Sam and Dean stood together, staring up at the double doors of the church before them. It was made of stone and not very well cared for, but little else was in their little town. Behind the double doors, they could hear the voice of the priest- - -irritated and deep- - -and several female voices that were lighter and just a bit harder to hear.
“You sure you're ready for this, Sammy?” Dean asked quietly. Sam stared at the church doors, his stomach churning wildly. His left shoulder rose and fell as an answer, because he didn't trust his voice at the moment. Dean reached up, placing his hand warmly on his brother’s shoulder. It was the most he was going to get from his brother as consolation, and so Sam took what little comfort it offered before reaching out with a slightly trembling hand and grabbing hold of the doors.
Almost as soon as he'd pulled them open, Sam winced away from the sound of a shrill voice echoing through the church.
“He is late!” They winced backwards, away from the screeching voice that Dean recognized as Sam’s future mother in law. Sam shot his brother a slightly betrayed look, but Dean just laughed and clapped his brother on the back; clearly, his sympathy had run out.
“Good luck, Sammy.”
“You're an asshole, Dean,” Sam hissed back; any other rebuttal or conversation was stopped when she whirled around and caught sight of them from the opposite end of the church.
“There you are!” The older woman darted forward, grabbing hold of Sam’s arm in a bruising grip. “You were supposed to be here half an hour ago!”
“I know, but- - -”
“You said you would make sure he was here on time!” She then turned and snapped at Dean, who was snickering into his arm. The older Winchester paled, putting his hand up to defend himself. “Both of you- - -and look at what you're wearing! I truly hope that is not the best you can do?”
Sam awkwardly tugged at his second hand suit, not daring to look at Dean’s expression. It was borrowed from Bobby, who'd saved it from his father; at least, that's what Sam assumed. Dean had picked it up for him, because Dean had been putting all of this together as best as he could.
The brothers had been living on the streets since they were eight and six, respectively. Their mother had passed away, and their father had disappeared shortly afterwards. They’d been left in the care of a family friend, but the man ran an orphanage and didn't have the room for them to stay full time.
This was an arranged marriage of convenience, for both parties. Sam wanted to go to school, to be a lawyer, and Dean had decided that he needed a permanent base of operations. Jessica Moore, the woman he was to be marrying, needed a husband in order to keep her family home and jumpstart their family fortunes. She’d had a fiancée before, Brady, but he'd mysteriously vanished and she needed a replacement.
That was were Sam came in.
At least, that's what he'd been hoping. But with the dark way she glowered at him, Sam got the feeling she was wishing that Jessica still had Brady to marry. Pushing him forward with a surprising strength, Sam found himself by Jessica in almost record time. He twisted to face her, just slightly, but she didn't even spare him a look. Her jaw was tensed and her lips pursed; she was wearing a plain white dress with the mockery of a veil covering over her eyes. Jessica was beautiful on her own, even with the dark look she was giving the windows just behind the priest.
Counting himself lucky that Jessica was pretty, Sam turned to face the priest again. He was an old man, balding and stern-looking with the glasses on his face. He looked especially frightening when he leaned forward, staring at Sam over the top of his frames as he grumbled, “You have the rings, right, boy?”
“Yes!” Sam said loudly; his relief echoed in the church, and Jessica snorted derisively beside him. Her mother slapped her arm, not too gently, and her jaw tensed even more. Feeling his face flush darkly, Sam reached into his pockets and…
Couldn't find the ring.
He sent a panicked look at Dean, whose eyes widened a bit. The priest let out an impatient cough, and Sam thought that the whole ordeal couldn't be over fast enough.
Dean was meeting with Jessica’s mother, and since Sam didn't have anywhere else to be, he was looking around the foyer where he'd been left. It was nice, he noted. Jessica’s family had come from money, that much was obvious, and they'd clearly liked showing it off before. The fabric of the couch was too soft and silky to touch, but the cushions felt hard. There were paintings all around the room, and a wide staircase that branched off into two separate directions, and a fireplace, and a piano. Sam sat on the piano, eyes drifting around the room as he began pressing keys softly.
“Oh, it's you.” Sam whipped around on the piano bench, seeing Jessica stop halfway down the stairs. Her hand was on the rail, fingernails tapping irritatingly against the wood. She didn't look particularly happy to see him, though, and Sam couldn't help but glance at the door that held his brother and future mother in law.
“Hello.” He said awkwardly. Jessica raised her eyebrow, then apparently decided to continue down the stairs. Sam gulped as she did so, gesturing around at the piano room. “Your house is wonderful.”
Jessica snorted at the same time Sam mentally hit himself in the face. She already assumed he was marrying her for her money, and commenting on the house that way wasn't proving her suspicions wrong. Especially since he'd only been in the one room. Quickly, he added, “I mean, my brother and I live on the streets, more or less, so really…” He trailed off, turning abruptly on the stool and, carefully so he didn't damage the piano keys, rested his head on the keys.
Clearly, he didn't know where to stop himself.
“On the streets?” Jessica’s voice was much closer, right at his side, and Sam jumped up a bit to watch her sit down. She placed her hands gingerly on the piano, playing out a song that was much more advanced than his own tuneless tune. Music filled the room, but it was just quiet enough for Sam to hear her ask, “why are you marrying me, Samuel?”
“Sam.” He said instantly as a response. She lifted an eyebrow and didn't answer, focusing her gaze on the keys. “It's…my brother’s idea, really. He wants me to have someplace to call home, a steady, real home. I think he thinks that if I have a roof over my head and steady access to food, I'll be able to focus on my studies.”
“Studies?” Jessica asked noncommittally.
“I…” Sam stared at the keys, watching her pale and elegant fingers dance over the black and white. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer. I don't know why. It's kind of…stuck and followed me around. But I can't take classes because I'm basically homeless.”
Jessica’s fingers stopped, and Sam looked up to see her turned to face him.
“A lawyer.” She repeated. Sam nodded and she mimicked him; after a second, she stuck out her hand. “Jess.”
“Hi.” Sam took her hand shyly and they shook. Jess smiled and put her hands back on the keys. Picking up where she left off, Jess focused on the piano again.
“I always thought a lawyer would be who I married.” Jess confessed. “I mean, I assumed that I would be able to pick my husband, of course. I would have completely fallen for a lawyer, I think.” Sam smiled at her, pressing keys at random in tandem to her playing.
“I never thought that I would be married.” He responded. “But I guess life threw curves at both of us, huh?” Jess chuckled, but it was overpowered by a sadly familiar screech.
“What exactly is going on here??” It was Jess’s mother, sounding thunderous. Sam whipped away as if he'd been electrocuted, and Jess scrambled to her feet. She didn't look ashamed, just defiant, but Sam felt his face heat up quickly. Dean had his lips pursed, but his eyebrows raised; Sam took that to mean that his brother thought this woman was crazy, but he wasn't going to say anything.
“Surely you haven't forgotten what the piano sounds like, Mother.” Jess sounded sarcastic, and Sam buried his face in his hands as her mother swelled.
“I meant,” she said through gritted teeth, “what do you think you're doing, being around this boy unchaperoned? What are you thinking, Jessica?”
“I'm thinking that we’re going to be married soon.” Jess snapped back. “In a couple of days, in fact. I figured after that, we’ll be unchaperoned plenty of times.”
“That does not mean you start now.” Her mother stormed forward, grabbing a hold of her daughter’s arm and yanking her away from the piano. Jess scowled at her, following easily as though it were a common occurrence. She didn't even glance back at Sam, but Dean came to his side and placed his hand heavily on his shoulder.
“Bro,” he said quietly, “I do not envy you right now.”
The next day went, if possible, even worse than the day previous. Sam couldn't even begin to tell why things were going so wrong. He wasn't klutzy on a daily basis, which would have made everything excusable.
He and Dean were an hour late today, much to the irritation of his soon-to-be mother-in-law. His vows had escape his brain, though he'd spent the last three days memorizing them. Sam couldn't find the ring he received from Bobby, though this time Dean had found it for him, and then he couldn't get it onto Jess’s finger in the amount of time he was supposed to. The pastor looked just as irritated with him as Jess’s mother did, and Sam could t help the feeling sinking in his stomach even as Jess smiled encouragingly at him.
When she placed a soothing hand on his own, her mother snapped at her, and Jess yanked her hand back as if she'd been burned. Sam couldn't bring himself to mourn the loss of her touch, so engrossed in his own embarrassment he wasn't particularly aware of his surroundings.
It was made worse when he turned to face Jess and, out of the corner of his eye, he realized they had an audience. Dean was in the pew, as was expected, and so was Jess’s mother; what was unexpected was the regal man that was seated in the middle of the church, his arms draped casually over the edge of the pew. Startled, Sam dropped the ring for what felt like the hundredth time; Dean snickered into his arm, Jess’s mother put her head in her hands, but Sam was staring at the newcomer with wide eyes.
“Who is that?” He hissed at Jess. Jess looked confused, her frown deepening when she caught sight of the new addition.
“Excuse me, sir.” She said loudly, drawing attention to him. “This is a private event at the moment. The wedding still isn't for another week or so.”
“Is it?” He drawled, straightening up. His eyes flashed even in the dim lighting of the church, and he stood to dust himself off dramatically. “I have such a terrible head for dates, I could have sworn that the invitation was for this week.”
“Who are you, exactly?” Dean asked, turning to face him as well. The man’s eyes raked over Dean, his lip curling just a bit at the way Dean held himself and the clothes he was wearing. Still, he plastered on a smile that looked fake, and held his hand out.
“Azazel.” Dean didn't take his hand, but Jess’s mother did. She looked almost expectant, like the name was supposed to be familiar, but couldn't place it. His smile warmed just a bit, enough to make him look friendly as he pressed a kiss to her mother’s hand. “A friend of the family.”
“I'm not quite sure I remember you.” Jess’s mother said warmly as she invited him to sit beside her.
“I'm quite afraid that I've since fallen out of contact.” He sat down gently. His movements were graceful, and as Azazel sat down, Sam caught the flash of gold at his wrists; he had golden cuff links, as well as a golden watch on his left hand. “But I remember Jess, in our younger days.”
“Oh?” Jess said coldly. “I don't remember you.” Azazel chuckled softly.
“I don't think you would.” He said. “You were only five, after all, but I recall you quite well. You were a pretty child. It's very reassuring to know you've grown into a beautiful woman.” It was a creepy thing to say, Sam thought, and Jess seemed to agree, because her whole body shuddered minutely by his side. She bared her teeth in the semblance of a smile, though, and spoke with a forced politeness.
“Be that as it may,” she said stiffly, “the wedding is still not for another week.”
“Jessica Moore!” Her mother snapped quickly at her daughter, but Sam noticed the placating smile she gave their uninvited guest; she clearly thought more of this man than anyone else did. Her voice warm and inviting, she added, “you are more than welcome to stay with us until then, of course. Is there a place you're staying at now?”
“Unfortunately,” Azazel said with a sigh, “it's not just Miss Moore’s wedding that I return to my hometown. Times are hard, madam, and I seem to have fallen into poverty with them.” Jess rolled her eyes, but her mother seemed entranced by him.
“Never fear.” She said simply, placing her hand on his arm. “You must have been an old friend on my husband’s side. Nevertheless, you are more than welcome to stay at our home.”
“Mother!” Jess said, aghast.
“Hush, girl.” She seemed to come back to herself, scowling at the both of them. “Your so-called fiancée can't even place a ring properly on your finger. I'd dare say that the boy doesn't even want to be married to you.” Sam flushed darkly, staring at the floor with red ears and wishing that he was anywhere in the world at that exact moment. Jess’s mother didn't seem to notice the effect she had on him, crossing her arms over her chest. “I think it's time we took a break. We shall have lunch, and meet again in two hours to try once again.”
Sam felt overly grateful for the opportunity; with a strained smile at his bride to be, Sam turned and strode as quickly out of the church as he could without running. Dean was right behind him, glowering darkly and muttering to himself under his breath. When they got out of the church, and the heavy doors closed behind them, Dean exploded.
“Just who does that woman think she is?” He seethed, clenching his fists tightly as they walked away. Sam didn't answer, but Dean didn't seem to need his brother to speak. He ranted on his own, leaving Sam to get lost in his own little world.
Not feeling particularly hungry after such a disaster, Sam stopped his brother with a hand on his arm. Dean silenced himself, looking at Sam expectantly.
“I'm not in the mood for food.” He told Dean. The elder Winchester looked taken aback, but Sam shook his head. “I think I'm going to walk around for a bit. I'll see you soon?”
Dean looked like he wanted to protest, but Sam took off on his own and didn't wait to hear a response. It was about one in the afternoon now, and he had until three before he had to be back in the church. He was already dreading going back, and he let his feet take him around town while his mind wandered. Sam wondered, in the back of his mind, how things would go if he didn't have to marry Jess. She was sweet, now that she'd opened up to him a bit more, headstrong and sure of herself in a way Sam found attractive.
But there was something missing; he couldn't tell if it was because it was an arranged marriage and he didn't really know Jess, or if it was because of something else. He mulled it over as he walked, his feet automatically ducking him around the people who passed him.
Quickly, he found himself at the edge of the forest. Pausing for just a moment, Sam heard the bell ring in the distance. It rang twice, and with that in mind, Sam went into the woods.
The quiet of the trees was soothing, and it calmed Sam’s tumultuous nerves. Taking a deep breath, Sam closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax. Working himself up wasn't doing him any good, and if he could just make the rest of the rehearsal go smoothly, then the wedding would be over before he knew it.
Sitting down next to a tree, Sam leaned against it and sighed.
“I wish we had gotten to know each other under different circumstances.” Sam started. He felt foolish talking to himself, and so he stood again; there was a nearby tree that was thin and elegant, and so he pretended it was Jess as he bent on one knee in front of it. Feeling even more foolish, Sam said, “but this is the reality we live in, and so I must earn your love. I will do it, Jess, I'll be someone worthy of it.”
Something creaked behind him and he whipped around, pasting a fake smile on his face.
“Oh, but I do!” He said earnestly. “I want to marry your daughter, ma’am, and I'll love her forever, I promise. She’ll be taken well care of, I assure you of that. No one will be more devoted to her than I.”
Chuckling just a bit, Sam twisted and gave a different tree a mocking bow.
“Oh, but sir Azazel,” he said derisively, “sure you could see that I would be a better match for- - -”
Something slammed into his head, hard, and Sam toppled forward into the dirt. Darkness swam in his vision, and Sam felt his eyes slip shut against his will.
He scrambled up suddenly, heart pounding and eyes wild. Looking around himself, Sam’s setting took a few moments to set in.
Hours had passed; it was dark outside, and a sinking feeling he couldn't place started in his gut. As he stood on shaky feet, it hit him: the rehearsal had been set to pick up again at three, and it was clearly far past that now. Moonlight was illuminating the trees, and Sam couldn't help the groan that escaped his mouth as he sat back down against the trees.
He took the ring out of his pocket, looking at it glint in the moonlight. With a huff of unamused laughter, Sam put his head against the tree.
“Marriage.” He muttered derisively. Spinning the ring in his finger, Sam recited his vows in a monotone voice. “Your cup will never empty, for I will be your wine. With this candle, I’ll light your way. With this hand, I’ll lift your sorrows. With this ring, I ask that you be mine.” Turning his head just slightly, Sam pushed the ring onto an outstretched branch by his thigh.
And then it moved.
Sam lurched back in horror at the movement of the earth, scrambling to his feet and falling on his butt as the dirt was forcefully pushed aside. A corpse rose up, pushing sticks and leaves aside as it came into view.
It was a male, Sam noted in the back of his mind with terror. He was considerably shorter than the Winchester, with blonde hair that was either naturally brown-ish or dirty from being buried in the ground. His whole left cheek was missing, as was a good portion of his left arm. He wore a white dress shirt and a black vest, with matching black slacks. All were filthy and torn in places, which showed off bones and skin, though he didn't seem to notice.
Instead, his golden eyes were fixated on Sam; they seemed to glow in the moonlight, the only brightness on his otherwise shadowed face. He flexed his hand again, skeletal fingers touching the top of the gold band experimentally while Sam continued to gape in terror from the ground.
"I do." He said ominously; Sam gulped and scrambled back when he reached for the taller. It didn't seem to deter him any. Instead, he took several unsteady steps forward as he tried to get his bearings again.
Sam took the moment to finally get to his feet. The corpse stopped in surprise, but Sam turned around and bolted away.
He dodged the trees effortlessly, trying frantically to think of the path back to town. Sam berated himself for wandering so far off, for not telling at least Dean where he was going, and for being stupid enough to practice his vows where a dead person was apparently buried to hear them. He skillfully jumped over logs and rocks, slipping a bit on the iced-over parts, but keeping up a good pace.
Sam just saw the bridge to town when suddenly, the corpse appeared in front of him. Startled, Sam tried to skid to a stop, but his foot caught on a patch of ice and he fell backwards again. He caught himself on a tree, but Sam was trapped and there was nowhere for him to go; the corpse boxed him in, Sam being at the perfect height for him to both for between his legs and put their faces on the same level.
"You may kiss..." He trailed off, but chuckled brightly and started over. "You may kiss the groom." He leaned forward, clearly intent on giving Sam the kiss.
Sam passed out.
When he woke again, there were so many voices talking that he couldn't pinpoint a single thing aimed at him. Someone said something about a new arrival, orders were being shouted for drinks, questions were being asked about who he was, or if he wanted anything. Sam groaned, rubbing his head and sitting up so that he wasn't laying down anymore, and some of the commotion stopped. Shaking his throbbing head, Sam opened his eyes and immediately jumped, somehow managing to turn his scream into an undignified yelp.
He was surrounded by skeletons, and other corpses in various states of decay.
Sam twisted around and took several deep breaths, leaning against what looked like a bar. Confusion was racing through him, making his hands tremble just the bit and muddling his mind even more than it was when he woke up. He wasn't sure what was happening, or even if what he was seeing was real. Holding his breath, Sam peeked over his shoulder as if the view behind him would change into something he would be able to handle much better.
Sam turned away again and came face to face with the corpse from the forest. The other man was crouched down on the other side of the bar, a pleased smile stretching across his face. Now that there was more light, Sam could see him much clearer than he could in the forest. He was a lot smaller than Sam thought, his hair just a shade darker and his smile light and mischievous. His chin was on his right arm, where there was more cushion, and he was tapping his skeleton fingers against the wood. Sam's ring glinted in the bright lights, catching his attention briefly with an unpleasant twist to his gut.
"Heya, kiddo." He said. "How're you feeling?"
"Like a rug was swept out from under me." Sam answered honestly. His voice was hoarse, and he cleared his throat awkwardly. The dead man in front of him slid a drink forward, but Sam ignored it for the moment. He leaned forward, watching as the corpse did the same thing, and asked quietly, "where, exactly, am I?"
"The land of the dead, of course!" The corpse laughed loudly, leaning back and slapping his right hand on Sam's shoulder. The others around them joined in his laughter, but Sam sunk in his seat and put his head back down on the table. The corpse leaned down, trying to meet his eyes. Concern was lingering through his voice, his hand going back to Sam’s shoulder. "You doing all right there?”
"I'd feel much better if I knew what was going on." Sam told him quietly, shaking his hand off uneasily. The flesh, if it could really be called that, was heavy and freezing cold. He lifted his head and looked pleadingly at the only familiar corpse in the room. "Who are you? Why am I here? How did I get to the land of the dead?"
"We-ell..." He trailed off and drummed his fingers again. "You're here because we're married."
"But I'm a guy!" Same protested. "So are you! How...how would that even work?"
"Like a normal marriage." The corpse stage-whispered. When Sam looked scandalized, he laughed and leaned back a bit. "It's seriously that easy, sport. It's the same vows, and the same motions. Hell, it's even the same damn ring. So we're good on the marriage front. Now, as for who I am..." He coughed into his wrist and looked away. "That's quite a story."
"It's a gripping tale." Another voice joined in the conversation, making Sam jump ten feet in the air when it came from his right. Another corpse joined them and stared intensely, blinking slowly. It looked forced, as if he had to constantly remind himself that he needed to blink. Sam wondered in the back of his mind if the movement was for his benefit. "I'm Castiel, Gabriel's brother."
"Gabriel...?" Sam repeated curiously. The corpse across the bar leaned forward again, waving his left hand in front of his face again.
"Present, kiddo!" He crowed gleefully. "You're the guy who was talking to trees and pretending they were people in the middle of the night in the forest by my resting place."
"You heard that." Sam never felt more embarrassed in his life. His cheeks flushed darkly as he held his hand out hesitantly, adding, "I'm Sam." Gabriel and Castiel both ignored his outstretched hand, staring at him instead; Gabriel looked fascinated with the color decorating Sam's cheeks, but Castiel looked confused and squinted at him.
"You're blushing." He stated obviously.
"It's really embarrassing to have something like that overheard by someone else." Sam countered.
"No, I meant..." Castiel trailed off and looked at Gabriel again. "He's alive."
"Well, yea." The corpse shrugged and started tapping on the table again. It seemed like a nervous tick, though Sam couldn't deny that the steady tap tap tap of bone against wood was calming. "It's not my fault the kid recited his vows and stuck the ring on my finger."
"I thought it was a branch!" Sam interjected quickly. They looked at him and he sighed, running his hands through his hair. "Look, I went out to practice and was using the trees as a way to keep myself grounded and thought that your hand was a branch."
"Right." Castiel rubbed his forehead and sighed. "So this was all a misunderstanding."
"Exactly!" Sam said quickly, relief coloring his voice. He ignored Gabriel's wince, grabbing onto Castiel's wrist. Flinching back at the cold, dead skin, Sam yanked his hand away. "Do you think you can find a way to reverse it?"
"Reverse the marriage?" Gabriel sounded weird, like he had started withdrawing into himself, but smiled brightly at Sam when he turned to look at him. The action struck Sam as odd- - -Gabriel didn’t know him, not really, and the fact that he wanted to stay married to someone he didn’t know was weird to Sam.
Then again, maybe he didn’t really have room to talk. After all, before today, who had he been to Jess? Nobody, that’s who, but at least they’d both been alive. The whole of the underworld where Sam found himself, while lively and very interesting, was unnerving to Sam completely. The chilling air froze him to the bone, his breath appearing in front of his lips as a fog every so often. He’d opened his mouth to make another point, hoping to convince Gabriel that separating was the best course of action, when something grabbed at his leg and a loud voice rang out.
“What are you guys talking about?” Feeling irritated that there were so many corpses that decided to make his business theirs, Sam turned on his seat to tell them off, only to come face to face with…nothing.
“Your majesty.” Gabriel said teasingly. He leaned over the counter, Sam noting that his feet left the floor in order for him to peer downwards over the counter. The corpse was apparently a lot shorter than Sam could have given him credit for. The living male decided that he couldn’t have really seen how short, exactly, Gabriel had been when running from him in terror, and then he blamed the counter and his general disorientation for not realizing it again right away.
Then he remembered where Gabriel was looking and followed his line of sight; Sam nearly recoiled again.
A child looked up at him, her hand tight on the folds of his pants. She had golden eyes, wide in the way all children’s eyes were. The skin that stretched out over her face was surprisingly well kept, though she looked an unhealthy shade of grey. Her clothes were simple and white, almost elegant in their plainness, but she had piercings up both of her ears and a golden chain wrapped around her head. The chain bore a symbol that looked vaguely familiar to Sam, but he couldn’t place it when his mind was caught on the fact that she looked like a six year old that had died.
Her golden eyes looked over Sam reproachfully, but she held her arms out to him in a silent request that all children knew; she wanted to be picked up from the floor. Golden bangles fell down to her elbows with the movement, and Sam couldn’t help himself. He flinched back, away from her outstretched hands. She did the same, frowning up at him.
“Anael, come.” Castiel’s deep voice rang out from behind Sam. She shot him an offended look, then daintily stepped around him and repeated the action to Castiel. He obliged her, picking her up easily and placing her on his lap. He gestured to Sam with his free hand, his arm wrapping itself around the girl’s tiny waist. “This is Sam.”
“Is he a new arrival?” She asked distastefully.
“Not in the sense that you’re thinking.” Gabriel told her. Anael frowned at him, looking confused. The corpse grinned at her, then tapped his fingers against the wood again. Her eyes darted to the movement, and understanding dawned on her face much quicker than Sam had anticipated for someone who looked as small as she did. A grin broke over her face, twisting it grotesquely, but she leaned over and grabbed his hand anyway.
“You didn’t tell me!” she squealed, though her face gave Gabriel a reproving look.
“Didn’t tell you what?” Another voice, a boy this time, rang from Sam’s left, where Castiel was sitting. He plopped himself on the chair on the corpse’s side, looking bored. His hair was lighter than Gabriel’s, much blonder, and he had an accent none of the others had as strongly. He wasn’t as decayed as Gabriel was, but that didn’t matter much to Sam. They were all dead, while he was alive, and it made him want to bolt.
“Gabriel’s married, look!” Anael practically threw Gabriel’s arm at the boy. Sam noted, with a sinking feeling, that it really was a boy; he was older than Anael, but was decades younger than Gabriel and Castiel. He studied the hand with disinterest, like he didn't care, but his eyes gleamed when they lighted upon Sam.
“So this is the lucky guy who managed to catch our Gabriel, huh?” He drawled. Sam opened his mouth to dispute the words, but Gabriel’s right hand clamped down on his shoulder; he had to fight back a shudder at the iciness that laced its way up his body.
“For the most part.” The corpse answered breezily in Sam’s place.
“Well, I can't honestly say I'm surprised, really.” The boy raised an eyebrow, and Gabriel cheerfully slid a mug across the the table to him. “After all, you always have been a sucker for a tall guy. I fear I may always regret dying before my growth spurt.” The corpses around Sam laughed; he found himself studying this new boy intently out of the corner of his eye. The boy sounded serious, and his face was appropriately melancholy for such a statement. But his eyes, a handsome clear blue and such a contrast to the bright golden of Gabriel's and Anael’s, were laughing along with his peers.
Sam had dual startling realizations; one being that the kid was joking, and the other being that he was getting irrationally jealous. He didn't even want to be married to Gabriel, and he was acting like a jealous husband.
He flinched away from the chill of cold fingers automatically, and Anael pulled her hand away with a frown.
“You're awfully sensitive to the cold down here.” She said softly. The other boy studied Sam a bit more carefully once it was out, and Castiel shot Gabriel a panicked look that Sam didn't particularly appreciate.
“Who would have known.” The boy said. Gabriel sighed, something that sounded like ‘Balthazar, please’, but he leaned onto his elbow and continued anyway. “A living person, down here in the underworld. How exciting!”
“Not exciting enough that you have to go running your mouth.” Gabriel snapped. He stepped down and away from the bar, pushing through the crowd to get away from the irritating boy. Balthazar grinned unrepentantly, taking another sip from the cup he'd been given. Castiel sighed and rubbed at his temples, a habit he didn't seem to have dropped, and Anael glowered.
“You didn't have to be mean and point it out so loudly, Balthazar.” She said stiffly. The boy shrugged, but under Anael’s fierce look he began to look sorry.
“I'll apologize later.” He promised as yet a third corpse made his way over. Sam groaned and dropped his head to the table, turning his head to the side so that he could keep an eye on the group at his side.
He tuned them out, though, in order to give some serious thought to the situation he found himself in. He had somehow been yanked into the underworld, he was married to a corpse, and surrounded by dead people he didn't know. Sam wondered how he managed to find himself in such a bizarre situation, and then wondered vaguely what Dean would do. This train of thought lead to the fact that the last time his brother saw him, Sam was leaving the house under the guise of going for a walk to clear his head. Sam had a feeling that Dean would be panicking soon, if he wasn't doing so already.
“Sam?” The whisper came from his right, and he forced one eye open to see Anael watching him intently. She put her head down on the bar as well, her brow furrowed just a little as she glanced over his head in the direction Gabriel presumably went. “Maybe you should go after Gabriel. Make sure he's ok?”
Sam wanted to tell her it was none of his business, that he didn't particularly care if Gabriel was ok or not, but it felt like a heartless thing to say to someone who looked like they didn't even hit double digits before they died. Not only that, neither Gabriel or Castiel seemed in any way ready to tell her that Sam thought the marriage was a mistake. Being outnumbered by a significant amount, Sam was all too willing to go along with the charade.
“Let Castiel know I went after him ok?” Sam whispered back. Anael nodded as seriously as she could while still keeping her head on the table, then picked herself up and rejoined the conversation the three male corpses were having. Using her as a method of distraction, Sam slid off the bench and walked quickly after Gabriel.
He'd closed the door to the bar behind him and, once the noise was muffled, realized that the underworld was much bigger than he'd thought; he stood on the side of a cobblestone street, though there wasn't enough room between the bar and the next building for any sort of vehicle. Still, there were two directions for him to go in, and both branched off into different areas. Sam didn't know where he was, or where Gabriel went, and he was about to give up before he'd even started before someone tapped his shoulder.
Pursing his lips tightly at the ice dripping down his shoulder, Sam turned to see a girl standing by his side. She'd stood on her toes to reach his shoulder, and her green eye seemed to spin in its socket.
“You're looking for Gabe, he went that a-way.” She pointed over her shoulder at the road to Sam’s left, and he felt the weird sort of quirk to his mouth as it formed; it wasn't quite a smile, but it was something close to it.
“Thanks.” He said. She gave him a smile that was more teeth than he expected, and Sam hurried down the alley she pointed. There wasn't a lot back here, he noticed as he walked, just a lot of coffins…
Actually, that was a little creepy.
But he brushed it off and continued onward, being careful to move quietly but quickly; he was listening hard for Gabriel, because the only lead he had said the corpse was somewhere down here.
A hand shot out and grabbed his arm, chilling him to the bone. Sam whirled around, pulling free and putting his fists up automatically like Dean had taught him; he relaxed instantly realizing it was only Gabriel, peering up at him from the darkness. The golden color of his eyes made him look especially predatory in the dark, though it faded as he stepped out fully into the light.
“Looking for something, Sammy?” Sam’s lips pursed at the familiar nickname, debating before choosing not to let it bother him. He cleared his throat instead, gesturing at the area he'd come from.
“Anael?” He said slowly. “The littlest one? The girl.” Gabriel nodded to let him know he was right, and Sam continued on. “She thought it was best I come after you. Make sure you're all right.”
“How thoughtful of you.” Gabriel drawled. He sat against the wall, and Sam mimicked him; the taller was shivering just a little bit, the air much more biting down here than it was up on the Living side. Gabriel noticed, and he scooted unsubtly away from Sam.
“Look,” Sam said, turning slightly in order to face him more fully. “I know this isn't what you were expecting. And I'm sorry that I don't want to stay with you. But this whole thing is a mistake, and we can't pretend that it's not. I mean, you're dead for crying out loud!”
“Thanks for pointing it out.” Gabriel muttered. He pulled his knees to his chest, picking at one of the strings that was coming unraveled from his pants. Sam watched him, feeling more pity than he'd like to admit, and sighed. Bracing himself for the cold, the living groom reached out and placed his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder.
“We need to look for a way out of this.” Sam said softly. “It's going to take time and some effort into researching, but I'm sure we can figure out a way to get out of this.”
“I don't want to get out of this, Sam!” Gabriel snapped, yanking himself away. “That's not what I was thinking when I would get married.”
“Look,” Sam said impatiently. “I'll try to make an effort to make this work. The key word is try.” Gabriel groaned and rolled his eyes, slamming his head into the building behind them. “This isn't what I wanted either, Gabriel. The best I can do is try to make an effort. But I can only do that if I know we’re doing everything we can to get this so-called marriage fixed. Is that a deal?”
“Whatever you want, Sammy.” Gabriel muttered. He ignored Sam’s outstretched hand, instead tapping one of his fingers against his lips. “We’ll need the kids’ help, though. What are we going to say to get them to cooperate without giving the game away?”
“Why do we need them at all?” Sam groaned. “Why can't we just keep it between you, me, and Castiel?”
“Because six heads are better than three.” Gabriel quipped. Sam felt something uneasy curling in his gut when the corpse mentioned an additional person to their group. “And Anael’s basically in charge of what counts as our library, so we really won't be able to get anything don without her help, at least.”
“Dammit.” Sam sighed.
"So what is Gabriel's story?" Sam asked Castiel a couple of days later. They'd made no progress, and Sam was wondering how much time had passed, exactly. He'd fallen asleep several times, just out of sheer exhaustion, so he wasn't sure how to count the passing time properly. Gabriel was something he'd been wondering about, off and on during their research, and he didn't seem to have the courage to asked him directly about it. Instead, Sam found himself here, asking Castiel instead.
The smaller corpse sighed and looked at him, staring intently and blinking slowly. Sam noted that he was also breathing slowly, something he hadn't been doing when the Winchester first met him. So the blinking had been for Sam, then. Interesting, but weird. He debated on telling Castiel to stop, but the sentence got lost when he started talking.
"He's my older brother." Castiel took a drink from his cup- - -never what passed for alcohol, like the rest of them, only something that looked like tea- - -and looked away awkwardly. "It's not something I can share on my own. Or, rather," he hesitated and looked around; leaning forward, Castiel whispered, "it's not something I'm willing to share without Gabriel's permission. It has nothing to do with me, you see, and while my brother is very strong- - -"
"Whatcha guys talkin' about?" Gabriel joined them suddenly, wrapping his arms around the both of them and ignoring Sam’s very obvious shudder.
“Sam is curious about you.” Gabriel did a very bad job of hiding a wince, covering it with a smile that was blinding and fake.
“Ah, that's not that interesting.” Gabriel said loudly, ignoring the way his brother said his name quietly under his breath. Sam watched as his eyes got panicked and darted around the room, and a strange impulse came over him that he couldn't quite curb; Sam reached out and placed a hand on Gabriel’s arm, drawing the amber eyes to him.
“If it makes you so worried,” he said softly, “then you don't have to say. I'm sorry for asking.” Gabriel's mouth worked silently for a moment, and then he sighed heavily and plopped into the chair.
“No.” He said. “You have a right to ask, Sam, and a right to know.” Gabriel thought to himself for a second, then started. “Look, when I died, I was stupid. I'd run away from home because of the fighting between our parents. Cas here doesn't remember it, because he was a baby at the time. But it was bad, Sammy, real bad. I hightailed it outta there and mixed in with the wrong crowd.”
“you really don't- - -”
“I met this man.” Gabriel interrupted. “He promised to marry me, and he wanted me to break into the house of some rich family. He told me, ‘take what you can carry, all the jewels and gold. Meet me by the tree in the forest two miles in, and make sure you're not followed.’ He said,” Gabriel dropped his head in embarrassment. “He said, ‘I'll take you away from this place, far away.’ Well, he wasn't wrong.”
“It's fine.” Gabriel stood up again. “It was a long time ago, Samsquatch, and besides, that event managed to lead to this one somehow, so it's fine. Anyway,” he grabbed hold of both Castiel and Sam, yanking them away with him. “Little Ana says that time’s up, so it's time to get back to studying now.”
Sam watched the back of Gabriel’s head, his mind racing with the story he'd just been told. He'd been very careful at keeping himself cut away from Gabriel, but the corpse had let his guard down very far. Feeling just a bit overwhelmed with the information he'd been given, Sam couldn't help but close his fingers around the frozen hand in his. Gabriel made a curious noise in the back of his throat, but it was the only sound he made to acknowledge Sam did anything.
“My brother,” he said, and Gabriel turned his head to face him now. Castiel stopped as well, but one look at the both of them and he moved on fairly quickly, making his way inside so that Gabriel and Sam would be alone. “My brother is very protective of me. Our, uh, our caretaker said it was because when I was six months old, someone had broken into our home and killed my mother. She'd been checking on me, and I was given to Dean for safety.”
“What about your dad?” Gabriel asked quietly. Sam shrugged.
“He came by every so often, at first. By the time I was ten, he stopped. It's just been me and Dean since.” Sam put a smile on his face, shrugging helplessly at the look at Gabriel’s face.
“Well,” Gabriel said after a moment. His hand tightened around Sam’s, and the gesture brought more comfort than Sam cared to admit. “Let’s find a way to get you home then.”
He opened the doors to the library, and Sam sighed inwardly at the same sight that had been there when he left. Anael was at the top of a ladder, scanning through the books at the very top of the high ceiling. Lucifer was in an opposite corner, leaning against the wall and searching books at the bottom. Balthazar was at a midway point against an opposing bookshelf, and Castiel was sitting at the desk, trying to find the key to get into a more restricted section of the library. Sam watched as Gabriel headed over to his brother, and headed to his own corner of the room.
After a couple of quiet moments, Anael made a noise that sounded pleased, and Sam watched with slight horror as she jumped down from the ladder carrying a book that was almost the size she was. He bit back his shout as the other corpses turned to watch her, but none of them moved to catch her. Instead, she landed hard on her feet, stumbling a little but not falling. Her crimson hair was missed about, getting in her face, but she looked so happy with her find it gave Sam some hope.
“Whatcha got there, kiddo?” Gabriel asked from his corner of the library.
“I found my spell book!” Anael rushed to Castiel, still struggling with the heavy book. The taller corpse smiled warmly down at her, moving aside so that she could slam it down on the desk beside him. Dust billowed up from underneath as she did so, but neither she or Castiel seemed to mind. If anything, it made her look even happier.
“How long has that thing been missing?” Lucifer called boredly from his corner of the library.
“Well before you ever got here, you little shit.” Anael shouted back without looking up. Sam lumbered over, curious about how gently she was going through the pages. “Otherwise, I might accuse you of hiding it from me.”
“I would never!” Lucifer mock-gasped. Anael shot back something snappy, but Sam wasn't listening anymore; she’d looked up to respond, and so had paused on a page that read ‘Visiting the Land of the Living’.
“I can go back up there?” He blurted without thinking. It got everyone’s attention; even Lucifer deigned to look up from his corner to watch what was going to happen. Gabriel didn't look pleased, but Anael was closer. She looked suspicious.
“It's a complex magic.” She said slowly. “It's fairly easy to put together, but it takes a lot out of the person who casts it. The limit, I would think, would be about three days.”
“That's perfect!” Sam touched the book reverently, his mind going a million miles a minute. He didn't need a full day, let alone three. At the most, he needed maybe four hours; enough time, at least, to get to town, find Jess and explain his situation to her, and see if maybe she could help him find a way out of it. A leaden feeling weighed in his stomach, but he pushed it out of mind far too easily.
The book slammed closed.
“It's not something I'd advise.” Anael said firmly. Sam jumped, startled at the noise that echoed from in front of him.
“Why not?” Sam demanded.
“It's not safe, for either party.” Anael told him. “It would take a lot out of me, as the castor. It wouldn't be fair to you, Sam, because you can't stay up there. Even if you tried to avoid coming back, after three days you'd end up back down here anyway.”
“It wouldn't be for long!” Sam protested. His mind raced for an excuse for a quick moment before he landed on the perfect one: Dean. “My brother just needs to know where I am.”
“Are you four?” Gabriel snorted. Sam glowered at him, hoping the lie wasn't easily seen on his face. Dean always said he was a terrible liar when it came down to it, and there was so much resting on convincing them he was being genuine.
“We’re all each other has.” Sam told him. “The most important thing in the world to each other. You don't know my brother, Gabriel, you don't know Dean. He's going to be worried about me, and I don't even know for how long I've been gone at this point!”
“I'm sure he's relishing being an only child right now.” Gabriel said easily, leaning against the shelf behind him with his hand behind his head. Sam slammed his hand down in the table.
“Dammit, Gabriel, this is serious!” Sam growled. “I can't leave my brother hanging like that. He's all I have!”
“You have me, now!” Gabriel stood up. “Me, and Cassie,” they ignored Castiel’s quiet ‘leave me out of this, please,’ “Anael and Balthazar and Lucifer. I think your brother will be fine- - -.”
“He won't be.” Sam said quietly. He could feel his hope fading by the minute, and sent Gabriel a wounded look. “I just need long enough to let him know I'm all right. He’ll never stop looking, otherwise.”
“We should let him go.” Castiel’s voice was thick and steady, though he was avoiding looking at anyone when they turned to him. Sam stared just a bit; out of everyone in the room, he never thought he'd have Castiel on his side.
“What?” Gabriel sounded just as surprised as Sam felt. “Why?”
“If I had known…” Castiel trailed off, cleared his throat, and looked up at his brother. “I spent the rest of my life, until I died, looking for you, Gabriel. It was hard, and I wasn't quite sure I would ever find you. But I looked for you.”
“I didn't want you to do that, Cassie.” Gabriel whispered.
“But I did.” Castiel said firmly. “I went looking for my big brother, and it wasn't until I died that I found him. It's…not pleasant, searching fruitlessly like I was. Like Sam’s brother is.” He sighed, pressing his fingers into the wood of the desk he sat at. “I wouldn't wish that for anyone. If we could set him at ease, just a little bit…” Castiel shook his head. “It would have meant everything to me.”
“Dammit.” Gabriel said after a long silence. He ran his hand through his hair, mussing it up without a care. All eyes were on him, as if he had the final say in what happened. Sam found himself holding his breath, not even moving, as he awaited the verdict.
“I don't think this is a good idea.” Anael whispered.
“But if it was me,” Gabriel said quietly, “I'd want to know too. Because I'd scour the earth for my baby brother.” He sighed heavily, not looking at anyone in particular as he said, “all right. We’ll let Sam say goodbye to his brother.”
“Thank you, Gabriel.” Sam made himself sound relieved, which wasn't as hard as he thought, and let himself swallow the smaller corpse in a giant hug. Gabriel squirmed instantly, sounding embarrassed as he demanded that Sam let him go, but the living man just hugged him tighter; the chill wasn't so bad now that he was used to it, and Sam found himself liking how cold Gabriel felt against him.
It was surprisingly hard to let go of him, but Sam pulled back after a moment. If Gabriel had been alive, he'd be blushing. He kept ducking his head, though he stopped trying to get away from Sam. He was even slightly tempted to press a kiss to Gabriel’s cheek, and that was what ended up prompting Sam to let the corpse go.
“We’ll do it in a couple of days.” Gabriel was saying as Sam dropped him. “That way Anael has enough time to prepare herself properly, and we can make sure we have everything we need.” He turned back to the bookshelf. “In the meantime, the rest of us will keep looking.”
Sam had been counting down the days, literally, since Gabriel agreed to let him go up to the Living land. He'd been asking Anael questions about the process, none of which she deigned to answer as she gathered her things. Licifer and Balthazar continued to fight each other and generally be unhelpful in their task, though Balthazar did seem to be taking his duty a bit more seriously than Lucifer did.
And Gabriel had taken to staying by Sam’s side, holding his arm with a mischievous look and a sideways glance. Sam wasn't sure what brought the change about, but it was less unsettling than he thought. Gabriel didn't do much; just leaned against his side while they were researching, or took his arm playfully when they were walking down towards what Sam had taken to calling the bar.
It was doing something weird to Sam, if he was being honest. Not only was he flinching less and less when any of the corpses grabbed hold of him, but he was starting to get used to the smaller corpse taking hold of him whenever Gabriel wanted. It was more than a little strange to Sam, and he wanted nothing more than to go up to the Living section as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t exactly going alone.
“What do you mean, Gabriel’s coming with me?” He demanded. Anael’s mouth twisted oddly, and she crossed her arms. Despite her tiny figure, she was striking and, seeing as she was the one performing the ceremony, her word was law.
“Exactly what it sounds like.” She said. “We can't have you reappearing in another area of the Underworld, and one way to ensure that is having Gabriel go with you.”
“I don't need a babysitter!” Sam said irritably. How the hell was he supposed to lose Gabriel long enough to talk with Jess? He didn't have a chance with the corpse following him everywhere, but he couldn't exactly explain that to Anael, she would never let him up to the land of the living if he did.
“Why are you so against Gabriel going?” The young girl demanded, putting his hands on her waist and cocking her hip to the side. Sam glowered at her, but didn't answer, and Anael snorted as Gabriel came into the library with Castiel. “That's what I thought. Are you guys ready?”
“Yea, good to go!” Gabriel bounced in place a bit, looking like an overgrown child. He beamed up at Castiel as he got to Sam’s side, holding onto his arms and spreading ice over him.
“All right.” Anael sounded as authoritative as she could. “So you guys will be taken to the area where Gabriel was buried, in the middle of the forest. Sam, since you were the last one up there and you know where the town is, you'll lead the way.” Sam nodded once at her, too irritated to speak.
Dammit, this had been exactly what he'd been trying to avoid.
“Since you're both going,” Anael continued, “I'll let you know that there's a safe word. Whenever you guys are ready to come back, just say ‘trickster’. It'll bring you both right back to the library.”
“What if we get separated?” Sam was grateful Gabriel was the one who asked. Anael was already suspicious of Sam; he nearly shuddered to think the look she would throw at him if she thought he'd plan to lose Gabriel in the living world.
“Well,” Anael said thoughtfully, “you'd both come back to the underworld. But Gabriel, you'd come back here, because you're buried here. I don't know where Sam would go.”
“Back here, too, no?” Castiel said from behind his table. “Since he entered here.”
“The underworld is large,” Anael shot back. “We’re drawn here because this is where we were buried. Sam doesn't have that pull. He could end up anywhere here.”
“That seems problematic.” Gabriel laughed. He wrapped his arm around Sam’s waist, pulling the boy to his side. “Never fear, Ana, I'll be sure to bring Sam back safe and sound!”
“I know you will.” Anael smiled warmly at him, but her gaze was still sharp when it landed on Sam. He shifted uncomfortably as she said, “I'll need you guys to be touching when you're ready to come back. There's going to be a bit of discomfort, but there isn't anything I can do about that. If you want to come back, the magic word is trickster.”
“Trickster?” Sam muttered.
“Yes.” She said. “For Gabriel.” The corpse smiled warmly at her and saluted; Anael nodded and bent over the book. Sam was curious about the ritual, he was. There was a part of him that wanted to study the young girl intently, the way she leaned on the table and how her crimson hair fell into her eyes as she began the ritual. He wanted to hear how her mouth formed the words of the spell, and the motions her arms went through as she channel energy through herself.
But Jess was above ground, and he had to find a way to get rid of Gabriel, fast.
“Look, Gabe.” Sam started once they hit the ground.
“Samsquatch, let me say something first.” Gabriel put his hands on Sam’s, and Sam looked at him with wide eyes. “I think maybe you should probably prepare Dean first. I mean, it's going to be plenty shocking that you're showing up married, let alone to a corpse. Ease him into it, y’know?”
“Yes.” Sam breathed, relief flooding his body. Gabriel smiled warmly, amber eyes glowing in the light.
“I'll wait here for a bit.” He told him.
“Thank you.” Sam backed away, smiling. “I'll come back for you when Dean’s properly prepared.” Gabriel gave him a thumbs up, already busy examining the trees in amazement.
Sam took off, his journey to the village he'd come from a blur as he ran towards Jess’s house. There was a bit of a confusion as he tried to remember his way, but it wasn't long before the mansion she lived in loomed above him. He circled the house, watching the windows and feeling a bit like a stalker until he saw her sitting in front of a window. It was closed, but he could clearly see her looking out at the moon.
Feeling vaguely desperate, Sam found a pebble and threw it at the window. Jess jumped, opening the window with a glower that faded the moment she saw Sam.
“Sam!” She cried, glancing behind her. She vanished for a moment, but reappeared shortly with a length of rope. Throwing it over the edge of the window, Sam got the hint; he grabbed hold of it and pulled himself up.
It was short work, and Jess looked like she wanted to hug him.
“Don't you ‘hey’ me!” She snapped, sounding only half irritated as Sam went to sit down. He'd never seen her room before; it was huge, with her bed along the opposite wall of the window and a coffee table in the middle of the room. He sat on one of the chairs at the table, and Jess sat across from him. “You've been missing for three days! What's wrong with you?”
“Jess, I- - -” There must have been something in his voice, or maybe on his face; either way, Jess’s anger smoothed out of her brow and she haltingly reached out just a bit.
“Sam? What's going on?”
“Jess.” Sam was trembling just a bit, but it wasn't from the cold. Actually, after being in the underworld for a little more than a week, Sam’s body was used to colder temperatures than this. It was surprisingly warm on the surface of the living, and he couldn't believe he'd forgotten about the warmth that came with being alive. His fingers were practically burning with how hot it was, but he refused to let himself focus on that; the blonde girl in front of him deserved to know this. “Look, Jess, I'll admit that I didn't want to get married to you at first.”
“I wasn't so willing- - -”
“No, Jess, listen.” She cut herself off with a gasp, because Sam had reached forward and taken a hold of her hands in his.
“Christ, Sam, you're freezing!” The blonde girl exclaimed in shock. She pulled her hands out of his and took them in hers instead, rubbing them between her palms in an attempt to heat him up. It hurt, but Sam wasn't paying it any attention; his eyes kept darting to the open window he'd climbed in through, keeping a watch for Gabriel.
“Look, Jess, I don't have time.” Sam sighed and pulled one hand through his hair.
“We can work this out, don't worry.” Jess told him firmly, still focused on his hands.
“We can't!” Sam pulled away from her now, running an agitated hand through his hair. Jess watched him curiously, quietly, as he tried to pull himself together.
“Jess.” Sam sighed and grabbed her hands again. “Look, Jess, I'll admit it. I didn't want to marry you, not really. I just wanted a roof over our heads, a real one. But you're intelligent, and funny, and I wouldn't mind be married to you.”
“Me, either Sam.” Jess smiled, but Sam wasn't finished.
“But it's not a thing that can happen anymore.” Jess immediately frowned, and Sam’s eyes darted to the window. He'd left it open in his haste to get to Jess, and now the curtains in front of it were billowing. He wanted to listen to the feeling in his gut that said something bad was about to happen, but he wanted to be sure Jess knew what was going on first.
“I don't understand.” She was saying. “You're here now, Sam. There's still time. We can still- - -”
“No, Jess, I- - -” He stopped cold as his worst fear was confirmed; Gabriel crawled his way into the window and stood in front of the opened glass, dusting his dress shirt off absentmindedly. He was looking around the room, looking something close to impressed at the furnishings it had.
“Wow.” Was what came out of Gabriel’s mouth, accompanied by a low whistle and a slow turn. Jess had tensed up in his hands at the strange voice, but Sam’s terrified gaze darting from Gabriel to her seemed to be enough to keep her looking at him instead of turning around. “I gotta say, kiddo, this wasn't what…”
Gabriel trailed off, and the sickening feeling in Sam’s stomach intensified. Gabriel had finally completed his rotation to fixate his glowing eyes on Sam, and had stopped short at the sight that met him: Sam, huddled in front of a pretty blonde girl that couldn't be related to him, her in her pajamas and ready for sleeping, Sam looking wide-eyed and guilty.
Jess turned around at the same time Gabriel twisted, so that she only saw his mostly composed profile in the dark. He managed to keep his eye on the both of them, crossing the room on its edges to move slowly towards Sam. His hand was pressed against the wood of the wall, and it made a soft scraping sound as he walked.
“Who are you?” Jess asked, just a little shy of rude, and Sam bit back the groan he wanted to emit. Now wasn't the time for her headstrong stubbornness, but how was Jess to know? Gabriel didn't hesitate in his strides, didn't turn to face her fully at all, just kept moving at his pace as he examined the room a bit more carefully.
“Y’know, Samsquatch never mentioned having a beautiful sister such as yourself.” Gabriel said conversationally. His walking gait was slow, almost predatory, and Sam was holding tight to Jess’s hands; he kept Gabriel in his sight at all times though. “If I had known about you as well as Dean, well, I might've gotten more dressed up.”
“Sam doesn't have any sisters.” Jess narrowed her eyes defiantly. “I definitely wouldn't be one of them. My name is Jessica Moore. I'm Sam’s fiancée.” Gabriel stopped at that, but he was already behind Sam. His hand came to rest on the living boy’s shoulder, and it was a testament to how cold Sam himself was that he didn't even flinch.
“Fiancée?” He questioned. Jessica made a noise of agreement that quickly turned into a shriek of horror as Gabriel finally turned to face her fully. She scrambled back as Gabriel leaned over Sam’s shoulder, getting closer and closer to her without moving away from Sam.
“Gabriel, stop it!” Sam shouted, trying to push the corpse back.
“We have a problem, then, don't we, little miss?” Gabriel’s voice was dark and deep in his throat as he spoke. Sam had never seen his golden eyes flash the way they were now, with an unspoken danger lurking just underneath. It sent chills up his spine, and made his heart heavy in his chest. “Seeing as I'm actually married to Sam, you being his fiancée brings up a whole mess of questions, doesn't it?”
“What are you talking about?” Jess asked Gabriel, but her eyes shot to Sam. Fear was still blatantly obvious, but now there was a dawning understanding at what he was trying to say to her earlier. “Sam, you married this thing?”
“He did.” Gabriel proudly drew his left hand forward, and Jess cringed away further even as her eyes were drawn to the gold glinting in the moonlight. “Sammy’s mine now, darling, and you'd best get used to that.”
“Gabriel, please.” Sam said quietly. Gabriel’s head darted down, his face closer to Sam’s than he'd thought. With the rotted cheek and half revealed eye socket, Gabriel’s face looked menacing in the moonlit room; no wonder Jess was terrified. “Don't provoke her.”
“Don't provoke her?” Gabriel repeated incredulously. Sam didn't even have time to wince as his fingers tightened on his shoulders, Gabriel glowering down ferociously. “I think you've got it the wrong way ‘round, kiddo.”
“You should be more mature than this.” Sam told himself to stop digging his own grave, to shut up and let Gabriel handle this how he would, but he couldn't keep himself from talking. “I always wanted to see Jess. I was always looking for a way back to her.” Gabriel’s jaw dropped, and Sam turned to Jess again. “Please, this was all a big misunderstanding, Jess. I swear.”
“Sam, I- - -” Jess reached out to touch Sam’s cheek, but Gabriel yanked back with a strength Sam didn't know he had. Sam went toppling backwards off of the table, but he didn't hit the floor; instead, Gabriel hauled him up by the grip on his shoulder. Sam watched, his heart sinking down into his gut, at the tight pull of Gabriel’s blue lips and the venomous glare he shot Jess’s way. He wasn't outwardly portraying his anger anymore, but the trembling in his grip and the way he refused to look Sam in the eyes was more telling than Sam could have ever thought.
“Trickster.” His voice was quiet and cold, unyielding as he clearly said the code word Anael gave them. Something around Sam’s chest twisted, but it was a more physical feeling; more the magic at work than Sam’s guilt.
Jess said something as the room faded away, smoke obscuring everything in his vision except Gabriel’s furious golden eyes. The same infinitely long second journey was repeated, and when his eyes focused again, San found himself back in the vaguely familiar library.
Gabriel shoved Sam back the instant he'd gotten his bearings back, the commotion attracting the attention of the three they'd left behind. Castiel was still sitting on the bench, half rising to peer over the stack of books. Lucifer was balancing precariously on the top of a ladder, peering intently at the book titles near the ceiling of the library. Anael was on the floor with Balthazar, the two pouring over open books together.
“Hey!” Sam ignored Balthazar’s greeting in order to level a glare he didn't really feel at Gabriel. The corpse looked furious, and he pushed him back a second time. Sam was still off balance from the first shove, and he lost his footing with the second; he stumbled into a stack of books, the both of them going down in a loud crash.
“How dare you!” Gabriel snarled. “After all that work we've been putting in, you're going to go and pull a stunt like that?” Sam opened his mouth to say something in his defense, but Gabriel’s face contorted again as he mimicked Sam. “My brother’s going to be worried about me, I've been gone for so long, our weird codependency thing is going to have him freaking out, I need to see him and let him know everything's all right- - -” Sam flushed and hunkered down, pursing his lips.
Guilt built up in his stomach again, if only because Gabriel was only slightly exaggerating. Definitely about the codependency thing, but Sam had definitely used Dean as his excuse to go up to the living portion of the world. The guilt for tricking Gabriel and Castiel mixed with the shame that came from using Anael and Balthazar like that- - -God, they were just kids, what was he thinking?- - -and that gave Sam the strength to fight his case.
“What's going on?” Anael asked, getting to her feet. Balthazar had better sense; he stayed seated on the floor, well out of the way of Gabriel’s rage. Both men ignored her, in favor of each other.
“What did you think was going to happen?” Sam yelled back, getting to his feet. “Did you really think I would introduce you to my brother? My living brother, might I add?” Gabriel’s eyes flashed, hurt replacing the anger for a millisecond. Sam pretended not to see. “You gave me a chance. Of course I would go to Jess first!”
“She's not important anymore!” Gabriel ran his hand through his hair angrily. The ring flashed and glinted as it disappeared into the strands and reappeared elsewhere. Sam watched it; he had the uncontrollable urge to rip it off Gabriel’s finger and just leave, but he couldn't go anywhere. He was now stuck in the land of the dead, truly stuck here, because with their fight brewing in front of everyone, there was no way they would help him to the living portion of the world again.
“She's the most important thing in the world to me!” Gabriel was in his space suddenly, placing a firm finger into Sam’s chest. Even as short as he was, he made a terrifying image when angered.
“You are married to me.” He growled. “She's not important anymore. You have no right, none at all, to be lying to me about something as important as this.”
“You knew this goddamn marriage was a mistake!” Sam’s voice rang out into the library much louder than Gabriel’s did, and now Castiel stood up in protest. They both ignored the stunned reactions in the room, Lucifer’s raised eyebrow to Balthazar’s astonished cry, still facing each other as if they were the only ones in the room. Sam could feel the words bubbling up, and for once he didn't try to force them down out of respect for Gabriel. He ignored the twisting in his stomach as he yelled, “I never intended to marry you, that was the whole point of this research!”
“Stop fighting!” Anael stepped between them, placing one hand on Gabriel’s waist and the other on Sam’s thigh. Sam flinched at the cold as usual, shoving her hand off of him automatically. Anael glowered at him, mimicking the expression on Gabriel’s face perfectly, as she asked, “what's going on? What are you guys talking about?”
Sam looked at Gabriel despite himself, wondering how best to put it to the child. Gabriel didn't look at him; the corpse was looking at his brother, as if Castiel would miraculously have the answers they were looking for. He didn't seem to be willing to say anything. Instead, Castiel was just watching them passively, wondering how they were going to break the news to the kids helping them.
“Look, kiddo.” Gabriel sighed after a moment. He got to his knees, keeping one at a ninety degree angle so he could balance Anael better. She turned her gaze to Gabrirl, her dark look softening just a bit. Gabriel looked lost, but Sam could see the hint of hurt and betrayal in the eyes. “When Sam married me, it wasn't necessarily the best thing.”
“What do you mean?” Anael asked quietly. Gabriel made a face, glancing at Castiel once again before focusing on the small child. It was clear he didn't know how to handle the situation; as old as Anael was, and with how much she understood, the truth wasn't too hard for her to grasp properly. But she still had the emotional range of a six year old, and she was likely to blow up in a temper tantrum if it wasn't worded carefully.
“Well.” Gabriel cleared his throat. “It was an accident, Ana. Sam didn't know I was there. I didn't realize he was practicing for someone else. It's all a big misunderstanding.” He put his hand on her crimson hair, but he didn't ruffle it like he normally would have. “What we've been doing is trying to find a way to annul the marriage and send Sam back up for good.”
“You can't annul the marriage!” Balthazar sounded scandalized, stomping up to them. His features were twisted in anger, his voice almost shaking. “It goes against everything- - -”
“It's a marriage between a corpse and a living body!” Sam said, his voice quiet. The younger corpse rounded on him, fury blazing in his eyes.
“It still binds you together.” He said back. “You can't annul a marriage just because you're different or it's too hard, or it wasn't what you were expecting. Marriage is about sacrifice and compromise, working together towards a similar goal.”
“Please, Gabriel.” Anael whispered. Sam looked down at her, and felt guilt twist his stomach again. She looked close to tears, if she could cry, and Gabriel had a look on his face that screamed mourning. She reached out and placed a shaking hand on his face.
“I’m sorry, guys.” Gabriel put his hand on hers. “It is what it is.”
Anael opened her mouth, but a bell rang out from the distance. It sounded like it was coming from the bar, and they all twisted accordingly to face the direction of the place. They all waited until the bell stopped, and Sam followed suit; there was silence for a long moment after the last toll.
“New arrival.” Lucifer said calmly, sliding down the ladder. He stopped and grabbed Balthazar by the arm, more gently than he would have otherwise. The younger corpse allowed himself to be picked up, following after Lucifer looking lost and hollow. He stopped by Anael, lifting her easily onto his shoulder and taking her away from Gabriel. They both allowed it, and Lucifer was gone, taking all the kids with him.
Castiel stood and stepped down from the desk, coming to a stop by his brother as well. He placed a comforting hand on Gabriel’s shoulder, one that the smaller corpse pushed away reflexively. Castiel was patient though, and wrapped his arm around Gabriel’s shoulders in order to lead him out.
“Come,” he said to them both, “let us greet the newcomer, yes?”
They all crowded past each other into the door. For the first time since Sam had come down, it seemed like the corpses were making a conscious effort to not touch him in any way. He never would have thought it possible, but Sam missed the way that Gabriel would ignore any and all boundaries. He’d gotten over not accepting comfort from Castiel. He was standing by his brother, leading the way with a hand on Castiel’s shoulder. Both brothers were talking with their heads bent towards each other, and Sam watched them; suddenly, he missed Dean with a surprising force, and he wished that he'd gone to see his own brother instead of Jess.
Then Castiel stopped. Sam couldn't see his face from behind, but whatever it was was making Gabriel laugh uproariously and Lucifer reach up to tousle Castiel’s hair even more.
Then he heard a familiar voice, loud and boisterous and very much not supposed to be here.
Sam pushed between the corpses, not even registering the normal chill. Ignoring the affronted look Lucifer gave him and the way Gabriel pointedly ignored him, Sam forced himself between them and came face to face with none other than Dean, who gaped back at him almost stupidly. Without even thinking, Sam threw himself at his brother and wrapped his arms around him tightly; he only just barely registered the chill coming off of his brother. Dean mimicked him instantly, hugging back just a bit tighter than Sam expected.
“Sammy!” Dean pulled back and ruffled Sam’s hair, and Sam didn't even have the heart to protest like he normally did.
“Dean, what happened?”
“I should be asking you that!” Dean shoved at him, much more friendly than Gabriel did, but wrapped one arm around his brother’s shoulder. “You up and vanished without a trace! Nobody could find you, man, what the hell?”
“It's a long story,” Sam started, but Gabriel gently shoved Sam to the side. For an irrational moment, Sam was terrified that he was going to say something; instead, he presented Castiel, who had one hand hiding his face and the other locked in Gabriel’s grip.
“Little brother, newcomer,” he said by way of introduction, “newcomer, little brother. Have fun!” He tugged on Sam’s arm, dragging him backwards and leaving Dean with Castiel. Sam wanted to protest- - -that was his brother, dammit, he wanted to talk- - -but when he glanced back, he saw how Castiel ducked his head just a little bit, and decided against saying anything.
“Playing matchmaker?” Sam heard himself asking when Gabriel released his arm. The corpse shrugged, looking away with a weird twist to his mouth. Sam gulped, then turned to face Gabriel. The corpse was getting ready to leave, heading over to where Lucifer was standing with Balthazar, but he stopped when Sam grabbed hold of his arm.
“Look, Gabriel.” He said quietly, “I’m sorry, really, I am.”
“Just save it, Sam.” Gabriel responded. Sam’s heart clenched, hard, because the corpse sounded so defeated. It dropped even more when Gabriel turned to look at him fully; the smaller corpse was giving him a smile that didn't look even remotely like its usual beam, like Gabriel was trying to convince Sam it was fine without actually feeling it. “Besides, now the kids know the truth. Maybe it'll help, because they actually know what they're supposed to be looking for.”
“I really didn't mean to hurt you, Gabriel.” Sam pulled him towards him, enveloping Gabriel in a tight hug. “I don't belong here, though, you know that. I'm alive, Gabriel, I can't stay among corpses.”
“I know, Samsquatch.” Gabriel pulled away, looking more than reluctant to do so. Sam’s chest hurt, but he didn't say anything as the corpse turned away to go with the others. “Go see your brother.”
Sam turned to find Dean behind him, Castiel by his side. Castiel was watching his brother, and with a quiet murmur he left, going after Gabriel. Sam turned, but Dean’s hand on his shoulder kept him from following the two brothers.
“You need to explain yourself, buddy.” Dean said. His voice was light and joking, but the look on his face made Sam pause. He looked tired, with bags under his eyes and a defeated sort of air that hadn't disappeared with his death. Sam opened his mouth to explain himself, but Dean beat him to it. “Jess is marrying Azazel, if you were curious. She gave me two days to find you, and I just about ran out of time when I died.” Sam’s breath caught. “I'm sorry, Sam.”
“She married someone else?” Sam asked hoarsely. Dean licked his lips, opening his mouth to say something, probably about the fact that Jess’s mother had apparently decided he was a lost cause, but Sam didn't hear it. Instead, he turned and headed straight for the library, not wanting to be bothered by anyone else.
Sam was sitting by himself in the library, looking through one of the books on the shelf. It was interesting in a sort of morbid way; the underworld had a magic, one that connected it to different realities it seemed. He'd read about Ana earlier, about her greatest achievements as the queen of a country he'd never heard of until she’d died of old age at 45. The two he'd seen in the library before, one used to being named Samandriel and the other using the name Adam, were her children in this other life. They had died in separate lives at different points in time, but their vessel apparently remained the same as their first death. It was bizarre, and more than a little bit confusing, but despite the migraine it gave him, Sam couldn't help but keep reading.
He chose book after book, tearing through different lives and thoughts of his new friends in the underworld. He would have kept going, but he'd found a book about himself and couldn't help it. With only a moment’s hesitation, Sam pulled the book from the shelf and flipped it open to a random page.
It detailed him and his brother, and Sam was vaguely relived to realize that Dean was still his brother even in some alternate reality. Pleased by this revealed fact, Sam pressed on; the book was about monster hunting, he realized, and that Sam and Dean were much better at fighting than he was. He read about them salting and burning bones, and the amusement that it worked ran through his face. He, only momentarily, entertained the thought of it working on Lucifer as he was now; deciding against it, Sam reasoned that the underworld was probably completely separate from everything else.
Dean came in as he was reading a book with Gabriel in it, the story strangely captivating in a way Sam didn't realize sitting by himself. He looked up when Dean sat in front of him, painfully aware of the tear tracks making their way down his face.
Dean, perhaps for the first time in any of their lives, pointedly ignored the sight Sam made.
“So, Cas has been detailing me this whole thing.” He started awkwardly. Sam groaned and just barely avoided slamming his head into the book he was reading; he didn't particularly think that Carver Edlund would appreciate the damage to his books. Dean scratched the back of his head, clearly debating on where to start.
“Dean, look- - -” Sam started, only to be cut off by his brother.
“Sammy, you gotta figure.” Dean sighed, then started again. “You were only marrying Jess for a place for us to stay. And yea, you guys were getting along pretty well at the altar for it to work.” Sam watched his brother struggle through words, not really understanding what he was trying to say until he got to the point. “Look, you don't love Jess. And Jess doesn't love you, not the way you'd want her to if you guys were gonna marry.”
“It could happen.” Sam argued weakly.
“It could.” Dean agreed. “Or it might not. But,” he took a breath, licked his lips, and glanced around, “you seem much happier here, bro. Among the books and the- - -.”
“Corpses.” Sam finished flatly. Dean winced, but shrugged. “You seriously think I get along better down here than I do up there, Dean?”
“You're much happier down here!” Dean shot back. “You're not as worried or stressed, you seem like you get along with mostly everybody,” not including Gabe at the moment, Sam thought, the corpse was still bitter about their trip upstairs and Sam couldn't blame him, “and you're just much more you down here.” Dean shrugged one shoulder. “It's been more than a week, bro. I'm not saying it's not possible to go back home, but do you really want to?”
Did he? Sam frowned down at his book as Dean got up and left. He wasn't seeing the words anymore, not really, just thinking. His mind was racing instead, mulling over his brother’s words.
Why was he so desperate to get back to Jess? She was headstrong and beautiful, yes, but Sam didn't really know much about her. He'd been planning on getting to know her during the duration of their marriage, but it seemed unlikely that it would ever happen now. Even if he found a way up to the world of the Living, Gabriel would always be on his mind. He liked the cold corpse, would miss him a lot, even, if he was forced to be separated by such a big barrier. That would definitely be a rift in trying things out with Jess.
And, Sam realized, Dean was right. He felt much more comfortable, much more himself, down here in the Underworld. He wasn't necessarily odd or out of place in the Living world, but even Sam could tell the difference between himself before and now. He was much more outspoken, more easily pulled away from his books now. There was a more social aspect about him, pulled forcibly out of him by Gabe and Ana and even Cas.
Did he even really want to go back to the Living world? Aside from Jess, what was there up there for him? He didn't know where his father was, hadn't seen his mother yet, but Dean was down here now. Cas, Ana, Balthazar, even Lucifer, and Gabriel…
Gabriel was down here.
Feeling oddly as though his decision was made for him, Sam put Hammer of the Gods back on the bookshelf. Wiping at his face with a sigh, he set off to find Gabriel.
“What am I going to do, Cassie?” Gabriel plopped his head down, ignoring his brother as he muttered something that sounded suspiciously like ‘don't call me that, Gabriel.’ He twisted his face to face his brother’s back, looking more forlorn since Castiel wasn't actually facing him. He made a point to sound over exaggerated though, so that way Castiel didn't worry or turn around. “I'll be alone for the rest of my life!”
“Don't be ridiculous.” Castiel murmured distractedly. He was stirring something on the fire, though from his vantage point, Gabriel couldn't see what it was. “You always have me and Anael and Balthazar. Even Lucifer.”
“But Sam!” Gabriel hid his face in the table again, not wanting to bring up his frustration with the only living person down in the underworld.
But Sam, Gabriel thought. He wanted to be mad, he wanted to be hurt, but he knew exactly where the boy was coming from. He was a living, breathing person stuck in a shitty situation. Gabriel knew he was hard to handle, and he was kind of a mess, and, the more important thing, he was dead. It was a cold thing that settled in his chest, and he wished more than ever that he'd never fallen for the stupid trap that got him killed in the first place.
But Sam, Gabriel thought. Sighing quietly, so quietly that Castiel wouldn't hear, Gabriel tapped his left hand on the table. A commotion was growing outside, and he lifted his head as it got closer. Even Castiel stopped whatever it was that he was doing to turn around and frown. They sat quietly in the kitchen, trying to hear what was being said, until the door burst open to reveal Balthazar and Lucifer.
“Don't say anything!” Balthazar was yelling. Castiel and Gabriel watched as Lucifer threw the kitchen door open, Balthazar hanging onto his arm. He looked furious, as if he'd been yelling for quite some time and being ignored. Balthazar didn't even seem to realize that they'd found Gabriel, focused instead on the taller corpse. “Gabriel wouldn't approve, and you know it!”
“Wouldn't approve of what?” Gabriel asked loudly.
“We might have found the solution to your little problem.” Lucifer said smugly. Gabriel looked from Balthazar to the teen corpse curiously; where Lucifer looked smug and triumphant, Balthazar only looked annoyed and despondent.
“What do you mean?” Gabriel said slowly.
“We don't actually have to say anything.” Balthazar reminded Lucifer pointedly. He turned to Gabriel and wrung his hands. “You know this situation is completely unprecedented. There's just no record of any hint of a marriage between someone who is dead and someone who's not.”
“But we found a loophole.” Lucifer grinned toothily, and to Gabriel, it seemed like Balthazar looked a bit embarrassed.
“Yes, a major one.” The ten year old admitted. “One I'm surprised I overlooked. It appears that being dead for as long as I have, and at my age, I'd forgotten about religion.” Gabriel made an impatient noise, and he hastily went on. “In my religion, you're married in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death do you part.” There was a heavy silence that followed his words, until Balthazar whispered, “and death has already parted you.”
“I know that, thanks.” Gabriel snapped. He sat down heavily on the bench, burying his face in his hands. Castiel sat next to his brother, his hand on his shoulder in a sign of support that Gabriel ignored. “What am I going to do, guys? We can't keep Sam here. We need to tell him and get him back to the proper side of life.”
“But there's a loophole, Gabriel!” Lucifer slammed the heavy book he was carrying down on the table. Gabriel peeked through his fingers and he rifled through it upside down, ignoring Balthazar’s attempts to throw him off again. He said nothing until he flipped to a page that showed an elegant bottle. “Poison.”
“And how's that a loophole?” Gabriel asked blankly. Lucifer shot him a look.
“Get Sam to drink some, and he'll die. He'll be on the proper side of Life to stay with you, Gabriel.” Gabriel shoved the book away from him in horror, glaring up at the standing teen.
“Are you fucking insane?” He hissed. “We are not poisoning Sam! What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Do you want to keep Sam or not?” Lucifer snapped back. He shoved Balthazar uncaringly to the ground in an effort to get the boy off of him. “I'm offering you a solution, Gabriel. Sam doesn't need to know. We could tell him he'd died of hypothermia or something, poison doesn't exactly leave a physical trace unless you wish it to.”
“No, Lucifer.” Gabriel said firmly. He stood up, closing the book with a final sounding slam. Golden eyes flashing angrily, he pushed the book back into Lucifer’s hands. “I'll go tell him what we found out. I will help him back to the land of the living. We are not going to force him to stay down here if he doesn't want to. And we are definitely not going to poison Sam, period. Understand, Lucifer?”
“I told you he'd get mad.” Balthazar muttered petulantly. Lucifer glowered, looking like the fourteen year old he was supposed to be. Gabriel moved to go around the table, only to freeze when the kitchen door opened again and Sam peeked his head in.
“Sammy!” Gabriel called cheerfully, hoping that his eyes didn't look as wide as they felt. He was grateful for the fact that he didn't have a heartbeat; no doubt it would be racing right now, considering what they were just discussing. He saw Sam’s eyes dart to the closed book, and Gabriel not so subtly moved around the table and blocked it from view. “We were just talking bout cha.”
“I heard.” Sam’s voice sounded scratchy, and he cleared it and tried again. Gabriel hoped he hadn't heard everything, until he nodded at the hidden book. “The poison?”
“Not a thing we’re doing.” Gabriel said loudly, before Lucifer could voice his opinion. The teen glowered and crossed his arms, acting as petulantly as Ana could. Sam barely spared the boy a glance, locking eyes with Gabriel.
“I'll do it.” He said firmly, coming into the kitchen. Gabriel’s breath caught in his throat, not that he really needed it, but he was still stunned by the conviction Sam exuded. The living man came to a stop in front of Gabriel and placed his hand on his unrotted cheek, smiling fondly down at the smaller.
“You don't have to.” Gabriel whispered.
“I'll do it.” Sam repeated. His other hand took hold of Gabriel’s left, where the ring was still secured on the bony finger. Sam’s eyes were earnest and true as he said, “I want to do it. Please, Gabe, let me do this for you.”
And as much as he wanted to deny it, Gabriel knew that he was weak in the face of his husband’s eagerness. Sam looked excited, his eyes lit up and a wide smile on his face. He looked more animated than Gabriel had ever seen him, and he knew before he even opened his mouth that he’d already bent to Sam’s will.
“All right.” Gabriel acquiesced.
“Gather everyone up!” Castiel told Balthazar and Lucifer. There was a hint of excitement in his voice, enough to get both boys beaming. “We’re going to have a wedding. An official one this time.” He waited until both boys were out of the room, then turned to face Sam and Gabriel at the same time they did. Gabriel noted that his brother didn't look particularly unhappy, but he wasn't overflowing with enthusiasm. He leveled a glare at Sam in particular as he said, “are you one hundred percent certain about this, Sam? There is no going back, you know.”
“I know.” Sam said. “I know what I'm doing, Cas.” The familiar nickname made Castiel’s lip twitch, and it seemed that that more than anything convinced Gabriel’s little brother.
“We have to do this properly.” He said seriously. “Which means we will have to go up into the Land of the Living, in order to ensure you come to the right spot in the afterlife, Sam. We’ll all go into your town, use your church, and then poison you while you and Gabriel renew the vows you made.” Sam’s lips tightened into a line, and for a moment Gabriel thought that they'd lost him; it was a lot of work, and that meant that Sam would be dying just under Gabriel’s twenty-seven years of age.
But Sam merely nodded once, saying a firm “ok.”
“Well,” Castiel stood again. He placed his hands on the tabletop and opened the book again; there was a bookmark Gabriel hadn't noticed that kept the page safe. “Go and get ready. I'll be along momentarily.”
They burst out of the ground in droves, though not a single clump of dirt looked overturned at their appearance. Sam and Gabriel had gotten separated, though it was less the fault of the crowd and more due to Dean and Ana’s interference. She’d taken Gabriel and pulled him in one direction, and Dean had yanked him off into the other.
Sam was alight with nervous energy. His hands were trembling, his stomach was a giant knot, and his knees felt weak. Still, there was a jittery excitement that was present that hadn't been there when he'd been preparing himself to marry Jess, and that more than anything convinced him that he was doing the right thing.
Dean had gone ahead, trying to see if he could find Cas somewhere, and Sam glanced to the side to see Gabriel standing alone. His hand was on the side of a tree, and he was watching the parade of corpses go by with some kind of forlorn look. With a small smile, Sam made his way up to him. For a moment they stood side by side in silence.
“Having second thoughts?” Sam asked. He was carefully not looking right at the smaller corpse, and Gabriel was doing the same. Still, out of the corner of his eye, Sam watched as Gabriel shook his head quietly, eyes not moving from their spot. “No? No cold feet or anything?”
He chuckled at the joke, turning around and looking up at Sam.
“Y’know, Samsquatch,” he started, “I never thought that…” Gabriel sighed. “My first attempt at marriage wasn't the best, I get that. I never thought I'd get a second chance.”
“I don't mind.” Sam said. He reached out and took the icy hand in his own. Gabriel’s hand was cold and hard, giving way in one area but holding firm. Sam felt his fingertips brushing through the different textures, the pads of his fingers mapping the way Gabriel was rotting. It was a strange thought, knowing that this was what he had to look forward to, but it didn't do anything to deter him. He turned towards Gabriel, meeting golden eyes as he brought the hand up to his mouth. The smaller watched with widening eyes as Sam pressed his lips gently to the back of his hand. Cold burst through his lips, but Sam thought it was more than worth it when Gabriel looked as though he would turn several shades of red if he could.
“Let’s go.” Sam said quietly, as soon as his lips were an inch away. “Before Cas and Dean come hunting for us.”
Gabriel stood in front of Sam, feeling excitement crawl up and down his spine. Castiel stood behind the alter, holding the bottle they were going to use to poison Sam in his hand. The other placed a single wine goblet on the table, right in the middle of the two of them.
Sam shifted his shoulders and smiled down at Gabriel, taking a steadying breath as he took the goblet in his hand. His other had took Gabriel's right; it was a testament to how ready he was to do this that Sam didn't even flinch away from how cold his skin was. Instead, he tightened his grip on Gabriel's hand as he lifted the cup for the rest of the dead to see properly.
"With this hand," Sam said loudly, "I will lift your sorrows." He dropped the cup a bit so that it was within Gabriel's reach. "Your cup will never empty, for I will be your wine."
Castiel handed the poison to Gabriel uncorked; the corpse groom clenched the neck tightly in his hand, lifting it to place the lip of it on Sam's cup. The entire church held its breath- - -figuratively, of course- - -as Gabriel took a much unneeded steadying breath.
"With this hand," he recited back, "I will lift your sorrows." Gabriel tilted the wine, filling the goblet slowly. Sam beamed down at him, his hand gentle on Gabriel's right. The corpse groom trembled with excitement, a wide happy smile crossing his face. "Your cup will never empty, for I- - -" Movement, a flash of blonde, a glimpse of white; the corpse's eyes darted to the side and he stopped short in surprise.
Jess was leaning against the pillar, watching with wide eyes.
She pressed against the stone, still in her wedding dress from earlier. The white was slightly faded, her veil lost in between her own wedding ceremony and her boring reception that was crashed by the dead. Her blonde locks were pulled into what looked like an elegant twist, but it was beginning to fall apart; strands were popping up all over her head, making her soft hair look frizzy and wild. Her make-up was fading and smudged, her face was downcast and sad, but she still looked every inch the beautiful bride she had made a few hours prior.
The beautiful bride she was supposed to be for Sam.
"Your cup will never empty." Gabriel restarted, shaking his head. It didn't matter anymore. Jess supposedly married someone else, and his Samsquatch decided that he wanted to die. He wanted to be with Gabriel in the land of the dead. There was no way Gabriel was going to give up someone like Sam just because a pretty girl with blonde hair and sad blue eyes wanted him to. He shook himself off and stammered. "Your cup will never empty, for I..."
Gabriel trailed off and stared back at Jess, not able to complete his sentence. The girl looked so sad, watching the taller living groom as Sam looked at him slightly impatiently. Something twisted in Gabriel, maybe his heart, maybe his stomach, but it gave him enough pause to consider what he was doing. It made him think, for the first time, exactly what it was that he was taking.
Because it didn't end with just Sam's life, bad as that was. Jess really seemed like she loved him, and it would probably traumatize her to lose him like this. It would take her life as well. And if they had gotten married like they were supposed to...
Gabriel ruined everything.
"For I will be your wine." Sam finished for him with a small quirk of his lips. He brought the cup up to his mouth and tilted his head back, ready to drink the poison and end his life. The entire church leaned forward, watching aptly. Jess closed her eyes and turned away, unable to keep looking. Sam closed his eyes as well, looking just a little bit terrified.
Gabriel reached out and stopped the taller boy from drinking.
"Gabe, what?" Sam asked quietly, confusion in his face. Gabriel looked away for a brief second, then glanced back at Jess. She looked confused as well, but extremely hopeful. Gabriel felt his unbeating heart clench in his chest again, and suddenly he knew what he was supposed to do.
"Look, Sammy," he took his hand away and placed it on Sam's shoulder instead. Sam very helpfully crouched down so that his arm reached fully, which made Gabriel laugh quietly before turning serious again. "I had my chance to be happy. And you," he touched Sam's cheek with his other hand, pressing bone against flesh gently, "you have been so good, and so patient, Samsquatch."
"Thank you." Sam said slowly, smiling uncertainly. Gabriel nodded, glancing back at Jess quickly. The taller moved to mimic him, but Gabriel held fast and looked at him imploringly. He couldn't bear to have Sam away from him just yet, not until he'd at least had his say. That way Sam wouldn't feel obligated to stay, or feel guilty for choosing Jess over Gabriel.
"But I had my chance," he repeated, "and I can't, in good conscience, take that chance away from somebody else."
"Gabe, you don't have much of a conscience." Sam snickered. Gabriel chuckled, unable to help himself, and Sam pressed his hands against Gabriel's face. His eyes were gentle and warm as he asked, "What’s brought this on, huh?"
"Look," Gabriel smiled brightly, "Samsquatch, this whole thing has been great. I swear on my...heh, my unlife. But," he held his hand out and beckoned Jess to come forward. Sam whirled around, shock coloring his face as the blonde girl stepped forward. Uncertainly, she took Gabriel's hand with a shiver and stepped up to the alter with the two boys. The corpse took Sam's hand and joined them together, smiling as they looked at each other, "what kind of undead groom would I be if I couldn't keep two people so obviously destined to be with each other together?"
"Sam." Jess sounded relieved, and she looked so happy to be reunited with the taller man. Sam smiled at her, holding her hand tightly, but turned to Gabriel. His brow was furrowed and he looked unhappy with the sudden turn of events that was happening.
"I made a promise to you." He said quietly.
"You've fulfilled it completely." Gabriel told him sternly. Sam shook his head, but before he could say anything against Gabriel, the doors to the church burst open again.
"Oh, come on!" Dean snapped from the front row, twisting around with the rest of the church to glare at the giant doors. "Who the fuck else is missing?"
"Dean," Castiel said quietly, placing his hand on the other man's shoulders. Dean glowered at him, but hunkered down and looked furious.
"Isn't this touching?" A slimy voice echoed through the church as Azazel strolled in with ease. The whole dead and living bodies in the church looked confused, save for Dean, Sam, and Jess; Dean looked dumbstruck, Sam looked furious, and Jess looked just a little bit afraid. She clung to Sam a little bit tighter, and the taller Winchester wrapped his arm around her protectively. Azazel swaggered up to the altar himself, bowing exaggeratedly at the two. "Such love in the air, it nearly makes me nauseous to be in the same general area, let alone the same room."
"What do you want?" Sam asked through clenched teeth.
"Well," Azazel examined his nails with a bored expression, "like I said, there's so much happiness and joy around here, I'd hate to be the bearer of bad news, but..." His eyes glinted yellow in the light as he narrowed them at Sam and Jess, snarling, "that is still my wife."
"Only because Sam wasn't there!" Jess protested. She clung to Sam, but her glare at Azazel was fierce. "I would have never married you otherwise."
"The fact remains that you are married to me, Jessica." The older man growled. "I refuse to leave empty handed from here!"
"You won't be." Gabriel said coldly. Azazel whipped around in surprise, his eyes widening in shock as he took in the smaller corpse.
"Gabriel!" He exclaimed in horror. Gabriel smirked, his face hard and furious. His arms were crossed, and Sam had never seen the smaller man look so powerful.
"Azazel." He shot back. There was an awkward moment of silence, wherein everyone was watching with bated breath as the two men sized each other up. Gabriel stalked closer, though Azazel took a step back for every two the corpse moved forward. When they were an arms’ length apart, Gabriel stopped and glowered. “What are you doing here?”
“I told you- - -”
“I heard that.” Gabriel snapped, disgust on his face. “That's not my question. Why Jess?”
“Her family was supposed to be rich.” Azazel growled. He leveled a glare at Jess, who glowered right back at him. Sam held his arm out in front of her, and Gabriel stepped around the man to stand between the three of them, his back to Sam.
“You leave.” Gabriel said. “Leave, and don't bother Jess again. Get out, Azazel.”
“Clearly you did not hear me.” Azazel stepped forward, pushing Gabriel back. “I said that if I leave, Jessica is coming with me.” Gabriel shoved him back, much harder than Azazel had. He stumbled back, tripping over Balthazar’s outstretched foot and crashing into the ground.
“No she's not.” Azazel growled, scrambling to his feet and looking around wildly. His eyes landed on a corpse, one that had a sword at his side, and he lunged before anyone had a chance to react; yanking the sword free, he leveled it with Gabriel’s chest. The corpse scoffed, stepping forward slowly. “Get out.”
Azazel lunged, and Sam’s breath caught in his throat. Gabriel was holding his own, even without a sword, but Sam found his eyes glued to the scene. Gabriel ducked and twisted, looking graceful and eyes blazing with a fury that Sam had only seen once before. It had been terrifying having that look aimed at him, but it looked beautiful when it wasn't because of him.
Unfortunately, Gabriel couldn't stay between them forever. Azazel swung out with the sword, catching the corpse by surprise and throwing him into a wall.
“Gabriel!” Sam darted forward unthinkingly, making a beeline for him as Gabriel slumped to the floor, his head shaking just a bit. He slid to a stop, though, when Azazel rounded on him and aimed the sword at him. He glowered, but didn't move even as Azazel advanced on him to get to Jess.
“You're not going anywhere either.” He sneered. “You want to join him so bad? I'll make sure you're stuck with him forever.”
“And I won't get rid of him as easily or as coldly as you did.” Sam spat back. Azazel paused again, his face calculating.
“Or perhaps,” he mused, “I'll make it so that you can never find each other in the afterlife. I'm sure the underground world is very large, after all.” Panic settled in Sam’s chest at the thought of never seeing Gabriel again, but there wasn't anything he could do. He was trapped by Azazel, and Gabriel was still looking too out of it to do anything to help.
Which was when something slammed through his chest, hard enough to appear on the other side. Blood splattered on Sam’s face, and he jerked back in shock. Azazel coughed wetly, blood bubbling up from his mouth as he looked down. He swayed, reaching up with a shaking hand to touch the semi-sharp end of what looked like a metal pole. His legs buckled and he went down, revealing a panting Jess.
She stepped back, tossing her hair over her shoulder along with her veil. Glancing around at the aghast faces staring at her, Jess mustered up the ability to shrug.
“Nobody else was doing anything.” She said by way of explanation. “And I'm already tired of hearing his voice. Despite what Mother thinks, being a widow is not that bad.”
“Gabe!” Sam rushed toward the fallen man, only vaguely registering Jess do the same. He fell to his knees at the corpse’s side, cradling his face in his hands. “Gabe, Gabriel, look at me. Are you ok?”
“I'm dead, Sam.” Gabriel chuckled, though his eyes were still spinning lazily in their sockets. “He can't do any damage to me, I'm fine. You?”
“He didn't even get near me.” Sam sighed, placing his forehead against Gabriel’s. Gabriel closed his eyes for a moment, looking content and ecstatic before sadness began taking over.
“Guess what, Sammy.” He whispered. When Sam responded just as quietly, Gabriel steeled himself long enough to say, “You can marry Jess now.”
“Gabe…” Sam started, but Gabriel pushed his hand firmly against the other’s mouth with a small frown. His eyes had stopped spinning, and he looked uncharacteristically serious for once.
“No, look, there's the whole widow thing, I get that.” He said. “Do you still have to wait a year? I think you do. Pretty sure that's still a thing. And that's ok. Because then you can get to know Jess and fall in love and have two point three kids with a-a yard and a dog and all that shit. You can be happy, Sam.”
“Why don't you think I could be happy with you?” Sam demanded. Gabriel chuckled a bit derisively, but Sam wouldn't let himself be deterred. He made him look at him, his hand as firm as it could be on the rotting face, making sure that his voice held no room for argument. “Gabriel, please. Let me stay. We could be happy together, Gabriel.”
"Sam, you can't." Gabriel said weakly, shaking his head. "Look, Jess is newly single. Wait a year, and then you can have her all to yourself. Don't just- - -"
“Don’t tell me what I can and can't do.” Sam reprimanded gently. He reached up, and felt the wine glass be placed in his hand by thin and gentle fingers. Sam felt Jess place her hand on his shoulder in support, but he didn't take his eyes off of Gabriel’s stunned face as he held the poison up. His heart racing wildly in his chest, Sam said quietly, “your cup will never empty, for I will be your wine.”
And then, before Gabriel could reach out and stop him, Sam put the glass to his lips and took a deep drink.
Almost instantly, he doubled over. They'd chosen the most painless potion they could make it such a short notice, Castiel had told him gravely, but that didn't mean that there wouldn't be any pain at all. Sam could feel it, feel his lungs constricting and his heart pump harder in an attempt to continue its job. He was vaguely aware of Gabriel’s voice, panicked and loud in his ear; he couldn't even tell him that he was all right, because his throat had closed up and made it impossible for him to breathe, let alone say anything.
And then the pain began to ebb away. Slowly, Sam sat up and took a shuddering breath, relieved to find that he could do so easily. He blinked, realizing he couldn't feel Jess’s hand on his shoulder anymore, and turned to face her curiously. She'd pulled her hand into the folds of her dress, smiling sheepishly.
“You got too cold for me to touch.” She said quietly. Her eyes were brimming with tears, Sam noted with a bit of guilt, but she looked happy. She had a trembling smile that lit up her whole face, and she pressed her hand against his head. “I wish you two all the happiness in the world. You deserve it, Sam.”
“Thanks, Jess.” Sam touched her arm gently, and she reflexively yanked it back. Remembering how jumpy he'd been when he first was touched by a corpse, Sam took no offense. Instead, he turned to Gabriel and cupped his awed face in his hands. Chuckling just a bit, Sam told him, “you may kiss the groom.”