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[personal profile] daymarket
Title: Stairway From Zion
Rating: So R
Warnings: Mentions of torture. Violence, war scenes, cursing, drug withdrawal, medical experimentation, species prejudice, sex. 
Wordcount: 63k (oh my god what is wrong with me)
Summary: Orwellian AU. During the same raid that had Castiel crashing through the windshield of Dean’s getaway car, Dean loses both Sam and Anna to the hands of the angels. Human and angel should hate each other as circumstances dictate, but life has a funny way of changing the preordained path.

~*~

1.1: Castiel

The raid on the dealers’ den goes off without a hitch. From beginning to end, it takes no more than an hour of the angels’ time, with a full warehouse of Croat and four dealers to show for it. One of the dealers was shot in the skirmish, but the other three are kneeling with their hands laced behind their heads. Castiel watches them, waiting for Uriel to finish his sweep of the warehouse.

Arel salutes him briefly as she walks out of the warehouse. “Nearly sixteen hundred pounds of uncut Croat, sergeant,” she reports. Castiel gives her a small nod of acknowledgement as he turns his attention back to the dealers. Now that he’s looking for it, he can see the faint pinpricks on their arms where they’ve injected themselves with the drug.

Castiel looks up as the sound of screaming greets his ears. Uriel comes out of the warehouse, bodily hauling a thrashing woman who’s no doubt high out of her mind on Croat. “Let me go!” the woman screams as Uriel fights to keep a hold on her. “Damon, help me, help me—”

That seems to be the cue for the three on the ground to break into frenzied action. Castiel throws his wings open, catching one of the dealers square in the face with the flat surface of his wing as the man attempts to make a break for freedom. He falls to the ground, rivulets of blood streaming down his face from where the wing cut him. The other two men have lunged for Uriel, fighting to wrest the woman from his grasp. Arel moves to Uriel’s rescue, hauling one of the men away and stabbing him hard in the neck with a hypothermic needle, or hypo. The woman and the other man crawl to their knees, clutching each other with a tight grip as Uriel advances onto them. “Melissa—” the man breathes. Their mouths make contact for a brief moment before Uriel kicks them apart.

Castiel snaps his wings shut and turns his attention to the man at his feet. He studies him clinically for a moment and judges that the wounds are non-fatal before putting him out with a hypo to the neck. “Uriel,” he says without looking up at the strangled cries of the man. “Sedate them and be done with it.”

The man falls silent, and Castiel turns his gaze back onto the woman. She falters and drops heavily to the ground, crawling forward towards Castiel. Uriel intercepts her before she gets there, pulling her roughly back onto her knees. “Please,” she whimpers, her bottom lip trembling. “Don’t—don’t—

She never completes the sentence, breaking down instead into wordless tears. Castiel ignores her needless hysterics and gives Uriel a nod. She struggles weakly, but the tranquilizer of the hypo works efficiently enough that she’s out within seconds. The three angels stand around the slumped bodies of four humans, ready for transportation back to the Nest of Purity.

Rachel walks over calmly from where she was cataloging the crates of Croat. “Shall I put out the call, sir?”

Castiel nods. “We’re done here. We’ll need one transport for the Croat and another for the humans.”

Rachel obeys, calling the Nest of Justice. A few minutes later a disposal team drives up in a transport. Humans in white biohazard suits jump out and start loading the Croat into the vehicles, while a second patrol of the Host loads the prisoners into a transport van. Castiel dismisses the humans from his mind and instead regards the plain metal crates as they’re carted one by one into the truck. Each one contains over a hundred vials of clear Croat, enough to keep a hard-core junkie going for months.

He’s never quite understood the appeal of it. Croat supposedly stimulates the production of adrenaline in the body, causing an increased heartrate, sharpened senses, and above all, an addictive high. Still, the benefits hardly outweigh the cons: increased irritability, high suicide rates, dangerously high heartrates. There’s no way to bring someone down from it, either, no drug or antidote that can counteract its effects except time. And yet, it’s increasingly popular among the rebels and one of the biggest nuisances the angels have to deal with, as if they didn’t have enough to do already. The demon underground that produces it never hurts for lack of a market.

“Lord, what fools these mortals be,” Uriel said as if reading Castiel’s thoughts.

“Croat is a plague upon our people,” Castiel agrees automatically, walking over to examine the crates. “These are forty-percent potency,” he adds, pointing to a discreet label on the boxes. “Their addictions are worsening.”

“Once a Croat, always a Croat,” Uriel says dismissively. “They strengthen the demons’ hold upon them. Letting them rejoin the flock is a mistake.”

Castiel looks at him steadily. He and Uriel have been comrades for a long time and that permits a certain freedom of conversation between them, but there’s a line between comradeship and direct defiance of the Word. “Rehabilitation is the Father’s decision,” he points out mildly. “We aren’t worthy to question his commands.”

“Of course,” Uriel says, looking away.

They don’t say anything else, standing in silence until the disposal team finishes loading. Arel and Rachel join them, their wings already unsheathed from their holsters. “All done, sir,” Rachel says. “Do we act as transport guards?”

Castiel shakes his head; he’s already discussed this with the transport supervisor. “No,” he says, unsheathing his own wings and shaking the gleaming steel feathers out. “Zachariah wants us back at headquarters as soon as we’ve finished here. Let’s go.”

He catches the supervisor’s eye, and the man gives a short nod. Castiel gives the signal and the four of them take flight, setting a course back towards the Nest of Peace. The flight back is quiet, and the beat of the steel wings is almost like a second heartbeat as they move up and down through the air. Castiel takes the peace while he can, but he also sets a hard pace back towards headquarters. Zachariah doesn’t often summon them, but it’s nearly always urgent.

It takes about ten minutes of direct flight to arrive at the Nest of Peace. Zachariah is waiting for them in the courtyard, watching them approach and land. “I received the supervisor’s report,” Zachariah greets Castiel as they assemble themselves into formation. “Good work.”

“Thank you, sir,” Castiel demurs. “We were only doing our duty.”

“Castiel,” Zachariah says, shaking his head slightly in admonishment. “Don’t think so little of yourself. Your squad has done excellent work since your promotion, and I believe that you will continue to perform as well in the future.”

“I have my team to thank for it,” Castiel says, staring straight ahead.

“Yes. But you’ve lead them well since…well.” Zachariah’s lips press together into a thin line. “Perhaps this conversation should take place elsewhere,” he decides. “In a more private locale, perhaps. Follow me.”

He begins to walk back towards HQ, a set of blocky gray buildings across the barracks yard. Zachariah remains silent as he leads them to his office in the headquarters. Castiel repositions himself to stand at attention as Zachariah seats himself behind the expansive desk, and the others line up behind him.

“The Nest of Omniscience intercepted these photos yesterday,” the seraph says, sliding a manila envelope across the desk. “We have a lead on Anael.”

Castiel doesn’t say anything and neither do any of the others, but he can feel the sudden tension in the air. He reaches out for the envelope, opens it, and pulls out half a dozen black-and-white photos—security photos. After looking at each one, he passes them to the others, where they receive the same intense scrutiny. “Yes, sir,” he says when he’s done with all six. It’s a good phrase: punctuation, waiting for Zachariah to speak again.

“Those photos were taken on the outskirts of Zion by a border patrol,” Zachariah says. His lip curls slightly in contempt, showing teeth. “The men in that picture—the one with the long hair’s been identified as Samuel Winchester. He’s a Croat, a dealer, and a hunter.”

Castiel tilts his head slightly as he considers the name: Winchester. He’s heard that before somewhere. “Sir,” he says slowly. “Any relation to John Winchester?”

Zachariah rewards him with a tight nod. “His father, actually. Formerly one of the Chosen, but…you can see how that worked out. There’s also a brother, Dean Winchester.” Zachariah takes the photos back, rifles through them, and holds a particular one up. “You’ve recognized Crowley, certainly,” he says a little dryly. “No doubt arranging another contract for Croat. We’ve been unable to ID the other one,” he says, pointing at a little figure whose face is hidden in shadows, “but we’re fairly certain that it’s Dean. Two of them are as thick as thieves. And of course, there’s Anael.” He points to a woman with long shadowed hair, her face clearly outlined even in the poor lighting.

Zachariah tosses the photo back onto the table and leans back in his chair. “Our intelligence says they’ve set up a rendezvous at the abandoned factory near Virtue Street. You know the one—it used to make construction equipment until it was appropriated for the good of the Republic. We don’t know the time of the meeting, but we do know it’s tomorrow.”

Castiel nods. “Yes, sir.”

“Your objective,” Zachariah says. “Interrupt the meeting. Try not to terminate anyone, as we’ll need them alive for questioning. This goes doubly for Crowley, if he’s there, or any of the other leaders of the underground—Alistair, Lilith, so on and so forth. And of course, Anael.” Zachariah steeples his fingers. “We’ll definitely want her alive. So she can relearn the Father’s infinite…love.”

“Of course, sir,” Castiel says obediently, ignoring the sudden chill that moves up his spine. “Will we be working alone?”

Zachariah raises an eyebrow. “Do you think you need backup?” When Castiel doesn’t reply, Zachariah’s gaze latches onto him for a long moment before examining each of the other angels in turn. “You should know,” Zachariah says at last, “that you’ve been chosen specifically for your prior knowledge of Anael. You know her movements. You know the way she’ll act. You’re the best people possible to predict her actions and apprehend her on the spot.” He pauses. “Can you handle that?”

Castiel stands up straighter at the questioning of his ability. “Of course,” he says.

“Good, then,” Zachariah says, leaning back in his chair. “At any rate, sergeant, no, you won’t be working alone. This is a big mission, and we’re pulling out two other squads to join you. Twelve should be enough to take them apart. And remember—do try not to terminate. We want them alive for the Nest of Love.”

Castiel raps out another crisp, “Yes, sir!” Zachariah’s eyes linger for a moment longer before he nods and dismisses them. Castiel walks stiffly out of the office, trying to shake the itch between his shoulderblades as the seraph’s eyes follow them out the door.

They actually make it all the way to the main barracks before Arel snaps. She’s the newest of them all, having only joined the squad after Anael’s betrayal. She’s a genius with explosives and pyrotechnics but lacks a distressing amount of self-control. “Sergeant?” she asks as they’re putting away their equipment in the locker room.

“Do your duty, Arel,” Castiel answers without looking at her. “That’s all the Republic requires from you.”

Arel falls silent, but Castiel can tell that she’s not satisfied with this answer, not at all. He sighs, wondering how best to handle this. “She’s an angel who lost faith,” he says at last. “She was our former sergeant, as you may know, but she turned her back against the Republic and the Father.” He finally turns to look at her, meeting her gaze. “She’ll be punished, of course.”

“Loved,” Uriel rumbles, and Castiel gives a short nod in acknowledgement of his mistake. Of course; the Father’s love isn’t punishment at all. “The Nest of Love never forgets, Arel,” Uriel says, picking up the narrative where Castiel left off. “She’ll return to glory soon enough.”

Arel looks a little pale, and for a moment Castiel thinks that they’ve told her too much. Her mouth opens slightly, but the next moment she says a quiet, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” and the moment passes. Rachel, who’s been quiet during all this, finishes polishing her dagger and heads out to the practice grounds for a little hand-to-hand combat. Arel takes her leave as well, leaving Castiel with Uriel.

“Can you handle this, brother?” Castiel asks finally, looking directly at the other angel. Uriel sneers at him.

“Can you?” he retorts, and Castiel gives a small shrug. “You were her second-in-command.”

“I do my duty,” Castiel says. “It is what it is. But your judgment is clouded, Uriel.”

“Why do you say that?” Uriel says sharply.

“The Father will judge her,” Castiel says calmly, “so who are you to decide beforehand?”

Uriel makes a short, ironic bow, his hand held over his heart. “I, of course, have faith in the Father,” he says. “But we’re angels, and it’s our duty to convey his love, don’t you think?”

Castiel gives a little sigh. “Try not to get anyone killed, brother,” he advises wearily.

“Mud monkeys, kill me?” Uriel says, using the common epithet for the Croat rebels.

“I was thinking the other way around,” Castiel informs him, and Uriel gives a short bark of laughter. “You heard what Zachariah ordered. No termination.”

“As always, I hear and obey,” Uriel says. And it’s true—Uriel always obeys. They all do. That’s what it means, to be angel: obedience to the seraphs, obedience to the Father, obedience to the Republic.

It’s just that some are more enthusiastic in their pursuit of obedience than others.

Castiel doesn’t hear the door close as Uriel walks out. Instead, he pulls his steel wings out of their sheath and takes time to polish them meticulously, cleaning the steel feathers until they gleam. It’s soothing work, and he loses himself in the monotony of motion.

~*~

That night, Castiel finds himself on edge and unable to fall asleep, turning restlessly in his bunk. The soft rhythm of the others’ breathing is normally a soothing chorus, but tonight he finds himself unable join it. Rising, he pads out of the communal sleeping quarters and into the main room. He sits down at the table set there, staring fixedly at the metallic gray surface. Zachariah has faith in him, and he’s not required to think anyhow. All he has to do is his duty, and that’s enough.

Right?

Castiel inhales sharply and pushes himself away from the table, pacing restlessly across the room. Closing his eyes, he draws up dull and murky memories of Anael. Her eyes, her expression. He should have known, he should have reported her when she could still be saved. And now she’s beyond redemption, and the only thing that awaits her is the Nest of Love, and he might have to—he—

You’re thinking too much, Castiel, he chides himself. Who is he to question the will of the Father? He’s an angel, and all he has to do is to follow orders. Crash the rendezvous. Capture the people involved. Bring them back to the Nest of Love so that they can literally be dissected alive.

Right…

Castiel shakes himself, absolutely appalled. What the—no. No. He’s doubting. He’s…who is he to question the Father? And if he’s questioning, disobedience can’t be far behind, and then next thing you know he’ll be Falling, just like Anael did—

Castiel hurries to open the cabinet on the wall, pulling out a small metal box with clumsy fingers. The box is separated into compartments, with each compartment containing a dose of Grace. One a day is usually sufficient, but for situations like these, well, another one seems appropriate. He fills a glass of water from the tap and swallows one of the little white pills, closing his eyes as it goes down.

Grace works quickly. Castiel feels his heartbeat calming almost immediately, and his fingers loosen their tight grip on the glass. He feels a coat of cool, glassy calm settle over him, smoothing out his chaotic thoughts: he’s a soldier. The past is past. Only the Father is real.

He closes the box and puts it back in the cabinet. This time, when he settles back into his bunk, he falls asleep almost immediately.

~*~

He arrives back at the barracks before the dawn call. The others are already up, and he nods in approval as he sees that they’re already equipped and ready to go. The other sergeants, Muriel and Phariel, arrive a few minutes after the dawn call with their respective squads. Phariel has a blueprint of the old factory, and they spend a few minutes reviewing their positions before the order officially comes for departure. “Ready to go?” Muriel asks as she unsheathes her wings. Castiel answers her with a short nod.

Zachariah himself comes to see them off. Twelve pairs of wings unfurl towards the sky, the sun glinting dully off the shaded steel. They’ve already coated them in camouflage paint to dull the reflection, but still, it’s an awe-inspiring sight. As he takes flight, Castiel can’t remember why he doubted the night before or that he ever considered disobedience. How anyone could turn their backs on this, he’ll never know.

They descend half a mile away from Virtue Street; flying in is far too conspicuous. Three civilian vehicles are already parked and waiting for them. The drive is short, but Castiel takes the opportunity to map out the possible angles of attack in his head. The Grace he took this morning helps him with that, as it turns everything crisp and clear and into cool logical lines. Muriel parks first, a block away from the warehouse. When her squad comes out, they’re virtually indistinguishable from ordinary civilians with their equipment tucked away in the trunk. Castiel and his men follow suit; they’ll be positioned across the street, while Phariel and his men will take the perimeter and sky.

“Beta squad, it’s a go.” Muriel says. She’s in position; time for them to move.

“Let’s go,” Castiel announces, sliding out of the car.

It’s a cool day, which just the right amount of breeze. They settle into position across the street, and Castiel begins the wait.

~*~

Up in the sky, Phariel’s the first one to see them. “Incoming,” he says.

Castiel signals silently to his team, and he notes with approval the smooth coordination with which they assume their positions. Castiel’s positioned near the door; of the ground forces, he’s the first one to see the humans exit the car. Three exit from the backseat, two from the front. The one in the front passenger seat has long brown hair and a familiar face. “ID on Sam Winchester,” Castiel breathes. “Keep an eye out for Dean.”

“Demons are coming round the back,” one of Phariel’s team reports. “Two hired idiots and Crowley himself.”

“More from the side,” Muriel says. “No side of Anael yet, though.”

Castiel closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, allowing the calm from the Grace he took earlier that morning to seep through him. When the humans step through the door, they’re close enough to his hiding place that he can almost lean forward and touch them as he goes by. Three men enter—the other two must have stayed outside, then. Muriel’s voice in his earpiece reports that three others have entered from the side exit, while Crowley and two of his goons have come in from the back. That makes nine people inside the warehouse, with at least four more outside.

Well. Twelve angels. Thirteen humans and demons. It should be simple.

The warehouse is a dank, gloomy maze of old boxes and decrepit machinery. Castiel moves slightly to keep the humans in his view, careful to stay in the shadows. “Arel, Rachel: intercept the demons. Muriel, take your squad and cut off the exits. Uriel, with me: we’ll take the humans. Phariel, keep your squad in the air, tell—”

Castiel blinks as a shadow appears at the end of the aisle. It’s a dog, ears up and teeth bared as it stares at him. Castiel wonders briefly just how the dog got past them, but puts it aside as a problem to worry about either. Well. The humans weren’t completely stupid, then—Castiel knows that in the next half-second, the dog will bark and their initial advantage. Well, they’ll just have to move faster, then. In the milliseconds left to him, Castiel makes a new decision, raises his gun, and shoots one of the humans through the neck. The stun hypo dissolves without a trace just as the dog starts to bark.

“Canine,” Uriel growls. He switches guns with a quick, fluid motion and silences it before it can bark again. The warning’s already out, though, and the humans and demons burst into frenzied activity. Castiel knows without hearing it that Phariel and his squad will be moving to cut off the exits and mop up the ones left outside. He moves, calm instinct guiding his motions as he fires twice more, each hypo taking down another rebel. They’re scattering now, making a run for the shadows. Castiel picks his target—a short, dark haired woman. As she turns and runs, he follows in pursuit, his gun steady by his side.

The warehouse is big, and she’s small and slight enough to slip into crevices that Castiel can’t manage. He loses her somewhere around a stack of girders, unable to discern her shape in the gloom. Sight’s useless—he closes his eyes and allows his hearing to dominate his senses. His own heartbeat overwhelms him for a moment—he pushes it aside and lets the other sounds flood his ears.

There. There’s a soft, very subtle hitch in breathing. He raises his gun, aims for the sound and—

Someone barrels into him, knocking his arm off-target and slamming him into the wall. Castiel shakes his head, momentarily disoriented before slamming his elbow into the attacker’s guts. His attacker’s big with a definite size advantage, but the tremble in his arms as he catches hold of Castiel tells him that he’s dealing with a Croat user. They fall to the ground in a tangle of limbs—Castiel gains his footing first, twists the man’s arm back behind his back and shoves him up against the wall.

He’s fumbling for his stun gun with his free hand when a slender hand grabs hold of his hand and twists. Castiel lets go of the man as pain floods his arm, stumbling back and staring up into the eyes of the woman that he was chasing. She doesn’t hesitate before she clocks him around the jaw, sending him falling to the ground.

Castiel rolls to his feet and regains his balance just as she attacks. She’s got a knife and knows how to use it: the first arc of the knife barely misses his face, and the second slices through the arm of his uniform to reveal a thin line of blood. Castiel blocks the knife with his hand on the third swipe and knocks it out of her hand. She retaliates with a kick to his kneecap that sends him sprawling.

And that’s when Uriel arrives. With cool efficiency, he takes down the man with a hypo to his neck. The second one catches the woman in the back; Castiel watches her fall as he gets to his feet and dusts off his clothing. She’s still within a matter of seconds, and will be out for hours. The next time she wakes, it’ll be in the Nest of Love.

“Good work,” he says to Uriel as he wipes the streak of blood off his arm. “How are the others?”

“Bagged and awaiting the mercy of the Lord,” Uriel says with cold satisfaction.

“As it should be,” Castiel says automatically. He leans down and brushes the man’s long hair out of his face. “This is Sam Winchester,” he says after a moment.

“Still no side of Dean, though,” Uriel says with a frown. He taps his earpiece. “Alpha and beta: apprehended S. Winchester and unknown female. Any sign of Dean?”

“None so far,” Rachel says. “We’ve gotten the rest, though. Exits are blocked; prepare to clear out. Muriel will finish the perimeter check.”

“Copy that,” Uriel says. “We’re on our—”

The gunshot is surprisingly loud. Uriel’s eyes are wide even as he falls to the ground, his final words unspoken. Castiel throws himself to the ground even as a second bullet strikes over his head. “There’s one left,” he growls into his earpiece. He stays close to the ground, his eyes searching the shadows around them. He can hear hurried footsteps—whoever it is isn’t going for subtlety.

“Sam?” a hoarse male voice calls. Castiel shoves himself up from the ground and fires twice in the direction of the sound. He can tell from the sounds that neither of the hypos hit their target.

The sounds of harsh panting quicken. Castiel edges along a decrepit machine, following the moving footsteps. The rebel—Dean, at a guess—is running away, probably towards the exit. Castiel fires off a quick command which Arel acknowledges with a crisp, “Yes, sir.” There’s no way out for Dean, at least not from under the wing of the Host. Castiel jumps over a pile of discarded trash and body slams Dean, shoving him to the ground and forcing the gun out of his hands. Dean reacts quickly, though, rolling over and shoving all his weight against Castiel’s aching wrist. With a hiss of pain, Castiel kicks him off and pulls free, but he drops the stun gun in the process. There’s a frozen moment in which they both stare at it, and then Dean lunges forward and kicks it under a rusting heap of metal.

“You’re trapped,” Castiel pants, ignoring the waves of pain emanating from his wrist. “There’s nothing but the Lord’s mercy left.”

Dean’s eyes flick back and forth, searching for an escape. “Fuck you,” he rasps. “And go to hell while you’re at it, asshole.”

His hand reaches inside his jacket pocket, and Castiel finds himself moving as through molasses as Dean yanks the pin off a grenade and throws it in Castiel’s direction. Castiel has just enough time left to duck as the wall behind him explodes into flame, sending splinters of wood and metal flying. The explosion catches the back of Castiel’s uniform, sending him crashing into the machinery. Dean takes advantage of this and runs for the open air at the other side of the hole, jumping through the burning wood to freedom.

“Dean’s on the run,” he snaps over the com. He does his level best to get up and manages it on the third try despite the roaring in his ears. Gripping the edges of the hole for support, he forces himself out after Dean.

The world outside seems strangely bright, like a film of plastic has been peeled away. It’s also spinning ominously: that explosion did something to his balance. Still, there’s no time to waste in pondering such niceties, not with Dean on the run. He has a few yards’ worth of a head start. Still—where’s he running to? Castiel knows that with Phariel in the air; Dean can’t get far—

A car skids to a halt a few feet ahead of Dean, its doors swinging open as it approaches. Castiel judges the currents of air and unfurls his wings, just managing to catapult himself onto the trunk of the car as it pulls away. His bruised wrist screams in protest as he clings grimly to the trunk, and he has to twist his lower limbs upward as Dean fires two bullets through the windshield, cracking the glass. “Phariel!” he grunts as his grip on the edge of the trunk starts to slip.

“We see you,” Phariel says. “Hang on, Castiel. We’ll catch them before they get to Oldtown.”

Castiel doesn’t bother acknowledging the reply. There’s no time—he’s going to fall if he stays like this. Castiel closes his wings with a snap and throws all his weight against the windshield. As it’s already weakened by the bullets, it splinters—not good enough. Pain blossoms across Castiel’s stomach as Dean fires the gun again, and the impact is almost enough to send him falling off. Somehow, he manages to hold on, and with a titanic effort he rolls over, smashes through the weakened glass, and tumbles heavily into the car. Dean throws himself against Castiel as he lands and pins him flat against the window, twisting his arm up behind his back. Even through the pain, Castiel can feel the cool metal of a gun up against his temple.

“Don’t shoot him!”

Castiel’s breath hitches slightly in shock. Dean’s grip looses slightly, enough for Castiel to turn his head and see a flash of red hair. Anael’s face is white, her eyes wide as she takes him in. “Don’t, Dean,” she says, and Castiel knows in a flash that she’s become weak—and weak is something that the Host should never be.

Dean seems shocked as well. “What the hell, Anna?” he demands, not moving the gun.

“Get us out of here,” Anael snaps to the driver. “Oldtown’s not three minutes away; their air forces will have a hell of a time trying to catch us there.”

Dean’s grip on Castiel tightens. “Sam’s still in there!” he shouts. “We can’t just leave him for those bastards to kill!”

“They won’t kill him, not yet,” Anael says, and a detached part of Castiel’s mind notes that even as a renegade, Anael still does understand how to lie without actually lying. Sam Winchester won’t die. He’ll just wish that he were dead. “Head for Oldtown, now!”

Dean lets out a guttural growl of frustration. “Anna, you better—you better have a plan. God damn you, if you’re just going to let my brother—” His grip on Castiel’s arm tightens as he says the words. Castiel fights against the hold, but he’s weakening and fast.

There’s a heavy bang from above as an angel lands on the roof. Castiel feels rather than hears the thump of landing, and Dean’s shouting seems to come from a long distance away. He sags as Dean lets go of him, his muscles weak and watery for some inexplicable reason. He can feel the slick heat of blood from the bullet wound as it coats his stomach, and in that same instant he knows that he’s not going to survive this. He’s not upset, though. The stark clarity of the Grace leaves no room for dismay.

And so it is, for the glory of Heaven, Castiel thinks muzzily before the pain swallows him and everything goes dark.

~*~

“…shouldn’t even be here. What were you thinking, bringing an angel into HQ…”

“…her fault, don’t blame me. Now how the fuck are we going to get Sam back?”

“…mopping your shit up. This was supposed to be a simple resupply mission, now we’ve got a bunch of crazed junkies on our hands…”

“...should’ve gone into rehab years ago…”

“Will you all just shut up! This isn’t time to—”

“Shut up, Jo. I think he’s waking up.”

Castiel opens his eyes. He closes them again immediately, wincing at the blinding light coming from above. Taking a deep breath, he takes stock of his situation. His wrist and stomach hurt, which is logical considering his recent injuries. What’s not logical is the fact that he’s alive at all.

“Okay, angel,” a brusque male voice says from above him. “Don’t try to move, you’ll rip off your fucking bandages.” Aside: “Not like you can, anyway.”

Castiel tries to move his arms and finds that the statement is true: his wrists are tied to…whatever he’s lying against. Same for his ankles. He makes another try at opening his eyes, this time forcing himself to focus on the colors above him. Long hair—a female face. Two of them.

“I don’t even know why we’re doing this,” a familiar male voice growls, and it takes Castiel a few minutes to recognize Dean’s voice. “We should just kill him and get it over with.”

“You could’ve let him bleed out on the upholstery. I notice you didn’t,” a light male tenor retorts. “So I wouldn’t go around throwing stones if I were you.”

“Oh, stuff it, Gabriel,” Dean snaps, and Castiel vaguely recognizes the name. He grunts and tried to pull free of the restraints, but they remain firmly locked around his limbs. “I’m not going to be babysitting him.”

“You brought him here.”

“Because Anna wanted me to!”

“Well, if you haven’t noticed yet, Anna’s gone!” the other man—Gabriel—snaps. “None of us have time to keep tabs on a renegade angel.”

“And I don’t either, goddamit. Sam’s been captured and I’m sure as hell not going to leave him in there. I don’t know if you understand the concept of family, but—”

“Anael’s been captured?”

It takes a moment for Castiel to realize that that’s his voice. It sounds raspy and deep and he doesn’t recognize it at first. It effectively breaks up the argument, though, as Dean and Gabriel stop arguing to look at him. “You’re surprised?” Dean snaps bitterly. “I thought that was the whole point.”

“He speaks!” Gabriel cries. “Hallelujah, praise the Father and his whole fucking creation. We didn’t even have to get out the pincers.”

The snide tone clicks something in Castiel’s brain, and he twists his head as much as he’s able. He manages to catch a glimpse of the man through the corner of his eye: a short, brown-haired man with a high forehead and a slight curl of his lip. The archangel, Castiel thinks, noting it down. The one who abandoned his post. The one who disappeared. Incidentally, the one who’s supposed to be dead.

Castiel tilts his head, observing him: something’s off; he’s too animated, too vibrant. It takes a few more moments to understand the difference, and the realization causes him to take a deep, painful breath that tugs at his ribs. “You’re off the Grace.”

“You guys are addicted to that stuff,” Gabriel says, waving a finger in his direction. “As bad as demons and their Croat. I’m going teetotal, abandoning the material world and all that.”

“Grace?” Dean demands, echoed by the unknown women. “Fuck. How long before withdrawal hits?”

Grace. Castiel blanks out the babble of questions that follow, doing a few rapid calculations in his head. He doesn’t know how long he’s been out, but Grace is supposed to be taken daily. Castiel takes another deep breath, letting the pain ground himself. He’s not panicking. Grace never allows for panic. If his chest does feel a little tight, it’s a purely physical reaction.

Dean’s voice breaks into his thoughts. “So what’re we going to do with him?” he says. “We can’t just leave him tied up here forever. If we’re not going to kill him, can’t we just supposed to dump him somewhere for the Host to pick up?”

“You can,” Gabriel drawls, “but they’ll kill him when he returns. No angel ever leaves the Host. Well, to be more accurate, no angel ever returns to the Host. Even if they’re captured, the Host will think that they’re…ah…contaminated. It’s safer to eliminate.”

“So what’s going to happen to Anna?” Dean asks, and the mention of Anna does that strange thing to Castiel’s stomach again. “And—Sam. What will they do to Sam?”

A detached part of Castiel notes the undertone of pain in Dean’s voice. Gabriel’s voice is quieter as he replies. “Anna will be killed. Well, they’ll probably torture her first to see what she knows, and then she’ll have a very public execution. Sam…well. They won’t kill him.”

“Just torture. Oh, well, that makes it all so much better,” Dean says.

“Well, they’ll leave him in one piece, if it makes you any better,” Gabriel says.

Castiel’s eyes are closed, but he can hear Dean’s fist striking the wall in frustration. “I’m not babysitting the angel,” Dean announces before he storms out of the room. The room is filled with a tense silence after his departure. Castiel grunts as he tries to pull free of the restraints. Whoever tied him down knew what they were doing, though, and the restraints hold firm.

“Relax, little brother,” Gabriel says, laying a hand on his shoulder. “We’re not going to kill you. Just lay back and enjoy the ride, huh?”

Castiel feels the faint prick of a needle into his arm, and his eyelids droop involuntarily. He fights the sleep back as much as he can. “The Host will find you,” he says, or at least tries to say. His mouth doesn’t seem to be working properly, and the last few words come out as a garbled mess.

Gabriel seems to understand. He lets out a short huff of breath. “I’m sure they will. But I’ve been avoiding my dear brothers for a long, long time, kid, and I figure I’ve picked up a trick or two.” His face appears in Castiel’s blurry vision. “Save your strength and leave the threats behind. Once Grace withdrawal hits, you’re going to feel like you’re in hell.”

Castiel wants to correct him, tell him that the torture rooms are actually called the Nest of Love, not Hell. He loses the battle to stay awake before he can manages to get the words out, and not for the first time in the past few days, he falls unconscious.

~*~

1.2: Gabriel

“Tell us what you can, Gabriel.”

Gabriel tilts his head to look at the map of Zion on the table. He knows it by heart: after all, he’s spent enough years hoarding information about every inch of it, starting from his position at the Nest of Omniscience and ending as a ‘rebel’ in this laughably pathetic rebellion. There are few very holes in his knowledge; the Nest of Love, though, just happens to be one of them.

“I don’t know,” he enunciates clearly. “How many times do I have to tell you? The Nest of Love is under direct command of the Nest of Glory, and I had nothing to do with it.”

“You ran their freaking spy network,” Dean Winchester growls. Gabriel watches him, idly analyzing the reddened palms of his hands, no doubt from striking a wall in frustration, and the expression on his face, discerning the likelihood that he’ll lose control and go at Gabriel with fists and feet. “How can you not know where their fucking torture chamber is?”

“Since said torture chamber is run by one of the most secretive bastards of the Host and purportedly has no set headquarters,” Gabriel retorts. “Look, the Nests of Peace or Justice would have a better idea than I do—I bet Zachariah lives next door to the Nest of Love.”

“Well, we don’t have Zachariah!” Dean explodes. “Some archangel you are! I bet you’re still in league with the Host, huh, Gabriel? Getting ready to stab us all in the back?”

Gabriel raises an eyebrow. “Temper, temper, Dean-o. Didn’t your father ever tell you what happens when you assume things about other people?”

Dean’s eyes narrow at the mention of the f-word. Gabriel automatically shifts his stance, ready to fight. Fortunately (or unfortunately, Gabriel thinks), Bobby Singer lays a hand on Dean’s shoulder, holding him back. “Now hang on there, son.” He looks at Gabriel. There’s distrust in his eyes despite the placating tone of his voice. “Gabriel, you sure you know absolutely nothing? None at all? Not even a hint?”

Gabriel huffs through his nose. “Huh. Well, if you wish on a star, maybe a flying pink pony will come down and lead you to the Nest. Other than that, I got nothing.”

“Fuck you, Gabriel, this isn’t a game!” Dean snarls, lunging forward. Bobby holds him back, but it doesn’t look like he’s trying very hard. “This is Sam and Anna we’re talking about. I know you don’t give a shit about Sam, but what about Anna, huh? Wasn’t she your sister?”

“She’s not actually my sister, you know,” Gabriel says thoughtfully. “I mean, I like her and all, but we’re not actually blood-related.”

“Damn it!” Dean shouts. “What, you’re too good to talk to us pathetic humans now? Maybe you should go to the demons, if that’s the case! Run with them in Hell—”

Sudden, impatient anger flares in Gabriel, and he shoves the chair back as he stands. He pins Dean with a hard look, sick of the whole charade. “You listen to me, you little bastard. Don’t fucking act like you know who or what I care about,” he says, his voice cold. “Hell can’t pull another answer out of me, because I damn well do not know.” He opens his hands in an expansive gesture. “But go ahead. Why not? How far are you going to go to find this out, Dean? You might even want to try on our newest catch—after all, he’s fresh from the Nest of Peace, who knows what he knows? With detox ahead of him, you won’t even have to try very hard to torture him. You know all about that, don’t you, Dean?”

The color drains from Dean’s face. Gabriel meets his gaze squarely, watching as the anger in Dean’s eyes briefly turns violent before flooding with something very like shock. “I’m not—I wouldn’t—I’m not a fucking torturer!”

“Aren’t you?” Gabriel says cuttingly.

Dean sags, his gaze falling. “I—” he says, faltering into silence.

“Enough! Gabriel, get out,” Bobby says, a bit too late. He gives Gabriel a nasty look that Gabriel returns. He gives Bobby a cold nod before sweeping out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Out in the quiet of the hallway, he leans against the wall and breathes deeply. Damn it. He doesn’t like conflict; he makes it a point to avoid as much of it as humanly (or angelically, hah) possible. The fact that he’s not trusted, though, not after ten bloody years of Falling—that grates on him every time, loath as he is to admit it.

Anna had it easier, he muses. Wonder what her secret was. Wonder if new kid, if he doesn’t die in the detox and/or torture, will be able to pick it up as well.

(He knows that he’s speaking in the past tense about Anna, and for a very good reason. No one who’s left the Host can ever leave the Nest of Love alive.)

~*~

Chapter 1b
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