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For all the useless details that filled the Men of Letters’ literature - the chemical structure of vampire fangs, the effects of taste bud shape on a rugaru’s appetite - there was nothing on the subject of werewolves who, in addition to the usual contagious bite, also exhibited classic symptoms of rabies.

Maybe it was a new phenomenon, or maybe it just didn’t happen often enough for anyone to have picked up on it. Maybe it was a different species of werewolf, one that hadn’t been documented before.

But between the foaming at the mouth; the panicked, spastic behavior; and the fact that three residents of the town had actually developed rabies after being bitten, odds were that it wasn’t any of those.

And yet these monsters were more difficult to kill than their healthy counterparts - more difficult to get into one position long enough for the bullet to hit its target. And when it did, the wolves didn’t go down. It took more than one shot: the most Dean had had to fire just to take one down was six.

In the library, Dean scrubbed his hands over his face. The cup of coffee on the table was cold, and he had already drunk enough to turn his stomach tight and dry. He didn’t want more.

He wanted sleep. He wanted to solve the case.

He wanted to keep anyone else from dying.

So did Sam, of course, but Sam had already given in to his exhaustion. His head rested on the stack of books planted in front of him, and Dean could hear him snoring.

So could Gabriel.

Gabriel had come into the library with them to translate some of the more complicated texts with which he had some familiarity and which might prove helpful. Nothing of use had turned up so far, but he at least wanted to try and repay Sam and Dean for letting him stay with them for such a long time - wanted to give them something, however small, for their patience as they waited for him to recover. As they waited for his grace to come back.

And then, Gabriel felt sure, they’d send him on his way.

That was, unless they needed him for his grace. He shuddered at the thought, but if they asked, he would pay his due.

Gabriel knew he had to be prepared for anything. All those violent reactions to flashbacks and nightmares - no matter how many times Sam told him neither he nor Dean expected anything from him, that they would never get upset with Gabriel for losing control of himself after a bad dream, or an unexpected touch, or a loud noise - could not go unpunished.

Sometimes Gabriel thought about leaving, just taking the initiative and letting the Winchesters go on with their lives. He might be useful for translation, sure, but Castiel probably was too. And neither Sam nor Dean was stupid, despite the occasional impulsive self-sacrifice.

They’d be fine on their own.

At the same time, Gabriel couldn’t bring himself to run away. He would take advantage of what he had going here. He’d let everyone help until they decided they were fed up.

It was like when Asmodeus took a break from torturing him: while the relief was poisoned by dread for whatever would come next, Gabriel still allowed himself to enjoy the momentary respite.

“Son of a BITCH!”

Sam jerked awake at the sound of his brother’s voice. “Dean, what the hell?”

Dean pounded his fist on a leather-bound book. “This case is pointless, Sam! Pointless! Look - ” He slid Sam’s laptop across the table a little too roughly and Sam shot him a dirty look before turning his attention to the screen.

Another death. A teenage boy, the local news site told them - a senior in high school who had two sisters and a scholarship to Howard University.

“We started this!” Dean shouted. “The minute we got on their asses they ran off and found a hiding place - where apparently THIS happened. Takes an hour, Sam. One freakin’ HOUR for a human to die from whatever this is. Probably even less time for a kid. And we’ve got nothing, Sam. NOTHING.” In a fit of frustration he swept his own pile of books off the table. One of them splattered open several feet away, pages scattering across the floor.

Sam groaned. “Get a grip, Dean! You’re right; I get it, I do - but there’s nothing to do except keeping looking.”

“We’ve torn the freakin’ place apart LOOKING! And what the hell is wrong with YOU?”

Sam followed his gaze, and found Gabriel staring in horror, face white and body rigid as he watched Dean.

Sam leapt to his feet. “Gabriel.”

No response.

“Gabriel, hey.” Sam knew better than to touch him unless he had to. “Come on Gabriel, snap out of it.”

Gabriel threw him a look of terror, then shot to his feet and fled through the door.

“Gabriel, wait!” Sam hurried after him, just managing to catch him by the arm. “Gabriel, stop!”

Gabriel shrieked and tried to throw Sam off. His face looked almost gray.

Sam only tightened his grip. “Come with me.”

He half-dragged Gabriel down the hall, trying to ignore the jerky breathing and choked whimpers from behind him. When they got to Sam’s room, Sam pulled Gabriel in and shut the door before helping him onto the bed and pressing both hands on either of his shoulders.

“Dean’s not mad at you,” Sam told him. “He’s mad about the case. And he hasn’t slept in two days. He’s isn’t going to hurt you.”

“Let go of me,” Gabriel croaked.

Sam shook his head. “I don’t want you running off. I want you to stay here with me until you calm down.”

“I will! I will!” Gabriel was pleading now.

Sam removed his hands and Gabriel pulled his knees up to his chin, shaking.

“You’re both angry,” he choked out. “What did I do?”

Sam sighed, running a hand over his face. “I’m not angry. Look, Dean and I haven’t slept in way too long and we’re both kind of at the end of our rope here. We’re just not … we wanna be done with this case. That’s all. You didn’t do anything.”

Gabriel hid his face and frantically shook his head. He just wanted Sam to leave.

He waited in silence, squeezing his eyes shut and reveling in the blackness. He could hear his own heartbeat - wild, claustrophobic, a body locked in a coffin.

Several minutes passed and nobody tried to touch him.

Sam had gone.

But Gabriel raised his head, and Sam was sitting on the floor, watching him with tired eyes.

“You can leave,” Gabriel muttered.

“No, you need help. I’m sorry if I seem … look, I’m not at my best either. You haven’t done anything; I promise it’s not you. And even if it was, you still wouldn’t have to worry about getting hurt, all right?”

Now that the initial alarm was over, Gabriel relaxed slightly. His muscles ached.

Sam pushed himself to his feet, and Gabriel didn’t flinch. “Can I come sit next to you?”

“It’s your bed,” Gabriel reminded him, finally letting go of himself and allowing his legs to straighten and his arms fall to his sides. Then, unable to fully drop his guard, he seized two handfuls of the bedcover and squeezed it until his nails dug into his palms.

Sam took a seat beside him. “You should get some sleep.”

“No, I - you should get some sleep. I was supposed to be focusing on the translations; I - I’m sorry. I can go back to work.”

Sam held up a hand. “No, Gabriel. You’ve done plenty. You need to rest.”

Gabriel’s heart picked up speed. The thought of leaving for his own room and sleeping while the other two were occupied with research creeped him out for some reason. Maybe because he was used to having at least one of them sleeping nearby.

He shuddered. As much as he hated that he was so dependent on them, especially Sam, there was no way he was going to sleep. Not right now. Not by himself. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Gabriel hugged himself. “Why do you think?”

Sam considered. “Then come back out and lie on the couch. I don’t want you working, and I don’t want you in the same room as Dean.”

How was Gabriel supposed to explain that he simply didn’t want to be alone? How was he supposed to admit to such a thing without sounding desperate, without sounding like a child, without making anyone angry?

His throat tightened and his vision blurred.

“Crap,” he whispered, turning his face away.

“Oh, no, hey - ” Sam pressed a hand between his shoulder blades and this time Gabriel didn’t get scared. When he was relatively levelheaded, he wasn’t afraid of Sam touching him. “What do you want, Gabriel? I won’t tell you what to do. What is it you need, huh?”

Gabriel’s face warped as he tried to hold himself together. “I don’t know.”

“Yeah you do. There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“I - ” Gabriel swallowed. “I’m just sorry, Sam. I know I’m a mess. I’m trying not to be. I don’t know why you let me stay here; I don’t give back at all. But damn it - I don’t want - ”

He couldn’t continue. His chest hurt.

“What don’t you want?” Sam asked softly, hand still resting on Gabriel’s back. “What? Tell me.”

Gabriel’s voice trembled .“I don’t want - don’t want to be by myself right now. I’m so scared, scared to the point that I’m trying to keep you here, away from Dean, away from your work - and - and I can’t help it. You have so much you need to be doing and I’m not - not important enough to - to - but I still can’t - ”

He moaned and wrenched himself away from Sam, forcing himself to his feet. “This is - go tell Dean I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost my shit like that. Go tell him. I need to learn to deal with this, Sam. I’m not gonna figure out how to be okay unless you stop coddling me.”

Sam stood up too. “Gabriel, stop it. We’ve already had this discussion. It sucks that you’re hurting so bad but it’s not like this is new territory for me and my brother. And Dean, he’s … like I said, he’s just not feeling so great right now. That’s all it is. I promise.” Gently, he guided Gabriel back down onto the bed. “I can stay with you. You’re right - I need a break. We can talk if you want.”

Gabriel stared at the floor.

“Come on man, it’s okay,” Sam said, resettling his hand on Gabriel’s back. You need to have more patience with yourself. You’re fine. Come here.”

Limply, Gabriel allowed Sam to to embrace him.

There was a knock at the door. Gabriel sucked in a harsh breath and wound his arms around Sam, pulling himself in closer and hating himself for it.

“Sam? Gabe?”

Gabriel closed his eyes, trying to breathe.

“Can he come in?” Sam murmured. When Gabriel didn’t answer, Sam added, “I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

Gabriel clung to him, listening to Sam’s heartbeat - far steadier than his own.

“I’m gonna let him in, all right? It’s okay. You’re okay.” Then, loudly: “You can open the door, Dean.”

There was the creak of the door and then footsteps. “Gabriel? Gabe?”

Gabriel shivered in Sam’s arms.

“I told him you didn’t mean to upset him,” Sam explained. “He knows. He says he’s sorry.”

“Ah, man.” Dean sighed. “Gabe, you don’t have to be sorry. I’m just feeling like roadkill right now. The case, the kid … and I’m tired. God, I didn’t mean to do that, Gabriel. I should’ve been more careful.”

He sounded so much less hostile than before that - still holding fast to Sam - Gabriel raised his head.

There was no trace of Asmodeus in Dean’s eyes. Only fatigue and regret.

“Not your fault,” Gabriel rasped. “I’m just a jumpy S.O.B.”

“Yeah, well …” Dean sat down on his other side, putting just enough distance between the two of them so that Gabriel wouldn’t be frightened. “You’ll get there. Anyway, we need some sleep, huh? Maybe just a few hours. I wanna crack this case, ease all our consciences a little bit; but I can’t get much done if I’m this far gone. And hey, man - ” He met Gabriel’s eyes. “Things are gonna be okay. I won’t do that again. I didn’t mean to freak you out.”

Gabriel nodded, no longer energized enough to feel embarrassment or shame.

“You wanna go to bed?” Sam asked him.

Gabriel closed his eyes. “In a couple minutes.”

He didn’t want to keep anyone awake, but the idea of being by himself in the silence of three in the morning …

“You can sleep here,” Sam offered. “I can sleep on the floor. I don’t mind. It’s supposed to be good for your back.”

Gabriel opened his eyes. “I kind of don’t want to sleep at all.”

Sam knew about the nightmares. He’d seen more than his fair share of the aftermath.

“All right.” Sam sounded more than ready for sleep. “I might close my eyes for a few minutes but you don’t have to.”

Silence fell. Sam stayed in a sitting position but Gabriel could feel him slumping over.

Dean got to his feet.

Gabriel raised his head just as Dean turned to leave. “Hey.”

Dean paused, turning to look at him.

“It wasn’t you,” Gabriel said. “It was Asmodeus. I’m not scared of you, Dean-o.”

Dean studied him, and then gave a tired smile. “Good.”

After he left, Gabriel let himself relax against Sam again, wondering if he should go turn off the light so that Sam could fall asleep more easily.

In any case, he knew he had to at least let Sam lie down. Gathering his resolve, he pulled away.

Sam opened his eyes and blinked at Gabriel. “You don’t have to do that. Here, come on, I can lean up against the wall.”

Gabriel shook his head. “I’m going now.”

“No, you don’t - ”

“I’ll be okay.”

Sam looked skeptical. “Really?”

Gabriel hesitated. “Yeah. I’m gonna stay up though. Get back to those translations.”

“It’s late. No one expects you to be working on that right now.”

“I told you I don’t want to go to sleep, so I might as well make the most of it.”

Sam looked him over, as if searching for signs that Gabriel was lying. “Wake me if there’s a problem.” Gabriel could tell that Sam was having trouble remaining conscious. “Dean and I will both be up in a little while anyway.”

Gabriel nodded.

Sam kicked off his shoes and collapsed onto the bed, unconcerned about the blankets that were still rumpled from where Gabriel had held them in a death grip. Gabriel noticed how pale Sam looked and felt that same guilt that kept encouraging him to leave the bunker altogether.

If it weren’t for the gratitude that came with it, he might have given in.

Gabriel returned to the library and, despite his best efforts, fell asleep at the table. He spasmed awake several times as the hours wore on, petrified by the silence.

Some four hours after they had gone to bed, Sam and Dean came in to find Gabriel with his head on the table but his eyes open, staring at nothing.

“Hey.” Sam took a seat next to him. “Did you get any rest?”

Gabriel forced himself to sit upright. “No.”

“Well, we’re gonna have some breakfast and then head out. I told Cas to come by so you won’t be alone.”

“Well, that was nice of you. And that’s nice of him.”

Sam smiled. “You want coffee or anything?”

“No. I feel kind of sick.”

Sam looked at him in concern. “Really?”

“Happens sometimes when I can’t sleep and when things are … you know.”

“All right - well - Cas will take care of you if it gets worse.”

Gabriel lay his head down again, too tired to care about being helpless.

There was silence for a moment before Sam spoke again. “I’ll be back later, okay?”

“Don’t hurry. Go waste those bastards.”

“You know,” Dean interjected, “I could always ask Cas to come with me instead.”

Sam cast him a look of surprise. “What?”

“If he says he doesn’t want to, then you can tag along. But I sort of think …” His eyes fell upon Gabriel, who hastily sat up.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” he objected. “I’m fine. I promise. You know how it is; you know how I get. It passes. It’s gone now. Don’t worry.”

“Let’s just ask him,” Dean insisted. “Then Sam can decide what he wants to do.”

“I don’t want to put Cas in danger,” replied Sam, albeit with some reluctance. “You really think he could fight those things?”

“Well I wouldn’t ask him if I thought he’d get bitten and turn into a diseased lunatic. And besides, he’s an angel; no one ever said angels could get rabies.”

“No one ever said they couldn’t,” Sam pointed out.

“Yeah, well - ”

“I was not aware that rabies was contagious.”

“God damn it, Cas!” Dean put a hand on his chest. “When are you gonna learn to give us a little warning?”

“Yes,” Sam said, addressing Castiel, “Rabies is contagious. I was worried that you might - ”

“Cas,” Dean interrupted, “Sam needs to sit this one out. Can you come with me?”

Castiel glanced at Sam . “Has something happened?”

“Gabe’s a little upset,” Dean told him.

“No need to mince words,” Gabriel muttered.

“And Sam’s the only one he wants anywhere near him, especially after last night. We had a, uh … look, he needs someone with him, and I think it’s better if it’s Sam.”

Castiel considered. “I don’t mind going, but if Sam would prefer to accompany you then I could certainly remain here with Gabriel.”

“Guys,” Gabriel implored, “You can do whatever you want. There’s no reason to fret over me.”

“I’ll go,” declared Castiel. “Sam, make sure my brother is all right.”

Sam looked wary. “How are you gonna deal with rabid werewolves if you’re just finding out now that rabies can be spread?”

“I’ll give him the Cliff Notes version,” Dean promised. “Don’t underestimate this guy, Sam. You’ve seen what he can do. I wouldn’t wanna be on his bad side.”

“That seems an unlikely prospect,” Castiel assured him.

“Maybe you should all go,” Gabriel suggested, although he wasn’t quite sure why he was fighting. Maybe to prove to himself that he was capable of at least trying to get better. “You know what they say: the more the merrier when it comes to diseased flesh-eating brutes. Besides, if one of you bites the dust just because there wasn’t a third party, I don’t want it to be my fault.”

“Dean and I are perfectly capable,” Castiel replied. “Sam, I have the sense that you would be uncomfortable leaving Gabriel by himself. You might hinder the mission if you can’t focus.” He turned to Gabriel. “And I can’t in all good conscience allow you to go with us, since you would be the most vulnerable of all.”

“Thanks,” Gabriel snarled.

“I’m not insulting you, Gabriel; I simply don’t want to put you at risk.”

“Cas, we’ve gotta get moving,” said Dean.

Castiel put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. Gabriel was glad his brother knew not to do the same to him. “We’ll see you both in a little while.”

As soon as they’d made their exit, Gabriel groaned. “If they get hurt just because I kept you from - ”

“They won’t get hurt,” Sam assured him.

Gabriel wondered if Sam himself was convinced, although he seemed confident. “You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do. I trust them; otherwise I wouldn’t have let Cas take my place. I mean - I know you’re okay on your own, Gabe, but I don’t want to leave you if I can help it. Don’t worry about anything, okay? How are you feeling?”

Gabriel shrugged. “Pretty spent, I guess.”

“You really should go lie down.”

“Maybe.” He did feel less intimidated by the daylight hours. Gabriel bit his lip, choosing his words carefully. “Sam, listen. I know you don’t mind, but I’m still sorry about everything. Not just last night. Everything.”

Sam smiled. “Well, I accept your apology but I’m also not doing anything with it. Come on, let’s get you settled, all right?”

Gabriel didn’t move. His head ached from lack of proper sleep - which he needed only because his grace was taking its sweet time to replenish, and not sleeping or eating slowed the process even further - and his stomach was churning.

Sam frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“I just don’t feel good.”

“All right, you need help standing up?”

Gabriel shook his head, trying to ignore the way it throbbed and cast a gray sheen over his vision. He’d never gone this long with so little grace - not in his entire thousand-thousand-thousand-something years.

They walked back to Gabriel’s room together, Sam standing close to him in case Gabriel found he couldn’t support himself. Gabriel felt nauseated and things looked a little blurry, but he could walk.

He sat down on the bed.

“Don’t you want to lie down?” asked Sam.

“Not really. I don’t want to move.”

“What’s bothering you?”

“My head hurts. I feel like I have to throw up.”

“Hang on a second.” Sam put a hand to his forehead. “When was the last time you drank any water?”

“I guess I don’t normally.”

“I think you need some. That’s probably what’s going on with you. Well, that and not sleeping. I know from experience. Wait here.”

He left for a minute and brought back a glass of water. Gabriel was immediately reminded of the first hours following his rescue: still clad in bloody rags and terrified even by Sam, he’d let a glass of water slip from his grasp because he was shaking too hard to hold it properly. The fear of punishment - of being screamed at, kicked, burned, choked, torn open - had overwhelmed him.

But Sam hadn’t done any of those things. Simply brought him another glass and helped him drink from it.

“Thanks,” Gabriel muttered, accepting the water and taking a tentative sip.

“Um …” Sam ran a hand through his hair. “You want some books or something? Netflix? I’m here, so might as well take advantage of the free time.”

“It’s not free time,” Gabriel pointed out. “You’re taking care of me.”

“It’s free time if I’m not trying to calculate how many rabid werewolves it takes to screw in a lightbulb.”

Gabriel took a second sip of water, then places the glass on the nightstand.

“How’s that working?” Sam asked.

“I …” Gabriel shook his head. “I’m not sure what to do, Sam.”

Sam creased his brow. “What do you mean?”

“I mean I don’t think I just need water. I think it’s a bunch of things. You’re probably right; I need to remember to drink.” His features hardened. “At least until my damn grace kicks in. But I’ve got all this crap going on, you know? Not sleeping, because I’m afraid to. Not eating, because I can’t hold anything down. And this is HUMILIATING, Sam. HUMILIATING.” His headache worsened as his tone became harsher. “I know you mean well but I’m a mess and that bugs the shit out of me. I wanna be left alone but I’m scared to be left alone; I want my grace to come back so I get finally let you guys have some peace. But even when it does what am I gonna do with myself, huh? I don’t see any - ”

He paused, biting back tears.

“What?” Sam pressed.

Gabriel tried to pull himself together, but his voice still cracked. “Any hope.”

Sam sat next to him. “I do.”

“Of course YOU do! You have this idea that you can fix me after everything that’s happened.” Gabriel was getting angry now. “Can’t you be realistic for once, Sam? There are some problems that can’t be solved, problems too big even for the Winchesters. This isn’t something you can research; you can’t sacrifice yourself like you love to do; you can’t heal me. No one can. Nothing is going to help and I know that. YOU know that - somewhere in you, you know that. It’s been months, Sam - months! And here I am still waiting for my grace to kick in, still waiting for my sanity to break the surface, still waiting for - for - ”

“All right.” Sam put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder. “All right, calm down. This isn’t going to do you any good, winding yourself up like this.”

Gabriel could feel his face flushing, his head pounding.

“Let go of me,” Gabriel snapped, tearing himself out of Sam’s grip. “You’re wasting your time. I'M wasting your time. It’s not that I don’t appreciate everything you’ve done for me; I just can’t let you keep doing it. I’m hopeless, Sam. And that’s fine!” He was on the verge of shouting now. “Just let me be hopeless!”

“Gabriel - ”

“What can I possibly do to turn myself back into who I used to be? What can YOU do? Damn it - you already know all this! Don’t let me keep telling you; shut me up and leave me alone!”

Sam picked up the glass of water from the nightstand. “Drink this.”

“I don’t want it!” Gabriel snapped.

“I think it’ll help.”

“I told you, Sam, nothing can help!”

“You have to be patient. Little things, like when you’re thirsty - when you’re thirsty, you drink.”

“I’m not thirsty. I don’t know what I am. Except a disaster.” He crumpled fistfuls of the bedcover as he’d done after Dean’s outburst, tightening his grip until he quivered from the hardness of his muscles. His face heated even more. He squeezed his eyes shut and let the stinging of his throat crawl into his head and thicken the pain. He sucked in shallow breaths through his teeth.

“Stop it, Gabriel.” Sam’s voice was firm. “I said STOP. Look at me, Gabriel. Look at me and breathe.”

Sam placed his hands on either of Gabriel’s cheeks and forced him to meet his eyes. “You need to lie down. Now.”

Gabriel shook his head, his vision swimming with tears, his teeth aching from rubbing up against each other.

“Don’t touch me,” he snarled, wrenching himself away from Sam. “Don’t - touch - me.”

Sam’s expression turned to one of fear. “Gabriel, you need to take a deep breath, please.”

He wouldn’t breathe. He couldn’t. Not with this fury grating against his bones, this desperate self-hatred clawing at his insides.

So he didn’t breathe. He didn’t move. Just sat there and let the blood fill his face, allowed blackness to freckle his vision.

He could hear Sam calling his name, could feel Sam’s hands on his face again; he didn’t try to break away this time, because he’d gone stiff and still.

The world was black, and then white, and then red. He was drowning.

He was going to die.

But instead, he jerked forward and vomited into his lap and over the floor.

Only then did he manage a sharp lungful of air before retching a second time and bringing up more, and then again. He trembled, both with the rage that had brought this on and the terror of getting sick so suddenly. He tried to straighten himself and threw up on his shirt as well as the bed.

There was a moment of stunned silence.

Gabriel tensed, hugging himself as he waited to be hit. Waited for Sam to slam his face into the mess and scream at him to eat it.

But Sam only sighed. “NOW can I touch you?”

Gabriel frantically shook his head, but then froze. “I - do whatever you want. Anything. I’m sorry, I - I should have said something, I should have tried to stop it, I - ”

“I don’t want to do anything to you. I’d just like to help.” Sam got to his feet. “Okay, come on, you need to get cleaned up. You’re gonna feel better if you do. And after that you’re lying down, even if you don’t sleep. I do want that.”

On unsteady legs, Gabriel stood up, trying to avoid as much of the vomit as he could. The smell made him feel ill again, and when he looked at Sam he saw that his face was pale and that he kept glancing at the puddle on the floor.

“Let’s get out of here before you throw up too,” Gabriel muttered. “My fault. Don’t wanna make you have to deal with it. I’ll change and then I’m gonna clean that up.”

“No, it can wait. And it’s not your fault. You were upset.”

“You told me not to be, and I didn’t listen.”

“That’s not what I told you to do!” Sam sounded slightly exasperated. “I didn’t want you to get worked up because I knew were gonna make yourself sick. You’ve got to tell me when these things are on your mind; you’ve got to let me help even if you think I can’t. And - all right, you said you have to go it alone because you’re not gonna learn how to deal. I call B.S. You’re already doing better, Gabe! And that’s you, not me. You’re the one doing all the heavy lifting.”

Sam’s face was full of worry, and yet bright with determination. “So I’m willing to carry a cinder block once in a while; that doesn’t mean you can’t still pick one up by yourself. It’s just better if you don’t have to. I promise, Gabriel. That’s how you have to look at this. Besides, if you’re so concerned about wasting my time, then don’t make me sit around knowing how bad this is without letting me at least step in once in a while.”

“By ‘once in a while,’ I think you mean ‘every time.’”

“I really don’t. Because I know you don’t always look for someone to work through it with you. And if that’s what you want, then okay. But if I’m there to see it - like last night - what do you expect me to do?”

Gabriel didn’t answer him. And when he finally spoke, his voice was quiet. “I thought about leaving.”

“Leaving?” Sam echoed in disbelief. “What are you talking about?”

“You say it’s hard to look at, right? Hard to watch? Well, there’s no problem if there’s nothing to see. If the show is over, you can get back to the real world. The one that matters. I mean it, Sam. I think I should leave, but I …” He felt his throat tighten again, and masked it with a frustrated sigh. “This is exactly what I’m talking about, kiddo. I can’t leave you in peace; you make me want to stay. Because you’ve been too good to me.”

Sam looked distressed. “Don’t leave.”

“I won’t. I told you, I can’t.” He turned away.

“Please,” Sam said softly. “Please just give yourself a chance to get better.”

Gabriel didn’t reply.

“If not for you,” Sam implored, “Then for me. For Cas. He’s worried too. He loves you.”

Gabriel stiffened, half-expecting Sam to say that he loved Gabriel too. That would have been too much. He didn’t want to be loved.

He wanted to be in control of himself. He wanted not to need to be loved.

“It’s okay for you to look at me, you know.” Sam spoke gently.

Gabriel clenched his jaw. “Why do you do that, Sam?”

“Why do I do what?”

“I don’t understand why you … why you don’t get mad. Why do you talk to me like that? Why don’t you just hurt me?”

“What - ” Sam sounded incredulous. “Obviously because I don’t want to!”

“I’m waiting for it. You’ll change your mind - if I had to deal with me, I’d have run off within the first five minutes. I sort of just want to … to get it over with.”

Sam placed his hands on either of Gabriel’s shoulders and turned him around so that they were face to face. “I’m not going to hurt you. You know I’m not. There’s no reason for you to be scared of that.”

“I’m not scared; I - I know it’s coming and I just - I don’t want to wait. I don’t want you to give me all this and then decide you’ve had enough.”

“Gabriel, stop. Everything’s gonna be fine. Just because you don’t feel safe doesn’t mean you aren’t, okay? Just because one of us gets pissed when there’s a case doesn’t mean anyone’s gonna get violent. Just because you need help doesn’t mean we don’t want you. Is that so hard to understand?”

Gabriel’s voice shook. “Yes.”

Sam squeezed his shoulders. “Can you get cleaned up? You’ll feel better when you’re not wearing puke. Here, let me - crap, Gabriel, what’s wrong?”

Gabriel shook his head, tears streaming over his cheeks.

“What is it?” Sam pressed.

“I don’t know,” Gabriel sobbed.

“Okay. I get it. It’s a lot.” Slowly, cautiously, he pulled Gabriel into an embrace.

Through his tears, Gabriel tried to protest. “I’m covered in - ”

“That’s what laundry detergent is for.”

Just then there was the sound of the door slamming shut. “Sammy, we got ‘em all!”

Sam blinked and pulled away. “How long have they been gone?” He checked his watch, then called out, “You killed every one of them in the last hour and a half?”

Dean’s voice grew closer. “Turns out a silver bullet with a side order of angel mojo really speeds up the process.”

Sam looked at Gabriel. “You wanna see them?”

Gabriel snorted. “Like this? No thanks.”

But Dean found them before they had a chance to move, Castiel trailing behind. Neither of them looked injured: either they’d gotten by unscathed or Cas had healed any cuts or bruises.

Castiel frowned as he examined Gabriel. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing exciting,” Gabriel muttered.

Dean watched Gabriel in silence. Then: “Well, whatever it was, I hope Sam took good care of you. Okay - ” He stretched dramatically. “I just took down Cujo and co., so I think I deserve a drink and a nap. In that order. How about you guys?”

“Pass,” said Gabriel, who could still smell the vomit on his clothes.

“I’ll join you two in a little bit,” Sam promised. “Come on Gabe, let’s get you into something more comfortable.”

Gabriel did feel better after changing clothes and washing his face. The cold water shocked him enough that he felt almost calm.

Calm and definitely tired.

He exited his room and found Sam in the hall.

“You good?” Sam asked.

Gabriel didn’t say anything.

“Gabriel?” Sam moved closer, concerned. “Are you okay?”

Gabriel fell against him and closed his eyes.

Surprised, Sam gave him a delicate hug. “Something wrong?”

“No,” Gabriel murmured. “I just wanted to feel safe.”

Sam looked down at him, searching for signs of distress. “And do you feel safe?”

“Right now? Yeah.”

Sam held him more tightly.

They hadn’t been with Dean and Cas for more than twenty minutes before Gabriel fell asleep, head resting on the table.

A few hours later, he stirred awake - too early, as usual. But someone had left the hall light on for him.

Nothing seemed sinister in that moment.

And when he went back to sleep, there were no nightmares.