Gabriel kept watch over Jack as the boy helped Sam reading through thick tomes of knowledge, trying to find a way to stop Michael without needing to put Jack in the front lines of the battle. Dean had given up trying to concentrate on the reading job hours ago, leaving the people who enjoyed the research part of the hunting life to it. Last he heard, eh had taken Castiel out to hunt a ghost somewhere.
Every now and then the boy winced and shifted in his seat, but it wasn’t the physical body of the kid that drew Gabriel’s attention. It was the wings. Their dark red was dull and dirty. The kid kept on ruffling up his feathers, like they were bothering him, and it was no wonder.
Jack had never had the upbringing the rest of the celestial beings had. The poor boy had no idea, since no one in his life but Castiel knew how to look after wings and his little bro had lost his years ago. Jack’s mad flight in the alternate world had made him pick up a lot of dust and, if his eyes weren’t deceiving him, also a couple of sticks. All of them were stuck under the feathers, clinging to down.
Angels were not birds. Their wings were very sensitive to anything touching them since they were made of their Grace. Grooming was only done by those the angel could trust fully. So, dust baths were not something that they ever did. Usually a quick run through with fingers was enough to get rid of impurities, but the kid’s wings were a mess.
Specialist equipment would be required. He needed a hose and maybe some skin sensitive shampoo.
His overly tired mind was working overtime to try and think of ways to distract himself from the dreams he had been having. While he had nightmares constantly, usually he didn’t remember them once he woke up. But lately they were all based on the torture he endured and he remembered them vividly.
He’d asked Rowena about it and she seemed to think he was having flashbacks while he slept, instead of having normal nightmares. He’d happily take back the normal nightmares if it meant he could get some decent sleep.
On the up side of things, he could feel his Grace returning slowly now. So, at least he wasn’t running on fumes any longer. It made him feel stronger, not only physically but mentally. Mainly because last time he had felt like this, he had burnt Asmodick into a crispy critter.
He wasn’t hopeless any longer, even if he was kind of afraid if he used his Grace for anything he’d blow it all in one shot and have to start over again. The uselessness he had been feeling was fading slowly every time he felt himself gaining Grace.
He was thinking of seriously going out and getting a job as he was getting very bored with the same bunker walls all day. He wanted to see if he could get into janitorial work as he has past experience. It was a great job if you want to go unnoticed by nearly everyone. Even if spotted doing anything, he’d be written off as some menial labourer spending his day being a poor schmuck picking up garbage.
There was more to the job than that, but most people don’t think on anything else. For one, he’d have keys to the place he would work. Also, he tended to look good in the uniform. Anything that made him feel good right then was right up his alley. Right now, he wanted to run his fingers through that red plumage and rid it of dust and stick and whatever else he found stuck in there.
The kid was 6 months old and never been groomed. When Castiel came back from hunting with Dean, he’d whack him across the back of the head for neglecting the wing care of a fledgling.
Yet again, he had brought up most of the younger generations of angels and was very partial to children of all species. It was hard wired into him to help out.
And Jack really looked uncomfortable right now.
Jack shifted for the nth time and Gabriel sighed loudly. “Jack, has anyone even touched your wings?”
The boy jumped slightly and looked at him. He had a confuse look on his face. “No. No one but Castiel has seen them. And he isn’t home all the time and generally prefers hugs to wing touching. His are...”
Gabriel winced and nodded. “Yeah, I guess I didn’t think of this from his point of view. Ouch. Still, your wings are fine and in full working condition. You need to look after them or you’ll get...well, like you are now. Or worse.”
Jack grimaced and shook his head. Sam watched as the conversation went on, interest sparking in his eyes. Silly human was always after more knowledge. Gabriel grinned at the man. “Heya, Sam. You’d probably give him a good groom if you could, but you can’t. Sorry.”
Sam looked back down at his book, before looking at the boy. “Yeah, I would. Sorry, Jack. Humans just can’t see angel wings. I can’t help with this.”
Jack shifted, before turning back to look at him. “What do I do with them? I have tried to get them back the way they were, but I can’t reach all the feathers.”
“Try having six of the things. This is why angels have garrisons. Well, that and to have others at their backs during fights. Obviously. But that’s beside the point. You need someone else to do it for you. Come on, kiddo, let’s go. I’ll do it for you.”
Jack looked to Sam and waited for the smile and nod he was given, before standing up and walking towards him. Gabriel almost smiled at that. He had thought that Castiel had taken up the dad position in Jack’s life. Turned out it was Sam instead. He liked that idea. Sam was less likely to hate the boy for being what and who he is.
“Oh, and Sam, do you have any shampoo for sensitive skin? I’m going for the whole wash here. He really needs it. He has dirt stuck to him.”
Sam got up with a bigger smile than before. “Sure, come on. You can use my shower for this if it is big enough.”
Gabriel followed Sam as the human took him and Jack to his bathroom. Usually the communal bathrooms were used, mostly because there were a lot of people staying here now. So, Sam had gone on to using a personal bathroom. There were only a few rooms with them attached. Thankfully, Sam liked to keep his hair and skin as healthy as possible and handed over a brand of soap and shampoo that were for sensitive skin.
“I’ll leave the two of you to it,” Sam stated once the grooming could begin and almost ran out of the room. Gabriel wondered why. It seriously did not make any sense to him, why Sam would leave him with Jack to do this.
“He doesn’t like invading my privacy that much, unless he feels it necessary,” Jack stated and Gabriel wondered for a moment if Jack had read his thoughts or if he was projecting, before he realised that it was written all over his face.
He grinned. “That’s good. Come on, sit down over here and I’ll go grab the shower head.”
He was glad that they were detachable and could be moved. That there was also a stool to sit on seemed to indicate how often the Winchesters got hurt. He would prefer to keep Jack out of that, considering how hard it must be to actually hurt the kid.
“So! How often have you actually been hurt?” he asked, curious to know the answer and dreading it at the same time.
Jack shrugged. “I can’t really be hurt. I heal right after. I found that out when an angel came after me on my first day and stabbed me with their angel blade. Sam was with me and thought I was going to die. I didn’t. Dean said it was because I am Lucifer’s son and that makes me evil.”
Gabriel hugged the kid, before lathering up some shampoo on his hands. “Nah, you’re not evil. And I’m pretty sure Dean has changed his mind about that too. Now come on, let’s get these wings of yours cleaned up a bit.”
They fell into a comfortable silence as he worked the dust, dirt, sticks and other things sticking to feathers and Grace. Jack kept fluffing up his feathers in pleasure as they began to feel better and clean. Gabriel carefully rinsed the wings off with the shower head and made sure that they were back to their normal clean self, before he reached out and began to preen.
“Okay, this is the long part. I’m going to be putting your feathers back in order. It feels good and calming. So, if you decide to fall asleep while I do this, go ahead. In fact, we might want to move this to your room and bed.”
Jack stood, but shook his head. “Can it wait until bed time then? It’s a little early for me to go to sleep.”
Gabriel blinked at that, wondering if Sam had set a bed time for the kid, before shaking his head, because it was still early in the evening. “Yeah, okay, it can wait. But until then, don’t go flying and don’t play outside or in a dirty area of the library. Don’t turn yourself into a feather duster again, okay kiddo?”
Jack grinned at him and nodded. “Yes, Uncle Gabriel.”
Uncle Gabriel. He was an uncle. He was being accepted and wanted in that role. There was family who cared for him just as he was now. And, yeah, he really needed to learn how to control his impulsiveness when it came to his emotions. He hugged the boy close to him and managed to not burst into a bout of sudden tears.
Because the conversation he had with Castiel in the alternate world suddenly hit him. Most of his little siblings were dead. There were so few of them left that Heaven itself was failing and they would need him to keep the place up and running.
He had been the first to groom all of them. The first to teach them how to do it. And now they were gone and he’d likely never see them again. Jack was bringing back good memories. But those memories were now tainted by the horrific events that happened to the angels when he had been busy being tortured in Hell.
Guilt slammed into him so hard it felt like a physical force. He hugged the baby of the family even closer, because he doubted Jack knew just how much of a blessing he really was.
“Uncle Gabriel?” Jack asked into his hair. Confusion thick in his voice.
“Shut up and just let me have this, kid. You’ll probably be the last fledgling I’ll ever get to do this with.”
He wanted to do something to help, anything to be useful. But he wasn’t juiced up enough to get to Heaven right now. He wasn’t strong enough to fly. He was getting there, very slowly, but he still wasn’t there yet.
Jack’s arms returned the hug, awkward and a little stiff, but not through lack of hugs. He was still learning how his body worked. jack was still so new to the world and himself. And now he had a teacher who would care.
Sighing, Gabriel let go. “Okay, Jackie boy. There’s a few ground rules we need to go over, but they can wait for another time. You need to learn what it’s like to be an archangel, and that’s not something the Winchesters or Castiel can teach you. So, I guess it will be up to me.”
With that, he got a radiant smile back in return and Gabriel’s insides melted into a golden pool of love. He hadn’t known the boy long, but he was family, he wanted to learn from him and he honestly didn’t care about his past.
He already loved Jack like he was his to take care of. And in a way that was true, since his bio dad was gone now and unfit for the role to begin with.
“Don’t fear anything, Jack. I’ve got you under my wings. Now come on, let’s go raid the kitchens for something to eat. We must have missed lunch and dinner will soon be starting, but screw them, I’m hungry now.”
With that, Jack followed him like an eager to learn puppy to the kitchens, where they found Dean and Mary sharing work space. Mary was making enough coffee to feed a small army, which was what she was doing in a way. Dean was busy cooking.
Okay, so no sneaking food then. Later, when he had more Grace to spend on little things, he’d teach Jack how to make candy out of nothing.
He finally had someone worthy to pass his own life lessons on to.
* * * * * * * * * * *
After feathers were back in their rightful place and Jack was comfortably asleep and not looking to wake up any time soon, Gabriel felt truly peaceful for the first time since he got put in Hell.
He drank a cup of Rowena’s sweet tea and went to bed.
He didn’t have nightmares. Instead, he was left with dreams of Heaven before things got bad. He woke up with tears on his face but well rested.
Dreams like that he could live with.
Grief, after all, was something he was used to.