not imminent and that their family would be free from angels intending them harm. “But at the moment I’m more concerned about Cas.”
Gabriel waved it off. “Becoming human is an adjustment. He’ll be okay in a day or so.”
“He didn’t just lose his Grace, Gabriel. He’s dead.”
The archangel stilled. “What?”
“No! No way is my baby brother dying on my watch! He’s only just found his chance at true happiness, I’m not going to let him screw that up now.”
Sam’s eyes widened. “You mean you can heal him? Bring him back?”
“I may not look, sound or act like one, but I am an archangel,” Gabriel huffed. “Come on, kid.”
In the blink of an eye they were standing next to their brothers.
Dean barely even noticed them. He was lost in his grief.
“Dean-” Sam tried, but Gabriel shushed him. Without disturbing Dean, the archangel crouched down and laid his hand against Castiel’s forehead. He drew in a breath and closed his eyes.
A pure, white light glowed beneath his palm.
Sam watched in awe as the spilled blood withdrew and the wound on Castiel’s throat closed over. When he was done there wasn’t even a trace of a scar. The light held for a few seconds longer, and Castiel’s lips parted to draw in a deep, slow breath.
Dean felt the movement of his chest and sat bolt upright. He clutched at Castiel’s shoulders, staring hopefully into his face. “Cas?”
Cas groaned and stirred faintly.
Blue eyes flickered open. He blinked blearily.
Tears sprung to Dean’s eyes. “Cas!” He pulled the angel up into his arms, ignoring the grunt of surprise, and proceeded to hug the stuffing out of him. “Oh god, you crazy son of a bitch. You stupid, wonderful, idiotic, beautiful, angelic human being you. Don’t do that to me, don’t ever do that to me again.”
“Just hug him back,” Gabriel advised.
So Cas did, and Dean burst into tears.
“Dean, this is supposed to make you happy,” Sam protested.
“I believe these are what humans call ‘happy tears’,” Gabriel said.
“Yeah I’m happy,” Dean said roughly. He drew in a steadying breath and pulled back a bit. A beam split his face as he gazed into blue eyes. “Hello, Cas.”
Gabriel looked at Sam and smirked. “Now see, you’re doing it too.”
Sam swiped at the tears on his cheeks and slapped Gabriel’s arm again, but only half-heartedly this time. “Shut up.”