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In the end, Sam realized it had been really fucking dumb to assume that there’d be any sort of normality after the Apocalypse. He knew it wouldn’t have been for him, obviously, because he’d long resigned himself to the rack whether by Lucifer’s hand or his own well-meaning destructiveness. But he’d hoped for Dean’s sake…and yeah, that was where the ‘fucking dumb’ part came in. 

The Impala hummed under and around him, as familiar as breathing. Its sheer trueness was still a bit of a novelty to him. As was Dean, honestly. Dean, looking this strange mixture of relieved and unsteady, like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sam supposed that was what came of having your three-months-dead little brother show up at your motel doorstep.

“So how come—“

“—me and Lisa didn’t work? Dude, if you’re going to give me shit about that, I will open the cage and put you back in with Lucifer myself.”

“I wasn’t,” Sam protested, wincing. He wasn’t, and Dean, as always, was in terrible taste. “I know you tried, I never believed you would do otherwise, I just…wondered.”

Dean looked sidelong at him for a second, and then adjusted his shoulders as he pulled his gaze back to the road. 

“She’s a great girl. We were good together.” He paused, and then said abruptly, “We weren’t right, though.”

Sam blinked. Since when did Dean want right?

The conversation, however, seemed to be over, according to Dean’s closed expression. 

It was a week in, and they were back to hunting. It was what they knew. But it was all a little too…business-as-usual for Sam to be entirely comfortable with. 

“Next town over has fantastic pie, I can feel it,” Dean said, nodding at the highway sign. 

“Okay,” Sam agreed, because while they might be hunting, they weren’t chasing anything in particular at the moment.

Dean’s pie instincts were almost preternatural anyway.

***

The motel was actually a step up from their usual gig. “Did some work at a garage while I was at Lisa’s,” Dean said briefly in explanation. Sam wasn’t about to complain. 

As he was grabbing his bag out of the trunk, however, he frowned. “Dude. You kept Gabriel’s porno?”

Dean looked vaguely surprised. “It’s still in there? Huh. Well, it was his final words. Seemed sorta in bad taste to throw it out.”

“I guess.” 

It seemed sad, though. There was something inherently wrong with a world that made an archangel’s last word manifest in cheesy porno, never mind that the archangel in question was of seriously dubious levels of holiness. 

Sam found himself tucking the DVD into the side pocket of his duffle. Not to watch, but just to…keep safe. 

It wasn’t weird. 

It wasn’t.

***

“Put me back in the trunk.”

Sam shook his head, rather violently. “What the fuck.”

“You heard me, Sammy boy. Put the DVD back in the damn trunk. Do you know how much residual magical energy’s in there? That shit is legit.”

Sam finally got around to blinking, finding the sun in his eyes, and then whirling. They were in a dusty old state park, probably in the asshole of nowhere. Gabriel was sitting on a picnic bench with limbs indolently akimbo, rugged boots digging into the loose and dry soil that was dotted with patchy excuses for grass.

Sam decided, despite his better judgment, to state the obvious. “I’m dreaming. And you’re dead.”

“Not gonna argue with that. At least for the time being.”

“For the time being?”

“Yeah. Barring any unforeseen shenanigans, I guess.”

Sam briefly considered the possibility of post-traumatic insanity. “What kind of shenanigans?” he asked eventually.

“Meh. God shenanigans. Pagan shenanigans. There are several possibilities.”

The word ‘shenanigans’ sounded even more ridiculous in repetition than it already did to begin with. Sam was pretty sure if he kept trying to shake his head to clear it he’d start losing brain cells. 

“So, what, you’re just hanging out in my head for the time being?” he said.

“Could be. Or maybe you just like thinking about me.” Gabriel grinned.

Sam woke up to warm sheets and an overwhelming sense of smugness he was certain didn’t belong to him.

It was still dark out, so he got up as quietly as he could while Dean slept like a log in the opposite bed. He was twisted up in the sheets like some sort of crazed and forgotten mannequin, and he’d probably complain about his various aches and pains when he woke up, but Sam found that he’d actually welcome that, given the circumstances. Dean complaining was Dean talking, which was better than the withdrawn silence he’d taken to since Sam came back. Or maybe just since the Apocalypse in general. Sam would have to talk to Lisa to make sure, and he was quite certain that he would never get up the courage to have that particular conversation.

In short, Sam was pretty sure that the silence wasn’t his fault. But he wasn’t really sure. And that just sucked.

He stepped out onto the motel landing. The morning was cool and slightly damp. 

Gabriel—his idea of Gabriel, his subconscious manifestation of him—hadn’t been lying. Not completely. The archangel had been one of the last of the fallen soldiers, the last person to switch sides for them against his better judgment. Sam remembered being disappointed, in a vague and unformed way, that Dean had been the last to speak to him. Sam would have wanted to see Gabriel’s face, in the moment that he committed to his suicide mission. When he re-entered the Elysian Fields Motel, Sam remembered him as already wearing a mask of resignation, a lack of humor so alien that Sam had barely recognized him. 

He would have wanted to see Gabriel before that, seen the spark behind the gesture. It would have perhaps made up for all the shit Gabriel had pulled before, everything he’d put Sam through. Just that final decision before everything went to shit.

He hadn’t seen it, though.

Sam didn’t tell Dean, when he finally rolled out of bed, about the dream. But he did put the DVD back in the trunk, tucked in amid the oldest reference books and most potent hex bags. Just in case.

***

Three weeks passed. They put an Alabaman werewolf out of its misery, and drenched a fire sprite in Wisconsin. Gabriel made no appearances in Sam’s dreams, and Sam began to write it off as a fluke.

Except that the second he thought that, he became aware of the fact that ever since that one dream, he hadn’t had visions of the Pit. He'd slept well, too, better than he had in years. 

That sort of talismanic effect didn’t just appear out of nowhere. 

“Do you think the angels are just completely gone, now?” Sam asked, when the silence became too unbearable. Dean didn’t listen to music as often or loudly now, which was probably the most disturbing thing about Sam’s post-Apocalyptic life.

Dean grunted, and continued to oil the sawed-off slung over his knees. “Certainly seems like it. Haven’t heard from any of them, at least, which I can’t say I’m inclined to complain about.”

“Not even Cas?” Sam said, without thinking.

It was the wrong question to ask. Dean didn’t even bother to make a smart remark or glare; he just seemed to hunch deeper into the bed while his knuckles turned white on the gun. “He’s busy playing sheriff,” was all he said, but there was a world of hurt in that phrase that Sam wasn’t even going to try and touch.

That night, on a hunch and an impulse, Sam took the DVD out of the trunk again and set it beside his bed, in his duffel. And lo, almost as soon as he closed his eyes, it seemed:

“The hell, Sam? Do you miss me so much you just have to interrupt me?”

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count as interruption if you’re still dead,” Sam said, not bothering to look at the surrounds this time. There’s a vague sort of carnival going on in the background that he has little to no interest in, except perhaps for how it gave an excuse for Gabriel to be nibbling away at a giant puff of cotton candy. “Also since you’re just a figment of my imagination,” he added.

“You sound so convinced,” Gabriel observed. 

“Yeah well. You haven’t been here, I put your damn porno by my bedside—“

“—aw, you’re adorable—“

“—and now you’re here, and you weren’t before.” Sam threw up his hands. “What am I supposed to think?”

“Shenanigans,” Gabriel shrugged. “Can’t help it.”

“Can’t help it?” Sam repeated. He felt like he was asking a lot of inane and parrot-y questions these days, but it really couldn’t be avoided. “What, you’re just invading my dream by accident?”

“Pretty much. Your aura colliding with my aura, and all that jazz. If you slept in the car, the same thing’d probably happen, without you depriving me of all the occult-y goodness I was steeped in over there. Hint, hint.”

“God, you’re still so obnoxious. How can someone dead be so annoying?”

“It’s a talent.” Gabriel eyed him, and plucked a clump of cotton candy from its bag before stuffing it in his mouth. As he chewed, the coloring staining his lips pink, he cocked his head. “Speaking of which, why’d you get our auras all up in each other’s business tonight? Been a while, really.”

“Yeah.” Sam paused. It had been an impulse, really, considering he hadn’t been sure it would work. But there was a reason. “I’m worried about Dean.”

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “Dunno how much help I’ll be with that, Sammy.”

“Yeah well, unlike Dean, I can’t just brood in silence over everything all the time, and you’re the only person I’ve got to talk to at the moment.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair—it was unreasonably long now, even by his standards. Then he listened to what he’d just said. “God, that’s depressing.”

“Glad you said it so I didn’t have to. So what is it about Deano that’s worrying you? Manpain reaching nuclear levels?”

Sam snorted. “Kinda, yeah. I think…I dunno. I mentioned Cas and he just…I don’t know, shut down.”

“Maybe they had a tiff,” Gabriel suggested with a smirk. 

“They can’t have. Apparently Cas hasn’t been around since we put Lucifer and Michael in the cage.”

“At all?” Gabriel frowned. “That’s…well, no wonder Dean’s down in the dumps. Apologies for the alliteration.”

“Dean just says he’s busy,” Sam offered, but Gabriel was shaking his head in amazement.

“Seriously, he hasn’t been down here to see Dean at all? He just up and left? Hot damn, my baby brother’s stupid.” He stuffed more cotton candy into his mouth and then cut a glance back at Sam. “What, you didn’t know?” he said, through his mouthful, his tongue now an unattractive artificial blue. 

“Know what?” Sam said in irritation.

“You must. You’re supposed to be the smart one.” The archangel abandoned the cotton candy next to the gate to the Scrambler and sauntered up to Sam. “Come on. The moonstruck gazing, the lack of personal space? The taut silences?”

And then he paused. And Sam became intensely aware of just how close Gabriel was to him. He could almost taste the sugar in Gabriel’s breath, and the unnatural warmth of his form radiating off of him and making the hair on his arms stand up. He swallowed. 

Gabriel looked up at him, his gaze disconcerting and almost golden. And Sam was almost certain that there was the briefest flicker of that glance downward to his lips before coming back up. 

Gabriel cleared his throat. “Castiel’s been in love with Dean since he pulled him out of hell, I’d imagine,” he said casually, but his voice sounded odd now, and somewhat distant. “S’the only reason he could have succeeded in the task in the first place. 

“And I’d imagine Dean’s just beginning to figure out that the feeling’s mutual, but of course that’s just the time Cas decides that it’s a hopeless cause.”

Sam really could not deal with having his worldview completely turned on its ass when Gabriel was this close to him. He could feel his whole face scrunching into new and interesting expressions, but he really couldn’t help it.

“Seriously? Dean and Cas?

“Dude. I’ve been dead four months, and I’m like, 110% sure of it. I should have just put them both in a soap opera to work it out when I had the chance.”

“Jesus.”

Gabriel quirked a smile. It actually wasn’t so obnoxious up close. “I know, right?”

“They are seriously challenged,” Sam found himself marveling. Because now he found himself mulling over all of those small glances, furtive words and almost-contacts, and man, for a dude with Dean’s level of pulling experience, it was like one massive conveyor belt of fail.

“That’s what I keep telling you, kiddo.”

“I should call Cas, or something. Get him to get his ass down here.”

Gabriel grinned. “You’ll have to tell me all about it,” he said. 

Sam looked back down at him. He’d failed to notice that Gabriel hadn’t backed away; he still hovered inches away from Sam, head craned back slightly, expression caught between delighted and smug. He'd almost forgotten that Gabriel was still just in his mind, just an aura, or whatever. 

He couldn’t keep the disappointment out of his voice when he said, “Yeah. I’ll do that.”

 

***

 

“Oh man, you should have seen it. I mean, I’ve participated in some epic awkwardness in my life, but god, Dean’s just so bad at this shit.”

Dream beer tasted just about the same as reality beer, and Sam was on his third. He was sprawled out under a cypress tree, overlooking what appeared to be Ancient Greece. 

He might have made an embarrassingly big deal about that. It was just a dream, after all, but apparently all of that mojo Gabriel’s DVD had been soaking up in the Impala let him choose the locale this time, and it looked incredible. Gaudily painted marble lining streets and men and women bustling with commerce—Sam wanted to mingle in it, translate every fragment of Greek he could find, and smell the fresh unindustrialized air and the sweet pervasiveness of olive oil. 

It was all going a long way towards making him feel better about the fact that he was going to hate himself tomorrow for sleeping in the car.

It was still an improvement over sleeping in the same room as Dean. With Cas.

“How long did it take for you to actually get a hold of him?” Gabriel asked, amber eyes sparkling with ill-concealed glee.

“Cas? Not that long. I just kept texting him with Dean’s phone until he came down. Things suck in Heaven, apparently.”

Gabriel snorted, but his mouth twisted with bitterness. “Somehow I’m not surprised.”

“Yeah, I didn’t really get a chance to ask him about it.” There had been too much of the woeful cow-eyes on Cas’s part, and accusing stoic silence on Dean’s. Sam had had to leave just to get out of the line of fire. Fire being sexual tension, in this case.

He was really unsure of why it had taken Gabriel’s exasperated explanations for him to actually notice all of that going on. 

“Yeah, I almost had to revoke your smart card on that one, kiddo.”

Sam grimaced. But then he added, “I’m happy for them, really. Dean’s been through a lot of shit, and most of it’s been my fault. It was the least I could do.”

“Guilt’s as easy as breathing for you Winchesters, isn’t it?” Gabriel said, raising his eyebrow.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it easy,” Sam muttered.

“Yeah, but it’s, like, knee-jerk with you guys. You need to lighten up before all of those frown lines start sticking.”

“Excuse me for not sublimating my life of being pushed around and manipulated by Heaven and Hell in a more healthy way.”

Gabriel exhaled through his nose, and seemed to study Sam for a moment. He was looking better, Sam noticed; well enough that Sam was altogether resigned to believing that he wasn’t just a dream hallucination or even some bad mojo left over from the DVD. This was Gabriel, or what was left of him; and being in the Impala, staying with Sam, was slowly putting him back together.

Sam wasn’t really willing to dwell on the implications of that quite yet.

“You’ve done better than Noah,” Gabriel said finally. 

“He started the Apocalypse?” Sam raised an eyebrow.

“What do you think the flood was? A vacation? And he didn’t argue a bit for the worth of mankind. Didn’t even make a peep. You and Dean…I’m pretty sure you’re what Dad wanted all along. People to argue with Him, fight with Him, creatures who make Him think.”

“That’s sort of an unfair fight,” Sam commented dryly.

“Well, that’s the point,” Gabriel shrugged. “He’s God. Any fight with him is gonna be unfair, unless you’re Gaia or someone equally omniscient. He doesn’t care about that. And he doesn’t want you to care either. Supervillains always say that there’s no right and wrong; only power. But with Father?” the archangel shook his head. “It’s just the opposite. Power doesn’t matter; power is moot. Right and wrong? Well, that’s where it’s at. That’s why Dean and Castiel are probably the best paired match of souls you can find, possibly in the entire God-created universe.”

Sam stared at him, for a long moment. And then he said quietly, “And where does that leave us?”

“We who fell off the wagon?” Gabriel said wryly. “Well. Who fuckin’ knows, Sammy-boy? I’ll tell you one thing, though: We’re alive. More or less.”

Sam snorted. He supposed that was as good an answer as any.

***

Dean looked goddamn beatific the next morning, and Sam was not in the mood. Righteous Man or not, he did not deserve Sam’s respect or even tolerance when Sam’s neck and legs felt like they were about to have their own private symphony in the key of agony. 

“Sleep well, princess?” Dean said with alacrity, sliding into the front seat. He wrinkled his nose. “Dude, it smells like someone died in here. Here, have the room key before we check out and take a damn shower.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Sam grumbled, but took the keys. It wasn’t like he enjoyed smelling like he’d slept in a car. 

He felt like a small part of his brain that sounded suspiciously like Gabriel was mocking him. 

When he got back into the car, hair damp and curling crazily over his forehead, Dean handed him a folder of clip outs. “Cas found us a hunt,” he said. “Wasn’t sure what it was, but says if we need backup we can call.”

“Where is Cas?” Sam said, scanning the pages. 

“Has business upstairs. Apparently Raphael’s an even more conniving son of a bitch than we thought.”

“Great.” Sam allowed himself a smirk. “So are we gonna have to get separate rooms now?”

And instead of the usual bravado of Dean telling him to suck it up and deal, he got a flush rising up from Dean’s collar to his cheeks, one long line of red, and a muttered, “Yeah, I guess.”

And that right there? Felt like goddamn Christmas. Almost worth the aching legs, that.

Sam made a point of radiating smugness for the rest of the drive. It was enough for Dean to start chucking McDonald’s wrappers at him, and he just laughed and laughed. 

A small unidentifiable part of him, tucked deep away, glowed.

***

They took out a nest of vampires in Louisiana. Some of them were all right, and took advantage of the Winchesters’ enthusiasm to reshape the hierarchy as they saw fit. Sam had no trouble with that. Those that remained didn’t seem much tempted by them at all, and mostly just wanted their peaceful immortality intact. 

Two weeks after that, though, and the flashes started. 

As if Dean needed more reason to call Sam a woman. Christ.

They didn’t come on gradually. Sam was dreaming of nothing in particular (and God, what a relief that still was, after what seemed like endless visions of Lucifer and his cage) and then suddenly he was awake, wide awake, and burning, like his skin wanted to bubble and slide sickeningly off of him. 

He scrambled from the bed, clawing at himself and feeling nothing but smooth undamaged flesh under his fingertips, but the unbearable searing surged right beneath that, shredding his nerves like nothing he’d ever experienced.

Barely breathing, he staggered into the shower and turned on the water. The cold barely reached him, even as it pummeled down and he distantly was aware of goosebumps chasing over his arms, his muscles tightening with automatic shudders. His teeth chattered under the onslaught, but he stayed in, kept staying in if for no other reason than that he was paralyzed from the inside out, something molten lighting him up like a Christmas tree, or like magma beneath the earth’s crust, trying to reach the surface.

He cried out hoarsely under the showerhead, long since crumpled to the bottom of the filthy tub, and was vaguely glad the water drowned out the sound.

Fifteen agonizing minutes, and then it receded as fast as it had come. 

He only realized it had gone when the ringing of pain in his ears gave way to the hollow sound of water hitting porcelain. That, and the sight of Dean standing blearily in the doorway, his eyes sharp and incredulous despite the hour.

“What the fuck, Sam?” he growled. 

Sam’s skin tingled with phantom sense memory. Through his dripping clothes, nothing seemed changed. He looked up at his brother, and shook his head helplessly.

***

It happened two more times, and nothing could account for it. One more week, and Dean looked homicidal as he called Castiel, outraged that Sam should be the target of seizure-inducing episodes for the second time in his life. 

Sam mostly just stood in the shower like a sap, because his nerve endings felt like they were trying to develop their very own case of PTSD. 

Castiel appeared in the motel room, ignored Dean’s pacing except to still him with a look and a hand on his arm, and then walked over to Sam. His mouth was set in a tight line.

“Have you had contact with any angels lately, Sam?” he asked. 

Sam swallowed, and looked over at Dean. “Define ‘contact’,” he said, finally.

Several explanations and a lot of shouting later, Castiel was still shaking his head.

“That shouldn’t be possible. An angel is either made or unmade, there is no in between.”

“Well, he’s not all angel anymore, is he?” Dean said with surprising sense, considering how he’d just come down from railing at Sam for not telling him things, again. “He’s a pagan god too. Is it possible with them?”

“No,” Castiel said irritably. “It shouldn’t be.”

“Does it even matter?” Sam said. “What does Gabriel’s contact with me have to do with me—“

“Having hot flashes?” Dean finished, and dodged away before Sam could punch him in the arm.

“This is all theoretical, considering that these circumstances have never existed before in all creation,” Castiel replied, looking annoyed at himself for having to admit such a thing. “But if Gabriel is trying to rebuild himself, it’s taking an enormous amount of energy, both in process and when he finally pushes through onto the corporeal plane. Considering that you are the only soul he’s come in contact with during the rebuilding, it seems likely that some of that energy is being channeled through you.”

Sam blinked. And then he looked accusingly at Dean. “You’ve spent almost as much time in the car as I have,” he said. “Why isn’t this happening to you?”

“Dean’s energy is…already bound,” Castiel said, after an awkward pause. 

Dean looked at the angel sharply, and then his expression softened at whatever he found there.

Sam rolled his eyes. “Great.”

***

“You motherfucker. Do you have any idea how much this shit hurts?”

“Only about half as much as its hurting me,” Gabriel said cheerily, but the muscles around his eyes were tight, and Sam had a feeling he was only getting a fraction of what the whole experience was. It didn’t really do much to ameliorate his irritation though. 

He glowered. “Do I even get a choice in all this?”

Gabriel just glowed against the marble of the temple, glowed in a way that didn’t actually transmit light, but charged the air instead, like a halo of warped edges around his existence. 

The stone building was cool and silent, Corinthian columns towering above their heads, heavy-scented flowers in bushels and hanging bronze pots around them. Sam was settled on the steps leading down into a broad and quiet piazza that held a fountain at the far end. People with candles moved in and out of the square, ignoring the strangers in their midst in favor of getting home. It was nighttime in Alexandria, and Sam just knew Gabriel was trying to distract him from their predicament with history porn.

It was kind of working.

“Seriously, you couldn’t have warned me this would happen?”

“I didn’t know this would happen,” Gabriel snapped, glow receding for a moment before coming back. “I was a dead pagan angel, I was nothing, and then the next thing I know, I’m in the twilight zone hanging out with all the mojo in your car. It could be Kali’s doing, for all I know, but it doesn’t seem like her style. Point is, I have little to no control over this situation. But I’m not complaining, because in a choice between the abyss and life, I’m choosing life.”

Sam sighed. It was hard to argue about that.

The stars over Alexandria were magnificent. Gabriel sat down next to him. “Humans aren’t really meant to feel what pure creation is,” he said eventually. “It’s way too much to handle.”

“Hence the burning and feeling like I’m dying,” Sam replied. “Again.”

“Yeah. Sorry." He paused, and then added, "You could just break the DVD, or throw it away. No more mojo, no more me.”

Sam whipped around without thinking to glare at him. Gabriel actually shrank back slightly before smiling crookedly. 

“Okay, okay. Well…thanks.”

Sam looked away. “Whatever.”

Gabriel nudged him with his shoulder. Sam snorted. 

“So apparently Dean’s unaffected by your spillage or whatever because Castiel’s got a claim on him,” he said.

“Firstly, ew, please don’t refer to this process as ‘spillage’. And secondly, of fucking course,” Gabriel replied, wrinkling his nose. “They’re so bound up in each other they might as well have Cupid’s Enochian sigils tattooed on their foreheads. It’s probably causing Raphael no end of grief.”

“Huh. So I’m seriously the only person you’ve had contact with since you died?”

“That’s right,” Gabriel said, carefully neutral. Sam turned to look at him, but it was too dark to see his expression. 

“Sorry,” he offered. “I’m sure there are other people you’d rather see.”

In the dim light of the candles from inside the temple, he could just see the outline of Gabriel’s throat as he swallowed, his adam’s apple slowly bobbing. Sam willfully convinced himself that he didn’t track the movement. 

“Not really,” Gabriel said quietly. 

Sam didn’t really know what to do with that, so he didn’t do anything. The air felt heavy and perfumed all of a sudden.

When he woke up, unease lingered with him, and he wasn’t sure whether it was all his. 

***

Three days and one minor hot flash later, and then. 

Well.

Sam was pretty sure that this time it was for real, he was actually dying. 

They were in the middle of a hunt, and Dean was off…somewhere. And Sam could only hope that the creature they were looking for (and they still didn’t know what, precisely, which was disturbing by itself) wasn’t in his area of the woods, because he was in no condition to put up a fight. 

Jesus fucking Christ. His spine felt like it was exploding. 

With a hoarse cry he crumpled to his knees, which protested against the wet roots of the oak overhead, but he hardly noticed that, hardly noticed how the air seemed charged beyond even the thunderstorm that was crashing overhead. 

“Not a good time, Gabriel,” he said through gritted teeth.

Somehow, words that weren’t words answered him from somewhere indistinguishable and yet wholly separate from himself. Okay seriously, you really need to get the part of this where I’m not actually in control of anything that’s happening here.

And then, a more labored, Sorry, kiddo, but this is going to suck.

“Going to?!”

His vision whited out at the edges, and then in a surge of electricity and fire, whited out completely. He was pretty sure he was screaming himself hoarse. The only thing he could cling to was the pounding rain on his back, frigid and torrential, collecting in rivulets down his neck and tracking freezing lines down to his legs and pooling in his boots. Everything else was consumed with the overwhelming sensation of overheating and expansion, like a star was going into supernova inside him, its waves of energy pushing their way up his throat, setting his lungs and his intestines ablaze.

He vomited violently, down on his hands and knees. 

He might have collapsed right into it. 

He couldn’t care, not when his ribcage was bursting apart in his chest.

Everything left him, every smell, taste and sound. 

Everything went.

***

Sam opened his eyes, and immediately got rain in them. He shut them tightly again and grimaced. It was too dark to see anyway. Still night. He must not have been out that long.

What’s taking the Reaper so long? he thought disjointedly.

“I think the Reapers are tired of seeing you,” a voice drawled from somewhere overhead. “You keep bugging them, you know. What is this, the second time in a row? The third in as many years? Jesus.”

Sam worked some saliva into his mouth, and winced as the movement prompted his awareness of the fact that every time he moved, it felt like the inside of his skin was made of sandpaper, scraping over his nerve endings. He tried to be as still as possible, and thought as loudly as he could, Aren’t you not allowed to blaspheme?

“No need to shout, sport. And I’m half-pagan, remember? Otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Right. So Sam wasn’t dead.

“Nope. Perfectly alive.” There was a carefulness to the way Gabriel said it, though, that made Sam somewhat suspect that, for a second there, he hadn’t been. He tried not to think about that.

Sensations other than excruciating pain returned in slow, almost interminable stages, until Sam became aware that he was soaked and freezing under the rain, but that his head wasn’t in the dead leaves and mud like the rest of him. It was propped up on a hard line of muscle—the archangel’s lap. 

Gabriel seemed to sense his discomfort, because suddenly the rain seemed to stop. Very carefully, Sam risked trying to open his eyes. 

Everything was blurry for a moment, but after blinking the sting of raindrops out of his eyes, Sam looked up, and exhaled abruptly.

It was still raining hard, but above him, the drops impacted and then slid down the smooth, invisible contours of massive, falcon-like wings. Sam stared up at his strange, glass-like canopy, and then up further, to where Gabriel, in the flesh, was looking down at him, his eyes glowing gold in the darkness.

“Hi,” Sam said hoarsely.

The silhouette of Gabriel’s face shifted. And he answered, “Hi, kiddo.”

“You’re not dead anymore?” Sam said, a bit stupidly.

“So it would seem.”

Sam paused, and then said, “Shit. Dean’s still—“

“I got Castiel to come down and take him back to the motel. You guys have no business hunting the white deer, anyway. Old relic of England, that is, and other than confusing a few hunters, I doubt it will do much harm.” 

Sam made a noise of complaint, but wasn’t up for making much of an argument. He’d warmed slightly with the rain off of him, and the sense memory of his world on fire was now soothed by the cold ground beneath him. 

There were fingers smoothing the wet locks of his hair out of his face as well, diffident in their touch. 

“You really could’ve thrown the DVD out, you know,” Gabriel said finally. 

Sam frowned. At least, his face muscles attempted a frown; he wasn’t sure whether that shit was registering yet. “No,” he said. “You helped us in the end.”

“So? I killed your brother seven hundred times.”

Sam grunted. Then he said, “God should have brought you back. Stupid that he didn’t. He brought Cas back twice.”

“Castiel’s on a whole ‘nother level, Sammy,” Gabriel said, and Sam could just hear the layers of bitterness and admiration there. “Or didn’t you notice?”

“He brought me back,” Sam said. “I’m not on his level, am I?”

Gabriel stilled. “Maybe not,” he allowed. “But I’m pretty sure you’d still score higher on the exam than I would.”

“Gabriel,” Sam said. 

The rain kept pouring down, running over the invisible arcs of Gabriel’s wings, catching on incorporeal feathers and tracing sigils in the air. 

“He should have brought you back,” Sam repeated. 

“He didn’t need to,” Gabriel replied. “I had my own insurance policy, didn’t I? I had you.”

“Yeah,” Sam said dimly. “You have me.”

He could hear Gabriel exhale, a heavy, disbelieving noise beneath the rainfall. And then the silhouette of the angel’s face was descending, filling his vision. 

Gabriel’s lips were unnaturally warm, and tasted like sunlight. Sam froze, but then his brain sort of unwound from him, and then he pressed into it, raising his head as best he could, ordering one arm to work properly, dammit, and lift to twist his fingers into Gabriel’s wet hair. 

Gabriel made a noise like this was everything he could ever want, and Sam couldn’t help but drink that in, press closer and surge to get as deep as he could. He found he wanted to wrap himself up in this flawed and terrible thing that still crackled with energy, triggering sense memory of fire and light that he should’ve shied away from, but didn’t. 

And Gabriel pulled him upright with unnatural strength, like Sam was a ragdoll, palms sliding up his jaw and along his shoulder blades, answering with a terrifying fierceness even as he cocooned them both from the rain, the arcs of his wings pressed close and cradling. 

When Sam pulled back to breathe, Gabriel said quietly, “Let me take you somewhere warm. Somewhere dry, and far away.”

“Alexandria?” Sam suggested. “Non-dream Alexandria.”

“Whatever you want, Sam.”

Sam had a feeling that when Gabriel said ‘whatever’, he really meant it, and wasn’t that all kinds of terrifying. 

He tightened his grip in Gabriel’s hair. “What I want, is for you to stay.”

Gabriel’s laughter was quiet and shaky. And then he said, “I can do that.”

“Good. Then a dry motel room would work for now. Alexandria shenanigans later.”

Gabriel’s gaze was all disbelief, and even a bit of transferred awe that Sam was pretty sure he didn’t deserve.

The archangel snapped his fingers.