evening_bat: Bat in flight, silhouetted against the moon. (Default)
[personal profile] evening_bat
Title: The Highest Vision of the Soul
Author: [personal profile] evening_bat
Pairing: hinted Dean/Gabriel
Rating: R
Word Count: ~ 8000
Warnings: Canon character death, lots of swearing, mention of adult situations
Summary: Dean was no stranger to regrets, but he'd never expected to have this much trouble accepting the death of an irreverent, absentee archangel. Then again, it’d be a lot easier if he didn’t keep tripping over reminders of Gabriel all the freaking time. Or if he could stop dreaming about him.

Notes: Written for the 2013 Round of the Debriel Minibang over on LJ. Infinite thanks to Seryan for listening to me work out the plot and doing beta duty and also to Weekendship for the incredible accompanying artwork. Go check out the art masterpost HERE and tell Weekendship how amazing it is.

The Highest Vision of the Soul

Waking up in his car was nothing new for Dean. Hell, there’d been a time when he slept in the car more often than anywhere else. Even nowadays, napping behind the wheel in a hotel parking lot wasn’t all that unusual, depending on how badly he and Sam had been grating on each others’ nerves the previous night. But waking up in this hotel parking lot... Dean squinted at the blue glow streaming through the windshield and swore, hand clenching tightly on the wheel. He remembered the shine of that blue sign on wet pavement, and they’d put it as far behind them as possible before stopping.

So much for being awake. Even if the place hadn’t been enough of a clue, the archangel in the back seat would have been a dead ― ha ― giveaway.

“I approve of your taste in entertainment,” Gabriel said, casually examining a familiar DVD case.

Dean snorted. “Don’t get too smug. We didn’t get past the first five minutes.”

We?” Gabriel’s eyes widened in mock-surprise, and he fanned himself with the plastic case. “Kinky! You know, for all the rumours about you two, I didn’t actually expect the whole ‘family that works together, jerks togethe―’”

“Not like that!” Dean reached an arm over the seat to grab the DVD out of Gabriel’s hands. “Shit, and you call us kinky. Sam nearly broke the computer, he slammed it shut so hard at the sight of you ‘lying down’.”

Gabriel shook his head in exaggerated disappointment. “That’s one of your many, many problems, Winchester. No appreciation for art.”

“Yeah? Well, I’ve got this other problem,” Dean said, holding a hand up to the level of his nose. “About this high, big mouth, awful sense of humour, maybe you’ve seen him around?”

Dean wouldn’t be seeing him again, not outside of his fucked up dreams. Not after Gabriel had gone and gotten himself killed at Dean’s insistence.

Dean scowled and slouched deeper into his seat, refusing to squirm at the uncomfortable twist of guilt in his gut. “The fuck were you doing listening to me, anyway?”

There was a soft huff of laughter from behind him. “Seemed like the thing to do at the time. In retrospect, not my smartest idea ever.”

“Not really, no. I was expecting something that ended in a little less death.”

“Can’t win them all, Dean.” The seat creaked as Gabriel moved, and the back of Dean’s seat dipped as Gabriel hooked an elbow over it and propped his chin on his wrist. “Still, not a bad way to go out, I guess.”

Dean let his head roll to the side and found himself staring almost directly into Gabriel’s eyes, surprisingly bright in the dimness. “Nah, not a bad way to go. Better than most.”

Dean didn’t know where angels went when they died, but wherever it was, he hoped Gabriel really was smiling like that over saving the Winchesters’ asses.

* * *

And then, somehow, the world didn’t end.

Dean didn’t know how; he never could remember what had happened at the cemetery that day. It hurt every time he tried, a tight, hot ache that made his brain feel scorched. That didn’t keep him from prodding his reluctant memory until the day Cas found him sitting at Bobby’s kitchen table, holding a cold beer to his temple.

“I don’t understand why you persist in doing this to yourself,” Cas said, frowning as he plucked the bottle out of Dean’s hand.

Dean let it go; it wasn’t doing a damn thing to help, anyway. “Because I still don’t know what the fuck happened.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with chilled fingers.

A quiet hiss at his shoulder told him that Cas had twisted the top off of the bottle, and he blindly waved a hand until he felt the cold press of glass against his palm.

“Isn’t what didn’t happen more important?” Cas asked as Dean took a long drink from the bottle.

Dean shook his head. He’d never been able to make sense of the broken flashes he remembered of that afternoon. Bursts of overpowering light and sound that wouldn’t resolve in his head, smears of colour he couldn’t name, noise like struck crystal and tearing metal. He didn’t know what any of it meant.

“Yeah, maybe if I had any idea what was going to happen next.”

All he knew was that one minute, Michael and Lucifer had been squaring off in their respective Winchester meat suits and the next minute, it was apparently all over. Sam was alone in his skin. Cas was an angel again. Bobby was alive. Dean...well, Dean kind of felt like he’d been electrocuted again, but he was still breathing and the world wasn’t ending. There hadn’t been anyone else in sight.

There wasn’t any way of knowing if it was really over. If Heaven and Hell had actually hashed out the End of Days, shouldn’t there be some sort of sign? Something more than just an empty graveyard and a quiet so oppressive that Dean could have practically heard his own heartbeat?

“Dean,” Cas said and damn it, Dean was conditioned to shut up and listen when Cas put that kind of weight behind the sound of his name. “I can’t tell you what happened when Michael confronted Lucifer. The words I’d need explain it to you don’t exist. But what matters most is this: You and Sam ― you succeeded. The forces of Heaven and Hell have withdrawn. Humanity is spared.”

Cas had been promising him variations on that since the day Dean had piled the three of them into the car and hauled ass out of that cemetery. Dean was just having a little trouble believing it.

“So what? That’s it? Everything we tried, and all we needed to do was ― what? Just show up? Two men and three angels walk into a cemetery and Armageddon is over?”

Fuck. Saving the world as the punchline to the worst “three men walk into a bar” joke Dean had ever heard.

“Three men and two angels walked into that cemetery,” Cas corrected. “And against all odds and common sense...yes. That’s all you needed to do.”

Dean held that steady blue stare for a long few seconds, letting Cas’ calm certainty seep into him. Dean had never been one for blind faith but trusting Cas...that, he knew how to do.

“Well, fuck me,” he finally said. “If we saved the world, why I am sitting here drinking alone?”

“My question exactly.”

“We should be celebrating!” Dean tipped his head back and drained his beer, abandoning the empty bottle on the table as he stood. “Come on, I know where Bobby hides the good stuff. He and Sam still down in the panic room?”

“As of fifteen minutes ago, yes,” Cas answered, automatically wrapping an arm around the four glasses Dean shoved at his chest.

“So we’ll take the party to them,” Dean said, slinging an arm around Cas’ shoulders and steering him out of the kitchen. “We saved the world, Cas! That deserves a real drink!”

Screw angelic gravity. Dean figured that Cas’ failure to shake him off and mild, “Perhaps a bit of festivity is called for,” meant that he agreed.

* * *

So it turned out that stopping the Apocalypse played its own kind of hell on a guy’s nerves. At first, Dean had been grateful for the break. Heaven and Hell had been sent back to their respective corners and left a nice lull in supernatural activity in their wake. It let Dean drag Sam and Bobby back to safety before collapsing into his own bed for a solid fourteen hours of sleep ― and he was the lucky one. Bobby wasn’t doing too badly but Sam was a mess.

They’d known playing meatsuit to Lucifer wasn’t going to be any fun. Prominently featured in the parade of nightmare images that had been playing through Dean’s head since Sam had proposed his crazy idea was the memory of Raphael’s host sitting in his hospital room, blasted into empty-eyed vacancy. Sam seemed to have come through Lucifer’s possession reasonably intact ― a fact for which Dean was beyond grateful ― but it’d be weeks before he was really over it. Cas had been surprised that Sam wasn’t dead or a drooling vegetable, but after checking him out had told Dean that he was sure Sam would be okay, though it would take some time to recover. That was fine by Dean; he’d wait however long it took for Sam to get his head back together. Even if the waiting was driving him just a little bit crazy.

Dean had never been the type to enjoy sitting around. And okay, the waiting might be kind of getting to him, a little. Who could blame him? He’d spent the last year plus careening from one catastrophe to the next, with the whole world hanging on the line. A man had the right to be a bit twitchy under those circumstances. But it was okay; Dean was fine. He was handling it.

Except his attempts to keep from pressuring Sam by asking Bobby about his progress might have backfired.

“Okay, that’s enough.” Bobby, caught in the act of retrieving dinner for Sam, glared fiercely at Dean and pointed at the kitchen table. “Sit your ass down, boy. We need to have us a little talk.”

Dean ducked his head as he sank to an obedient seat at the table. “Aw, Bobby. A little talk is all I was trying to ―”

“Shut up,” Bobby ordered as he slumped into the chair across from Dean. “I never said you were going to get to talk.”

Well, shit. Looked like Dean had pushed Bobby’s patience as far as it would go and then some. He slouched into his seat and waited for the grumbling to start.

“A couple of guys I know got in touch yesterday, told me about a town a day or two west of here with a little cat problem.”

Dean raised an eyebrow at the unexpected venture into storytelling. “So? Tell them to call Animal Control.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” Ah, there was the more familiar growl. “Pretty sure you got a badge for the Department of Fish and Game in that last batch we got made up for you boys.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Dean stared at him in disbelief. “Don’t you think there are more important things to be worrying about right now than some nosy mountain lion?”

“What kind of mountain lion do you know that tears apart bee yards and knocks over telephone poles for fun?” Bobby asked pointedly.

“Bee yards and telephone poles?” Dean repeated as he reflexively ran through his mental checklist of monsters. “Fuck, a splinter cat? Really? I didn’t think there were any of those left!”

Bobby shrugged and gestured vaguely westwards. “At least one. Better go take a look while you still can.”

“Think I’ll give that a pass.” Dean shrugged in turn. “Gone this long without, right?”

“Let me rephrase that.” Bobby sighed and scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “Get out of here. Go shoot the damn cat. Work some of this nervous energy out of your system before I have to shoot you.”

“I can’t, Bobby. Sam ―”

“Sam isn’t going anywhere,” Bobby interrupted. “Not yet. I can keep an eye on him for you. We’ll be all right. No reason you can’t head out and take care of someone else’s problem in the meantime. You’re not doing anyone any favours by hanging around driving us all nuts. Take the angel with you if you want some company.”

Okay, fine. Dean still didn’t like leaving Sam but he could take a hint. Also, he wasn’t entirely sure Bobby wouldn’t actually shoot him. He braved a few more minutes of conversation to get the details from Bobby about this job he’d found to keep Dean occupied and then headed off to inventory his gear.

A few days later, he had to admit that Bobby had been right. Getting out had done him good. Dean hadn’t exactly invited Cas along but he hadn’t complained when Cas decided to drop in either. (Tracking down supernatural critters turned out to be a hell of a lot easier when you had an angel scouting for you.) Twice-daily phone calls assured him that Sam was still doing okay. And Dean really had missed this. Nursing a drink at the bar while shamelessly eavesdropping on the locals’ conversations, Dean was riding the high of a successful hunt and feeling a lot more comfortable in his skin.

“Maybe Jenkins’ luck will turn around now?” a uniformed deputy was saying as Dean shook off his moment of introspection and tuned back into the conversation at the table beside him. “I mean, it’s not like much more can go wrong for the guy, right?”

Dean’s attention sharpened at the mention of that name. Jenkins was the beekeeper whose hives had been destroyed by the splinter cat. Dean hadn’t caught wind of any other supernatural threats around, so what the hell else was causing problems for Jenkins?

“Jesus, Tom, I hope not.” His partner sighed and knocked back the last of his beer. “He’s getting behind in payments again, and I’m not looking forward to that repossession.”

Tom laughed and slapped the table. “That’s just ‘cause you’re scared of bees!”

“You’re damned right it is! But I’m telling you now, the Sheriff can go deliver that order by his damn self.”

Unfortunately for Dean’s freshly roused curiosity, from there the deputies’ conversation veered into bitching about their boss, but not for nothing had Dean buddied up to the barflies last night. Sure enough, all it took was a few beers on Dean’s tab and an idle question to get his newest friends falling over themselves to tell Dean about what happened to their last mayor.

“― they found him up at that no-tell motel at the south end of town. You must’ve seen it when you drove in.” Bert leaned in, lowering his voice to a wobbly slur.

Dean nodded encouragingly and suppressed his grin. He’d seen it all right, a pink monstrosity of a motel, liberally accented with cheap gold paint and fake bees the size of footballs. He’d actually stopped the car to take pictures for Sam. Even with the shitholes they’d stayed in over the years, Dean figured he’d need photographic evidence of this place. No way would Sam believe it if Dean claimed he’d seen a pink-and-gold motel called The Honey Trap and not gotten pictures.

Bert’s barstool buddy was quick to chime in. “Well, everyone knew he was running around on his wife with any woman that would have him.”

“Or any tourist dumb enough to fall for his lines.”

“Yeah. So no one was surprised that he was there, y’know? But he was dead. They never did find the woman he was with, but they figured she couldn’t have done it. Too weird, y’know?”

“Weird?” Dean asked, keeping his tone casually interested.

Burt nodded so enthusiastically he nearly knocked himself off of his stool. “See, the report said that it was some kind of allergic reaction, but Molly’s one of the maids at the Trap, and she saw him before the Sheriff’s boys carried him out, and she says he was covered in honey. They dripped it halfway across the parking lot!”

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t Dean’s kind of weird after all. “All right, that’s kind of kinky but I don’t know that I’d call it ―”

“No!” Bert’s buddy interrupted. “See, we all thought it must be some kind of sex game gone wrong, maybe he choked on the honey or something. But Lou heard the doc talking to the Sheriff, and he said that he practically drowned in it! He had as much honey inside as out. And there isn’t any man who’d sit through that, no matter how hot the woman was, right?”

“Turned near the whole town off of honey for months. Jenkins nearly lost the business. Now this trouble with the crazy cougar. But at least he gets insurance this time.”

Yeah, lucky Jenkins. Not so lucky mayor. Looked like Dean wasn’t quite finished with this job after all.

Long practice made it easy enough to manufacture the expected reactions to their unusual story, and another round of drinks made for a quick topic change. Once their attention was focused back on their glasses, Dean slipped out for a bit more investigation.

“He deserved it, you know,” Gabriel told him later that evening, perched on the edge of Dean’s bed and toying with the keychain Dean had lifted from the motel earlier. It was, appropriately enough, an obnoxiously cheerful cartoon bee. The bright plastic rattled in Gabriel’s hand as he flipped the key around.

“So the story goes,” Dean agreed. According to rumour, not only had the mayor been doing anything with a pulse, he hadn’t been above smacking his wife around on occasion. “Though I think this might be taking ‘just desserts’ a bit far.”

“Oh, come on! A name like that? How was I supposed to resist?” Gabriel’s grin was far too self-satisfied.

Dean snorted ― and abruptly found himself blinking blearily at the wall. He sat up and scanned the empty room, goosebumps prickling his skin as the sheets fell away. Seeing the keychain resting on the table gave him a turn for a long second until he remembered that he really had swiped it earlier that night when he’d done a bit of snooping at the motel, to give Sam a taste of what he’d been missing.

Gabriel had been his first guess when he learned a bit more about the mayor’s death. That signature style was pretty hard to mistake. He hadn’t been expecting his subconscious to serve him up a version of Gabriel coming to claim responsibility for it, though.

Better that than most of the other shit he dreamed about, Dean finally decided, settling back down onto the mattress. The clock said it was only 3:47, so he had time to catch a few more hours of sleep before starting the drive back to Bobby’s. If he had any more dreams that night, Dean hoped they’d be as entertaining as this last one.

* * *

"Really, Dean? We don't have enough money to fill the tank of the car and you blow half our cash on this?"

"Just doing our part to support small-town economy."

Sam was unimpressed. "It's not a stimulus package ― it's a pile of candy."

Dean pointed to the bag on the table with a showy flourish. "But it's handmade candy. Only the finest of natural ingredients and everything."

Sam scowled at him. "It's nougat."

From the disgust in his voice, you'd think it was a steaming pile of horseshit.

"And toffee. And some caramel stuff," Dean reminded him, snagging a few pieces out of the bag. He peeled off the wrappers and shoved them into his mouth, enjoying the way Sam grimaced at his bulging cheeks.

"I am going to point and laugh before I give you the Heimlich," Sam promised.

Dean made sure his answering grin bared as many toffee-covered teeth as possible.

Sam's expression twisted with ostentatious revulsion. "Real mature. You don't even like toffee," he bitched as he stomped away.

True enough, and Dean was glad that having his mouth full of the stuff kept him from having to answer. Unlike Sam, who complained for hours about how it stuck to his teeth, Dean just figured the sticky shit was more effort than it was worth. Give him a Snickers any day.

"Vendor was very convincing," he managed indistinctly.

"Yeah, I'm sure it was her salesmanship that got your attention and nothing to do with how well her shirt showed off her breasts."

Dean swallowed a glob of toffee, narrowly avoiding Sam's dire predictions of choking. "Woman really knew how to showcase her goods," he agreed.

Let Sam think what he liked; it had been one of those rare times that Dean had had no trouble keeping his eyes on a woman's face. The way her mouth had worked at a sample of her wares inevitably led a man to imagining those lips wrapped around something else entirely. And if he'd paid a bit too much attention to the almost-familiar colour of her hair (just a shade or two lighter than the caramel she was selling) and kept thinking that her eyes were too dark a brown, well... Dean had spent the last couple of years keeping a suspicious eye out for people who had too sweet a tooth.

Having Gabriel on the brain again probably explained the dream Dean had that night, too. What with his addiction to candy, he’d have been quick to stuff his face with the Dean’s purchases. He would have loved that sticky sweet crap. Dean grinned up at the dark ceiling of their room after he woke up that morning, wondering if those "finest of natural ingredients" really would have been enough to glue even an archangel's teeth together.

* * *

After that mess with the siren and the umpteen love potions and lust spells Dean had seen go wrong over the years, the succubus came as a surprise. For one thing, he’d figured that her true form wouldn’t be as sexy as the beautiful woman smiling at him over her drink ― he hadn’t expected it to be sexier. Last night she'd briefly dropped the human act to make a point, and Dean had to admit that he’d have had trouble denying her anything short of putting a gun to Sam’s head. Luckily for them, this succubus wasn’t the type to dine and dash. Dean didn’t usually like meeting smart monsters but he’d make an exception for this one; any friendly sex demon with enough brains to open up a high class strip club to guarantee herself a non-lethal, self-sustaining buffet had Dean’s approval.

He saluted her with his drink before taking another careful ― and thorough, very very thorough ― survey of the club. Another advantage of her strategy: The view was fantastic.

“Do you really need to head off right away? You’d be welcome here tonight ― drinks and favours on the house.”

He turned his head back to the woman sharing his table, eyes lingering appreciatively on the waitress as she glided past, before shaking his head. “Yeah. Thanks for the offer, but it’s time we hit the road.”

They had a line on a haunting two states over, and Sam had already bailed, babbling some excuse about last minute supplies before fleeing for the safety of the car.

“That’s a shame,” she sighed, and it took some effort for Dean to drag his mind out of the wash of hormones that her voice triggered.

“Hey, you wanna watch it with the sex voice? I thought we had a truce, lady.” His hand tightened on his drink, anchoring himself with the slick chill of the glass beneath his fingers.

“Oh, we do. I just thought I’d give you a reason to reconsider your answer. You can’t tell me that staying another night doesn’t appeal to you, after all.” Her lips curled into a (highly distracting) knowing smile, and she flicked her eyes pointedly to the pair of girls on stage ― the ones Dean kept looking at, despite himself.

They were well worth looking at, it had to be said. One blonde, one brunette, both gorgeous. One barely dressed in scraps of gauzy white, the other in criss-crossed strips of rich red leather. “Gentlemen, let us season your evening with a bit of Sugar and Spice!” the announcer had exclaimed when they’d strutted into view, and Dean had been captivated. What he wasn’t going to mention was that every time he looked at them, Dean remembered another pair of girls in scraps of lingerie, a blonde and a brunette, who tried to win him over before beating him to a pulp as a mad not-janitor laughed in the background.

“Can’t blame a guy for looking,” he said, suiting actions to words.

“I prefer touching,” the succubus replied. “And I really do think you deserve some reward for being so...open-minded about my little arrangement.”

Sam would kill him if he let her charm him into anything, Dean hastily reminded himself as the open invitation in her voice sent a bolt of lust shivering right down his spine. And Cas would give him that look before frying the succubus for snacking on him.

“Or maybe you’re looking for something else?” she asked in someone else’s voice. Someone Dean had never expected to hear again.

A surge of anger finally washed the haze of want out of his mind, but Dean forced himself not to turn around. “Not interested. And stay the fuck out of my head.” He’d known she could be what any man wanted, but he hadn’t expected her to pluck that part of the image out of his mind.

She sighed again, this time in regret, and the table shifted under his hand as she pushed her chair back and stood up.

“Too bad,” she said as she circled into his view. She stopped in front of him, threading one hand into his hair as she tilted his head back. “I think a night with you would have been worth risking your brother’s temper. And even that angel of yours.”

Dean let her her kiss him ― hell, Dean thoroughly enjoyed her kissing him ― before she let him go and vanished into the crowd of men filling up the place.

Whatever dreams he had that night, they were clearly the fault of whatever mojo the succubus had worked on him, and he put them out of his head as quickly as he could.

* * *

They’d only meant to stop for gas, but it only took a few seconds to realize that this little town had some big-time problems. The streets were mostly empty. Only a few people were out, scurrying from door to door, darting nervous glances over their hunched shoulders. They practically flinched when the Winchesters drove past them on the street. Sam and Dean exchanged glances full of silent warning as Dean pulled up at the gas station: Be ready for anything. Something’s rotten in this town.

Sam climbed out of the car when Dean did, wordlessly making his way to the small gas bar attached to the station. Dean stayed by the pumps, keeping watch as the tank filled. He had the car idling and ready to go by the time Sam emerged. The grim twist to Sam’s mouth told Dean that he wasn’t going to like what Sam had learned.

“Witches,” Sam said shortly as he folded himself into his seat and slammed the door behind him. “Drive.”

Dean swore and pulled out of the station as Sam reported what he’d learned. It wasn’t much but it was still pretty conclusive. Goddamn, but Dean hated witches.

They cruised down the town’s main strip, tossing out potential starting points for the hunt when Dean caught sight of a familiar face.

“Awesome,” he said as he braked to a sharp stop, parking hastily at the side of the road. “We might get to play second string on this one for a change.”

“Dean? What’s going on?” Sam asked, confused by the abrupt change of direction. “Why are we - hey, is that Chris?”

“Sure is,” Dean replied, getting out of the car and leading the way across the street.

Chris had started hunting for much the same reasons their father had, though he’d lost both wife and son in his introduction to the supernatural. Dean had worked with him a few times over the years and knew just how deadly the son of a bitch could be. If he was already on the witches’ trail, the problem was well in hand.

Chris watched their approach with a thin-lipped smile, offering a terse, “Boys,” by way of greeting.

The grey-haired man at his side was friendlier, grinning widely as they walked up. “You must be the Winchesters. Good to meet you.”

“We must,” Dean agreed, nodding acknowledgement. “Been a while, Chris. Figured we ought to come say ‘Hi,’ when I noticed you over there. Thought maybe you could tell us if there’s anything here worth sticking around for?”

He wasn’t entirely surprised when Chris shook his head firmly. “Nothing at all. You two might as well be on your way.”

“You sure?” Sam asked. “We’re not on a tight schedule and I bet this place gets livelier at night.”

“I think Grey and I are about all this town can handle,” Chris answered, jerking a thumb at the guy beside him. “You may as well get a few more hours of driving in before dark.”

Dean and Sam shrugged at each other and conceded. They had other places to be and trying to help where they weren’t wanted would cause more problems than it would solve. Dean really fucking hated dealing with witches, anyhow. They wished Chris and his partner good luck and headed out. Dean didn’t give it much more thought until the pleasantly boring dream he’d been having that night took an odd turn.

“You know, I don’t like witches either,” Grey announced as he wandered over to claim the empty half of Dean’s park bench. “But that’s not the only thing we have in common.”

“Oh yeah?” Dean stretched an arm across the back of the bench and propped his chin against his fist. His dreams were still full of weird shit these days, but it was better than hell flashbacks. “So what else is there?”

“We have a mutual friend,” Grey answered. “Or had, I suppose.”

“Had?” Suddenly this dream was looking a lot less innocuous.

“The little idiot went and got himself killed.” Grey sounded equal parts sad, fond, and annoyed.

“You’ll have to be a bit more specific than that,” Dean said. Too many people he’d known fit that description.

That was when he noticed the feather that Grey was twirling between two fingers ― a single flight feather, nearly as long as Dean’s forearm, shining a dozen shades of gold. The damn thing was nearly glowing.

Dean’s head snapped up to find Grey staring at him intently, eyes gone nearly as gold as the feather he was holding.

“Y’see, Winchester, that’s one of the other things you have I have in common ― a habit of befriending wayward angels.”

Wayward angels? There were only a couple of angels with which Dean had been anything approaching friendly, and only one of those two had spent any significant time dirtside before meeting him. Only one of them was dead now because he'd chosen to act on their side.

He swallowed to ease his suddenly dry throat. Any friend of Gabriel’s was probably very, very dangerous. “So what's your connection?”

Grey just shrugged and grinned again, flashing teeth. “Someone had to teach him how to be a trickster.”

A trickster. A trickster with shaggy grey hair, gold eyes and a smile full of sharp-looking teeth. ...Wonderful. Because there weren’t enough deity-level mythological figures taking an interest in Dean’s life already.

“So what do you want with me?” Dean challenged.

“Not a thing,” Coyote answered cheerfully. “In fact, I’m here to give you something.”

“Give me something.” Because that didn’t have the potential to end horribly or anything.

“Don’t look so worried! I’m giving it to you, but it’s not for you,” Coyote said and held out the feather.

Dean eyed it suspiciously and made no move to touch it. “What is it? And what am I supposed to do with it?”

Coyote nodded approvingly. “Excellent questions. To answer: A long time ago, Gabriel-then-Loki gifted me with a tiny piece of his former divinity ― his Grace, I think you’d call it.”

Dean sucked in a sharp breath.

“Even playing pagan, he had plenty to spare. He called it a token of gratitude. I called it the biggest favour-in-waiting I’d ever seen. But I’ve had little need for miracles, so here it remains. And I think our friend could really use one right about now, don’t you?”

“You’re holding on to that kind of power and you’d give it up? For him? Why?” Most of the creatures Dean had met would have killed to get their hands on what Coyote was offering to give away.

“Whatever else he was, Gabriel made an excellent trickster.” Coyote shrugged. “Why should I hold on to this little piece of him when the world is much more interesting with him in it?”

“Awfully generous of you but I don’t know what good you think it’ll do him. Gabriel’s dead,” Dean pointed out.

“Oh, Lucifer certainly gave it a good try,” Coyote said. “But tricksters aren’t easy to kill. And archangels even less so. Gabriel’s not quite beyond saving yet. You should know.”

“Me? How should I know?”

Coyote flashed that alarming grin again and leaned forward to tap the tip of the feather against Dean’s nose. “Come on. You didn’t really think you’ve been just dreaming all of this time, did you?”

When Dean sneezed himself awake, the feather was lying on the pillow next to his face, gleaming in the dim light of their hotel room.

* * *

Sam was entirely to blame for the exhibition of spirit photography. Dean would have been perfectly happy to point and mock in passing, but Sam got it into his head that they should attend the show. He thought they should investigate whether or not the pictures were real. Dean could have cared less if the photographer was a charlatan ― or worse, a True Believer ― but Sam eventually talked him into it. The ad promised free food and an open bar, and Sam was quick to remind him that such shows always drew a crowd of gullible young women along with the devout fanatics and the equally hardcore skeptics.

It turned out to be an interesting evening in the end. Dean had seen ― hell, Dean had taken ― better pictures of spirit phenomena, but he’d grant that the person who took these pictures was a skilled photographer. Even the fake ones looked good. Add some tasty food, decent booze and a small flock of girls hanging on Dean’s every word...well, he’d spent far worse nights.

The real showstopper of the evening was a picture the photographer had snapped in a church. Even Sam and Dean had been impressed by that one. Taken on its own merits, it was a beautiful picture ― light streaming through a stained glass window, casting a robed figure into silhouette. But something ― some trick of the light, of the dust, of Photoshop ― had brushed ripples of brightness into the air above the priest knelt in prayer. Sam and Dean knew better and even they half-believed the artist’s claim that she’d photographed an angel.

Dean’s subconscious took the gallery imagery and ran with it, presenting him with an endless array of picture-lined halls the next time he fell asleep. Very few of the pictures were as pretty as what he’d seen hanging at the exhibition, but then again, very little of Dean’s life could be described as ‘pretty’. He was wandering from frame to frame, wondering at the dream reasoning that had selected these snapshots from his memory, when he heard another set of footsteps echoing from the room he’d just exited. Dean went still and waited.

“Our wings don’t really look like that,” Gabriel’s voice commented a minute later.

About time he showed up! Dean had been trying to trigger a Gabriel dream ever since his little chat with Coyote, but even mostly dead, Gabriel was the same perverse bastard he’d always been. It’d been weeks without so much as a flicker. In the meantime, Dean had tucked the feather away almost as soon as he’d found it, unsure what to say to Sam about the whole situation.

So, I had a visit from Coyote last night. The trickster, not the scavenger. Yeah, he popped in for a little dreamwalk. Said that Gabriel’s not completely dead, by the way, and he thinks I can resurrect him with this nifty feather. Because I’ve been dreaming about him for months - oh, didn’t I mention that?

Yeah, not a conversation Dean saw himself having with his brother. Sam had some very firm opinions where Gabriel was concerned, and that was an argument Dean would just as soon avoid.

He shook his head and ambled back the way he’d come, walking into the previous room to see Gabriel staring pensively up at the picture from the exhibition, the priest silhouetted against stained glass and surrounded by a tracery of light.

“So what do they look like?” Dean asked as he crossed the room to stand at Gabriel’s side. The closest he’d come to seeing an angel’s wings were the shadows Cas had cast for show that first time in the barn.

Gabriel considered the question, eyes losing focus as he thought. “Folded sunlight,” he finally said. “When I flew, they sounded like a song...I used to know the sound. But I can’t remember it now.”

Dean had to clear his throat before he could speak. “Hum a few bars,” he suggested hoarsely. “Maybe it’ll come back to you.”

Gabriel snorted a quick laugh but stayed quiet, shoulders bowing inwards as a lost look crept across his face.

...And right then is when Dean stopped caring about how this resurrection thing was supposed to work or if he should even try. He reached into his jacket without thinking, fingers closing on the soft warmth of the feather he knew he’d find there.

Gabriel’s eyes went wide as Dean pulled it out of his pocket. “What is - how did you get that?”

“Gift from a friend of yours,” Dean answered, holding it out to him. “I think you owe him two now.”

If Gabriel had an answer to that, Dean didn’t hear it because as soon as Gabriel’s fingers touched the feather, the world exploded.

* * *

Dean woke up in literally blinding agony. It felt like someone had set his brain on fire. He curled around the hurt as best he could, clutching desperately at the sides of his head to hold it together. He could barely breathe around the pain knifing through his skull.

His frantic gasping must have woken Sam ― Dean could feel the terrified grip of familiar hands on his shoulders. He couldn’t answer Sam’s panicked questions, though. He could barely hear them. Fortunately for them both, Sam had the bright idea to call Cas for help. Those blue eyes were the first thing Dean had seen clearly since waking, and even better was the gentle tap on his forehead that sent him tumbling into welcome darkness.

It took over a day for Dean’s vision to clear. It took almost three for the headache to fade. Sam was kind enough to wait until Dean was feeling better before he started yelling, backed up by Cas’ silent censure. Dean let them tear him a new one; he knew he’d be furious if Sam had pulled something this boneheaded.

“So what happened?” Sam asked after he’d shouted himself out. “I mean, did it work?”

“I don’t know,” Dean sighed and rubbed a hand over his still-tender eyes. “It’s not like they handed me the how-to manual or anything. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. If Gabriel’s back, it should be pretty obvious, right?”

Nothing about Gabriel had ever been simple, why should this be any different?

* * *

Dean made sure to leave a note for Sam before he slipped out of their motel room. Sam would freak if Dean disappeared on him, but Dean was going to start climbing the walls if he stared at the ceiling for one more minute. Let Sam catch up on his sleep. Dean would take a drive to clear his head before trying again for his own rest. It was a nice night for that, at least. Dean rolled his window down and enjoyed the flow of the night breeze over his heated cheeks.

When a voice suddenly said, “Don’t turn around,” from the backseat, Dean almost drove into the ditch. He started to shoot a reflexive glance at the rearview mirror as he steered the car straight again, but he froze at a sharp command from behind him.

“Don’t look back!”

This time Dean recognized the voice.

“Gabriel? What the fuck are you doing in my backseat? And where the hell have you been?” It took some effort to keep his eyes focused forward, especially with the awareness of just how vulnerable he was prickling across the back of his neck.

“I’d be giving directions, if you’d shut up for a second, Dean. And give a guy a break, would you? This isn’t as easy as it looks. Or not-looks, as the case may be. Take the next left.”

“So why can’t I look back?” Dean asked as he let Gabriel direct them deeper into the flat countryside.

There was a long, hesitant pause before: “Belief is a funny thing. Powerful as all get out but really, really fragile. Let’s just say that now’s not the time to be doubting, okay?”

Dean's hands tightened on the wheel as he struggled against the nearly overwhelming urge to look behind him and see what was there. The thought of what might not be there kept him facing forward. “Fair enough, Eurydice.”

Gabriel’s laugh was as bright as Dean remembered it. “I’ve heard you sing in the shower, Dean. You’re no Orpheus.”

“Fuck you, I sound fantastic.” And Dean would totally have popped in a tape to prove it if it wouldn’t have drowned out Gabriel’s directions.

About ten minutes later, surrounded by wheat fields in the middle of nowhere, Gabriel said, “Okay, pull over here. We have to go the rest of the way on foot.”

“Just tell me we’re not where I think we are,” Dean requested as he obediently directed the car to the side of the rough dirt road. Wheat fields were a dime a dozen out here, but there was one particular field Dean had been careful to avoid since he and Sam got here.

“No can do!” Gabriel answered gleefully.

“Come on, my life’s not weird enough already?” Dean complained as he climbed out of the car, careful not to look behind him. “Besides, you did the alien joke already.”

“Who says this is one of mine?”

“Bullshit, it’s not. Who else would make a crop circle and spike it with the kind of ongoing weirdness that keeps the yahoos coming back for more research year after year?” Actual scientific research teams sent out to measure the difference in seed growth rate? For real? It fucking better be the result of Gabriel’s work and not just some dumbasses with boards, some rope and too much time on their hands.

“Okay, so I might have tweaked things a little bit. But can you blame me? If they’re going to make such a spectacle by investigating, who am I to deny them?”

There were days when Dean wondered just how many of the world’s mysteries could be explained by Gabriel’s attempts to entertain himself. If he thought he stood a snowball’s chance of getting a straight answer, he’d have asked about it.

“Do I need anything?” he asked instead, wondering about the small collection of items he’d stuffed into a nondescript sack in the trunk. A DVD, a gaudy keychain, some candy wrappers, a matchbook, a glossy pamphlet ― just a handful of things Dean had picked up along the way and hadn’t quite had the heart to throw out. At the time, he’d had the vague notion that someone ought to remember Gabriel and what he’d done. In retrospect, he was starting to wonder if they didn’t have some other significance.

“Just your fine self,” Gabriel answered lightly.

Dean snorted as he set off into the field, stalks rasping against his legs. “I’m already doing what you want. You don’t need to sweet talk me into cooperating.”

The sounds of his own passage covered up any noise that might be made by someone following in his tracks, and his skin was crawling with nervous tension. Going out into the middle of nowhere alone and leaving his back open to something that might be Gabriel was another one of those stunts he’d have killed Sam for pulling. Seeing a break in the stalks ahead was a relief. Maybe they were finally getting close to whatever it was Gabriel had brought them out here to find.

“So now what?” Dean asked as he took a step out onto the flattened grain.

“You know how I mentioned the power of belief before?”


“You weren’t the only one I was talking about.”

“What are you doing in there?” someone shouted before Dean could demand more details.

Dean nearly tripped over his own feet as a woman in coveralls came hurtling out of the darkness and flapped her arms at him.

“Get out of there! You’re going to ruin all of our results!”

“If you could just get out of the circle, please, sir,” requested another person in coveralls, laying a hand on the excitable woman’s shoulder.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Dean promised as he hastily backed away.

“How did you even get in here?” demanded the woman. “The whole area is cordoned off!”

“Not the whole area,” Dean protested, pointing back the way he’d come. “I, uh, got lost. So I pulled off the road and started walking. Figured I’d hit a farmhouse eventually.”

A sudden burst of laughter at his side startled him and he automatically looked over...just as an arm wrapped itself around his waist.

“Don’t even try for an excuse ― you’re an embarrassingly bad liar,” Gabriel scolded as he tucked himself into Dean’s side, positively beaming when Dean just gaped down at him.

“Sorry about this,” he added to the researchers still staring at them. “He’s just such a big fan of work like yours. Can’t keep him away from a circle when he hears about it. We just had to stop and check in on this one while we were in the area.” He squeezed Dean until he stammered something that hopefully sounded more like embarrassed agreement than total astonishment.

“I can understand your interest but this is not the place or time,” the first researcher scolded. “We’ll be publishing our results later this year, you can learn all about it then.”

Dean nodded and pasted an expectant expression on his face, but they could keep their fucking crop circle. Dean had far more pressing questions he wanted answered. Like what the fuck had just happened here?

“Oh, sure! Sorry about the trouble,” Gabriel apologized and the hell of it was, if you didn’t know better, you’d believe the little bastard actually meant that.

“Yeah, we’ll just...be on our way,” Dean added, looping his arm around Gabriel’s neck and tugging him away.

Walking one in front of the other would have made it easier to weave through the stalks but Dean left his arm draped over Gabriel’s shoulders as he steered them back towards the car. Dean didn’t have a hope of hanging on to Gabriel if the guy had had even a fraction of his power restored to him, but Dean didn’t want him feeling entirely free to fuck off without explaining things either. Gabriel didn’t seem to mind the contact. In fact, he wasn’t in any hurry to reclaim his arm either, keeping a solid, warm grip around Dean’s waist.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Dean shook his head and pinned Gabriel with a sidelong stare. “Belief is a funny thing?”

“Funny but effective!” Gabriel replied, tilting his head back against Dean’s arm to grin up at him. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

He was. He really was. Dean still didn’t know how Gabriel had pulled it off, but he thought that maybe this was the kind of miracle he could believe in.

* * *

“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.” ~ James Allen

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