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Aftermath

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As far as Gabriel could tell, no one had noticed. After all, switching things up now and then wasn’t unusual; he’d asked Castiel or, on occasion, even Dean to stay with him as he fell asleep.

Up until a week ago, it had been Sam.

The night that Gabriel dreamt of Sam pinning him down and shoving the archangel blade into Gabriel’s open mouth had thrown a shroud over these past several days. Gabriel wasn’t terrified of Sam, not like he’d been in the dream; yet his stomach churned when they were in the same room, and he could only hope that Sam hadn’t noticed his reluctance to be touched. Gabriel kept his distance when he could; and when he couldn’t, he simply leaned away from Sam as subtly as possible.

Since no one remarked upon his behavior, Gabriel assumed they either didn’t see it or figured it was a good thing that Sam finally had a little space. He tried to convince himself that his fear was a positive development: it was time not only to give Sam room to breathe, but to give himself the opportunity to fight without help.

His heart sank whenever he thought about it, but he knew it was necessary. Gabriel would have preferred that it happen another way, but he supposed he should be grateful that things weren’t any worse.

Castiel, who had been the one to stay with him tonight, was gone when Gabriel lurched awake in a cold sweat after seeing Asmodeus at the wheel of the Impala, crushing Gabriel’s thigh in a cobra-like grip as the car sped backwards.

He was still dizzy when he came out of it. In the darkness of the bedroom, he moaned and rolled over, trying to disentangle himself from the sheets. But he was close enough to the edge that he fell, smacking his head on the nightstand and crying out in pain.

A few moments later, there were footsteps. Gabriel scrambled upright, one hand pressed to his skull.

“No!” he yelled when the door was thrown open and the light switched on.

Sam looked alarmed and exhausted in the pallor of the overhead lamp. “What happened?”

Still holding his head, Gabriel struggled for a deep breath. “Nothing. A bad dream.” Trembling, he sat down on the bed. “Just another bad dream.”

The expression on Sam’s face - one of worry and close attention - was familiar.

As expected, Gabriel was afraid - but afraid as if he’d lost sight of a spider crawling on the ceiling. The quiet fear, the disgust - these were present.

But he didn’t feel frantic. Here and now, clad in pajamas and pale from sleep, Sam hardly appeared threatening.

He looked Gabriel up and down. “Did you get hurt?”

Gabriel slid his hand from his hair. “No.”

“Can I come sit with you for a minute?”

Gabriel tensed. The spider was in his bed now - but at least he knew its location. “Okay.”

Sam took a seat at the foot of the mattress. “Gabriel, what happened? That sounded bad.”

“Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and managed to put himself back together again. He’s a self-sufficient egg.”

“Are you just saying that because you’re still scared of me?”

Gabriel was so astonished that for a moment he wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly. A long silence went by, during which Sam simply waited and Gabriel made a fruitless attempt to assemble his thoughts.

“Damn it” was all he could come up with.

“It’s okay,” Sam assured him. “I figured you’d have trouble shaking it off. Have you said anything to Dean or Cas?”

“What? No. Why would I do that?”

Sam frowned. “Why not?”

“Well - can you imagine what it’d sound like? Trying to explain that immediately after I was clinging to you like a baby orangutan to its mother, I suddenly decided you were some kind of anti-Sam? Come on.”

“You were disoriented. You’re used to looking for me when you’re upset, right? And I was there after the dream, even if it was a dream about me. Made sense that you’d act according to routine.”

Gabriel glanced at the floor. “That’s not really what matters. Thing is, I have exactly zero justification here. It’s cruel to be afraid of you after everything you’ve given me.” He looked up. “Your currency is emotional CPR. Mine is fear. That’s not exactly an even exchange.”

“This isn’t about you owing me compensation,” Sam objected. “You know that; it’s never been about that. It’s about - ”

“ - me being a dumpster full of paint thinner and gasoline. And not having the discipline to stop myself throwing in a lighted match.”

“Gabriel, look - ”

“I can’t short-circuit on you,” Gabriel interrupted. “It isn’t fair. It just isn’t. You do too damn much to keep me from drowning for me to be fidgety around you.”

Sam considered his next words carefully. “Well ... you’ve got one thing right: it’s definitely not fair. But Gabriel, it’s you who’s getting a bad deal, not me. Remember how you said you felt like Asmodeus was taking me away from you? You shouldn’t have to feel like that.” Gabriel could tell that Sam was battling the instinct to offer some kind of physical consolation. “You didn’t do anything you shouldn’t have. This is just how things are right now. And it's okay.”

Gabriel swallowed, trying to gather the courage to speak, but simply lowered his head and hugged his knees.

“Are you cold?” Sam lifted the disheveled comforter and draped it over Gabriel’s shoulders, careful not to touch him. “There you go; it’s okay. You’re okay.”

Gabriel tried to speak, tried to tell Sam that no, he wasn’t okay. That none of this was okay.

But he couldn’t.

“Let me help you, all right?” said Sam. “Let me show you I’m not gonna hurt you.”

Gabriel didn’t answer him.

“Gabriel?”

At last, he gathered his strength. “Yeah. Fine.”

Sam stood up. “I can get us some tea. Why don’t you just wait here while I do that?”

Gabriel simultaneously wanted the security of having Sam nearby and the safety of not having him there at all. But before he could get caught up in the decision-making process, he muttered, “Tea sounds okay.”

“Yeah. Great. I’ll be right back.”

While Sam was in the kitchen, Gabriel took time to interpret what was happening. Sam was partly right: being alone with him, and seeing no signs of danger, was helping a little. But it stirred up something else too - a sense of longing that had been thickening within Gabriel throughout this past week, but which he had opted to ignore.

One thing, at least, had become clear: pushing Sam away was dragging Gabriel backward. Guilt, fear, revulsion - all of these had lately become just a little less familiar to him, or at least less habitual. Now they were regaining momentum; and he was all too aware that Sam, once Gabriel readjusted to his company, was going to take on the responsibility of keeping those feelings under control.

Sam didn’t need that kind of work. Not after the weight he’d already carried.

Lost in thought, Gabriel jumped when he spotted Sam reentering the room with two mugs. “Whoa, hey - ” Sam stepped back, splashing some of the fluid onto the floor.

Gabriel exhaled. “Final verdict: no blades, only kitschy T.J. Maxx dishware.”

Sam smiled and set Gabriel’s cup on the nightstand. A warm aroma filled the space around the bed, a sweet scent that definitely wasn’t coming from tea.

Sam noticed Gabriel looking at the mug. “Jack had a few spare packets of cocoa lying around. Figured you might need the nutrients. And the taste. Out of whipped cream, sorry.”

“I don’t want to take the kid’s hard-earned sugar,” Gabriel protested.

“You know he won’t mind. Jack wants to see you get better as much as any of us do.”

That was true. Jack was overprotective, asking at random intervals whether Gabriel felt all right.

“Careful,” Sam cautioned as Gabriel shifted the blanket so that he could pick up the mug. “It burns.”

“Thanks, Mom. I was just about to see what’d happen if I poured it down my shirt.”

Several minutes passed with neither of them uttering a word. Gabriel had the sense that Sam was waiting for him to open the conversation.

Gabriel, for his part, didn’t trust himself to say the right thing. He remained curled up in the heavy bedspread, soothed by the fragrance of the drink.

After a full five minutes of waiting for Gabriel to speak, Sam gave in. “Is there anything else you want to talk about?”

Gabriel shook his head.

Sam’s face fell, but he didn’t push. “You like the cocoa?”

“Yeah. Too much, I think. Tastes like pre-Hell. Tell me,” he added, wanting to change the subject, “How often does my little bro let Jack indulge the wiles of his trickster-esque palate?”

“Cas bugs the crap out of Dean about not steaming the broccoli too much. Says Jack needs the vitamins. So uh, after enough fruits and vegetables, I guess.”

“And am I going to have to be the first to call nephilim-protective services?”

Sam laughed. “You don’t have to worry. Between you and me, Dean lets him have as much sugar as he can handle. Just keep it on the down low so Cas doesn’t ruin the fun.” He took a sip from his own mug. “You know, you can have this every day if you want. If you’re not gonna go for actual food, I guess this isn’t the worst substitute.”

“Every day, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh.”

Sam surveyed him, and a look of alarm crossed his face. “Gabriel?”

Gabriel focused on the stitches in the comforter, tracing the patterns with his eyes. When that brought up unwanted memories of having his mouth sewn shut, he turned his attention to the warmth and heaviness of the blanket.

There was the soft thud of Sam’s mug being placed on the nightstand. “Gabriel? Hey.”

Silence.

“Are you scared? I can leave.”

Gabriel shook his head.

“Then what? Gabriel, what’s wrong?”

Reign it in, bitch, Gabriel scolded himself, and took deep breaths to try and calm down.

“Hang on.” Sam’s voice was gentle. “You’re gonna spill this all over yourself.” He pried the cup from Gabriel’s hands and placed it beside his own. “You’re all wound up. What is it?”

Gabriel shook his head again, wishing he had the composure to answer in words but not daring to try.

“Did I say something to bother you? Gabriel, tell me. Please.”

Gabriel swallowed hard and forced himself to speak. “It’s just that … I …”

Sam waited.

“I’m confused,” Gabriel whispered.

Sam looked puzzled. “About what?”

“About - Sam, when you said - when you said I could have this every day, I didn’t - I don’t - ”

“Okay. All right, Gabe, slow down. Tell me what you mean.”

Gabriel coughed in an effort to loosen the knot in his throat. “Why? Why would you let me have this? Especially every day. I don’t - why would you let me have anything, Sam? Why would you do that? Why would you say that? I - I can’t figure it out. I don’t know, I just - it feels weird, that’s all.”

Sam furrowed his brow. “That’s why you’re so upset? Because I said you could have something you like?” But then, all at once, recognition dawned on his face. “Oh man … Gabriel … look, I know Asmodeus wouldn’t let you have anything you wanted - anything you needed or asked for. But we’re not like that. We’re just not.”

Gabriel turned his head so that Sam couldn’t see his expression. “I guess I just don’t speak this language. The language of ‘you’re allowed’ or ‘we’ll feed you’ or ‘here’s a - ’” Gabriel huddled under the bedspread again. “‘Here’s a blanket.’”

Sam’s eyes shone with desperation. “Gabriel, man, you’ve got to let us take care of you.”

Once more incapable of speech, Gabriel went back to shaking his head.

Sam softened his voice. “You’re sick. What use is there in feeling guilty for that? When you’re sick you need people to do what you can’t do by yourself.”

Gabriel kept trying to take steady breaths.

“Gabe, can I ask you something?” When there was no response, Sam continued, “That nightmare - was it something I did?”

Gabriel’s despair was momentarily interrupted by astonishment. “What?”

“Did I say or do something that set you off and I just didn’t realize it?”

Gabriel blinked. “Jesus crickets, Sam. This is why our conversations always sound like some kind of Lovecraftian Hallmark holiday special. You eat self-hate for breakfast. You don’t even have the common sense to realize that me having a nightmare about someone I love has nothing to do with anybody but Asmodeus.”

Sam still looked uneasy. “All right.”

“No, it’s not all right! It’s not all right for you to feel that way. Because I know you. You’re sure you did something to start up another psychotic episode. For Dad’s sake, Sam, of course you didn’t do anything. Come on, I overshare pretty much all the time nowadays. Don’t you think I would’ve mentioned if you were the one to spill those last sorry marbles I have left?”

Sam raised his hands in surrender. “Fine. All right. I was just checking.”

“And you - ” Gabriel squeezed fistfuls of the comforter. “You’re not him. I’m crazy, and even I can tell you’re not him.”

“There’s a difference between being crazy and being scared, you know.”

“Yeah, sure, great. Maybe for you.”

Sam stiffened. “Definitely not for me. I’ve told you what I was like after I got out of the Cage. Anyway, Gabriel - you know this is going to take a while. You don’t need me to tell you that. And I know that getting adjusted … getting used to people not hurting you … it’s rough. Especially when you think you shouldn’t be treated like that after being kicked around. Being hated. And being told you deserve to be bullied until you break down. I know what it’s like. But you can’t fix how vulnerable you are right now - especially not all by yourself. What you can do is ride it out and face the worst of it with us. Stop holding things in; stop feeling guilty. You only have so much control right now, and that’s not going to change if you keep trying to get it back without letting us help. I promise - the end result looks a lot different when recovery is a team effort.”

Gabriel lost his voice again. But this time, instead of shaking his head, he nodded.

“You’re doing it right now,” Sam pointed out. “Trying to hide. It’s just me, Gabriel. You’re gonna make yourself sick if you keep that up.”

What would be worse? Sacrificing his dignity like he had countless times since first coming to the bunker, or grinding his teeth until his jaw hurt?

He hated that Sam could read him so easily.

Sam sighed. “Look. I just want you to know … there’s nothing you can’t do. Not when you’re with me. This isn’t supposed to not hurt, Gabriel.”

You’ve got to let us take care of you.

Sam’s attention was the easiest to accept. And yet it was also the hardest, precisely because Gabriel wanted it so badly.

Now, after a week of avoidance because of something that wasn’t even Sam’s fault …

Gabriel took a slow, shuddering breath. “I thought I was tougher than I am. For you it’s different. It really is. I’ve been around since the mid-forevers, and you - you’re only human. Humankind is easier to bruise. I don’t mean that to sound petty; I’ve actually always kind of admired it about you guys - the way you fight back when you could just let the universe eat you. Even when you’re not trying, you know? The way strength creeps into your dreams and your instincts. The way you remember good things when everything else has gone to shit. Somewhere in you, you just … you can’t let go of that resilience. It’s part of who you are.” He paused. “I have respect for the way people make themselves so much stronger than they’re supposed to be.”

Sam contemplated Gabriel’s words. “I don’t think you’re that different from us.”

“I - ”

“Not just you. Everyone. Look at Cas.”

“But he’s not an arch - ”

“I know he’s not an archangel. But Lucifer is.”

Sam spoke so casually that Gabriel almost didn’t realize how outlandish the statement was. “What does Lucifer have to do with anything?”

“Well, he was locked up too, wasn’t he? I mean, I didn’t know him before he turned into what he is now, but I figure he was … awful, but maybe not as awful as after your dad threw him in there.”

Gabriel stared. “I have no idea how to respond to that, Sam. Don't make excuses for him. He's a jerk.”

“It doesn’t matter. What’s important right now is that you try not to be so hard on yourself. You admire humans for their ability to put up a fight, and - Gabriel - that’s exactly what you’re doing now. Here, let’s narrow it down: you had that dream. And now we’re alone together even though you’ve had good reason to be afraid of me. You could’ve let the fear keep going until it created a whole new barrier on its own.”

It was difficult for Gabriel to come up with a reply, or even to decide how he felt about this reasoning. His inclination was to resist it - to point out the flaws in Sam’s logic.

Knowing Sam, however, that would be ineffective.

“Here,” said Sam, and reached over to the nightstand and handed Gabriel the mug of cocoa. “I think it’s still pretty warm.”

Gabriel took a sip. “Yeah. Good stuff.” He glanced at the clock sitting beside Sam’s own cup. 4:37. “You should go back to bed.”

“Had a feeling you were gonna say that. So should you. How about I stay in here?”

Gabriel assessed his gut response to this suggestion: no terror, no sense of hesitation, no visions of the Sam - of the not-Sam - from his nightmare.

“I wouldn’t mind that,” he muttered.

“You wouldn’t mind or you really want me to?”

“Think you said something a little ways back about how when you’re sick you need other people to help juggle things?”

“Oh.” Sam raised his eyebrows. “You actually heard me.”

“I listen,” Gabriel said, feigning indignation.

“All right, come on, you need to lie down.” Sam coaxed the comforter from Gabriel’s shoulders, and Gabriel lay back so that Sam could cover him with it. He closed his eyes and only just then realized that his head ached from exhaustion.

“Sam,” he mumbled, “Don’t sleep on the floor. That’s stupid.”

“No, it’s fine. It’s better. You need time to put the nightmare behind you.”

Gabriel didn’t open his eyes. “You’re getting old, Sammy. Your back is gonna give out.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Sam replied: “All right.”

Contrary to his reluctance, he collapsed into bed, evidently as drained as Gabriel was.

It was the warmth of Sam’s body that jolted Gabriel back to wakefulness.

Silence is different when you have someone lying next to you. This silence had a strange flavor, one of shelter and something like hope.

While Sam wasn’t looking, Gabriel let himself crack open just a little, and allowed tears to slip across the bridge of his nose and onto the pillow.

Perhaps it was the tension of Gabriel’s figure which alerted Sam that something was wrong. He sat up. “Are you okay?”

Sam had seen worse. Sam had seen everything.

When Gabriel rolled over to look up at him, Sam appeared appeared more dismayed than surprised. “Should I leave?”

Gabriel shook his head.

“Then what’s wrong?”

Gabriel tried to swallow and found he couldn’t. “It, uh - it hurts.”

“What hurts?”

His throat. His chest. His stomach. His head. All from choking it down, from clawing at what little pride he had left. “It just hurts.”

Sam searched his face. “I know it does. But you’re safe. You’re with us - with me.”

You can have this every day if you want.

“Okay” was all Gabriel managed.

Sam pulled him into a tentative embrace. Gabriel latched on, breaking free of the constraints he’d wound around himself, terrified by the prospect of Sam letting go.

“I know it’s too much right now,” Sam murmured.

“I didn’t mean to,” Gabriel sobbed. “I didn’t mean to think you’d hurt me; it was wrong, it was cruel - ”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Yes, Sam, it is a big deal! You care and that’s what terrifies me!”

Sam tightened his grip. “I’d kind of figured that out for myself.”

It was revolting, Gabriel thought as he felt his last fragments of control slipping away, how Asmodeus had left him with so little of himself. He kept his face hidden, ashamed of the way his memories and emotions drowned him over and over, making him into nothing, rescripting his character into one of weakness and failure.

Perhaps Sam was correct: angels and humans were more alike than not. But Gabriel had been powerful and independent in a way that none of humankind ever could be, and now he had switched directions by surpassing its capacity for debasement.

“Try to relax,” Sam said, interrupting Gabriel's thoughts. “It’s all gonna be okay. Even if it isn’t now. Just rest up and pretend that it is.”

Too worn out to object, Gabriel attempted to lie still.

“Come on,” Sam said, “You need to sleep. I’m not going anywhere, all right?”

Gabriel wanted to ask, Why? But, inevitably, Sam would remain unfazed. It was annoying how committed he was to guiding Gabriel through these ugly moments.

There’s nothing you can’t do.

Gabriel closed his eyes.

Not when you’re with me.