Sam had gotten three hours of sleep two days ago, and that was the only excuse he had when Adamel’s kindergarten teacher held out her hand and he drew a complete blank. “Rebecca Milliman,” she was saying. He only got that much when he stopped freaking out over how young the other kids looked and tried to pay attention. “I’ve known Ellen a long time. It’s always nice to meet friends of her family.”
“Hi,” he said. He remembered just in time to take her hand, to shake it, to smile awkwardly. Three hours shouldn’t even count; that was like a nap. The night before that he’d been dead, and he still wasn’t sure how that affected his sleep debt. “Sam Winchester. And this is...”
He had nothing. Absolutely nothing. Why had they both come in?
“Lucifer.” The devil gave her a charming smile, which, of course he did, and why was this Sam’s life? “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Milliman.”
“Lucifer?” she repeated, eyeing him as though she thought it might be a joke.
He didn’t hold out his hand, and she didn’t offer hers. “I know,” he said, with exactly the right blend of long-suffering and impatience. As though he’d had to explain this to everyone he’d ever met. “My father had a strange way of showing his love.”
She went a little pink, smiling back at him with an embarrassed expression that said she knew she’d been unprofessional. “Well, connotations aside, it’s a pretty name,” she said. “To bring the light, right?”
“Ah,” Lucifer said, looking from her to Sam. “Another Latin scholar.”
“Oh no,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I just see a lot of names come through here. So, um, the first thing we usually do is go out and meet the bus, but if Maribel and Adamel don’t want to go, Yvonne will stay inside with them. Then we’ll play some games and have a snack, and everyone will be ready to go home by noon. You said you don’t plan to have them ride the bus?”
“No,” Sam said. “We’ll pick them up, thanks.”
“All right.” She smiled, glancing around the room. She didn’t seem surprised that the two children they’d brought were unnaturally adult next to the other three kindergarteners who’d been dropped off. “Well, they seem distracted, so I’d say now is a good moment to make your escape. We’ll take good care of them.”
“Great,” Sam said. “Thanks,” he added. And then, without thinking, possibly because sleep deprivation was causing hallucinations, he took Lucifer’s arm and said, “Let’s go.”
Lucifer looked at the hand on his arm. Then his gaze flicked to Sam’s, and Sam was kind of surprised that his eyes looked normal. Not black, or red, or hey, they could be angel-white when he smote people; who would know?
“Shouldn’t we say goodbye?” Lucifer asked.
Even in Sam’s head, it didn’t sound anything like you will die a thousand fiery deaths, so he had no idea how to respond.
“Probably better not to,” the kindergarten teacher was saying. “Don’t call their attention to your leaving.”
“Of course,” Lucifer said, and if he sounded amused, well. Sam was watching Adamel stare at them, even as Maribel politely introduced herself to another little girl and asked her how old she was.
Foreign language for beginners, Sam thought, a little wildly. They might as well have been listening to culture tapes on how to mimic a native accent. Maribel’s mittens were blue – they’d been pink when she walked in – and Adamel looked like he was planning a demon takeover.
He gave them five minutes.
“Come, Sam,” Lucifer said. His arm twitched, not as though he was trying to pull away – was Sam still holding onto him? – but as though he wanted to nudge Sam toward the door and wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. “Thank you, Miss Milliman. We’ll be back at twelve.”
Sam felt something against his shoulder and he finally turned, pushed irresistibly toward the door. He heard the teacher call, “Have a nice day!” after them, and was that Lucifer whispering, “You worry too much,” in his ear? Or had he gone completely insane?
“Is that your wing?” Sam blurted out, when he finally realized that Lucifer wasn’t herding him through the door with his hands. And wow, maybe he should have waited until they were outside to say that. What were they doing, leaving angels in a room that was about to be filled with five-year-old children?
“Your brain chemistry is off,” Lucifer said, smooth and quiet and not sounding even the slightest bit concerned. “When was the last time you slept?”
“What do you care?” Sam demanded, trying to catch a glimpse of the wing that had brushed up against his shoulder. Lucifer’s wings were weird and creepy and he wasn’t sure how he felt about touching them. “Do you realize what we just did? What if they turn everyone in there into rabbits?”
“Then I’m going to have a word with my brother,” Lucifer said, “about setting a better example for the children of God. Smiting by bunny doesn’t exactly strike terror into the hearts of man.”
“They’re not supposed to strike terror into the hearts of man!” Sam exclaimed. “They’re in kindergarten!”
“They’re warriors of the heavenly host,” Lucifer said. “And you’re making a scene.”
This, coming from the devil, was just too much. “You are the lord of the underworld,” Sam hissed. “I just left a half-demon kid who learned everything he knows about relating to others from you in the middle of a kindergarten classroom. I think a plague of bunnies may be too optimistic!”
Lucifer put a hand on the passenger door of Sam’s new car and the door unlocked by itself. The seatbelt withdrew as he opened the door, and he gave Sam a surprisingly human push. “I think you should get in the car.”
Sam didn’t know why he obeyed. Except that it had been almost three minutes, now, and no one had run screaming from the school building with a pack of wild bunnies behind them, so maybe that was a good thing. Oh, but the half-bus that carried the morning kindergarteners was turning in, and that meant that anyone who wanted to go with Miss Milliman would be coming out...
They were. Four of the kindergarteners, including Maribel and Adamel, were trailing the teacher when she appeared in the doorway to meet the bus. Maribel had linked arms with the girl she’d been talking to when they left, and there were no bunnies in sight. On the other hand, Maribel’s mittens were pink again, and Sam wondered how much of his “how to act human” speech had been canceled out by Gabriel’s “all humans are stupid” speech.
“Oh, look,” Lucifer observed, watching from the driver’s seat. “No bunnies.”
“Do you even know how to drive?” Sam asked.
“Adamel’s not a demon,” Lucifer said. He hadn’t looked away from the front of the school, where the rest of the class was climbing off of their bus and mostly not losing hats or snacks or more than one mitten at a time.
“He’s my son,” Sam muttered. “Demon blood comes with the territory.”
Lucifer tilted his head in a way that was weirdly reminiscent of Castiel. Not that Sam was watching him, because his wings were bizarre and smoky where they crackled through the seat back and now that they’d touched him Sam couldn’t stop noticing. Really, nothing about being a vessel was worth it.
“Did Gabriel tell you that?” Lucifer asked at last.
Sam snorted, trying to see the kids’ wings instead. They were white and wispy, little glowing flickers through the milling mass of winter coats and scarves as the teacher coaxed everyone back inside. “Gabriel thinks I’m an alien.”
“What an odd thing to say,” Lucifer mused.
“Him?” Sam said without thinking. “Or me?”
Lucifer touched the steering column as the last of the kids filed through the doors, and the engine hummed to life. “Both of you,” he said.
Sam woke up alone in his room, afternoon sun peeking around the edges of curtains he hadn’t closed. He stared at the ceiling for a long moment, trying to remember if he was supposed to be dead or not. When he finally turned his head, he found Gabriel’s stupid teddy bear on the bed beside him and a clock that read 2:14.
He really hoped someone had remembered to pick up the kids from school.
The next day, Dean lost his memory again. Or they thought he did, until he started talking about their grandfather being alive and Sam having no soul and at that point they just figured he was crazy. It was bound to happen sooner or later, Sam thought. At least now he was awake enough to deal with it.
Then Dean started talking to Castiel – also inevitable – and of course Cas listened. No one else had time, especially with Michael out of action, and it wasn’t that Sam didn’t want to know. It was just that Gabriel and Anna were fighting over Jophiel, which wouldn’t have mattered to Sam if losing Jophiel didn’t mean losing Sachiel too. Ellen was flipping out over the archangels’ additions to her property: Gabriel didn’t care and Michael was unavailable, which meant Sam was the one she yelled at. Jesse had pissed off Lucifer by asking for his own room at the Roadhouse – an angry devil was not a fun person to carpool with – and of course, that was when Cassie and Andrea arrived. With Lucas.
“Your protection ritual sucks,” Sam informed Gabriel. “Also, how come none of my friends have shown up?”
“You have friends?” Gabriel countered. He made a show of looking around. “Where are they?”
“I hate you,” Sam told him.
“So does Jophiel,” Gabriel agreed. “Do you care if she goes to live with the responsible parent? I’d ask Dean, but he’d probably try to stake me. I thought Cas would have fixed him by now, but I guess he’s still being emo over how Dean doesn’t love him.”
“Are they allowed to just switch garrisons like that?” Sam asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Gabriel scoffed. “Happens all the time.”
Sam frowned at him, and Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Of course not,” he said. “Hello, archangel here! What is she? She’s nothing; she’s a nobody foot soldier, and I couldn’t care less where she wants to serve. She was assigned here. End of story.”
“Except it’s not,” Sam said slowly.
“No, because when I tell her no she’ll just whine to you,” Gabriel said. “Cutting out that part saves time.”
The phone in Sam’s pocket buzzed. “What good does it do us to have someone who doesn’t want to be here?” Sam asked, pulling it out. “Don’t get me wrong; I’d just as soon keep Sachiel –”
The text message was from Lucifer. What is the significance of having one’s own room somewhere?
“She shouldn’t want anything,” Gabriel said irritably. “She’s an angel; she can suck it up.”
“Like the rest of you?” Sam countered. Who had told Lucifer to just ask him, he wondered? Samael? Wouldn’t she know? it means ur welcome, he replied. so u know u can show up anytime.
“So we keep Sach and let Jo go,” Gabriel said, watching him type. “She’ll take Wildfire with her, you know.”
Sam snorted, just as Lucifer replied, The antichrist can go anywhere he likes.
“She’ll take Sach too,” he said, putting his phone away. That hadn’t been the question, and there was nothing he could say to that. “Giving one permission is giving both of them permission. Which means we’re gonna have to promote Aramel, or the whole command structure falls apart.”
“Aramel?” Gabriel didn’t look impressed. “Why, because she gets along with the kids?”
“Because she knows something about humans,” Sam said. “Hey, how many of the archangels had children?”
Gabriel froze, and Sam knew immediately that he should have asked someone else. He couldn’t even blame it on fatigue, not today. It was just pressure, too many things all needing to be done at once, and having Gabriel there when it all went to hell. He was surprisingly reliable. Every so often, Sam forgot that they didn’t actually know each other.
“Okay, do-over,” Sam said quickly. “If you don’t want Aramel, come up with someone else Ellen can stand. I’m gonna go make sure Dean and Cas haven’t killed each other.”
“You already used your do-over for today,” Gabriel said.
“You haven’t used yours since Monday,” Sam reminded him. “They turn over, okay? I get an extra.”
“Wait, I piss you off less, so you get to piss me off more?” Gabriel looked speculative, which should have been terrifying but actually felt like a giant step up from impassive. “That doesn’t seem fair.”
“Not using your do-overs doesn’t mean you didn’t piss me off,” Sam said, standing up. “It just means you didn’t apologize for it. Emily wants to talk to you.”
He made his escape, trying to remember what he’d been thinking to ask Gabriel about archangel children. Because of Samael, he thought. His survival instinct was clearly on vacation. He was pretty sure that any “children” of the archangels would have been nephilim, and he was equally sure that, whoever they might have been, they were dead now. Likely at Gabriel’s word. Which just went to show how much Sam forgot, sometimes: who he was dealing with, what the guy at his back was capable of.
He didn’t have time for this. He didn’t have time for any of it; he just had to trust that the angels would keep doing what he told them to do. Gabriel included. Because without Michael on his side, Sam was just another human. Demonic at best. The hellbound vessel of the devil at worst.
“Sam.” Castiel was waiting for him at the top of the stairs. He didn’t look good, and Sam reminded himself not to think about how fragile this was. It wasn’t just Dean that they couldn’t afford to lose; it was any of them. They were all dependent on each other, propping each other up like a house of cards – if one of them went, it would all fall down.
“Cas,” Sam said, putting a hand on his arm. “It’s gonna be okay.”
“He’s from another dimension,” Castiel said.
Sam didn’t think, he didn’t even ask. He just said, “He still loves you.”
Castiel gave him a look like that was his whole world, and Sam didn’t know when he’d turned into the designated angel-hugger but he found himself wrapping clumsy arms around Castiel, trying to avoid his wings, trying to remember when he’d started to feel them, wondering if it mattered. They would get Dean back. They would get Michael back.
There wasn’t any other option.
They got Dean back just in time to lose everyone else. Well, almost everyone. The garrison defenses were solid, a fortress, impenetrable – to anything except the mischief of someone inside. Which meant that when Jesse and Gabriel got into an argument over the efficacy of enochian versus non-enochian wards, everyone lost.
Every angel inhabiting an independent human vessel was summarily banished from the Roadhouse.
“Fix this,” Dean told Gabriel, in no uncertain terms.
“You’re an archangel,” Gabriel sneered. Of the twenty-one angels stationed at the Roadhouse garrison, guests and children not included, he and Dean were two of the three who actually owned their human forms. “You fix it.”
Through gritted teeth, Dean said, “I’m not the one who broke it.”
“Fair point,” Gabriel said after a moment’s consideration. “I’ll go ground the kid.”
Leaving Sam and Dean in an otherwise angel-less building, surrounded by a lot of confused vessels. It was, Sam thought, staring around at them, kind of sickening. It was the thing he tried not to think about: that angels weren’t that much different from demons, except that angels had to ask. Once they’d talked or tortured you around, they took your body and there went your life. End of story, as Gabriel would say.
None of them looked as disgusted as he felt. He told himself it must be because some of them had agreed – genuine, informed consent – and maybe others still didn’t understand what had happened. Maybe it was like waking up from a dream, or from a sleep too deep for dreams. Maybe it was like amnesia: years of their lives lost, with no recollection of how or why.
That didn’t explain Sachiel’s vessel. Or Jophiel’s. The two women were clinging to each other like long-lost friends... or lovers. Partners comforting each other in the absence of something precious to them. It didn’t explain Aramel’s vessel, visibly reassured when she caught sight of Adamel by the door. It didn’t explain the deference all of them seemed to give Dean, or the way they were looking to Sam for answers.
It definitely didn’t explain Nick, speaking calmly with Ellen at the bar, no trace of hell at his back and wearing what seemed like an unreasonably rational expression on his face.
“Dean,” Sam said under his breath. “What’s going on?”
His brother was still standing beside him with his ridiculous glowing archangel wings, and okay, they were all vessels. They could see that. Maybe it wasn’t so strange that they wouldn’t want to look Dean in the eye. But him?
“They’re, uh, way less freaked out than I thought they’d be?” Dean muttered back.
“Yeah,” Sam said, staring at them. “That.”
That was when Castiel appeared, shouldering out of Ellen’s new “coat room” like the building itself was in his way. “Michael,” he said, his eyes going to Dean immediately.
“Cas,” Dean said, and Sam wondered if that was supposed to answer the question Castiel hadn’t asked. “You okay?”
“This body was made for me,” Castiel said. “I’m not affected. And you?”
He seemed anxious, at least as much as Cas ever did, but Dean just smirked at him. “I’ve had mine longer than you have.”
Sam wasn’t sure that made Cas feel better, but it was more explanation than he got from anyone else. They were a lot more informed than he would have expected, having met Jimmy years before, and it turned out that there wasn’t much he could tell them. Everyone knew both Gabriel and Jesse, and seemed to accept that between the two of them there was nothing they couldn’t screw up.
“Hey.” It was Jophiel’s voice that found him by the front door an hour later, watching Jesse stare up at the roof of the Roadhouse from the parking lot. Gabriel was nowhere to be seen, and when he turned around, of course Jophiel wasn’t there either. It wasn’t like Jophiel had ever said “hey” before.
“Hi,” Sam said, smiling at the woman who’d introduced herself as Laura Westen. He had no idea how to act with the suddenly unoccupied vessels, but everyone he’d spoken to so far seemed remarkably aware and trauma-free. “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay,” Laura said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been without her, but Tennessee says she’s fine, so.”
“Tennessee?” Sam repeated.
“Sachiel’s vessel?” Laura prompted.
“No, yeah –” Sam tried not to look as awkward as he felt. “I know, I just meant... how does she know?”
“She and Sachiel have a stronger connection.” Laura looked, of all things, wistful. “Sachiel can kind of... answer her prayers. Literally.”
“That’s useful,” Sam said without thinking. Then he realized that the tactical advantage it would give someone probably wasn’t her highest priority, and he added quickly, “I mean – sorry.”
But Laura just smiled. “No, you’re right. It is useful. I wish Jophiel and I could do it.”
“So you –” Sam stopped before he could say something even more tactless.
“What?” she asked. “It’s not every day I get to talk to the leader of the garrison. Lay it on me.”
Hearing those words in Jophiel’s voice – well, Laura’s voice, but coming from a face and voice he associated with a celestial soldier – made him smile. “It’s funny, but you sort of... you act like you don’t mind being her vessel.”
“Mind?” Laura gave him an incredulous look, and just as he was about to apologize again she said, “Jophiel is the best thing that ever happened to me. She saved my life. She gave me Tenn. I don’t know what else I could possibly ask for.”
“Your freedom?” Sam said. “The right to make your own choices? Control over your own body?” He flinched even as he said it. “I should just stop talking, shouldn’t I.”
“I can make choices,” Laura said. “Jophiel asks me. We talk.”
“And you say yes,” Sam said.
“‘Yes’ isn’t just a word,” Laura told him. “I know the archangels are kind of... high and mighty, or obnoxious brats, depending on who you talk to, but Jophiel’s an angel. An actual angel. She takes care of me.”
“How –” Sam wasn’t sure there was any good way to ask this question. “How much does she tell you? If you don’t mind me asking? How come everyone... uh. I guess I wasn’t expecting you to be – so well-informed?”
“She’s in my body,” Laura said, like he was the one who was confused. “I mean, I see what she sees. Most of the time. On earth, anyway. Not always in heaven. But we don’t go there much these days.”
That definitely wasn’t how Jimmy had described it. “So you’re... aware. While she’s – possessing you?” Sam tried to think of a way to make it sound less terrible, but he couldn’t. “You just watch?”
“Unless it’s boring,” Laura said with a shrug. “Most of the time it’s cool, though. Flying is great.”
“But you don’t get any say in what happens,” Sam said. “I mean, you can disagree, I guess? But you can’t just like, go get a smoothie or something. Or watch a movie.”
Laura gave him an odd look. “Of course I can. She only needs me to talk to you. The rest of the time, I can do whatever I want.”
“What, like –” In your room, he wanted to ask? It wasn’t like he ever saw vessels wandering around the Roadhouse without their angels. “What do you do?”
“Go to Venice,” she said, like it was obvious. Like she didn’t understand why he wouldn’t have thought of it. “Go to Woodstock. Do you know me and Tenn watched the moon landing? Live? It was awesome. I saw the Grand Canyon last year. And the Great Pyramids. Oh, and we went on this super-tame boat tour of the Amazon, which Tenn said was ridiculous but it was –”
“Awesome,” Sam finished with her. He couldn’t help smiling.
Laura grinned back at him. “Yeah. We’re not – we don’t, like, have anything. We can’t do the kid thing, or jobs, or normal stuff like that. But Jophiel and Sachiel take us wherever we want to go, and we meet some pretty amazing people. Like you, you know? And your brother. And an archangel who isn’t awful, which, who knew?
“No offense,” she said quickly, the traces of her smile disappearing. “I mean, I know you get along with Gabriel. It’s just.”
It took him a moment to figure out that the archangel who wasn’t awful was Michael. “Michael?” he said out loud. “He’s the archangel you like?”
Laura looked a little apologetic. “We kind of... share some loyalties, I guess. He’s nice to Castiel.”
Who was good buddies with Jophiel. Sam nodded, because he shouldn’t have needed that spelled out for him. Except that he was still reeling from the easy trust Laura gave the angel who’d taken over her body. “So you like being a vessel,” Sam said.
Laura smiled, like she could hear his incredulity. “It’s not for everyone,” she said.
The vessel-angel separation was a nightmare. Literally. He thought he was going to hear Nick telling him you’re welcome for the rest of his life. Not all of the vessels were as sweetly innocent as Laura – Nick was clearly insane, no matter his rational front, and Aramel’s vessel was... confused. She thought she was Aramel, to the point where Sam never got another name out of her.
Maybe crazy, he thought, but in a less creepy way than Nick. He couldn’t tell if the guy had been messed up before, or if being that close to the devil had just driven him over the edge. The creepy part was that he acted so normal: Lucifer’s actions weren’t his fault, he said. And if it wasn’t him, it would be someone else, right?
That was when he smiled at Sam, warm and human in a way Lucifer could mimic all too well, and told him he was welcome.
“I’m grounded,” Gabriel’s voice announced. The back door slammed behind him, and his shoulder bumped against Sam’s a moment later. Well, his shoulder bumped against Sam’s arm and his wing brushed accidentally over Sam’s back. “Let’s ditch this place.”
“That’s not what being grounded means,” Sam muttered. The barn was lit up against the twilight. He wondered who was inside.
“Well, duh,” Gabriel said. “That’s completely the point. You’re avoiding Lucifer. I’m avoiding Michael. And in case you hadn’t noticed, both of them are here.”
“How are you grounded?” Sam asked, because it was easier than any of the other questions he had.
“How are you so mopey?” Gabriel replied. “You’re the one who fixed the broken sigil. Allegedly.”
“They didn’t sound the way I expected,” Sam said, ignoring Gabriel’s dismissal of his night-eating research. “The vessels.”
Gabriel scoffed. “And you’d met, what, one? Two if you count the kid? Great sample size, there.”
“Jimmy,” Sam said, then stopped. “Castiel’s vessel,” he clarified, in case Gabriel didn’t know. “Back when he had a vessel... Jimmy used to say he had no idea what was going on. He said he only did it to keep his family safe.”
“And because he was a nutcase,” Gabriel said.
Sam frowned, considering that. “Do you know that for sure,” he said at last, “or was it a lucky guess?”
“Look, Castiel didn’t know what he was doing,” Gabriel said. “He didn’t take the vessel he was supposed to. He and Jimmy were never as compatible as they should have been, and let’s face it: Jimmy was cracked. Talking to angels was the least of his problems. He’s lucky he had Cas holding him together as long as he did.”
The world exploded into light. Sam’s first thought was Gabriel’s angelic form, and he threw his arm over his eyes. What he felt instead was the full-body itch of environmental substitution – something he was almost getting used to around Gabriel, except that this time when he opened his eyes he was on a spaceship. Or something that looked like a spaceship, which probably meant it wasn’t. Because how would he know what a spaceship looked like?
“Which one of you is important,” a voice growled from behind them.
Sam spun around – while at his side, Gabriel fell to his knees. Sam almost asked him what was wrong before his brain started to catch up with his eyes: more than half the room was kneeling. The other half was armed.
“I am,” Sam said, before he could really think.
Without any further warning, they shot Gabriel, and Sam did his best not to react. The floor didn’t so much as vibrate when Gabriel’s human form thudded at his feet. I hate you, Sam thought. It was the only thing that came close. Even if he knew Gabriel couldn’t hear it.
“This way,” the voice said.
Never go to the secondary location, Sam thought distantly. They’d been trying to train the kids in some rudimentary self-defense techniques. The problem was, of course, that he was already at the secondary location. He had seconds to decide whether to give Gabriel cover or just freak the hell out of whoever was around them.
“Gabriel,” he said aloud. Gabriel could make his own cover if he needed it. “Come on.”
Just like that, Gabriel was beside him again. He didn’t miss the way the rest of the room withdrew, and he took advantage of it. “Why can’t you snap us out of here?” Sam muttered under his breath.
“Oh, I can,” Gabriel replied easily. “I just thought, you know. Aliens. You don’t want to meet them?”
“No,” Sam said, in no uncertain terms. “Get us out of here.”
Sam saw Gabriel shrug out of the corner of his eye. “Fine.”
The light disappeared, and it was dusk in the middle of a street fair. Sam let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, because Gabriel had been shot. “Do you draw the crazy?” he demanded. “I’d suspect you of making it up except that even you would have to get bored with it eventually. It’s like it follows you.”
“What crazy?” Gabriel asked, eyeing an ice cream vendor. The breeze off the water tugged at his jacket but didn’t ruffle his wings and for one sharp second Sam wanted nothing more than for Gabriel to look at him. Because he was ridiculous, and it was possible that he really didn’t think getting kidnapped and shot by aliens deserved any kind of acknowledgment.
And Sam, infrequently and against his better judgment, liked that about him.
“We should try those tricycle things,” Gabriel was saying. “Out on the water. I’ve never done that before.”
“Where are we?” Sam asked. He didn’t know why he cared, except that it was warm and summery on a tree-lined street beside a lake, sunset reflected in the water with bright lights coming on along the shore. They were obviously noticed, pedestrians moving around them, but no one was staring and... really? There was something Gabriel hadn’t done?
“Naples,” Gabriel said cheerfully. “Maine. Last summer. Good weather, and there’s this guy who makes the best clam chowder. I’ll get you some.”
Gabriel was gone before Sam could protest, which was so typical that Sam didn’t bother to roll his eyes. He pulled out his phone and called Dean. “Hey,” he said, as soon as Dean picked up. “So, I’m in Maine.”
“Uh-huh.” Dean didn’t sound impressed. “You’re also seven months in the past. I’d be more pissed at Gabriel for skipping out if he hadn’t fixed your phone.”
Sam decided not to mention that Gabriel had done that two weeks ago. “Apparently there’s aliens around the Roadhouse. You got anything on that?”
“Aliens?” There was a long pause – long enough for Michael to have checked the entire town twice – and he reported, “Nope. You sure he’s not making it up?”
Sam sighed. “Maybe. You guys okay without us for a while?”
“Yeah, whatever,” Dean said. “Enjoy your date.”
Sam couldn’t come up with a reply fast enough to beat the phone’s disconnect.
There had been a time in Sam’s life when, once a week, every week, he was allowed to sleep in. Regular, unquestioned... normal. It had been a brief period, but he treasured it. Those were formative years.
Now all he could do was wonder when he’d decided the excitement was worth it.
“What are you doing in my room?” Sam asked, watching Lucifer stare at him from a distance that was really more Castiel-like than anything else. And Castiel was only allowed to do that to Dean. They had rules.
“Waiting to talk to you,” Lucifer replied.
“Waiting to –” Sam broke off, shoving himself up onto his elbows before giving up. He needed to be sitting for this conversation. “Since when do you wait? And why are you doing it in my room?”
“You were sleeping,” Lucifer said.
He was worried that he was the only one who seemed to find this explanation strange. “Yeah, I do that,” Sam agreed. He rubbed a hand over his face, unclear on why he was explaining this in the first place. None of the angels had ever cared before. “Usually I do it alone.”
Lucifer didn’t move. “You don’t have to.”
“Okay, way too far into creepy territory,” Sam said, shoving the blanket away and finding his feet. “I’ll be down in a few minutes; you can talk to me then. Get out of my room.”
Lucifer’s gaze slid past him and Sam saw the teddy bear, propped up in his chair again. “You let Gabriel in your room,” Lucifer observed.
He didn’t let Gabriel in; Gabriel just came in. Whenever he felt like it, as far as Sam could tell. He didn’t think that was something that needed to be shared, though, and he heard himself say instead, “You’re not Gabriel.”
The polite knock on his door made no sense, but he called, “Come in!” anyway. Apparently it was just that kind of day.
The door swung open and Maribel walked in, small and confident and seemingly unsurprised by either of them. “Hello, Sam,” she said. “Jo says it’s your day off and we should ask you to take us to see a movie.”
Adamel was right behind her, ignoring the door in favor of squinting at Lucifer. “You don’t look right,” he said. “What happened to your feathers? The white ones?”
Sam was trying to make a habit of not looking at Lucifer’s wings, so he looked at the clock instead. It was 6:54. In the morning. “This is why I still sleep in my clothes,” he told the clock. It looked largely unsympathetic.
“They changed,” Lucifer said. His tone sounded more awkward than ominous, and Sam frowned.
“I’ll change them back,” Adamel said, with all the conviction of an angel. “They’ll get tired of being messed up eventually. You should visit Samael more often. She helps.”
Okay, Sam thought. Probably more information than he needed.
“Which movie?” Sam asked Maribel. “Did she tell you?”
“It’s called ‘Avatar in IMAX 3D’,” she said. “We’re supposed to make you a movie poster afterwards.”
“Oh yeah?” he said, trying not to smile. “Is Jo coming with us?”
“I’m not sure,” Maribel admitted, frowning slightly. “She said it depends which side of the bed you get up on. I don’t know what that means.”
The door banged against the wall. Lucifer stood in the doorway, and even to a brain still sluggish with sleep, that didn’t seem quite right. Considering that Lucifer was still standing by Sam’s bed, letting Adamel do something to his wings that Sam really didn’t want explained.
Making them white, Sam thought, glancing from one of them to the other. Although he tried not to notice, Lucifer had a couple of stray white feathers amongst the ragged grey. Or he had, until this morning. Now the Lucifer in the doorway had those stray feathers, and the one by Sam’s bed didn’t.
There was, maybe, one less grey feather – the one Adamel was tweaking – but that was it.
“Adamel,” Sam said, pulling Maribel up against his side. “Come here.
“Castiel,” he added, because there was no way to disguise what he was doing. “Help.”
Adamel obeyed without question, for once. His wings flickered and he was at Sam’s side as close to instantly as to make no difference. Maribel on one side, Adamel pressed up against the other, little wings cool and barely felt as they breathed against Sam’s back.
“I’m insulted,” Gabriel announced. He was sitting on the other end of Sam’s bed, Castiel suddenly at the window, Lucifer in the doorway lifting a hand that crackled with the same lightning that made his wings so disturbing when Sam looked directly at them. “How do I not rank at the top of the ‘in case of emergency’ list?”
“Lucifer,” Sam snapped. He was talking to Doorway Lucifer, because even Adamel had known there was something wrong, and if the real Lucifer in the doorway was going to destroy the fake Lucifer by his bed, well, he still didn’t want blood and ashes all over the sheets. “This isn’t hell.”
“You’re insulted?” Dean’s voice asked. “What am I, the deadbeat brother with no forwarding address? Oh, wait,” he added, and Sam hated all of them right now.
“Ready?” Castiel whispered in his ear.
Sam tightened his grip on the kids and when he blinked they were downstairs, him and Adamel and Maribel with Castiel kneeling beside them. The archangels were nowhere to be seen. “Thank you,” Sam said, as calmly as he could. “And also, what the fuck, Cas? What happened to the most secure warding on the planet!”
Maybe “as calmly as he could” wasn’t necessarily as calmly as he should.
“The provisions made to grant Lucifer access weaken the garrison’s protection.” Castiel didn’t look happy. “That is the only explanation I have at this time.”
Sam tried to breathe, because seriously. Freaking out helped exactly no one. “Are you guys okay?” he asked the kids. Who he might still be holding a little too tightly. Sometimes he wished someone would ask him if he was okay, but whatever. He figured that part of his life was over.
“I’m fine,” Maribel chirped. “Are you okay, Adamel?”
“No,” Adamel said.
“Adamel’s not,” Maribel reported. “What about you, Sam? Are you okay?”
It was a heartbreakingly inhuman reply, and for a long moment Sam had no idea what to say. Should he correct her? Reassure her? Both? Neither? What did he know about raising anyone, let alone baby angels?
“No,” he said at last. It probably wasn’t the right thing to say, but it was true. “I’m really not.”
“Perhaps you all need a hug,” Castiel said thoughtfully.
Sam gave him a sharp look, and yeah, the corner of Castiel’s mouth twitched a little. But there was sympathy in his expression too, and Sam couldn’t find it in himself to object when both the kids immediately clambered up, wrapping little arms and hands around every part of him they could reach.
Then Castiel leaned in, engulfing the three of them – Sam could see his wings out of the corner of his eye – and Sam thought, hey, let a guy return a favor, right? So he closed his eyes and let them squeeze the breath out of him. He hugged them back as best he could when he found a little room to move, and it might not have been the worst morning he’d ever had.
He wanted to blame Jo, or maybe the movie, when Maribel asked him, “Sam? Are boys better than girls?”
They’d been snowed in overnight, school was closed on account of the roads, and Castiel had told all of the archangels to leave Sam alone for at least a day. Which was probably Castiel’s idea of helping, but it meant that both the kids thought they weren’t supposed to talk to the archangels either. So they talked to Sam instead.
“No,” Sam said. “Of course not. Why would you think that?”
“I don’t,” she assured him. “But Layla said it at school last week, and Jo said that Avatar in IMAX 3D had strong female characters, which there’s no reason to say unless you’re not expecting it, and Gabriel says that you won’t let him be a woman because you don’t like pansies.”
It was Jo’s fault. He was going to –
“Wait a second,” Sam said. “What about Gabriel?
“No,” he added quickly. “Never mind, don’t tell me.”
There was quiet for a moment, just long enough for him to register the lyrics on the radio someone had blaring from the kitchen: “Good God, you’re coming up with reasons, good God, you’re dragging it out, good God, it’s the changing of the seasons, I feel so raped so follow me down...”
“Someone in the kitchen change the station!” Sam yelled in the direction of the radio. For God’s sake, he thought, but he managed not to say it out loud.
“Okay,” he said to Maribel. “Tell me. Why does Gabriel want to be a woman?”
“He doesn’t,” she said. She and Adamel were watching him google local tax code while he tried to figure out which of Ellen’s new additions they needed to keep secret (invisible) and which she could currently afford. “He says he and Castiel were supposed to have female vessels, but Castiel wouldn’t because he’s like that and Gabriel tried but you made him change back.”
“Because he’s like –” Sam broke off, because that clearly wasn’t the important part here. Still. “Castiel,” he said, to the empty air. “Whenever you have a second, okay?”
He had time to tell Maribel, “I didn’t make him change back,” before Castiel was standing at the table beside them. Adamel stopped reprogramming the Rubik’s slide long enough to glance at him, and Sam wondered fleetingly what Castiel had threatened Lucifer with to make him obey the 24-hour edict along with Michael and Gabriel.
Dean and Gabriel, he reminded himself. But sometimes it didn’t feel like that.
“Sam,” Castiel said. “I have several seconds. What do you need?”
He sounded as close to harried as Cas ever got, and Sam frowned at him. “Tell Michael to stop being such a jerk to you. His kid has a question.”
Castiel made a sound that was not entirely unlike a sigh. “He’s still Dean, Sam. I believe you understand that patience isn’t his strongest attribute. I apologize if you feel I’m taking it out on you.”
It sounded smooth and practiced, like Castiel had been saying it a lot recently. It wasn’t an explanation he would need around angels. Which meant someone else had helped him with it, and here Cas was – just like the kids – playing at being human for the sake of everyone around him. Being human for Sam, and Ellen. Being an angel for Gabriel and Jophiel and Anna.
Being human for Dean. Being an angel for Michael.
Maybe this was screwing him over as much as it was Sam. Maybe Castiel was just better at hiding it. Maybe –
“I want to know if boys are better than girls,” Maribel was telling Castiel. “Gabriel says you were supposed to have a female vessel, but you don’t because you’re like that. What does that mean?”
“It means that I placed Dean’s well-being above the orders of my superiors,” Castiel replied without hesitation. Like it wasn’t any kind of strain. “Most humans respond to the sexes differently, and my superiors at the time believed that Dean would be more distracted by a woman than a man. As they did not want him to question their orders, they were eager to take advantage of this.”
“‘Distracted by’ means ‘trying to have sex with,’ right?” Maribel asked.
“In this case,” Castiel agreed, “yes.”
Sam really didn’t think she was old enough for this conversation, but he was going to keep his mouth shut because she was an angel and what did he know?
“But Dean wants to have sex with you all the time,” Maribel said.
Okay. It was possible that Sam wasn’t old enough for this conversation.
“My superiors were incorrect,” Castiel said mildly. “However, their ignorance allowed me, to some extent, to protect Dean. And so I appeared to him in a male vessel.”
Sam was trying not to hide his face in his hands, which was the only reason he missed the considering look Maribel gave him. Unfortunately, he didn’t miss her question. “Do you want to have sex with Gabriel?” she asked.
He thought it was a strange question to ask Castiel. When he looked up, though, he realized they were both staring at him. Adamel was apparently ignoring the conversation altogether, but Sam knew better than to believe it.
“No,” he said. With zoning laws on the screen in front of him and his son turning a child’s toy into a warp core reactor across the table, Sam added, “Gabriel and I don’t have that kind of relationship, okay? That doesn’t mean I like him better as a man, or women aren’t as good, or anything like that. It just means –”
He’s kind of a freak and I’m kind of messed up and I don’t trust him not to fix me, Sam thought. Sometimes the flaws were all he knew about himself. Take that away, and what would be left?
“Who someone is inside is more important than what they look like on the outside,” he said awkwardly. For whatever good it did around mind-reading angels.
“But sex is more than just what someone looks like.” Maribel looked to Castiel for confirmation of this.
Castiel nodded, and she looked back at Sam.
“That’s why we don’t have that kind of relationship,” he said with a sigh. “Adamel, is that thing going to be capable of widespread destruction when you’re done with it?”
“Yes,” Adamel said.
“You don’t have sex with Gabriel because you don’t like who he is on the inside?” Maribel insisted.
“I don’t even know who he is on the inside,” Sam told her. “Humans don’t go around wanting to have sex with everyone they meet, okay? Gabriel and I work together. He’s my friend – except when I hate him, which lately is most of the time. Still. Doesn’t make him different from the rest of them.”
It was possible he was babbling.
“The archangels?” Maribel asked.
“Yeah,” he said, because he was surrounded. “That’s what I meant.”
He wondered fleetingly if Castiel felt like this all the time.
Lucifer didn’t speak to him once on the way in to school, which suited Sam just fine. Gabriel continued to avoid him, and Sam didn’t know if that was Castiel’s call or his own choice. He told himself he didn’t care.
Dean brought him a couple six-packs of some microbrew made in Belgium. All things considered, it was the best apology he’d gotten, so Sam forgave him. Dean also called the extra Lucifer “the good twin,” which was funny enough after a couple of beers that Sam let him tell the rest of the story. He didn’t listen, but he got the gist: the evil duplicate of evil was good but still sort of evil, inevitably creepy, and definitely dangerous; the good (and sometimes evil) guys had taken care of it.
Sam didn’t ask how.
He also didn’t ask where the kitchen had gotten their significantly more pro-women music (he hadn’t heard the words “rape,” “bitch,” or “PMS” on the radio since the day before, and sometimes he despaired that the kids were growing up in a place where no one had even thought about it until Maribel pointed it out) or why Anna had sent two of her own angels over to replace Jophiel and Sach. Castiel wasn’t happy about this but so far he seemed to blame Gabriel and not Sam, so Sam was careful not to call attention to himself by bringing it up again.
He did ask Adamel if he hated kindergarten and wanted to stop going (to which Adamel replied, surprisingly, “no”). He asked Sarah to stay in touch when she finally hit the road. And he asked Gabriel, when he showed up with a tiny dinosaur under his arm, just what the hell he was doing.
“Michael said beer worked,” Gabriel replied. “But I think you like dinosaurs better.”
Sam stared at him, and his brain didn’t in any way authorize what came out of his mouth. “You can’t just give me fantasy creatures every time you piss me off.”
Gabriel scoffed. “Dinosaurs aren’t fantasy creatures. And yes I can.”
“Do you even know what you did?” Sam asked. He wasn’t totally clear on it himself, but if everyone was going to make a point of apologizing to him then he wasn’t going to complain.
“Not a clue,” Gabriel said. “You can sulk with the best of them, Sammy-boy. Seriously, take it from someone who knows: you need to stop mimicking your brother’s passive-aggressive ‘woe is me’ attitude and have a little fun.”
“Your idea of fun is kidnapping baby reptiles and stranding them in a future where they’re the only one of their kind,” Sam said, and he didn’t empathize with that in any way. But he couldn’t stop staring at the scaly little head peeking out from under Gabriel’s arm.
“I’m rescuing them,” Gabriel corrected, coaxing the dinosaur free. “They were about to die anyway.”
Unlike the first dinosaur Gabriel had “rescued,” this one didn’t have wings. Which also made it different from the dragon (Dean’s favorite, though he’d never admit it) and the birds Emily had started to feed when it snowed. Sam refused to take the creature when Gabriel held it out to him. “Why are you still giving me presents, Gabriel.”
“Because you’re easier to bribe than you are to coerce,” Gabriel replied. “Duh.”
Sam blinked. He hadn’t expected a straight answer. “What are you trying to bribe me to do?”
“Smile,” Gabriel said. “I’m bored with you being all emo. Castiel does it enough for everyone. Let’s drop the dino in the barn and go do something interestingly illegal.”
“Why won’t you admit I’m your friend?” Sam blurted out.
Gabriel sighed like Sam was the most boring person in the world. “Can we at least trespass somewhere fun while we have this conversation?”
“In a world where ‘fun’ doesn’t equal ‘dangerous’,” Sam said. “Maybe.” On a whim he added, “The moon.”
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “You can’t trespass on the moon; it doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“So,” Sam said. “The space station.”
“Too small,” Gabriel countered. “They’d notice.”
“Make sure they don’t,” Sam retorted. “What kind of an angel are you, anyway?”
Which was how he found himself floating above the earth in a fragile bubble of metal and air, breathing and drifting and why had he never known what it was like to be weightless before? Without the fear of falling, without the drag of water... with a stupid archangel beside him. He was on a space station with an archangel.
It was small. He was pretty sure the last thing he should do was touch anything, but he couldn’t avoid it.
“Hey,” Gabriel observed, like it was nothing. “Window.”
Seeing the entire planet laid out beneath him wasn’t as shocking as he’d expected: that was his only excuse when he said, “Tell me why I’m not your friend,” and Gabriel made an exasperated noise.
“Really, Sam?” he said, like he was disappointed that Sam couldn’t do better. “My issues are more interesting than all of Dad’s creation, as seen through the window of a dinky human lifeboat?”
Yes, Sam thought. Surprisingly.
Out loud all he said was, “I didn’t say that.”
“And yet,” Gabriel pointed out.
Sam turned carefully away from the tiny window and its infinite view to stare Gabriel down. And yet, he thought.
“Look, they all died,” Gabriel said abruptly. “Are you happy?”
“Who?” Sam asked.
“Anyone I called friend,” Gabriel growled. “Maybe I’m not so eager to relive that, hmm?”
“We’re gonna have kids together,” Sam insisted.
“Oh, now you want to talk about it?” Gabriel looked unimpressed. “You have a kid with Lucifer and I don’t see either of you wearing friendship bracelets, so I’m pretty sure that means, oh, let me think. Nothing.”
“Gabriel,” Sam snapped. “I’m not going to die. I tried it. It didn’t stick.”
“I’m not your girlfriend,” Gabriel sneered. “You don’t have to be all cute and reassuring.”
“If you want to look like a woman again,” Sam said, then stopped. He hadn’t really thought this through. The offer of it, anyway. He’d worried about the implications for hours.
“Maribel would probably like it,” he finished awkwardly.
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Oh, I live for her good opinion. Does she want a bicycle, too? A drum set? Maybe a robot to clean her room?”
“You already gave her a pony,” Sam reminded him.
Folding his arms, Gabriel said, “That was to annoy Michael.”
“I’d like it,” Sam said. “If you looked like a woman. If you want to, I mean.”
Gabriel glared at him. “I’m not Castiel. I don’t put out on the third date.”
Given Gabriel’s attitude, Sam couldn’t imagine him getting to a third date. “Fine,” he said anyway, because he knew what it took to keep the peace by now. “Whatever.”
“Fine,” Gabriel repeated. He went back to staring out the window, but after a moment he said, “This would be a lot more exciting if we were being chased.”
Just like that, they were being chased: by a giant bull over cobblestone streets, wooden fences on either side and screaming people all around. Because this was Sam’s life, and this was apparently what he did for fun. “I hate you!” he shouted over the din.
It was, he had to admit, no longer strictly true.