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Gabriel couldn’t have said what set the dream off. He and Sam - and anyone else, for that matter - hadn’t discussed either the angel blade or the archangel blade in over a week.

Nothing like this had harassed Gabriel until tonight.

He woke with his mouth already full of vomit, which spilled over the pillow, the blankets, the floor, and himself. He heard himself retching, a gruesome orchestra of terror that he knew would rouse everyone in the bunker.

The first voice was not the one he’d expected.

“Uncle Gabriel? Uncle Gabriel!”

Son of a bitch, thought Gabriel. Jack would never be able to force this image out of his head.

The light switched on. Sputtering and gasping as he sat up and hunched over the bedspread, Gabriel felt Jack lay a hand on his back, something he’d probably seen Sam do. “What’s happening, Uncle Gabriel? What’s wrong?”

When Gabriel tried to respond, all that came out was more vomit.

“Wait - ” Jack left him for a moment, then helped him hold the trash can in his lap. “You forgot about this. It was right next to your bed. Did you already know you were sick?”

Gabriel retched again, but nothing came up.

Jack put a hand on his forehead. “You don’t have a fever.”

Gabriel struggled to catch his breath. “Go back to bed before you start having nightmares too.”

“You don’t have to worry about that, Uncle Gabe; I can’t have nightmares while I’m awake. What did you dream about?”

“Stuff. Go away, you’re too young to watch this.”

Jack sat down next to him, unperturbed by the mess, and met his gaze. “No I’m not. I’ve seen how people act in war. When they lose their friends and family. When they’re hurt. This isn’t that different, and I feel the same way about it. I’m not scared: all I want is to help.”

The earnestness in his face was so far from the violence of Gabriel’s nightmare that, for a second, Gabriel almost felt safe.

“Should I get Sam for you?” Jack asked.

Gabriel’s breath caught. “I don’t - ”

“Gabriel!”

Gabriel froze as Sam hurried into the bedroom and surveyed the scene with wide eyes. “Holy crap, what’s wrong? Jack, what is this, what happened to him?”

“He’s sick,” Jack explained. “I think it was a bad dream.”

“Gabriel?” Sam put his hands on either side of Gabriel’s face, trying to make eye contact. “Hey, Gabriel, tell me what’s going on.”

Jack furrowed his brow. “He talked to me. Here, I can try again. Let go, Sam.”

Reluctantly, Sam withdrew.

Jack spoke softly. “Uncle Gabriel, Sam wants to help. You should let him help.”

Gabriel looked at Jack, then at Sam. “Sam - Sam, can you - I need - ”

Suddenly feeling cornered with the two of them so close, he tried to climb off the bed.

Jack pushed him back down. “Tell us what you need and we’ll get it.”

Gabriel clenched his fists in his lap. “My brother. I need my brother.”

“Let me find him then. Hold on and he’ll be right in, okay?”

“No, no - Jack, don’t - Sam, can you get Castiel? Please?”

Jack looked surprised and Sam disconcerted. “Gabriel …”

“Please!”

Alarm flickered over Sam's face. “Okay. It’s okay. Wait right here.”

As Sam left, Jack frowned at Gabriel. “Why are you afraid of Sam?”

Gabriel didn’t answer.

Jack offered his hand, palm up. “He told me you like this.”

Gabriel stared down at Jack’s hand for a moment, then accepted it and allowed Jack to hold it in a gentle grip.

Castiel entered the bedroom. His eyes fell upon Gabriel, drenched in his own vomit and holding Jack’s hand.

Cas didn’t appear surprised. “Gabriel, come with me. We’d better get you cleaned up before anything else.”

Gabriel removed his hand from Jack’s. Jack went to help him stand, but Gabriel said, “Nah, stop. Don’t want you getting all muddied up too.” He tried to smile. “I appreciate it, little guy.”

Castiel waited for him to reach the door. “Do you need help getting to the shower?”

Gabriel shook his head, too humiliated to offer any response.

“Let me get you a change of clothes. You’ll feel better once you’re not soaked in bodily fluids. I’ll wait outside in case you need anything.”

“All right,” Gabriel muttered, avoiding Castiel’s eyes.

Some fifteen minutes after that, Gabriel found that his brother had been right: cleaning himself off and changing out of his soiled pajamas proved soothing. They moved to Castiel’s room, which was such a far cry from Gabriel’s it was almost laughable: the carefully made bed, rarely slept in; the clean floor, hardly ever stepped on; the nightstand, bare and dustless.

“Sam tells me you didn’t want him near you,” Castiel remarked as they sat down together.

Gabriel nodded, staring at his knees.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Gabriel plucked at a piece of lint stuck to his shirt. “I don’t know. It was pretty screwed up.”

“Then what would help you?”

Gabriel shrugged. “Probably nothing.”

Before Castiel could reply, there was a gentle knock on the doorframe. Gabriel was surprised to see who it was.

“Can I crash the party?” asked Dean.

Gabriel gave a grim smile. “Looks like I’m everybody’s favorite guest of honor.”

Dean sat at the foot of the bed. “No Sam tonight, huh?”

Gabriel turned away.

“When I saw you guys coming in here without him,” said Dean, “I figured maybe two pairs of hands were better than one.”

“You mean you thought Cas could use some backup. Well, you’re probably not wrong, Dean-o. Who's to say what kind of havoc I might wreak to scar my baby brother tonight?”

“Come on Gabe, go easy on yourself.”

Pfft. Anyway … did Sam tell you?”

“That you voted him off the island? Yeah. But honestly, I don’t think he was that surprised. Said it looks like you had a bad dream about him.”

Gabriel gave a noncommittal grunt.

“I mean,” Dean went on, “His maternal instincts are screaming bloody murder right now, but he understands why you need some space.”

Castiel laid a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder. “And what would you like from us?”

Gabriel kept his eyes on the floor, wishing he could provide a solution.

After a few moments, he said, “I feel bad the kid got a front-row seat.”

Castiel frowned. “Gabriel, Jack is - ”

“I know, I know, he’s fine. He’s seen a crap-ton of death and destruction courtesy of my interdimensional douchebucket of a brother. All the more reason to spare him any superfluous freakshows.”

Cas gave Gabriel a worried look but didn’t say anything else.

Another pause, and then Gabriel spoke once more. “We talked about the blades. Sam and me. Did he send out a memo?”

Dean and Castiel exchanged a glance.

“He did suggest keeping a closer eye on you,” Cas admitted.

“Yeah, it didn’t take much brain power to read between the lines,” Dean added.

Gabriel bit his lip. “I’m trying. I - I get stuck. I get trapped. But I’m pushing and shoving myself as hard as I can.”

“We know,” Castiel assured him.

“I confessed to all these stupid thoughts because I know if something happened, he’d stew in guilt until he pickled himself. So I let him know, and it didn’t come back to haunt me until now, right now, tonight - and Sam was - he - ”

“No no no no, hey,” Dean interjected. “Slow yourself down before I have an aneurysm just looking at you.”

Gabriel drew a deep breath, trying to edge himself away from the nightmare.

“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to,” Castiel said softly.

Gabriel closed his eyes. The image rushed up to greet him again, an assault drenched in blood and in screams for mercy - screams that were cut off when Sam raised the archangel blade, so that Gabriel saw only the chilly glint of silver.

“I don’t want to,” Gabriel said, voice shaking. “You’re right. I’m sorry guys, I can’t.”

“It’s okay,” said Castiel.

“I would tell Sam. But it’s different when he’s not here. When he’s the - the one who - but this almost never happens. Why now? Why this bad? I don’t understand.”

“Because he matters to you,” Cas replied. “Because what he’s given you is just the sort of thing Asmodeus would have used as a weapon.”

“Yeah,” said Dean, “It’s not exactly a shock that your own mind would throw around the sickest fairy tale it could come up with. But listen, I’m sure after a little time to get back to reality, Sam’s gonna seem like good old Sam again.” When Gabriel didn’t respond, Dean patted him on the shoulder. “It’s okay, Gabe. Come on, you gotta tell yourself that. A hundred times if it doesn’t work the first ninety-nine.”

Gabriel’s throat closed up. “Probably a hundred and one since he just shoved the archangel blade down my gullet.”

There was stunned silence.

Finally, Castiel said, “Even by yourstands that’s pretty bad.”

Dean shook his head slowly. “My brother would never - ”

“I know,” Gabriel hissed. “Shit, I know. I know as well as either of you. And frankly I would be more confident in my knowledge if I hadn’t seen him turn into Mr. Hyde right here in the bunker. In his room. On his bed. Which has never been anything but a place to get help, and - ” Gabriel squeezed his eyes shut, lowering his face to his palm. “Now it’s not.”

“Oh, no, no - Gabriel, no.” Castiel’s took his hand. Sam must have taught him, as well as Jack, the art of keeping Gabriel sane. “Have you forgotten the dreams about me attacking you? And you’ve grown more at ease in my company, Gabriel, not less. I know it’s taken you some time, but if you can move past fearing me, you can hold onto your trust in Sam.” Castiel squeezed Gabriel's fingers. “I think this was inevitably going to come up for you - although I certainly wish it hadn’t - and of course it’s nothing short of traumatic. But please, don’t think of it as a barrier to what you have with Sam. This is only a moment’s interruption. The fallout isn’t going to take him away from you.”

“I agree with Cas,” said Dean. “No way is this gonna leave a dent in what you two have going. Hey man, even I’ve had a dream or two about Sam to wrangle with, and in the long run, nothing changes.”

“That’s probably true,” Gabriel murmured. “If anything’s going to stop me hounding him, it’ll be me doing something to screw him over.”

“You’re wrong,” Castiel replied at once. “The only thing that could ruin your relationship would be you tearing yourself out of it. And at this stage, you have the wisdom and resilience not to.”

Gabriel considered his brother’s words. To some degree, they were correct: Gabriel had learned to believe in Sam’s loyalty, because there was virtually no reason to question it - save for a short while ago when Sam insisted that his help would only make Gabriel worse. But Sam had made it clear that he doubted himself, not Gabriel.

“I have an idea,” said Dean, breaking Gabriel's chain of thought. “I could go get Sam right now, and you could see he’s exactly who he was before you went to bed. It’ll be easier if you do that now, when we’re here to back you up.”

“No!” Gabriel shrieked. It was instinct - an unconscious refusal to give in to a threat. He could still see the steadiness of Sam’s eyes as he pinned Gabriel to the bed. Could still taste the blood torn from his throat as he howled - I don’t want this, I don’t, please stop, I need your help, I need help - and the blood in his throat was a grotesque appetizer to the blood that rose up as Sam shoved the blade into Gabriel’s open mouth and clogged his voice, his breathing, his hope that Sam might listen to him.

“That’s it buddy, you’re okay.” Dean’s voice registered from somewhere far off. “Cas is getting you some water and a bucket. Just keep breathing and try to come back to us.”

Gabriel knew his vision wasn’t real, recognized it as only a dream, understood that he was safe in the bunker. He wasn’t torn between the picture that haunted him and the weight of Dean’s hand on his shoulder. He knew which was happening; and he knew which one had not happened, and never would.

Yet somehow he was still swallowed up by the dream. He lost handfuls of seconds as he sat there, feeling the warmth of Dean’s hand on his shoulder, watching as a bucket was placed in his lap, allowing cold water to dribble down his chin when Castiel tried to make him drink it.

“What should we do?” he heard Dean ask.

“I don’t know. I think we may simply have to let him come out of it on his own.”

Gabriel blinked. No. No, he didn’t want to make them wait all night.

Gabriel looked at his brother, who didn’t seem quite solid, as if he were part of the dream too.

“Gabriel?” Castiel said quietly.

Gabriel tried to focus on him. Then he managed to croak, “I don’t need this,” and put the bucket on the floor.

Gabriel pulled a slow, deep breath. “Oh, wow. Crap, I - I’m sorry guys. ”

“Don’t,” said Dean, maintaining his grip on Gabriel’s shoulder. “Cas, give him some water.”

This time, Gabriel held the glass himself and took a sip. He hadn’t realized until then how thirsty he was. The moisture made it easier to speak. “I get that this is crazy. Sam wouldn’t hurt me. I asked him to once, and it freaked him out.” Gabriel took another careful swallow. “Man, the look on his face. It was like he was watching his first Alfred Hitchcock. Thinking he could ever behave like Asmodeus … it isn’t fair to him.”

“You should tell him that,” Castiel said in a gentle voice.

Gabriel’s heartbeat - his stupid, petulant, graceless heartbeat - picked up at the notion of seeing Sam.

Dean seemed to realize what Gabriel was thinking. “Not by yourself, Gabe.”

“Although,” Castiel added, “You’re under no obligation. So if you’re not ready - ”

“I’m not,” said Gabriel. “But you’re wrong. I do have an obligation.”

Castiel touched Gabriel’s knee as Dean left. “Gabriel.”

Gabriel hugged himself and shivered.

“Everything is okay,” Cas told him, voice quiet.

All Gabriel could do was swallow down a fresh wave of nausea.

When Dean returned with Sam in tow, they weren’t alone.

Jack didn’t say anything, just peered at Gabriel with worry in his eyes. Gabriel wished he hadn’t come. Jack didn’t need to be subjected to any more of this.

Gabriel looked past him to Sam, and his heart jolted again. Sam looked uncertain, as though he couldn’t figure out what to say.

“It’s all right,” Castiel murmured. “It’s all right, Gabriel.”

Sam tried to smile. “How’re you feeling?”

Gabriel began to tremble.

“Should I tell him to leave?” Castiel asked in a voice low enough that only Gabriel could hear.

Gabriel laid his head face-down on Castiel’s shoulder.

Dean sighed. “Sam, it looks like - ”

“No.” Gabriel sat back up and turned around. “None of this is your fault, Sam. I’m only afraid because fear is pretty much all I can remember how to do. If I don’t give you a chance I’ll just hurt the both of us. You know what tricks those dreams pull on me. This is hardly my first showdown with Winchesters and co. wielding a blade. It’s just - it’s different, because it was you and I know you’d never do it. Not that any of you would, but - Sam, I don’t always know; I can never be sure. Except with you.”

Sam made an attempt to smile again, but this time it didn’t work.

“I can’t just throw you away when I know you’re exactly the same as you’ve always been,” Gabriel told him. “I’ve got to see that. I can’t avoid you because then my mind will start making you look different.”

Tentatively, Gabriel pushed himself up from the bed. Castiel followed suit, watching to make sure he didn’t stumble.

Gabriel approached Sam, still shaking, still nauseated, and stopped when they were a few feet apart.

Gabriel could only imagine what he looked like just then, because he saw, even through the unexpected (and entirely unwelcome) prickle of tears, the astonishment that fell over Sam’s face.

“Gabriel.” Sam took a step backwards. “You don’t have to. Not right now. I understand; I know what it’s like. Don’t push yourself if you’re not ready.”

Gabriel swallowed against the tightness in his throat and shook his head. “No, Sam, you - you’re the only one who can - ” But Gabriel couldn’t finish, not when his mind was busy trying to disentangle the fear from the hunger, the ache, the mourning sawing at his conscience.

“No,” he rasped, “This is stupid. If I don’t talk to you then I’ll get worse. Because you know how much I count on you to help me stay together. I shove you away, I’m gonna destroy myself. Or what’s left of me, anyway.”

Sam looked hesitant.

Gabriel retreated to the bed. "Come over here, Sam. Please."

When Sam remained still, Castiel spoke up. “I think Gabriel’s right. Let him try to fix this if that’s what he wants.”

Sam inched towards the bed and sat several inches away from Gabriel, so that he was at risk of falling off the foot of the mattress. Even given this distance, a new wave of dread thickened Gabriel’s veins. All he could do was keep himself talking, communicating - if he stopped, he wouldn’t have the courage to try again. “Did Dean tell you about it?”

Sam nodded. “Can’t say I blame you for running to someone else.”

“I don’t want anyone else.” Gabriel didn’t even have to think about his response. It surprised him; and yet, he realized, there was no reason to be taken off guard by something so natural. It was simply how things were, and for a moment Gabriel wondered how his feelings about Sam could have been interrupted just by a bad dream.

But still, there was the tickle of adrenaline that he simply couldn’t ignore.

“You know what sucks?” Gabriel said to no one in particular. “Asmodeus won’t even let me have this.”

Sam frowned. “Have what?”

“Have you! Look at me, he’s taking you away from me!”

Horror broke over Sam’s face. “No he isn’t. He’s not, Gabriel. I wouldn’t let him do that.”

Gabriel shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was strangled. “He’s more powerful than you are, Sam.”

“Really?” It didn’t sound like a serious question. “You talk about him like he’s still around. I’m alive, Gabriel. That makes me a million times stronger than he is.”

“And in any case,” added Castiel, “Your own mind can do more than Asmodeus ever could. If you don’t let him violate your relationship with Sam - ”

“Stop right there, sensei,” Gabriel interrupted. “I would love to share your faith in pithy optimism, but I’m the poster child for the fragility of even the holiest mind. I tried, Castiel. I held out for a long time before letting Asmodeus take the wheel. And you know why I let him?” Gabriel gave Cas a second to respond before continuing. “Because who wants to be at the helm while they’re getting mutilated and beaten? And the longer I held on, the harder he pushed for me to let go. I don't know what it would've been like for you, but in my case pushing back was too much.”

“Gabriel, I only meant - ”

“There’s a time and place for encouragement, Castiel, and this situation clearly demands common sense. Be realistic.” Gabriel could feel his face flushing, his heart speeding up. “After all these months since I got out, how could you possibly, ever, even suspect that I have any control over my own mind? What the hell is going on in yours?"

“Whoa, hey, buddy, calm down.” Dean moved forward and reached out to him, but Gabriel jumped up from the bed and backed away. Sam got to his feet too, watching Gabriel but not moving.

“Sure,” Gabriel barreled on, “I was weak because I had to be. The only logical next step after all that fighting, all that pulling myself back together once he was finished dragging my grace out of me the same way he dragged me across the floor and bloodied me up if I so much as coughed too loudly, was to stop fighting. One less battle I had to wage. But here I am now, trying just as hard as I did before that, maybe harder, and I’m bouncing back like an elephant in the Mississippi. In fact, I’m starting to think maybe I have less control than I did when I was with Asmodeus. I’ve been rubbed raw. Whatever pre-Hell padding I had in my conscience is long gone. And if the way things are going now is any indication, it isn’t going to grow back.”

Jack stepped forward, eyes wide. “Uncle Gabe - ”

“No - kid - ” Gabriel gritted his teeth. “Whose idea was it to bring you in here? Why did you bring him in here?” he shot at Dean. “He shouldn’t be allowed to watch this, any of this; he’s a baby!”

Then and there, Gabriel froze, listening to the echo of the words inside his head.

“He’s a baby,” Gabriel repeated, and dissolved into a fit of sobbing.

There was a startled hush. It seemed that no one knew how to respond.

Then Gabriel heard Sam ask softly, “Gabriel, what should we do? Which one of us do you want?”

Gabriel didn’t answer - simply stood in place, near the middle of the room, feeling every set of eyes upon him. Somewhere, knotted in with everything else, he registered embarrassment. But the signal was faint and thready.

Mostly, there was just instinct.

“Sam,” Gabriel choked out, “I - ”

Sam kept his eyes locked on Gabriel, afraid of making things worse.

“Sam,” Gabriel whimpered, “Help me.”

Sam waited a second, making sure that Gabriel wouldn’t change his mind. Then he said, “Okay.”

Sam tried to lay a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder but Gabriel leaned forward and seized him in a frantic, terrified embrace.

“Sam?” Castiel’s voice.

Sam tightened his grip. “I got it, Cas.”

Gabriel heard everyone shuffle towards the exit, then the click of the door.

“Gabriel,” Sam murmured.

The sound of his own name was enough to turn Gabriel’s stomach.

“Gabriel, why don’t you come with me? Lie down for a sec.”

He let Sam pull away and followed him into the hall. Gabriel tripped, only now seeing how exhausted he was from sickness, rage, and fear.

Sam helped to steady him with an arm around his waist. “You’re okay. Easy does it; you’re okay.”

Gabriel expected to return to his own bed - his sweaty, vomit-soaked bed - but instead was brought to Sam’s room.

“You gonna be okay in here, Gabriel?” asked Sam. “We can go somewhere else.”

“No,” croaked Gabriel.

“No, you want to leave? Or no, you want to stay?”

“I want to stay.”

He let Sam guide him to the bed. After Gabriel was settled, Sam sat down too, once again leaving a wide gap between them.

“It’s okay,” Sam said softly. “You’re safe in here. You’re safe with me.”

Feeling marginally less panicked now, Gabriel looked down at the rumpled sheets. His voice trembled when he spoke. “Sorry for the - the nasty wake-up call. I would’ve been quieter if I could.” He glanced at the clock on Sam’s nightstand. Just after 4:30 A.M. “Son of a - ”

“No, no, it’s fine; I probably wouldn’t have slept for much longer anyway. Anyway, morning’ll be here soon and you’ll feel better.”

“I just hope I’m not like this all day.”

“You’ll try. That’s what counts.”

Gabriel scoffed. “Oh, sure. If the chemo doesn’t work, welp, then at least we tried to get rid of the cancer. Who doesn’t want that on their headstone, right? ‘The tumor killed me, but A for effort.’”

Sam gave him a small smile. "I heard what you said back there. About being in Hell. That you did what you could and it never helped. Listen, I know better than anyone. Lucifer … he stayed with me for a long time after I got out. No matter how hard I fought, he stuck around. And he had control. There was nothing I could do.” Sam's expression was earnest now. “But you know what Cas was trying to get across. That you have a choice. Maybe you didn’t then, but even if Asmodeus is still in your head, Gabriel - he isn’t here. You can’t decide to just ignore him because that’s not how any of this works. But technically, since he’s gone, and we’re not, and you’re out … you’re the one with the final say.”

Gabriel kept his gaze on the floor.

“And Jack …”

Gabriel snapped his head up.

“Don’t worry about Jack,” Sam went on. “None of us made him do anything. Even if we’d tried, the kid doesn’t give up easy. He wanted to see you. He wanted to help.”

“But Sam, he’s - ”

“He’s not a baby, Gabriel. Not anymore.”

Gabriel swallowed. “I just … I can’t …”

“What is it?” Sam looked puzzled. “What’s bothering you so much about Jack?”

Gabriel drew a shaky breath, coughed on it, and tried again. “With him - with Asmodeus - I’ve never felt like so much of a little kid, Sam. Not even when I was little. I was helpless. Always begging, always screaming … ‘I want my brothers; I want my father; I’m cold, I want a blanket’ …” He covered his face, long past being irritated with himself. “If Jack is going to be forced to throw away his innocence, I don’t want to watch. And I definitely don’t want to be a part of it.”

“Gabriel.” Sam squeezed his shoulder. “Jack isn’t naive. That’s not the same as being innocent.”

Gabriel shook his head, unable to speak.

“I know it isn’t fair,” Sam said quietly. “But Jack is okay. Trust me, we’re making sure of that.” He let go. “Now listen - you need to at least try and get some rest. One of us can stay with you.”

This time Gabriel forced himself to answer. “Vetoed. My bed is a cesspool of shame, and if I have one more nightmare I’ll forget how to sleep altogether. You, on the other hand - ”

“I’ll go back to sleep,” Sam agreed, “But first I want to bring you over to Cas.” He stood up and offered a hand to assist Gabriel, who accepted.

Neither of them said anything as they left the room. Gabriel wanted to reach out to him, to plead with him not to leave.

They found Castiel in Gabriel’s room, helping Dean dress the bed in fresh sheets.

Gabriel cringed. “I hope you’re getting paid overtime.”

“Gabriel,” Castiel said, “I put on some coffee if you still don’t want to sleep.”

“I’d take coffee over a mouthful of my own blood any day.”

Sam winced.

“You can go back to bed,” Castiel told Sam. “Dean, you too. I’ll take things from here.”

“Where’s Jack?” asked Gabriel.

“Out like a light,” Dean replied. “I think he was still awake when he heard you. Says he has more trouble sleeping without his grace for some reason.”

Gabriel looked away. “Sometimes I forget he’s lost all his power too.”

“Neither of you has lost your power,” Castiel corrected. “You’ve lost your grace. There are other kinds of power.”

Gabriel raised his eyebrows. “We had this discussion. I remember because I got an F on my report card.”

“Gabriel,” said Sam, “Will you be okay with Cas?”

There was worry in Sam’s eyes - enough that the dream seemed significantly more distant than it had when Gabriel was still refusing Sam’s company. “Yeah.”

“I’ll be up in a little while.”

“Don’t worry, Sam. Get as much sleep as you need. Thanks for … you know. Thanks. And sorry.”

Sam smiled. “Could’ve done without either of those.”

When Sam was gone, Dean stretched. "All good here, you two?"

“We’ll be in the kitchen,” Cas replied.

“Dean,” said Gabriel, “That was nice of you.”

“Oh yeah, there were sheets in the closet; no big - ”

“Jesus Christ, I’m not talking about the sheets. Go back to bed.” He followed Castiel out of the room.

In the kitchen, Castiel poured coffee for each of them. Gabriel wasn’t really interested in drinking it, but the aroma - which called up no memories of his time in Hell - was comforting.

“Cas,” said Gabriel as Castiel set the mug in front of him, “I wasn’t trying to make the point that Sam is the only one who knows how to help.”

Castiel frowned. "What?"

“When I said I knew Sam wouldn’t hurt me. I didn’t mean that I thought you would. You’ve all done your part; I just - you know, Sam was there when I got out, when I still didn’t know if I’d really left, or if someone had plans to punish me for leaving. He woke me up a little. Coming to check on me so much, and then not hitting me or laughing at me …” Gabriel lifted the cup of coffee, assessing whether he felt well enough to drink it, and decided he did. The taste was lively and crisp. “I was scared, Castiel. And I was scared for days after the battle with Michael was over. Sam was the only thing I could manage to come back to whenever I lost my focus. He was always the least likely to be part of that awful feeling I get.”

Castiel furrowed his brow. “You thought that I would take your preference for Sam as some kind of personal affront?”

“I don’t want you to feel like I don’t appreciate you guys too - you, and Dean, and even little Aaron Carter there. I just hope you get why I autopilot to Sam.”

"Of course I do. All of us do. What I don’t understand is why you keep insisting on how burdensome you are when we only want to help you improve. Everything you went through, and what he did to you - not one of us would expect you to move on independently.”

Gabriel rested his chin in his palm. “That’s not what you said when it was time to face Michael.”

Castiel fidgeted and looked down into his mug of coffee, which he hadn’t touched. “We … felt there was no other choice. Or at least I did. A desperate man will grab onto anything to keep from falling further.” He looked up, eyes pleading. “None of us were in a position to prioritize compassion. But that doesn’t mean we made assumptions about whether you’d truly healed. We gave it almost no thought until the worst was over. You were there, a potential part of the solution, and … and there was little time to negotiate our options.” Castiel shook his head. “I don’t like it, Gabriel. None of us do. But even now, I can’t think of an immediate alternative.”

“I’m not upset with you over it,” Gabriel told him. “Frankly, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. But I hope I’m not just part of your toolbox, you know? Kinda want to be more than that.” He sipped his coffee. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever be useful again. But Sam tried so hard to make me believe that doesn’t hold as much weight as I think it does.”

Castiel looked crestfallen. “Listen to him.”

“And once I get stronger - if I get stronger - ”

“Then we’ll be glad. Not for us, but for you.”

Gabriel smiled. “Got your bachelor’s in psych from Winchester University, huh?”

“They’re good people. No matter how much you dream about them hurting you, they’ll always be good people.”

“Same applies to you, little brother.”

“Well, I don’t know that I’m quite as good as they are.”

“Oh come on, you can share their goodness without partaking of their self-deprecation. Crummy confidence isn’t a prerequisite for moral integrity.”

“Neither is giving advice that you won’t take.”

Gabriel narrowed his eyes. “You look smug.”

“I don’t suppose you’d care for any breakfast,” Castiel replied, disregarding the accusation. “I know you were feeling sick earlier, but eating something may help settle your stomach.”

“Not yet. Just coffee for now.”

“Then we can wait. But eventually.”

Gabriel put the coffee aside, feeling the early sting of a headache. He rested his head on the table and sighed.

“Would you prefer to lie down?” Castiel asked.

“I’m all right. Need a minute.”

But immediately, despite his best efforts, Gabriel began to drift off.

He heard voices as he crept into sleep, felt the warmth of someone else beside him.

“Gabriel?”

Gabriel was too far gone to answer. But he felt a familiar hand on his back, too gentle to be the same one he’d tried to fight off in his nightmare. Maybe it was simply the beginning of a different dream.

Gabriel could only hope that this one had a better ending.