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Black Swans

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(seven months earlier)

"Oh, Sam," Lucifer said, his voice so sticky with sympathy that Sam could almost see the words in the air above him, dripping syrupy letters. And why not? This was all a fucked up hallucination anyway, so why not go for the full-on Looking Glass extravaganza? "That you should have to go through this again, it seems so unfair, doesn't it?"

"You should know," Sam replied in a low voice, leaning his head back against the salted walls of the panic room and wrapping his arms tightly around his legs as the next wave of pain started to swell within him. "You're the one who had this done to me."

Lucifer lifted his hand to his chin in a pensive gesture. "Hmm, I'd debate that. Will you hear me out?"

Sam snorted. "Why bother asking me permission when you know you're just gonna carry on and do whatever you want to do anyway? That's your hallmark, isn't it? Doing exactly what you want to do, regardless of rules, objections, or the suffering of others?"

"Hmm." Lucifer tipped his head slightly to one side, resting it on two outstretched fingers from the hand at his chin. His fingertips pressed into one of the open ulcerations on his face and twitched as if absentmindedly scratching at an itch. "We really are so alike, aren't we? Almost like... soul mates."

"That's not fair." Sam ground the back of his head against the rough surface, the pain a small distraction from the real pain eating him away inside. He closed his eyes tight. "I care when others suffer. I care a lot."

"As do I," Lucifer said, his voice almost sing-songy. "Truly. We both just happen to think our own agenda is even more important than their pain. And we're both correct, of course. We are more important. It's not egotism when it's the truth. You are important, Sam. Unique, even."

A shuffling noise made Sam open his eyes. Lucifer was moving closer, studying Sam, and Sam winced under both the attention and the stink of putrefying flesh.

"Mmm," the Devil said, smiling and half-closing his eyes as if savoring a scent worlds apart from the one filling Sam's nostrils. "All that delicious guilt, broiling away in your gut, fuel to the anger that drives you. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made, don't they, Sam? You know I understand."

"You are so full of shit."

He heard Lucifer laugh quietly. "I'm a projection of your own psyche, Sam. Here to help your conscious mind become aware of a few helpful facts." He crouched down beside Sam, joints popping alarmingly. "I told you that I'll never lie to you, remember? Just the God-given truth... well, with 100% less God." He chuckled at his own joke. "I feel for you, Sam. You've been dealt one hell of a messed up hand, the end result of millennia of angelic manipulation. It's not fair. It really isn't."

Sam was prevented from telling Lucifer where he could stuff his 'feelings' by the next wave of building agony finally breaking, eating up his insides and spitting them out into distilled acid. For an endless while, all he could do was scream and mash his head back against the wall.

Later, he wouldn't be able to say which came first – the new voice or the pain receding. "You really know how to fuck yourself up, don't you?"

Panting for breath, Sam uncurled just enough so that he could look at whoever his subconscious had decided to bring out to play now. That voice wasn't Lucifer's. It was familiar, but... Oh.

The Trickster – Gabriel – was sitting cross-legged beside him, wearing a knowing smirk. "Fell off the wagon but hard, didja, Sammy-boy?"

"Fuck the hell off," Sam told him, too exhausted to grant a hallucination any respect.

Gabriel put a hand to his chest with a mocking shocked expression. "Is that any way to talk to an angel who's answering your brother's prayers? I'm wounded, Sam. Really."

"Yeah, right." Sam snorted. "You're for real." His mental projections weren't even trying any more. At least the pain had subsided for a little while; he should be making the most of it. Stretching his legs out, Sam heaved in a deep breath, trying to ease all his constricted muscles. "Like Dean would pray, let alone to you."

"Not to me specifically, no," Gabriel said. "Doesn't mean I didn't intercept it, Dad's Messenger and all that." He stretched out as well, leaning back on his elbows. "Just because I'm not on the job anymore doesn't mean all the perks have gone away."

"So... what? You heard this prayer Dean supposedly offered up and thought you'd zap yourself over here to gloat?" Sam rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I drank a couple of demons, so laugh it up. Have yourself a freaking ball." Even just the words were enough to make his eyelids flutter, trying to close in reaction to the memory. It had felt so good to finally give in, to let himself have what he'd needed for so long, Christ, the taste of it...

The staccato sound of Gabriel snapping his fingers broke him out of the memory. He looked up to see the archangel unwrapping a chocolate bar and regarding Sam with an almost thoughtful expression. "Gotta say, I wasn't expecting that. You surprised me, and that doesn't happen very often."

Sam looked at the vision of Gabriel properly for the first time, if only to direct a scathing expression his way. "I surprised you by drinking demon blood? In what universe have you been hanging out?"

"Not that," Gabriel said, waving it away with his candy bar. "You stopped. With Famine egging you on, you stopped. You still said 'no'. Which means you've either taken being contrary to a whole new level, as a way of life, or-" And he stopped, regarding Sam with that weird thoughtful expression once more.

"Or what?"

But Gabriel just smiled enigmatically. "Y'know, there's easier ways to detox than to go all cold turkey."

And that was supposed to mean what? "Yeah, there's no such thing as demon blood methadone, Gabriel. Anyway–" Sam lifted his chin defiantly "–it's not so bad this time. It'll be over soon, and you can go back to hanging out with your older brother in the dark recesses of my apparently way more messed up than I'd realized psyche." And that was saying something.

Gabriel laughed at that. "As amusing as it would be to think I'm running around in your subconscious being awesome, I'm real, Sam."

Sam snorted again, louder this time. "Well, what do you know? Looks like Lucifer was telling the truth about not lying to me. He at least admitted to just being a figment." He drew his legs up again as he felt the next wave starting to build, and he wrapped his arms around them. "Makes sense you'd be in here, really, symbolizing my internal hypocrite."

"Just goes to show, you don't know everything," Gabriel said with a half-shrug and a smile. "Like how there's something that will make detoxing from demon blood easier. If you're very nice, I might even tell you what it is."

Sam could never make his mind up regarding whether his hallucinations were a helpful distraction from the pain and breath-stealing need of withdrawal, or if they just added to the torture. He glared blearily at Gabriel across the ridge of his folded arms. "We tried nice with you, remember? Didn't seem to get us anywhere."

Another shrug. "Yeah, well, first you have to get a guy's attention. And you and your brother, you've got mine. But especially you, Sam."

Sam curled his lip. "'Cause I'm special. Right. I'm special, and I understand what Dean fails to see. I'm the only one strong enough. Last detox, this role was played by my mom; can't say I care for the change in casting. It won't work this time, you know. I know what I am. What I really am."

"Do you?" Gabriel was all amusement. "And what's that?"

Was he really going to have to say it? Of course he was, more painful that way, and it made sense psychologically to get it all out and acknowledged. He could see that. "I'm a freak. A freak and a loser, cursed from birth and full of... of futile anger." He shook his head slowly. "I was so desperate to believe I could be something better than that. I let a freaking demon hook me on her blood so she could make me better, but it just made it all the more true. I've– I've fucked up everything I've touched." He let his head rest in his hands for a few moments, mumbling, "I deserve this pain a hundred times over for what I did, for what's happened already as a result of me doing it."

Silence made him raise his head again. Rubbing his hand over his mouth, he studied Gabriel, who was studying him right back but saying nothing.

"Anyway," Sam added with a little half-shrug. "I need to stay alive and un-ridden in order to keep the real hero of this piece from going completely nuts."

If it wasn't already too late for that. Dean seemed to be breaking a little more with every passing day. It was worse than withdrawal, watching that. What Sam was going through here in the panic room would pass, at least until the next time he found himself drinking a demon again. He knew that it was finite, and that gave him the strength to survive it. But Dean was carrying his own personal Hell around with him, and Sam wasn't sure now if that would ever pass. Every time his brother closed his eyes...

Gabriel shook his head. "You don't get it, do you, Sam? When – if – you manage to beat this, it's going to be you and your brother acting together. That's the wild card that none of us saw in this whole damn prophecy. Hey, you managed to change an archangel's mind, and that's none too shabby, so don't sell yourself short."

Sam closed his eyes, too tired to argue any further. "I wish that were true," he said softly. "I really wanted to convince you. Dean thought I was crazy, or going dark again, wanting to recruit a... Well, we thought you were a monster then."

"I've been called a lot worse," Gabriel said, seemingly unperturbed by the name. "'Coward', for starters, but... I can't say there's not truth to both. Maybe I want to prove otherwise now. If you'll let me."

Sam didn't bother opening his eyes. "Go away, Gabriel. Stop tempting me with hope. It's the only thing I crave more than the blood these days, and it's even more dangerous to let me have it." God, he must really hate himself. Lucifer was only to be expected, but to taunt him with the conversion of the one person who could really make a difference to their hopeless fight, who really could put a dent in destiny, was too much. He pressed his forehead into his knees as the pain peaked again, racking his body.

He heard Gabriel sigh and then the sound of fingers snapping again. Suddenly things, including the pain, seemed much further away. "We'll have this conversation again, Sam Winchester," Gabriel said as Sam spiraled down into warm, painfree darkness. "And maybe you'll even remember that one."


Day One

"Gabriel?" The voice was coming from very far away. If everything else hadn't been so very quiet, he wouldn't be able to hear the voice at all. "Gabriel! Hey, come on now. Don't do this. You promised that you– Gabriel, please!"

His thoughts seemed murky in a way that would probably alarm him more if things were clearer, but he still managed to drag his eyes open. "Whoa."

"Oh, thank God..." The pressure he now realized he'd been feeling in his shoulders lessened, and a shadow moved away from the bright light above him. "You just scared the– Are you all right?"

"Let's leave Dad out of this," Gabriel muttered, raising a hand to rub at his face, which took a depressing amount of energy.

"Look, I know you need time to recover, but... We're not in Kansas anymore." The voice sighed heavily, and Gabriel could feel movement beside him. "Or in Detroit for that matter."

Gabriel's memory was slowly drifting back. "Are we somewhere?" he asked. "Because that's better than what I was expecting."

There was a short pause, then, "So all that stuff about it taking more than one freak kid from Lawrence, K-S, to drain you dry was just what I thought it was? Lies and spin to get me to do it?" The voice – Sam – laughed, kind of hollowly. "Or were you just expecting me to fail? Don't ever change, Gabriel."

"Did you?" He managed to turn his head to the side enough to bring Sam into view.

Sam was crouched beside him against a backdrop of dappled greenish hues. His clothes were ripped up and covered in dried blood. "D'you really think I'd still be here to shake you awake if I'd failed? Lucifer's dead. I'm... I'm sorry for your loss." The kid actually sounded sincere when he said that.

Gabriel closed his eyes against the sympathy, remembering what his brother had been before all of this had started. "He was lost long ago," he said softly, the eons-old grief from the first war heavy in his words. He forced his eyes open again, not wanting to have the memories so clear, his gaze once more focusing on the man beside him. "And unlike a certain pair of stubborn humans, he didn't have the ability to change. No angel does."

Sam cast him a disbelieving look. "You changed. So did Cas. Anna too. The 'we can't change' line is an excuse for cowards and the lazy. You're neither, not anymore. How are you feeling?"

And there was Sam, once again, casually denying the facts of the universe. Really, it was no wonder the Winchesters had actually managed to pull off this insane plan. As for how he was feeling, he tried to think of an accurate description. "Like a used battery that's been kicking around the floor of a movie theater that hasn't been cleaned in weeks – sticky, weak, and just all around gross, thanks for asking."

"Can you..." Sam seemed uncharacteristically hesitant. "Can you clean yourself up okay? Your body's hurt."

Gabriel was pretty sure he already knew the answer, but he had to try anyway. Reaching for his grace, he snapped his fingers. The world went away for a while again.

When he came back, someone had hold of one of his hands and was dabbing something wet on his wrist. It kind of stung. "What are you doing?" he asked, opening his eyes again. Or at least, that was what he intended to ask; it came out sounding more like "Whaaaa..." and then trailed off into incoherent noise, much to his annoyance.

"Gabriel?" The wet dabbing stopped, though his hand wasn't dropped. When Sam spoke again, he was closer. "Don't rush yourself; you passed out. It's okay. I found us a place out of the sun. Not exactly five star accommodation, but it'll do for now so take it easy."

Gabriel continued to work on getting his eyes open since talking wasn't working all that great, finally managing it and even managing to get them to focus. He found himself looking up at a dark and cobwebbed wooden ceiling.

"This wound needs a real bandage," Sam went on. "but I can't find any clean cloth in this place. So I boiled the water on the propane stove, and I found some old vodka to sterilize it all."

"You're holding my hand." Sure, now his voice worked.

"You'll live. I need your arm still while I clean the incision. Did you have to cut so deep?" Sam sighed again. "Don't answer that."

"It should've healed by now," Gabriel said, frowning. He was forgetting something; he just couldn't remember what.

"You've shorted out," Sam said, starting to dab at Gabriel's sore wrist again. "Trying to use your power made you pass out the second time. We'll lay low, give you a chance to recharge... and I'll work on finding out where the hell we are."

"Not Hell," Gabriel said helpfully, frowning up at the ceiling. "It's too mundane. Not Heaven either, though. It's too..." He started to gesture with the hand that Sam wasn't holding onto, but stopped when it felt like his arm weighed several tons. His hand fell back to what he guessed was some sort of mattress.

"It's hot enough here for Hell. Don't move this." Sam put the hand he was holding gently down onto Gabriel's stomach. There was a noise Gabriel translated as a bottle opening. "This'll sting like hell too," Sam said as he lifted Gabriel's hand again.

"Yeah, that," Gabriel said, gasping against the swift, surging prickling that seemed to start at the wound Sam was tending and spread through his whole body. "'s too stingy for Heaven." Heaven was a lot of things, not all of them pleasant. Things that happened there could rip your heart open and leave it bleeding on the floor, but it didn't generally sting.

He was still reeling from the sharp pain while Sam did something else to his wrist, but then it seemed like it was all over, his hand lying on his belly again and being patted before Sam straightened up with a weary sounding sigh. "That's the best I can do without better supplies."

"I'm sure it's fine," Gabriel said magnanimously. He would've waved the hand about to prove it if it had weighed a little less.

"I'm going to scout around a little," Sam said, moving away. "Don't try to get up 'til I get back, okay?"

"Not going to be a problem," Gabriel told him, eyes drifting shut again. It was going to take some time to work up to even sitting up, much less any more.

He thought Sam had gone, but then he felt a warm hand on his shoulder. "You're gonna be all right. We just have to be patient, let time do its thing."

The world slid away again before Gabriel could answer.


Sam opened the door back into the little hut as quietly as he could, not wanting to wake Gabriel if he was still sleeping. He found it easier to think of Gabriel being asleep rather than unconscious. Angels, let alone archangels, shouldn't pass out cold. Seeing Gabriel, of all people, so weak and helpless was disturbing in a whole new way, and Sam, let's face it, was a freaking connoisseur of disturbing. What made it even worse was knowing how Gabriel had gotten into this state. Sam couldn't even look at him without feeling a hot flush of guilt pass over him.

Not that Gabriel's depletion was the only disturbing thing Sam was having to contend with – far from it – but it was the only one he could do anything about right now. Strange how whenever he'd let himself imagine the aftermath of a successful end to the Apocalypse, it had been full of celebrations and happy survivors. Not this. Definitely not this at all.

He guessed that not all successes really deserved the name. Things had gotten so dark and cataclysmic before the end. So much death, whole populations gone as the world reshaped itself – Sam knew he was going to spend the rest of his life with the burden of 'why couldn't we have figured out the way to kill Lucifer earlier?' on his shoulders. It was a good thing his shoulders were so broad really, considering that he was already carrying around the knowledge that he rose Lucifer in the first place.

With his eyes adjusted to the strong sunshine outside, Sam couldn't see a damned thing inside the hut, just dark shapes against a slightly less shadowy background. Shutting the door behind him, he walked as softly as he could over the bare, creaking, and on the way to rotting floorboards, over to the dirty cot bed. "Gabriel?" he asked in a lowered voice. "You awake?"


Sam was close enough now to see that Gabriel had managed to sit up and was leaning heavily on the wall behind the bed. Sam hoped he'd gotten rid of all the living spiders during his initial sweep of this hut, what with Gabriel being unable to heal himself right now. It wasn't exactly Sam's area of specialist knowledge, but he was pretty sure some of the spiders had been venomous, which added to his conviction that he knew where he and Gabriel had touched down. Even if he was right, that did nothing to answer the questions of how the fuck they got here and where the fuck everyone else was. The lack of answers to those two questions was already making him tense and twitchy, jumping at strange noises, which the wildlife around here seemed happy to provide in abundance.

"Though I'm not sure how I feel about it just yet," Gabriel went on.

Frowning with concern, Sam drew closer and tried to study Gabriel without making it too obvious what he was doing. Even with his eyes now adjusting to the low light, he couldn't see that clearly. The archangel – or, at least, his vessel – looked pale and grayish. "I scavenged some aspirin. Will they work on you?"

Gabriel cocked his head to the side in that way he shared with Castiel; Sam had begun to think of it as the angelic headtilt. "I have no idea. It's not something that's come up before now."

"Let's give it a try." Sam put down the bags containing the meager supplies he'd managed to loot from the place he'd found up the track, and he took out one of the bottles of water. "I found a deserted house nearby," he said as he rummaged for the aspirin. "It's been ransacked. There are a few corpses stinking up the place that'll need to be salted and burned, but it's still a better place to hole up in than this hut. I'll help you get there later on, when you can stand without passing out."

Stepping back over to the bed, he sat down on the edge and put the pills in Gabriel's nearest hand. "Here. I'll lift the water for you. It's heavy."

"My hero," Gabriel said dryly, rolling his eyes, which heartened Sam. Any sign of Gabriel's usual attitude was better than the 'out of it' disconnectedness he'd been showing up to now.

"Yeah, well, I owe you. The world owes you." After Gabriel put the pills in his mouth, Sam lifted the open water bottle and carefully tipped it enough for Gabriel to drink. "I found you some other medicine too."

Gabriel swallowed and made a face. "Y'know, I'm not actually a wounded human," he reminded him. "You don't need to keep pouring human medicine down my throat."

"So you don't want this?" Sam reached out with his free hand and then slowly waved the Snickers bar he'd picked up in front of Gabriel's face.

The speed with which Gabriel snatched at the candy was way more than just heartening. "Now that's more like it."

"There, see? You're getting better already. I guess human medicine is more effective than you thought." Sam smiled warmly, at least until he remembered, well, pretty much everything else. "Gabriel, do you remember the end at all?"

Gabriel slowed in his devouring of the chocolate bar. "Not really," he admitted, voice suddenly and uncharacteristically serious. "Not sure I want to either. There's too much... stuff involved. Even for an archangel."

Sam wondered what 'stuff' was, but he didn't ask. He guessed he could figure out some of it anyway. "It's just... I think we're in Florida, and I don't know why since, y'know, we were fighting the Devil in Detroit. I don't know why it's just us here, either." He looked down at his hands. "My cell phone isn't working. I don't think anything electrical is. I think when Lucifer, uh, came to his end, the explosion maybe caused some kind of EMP wave. If I'm right, it could be widespread."

"Florida, huh?" Gabriel chewed thoughtfully. "Could've been worse. That was a lot of energy being released all at once. I wouldn't have been surprised if we'd woken up to penguins staring us in the face."

And wouldn't that have been fun? To have survived the Apocalypse only to freeze to death a few minutes afterward. Sam rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth and then unthinkingly licked his lips. Not his best idea, he quickly realized when he tasted the flecks of dried blood. "I need a shower real bad," he said, and despite his best attempts to cover it, the words came out a little shakily.

"You've stank worse," Gabriel assured him around another mouthful of candy. He seemed unfazed by how Sam looked.

Sam flicked his gaze up, frowning. "I'm covered in dried blood. Mostly yours and Lucifer's." If he shut his eyes he could still see the scalding light, feel the wet splatter of what was left of a poor sap named Nick. He could still hear the scream that went on and on and on, even when there was nothing physical left to be screaming. Sam had no idea how he still had eyes to see or ears to hear with after that. It was another one of those mysteries, like how come they were in Florida now, and how they'd ended up on that plane back at the start of Lucifer's reign of hell on Earth. "It's... not good for me."

"It's going to make it hard to get a date, yeah," Gabriel said. "But it's not bad for you either. Other than maybe being itchy. It's not like demon blood, Sam."

"Methadone isn't heroin, but it still isn't exactly good for you," Sam said pointedly. He shook himself and stood. "Do you think you can walk now with help?"

"I can give it the old college try." Gabriel sat up more fully and swung his legs over the side of the cot.

Sam didn't let himself hesitate. He moved closer immediately, slipping an arm around Gabriel and holding him firmly, just as he would do for Dean or Cas in circumstances like these. Considering what he and Gabriel had shared just before the end, it would be beyond stupid to worry about this small intimacy.

Gabriel peered down at his feet. "They seem to be working. Sorta."

"I could carry you," Sam offered, wondering if angels would be as bothered by such a suggestion as most human males would. "I carried you to this hut earlier."

That earned him a suspicious look. "You'd enjoy that, wouldn't you?"

Sam gave him a pointed look in return, having to twist a bit to focus on Gabriel in this position. "Yeah, you've caught me out. It's a fantasy I've had since I first met you, to hold you tight in my arms, keep you helpless in my power." He rolled his eyes. Not that there wasn't a touch of 'turn around is fair play' to be grasped at here, but Sam had no intention of doing that grasping. He was better than that. So was Gabriel, these days.

"Always knew you were hot for my bod," Gabriel quipped, reaching up to pat Sam's chest.

Giving up on waiting for a sensible answer, Sam slipped his other arm under Gabriel's knees and hoisted him up. All things considered, the archangel didn't really weigh that much. Of course, this was speaking as someone who'd had to carry Dean significant distances in the past, and whoever wrote that 'He Ain't Heavy' song had never tried to heft an unconscious Dean through a raging storm. "Whose bod is it really, anyway?" he asked Gabriel. "I was half expecting to meet him when you finally woke up."

"It's mine," Gabriel said. "Taking a vessel leaves a trail. When I left, I didn't want to be found, so I made sure there was no trail."

Sam walked to the door and kicked it open, which was how he'd gotten them into this hut in the first place. "You can do that? Make a human body out of nothing?"

"It takes patience, a whole lot of power, and a certain... finesse that not everybody has." Gabriel wasn't exactly the most humble of beings, but Sam liked him that way. In truth, and though he'd never in a million years say it to his brother, Gabriel reminded Sam of Dean when he bragged, and that felt familiar and weirdly comforting. Chuckling, as much at himself as at self-satisfied archangels, Sam hefted Gabriel up a little as he walked them through the door. He started up the low hill outside.

Of course, thinking about Dean made the worry start eating at his insides again. Sam's smile fell into a grimace, and he stifled a sigh. "When do you think your mojo will start returning?" he asked as casually as he could.

Gabriel was silent for a moment. "That's going to take some patience too, I think."

Sam didn't answer, just thrust his most major concern even further down in his mind.


Day Four

Patience was a lot more difficult for Gabriel to achieve once he'd recovered enough to be able to move under his own steam. He was more than fidgety, unable to sit still for five minutes. He knew he was irritating Sam more than usual, and he wasn't even trying. Gabriel was ready to claw his way out of his own skin if they didn't get moving soon. He said as much to Sam.

Sam gave him a sour look from the green recliner he was slumped in. "Move how and where? Nothing works, remember? Including you."

Gabriel scowled back at him. "You're not remotely funny."

"I thought that was your job. Not like you can do any-" Sam stopped, but it was obvious what he'd been about to say so Gabriel didn't know why he'd bothered. Sam looked down. "Sorry. I know this can't be easy for you." He rubbed his hand over his mouth and then admitted, "It's not exactly a walk in the park for me either."

"It should be!" Gabriel declared as he paced the length of the room again. "A walk in the park, or down the highway, or along the beach, or anywhere but here! Anything but sitting here licking our wounds!"

"So... what? This is you saying you're fit enough to leave?" Sam looked disbelievingly at him. "Okay, let's pack some stuff and go. We'll walk to somewhere a little closer to civilization, steal a car if we can find one that still works, and hope for a full tank since there'll be no working pumps anywhere. Where do you want to head? You know, seeing as we haven't a freaking clue where the others are, or even if they're still-" Sam cut himself off again and turned away.

Yeah, and there was the elephant in the room that they'd both been avoiding, why Sam hadn't even so much as spoken his brother's name in over forty-eight hours now. Gabriel took a deep breath then let it out slowly. He looked over at Sam. "They're alive."

Sam turned around slowly, his face a picture of uncertainty. "How do you know?" he asked, almost in a whisper.

Gabriel sighed. "I just do," he said, knowing that wouldn't be enough. "Archangel, remember?"

"Archangel who's currently powerless," Sam pointed out with an apologetic look. "How can you be sure your senses are right under the circumstances?"

"Look, do you want to believe our brothers are dead?" Gabriel asked point blank.

Sam's jaw set, the sympathetic expression hardening into something a lot less attractive. "You don't get to ask me that, Gabriel. Do I really need to remind you just how many freaking times I've seen Dean die? You made me hyper aware of every single way it could happen, however remote or stupid. Not just the obvious, not just the monsters. I walked into an empty room, and I saw danger everywhere, from the light switch to the bottle of beer in the fridge. I saw him die to all of them, again and again, and then it was over, and I was just supposed to act like everything was fine. Even when Dean was dead, I was still half-convinced it was another trick of yours..." He stopped himself with obvious effort, running his hand hard over his mouth.

Pressing his head back into the recliner, Sam continued in a much softer tone of voice. "Look, I need... I just need to know for sure he's okay." He sounded like he was pleading with Gabriel. His eyes, when he turned his head enough to glance over, were large and seemed full of sincerity – the classic Sam puppy-dog look.

Gabriel sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair, feeling an unfamiliar niggling of guilt. Damned Winchesters were always upsetting the natural order of things, and damn him for falling under their influence. "There's a way," he finally, reluctantly said.

"A spell?" Sam said, instantly alert and sitting up, putting his feet on the floor to the side of the recliner and leaning forward. "I watched Cas do one once when we were looking for Anna. That could maybe be adapted?"

"I can probably do one better than that," Gabriel said, a little of his usual confidence creeping back into his voice. "Well, not quite yet, but soon."

"You need power," Sam said, his face falling. "I wish I could give you back whatever I have left."

Gabriel thought it unlikely that Sam could have any left, considering what he'd needed so much power for in the first place, but it wasn't as if anyone had ever done anything like that before, so who was to say how much was enough to kill the Devil?

It had all happened so quickly once it had started. The ragtag group of allies had broken out of the apathy that had been holding them despondent and stagnant by coming to a crazy decision. There was, they agreed, only one way left that they were ever going to beat the constricting destiny channeling the Winchesters ever closer to their inevitable – so Gabriel had once thought – vesseldom. That was to do something so completely left field, something so big and so unexpected, that no one could have predicted it – a black swan event.

Humans of the classical world had once thought that black swans simply didn't exist. A good man was as rare as a black swan, some ancient wit had once proclaimed. But after the big reveal of black swans alive and kicking water in Australia, the expression of impossibility had taken on on a new and more ironic meaning. A guy called Taleb crystallized the whole concept. A 'Black Swan', he defined, was an unpredicted event that changed the world irrevocably. The internet and 9/11 were two of the examples he gave.

Every time the Winchesters and their allies had done something unforeseen by either prophets or celestial manipulators – Castiel rebelling, for instance – it had thrown destiny for a short time, derailing the express, but such was the power of this particular railroad of fate that things had always gotten back on track far too soon afterward. A true Black Swan would throw the lines of destiny into such a corrugated, higgledy piggledy mess that it would take a far more significant time for the tracks to realign. In that time, the allies would be free to act unhindered.

That much had been Sam's idea. Of course, it was one thing to say what they needed and another thing entirely to think up something so completely unexpected and yet still achievable. Black Swans, by their definition, were not possible to plan for. But Gabriel had known as soon as he'd heard the idea that he and Sam would be the key and the lock. It had just made sense to the trickster inside of him, the kind of sense that Heaven and Hell combined could never see, but he could. Destiny wanted Dean to kill Lucifer, so that was the one thing Dean shouldn't do. Destiny wanted the Winchesters as vessels, so nobody should say 'yes' under any circumstances.

No. Sam with his ferocious will, and not Dean, would kill the Devil. He would be charged up not by demon blood – the way Hell wanted him – but by the grace of an archangel, an archangel who prophecy said shouldn't even have been there in the first place, let alone helping to kill... his brother.

Fighting his survival instincts while he'd let Sam take and take, and take almost endlessly, the ache inside growing ever more intense, had probably been the hardest thing Gabriel had ever had to do, especially knowing he was charging up the WMD that would kill Lucifer, and now...

Now Sam was looking down at his own wrists and giving the disturbing impression that he was contemplating feeding Gabriel his blood. "Don't even think about it," Gabriel said, holding up his hands. "I'm an archangel and a trickster, not a vampire. It doesn't work that way."

"One-way street?" Sam said with a wry smile. "So is there anything that will jump start your grace?"

"There's a few types of places that angels can typically recharge at, if they know how," Gabriel admitted, running over the options in his head. "Though with what's happened, that might have changed."

Sam pushed his fingers through his hair, pulling it briefly back from his face. "What sort of places? Somewhere we could travel to?"

"Maybe. Places that hold a little more of Dad's essence than others – untouched wilderness, really old churches, the kind of place that humans call 'Holy Ground'." He ran through what he knew of Florida, trying to think of any place that might fit the bill.

"There's the Everglades," Sam said, sounding dubious. "If you like alligators and poisonous snakes."

Gabriel grinned. "I've got a soft spot for 'gators."

"I remember examining what was left of your soft spot on the slab."

"Yeah, that was really fun," Gabriel said, hit by a wave of happy nostalgia. "The best tricks were always the ones I based on human sources. You're all just so wonderfully creative." Sam didn't look very impressed at the praise. He stood and started moving around their borrowed house, putting things in a canvas bag he'd found somewhere. Gabriel rolled his eyes. Humans. "I never tricked anybody who didn't ask for it," he said, wondering why he was trying to justify himself to Sam. Again.

"There's a difference between tricking somebody to persuade them to mend their ways and murdering people in elaborately brutal ways," Sam pointed out. "Dead people learn no lessons. But let's not have this stupid debate again. It gives 'pointless' a whole new depth of meaning."

"Some people are beyond mending their ways," Gabriel said, but opened his hand as if to physically drop the subject. "So do we go visit the 'gators in their natural habitat?"

"If we have to." Sam didn't sound very keen. "Feels like the wrong direction to me though, and there's got to be sacred ground to the north as well as to the south. There's a real nice beach in the Pensacola area, I think. Won't that do?"

"You just don't want me to visit the 'gators." Not that Gabriel was all that eager to go wading out into the 'glades when he'd have to do it like a human, but needling Sam was pretty much second nature by now.

"I just don't want me to visit the 'gators," Sam said wryly. "Haven't we got enough on our plates? If I'm right about what's happened, even those places that survived the end days more or less unscathed are going to be getting kinda desperate soon – no electricity, no clean water, no medical care, no fresh food unless they're growing it themselves..."

"You mean the way humanity's had to live for most of its existence? People will manage." He wasn't too worried about humanity surviving. He'd watched it survive other dire situations, though granted rarely so widespread as this. He always found humanity particularly fascinating during such times though. There was always plenty for him to do as that kind of thing seemed to bring out the worst in people, but contrarily, it also brought out the best. It was like privation stripped humans down to their most basic essence; like blades they were honed and tempered and either came through shining and stronger than ever, or broken in pieces. Gabriel had been careful over the millennia never to wonder if that was just as true for angels.

"Yeah, they will 'manage'," Sam said, "but that doesn't mean it'll be easy or that many more won't still die thanks to the Apocalypse, despite it being over." His voice was taking on that familiar hectoring tone again. He was one step away from manifesting a lectern and breaking out the sermon notes.

It made Gabriel want to smile because it was just so quintessentially Sam, and he'd found the human fascinating for some time now. Sam was definitely someone who had been tempered and honed by adversity, becoming even more himself than before as the puppy fat of innocence was trimmed away. "Fine," he said, letting a little of the smile show through. "Because people are dying, we won't make you make nice with the 'gators."

Sam paused and narrowed his eyes at Gabriel, but he apparently didn't find anything worth complaining about in Gabriel's acquiescence and went back to packing. "We'll head to the nearest town and see if we can pick up a map or road atlas," he said decisively, coming to stand by Gabriel with his overstuffed pack on his shoulder. "Ready?"

Gabriel made a grand gesture of waving Sam before him. "Lead the way, Tonto."

Outside, the sun hit him like a falling meteorite, his human body's eyes wincing as they tried to adjust too fast to sudden brightness. The heat was even worse, and he wasn't yet anywhere near recovered enough to be able to ignore it. Sam shouldered his bag more firmly as he marched off ahead of Gabriel, his gargantuan shoulders rigid as he passed the makeshift grave mound he'd dug for the house's original occupants while Gabriel was still bed-bound. He didn't stop and look around at Gabriel until he'd passed right by it.

The sight didn't affect Gabriel in anything near the same way of course. While he had feelings about humanity in general and certain humans in particular, other individual humans had a hard time registering with him. There were always more where those came from, after all. But out of respect for Sam, he didn't say anything about it one way or the other. "So which way is the nearest town?" he said brightly instead.

Sam shrugged. "This path meets a real road after a mile or so, but which way then I've no clue 'til we can find a signpost. We're in Columbia County, Florida, according to the address on the mail I found in the house, so I guess we're somewhere near Lake City."

Generally, Gabriel could picture a location with just a name or something to latch onto – a person or item that was there – and if he could picture it, he could fly there. But with his grace as depleted as it was, nothing came with the city's name other than the thought that the name was highly unoriginal. He sighed and pushed a hand through his hair in frustration. "Guess we pick a direction and hope then."

"Guess so."

The track they were walking down was little more than dried mud with a frosting of rough gravel. Long grass grew at either side, and even with his senses as dull as they were currently, he knew it was teeming with life, most of it of the creepy crawly variety. The smaller the lifeform, the more likely it was to survive any upheaval. The persistence of life against all odds never ceased to amaze and amuse him.

The track ended when it hit the highway. Sam stopped, looking one way and then the other. "Any instinct pulling you in a certain direction?" he asked.

Gabriel looked one way, then the other, but nothing was really coming to him. With an inner shrug, he closed his eyes and spun around, then stopped and pointed.

"Left it is," Sam said with a smirk. "So how many big ass decisions have you made that way over the centuries?" he asked as they started walking again.

Gabriel smirked back. "A few. Sometimes there's really nothing to choose between two choices, and you just gotta pick." He didn't elaborate that most of the time he was choosing between which target to play his tricks on next when he had too many options. He could live without another rendition of Disapproving Sam, at least for the next hour or so.

"Toad," Sam said – kind of inexplicably until Gabriel looked ahead and saw what was sitting in the middle of the road in front of them, a huge cane toad eying them evilly. "Nature's reclaiming her space already."

Not so long ago, a toad that chose to sit there would've presumably been roadkill quick enough. "Yeah," Gabriel said, eying the toad back. "Just goes to show that a few less humans might not be a bad thing for the planet."

"From a distant enough perspective," Sam said, and he sounded almost like he was agreeing. "Not one that's easy for me to assume this close to the ground."

"It's ironic, really. Lucifer fell because of the same vice that in humanity does the most damage – arrogance." Gabriel felt a pang as he mentioned his brother. He guessed that would stop happening eventually.

He could sense Sam looking sideways at him and was expecting some dig about arrogance not being restricted to archangels named 'Lucifer', but all Sam said in a soft voice was, "I wonder what's happening in Heaven right now."

"Zachariah's probably having the mother of all hissy fits," Gabriel said, his smirk back full force at the thought. He'd never liked that pompous blowhard, even back before he'd left home.

"We made him look like the fool he is." The way Sam said it, and the grin Gabriel saw twitching at his mouth, made it clear how pleased that prospect made him.

"Michael...." Gabriel trailed off, thinking of his eldest brother. "Michael, I think, has to be relieved underneath everything that he didn't have to kill our brother after all. Not that I think he'll unbend enough to actually admit it."

"He spent a very long time preparing himself for the task."

"Yeah. He's always been all about being the good son, the one who carried out Dad's wishes without question." There was more to Michael than that, but thinking about that more just made everything harder.

"Will you go home now?" Sam asked, suspiciously casual. "I mean, once you're all mojoed up again?"

Home. The word, the concept, sent a surprising wave of longing through Gabriel. To go back, the prodigal son, to find his place again among those like him – he could admit that part of him yearned for that. But the Heaven he knew, the one where he'd been happy and that was home, it didn't exist anymore. Lucifer was gone forever, dead, not just fallen, and Dad...

He broke off that train of thought abruptly. "I think that ship sailed a long, long time ago," he said quietly.

Sam didn't say anything in reply to that, and when Gabriel glanced his way, Sam looked pensive, almost troubled.

"You're not brooding over my lack of an invite to Sunday family dinner, are you?" Gabriel asked accusingly.

"Family's important," was all he got in reply to that.

"Sometimes they're better at a distance," Gabriel told him.

"Yeah, until they come in the night to steal you away," Sam muttered.

That confused Gabriel for a second until he remembered what he knew of the Winchesters' history. "I'm pretty sure Michael's not going to be showing up to tell me he can't do this without me," he said.

"That's only because he's too stupid to know it," Sam replied. If Gabriel didn't know better, he'd think Sam was sticking up for him.

"Michael's a lot of things, but stupid's not one of them," Gabriel said, not liking the memories this conversation was stirring. "Not as cunning as I am, but then, who is?"

"There's different kinds of stupid," Sam insisted, but then seemed to let it drop, going back to trudging in silence.


"The tank's at least half-full," Sam said, straightening up beside the SUV. "I've just got to find the right key fob."

"I have faith in you and your thieving abilities," Gabriel said, from his place leaning against the side of another SUV a few feet away, watching.

It felt wrong to Sam, doing this in full view of both security cameras and anyone who happened to be around, but the security cameras, like most things electrical, were dead, and there wasn't anyone around at all, not that they could find. No bodies either. The township of Kingsville, Florida, seemed to have done the full-on Mary Celeste, right down to the food still on tables, books fallen open on the floor, bathtubs full of water, the lot. They hadn't seen anybody on the long walk to the town either, but at least they'd seen plenty of wildlife. Here, there weren't even any pets around to go feral, no bird song in the air, not even insects.

Without his meter, Sam couldn't be sure, but he was willing to bet the EMF would be off the scale here.

Still, the lack of people meant they could take their pick of many vehicles, which made it worth the meter-breaking levels of spooky. They'd found a executive business center on the edges of the town, and that meant expensive cars, valet-parked. Sam had chosen a 2003 Ford Escape Hybrid because he had a vague memory of it coming out top on some fuel economy table for SUVs.

Four-wheel drive and good mileage to the gallon seemed just what they needed right now, providing it would still start. Hybrids relied on their electronics in a major way, so in that respect, it was a crappy choice, but this far away from ground zero, there was a good chance that it would be fine. Cars, with their metal bodies and rubber wheels, were innately grounded and – according to the many survivalist sites Sam had read while there was still an internet on which to read them – were more likely to still function than most modern appliances after an EMP attack.

He wanted to make sure they were out of this place before sundown, and since it was late afternoon already, that didn't give them much time. He was hoping for a little luck here.

"Once we have a working vehicle, our options will expand big time," he said, heading for the valet office. Yeah, it was stating the obvious, but it made him feel better to say it out loud. The trudge to find this town had not been the best time he'd ever spent with the increasingly weary and fractious Gabriel. Though, all things considered, it was far from the worse one either, so there was that.

"Right." Gabriel followed behind with his hands stuck in his pockets. He'd been quieter since they'd gotten to town and started the search for an appropriate vehicle.

Sam tried the door of the office, but it was locked. "This place doesn't have the feel of a Croatoan town," he remarked, trying to stir up conversation as much as anything else. Gabriel being quiet was almost as spooky as the town itself. The archangel was maybe trying to hide how tired he was. Hell, Sam was tired too – trudging through the heat of a Florida summer carrying a heavy bag wasn't a whole load of fun. Tiredness was hardly a crime. "Everything's too pristine still," he added, remembering the towns they'd seen before the end.

"It's not one," Gabriel said with certainty. "The people wouldn't have just vanished. Croatoan was my brother's endgame. We'd be in a hell of a lot more trouble if he'd managed to spread out this far with it."

The virus had been appearing in the small towns surrounding Detroit just before the final fight, turning them into battlegrounds. Hearing about that, seeing some of it with their own eyes, had been what finally forced them into action, however insane their plan had seemed. Sam had had enough deaths on his conscience already, enough for a thousand men or more. He'd known he had to do something, even if it was only to die trying. Now he hoped to God that killing Lucifer had stopped the Croatoan spread. The angels had thought that killing Lucifer would dispel the Horsemen, including Pestilence who must have had something to do with the virus, so maybe, just maybe, that was one worry Sam didn't have to hold onto now.

And if not, hell, maybe Michael would man up now that Sam had taken on his burden and succeeded. It didn't seem hugely likely though.

"Yeah." He half-smiled over at Gabriel, trying and failing to feel good about this place not holding the Croatoan virus whatever else had happened here. In the end, it didn't really matter. The townsfolk here were still most likely dead. Because of him. Because of what he'd done. He'd hoped killing Lucifer would somehow be his redemption, but... no. That was still a long way out of reach.

He stepped back once and then kicked the door in. The sound of cracking wood echoed through the lot.

"How violently straightforward of you." There was a hint of his usual dry amusement in Gabriel's voice as he watched.

Sam shrugged. "I guess I could've tried to muster up some grace-fed TK, but..." He shrugged again and walked inside, grabbing all the key fobs from the hooks above the desk. It was best to save whatever power he had left for emergencies, he told himself.

"The way you were talking, I was expecting something a lot more technically competent than kicking the door in," Gabriel explained from the doorway, examining the damage to said door.

"Such as?" Sam frowned at him. "All my hunter gear is back in Detroit, remember? I don't even have a hairpin."

"See, I told ya you should start styling your hair."

Sam gave Gabriel a look that normally only Dean would deserve and resisted the sudden, annoying impulse to drag his hair back from his eyes. One by one, he went through the fobs, pointing them in the general direction of the vehicles and pressing the buttons. Some made cars respond, and those he handed to Gabriel, and some got no response, so he dropped them. Finally, with just three fobs to go, his chosen SUV blinked its lights. He exhaled a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. Luck was with them, finally.

"Make yourself useful and go through the trunks of the other cars I've just opened," he told Gabriel. "Scavenge anything that might come in handy."

"Aye-aye, mon capitan," Gabriel quipped, snapping his heels together and mock-saluting before going off to rummage.

Sam watched him for a few moments, part of him still having trouble believing that not only could he give orders to an archangel, but the archangel in question might actually obey them. If he didn't have anything better to do at the time, anyway. "Find something good and I'll break us into that Walmart we passed," he called out. "We can stock up on candy." As well as other, far more useful, supplies.

Gabriel shot him a smirk over his shoulder as he opened the first trunk. "You're planning on breaking into it anyway. Just because I'm a little low on the powers at the moment, doesn't mean my brain's stopped working."

Sam chuckled as he walked over to the SUV. It looked like a nice vehicle, even though he could hear his brother's opinion as clearly as if Dean were standing right by him. A good 4-wheeler was wasted on a soccer mom, in Sam's opinion, however. "No candy? Sure. It'll mean more trunk space for other things."

"I'm perfectly capable of walking over to the candy aisle and picking it up all by myself, grace or no grace," Gabriel said more than a little testily as he pulled a blanket and what looked like some kind of emergency kit out of the trunk he was looking through.

Sam opened the driver's side door. "Driver gets to decide what's important enough to pack," he pointed out, hiding a smirk as he ducked down to look inside the SUV.

"Unless you intend to pat me down every time we get in the vehicle, not really much you can do to stop me grabbing candy," Gabriel replied. His voice suddenly took on its usual tone of sardonic humor as he added, "And you won't do that because you might enjoy it too much."

What, just because he'd filled up on Gabriel's blood – in the name of saving the freaking world for God's sake – he was now meant to be craving other physical pleasures of the archangel kind too? It was true that over the last few days he'd been wrestling with an impulse to get closer to Gabriel, in terms of the physical space between them. But he knew what that was about, unfortunately, and it wasn't the kind of attraction Gabriel seemed to be hinting at.

Those kind of comments from Gabriel were getting more frequent. Sam pulled his head out of the car and looked over at him. "Missing our mojo-summoned playmates, are we?"

"More missing mojo-summoned comfort," Gabriel retorted. "And what's this 'our' stuff? You want me to create you a playmate too when I can again?"

Sam pulled a face. "No thanks. I prefer my friends to be less imaginary."

Gabriel grinned. "Hey, I'm better than Memorex. I'd challenge you to be able to tell the difference between mine and the 'real thing'."

"You're better?" Sam raised his eyebrows. "Just how much of you do you put into your creations?"

"I'm an artist," Gabriel boasted, waggling his eyebrows at Sam. "An artist always puts himself into his work."

"So if I'd taken you up on your offer just then...?"

"You'd be very, very grateful. Trust me."

Sam stared at him for several long moments before going back to rummage in the car. The words, "Rather have the real thing," had left his lips before he'd even thought about what he was really saying.

He felt the heat of a body pressed close behind him a few seconds later. "That can be arranged," Gabriel murmured wickedly against the back of Sam's neck, then was gone again.

Sam remained frozen in position for several seconds afterward. That had not just happened. None of it, not Gabriel pressed so close, not the surge of answering heat Sam had felt in parts of his body that had no right to be taking any notice of archangels in male bodies. It was the blood, that was all. Drinking from Gabriel had forced an unnatural intimacy between them and gotten them both confused. Best to just ignore it really. He slipped into the driver's seat and put the key in the ignition with a hand that was just a tiny bit shaky.

The backseat driver's side door opened, and Gabriel started tossing things he'd found into the vehicle. "Are we good to go?" he asked brightly, for all the world as if he hadn't just propositioned Sam.

"You sit in the front where I can see you," Sam told him, turning the key. The engine purred into life and eased at least one of the causes of his tension.

"Don't trust me behind you?" Gabriel teased, but obligingly moved around the SUV and got in the shotgun seat.

"I don't trust you anywhere," Sam told him.

It wasn't true though, not anymore. Somewhere along the broken and twisting line of the Winchesters' lives, things had changed. Gabriel had appeared in their motel room three months before the end and announced he was there to help. None of them had believed Gabriel's sincerity to start with, though they weren't stupid enough to refuse him, just in case. But his help, day in and day out, had slowly whittled away their resistance until they couldn't imagine how they'd ever coped without him. Well, in truth, they hadn't. They'd just about been at the point of crumbling by the time he'd come to them. Since then, Sam had somehow slipped into trusting Gabriel with his life, without even really noticing he was doing it, at least until afterward, and this was after everything Gabriel had done to him in the past.

So, yeah, he trusted Gabriel with his life. Whether he trusted Gabriel with his 'virtue' was, it seemed, another matter.

"I'm wounded. Really." Gabriel sounded anything but as he settled himself in the passenger seat, pulled out a candy bar and started unwrapping it.

Sam didn't ask where he'd found it, just released the parking brake and started off towards the Walmart that they'd spotted earlier. He was beginning to feel hungry himself, but he was hoping for something better than candy. Maybe even better than the dusty cans of corned beef they'd been living on while Gabriel recovered enough to move.

"We should do our ransacking fast," he said as he pulled up outside the deserted store. "It'll be dusk soon."

"It's like a new game show," Gabriel said with a grin as they climbed out of the SUV. "Loot this store in sixty minutes or less!"

Glancing at the sky, Sam muttered, "Make it thirty," before looking to see what Gabriel had put in the cargo space. He grabbed a tire iron and walked to the side of the largest window. "Stay back," he warned.

"So, more demonstrations of your cat burglar-like breaking and entering prowess?" Gabriel teased as he stopped well out of range.

"Hulk smash," Sam said dryly, refusing to rise to the bait this time. Keeping most of his body to the side against the brick wall, he swung with the tire jack, smashing a hole through to the other side of the glass window. A spider web of cracks spread out from the hole, but the majority of the glass remained in place. "Hurricane proof," he muttered with a sigh, and he moved around to start smashing through the hard way.

"Guess we're lucky it's not Winchester proof." Gabriel didn't move to help though, continuing to stand back and observe with a smirk on his face.

"Enjoying the show?" Sam asked, feeling a little exasperated as he knocked away jagged edges from the side of the frame.

"I'd give it an eight and a half," Gabriel answered serenely.

"Out of how much?"

"Ten. You'd have to lose some clothes to get it any higher."

Sam opened his mouth to start some kind of lecture about how smashing plate glass naked would be asking for interesting scars, but then wondered why he was bothering. "Do you keep saying those things in some sad attempt to get your trickster kicks mojo-free?" he asked instead.

"Maybe," Gabriel admitted easily. "Or maybe I just have eyes and I'm not bound by specific gender attractions."

Sam opened his mouth and then, again, shut it. Frowning, he stepped into the store, his feet crunching in the shreds of laminated glass. He licked his lips. The memory of Gabriel's blood pumping into his mouth was suddenly strong. It had tasted so different from demon blood. To start with, he hadn't even been sure he liked it, not that that mattered. He wasn't all but draining an archangel for pleasure, but it had been a pleasure in the end as his body had filled with the rich, sweet and weirdly familiar tang of it, making him dizzy, making the world around him sharp-edged and hyper-real, making him hard...

A hand closing around Sam's shoulder, coupled with Gabriel yelling, "Sam!", shook him out of it. He jolted away from Gabriel, staring at him wide-eyed before he got himself under control. He looked away in a hurry, feeling himself flush. "Sorry," he mumbled and strode quickly away to liberate the biggest cart he could find.

Gabriel followed after him. "Something you want to talk about?"

"Really no." Sam freed a cart from a train of them and pushed it towards Gabriel. "Try to fill it with at least a few useful things among all the tooth-rotting accessories."

"If I go off on my own, you're not going to go all fugue state on us again, are you?"

"I'm fine." Sam grabbed a cart of his own and headed off with it without another word.

He heard an exasperated sigh behind him. "Try not to be so 'fine' that you run into things," Gabriel called after him.

Ignoring everything but the task at hand, Sam followed the overhead signs to the hunting sub-department where, with the aid of some heavy bolt cutters, he freed a range of hunting rifles and a crossbow. The rifles were only air guns, but pretty freaking powerful all the same, and he had this idea that he could make pellets from rock salt. He grabbed several boxes of 'armor piercing' pellets for general use as well and moved on to the hardware department.

By the time he'd visited clothing and then filled all the remaining space in the quickly over-flowing cart with groceries, the store was growing very dim as the daylight from outside began to fade. He hadn't seen Gabriel once since they'd parted, and realizing that, Sam had to quell a sudden, brief panic that the archangel had grown fed up with Sam's odd moods and left him to fend for himself. It was a stupid worry, he told himself. Not only would Gabriel not do that, not the Gabriel he now knew, but, well, it wasn't as if Sam wouldn't be just fine on his own. If the cravings kept at bay.

That's if there were any other survivors to be compared to, of course. The sheer lack of humanity anywhere so far would be totally freaking him if he let it. Grimacing, he headed for the doors.

Gabriel was standing by the window where they'd entered, three large duffel bags at his feet that looked packed to the brim. "I was about to play search party and go looking for you."

The bags were a good idea that Sam should've thought of for himself. Oh well. "Let's get this all in the car and get out of here. My hackles are up."

For once, Gabriel didn't make any smart comment, just nodded and piled two of the bags precariously on top of Sam's already unsteady cart, before shouldering the third. Using some muscle power, Sam maneuvered the cart through the broken window, Gabriel picking up the items that toppled off in the process. He opened the SUV's lift-gate, and they began piling the plunder into the cargo space.

As Gabriel threw in the last of the canned goods, Sam rubbed at the back of his neck and looked around. He hadn't been kidding. The hairs on the back of his neck really were standing up. "I don't like this."

Gabriel was looking around with narrowed eyes as well. "Maybe you should not like this while we're on the road," he suggested.

Nodding, Sam pushed the cart away into the street, shoved the lift-gate shut, and hurried to get into the driver's seat. He had the SUV started before Gabriel had even finished sliding in beside him. "I grabbed some local maps and a tourist guide," he said, dropping them in Gabriel's lap. "We should be able to find you somewhere high on the natural beauty scale." The sooner Gabriel got some mojo back the better far as Sam was concerned.

As soon as Gabriel's door was closed, Sam started to drive.

Gabriel divided his time between sorting through the maps and guide and looking out the window. It was just as the last of the sun's rays were touching the horizon that he suddenly stiffened and sat up straighter, staring at the passing landscape. "I think..."

They were in the outskirts of Kingsville, the other side of the town from the business park. The houses here were older, but well preserved. Sam was about to ask Gabriel what it was that he thought when suddenly they were driving straight at a crowd of translucent people, milling across the road.


Years of hunter experience was the only thing that stopped him from braking in a panic. Instead, after a second of blind OMG non-reaction, he hit the accelerator.

The figures flickered and shredded into tendrils of fog when they drove through them, but it was merely the beginning. The darker it got, the more spirits appeared, not only of people, but of vehicles and just general all around life. Every one they hit twisted and dissolved, and it felt like they were destroying them all over again.

Gabriel gave a strangled laugh. "I think this gives new meaning to the phrase 'ghost town.'"

"A whole haunted town," Sam said, shaking his head, his fists clenched around the wheel. "There's not enough rock salt in all of Florida, and where the hell are the bodies anyway? What went on here, Gabriel? Is this another place like Carthage only without the reaper presence?"

"Don't know," Gabriel said. "What we did, what happened with Lucifer, that's never been done before. There's no predicting what kind of fallout that could've had."

Sam cast a horrified glance at Gabriel. "You think we did this?"

"I think it's probably a side effect of Lucifer's destruction," Gabriel said grimly. "Don't know if you can put it on us, or on him taking as much with him as he could."

Sam felt coldness settle into his bones as if the ghosts themselves were taking up residence. "How many more towns will be like this?" he asked, staring blankly out of the windshield as he drove through a train of small ghostly children holding hands with each other as they crossed the road with their equally ghostly teacher.

"Don't know," Gabriel said. "America will be the worst off of any country. It was the focus of both side's attention."

Sam's mouth formed an 'o' ready to ask 'why?' – he'd noticed that, of course, but had thought it was simply media bias. Then he realized he already knew the answer, and seriously? No one's freaking shoulders were that broad, that strong. "Because of us," he said dully. "Because Dean and I were here."

Gabriel's silence was answer enough.

Sam drove through a series of cars and wondered if an infinity in Hell would be enough to pay for what he'd done.

"But if we hadn't stopped him," Gabriel said quietly, "it would've been all the world like this. Or even worse."

"If we'd said yes, if we'd both had said yes at the start of all this..." Sam trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought.

"Worse than this," Gabriel said immediately. "Take what Lucifer's death did and multiply it many times. Michael and Lucifer, they never paid attention to the collateral damage their fighting caused." He grimaced, though Sam, glancing that way, thought it was maybe meant to be a smirk. "Why do you think I ran away?"

Sam shot him a sympathetic look, but didn't say anything. The ghosts here seemed peaceful, just getting on with their old lives as if they didn't know they were dead. How much worse were the places still out there for them to find?


Day Five

Gabriel took a deep breath as Sam brought their SUV to a stop, deep inside Big Shoals State Park. Of all the nearby places mentioned in the books and maps Sam had acquired, this was the one Gabriel had concluded would probably replenish his grace fastest. Not that just about anything wouldn't be faster than the slow trickle he'd known since finding himself in Florida, but there were no guarantees. They wouldn't know for certain how effective this place was until Gabriel actively tried it out, and that made him nervous.

"Well, it's certainly scenic," Sam said. It was the early hours of the morning, and the air had that sense of clean crispness that often came with dawn. Dark green grass and trees surrounded the parking lot. Even through the metal and glass of the car, Gabriel could hear the flow of the wide Suwannee river, which was the main attraction for him here. Gabriel was hoping the energy released by the white water rapids would be more accessible to him than that of a more gentle waterway.

"Better than the Everglades?" Gabriel asked, his head turning automatically in the direction of the water, like a flower following the sun.

"Swamps aren't really my thing." Sam smiled over at Gabriel. With every mile they'd put between themselves and Kingsville, Sam had seemed to relax a little more. He was starting to look positively laid back now, like all was right with the world, and who knew what that was about. "So what do you need to do here? Should I give you some space?"

"And have you wander off and get et by a bear or something?" Gabriel teased, pulling his attention away from the beckoning river. "No need. This isn't something I need a ritual for or anything."

"Well, I'm going to wander off a little," Sam insisted. "I want to collect some firewood for a cooking fire. Mere mortals need to refuel too, you know."

"Don't go too far," Gabriel warned as he opened the car door. "I don't want to lose track of you." There was comfort to be found in knowing where Sam was, and he wasn't going to examine that any closer than he already had.

He heard Sam make a low and probably amused humphing sound, but nothing was said. Sam got out of the SUV and started to stretch the kinks out of his long body. After getting out himself, Gabriel stood and watched a moment. He'd spent a lot of time since this all started just watching Sam, and he'd long since ceased to try and hide it. It might not replenish his grace, but it fed something in him nonetheless.

When Sam glanced his way and saw him watching, he didn't look surprised. He just made a wry face, repeated the humphing sound, and set off for the trees. "You take care around the local wildlife yourself," he called out as he went. "I don't want to have to bandage up any gnawed off limbs."

"The only thing that's gnawed on me in recent memory would be you," Gabriel called after him.

He saw Sam kind of falter, like he'd just tripped on a protruding root. Sam's shoulders seemed a little more rigid and a little more stooped as he started walking again, soon disappearing within the trees.

There was something he was missing going on there, but Gabriel wasn't in the right mindset to puzzle it out. The quick flowing water was calling to him siren style, and he gave into its pull, letting it guide his steps through the trees and right up to the edge. He paused there, staring out at the churning water and feeling a little of the same awe he'd felt the first time he'd set foot on this creation of Dad's. There was a reason why places like this fed the grace of angels; it reminded them all of what their Father was capable of and touched that place deep inside each of them where the wonder and the magic of creation lived.

Needing to be even closer, Gabriel took off his shoes and socks and waded out into the middle of the water, the current almost knocking him off his feet more than once. There was a rock dead center that the water was rushing around and over. Carefully, Gabriel perched on it. Then he let his mind sink into the movement around him, becoming one with the river...

Time, or at least his awareness of it, took a vacation for a while, so he didn't know how long it had been when he slowly became aware of Sam's voice calling his name.

He blinked and refocused his sight, turning his head to see Sam standing on the bank of the river with a dish of what looked like food. "That for me?" he asked, hopping off the rock and wading over to him.

"If you want it." Sam had his jacket off, and his overshirt sleeves rolled up. His face looked a little red. It seemed like cooking and/or the Florida sun had gotten him heated up. "It's nachos. Kind of."

"Kind of?" Gabriel stepped up onto the bank, shaking the water off as best he could.

Sam shrugged, leaning back from Gabriel as he shook himself dry-ish. "Best I could do with a campfire, a couple of cans of over-processed mush, and a bag of tortilla chips. They taste all right if you don't think too hard about what you're eating."

The temptation to see if maybe he had enough power to bring forth a much bigger and palatable feast was hard to resist, but Gabriel did resist it. He needed to hoard every bit of regained strength so he'd be able to attempt to contact Castiel as soon as possible. It was imperative, not only to allay his own worry, but even more to ease that quietly panicked look that didn't ever seem to leave the back of Sam's eyes. "You can distract me from paying attention to my food then," he said, reaching out and taking a chip.

Sam watched him eat that before saying, "Did it work at all?"

"Yeah," Gabriel said around a mouthful of cheesy, meaty crunch. Really, they weren't nearly as bad as Sam's excuses had led him to believe. "It's just going to take time."

"How much time?" Sam asked. Gabriel got the impression Sam was trying for a casual tone there. If so, it hadn't worked.

"If I hoard every drop I can, I should be able to try the communication ritual in a couple of days," Gabriel said, answering what he was sure was Sam's actual question.

Sam looked down, no doubt trying to hide the look of disappointment Gabriel nonetheless saw. "We have enough supplies for about a week, if we're careful."

"It won't take that long, I'm certain." Well, almost certain. Really, if he didn't attempt to use anything he gained back, how long could it take?

Sam nodded and sat down on the bank, leaning back against a tree. He put the plate down beside him. "Being in this place, it's so easy to believe that nothing's happened, that the rest of the world is still out there, still fine, that all the earthquakes, massacres, and the rest of the unnatural disasters didn't happen..."

"It's still there," Gabriel offered, moving to sit beside him. "Bloodied but not broken."

"I think our definitions of 'broken' may differ," Sam said dourly, staring out at the river, but then he seemed to brighten. "There's meant to be good fishing here. I wish I'd thought to pick up a fishing pole and some bait while we were ransacking Walmart. Fresh fish would do us good." He paused before adding, "Maybe the visitors' center will have a pole I can, uh, 'borrow'."

He did it without thinking. A snap of his fingers and Gabriel was holding out a pole to Sam. "This do?"

"Uh, yeah." Sam took the pole a little hesitantly. A frown seemed to be trying to duke it out with his smile. "I hope that didn't take too much mojo. It was just a passing thought, Gabriel. There was no need to..." He pulled a face and looked down.

"Reflex," Gabriel admitted, though at the same time he was pleased. Coming here had been the correct thing to do if he was already able to pull off little tricks like that. "Besides, if you can catch some fish, it'll augment your food supply, make the rest last longer."

"Yeah." Sam's smile this time was sheepish but uncomplicated. "Thanks."

Gabriel nodded and leaned back against the tree behind him. His attention, now that he wasn't trying to focus on something, soon drifted back to the river and the power of the rapids. He could hear the small noises of Sam playing around with the fishing pole, and those noises, as well as the energy in the air here, were soothing, which was probably why he noticed pretty quickly when the noises stopped altogether. Glancing around, he found Sam still sitting in the grass close by, but he was now staring at Gabriel, his eyes obviously unfocused.

"Sam?" he ventured cautiously, reaching out with the faint grace he'd regained to see if he could sense anything. He could, or at least he thought he could, but the impression was so vague it could mean anything. Sam was, maybe, being pulled to Gabriel somehow? It felt like some kind of reaching out, anyway.

Sam seemed to jolt as if he'd suddenly become aware of Gabriel's attention. "Uh, did you say something?"

"You wouldn't have heard me if I had. Where were you?" he asked, wondering if Sam could throw some more light on the subject.

"Right here. I... I guess I was daydreaming." Sam stood and stretched, his eyes not meeting Gabriel's. "I'll dig up some worms for bait, I think. Dean's the fisherman in the family, not me. I'll need all the help I can get."

And Gabriel knew avoidance when he saw it. "What aren't you telling me?" he asked point blank, hoping the direct approach would get him somewhere.

That drew Sam's gaze to meet his in a hurry, though Sam looked away again almost as quickly. "Nothing that matters. Things are under control."

"You know when I'm sure things are out of control?" Gabriel asked, standing up, alarm bells going off in his head. "When you're assuring me that things are under it."

Sam's shoulders noticeably hunched up. "Now you sound like my brother."

"No need to get insulting," Gabriel objected. He moved a little closer. "Come on. Tell me what's going on."

Sam shot him an angry look, but the anger, if that's what it really was, soon melted into a more simple expression of pain. "I'm a not-so-recovered addict in need of methadone, and my supplier's all out. Okay?"

Oh. "I don't suppose it'll help if I tell you one more time that it doesn't work like that," Gabriel said carefully. "Grace isn't like demon blood, even if transferred through a vessel's blood. That it's all in your head?"

"This is not imaginary or psychosomatic or what the hell ever, Gabriel." Now Sam looked really pissed. "What I'm feeling? Is real. And if you hadn't wasted your depleted grace on trying to impress me with this-" he brandished the fishing pole just like an angry tribesman with a spear in an old Tarzan movie "-you'd be able to look at me and see that it's real."

"Grace doesn't work like that," Gabriel said again. "Trust me, if there's one thing I've learned, it's how to make my grace do stuff it's not supposed to do, but this is one way it'll never work."

Sam shut his mouth, but he might as well have yelled at Gabriel since the tense jaw and taut neck tendons, not to mention the accusing gaze, made it all too clear what he was feeling. He turned his back on Gabriel and stalked off towards the parking lot and visitors' center.

Gabriel let out a breath and leaned his head back against the tree behind him. Humans. And Winchesters in particular. More trouble than they were worth, really. Except that he'd accepted rather definitively that they were worth it. Well, he'd let Sam have his little sulk for now. Gabriel suspected it was partially because Sam was trying not to focus on his worry for his brother, and that wasn't going to get better until they were able to get in contact. That meant that the best thing to do was what he wanted to do anyway – answer the call of the rapids and get back to work recharging his grace.

He stood, shook off the lingering worry about Sam, and waded back into the river.


Day Nine

Sam took a deep breath and tried to calm down.

The last thing they needed out here was for him to half-sever a finger gutting a fish 'cause his mind was on other things. But today was the day, the one he'd been waiting for on strung out tenterhooks all week. Gabriel finally felt ready to attempt to link minds or something similar with Castiel, and presuming Cas was with Dean – and that was a big presumption, but for some reason it didn't feel like one – Sam would soon know if Dean was all right. Gabriel had been more than a little vague with the details of what it would involve, so Sam was having to guess what would be happening, but the important thing was that it would be happening. Today. Within the hour, in fact.

He threw the gutted fish in the bucket of clean river water and grabbed the next one, looking over at Gabriel who was sitting quietly, cross-legged, preparing himself for the attempt.

It was strange seeing Gabriel like that, just as strange as it had been to see him in a similar pose in the middle of the river. It was the stillness – something that Sam had long learned to associate with angels, but only angels not Gabriel. Gabriel himself was never still, always in motion, a joke or a trick always ready to attract or distract attention. Seeing him so inwardly focused, so angel-like continued to be strange if not outright wrong.

"If you're going to keep gawking at me, you might want to put the sharp objects away," Gabriel said the next time Sam glanced over at him. Gabriel's eyes were still closed, and he hadn't moved an inch, but there was the ghost of a smirk curling his mouth up now.

"Stop wasting mojo," Sam told him with a pretense of crossness. He was smiling really as he slit open the small fish in his hand.

"Bite me," Gabriel shot back with good humor.

"Enough with the oral references, Gabriel." Sam rolled his eyes. Every opportunity taken...

"There's never enough oral," Gabriel complained. But then he opened his eyes, which were practically glowing with power. "I'm ready."

Christ. Sam couldn't help staring now. Was it just that he was more aware of Gabriel's power, that he was sensing it more clearly having pigged out on it, or was Gabriel simply letting him see now where he hadn't before? "You look..." he started, but he didn't finish. He couldn't think of suitable superlatives that couldn't be deliberately misconstrued by Gabriel.

"Like an archangel?" The smirk Gabriel gave him was pure trickster. "Yeah, I get that."

Sam decided to ignore the smirk. "Is there anything I can do to help the process?"

"Just hang around. Like calls to like; I can use you to help locate your brother and mine."

"You'll have better luck with Cas," Sam said, thinking of the book's worth of Enochian symbols engraved into Dean's ribs as well as his own. Not that those had ever stopped Gabriel from finding them once he'd joined the war effort. Sam had been suspecting for a while now that Gabriel had somehow tagged them.

"I'll have better luck if I use both," Gabriel replied.

"Hmm." Now wasn't the time to start the third degree, Sam guessed. He washed his hands as best he could and dried them on his jeans before coming to sit down close to Gabriel. "I'll just 'hang around' then."

Gabriel closed his eyes again and went even more still. There was a growing heaviness to the air around them, an expectancy as if lightning were about to strike. Then Gabriel's eyes snapped open, but they weren't the same. They were now shining blue, the exact same shade of blue as Castiel's eyes.

"Gabriel?" Sam asked softly, not wanting to interrupt anything.

"Sam?" But it wasn't Gabriel's voice coming from that mouth. It was Dean's.

"Dean? How-" No, that didn't matter. "Are you all right? Where are you?"

"Washington. Just outside of Seattle. Where– how– You're not possessing Cas, are you?"

"What? No. I'm, uh, talking via Radio Gabriel. We're in Florida. Are you both okay?"

"I am now. Though this is... weird. Gives a whole new meaning to 'angel radio'."

"Yeah." Sam swallowed. "It's good to hear you though, no matter what."

"Same here. You don't know what I've been thinking."

"Believe me, I do. Christ knows, I do. Gabriel kept telling me you were alive, but I couldn't see how he could possibly know. It's taken him this long to get the power together to-" Sam stopped. The blue had gone from Gabriel's eyes.

"Sorry," Gabriel said, and it was Gabriel again, though he sounded pretty rough. In fact, he looked about ready to pass out. "Couldn't hold it any longer. No more juice."

Without thinking, Sam reached out and put his arm around Gabriel, lending him support. "Take it easy. You did good." It was kind of awful to be given that brief moment of connection with Dean only to have it taken away again so quickly, but on the other hand, he now knew his brother was alive and whatever constituted 'all right' for them these days, and that was the best gift Gabriel could've given him. "You did real good."

"We aim to please," Gabriel said, waving a hand weakly to punctuate his words. "I'm probably going to fall over and go boom for a while now if that's all right with you."

"I've got you," Sam told him, taking more of his weight. He chuckled softly. "Sleep tight. Humans are watching over you, Gabriel."

Gabriel gave a weak snort of laughter at that even as his eyes were already closing.


Day Thirteen

"Come on, Gabriel," Sam called out from the open door of the car. He sounded a little pissed off.

Gabriel rolled his eyes, but reluctantly left the hill and the river and its grace-restoring power and headed over to where Sam was waiting with their fully packed car. "Keep your pants on. I'm coming."

"You agreed it was time to leave here," Sam pointed out – unnecessarily, Gabriel thought.

"Maybe I just couldn't take any more of watching you twitch because you were in one place too long," Gabriel shot back peevishly and a little unfairly. It wasn't as if he didn't understand the deep inborn need to keep moving; it was something he had himself usually. It was just difficult to force himself to leave a ready source of renewal, even if he knew there were others out there.

"It's not the place I have a problem with," Sam muttered, starting up the SUV.

"If it's the company, I should probably point out, you're taking me with you," Gabriel said, enunciating each word slowly and clearly as if talking to a child. Or an idiot. "And we'll be in a lot closer quarters on the road."

Sam shot him a look under lowered brows. "Fishing for compliments, Gabriel? That's not like you. It's not the company either. It's who's not here that's the problem which I'm pretty sure you already know." He let out the parking brake, and they were on their way again.

Gabriel resisted the urge to turn his head and look at the park and its river retreating behind them. "Driving aimlessly toward the other end of the country, while I'm sure your brother is doing the same thing in reverse, isn't necessarily the best plan either. It's a really big country, Sam."

"Sooner or later, you'll be strong enough to contact Cas again," Sam said firmly. "Then we can arrange a place to meet up."

"We could've done that from where we were a lot faster though," Gabriel pointed out. He wasn't sulking. Really. No matter what it looked like.

Sam just snorted, clearly not thinking much of Gabriel's reasoning, and the first few miles of the journey passed without any more chatter.

They met Interstate 75 north of Lake City, at which point Gabriel was expecting Sam to really hit the gas. They had the roads to themselves, after all. But for some reason, Sam was keeping at a steady 55 to 60 miles per hour.

After a few minutes of watching that, Gabriel ventured, "I don't think you need to worry about getting pulled over for speeding."

"This is the best speed for fuel conservation," he was told in reply.

Gabriel really wanted to mock that answer, but considering the situation, he really couldn't. So he sighed and sank back in his seat, glaring out the windshield. Traveling by car at the best of times was far too slow and confining for him, and these were far from the best circumstances.

An hour passed of empty roads and little conversation. They left Florida behind, heading up the interstate through Georgia.

Then, "Hey!" Sam said loudly, jolting Gabriel from his reverie. "People. Look, other people."

Well, another car anyway, traveling towards them on the other side of the median strip.

"See, I told you there were others," Gabriel said, feeling a strange relief at the sight of the other car.

"Should we stop?" Sam asked, seeming uncharacteristically uncertain, but the other car just drove on by anyway, though it did flash its lights a few times.

"If they wanted help, they wouldn't have kept going. Besides, our brothers are that way," Gabriel said, pointing in the direction they were currently going.

"Yeah." Sam nodded and put his foot down for a few miles before slowing back to that ridiculous 55mph.

It wasn't all that long before they saw another vehicle heading the other way. This was a jeep and looked the worse for wear, scorched and battered.

"Huh," Gabriel muttered to himself. That wasn't exactly the best of things you want to see coming from the direction you were going in.

"It doesn't necessarily mean anything," Sam said. "Could be old damage."

"Yeah, because everybody drives around in a half burnt jeep," Gabriel said sarcastically.

"They do if it works when nothing else does," Sam said, his jaw beginning to take on that too familiar tension.

"Let's hope that's all it is." Gabriel was tensing up himself, bracing for... he wasn't sure what.

Another ten miles up the interstate saw another vehicle, a pick-up truck with the back full of people. Even from the other side of the median, Gabriel could see that some were injured. He could also see them waving and gesturing, and the message was clear enough – go back the way you came.

Sam became more hunched in his seat. "It's good to see so many survivors together at least."

"Though it's less comforting that they're all going as fast as they can in the opposite direction we're going," Gabriel pointed out, briefly wishing he'd held out at the park a little longer so he'd have more juice to work with now.

"Do you want to turn around?" It was clear Sam didn't want to, so the fact that he was offering meant something, Gabriel guessed.

He gave the question serious thought before answering, weighing up everything. "No," he finally decided. "Running away when we don't even know what we're running from will just end with us not getting anywhere."

"There's not gonna be many places unaffected," Sam said. "I can only hope we get to somewhere safe enough to scavenge up some fuel before it becomes a moot point. We'll run on battery power alone for a while, but after that we'll be dead in the water."

"Well, looks like there's some of that up ahead anyway, judging by how many vehicles are actually working for people to flee in. Silver lining, right?" Gabriel privately admitted he wasn't actually that good at optimistic thinking.

"I said 'safe'," Sam pointed out with a wry chuckle. Then he leaned closer to the wheel, peering out of the windshield. "Is that smoke?"

Gabriel followed Sam's gaze and frowned at the dark smudge against the sky in the distance. "It's something."

"Maybe we should be surprised that it's the first smoke we've seen." Sam frowned thoughtfully. "Nothing about this damn war finally being over is what I expected. Blind optimism was just too important to let go of at the time, I guess."

"It's one of your greatest gifts," Gabriel said. 'Humanity, I mean. The sheer stubborn refusal to see that things are complete shit." He smiled a little. "You and your brother take it to entirely new levels though. But then, when don't you Winchesters take things to entirely new levels?"

Sam snorted. "Guess you like extreme people then, seeing as how you opted to hang around."

The reasons why he had were so tangled and complicated that Gabriel could barely begin to explain them to himself, much less anyone else. "One thing you'll never be, Sam Winchester, is boring."

Sam laughed again. "It's not that we don't see the shit, anyway. It's that we refuse to believe it can't be made better, that we can't make it better somehow." He paused and added in a darker tone. "Which, of course, makes the whole starting the Apocalypse thing totally hilarious." He wasn't laughing anymore though.

"That was more my family's responsibility than yours." It was easier to admit that than he would've thought. "They weren't going to let you take any other path but that one. But even though the only answer they were ever going to accept was 'yes', you managed in the end not to just tell them 'no', but 'hell, no'."

Sam shot Gabriel what looked like a genuine and very warm smile. "Thanks. Appreciate you saying that, Gabe. You've gotta know we couldn't have done it without you, though. You made all the difference."

Gabriel snorted. "You just used the resources you had and that included me. If I hadn't pulled my head out of my ass and chosen your side, you would've come up with something else."

Sam pulled a face. "Not so sure about that." He peered through the windscreen again. "You know what that smoke's starting to remind me of?"

It was moving in a way that was not quite natural, but not quite sentient either, and though he couldn't honestly say he saw lightning shooting through it, Gabriel had the feeling that was just because they weren't close enough yet. "Something demonic," he answered, staring at it.

"Yeah. Like the storm cloud of demons we saw escape when Azazel manipulated one of his kids into opening that hell gate." Sam bit at his lip and then added, "It begs the question – what do the denizens of Hell do when their prince is dead?"

"Somehow I think 'have a respectable funeral and quietly mourn' isn't the right answer."

"Maybe we should turn around," Sam said after another few minutes of driving closer.

Gabriel shook his head. "Not unless you want to crawl into a hole and drag it in after us." He'd done enough of that already before joining the Winchesters. Eying the cloud as they got closer, he added, "I'd advise against checking out that particular city though."

He saw Sam look down at the dashboard. "Okay, yeah, sure. Our fuel seems to be lasting a little longer than I was expecting. That or the gauge is faulty."

As they slowly drew closer and almost parallel with the cloud and the city underneath it, Gabriel watched it warily, fingers poised to snap, all the grace he had hoarded at the moment tense and ready for... he wasn't sure what. Except that if something did happen he was betting it was going to be bad.

As they drew closer still, they started seeing cars all over the place, only a few of them actually moving. Burned out wrecks and abandoned vehicles turned the highway into an obstacle course. Then they started passing corpses... and bits of corpses. Sam's posture became more and more rigid with each body they passed, his brow heavy and brooding.

Gabriel found himself wishing he could just snap them out of there, but even if he could, it would be a stupid waste of power while he was still recovering. Still, he didn't like watching Sam pull so far into himself either. Looking for a way to distract them both he blurted out, "Tell me about the best practical joke you've ever pulled."

That won him a disbelieving glance from Sam. "What?" Then he seemed to get it and rolled his eyes. "Distraction, right. Any pranks I ever pulled would be embarrassing to admit to a professional. How about you tell me some of your favorites? Preferably ones with a low body count."

"Tit for tat?" Gabriel countered. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours?"

Sam snorted. "Well, you've heard us mention the Ghostfacers?"

Gabriel chuckled. "Yeah. I've checked out their website. Funny guys. Too bad they're not actually trying to be funny."

"Well, I once sent them haring off to Hollywood, convinced a big time producer was interested in their show."

"Not bad," Gabriel said, turning that over in his mind with a professional eye. "A little on the simple side, but definitely appropriate."

Sam managed a small grin. "Dean hid a not-so-fresh fish in their car for company on the long journey."

That got a laugh out of Gabriel. "Gotta admit your brother's got style," he said, giving Sam a smile. "Even if he is a pain in the ass most of the time."

"Funny. He says almost exactly that about you." Sam snickered quietly, a little of the tension definitely leaving his face and body now. They were still passing disturbing tableaux, but Sam seemed to be keeping his gaze on the horizon, when he wasn't shooting glances Gabriel's way.

"Yeah, well, he knows when he sees true art," Gabriel said. "We'll work on your artistic tastes."

"Let's not," Sam said firmly. "The last thing I want is a prank war with you."

Gabriel chuckled. "At least you know enough to admit who your betters are," he teased.

Sam reached out and clapped Gabriel's knee. "I have no problem at all admitting who the biggest ass is," he said, staring ahead with an innocent expression.

That got another laugh out of Gabriel, and he turned a genuine smile on Sam. "Keep saying stuff like that, Sammy, you're going to hurt my feelings." In truth, he liked it when Sam engaged with him in kind. The boy was wound up way too tight, any time he let himself relax and play a little was a good thing in Gabriel's opinion.

They were starting to pass by the smoke-capped city now. Gabriel didn't even know its name, having not paid attention to road signs. There was nothing even remotely natural about the smoke cloud. Close up, it was purplish and swirling, and it seemed to form screaming faces and grasping hands as the vapors broiled. He noticed a metallic taste in the air just as Sam started to cough.

"Might want to drive faster, even if it's not the best fuel consumption," Gabriel suggested, reaching out with his senses to try and determine if there was anything harmful as opposed to just irritating in the air around them.

Sam didn't have to be told twice. He put his foot down, and the SUV surged forward, swerving a bit as Sam's coughing grew worse, but still somehow managing not to hit any of the obstacles strewn over the highway. Gabriel was impressed at Sam's skill at driving around all of that, especially when he was coughing so uncontrollably. He was about to try and do something to block the fumes out of the vehicle when it began to lessen on its own, and Sam was once again visibly able to take a few breaths between coughs. Gabriel felt his shoulders relax a little as it seemed they were past the worst of it.

"Jeez," Sam muttered, slowing down as they got a little distance from the city. He took a hand from the wheel briefly to wipe his eyes. The coughing had caused tears. "We see things like that," he said a little wheezily, "every instinct I have tells me we should stop, try to help. But what could we do, just the two of us, and your battery still almost flat?"

"Get ourselves killed," Gabriel said flatly. He didn't like it either. It was one thing for him to hide because he didn't want to get involved; that was a choice. It was completely different when he was hiding because he had to in order to survive.

"Yeah." Sam shivered and then looked down at the dashboard. "I think we should be able to get another fifty miles or so before we run dry, so we need to find somewhere to stop before that where we can siphon fuel from abandoned cars. I'd like to get a full tank before we start traveling north again."

"Let's get a little more distance between us and the old doom cloud back there before we think of stopping though, okay?"

Sam nodded. After another few moments, he said, "So I told you my best prank, let's hear yours."

Gabriel didn't answer right away, searching through his memories, looking for something that was suitably spectacular, but wouldn't just end up with Sam giving him that disapproving frown. It was far easier to think of things that fulfilled the first stipulation than the second. He wasn't even sure why his mind went where it did in the end, but he started speaking before he could look at it too clearly. "Y'know, I didn't start playing pranks only when I became the Trickster."

"You did them before? In Heaven?" Sam snorted. "Bet that went down well."

"Everyone has to have an identity in a family," Gabriel said. "Michael had the dutiful good boy thing down; Lucifer was all the shining golden child, and Raphael had the serious 'find a cloud in every silver-lining' thing." He shrugged. "All three of them kinda just begged to be pranked but good."

"Tell me some good ones," Sam said, sounding genuinely keen.

"Well, there was the one time I turned all of their wings the color of rainbows," Gabriel said, smiling a little at the memory.

"What color are they normally?" Sam asked, clearly not finding it as hilarious as he should.

"It varies from angel to angel. But... if they were human it would've been like I did something to make them all wake up with a rainbow clown afro."

Now Sam grinned. "All of them or just the archangels?"

"Just the archangels," Gabriel said. "I didn't really pay all that much attention to the others back then, more fool I."

"Shame. I could enjoy the sight of Zachariah in a dayglo afro." Just the idea seemed to make Sam uncharacteristically happy.

Gabriel chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind if he ever shows his faces again."

Sam rolled his shoulders, probably easing out tension from the near encounter with the town. "His idea of being amusing was to break my legs and remove my lungs."

Gabriel scowled at that, feeling a strange possessive protectiveness at Sam's words. "He always was a unimaginative bully."

"He'd figured out that I was the lever to use against Dean. Every douche we ever meet seems to figure that out fast enough." He shot what looked like an apologetic smile at Gabriel. "It was just after the lung thing that Cas put those runes on our ribs, to stop Zach being able to find us easily again."

"Everyone works it out so fast because you and Dean practically have it tattooed in neon colors on your foreheads," Gabriel pointed out. "You two have never learned to hold that particular card close to your chest."

Sam shrugged. "We're all we've got." Then he paused and added, "Well, had, anyway."

"You have developed quite a knack at picking up stray rogue angels," Gabriel observed.

"One each," Sam said with a laugh but then frowned, seemingly at his own choice of words.

"You claiming me as your angel?" Gabriel teased. "Gotta say, even with your brother's sense of style, you were always my favorite."

He was treated to the sight of Sam's face going the reddest he'd ever seen it without exercise of some kind involved. "Heh." Sam kept his eyes facing forward and bit his lower lip.

It was absolutely fascinating. "Why, Sam! Are you embarrassed to admit I'm your favorite too? Go on, you can tell me."

"Yeah, of all the archangels that have joined us, you're my favorite," Sam said with an extra topping of sarcasm. Protesting too much, obviously.

Gabriel chuckled. "Really, is it so difficult to admit I'm actually kind of fun to have around?"

"You can be good company," Sam allowed, still not even glancing Gabriel's way.

"There, y'see? You didn't even burst into flames by saying it." He reached over and clapped a hand to Sam's shoulder. "That's progress, m'boy."

He felt Sam's over-pumped muscles twitch under his touch. "I'm not your boy. You may be the one who can count his birthdays in millennia, but I'm the mature one in this road movie partnership."

"You keep telling yourself that, kid," Gabriel said, purposely giving Sam his most obnoxious smirk.

Now that he had a reason to be annoyed, Sam apparently could look at Gabriel again. He directed one of his infamous bitchfaces Gabriel's way and then said, "There are lollipops in the glove compartment. Help yourself."

"You're just hoping that if I'm eating, I won't be talking," Gabriel said, but opened the glove compartment and pulled out one of the aforementioned candies.

"That wasn't exactly the point I was making, no, Shirley," Sam said and smiled beatifically.

It took a few beats for what point Sam was making to sink in. "It's not my fault if you're one of the sad sacks who outgrew his sweet tooth," Gabriel said, deliberately licking the lollipop salaciously.

Sam flicked a glance sideways. "The only reason you still have any teeth is angel mojo, which, now that you're running short, might spell disaster in dentist bills." He flicked another glance at Gabriel, a longer one.

Gabriel wasn't worried; he'd created this vessel himself, and he knew what its strengths and weaknesses were. "Maybe I just like having an oral fixation," he said and wagged his eyebrows suggestively.

The next glance, Sam's eyes focused openly on Gabriel's tongue as it licked up sugary, fruit-flavored goodness before he faced front again. "I guess it's pointless asking you to behave?"

"You'd worry if I did."

"You'd worry if I took you up on all the heavy handed hints you keep dropping."

Gabriel smirked. "You keep telling yourself that." In truth, he didn't expect Sam to do anything but be exasperated at him, but he wouldn't turn down anything that Sam offered along that line, all the same.

The humor dropped from Sam's expression, and he sighed heavily, slumping a little in his seat.

"What, is that thought really so depressing to you?" Gabriel asked, turning his head to look at Sam more closely.

"It's just..." Sam sighed again. "It's just the issues you think I'm making up. I wish I was."

"I don't think you're making anything up," Gabriel said, letting all teasing drop from him. "I know you fully believe that you're physically jonesing for angel grace."

"It is physical, Gabriel," Sam said, sounding resentful. "I'm not inventing it. It's not even the same as when I craved demon blood – the pain's not there, that deep gnawing ache in my bones. If it was psychosomatic, wouldn't it be the same as what I knew?"

Gabriel shook his head. "The pain, that was the physical."

"No, it was part of the physical." Sam was starting to sound pissed again. "I'm telling you, if you had enough mojo to see, you'd owe me an apology. A big one."

Gabriel considered for a moment, weighing the levels of his restored grace and if he could afford to spend any of it on this. He decided that, if it would lay this argument to rest, it would be worth it. He reached out with all of his senses, including those he had muffled, and focused all of it on Sam.

It didn't take him long to start frowning. even though he could see immediately that he was right, and Sam wasn't addicted to angel grace. The trouble was, it seemed Sam was right too, or partially so. Whatever was afflicting him was real. It was like all his cells were crying out to Gabriel. Crying out for Gabriel...

"What are you doing?" Sam asked suspiciously. "I can feel that."

Of course he could. What with the weirdness going on in him, Sam could probably sense whenever Gabriel used his grace for anything, much less when he focused it on Sam. "Just doing what you asked and taking a 'look'," he said. "The good news is that I was right, and you haven't developed an addiction to angel grace." He held up a hand before Sam could speak. "The bad news is that there's something else going on, and that's what you're feeling."

Sam shut his mouth. When he opened it again, it was only to say, "Oh," in a nonplussed kind of way. Then in a display of sheer habit over need, he indicated to turn before pulling the SUV in to the side of the highway. "So, you gonna elaborate on that?" he said, turning in his seat to face Gabriel.

"Not much to elaborate on," Gabriel said, running a hand through his hair. "For some reason your body seem to be, well, needing a shot of my grace."

"And that's not addiction?" Sam pulled a face. "C'mon now, Gabriel. I'd love to believe it isn't. I really would, but I'm not seeing the difference here."

"It's not. An addiction looks completely different. It's more of a... wasting. I can see how it goes in and changes things, breaks them down. This isn't that. It's more like..." He paused for a moment as the words he was about to say sank in. " a need for medicine."

"Your grace is medicine for me?" Sam frowned thoughtfully. "Because I'm sick? But I'm no– Oh, the demon blood! Gabriel, are you... Could you possibly be healing what Yellow Eyes did to me as a baby?" Sam looked wide-eyed and as if he couldn't quite dare to let himself believe in the possibility.

"I don't know."

If it were so, then it was a process that had begun when Gabriel had first come to Sam while he detoxed in Bobby's panic room. That had been the first time he'd fed Sam his grace, not that Sam remembered it at all; Gabriel hadn't been sure at the time just how public he'd wanted his involvement to be. After sucking at Gabriel's wrist and then a deep sleep, Sam had seemed so much stronger, calmer more together. Could Sam actually be right about what was going on?

Gabriel shrugged. "Possibly just the damage you did to yourself," he hedged, though even that would be something worthwhile. "But maybe Azazel's blood too. Who knows? This is completely new to me."

"So it's not addiction because it's... finite." Sam nodded, apparently to himself. "Once I've had enough, the craving will stop?" Gabriel could practically see Sam's big brain ticking over. "And, at the least, I should go back to how I was before I first drank Ruby's blood. Maybe even back to, well, what I've never had a chance to be since I was six months old." He put his hand on Gabriel's shoulder. "Gabriel, this is... If we're right, this feels like a miracle to me."

For Gabriel, a miracle was something that directly had the involvement of his Father in some way. He hadn't witnessed a genuine one first hand since before he left home. But this, it was unexpected, unexplained, and rewarded someone who somehow managed to keep faith in doing what was right even in the darkest of nights. Just the kind of thing Dad loved doing. Maybe... Maybe Castiel had been right all along, and Dad really was out there somewhere still. "Yeah," he said, feeling a smile that was content and full of hope turn his mouth up at the corners. "It really does feel like that."

Sam smiled a smile beautiful in its purity. He then did something that maybe shouldn't have been as unexpected as it was. He leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to Gabriel's.

It took Gabriel by surprise – but really, by now, he was getting used to being surprised by Sam. He was still for one second before he got with the program enough to kiss Sam back, sliding a hand up to play with the hair at the back of Sam's neck. Sam seemed to freeze as Gabriel started to return the kiss, as if he only just then realized what he was doing. But then he made a low noise in the back of his throat and pressed forward, kissing Gabriel more fiercely and moving on his seat to lean over him.

Despite all the innuendo that had been flying between them, Gabriel had never seriously considered he'd end up in this sort of compromising position with Sam. But there was something about Sam that had called to the archangel even from the first time they met, and one thing Gabriel had learned was to never look in the mouths of gift horses. So he shifted himself to recline as much as he could and kept one hand on the back of Sam's neck as they kissed. The other he stroked lightly over Sam's back, down his shirt until he could get under the edge of it and slide upward again over bare skin.

This time the noise Sam made was almost definitely a moan. He thrust his tongue into Gabriel's open mouth and slid it firmly over and around Gabriel's own. One forearm was leaning on the chair beside Gabriel's head, taking Sam's weight. The other was strong and flat on Gabriel's chest as if trying to hold him down. Not like Gabriel was trying to get away. He knew very well when it was in his best interests to be caught, and this was definitely one of those times.

Sam's back was vast and smooth and firm. Gabriel could feel the muscles tense and relax as Sam moved. He was trying, it seemed, to get closer, which wasn't easy for a man his size even in a pretty spacious SUV. Sam broke the kiss and uttered an equally broken, "Gabriel, Gabe..." before moving his mouth down to suck and nibble on Gabriel's neck.

That made Gabriel suck in a breath of his own at the sensation. He briefly considered suggesting they move to somewhere a little roomier, even if just the back seat, but didn't want to take the chance of either of them coming to their senses and stopping.

"Want you so bad," Sam moaned, pressing as much of himself as he could into Gabriel, which was mainly his chest, breathing fast and shallow. "So bad, Gabriel. I need you. Oh God..."

"I'm not going anywhere," Gabriel told him with another lopsided smile. "Even if I could." He tilted Sam's head up enough to look into his eyes again. "Take what you need. I give my permission. Yes."

Sam's eyes widened, and then exactly the opposite of what Gabriel wanted to happen happened. Suddenly his arms were empty, and Sam was back in his seat, his head leaned hard back into the rest as he heaved for breath. "I can't. Oh God, I can't."

"You can." Gabriel took a deep breath and ran a hand over his face. "Why not?"

"Because you know what I want." Sam turned a pained face to Gabriel, not lifting his head from the rest first. "And you don't have that to spare, let alone heal yourself afterward."

"I've got enough to spare a little," Gabriel said. He reached over and ran one finger lightly down Sam's arm. "As for the other, there's more than one way to share grace."

He knew when his not-so-hidden meaning became clear to Sam because Sam's eyes closed, and he groaned deeply. "Gabe, don't. Please. Stop tempting me."

"I know what I can handle," Gabriel said, moving closer. "You've gotten so used to denying yourself you're doing it even when you don't have to. It's not an addiction, something you have to overcome. It's something you need, something you should need." He was all but in Sam's lap now. "So shut up and take your medicine."

"Christ..." Sam's eyes half-opened, and he turned to look at Gabriel, his hands coming up to rest lightly, but twitching, on Gabriel's body. "Promise me," he said in a very low voice. "Promise me you won't let me– You won't feed me too much."

Gabriel smirked. "I'm not that self-sacrificing. You should've figured that out about me by now."

"Yeah, it's not that I'm worried about," Sam said, but he'd obviously surrendered to the inevitable, taking hold of Gabriel by the waist and physically lifting him over his lap. "It's you being strong enough to deny yourself something that feels good."

"That's a high opinion you have of your abilities in this area here," Gabriel observed, but he knew his smile had turned wicked as he shifted a bit before settling more firmly in his new position.

Again Sam took him by surprise. A huge hand slid around to cup the crotch of Gabriel's pants and squeeze. "All things considered, feeling this? I don't think my abilities, however unpracticed, are gonna be an issue."

Gabriel couldn't stop himself from pushing more firmly into Sam's touch, but he managed to hold his smirk as he said, "Prove it."

"God," Sam muttered, his eyes dark. One hand clutched to the back of Gabriel's neck and pulled him in for another kiss, while the other stayed over Gabriel's pants, the heel of it rubbing firmly. Unpracticed or not, the kid knew what he was doing, and Gabriel was happy to give himself over to the sensations and feeling, losing himself in the moment and blocking out everything else.

Sam was starting to sink lower in the seat, pushing up with his hips, and Gabriel could feel how hard he was. Sam's kiss was fierce, but not remotely sloppy, all his movements precise and demanding. His fingers started to tangle with Gabriel's belt, tugging the tongue through the buckle.

Gabriel wished he had the power to spare to just snap their clothes away, but he didn't, especially considering the aim of all this. So instead he slid his hands down Sam's chest, pushing jacket and open shirt off his shoulders. Kid wears too many layers, he thought, but couldn't actually voice the protest as Sam was still devouring his mouth.

It didn't help that Sam didn't seem to be prepared to free his hands up to allow the garments to be slipped off. He seemed far more interested in getting inside Gabriel's clothes. Once the belt was undone, he had Gabriel's button and zipper unfastened in seconds and then that huge hand was slipping over Gabriel's belly and down. "Commando," Sam said, a smirk in his voice as he pulled back from the kiss just a little. His hand wrapped around its objective and squeezed. "Way to go, Gabe."

"Some of us don't burden ourselves with extra layers," Gabriel replied, trying for his usual teasing tone, but not quite making it. Not with what Sam was doing and the surge of feeling it sent through him.

Sam moved his upper hand around to Gabriel's front, and he undid the buttons of Gabriel's button down with the same kind of determined methodicalness that Gabriel had seen him approach the drawing of a devil's trap. "Do you know what you do to me?" he asked huskily. "I mean, do you really know? I look at you, and I can see you, really you, all crammed into this human flesh. You're amazing, Gabriel. You're freaking awesome."

Gabriel knew that Sam couldn't really see him as he truly was; human eyes just couldn't. But Sam was probably getting much more than the average human and even that was somehow gratifying. To be seen, to be known, after so many centuries of hiding, there was a power to it that Gabriel didn't want to look at too closely. But it made him bite back his instinctive snarky reply – "I am pretty awesome, aren't I?" – and instead had him leaning in and kissing Sam like both their souls depended on it.

Sam pretty much growled into his mouth, pressing forward. They were both getting a bad case of stubble burn – shaving facilities having been limited since leaving the house in Florida – but now Gabriel could add bruised and bitten lips to the tally. He didn't care. Sam's hand around his cock, jerking him in those same precise, determined movements, meant Gabriel didn't care much about anything else right now.

It had been a long time since Gabriel had surrendered himself like this, had trusted enough to let go, to give up control. And never before in a situation like this, that was grounded in the physical, in bodies instead of spirit. He'd had a lot of human style sex. He enjoyed it, but it never overwhelmed the way more angelic ways of coming together did, at least, it hadn't, not until now. As always, Sam was the exception. The other times he'd done such things were proving to be pale imitations.

Suddenly Sam moved his hands, taking them to Gabriel's waist and lifting him a little as Sam broke the kiss. His mouth found Gabriel's neck, and he scraped the edge of his teeth down the short bristles there, ending up sucking hard on Gabriel's collar bone. Gabriel gasped and arched his back in such a way as to push himself closer to Sam.

Sam brought teeth into play again, and Gabriel knew Sam was making a mark there that would last if he chose not to heal it, but then Sam was moving again, moving him again, so that Sam could lick, suck and nibble his way down Gabriel's chest. Even with Sam sinking lower still in the seat, Gabriel found his head touching the roof of the car as Sam mouthed at Gabriel's belly, leaving a wet trail lower and lower...

When Sam's mouth closed around his cock, Gabriel jerked in reaction, banging his head on the car roof hard enough to make a human see stars. He didn't feel it though, not when all of his being was focused on what Sam was making him feel.

Sam was... Oh fuck, Sam was... It wasn't just Gabriel's flesh being sucked on and stimulated in head-spinning ways; it was his grace too. As Sam's head moved back and forth in the limited space, his tongue a living, squirming bed for Gabriel's cock to slide over, Sam was somehow also tugging at Gabriel in a completely different way. Gabriel had known Sam would be able to take his grace; that's why he'd suggested this, but he'd thought it'd just be when he came – more bodily fluids. He hadn't realized Sam could do this. He hadn't realized it would feel like this.

This was way more intense than sharing his grace via his blood and so much more fun. Gabriel could feel his essence, his real being, surging and pushing against the boundaries of his vessel, not at risk of leaving it, but making him way more aware than usual of being one thing trapped in the flesh of another.

Sam was making rumbling noises deep in his throat that vibrated around Gabriel's cock. The feeling of his grace being sucked on grew more and more intense, making it hard for Gabriel to think, hard to do anything in fact other than exist and feel. He was aching with pleasure, throbbing with it, his hands on Sam's head, half-supporting himself, half-holding Sam there. Sam's fingers were ten individual points of delicious pain on his hips, and Sam's mouth... Sam's throat...

It all culminated in a explosion of pleasure so powerful that it whited out everything else in a way that Gabriel had never experienced in all his long existence.

He was vaguely aware of being moved and then of Sam's increasingly edged voice. "Gabriel? Gabe! Shit, don't do this to me again. You promised."

"S'okay," Gabriel slurred, blinking until his sight came back. "'m fine."

The frantic hands that he now realized were moving over him stilled. "You don't exactly sound it," Sam said cautiously.

Gabriel summoned up enough energy to give Sam a smirk. "What can I say, kid? You're good."

Gabriel was, he now realized, back on the passenger's seat. Sam was leaning over him and smiling uncertainly. "How much did I take?"

He pushed himself into a more sitting position. "Not as much as last time," he said after taking inventory.

"Well, that was a surety considering how little you had available this time." Sam frowned hard. "Seriously, dude, how much? Do we need to head straight to the nearest beauty spot?" Gabriel wasn't sure if Sam even realized it, but Sam's free hand, the one he wasn't leaning on, was moving in slow circles on Gabriel's bare chest.

"I'm fine," Gabriel told him. "Not going to be doing any mojo, but I'm not on life support or anything. Let's get some more distance between us and what's behind us before we start looking for another refueling spot."

Sam snorted. "So now we're being sensible? We should never even have stopped here, you know, let alone for so long." He started to move away, but then seemed to change his mind and bent to press an almost chaste kiss on Gabriel's lips. There was, it had to be said, a lot of leeway in that 'almost'.

"So we both have bad impulse control," Gabriel said, running fingers through Sam's hair briefly before letting him pull back. "Somehow that doesn't seem like news."

"We're gonna have to watch that." Sam settled back in his seat and started the engine again. "You haven't asked, but until I started freaking out that I'd taken too much, I felt– That was really, totally freaking awesome, Gabriel. I feel so... clear, clean..." He shrugged. "Something like that."

"Then it was worth it." That he was able to do that for Sam in the face of everything, that he was allowed to be the thing that brought that kind of healing, it made Gabriel feel like his Father was closer than He'd been in centuries.

Sam shot Gabriel a sweet-looking smile before facing front and starting them off up the interstate again. "I didn't even know I could do that. It was kinda like what I do – did – when I was yanking demons from their vessels, only without all the... ripping."

"Makes sense. Turning something that's dark into something full of light. Miracles are like that."

Sam slowed the car again and turned to look at Gabriel. "You really think it was one?"

"It feels like it." Even drained of grace, Gabriel felt lighter and more hopeful than he had in a very long time. "It's the kind of thing Dad likes doing."

Sam stared for a long, drawn out moment and then sighed softly as if releasing a held breath. He starting the car moving again and didn't say anything, but even in his depleted state, Gabriel could see that Sam was different now, glowing a little to angel eyes and easier somehow in himself. It probably wasn't permanent yet. They'd probably need to do that again a few times before it took for good, but that... that wasn't going to be a problem.

And right now? Sam was beautiful.

Chapter Text

Day Sixteen

It was getting increasingly hard to take his attention away from Gabriel, Sam found.

Case in point, Gabriel was sitting, cross-legged and serene, on top of the flat-topped and grassy hill that was the Ocmulgee Temple Mound. To Sam's eyes, he was bathed in a warm, glowing light. It seemed to resonate with something deep inside Sam. He'd walked up here to tell Gabriel that he'd finished cooking their dinner, but said dinner seemed in danger of becoming food only for the local wildlife since Sam found he couldn't move, didn't want to move, just wanted to stare at Gabriel and relax into the feelings of awe, gratitude and, inevitably, desire as they washed over him.

As he was watching, Gabriel's eyes popped open, and he looked back at Sam with his familiar, knowing smirk. "Just how long have you been standing there?"

"Too long," Sam admitted sheepishly. "I cooked fish with seasoned mashed potato."

"Suppose I should get you back down to the campsite to eat it," Gabriel said with the same teasing expression as he gracefully climbed to his feet.

"Yeah, if you want." Sam didn't feel in any hurry to eat.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "I'm not the one who needs food to keep going." He walked over and gave Sam's shoulder a shove to get him moving. "Come on."

Sam did move, but possibly not in the direction Gabriel wanted him to; he turned and leaned over, thinking to kiss the archangel.

Gabriel shoved him again with another roll of the eyes. "You turning into a besotted puppy dog on me?"

Sam frowned and pulled away. Gabriel was right. Good thing Dean wasn't here to witness the way Sam was behaving, not that Sam couldn't hear his likely comments perfectly well even without him here to make them. "I made dessert too," he mumbled as he started back down to their camp fire. He guessed if he wanted to feel like less of a girl he should stop cooking for Gabriel; it wasn't as if the archangel actually needed food, after all.

"Really?" Gabriel said as he followed Sam down. "On second thoughts, besotted's not a bad thing if it gets me sweets."

"It's bribery, plain and simple," Sam claimed.

"Is it now? And what are you trying to bribe me for?" Gabriel punctuated the question with a step closer.

"The obvious," Sam said, resisting – just barely – the impulse to lay hands on Gabriel. "If you've recovered enough to reach Cas, that is."

Gabriel took a moment before he answered as if taking inner stock. "I think I should be, yeah. After we eat?"

"Yeah." Sam shot a smile at him. "But only if you're sure."

"I'm sure. Though I'm sure I'll be surer after dessert."

The fish turned out to be unmolested, thanks largely to the camping plate Sam had put over the top of the frying pan when he left it, and he found, once he settled down on the blanket to eat it, that it had a good, smoky flavor. He was getting better at outdoor cooking, enjoying the challenge. He wished he could say the same for having to crap into holes they'd dug or washing in cold river water. Not that it was exactly the first time he'd done either thing, but there was no longer the promise of civilization a little further down the road.

He looked over at Gabriel who was sitting, surprisingly patiently, nearby. "It's in the saucepan," Sam said with a smile.

Gabriel got up and went over to poke at said saucepan. He grinned as he raised the spoon in it to his mouth. "You're getting pretty good at this, kid."

Sam gave a half-shrug and a smile. "It's just warm pudding mix with added extras."

"Still... you obviously know your audience." Gabriel's eyes glinted with mischief as he made an obvious show of licking the spoon in a way that was more than slightly pornographic. "So do I."

Sam stalwartly ignored the twitch in his pants. Ever since that impulsive blowjob in the car, he'd been finding he couldn't view Gabriel as just a friend anymore. He guessed, if he were to be honest with himself, he'd have to admit that the attraction had been growing before then, ever since waking in Florida, but it had been easy to blame it on his need for Gabriel's grace at the time. Now, that need sated at least for the moment, the fact he still felt this pull towards the archangel made certain things kind of undeniable. Despite the male body, despite the whole different species thing, Sam was – yeah, let's get it said – sexually attracted to Gabriel, and the feeling was strengthening every day.

The exaggerated flirting Gabriel seemed to enjoy directing Sam's way wasn't helping any.

Sam sighed and got on with eating his meal. It was gone far too fast for his stomach's liking. He tried to tell himself he didn't want to raid one of the bags of chips from the back of the SUV and sighed again.

Gabriel gave him another knowing smirk. "Glad to see you're not completely ignoring other appetites."

Sam turned a mildly irritated expression on him. "I'm sure it must use up valuable mojo to live in my mind the way you seem to be doing."

"You're not that hard to read, Sam, no matter how mysterious you think you are," Gabriel told him. "And I've been watching you and your brother for a long time."

"Pervert," Sam told him succinctly as he put his plate down in the grass.

Gabriel deliberately stuck his tongue out at Sam at that. It was covered in chocolate. Sam gave him a pointed look. Gabriel laughed and finished his pudding. "All right," he said, rubbing his hands together. "Time to see what the other Winchester and angel team is doing."

Sam moved closer, taking the saucepan from beside Gabriel and putting it with his plate. For now, the dirty dishes could keep the local ant population happy. He sat himself cross-legged, opposite Gabriel, their legs touching at the knees.

As he waited, he thought about what Gabriel had just said. He'd been wondering for a while in a casual kind of way about the intimacy between Dean and Cas. It was pretty unusual for his brother to make a close friend like that, and by 'pretty unusual' Sam meant 'unheard of'. He was sure, more or less, that it hadn't gone any further than BFF-ship, at least not up to the point Sam had last seen Dean. Sam had been watching carefully; he would have seen if there'd been anything to see. But Cas seemed pretty much devoted to Dean, and Dean... was clearly not immune to that.

And if Dean and Cas were stranded together the way Gabriel and Sam were, could something similar finally be happening between them? Sam chuckled softly to himself at the thought. If so, there were going to be some interesting conversations had when they finally met up again.

It didn't take nearly as long this time for Gabriel to go through the preparations, and soon he was looking at Sam through eyes the same blue as Castiel's. "Sammy?"

"Dean." Sam smiled broadly, even though he knew Dean couldn't see. "Good to hear you again, dude. How are things your end?"

"We're managing. How 'bout you and the archangel of ADD?"

"We're good. Seen some bad shit, but managed to avoid getting caught up in it so far. We're heading north. We're in Georgia currently."

"We're in Oregon, just outside of Pendleton. There's been some pretty messed up things here too, but we're dealing."

"Is it just you and Cas?"

"Yeah. Just you and Gabe?"

"Yeah." Sam smiled at Gabriel, figuring he could see the expression even though his eyes were currently looking like Castiel's. "Can't help noticing we were put just about as far away from each other as we could get and still both be in mainland America. Deliberate?"

Gabriel shook his head slightly. At the same time he answered in Dean's voice. "I wondered about that too, but Cas doesn't think so. He said it was more like a blast throwing things outward, and we just happened to be on different sides of it, so we got thrown in different directions."

"Angels aren't always right about everything," Sam pointed out, sticking his tongue out afterward at the one facing him. "I can't help thinking about how we ended up on that plane..."

"You hopping on Cas' God train?" He could hear the doubt in Dean's voice and could clearly picture his brother frowning at him.

"Maybe. Some other things have been happening." Before Dean could ask what, Sam quickly added, "We can talk about it when we meet up. Speaking of which, Kansas seems like a pretty good mid-point."

Weirder than hearing his brother's voice come out of Gabriel was hearing his brother's laugh. "Back where all this started, huh? That's almost too poetic to be real. But yeah, I agree."

"All the more reason to think it wasn't just chance we ended up the the opposite ends of the country with just an angel each for company. I'm telling you, bro. I'm doubting the 'sheer coincidence' factor on this one." Sam let his hand land on Gabriel's knee as he spoke. "So, you're 'managing' – what does that mean? Are you both okay? Uninjured?"

"Neither of us are hurt," Dean said carefully. A little too carefully.

"Dean?" Sam frowned. "C'mon, man, tell me what's wrong."

"It's fine. Nothing you can do anything about anyway. We're dealing."

It wasn't a question of whether he could do anything about it, and Dean knew it, but Sam decided to let it lie. "I guess I'd better hang up the angel phone," he said reluctantly. "Can't afford to waste Gabriel's mojo when we don't know what's around the next corner." And that gave him an idea about what it might be that Dean wasn't saying. What if the power drain Gabriel had experienced had far less to do with Sam drinking his grace than Sam had thought? If it had more in common with the EMP-like wave that had disabled electronics everywhere, then Cas could have been hit too, and he'd had a lot less power than Gabriel had in the first place.

"Yeah." The hint of hidden relief in Dean's voice was more proof towards Sam's theory. "Try not to get yourself in too much trouble."

"You too," Sam said seriously. "Take care – of both of you."

"I'm doing my best." And with that Gabriel blinked, and his usual eye color was back.

Sam looked unhappily at Gabriel. "Cas isn't good, is he?"

"Depends on how you define 'good'," Gabriel said, uncustomarily serious.

Sam frowned. "How do you define it? I'm not saying he couldn't be worse, but Dean's obviously concerned."

"Everything that's happened has damped down his grace to a point I doubt he can actually touch it on his own," Gabriel said. "I mean, it's still there, otherwise I wouldn't be able to contact them this way. But to all intents and purposes, Castiel probably feels as if... he's human."

Sam paused. "That's gotta be traumatic." Gabriel certainly hadn't seemed to like it when they'd first woken up in Florida. "I mean, I know he's been getting closer and closer to human ever since rebelling, but this still has to be a jolt to the system, if for no other reason than it's the shape of things to come."

"It's not though," Gabriel said, frowning a little. "It doesn't have to work that way. If it did, I would've lost my grace centuries ago. There's ways to keep it charged here on Earth." He waved a hand around at their surroundings. "Case in point. I just need to teach him those."

Sam's frown deepened. "You mean he's never asked?" All that time that Gabriel spent working with them toward the end, and Cas never... "I always thought you were different because archangels were different – too powerful to cripple by cutting them off."

"We are different. We can do things in general that lesser angels can't, but maintaining one's grace outside of Heaven is something that any angel can learn to do. Recovery time might be a little longer than when tied into Heaven's power source, but one can still get there in the end."

"Hmm." Just how powerful would Gabriel be when actually hooked up to Heaven? In some specific ways, before this post-apocalyptic energy crash, he'd seemed even more powerful than Michael as it was. Or maybe he was simply more inventive. Michael was a bull charging in a straight line, whereas Gabriel was – what? A monkey, of course. A mischievous, way too intelligent, tool-using monkey.

Sam looked down, his hand over his mouth trying to hide his smirk.

"What's so funny?" Looking back up, Sam saw Gabriel looking at him questioningly, his head cocked in that way that all angels seemed to share.

Sam let his grin show. "I think I'm lucky that you're too drained at the moment to waste mojo reading my mind."

That got him an arched eyebrow. "That bad?"

Sam bit his lip, still grinning, and shuffled closer to Gabriel. "Oh, worse. Something terrible."

"Sounds like I should be thinking up some kind of suitable punishment," Gabriel said, his usual smirk coming back.

"I respond better to carrots than sticks," Sam pointed out hastily, just in case Gabriel really would.

"Do you? Maybe I should do some experiments on that."

Sam decided he needed to act quickly. He didn't like where things were maybe heading. He leaned in closer and slid his hand up Gabriel's chest. "More than enough empirical research has been done in the stick field already," he murmured close to Gabriel's ear. "However, there's a notable paucity in studies on the carrot effect. That could be a profitable line of research for you." He gently nuzzled Gabriel's ear.

Gabriel held inhumanly still. "You can't be needing more grace already," he said, with just the barest hint of question as if he wasn't entirely sure.

Sam froze too. "Uh, is this not okay? Have I managed to get completely the wrong end of the, huh, stick?"

"Not... necessarily. I think I just had an entirely different stick in mind." Gabriel wasn't moving away or anything, though he looked a little puzzled.

Sam pulled right back, his mind rapidly replaying the last few days and suddenly seeing everything in an all-new, sickly yellow light. "You thought that what we did in the car was just about feeding me grace and nothing more," he said, feeling kind of nauseous that he'd made sexual assumptions about a freaking archangel, for God's sake. "I'm sorry. I totally misconstrued the situation between us." Chill after chill of embarrassment ran over him, quickly followed by the hot surge of inevitable anger at his stupidity... and at Gabriel too. What the hell had all that casual flirting been about if not...?

His brow furrowing, he leaned over the other way to pick up the plate and saucepan, intending to take them down to the river to wash.

Gabriel reached out and closed a hand around his arm. "I never said I didn't like your stick."

Sam looked at Gabriel's hand and then up at his face, trying and failing to read his expression. "Did you really think I'd do what I did to you in the car if I didn't like you? In that way?"

"I wasn't going to assume," Gabriel said. "Especially with everything else that's been going on."

Still staring, feeling somehow trapped on the spot by Gabriel's hand even though the grip was gentle, Sam said, "Did you want to assume?" Surely the way Gabriel had been flirting with him had to mean something.

Gabriel gave him a faint smile. "I wouldn't be upset if there was a reason for me to assume."

Sam winced at the... mildness. "I, uh, kinda need more than that, Gabe." He gently freed his hand and stood. "Again, sorry for assuming way too much." Taking the plates, he walked away, forcing himself to walk at a reasonable pace and not run because it was a long time since he'd been fourteen, and whatever Dean liked to suggest, Sam was never that freaking emo anyway.

No hand or voice stopped him, which pretty much confirmed just how wrong he'd been.


Day Nineteen

"Gotta say," Gabriel remarked as he divided his attention between looking out at the sea of cars in the moonlit parking lot and watching Sam siphon gas from a minivan, "I'm really missing my mojo right about now."

"You are?" Sam said as he paused for breath. "I'm the one risking a mouthful of gasoline every time I suck."

It was on the tip of his tongue to make a lewd comment to that, but Gabriel bit it back at the last moment. The last thing he wanted to do – after the weirdness at Ocmulgee and Sam stalking off, and the way Sam had been since – was take them to a suggestive place again. It had taken far too long to get back to something approaching normal interaction between them for Gabriel to want to throw a spanner in the works now. Still, it irritated the hell out of him; he was damned good – no, he was freaking amazing at reading humans. He had to be in order to be an effective Trickster. So why was it that this one particular human kept surprising him and throwing him off-balance over and over? Figured that Lucifer had wanted Sam for his vessel; he'd always been a contrary, stubborn ass too.

That brought up one of those pangs of feeling that Gabriel had been steadfastly ignoring since their plan had actually succeeded, and he shoved it away as hard as he could. "Yeah, well, I'm the one bored out of my skull watching you. Can't you suck faster?"

He received a look in return that he knew had to have been perfected over years of living with Dean, but Sam's eyes didn't stay focused on him long. They hadn't since the 'misunderstanding'. Sam had been sitting as far away as possible from him during their camps, busying himself with tasks and not looking for help. When in the car and forced into close quarters, Sam was closed-in and quiet other than when talking about practical matters. No, things weren't the same at all, and the thing was, it hadn't even been a misunderstanding, not really. Gabriel was up for what he could get. No one who knew him would expect him to be otherwise. It was just he hadn't expected the... affection from Sam, the gentleness. He hadn't, when it came down to it, expected Sam to take him seriously as a lover.

"You do realize how toxic this stuff is?" Sam said now, starting to sound pissy, which was actually an improvement on the polite but distant thing he'd been doing for days now.

"You're the one who wanted to do it," Gabriel pointed out, almost grateful to fall back into arguing even if he wasn't completely sure if they were arguing about gas or something else.

"Someone had to," Sam said pointedly before going back to inhaling gas fumes. The plastic five-gallon container he was siphoning into was about half full again. One full siphon had already been poured into the SUV's reservoir. The SUV held fifteen gallons max and had been almost empty when they finally found this place in a small town north of Chattanooga. So, at the most, Sam was only a little over half done. Slow progress, but that was this experience all over. What with the frequent stops for rest and grace-recharging, and the long detours cross country to avoid cities that seemed to throb with demonic presence, this road trip might as well have been taken via horse and wagon. There wouldn't have been any of this toxic chemical sucking that way either.

Gabriel was half-convinced he was going to go mad if he had to stand here and watch for as long as it was looking like it was going to take. "You're the control freak who didn't want to share the task," he told Sam. "And since archangels are the original control freaks, that's saying something coming from me."

Sam roughly shoved the end of the tube he was sucking into the five-gallon container and stood up from his crouch. He gestured at the primitive apparatus. "Be my guest," he said, each word bitten off and overcast like the warning of a storm on its way.

Well, it couldn't be any worse than just standing here trying to avoid thinking about the things he was steadfastly not thinking about. "Fine," he said, coming forward and dropping to one knee to pick up the tube.

"Hope you've got enough mojo squirreled away to heal your poor vessel when you swallow a mouthful of that stuff," Sam said, moving back a step or so but no more, as if he didn't trust Gabriel not to majorly fuck this up.

That lent an edge of anger to Gabriel's movements as he repeated what he'd been watching Sam do over and over. He couldn't stop himself from making a face at the taste when he got the gas moving through the tube again, but he did manage to not only not swallow it, but to spit the mouthful of gas into the container he quickly put the tube in as well. "Teach your grandmother to suck eggs why don't you?" he said, a bit smugly.

Sam just looked at him. "You're not meant to get any in your mouth, Gabe. Toxic, remember? Carcinogenic as hell too."

"Being an archangel means never having to worry about cancer," Gabriel said.

"Good thing I won't have to worry about kissing you anytime soon." Sam mumbled it under his breath, but archangel hearing had no problem whatsoever picking it up. Which Sam had to have known would happen, so... passive aggressive thy name was apparently 'Sam'.

Gabriel hated passive aggressiveness. There had been enough of that back home. "It would serve you right if I did," he shot back testily, "without reaching for a breath mint first." There was no reply to that, and when Gabriel looked up from his latest near mouthful, he saw that Sam was gone. "Typical," he muttered to himself, turning back to what he was doing. "And Dean said I was the one who ran away because I was scared."

By the time Gabriel had filled the container and emptied it into the SUV, he'd mastered the art of sucking just enough but no more, which he thought was probably a metaphor for something profound about his life, though he wasn't sure what. Sam still hadn't returned, but as Gabriel straightened up he froze, his hand stilled halfway through wiping his mouth, because he heard his name being yelled in obvious alarm across the field of cars.

Another yell and Gabriel was running towards the noise before he had a chance to spot what was wrong. What he saw when he got closer made him wish he'd been strong enough to fly.

Sam was on his knees surrounded by... by what? Humanoid, but savage, teeth like vampires, but he'd never seen vampires with skin like that. They looked diseased. Sam had Ruby's dagger in his his hand, and he was slashing and stabbing, desperately trying to keep them at bay, but there were five of them, two obviously female, three presumably male. As Gabriel got closer, he could see a sixth creature struggling up from the fence where it had obviously just been thrown hard enough to leave an imprint in the chain-link. Maybe Sam really had had a small amount of mojo left after killing Lucifer like he'd claimed, but if so, it was gone now.

Sam was already bleeding from multiple wounds, and then, just before Gabriel reached him, Sam went down, one of the female vamp things at his throat...

Gabriel didn't even think; he just reached for the sword he'd only manifested a handful of times since he'd left Heaven and dove into the mass of enemies. He spun and kicked and slashed with lethal grace, nothing of the Trickster about him, every inch the warrior archangel. He felt his wings stir and move, aware of them in a way he hadn't been in such a very long time. The creatures all fell before him and his blade, and when he saw more creeping forward from the shadows surrounding the parking lot, it was pure instinct to spread his wings and release his true form, his brilliance turning night into day and sending the remaining attackers fleeing, burning and screaming.

"God..." he heard gurgled from the area at his feet. He looked down to see Sam staring up at him, his hand clasped over the side of his own neck, blood bubbling out between his fingers. "Gabriel... awesome... totally... worth it..." The boy had all but had his throat ripped out, and he was still trying to talk? To tell Gabriel he rocked?

"Shut it," he said a little more fiercely than he had meant to as he dropped to his knees to get his hands on Sam. He poured what grace he had into Sam in a more traditional way than the last couple of times they'd connected, sending his power through Sam's cells, encouraging them to knit together and heal.

He managed to stop the arterial bleeding from Sam's neck and restore the worst of the damage there, but he was running on empty even before he'd finished healing that wound, let alone started to mend all the other, lesser injuries Sam had acquired. It was beyond frustrating, making Gabriel strain for every last drop of power he had in him.

Sam was lying passively beneath him among the bodies of the vamps, one hand resting on Gabriel's shoulder. "Sure they're dead?" he croaked. "Think they're zombies."

"They're dead. Really dead," Gabriel told him, the strain he was under as he reached for anything he could use to help heal Sam showing in his voice.

"I'm sorry," Sam said, sounding what, in different circumstances, would have been amusingly woebegone.

Of course now Sam wanted to talk. Contrary to the end... which was still a long ways off if Gabriel had anything to say about it. "You can be sorry later. Just rest now, okay?"

"Can't," Sam said, and he was actually trying to move, to sit up maybe. "Got to get out of here," he said between bitten off groans and whimpers. "Might be more..."

"Trust me, there's not any within miles," Gabriel said, but Sam was right as far getting out of here was concerned. Healing Sam was clearly going to take a while. They needed to reach somewhere they could barricade, somewhere Gabriel could renew some of his grace.

"Gabriel..." Sam started, but he didn't seem to be able to manage the rest of what he'd wanted to say. He'd stopped trying to move, and his skin, where it wasn't blood-splattered, was way too pale. His lips were blue. This wasn't good at all.

"You never can do what you're asked, can you?" Gabriel muttered, standing and managing to lift Sam up to his feet. It wasn't as easy as it would have been if he'd had his full grace, but then again if he had, he would've been able to heal Sam fully on the spot.

Sam seemed to be doing his best to take some of his own weight, but his best wasn't all that. His breathing was catching and filled with quiet whimpers that escaped despite Sam's face of steely resolve. His huge height didn't help matters either. "The car-" he forced out. "Gabri– Gabe. Take... the car."

"No, really? And here I thought I could just bodily haul your gigantic ass all the way to Kansas." Gabriel was fully aware he was taking refuge in sarcasm so he wouldn't dwell on how worried he was. They were halfway back to their car, and the remaining distance seemed almost as daunting as the aforementioned hike to Kansas.

Sam didn't try to say anything more, but it was obvious that he was trying to take even more of his own weight. Gabriel was holding the hand of the arm draped around his neck, and he could feel Sam's skin was cold and clammy. His body was going into shock, yet he was still somehow stubbornly trying to walk.

That somehow gave Gabriel the strength to actually bodily pick Sam up, carrying him fireman style. It was still a little awkward just because of the difference in their sizes, but Sam wasn't the only one who could be stubborn. Moving as fast as he dared, Gabriel got them both back to the SUV and gently as possibly put Sam down so he could open the passenger door.

Sam slumped sitting against the side of the SUV. "Think," he whispered, "my ribs..." He didn't finish, but he didn't need to since Gabriel's initial and necessary speedy assessment had taken in the claw rake and bruising across one side of Sam's ribs, and the fact that at least one rib was broken. "Sorry," Sam then mumbled and slipped sideways to the ground. He'd passed out cold.

"You couldn't wait another two minutes to do that," Gabriel muttered to the unconscious human as he hauled him up as gently as he could and got him into the vehicle. "Contrary through and through."

Once Sam was safely ensconced in the passenger seat of their SUV, Gabriel climbed behind the wheel and started the engine, sparing a moment to hope he didn't kill them both in a car crash before he found a suitable place for them to hide out and recharge.


Sam became aware of heat touching his chest on the left hand side. It felt awesome, but there wasn't much of it, and he wanted much, much more. Then that sensation was quickly followed by a whole parade of other, less welcome sensations as his battered body took advantage of the fact he was now more or less awake in order to bang loudly on the front door and demand that his arrears of pain and suffering were paid immediately, or else the P&S repo man would come and–

Ah. Maybe he was slightly feverish as well as battered.

"Gabriel..." he murmured, without opening his eyes. He was lying somewhere hard and cool and also strangely quiet. "Are you...?"

"Keeping you alive and doing my best to heal you? Got it in one." Gabriel's voice had its usual 'not taking anything seriously' tone, but even as out of it as Sam still was, he could hear the strain underneath it.

He tried to move towards the sound, which was the same direction as that enticing heat, but the brutal stab of pain that zigzagged through his side when he began to roll that way changed his mind in a hurry. He groaned and opened one eye. "Where...?"

"Dad's house," Gabriel said. "Or one of them. Believe it or not, some churches actually are genuine Holy Ground."

How the hell had Gabriel got him here powerless? Well, the car obviously, but– A vague memory arose from the swirling fog in his mind. "Did you... carry me?"

"Yep, you were doing a really good imitation of a swooning heroine."

Oh God, he did not want to picture that one. "I'm sorry," he said. He thought he might have already said that, but that could have been a dream. "This is all my fault. You should... you should just have left me."

"Because the last time you died turned out so well." There was a strange edge to Gabriel's voice that Sam couldn't identify. "Let's try not to start that whole cycle again, okay?"

Sam thought about pointing out that the last time he'd died had turned out okay actually, thanks to Michael, but he guessed he knew what death Gabriel meant. He tried to turn his head enough to focus on him. "You... you all right there?"

Gabriel was a little paler than Sam was used to seeing him and his expression was far more serious, even a little haunted, but he seemed to be in one piece. "I'm fine. Just... try not to do that again."

Sam narrowed his eyes and tried to focus more clearly. "You've... you've drained yourself dry. To save me."

"It's not that big a deal," Gabriel defended. "Grace is a renewable resource."

"You... care." Sam smiled and let himself relax.

Gabriel eyed him. "Um, duh?"

"No, I mean you care. About me." Sam let his smile become a grin, the various pains around his body somehow easing in his absolute certainty about this. His head was buzzing pleasantly.

Gabriel continued to look confused. "Did I miss that you hit your head or something because that really shouldn't be news."

"Idiot," Sam said happily. He didn't care if he was delirious; he was still right.

"One of us is," Gabriel said, though there was a certain fondness to the insult.

"What're you doing... to my ribs?"

"I'm undoing what you did. Just doing it very slowly because I'm kinda tapped out right now." He paused. "How are you feeling?"

"Feels nice," Sam said with another sleepy smile. "What you're doing. An' m'fine if I don't move. You're awesome."

Gabriel gave him a slightly suspicious look. "You're getting blissed out on my grace."

"L'il bit. Maybe. Don't make yourself a dud battery again, huh? Need you upright." Sam chuckled when he realized what he'd said. "That too."

"Even if I was 'that too' you're in no shape to take advantage of me," Gabriel told him, but when Sam focused his gaze that way again, Gabriel's face had relaxed some, and there was a sparkle of what could have been affection and mischief in his eyes.

Sam smiled back. "Did I ever tell you... how awesome you are? Why were you such a douche... such a total dick... when we first... y'know. The thing with the 'gator and the alien probing." He laughed. "Again and again and again and again and..."

Gabriel's mouth curled up at the corners. "It was pretty creative if I do say so myself," he admitted. "And believe me, it wasn't any more than that particular dick deserved, after what he'd instigated during some of his fraternity's pledge weeks."

"Yeah, but... But you..." Sam suddenly felt very sad; he could feel his face pull down into a frown. "You let us kill you."

"I let you think you'd killed me," Gabriel corrected, his smile turning into his usual wicked smirk. "I played a trick. It's what I do. Did."

"Jerk." Sam tried to persuade his lips not to pout, but they weren't obeying him. "You were a sadistic ass to me."

"Maybe a little," Gabriel admitted.

"Maybe a lot. Maybe you put me through hell trying to tell me what you could've said in one sentence. Maybe you seriously damaged me. Fucked me up. Set me up ready to fall to Lucifer's plan." Suddenly the nice haze he'd been floating in seemed to be clearing away. That wasn't any good at all. He sighed. "But I forgive you."

Gabriel sighed and suddenly looked far more like an ancient immortal being than his usual trickster persona. "If I had just told you you had to let Dean go, or it would lead to the Apocalypse, would you have heeded me? Truthfully?"

Sam felt another surge of the delicious warmth at his side. "Maybe, if you'd said it right. Prob'ly not. But all you did was wind me up like a stupid toy ready to go careering around all over the place drinking blood and, and..." Sam frowned. It was in no way Gabriel's fault that Sam had been stupid enough to listen to Ruby. "Nah, forget that. That wasn't you. I just mean, why couldn'ya be nice then, like you are now?"

"You think I'm nice?" Gabriel asked raising an eyebrow.

"T'me you are." He laughed again as he remembered. "Not so much to zombie vampire monsters. You've got a sword. Kept that hidden 'til now, dincha?"

If anything Gabriel looked a little embarrassed. "It's an archangel thing. Doesn't really go all that well with being a Trickster."

However drunk on grace or pain endorphins Sam was, he maintained enough sense not to say how much he preferred the archangel to the pagan god. It wasn't necessarily true anyway. It was something he'd have to think about once mind and body were feeling like working properly again. He gave Gabriel what he hoped was a smirk to rival his own. "'S hot."

Gabriel laughed. "We'll see if you say that when you're a little more in control, kid."

"Wings're hot too."

"You're not in any condition to appreciate any hotness on my part," Gabriel told him, patting his shoulder with his free hand.

"Wrong. You're so wrong," Sam crowed. "'Appreciate it just fine. Just can't do anything about it." As if to prove his point – kind of – his body decided that this was the moment that his eyes should close. He didn't fight it. "Sleepy 'gain."

"The healing will do that to you." He felt Gabriel's hand brush against his forehead gently. "Rest."

It seemed like a very good idea to Sam, so he did.


Day Twenty-Three

A few days later, Sam was standing outside the church, eyes shut and face lifted, basking in the sunlight and birdsong.

He liked it here, and he didn't think that the church and grounds felt sacred and special to him just because Gabriel said they were. Maybe he'd had so much holy grace pumped into him over the last few weeks that it was giving him new sensitivity. Something had to explain the occasional ghostly glimpses he had now of both Gabriel's wings and the glory and stature of his true self. What Sam was picking up from this church was also part of it, he was sure.

"Never would've taken you for a sunbather." Gabriel's voice was quiet, but amused behind him.

Sam opened his eyes and looked around, smiling. "It's nice here," he said simply. Then he let a troubling thought he'd been resisting surface. "I don't understand why there are no survivors here. This place could have been an effective haven for them, just as it's been for us."

"It's partly a haven because of what I am," Gabriel said. "Not sure it would work the same for others."

"Oh." Sam felt a shiver run over his skin. "I didn't ask – how far are we from that parking lot? Could the things that attacked me be what became of the missing congregation?"

"I don't know. Could be, I suppose. I didn't stop to ask their pedigree. How are you feeling anyway?" It had only been just under a day since Gabriel had stopped insisting on being in physical contact with Sam at all times, and Gabriel had spent much of the time since hovering and obviously trying not to look like he was hovering. The attention felt gratifying, to say the least. It meant Sam hadn't ruined everything between them with his inappropriate advances back in Ocmulgee.

"I'm fine," he said with another soft smile. He was still sore in various places, but it was nothing more than the kind of recovery pain he was used to after a hunt went wrong. "Thanks to you."

Gabriel actually looked a little uncomfortable at the gratitude. "I wasn't going to just abandon you there."

"You could have. I think you would have once. And you didn't just not leave me. You drained yourself dry and kept draining yourself, keeping me healing and keeping me blissed out as you did it." Sam started to reach out, but then thought better of it. "I'm not trying to embarrass you here, Gabriel. We never have to talk about this again if you don't want to, but I wanted to say at least once – with a clear head – that I know what you did for me, and I'm grateful."

Gabriel looked down at his shoes and gave a sort of half-shrug. "I've gotten used to having you around," he muttered.

And that was verging on cute. Sam manfully resisted the urge to envelope Gabriel in a bear hug, but he couldn't hide his grin, not completely, though he tried to stay serious for what he now wanted to say. "One click and ready to go companions can't be all that fulfilling in the long run. I know you came down here in the first place to get away from real people – humans, I guess, not seeming all that 'real' at the time – but that's gotta get lonely after a millennium or so."

Something flickered over Gabriel's face so fast that Sam didn't really have a chance to register what it was. Then a smile slid into place, but Sam wasn't sure exactly how genuine it was. "Fishing for me telling you I like you again, kid?"

Sam sighed. "No, that was me telling you why you might like having me around. You know, despite all the very good reasons not to." He looked down. "I was at least half-expecting never to see you again after we ended the Apocalypse together."

That got a laugh out of Gabriel, but it was harsh and bitter. "Where else was I going to go?"

That hurt. Sam looked up in unthinking reaction and knew he was unable to disguise his expression quick enough. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said and tried hard to make it not sound stiff and distant. "I guess, even now, we must seem so limited to you, compared to your own kind. Are you sure they wouldn't have taken you back?"

"I helped kill my brother, Sam. Even if they would, I can't go back now." Gabriel sounded so weary and old and sad that it brought Sam up short.

"But Michael was going to kill him too," he said, feeling like he just wasn't getting it. "I understand the grief and guilt, but not why you can't go back."

"You don't understand," Gabriel said, voice rougher than Sam was used to hearing it. "No matter what Lucifer's done, what he became, he was my brother, and he's dead because of me. There's never going to be a chance to fix things, to get back to where things were good."

"What makes you think I can't understand that? This is me, Sam Winchester, remember?" Sam shook his head, feeling exasperated. "I get the enormity of helping me kill your brother. I really do. It has to hurt so freaking much. No, you can't fix things with him now, but the fact is, you probably couldn't have done it anyway. Whatever he was in Heaven, he hadn't been that in a long, long time. But Michael? Raphael? They're both still up there. There's still a chance to fix things with them."

Gabriel's pain was real; Sam had no doubt about that, and he was also sure that it went way deeper than Gabriel was allowing to be seen, but... oh, maybe it was an angel thing. What sounded like, well, adolescent petulance to Sam would only be that in a human. Angels were immortal, and while Earth was ever-changing, Sam guessed that changes in Heaven were probably rare. Gabriel might be millions of years old, but he probably didn't have the experience of the average human teen at dealing with traumatic change. After all, when things last got this tough, he ran away rather than face it.

Sam let his face soften. "Change happens, Gabriel," he said in a much gentler tone. "It's the way your Dad made things. People are born, and people die. Mountain rise and fall. Stars shine bright then vanish from the sky. We all do things that change the world around us, even just by living." He pulled a wry face. "Some of us are unlucky enough to change the whole world, to have that on our shoulders, but it's really only a matter of degree. To live means to be changing, always. It's the way God made us. So, no, nothing is the same now. Nothing will ever be like it was before. That doesn't mean it can't be good in a different way." He snorted softly. "And yeah, I totally get the irony of me of all people telling you about God's intentions."

"That's the way Dad made humans, yes," Gabriel said. "Humans change. They see the shades of gray – they live there. Angels are different. There's no gray in heaven. Everything is black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. You're either with them or against them. I managed to walk away from it and still have the option to go back because I didn't get involved. But now... I didn't follow the script. Means I'm not with them."

Sam frowned. "Dude, I've never been to Heaven, and the chances are I never will, but while it may be on a whole different timescale to mortal earth, Heaven can and does change. How could they have moved so way off base from your Father's plans for this planet otherwise?"

Gabriel shook his head. "Doesn't matter. I don't have a place there anymore. Not unless Dad..." He trailed off. "And even then, I'd always be the one who led to our brother's death. Maybe Michael could have lived with that title, but I can't. Not there."

Sam nodded. He didn't have an argument for that. Gabriel had a right to feel the way he felt. "I'm sorry. I know it's not much compared to what you've lost, but you'll be welcome to hang with us for as long as you want, as long as we last down here."

That got a genuine, heartfelt smile that reached his eyes out of Gabriel. "It's worth more than you might think."

There was something else on the tip of Sam's tongue to ask, something he really, really wanted to know the answer to, but now wasn't the time. This was a time for Gabriel's pain, not his own. He smiled at Gabriel. "Hungry? I think I'm up to some basic dessert prep."

"I could be convinced to eat," Gabriel said, the darker, sadder emotions seeming to fade back under his usual mischievous exterior. "'Specially if it's something sweet."

As Sam made his necessarily slow way over to the SUV to collect ingredients, he thought over the conversation they'd just had. He didn't think they'd seen the end of this particular topic. Sam still wanted – needed – to know how Gabriel could stand to be around him, the human who had not only killed Gabriel's brother, but who had effectively made Gabriel into the weapon with which he did it.

Not only that, Sam thought he'd feel compelled to bring the subject up again for Gabriel's sake. When Dad had died, there had been so much still unhealed between them, but at least they'd been talking again, and that had meant everything once the chance to speak with the man ever again had gone. Gabriel needed to at least talk with his brothers, even if he didn't go home to stay. He had to reopen communication and keep it open. Sam was convinced of it.

Family meant everything. No one knew that better than he did.

A quick rummage in the car turned up what he needed, and he shoved it all in a sports bag to carry, including a new canister of propane for the camping stove. It was their last one already. How had they gone through them all so quickly? They were going to have to risk another scavenging trip very soon.

He was just straightening up when a noise made him whirl around. There were... people? Coming across the road – battered, ragged and terrified looking, but yeah, they looked like real live human beings to Sam...


Day Twenty-Four

His ribs might have been angel-healed, but sometimes Sam felt that they hadn't gotten that memo. Like now, when he was having to tiptoe through a church full of slumbering refugees to get to the door 'cause the ache wouldn't let him sleep, so he might as well hunt out a certain archangel and keep him company on guard duty.

It'd been beyond awesome to finally meet some other survivors. If this group were typical, there could be so many more out there, laying low 'til they were forced to come out by hunger or further disaster. This group had been besieged by the vampire-zombies for many days, but when they finally accepted that the zombies had gone, they'd made a break for the church, only to find the zombie killers already there. They were a quiet bunch, clinging to each other, subdued by loss and trauma, but they were human survivors, and that mattered.

The heavy wooden door creaked alarmingly as Sam opened it, and so he opened it only as much as he needed to in order to slip out. The night was clear and bright, thanks to a nearly full moon, but that didn't help him spot Gabriel. Instead, Sam closed his eyes and reached out with other senses. It wasn't hard to find Gabriel this way at all, seeing as, even mojo-depleted as he was, the archangel glowed like a warning beacon. Sam opened his eyes and walked around the church clockwise until he came upon him.

Gabriel was busy, kneeling and painting some complicated looking sigils on the church wall with a fine brush. It looked like he'd been busy for a while since from the corner to where Gabriel was standing now the wall was covered in such symbols from the ground to what would be the top of Gabriel's reach standing up. He didn't seem to have sensed Sam's presence yet, and as Sam watched, he dipped his brush back in the paint then paused as if considering it. He put the brush down and pricked his finger with a small knife, holding the finger over the can and letting a drop or two of blood – and more than blood, of grace – fall in to mix with the paint.

Now Sam wasn't sure he wanted to be noticed. He absentmindedly licked his lips as he watched. Whatever Gabriel was doing out here, it was powerful. Gabriel mixed the blood into the paint with the brush, murmuring something quietly in Enochian as he did so. After a moment he seemed satisfied and picked the brush up again to go back to inscribing sigils on the church wall.

Despite himself, Sam took a step forward and then another. He could actually see the flare of Gabriel's power in the lines as he first painted them. "What does it do?" he asked almost in a whisper, his curiosity winning out over his desire to watch unnoticed.

If Sam startled Gabriel, it didn't show; the archangel just continued drawing the small, neat sigils. "Protection," he said softly, almost distractedly.

Sam had seen Gabriel paint protection sigils before though, and compared to those daubings, this was a renaissance masterpiece. "Protection against... everything?"

"Everything I can think of, at least. And maybe a few things I haven't."

"You're putting so much work into helping these people," Sam said, wondering at it. "That water thing you did today? That was amazing."

"Not really," Gabriel said with a half shrug as he dipped the brush into the paint again. "You could do the same thing with a dowsing rod and a talented psychic."

Sam laughed, folding his arms. "Modesty, Gabe? Is that really you in there?"

Gabriel made a face, but didn't stop what he was doing. "If I was anywhere near my full power, I'd be able to give them a self-renewing pantry and hot and cold running wells, complete with a pump system, all with just a snap."

"Yeah, and it'd mean less." Sam stepped closer and put his hand briefly on Gabriel's shoulder. "A click takes no time at all. This, this here, this is real blood, sweat and tears stuff."

"No tears, but the first two I'll give you," Gabriel admitted. "But given the choice between what I could've done and what I'm managing to do, I think the people here would all pick the former."

"Possibly," Sam admitted, "but I'd be less impressed. Can I help at all, or is this an angel-only activity?"

That actually got Gabriel to pause and look up at Sam assessingly. "How's your written Enochian?"

"Limited? Cas taught me some as we went. Bobby had a strange old book on the subject, and I read that. I tried to pick up what I could."

"Can you copy that?" Gabriel asked, gesturing to the line of symbols he was inscribing over and over. "Exactly?"

Sam took a look and then nodded. "No problem. Just tell me where you want it."

Gabriel smirked slightly. "You can take the high road. Since your head's in the clouds every time you stand up already."

Sam found another brush lying by the can which he'd swear hadn't been there before. He decided not to ask and just dipped it in the mojoed-up paint. His ribs complained when he reached up to paint above Gabriel's daubings, but he didn't care. Doing this with Gabriel seemed way more important than twinges of pain. "You know," he said when he'd been painting for long enough to be into the swing of it, "back before the end, you kept calling Dean and me 'the black swans', but you're as much a black swan if not more than we are."

"Nah, kid," Gabriel said, shooting him a brief, almost fond smile. "I'm just one of the things you managed to change."

"Bullshit," Sam said succinctly. "And quit with this modesty thing; it's getting creepy. A black swan is something totally unexpected, unpredicted, that changes the world forever. In what way is that not you? Oh, and stop calling me 'kid'."

"You are a kid," Gabriel told him with a familiar smirk. "Compared to me at least."

"How many times do I have to point out that it's mental age that counts, not mere years?" Sam grinned to himself as he swirled the paintbrush around an elaborate loop.

"So we're back to insulting me, huh?" Gabriel asked good-naturedly.

"You seem to take it better than the compliments." Sam crouched to dip his brush again. "But if you want, I can go back to telling you how awesome you're being."

"I'm not doing anything special," Gabriel claimed. "Nothing you wouldn't do."

Sam shrugged. "If I had your knowledge, maybe."

"That's what I mean though," Gabriel said as if picking up an earlier conversation. "About you and your brother being black swans. You're the immovable object against the irresistible force of destiny. 'Cept it turned out to be pretty damned resistible after all. Because everything and everyone who comes into contact with you for long enough, you manage to change."

Sam was quiet for a while, absorbing that. Then he said, "Okay, so, say you're right, and we are, and we do that. Then it's a virus or a meme or something, and we've infected you right down to your pin feathers which are now, in some metaphorical kind of way, totally black."

Gabriel smiled a little. "I'm not sure it works that way."

"Well, I am. Totally sure." Sam gave Gabriel a look full of good-humored challenge, his chin raised.

That made Gabriel smirk. "Now who's making with the ego?"

"You're the one who just called me an immovable object that changes everything it touches," Sam pointed out, quite reasonably he thought.

"You are. Stubborn doesn't even begin to cover it."

"Better give in then and admit you're awesome." Sam grinned the grin of victory at him.

Gabriel rolled his eyes dramatically, but didn't argue the point any longer.


Day Twenty-Seven

"You going to quit looking over at me and grinning any time soon?" Gabriel asked after what had to be the hundredth time Sam had done so since they'd gotten back on the road again.

"Nope," Sam said, looking smug. "You do realize you've won your hunter wings now, don't you?"

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't that actually require hunting?"

"There's way more to hunting than that, and you know it," Sam said, shooting him yet another grin. "Besides, you'd already done the hunting when you wiped out all those zombie vamp things. You kill the monster; you make sure the survivors are okay. That's hunting. Congratulations. Here's your flying colors."

"Do they come with any handy dandy bonuses?" Gabriel asked. It was gratifying to see Sam smile again like that, but Gabriel wasn't about to admit how much. And that wasn't the reason he'd done what he'd done for the people at the church, anyway. He'd thrown his lot in with the Winchesters and humans in general, and it seemed only fitting that he did what he could to help humans survive now.

And okay, maybe some of the reason was to cheer Sam up too.

"Such as?" Sam asked. "I think we have the ingredients for a creamless English trifle clattering around in the back."

"You're determined to keep me in sweets, aren't you?" Gabriel observed, smirking at him with a wave of affection.

"I'm limited in what else I can offer under the circumstances." Sam chuckled. "I can teach you how to clean a gun or how to make fake IDs if you want, but I can't see those abilities being all that useful once your mojo's back to stay."

"You could always offer me sexual favors," Gabriel said without thinking.

He could practically feel Sam freeze beside him. It was eyes straight ahead, hands gripping the wheel like it was trying to get away and a little "heh," for his only reply.

Gabriel hadn't really meant to bring up the subject just then, but maybe it was the right time. It wasn't like Sam could storm off this time, not with them sitting in a moving vehicle. "I'm serious, Sam," he said, turning to look more directly at the human beside him.

He could see Sam screwing up his face, though his gaze remained firmly fixed on the empty road ahead. "About what? You want me to pay you for doing good deeds with... sex?"

"I'm saying I won't say no if you want to," Gabriel said carefully. "But it's not a demand or anything."

"I thought..." Sam started, but then he stopped and puffed with obvious frustration. "Does that mean you want to, seriously want to, or are you, I dunno, just trying to give me a 'happy recovery' gift or something?"

"Can't it be both?" Gabriel sighed. "Look, kid – Sam – all I'm saying is if you want to have sex, I'm not going to be a shrinking violet. But only if you want to. It's not something you have to do to get my help, either generally or with the grace-healing."

"Okay." Sam's face was a little flushed, and Gabriel watched him worry at his lower lip for a few miles, but then Sam nodded as if to himself, and he turned to Gabriel. The smile Gabriel received looked almost shy. "Okay," Sam said again, a lot more firmly.

"So... can I go back to making innuendos without you running away?" Gabriel asked.

Sam snorted. "I've kinda missed them."

Really? "Yeah?" Gabriel raised an eyebrow at him.

"Yeah. I did. I like them." Sam seemed to think about that. "Just not in front of my brother, huh?"

Gabriel pretended to pout. "You're really constraining my fun here. You know that, right?"

Sam shot a raised brow glance Gabriel's way. "I'll make it worth your while."

And Gabriel discovered that if there was one thing more fun than throwing suggestive comments at Sam, it was Sam throwing them back. "Yeah? Are we talking baked goods worth my while, or....?"

This time Sam's glance was approaching heated as he quickly checked Gabriel out before looking back at the road. "What do you think? Find me a suitable camping spot on the maps, and you can judge for yourself."

"There's a state park ten miles ahead on the left," Gabriel said without looking. He'd studied the map before he left and had made a mental note of all the possible grace-renewing spots along the way.

"Great." Sam put his foot down, and Gabriel shifted in his seat until he was leaning against the door and facing Sam. Watching him drive and thinking up things to do once they'd stopped was a much better pastime than staring out the windows.

"Stop that," Sam said in a low voice. "Otherwise, empty roads or not, we're gonna hit something."

"I'm not doing anything," Gabriel said in his best innocent tones, holding his hands up to prove it.

"Just 'cause you're only doing it in your head doesn't mean you're not doing anything." The SUV gave a little jump as Sam braked just enough to slide her onto the off-ramp beside them. "That look you're giving me could fry eggs."

Gabriel thought back. "I think it actually has, once or twice."

Sam laughed. "You give eggs a look like that? Interesting kink there, Gabriel." He then had to swerve the SUV a little dramatically as he nearly missed the turning with the sign for the state park. "See? We're gonna hit something. Just wait."

Gabriel sighed dramatically. "I suppose I should give you a break. I mean, small human minds – must make it hard to multitask," he teased. He was having a far better time than he would ever have thought with just this back and forth. It made him wonder what it was going to be like when they finally stopped.

"It's not a question of the size of my... anything," Sam insisted. "It's more to do with human brains needing an adequate blood supply to function. Is this it?" He braked hard enough to almost knock Gabriel off his seat. "Oops," he said, a big grin on his face. "Wrong turning. Another mile or so yet." He put his foot down again.

"I think it's a case of the size of your blood supply then," Gabriel said conversationally, ignoring the attempt at shaking him off his seat. "If it's inadequate to feed your brain and... other body parts at the same time."

"Dude, I lost a lot of blood back in that parking lot," Sam said. "I'm running underpowered."

The declaration brought back memories of Sam bleeding out under Gabriel's hands, and he barely stopped himself from shivering. It had been too close, but he made sure to smile widely when he said, "Nope. It may have taken a lot longer than it would usually, but your injuries have all been healed – including the blood loss."

Sam smiled. Then he braked again, more gently. "This is it. Knowing our luck, I'll just be taking the key from the ignition when a wendigo, a troll, and a pack of feral werewolves will charge out of the trees together, ready to make up the holes in tonight's menu."

"Aren't you a bundle of optimism?" Gabriel observed. "If they do, you put the key back in the ignition, and we go back to the highway."

Sam laughed. "Don't want to check out your new hunter prowess against them?"

"Maybe later. Much rather check out certain other prowesses you have," Gabriel said, waggling his eyebrows at Sam.

Having found a dirt track leading to a picnic area, Sam turned down it and stopped in a small roped-off parking lot covered in wood chips. "There," he said firmly. "This'll do."

Gabriel made a show of looking out the window at their surroundings. "Don't see any trolls."

But the only answer he got to that was the driver's side door clicking shut. Sam was striding around the front of the SUV, a determined look on his face. It was the same kind of determination that Gabriel was used to seeing on Sam's face during hunts, which considering how they'd first met, seemed appropriate. Only this time Gabriel didn't mind if he got caught. He opened his own door and quickly stepped out of the SUV, waiting to see what Sam was going to do next.

Sam didn't slow as he walked up to Gabriel. He lifted his hand so that it met with Gabriel's shoulder when he got there, and he kept walking, pushing Gabriel back into the side of the SUV. Then he paused, standing close, his intense gaze moving between Gabriel's eyes and mouth. "You definitely want this? Straight answer for once, please. I need to be sure."

"Yes," Gabriel said with a tiny ironic smile, given how much of the last year had been tangled up in Sam not saying 'yes'.

Sam stared a few moments longer and then nodded. He slid a hand around the back of Gabriel's neck and moved another to Gabriel's face, tipping it up ready to meet the hard, demanding kiss that was immediately pressed down on it. Addiction and grace-healing aside, 'hunger' was still a word that was all about Sam.

This kind of hunger though, Gabriel was happy to feed, giving back as much passion as he was getting.

Sam's hands started to move down, rubbing firmly over Gabriel's chest and back. Gabriel's clothing rucked up and became increasingly disheveled until Sam's hands slipped under it, skin on skin as the kiss continued. Sam's tongue pressed into and over Gabriel's.

Now that's what he liked about Sam Winchester, Gabriel thought as he pushed closer against the heat of Sam's body. Once Sam had made a decision, he was all 'damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead'. Gabriel got his own hands up and working on Sam's clothing in return, and Sam made a low, rough noise in his throat. He moved a leg between Gabriel's and pressed closer, as close as he could really while still contorting himself into the kiss.

Gabriel did a little pushing of his own, trying to get them in motion towards the picnic tables nearby. If they were going to do this, it would be easier lying down, where the height difference wouldn't be so much of an issue.

Sam ripped their lips apart. "What?" he asked breathlessly, looking confused. "I thought..."

"Do you really want to do this pressed against the side of a SUV?" Gabriel replied giving him an arch look before Sam had a chance to start with the second guessing.

Sam glanced round. "Uh, the tables?" The supposed big brain wasn't much in evidence right now.

Gabriel grinned. "That was where I was trying to angle us, yes."

"Okay." Sam grabbed Gabriel's hand and started striding over there, pulling Gabriel with him.

"You pretty much go all caveman when sex is involved don't you?" Gabriel observed, still grinning as he allowed himself to be pulled.

"You want me to slow down, you only have to say." Sam paused in front of the nearest table and turned to Gabriel, adding in a lowered voice. "Been wanting you for days, but I can go slower if that's what you want."

"Did I give the impression that I didn't like the caveman?" Gabriel asked. He grinned and hopped up so he was sitting on the edge of the table. "Just to be clear, I like the caveman. Go primal all you want. I can handle it."

Sam quirked a challenging smile. "Can you?" he asked. "Let's see." He stood between Gabriel's open legs and started the kiss again, now with far less in the way of yogic stances being necessary for their lips to meet. "God, Gabriel," Sam muttered low in-between lip locks. "You make me so freaking hard." He pushed against Gabriel with his hips as if to prove it.

"That explains the brain drain," Gabriel quipped, even as he felt his body react in a like way. "Would take a lot of blood to fuel that monster."

"You're not exactly tiny in that area yourself, Gabe," Sam said with a laugh, pushing a hand down between them, again as if to prove his, or maybe Gabriel's, point.

"Well, duh," Gabriel said. "Phenomenal cosmic powers and all that. But notice I'm still using four syllable words in complete sentences."

"Yeah?" Sam pressed the heel of his hand over Gabriel's phenomenal cosmic power in question. At the same time, he did... something to Gabriel's grace, something kind of like when he fed on it, a tugging grip, only without that sucking force. It was more like a... a caress.

Gabriel could feel his eyes widening at that, even as his whole body twitched in pleasurable reaction. "How long have you been thinking about doing that?"

"Since that blowjob in the car," Sam admitted, his lips forming what looked like a shy smirk, an expression that really only Sam could ever get away with. He moved in for another kiss.

Gabriel happily obliged, sliding a hand into Sam's hair to hold him in place. He briefly wished he had more reserves of grace so he could try some new ways of adding it into the mix, but there was always time for that in the future. Right now, this was pretty damned good.

Sam pulled back enough to say, "Kinda been making the most of your reduced mojo to think thoughts I wouldn't dare think otherwise." He brought his other hand to Gabriel's belt and unbuckled it. "Well, not when I wasn't sure you wanted this, anyway."

"If you'd stopped running away from me at every chance, I could've cleared up that misconception a lot sooner."

Sam didn't answer that, just pushed his hand into Gabriel's open pants and took a firm grip of his cock. "So many things I've been thinking about doing to you..."

Gabriel couldn't stop a slight gasp at Sam's touch. "And here I thought your brother was the sex-obsessed one. Should've known. It's always the quiet ones..."

As he stroked Gabriel firmly, Sam moved his face down to Gabriel's neck, beginning to suck and nibble. All the time, he was pushing a increasing amount of his weight into Gabriel as if he wanted Gabriel to lie back.

Never let it be said that Gabriel couldn't get with the program. He let Sam push him back until he was lying on the table with his legs hanging off the end. Sam moved down with him, his long body half on Gabriel, half supported by his own bent arm, his other hand still busy with Gabriel's cock. Sam's breath was increasingly heavy as he pressed down with his hips. "Gabe. Gabe, you gonna let me? Huh? I need you, need to be in you. Need to be fucking you..."

Gabriel grinned up at him, even as Sam's words sent a bolt of pure desire through him. "I'd be a hell of a cock tease if I said no now, wouldn't I?"

Sam's own grin was wolflish as he stood up between Gabriel's legs and started to wrestle off Gabriel's pants. "Tell me you've got enough mojo to finger-click some lube into existence, 'cause if not, we're stuck with gun oil or liquid soap." He paused, dropping the liberated pants to the grass, and then added, "Or maple syrup, I guess."

It was a waste of power that he probably shouldn't indulge in, but sometimes you just had to go with your gut. Or a little lower down. Gabriel grinned and snapped a tube of not only lube but chocolate-flavored edible lube into existence.

Sam looked at it and laughed. "Awesome," he said and dropped to his knees between Gabriel's legs, lifting said legs to rest on his shoulders as he moved in and licked a huge swathe up Gabriel's cock, from root to head. "I'll have to make sure I save some of that for use as a lure in the future."

"Hey, it wouldn't be me if there wasn't sweets involved," Gabriel quipped. He wriggled as much as he could in his current position. "Want to put it to good use now?"

While Sam did say something in reply to that, he was talking with his mouth full so what he said was anyone's guess. Gabriel felt fingers moving down behind his balls, however. Gabriel let his head fall back against the table and gave himself up to just feeling. This was the kind of thing that made human bodies so interesting and amazing in their own right. Something like this wasn't even possible in his true form.

He didn't know how much experience Sam had had with his own gender, but he thought 'not a lot' probably covered it, so it was all the more impressive when things started to get all Linda Lovelacey down there again. When choc-lubed fingers slowly pressed inside him, it just added to the fun. "I think I could get totally fixated on your hands," Gabriel observed, arching into the touch of those fingers.

With his fingers moving inside Gabriel, Sam half-stood again, keeping Gabriel's legs on his shoulders. "Just my hands?" he asked in a low growl. "No other parts?"

"What – you want me to compose an ode to your dick?" Gabriel asked, before gasping out a tiny moan at what Sam was doing.

Sam paused and closed his eyes for a few moments, apparently giving himself a quick anatomy lesson since when the fingers started to move in Gabriel again their aim was perfect, and Sam was fucking Gabriel deep with them. "You shouldn't assume you know what parts of me I mean."

Gabriel made a note to continue that conversation later, but right at that moment, his entire sizable attention was focused on what Sam was doing. "More," he gasped.

Sam's laugh was kind of shuddery. He more or less bent Gabriel double in order to quickly kiss him and then straightened again, pulling his fingers out far too fast for Gabriel's liking. "More's coming."

"Now," Gabriel added, even the short delay very definitely unwanted.

Sam laughed again. There was what seemed like an unconscionable delay, but then Sam was supporting himself on one arm, while his other hand helped guide his cock against and then into Gabriel.

Gabriel groaned loudly, almost overwhelmed by the sensations, the feeling. He briefly thought maybe he would end up composing that ode after all before he gave up all thought temporarily in favor of just immersing himself in the heady experience.

"Christ, fuck, Gabriel, oh..." Sam didn't seem any less overwhelmed. He froze above Gabriel, his eyes staring ahead and probably seeing nothing. "You feel... amazing."

"That's 'cause I am amazing." Watching Sam's face was almost as heady as the actual sensations running through him.

"Yeah." Sam lowered his gaze, meeting Gabriel's and smiling. "You are." Gabriel couldn't tell from his expression whether Sam was being sincere or just meant Gabriel was an amazing ass or something. He didn't have much time to wonder because then Sam started to move.

This wasn't the first time he'd had sex in a human body by far, but every time it took Gabriel by surprise just how overwhelming, how powerful it all could be. And this time, somehow, it seemed even more so. Sam's nostrils flared, and his eyes half-closed as he started to thrust in earnest, both hands currently holding onto Gabriel's hips.

"So good," he was muttering, almost under his increasingly heavy breath. "So hot."

It was – Sam was. Gabriel wasn't able to move very much in their current positions, but he did his best to move with Sam, reaching out and touching wherever he could, wanting as much connection as he could get.

"Fuck. God, wow, fuck." Sam was pistoning into Gabriel hard enough now to move him up the table if he hadn't also been holding Gabriel in place. He freed one hand now though, placing it flat and splayed on Gabriel's chest, under his rucked up shirts. The hand dragged slowly down, its movement made stuttering by the force of Sam's thrusts, and as it moved, Sam did that thing again, that caressing tug on Gabriel's grace.

And that was it, Gabriel was gone, lost in pleasure as he came harder and longer than he ever had before.

"Jesus." He heard Sam swear distantly, felt the hand lift from his body and heard a sucking sound. Gabriel half-opened his eyes to see Sam with his lips sealed around the side of his huge, come-covered hand, sucking it clean. Sam's thrusts inside Gabriel became frantic, all sense of rhythm gone, and then Sam tipped his head back and moaned wordlessly out into the twilight clearing as he came too.

He was beautiful. That was the first thought that popped into Gabriel's mind. Sam looked primal and powerful and just so fitting in this world, this moment. The exact opposite of otherworldly – it struck Gabriel dumb at how perfect that was.

Sam slid out of Gabriel and down to his knees in the grass, gently pulling Gabriel down with him and wrapping him up in a brief bear hug before pulling back slightly and giving him a more than slightly wrecked smile. "Wow," he said in a lazy, contented kind of voice. "Just wow."

"Yeah," Gabriel said, still feeling slightly stunned.

He felt one of Sam's hands move down the small of his back to pat around the top of his ass as if looking for something.

"Lose something?" he asked dryly, lifting his head just enough to give Sam a raised eyebrow.

"Checking for splinters," Sam replied with a smirk.

"I'm an archangel," Gabriel said, lowering his head again. "My ass is tougher than wood."

Sam laughed, his chest shuddering against Gabriel. "God knows what that makes parts of me in that case," he murmured.

"Considering Dad knows everything, yeah. Which brings up a point – could we stop mentioning Dad when we're talking about sex?" Gabriel asked a little plaintively. "I mean, I don't start calling out 'John Winchester' while we're in the middle of the act."

Sam spluttered into more laughter at that. "Point taken," he said, a smile in his voice, but Gabriel knew him well enough to know he'd at least try to stop the name-taking in vain from now on.

"Good. It could ruin the mood, y'know." He stretched leisurely like a cat, the remnants of pleasure still seeming to shoot along his nerve endings. "Granted, there was a lot of mood there to begin with..."

"Yeah." Sam released Gabriel and sat back in the grass, stretching his legs out so he could pull his pants back up and refasten them. "You ever done that before?" he asked with what sounded to Gabriel like suspicious casualness.

Gabriel paused in gathering up his own clothes to give Sam an amused look. "Are you asking if I was a virgin?"

"No, 'cause that'd be stupid." Sam stood and turned half-aside, looking for something in the grass in the increasing darkness. "I just meant that... act. With another man."

"Gender isn't really a big thing with angels, you might have noticed," Gabriel said, amusement not lessening. "Or with tricksters."

"Huh," was Sam's only reply to that. He bent down and picked up something, which he put in his pocket. Ah, the lube. "So, food."

"That's an abrupt change of subject," Gabriel observed, as he went back to getting dressed.

"I'm hungry." Despite the darkness, angel eyes had no problem seeing Sam's shrug. "Even if you're not."

But Gabriel wasn't quite ready to let the former subject drop. "Was that your first time? With a guy, or a reasonable facsimile thereof."

Sam paused and just stood there, shuffling his feet like a kid caught pilfering the candy shelf. "Not with a guy, no," he admitted in the end, "but that was my first time with, y'know, actual penetration being involved."

Gabriel regarded him thoughtfully, cocking his head to the side. "Having second thoughts?"

"God, no," Sam said gratifyingly quickly before catching himself. "Uh, sorry. That just slipped out. But no, not at all. Just... I'm trying to make my mind up as to whether it's a big deal or not. I guess at my age it really shouldn't be."

"If I were you, I'd be more freaked out about fucking an archangel," Gabriel offered helpfully.

Sam moved a little closer again. "Good thing I'm not you then, isn't it?" he said, with a low chuckle. "Knowing what you are has an effect all right, but... not that one. Not that one at all." He moved another few steps back right into Gabriel's radius.

Gabriel found himself relaxing a little more now that Sam wasn't trying to move away again. He'd had quite enough of him running away. "What kind of effect does it have?" he asked curiously.

"Every glimpse I get of the real you?" Sam asked, now back close enough to touch. "Every taste of your grace, every peek at your wings, or that aura of colored energy that for all I know is the real you?" He bent closer still so he was almost whispering in Gabriel's ear. "They make me hard. Hard and wanting."

Gabriel was perfectly still for several heartbeats as Sam's words seem to reverberate in the air. "Trust you to have an archangel kink," he finally said.

Sam chuckled, straightening. "Can't imagine reacting this way to any archangel but you. Think I have a Gabriel kink. Now, seriously, do you want any food? Gonna cook for myself so it's no trouble to double the quantities."

"I could eat," Gabriel admitted. "But don't know if we want to waste supplies. You need food a lot more than I do."

"I'll make you kid's size portions so you can at least taste it," Sam said and then added, "I like not eating alone."


Day Twenty-Eight

"Once we pass Clarksville, we'll maybe look for somewhere to rest up a while," Sam said, his mouth a grim line as he drove them through torrential rain. "But only if we're out from under this freakish cloud. I dunno what it was that they did to Nashville, but I don't want to meet up with whoever or whatever it was that did it. I'll drive all night if I have to."

"Or, here's a radical thought, you could let me take a turn while you catch some sleep," Gabriel told him pointedly.

"I've seen you drive," Sam pointed out right back. Admittedly he'd been drifting in and out of semi-delirious unconsciousness at the time, but still. "You drive like someone who can't die in a car wreck."

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "You'd rather I'd driven like a little old lady on her way to church while you were doing your best to check out in the passenger seat?"

Sam had raised his hand to his neck and was rubbing over the now well healed scar there before he realized what he was doing. He pulled a face. "I'm not stopping to change over until we're out of the storm so you just sit tight." He peered out into what looked more like night than the mid-afternoon it was. "There's something wrong about this rain. It's oily on the windshield."

He saw Gabriel's eyes go unfocused as he looked out the windshield; then he sighed and shook his head. "It's no good. There's something up with it, but my grace reserves are too low to figure out exactly what."

"I think it might be melting the rubber on the wipers," Sam said after another few painful miles in almost zero visibility. He was about to add more when suddenly he was slamming his foot down on the brake and skidding to the side. "What the fuck? What the hell is that?" There was a large dark shadow on the road, car-shaped he now realized, but... "Is that... people? A person?"

Gabriel leaned forward, frowning as he looked out. "Or a really good imitation."

"Shit. What do we do? They could be anything out here in this." But even as he was saying it, Sam was reaching behind him for his hunting rifle, a flashlight, and the closest he had to a weather-proofed jacket. Even if there was only a small chance that this was an ordinary human needing help, then he had to offer it.

Beside him he could see Gabriel following suit, though the weapon he was grabbing was that peculiar blade all angels seemed to have. Sam put the hood of the jacket over his head and got out of the SUV, only then getting his arms into the armholes. The freaky rain fell on his hands and blew into his face, but there was no immediate burning or anything, so that was good... maybe. He shone his flashlight towards the dark shape that was the other car, succeeding only in making the heavy raindrops shine with a weird iridescent light as they passed through the beam.

"Hello," he shouted, loud as he could. "Who's out there?"

The silhouette he'd spotted earlier had gone completely still. "What do you want?" came out of the darkness in reply. A woman's voice, wary and hopeful at the same time.

"Do you need help?" Rifle ready but pointed down, Sam pushed through the blanketing rain towards the figure.

As he got closer, the silhouette became a young woman, dark hair plastered to her head with the rain. She was standing in front of a broken jack and a flat rear tire. "Is it that obvious?" she asked, her eyes immediately going to Sam's rifle.

He winced and pointed it even further down, though no way was he uncocking it right now. He couldn't sense demon from her, but he wasn't at all sure he could still do that. Gabriel's grace had changed him and was still changing him. "Can't be too careful out here," he told her and then nodded at the flat. "Want me to change that for you?"

"Not sure you can, unless you're Superman," she replied. "Jack's useless."

He was standing right by her now, certainly close enough to see the car, some cheap-looking rustbucket at least a decade old. He shone the flashlight over the wheel. "You've wrecked the hub," he said. "How long were you driving on it?"

She pushed her hair back from her face. "What day is it again?"

Jeez. The whole axle and more could be ruined. "Your car's a write-off." He shone the beam around the area. "I'm sorry. My name's Sam. Is it just you stranded?"

"Madeline. Crap, really?" She looked more frustrated than anything else, but Sam didn't miss that she didn't answer his question.

"Should never drive on flat tires. Look, we both should get out of this rain. Not sure what exactly's wrong with it, but something damn well is." He grimaced and came to a decision. "You can ride with me if you want. Got room for one, maybe two, but no more."

Madeline still hesitated, very obviously not looking back at the car. Sam wasn't sure how long it would've gone on if Gabriel hadn't chosen that moment to step out of the car and join him. "Sam's right. This isn't a good place to be stranded for you or your little boy. Let us help."

Little boy? Fuck. He shared an alarmed glance with Gabriel. "Madeline, I get it. It's hell out here, almost literally. You don't know whether to trust us or not, and if I were you, I wouldn't trust us an inch on principle. But you can't stay out here on your own with no transport, especially not with a child. We're not rapists or... or monsters. We're just two more survivors of the end of the world. Travel with us, at least until we reach a place where it's safe for you both to stay. We have food and plenty of stuff to keep us all safe. It'll be okay."

Sam could see her wavering, and now she did glance back at her car. Now that he was looking for it, Sam could see the little face peeking through the backseat window. He knew too when Madeline made her decision even before she spoke; her body language giving it away. "I'm not sure if it's even possible for things to be okay anymore, but we'll take you up on your offer."

What choice did she have? He nodded and uncocked the rifle. "Do you have any baggage you need to transfer over?"

"Not much," she said a little wryly. She was turning back to the car now, going to the rear door and opening it, speaking softly to the child inside.

Sam turned to Gabriel. "You want to get them settled inside and out of the rain? I'll move over whatever there is to be moved."

Gabriel nodded and crossed over to where Madeline was coaxing a boy who looked to be five or so out of the car.

It took them a good five minutes to rearrange the back of the SUV and get their new passengers and their baggage installed, and then Sam was struggling out of his water-proof jacket again and starting up the engine. "We're heading north west. That okay with you two?" He looked between Madeline and what was presumably her son in the mirror and smiled as inoffensively as he could.

"As good a direction as any," Madeline said with a tired shrug.

"I'm Sam," he said again, but this time glancing at the child in the mirror before starting to drive into the sheets of rain again, "and this is Gabriel. You can call him 'Gabe' if you want. I think it annoys him, but he won't admit it, so I vote we keep calling him that 'til he does." He winked at the mirror, self-consciously aware that he was trying to imitate Dean's skill at dealing with children, lacking any real instincts in the area himself.

The little boy just continued to stare at him with wide eyes.

"Ignore him," Gabriel said, turning in his seat to smile at their passengers. "He thinks he's funny. Also, he keeps hiding my candy, but I keep managing to find it again. Makes him really cranky." Sam glanced over and saw that Gabriel had produced a chocolate bar from somewhere in his pockets and held it out to the little boy. "I think I've got enough to share if you want some."

A comment about candy and strangers almost made it to Sam's lips, but he was glad he held back when, after a glance at his mother, the boy snatched the chocolate and began to devour it as if he hadn't eaten in days. "If you feel in the sports bag behind your seat, Madeline, you'll find snacks and drinks. Take what you need. We'll stop to cook something more substantial once we've left this storm way behind."

"Thank you," she said quietly, and the hope that Sam had heard lurking in her voice earlier seemed stronger now. "Really."

"No problem." He smiled at her and then concentrated on driving through the weather for a while. There had to be an end to it eventually. His hands felt kind of greasy on the wheel, like the rain had left something on his skin, but an internal systems check convinced him it wasn't affecting him in any other way.

After Madeline and the boy seemed to have eaten their fill, he asked them, "So where are you heading from?"

"Biloxi," she said, and Sam could see in the mirror that she'd relaxed into the seat, looking weary and haunted.

He nodded, deciding that other questions could wait for now. The last thing she seemed to need was an inquisition. "We started driving in Florida," he told her. "Near Lake City."

"Some messed up stuff out there," Gabriel offered. "But there's been some safe places we've found too. And people."

"Daddy got black eyes," the boy said suddenly, and Sam winced. "He was naughty."

"I'm sorry," Gabriel told him sincerely, looking like he wished he could say more.

An awkward silence fell then, which Sam felt almost grateful for since it allowed him to concentrate on the road. It took almost another hour of crawling through the slippery darkness before the rain began to ease off. Sam checked the fuel gauge and decided to drive at least another 100 miles before stopping for fuel, food, painkillers for his growing headache, and rest. He wanted more distance between them and Nashville.

That said... "Madeline, in the plastic bag behind-" he realized he still didn't know the boy's name "-your son, there's a six pack of energy shots. Can you free me one up for me, please?"

She obligingly turned around to look while Gabriel shot him a pointed look with a raised eyebrow. "Or," he said, "you could pull over and let me drive for a bit when you catch some zzz's."

"A little bit of caffeine won't hurt me," Sam said, kind of ignoring a whole barrel load of points there.

"You know you're a huge control freak, right?"

Sam laughed, and it was only very slightly bitter. "Can't think why you'd recognize that in me so easily."

"Yeah, yeah," Gabriel said, waving a hand. "Pot, kettle. Doesn't change the fact that you need to let go a little."

"Another hundred," he said, receiving the can from Madeline. "Then we stop."

Gabriel looked like he wanted to argue more, but with a glance in the rear view mirror, he stopped, crossing his arms over his chest, looking like nothing more than a sulking child. In the secret places of his mind, Sam admitted Gabriel looked cute.

At least, he hoped very much they were still secret.

The caffeine helped. They passed Clarksville and traveled through the south west corner of Kentucky. Sam admitted defeat when the dawn came hazily in, and the specks of light dancing before his eyes didn't go away. He took the next ramp off leading to what he guessed was a small town. "Time to refuel, with a little luck," he told his various passengers. Well, the boy seemed to be asleep, but the other two.

"Time to find somewhere to hole up for a while too," Gabriel said, making it less of a suggestion and more of a foregone conclusion, not that Sam was about to argue.

"We're in-between two major national parks," he told Gabriel, unsure if the archangel had been paying attention to the road. "Shawnee National Forest to the north, Land Between the Lakes National rec area to the south. Take your pick." He had no idea how they were going to explain this to Madeline.

"Shawnee," Gabriel said after a moment. "I've been there before. Little bit north of here though. But– Yeah. Shawnee."

"Okay." Sam nodded. "This little town first though for a supply run and some more inhaled gas fume therapy."

"Right. And this time, no wandering off to make new friends when we do."

"Yeah, we stick together this time. You too, Madeline." Sam smiled reassuringly at her in the mirror. "Whatever's out there, if we stick together, we should be okay." He hoped to God that wasn't a lie.

Madeline nodded though she looked more than a little worried. "Joey stays in the car," she stated.

"Okay, but stay with him and keep the windows closed when we're siphoning gas." It meant only one of them could go get supplies since he couldn't leave them alone with the SUV; it was too valuable a resource. So much for sticking together. He sighed softly to himself.

Gabriel, if he wasn't reading Sam's thoughts, was at least guessing them. "I'll go," he said quietly. "You get on with the gas guzzling. I've got a few more centuries' experience than you at being sneaky."

It wasn't really possible, for so many reasons, to express how little he liked that idea. As Sam drove them into a tiny town that seemed to consist of just two short streets of buildings, he shot Gabriel a glance that he hoped said 'be careful' in big, glaring, neon-type letters.

Gabriel just gave him that patented Trickster smirk and, when Sam pulled to a halt near a small town hall, grabbed an empty duffel and headed off to ransack the nearest store.

Sam stared after him. Normally he wouldn't consider worrying about Gabriel, but this wasn't 'normally', and he was far from convinced that the archangel would compensate enough for his depleted power levels. He sighed again and opened his door.


Day Twenty-Nine

"There. That should do it," Sam said as he finished bandaging the cut on Madeline's arm.

All told, they'd come out of the encounter with the pack of cursed dogs with very little damage, thanks owed equally to Sam's gun skills and Gabriel's mojo. Of course, had Gabriel been there from the start and/or had he been at full power, Sam's skills would never have come into it, but Gabriel had still been on his 'shopping' trip when the dog pack had arrived. Sam had called out for him with little hope that Gabriel would hear him, but somehow he did. A psychic thing, Sam suspected. He'd maybe ask Gabriel about it later, when they could speak privately. He already had enough inevitable questions to dodge from Madeline.

Gabriel was a short distance away from them now, anyway, keeping Joey amused down by the banks of Lake Glendale. He seemed to have a knack with the child. Well, more of a knack than Sam had anyway. Madeline took her arm back, absently tracing the bandage with her other hand. "So... were you a cop? Paramedic? Armed paramedic?"

"Hunter," he said, honestly. It was a word easily misunderstood, of course. Why mislead Madeline when she'd already seen so much? She needed to be prepared for the world she now lived in. "I come from a family of hunters. We... hunt monsters. Like those dogs we just saw and worse."

"I think I liked it better when I could tell Joey that monsters weren't real and believe I was telling him the truth," Madeline said ruefully.

"We'd all like that to be true." Sam looked down. "He'll be okay. I was eight when I found out the truth. My brother was a lot younger. We're... We do okay."

"Is Gabe your brother?"

Sam couldn't stop a bark of laughter exploding out from him. "Uh, no. He's a... friend. Dean, my brother, was stranded to the north when the electricity died on us all. We're working our way back to each other."

"I hope he's okay," Madeline told him, meeting his eyes.

"He was last time we spoke." He smiled at her. "It's not easy, but we have a way of communicating every few days."

"You have a lot of things that are surprising."

He half-shrugged. "Our lives aren't exactly normal, but I guess no one's is anymore. Or, to put it another way, there's a whole new standard of 'normal'."

"Abnormal is the new normal," Madeline observed with a small laugh. She paused and then ventured cautiously, "The hunting, the gun, I get. But what Gabriel did, that wasn't..."

"Gabriel..." Sam paused and thought about it. "I think maybe you should ask Gabriel about Gabriel. I'm not sure what he wants to be said about him. The important thing is that he's on our side, which is a very good thing for us." He smiled as reassuringly as he could and then changed the subject. "Do you... Are you aware of what's been happening out in the world, what came to a head with the electricity dying on us all?"

She looked down at her hands. "I get the feeling now that what was on the new wasn't even close to the real story. The crazies running around screaming about how it was the end of the world seem to have been closer to getting it right."

Sam nodded. "They were, and so were you. What we've just lived through was the Apocalypse. The actual, biblical Apocalypse. I know that's a lot to take in, but... I'm thinking that anyone who managed to survive it has earned the truth."

Madeline let out a long breath. "Even just a month ago, I'd've nodded and backed away slowly then looked for a phone to call for someone to take you away to get treatment."

Sam snorted, his lips corrugated in a wry expression. "I wouldn't have blamed you, but it's over now... except that it isn't. The war may have ended, but the world's been left full of its fallout. There's a helluva lot of surviving still to be done."

"Who won?"

"We did. Humanity, free will, however you want to put it. Against pretty impossible odds, we held out over both Hell and Heaven alike." He smiled. "We had help."

Madeline didn't comment on them fighting Heaven, but she did frown and ask, "Can't whatever it was that helped us win help fix things now?"

Sam nodded. Astute question – Madeline was bright and pragmatic, two things that would really help her and Joey continue to survive. "Eventually. The wave of power that knocked out the electricity also knocked out some other forms of power, but it'll return and... and I think, then, they'll help, which isn't to say they're not helping right now, but they're limited in what they can do." If she was as clever as he was beginning to think she was, she'd be able to figure out a lot from that little speech, but it couldn't be helped.

And indeed, she did seem to be that clever because, after a moment, she blurted, "It's Gabriel, isn't it? The help."

Sam blinked then looked down, silently apologizing to the archangel. "He's a large part of it, yeah."

"He's not.... You said biblical and all, and I've never been really religious, but everyone knows some stories, and there's a Gabriel in there..."

"Yeah, you're right, there is," Sam said, continuing to look down and biting his lip. He wished hard that Gabriel would come back over to them now, explain whatever he wanted explained about himself. He wondered about the psychic thing. If he really had called Gabriel to him when the dogs attacked, maybe he could do it again without the urgency. Frowning slightly, he tried to concentrate on needing Gabriel to be with him.

Madeline nodded and was silent for a minute. Then she said, "He's awfully short for an archangel."

Sam couldn't help it, his concentration broken entirely, he spluttered with laughter. "That's just," he managed between chuckles, "his human form." He laughed some more then said, "Plus I kinda make everyone look short, even my brother, and he's six-one."

"Yeah, but I make Gabriel look short too," Madeline pointed out, smiling a little herself.

Sam grinned at her. "Yeah, you do." He craned his head around to look down to the waterside to see what Gabriel was up to. He was still chatting with Joey, showing no sign of picking up any psychic demands from Sam.

Showing her cleverness again, Madeline nudged him and asked, "Hoping for another rescue?"

And that got him spluttering and grinning again. "More that I don't want him pissed at me for revealing more than I should've," he admitted. "Don't drop me in it, huh?" He briefly touched the back of her hand where it now rested on her knee and offered a sheepish smile. "Please?"

"That would be a poor way of saying thank you to you for saving our lives," she replied, smiling back.

She was nice. Sam was so glad that they'd stopped to help her and Joey rather than just consider that anything out in that freaky rain had to be something to be avoided. "Talking of Joey, what do you think he'd like for dinner? Y'know, bearing in mind we're limited to the supplies we have in the SUV and a propane burner."

"With Joey, he'll eat pretty much anything as long as it's not green," Madeline said dryly. "Exceptions made for green M&M's."

"Not a whole lot of green around now, so he's in luck," Sam said with a chuckle. He stood up and stretched his hand out to Madeline. "Help me put something together for us all?"

"Sure," she said, getting up. "Seems the least I can do, considering."

He squeezed her hand before letting go. "Don't worry about that. We're all in this together."

"We're all in what together?" Gabriel asked as he walked up with Joey.

Sam shrugged. "The post-apoc recovery?" he offered with a smile. "Madeline and I are about to cook dinner. Are you eating with us today?"

Gabriel seemed to consider and then shook his head. "Nah. You eat enough for both of us. Joey here can have my share."

Sam felt a slight frown pulling at his brows. "Okay, your choice. We're not short on supplies though." He shrugged again and headed off towards where the SUV was parked to collect what he'd need to make a meal for three.


Day Thirty-One

Gabriel sat down beside the water since it was the best place to work on building his grace up again. Behind him he could hear a sudden burst of laughter from Sam and Madeline and felt a moment of annoyance. How was he supposed to concentrate with that racket going on?

He was sure Sam was laughing deliberately loudly to punish Gabriel for refusing to play cards with him. What was he? The entertainment committee? The whole reason they were here in the first place was so that he could recharge his grace, not... whatever it was Sam was doing over there with Madeline now. Probably still playing cards. You'd think they'd want to keep the noise down to avoid waking Joey, but apparently thinking about others wasn't on tonight's agenda.

It was probably a good thing his grace was so depleted – fighting to save their lives – or he'd be tempted to do something to shut them up so that the kid could sleep undisturbed. He glanced back at where they sat by the fire after another burst of laughter. "You two lovebirds want to keep it down over there?" he finally called out, his tone dripping in irritation.

Well, that certainly stopped the noise. Things went suddenly very quiet. Much better. Only, after a few minutes, it didn't seem better at all. Gabriel made a disgusted noise and fell back to lie prone on the grass. How could they be quiet so loudly?

He might have been listening a little too hard since he heard Sam get to his feet from several hundred yards away. He heard the human walk slowly towards him and then crouch down beside him before speaking. "Gabriel."

Gabriel didn't move. He made a big show of not moving. "What?"

Sam released a soft sigh. "Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"

"What makes you think something's wrong?"

That provoked an equally soft snort. "Oh, I don't know. The way you're acting? The things you're saying?" A hand touched his arm, the fingers warm even through his shirt. "Are you pissed at me for telling Madeline what you really are? 'Cause she guessed it first. I just confirmed."

Gabriel wasn't about to admit how... nice Sam's touch felt. He was still annoyed at Sam, he reminded himself. "Is that what you're getting all chummy and giggly with her over?"

"What? No. Why would you think– You could've been 'chummy and giggly' with us if you hadn't-" Sam stopped talking for a few seconds, taking a deep breath. "Madeline's a nice person, intelligent and really pretty damn together, all things considered. You'd like her if you gave her a chance."

"Seems you like her enough for both of us," Gabriel said, scowling.

He felt Sam shift beside him. "Can you hear yourself? Seriously?"

Gabriel deigned to turn his head enough to give Sam a look. "I'm grace-depleted, not deaf."

"You're brains-depleted," Sam said rudely. "You wanna tell me how we've gone from 'okay, I guess we can have sex, after all' to 'how dare you laugh while in someone else's presence?' all in a matter of a few days?"

"What does one have to do with the other?" Gabriel asked then scowled again. "You want to have sex with her?"

The quick denial he was hoping for didn't come, instead Sam... smirked at him. "You don't even know you're jealous, do you?"

"Jealous?" Gabriel all but sputtered. "Me?"

Sam sat down properly, bending one knee up and looping his hands around it. "So you'd be totally okay about it if Madeline and I hooked up?"

"I knew it!" Gabriel said, sitting up and pointing at Sam. "You were just waiting for another pretty human to come along. Angels are only good enough for you when no one else is around!"

Sam stared at him, long and searching, a smirk still playing with his lips though he seemed to be trying to control it. Then he said slowly, as if talking to a kid, "I don't want to have sex with Madeline, Gabriel."

"You just said you did!" Stupid contrary humans.

Another long stare-athon ended in Sam sighing heavily. He stretched out his long legs and laid back in the grass, his head roughly aligned with Gabriel's feet. "I'm just going to meditate here in the moonlight while you replay the last fifteen minutes or so with your word perfect angel recall."

Gabriel found himself doing just that. "Okay, you didn't actually say that," he admitted grudgingly. "You just implied it heavily."

"And that's all you got out of your case review, was it?" Sam laughed, staring up at the night sky. "I thought you were supposed to be adept at reading people, all the better for tricking us with. Hit replay again, and this time listen to yourself as if you were just another human."

Gabriel gave him a grumpy look. "If I'm jealous, it's your fault."

"Because...?" Sam asked leadingly, putting his hands behind his head and looking down his body at Gabriel.

"You said – sorry, implied – that you were going to sleep with her," Gabriel said again.

"I did not."

"Did too."

"Idiot," Sam said, sounding fond. He rolled to his side, supporting his head on a bent arm and trailing his free hand up Gabriel's leg. "There's only one person here I want to sleep with, and if he's getting himself all worked up and green-eyed over me, I guess that means he likes me a lot too."

"Yes, because I go around feeding my grace to people I don't like," Gabriel said grumpily. Though okay, maybe he was feeling a little silly considering what Sam was doing now.

Sam sat up, apparently so he could continue walking his hand up Gabriel's body. "Not that I'm sure I should be boosting your ego here – something that overstuffed's gotta be in danger of bursting – but you don't need to worry about me looking elsewhere while you and I have... whatever it is exactly that we have."

"Archangel," Gabriel reminded him with a bit of a smirk. "It's not having an overinflated ego when you really are awesome." He wasn't about to admit it, but Sam was doing a damned good job of cheering him up.

"Awesomely idiotic, that's for sure," Sam said. His hand having reached Gabriel's collar bone, Sam moved up to his hands and knees, one hand on either side of Gabriel's head. He grinned down at him. "And maybe just awesome too, when you're not being an idiot."

"What's Madeline doing now?" Gabriel asked, glancing back at the campfire. The way things were going, they might need to find some privacy.

"Sleeping, I hope. In the tent with Joey." Sam bent to kiss Gabriel softly. "We can only move as far from them as your awareness will stretch, obviously."

Gabriel reached up a hand to pull Sam down. "Guess you're going to have to try and be quiet then."

Sam didn't resist, kissing Gabriel with obvious relish and moving further over him to do so. "Someone's been raiding the candy bag," he said with a smile as he drew back for air. He rested his elbows just above Gabriel's shoulders and took Gabriel's face in his hands. "You taste like fake strawberries."

"Was sharing my stash with Joey," Gabriel explained, smirking up at Sam. "Kid needed a treat of some kind."

Sam nodded. "And you?" he asked, moving a leg between Gabriel's. "Do you need a treat of some kind?"

Gabriel arched up against him suggestively. "I always need a treat."

"Mmm." Sam took Gabriel's lower lip between his teeth and pulled gently at it. Well, more or less gently.

When he was able to, Gabriel asked, "You sure they're going to stay in the tent?"

Sam gave him a mildly annoyed look. "How can I be sure of that? You're the one with the Nytol Extra Strength mojo, not me." He bent his head again and this time started scraping his teeth over the stubble on Gabriel's neck.

"Guess you just need to take the chance at being embarrassed then," Gabriel said, and snapped their clothes away.

"Hey!" Sam pulled back, his face a picture of outrage as he looked down at himself.

"Thought I told you you'd need to keep it down if you don't want to be putting on a show," Gabriel said, reaching up and wrapping his arms around Sam to pull him back down. Oh yes, this was totally worth the slight output of power.

Sam seemed to resist to start with, but then he settled back down on top of Gabriel. "You," he said, "are pushing things tonight." He pressed their lips together and kissed Gabriel hard.

"I always push things," Gabriel said, murmuring the words against Sam's mouth.

Sam grumped into the kiss and moved his arms, taking hold of first one of Gabriel's wrists – lifting it to above their heads on the grass – and then the other. Both of them knew that Gabriel was by far the strongest of them, so Sam was presumably making some kind of a point here. For the moment Gabriel let him, pulling back from the kiss to raise an eyebrow at Sam.

Sam raised his own brows pointedly, almost as if challenging Gabriel. At the same time, he pushed down with his hips, rotating them slightly, rubbing his hard belly over Gabriel's cock while getting friction for his own via Gabriel's thigh.

"So you just expect me to lie back and let you take control here?" Gabriel asked, still with the raised eyebrow.

Sam frowned. "That's the way it's been so far."

"I guess the question is then," Gabriel said, giving him a challenging smirk, "if it's sex with me you're interested in, or just being in control during sex with me."

Sam's frown deepened, his eyes darkening under his gathered brow. He let go of Gabriel's wrists and sat up, straddling Gabriel's thigh. "This is stupid," he complained. "I could no more truly control you than I could steer a hurricane. In as much as I thought about it at all, which isn't saying a whole lot, I guess I thought you were letting me lead things out of a sense of... honor." He pulled a wry expression as if he realized he should have known better.

"Well, I'm not about to force you," Gabriel told him, leaning up on his elbows. "That's not what this is about."

"So what is this about?"

"It's about control," Gabriel said. "And whether you trust me enough to give it up. Or if you only want to do this if you're running the show."

Sam's expression was, for once, pretty unreadable. "I've been controlled by you in the past, remember?" he said quietly. "For months..."

"Not the same thing," Gabriel told him firmly. He wasn't going to apologize for that; he wasn't. He'd been trying to make a point, trying to give Sam the perspective he needed to stop all of this before it began. It hadn't worked, so in retrospect it looked like it was just torture for fun, but he'd had his reasons. Damn good ones. "Not even close."

"I trust you with my life, Gabriel," Sam said, voice still very soft. "But there are some things that aren't... easy for me. I've been a puppet for angels and demons all my life..." He moved, sitting beside Gabriel, but facing away. "Where are my clothes?"

Okay, this was completely not the reaction Gabriel had wanted. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Folded on that rock over there."

"Thanks." Sam got to his feet then seemed to pause, head hung. "I'm sorry. All my life, I've been manipulated, dominated and controlled. I just... I don't think I've ever really had a chance to control my own life. I've had the illusion at times, but never the reality." He stared down at Gabriel. "Some days, I wake up, and I'm not sure I really know who I am at all."

"And you think I don't get that?" Gabriel asked, still sitting and looking up at Sam. "Sam, I'm God's Messenger turned Trickster turned... I don't even know."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know. Sorry." Sam still didn't move from the spot. He stood still, his skin almost luminous in the moonlight. Eventually he spoke again, his voice even quieter than before. "Having a being as beautiful and powerful as you are letting me... take charge, it... It felt..." He trailed off and just shrugged before mumbling, "sorry," again and slouching off towards his clothes.

"It felt like what?" Gabriel asked, following Sam with his eyes.

Sam paused again, pants in hand. "Like something amazing, like... like the best gift. Like for the first time in my life someone trusted me enough to– Oh, forget it. I'm just living down to Dean's view of me as the emo kid, I guess."

"You're not," Gabriel said. He got up and walked over to where Sam was standing. "I do trust you, Sam." He gave a small laugh, noticing absently how nervous it sounded. "Do you think I would have done any of this if I didn't?"

Sam managed a small smile, looking from under his brow. "We're too alike, aren't we? I mean, not on the surface, but underneath? Both of us trying to escape the weight of our family heritage, both of us clutching at the slightest sign that someone might actually want and trust us for who we are rather than for our... birthrights/destiny/what-the-hell-ever." He looked down again, playing with the belt still looped into his pants. "I do trust you, Gabriel. Just... give me time, okay?"

Gabriel smirked up at Sam, feeling somehow more settled after the whole discussion. "Time's about all we've got now."

Sam let go of his pants with one hand, looping it around the back of Gabriel's neck. He didn't pull Gabriel closer though, instead giving him a questioning look.

Rolling his eyes, Gabriel reached up and pulled Sam down into a kiss.


Day Thirty-Three

"So who do you think is stronger, the Incredible Hulk or Superman?" Gabriel asked with all the enthusiasm of a ten year old boy. Sam rolled his eyes. Most of his attention was on the road ahead, but he was listening to the conversation taking place in the back seat too. Gabriel and Joey had thoroughly bonded, so nicely proving Sam's assertion about who was the mature one in their whatevership.

"Superman," Joey said firmly, "'cause he can lift a whole planet!"

Gabriel snorted. "Until someone tosses a piece of kryptonite at him. Then he's just a smushed stain under the planet."

"Yeah, but," Joey said, "the Hulk's just stupid. Unless it's Red Hulk, and he's not the real Hulk so he doesn't count. And... and it doesn't matter how strong you are if you're stupid 'cause then even the puniest human can trick you."

"Ah, so you're a brains over brawn kinda guy," Gabriel observed, sounding pleased. Even without looking, Sam knew he was nodding in approval.

"Nothing you can't do if you got enough brains. That's what Uncle Jack says, and he's a spaceman. He's been to the moon and everything."

Madeline spluttered beside Sam. "Uh..."

"The moon's really kinda boring," Gabriel said, very blasé. "Just miles and miles of dust and craters. Earth's a lot more fun."

It occurred to Sam that Gabriel might really have first hand knowledge of that, which was awesome... and just a little bit freaky too. "'Fun' is debatable," he said quietly, mostly for Madeline's ears though he knew Gabriel would hear too.

"Are you a superhero or a super-villain, Gabe?" Joey asked, and Sam hid a small grin at the kid's shortening of Gabriel's name. All that encouragement on Sam's part hadn't been for nothing then.

"I don't know. I think that's all in the eye of the beholder," Gabriel said. "What do you think, Sam? Am I a hero or a villain?"

"A hero," Sam said immediately and tactfully ignored the 'now' that part of him still wanted to tack onto the end.

"There you go, then," Gabriel said to Joey, after giving Sam a knowing look in the rear view mirror. "I'm totally a superhero."

"Is there kryptonite for angels?" the kid asked, which was a question Sam would've wanted the answer to a few months ago.

"Yeah, kid. Winchesters."

Sam snorted. "We are no such thing."

"Oh, you totally are, Sammy-boy," Gabriel told him. "The list of angels who've had their entire existence shaken by meeting you is impressively long."

Sam guessed that was true, from a certain top-down point of view. "Yeah, well, all things considered, said angels have been reaping the whirlwind. They've got no one to blame but themselves."

Gabriel snorted. "I think I'm pretty safe in saying that they have no problem with blaming you and your brother instead."

"It was that kind of hubris that had them starting all this in the first place." Sam cast a concerned glance at Madeline, unsure what she'd be making of the conversation. Madeline had a slightly confused look on her face, but didn't seem worried at least.

"Face it, Sam. No angel's actually had a face to face encounter with you two and walked away the same being they were before," Gabriel told him. "I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Just that it's true."

"Do I need to point out what those angels did to us? To our parents? I'm just saying that, if we're kryptonite for angels, someone needs to ask the angels why they can't keep from poking the big glowing rock." Sam huffed, freeing a hand from the wheel to comb his hair away from his face. Then he thought about what he'd just said. "Anyway, the analogy's flawed. You're not weaker for knowing us. Well, temporarily, I guess, but..." He trailed off, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.

"I'm not the same being I was before," Gabriel said surprisingly calmly.

"You're better," Sam insisted quietly. "Stronger in the ways that really matter." He had to believe that.

Gabriel gave him a smile that had none of its usual smirk in it. "See, that there? That's why no angel can walk away from an encounter with you unchanged."

Something about that smile made something twist inside him. Sam swallowed and decided to concentrate on the road for a while. At least, that was the plan. He couldn't help repeated glances at the mirror however when Gabriel leaned to the side, and Joey stretched up to whisper in Gabriel's ear.

Gabriel laughed. "Sam's got better hair."

He frowned at Gabriel in the mirror. "You're corrupting that kid." Joey was whispering frantically in Gabriel's ear again. Sam took a wild guess and stated for the record, "I am not Lex Luthor!"

Gabriel laughed again. "Dean did mention something about Nair and shampoo..."

Sam's frown became a scowl. "Not in a million years, Gabriel. Don't even consider it, not for a second." Madeline was chuckling beside him so he shared the scowl with her too.

"You're so not how I pictured an angel," Madeline said, turning her head to look at Gabriel over the seat back.

"I can safely say there's never been another angel like me," Gabriel told her.

"That's for sure," Sam said in a wry tone. "I don't think the universe could take two of him. Cosmological gaskets would blow."

"I could make another one of me," Gabriel offered. "I mean it wouldn't be really real, but it would seem like it." Suddenly Sam was staring rigidly out of the windshield, his gaze unwavering from the road, while he struggled to resist thoughts and images that absolutely weren't appropriate to the company he was in.

"And risk the cosmos' gaskets?" Madeline teased.

"Sometimes the cosmos needs some shaking up," Gabriel replied. "Though granted, I think we've shaken it up enough for a while."

"Can you do everything that Superman can do, Gabe?" Joey asked, probably not even knowing what a 'cosmos' was.

"I have better dress sense."

"Yeah, but can you?" the kid persisted.

"Joey," Madeline said warningly. "You're pushing."

Sam was still too busy trying not to think about two Gabriels – and he's the only Sam, to paraphrase the little German compère dude in Cabaret – to say anything.

"I probably could," Gabriel said slowly. "If I wanted to."

"So you can blow on things and turn them into icicles, and do the zoomy thing with your eyes, and hear things people whisper miles away, and, and lift a whole building, and-"

"Joey!" Madeline seemed to be trying her best to sound stern, but Sam could see her lips battling with a grin when he glanced to the side.

"When I'm at full strength, I can do pretty much anything," Gabriel said, and Sam thought he was probably trying to sound modest, but if so, he was failing miserably. "Like the genie in Aladdin, I've got phenomenal cosmic powers."

"Apart from that all important power of humility," Sam said, happy to be able to join in again. "Mild-mannered Clark Kent he is not. Though-" he paused as he considered it "-he did have an alter-ego."

"I did," Gabriel confirmed. "And my alter-ego had alter-egos. I'm nothing if not an enigma."

"Wrapped in a class clown, wrapped in a Snickers bar," Sam said and snorted.

Gabriel shot him an appreciative grin through the rear view mirror. "There's nothing wrong with being wrapped in chocolate."

"No?" Sam gave him a mildly wicked grin via the mirror. "I'll have to try it sometime, see if anything... happens." Well, give him his due, he could have said, 'comes up'.

Gabriel matched it with a wicked grin of his own. "Bring it on, Winchester."

Madeline cleared her throat noisily, and Sam decided that keeping his gaze unwaveringly on the road remained a good idea. They were all silent for a little while, though Sam would swear he could sense Gabriel's attention each time it was directed at him.

In the end, it was Joey who broke the silence. "Wish you'd been our friend when we lived in the red house." Sam heard a slight hiss come from Madeline and felt as much as saw her tense up in the passenger's seat.

"Red house?" Gabriel asked, his attention moving from Sam, back onto the boy.

"Where we lived with Daddy," the boy answered.

"Our home back in Baton Rouge," Madeline said bleakly. "We've been gone from there for a few months now. I don't think we should talk about this, Joey,"

Glancing in the mirror, Sam saw Joey was staring at the hands in his lap. "You never want to talk about Daddy no more."

"You miss your Dad?" Gabriel asked, though it was almost more of a statement than a question.

"He drank all the black smoke and went bad, like Uncle Harry when he falls off the back of the cart." There was a short pause before Joey corrected himself, "I mean 'wagon'," and Sam heard a noise somewhere between a snort of laughter and a sob come from Madeline, who was staring desperately out of the side window.

"Yeah, those wagons are tricky things," Gabriel said. "People always falling off of them." His voice got more serious. "You do know that wasn't your Dad that was being bad? The black smoke, it's like mind control."

"Like Goblin gas? Or, or, Poison Ivy's smell-things?"

"Something like that, yeah. But the thing to remember is that it wasn't your Dad's fault. He didn't want to be bad or mean. He wasn't in control."

Much quieter now, so quiet Sam had to strain to hear, Joey asked, "Can you rescue him?"

Madeline pressed her head back into the rest, her eyes tight shut, and looked as if she were going to cry.

Gabriel sighed heavily. "Not right now, Joey. I'm like a drained battery – need to get more juice back."

When Sam next glanced in the mirror, Joey was glaring at him as if Sam really was the kryptonite that had brought super-archangel so low. As there actually was a justifiable argument to be made along those lines, Sam just clenched his jaw, sucked at his cheeks, and kept on driving.

"It's not Sam's fault," Gabriel said, obviously noticing the glaring too. "That's not the kind of kryptonite he is."

Joey didn't say anything that Sam heard. No one did.

Chapter Text

Day Thirty-Four

"Y'know, I don't think this is ever going to get any less weird." Dean's voice coming out of Gabriel's mouth was definitely on the higher end of the weird scale, but it was welcome.

Sam smiled at both of them, not that Dean could see it. "How are you and Cas? Where have you reached?"

Dean told him, adding, "We're good, though we've picked up a couple of tag-along survivors."

"Huh!" Sam laughed and smiled over at Madeline where she was sitting close by, determinedly teaching Joey improved writing skills – as well as a touch of botany, which was unavoidable, pretty much, seeing as they were currently under the glass of the giant geodesic dome here in the Missouri Botanical Garden. "Us too, a mother and child – good people."

"A couple of sisters here. They're not used to hunting, but boy, are they picking things up fast!"

"Madeline's really impressive too – adversity is bringing out the best in at least some people. Speaking of which, kind of, I, uh, don't suppose you've heard from anyone else?"

"You mean my other brother palling around with an archangel?" Dean asked with pointed snark. "Nah, Sammy. But I'm not taking that as a bad thing necessarily. We wouldn't have heard from each other if not for the angel walkie talkies."

"Yeah, I guess." Sam pulled a pointless face. "I'm thinking that after we've met up and rested a while we should start heading to South Dakota. Bobby'll head home, I think, if he can head anywhere at all."

"Took the words right out my mouth. Except in the way that it's in the angels' mouths."

"Yeah." Sam smiled, wishing he could speak to Dean for longer, but it wasn't fair on the angels, or sensible either, to fritter away their mojo on idle chatter. "We're in St Louis, right now. Got a place in mind to meet up?"

"Yeah, been thinking about that. You remember when Cas took us back to '78 – the cabin Mom took us to?"

"The secret hunter place that not even Dad ever knew about? Sure. Good idea. With a bit of luck, it'll still be... well, however Michael left it, I guess, which could be fun." He ended on a thoroughly wry note, remembering the fact that large quantities of his blood had been spilled there.

"I'm sure he cleaned up after himself, given they were all trying to fly under the radar back then," Dean said. "And it's got all those built in protections against, well, everything but angels."

"Which, as it turns out, is handy." Sam took a few moments to think through the route. "If everything goes smoothly, we could be there in a solid day's drive."

"We're probably day and a half, two days away, depending on stops we need to make," Dean said. "So not much further."

"Yeah, we should maybe take a slightly longer route, thinking about it. This part of St Louis seems okay, but most of the places we've passed so far have left me feeling that a wide circle around Kansas City could be a good plan." No point in bringing Madeline and Joey into high risk areas when it could be avoided.

"Yeah, same here. Too close to Lawrence. Somehow with all the crap that's gone down there over the years, I don't think it's going to be all sweetness and light."

"I hear you." Sam remembered at least one disturbing report from the area in the months before the end. He wasn't sure what was there for them anyway now. "So, we'll see you in a couple of days, man. Keep yourselves in one piece, huh?"

"You too. See you soon." Gabriel's eyes closed, and when he opened them back up they were back to normal.

"How was Cas?" Sam asked immediately.

"Better," Gabriel said, and the tone of his voice combined with the way he cocked his head made it clear he was trying to figure something out. "Almost happy."

"Yeah?" Sam felt a grin forming. "Do you think they've.." He made a gesture with his eyebrows that he'd almost certainly picked up from Gabriel.

Gabriel snickered. "You have gotta do that in front of your brother," he said.

Sam groaned, just thinking about it. "You're a bad influence." He stretched his arms up, loosening his joints, before crawling around to sit beside Gabriel. "I'm picking up all sorts of bad habits from you."

"You mean you're loosening up," Gabriel corrected. "Some at least."

Sam snorted and reached out behind Gabriel's back to scratch with a feather light touch between the archangel's shoulder blades.

The muscles under his hand twitched and then Gabriel was squirming away and turning to face Sam. "I thought we agreed you weren't going to exploit that piece of knowledge."

Sam didn't fight the huge grin that wanted to take hold of his expression. He'd only discovered Gabriel's sensitivity in this area a few days ago, and now he found the desire to touch Gabriel there to be almost irresistible at times. "Who's exploiting? I'm giving you a helpful example of bad habits I've picked up."

"You don't really want to make this a thing here, kid. I'm the Trickster. I never lose at tickle fights."

"I'm not ticklish," Sam pointed out. Then he remembered that, should he want to, Gabriel could probably make him ticklish. Sam dropped his hand in a hurry and muttered, "Unfair."

Gabriel smirked. "Who said I ever played fair?"

Sam wanted – really wanted – to lick that smirk from his face, but couldn't really, not with Madeline and Joey so close by. "We'll get back to this discussion later," he said in a low voice.

Gabriel though didn't seem to have the same reticence as he leaned in close, all but climbing into Sam's lap. "Count on it," he said, still smirking, before pulling back again.

Right, that was it. Sam grabbed Gabriel's arm with one hand and used the other to direct that grace-tugging power he seemed to have developed right between Gabriel's shoulder blades.

That got him an honest to goodness yelp, something he'd never heard from Gabriel before, but then Gabriel was wriggling away from him, as slippery as any eel, and turning around and pouncing on Sam, pushing him flat. "So that's the way you want it, Winchester?"

"No," Sam protested, already laughing. "Get off. Help! Madeline!"

"She can't help you now," Gabriel told him, fingers digging into places that Sam hadn't thought were ticklish until that moment.

"No! Get off me! Stop!" Sam writhed on the pathway. "Gabriel, stop!"

For a moment he didn't think Gabriel was going to, but he saw something flash ever so briefly in the archangel's eyes. Then Gabriel was pulling back with his usual smirk, letting up on the tickling but not moving from his place straddling Sam. "Told you that you didn't want to make this a thing."

Sam heaved for breath, feeling his face fall into a serious expression. "You stopped."

"Yeah." The smirk Gabriel was wearing smoothed out into a similarly serious expression. "You asked me to."

"I asked you to stop, and you stopped." Sam wasn't sure why, but he felt it needed to be stressed. There was something happening here. He could see it in Gabriel's eyes somehow. "Just like that."

"Well, I was pretty sure I'd made my point already," Gabriel said with a shrug, obviously trying to blow the whole thing off.

Sam took a quick look around. There was no sign of Madeline and Joey. Maybe they'd got away while the going was good. He put his hands on Gabriel's thighs and stared up at him. "Thank you."

Gabriel just nodded without saying anything. Sam let his hands slide further up Gabriel's legs.

Gabriel's smirk came back full force with an added wicked glint in his eyes. Sam – he had to admit it, to himself at least – was developing an automatic response to that smirk, a response he mainly felt right under where Gabriel was currently straddled. He gave Gabriel a heated look, wriggled a little under him, and let his hands, now at the top of Gabriel's thighs, start to caress inwards.

"I'm getting the impression that you want something," Gabriel said, his attempt at an innocent tone failing completely when paired with that smirk.

"Well, we seem to be alone, and you are close to full-on cowgirl on me already," Sam pointed out with what he considered was a reasonable smile.

Gabriel snorted. "If you're calling me a cowgirl, there's obviously been a few details that have escaped your notice."

Sam's hands moved up to Gabriel's hips as he rubbed up against Gabriel's ass. "You can be anything you want to be," he pointed out. "Maybe not now, but when your power's fullly back. You can be you-times-two if you want to be."

"Is that what you want?" Gabriel asked, cocking his head in the angelic tilt. "A ménage à trois with me... and me?"

Sam couldn't help either his eyes stuttering shut or the tremor that passed through his muscles, hearing that. "The idea... well, it seems to appeal." To say the least. Jeez.

Gabriel laughed delightedly, wickedly. "You've got a hell of a lot dirtier mind than you let on."

Sam managed to level a look at Gabriel despite just how hot and hard he suddenly was. "You do remember my history? I spent a year boning a demon and drinking her blood. I'm anything but vanilla, man."

"Compared to what I could show you, that is vanilla, kid," Gabriel told him, then leaned over to capture Sam's mouth in a kiss.

Christ, the things they were going to be doing together once Gabriel's mojo became fully accessible again. Sam shivered then clamped one hand to the back of Gabriel's neck, the other to his ass, and let the archangel do things to his mouth that made Ruby seem like the angel on his short list of lovers.

A scream piercing the air nearby had Gabriel pulling back and off him with almost usual angel speed. "That was Madeline!" Gabriel said as he disappeared in the direction of the scream.

Sam didn't have the luxury of wings, but he too was on his feet and running in the direction of the scream within seconds. This was what happened when they stopped concentrating and started to behave like... well, like 'normal people'. No one left alive could now be considered normal, and Sam had never been normal in all his life. He should have known better. Please let Madeline be okay.

When he caught up he found a sobbing hysterical Madeline and a very grim looking Gabriel. The latter looked up at Sam. "Something's got Joey. You stay with her." Before Sam could even form a word of protest or agreement, Gabriel had flown off.

"Shit," Sam muttered, dropping to his knees beside Madeline and, after a brief hesitation, gathering her to him. "What the hell happened?"

"They... black eyes... Joey-" Madeline gasped out, not making much sense, though the 'black eyes' bit was clear enough.

"Try not to worry. Even with his power levels low, Gabriel's more than a match for a few demons." He hoped. He really hoped. "Are you injured?"

"I... I don't know," Madeline said, looking down at herself as if checking for injuries.

"I can't see any blood," Sam said, moving back to allow her room to investigate. "How many were there?"

Madeline opened her mouth to answer, but then her eyes widened in obvious panic. "Look out-"

Sam whirled around to see two demons doing the comedy creeper act behind him. Just two. He could handle two. He was on his feet in a defensive crouch with the knife in his hand almost angel-fast... which was when something fell over him from behind. His first impression was that it was something like a net, a sparkly, metallic net, and he didn't have time for any impressions beyond the first. He was too busy trying to stay upright as the world spun around him.

Then the ground decided it needed to be vertical all of a sudden and smashed up into his face. He was choking on a mouthful of dirt when everything faded to black.


Gabriel was using up his available grace at what was probably an alarming rate, but he felt like he didn't have a choice, not when demons had grabbed Joey. Kid had been traumatized enough; Gabriel needed to get there before anything else could happen.

He could sense the demons straight ahead and saw no reason not to cut them off by flying to a spot just in front of them. When he did that though, the three demons took one look at him and immediately dropped Joey. They tipped their heads back and black-smoked out into the air and away.

And that seemed... wrong somehow. Yeah, sure, the cat was well out of the proverbial bag in regards to what he was, and any demon with an ounce of self preservation should head for the hills the second he showed up, but he'd encountered very few demons with that ounce of self preservation, mostly because those that had it stayed far away from him, even when he was just being the Trickster. All of this went through his head as he made his way to Joey's side to check on the kid.

Joey looked up at him. "Where's mommy?" he asked in a small voice. "The bad man pushed her."

"Sam's got her, kid," Gabriel told him. "She's fine." He helped Joey stand up. "You okay?"

The boy looked down at the unconscious and, in one case, dead humans around him. "They had demons in them. Like you said Daddy had."

"Yeah. But they're gone now. Demons don't like angels very much," Gabriel said, knowing he sounded distracted. He didn't want to freak the kid out more, but there was something not right here.

"What's 'bait'?" Joey asked, looking up at him.

Gabriel frowned. "What made you ask that?"

"That's what the demons called me, and they laughed at me."

If Joey was bait and yet they'd fled from Gabriel the second he showed up, that meant that they had to have been after... He had to get back. Now.

He scooped Joey up in his arms. "Hold tight, kid. We're about to go flying."

Joey clung, and Gabriel flew. He landed by Madeline who was, to Gabriel's great relief, kneeling by Sam... who was lying on the ground not moving, which was bad. Very bad. But he was breathing, which was so, so good.

Joey ripped himself out of Gabriel's arms and threw himself into Madeline's, who held him tight before starting to look him over. "What happened?" Gabriel demanded, going over to kneel at Sam's side.

"They snuck up to us and threw something over him," Madeline said, her voice croaky. "I don't know what it was. It kind of sparked all over him and then vanished, like it melted into his skin. It made him pass out and then the demons just turned and ran."

Yes, he could sense it now, coils and tendrils tangled and clutching not only at Sam's consciousness but at his soul. Gabriel didn't know where the demons had gotten it from, or who had made it, but it was a definite, deliberate attack on Sam, the human who should have been Lucifer's vessel but was instead his doom. It was a nasty piece of work, and it had Sam.

Madeline was talking urgently with Joey, trying to make sure he was all right, but she took time to look at Gabriel and ask, "All this, was it just to get to Sam? To do that thing to him?"

"To get me away so they could, yeah," Gabriel replied, running fingers over Sam's body as he traced the tangles of the trap, looking for a weak spot or an end he could grasp to unravel it. "They knew if I'd been here when they sprung it, I could've stopped it before it took hold." He could stop it now too, it was just going to take a lot more effort. He refused to even consider the alternative.

"Why?" Madeline asked bluntly. "What's Sam to them? You, I'd get. Demons presumably aren't fond of archangels. But I thought Sam was... well, human?"

"More or less. But that's what makes him important. You guys may not be the most powerful, but you've always been the most important. That's what set off my brother on his epic snit fit in the first place. Dad didn't consider him the most special any more." Dammit, there had to be an 'in' to this spell somewhere.

"Well, I'm human, and they didn't seem interested in me." She paused and then added, "Not that I'm complaining. They're not going to come back, are they? Only Joey..."

"They're not that stupid," Gabriel said, though part of him wished they were. He'd be happy to show them why pissing off an archangel – even one whose power was depleted – was a suicidally bad idea.

She was quiet for a while, holding Joey close while they both watched Gabriel with big eyes. Then she said, "Is there anything at all we can do to help?"

"No." Gabriel pulled his attention from Sam and the trap that held him briefly to look up at her, softening his expression. "But thank you. This is just going to take some time." Hopefully it was time Sam still had.

"I'll take Joey to the SUV in that case. We'll... try to rest, I guess." His attention back on Sam, he heard various shuffles and murmurs and then it was just Gabriel and Sam. Again.

Gabriel stayed where he was, more still than humans could manage, his entire considerable being focused on his task. Finally, after far longer than he liked, he managed to grasp one thread of the thing, a thread that instinct told him was enough of a linchpin to unravel it. It was still going to take a lot of patience and skill to do so, but Gabriel could do patient when he had to. He carefully followed it along, gently pulling it free of the other threads... until he followed it to the spot where it sank directly into Sam's soul.

An even nastier piece of work than Gabriel had thought at first. Not only was it holding Sam bound within himself, but it was interacting with him in there, and Gabriel was sure it was anything but pleasant for Sam. Worse, he was going to have to slip into Sam's essence himself if he was to continue to pick the trap apart. He didn't want to think about what such an invasion would do to Sam, and to the... understanding that was growing between them, but the alternative was even worse.

So pulling all of his remaining grace such as it was around him, he mentally grasped hold of the thread he was following and let it pull him inside.


A regular routine was important to maintain. It meant Sam hadn't given up, hadn't surrendered to depression or futility. It meant that one day, someday, Sam was going to win.

Rising at the same time every morning, making sure he showered, shaved, ate regularly, sorted his laundry, kept his guns and knives clean, and his supplies plentiful; making sure he slept at least six hours a night even if he needed help to do it – these were the things on his internal checklist, and he ticked each box, every day, leaving nothing undone.

Another item on the schedule was to kill any evil bastards that stumbled into his path while he was on the hunt for the big one. It would be all too easy to let this one task slide, to see these side hunts as unnecessary distractions from his all-consuming need to find the Trickster... which was exactly why he couldn't let that happen. He was a hunter, first and foremost. He couldn't let himself ever forget that. Saving people, hunting things – that was the mission statement. While saving Dean and hunting the Trickster were his primary tasks always, he was still determined to be that tolling bell for any nasties who happened to be around when he hit town. Any town.

He got the job done, all the damn jobs, on his own, and then he got back on track.

The fact that these hunts provided a short term outlet for the sheer, overflowing rage he felt every moment of every day, that poisoned his breath and colored the world around him in hues of piss and blood, well, that was coincidental. If, admittedly, both convenient and cathartic.

It was, in truth, the only satisfaction he had left. It only lasted a few moments, that dark, rising release he felt every time he saw the light leave some monstrous douche's eyes, but those few moments were a whole cargo hold better than nothing. Not that he was in this to enjoy himself, but he used whatever he could to keep himself going. Never give up, never say die. It's what Dean would've done, so how could he do any less?

The killing, the schedule, and the objective – they were all he had, and he used them, and he kept on going no matter what. This was his life and would continue to be his life until either some evil son of a bitch got lucky one day, or he found the bastard who had killed his brother for nothing more than shits and giggles and made him bring Dean back.

So, today it was a vampire nest. Seven of them, but it was daytime; they were asleep. All he had to do was sneak around to make sure there were no surviving human victims in there, and then he could burn the place down, picking off the vamps one by one as they ran out screaming. That was the plan.

Things didn't go according to the plan, however.

Afterward, in the slo-mo action sequence as the cans and saucepans and the rest of the timpani section spun in the air before crashing crescendo style to the floor, he spent a long drawn out moment wondering if his trip and fall right into a pile of incongruously domestic objects had been the physical equivalent of a Freudian slip. It made sense he had a death-wish, but jeez did it piss him off when he sabotaged himself.

Then the moment's navel-gazing was over, the world sped up, and angry vamps were coming at him from all sides. He already had a stake in his hand, and that took care of the first one to reach him, but then the rest hit like a series of express trains, and he was kicked back into the side of the warehouse hard enough to dent the corrugated metal.

He staggered back to his feet, ignoring his pain and shaking his head slightly to clear it. The vampires grinned at him.

Dragging his second and only remaining stake from his inside jacket pocket, Sam charged at them, yelling wordlessly.

Thirty or so seconds later, Sam fell, finally overwhelmed despite taking two more of the bastards with him. He knew that this was the end, that he'd failed not only to win Dean back, but to save himself. As the vamps closed in around him, the one thing he felt most clearly, shining bright now amid all the rage and need, was relief.


Going into someone's soul was probably the most unpredictable and confusing thing an angel could do. Gabriel could count on the fingers of one hand how many times he'd done it in his very long life. So he wasn't sure what he would find in Sam's, but this... This was as horrific as anything he'd feared.

Instinctively he tried to snap Sam's attackers away and had a split second's surprise when that actually worked. He wasn't one to look a gift dream in the mouth, and so he was just grateful the click had worked as he walked over to where Sam was sprawled on the ground. "You okay, kid?"

Sam stared up at him, heaving for breath, and his expression slowly changed from one of blank-faced confusion to something far uglier. His lips curled into a sneer as his body turned and twisted, until he was crouching close to the floor, a stake sticky with vamp blood in his hand. "You," he said in a low, intense voice.

Whoa. That wasn't anything near the reception he'd been expecting. "Sam?" he asked in confusion, not taking a step back, even though part of him was insisting that would be the prudent thing to do.

He should probably have listened to that part of him since Sam sprang at him now, stake in hand, taking Gabriel by surprise enough that he was pushed back into the nearby wall. The stake was pressed into Gabriel's neck in a way that felt familiar somehow. "Bring him back," Sam demanded, his nostrils flared like an angry bull's.

"Who?" Gabriel asked, confused even as this was pinging a memory of... something.

Sam loosened his hold just enough to slam Gabriel back into the wall again. He looked furious, but his eyes seemed heavy with unshed tears. "Stop playing. Finish this. Bring Dean back."

And suddenly it all fell into place. The Mystery Spot and Gabriel's attempt to stop the Apocalypse before it started, his attempt to teach Sam how not to follow the path that Heaven and Hell both had laid at his feet. Yeah, that had gone over like a lead balloon.


Sam dragged air in nosily through his nose. "Do it!" He shook Gabriel. "Just do it. End this."

"It won't end anything, kiddo," Gabriel said gently.

"Bring him back!" Sam was starting to shake now. "Please."

He'd forgotten exactly the level of desperation that had poured off Sam back then, though he hadn't forgotten how the encounter had made him despair of stopping things. He hadn't understood at the time how what he saw as the weakness his brothers were exploiting was also, turned on its head, the Winchesters' greatest strength. He knew better now, knew Sam better now. And maybe, just maybe, he could use what he knew to get through to Sam. "What will you do if I agree to?" he asked.

"We'll go," Sam said immediately. "We won't try to find you. We'll just... get out of your hair."

"What if I don't want you to get out of my hair?" Gabriel asked.

Sam stared at him, breathing hard and frowning as he obviously tried to puzzle out what Gabriel meant. "This can't still be fun for you, can it? Really?" The point of the stake dug a little harder into Gabriel's neck, but Gabriel wasn't sure Sam even knew he still had hold of it.

"This hasn't been about fun," Gabriel said honestly. "Okay, maybe that one time with the piano..."

Sam's expression returned to that grimace of barely repressed fury that Gabriel, quite frankly, would be happy to never see again, at least not directed at him. "That's not... Look, just tell me what you freaking want!"

"Listen to me," Gabriel said. "Just... listen. And stop trying to run a stake through me every time you see me. Because when I bring Dean back–" he was careful to say when not if "– I'm going to be hanging around. A lot."

"Why?" Sam asked bluntly. Then he shook his head, his sweat-lank hair falling over his eyes. "No, I don't care. Just bring him back."

Gabriel looked at him assessingly for a long moment. That was probably the most cooperation he was going to get out of Sam at this point. He wasn't entirely sure this was going to work, but getting rid of the vampires had, so... He raised a hand and snapped his fingers.

Dean, or a very good facsimile of him, appeared off to the side, looking dazed and confused. "Dude, what the-"

"Dean!" Sam looked urgently between Dean and Gabriel, the shaking even more pronounced. He clearly wanted to go to his brother, but the hunter in him, or maybe just the cynic, wasn't letting Gabriel go. "Is it really you, bro?"

"Of course it's me," Dean said, aggravation in every movement. "What the hell? One second I'm standing behind the Impala in the parking lot and the next..."

Sam pulled a face at Dean and gestured with his head at Gabriel, who he still wasn't letting go. "Dude? Situation here."

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Oh, go on and hug your brother," he told Sam. "You know you want to."

"This could just be a trick," Sam said. "I'm not setting you free 'til I know Dean's for real." As if Gabriel couldn't just push Sam aside with no effort at all. "Dean, tell me something," Sam went on. "Something only the two of us would know."

"Dude, it's me, seriously," Dean said, but then cast a glance Gabriel's way and sighed. "Fine, but then you're telling me what's going on and why you're holding onto a Trickster instead of staking him. Okay. When you were five you went through this Thundercats hero worship phase. Used to run around the place in your underroos with a plastic sword yelling about how you were Lion-O and doing that stupid 'Thunder, thunder, Thundercats ho!' yell."

Sam didn't exactly look overjoyed at having that particular memory reawoken, but Gabriel could feel him start to relax. "Yeah, like you didn't encourage me," Sam said. He looked between Gabriel and Dean again, his eyes settling on Gabriel as his hold loosened. "If this is a trick, I'll hunt you 'til the end of days. Alive or dead, I won't give up. Believe me."

"Yeah, you've proven how stubborn you are," Gabriel said, resisting the urge to straighten his clothing. "Just remember your part of the deal."

"Deal, what deal?" Dean asked sharply, his eyes going back and forth between Gabriel and Sam. "Will someone mind telling me just what the hell is going on?"

"Dude, it's been months," Sam said, backing off and looking down. "Months since he killed you last." He sounded as broken as he looked.

Dean opened his mouth and closed it again without saying anything. Gabriel resisted the urge to point out he looked like a fish, though he filed away the observation for some more appropriate time when they were back in the real world. Focusing on Dean's fishy resemblance let Gabriel not think so much about how Sam was looking and how it was all his fault.

After a moment of the guppy imitation, Dean finally managed to get out, "Tell me you didn't sell your soul to a Trickster."

That made Sam look up and turn to face Dean. "Why the hell would he want my soul? I just agreed that–" he looked down again, and his voice became a mumble "–he could hang around, bad smell style, if he wanted." He took two steps towards Dean, his arms raising as if going in for a hug, but then he stopped again, and his arms dropped.

That made Dean roll his eyes and close the distance between them, pulling his brother into the hug that it was so apparent Sam desperately wanted.

Sam made a choked off noise in his throat and enveloped Dean in a tight bear hug right back. Though he couldn't see it with his eyes, Gabriel was easily in touch enough with Sam's mind, being inside it, that he knew Sam's eyes were slowly closing as he let himself start to believe that Dean really was back.


He was always there.

Not that the Trickster hadn't warned Sam that he was going to be hanging around, but Sam had figured he, at the very least, would've gotten bored after a while. But no, the Trickster was always there, watching him and Dean. What was even stranger was that the worst he'd done since bringing Dean back had been to trade one liners with Dean and stand back and watch while they went about their business of hunting and trying to find a way out of Dean's deal. Hell, he'd even once or twice lent a helping 'snap' when things had gotten particularly bad, but mostly he just watched.

Sam couldn't figure out what the Trickster was really up to, what he wanted, and it was slowly driving him crazy. It made him doubt the reality of Dean being back, made him feel like a lab rat under the watchful eye of a scientist. He decided eventually that he had to confront the bastard, despite the risks of him killing Dean again or worse. Sam needed answers. He waited until Dean was in the shower one night then turned and faced the Trickster who was lounging against a wall watching him. Always watching.

"Aren't you bored yet?" Sam asked. "Are Dean and I really this interesting?"

"Kid, you have no idea," the Trickster said with a smirk that seemed to be full of secrets. "You and your brother are the most interesting show in town. But especially you."

Feeling taken aback, Sam gave the Trickster a confused look. "Why me? You just like to see me squirm or something?"

"We'll come back to the whole squirming thing later," the Trickster promised. "But not in the way you mean." He cocked his head to the side and watched Sam for a long moment as if searching for something. "Are you ready to listen? Really listen?"

Sam sighed heavily, rolling his eyes. "Look, I get your ridiculous lesson, all right? You don't think there's anything I can do to save Dean. See? Received and understood. I got it. I just don't happen to believe it. I'm not giving up, and you can't make me, no matter how much crappy psychological torture you put me through. So why can't you just leave us alone?"

The Trickster visibly took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. He looked up at the ceiling for a minute, then glanced over at Sam again. "I was wrong."

That gave Sam pause. "About what?"

"My plan. My methods. I was trying to show you something, trying to stop you from doing something you're going to regret for the rest of your life." The Trickster eyed him. "I like you, kid. Didn't want that to happen to you." He gave a self-effacing shrug. "Turned out not only did I get the method wrong, but the message too. If it helps any, you two eventually convince me of that, and we finally get it right."

"Huh?" Sam stared at him, wondering if what the Trickster was saying made sense to him, 'cause it certainly didn't feature large in 'sense' for Sam.

"You and your brother, you were being played," the Trickster explained. "Had been, since before you were born."

That really didn't explain anything at all. "Played by who? You?"

The Trickster laughed a little at that. "Not me. My family."

"Oh God. You have parents? Siblings?" Sam found the idea pretty horrific to say the least. "Please God, tell me you don't have kids."

"Funny you should phrase it that way because God is my family. My Dad." He paused and then said, "I'm the archangel Gabriel."

Sam stared at the Trickster for at least five long silent seconds. Then he burst out laughing.

The Trickster sighed and rolled his eyes heavenwards. "Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for."

"You expect me to take that seriously?" Sam asked, still chuckling. "You? An angel? You're about as holy as... as, well, any of the other monsters we kill all the time. I mean, Gabriel – he's God's messenger. He brings the word of God to man. Nowhere have I read that he sleazes his way around America playing vicious little tricks on innocent people while indulging his every trivial wish with a click of his fingers. Gabriel is-" Gabriel was beautiful. He wasn't sure how he even knew that, but if Gabriel existed, he was beautiful, golden, and full of radiant light and sacred power. Wings to take your breath away, a voice to die for – that was Gabriel.

The Trickster looked at him, and then he was pushing away from the wall and the lights were flickering and suddenly there were shadows of huge wings projected behind him.

Okay, that was an impressive trick. Sam had to admit that. He found himself taking a step or two back without meaning to. Try as he might, he couldn't even begin to figure out where the Trickster was going with this one. "Nice party trick," he said and immediately wished his tone had been less shaky.

"It's not a trick," Ga– the Trickster told him, stepping forward, closing the distance between them. "You know that, Sam. Deep down."

"Don't," Sam said, stepping even further back and knowing he was running out of space. He was starting to feel a little freaked out. More than a little, really. He was suddenly battling with strange impulses that seemed to have come from nowhere, impulses to reach out and touch the Trickster, to... Oh God. He could so have done without these stupid pornographic images that kept blip-verting into his head like pop-ups on an infected computer. "Get out of my head," he told the Trickster. "Stop playing me. Find another cat toy already; I'm all out of catnip."

"I'm not playing you." There was an edge of frustration, and of intensity of a kind that Sam didn't want to look at too closely in the Trickster's voice, even as he continued his slow, even approach. "And you're not a toy or catnip. You're something much, much more than that. You and Dean stopped the Apocalypse. No one thought you'd be able to, but you did."

Dean was taking a helluva long time in the shower. "Apocalypse? What the hell are you on?" Sam felt the all too solid wood of the drawer unit behind his back. "Gabriel, just stop this," he pleaded, only realizing after several moments the name he'd just used.

Gabriel smiled briefly. "I can't. I can't leave you here, Sam. None of this is real. It's all in your mind."

"What? No." Sam shook his head, not wanting to hear that. "This can't be still a trick. Dean's real. Dean's real!"

"He is," Gabriel said, quickly, soothingly. "He's out there with his angel, making his way to rendezvous with us. That's why you can't stay here. If you do, you won't see him – the real Dean – again."

"What?" Sam stared helplessly. Gabriel... The Trickster was standing so close now. Sam felt like he couldn't breathe. He put out his hands in order, he thought, to push the Trickster back. Instead, he tangled his fingers in the Trickster's jacket and shirts, worrying at them. "I don't understand."

"I know you don't, kid," Gabriel said, covering Sam's hands with his own. "It's part of the snare that's keeping you here – making you forget. But I swear to Dad, I'm telling you the truth. I'm here to get you out."

Sam couldn't now get his eyes to focus away from their hands. "My head... It's full of... Of pictures, glimpses. Of me and you." Then his expression and tone of voice hardened. "Why are you doing this? Wasn't the endless tuesdays a mindfuck enough? Now you want me to believe that – what? You and I are lovers out there in some 'realer' real world?" He glanced up to meet the Trickster's honey-colored eyes and laughed weakly. "And yeah, mustn't forget, you're the archangel Gabriel. 'Cause, of course, archangels generally enjoy being ass-fucked by humans. Wait, you said Dean has an angel too?"

"Castiel." Gabriel smiled. "The little angel that could. Little brother's shown up pretty much all of the Heavenly host. I couldn't be more proud."

Sam snorted because it was that or sob. "And does Dean do the things to this Castiel that I apparently do to you?"

"Oh, believe me, the things you and I do are completely mutual," Gabriel said, leaning in as he was talking and capturing Sam's mouth in an intense kiss after the last word.

Without a single comprehensible thought, Sam started kissing him back. Because he'd done this before. He really, really had. He pushed his tongue into the Trickster's – no, Gabriel's – mouth and tasted him and knew with a bone deep certainty that he'd done this before, way more than once, and that he liked doing it. He didn't understand it, not any of it. His thinking mind held no memories of Gabriel, no knowledge that could explain any of this, but deeper down in his mind, he knew. The images he was seeing? They were memory. The way his body was responding to Gabriel? Was normal, was expected, was... valued. And when he drew back from the kiss and allowed his eyes to relax just a little in a certain kind of way, he wasn't remotely surprised to see wings.

"Gabriel..." he whispered.

Gabriel smiled at him with something like relief in his eyes. "Hi, Sammy."

"I still don't understand, but–" he reached up a hand to touch Gabriel's face "–that doesn't seem to matter. I know you. I-" love you. He almost said the words. Almost. This was insane.

"I'll explain everything later, when we get you out of this," Gabriel told him, "I promise. But there's no time now. You have to trust me. Can you do that?"

How could he? How could he trust a creature who had tormented him for months, that had killed his brother again and again and– Sam looked towards the bathroom door. "Is Dean even still in there?"

"This is your soul, kid. He's there if you want him to be. But he's not real. None of this," Gabriel gestured grandly with a hand at their surroundings, "is real. The only things that are real here are you and me. The real Dean's out there, in the real world, and he's going to be waiting for us to show up."

Sam felt like he was wading through mud. "When did it stop being real?"

"I'm not sure I can give you an answer that's going to make sense to you where you are now," Gabriel told him. "The stuff at the Mystery Spot really happened, but that was a long time ago now. Years. You've been trapped in a memory loop, kiddo, and ironically, it's my job to break you out of it."

Sam closed his eyes, trying to calm down. It was hard enough to think straight anyway about this without all the shallow breathing and surging stress chemicals his body suddenly seemed so keen on. He moved his hands restlessly over Gabriel's upper body, knowing things instinctively about it that he had no right to know. But the Trickster could have put all this in Sam's head, couldn't he? He put his hand over where Gabriel's heart should lie. "This body is... a shell, a borrowed home," he said slowly. "Isn't it?"

Gabriel cocked his head to the side at the question. "I think of it more like clothing," he said slowly. "A disguise for the ultimate witness protection program, but that's kinda gone by the wayside now. Still, it's protective equipment, though it's everyone else I'm protecting."

Sam opened his eyes again, unfocusing them in that particular way. "I see the real you too. I see your wings, like... like constructs of projected light." He reached out tentatively, wondering if he could actually touch them.

The wings had been moving slowly, in concert with what Gabriel had been saying and doing, but now they stilled as Gabriel looked at him with wide eyes, as if he wasn't sure whether Sam could touch them either.

Sam could. He paused as his fingertips met the feathers, hardly breathing and experiencing a strange pins-and-needles feeling where his flesh met the wings. "Oh God," he whispered and closed his eyes again. He felt out with his fingers, pressing gently into surprisingly firm feathers and stroking slowly downwards. They might have looked as if they were made of nothing but light, but they seemed to have some kind of physical reality too. He opened his eyes to look at Gabriel, wanting to make sure this was all right before he continued.

If anything, Gabriel's eyes had gotten impossible wider as he stared at Sam, holding inhumanly still save for a barely there tremor through his wings that seemed to start at Sam's fingers.

Frowning as he tried to force memories that didn't want to come, Sam asked, "This is a new thing, isn't it? We haven't done this before..." He ran his hands out along the wings, stepping so close that their bodies touched so he could use the full reach of his arms. "So beautiful," he murmured. "Gabriel..."

"Sam," Gabriel replied. He visibly gathered himself and took a deep breath. "Much as I'm happy – really – in all sorts of ways at this new fascination of yours, we still need to get out of here now."

Sam pulled back reluctantly, moving his hands to Gabriel's shoulders. Now that he'd started touching Gabriel, he didn't seem to want to stop, and yeah, he was aware he was accepting the archangel story far too easily when this all could still be a trick, but hell, it felt real, at the deepest level. He should want to kill the man... being in front of him. He should be barely able to keep his hands from Gabriel's throat, and those impulses were still there, but they seemed faded, two-dimensional compared to the rising urge to push Gabriel back against the wall, to rip his clothes and ravish his mouth.

"Get out how?" he asked, trying to concentrate. "And why's it so urgent? What's going to happen if we don't?"

"The spell snare will fully close, and you'll be trapped inside yourself forever," Gabriel said bluntly. "Your body will wither away and die, and you won't even notice. And I'm not sure death will even release you, if it gets that far."

"So... like the djinn we met, only worse. Gabriel..." Sam winced and swallowed. "My head's a mess. I don't know what to believe. If this is a trick, then congrats. You've won, 'cause every instinct I have is saying you're on the level. I know that you're more than capable of faking all this, of making me believe it, but... what choice do I have?" He stepped forward again, pressing his face against Gabriel's hair, needing the sense memory of that familiar scent. "Hell, if you'd wanted to trick me into trusting you," he added in a lower voice, "I'm sure you could've made things a lot easier for yourself than all this confusion and..." He gave up talking and just sighed softly.

Gabriel was quiet for a moment, but a hand came up to thread through Sam's hair, something else that felt achingly familiar. "Do you trust me?" the archangel finally asked again, softly.

Sam pressed his face further into Gabriel's hair and only partially succeeded in holding back a moan. "Yes," he said finally, surrendering rational thought to instinct entirely. "Yes, I do."

He could feel the way relief ran through Gabriel, the way his muscles went slack for a second before tensing back up again. "Thank you," Gabriel said softly. "Hold on and close your eyes. Whatever happens, don't let go of me, okay?"

Sam's eyes were already closed. He wrapped his arms around Gabriel, trying hard to think only of the human form in front of him because as soon as he considered the wings, he could feel his arms passing through them, and that was just freaky on a whole new scale and probably uncomfortable for Gabriel. "Okay," he said, his voice catching slightly.

"This is probably going to suck really badly, but I need you to keep trusting me and keep holding on." As he spoke, Gabriel's voice was changing, becoming deeper, more powerful, more there, until it was almost a physical presence as much as the wings were.

"Promise me Dean is where we're going," Sam said, holding even tighter, his eyes squeezed shut. "Swear on... on your father's name. Promise we're not leaving him here."

"I swear," Gabriel said immediately, and his voice now sounded every bit how Sam thought an archangel's should sound. He was suddenly surrounded by light so bright it turned even the inside of his closed eyelids white. The sense of overwhelming power grew and grew, and somehow Sam was aware it was pushing outwards away from them in an ever growing circle. Distantly he heard something shriek in pain and thwarted anger, and what sounded like the twang of over-stretched wires breaking.

The light flared still brighter, but then faded. Things seemed to spin in his head, but he kept holding on. Gabriel was the only thing that felt steady and solid, which made it all the more terrifying when the reassuring body seemed to vanish from his arms. Sam couldn't stop himself from opening his eyes as he floundered, reaching out for Gabriel... and Gabriel was there, sitting beside him in the grass and grabbing Sam's flailing arms.

And just like that, the memories returned.

"You back with us, Sam?" Gabriel asked, still holding Sam's arms as he searched Sam's face for... something.

Sam didn't answer, not right away. He pulled himself up and looked around. They were sitting on the grass where... where he'd been looking after a distraught Madeline, who was nowhere to be seen now, though someone had drawn an uneven circle of salt around him and Gabriel. He looked at Gabriel and tried to find the words to express what he was feeling. He couldn't. There was just too much of it. "What the hell was that about?" he asked, shoving his fingers roughly through his hair, pulling it back from his face. "That was personal, wasn't it? For me and me only. They stuck me in the one time of my life that I hated you the most." Even just remembering it seemed to bring those feelings back. He shook his head, totally not wanting to feel that way about Gabriel. Not now.

"It was a nasty piece of work, all right," Gabriel confirmed, "and it was definitely planned. They lured me away so they could pull it off."

Sam craned his head around, seeing only grass, trees, and the SUV a little way off. And, ah, there were Madeline and Joey, staring out of the back window of the car. Sam gave Gabriel a worried look. "We should get out of here. I don't want to give them a second chance."

"Agreed," Gabriel said, but he grabbed Sam's arm again to keep him in place. "Although the demons are gone from here, I can promise that. Sam, about what happened. Back then..."

"That's not now," Sam said as firmly as he could. If only he could convince himself of that. There was so much anger and desperation still in him, hardly buried at all, and all of it about the Trickster. He found he wanted to shake off Gabriel's touch. "They just disturbed old graves, that's all. The spirits are restless."

"I meant what I said in the trap," Gabriel continued on determinedly. "I was wrong. I had the right goal – try to stop the Apocalypse before it started – but I couldn't have been more wrong in my approach."

Sam tried to meet Gabriel's eyes, but could only do so briefly. The urge for violence in him that welled up when he did was too much. What had started to feel so unreal in his mind before Gabriel had dragged him back to the real world, now had started to feel real again. To try to hide that he moved closer, taking Gabriel's shoulders with forced gentleness and burying his face in Gabriel's hair like he had in the fake reality. "Thanks," he said. Even feeling how he was, he still realized it was a big deal, Gabriel saying that. A real big deal. "And thanks for rescuing me against the odds. You're amazing."

"Least I could do," Gabriel said, sighing as he, thankfully, dropped the subject.


Day Thirty-Five

It wasn't getting any better. Over twenty-four hours since being dragged back into the real world, Sam still didn't seem to be able to leave behind what had happened in there. Or rather, what had happened three-plus years ago that the demons' magic had dug up and reanimated inside his head so that it was now shuffling around, stinking up the place.

Emotions that had no business in this here and now wouldn't let him be. Sam kept finding himself thinking that Dean was dead, lost to him, and feeling like he wanted to be dead himself until he remembered. And even when he remembered the feeling didn't go. It sat in his heart and his gut, burning like acid, making the world all wrong around him, making people all wrong. He was just so angry.

Even though he knew all the very good reasons why he shouldn't, he'd found he just had to get away, be on his own for as long as he could get away with it. He couldn't trust himself around Madeline and Joey, not like this. He was dry timber just waiting for any excuse for a spark. So he'd snuck away from the camp where they still were, despite everyone agreeing that they should leave this place. He left the gardens and started wandering toward central St Louis.

It was only as he found himself facing a couple of young men on an obvious looting spree that he'd realized he was still doing what he'd done during that time, that fake time after the Mystery Spot. Back then, he'd carried on hunting to ease, for a few moments, the raging fire in his soul. Here, marching into a post-apoc city center, he was after the same thing.

The men – well, closer to boys – looked way more scared of him than he was of them. There was no demon stink on them, so he just nodded and walked past. Nothing was said, ships passing.

Sam needed something stronger.

He sensed Gabriel's presence a split second before the archangel spoke, appearing out of the shadows less like an angel and more like a demon. Or a trickster, Sam guessed. "Sam?" Gabriel was frowning as he came closer. "Taking off without a word probably isn't the bright thing to do right now."

Sam felt his hands curl automatically into fists. "Needed to get away," he said shortly. He didn't stop walking.

Gabriel fell in step beside him. Close. Too close. "You suddenly disappearing is freaking out the civilians."

Sam winced. Because, yes, of course it would upset Madeline and Joey. "I'm not thinking clearly," he admitted, carefully moving further away from Gabriel.

Gabriel snorted. "Not exactly news there, kid. That was a nasty trap you were caught in, of course it's going to take a little time to get over it."

"Yeah. Uh... Guess I should head back." Sam turned on his heels and started to stride back the way he'd come.

"Sam!" Gabriel quickly chased after him, reaching out to stop him by grabbing his arm when he caught up.

Sam had pushed Gabriel away hard before he'd even thought about what he was doing, and Gabriel had let him, maybe too surprised to resist. "What is it?" Sam demanded.

Gabriel's eyes widened in surprise, and then he frowned in concern and held his hands up in a 'not trying anything' gesture. "Thought we just discussed the haring off on your own thing," he said carefully. "I'll walk back with you."

"That's not necessary," Sam said, speeding up.

So did Gabriel, keeping pace. "Did I do something...?"

That stopped Sam on the spot. "Did you do something?" he asked disbelievingly.

The confusion Gabriel was showing morphed into dismay. "This isn't about... But that wasn't real!"

Sam raised his eyebrows, about to point out that it had been real, once, that Gabriel had done that to him, once... but then some semblance of sense finally spoke up in Sam's mind, and he shut himself up and started walking again. He was on the edge of out-of-control here, and he knew it. He hadn't felt like this for a long time, so full of the urge for violence, for release. It had no place in his life right now. He had to calm the hell down now. "Sorry," he muttered, sensing Gabriel just behind him, keeping up. Then he said it again, louder. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Sam," Gabriel said, though he sounded like it was anything but.

And yeah, it wasn't. Nothing was okay. Sam trudged in silence, carefully maintaining the distance between him and Gabriel – not so far apart that Gabriel might feel Sam was trying to get away again, not so close that there was a danger of touching. It was a relief when the SUV was in sight again.


Gabriel slowed and watched Sam stomp off over to where their SUV sat. He'd walked right past Madeline and Joey without saying a word. Which was totally out of character for Sam – at least a Sam who wasn't lost in a mire of depressive rage.

Madeline stared after him then turned to look at Gabriel, concern and questioning in her expression. Gabriel sighed and shook his head. "I don't know what to tell you. Sam's.... dealing with some issues." Issues that were ultimately Gabriel's fault, a little voice in his mind reminded him, much as he tried to ignore it.

"Did the demons... hurt him?" she asked carefully, as if she wasn't sure if she wanted to know the answer. She pulled Joey closer to her and ignored his grumbling.

"They made him relive a really bad time in his past," Gabriel said carefully.

"And now he can't forget it again?" Madeline frowned. "Is there anything we can do?"

"I don't know," Gabriel said, staring over to where Sam was standing. "I think it might come down to me forcing him to talk about it, but... I'd rather not have to go that route." Not when the whole thing that started this was over Gabriel forcing Sam to basically dance to his tune. Even if his intentions had been good.

Madeline's gaze was now a little too perceptive. "You were there too."

"Yeah," he admitted, giving her a rueful look. "I was."

She nodded and then followed his gaze to watch Sam, who seemed to have started a major reorganization of the SUV's luggage. "This time, it was traumatic for him? Could this be some kind of delayed PTSD?"

That made Gabriel laugh without humor. "His entire life has been one long trauma, Maddy."

"Oh." She looked down. "He, uh, downplays that when he talks about himself."

"Yeah, he would," Gabriel said, shaking his head. "For all that he's been through, he's remarkably resilient, really." It had been one of the things that had caught Gabriel's attention initially – that sheer stubborn refusal to give up or give in and instead to keep trying to change things.

"Have you always been his guardian angel?" she asked, her fingers combing through Joey's hair while he played quietly with a toy car he seemed to have found from somewhere.

Gabriel snorted softly. "Until very recently I haven't been anybody's guardian angel. I was kinda... hiding."

"What from?" Madeline seemed to realize her question was a little blunt, and she tried to back peddle. "I mean, if you're okay talking about it. I don't mean to pry."

"Not really much to tell," Gabriel said with a shrug. "I ran away from home. Heaven. Didn't want any of them to find me so..." He spread his hands. "I went pagan."

"You can do that as an angel?" Madeline seemed a little scandalized by the idea.

"There's not much an archangel can't do when we put our minds to something," Gabriel said. "But yeah, it was against all the rules, spoken and unspoken." He flashed her a quick smirk. "That's what made it such a good hiding place."

"Made what a good hiding place? Earth? Or... being pagan? What does that even mean for someone like you?"

"It means I was in witness protection," Gabriel said. "Not that I was all quiet and retiring, mind you. That's never been my style. I was still on the radar, but not as Gabriel. As Loki."

Her eyes widened. "You... are Loki? The real Loki?"

"But, but... Loki is a supervillain!" Joey piped up, suddenly paying attention. "He's Thor's arch-nemmy... nemer..."

"Nemesis," Gabriel provided. "Thor just had a good publicist," he said. "Comic book Thor is a lot cooler than real life Thor."

Joey's mouth formed an exaggerated bow of unhappiness. "But..."

"Don't you think I'm a lot more awesome than comic book Loki?" Gabriel asked, leaning in a little to catch the boy's gaze.

"You're nicer," the boy said cautiously.

"And I've got better taste," Gabriel added, snapping up a big bag of M&M's and holding it out to Joey. He was not above bribery.

"That was awesome!" Joey snatched the bag of candy and struggled to get it open.

"I hope you don't think you're going to be eating all of them at once, young man," Madeline said, but she was smiling at Gabriel. "I don't suppose there's a Long Island iced tea where they came from?"

Gabriel just grinned and snapped one into existence.

Madeline took the frosted glass with both hands, cradling it as if it were precious treasure. She took a small sip, and her eyes flickered closed. "Ooh, bliss. You are definitely an angel."

"Among other things, yeah," Gabriel said with a smirk, even as it was dawning on him that those two little tricks hadn't seemed to drain him like everything else had been doing lately. A cautious look inside confirmed that his grace was brighter than it had been since before he'd woke up in Florida. Finally he thought, a wave of relief washing over him.

His first thought, of course, was to share the good news with Sam, but that just brought his current worries back. Looking over, he could see Sam had finished his reorganization of the baggage and now had his head under the hood. As Gabriel watched, he saw Sam throw something to one side with a curse of some kind and slam the hood down.

No, things still weren't right.


Day Thirty-Seven

"Could you stop kicking the back of my seat, please?" Sam said, pissy as anything, every word carefully enunciated. There seemed no outside reason for his bad mood. It was a sunny day. They were cruising along a highway with an increasing number of other cars also driving along it, all of which, according to Gabriel's senses, held humans and just humans bar the odd dog or two. Normally, Sam would be overjoyed to see so many survivors. Not now apparently.

Sam had been wrong since Gabriel had managed to pull him out of the snare spell. Not that Gabriel could blame him for being a little off, considering. He hadn't liked the reminder of what at the time had seemed both funny and an exercise in frustrated futility either, especially considering what he knew now. He could only imagine how revisiting that trick had left Sam feeling. It certainly had brought out all of the kid's brooding skills in a way that everything else they'd been through recently had not.

But much as he felt Sam was justified, it still wasn't a good thing to wallow for too long, hence Gabriel's attempt to get a rise of some kind out of the kid. Kicking the back of Sam's seat was just an easy way to start and had the added bonus of making Joey giggle.

"Just stretching my legs," he replied to Sam's pissiness, innocence practically dripping from his voice as he winked at Joey.

He could tell from the set of Sam's shoulders just how well that went down. "Stop, or I'm not driving any further until you swap places with Joey. He's more grown up."

"Nah, he just has shorter legs," Gabriel said, barely keeping the smirk off his face. Really? Sam was pulling the 'behave or I'm pulling over' card?

He heard Sam heave in a noisy breath through his nose. Madeline cast a concerned look at Sam, saying, "Maybe a rest stop would be a good idea. We could all do with stretching our legs, I'm sure."

"I wouldn't say no to that idea," Gabriel put in. Maybe it was time to call Sam on the attitude, and that wasn't something he could really do while Sam was driving.

Sam didn't say anything, but a short distance up the highway, he swung onto an off ramp and then down a rough-looking side road. He was already opening his door while he was still braking, and as soon as the SUV was stationary, Sam was gone, striding up the road, the keys in his hand.

Gabriel opened his door, then turned back to the others. "Give us a few, okay?" he asked, and then stepped out after Sam without waiting for a reply.

Sam had already put some distance between himself and the SUV, putting his long legs to good use. Gabriel wondered if he even had a destination in mind beyond 'not here'.

Yeah, like he had a chance at outrunning an archangel. Especially since Gabriel had been able to feel his grace beginning to replenish at something a lot closer to its normal rate for the last two days, even away from natural wellsprings. He snapped his fingers, moving himself to just slightly in front of Sam, and leaned against a fence alongside the road. "Going somewhere, kid?"

Sam almost staggered in his attempt to avoid Gabriel. He veered left, holding up his hands, and warned, "Just keep away from me," as he carried on up the road. His face was a picture of barely repressed fury.

That brought Gabriel up short; he hadn't been expecting quite that level of intensity. "Okay," he said, a little more quietly, holding up a hand in a calming gesture. "I'm not coming any closer, Sam. Swear."

Apparently afflicted by the spirit of total perversity, Sam immediately stopped. He stared at the ground, his back to Gabriel, and Gabriel got the impression that there wasn't a muscle in Sam's body that wasn't tense enough to start snapping bones. "Gabriel," Sam said, his voice thick with some kind of emotion, "what's happening to me?"

"You're riding the emotional roller coaster," Gabriel told him, feeling like he was calming a nervous horse. He wanted to move closer, but didn't want to spook Sam any more than he already had. "Not that you don't have good reason to, what with everything's that's happened."

"I feel like I hate you," Sam said between breaths almost loud enough to be panting. "Like I want to kill you. Oh God." He wrapped his arms around himself tightly. "But I also feel... Well, like I did before. I want... No, I need you. Badly."

Gabriel supposed he should be grateful for the latter part, all things considered. "You have every right to hate me," he said, even though the idea of Sam hating him was less than pleasant. "What I did, what I put you through... is pretty unforgivable." He'd regretted that particular trick long before recent events rubbed his face in what his actions had done to Sam, someone he lo– cared about. He'd broken his own rules – namely only going after those who truly deserved it.

"Is... Have the demons left something inside me? Something that's keeping these old feelings alive and kicking?"

"I don't think so," Gabriel said after a moment's consideration. "I think they just made you feel how you did back then, and since you never really had a chance to resolve it..."

"Can you... Can you make it stop?" Sam hung his head still lower, looking wretched. "It makes no sense to feel like this. Not now. I need you so badly, but I'm scared that if I touch you, I'm going to... try to hurt you."

"Maybe you should." The words were out before Gabriel really thought about what he was saying.

"Don't say that!" Sam whirled around to stare at him, immediately screwing his face up and looking aside again.

"Why not? It would be my just deserts, after all."

"Huh." Sam pulled a very strange looking face. "I killed your brother. I think we're even."

Gabriel blinked, caught off balance by that comment. That wasn't– Sam just hadn't– "What?"

"I killed your brother." Sam shrugged. "Sometimes I wonder how you can even stand to be close to me, let alone the things we did together."

"I gave you the power to do it," Gabriel reminded him. "I'd be a heck of a hypocrite if I blamed you for doing something you couldn't have done if I hadn't told you how and helped you."

Sam sucked at his teeth, his facial muscles and tendons taut. "Can you... Can you not say anything for a little while?"

Gabriel blinked again. "That's probably the nicest way I've ever been told to shut up," he remarked.

Sam made a quiet, whining noise and clenched his fists at his sides. "Please."

Being silent was something Gabriel had never been good at, and it was an effort to not say something now, but he swallowed the words that wanted to come out as he watched Sam take a step towards him.

Hesitating between each short step, as if checking that Gabriel wasn't going to do anything annoying, Sam moved until he was close to Gabriel. Then, after heaving several bull-like breaths through his nostrils, he reached out and drew Gabriel to him, bending to press his face into Gabriel's neck. He stood motionless for a few seconds, his mouth open against the skin of Gabriel's neck, his teeth digging into Gabriel's skin. Then he pulled right back. "I need your grace," he said to the tarmac.

That was something he could do, and biting back the 'Any time' that wanted to slip out, Gabriel silently let his guards down, pulling his grace to the surface 'til it was all but shining under his skin.

"Oh God." Sounding desperate, Sam sank to his knees, still staring at the ground. "Please. Please."

"Sam," Gabriel said softly, reaching out to tilt Sam's face up to meet his eyes, letting fingers pour his grace over the human.

Sam groaned, closing his eyes and grabbing holding of Gabriel's hands, running his tongue over them. He took multiple fingers into his mouth and sucked them, making almost pornographic noises around his mouthful and tugging hard at Gabriel's power. It was more than a little arousing, but Gabriel held back from doing anything more than letting Sam drink in grace, which he was taking in alarming amounts... or what would've been alarming if not for the return of a more normal refueling from Heaven.

Sam was gorging. He thrust away Gabriel's hands and instead lifted Gabriel's shirts, pressing his face against Gabriel's upper belly and dragging blunt teeth over skin as he sucked and pulled and yanked on Gabriel's grace, making slurping noises and making Gabriel's skin sticky wet. "God, yes," he kept muttering. Then, "Gabriel, this is helping. This is really helping."

"Can I talk now?" Gabriel asked, voice coming out a lot rougher than his usual. There was no way what Sam was doing wasn't going to have an affect on him.

For the first time in what felt like forever, Sam met Gabriel's eyes, and his own eyes were glowing with borrowed grace. "Yes," he said, managing a rough smile. "Think I'm better now, or getting there. Your grace... Your grace was what I needed. I'm not... not angry anymore." He pressed his mouth back to Gabriel's skin, pushing his tongue under the waistband blocking his progress. He moaned in what sounded like frustration.

Yeah, things were getting a little out of hand. "Sam," Gabriel said, moving to cup the side of Sam's face and hold him still, keep him focused. "Do you trust me?"

Sam looked up at him again with his gold-glowing eyes and nodded against Gabriel's hand. Every bit of anger and resentment seemed to have gone from him as cleanly and thoroughly as if washed away. "Yes. Completely."

"Enough to let me have control here?" He could just snap his fingers and take it, but that wasn't what he wanted. That wouldn't fix anything.

Sam seemed to pause and closed his eyes, but then he nodded and said again, "Yes."

Now Gabriel did snap his fingers, using his grace to change the reality around them. If they were going to do this, they were going to do it somewhere more comfortable than up against a fence alongside a dirt road.

Sam, eyes now opened again, seemed startled. Holding onto Gabriel's hips, he looked around the lavish bedroom. "Wow. You're really fully charged again, huh?"

"Getting there," Gabriel said with a grin. "You sucking on my grace seems to be accelerating the process."

"Really? Guess I should suck some more then," Sam said with a smirk and got to his feet. He moved in as if to kiss Gabriel, but stopped before their lips touched. "Uh, are you still planning on the control thing?"

Gabriel was sure the grin he was giving Sam now would be defined as wicked. "Oh, we're definitely still doing the control thing."

Sam seemed to shiver. "Right. Okay." He took a deep breath and then nodded as if making his mind up. "I trust you, Gabriel," he said firmly. "The reins are yours."

"Giddy up," Gabriel quipped, snapping Sam's clothes away and making a show of eying him up and down. "Acres and acres and all mine." He let his gaze drift up to meet Sam's heated one. "Bed now, please."

Sam seemed to hesitate for a few moments, but Gabriel didn't think it was disobedience, just a question of a blood-deprived brain catching up with events. Then Sam shivered again and moved, stopping once more when he stood beside the huge satin-covered bed Gabriel had made for them. "Uh, how d'you want me?"

Gabriel let his eyes drift down and back up again, knowing his smirk was getting wider. "Do you want the list in alphabetical order or order of preference?"

Sam chuckled in a way that sounded a little nervous. "Let's stick with item one on the agenda for now?"

"On your back," Gabriel said, the picture he had in his mind, very clear. "Hands above your head."

Sam sat down on the edge of the bed then slowly lifted his legs onto it as he laid back. He wiggled a little, getting himself more central, then lifted his arms, resting his hands on the pillow above his head. "Like this?" he asked, sounding so unsure that Gabriel was glad Sam's aroused response to all this was so obvious.

As it was, the uncertainty just made Sam even more tempting, and Gabriel knew his smile had turned softer, more affectionate in response. "Just like that," he said, coming to sit beside Sam, reaching out and running one finger lightly over the sharply defined muscles in Sam's stomach. "Feast fit for a god."

The taut skin trembled under his touch. "Am I..." Sam started, then seemed to change his mind and asked instead, "What am I allowed to do here?"

"Relax," Gabriel said immediately. He leaned up and in, pausing just before taking Sam's mouth in a kiss. "Feel."

Sam seemed to be doing plenty of feeling, what with the moan that he made into the kiss, but relaxing seemed off the cards. His arm muscles tensed and twitched as if he were fighting himself over something.

Gabriel pulled back after a moment, considering as he looked down at Sam's flushed face. "Would it be easier if I tied you up?" he asked, resting one hand over Sam's heart. It was an honest question; he could feel how hard Sam was trying and wanted to make it as simple as possible. This was supposed to be fun, after all.

His eyes stuttering shut, Sam's mouth fell open slightly, and he licked at his lips, sucking them between his teeth for a few moments before finally answering, "Yes. Yeah, it would."

"Ask and you shall receive." With one snap, Gabriel had dark padded leather restraints around Sam's wrists and ankles pulled taut, leaving the human spreadeagled and on display. And looking down at him, Gabriel felt like the luckiest being in Heaven or on Earth.

"Oh God," Sam said, half-groan, half-blasphemy. "Sorry," he added quickly, his voice still very rough. "Slipped out. Gabriel..." He searched for and met Gabriel's eyes. "I've been tied up stupid numbers of times, but it's never felt like this before."

"The objective is a little bit different than in all those other times," Gabriel said with a teasing smile. "Unless you're kinkier than you've let on."

Sam snorted, but his grin of humor soon slipped back into something a lot more intense as he tried to move his limbs, testing the bonds. "Gabriel, oh... Fuck."

Gabriel grinned widely. "We're definitely heading there." He once again slowly ran his hand down Sam's body, from neck to waist. "But we're going to take the scenic route."

"What's wrong with 'as the crow flies'?" Sam asked, pulling a face even as he strained up with his hips towards Gabriel's hand.

Which Gabriel immediately pulled away. "I'm an archangel, not a crow. We like to fly in circles, getting a look and feel at where we're going from all angles before we land." He leaned over and kissed Sam as deep as possible, letting his fingers trail up the underside of Sam's bound arms. This? Was going to give new meaning to the word fun.

Sam pushed up into the kiss, apparently trying to make it somehow deeper still, and Gabriel felt a hungry tugging on his grace.

Gabriel let him have a quick taste, but then pulled it back. "Greedy," he teased, nipping at Sam's lips before sitting back up again. "Can't help yourself, can you? Always reaching for that control."

"Passive doesn't exactly come natural to me," Sam admitted, his lips twisted into a wry grimace. "But you said me drawing on your grace was speeding up its replenishment. I thought..." He paused. "Guess I should stop thinking."

"I'm not sure if Sam Winchester is capable of stopping thinking," Gabriel observed with a smile and a surge of affection. "But I'll see what I can do to help." He straddled Sam's hips and went back to kissing him, fingers caressing in teasing patterns over Sam's skin. He added in a touch of grace every now and then to the caresses, giving them an unpredictable extra zing.

It didn't take long before Sam was moaning into Gabriel's mouth, squirming and straining at his bonds. He was doing his best to push his cock up against Gabriel's ass, but his limbs were pulled too tight to allow him a lot of thrusting room.

Gabriel finally broke away from the endless temptation of Sam's mouth to partake of some of the other temptations. He slowly moved his way down Sam's body, tasting his skin from throat to navel.

Sam's body undulated as he heaved for rapid breath. "Gabriel," he said, his voice very deep. "Gabriel, please."

Gabriel slithered down even further, and shot Sam a wicked smirk. "Well, since you asked so nicely...." He lowered his head and slowly licked at Sam's cock like a lollipop.

Sam released a strangled breath, arching his neck and pressing his head back in the pillow. "Fuck. Yes. Like that."

Gabriel grinned wider and did it again. And again. Then, when Sam was all but incoherent, he deep-throated him.

"Shit!" The metal rings fastening the restraints into the bedframe clinked as they pulled tight, all of Sam's body tensing, trying pointlessly to raise itself up. "Gabe, Gabe..." He tossed his head from side to side on the pillow, his hair everywhere.

He was gorgeous like this, so alive in his need, balanced on the edge. Gabriel was tempted to keep him there for as long as possible, but he wanted to watch him come too much. So he let go of the tight hold he'd been keeping on his grace, letting it flow out and over Sam.

Sam... wailed. He shuddered and struggled as he fought to take in as much of Gabriel's grace as he could, but then he went rigid, managing a strangled, "Fuck, Gabe..." before coming hard and long into Gabriel's throat.

Gabriel kept it up through Sam's orgasm and after, but finally slowly tapered off both the grace and the suction and pulled off Sam's cock with an audible pop.

Sam's heavy breathing slowly calmed down, but he still tugged at his bonds. "I want to hold you," he said a little pathetically.

Gabriel chuckled, smiling fondly at his human. "I think that can be arranged," he said, snapping the restraints away.

He immediately found himself clutched in a tight bear hug and being pulled up Sam's body. "Gabe," Sam whispered. "You're amazing. I feel amazing."

"See?" Gabriel said, though his voice was a bit muffled from being pressed so tightly against Sam. "Sometimes letting someone else have control isn't a bad thing."

Sam released his tight grip, moving his hands to Gabriel's shoulders and lifting him enough to meet his eyes. Sam's own were gold-tinted again. "I mean it. I feel incredible. Like I'm full of light, full of your light."

"That would be because you kind of are, kid," Gabriel pointed out. He shifted to prop himself up on his elbows braced against Sam's chest.

"I like being full of you." Sam smiled, his hands starting to move over Gabriel's body, finding their way under clothing.

"That a suggestion?" Gabriel asked with a raised eyebrow and a smirk as he snapped his own clothes away.

"Huh." Sam made the most of the revealed skin. "I dunno. Maybe. I haven't... you know, before."

"Got fucked?" Gabriel supplied cheerfully.

"Not so literally, anyway," Sam said, his expression wry.

Gabriel snorted. "Let's leave the metaphorical out of this discussion. Literal is definitely the topic of the hour."

Sam moved his hands restlessly over Gabriel's back. After a few minutes, he asked, "Do you want to? If I do, I mean."

Gabriel shifted again so he could better look down at Sam lying beneath him. "Y'know, sometimes you ask the stupidest questions. Next you'll be asking if I happen to be fond of chocolate."

"Heh." Sam moved his legs from under Gabriel's, bending them up to lodge Gabriel between them. "I saved that tube of lube for you, but it's in the jacket you clicked away." He began to move a hand between their bodies.

This time Gabriel didn't even snap, just reached and pulled said tube out of thin air. "One of the advantages of sleeping with an archangel is you can always find the lube," he said with a grin.

"I think there are way more exciting advantages than that," Sam said with a grin as his hand found Gabriel's cock and wrapped around it.

"Yeah? Like what?" Gabriel asked, amused at how his voice had gone deeper without any conscious decision on his part. It kinda went with the way his toes were curling and his wings were twitching like they wanted to unfurl in response to Sam touching him like that.

Sam laughed. "You want me to tell you how awesome you are again?" He smoothed his thumb over the head of Gabriel's cock, sliding easily in the precome. "The way you make me feel. You think I'd let anyone else tie me up after the things I've been through? Only you, Gabriel. Only you."

Gabriel was actually surprised by how that made him feel. He'd asked for Sam to trust him and Sam had, despite all the ways he'd screwed him in the past that they both had been so harshly reminded of. But that Sam was saying he was the only one he trusted that much... He leaned over and kissed Sam, putting all the feelings that he had bubbling up but wasn't quite able to express in words into it.

A large hand pushed into the hair at the back of Gabriel's neck, holding him into the kiss, Sam kissing back just as passionately. Meanwhile, the other large hand was tugging on Gabriel's cock, as well as it could, trapped between their bodies.

After a good long while, Sam groaned, breaking the kiss long enough to say, "Do it. Do it, Gabriel. I want you to."

Gabriel searched Sam's face for a moment, but saw nothing that made him think Sam didn't mean that one hundred percent. He grinned and kissed Sam again, reaching down and wrapping his hand around Sam's cock, bringing it back to full hardness with a couple of pulls and a small surge of grace.

Sam's eyes flickered shut under the attention. "Now," he said, almost whispering. "Do it now."

"Patience, young padawan," Gabriel told him. "We'll get there, but I'm driving this bus. This is going to be awesome." He slid down to take Sam's erection back into his mouth.

Sam said something Gabriel strongly suspected of being highly blasphemous, but as Sam had clapped one of his hands over his own mouth, Gabriel couldn't be sure. Sam's other hand had hold of Gabriel's shoulder, squeezing it hard.

When he judged that Sam was sufficiently distracted, Gabriel traced one finger behind Sam's balls and along his perineum to toy with his opening.

Releasing a shuddery breath, Sam tensed, but then seemed to very purposely relax again. He massaged Gabriel's shoulder as if in reassurance. "Will you... Will you make sure I'm clean before...? Inside, I mean." Looking up Gabriel could see Sam's already flushed features were burning a deeper red.

Gabriel chuckled, not unkindly. "Let me worry about the details," he told Sam, slipping his finger inside. "All you have to do is feel."

Gabriel could feel Sam's body reacting to his presence, squeezing his finger. When he glanced up he saw Sam's eyes were closed, his expression blank, and his breathing strangely regulated.

That was not at all the reaction Gabriel was hoping for. "Sam?"


"You okay?"

"Yeah. Just..." Sam shifted uncomfortably. "Can you get a move on?"

"This isn't supposed to be something you grit your teeth and bear, Sam," Gabriel said, pulling back. That was the last thing he wanted.

"No. Stop. Come back!" Sam looked unhappily down his body at Gabriel. "Don't stop, just go faster. I mean, it's not supposed to feel good to start with, is it? That comes with, well, prostate stimulation and..." Gabriel had the sudden mental image of Sam researching the exact ins and outs – pun intended – of anal sex on the internet back when there was one, and no doubt taking detailed notes.

Gabriel couldn't help but laugh a little at that image. "It's a point of pride with me that I do make it feel good to start with. Or at least not uncomfortable. So no stiff upper lip, okay? I've got options at my disposal that others wouldn't. Archangel, remember?"

"Okay," Sam said, his expression softening. "It's not really uncomfortable, just weird. Feel free to, uh, give me a grace enema or something."

That made Gabriel laugh again. "I think that might be a little too kinky even for me, kid." He lowered his head took Sam's cock back into his mouth and kept up his attentions there when he finally slid his finger in again.

This time, Sam moaned softly and pushed fingers into Gabriel's hair, lightly holding him in place. That was a much better reaction, and Gabriel mentally racked up a point for archangel skills. He kept up his attentions as he went searching for and found Sam's prostate.

"Christ! Is that... Oh Go– I mean, fuck." Sam writhed under Gabriel's attentions, apparently trying to push himself deeper onto the finger, but at the same time further into Gabriel's mouth.

Getting Sam so lost in the sensations let Gabriel add another finger and continue along the path to getting him ready for the main event.

Sam's only reaction to that was to moan louder and almost beg for more. "Gabe. Gabe, do it now. I'm ready. I want to feel you."

Gabriel wasn't entirely sure if Sam was ready, but even archangels had their limits and having Sam stretched out and begging him to fuck him was pushing at them. "All right," he gave in, shifting them both so he could press slowly into Sam. "Deep breath," he advised as he began to sink into his lover's body.

"Ah. Fuck. Ah, Gabe." Sam panted staccato breaths, forcing words out on the out-breaths. "Don't... Don't stop."

He wasn't about to, not with how wonderful it felt. He kept moving until he was fully sheathed and then paused, panting a little himself to keep control. "Fuck, Sam...."

Sam managed a breathless laugh. "General idea, isn't it?"

That pulled an answering laugh from Gabriel. "You're amazing, you know that?" he asked.

Sam shook his head slightly. "No, that's you." He moved his legs up, wrapping them around Gabriel's lower back and proving himself more flexible than his bulk would suggest. "I have no idea what I've done to ever deserve this, deserve you for however long I have you."

"You're you," Gabriel told him simply. "Sam Winchester. The kid that broke destiny and saved the world. You..." He paused, the words he'd been keeping himself from even thinking coming easily to his lips then. "You've got me for as long as you want me. And maybe even longer than that. An archangel in love is a hard thing to shake."

Sam's eyes were wide now and staring transfixed at Gabriel. He was breathing fast, biting his lower lip as he lifted his trembling hands to cup Gabriel's face. "You... But I'm not..." He seemed to give up on words then, which was a good thing since Gabriel suspected he'd been about to say something around the ballpark of 'I'm not worthy'. Instead, Sam craned his head to meet Gabriel's lips in a fierce kiss.

Gabriel gave as fierce as he got in the kiss and then finally pulled back with a grin. "Hang on," he said as he began to move. "This is going to be awesome!"

As Gabriel built to a rhythm, Sam groaned deeply, dropping his head back to the pillow. His hands rested on Gabriel's shoulders, clenching occasionally. "So fucking good, Gabe," he said, his voice deep and rough.

Gabriel couldn't argue with that other than maybe to say it was better than good, watching Sam's reactions as much as part of it as the physical sensation of fucking him. And more – he didn't know if it was because, for once, he wasn't hiding what he was or what he felt, or because he'd so recently regained something close to his normal power levels, but he was having trouble keeping his wings from coming out. He could feel them wanting to unfurl with each thrust, his shoulder blades twitching in the effort to hold them back.

He knew Sam could see them when he heard him gasp. Sam reached out, let his fingers land lightly on the apex of each wing. "I touched these, didn't I? In the... In my head. So beautiful."

A shiver went down Gabriel's spine, and his wings flexed without his meaning them to. "I don't usually show them off."

"You should. To me, at least." Sam grinned and half-closed his eyes in apparent pleasure as Gabriel changed his angle slightly. "I... I want you to be as much yourself as you can be with me," he went on breathlessly. "I can... I can take it."

"Don't know what you're asking, kid," Gabriel said with a laugh that came out all breathless as he pushed into Sam a little harder.

"I do," Sam said, somehow managing a defiant tone. "As much as any human can know, at least. I – Oh fuck – I've drunk so much of your grace that it's... That it's physically changing me." He start combing his fingers through Gabriel's feathers, a look of awe on his face. "I've been awash in you, Gabe. I... Even when I'd been made to forget everything 'cept... the old, bad stuff about you, I still... still knew you. Still knew that I trusted you, that I... I loved you."

Gabriel shuddered at the words, wanting to deny, to argue. Sam couldn't... But his body reacted with more certainty than his mind, fingers digging into Sam's waist to hold him in place as he thrust harder, deeper, more possessively. His wings snapped all the way open, and he threw his head back, pleasure and wonder and love overwhelming the doubt and fear.

"Fuck!" Sam's gentle touches of Gabriel's wings became suddenly a lot rougher, either because he was lost in passion, or he suddenly realized the wings could take it, which they could and a lot more. His every out-breath, timed with Gabriel's thrusts, was a moan or a whimper as he raked his fingers through the feathers, tugging at Gabriel's grace through them, pulling all of Gabriel to him.

And Gabriel let him, more and more of his masks and disguises falling away as Sam pulled at him, the joy of being truly seen for the first time in way too long mixing with the pleasure of fucking Sam. He suddenly realized he was going to lose all control when he came, and he tried to slow down, to warn Sam, but he was already past the point of no return. "Sam!" he yelled, feeling all that he was swelling inside him, ready to burst out, shine forth.

"Oh! Fuck! God, Gabriel!" He heard the words as just sounds as rapture overtook him, Sam writhing beneath him...

And the archangel Gabriel dropped his vessel and threw his head back, calling out Sam's name again as he came in a tsunami of grace.


"Uh." It was a small noise, and it was coming from under him.

Gabriel came back from what could only be called a bliss overload, realized where he was and what had happened, and quickly reformed his vessel. He pulled away enough to get a look at the human lying underneath him. "Sam!"

"'S me." Sam looked up at him – with whole eyes. "'M okay. More than."

Relief made Gabriel limp and he collapsed back downwards again, resting his forehead on Sam's shoulder. "That was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done," he muttered, muffled against Sam's skin. "In a very long life of doing many stupid things."

"Nah," Sam said lazily, stroking light fingers over Gabriel's lower back. "It was awesome. Like you." He snorted softly. "Never come so hard in my life."

"I could've left you an eyeless, drooling, burnt out husk," Gabriel pointed out, raising his head to look Sam in the eyes he still had.

"You'd never do that to me," Sam said with what looked and sounded like complete conviction.

"It's not exactly something that's voluntary, kid," Gabriel said.

"Stop fretting," Sam told him, lifting a hand to touch Gabriel's face. "I've seen your true form before, remember? When you rescued me from those zombie-vamps. You can't hurt me, Gabriel. You won't hurt me."

"Hope those never become famous last words," Gabriel said wryly, but the faith Sam had in him kindled something warm inside that he hadn't felt in centuries.

"In fact," Sam said, flicking his thumb over Gabriel's chin, "you've done me the opposite of harm. I feel so good; I can't have much if any demon crap left in me at all."

"You don't," Gabriel said, after a second to take stock. "There's not a trace of demon taint in your blood left."

"Really?" Sam's eyes widened. "Like none at all?"

"Nope." Gabriel smiled slightly. "Like anything demonic could've survived the amount of grace I just threw at you."

Sam tipped his head back into the pillow and laughed breathlessly. "God, Gabriel. That's... You're..." He shook his head as if he couldn't believe it. "Y'know, I thought that it was forever, or at least for as long as I lived. I thought that it was just what I was – tainted, darkened – and that was that."

"Nope," Gabriel said, reaching up to trace Sam's lips with one finger. "Not tainted, not anymore. But you're always going to be extra sensitive to demonic influences and power, I think."

Sam frowned slightly. "What does that mean exactly?"

"Just like what that trap left on you," Gabriel said. "Making you all angry and dark, like you're under your own personal demonic cloud."

"Oh." He pulled a face. "Not exactly ideal in my line of work, but I guess you can put me right again quickly enough, now that we know what the problem is." He grinned suddenly, and Gabriel guessed Sam was imagining what 'putting him right' might entail.

Gabriel snorted. "That horniness though? That's all you."

"Like you're not." Sam laughed, the noise rumbling through his body before he sobered. "Y'know, whether or not you're a black swan in the larger picture, you've definitely been one for me – changed me forever in a way I never dared hope could happen. I still can't fully take it in."

"Dad moves in mysterious ways," Gabriel replied, sending out a mental Thanks, Dad at the same time.


Day Thirty-Eight

"Yeah, this is the place," Sam said, turning in a slow circle and looking around the scrubby grass and the dilapidated building they were stood by. He nodded at the building. "Anna killed me in there. Michael patched me up." He grinned at Gabriel. "This is the point I should be making some kind of anti-angel comment, but you know what? I just can't find it in me."

Gabriel gave him a self-satisfied smirk back. "If it helps, I'm sure big bro is storming around heaven making anti-Winchester comments. And probably anti-me comments too." He could picture Michael now, all sulky because Gabriel and the Winchesters had managed to cancel his big throwdown with Luci. And though Gabriel suspected he'd always have a pang of regret at the thought of Lucifer's death, it was beginning to fade into something less immediate, more melancholy, which considering how long the pain of the first war had lingered was almost a miracle. Humans, Winchesters in particular, were amazing things.

"That's a spooky house," Joey said, pulling a face at the building. Unlike his mother, who was still looking a little flustered, Joey seemed totally unimpressed with flying Air Angel.

"It belonged to my mother and her family before her," Sam told him, wondering if it would make a difference. "It's full of protections against demons." He turned back to Gabriel. "I take it they're not here yet?"

"Nope. I can go pick them up...?"

Sam looked at him and nodded. "I'd kinda hoped Cas' mojo might've returned too, but if it had, they'd be here already." He was impatient to see Dean. Cas, too, of course, but he and his brother had a lot of catching up to do.

"Archangels have bigger and more energetic grace batteries," Gabriel told him. "We'll get Cas charged up soon enough. All right, sit tight, I'll be right back." He gave a wink in particular to Joey and then snapped himself away.

Sam smiled encouragingly at the other two. "Come on, let's go inside. There's probably a lot of tidying up to get done while we wait." He wondered how long the wait would actually be. If all was well, it could be as little as a few more seconds.

"There's nothing scary in there, is there?" Joey asked, looking at the door dubiously.

Sam doubted Gabriel would have left them here if he'd sensed any danger within, but just in case, he nodded. "You're right to be careful. You stay out here and guard your mother while I take a look inside." After exchanging what he hoped was a reassuring glance with Madeline, he took his knife out and made his way cautiously to the door.

Inside, it was just as he remembered, but how he remembered it looking when they first were taken to the place, not how it looked after they had added angel protection and fought said angels. He could only assume Michael had cleared up after himself. It seemed in character. After searching all the rooms, he stuck his head back outside to check on Madeline and Joey.

Joey was staring at the door just like he had been when Sam went in, and it seemed the boy hadn't moved the entire time Sam was checking it out. "Is it okay?" Joey asked the second he saw Sam again.

"I'm sounding the all-clear," Sam told him. "You can both come in."

He saw Madeline's posture relax from the tension she'd been holding herself with as Joey ran forward and stepped inside, all curiosity now that he'd been reassured the place was safe. "Thank you," she said to Sam as she followed at a more sedate pace.

"Don't worry," Sam told her. "Once we renew the protections in here, this place'll be as safe as any outside my friend's awesome panic room. We'll be okay. There's stores of rock salt, paint and so on."

A sudden breeze had him looking up and there, finally, was Dean standing in front of him, Cas and Gabriel and some others behind him.

Sam suspected the placement wasn't accidental, and he gave Gabriel a quick, appreciative smile, but after that, all his attention was on Dean. "Christ, it's good to see you, dude," he said, moving closer and enveloping his brother in a hug.

"Likewise," Dean said, voice suspiciously thick as he hugged Sam back tightly.

"See, bro, we're witnessing one of the many bonding rituals of the Winchesters," Gabriel's amused voice came to Sam's ears, and he looked up to see the archangel standing with an arm slung companionably around Castiel's shoulders. "Any moment now, they'll back off and insult either each other or us."

Sam, who was, it had to be said, in the process of backing off, sent a face Gabriel's way. "You're making that choice of targets an easy one."

"You're welcome," Gabriel said, grinning at him.

Sam walked over to clap Cas on the shoulder. "Good to see you too, man."

"Thank you, Sam," Cas said seriously. "It's a relief that we're finally together again."

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "Just need to find Bobby now." He looked around the kind of crowded room and gestured at Dean. "Madeline, this is my brother, Dean. Don't take any notice of anything he tells you. And this is our friend, the angel Castiel. Everyone, this is Madeline and her son, Joey."

Dean nodded hello at them, then gestured to the two women standing near the door that had come with them. "Reesa and Jane, this is my little brother Sam and the archangel Gabriel, who we put up with even if he is a smartass."

"So, like you then," Reesa teased him.

"Oh, I've had whole millennia to perfect being a smartass," Gabriel said. "Dean's just got natural talent in that area."

"Bite me," Dean told him.

"Why – did you suddenly get turned into candy?" Gabriel shot back then winked at Joey, who started giggling.

"As you can see," Sam said, grinning with sudden happiness, "Gabriel's been lucky enough to find someone of the same mental age to bond with on our journey. Well, Joey's a little more mature, but that's good. Hopefully Gabe will learn a few things."

"Be nice or I won't bite you later," Gabriel told him.

Sam froze, all bar his eyes which immediately focused on Dean, waiting to the reaction to that remark.

Dean snorted. "Maybe we better get you a rabies shot just in case, Sam." It was obvious that Dean had just taken the remark as more snark.

Relaxing, Sam turned to Gabriel. "Maybe you could provide something for everyone to bite on? We're probably going to be here a little while."

Gabriel just smirked before dramatically raising one hand and snapping. The inside of the cabin went from barely furnished decrepitude to resembling something like the presidential suite at a five star hotel, complete with a long table practically groaning with the amount of food it was holding. "That what you had in mind, kid?"

"Perfect," Sam admitting, feeling bizarrely proud. What the hell was that about? "Help yourself, everyone."

Madeline and the other two women were still gawking a bit, obviously flustered by the blatant use of fully charged archangel mojo. Joey had no such problem though; he was at the table before Sam had even finished talking and grabbing handfuls of food to stuff in his mouth. Sam looked at Dean with a raised brow, expecting him to do much the same.

But Dean's attention was focused not on the food, but on Cas, expression of worried concern one that Sam had seen thrown his own way more than once. Cas had his hands in his coat pockets, and he was leaning back against what had been a dirty wooden chair back, but it was now a Regency dresser. He stared back at Dean almost without expression, but then looked down and away suddenly, and Sam got the distinct impression that Cas was embarrassed or ashamed about something.

There was a soft 'tsk' sound beside him, and Sam glanced over to see Gabriel purposefully striding forward, crossing the room to Cas' side. "You'll have to do without my angelic awesomeness for a bit," he said, throwing an arm back around Cas. "My bro and I need to have a discussion about refueling of a different sort."

Both Sam and Dean watched the two angels leave the suite/house/whatever and then turned to each other. "Let's grab some food, bro," Sam said, "and then settle somewhere to talk. We've got a lot of catching up to do."

"Yeah," Dean said, giving Sam a smile that had more shy contentment in it than Sam was used to seeing from him.

Seeing it, Sam wondered again if he were right in his guess, that Dean and Cas had something together not unlike what Sam and Gabriel had discovered. Of course, simply being back together again, the Apocalypse over, was reason enough to be happy.

Sam smiled at the women, who'd managed to shake themselves out of their trances and were filling plates with food. He started doing the same, saying, "We're not going far, Dean and I. We just need to catch up with each other. You're safe here. Make the most of Gabriel's magical finger-click hotel and get comfy. We'll be back soon."

Dean had meanwhile been getting his own plate of food and, as ever, it was piled twice as high as Sam's. He led the way through a door that now led to several equally luxurious bedrooms. "Gotta say," Dean began as they made themselves comfortable in one, "Gabriel may be annoying as fuck most of the time, but he's useful to have around."

"He's not that annoying," Sam heard himself say. He grinned at Dean as he sat down on the edge of a bed. "Or maybe I just have a lifetime's practice at dealing with smartasses."

"Dude, he's way worse than me."

"He really isn't," Sam said, grinning down at his plate. He should actually pay some attention to what he was eating, seeing as this was the best fare he'd had available for months now.

"You two seem to have bonded," Dean said, and Sam could hear the faint questioning tone in his voice.

"Yeah," Sam said softly, but he wasn't sure he was quite ready yet to go further with that acknowledgment, at least, not with plain-speaking specifics. Instead, he looked a little challengingly at Dean. "Guess we each get to have an angel to take home from class."

"Yeah, but mine isn't a hyperactive sugar addict," Dean said, the slight emphasis he put on the word 'mine' another bit of evidence in the 'Dean and Cas are together' column.

"Gabriel's a lot more than just that," Sam replied peaceably. He wasn't about to get into a 'mine's better than yours' argument. They had more important things to talk about. Such as, "So are you both okay for real?"

He watched as Dean's expression turned more serious. "Yeah," he said smiling softly. "I mean it was no picnic, and we both kinda freaked out a little when we thought Cas had lost his grace for good, but we made it through. Keep on keeping on, it's what us Winchesters do, right?"

Sam smiled and nodded, but then he let his smile drop. "Did you have any encounters with demons? By which I mean demons who knew exactly who you are and want revenge?"

Dean shook his head. "Nah, just lots of those... zombie vampires. Two tastes that taste rotten together."

"Yeah, we met a lot of them too. But we met some demons with a pretty impressive hate on for me as well." He gave a half-shrug. "Wasn't fun."

"You okay?" Dean asked, his eyes giving Sam the once over again as if he was checking to make sure he hadn't missed anything.

"Yeah, thanks to Gabriel. Wouldn't have been otherwise. Dean, I've got something to tell you. Something good."


Sam leveled a serious gaze at his brother. "The demon blood's gone from me. All of it, including those original drips from Yellow Eyes."

Watching his brother's reaction was everything he'd hoped it would be. Dean's eyes got impossibly wide as he stared at Sam. "For real?"

He gave Dean a shy smile. "For real. Gabriel says I'll always be a bit too open to demon power now. Being around demons will bring out, well, my dark side, I guess – my anger and shit, but Gabriel will be around to clear that up too, and it really has gone, Dean. Totally. Burned away by a diet of angel grace until every tiny clinging fragment was vaporized into nothing at all."

"That's... huh." Dean shook his head, smiling though he seemed to be having problems getting the news to sink in. "That's great, Sam." He paused and then asked, "Does this mean you're like kinda a little part angel now?"

Sam laughed. "Nah. I'm just me, whatever that is. I guess I finally have a chance to find out. So, uh, you and Cas..." he said leadingly.

"Me and Cas...?" Dean echoed shaking his head a little, but Sam knew him well enough to see that Dean knew exactly what he was asking. And more, the way the corners of his mouth were turning up just a little gave Sam a good idea of the answer.

"Who made the first move?" he asked, not making all that much of an effort to hide his grin.

"Y'know, 'just you' is turning out to be a real girl," Dean pointed out.

Sam tipped his head back and laughed. "Don't you think it's funny, man? Really? It's the beginning of a new world, and you and I have both turned gay for angels." It was easier to say it than he'd thought. Hell, he had no reason to feel embarrassed about this, even without Dean doing something pretty similar himself. Gabriel was awesome, and Sam was... far luckier than he deserved.

Dean stared.

Sam paused. Had he gotten it totally wrong? He returned Dean's stare uneasily. "Uh, you and Cas have... haven't you?"

"Yeah," Dean said as if that was obvious. "For a while now. But... you and Gabriel?"

"Yeah, me and Gabriel." He smiled, leaving it at that since he knew any details would just pull the inevitable 'TMI' and 'girl' remarks from Dean.

Dean suddenly made a face. "He wasn't just making a joke about biting you."

That drew a chuckle from Sam. "Uh, no. Not so much a joke. He's pretty awesome, Dean. He'll fix Cas for you, make him all Tuesday's child again."

"You really do have it bad for him," Dean observed, with a bemused smile.

Sam nodded; he couldn't deny it. He didn't want to deny it. "Gabriel's gonna be traveling with us from now on. Well, on and off. I don't think he has the patience for lengthy car rides now that his mojo's returned to base camp. He's going to make the whole post-apoc recovery effort a lot easier." Talking about cars, "I guess we need a quick zap to Ann Arbor, providing it still exists, to pick up the Impala."

"Yeah. But it can wait till we get some rest and stuff." Dean's expression slipped, and Sam caught a glimpse of haunted eyes and weariness. "It was... pretty bad at times."

Sam felt himself frown with concern. "Yeah, whatever you need, man. Whatever both of you need. You wanna talk about it?" He wasn't really expected a 'yes', but he had to ask.

True to form, Dean shook his head. "Nah. No use dwelling. We got our work cut out for us, even with a couple of angels up our sleeves."

Sam put his hand on Dean's shoulder and squeezed. "We'll do okay. We're together. Our angels are with us. We've persevered this far; we'll cope just fine with this aftermath." He was a little surprised to find he really meant it, believed it even. Somehow, from somewhere, he'd developed a conviction that everything was going to be okay.


The last month or so had made Gabriel hyper-aware of places that were grace-replenishing, and so he brought Cas to one of the biggest on the continent. He didn't want to search any further than that, even though his restored powers made anywhere in the world basically a thought away. It still would have felt like they were putting too much distance between themselves and the Winchesters, however illogical that was.

Having landed them on the very edge of the canyon, right in the middle, Gabriel sat down and dangled his feet over the side. "Come on," he said, patting the ground next to him. "You might want to be sitting for this."

Castiel didn't move, standing incongruously in what was way too many of Dean's cast-offs for this heat. "Why are we here, Gabriel?"

"You're running on empty," Gabriel pointed out. "This," he gestured at the vista around them, "is a gas station with the super high premium stuff. You going to fill up or just sit there and stare at me?"

Castiel gave a bitter little laugh. "I can't 'fill up' as you put it. Do you really think I haven't tried? Not all angels can, it seems."

"That's a load of BS," Gabriel declared with a little more heat than needed. Damn Michael and his cronies, keeping everything on a need to know basis for the lower ranks. "You just don't know how. Luckily you have me to teach you."

After a pause, Cas sat himself carefully down beside Gabriel. He frowned down at the sheer-sided plummet into canyon below. "This had better not be a trick."

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "You're letting Dean-o rub off on you a little too much there, Cas." He held out a hand to the other angel. "Here, I'll give you a jumpstart."

Castiel looked extremely alarmed for a few moments as if he'd misunderstood Gabriel's meaning entirely, but then he nodded. It still took him a good thirty seconds to put his hand in Gabriel's, however, and when he did, Gabriel had to tighten his grip fast to stop Cas from pulling away again immediately.

The communication spell he'd been doing during their travels had given Gabriel some experience in connecting with Cas on a grace-level. He did so now, hiding his dismay at how weak the other's grace truly was. That was what they were here to fix, after all. He poured his own grace down the link, filling up the aching spaces he could sense within Cas.

Cas' eyes flickered shut, and he opened his mouth, letting out a small gasp. His hand clenched around Gabriel's, and he rocked slightly.

Gabriel smiled faintly at the reaction. "Told you, bro," he said softly, feeling protective. "There's better ways of going native than losing your grace. I can teach you all those too."

Blue eyes suddenly bore into Gabriel's. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, y'know," Gabriel said, gesturing airily with his free hand. "Humans have a lot of fun stuff you can try. Eating, sleeping." He paused and gave Cas a meaningful look. "Sex."

Cas raised his chin. "I don't need any help with sex," he said firmly, but then he added in a more appeasing tone, "Thank you, Gabriel. For... the grace. And for taking care of Sam for Dean."

"Any time, but I didn't look after Sam for Dean."

"Whatever your reason, thank you." Castiel was being unnecessarily stiff and formal, so Gabriel thought. Especially for a guy holding hands with another guy on the edge of a precipice. As if deciding that for himself, Castiel started trying to free his hand from Gabriel's. "I have sufficient grace now," he claimed. It really was impressive how well he'd learned to lie.

"Don't try to kid a kidder, bro," Gabriel said, tightening his grip. "I can see right through you. Relax. It's just us here. I'm not judging you. Well, not badly anyway."

For a moment it looked as if Cas was going to try to struggle, but then pretty much everything about him seemed to relax. "Okay," he said simply. Then, "It's... nice to be able to see properly again."

"I hear ya," Gabriel said, remembering how.. closed in he'd felt when he'd first come to back in Florida. He looked at Cas and with a smirk, added, "Wait till you and Dean have sex with your grace powered up."

Castiel's eyes widened and then narrowed as he stared at Gabriel. "How did you know?"

"You and Dean-o haven't exactly been subtle with the eye-fucking, y'know," Gabriel said, with a fond smirk. It had really been kind of amusing in a cute sort of way, though there were limits. If they hadn't bought a clue by now, Gabriel probably would've arranged to have them 'accidentally' locked in a closet or something until they got on with it.

"Eye..." Cas huffed with exasperation. "Some kind of slang, I suppose. Sex is a human act, Gabriel. I'm not sure what you think I could do with my grace, restored or otherwise."

"You said it yourself," Gabriel pointed out. "We can just sense so much more than a human. Use your imagination and apply that to sex."

"Hmm," was the only reply to that, but Gabriel felt pretty sure from the distracted look on Castiel's face that he was thinking about it. "You've had many human lovers," Cas went on to say after a few minutes. It didn't seem to be a question.

"Human, god, and there was one very intense weekend with a kraken." Gabriel waggled his eyebrows. "There's a reason there's so much tentacle porn out there, I'm just saying."

Castiel frowned at him, looking unsure whether to believe the claim or not. In the end, he seemed to opt for changing the subject, only not really. "What was it like, allowing Sam to consume your grace?"

"You mean that first time when it was for the plan? Or all the times it's been just for fun?"

"Ah," Cas said quietly, "that explains why Sam seemed so changed. I'd thought it was just my blinkered perception."

"No, not just that," Gabriel told him. "Turns out the cure for being fed demon blood as a baby is angel grace as an adult. Who'd've thunk, huh?" He felt a little more exposed as he talked about it – that whole grace and Sam thing seemed more... private, intimate, than the actual sex. And while he didn't want to hide it, he found he didn't want to brag about it either. It meant too much to turn into just another boast.

Castiel's gaze sharpened. "The taint is gone?"

"As if it never was," Gabriel said, smiling in accomplishment. "Sam'll always be more susceptible to demonic influence, but he's clean."

Swallowing, Cas looked down. "That is... remarkable. Dean will be very happy."

Gabriel cocked his head and regarded his brother. "You don't look all that ecstatic though. What's up?"

Cas shook his head, ever so slightly. "Nothing. I am fine. Just... It doesn't matter."

Yeah, right. If Gabriel believed that, next thing he'd know someone would be trying to sell him a set of pearly gates or something. "If it doesn't matter, you won't mind telling me."

"It's the height of self-indulgence to even care about how useless I've become," Cas said, his mouth screwing up in a one-sided grimace. "I've become too human as well as powerless."

"Contrary to certain points of view in Heaven, I don't think feeling like a human is necessarily a bad thing," Gabriel said. "There's a reason they were Dad's favorite, after all."

Bowing his head in agreement or something very like it, Castiel said, "The Winchesters have shown us why, repeatedly."

Gabriel grinned. "Yeah, they've become the poster boys for Humanity Being a Good Thing."

"And we're the only angels who saw it."

"Because we're awesome like that," Gabriel insisted, twisting to clap Castiel on the shoulder with his free hand.

That won him a shy smile from Castiel, who seemed to be relaxing more with every moment. "We are awesome," he repeated, as if experimenting with how it sounded. Then he gave Gabriel a way more knowing look than Gabriel was used to from him. "And we are rewarded."

"Yeah," Gabriel said, smiling back. "Those Winchesters are poster boys for angel rewards too. Almost makes ya think that Dad might not be as checked out as it appears."

"I have found... new faith in his continued existence. In his continued interest."

"See?" Gabriel nudged him playfully. "Good sex does make you see God. Metaphorically speaking, of course, otherwise, it would be really awkward."

Cas snorted. "If you truly wish to advise me in matters sexual, you could suggest a way to stop Dean imploring our Father at the worst possible moments."

Gabriel snickered. "Yeah, Sam's done that once or twice. Threaten to start calling out John Winchester's name during the act, that'll drive the point home."

"I'll try that." Cas smiled, but then the expression fell. "Will you stay with us now, Gabriel? The things we witnessed, traveling – this world is wounded. Hunters and their allies are needed more than ever."

The question caught Gabriel off guard, not because he hadn't been thinking of staying, but because he hadn't been thinking of leaving. Which, yeah, made him pause and consider what that said about him and his feelings. "Huh," he breathed, surprised at just how deep Sam and the others had managed to worm their way into his heart.

"Huh?" Cas echoed. "Was the question out of place?"

"Nah, bro," Gabriel said, shaking off the bemusement. "Just not one I'd asked myself before."

"You need time to contemplate," Cas said, freeing his hand and standing. "I understand. I'll return to Dean now. Maybe we can return here another day for the lesson you offered."

"That's just it though," Gabriel said, looking out over the canyon, letting the majesty of this part of his Dad's creation flow over him. "I don't need time. I didn't ask the question because the answer was blindingly obvious." He looked up at Cas and smiled faintly. "You guys couldn't get rid of me even if you wanted to. I'm staying."

Cas stared. Cas stared for a long time. Then the impassive face broke into a full blown grin. "I'm sure the brothers will be reassured to know you'll still be fighting on the side of the human race."

"It's not that," Gabriel said quickly, but just as quickly amended, "Well, not just that. Not going to leave the job half done, and yeah, Lucifer's gone, but it's not quite time for Disneyland yet. But it's also personal now."

"Sam," Castiel said.

"Yeah." Gabriel felt himself smiling a little helplessly and shrugged. "Winchesters, huh? They have a way of getting under your skin."


Day Forty

Gabriel had never smited with an audience before, but Sam'd had a point about him being the target of the attack back in St Louis and so having a right to tag along.

So it was the two of them that Gabriel transported to the burnt out building that the demons were using as their lair. He dropped Sam down just outside. "You sure I can't talk you into letting me deal with this by myself?" he asked one last time.

"Immoveable object, remember?" Sam said, smiling and turning Ruby's knife around in his hand.

Gabriel sighed and opened a hand, admitting defeat. "Just try not to get in the way when I'm going all irresistible force on their asses," he said then snapped them inside.

There was a split second when they appeared where all the demons were frozen in shock, then their heads tipped back and mouths opened as they urgently moved to vacate the bodies they were possessing. Gabriel snapped his fingers again, grabbing onto their essences and shoving them back into the flesh. "What's your hurry, boys? We've got some things to talk about."

Now the demons looked truly scared.

Sam shifted beside Gabriel, asking softly, "All the vessels dead?" Gabriel nodded; that was just more lives they were going to pay for taking as far as he was concerned.

So far, Gabriel hadn't done anything to immobilize the demons aside from keeping them from fleeing their meatsuits. Their own fear was holding them paralyzed. Gabriel was happy to let it remain so, but kept ever vigilant for the moment where he'd need to pin them down. "I'm taking it you guys know who I am?" he asked, allowing just the faintest of smirks to touch his lips.

One of them, the only one in a female vessel, dared to spit on the floor of the building. "We know, messenger." Her voice shook badly.

"And yet you still thought you'd mess with me and mine?" Gabriel said, addressing that demon directly. "I'm impressed. It's not every day you run into beings who have so little sense of self-preservation."

"Sam Winchester is not yours," one of the males said belligerently.

The female nodded. "Sam Winchester owes a blood price that'll take him millennia in Hell to repay."

Sam laughed darkly. "So you're what? Repo men? Well, your trap failed, thanks to Gabriel. If I belong to any archangel, it's him. Lucifer never had any claim on me outside his own head."

The demons hissed and shifted, but their fear of Gabriel still seemed to keep them rooted to the spot.

Gabriel highly approved of that fear, wanted to make it grow till they choked on it. "So you thought you were going to take out Sam and expect me to do just what? Shrug my shoulders and go 'Oh well.'? Did you really think I would be any more forgiving than Lucifer? I'm the freaking Angel of Justice. While Luci was busy sulking 'cause he'd been grounded in Hell, I was out there making sure all kinds of SOB's got their just deserts. Giving payback is what I do. The second you decided to do this to Sam, you became my prey."

He'd been letting just a hint of his real voice come through in his words, letting just the bare shadow of his wings manifest. He wanted to drive home the fact of just who it was they had crossed and what that meant. But now, he let himself slip back into being the Trickster and grinned at them. "Basically your ass is grass, and I'm the lawnmower. And I might mean that literally. I haven't decided yet."

Sam was staring at him in a way that could've been distracting had Gabriel not been so focused. With his powers restored, it was no trouble at all to prick up half an ear to Sam's thoughts, an attention he was pretty sure Sam sensed, seeing as Gabriel picked up, 'You are so hot like this,' loud and clear.

Gabriel almost snorted in amusement; and here he'd been worried that Sam was going to get all judgmental and frowny at him. But since that wasn't the case, he turned to him and asked, "What do you think, Sam? Any particular form you want to see their just desert take?"

Sam looked over at them, his expression becoming grim. "I'd be happy with a total non-existence option. Oblivion. No reprieves, no hanging around suffering and waiting, just gone. Forever."

"That's not very imaginative," Gabriel said, and he might have been pouting a little. Maybe. Not that he would admit it.

Shrugging, Sam turned back to look at him. "I guess I have a wholefoods taste in revenge, raw and unrefined."

"Not me," Gabriel pointed out. "My palate is very, very refined. And it's not revenge. It's justice." Though, okay, granted, it was also revenge in this case.

Sam stared at him for a few moments and then smiled wryly. "Do whatever it is you want to do, Gabriel. You don't need my permission. Have your fun. You deserve it."

Gabriel grinned widely at that. "Thanks, Sam!" He turned back to the demons, his smile not really lessening. Part of his brain had been turning over possible tricks since the demons first attacked, and he had pretty much narrowed it down to a favorite. "So you guys like traps, huh? Like seeing people run around in circles as their doom gets closer? Well, I think I can oblige." He snapped his fingers, changing the reality around them. The burned out house became an ancient stone maze within a deep cavern.

The demons looked around themselves in confusion. Sam did too, saying, "Uh..? Exposition for the slow to catch on, please."

"Surely, Sam, you've got a thorough grounding in the classical," Gabriel said. "Think Greek myths."

Sam raised his brows. "Who's playing the role of the Minotaur?"

A distant roar echoed through the maze, right on cue. "The Minotaur," Gabriel said with a smirk. "Sometimes you just gotta go for verisimilitude, y'know?"

Sam looked at the increasingly huddled demons. "Better start running, boys and, uh, girl."

"You'll regret this," the female demon said, still trying to be defiant.

"I really don't think so," Gabriel said, letting a little bit of his anger show through again. There was another roar, this one much closer. "Better get moving if you want this to last more than another five minutes," he advised, pleasant trickster mask firmly back in place.

The demons looked at each other and then, as one, opted to run. They shot around the nearest corner, quickly gone from sight. "I take it you've trapped them in their vessels," Sam said thoughtfully, watching where they'd gone.

Gabriel nodded. "They stole those bodies fair and square. Only seemed right to make sure they couldn't lose them."

Sam moved closer to Gabriel and put a hand low on his back, thumb hooked through a belt loop. "Are we staying to watch or just considering it a job well done?"

Generally, Gabriel liked watching to the end, but he knew Sam probably wasn't going to be as eager to watch the demons get ripped apart and et. "Do you want to stay?"

"I'll stay if that's what you want," Sam said easily. Then he looked down, grinning. "But it's not what I want."

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "I have a feeling I know exactly what you want. When did you get so horny?"

Sam snorted. "Generally speaking or just this one time?"

He had been going for a general answer, but curiosity made Gabriel say, "Both?"

"This time? The moment you started getting all Archangel of Justice on their asses." Sam moved around behind Gabriel, and Gabriel felt warm hands being smoothed down his wings. "Generally speaking, it seems to have been nearly constant since we woke up together in Florida."

"Y'know, human males are supposed to lose that 'all sex, all the time' mindset with their teens," Gabriel pointed out, flaring his wings a little under Sam's touch.

"Yes, and old men apparently have trouble getting it up more than once or twice a day," Sam said conversationally while his fingers combed through feathers and his front burned a swathe down Gabriel's back. "And, as you keep reminding me, you are very old..."

"Not a man though," Gabriel said, as if that wasn't obvious with Sam's hands all over his wings. To say it was 'very distracting' would be a hell of an understatement. "Archangel. Human rules don't apply to me."

"Prove it," Sam said in a low growl that seemed to vibrate through Gabriel's grace.

Gabriel spun around to face Sam, casually wrapping his arms around Sam's waist. Then he fully unfurled his wings and launched them both up into the sky through a hole in the cavern roof he created with the barest thought.

It wasn't flying like angels usually did, which was faster than a human mind could follow. This time, Gabriel deliberately slowed down, almost hovering in the air, letting Sam feel the height and breeze, and the way Gabriel's powerful wingbeats were holding them aloft.

Sam was clutching Gabriel's shoulders, his eyes wide. "Oh my God," he whispered, barely audible. Then he focused on Gabriel's eyes and laughed, looking truly, uncomplicatedly happy for the first time in, well, ever. "Don't tell me," he said between chuckles, "this is your version of the mile high club."

Gabriel waggled his eyebrows at Sam. "Who needs a stinking plane?"

Sam laughed again then shook his head ever so slightly, his hair blowing in front of his eyes in the wafts of air from Gabriel's wings. "I feel just a little like Lois Lane, right now."

"No, you don't," Gabriel replied immediately. "Not curvy enough. If anything you feel more like Superman."

More laughter followed that. "I think if you let go, you'd see how not like Superman I am."

"Don't worry," Gabriel said, smiling into Sam's eyes. "I'm not going to let you go."

The End