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Fic:Tiger Changing Its Stripes 2/3

Part 1

Joan remained distracted for the next day or two despite Gabriel’s reassurances, though a major paper and exams in two separate classes were at least partially responsible for the current attitude. The Winchesters were following the breadcrumbs of his invented case without any serious deviation from the path. This meant that Gabriel had far too much free time on his hands, always a dangerous thing for a being who didn’t sleep and enjoyed playing pranks on people.

It wasn’t Gabriel’s place to punish people without instruction from Father. All judgment belonged ultimately to God, after all. He’d instead started thinking of what he did as more . . .uncovering and correction than delivering a sentence. The things Gabriel did revealed the sins and hypocrisy of the high and mighty, and if a professor trading grades for sexual favors was caught with his pants down, sometimes literally, Father indulged him. It was a fine line to walk, but Gabriel had nothing but time to practice.

Right now his charge was safely tucked away in her room, surrounded by books and plowing through that night’s assigned reading with all the determination he’d come to expect from the girl. This left him free to pursue on of his side projects that had been quietly simmering on the back burner since the Winchesters showed up.

He’d gone for the slow burn with this guy, starting with relatively small annoyances (Gabriel’s first volley had been changing the prescription in the man’s glasses) and building steadily. Before Dean and his animatronic brother had nudged into first priority the local city council offices had been overrun with rodents – feral hamsters, to be specific. The head of the city council had then gone home to find that all the pipes in his house had frozen and burst during the day, somewhat remarkable when you consider that it was fifty-three degrees and sunny that particular afternoon.

Gabriel was in the process of stealing the man’s prized Jaguar and leaving it in the Philippines when he felt a tingle of alarm spread up his spine. He abandoned the car on a beach without the finishing touches of stealing the radio and the tires and appeared just outside of Joan’s room.

Father had tied Gabriel to Joan, tightly enough that the archangel would remain connected to her as long as she lived. What she felt and thought would always echo back to Gabriel, even if he wasn’t near, and right now she was feeling fear with a slight undercurrent of anger.

The room was empty, so Gabriel slipped through the strands of reality and reappeared inside. It was undisturbed, looking for all the world like Joan was simply in the bathroom or just down the hall doing laundry. Maybe on a coffee run, giving the empties in the garbage can. There was a book open on her desk, four more stacked underneath it, computer on and running, and a notebook and pen placed next to the computer.

The problem was that it was too clean. Gabriel couldn’t sense the remnants of anyone that shouldn’t have been there. He couldn’t sense anyone, period, including the traces of Joan that had been bleeding into the walls since she’d moved in. It was like the place had been wiped clean, psychically speaking, which meant that whoever had taken Joan against her will was interested in covering their tracks.

The archangel took one last look around the room, making sure that whatever had taken Joan hadn’t left something plugged in that would set the place on fire. If he got her back and all her classwork was gone, she would be pissed.

xxx

It was entrance worthy of an archangel, some tiny part of Gabriel’s mind snarked as he stormed into the dingy motel room. It had been a long time since he’d really stretched out his wings, so to speak. In the past two thousand years or so, his acts as an archangel could be counted on one hand. It felt good to swing the door open with his mind, storm past Dean Winchester, and grab his soulless brother by the neck with one hand. “What did you two dickwads do?” he snarled.

“Hey,” Dean protested, gun out in a heartbeat. “Put my brother down.”

Gabriel rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers on his free hand. The weapon turned into a water pistol, which he figured Joan would have laughed at. “Grown-ups are talking, Dean.”

The automaton pinned against the wall gasped out half of a strangled name before Gabriel turned his attention back to him. “She’d never even been on the radar until you two chuckleheads showed up and started asking questions, and now she’s gone. Who did you talk to and what did you say?”

“Gabriel?”

He let the face of his vessel slip back to what the two of them knew. It was easier to deal with them that way. The younger version seemed to belong to Joan, somehow. “That’s my name. Try to keep up, moron.”

“Are you talking about that Joan chick?”

“That’s the one.” Gabriel tightened his grip on Sam’s throat. “Let’s try this one more time. Who did you talk to?”

“About what?” Dean asked, that perpetually angry expression deepening. “We haven’t fucking done anything except ask some chick about something we thought might be an angry spirit. And what the hell are you doing here anyway? You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Yeah, well, Daddy gave me one bonus pass for sticking up for you chuckleheads.” He dropped Sam, mostly because it was inconvenient to continue holding him. “Castiel got two and a free upgrade.” Sam got up, moving with the type of caution that Gabriel approved of. “Tell you what, Sammy, you just stay over there for now.” He snapped his fingers and a hard-backed chair appeared. Gabriel knew that it was uncomfortable and an inch or so too short for Sam to sit in with any ease, and that was perfect. “You know his soul isn’t in there, right? It’s probably still locked in the cage with my idiot brothers.”

Dean sighed. “Yeah. I knew something was wrong from the beginning, but I couldn’t get anyone to check until a few weeks ago.”

“I’m right here, y’know. You can ask me.”

“No you’re not,” Gabriel said immediately. “You only look and think like Sam. You’re a wind-up tinkertoy with delusions of grandeur and a limited shelf-life, buddy.”

“Wait, what do you mean ‘limited shelf-life’?”

“I mean you’ve probably only got six months or so before that shell starts to break down without a soul to keep it running.” Gabriel shook his head. “Humans aren’t designed to keep going without some energy powering them, and while this might be a fascinating conversation for you two, it’s not my problem. Did you mention Joan to one of those demons that keep hanging around looking for a piece of action?”

“No,” Dean said, sitting down on the foot of the bed. “Only person we’ve talked to about anything on this case is Bobby, and I never mentioned the witnesses I’d talked to.”

“Shit.” Gabriel slumped down, only barely remembering to manifest his own chair before dropping down. Unlike Sam’s, this one was soft and plush. “What about Castiel? Have you talked to him since you got into town?” It was a long shot, but at least he knew how the other angels operated. If she’d been taken by some vanilla mortal Gabriel would drop-kick the asshole into a pocket reality that made Hell look like a sauna.

“The day we caught wind of the case, but we were in Indiana at the time.” Dean’s face twisted a little. “You know anything about the stuff that went missing from Heaven’s weapon locker?”

“What went missing?”

“They found Moses’ staff not too long ago. Not sure what else is missing. Apparently this douchebag named Balthazar jumped ship with a bunch of them when the Apocalypse didn’t happen. Like you, only with less class.”

“And why was Castiel looking for them?”

“He’s trying to get to them before Raphael.”

“That jackass.”

Dean snorted out a laugh. “You don’t know the half of it. Man, you got shit luck when it comes to brothers.”

“What’s he trying to do now?”

“He’s trying to get it all started again. Wants to set both Michael and Lucifer free so they can finally fight the big battle.” Sam, who had been suspiciously quiet since Gabriel had spilled the beans about his imminent death, finally spoke up. “Is it true?”

Gabriel clenched one fist, resisting the temptation to snap his fingers and turn Sam into a turtle. With the way his luck was running today, he’d probably end up with something overlarge and carnivorous. “Yes, it’s true. The human body needs the energy provided by something resembling a soul, though a demon can keep one running for a little while and an angel’s grace can keep it going pretty much forever. You don’t have any of those things. And I’ll talk about it more once we’ve found Joan. Now shut up and let me think.” Something about the idea of Raphael looking for weapons had struck him. He wondered idly if anyone would ever figure out where he’d hidden the Ark of the Covenant.

Someday some uptight scholar was going to realize that it had been boxed up in storage in Grant’s tomb for the past one hundred or so years and the uproar would be glorious to watch. Gabriel was planning on bringing popcorn.

“Why would someone want to take Joan?” Dean was studying him from his seated position, eyes focused more intently than Gabriel was entirely comfortable with. He knew Dean was far more intelligent than he let on, but the Hunter had a bad habit of using what he learned as blackmail.

“You have to admit, she’s pretty hot,” Gabriel deflected. “And she hangs out with me. That might have made her look like good ransom material.”

“Which shows she’s pretty desperate for a friend,” Dean said. “But you could make a hundred Playboy bunnies without any trouble, so something else is going on here.”

The archangel bit back the urge to curse. He couldn’t give anything away. Especially since the concept of Heaven’s weapons had just meshed with Joan. He’d forgotten that she could be considered to be such a thing, that along with the dangers she faced from humans and demons he should have been worried that someone would notice the metaphorical rocket launcher he’d been babysitting for the past few months.

Unfortunately, that idea had just occurred to Dean as well. “She’s one of your nukes, isn’t she?” His eyes widened and he stood up. “She’s one of your nukes and now she’s missing.”

“She’s not a fucking missile, Dean,” he snapped. “She’s better. More versatile.”

“And how are your brothers going to use her, huh?”

And that just took the cake. Joan had a connection to God that not even an archangel could match, had probably spent more time with Father than anyone in thousands of years. They were going to take her apart trying to get to the knowledge in her head.

In some ways, it was actually a lucky break for Joan. There were a hundred ways that an archangel could use one of God’s special kids. It rarely happened because they were usually marked as strictly off-limits, but Michael or Lucifer would have twisted Joan into whatever they needed and discarded her when they were done.

Raphael had always been far more straightforward. He would take her apart, but Gabriel doubted the idea of using a human had ever occurred to him. Joan would prefer that to being manipulated into a war, hands down.

His goal was to find them both before that happened and deliver an ass-kicking that would make World War II look like an argument between two twelve-year-old girls.

“So which one is she?”

Gabriel rolled his eyes. He’d forgotten how single-minded Dean could be. How infuriatingly, annoyingly single-minded.

He snapped his fingers for coffee, something obnoxiously sweet and teeth-rotting. He’d developed a taste for it hanging around with college students. “You think Azazael came up with the idea of his special kids?” the archangel said. Might as well tell them. He could always erase their memories if it got awkward. “Demons haven’t come up with an original idea since the beginning. He took something that belonged to Heaven and twisted it, just like Lucy.”

Sam looked at him a little blankly. “So an angel bled into her mouth when she was a baby?”

Gabriel wrinkled his nose. “Um, ew? No. That was one of the things that old yellow eyes twisted. Ever read the Bible there, brainiac?”

“Yeah,” Dean answered, which was a bit of a surprise. “Don’t remember this part, though.”

“Try Abraham, genius. Or maybe one of the two dozen or so other ones listed. Sometimes Father just picks a person and starts talking to them.”

“I’m not following.”

Gabriel turned his coffee into something a little stronger. The things he had to put up with sometimes. “She’s Joan of Arc, jackass. In training to be a warrior and an emissary of God, which is something you might want to think about next time you think about trying to bang her, Sammy.”

“Too much work,” Sam said dismissively, which made Gabriel see red for a second before acknowledging that he’d wanted exactly that sort of response. “A girl like that isn’t going to settle for getting some and getting gone.”

“Try it and I’ll make sure you come down with the most hideously deforming STD in existence.”

“So how do we get her back from your douchebag brother?” Dean asked, bringing the conversation back to topic before his brother could shoot off another retort that would probably end with Gabriel carrying through on his promise just for the hell of it.

“Call Castiel,” Gabriel said. “I’ve got a feeling that this is going to take care of his little problem with Raphael.”

“His problem and not yours?” Dean asked shrewdly.

“I’m strictly on babysitting duty right now,” Gabriel told him. “Stopping whatever plan my idiot brother has cooked up is just a nice bonus. I mostly just want him as far away from Joan as I can get him.”

“And Heaven can go fuck itself?”

“Heaven is Castiel’s concern. He’s Michael’s new replacement. Keeping Joan alive and on task is mine. This isn’t the kind of thing that you can mess with, moron. A shakeup in Heaven is nothing compared to a screwup in the destiny of one of Dad’s kids.”

“What kind of trouble are we talking about here?”

“Jehanne d’Arc broke a siege that had lasted for months under Michael’s orders. She helped turn the tide of the Hundred Years War, and the powers that be were so scared of her that they burned her as a witch. In the wrong hands they can be used to tear down countries.” Gabriel grimaced and stood up, making the chair disappear with a thought. “If Michael or Lucifer had gotten their hands on her during their little bitch fight, no one would have liked the results. Think Sodom and Gomorrah only a little more global. So get off your ass and call your buddy Cas, Dean. We need to start planning out how to get her back.”

“Okay,” Dean said, lifting his hands and backing away. “Don’t get all wrath of God on me, here.”

“You’ve never seen the wrath of God,” Gabriel told him. “But if we don’t get Joan back safe and sound, we’ll all get a front row seat to the real thing.”

“All right.” Dean shifted in his position, lowering his elbow down onto his knees, hands dangling loose as he closed his eyes. “Hey, Cas, it’s Dean. We’ve got a lead on one of Heaven’s loose artillery down here and could use the assistance.”

Gabriel raised one eyebrow. “That’s it? That’s how you pray?”

“All I’m really comfortable with,” the hunter said, shrugging and opening his eyes. “He usually responds really quickly if he’s not in the middle of something.”

“I am always occupied,” Castiel said, startling the humans in the room with his sudden appearance. “I always respond when I can. Hello, Gabriel.”

To most ears that would have sounded carefully neutral. Gabriel, of course, could hear the inherent fury that lay underneath his little brother’s calm façade. He grinned. Little brother was growing up.

“Castiel,” he drawled.

“I would ask where you have been, but I’m sure that I already know the answer to that. What reason do you have for showing up now?”

That one hurt a little, but Gabriel kept his smile. “I think I should resent that, little brother. I have been on a specific assignment.”

“You have been hiding from your responsibilities,” Castiel said matter-of-factly.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. It had been such a glimmer of potential, so quickly snuffed out. “Let’s take this squabble someplace a little more comfortable.” He snapped his fingers and brought all four of them to his favorite coffee shop in a little out-of-the-way dimension. The cinnamon rolls here were as big as your head, made fresh every morning by a young magic-user with a gift for transmogrification.

This particular slice of the multiverse had tied up everything with a hint of magic in layers of red tape and bureaucracy. The local cops in charge of enforcing those laws spent a lot of time at this particular coffee shop, and Gabriel flicked a finger and changed all the sugar in their coffee into salt. Most of them were partially something and Gabriel didn’t really like the inherent hypocrisy of it all.

He ordered for all of them at the counter, despite Castiel’s stiff-necked disdain when it came to food, and then hustled them off to a little side table to enjoy the spoils. His slab of Bitter Chocolate Death was amazing as always, and he took a moment to relish it while happily ignoring his brother’s histronics.

“Eat your Cinnamon Roll, Castiel,” he said once the first blush of enjoyment had faded a little. “I’ve been watching one of Dad’s special kids for the past two years. He told me to stay undercover, so I’ve been behaving.”

“I’m not sure Thomas Carter would agree with you.”

“That was a special case,” Gabriel protested. “Besides, it was funny as hell.”

“I do not believe anyone would find being dangled from the roof of the building by a costumed vigilante enjoyable.”

“That was kind of the point. Come on, you’re not still pissed because I dropped you in Twilight, are you?”

“Edward Cullen was most annoying,” the angel growled. “I don’t understand why you didn’t help us stop Michael if you were still alive.”

“Father had it handled. He told me to stick with Joan, so I did what he told me. Trust me, Joan needed someone to watch out for her. You don’t mess with God’s plan, Castiel. It has a way of happening no matter what you try.”

“So why now?”

“We think teenage mutant ninja angel has the girl,” Dean said, looking up from the crumbs of his apple tart with a look approaching reverence. “Dude, where are we? I think I want to live next door to this place.”

“We’re a couple of strands over from your reality,” Gabriel said. “The trip is worth it, though. So, here’s my plan on how we’re getting Joan back from my dick brother.”

“They’re all pretty much dicks,” Dean pointed out, reaching over and stealing a strip of Castiel’s cinnamon roll. “Sorry, Cas.”

“So’s yours,” Gabriel returned amiably. “Raphael has Joan. He’s going to take her apart so that he can use her to win this little tiff you two have going. I’ve gotten to like her and I don’t want to spend the next few months putting her back together again, so we need to get her out of the way so I can express my displeasure with the moron. With me so far?”

There were nods all around, so Gabriel launched into the next portion of his plan. “I can locate Joan eventually. Father tied us together, and I can use that to work around some things. If Raph stayed on the physical plane, I want you two mooks to get her out. Castiel and I will take care of Raphael.”

“I am not sure how much assistance I will be,” Castiel said, oddly apologetic. “The last time we met did not go well for me.”

“There’s a difference between having the power of an archangel and knowing how to use it,” Gabriel told him. “If you want, I’ll teach you a few tricks on how to kick ass.” He meant it as an olive branch of sorts. Of all of them, he’d probably hurt Castiel the worst. Even after Shaggy and Scooby Doo over there had pulled off the rubber mask, they had no reason to expect better treatment from the archangel Gabriel. Castiel, though, did not deserve what other angels had put him through.

“Isn’t this a little casual for a rescue planning?” Sam turned from his perusal of the coffee shop patrons. “Shouldn’t you be a little more urgent?”

“There are some things that Raphael will have to take care of before he can get started. Dad made sure to protect his special kids from overly involved angels. We have time. Besides, this particular dimension runs on a different time standard than yours. Until we move back, time isn’t an issue.”

“I’m good,” Dean said, finishing off his coffee (he’d kept his black and was therefore amused rather than offended when the splutters began). “What if she’s not on Earth anymore?”

“Raphael doesn’t have the patience or imagination to move her to another reality. If she’s not on our Earth anymore, she’s in Heaven and I can find her faster. And at that point Father will probably be doling out some capital punishment. Joan has a destiny that she needs to fulfill before she goes home. If she’s still alive, it’ll take me a little longer to find her but I’ll do it. Questions?”

“Can I get one of whatever you had to go?” Dean asked hopefully. “Actually, your Joan chick would probably like one too. Most women really go for chocolate.”

“Not a bad idea,” Gabriel admitted. “I’m going to need something to make this whole archangel thing go down a little easier.”

“She didn’t know?”

“Dad said keep it quiet, so I did. And the only way two can keep a secret is if one of them is dead.”

“And on that note,” Dean said, standing up from the table. “We’re going to need a few supplies to get the girl away from Raphael.”

“Holy oil would be useful,” Castiel murmured. “I will go to Jerusalem.”

“I’ll take these two back to this version of Chicago.” Gabriel eyed the counter again with an air of melancholy. “After I get one of these for Joan.”




Part 3