Sam Winchester liked to think that he was more prepared than the average person. He knew more than the average person; at least when it came to things that go bump in the night. In the way of preparation, he always had some sort of weapon on his person, a knife, or perhaps a small gun. Even without that weapon, he knew how to defend himself using only his fists and feet.
He liked to be prepared.
However, he really didn't think that anything could have prepared him for this.
It was a normal day for the most part; he and Dean were in Washington State, following the trail of what they knew was a ghoul, which was terrorizing the locals and kidnapping a few younger children. It was something normal and mundane, after the events of the Apocalypse. After that 'clusterfuck,' as Dean still called it, this was almost boring.
God had stepped in at the last moment, somehow, although they hadn't seen him. Dean had been kneeling in that cemetery, trying to get the strength to go on, and then suddenly Castiel had been there, Sam standing beside him blinking in the bright sun. The newly restored angel went on to say that God had granted Sam salvation from the Pit for what he had done, and had fully restored Castiel's abilities.
So life went on. Dean and Sam drove across the country, hunting down monsters and saving people.
Sam was surfing the web quietly, looking for a job that they could move on to after they finished up this one, and Dean was sitting on his bed, guns spread in pieces in front of him as he cleaned and cared for them. Both of them felt the slight shift of air that signaled Castiel was coming, mere seconds before he appeared standing near the window with a gentle sound of feathers moving through the air.
The first thing that struck Sam as odd was that the angel wasn't wearing his trench-coat. Castiel never changed his look, and removing the coat was one of those things. He was still in the suit jacket, but the familiar tan shroud was gone from his shoulders. Instead, it was wrapped around a bundle that he cradled in his arms.
Dean was the first to speak up, tilting his head slightly in a motion that was strikingly similar to his lover's favorite one. "Cas?"
Castiel nodded in greeting to Dean, and then moved to Sam's empty bed and carefully deposited the trench on the covers. Sam rose to his feet, insanely curious by now to see what Castiel had brought with him.
Pure shock coursed through him as his eyes settled on the bed.
It was a child.
A tiny boy, maybe 5 or 6 by the look of him, with a short mop of red-gold hair and pale skin. He was curled in a ball in the wrap of Castiel's coat, sound asleep with a peaceful expression on his familiar features. Long lashes brushed soft child cheeks, and Sam would bet his left arm that those concealed eyes were a warm and mischievous shade of honey.
Castiel nodded, standing quietly by the bed before sitting and fussing with the boy. It was odd to see the angel doing something like that, but somehow it wasn't an awkward scene. Castiel pulled a pillow from the head of the bed, settling the boy on it and tucking the coat around him gently.
"My Father gave him to me. He told me that He had given Gabriel another chance." Castiel murmured softly, his voice quiet in an effort not to wake the slumbering child.
Dean crept forward, standing just behind Castiel as he looked down at the boy. Sam could sense Dean's big brother instincts kicking in, even though he no doubt still held some animosity towards Gabriel. "Is he...?"
Castiel shook his head, knowing what his mate wished to ask before Dean completed his thought. "No, he is not human. Since he is only a fledgling his body will behave much like a human's while he is on Earth, but he is still an archangel."
"So...." Sam put in after a moment. "We have a baby archangel?"
"Precisely." Castiel affirmed, his blue eyes flickering to Sam before returning to Gabriel. "My Father has entrusted us with his care until such time that he can be returned to his proper shape."
Dean blinked. "God couldn't do that now?"
Castiel shrugged, a gesture that he had picked up from Dean. It was still an awkward, stiff sort of motion, but he was starting to get the hang of it. "He would not give me any more information. It is likely that He has some purpose for Gabriel at this age, or some lesson that he must learn."
The boy let out a sigh, shifting in his sleep until he was sprawled on his back, pink lips parted as he breathed. Castiel hesitated a moment before reaching out, brushing a hand over the red-gold hair, a gesture so gentle and tender that Sam was startled to see it from the angel, who, until several months ago, had had difficulty cracking a smile.
At the touch the child's eyelashes fluttered, and then golden eyes opened to the light. Sam found himself enthralled by those eyes; they were more gold than Gabriel's had ever been, shining with power. But a moment later that endless chasm vanished, and the eyes of a child peered out from the tiny archangel's face. He blinked, body cringing backwards as he realized he didn't know where he was, and then his gaze fell on Castiel.
Honey eyes blinked, and suddenly Castiel found himself with an armful of tiny archangel. "Brother!"
Castiel looked faintly confused at first, but he put his arms around the boy nevertheless, a hand cradling the back of the small head as Gabriel burrowed into his chest. "Good morning, Gabriel." he said after a moment, and the little archangel leaned back to give him a big smile.
Sam couldn't help the smile that crept onto his own face at the brilliant expression on the child's features. It was contagious, and so bright that it was as though he was lighting up the entire room. The happiness that was radiating from Gabriel was astounding; it was nothing like the archangel that Sam remembered, hiding beneath the mask of the snarky Trickster.
There was a quiet moment, and then Castiel shifted slightly, looking up towards the Winchesters. "Gabriel, these are my friends Dean and Sam. They're going to be caring for you while I'm away."
"You're gonna leave?" Gabriel questioned softly, staring up at him with wide eyes. After a moment the child shifted, hunching down slightly and lowering his head, lifting Castiel's tie and turning it over and over in his hands. It was painfully adorable, the way that Gabriel obviously didn't want Castiel to go. "I dun want you to leave."
A soft smile curved Castiel's lips, and he passed his hand over Gabriel's hair. "I will not be gone long, little one. You will like Dean and Sam, and they will take good care of you." Gabriel continued to play with his tie, and with a faint huff of air, Castiel nudged the fledgling gently. "Come now, say hello."
Gabriel didn't move for a moment, and then he turned, golden eyes settling first on Dean, and then moving to Sam. "Hullo." he murmured quietly.
"There, that wasn't so hard." Castiel said warmly. He waved a hand and a few brightly colored toys appeared on the floor not far away, several dinosaur figurines and what appeared to be some kind of plush. "Why don't you go play while I speak with them?"
Gabriel's expression brightened as soon as he saw the toys and he nodded, chirping a "'Kay!" before hopping off of Castiel's lap and plopping down near his new playthings. Castiel watched him with a fond expression on his face for a moment, and then pushed himself to his feet and pulled the Winchester boys to the side.
"You're damn good with him, Cas." Dean murmured as they reached the door of the motel room. "I've never seen you act like that before."
Castiel turned his blue eyes to Gabriel, watching him as he spoke. "I feel... quite normal, treating him that way. It just came to me."
Sam marveled at this. "Some sort of instinct I suppose."
"Perhaps." Castiel acknowledged, his eyes staying on Gabriel for only a moment more before he turned his gaze back to Sam and Dean. "There are a few things you must know before I depart. As I stated earlier, because he is a young one, his body has not become accustomed to Earth. He will need food and sleep just like a human child, and he may possibly become ill." This speech was stilted, as though Castiel was figuring out along the way how to explain it in terms Dean and Sam would understand.
"Is there anything we should really worry about?" Sam asked after a moment.
They all looked over as Gabriel let out a peal of laughter, and the warmth stole over Castiel's face once more. "No, not health-related. Even if he does contract a virus, it will not last long. And I should return before anything occurs." His gaze flashed to Dean's eyes. "What you must remember is that fledglings are very emotional. They have not yet learned to control that portion of themselves, and as such it is very easy to harm them. Trust comes quickly and is absolute, and should they be rejected or their feelings hurt in any way, they will wither and become sickly."
Dean blinked in surprise. "Seriously?"
Castiel nodded. "It has happened with your human children. Emotional neglect will cause them to fade as well, it simply happens much more quickly with fledglings. They are also very physical, contact is vital to their mental stability."
Sam took all of this in stride, as it made sense. Angels were supposed to be beings of purity after all, and what was more pure than the love of a child?
"Do you really need to leave?" Dean asked softly, at which Sam took his cue to leave the two of them alone. He turned, going quietly to Gabriel's side before settling himself cross-legged beside the fledgling. Gabriel quieted as Sam came close, peering up at him with large, curious eyes.
"What's this, Gabriel?" Sam asked after a moment, reaching out to brush his fingers across the soft stuffed dinosaur.
Gabriel glanced towards his hand and then back up to his face. "'S a triceratops."
Sam blinked in surprise at Gabriel's knowledge of that word. It was amazing sometimes what children would learn and retain, despite adults thinking that it was too difficult for them. He smiled at the fledgling. "Do you like dinosaurs?" A nod answered him, and Sam continued on. "Is that one your favorite? Mine is the Brachiosaurus."
Instantly a brilliant smile spread across Gabriel's little face. "You like that one? He's really really big!" He lifted the triceratops plush, hugging it to his chest. "Triceratops is my favorite, but I like Apatosaurus too!"
"Apatosaurus, that one's like the Brachiosaurus isn't it?" Sam asked, letting Gabriel show off his knowledge.
Gabriel nodded furiously. "Yea! They're both sau--saro--" he trailed off, his face scrunched up in concentration. The brilliant smile returned only a moment later. "Sauropods!"
Sam nodded, allowing a look of understanding to dawn on his face. "That's right! I can't believe I forgot that!"
By the time Dean turned around after saying goodbye to Castiel, Sam was sitting with his back against the wall, a dinosaur figurine in one hand and Gabriel sitting in his lap, pointing at the toy and explaining different things as he did. The eldest Winchester smiled slightly, shaking his head fondly as he went to sit on the bed, returning to the task of cleaning their guns.
Sam sighed, running his hand through his hair before looking over the reports that were in front of him on the computer screen. There were several hunts in the nearby area, and, as much as he thought they should avoid it because Gabriel was with them, there was what seemed to be a particularly nasty spirit close by, judging by the number of strange drownings.
He didn't think it would be that bad, it would be just a simple salt and burn. For the most part Gabriel could stay at the hotel with one of them, or perhaps with Castiel if the angel returned soon.
He was snapped out of his thoughts at the press of a tiny body against his hip, and he looked down to see brilliant golden eyes staring up at him, a wide smile shining. "Whatcha doin?"
Sam couldn't resist the answering smile that spread across his face. Gabriel's joy was infectious; there was no way to be sad around him. "I'm just looking around for a job."
Gabriel bounced slightly. "Like a ghost?"
"A ghost?" Sam blinked in surprise. "How did you know I was thinking about a spirit?"
The little archangel's smile grew mischievous. "I know things."
Of course, Gabriel was still an archangel after all. He probably still knew more about anything malicious then they did, even at this age. With another smile, Sam ruffled the fledgling's hair and was rewarded with a bright giggle that warmed his heart.
He liked kids, he really did, he'd just never had much of a chance to be around them. He'd wanted to have his own with Jessica, but now he knew that having any kids was pretty much a pipe dream, so he was content to remain with his brother. But this bright little presence that came in the form of a tiny archangel....
He could be happy with that.
There was a jiggle of the lock, and then Dean came inside, carrying several bags with him. He shut the door behind him and then deposited the bags on the nearest bed, flashing a grin over at his brother and Gabriel. "Hey, you two hungry?"
Gabriel instantly perked up at the mention of food, bouncing away from Sam to peer at the bags on the mattress. He avoided the side of the bed with Dean on it, staying nearer to Sam even as he reached out with little hands to explore. It wasn't that he didn't like Dean; he was perfectly okay with the elder Winchester, but he hadn't quite warmed up to him as much as he had Sam.
Sam liked to say that they hadn't bonded yet.
"Did you think of getting something for Gabriel?" Sam asked, a faint smile on his face as Dean looked up at him with a fake hurt expression plastered across his features.
"Of course I did! I got him a kid's meal."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "With....?"
Dean blinked. "A burger."
"Oh come on, the kid's gotta get some decent food while he's down here! What's better than a burger!" As Sam continued to stare at him he raised his hands in defeat. "I got him some fruit too, okay? Is that good enough for you, health-nut?"
Sam nodded his satisfaction, rising to his feet and digging through the bags. He turned up a salad for himself and the smaller bag that contained Gabriel's food, going back to the table and clearing his laptop off the surface. Gabriel bounced behind him, plopping into the chair and clapping his hands on the table while Sam put the food in front of him.
They ate their own food quietly while they watched Gabriel puzzle briefly over his meal before figuring it out and beginning to eat. His first bite was tentative, but then a look of excitement spread over his features and he moved faster after that.
Sam chuckled to himself, inwardly grateful that Gabriel knew what to do in order to eat. Some part of his mind had been worried that they would have to teach him that, but it seemed that he already knew the basics of living as a human. Perhaps he'd ask Castiel about that later.
He finished his salad pretty quickly, and then pulled his laptop out once more in order to fill Dean in on what he had found. "I found a hunt close by."
Dean looked up from his cheeseburger, tilting his head in a motion nearly exactly like his lover's favorite move. "A hunt? Are you sure we should be thinking about that with...?" he gestured towards Gabriel at this point, who was now happily munching away at his fruit.
Sam shrugged one shoulder. "I don't see too much of a problem with it. We can do all the questioning separately so one of us can stay here with Gabe, and, if my hunch is right, it's just a salt and burn. The only part where we'll both need to be there is the actual salting and burning, and hopefully by then Cas will have returned. If not, we can leave him in the car for 5 minutes, I'm sure he'll be fine."
The elder Winchester mulled this over for a moment, and then nodded, agreeing with Sam. "That seems like a plan then. What have we got?"
"Three of what they're calling 'unexplainable drownings' in the last 2 weeks or so. All of them were in their cars near the lake, and each was found with the car completely filled with water." Sam read off the page in front of him.
Dean winced. "Damn. That's a nasty way to go. Any suspects for who might have done it?"
Sam nodded, switching to another page. "We've got a death about a month ago, a teenager named Brett Stevens who crashed his car into the lake and drowned. They listed it as an accident, but judging by the pictures of the car they pulled out, I'm not buying that at all. There was also another car of people behind him that called it in. All of the people who've died so far were in that car, and they all died near that same lake."
"So you think these kids were somehow responsible for this guy's death?" Dean asked, taking a swig of his soda.
"Seems like it. There's 2 more people left from the other car, so I'm thinking the first thing to do would be to go talk to them and see if we can find out exactly what happened that night, so we can make sure this is a malicious spirit and not something else." Sam jotted down a few of the addresses on a piece of paper, holding it out to Dean a moment later.
Dean scoffed faintly at this. "I doubt it's anything else with what you've dug up, but yea, we gotta make sure. You got the family's address on here so I can find out where he's buried?" At Sam's nod he set his drink down on the table and went to his bag. "Well then, guess I'd better bring out the suit."
"I'll stay here with Gabe." Sam responded. "I'll keep looking around and see if I can find out where he's been buried, and I'll call if I find anything."
After changing into his suit Dean left, leaving Sam alone with Gabriel, who was now sitting on the floor and playing with his toys. Sam watched him quietly for a moment, and then noticed that there was a small frown on Gabriel's face.
"Hey, why the frown?" Sam asked gently, going to sit beside the child.
Gabriel kept his eyes turned down, running his little fingers over his triceratops plush. "That boy is sad. And very mad." He shivered slightly.
Sam blinked in surprise when he realized that Gabriel was referring to the spirit that he and Dean had been discussing. He knew that Gabriel was more in tune with the supernatural because of what he was, but he was picking up on the feelings of the ghost? That was certainly not something he'd expected.
"Don't be sad." Sam murmured, reaching out to rub a large hand across Gabriel's back. The boy moved towards him at the touch, crawling into his lap and curling up against his chest. Sam wrapped his arms around the warm little body, resting his chin against red-gold hair. "We're going to help him, and then he won't be sad anymore, okay?"
Gabriel nodded, pressing himself closer, but not speaking. Sam merely stroked his shoulder, protectiveness blooming in his chest as he held the boy. It made him feel like he could stop anything, to have such a powerful creature depending solely on him for protection.
He knew in that moment that no matter what, he would do whatever he had to in order to keep Gabriel safe.