A/Ns: I am so sorry for the delay! I thought I'd have plenty of time to write while I'm vacation after my show ended and the OT was finally done, but boy was I wrong! I got sick immediately I'm pretty much recovered now, finally home, edited the chapter in an airport (like the good old days!) but didn't have time to post before my flight. My new goal is to try and figure out (and stick to) a writing schedule again (like the good old days!) I am really tired of this sporadic writing and posting. I miss regular updates, and this story was never intended to be read with such big gaps between chapters. It's really bothering me!

Chapter Warnings: Well, we're mostly done killing ourselves at this point, and instead we're confronting tricksters (almost as suicidal, but not quite as suicidal as confronting archangels). Oh boy, things are really picking up now! Dean is pissed, Sam is confused (and suffering all the consequences), Gabe's not so amused (which is a big buzz kill, cuz amused is kinda his thing), and our favorite angel finally finds the boys.

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The Road So Far (This Time Around)

Season 2: Chapter 84

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"Alright, you bastard! We give up!"

Dean stood from the table and stepped into the aisle between booth and counter. He had his arms thrown up and out, and he was staring at the ceiling as he shouted, accusing it of, erm, something.

Sam just stared.

"You hear me? I said we give up!"

"Um… Dean?" Sam started to rise up from his seat as well, hand half raised towards his brother who was calling rather a lot of attention to himself. Other patrons and staff alike were now all staring their way, tasks paused. Behind the counter, Darla was glancing between them and the register, where a phone sat on the counter, clearly in sight.

The older Winchester, however, didn't seem to care.

"Quit hiding, you son of a bitch, and get your ass down here!" Dean spun in a circle, arms still out, but nothing happened in response. Well, except for Sam awkwardly grabbing at his arm to try and get him to sit back down. He shook that off easily, though.

"Dean!" Sam was practically hissing at him now. He was eying the diner entrance, contemplating next steps if Dean didn't calm down soon. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Screw this," his brother growled, dropping his arms to pull out his phone. Gabriel might have blocked angel radio in this pocket dimension, but he doubted the douchebag had considered an angel with a cell phone. He hit speed dial three and put the phone to his ear, waiting impatiently for it to pick up.

When it did, he wasted no time, even if his lungs all but deflated from the relief of it.

"Mixin' and Fixin's Country Diner, Mechanicsburg, Ohio. We need you-"

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the pulse of wingbeats broke the stillness of the restaurant. Dean was spinning around, heart skipping a beat with both hope that it would be Cas standing right behind him – that it hadn't been Yellow Eyes warding the hospital, keeping Cas locked out or even a prisoner (or worse) – and fear that it would be Gabriel instead. But the body that had materialized in the country diner had slim hips, an athletic build, the most fuckable hair Dean had still ever laid eyes on, and familiar, brilliant blue irises.

Castiel stumbled at the abrupt arrival, cute frown in place on her serious face as she lost her balance.

"Cas!" The hunter reached out instinctively, clasping the angel on either bicep to steady her. His grip may have been a little desperate around that beautiful damn trenchcoat.

"That was much harder than it should have been," she said, eyes struggling to focus. Dean's grip tightened around her arms.

"Cas, listen–"

"What are you doing here?" the angel interrupted as those blue eyes cleared, glancing between the two Winchesters with unnaturally wide eyes. "You've been missing for days."

Days? Dean floundered, mind racing with what he could say in just the few seconds he had. He had to assume Gabriel was listening, even if he hadn't responded to Dean calling him out. How the hell did he warn Cas what could be coming without letting the friggin' archangel know Dean knew more than he should?

"You gotta get us outta here. It's a pocket-"

The bell over the diner door chimed with the entrance of a new customer, cutting Dean's desperate explanation off before he could get started. In hindsight, he might have spent too long thinking. The three Winchesters turned as one to the door, an eerie stillness taking over the restaurant. Dean already knew who they would see walking towards them with calm, measured steps.

At the appearance of yellow eyes – locked on them and only them – Sam took a step back, breath as staggered as his feet. Castiel immediately placed herself between her charges and the approaching demon. Dean's hand, which had been curled around her bicep, slid to her wrist. Fingers dug in and tugged on the fabric there, trying to tell her something.

"Cas, it's not-"

"Hello, kiddos!" Azazel wore the face of the doctor from the hospital, some middle-aged white dude with a balding head and way-too-white teeth. Probably had a wife and five kids with a mistress on the side. It wasn't just those sickly yellow eyes that stank of privilege and entitlement; a perfect fit for the scumbag wearing him.

Dean's chest burned for the nth Sunday in a row, but now he finally knew why. It had nothing to do with any demon, a fact he cursed himself for not realizing sooner. Cas had been trying to warn him, but Dean had been so convinced – so distracted – by the damn 'destined' timeline that he hadn't understood. Hadn't even thought to listen.

In front of him, Castiel's blade dropped into her hand.

"Now, now," Azazel tsked. Or, at least, what Dean assumed was a certain 'trickster' in an Azazel disguise. And god he hoped he was right about that. "There's no need for violence."

"Like hell there isn't," Sam breathed out from behind, probably going for defensive anger but fear kept his voice quieter than he'd intended.

Dean wished he had more time. More time to prep the kid for what was coming. Assure him that the construct in front of them wasn't actually Yellow Eyes. That, for all intent and purposes, Sam was safe. This, after all, wasn't where he died.

Not for real, at least.

But not telling Sam about Azazel's role in the restarts had been what finally got Dean past Yellow Eyes. To the realization that it wasn't a demon fucking with them.

The exact opposite, actually.

There was no time now, though. Dean had to figure out how the hell to tell his brother and their angel the truth without Gabriel overhearing it, and he had to do it on the fly. The older Winchester didn't want to know what the angel-turned-trickster might think up next if he learned Dean was from the future – that they'd thrown Destiny out the window – and had no intention of starting the Apocalypse. If that happened, Dean knew it would get ugly fast. This wasn't the Gabriel that was willing to listen to them. To consider picking a side. Not yet, at least.

Until it was, Dean needed some precautions in place. A backup plan at the very least. He probably should have thought one up before calling in an angelic assist. Granted, he'd been a little too pissed to think clearly.

'Nothing knew there,' Dean thought with no shortness of self-deprecation. To be a little fair, though, he had kinda been hoping Cas would flap them outta there before Gabe had time to react.

But when had his unplanned hopes ever panned out?

"You will not touch them," Cas was threatening before Dean could get much further in his planning than 'Shit, shit, shit, what do I do, I need a plan!'

In response to the angel's threat, Azazel let out the disappointed kind of sigh Dean had spent most of his adolescence hearing from teachers asking simple questions and getting nothing but difficulty and sass in return.

"Oh, sweetheart–" and Dean's blood boiled at the look Azazel (Castiel's friggin' brother, pretending to be that son of a bitch, and how messed up was that?) sent the angel's way– "I don't have to touch them."

He raised his fingers and Dean braced. Castiel mirrored the movement with her blade, prepared to defend, but there was little defense against an archangel's tricks.

Sam doubled over with a grunt of pain before a mouthful of blood came pouring from his lips. His arms curled tight around his stomach, his legs wobbled like jello, and he stumbled into the side of the booth they'd been sitting in mere moments ago.

Gabriel was a friggin' dick.

"Sam!" Dean's reaction was instinctual. Even knowing it wasn't 'real' (and fuck that, because it was real. It was completely real, it just wasn't permanent), he couldn't help but grab onto his brother's shoulders, holding him upright until he could maneuver his larger frame into the seat beside him. "Shit, just hold on, Sammy. It's going to be okay."

"It's really not."

At the demon's falsely sympathetic moue, Castiel charged. Azazel raised his other hand, fingers spread wide, and the angel went flying back with more momentum that she'd moved forward with. Cas flew down the aisle, blade slicing through the tops of booths until she crashed, hard, into the back wall of the diner and stayed there, pinned to the aluminum paneling.

The family that had taken that last booth in the diner – the one with the future track star for a son – were cowering in the booth. The kids had been ushered under the table while the adults stayed as low as they could, heads popping above the seats in trepidation while they kept their children safe below. Other patrons had gone running as soon as the archangel had cleared the door. Darla was hiding in the kitchen, watching from the service window.

Dean didn't care about any of them. They weren't real, and he should have realized what this was so much sooner.

"Let her go!" he yelled, turning from the pinned angel back to the 'demon'. He was all anger and no fear. Yeah, Gabriel might be able to fuck them up good – really put them through hell – but he was too much of a coward to ever do anything truly dangerous. And Dean had never been afraid of cowards, no matter their strength or power.

"Alright," the yellow-eyed lie agreed readily, though Castiel remained pinned to the wall, struggling against her invisible binds. "I can add that as a condition of the deal easily enough. Just say the magic words."

"Dean, no–"

Sam threw up another mouthful of blood that splattered across the table. His skin was getting dangerously pale, and Dean knew he didn't have much time to end this if he wanted to spare his brother yet another gruesome death.

"Oh, I'm not making any deals with you," the older Winchester replied, voice deadly calm.

Those yellow eyes rolled in such a classic Gabriel move that Dean really didn't know how he hadn't spotted it before. "Let me guess. You're just gonna kill yourself to get out of it?"

Dean's hands curled into fists, but he didn't go for his gun. Not this time.

"Then I'll just bring you back, and we'll do this dance all over again." Azazel waved his hand around the diner like a composer leading a Waltz. "Until eventually you take my deal because you realize there isn't another option. I mean, aren't you getting a little tired of this, kiddo?"

"Beats ending the world."

That comment, thrown so casually and carelessly from the stony hunter, threw the archangel for a loop. Gabriel blinked yellow eyes in a moment of surprise before remembering to pull the mask back on.

Dean Winchester from 2007 shouldn't know what selling his soul would result in, after all.

Falsely yellow eyes slid, both cautious and curious, to the pinned angel behind the hunter, wondering if someone had gone blabbing her big mouth. Still in the role of a Prince of Hell, however, the demon scoffed, trying to cover the fact that Dean wasn't following the right script but Gabriel didn't have any additional pages to source.

Luckily, an angel-turned-trickster such as him was an expert at winging it.

"That's a mighty big ego you've got," he said with another derisive look. "Thinking the world literally revolves around you."

"Oh, I don't think. I know. And it's not happening. Not in your little craptastic classroom, and not out in the real world, either."

"Real world?" Dean could see Gabe behind that borrowed face perfectly clearly now, and the archangel was as irritated as he was confused. Not fun when the tricks got turned on you, was it? "This is as real as it gets, Dean."

"Why don't you cut the act?" The hunter spread his arms out, gesturing to the diner and its terrified patrons, fake as the day was long. "You're not fooling anyone. Not anymore. We've dealt with your kind before."

"And what kind is that?"

Those pale, dead eyes regarded the hunter with a glint of danger in them that hadn't been there before. Dean knew he was treading a thin line, approaching a dangerous edge where the archangel got good and angry, for real. If Dean called him out now, it wasn't going to end in anything but pain for them, and the man from the future couldn't afford to have a pissed off archangel on his back. Especially not one who wanted the Apocalypse to start just as badly as the rest of his dick brothers.

A pissed off trickster, though? That Dean could handle, pain in the ass though it may be. At least until he came up with that backup plan for getting Gabe on their side a hell of a lot earlier this time around.

"You sure as shit ain't Azazel," Dean responded with the kind of derision he knew would raise Gabe's hackles. But he needed to. He needed to cross that line, to tip that scale. Get the trickster in him pissed off enough that he didn't want to keep up the charade. Annoyed enough that he felt the need to defend his title as a proper little demi-god. Dean had spent enough time dealing with Gabriel's games to know the archangel's buttons well enough to push them now. "You think a Prince of Hell would waste his time – or ours – with childish tricks?"

"Childish?" That middle-aged face pulled into something frustrated, but more than that, downright insulted. Dean decided to add insult to injury and scoffed.

"What else would you call dropping a piano on Sam?" He waved an arm at his brother, who was still spitting up mouthfuls of blood and weakly calling Dean's name. But the older Winchester valiantly – if not very, very painstakingly – ignored him. Sam might not know what antagonizing a demon could do other than end in more pain for him, but Dean didn't have time to explain it. His brother was just going to have to hold on and trust him. In that order. "Running him over with a car? Killing him with glitter goo."

"I call it hilarious."

Gabriel. Was. Such. A. Dick.

"Yeah," Dean growled, trying his best to resist strangling the archangel. Not like he'd be particularly successful if he tried. "A trickster would."

The being in front of him just loved his dumb tricks and stupid games. Loved getting to play a role in them. Well, two could play at that one and, thanks to this particular trickster, Dean had plenty of practice. So he didn't give much time for those false yellow eyes to narrow or the angel to contemplate his next move in this sudden turn-of-the-tables.

"So which one are you?"

The parody of last time's events, of Dean asking this same angel that same question in a not-that-different context, wasn't lost on the man from the future.

Some things, Dean figured with no shortage of sarcasm and bitterness, just had to stay the same.

The diner fell unnaturally silent. Sam stopped choking. Dean resisted glancing his way – to see his brother wipe the remaining red dribble off his chin with the back of his sleeve or heave a relieved, clear breath. The first in many minutes. He resisted looking around at the patrons of the diner as they went back to their lives, like a showdown wasn't happening in front of them. Like it was just another day. Customers stood from various hiring places and retook their seats. Resumed their meals. Darla came out of the kitchen with a plate of waffles and a coffee pot, as if she hadn't been cowering moments before. She had not a hair out of place. The family beside the still-pinned Castiel climbed back into their booth, chattering away like a happy family.

The trapped angel and youngest Winchester watched them all with wariness and confusion. Dean's fierce eyes never left the 'demon' in front of him.

"Loki," Gabriel admitted after a long, long pause. Slowly, Azazel's balding doctor visage and yellow eyes bled away to reveal the shorter, curly-haired vessel Dean knew too well. He looked extremely put out. A very Gabriel-esque expression Dean also knew well. "They call me Loki."

Behind the Winchesters, Castiel watched the gradual transformation of demon into… something else. Something that was, she was very quick to realize, capable of overwhelming her. Tricksters were not to be taken lightly, but an angel of her class and caliber should have been fairly evenly matched to one. Yet, this 'Loki' had overpowered her easily.

He was far more powerful than any trickster should be. If he even was a trickster.

Castiel's eyes went wide at the thought. A dangerous, errant thought that she prayed wasn't correct. But the similarities were simply too great, and the timing….

"Dean!" she called out, turning her gaze to her charge. "That's not-!"

The rest of her words were muffled by the abrupt appearance of tape across her mouth, sealing her voice inside. She tossed her head angrily, but had little ability to remove the limitation.

"Hey!" Dean shouted angrily, head whipping around to the captured angel then back to the Trickster. "Let her go!"

"Yeah," Loki drawled with a scathing eyebrow raise, "I don't think so, bucko. She's staying right where she is until she learns some manners. The adults are talking."

Next to the glaring older Winchester, Sam climbed shakily to his feet. He left behind a table smeared and splattered in terrifying red, but he had recovered almost instantly back to full health. His skin was flushed pink and, except for a few traces of dried blood in the corners of his mouth, he looked surprisingly alright. His legs, on the other hand, remained shaky. Not that anyone could blame him for that.

Sam stared at the newly revealed trickster with wide eyes. He glanced between his brother and the demi-god with a mix of stunned disbelief and wariness. The quiet chatter of patrons going about their meals, the ding of the service bell at the kitchen window, and the occasional clatter of silverware all weighed heavily in the back of Sam's awareness. Everything around them – every one around them – was being controlled, or possibly even created, by this unassuming man standing scant feet in front of him. The sheer power he yielded was… intimidating, if Sam was being honest.

He remembered Dean mentioning a trickster mere days ago, but he hadn't gone into details beyond the fact that the guy was bad news, liked to play games that were closer to nightmares for his victims, and was all for the Apocalypse steamrolling right on ahead. Which was why they were avoiding him at all costs. Sam had gotten the feeling there was a lot more to it than that, given just how short Dean had been on the details, but he hadn't pushed at the time. He'd thought he would have plenty of time to get to it in the future. Sam regretted his shortsightedness immensely.

"So," Loki drawled, hands on his hips and a little smirk seemingly at home in the corner of his mouth. Sam wondered how this creature, clearly so smug and playful, had ever played Azazel convincingly. But he had, and that was all the more terrifying. "What gave me away, boys?"

"I told you, we've dealt with your kind before."

Gabe raised a single, scathing eyebrow. "You sure about that, Dean-O? Sammy doesn't exactly look onboard the trickster parade, there."

Whatever level of caution this creature was instilling in the younger Winchester, a significant portion of it disappeared at the nickname. Only his brother got to call him that, and even then reluctantly so. Sam's forehead smoothed out into a glare of his own.

"You got a better explanation?" Dean challenged back, but immediately stiffened when Gabe's eyes slid over the hunter's shoulder. Castiel was still pinned to the wall behind them, fighting her invisible restraints and grunting into the tape secure across her mouth.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe a mouthy baby bird spewing her guts? Metaphorically, of course."

The way in which the older Winchester's glare went from annoyed to deadly at one measly little threat to the angel gave Gabe another pause. He hadn't spent that much time following the Winchesters the past few years. Sure, he'd heard their names start to pop up on angel radio the last three decades or so. Had even done some poking around now and then throughout the years. But everything he'd picked up from his divine frequency or light spying had indicated Dean Winchester wasn't exactly one to pal around with anything not human, let alone get protective over one.

The amount of ferocity he was leveling Gabe's way suggested a lot more than obligation to an ally. It suggested loyalty. And, Gabe thought as he glanced between the two again, possibly something a lot more confusing and a lot less likely. Something that looked a hell of a lot like possessiveness.

Huh. Imagine that. Well, Dean Winchester was known as quite the ladies man, so….

Sam, meanwhile, spared a quick glance back at Castiel, who was leveling nothing short of a fuming glare at the trickster. Again, the younger Winchester felt a flicker of apprehension at a deity that could contain an angel with so little exertion. Nothing got the drop on Cas like that. Except maybe Azazel. And that was not a comforting comparison. Not even remotely.

Those ethereal blue eyes slid to Sam's for only a moment, and the hunter could easily read the 'Run' that was there. Not that they had much option to, but Sam both appreciated and regretted the angel's readiness to be abandoned for the sake of their escape.

"So. Boys." Loki spread out his arms as if in invitation. "Since we're all on the same page now, let's talk End Times."

Dean was quick with his retort of, "Let's not."

"Why…" Sam cleared his throat, which was still gunky with the last vestiges of his stomach trying to eat itself inside out. Not to mention he was still catching up on a situation Dean and Cas seemed far more familiar with, which worried him. "Why would you want it to happen?"

Loki spared him a glance that wasn't so much scathing as it was pitying. "I don't want anything, boys. I don't have a stake in this."

Bullshit, Dean thought, but didn't dare voice it aloud at that moment.

"But it's happening, whether you want it to or not," Gabe continued, dropping his arms with a shrug that was probably meant to be nonchalant but Dean could read the defeat in it. It was easier to spot this time around, knowing who he was and what his deal was. Gabe had given up centuries ago, and now he just wanted it to end. The Winchester that came from ten years in the future could almost relate. But it didn't make Gabriel any less of a coward in his book. At least Dean had always kept fighting, no matter how tired or fucking miserable he got. That's just what you were supposed to do.

"Says who?" the hunter snapped back, angrier now at the reminder of everything he and his family had gone through. Would to through again, now. Things Gabriel could have helped them prevent if he'd just grown a pair so much sooner.

Dean could still recall that nightmare of a night spent among other Pagans. Gods who were furious that the Christian-Judo God thought he had the right to end it all. If nothing else, Gabe was buddy-buddy with those guys. With Kali, who had laid pretty damn clear claim to those end times that night. Gabe was tripping up pretty big if Loki was suddenly siding with the Christians, and Dean could use that.

"You gonna tell me you, the pagan god, subscribes to Christianity being the one who got it right?"

Gabe leveled a glare his way that was far harsher than the look he'd spared Sam. Granted, the older Winchester knew which buttons to push. Poor Sam was just stumbling around in the dark because Dean had, once again, been stupid enough to think he'd have time to tell his brother everything.

If it wasn't so damn painful to drudge up, Dean might commit himself to telling Sammy all of it – everything that could possibly pertain to the Apocalypse – when they got out of this mess. Just to keep this shit from happening again.

(Yeah, he already knew that was never happening. Dean might be willing to face the damn Apocalypse without so much as a blink, but he was a coward in his own right when it came to owning up to his kid brother.)

"You think they– we can stop it?" Gabe asked, barely catching his slip up in time as he looked between the brothers. His eyes hesitated on Castiel for only a nanosecond, but it was a nanosecond too long. His sister may not know who he was, but Gabriel knew she was starting to suspect he wasn't a Trickster. He needed to stop giving her more fuel for that doubt, hard as it was to ignore her.

It had been a very long time since he'd been in the presence of any of his family. It was more difficult than he was ready to admit.

So he focused his attention back on Dean, an easy target for his frustrations. "You think the Pagans can stand against Heaven? Or Hell? This is a knock-down, drag-out brawl, boys. The prize fight between this world's heavyweights. The rest of us don't stand a chance."

"So you just give up?" The words left Sam with a breathlessness that drew Loki's attention, but the younger Winchester was well on his way to anger too. "Instead of even trying to fight, you lay down and die? All of you?"

Dean almost took a step towards his brother, almost put himself between Sam and the darkening glower of the archangel. But he knew, even with all the crap Gabriel might throw their way, Sam wasn't in any real danger and the younger Winchester wouldn't appreciate his big brother stepping in like he needed the protection. Neither of them were at any real risk here. Gabe was too busy blindly toeing the family line to ever do anything to jeopardize the two True Vessels.

Didn't make him any less of a dick, of course.

"You're a coward," Sam blurted out, part surprised by the revelation, part disgusted. A being with that much power, that much sway, too scared of losing to bother fighting?

Dean did move when Gabriel leapt forward to grab Sam, almost too fast to track the movement, and slam him into the side of the booth he'd been spewing blood in not so long ago. The older Winchester drew his gun, wishing he had the Colt – or Uriel's damn angel blade – while knowing there wasn't much he could do against the angel without them.

Pinned to the wall, Cas started throwing a fit. Small, blue sparks fired along her wrists, drawing Dean's attention. But those blue eyes were locked on the trickster and the younger Winchester. A flicker of worry warred with pride as Dean watched his angel fight an archangel's power hard enough to manifest grace.

"Don't you ever, ever presume to know what I am," Gabriel hissed in Sam's face, and the younger Winchester had the intelligence – or at least the primal instinct – to look afraid. Angry, of course (because he was a Winchester), but also afraid.

"Let him go," Dean demanded in his scary voice, barrel of his gun pressing right up against Gabriel's skull. He knew, if Gabe didn't listen, he could always pull out his trump card. But Dean honestly hoped it wouldn't come to that. Threatening to pray to some angels who might be interested in a certain Trickster's whereabouts might sound incredibly tempting – like righteous retribution – but Dean also didn't need Michael joining this little party of theirs. Ever. "Right now, Loki."

The trickster turned his head enough to eye the hunter over his shoulder, eyes darting to the gun that couldn't hurt him, but the expression on Dean's face that swore he'd find a way, regardless. Gabe didn't know why, but something about that look told him to approach with perhaps a smidge more caution than he was known for. Just a smidge, though.

With a dramatic sigh and a matching eye roll, Gabe released the beanstalk of a Winchester, raising his arms in mock truce as he backed off. Sam let out a shaky breath. He righted himself quickly and stepped to the side, putting a little more space between himself and the Trickster. Despite that, he donned his own scary look, even if it lacked some of the confidence of his brother's.

"Come on, you guys," Loki said suddenly, bright and cheerful like he hadn't just been bodily threatening one of them. He dragged out the first word with a whine, like this was just a minor inconvenience, really, and turned to face the other Winchester. "This was supposed to be fun, and it stopped being fun months ago."

"Months?" Sam asked in shock, the horror evident on his face as he glanced between his brother and the Trickster. Dean didn't return the look, his gun still trained on Loki.

"Cry me a river," was the older Winchester's snappy reply.

"Don't you get it, Dean?" Gabe let out another dramatized sigh, dropping his arms from an over dramatic gesture at the diner around them. His little make-believe set. "There's a lesson in all this."

"Let me guess," Dean sneered. "Make a deal."

"Well," Gabe drawled, clucking his tongue. He held up a finger, waggling it. The hunters didn't seem particularly amused. The trickster leveled that finger at the older Winchester. "That, and your brother is gonna be the death of you."

Dean lowered the gun, releasing the hammer. "Except none of this is real."

"Oh, but it could be." Gabe raised his hand and snapped his fingers. Dean didn't even have time to tense before the cable holding the light fixture above the booth lengthened, looping itself around Sam's neck several times. It pulled taught, hauling Sam onto his tiptoes. The younger Winchester grabbed at the wire with a cut-off gasp, struggling to breathe. "It will be, Dean. That's kinda the whole point!"

Against the wall, Castiel made enough commotion fighting Gabriel's binds to draw the attention of both human and archangel. Sparks were flying, sizzling against the skin of her wrists, burning the flesh there. She was grunting against the strain and injury, voice blocked by the tape still securely in place.

Dean's worry started outpacing his pride. Gabriel stared in stunned surprise at the struggle.

The archangel frowned at the ferocity of his sister's escape attempts. She was risking real damage to her grace if she continued, but he could sense no decline in intention. With a glare her way – part wary, part warning to knock it off – the angel-turned-trickster turned back to the very stubborn human in front of him.

"What are you gonna do then, huh? When it is real, Dean-O."

Sam was still struggling to breathe, clawing at his throat. He couldn't get his fingers under the cord and his vision was starting to darken around the edges.

"Fucking kill you," Dean snarled, but his gun remained at his side.

Loki sighed. "You've got a thick skull, so I'll help with this." He waved his hand and a construct manifested between them. It was woman in a slim, form-fitting black dress with bright, unnaturally red eyes. Against the wall, Castiel yelled into her gag. "You find yourself a crossroads and you make. A. Deal."

Dean stepped right into the trickster's personal space, tearing a page out of his angel's book on this one. He towered over the significantly shorter man. "Not. Going. To happen."

Over his shoulder, Sam's face was turning blue and his eyes were starting to roll back in his head.

"You're going to let your brother rot?" Gabe let out a laugh, side stepping away from the human to give the mule of a man a better view of Sam, who was on the verge of passing out.

Dean's eyes flickered that way and there might have been just a moment of doubt there, but it was quickly replaced with deadly rage. Gabe tried to ignore how the older Winchester wouldn't stick to a script written a millenium ago in dad-damn stone (all of which made no sense), and instead decided a little more pushing was in order.

Sam's feet left the ground as the cable tugged him a few more inches up. The back of his knees bumped the edge of the table limply. Those lanky arms fell to his side as he lost consciousness.

"Remind me how well that went the last, oh, dozen times you tried it?" Gabe let out a falsely thoughtful hum. "I believe eight weeks was your record, no? And that was a long eight weeks, Dean-O."

The Winchester's hands curled into fists, gun shaking in the right one. His eyes stubbornly stayed away from his brother's lax face and the crossroads bitch standing beside him, running her fake, red nails up his arm in a tantilizing way. Dean wanted to shove her away, but resisted the urge to interact in any way. She wasn't real.

"You think Hell isn't patient? You think Hell won't be as persistent as I was?" Gabe tilted his head back with an exaggerated laugh. "Ha! They'll come down a hundred times harder than I did. You don't stand a chance. That's the lesson, bucko."

"Then we fight," Dean replied through clenched teeth. He was counting backwards in his head. Each second that passed was one less to revive his brother. If he hit zero, he was putting another bullet in his brain. Gabriel's so-called lesson could go screw itself. "We find another way. Even if it sucks. Even if it means Sam and I stay dead and rotting in the ground for the rest of eternity."

"Oh my gawd," Loki complained, tilting his head back like he was praying to dad for the patience he'd never possessed. Not that he'd ever do that. "It's like talking to a brick wall!"

A dozen feet away, Cas made another noise of angry protest. Her wrists were red and raw from pulling against Gabriel's grace and her eyes were practically glowing blue with the fight. The trickster spared her a look, frown falling back in place.

"You know what?" Loki broke into a rough smile, too tightly controlled to be anything good for the Winchesters or their angel. He backed off, throwing his shoulders up in a loose, carefree shrug. "Maybe I bit off more than you Winchesters can chew, here. Maybe we need to start smaller."

He raised a hand before Dean could stop him – not that the hunter didn't try, surging forward to grab at that wrist – and snapped his fingers. The sparks and struggles and muffled cries of Castiel fell abruptly silent as the angel disappeared.

Dean whirled to the now empty wall, mouth dropping open in protest but no sound came out. He spun back to Gabriel with a look that, were the archangel lesser than such, might have actually been intimidating. Dean's hand tightened on the trickster's still-raised arm, fingernails digging into borrowed flesh. "Bring. Her. Back!"

"Uh, no." Gabe all but chuckled at the absurd request. "She's not even supposed to be here, bucko, and she sure as hell can't save you from what's coming. That would be cheating."

There was something in the Trickster's tone – the gleam in his eyes, the way he waggled his eyebrows, the very same smirk he'd had every time they'd cornered him in TV Land only to get thrown into another handful of Hollywood horrors – that made Dean's gut clench with dread.

Without hesitating, the man from the future lifted his gun and tucked it under his chin. A last ditch attempt to end this his way, to take the choice out of Gabe's nightmarish hands.

Bright red, manicured fingers ripped the gun away from him even as he squeezed the trigger. The bullet missed, tearing into the ceiling above him as Dean tried to pull his arm free of the conjured crossroad demon. The hunter had all but forgotten she was there, his mantra that she wasn't real actually working pretty well. But her grip sure was real. Real friggin' strong. She pulled the gun out of his hand with a punishing strength that damn near ripped his fingers off with it, before handing the firearm to Loki like the obedient little construct she was.

"I think it's time for a different lesson," the trickster said with a smile that sent Dean's nervous system into a near panic. Gabe lifted the ivory-inlaid gun between his two hands, the hunter's eyes tracking the movement, before snapping the weapon in two. Dean watched in horror – and no small amount of pain that he pushed deep, deep down inside – as the gun his father had bought him on his eighteenth birthday hit the ground in multiple pieces.

"Time for you to learn that there are rules, Dean."

Gabe lifted his free hand and, before the hunter could make even an aborted grab for that one too (not that it would do him any good) the trickster snapped his fingers.

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A/Ns: Gabes a dick, but he's our favorite dick XD

Did I forget to mention that there's simply no way I could write Gabe into this story without including Changing Channels as well? Oops, silly me! ;P

Up Next: I know that is an absolutely unfair tease of a thing to say when it isn't the direct next chapter, but next up is actually Bobby, Andy, one Jody Mills, and one determined FBI agent. We can't forget about the rest of the Winchester Family after all!

Thanks everyone for hanging with me through these uncertain updating schedule! I really appreciate your patience, support, and hearing from you.

Cheers,
Silence