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[personal profile] daymarket
Title: Stairway From Zion
Rating:  R
Warnings: Mentions of torture. Violence, war scenes, cursing, drug withdrawal, medical experimentation, species prejudice, sex.
Wordcount: 63k
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.

2.1: Dean

Even in his drugged sleep, the corner of Castiel’s mouth twitches downward into the beginnings of a pained frown. Dean looks around furtively to make sure that no one’s in the room before he reaches out with a thumb, lightly smoothing over the crease. Castiel’s skin is surprisingly soft: not that Dean thinks that angels are made out of stone or anything, but it’s an odd contrast to the cold exterior Castiel so often presents.

“How’s he doing?”

Dean jerks his hand back and turns around to look at the visitor. Gabriel’s standing in the doorway, the slight wrinkle between his eyebrows belying the nonchalance in his voice. “Still alive,” Dean says curtly.

“Good to know,” the former archangel says, coming over to the bed. Gabriel sits down carefully at the other side of the bed, running a hand through his hair as he lets out a long breath. “Well, as we say in angelville, the devil’s out of the box now. Initiation countdown. Did you know it was going to be that violent?”

Dean shrugs, but he rubs a hand over his sternum. He’s going to have a nice big bruise there tomorrow, and his arms already ache from his earlier attempts at trying to hold Castiel back.

“Eh. Mine wasn’t. Well, mine was fucking awesome, actually. Then again, I wanted to be initiated. Couldn’t wait to do the whole emotion gig.”

“Really?” Dean says, startled out of his sullen silence. “How’d you do that? I mean, you were at the top of the angel hierarchy, right? Stands to reason that you’d be the most loyal.”

Gabriel shrugs. “I ran the Nest of Omniscience—spying, basically. Surveillance. Anyway, you spend all that time watching, you’re bound to get curious sooner or later, no matter how efficiently Grace works. So one day by, uh, not so accident accident, I stopped taking the Grace and that was that.” He looks at Dean with a wry smile. “Then I ran away from the Host and met you charming people, took up the flag against my dear old brothers, championed the cause of humanity, very noble, etcetera.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh’ doesn’t even begin to cover it, believe me,’ Gabriel says. “Still, at least I get candy. Want one?” He holds out an obscenely red lollipop to Dean. Dean waves it off. “Suit yourself. That’s my last cherry one, by the way. I only have a couple grape ones left, and then I’m going to have to try the lemon ones. I hate the lemon ones.”

“Candy is a restricted item,” Dean reminds him half-heartedly as he unwraps it. He’s too fucking tired to be angry at this point.

“Oooh, you going to lock me up, big bad Dean?” Gabriel says, leaning back as he pops the candy into his mouth. “I’m terrified. You can’t tell, but I’m shaking in my shoes right now.”

“You should be,” Dean mutters. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what happened in Hell.”

There’s silence from the other side of the bed. Dean drops his gaze to look at Castiel, acutely aware of Gabriel’s eyes on him. Damn. What made him say that? First rule of Hell: you do not talk about Hell. Ever. Doubly so if your name is Dean Winchester.

On the bed, Castiel stirs and moans slightly, his eyelashes fluttering. Dean leans forward, watching. He got another hypo from Ellen earlier in case Castiel flips out again, but this appears to be a false alarm. Castiel shifts position on the bed before settling down again with a sigh, his face pressing into the pillow. One hand threatens to dangle over the edge of the bed, and Dean pushes it back into place.

“He should be sleeping naturally now,” Dean says quickly as Gabriel inhales, no doubt preparing to speak. “The hypo’s only supposed to work for about three hours.”

“With angel metabolism? Please. Two hours, max. Kid went off to la-la land ages ago.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, sagging with relief as Gabriel seems to have accepted the change of subject. “Maybe you should go tell Ellen? Tell her everything’s going to be okay? I think I can wrap up things on this end.”

“Yeah. Sure,” Gabriel says. Dean waits, but Gabriel doesn’t move.

“What?” Dean demands, turning around to look at him. “Look, Gabriel, forget I said anything about Hell. I shouldn’t have brought it up, and anyway, I don’t do uncomfortable conversations. Now scram.”

“I’ve been to Hell myself, you know,” Gabriel says, sounding mild. “Bit dirty for my taste.”

“Shut up,” Dean growls.

“Stayed there for two days and couldn’t wait to leave. I managed to get out only through sheer charm, illicit bribes, and oh yeah, killing one or two demons who got in my way.” Gabriel’s voice is as light as if he’s talking about the weather. “I have to tell you, angels pride themselves on being better than everyone else, but demons sure could give them a run for their money in the whole torturing department.”

“Fuck you, Gabriel,” Dean says, gripping the sheets in his hands to keep from taking a swing at Gabriel. There’s silence from the other side of the room, long enough that Dean hopes that Gabriel’s gotten the hint. Dean pointedly doesn’t look up, keeping his eyes fixed on Castiel’s face.

“A demon would’ve been positively thrilled at the chance to shred an angel to bits,” Gabriel says at last. “Between you and me, I’m glad that the council decided against it. It’s not often that I get one of my siblings down here, you know.” He pauses, his voice softening. “You’re not a demon, Dean, no matter what happened in Hell.”

Dean swears to himself that if Gabriel says one more word, Dean will punch the shit out of him. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Gabriel moves to the door and opens it. There’s the quiet beep as the door closes behind him and the lock reengages.

“Demons would’ve killed you just for being so annoying,” Dean mutters to the absent Gabriel, rubbing his face with his palms. “Fucking angels.” He looks at Castiel. “Why the hell is Gabriel so loud, anyway? Aren’t you angels supposed to be a closed-mouth lot?”

Castiel, unsurprisingly, says nothing. Dean looks at him, faintly amused at his own idiocy. The guy’s asleep; he’s not going to say anything, moron.

He should leave. There are a million things he should be doing, and at the top of the list is Sam. Gabriel’s said before that Sam probably won’t get a public execution, but dying publicly is probably the least of Sam’s problems. If they’ve sentenced Anna, there’s reason to believe that they’ve sentenced Sam as well, and who knows what they’ve done to him. And then after Sam comes his job, which he knows he’s been neglecting lately.

If only they could find the Nest of Love! Dean would raze the fucking thing to the ground and tap dance in the ashes. He might even break his no-torture vow, because if anyone deserves to be skinned alive, it’s the bastards who run the Nest. But reality always serves to ruin Dean’s dreams: with no intel, no information, not even whispers on the wind, there’s nowhere for them to go.

And so, Dean stays.

~*~

Twelve hours later: a shower, some tasteless mush from the cafeteria, a short nap in his room. Oh, and apparently a murder attempt by Castiel.

“Really?” Dean says when Ellen brings him the news. “Well, at least someone finally managed to get Gabriel to shut up.”

She gives him a wry look. “Gabriel can talk just fine. He’s got a bunch of bruises and his ego’s deflated a size or two, but he’ll be fine. Castiel got hypoed again, but it should wear off in half an hour or so.”

“He’s not my buddy,” Dean corrects automatically as he puts on his boots. The other boot is tucked under his bed, and it takes some fumbling to pull it out. “Why’re you telling me this, Ellen?”

Ellen gives him a sharp look, and he winces. Jo and her mother both share an unnerving perceptiveness, except that Ellen doesn’t bother to pussyfoot around it. “What’re you planning to do with the angel, Dean?”

“Save his sorry ass, that’s what. I thought we were supposed to initiate the Fallen,” Dean retorts, returning her look squarely. “You know, bargain with the devils, fuck with the angels’ heads, save the world while we’re at it? Just doing my job here, Ellen.”

Ellen doesn’t fall for it. She crosses her arms and gives him The Look that always has Dean squirming uncomfortably. If Sam were here, maybe he’d be able to pull something off to distract her attention, but as the situation goes, Dean’s stuck. “We’re ninety percent sure that Sam’s still in the Nest of Love,” Ellen says bluntly. “Probably not the best thing to hear, but if Sam’s still holding out, then he’s still alive.”

Dean grits his teeth at the familiar wave of pain at hearing Sam’s name. He fishes out his boot and pulls it on with unnecessary force, not looking at Ellen. “Great,” he says. “Totally useless, but great.”

“Dean.” Ellen sighs, running a hand through her hair. Dean feels guilty, but not enough to stop the inquisition. It’s been almost a month since the fucking mess started, and there’s still nothing on the Nest of Love. “These things take time,” Ellen reminds him. “We’re doing our best.”

“Yeah, I know,” Dean mutters. “Our best really sucks, Ellen.”

“Are you going to take it out on Castiel’s skin?”

Dean blinks at the non sequitur. Honestly, he wouldn’t mind taking it out on Gabriel’s skin, but he knows that there can only be one him that Ellen’s referring to. Damn, she’s good. He looks up at her. The Look is still going on, full-force, with the added benefit of crossed arms. “Jo has a big mouth.”

“Jo watches over the compound for me, and that includes making sure that all the soldiers can be trusted to do their jobs like humans,” Ellen retorts. “We deal with the demons. We don’t become them.”

Dean rubs his forehead. “Ellen, I am fine,” he says, enunciating each word clearly. As she continues to look unconvinced, he adds, “and if I’m not, I will be. In the near future.”

Ellen’s eyes soften, and Dean looks away. “We’re doing our best, Dean.”

“It’s just that our best isn’t good enough,” Dean finishes wearily. He pulls on his other boot and stands up. “Look, I’m sorry about skiving off the patrol. I’ll make it up. And tell Gabriel that…I don’t know. Tell him that I’m dancing for joy because someone finally managed to shut him up.”

Thankfully, Ellen doesn’t push. “No love for our resident archangel?” she says in a deft change of subject. “Gabriel’s going to cry with no one to hold his hand.”

“He can eat his candy and think how lucky he is not to get his ass thrown in solitary,” Dean retorted as he swung open the door. “We need to keep a closer eye on the resupply inventory, by the way.”

“On it,” Ellen says. She turns as if to go, and then looks back at him with a sharp eye. “You’re taking Rufus’ shift tonight, Dean. I can’t let people who are fine skip on their jobs.”

Dean nods, grateful that she’s buying into the ruse. “You’re amazing,” he tells her, and she rolls her eyes and smacks him on the shoulder.

“Take care of yourself, Dean,” she says, tipping him a nod before she walks away.

Dean watches her go before leaning against the wall, scrubbing his face with his palms. Yeah. Okay. He’s a fucking expert at taking care of himself.

He straightens up and checks his watch: he’s got an hour before his shift starts. Just enough time to clean himself up before he goes back to his job.

~*~

Patrol’s a four man job, taken by a regular group of hunters in shifts. As Dean heads into the armory, he exchanges nods with the usual suspects: Victor, who gives him a short nod as he passes by. Gwen, who barely looks up as she continues to clean her gun. Pamela smiles at him from her position by the lockers, but he can see that her eyes are rimmed with red. “You look like shit, Winchester,” she says, but she doesn’t sound that hot herself.

“Right back at you, Pamela,” he says, opening his locker. Dean’s tried to avoid knives ever since his vacation in Hell, and he chooses instead a double-barreled shotgun. He pulls it out and sits on the bench next to her. There’s silence between them as neither of them can bring themselves to mess with the elephant in the room—Anna. Anna, and Sam.

“I saw the video,” she says at last in a low voice. “She went out shouting insults at the dick in charge. I mean, as far as ways to go out are, that’s a pretty decent one, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Dean says. It’s not much, but it’s all he can manage. He…damn it. He doesn’t know quite how to feel about Anna, not like the devastating pit of emptiness that eats at him every time he thinks about Sam. Because when it comes to Anna, there was a Before Hell and an After Hell, and After Hell meant that they were barely talking to each other except when they absolutely had to.

Pamela rubs his arm and gives him a small smile, understanding. “I’m sorry about Sam,” she says quietly.

Dean nods, accepting but unable to form words beyond that single action. “You miss her?” he says at last.

She raises an eyebrow. “Every fucking day,” she says as if it were obvious, which he supposes it is. “You?”

“We should form a club,” Dean mutters, not looking up at her.

“I’ll bring the booze,” she says, but her hand squeezes his shoulder in silent comfort.

Dean clears his throat and stands up, avoiding her gaze, because if he has to see that look in her eyes for too long he’ll fucking break down, and breaking down is not a good thing when he’s on patrol. “Let’s move,” he says brusquely. He flicks on his shortwave radio and clips it to his belt, slipping the earpiece on. He can’t give a shit about it all now—not Sam, not Anna, and definitely not the fucking angel in the infirmary. “Chuck, what’ve we got?” he barks into the earpiece.

“Hi, Dean,” Chuck says, but he sounds distracted. “I didn’t think you’d be here today.”

“Switched with Rufus. Long story. Where, how, why, what, who, and when can we gank some angels?”

“Uh, I’d be careful what I wish for if I were you,” Chuck says. Dean can hear the clicking of keys in the background, and then Chuck adds, “A flock of the Host has been sighted in the skies and they’re circling—oh. Um. Not good. Not good.”

“Cut the theatrics, Chuck, and spit it out.”

“Dean, they’re right above the family compound in sector 4. ETA, four minutes.”

“You all get that?” Dean asks the others. “Let’s go be heroes.”

Then they’re running to get to the docking bay where the vehicles are. They pile into a grungy brown van that smells faintly like piss, but that’s the least of their worries at the moment. Gwen drives, while Pamela mans the monitors and radar. Victor and Dean take up positions in the back, checking their weapons one last time. Killing an angel is a tricky business; it depends more on speed, skill, and pure dumb luck than superior weaponry. Still, grenades and explosives level the playing field quite a bit.

“Sector four, report,” Pamela says, tuning the radio to their frequency. There’s static for a moment, and then the sound of gunfire comes over the radio. Gwen drives faster, barreling through the notoriously narrow streets of Oldtown with reckless speed and sheer skill. “Shit. Sector four! Come in, this is sector two calling—”

“Two?” a voice shouts. There’s a scream and some crashing in the background. “They caught us with our fucking pants down. We’ve sighted nine so far, but the damn things always travel in fours, so that’s twelve at a guess. They’re blasting their way through the doors—”

There’s another enormous crash and a scream. The radio goes to static, blaring ominously through the van. Pamela shakes her head frantically and switches frequency to call Chuck. “We’re going to need a whole lot more than four people,” she says into the earpiece. “This isn’t some standard flyover. Chuck, this is a full-blown raid.”

“I can try and send the cavalry, but it’ll take at least ten minutes,” Chuck says. “Wait—sector three says that they can be there in eight.”

“We’re heading into sector two now,” Gwen announces, and there’s a screech of the tires as she veers to avoid a spray of gunfire. “Shit, apocalypse’s come and all that. Fucking angels, going after the families.”

Dean can see them now—four, five, six angels up in the air, their wings flashing against the sky. Cursing, he wrenches their machine gun up against the firing slit in the window and stabs down on the trigger grimly, spraying gunfire towards them. He doesn’t hit any, but he manages to break up their formation, scattering them. There’s the sharp patter on the roof as the angels return the favor, and Gwen just narrowly avoids driving into the wall.

“Angels to the right!” Pamela yells, and Victor swivels the artillery cannon towards the right window and fires blindly. The recoil rocks the van as fire explodes forward, filling the air with smoke that leaves them all coughing. Pamela waves it away and peers at the monitors. “Wow. Damn, Victor, good firing. You flamed one right in the face.”

Dean glances at the right window: there’s a fine mist of blood spattered all over it, which is deeply satisfying and disturbing all at once. “One down, eleven to go,” he says.

“Smoke will buy us some time,” Gwen says tersely. “Shit. Here come the masses.”

The sound of screams rises from the other side of the smoke, and Dean can faintly see the shadows of the fleeing people coming closer towards them. “We’ll never be able to drive through the crowds,” Dean says. “Gwen, try to get us to the old pit station, and we’ll go on foot from there. Chuck, ETA?”

“Seven minutes!” Chuck yells.

“We’re going to need convo trucks to evacuate the noncombatants,” Dean says into the earpiece as they veer through the streets. “We’re going to try to hold them off long enough so the angels can’t get to them—shit!”

There are three angels in the streets ahead of them, forming a barricade. Some of the fleeing humans manage to shove past them, but not many—the angels have opened their wings, preventing many from getting past, and they’re shoving the refugees into a hovering zeppelin before they can get away. Dean swears again and holsters his gun: if he shoots here, he’ll hit those who’ve managed to get past, and anyway the angels aren’t above using humans as shields. “Victor, go snipe them from above. Gwen, get us to the fucking zeppelin!”

Victor dives out of the van and runs for the nearest building—while he can’t snipe from the skies for fear of the angels, a third floor window will do just as well. Gwen revs the engines, a manic grin on her face. She sounds the horn as Dean strips out the belt of live ammo from the machine gun; he can’t risk hitting the humans. The angels turn to look at her briefly; two of them continue to load the humans, while one turns towards them, wings flaring and catching the light.

They can’t beat the angels in hand-to-hand combat, and Dean has no intention of trying. He slides in a belt of hypos into the machine gun and gives Pamela a nod when he’s ready. Gwen blares the horn madly as she speeds up, aiming the van straight at the zeppelin. Pamela climbs up through the roof and throws a smoke grenade in the angel’s direction. As the grenade flies through the air, Dean opens fire at the angels with the hypos, hoping to stun them with as few human casualties as possible.

The next instant, the van slams into the zeppelin, hard enough that Dean loses his grip on the machine gun and slams into the back van doors. Screams fill the air, high with panic and fear. Dean grits his teeth and forces himself to stay focused as he slides open the side van door and jumps out, landing heavily on the metal dock of the zeppelin. The terrified faces of those too old or too young to fight greet him, and for a moment Dean freezes at the sight of the crying, pleading faces. Fortunately, Pamela sweeps past him and takes control of the situation, ushering them out of the zeppelin through their makeshift door to safety. Dean stumbles to the main door, wincing as he wraps his hand around the emergency knife in his belt. This is no time to be squeamish of knives. He peers cautiously outwards, squinting through the smoke.

Two angels are down on the ground, along with a number of smaller bodies. Dean pushes the humans out of his thoughts and focuses on the fallen angels: one was hypo’d in the face, and while he can’t see where the other one was hit, he’s definitely out of the count. That leaves one angel unaccounted for. Dean glances briefly back at Pamela before sidling out of the zeppelin, knife held ready in his hand. He works his way along the side, every nerve in his body tingling as he searches for the third angel.

A flash of light cuts through the smoke, and pain explodes in his shoulder as wings slice through the air. He barely manages to keep his hold on the knife, but it’s a moot point anyhow as the angel leaps up from behind him and slams him into the wall of the zeppelin. The gigantic steel wings flare and snap behind the angel’s back, trying to slice him through. Dean writhes against the angel’s grasp and kicks out blindly with his feet. It feels disturbingly weak, and the angel doesn’t even flinch.

Dean’s vision is going gray with lack of oxygen, and he’s just about reconciled himself to the fact that the last thing he sees on this hellpit of an earth is some damned angel’s face when the angel’s grip suddenly goes slack. The great wings fall still and Dean wrenches free as the angel collapses onto the ground. Dean stares at the angel for a moment before turning him over to see the trail of blood leaking down the back of the neck. “Thanks, Victor,” he murmurs wearily, sagging against the wall.

His reprieve is short-lived. Dean staggers to his feet as something explodes a few yards behind the zeppelin, followed by the sharp staccato of machine gun fire. Dean peers around the side of the zeppelin and grits his teeth as he sees the other two zeppelins in the air. They’re raking gunfire in precise rows across the area, mowing down anyone and everyone who’s in the open air. It’s death both ways—the family compound is on fire, and the others, never in the best of repair, are following suit. Dean’s stomach twists brutally at the sight.

“Dean!” Pamela shouts, and then she’s next to him, sliding one arm under his bad shoulder and pulling him forward. “Don’t just stand there—Chuck, we are in deep, deep shit, where is the fucking backup?”

Dean can’t hear Chuck’s reply and only belatedly realize that his earpiece is lying on the ground, but there’s no time to retrieve it as Pam pulls him into the shelter of the zeppelin. About a dozen faces greet them, and Dean turns to look at Pam in confusion. “Didn’t you send them out?” he demands, his voice hoarse and cracked.

“The angels have blocked the underground,” Pamela says tersely, and Dean feels like he’s falling with no end in sight, because those tunnels are the best-kept secret of every sector, and if the angels know how to find them, that means Sam and Anna have—were—they’ve been—

A sharp sting across his cheek brings him out of his spiraling thoughts. “Focus, Dean,” Pamela says fiercely into his ear. “We’re not done yet.” She nods in the direction of the pilots’ seats. “Chuck says they’re tangled in the northwest zone, and they’re trying to find a detour around the blockade, but it might take a few minutes.”

“What about ground defenses?” Dean grunts, staggering over the piloting station and leaning heavily against the monitors for support. Pamela pushes him into the copilot’s seat, leaning over to examine the monitors without answering. “Pamela, damn it, where are the ground cannons?”

“Torched,” Pamela says briefly. She turns to look at Dean. “This isn’t your average raid, Dean, this is a full-blown attack with intimate knowledge of our defenses and escape routes.”

Dean swallows hard, the strength suddenly seeping out of his legs. There’s only one way that the angels could’ve learned all that, and that’s—Sam. Sam, what did you do?

“Stop whining, Winchester,” Gwen says suddenly. Having reappeared from wherever she was, she slides into the pilot’s seat and competently starts the warmup sequence. “All we can do is improvise. Now, we’ve got two zeppelins up in the sky blowing the shit out of sector four, with backup stuck pants-down half a mile over northwest. Meanwhile, there’s this zeppelin, only a little bit dented and still ready to fly. You want to help or not?”

She turns to look at him, her eyes brisk and businesslike. Dean looks at her for what feels like an eternity before fighting down the numbness and pain and forcing himself to stand straight. “Let’s go blow these sons of bitches out of the sky,” Dean says roughly. Pamela gives him an approving nod and moves back to stand with the refugees, ushering them away from the hole where the car came through. “Do we still have communication with Victor?”

Gwen slides off her earpiece and hands it to him. Dean slides it on, noting detachedly the smear of blood across the side. “Think that those angels on the ground will notice we stole their ship?” he asks, already knowing the answer.

Gwen doesn’t turn to look at him as the zeppelin prepares to take flight. “Don’t think so, seeing as they’re dead,” she says curtly. “What do you have in mind?”

She’s referring to the zeppelins, of course, and Dean turns his mind towards that. “Victor,” he says into his earpiece. “Can you hear me, man?”

“Loud and clear,” Victor says. “Where do you want me?”

“The van’s pretty much trashed now, but the artillery cannon should still be working. Think you can get to it?”

“On my way,” Victor says, and then Dean can hear the sharp sound of his breathing as he makes his way down the stairs. Dean turns to Gwen. “Gwen,” he says, “can you fly this?”

“Oh yeah,” she says, running her fingers covetously over the controls. “I can fly anything.”

Dean smiles a little at this piece of bravado, but with Gwen, it’s probably true—she has a frightening instinct for anything that moves. He turns to the back of the zeppelin, glancing at its weaponry. They smashed in a good bit of the right section and there’s a giant gaping hole there, but the cannons on the left side should work just fine. “Hey, sector four,” he says. “Any of you know how to shoot a gun?”

There are three cannons lining the side, as well as a number of machine guns. Pamela ignores the machine guns, as there’s no way simple bullets can pierce the armor of a zeppelin, and assigns two pairs of the older children to the cannons, while she herself mans the third. “Okay,” Dean breathes once they’re in place. “The rest of you, try not to fall out, okay?”

There’s a crackle in his earpiece, and then: “I’m at the van,” Victor announces. Dean nods sharply at Gwen, and the zeppelin’s engines vibrate as they prepare for liftoff. The other two zeppelins are still busy bombing the sector, but it won’t take long before they notice that the humans have commandeered the third.

“Victor—” Dean hesitates for a second, knowing that what he’s about to ask Victor is virtual suicide. “Can you get the cannon out of the van and into a building?” he asks, hoping for a miracle.

“Nope,” Victor says. His voice is rough but calm. “But I can blow some sons of bitches out of the sky.”

Dean closes his eyes, tasting iron in his mouth. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. When I give the word, fire an arc from one to the other curving downwards. Then get out of there, Victor, you hear me? Get out of there as soon as you can and run for cover.” Dean gives the interior of the zeppelin one more look, confirming that everything’s in place. “Gwen, get us between them.”

Gwen flips several switches on the control panel, and the zeppelin leaps upwards and forwards with frightening acceleration that pins Dean to the back of his seat. He grits his teeth as the bruises in his body make themselves known, but he forces himself to ignore them in favor of the zeppelins in the sky. One of the zeppelins breaks off shooting and pivots to angle its cannons at Dean’s ship. There’s a crackle from the control panel, and then a flat female voice comes out over the speakers: “Vessel nine-six-two, report confirmation code.”

Gwen gives Dean a beautiful, truly insane smile as she spins the steering wheel, heading straight for the midway point between one zeppelin and the other. “Confirm this,” Dean says to the angels. “Guys, now!”

Explosions rip through the air as the cannons fire. For a moment, there’s nothing but heat and smoke and fire, and then Gwen pulls back the steering wheel and they’re all going upwards. Dean’s pinned flat into his seat by the sudden acceleration, and he absolutely cannot move even as something hits the back of the zeppelin hard enough to make the entire thing shudder, and then the screaming starts in the back. “Pamela!” Dean shouts hoarsely. “Pamela, talk to me!”

Whatever reply she might have made is drowned out as the zeppelin goes into a corkscrew dive that forces the words back down into his throat. He doesn’t know how Gwen manages to fly the damn thing, but they’re cutting through smoke and billowing flames at what feels like the speed of light, and then he can see the burning shell of an enemy zeppelin getting close and closer and then they hit and then—

The shock waves tear through the cabin, one after another until Dean thinks that his head’s going to explode. There’s a terrible sensation of falling through empty air with nothing to stop them, and then the biggest jolt yet. Pain stabs through Dean as the impact crashes through him. He blacks out for a moment, his vision going gray with the intensity of the waves, but his coughing awakes him. There’s a fire going on in the engine, and he needs to get out, now.

“Gwen?” he rasps, flailing for the release to the seatbelt. “Gwen, you there?”

There’s no answer. Dean fumbles and manages to release the clasp after what feels like an eternity, and he falls out of the seat with a jolt that nearly blacks him out again. Gwen’s in the other seat, her head turned to one side. There’s a trickle of blood oozing slowly down the visible side of her face. Dean feels blindly for the release on her seatbelt, tugging ineffectually at her in an attempt to wake her up. “Gwen!” he says, shaking her. “Gwen, wake up!”

His fingers stop as they touch hot metal. Dean squints through bleary eyes and sees a jagged metal spar protruding from her abdomen just below her sternum. He blinks rapidly a few times, unable to process what his eyes are seeing. There’s surprisingly little blood around the base of the metal, and for a moment he thinks that it stopped right before it hit her. His hands are suddenly numb, but he manages to drag a hand up to the base of her neck, where he feels for a pulse.

There isn’t one.

He sags to the floor, the strength going out of his body. She’s dead. Gwen’s dead. The hysteria building in his base of his stomach threatens to consume him as he inhales, deep and jerky. There’s no room for panic, though, as his lungs instantly remind him why it’s not a good idea to breathe in smoke. He doubles over, coughing, each cough sending spikes of pain through his body.

There’s nothing you can do for her, soldier, his father’s voice snaps into his ear, and oh, now he’s hallucinating, but damn, it’s a pretty lifelike hallucination if he does say so himself. She’s dead, you’re not, now get your ass up and move! John Winchester continues, and Dean automatically tries to obey the voice of command. He levers himself shakily to his knees and begins to crawl through the ruins of the zeppelin, keeping flat to the ground in an attempt to get what’s left of the fresh air.

It seems like eternity before his questing hands hit gravel instead of steel mesh. Dean pulls himself forward into the open air, collapsing on the outer edge of the zeppelin. He’s tempted to lie there and just die, but then the heat billows at his back. It’s hot and oppressive, and he finds the strength to crawl forward just a few more feet before his limbs finally give up on him.

He lies against the grit and gravel, his vision filled with dizzying spots that he closes his eyes to get away from. Gwen’s dead, Anna’s dead, Sam’s dead, Pamela’s dead, Victor’s dead, they’re all dead. He feels a weak, hysterical laugh bubble out of his chest. And now, Dean’s dead. That has a nice ring to it. It’s alliterative or ironic or something; he was never that great at poetry and all that shit. And ooh, now he’s rambling, isn’t that interesting…

He’s only vaguely aware of the hands that turn him around, wrap around his shoulders. “It’s a human!” a voice shouts, but it sounds like whoever’s speaking is talking underwater. Dean opens his eyes and tries to make out the face of his captor, but his vision isn’t quite working and his body has given up.

He closes his eyes, too tired to care anymore. Hopefully, he’ll die before the angels can get him back to the Nest. At the very least, he’ll be able to see Sam again before the end.

~*~

2.2: Ellen

Twenty-six dead. Out of the two hundred and twelve hunters that went to the rescue of sector four, a hundred and eighty-eight returned. Ellen closes her eyes as the numbers on the report coolly dissect the day’s events, turning human lives into emotionless statistics. So many deaths, and for what? Half of sector four has been retaken by the angels, while the other half lies in flames.

She takes a deep breath. Focus, she chastises herself. Mourn for the dead, but there is still the living to preserve. There are nearly seven hundred refugees from sector four, not to mention the injured that are coming in each day. “Some occupants are going to have to triple up,” she says quietly, setting the report down on the table. “We don’t have enough rooms for everyone. We’re going to have to redirect a good number to the other sectors.”

“Well, that’s the problem, ain’t it,” Bobby grumbles. “The other sectors are all full as well, and more are coming in every day. Our men are trying to evacuate the survivors of zone three and four, but the other sectors have the same problem we do: not enough room and manpower.”

Missouri nods. “Worse, not enough medical supplies,” she says, her lovely voice grave. “We’ve got about sixty people on the injured list so far, and more are coming in every day. Smoke inhalation and burns are the worst culprits, and the thing about burns is that it’s damn easy to get infected if you’re not careful. And we don’t have the luxury to be careful, not with so many. Our supplies are running low and there’s not enough people to take care of them.”

Ellen rubs the bridge of her nose. “How much are the demons charging for antibiotics, Missouri?” she asks.

The other woman shrugs. “Depends on what kind, but we’re running low on everything. I wouldn’t put it past them to hike the prices, though, just because we need them.”

“They’re sucking us dry,” Gordon says roughly, crossing his arms. “Between prices for Croat and this, we’re going to start dipping into debt, and borrowing from the demons never ends well. We just don’t have enough credits to afford it all.”

“The demons might be willing to accept something other than currency, though,” Bela says suddenly. Ellen looks at her, eyes narrowed: Bela might be a human, but she liaisons far too often with the demons for Ellen’s liking. “Their offer still stands. A dozen bodies to buy the lives of hundreds.”

“No,” Ellen says flatly. “We’re not going to liberate humans just to sell them to the demons. We’re supposed to be saving people, not condemning them. That’s not up for negotiation, Bela.”

Bela waves a hand, clearly unfazed. “Okay, then,” she says. “Lilith thought you might say that, so here’s another offer: give the angels to the demons, and the demons are prepared to offer twenty thousand credits in exchange. Usable on anything from medical aid to housing.” She shrugs. “It’s a good offer. It’s not like we owe the angels anything, anyway.”

Ellen sucks in a sharp breath at the sum. Twenty thousand credits is more than twice their current budget, and with the fall of sector four the money can only help. But—is it worth it? Bobby seems to be going along the same thoughts as he meets Ellen’s eye. “By angels you mean who?” he says, leaning forward.

“The prisoner—Cassiel, is it? And Gabriel, of course. The demons want their pounds of flesh, and of course, they’re willing to compensate us for them.” Bela looks around, raising an eyebrow. “And of course, they might be open to…negotiation, if you’re willing. Maybe even thirty thousand credits would be in order.”

There’s silence for a moment. Finally, Bobby says, “I don’t know about you all, but I’m going to say that the demons can shove this deal of theirs up their ass. It’s a hell of a slippery slope from angels to humans, and you know that the demons sure aren’t going to stop pushing the limits. We either stop this now, or we might as well turn ourselves in to the Republic because this is exactly what those damned angels would do.”

Gordon shakes his head. “I say we go for it,” he says. “Angels aren’t the same as people.”

“Agreed,” Tamara says. “We’ve got to look out for our own people first. Gabriel’s done us a favor or two, but he’s still a damn angel to the bone. It’s better if he goes. And about the prisoner, well, he’s just taking up space that we could really use.”

“Now, just hang on a minute!” Missouri says. “That poor boy didn’t go through detox just so we can send him to Hell. A life’s a life, and it doesn’t matter if it’s angel or human.”

“The angels don’t give a shit about humans, so why should we care about them?” Gordon retorts. “They slaughtered their way through sector four, and we’ve lost over two dozen human lives to their hands. They’ve shoved us full of their poison since the minute we were born. No, we don’t owe them any favors, Missouri, so stop acting all sanctimonious.”

“And the demons are so much better?” Missouri says, a look of anger coming over her face. “We shouldn’t deal with them unless we absolutely have to, and never with lives, angel or human. I’m voting no. Absolutely not. Ellen, Bobby, Rufus, you see my point, right?”

“Morally speaking, yes,” Rufus says slowly, dragging a hand through his hair. “Practically, I’m not sure the dead and dying are going to give a shit about how high-and-mighty we are. We’ve got folks camping in the halls because we don’t have enough room.”

“But like I said—the demons aren’t going to stop with angels, Rufus,” Bobby points out. “Next thing you know, we’ll be mortgaging off our children for a truckload of Croat. No, I agree with Missouri—this stops now.”

Gordon looks around the room, his eyes challenging. “Why don’t we put it to a vote?” he says. “Majority choice. Ellen, you want to adjudicate, since Dr. Robert’s out at the moment?”

Missouri shoots her a pleading glance. Ellen hesitates, then acquiesces. She’d like to say that she would say no, but morality’s a hard thing to swallow when confronted with the dying and desperate. “All right,” she says. “Majority choice wins. Those in favor of accepting?”

Defiantly, Gordon raises his hand, with Tamara following him a second later. Rufus wavers for a moment before shaking his head. “Damn,” he says with a sigh. “Got to admit it, Bobby makes sense. We sell the angels out now, we’re going to be skimming off our own people next.”

Ellen nods at him, feeling a small rush of relief at having Rufus make the choice for her. “All right then,” she says. “All in favor of rejecting?”

The result’s inevitable: three against two. Ellen looks at Bela. “We’re going to have to say no,” she says. “Give Lilith our sincerest apologies.”

Bela smiles at her, light and insincere. “Lilith sends her regrets. I’m afraid to say, though, that the demons have been suffering some financial troubles of their own lately. So effective immediately, Croat will rise to forty credits per kilo. I’m sure you understand.”

“What?” Ellen says sharply. “There was another hike just a month ago, and they’re raising the prices again?”

Bela shrugs. “I’m just the messenger. Forty credits, or you can have mass Croat detox on top of the fall of sector four.”

“You can’t do that!” Tamara shouts, jumping up. “Damn it, Bela!” Ellen recalls that Tamara uses Croat herself, and the desperation is clear in the other woman’s voice. “We need Croat, more now than ever before!”

“And we’ll supply it, for a price. An updated list of inventory will reflect the price hikes,” Bela says. Ellen narrows her eyes as she realizes that Bela’s not bothering to use ‘they’ anymore, or even hide the fact that she’s batting for the demons. “We’ll be in touch.”

She sweeps out of the room. It closes behind her with a quiet click that nonetheless has the ring of finality about it. Tamara sits down, looking furious and frightened all at once. “How are we going to deal with this?” she demands. “We’ve got almost four hundred Croat users here, and our supply isn’t near enough to hold out if the demons choose to starve us. What’re we going to do? We can’t go without it!”

“Calm down,” Bobby says, raising a hand. “Tamara, I’m sure we can work this out—”

“Don’t you tell me to calm down, Singer!” Tamara shouts.

“Maybe it’s time that we cut down on the addiction anyway,” Missouri says thoughtfully. “After all, this dependence on the demons hurts us bad, maybe even worse than what the angels do.”

“You can’t cut down on Croat,” Gordon growls, his hands clenching into fists. “We can’t handle mass detox on top of everything else right now!”

“You’re just saying that because you don’t want to detox,” Rufus says, leaning back. “I’m interested, Missouri. Go on. Anything that can get our people off that shit is good on me.”

“Slow detox with Grace,” Missouri says. “I’d have to ask Dr. Robert about the practicality of this, but if Croat can wean us off Grace, then surely Grace can do the same. There’s got to be a happy balance out there.”

“It can’t hurt,” Ellen says, even as Tamara surges up, no doubt to voice another objection. “Missouri, get Dr. Robert to work his mumbo jumbo, see what he can find. I’m not saying it’s a go, Tamara, so settle down. We’ll wait and see. For now…” she sighs and rubs the bridge of her forehead. “Demons aside, we’ve got our people to take care of and four hundred refugees to relocate. Let’s focus on that.”

Tamara’s look promises revenge later, but Ellen ignores it. She’s got enough to worry about now.

~*~

2.3: Gabriel

Gabriel knows from the instant that the angels hit sector four that it’s a done deal: the angels never attack unless they’ve planned the hell out of it, and no doubt they extracted all the information they needed from Sam and Anna. He briefly wonders what this means for Sam, and decides that that line of thought is too damn depressing for this time of day.

Besides, he’s got bigger problems to deal with.

He gets sideways glances all the time when he walks through the halls. He’s an archangel, Fallen or not, and he represents the essence of everything they fight against. Mostly, it’s not really a problem because the Host doesn’t infringe upon Oldtown. Sure, there are raids on warehouses and patrol sweeps, but there hasn’t been a full-blown attack since…

Well, since he Fell.

Where best to spend his time now? He thinks about it for a moment and decides that the infirmary is best. He does patrol occasionally, but he doesn’t think that his presence will be welcome on the battlefront now, and anyway, he’s not really the gung-ho hunter type. But he can bandage and swab and stick people with needles with reasonable accuracy, and from the memo that went out earlier they’re going to need all the help they can get.

It seems like a good idea, and Gabriel continues to think this right up to the point where he gets backed up against the wall by three guys whose ideas of menacing glares come out more like constipation. “Well, hi there,” Gabriel says brightly. “You guys don’t look bruised or anything, but I’m always happy to kiss them better just in case—”

“We don’t need your kind around here,” Thug One growls, his stinking breath blowing into Gabriel’s face. Gabriel wrinkles his nose, smelling Croat on the man’s breath.

“He’s probably planning to murder us all in our sleep,” Thug Two says. “He’s already done in sector four. I’ll bet you anything that he’s the one who passed the information to the Host.”

“Whoa, now guys, calm down,” Gabriel says, holding his hands up. “I know you’re upset, but honestly, use your brain for a moment, will you? I’ve been to sector four once, maybe twice. If I was going to pass information it would’ve been about this sector.”

This appeal to logic fails miserably in the face of species prejudice. “He’s too damn mouthy,” Thug One says. Thug Three, the silent one, backs up this sentiment by looming over Gabriel menacingly. Gabriel notices that behind Thug Three’s back, none of the other volunteers are intervening. If anything, they look…happy.

Gabriel sucks in a deep breath. Okay, he tells himself. Don’t expect a white knight sailing in, or in fact any kind of support at all, because you’re an angel in the midst of dickheads, and owwww—he gives out an oof as Thug One slams a fist into his stomach. “Ouch,” he wheezes, doubling over. “Was that really necessary—”

He ducks out of the way as Thug Two aims a second punch, and suddenly, Gabriel is really just done with fucking around. Fine. They want to play, he’ll oblige. If they’ll brand him an angel, he’ll be an angel, and one thing that angels are really fucking good at is fighting.

Really, he’d actually feel kind of sorry for them if he wasn’t so pissed off. Gabriel breaks Thug Two’s wrist as the man tries to punch again. Thug Three gets two swift kicks, one to the kneecap to kick him off balance, and the second to the ankle to shatter his tarsal. Gabriel finishes off Thug One by slamming his head into the wall. It’s over in less than a minute, and Gabriel steps away from the carnage, not even breathing hard. The back of his neck tingles as the shock of the spectators sweeps over him—it’ll take about two seconds for that surprise to turn into hate.

He leaves the room quickly before that window closes, but the whispers follow him out into the corridor. Gabriel’s eyes narrow, matching the gazes of the people who stare at him. Most of them have the shame to look away quickly, but there are enough who promise trouble.

The adrenaline’s fading away, enough that Gabriel can acknowledge that yeah, maybe losing his temper wasn’t the brightest thing he’s ever done. But hell, he didn’t sign up for this shit when he Fell.

Besides, what exactly does he owe the humans, anyway?

~*~



Chapter 2b

Date: 2011-07-17 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cotymundi.livejournal.com
The description of the battle scene was amazing. Where did you get your ideas from? The complexity of this story is really very impressive; my brain is trying to follow five or six plots-within-plots already. The political fallout at the base was so absorbing, I even forgot that Dean had been captured while I was reading it. Your writing is really, really good. I LOVE this story.

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