"They could have taken a feather," he'd whispered, in a moment of lucidity, "all they needed was a feather."
At first, they'd thought they'd gotten there in time. Sure, the place already reeked of burning spices overlaid with the stench of roasted flesh, but the soon-to-be-deceased Vinny Kolkeman had only just started chanting, and Gabriel had seemed mostly unharmed. He was half-naked, yes, in the middle of a ring of holy fire, and dangling limply by his wrists from a rope hooked up into the ceiling. But they didn't see the pool of blood soaked into the dirt in the dim candlelight, and they didn't see the gaping holes on his back until Sam cut him down, and they didn't see that the smoldering hunks of meat in the ritual circle had feathers until Dean nearly tripped over them and looked down as he caught himself.
Vinny Kolkeman and company might have known summoning rituals and binding spells, but they sure as hell didn't know how to deal with two angry humans packing heat plus one slightly-fallen, unbound angel.
"The problem with being an archangel," Gabriel would complain from time to time, "is all the damn prayers. I mean, great, yeah, someone acknowledges how awesome I am, but then they all want their own personal miracle. And don't get me started on the summoners."
"Yeah, you get idiots who think they know how to call an archangel. One in ten million of the little wannabe Aleister Crowleys actually gets the ritual right, but it's still a pain in the ass."
"They can't actually—make you do anything, though, right?"
"Ha, are you kidding? None of them've even heard of holy oil. I show up and, uh, leave. Oh, get this," he snorted, "once the dumbasses summoned me right out of my vessel. Got true form all over the carpet, eh? That had to hurt."
In a way, it's better that the wings had been entirely removed. Not that Sam would ever say that - hell, he just wants to resurrect Kolkeman and cut off his limbs one by one with the same damn chainsaw. But with the wings gone, at least they can take Gabriel to a hospital without too much fuss. None of them could have treated the wounds, not really, but they can deflect questions and pace in the waiting room and stare at Castiel sitting with his head in his hands.
"If I could still heal," he mutters, "maybe I could have reattached…"
"No," Dean tells him roughly, "they were—they were all burnt up, you couldn't have done anything, Cas. Not even all angeled up."
The first thing that Gabriel says when he wakes up, after a day or so of staring blankly at his elbows, is "Guess they were Hellblazer fans, huh?" He turns to grin sharply at Sam for a moment, before his smile falls abruptly away and he rips the IV out of his arm. "Didn't need to bring me here. I'd have been fine. Let's blow this joint, 'kay?"
Sam doesn't really get a chance to protest, gets as far as, "I don't know if—" before he's sitting in the back of the Impala, parked in the garage next to the hospital. Dean and Cas are there, looking surprised. Dean twists around from the driver's seat, mouth half open.
"Drive," Gabriel snaps, small and vulnerable in his pale blue open-backed gown, "drive, dammit," and Sam nods a little to Dean.
They drive. Gabriel remembers to change his clothes about forty minutes later, when they're far out of town and surrounded by green cornfields and tall silver silos.
He'd still been half conscious, rolled his feverish eyes up at Sam. His toes had been dragging at the ground, leaving twisty impressions of his nails in the dirt; he'd collapsed onto Sam when the rope was cut. Held on for dear life, breathing—which was strange in itself, because he only did that when Sam complained that having him there and warm and motionless was too weird—raggedly in Sam's ear. It was at that point Sam glanced down his back, saw the horrific wounds, and Dean tripped and swore and suddenly fell silent.
Castiel was wide-eyed and frantic, touching Gabriel as he rarely dared to do, dragging trembling hands down to feel the damage, hands that only made Gabriel grunt and tense in Sam's arms. "Sammy," he slurred, "Cas'iel, glad y'could, could make it…" he mutters something else, trails off into silence as his head lolls on Sam's shoulder. "S'ry I left y'all so, so, ah, fuck…"
"Gabe, I've got you, Gabe," Sam said, "stay with us, okay? We'll fix you right up—"
"Can't be fixed," he'd mumbled, "can't be fixed."
He's snappy and argumentative all day, as if he's trying to pick fights—with everyone, gas station attendants and waiters and Cas and Dean and Sam themselves. After dinner, though, he falls silent, and doesn't talk until Sam's showered and changed and exited the bathroom to find him stretched out on top of the covers.
"Somebody told them everything," he says, "they were idiots, mostly. Couldn't have figured it all out on their own. Only the four of us—" and the way he says 'us' means Sam knows he's not talking about any sort of us that still exists "—know all that stuff. All the…obscure little…all of it." He turns to face Sam, paused in the doorway. "Who'd be worst, d'ya think? To have told them?" He stares, gaze bright and a little mad, then shakes his head.
Sam crawls in next to him, opens up his arms, and Gabriel—who, before, would always have wrapped his wings warm and soft around them both—bends into Sam's embrace with his head against Sam's chest. He starts talking again, quieter, "It's not like they're necessary. Kinda useless, really. Flight's not—not even efficient. And I haven't even flown for centuries, it's not any different…"
"Gabriel." Sam cups his hand around Gabriel's ear, tilts his head back. His eyes are small and wet, and they don't meet Sam's.
"I was going to take you out. When all this was over. Sorry I didn't get the chance, s'all."
"Gabriel," a little more forcefully.
"I—" he stops. "I can't—" he swallows, and buries his face suddenly in Sam's chest. He's shaking.
"Gabriel, Gabriel, Gabriel," Sam chants, holding him tight, "I love you, I love you, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and they lie awake and trembling through the night.