It's supposed to be easy. Temporary marks on their skin, laid there by angel magic. Easy to apply, easy to remove. But Sam should know by now that nothing's ever that easy for them. The thing that's devouring hunters is strong, much stronger than they're prepared for. It's all strung through with death magic, ready to eat up and spit out any other sort of magic it comes across.
The tattoos will have to be done manually, which means forcing angel blood under the skin in a way that Sam's fairly sure is going to hurt like hell.
Especially for him.
Dean lets Castiel drag him next door with the look of a man who's bled and hurt for the cause far too many times already. A look that Sam has grown to hate and feel guilty about at the same time.
Sam ends up spread out face down on the bed in his own room, shirt pulled off and tossed over his bag.
He waits there while Gabriel strips off his jacket and snaps himself up a wicked looking curved knife and Sam knows, he knows, what the tattoo has to be done in, but it hadn't really sunk in until now.
He buries his face in the crook of his arm and waits.
Gabriel drops onto the curve of his ass in a way that's hurried and not at all careful, and it's a damn good job the Archangel isn't exactly a heavyweight.
"You know how much fun this isn't going to be, right?" Gabriel says flatly, and there's not even a hint of a tease there.
Sam grunts into his own arm, as close to yes as he can manage when all the adrenaline in his body is telling him to throw the angel off.
Gabriel's hands push his shoulders down.
"My blood's going to burn all the way through you and the quickest way to get this done is for you to let it."
There's a low clicking punch of metal and Sam tenses.
He's had a tattoo. He knows what it's supposed to feel like.
It's not supposed to feel like this.
It hurts, hurts in a way that's new and completely unlike anything he's ever felt before. It's like insects crawling under the skin, sharp metallic insects, that are on fire.
Gabriel's fingers curl round his shoulder, abort his instinctive, desperate need to pull away. Though they can't stop the noise he makes, torn all the way up and out of his throat. The Archangel's a lot stronger than he looks, there's force behind his grip and Sam can't move, can't even flinch.
He has his teeth clenched so hard he may never be able to open them again.
"Gabriel," he manages, and it sounds like he's begging.
"Don't fight it." Gabriel's voice sounds so far away.
Sam blinks sweat out of his eyes. He wants to tell Gabriel to try this himself and then not fight like his life depended on it. Because it feels like there's Archangel tearing up the skin on his back and it's too much. It's too strong.
"Sam, you won't win this fight, don't be stupid."
He's gasping and shaking his head, tiny little fractions of movement and the vibration is going to kill him. It's going to shake him to pieces -
When Sam opens his eyes again the whole world swims back into focus, vision first and then everything else.
There's a thumb, rubbing over the new, strange, raw space on his back. It takes him a second to realise that the slow rhythm of it is perfectly matched to his breathing.
He very carefully turns his head, feels the world tilt strangely.
Gabriel's weight shifts on him and Sam can feel it all the way through him, the part of the world that's now Gabriel and nothing else.
"Easy," the Archangel says quietly and Sam can feel his voice, the low vibration of it, all layers and clarity that weren't there before. It's new in a way that leaves him dizzy. The flavour of Gabriel is all wrong - and he doesn’t even know what he means by that. Sam's expecting something untrustworthy, something sharp and cloyingly sweet and dark. But that's not what he gets, Gabriel is vast and bright and wound through with regret and fire. A rush of images and sounds and strangeness.
"Easy, Sam, if you stare at the sun too long you'll go blind."
"You're not the sun," Sam manages. His voice sounds hoarse.
"The warning still stands though." That definitely sounds like amusement now. There's a hand in his hair, unfamiliar fingers dragging through the damp strands and Sam sighs out a breath when every cell in his body feels like it relaxes at the same time.
"Give yourself a minute to get used to it." Gabriel still sounds - Sam can't describe it - his voice is more than one voice now, he fills more space.
"What's happened?" He asks, desperately.
"I had to push you a little." There's something that's almost apology in Gabriel's voice. There's a shift of weight and Gabriel's hand is sliding off his back.
"Don't," Sam says, instinctive, desperate.
Gabriel's hand settles on his skin again.
"You're going to hold on tightly aren't you?" Gabriel says quietly.
His fingertips are edging through Sam's hair again and Sam can't help the way he breathes out shaky relief.
Gabriel's other hand has folded round his waist, warm where Sam didn't even know he was cold.
"You might regret that when it comes time to give me up, Sam."