The bunker didn’t always feel safe. Although Gabriel hadn’t left since he got back after the rift closed behind them, he couldn’t imagine that anywhere else would feel much more comfortable. And so he couldn’t quite understand why he still experienced such obnoxious levels of dread. Why his heart beat so fast no matter whether he was alone or with others. Why his blood ran cold when somebody laughed too loudly. Why his arms flushed with goose-pimples every time he undressed, even in private.
And of course the primal fear that harassed him during the day crept into his dreams no matter how forcefully he fought against the instinct to recoil from touch, to hide when someone called his name, to shut his mouth in order to stave off the penalty for sounds he was not supposed to make.
Nightmares were almost inevitable for an angel allowing his grace to refill little by little. He needed sleep; there was no denying that it could only speed the healing process along. And he’d accepted that dreams were going to be a part of what was supposed to be rest. After everything he’d been through, the idea of converting the experiences into dreams, however vivid, seemed like a reasonable compromise.
A week after the refugees had come spilling into the bunker, all dirty faces and tight muscles and (in the case of Charlie and Bobby) grim optimism, Gabriel slipped into his bed without any fanfare. He didn’t need to bid anyone goodnight; it was shameful enough that he required sleep without the added humiliation of announcing it.
He checked the digital clock on the bedside table, which declared it was 10:51 P.M. Good. He was on the same schedule as most of the other residents here, and no one would be suspicious by his retreating to bed too early, or too late, or not at all.
Because although he knew he needed to sleep, needed to let himself get better, needed to let his grace warm itself back to life, there had been a few nights when he simply couldn’t compel his mind into slowing down. The nightmares often began as soon as, or even before, he shut his eyes. And on more than one occasion Gabriel had seen, heard, or smelled something before bed that immediately threw him back into prison: the dampness of the storage room, where the smell of mildew and old rain called up echoes of his cell; the refugee with insulin syringes, which Gabriel expected to be jammed into his neck; the glow of candles when the power went out during a storm, reminding Gabriel of the nauseous glow that came through the door every time Asmodeus opened it, shedding decayed fragments of light over the angel’s ravaged body.
Gabriel ensured the room was completely dark. He even took a spare blanket from the closet and stuffed it under the door so that any light from the hallway wouldn’t be able to enter. If anyone noticed the fabric peeking through, they didn’t say anything. Besides, most of them were asleep when he was; and if anybody decided to ask, he’d claim it was cold in his room. That his near-depleted grace made him sensitive to temperature fluctuations.
Then, even without the light, even in the shelter of the dark, Gabriel heard him.
The bunker was silent. And in the hush, Asmodeus’ voice grated against the blackness.
Still, Gabriel refused to turn on the light or remove the blanket, because the dark was safer than those ugly tendrils of light. It wasn’t as though this was new.
He turned over, trying to ignore what he heard and get the rest he so sorely needed.
The dreams were usually repetitive. There was the cell. Asmodeus breaking into the bunker again. The Winchester brothers standing by to watch, murmuring incoherent but - according to typical dream-intuition - sinister observations, as the demon pinned him to the wall and crushed his ribcage.
Tonight’s was a little different.
The dream didn’t take place in the cell. Nor was it set in the bunker. This time, Gabriel found himself back in the refugee camp on the other side of the rift.
As chaotic and colorless as it had been, he had at least been as far away from Asmodeus as he possibly could be. Even if the demon had still been alive he would not have had access to this other world - not unless he infiltrated the bunker a second time, but Gabriel tried not to think about that.
Yet in the dream, Asmodeus found his way into this other realm, this not-quite-safe haven that was, nevertheless, supposed to cut the prince away.
Asmodeus stood beside him, so close Gabriel caught the stench of sulfur from the fires of the pit, the crispness of freshly ironed fabric that clung to his pristine white suit, the vital organs of those who’d had them torn free, the dry musk that was simply his skin.
Asmodeus didn’t say anything. Gabriel tried to, but the stitches were woven into his lips again, soaked with blood that dripped onto his clothes, the same he’d been wearing when he left - the cool leather jacket and clean shirt. Somehow that was more horrifying than if he’d bled onto his foul tunic, because this was a violation of what he thought he’d regained, of the home he’d found not only in this world but with Sam and Dean as well.
The stains on his clothes ripped him away from all that; the fresh blood wrote possession across his fabric shelter.
Gabriel screamed - or attempted to. He saw, from the corner of his eye, that Sam was looking at him, and distantly heard him calling Gabriel’s name. Then Asmodeus had seized Gabriel, begun to strip him of the blood-stained clothes, forced him into the ground, held him down even as Gabriel fought for movement.
But his prison had already come to life in his immobility, in the tautness of his lungs, in the heaviness of Asmodeus’ body. He wished he knew where the Winchesters had gone; he could still hear Sam’s voice, and then Dean’s: “Don’t, Sam. Leave him. We knew this would happen.”
The pressure, the pain - it lasted for the rest of the dream.
And then Gabriel woke up, and for the first time was terrified of the darkness. He reached out, tried to turn on the lamp, couldn’t find it and, in his panic, sent the alarm clock crashing to the floor. He tried to use his grace to illuminate the room, wrenching so hard at his own hollowness that he retched. He tried to get out of bed, and got tangled in the blankets; he fell away without them, dizzy and exposed.
He knelt on the floor, afraid to move for fear of repercussions. And he knew, he knew Asmodeus wasn’t here; but his blood, his bones, his body - the rest of him was frozen in time.
Finally, he gathered the courage to push himself to his feet, then scurried through the darkness towards the door and flipped the light switch beside it. The bedroom blossomed into life, into something a little nearer safety.
Except his door opened, preceded by no knock or voice or footsteps, and or a moment he was sure the dream hadn’t ended. That perhaps it hadn’t been a dream at all.
And then the intruder spoke. “You okay in here, buddy?”
His knees weakened in relief. “Sam.”
Sam entered and shut the door behind him, perhaps not wanting to wake the others - or perhaps simply respecting that Gabriel might not want an audience right now. “Sounded like you fell over or something.” His eyes flitted to the sweaty blankets strewn across the bed and the floor. “And did you, uh …” He examined the rest of the room. “You didn’t get sick, did you?”
Gabriel shook his head, battling an instinctive fear that if Sam had discovered vomit he would make sure Gabriel paid.
“Good,” Sam said softly. “Hey, you look like you kinda need to sit down, so let’s - ” He gestured to the bed.
“I’m not going back to sleep!” Gabriel cried in a voice much higher than he’d intended. It felt odd - dangerous - to hear himself speak after the lifelike sting of twine.
Sam hesitated, then asked, “What if I got someone to stay with you? I’m sure Cas wouldn’t mind. He doesn’t sleep anyway.”
Gabriel thought about it, but no matter how reassuring another presence might have been, the notion of lying down - in a position so vulnerable, so available -
“Gabriel.” The voice was exactly as it had been in the dream: rusty, incoherent, far away. Supernovae popped across his vision. The vertigo became almost too much for him to remain standing.
“Hey, hey, hey - Gabriel - ” Sam was supporting him with both arms, trying to keep him upright. “Okay, come on - lie down - ”
The words made Gabriel choke. He shrieked, tearing himself away and pitching to the floor. He scrambled to his feet again in desperate refusal to make himself accessible. He backed up, afraid to turn around lest he lose sight of his attacker, until he hit the wall opposite the door, convinced that standing up and hiding half of himself might offer some protection.
Sam remained by the light switch, hands held over his head to demonstrate that he was unarmed.
“It’s just me,” he assured Gabriel. “Everything’s all right.”
Gabriel’s breathing was fast and shallow, but the longer Sam stood in silence, expression still and posture level, the more familiar his face became.
Gabriel took one last shaky breath before speaking again, still pressed to the wall but more for support than defense. “Well, Sam. I see the Winchester version of pajamas is a runway-worthy combination of hand-me-down plaid and bloodstained jeans. Very lesbian-chic.”
Sam lowered his hands. “I was researching. Too early to go to bed.”
Gabriel went to glance at the time but remembered that the clock was no longer there.
“It’s a little after 2:00,” Sam informed him, and before Gabriel could ask him how that hour was too early for sleep, added, “Hey - you mind if I come over there for a sec? Help you get settled again? Maybe grab some fresh sheets? They look kinda … sweaty.”
With a grunt of effort, Gabriel pushed himself away from the wall. “I don’t give half a crap whether those sheets are clean. I’m not getting back in bed.”
“Gabe, you need the rest; you know that.”
“Kiddo, some of the best things in life just ain’t worth the price.”
Sam sighed. “You mind if I hang out for a minute just to make sure you’re okay?”
“I would fight you on that, but I don’t even have the strength to get that stupid clock off the floor.”
Maintaining eye contact, Sam gingerly made his way over to the nightstand and retrieved the clock. “So, uh … bad dream?”
“I’ve had better.”
“Still feel like you’re there?”
Gabriel looked away. “I guess you know what it’s like.”
“Yeah, I do.” Sam kept a fair distance from him, and Gabriel’s chest tightened with the humiliation of being so delicate. “Sit, at least. You look like you’re ready to be salted and burned.”
“Thanks, Sam. Your under-eye bags are a real trendsetter too.”
Sam gave a brief smile. “All right, well, I’m happy to listen standing up or sitting down. Whatever you want. And I get it if you don’t want to talk, but it’s just me.”
Without warning, Gabriel’s throat closed up and he had to swallow against the pressure. The interruption of proper breath made him feel as though he was being pressed into the ground again.
Finally he yielded to Sam’s suggestion and sat on the bed. Just as long as he didn’t have to lie down.
Sam moved forward and, when Gabriel didn’t startle, took a seat beside him.
Sam was patient. When Gabriel could take the silence no longer, he said, “You were locked in the Cage. You know the kinds of things those bastards do.” He looked up at Sam, who nodded.
“And the dreams,” Gabriel added bitterly. “It’s not enough that my grace has to be all screwed up; I also have to sleep, which means I have to dream, which means I can’t sleep, which means my grace doesn’t come back fast enough, which means I have to sleep, and - ”
Sam lifted a hand to comfort him but Gabriel, without thinking, slapped it away.
Sam blinked in surprise, perhaps because Gabriel had allowed him to come close already.
Gabriel stared at Sam in horror. “I didn’t mean - it’s just - ” He tried to breathe properly, but the air suddenly felt thick and feverish, almost like a body. “It’s just that what he did - the dream, I - ”
Sam swallowed, looking sad and helpless but not angry. “I know. I know. Don’t worry about it, okay?”
“It’s the way he - Sam, it felt real. It’s not going away. Not even now that I’ve woken up and I know where I am. It’s like he’s here; it’s like he’s touching me.”
“I know,” Sam repeated, voice quiet and gentle, “I know it hurts. I know how heavy it can feel, like it’s in the room. Like the dream didn’t end.”
Heavy. Gabriel didn’t even have time to react to the spasm of nausea before he heaved violently into his own hand.
“Oh - ” Sam touched Gabriel’s shoulder, and Gabriel didn’t flinch.
A few minutes later, he had managed to assemble some composure with only the nausea ringing in his belly - and no physical evidence of it that might get him into trouble - to remind him of his own precariousness.
Sam slid his hand from Gabriel’s shoulder. “Okay, okay. Take a deep breath. Gabe, has this been going on for a while and you just didn’t say anything?”
Gabriel bit his lip. “Is there a right or wrong answer here?”
“The only wrong answer would be anything that’s not true.”
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “You would try to feed me that pithy mortal tripe. Fine: I’ve been hiding it. It’s not like you can be acquitted of all charges yourself, bucko.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” Sam pressed.
Gabriel snorted. “Would you?”
Sam hesitated. Then: “Before, no. Now, yes. We all learned the hard way that holding it in just makes us sick.”
“You don’t seem sick, Sam.” The words were laced with a bitterness that even Gabriel hadn’t expected. “I was captured by the Dwight Schrute of Hell’s princes. Your torture was doctored by everyone’s least-favorite celestial emo.”
“That’s not gonna help you get better, Gabe. Thinking of it as a competition to prove your own weakness. Besides, I didn’t come in here to talk about myself.”
For a moment Gabriel considered saying that he didn’t want to talk at all; it certainly wouldn’t have been a lie. And yet if he couldn’t talk, he also didn’t want to be by himself.
Still, what was he going to gain from demanding that someone stay with him, while he tried to convince himself that another face could protect him from what already happened?
“Well,” Sam sighed, “We’re both here now. I can camp out if you want. I’ll get on the floor. Or I’ll stay awake, if you really won’t lie down again.”
Gabriel’s heartbeat picked up at the thought. “I’ve got enough grace to keep me relatively functional even if I pull more than my fair share of all-nighters. But you? You need your beauty sleep, Sam. If you lose enough hours your hair might start falling out and I know if you had to choose between bald spots and a stint in the Cage, you would pick - ”
He was stopped when Sam leaned across the bed and pulled him into a tight embrace. He knew Gabriel was afraid to be touched, knew he was liable to fight if he felt trapped. But he did it despite all that, and Gabriel stiffened but didn’t try to break away.
“Don’t keep crap like this inside,” Sam muttered over Gabriel’s shoulder. “Not if there’s someone you can trust to listen. Doesn’t have to be me. Dean would understand. Cas, too. Especially him, since he knows what it’s like to have his grace taken away.”
Gabriel didn’t move to return the hug. “It’s different, Sam.”
“I know. He lost his grace when Metatron yanked it out of him; for you it was an ongoing - ”
“No, that’s not what I mean.” Gabriel pulled away. “It’s - it’s like I said. You know what happens in Hell. You know what it looks like when you’re alone with someone who’ll stop at nothing to keep you down. To make sure you’re beneath them.” He swallowed, but didn’t turn away. “In every sense.”
Recognition dawned on Sam’s face.
Gabriel grimaced. “Now you look like you’re gonna be sick. Well, just to reiterate, doesn’t matter to me what gets on these sheets.”
“Is that what you were dreaming about?” Sam whispered, and Gabriel knew he wasn’t talking about dirty bedding.
“Nah,” said Gabriel, “Just thought it’d be a good conversation starter.”
“Oh god … I can’t say I’m all that shocked, but … I didn’t want to ask. Because I hoped maybe I was wrong.” He paused. “Should I have asked, Gabe? I’m sorry I didn’t ask.”
“Please. I would’ve been happy if it didn’t come up once.”
“Man - what did I say about keeping everything to yourself?”
“I’ve already forgotten, Sammy, because it was all just noise.”
“Gabriel.” Sam’s tone was almost pleading. “You know it’s over, right? You know he can’t get to you anymore?”
“Of course I know,” Gabriel snapped. “I just don’t - I want my grace back so that I can stop sleeping. But at this rate it’s never going to replenish, not if he keeps - not if it happens again, and again, and … Sam, he … the whole thing … I’m going to throw up …”
“Not if you calm down,” Sam assured him.
“I’m as calm as I - ” Gabriel lowered his head to his hands.
Resigned, Sam looked around, but the room had no wastebasket. So he coaxed Gabriel to his feet, led him to the door, and guided him down the hall to the bathroom.
“You’re okay,” Sam said as Gabriel collapsed to his knees and leaned over the toilet. “It’s all right, Gabriel; just try to relax. Don’t think about any of it; think about … about …” He struggled for a helpful suggestion - something besides Monte Carlo, which had been great until Gabriel’s companions turned him over to Asmodeus. “Think about Rowena.”
“Sam,” Gabriel said in a strangled voice, “You really think I wanna focus on sex right now?”
“Oh. Right. Sorry. Uh … it’s hard for me to pick something that’s got nothing to do with sex or food.”
Gabriel moaned, trying to fight the sickness away by clearing his mind rather than redirecting it. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t. “Talk to me about something else, Sam. Anything.”
“Okay, yeah, uh … Apocalypse Bobby threatened me with a kitchen knife the other day. Not to stab me. To cut my hair. Charlie karate-chopped it out of his hand. It was great. I think I like otherworld Charlie better than otherworld Bobby. Or at least I did just then. And after that, not sure I’m gonna change my mind.”
Gabriel didn’t know how to tell Sam he didn’t want to talk about knives, either.
“Uh, Mom’s teaching Jack how to drive. Dean says he’s gonna use a fingerprint scanner instead of keys for the Impala now. So I hope he doesn’t get himself in trouble because then I won’t be able to save his ass unless Cas wants to teleport me.” Sam considered. “I don’t know, maybe he’d have me fingerprinted too so that if Cas ever needs rescuing and Dean’s not around, he won’t have to blame his paranoia for whatever happens.”
The dream was still warm in his blood and wouldn’t go away. Sam’s voice began to grow dim as the sickness became ever louder.
Then he was retching into the toilet, feeling disgusting in every possible way: vulnerable, kneeling like that; humiliated, as Sam crouched beside him to offer words that didn’t take shape in Gabriel’s mind; out of control, his body forcing him into submission just as the demon prince had.
Sam was touching him; that much he could tell. There was a hand braced on the back of his neck, holding him steady. He wished Sam would let go - not because Gabriel was afraid, but because Gabriel was revolting.
He was drenched in sweat by the time he broke into sporadic dry-heaves. Sam waited patiently for him to finish.
“I think that’s it,” Sam offered after a few minutes, removing his hand so that he could help Gabriel to his feet. Gabriel still felt sick, but Sam was probably right.
“You need to rinse off,” said Sam, keeping one hand around Gabriel’s forearm to ensure he stayed upright. “Wait here and I’ll get you a towel, okay?”
Gabriel almost gagged again. “I’m not doing that. I’m not getting naked.”
“All right,” Sam agreed, “All right. But you have to lie down. You’re gonna make yourself sicker if you don’t, Gabriel. It’s okay; I’ll be right there.”
“No,” Gabriel rasped.
Sam gave a frustrated sigh and Gabriel wrenched himself out of his grip.
Sam halted, perplexed. “What are you doing? What’s wrong?”
How could Gabriel explain that Sam’s irritation at his stubbornness would inevitably lead to pain? How could he articulate the push and pull of what he knew and what he felt rocking inside of him? Sam wouldn’t harm him, and Gabriel knew that; but Sam would harm him, and Gabriel felt that.
Together they stepped back into the hall, but this horrible feeling - this feeling that Sam would hurt him, was either pretending to care or would change his mind and administer agony - wouldn't dissipate. After only a few steps Gabriel began to shiver, stomach churning. He couldn’t get sick again; that would mean spasming out of control a second time; it meant being pressed into the floor as punishment, crushed under the weight of something a thousand times stronger and a thousand times heavier than he was as he waited in a pool of his own vomit for it to end.
Sam reached out to him and Gabriel stumbled backwards. He thought about running the rest of the way down the hall and into his bedroom but feared he might trip, sealing his own destiny.
“Gabriel,” said Sam, speaking quietly and stepping away, “Gabriel, stop. I’m not mad. I’m not. No one is going to hurt you. Not me, not anybody. I don’t care what you do, even if you do something wrong. And you haven’t, Gabriel, you haven’t.”
Gabriel wondered if perhaps Sam was lying. Trying to ease him into the kind of calmness that only ever led to one thing.
“I’m not angry,” Sam repeated. “I promise. I won’t make you sleep. I won’t make you lie down. I won’t make you shower. I won’t touch you if that’s what you want. I won’t make you do anything, Gabriel. Nothing.”
Although it took several seconds for the words to register, Gabriel trembled a little less violently and felt the sickness begin to abate. Sam must have noticed, because he smiled, if somewhat tremulously.
Gabriel gave a quiet whimper of fear and exhaustion. How was it that the dream was still there? He had spoken about it, vomited it out. And yet it was still alive, a never-ending presence on top of him and inside of him.
Gabriel wrapped both arms around his middle, not entirely sure what he was trying to shield, and closed his eyes. “It won’t stop. The dream. It won’t. I can’t stop it. I can’t stop him.”
“Will you let me touch you?” Sam asked softly.
Gabriel’s eyes filled with tears, and now he was too tired, too hopeless, to care who saw them.
“Gabriel,” Sam prodded, “Can I touch you?”
Gabriel gave a high-pitched, strangled sob, arms still wound around himself. “I - ”
Sam waited, but when Gabriel didn’t continue, he asked, “What? You what?”
Gabriel choked on a truncated wail. “I want you.”
Sam drew him close, not with the ferocity of his earlier spontaneous hug but with the tenderness that had made him such an easy target himself.
Gabriel refused to sit down even as he clung to Sam. Here and now, no matter how long they stood together, the dream would not die.
Sooner or later, he would not have to dream at all.
But the memories would remain, as heavy as ever.