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Chasing Answers

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By the time they reached the bedroom, Gabriel was facedown on the floor, tangled in blankets and screaming for help.

“Oh my god!” Sam sprinted over to him while everyone else - Dean, Castiel, and Jack - watched from the doorway, as taken aback as Sam was.

Gabriel’s face was coated in tears, mucous, and saliva, and he was sobbing so violently he kept breaking into coughing fits, gasping for breath, on the edge of vomiting.

Sam tried to tug the blankets off of him so that he would have room to move. But the second he touched him, Gabriel began clawing at his lap. Then he lowered his face to Sam’s knee, seized handfuls of his pajama top, and cried harder.

Astonished, Sam laid a hand on the back of Gabriel’s head.

“Can … can we help?” asked Jack.

Sam turned around. “Give us a minute. I don’t think he’s gonna want a crowd.”

“But - ”

“Not yet. Not yet, Jack, okay? Let me see what I can do first.”

“No!” Gabriel howled, and Sam’s eyes snapped back to him. “No, no, no, no - ”

“Ssh, it’s okay,” Sam murmured. “Come on, hey, hey, it’s me. Just me. Guys, I really think - ”

“Just come give us an update when you can,” said Dean, whose eyes were trained on Gabriel; and it occurred to Sam that Dean probably hadn’t seen this version of him.

“I will,” Sam promised.

They made their exit, but Castiel looked back, surveying the scene as if searching for evidence that it was better for him to remain.

“Cas,” Sam said, “Just give us a minute.”

“Right. Yes. Of course. Um … like Dean said. Come find us when you get a chance.”

When Castiel was gone, Sam shifted his attention back to Gabriel. “Okay, easy, Gabriel, easy. I know you’re scared but it’s only me. You’re safe. You’re all right.”

Gabriel was overcome with another seizure of coughing and gagging. All Sam could do was whisper that there was no danger, and that it was time to calm down.

After a few minutes, Gabriel shuddered and raised his head to stare up at Sam with wild eyes.

“Are you with me?” asked Sam.

Gabriel responded with a sound somewhere between choking and sobbing. Sam pushed some of the sweaty hair from his forehead. “Let’s get you back into bed. You got caught in the covers, huh? Here - ” He loosened the sheets from Gabriel’s legs and torso, then helped ease him onto the mattress. The fitted sheet had come halfway off.

Sam sat beside him. “Are you okay? Can you look at me?”

Gabriel did. His face was flushed.

Sam smiled. “Okay. Okay, good. I’m the only one here, all right?”

Gabriel nodded and leaned against him. He was trembling, his breathing shallow and erratic.

“Gabriel, what happened?” Sam asked softly.

Gabriel didn’t say anything.

“Gabe? Hey. Can you tell me - ”

“Don’t do that.” Gabriel’s voice was hoarse and shaky.

“Don’t do what?”

“Make me tell you. Don’t make me tell you when I can’t tell you. I can’t do it. I can’t. Not now. Don’t, please. Please don’t.

Sam frowned. “I won’t make you talk.”

“I owe it to you, I know. When you waste time on me and I don’t give you some kind of explanation for it - that’s bad. I know. I’m sorry.”

Sam shook his head in bewilderment. “You don’t owe me anything. And you’re not wasting my time.”

“Don’t force me, please - just don’t.”

“I wouldn’t force you. Why - ”

“My grace.”

“Your grace?”

“Back in - wherever we were. Raleigh. Rockefeller Center. Russia.”

“Rhode Island?”

“There, when you fought off that spirit. It was hard to tell you about my grace, about why I was afraid of having it back. And you had to know. Wasn’t ready but you wanted me to be so I had to be.”

Sam thought back to their exchange in the motel. Gabriel had been weak and flustered after an unexpected spasm of grace strong enough to heal Sam from an attack. Sam was elated at the reappearance of Gabriel’s powers. But Gabriel had seemed disturbed, and before he could explain what was wrong - that he expected emotional healing to accompany grace replenishment, that he felt useless to Sam and the others - Sam had …

Had what?

He remembered how reluctant Gabriel had been to elaborate - how it had taken persistence to get him to explain his reaction.

Had he really bullied Gabriel into telling the truth?

Ashamed, Sam wrapped an arm around Gabriel. “Well, that’s one thing you definitely should’ve told me. How come you didn’t?”

Gabriel was silent, and Sam saw what should have been obvious: he was afraid of Sam getting angry or taking offense. He was afraid of punishment.

“Okay,” Sam said quietly. “Okay, well, I’m glad you told me. I’m sorry, Gabriel.”

“Not your fault. It isn’t your fault.” He shivered against Sam. “You have every right to know what’s going on with me.”

“That’s not - it’s just that since you’ve told me so much, and I know how … how ugly things were for you … and how bad it still gets …” Sam took a deep breath. “If I know something’s destroying you from the inside out, eating you alive, and I can’t do anything about it - I worry. About you, and about whether I’m doing enough to help you feel safe. If I’ve been doing the opposite - ”

Gabriel shook his head. “Not a lot.”

Sam’s throat tightened. “It’s okay. You don’t have to talk about the dream.”

“Did I get everybody out of bed?”

“Well, technically Cas doesn’t go to bed in the first place.”

“Damn it.”

“No, no, it’s fine. Jack was worried - you know how he is. And Dean was a little at a loss, I think.”

“I didn’t mean to make a big deal out of nothing.”

“Don’t say that. It was a bad dream. It scared you.”

“No.” Gabriel pressed himself closer to Sam. “I wasn’t scared. I mean, I was, yes, but not - not like I should’ve been.”

Sam frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I’m the wrong kind of scared.” Then, before Sam could challenge this logic: “If I tell you about it, you might think I … that I … ”

He trailed off. The color had begun to drain from his face and his breathing sounded hoarse.

Sam pulled away and held Gabriel at arm’s length, trying to ground him with eye contact. “I don’t know what you expect me to think. But I’m not gonna judge you for anything. What he did to you wasn’t your fault.”

“Everything I told you about him,” Gabriel sputtered, “About what he used to do to me, and the things he’d say.”

“What about them?”

“You’ll think they’re not enough.”

That perplexed Sam. “Not enough? Not enough for what?”

“You’ll think that at the end of the day he wasn’t such a bad guy after all.”

Immediately, without thinking, all Sam could do was laugh. Gabriel’s face lit up with terror.

“Sorry,” Sam said quickly. “It’s just - I can’t imagine thinking even one good thing about him. Asmodeus was a monster. I know that. You know I know that.”

“You won’t think I’ve actually been hurt. You’ll think I wasn’t really tortured. Or not bad enough, anyway. Not bad enough to need you so much.”

“I’d never think that!”

“But you might!”

“No. I won’t.”

Feverish and panicked, Gabriel reached out with both hands and caught Sam by the upper arm. “If I let him help me - if he was willing to offer help in the first place - how much damage could he really have done? He gave me what I asked for. Sometimes.”

Sam creased his brow. “You’re talking about what you told me before? About how he used to come and, I don’t know, give you a hug when you were crying?”

There were times I begged for him to help me, to hold me. Because I would’ve taken anyone. I just needed somebody to touch me.

“So much pain,” Gabriel stammered. “There was so much pain, so much pleading, so many temper tantrums like I was a self-righteous toddler who’d already had too many sweets and was still begging for more. And even then, Sam, even then, he listened. Mostly he didn’t, no, but sometimes he did. He’d come to me and try to console me.”

Now and again I let myself pretend that maybe he wouldn’t hurt me again.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “I remember that.”

How could I ever get so low as to need him to stroke my hair and tell me I’d be all right? When within five minutes I was back on the floor and the only thing that shut me up was how much heavier than me he was?

It was a vision that had haunted Sam since he’d heard the story. There was something so peculiarly twisted about the image of Gabriel groveling for the comfort that Sam couldn’t imagine withholding from him.

What if you did that, Sam?

“I could trust him,” Gabriel went on, “Because the others - the guards, the other demons, anyone who came in to visit - they were dangerous; they were strangers. Asmodeus did the worst but he was right to hurt me. I had confidence in him; he was the only one I knew, the only one I had. I took what I could get, Sam. It felt so good when finally, finally, he listened to me yelling for help and told me I was okay.” Gabriel clenched his jaw. “When I woke up just now, there was this - this emptiness that I don’t know how to explain to you. I dreamed he was with me, that I’d been desperate and panicked and my throat was bloody from screaming and he came, Sam, he was there; but when I opened my eyes he wasn’t. Which is weird, because normally he won’t go away. But I needed - I felt like - I needed someone again because he’d left and I would have to … to beg for help, to start screaming for somebody again, and … and it had to be him.”

What if it was you?

When Sam answered, his voice wasn’t as steady as he’d meant it to be. “He’s not here anymore. It’s okay.”

“But that’s the problem, Sam. I just …”

Sam waited for him to go on, but it seemed that he couldn’t.

“Do you miss him?” was the only thing Sam could think to say.

That seemed to rekindle something in Gabriel. “Ew! No! He can suck a pinwheel. It’s just that when he was there, and then he wasn’t, and I needed someone, and he was the only one I had, then … you know, who else was I supposed to scream for?”

Sam wasn’t sure he understood, but he nodded. “Well, you don’t have to beg with me.”

Gabriel’s eyes fell on his hands, still clutching Sam’s upper arm. Surprise flickered over his face, as though he hadn’t realized what he was doing. Slowly, he let go. “I’m sorry.”

Sam studied him, screening for Gabriel’s usual symptoms of panic: tight, thin breathing; wide, vacant eyes; rhythmic moaning; the pallor of nausea.

Once Sam decided that Gabriel seemed a little better than he had a few moments ago, he offered a small smile. “You’re not sorry. Okay?”

Gabriel shrugged, and Sam hoped he hadn’t taken it as a threat.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” said Sam. “You’re sweaty.”

“Every time,” Gabriel muttered.

“I can change the sheets while you get in the shower.”

“No.” Gabriel sounded nervous again. “Don’t leave me alone. I - I can’t. I just can’t, not right now. Please.”

The last word made Sam’s blood run cold. “Sure, yeah, not if you don’t want to. It’s okay. But you might feel better if you get into some clean clothes, huh?”

“No, Sam, I don’t want - I can’t - ”

“Let me just make up the bed, then. Get you settled.”

Gabriel edged off of the mattress and bent down to retrieve the rumpled sheets for Sam, who said, “It’s okay, I got it,” and went to the closet to retrieve clean blankets. “Should I hang out for a little?”

There was silence, and Sam turned around. Gabriel looked like he was going to start crying again.

“Hey.” Sam dropped the sheets and came back over to him. “No, hey, we can wait to go back to bed.”

“I’m fine.” Gabriel took a slow, shaky breath. “I’m tired, and I’m delirious, and I’m … fine. Son of a bitch, that was a five-star meltdown. When was the last time I threw a fit like that? A month ago? Two?” He sat back down, staring at his knees, simultaneously horrified and bewildered. “I didn’t mean to, Sam.”

“I know.”

“Most of the time it’s not that unreasonable a demand on myself to remember where I am. At least not during the day. Letting myself sleep while I wait for my grace to get back to normal, it’s … that’s been a real game-changer.”

Sam took a seat beside him. “Everything feels different at night, doesn’t it?”

“It was like he … like I … be honest: am I making any sense here? Do you understand, sort of, what I’m getting at? I’m not trying to tell you I have some freaky Stockholm Asmodeus-sized hole in my heart. That’s not it. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not that.”

“Hmm.” Sam considered. “Yeah, I mean … it’s like you said, right? He was the only one you had.”

Gabriel nodded. “All I could think just now was, ‘Where did he go? What did I do? I need - I - ’” Gabriel tried to steady himself with a few deep breaths, but his face crumpled and he covered it with his hands. “‘I need him to come back.’”

Sam’s throat closed up as he watched Gabriel drag his knees to his chest and bury his hands in his hair, trying to make himself as small as he could. Somehow this felt different than simply trying to coax Gabriel out of the fear that so often paralyzed him after dark.

It wasn’t something Sam could remember ever having experienced in Hell. His torture had been different than Gabriel’s - from what Gabriel had told him, Asmodeus worked from the inside out, while Lucifer began with the skin - but it was generally easy to picture Lucifer engaging in so many of the psychological tortures Gabriel had cited.

This one - the practice of forcing Sam into loyalty, into something that Gabriel seemed, despite his denial, to read as something close to love - had no place in Sam’s memory.

Sam pulled Gabriel in for an embrace. “I’m here. You don’t need him.”

Gabriel jerked his head up, face streaked with tears. “I know I don’t need him! I know that, Sam! But I did then!”

Sam opened his mouth to reply, but then realized that this wasn’t about trying to explain that Gabriel had never really needed Asmodeus to come and sit with him, to come and guide him through the same helplessness Sam handled now; there was no point in trying to convince him that Asmodeus had lied.

Because to Gabriel, in Hell, illusion mattered. There was no disentangling true and false when each had bled into the other while Gabriel was at the mercy of the storyteller.

“Well,” Sam said at last, “You don’t need him anymore.”

Gabriel didn’t reply.

“Gabriel? You know that, right? You need help. You need to feel safe. You don’t need him.”

Gabriel nodded but didn’t meet Sam’s eyes.

“All he ever did to you,” Sam continued, “Was make you feel like you deserved what you got. And taunting you by pretending like affection was some kind of - of privilege - ” Sam swallowed. “I hate that he did that to you, Gabriel. I hate that he made you believe in him like that.”

Gabriel looked up at him.

“Asmodeus was cruel,” Sam insisted. “He liked seeing you in pain. And the best way of doing that was to play with what you would’ve given anything for. He teased you, Gabriel. It was a filthy trick, and it wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes it was,” Gabriel replied in a high, strangled voice. “For letting him do it. For letting him - for - ”

“Ssh, try to calm down. I know it hurts.”

Gabriel dragged a shaking hand over his eyes. “It’s on me, Sam. It is. There’s no trying to mess around with that. Which is - ” He pulled away from Sam and squared his shoulders. “Which is fine. That’s all good and done, isn’t it? No way to get that opportunity back.”

“Opportunity for what?”

“For dignity. For strength.” Gabriel forced a smile. “Knowing you, you probably believe what you’re saying - that I was just some poor bloodied-up sap with no understanding of what I was doing. But I knew.” His features hardened. “I could hear myself, Sam. And let me tell you, it was a hell of an experience listening to all that screaming and crying in my voice. All because I didn’t want to be alone. Because I was desperate for …” His face twisted with revulsion. “For comfort. I don’t even know why. Just … I’d been beaten and stripped and torn apart and screamed at. Had my grace drained. Wanted to be told I’d be okay. Even if I knew it was a lie.”

“Gabriel …”

“What I really don’t understand is why I couldn’t not need him. And it’s the same with you; I can’t not need you, except with you it makes more sense because the worst you’ve ever done to me is give a stern spiel about how I shouldn’t go looking for an angel blade.”

Sam stiffened, disturbed both by the memory of how alarmed he’d been to hear Gabriel speak of self-destruction and of how harshly he himself had behaved in response.

“It’s okay that you need me,” he told Gabriel.

“It really isn’t. Not to me.”

Somehow this disappointed Sam. “Not even after all this time?”

“I thought it would be over by now. I thought I would be better. Stronger. Not like this.”

“You are doing better.”

“You know what I mean. Healed. I thought that even if I had to sleep at all, the nightmares would stop; I thought if the nightmares kept going, I’d be able to handle them on my own. I didn’t think I’d still be stuck like this. Like a baby. Even Jack, an actual baby, is more put-together than I am. You’re doing everything right, Sam. Everything. Well, except - I know I’ve said before that you should be letting me face this down without all the extra help. That I won’t get over it unless I practice sans Winchester.”

“Which isn’t true," Sam protested. And I’m not doing everything right. You gotta tell me when I make it worse. Like forcing you to say what you really don’t want to.”

Gabriel blinked, puzzled, as if he didn’t remember making such accusations. “That? It’s okay.”

“No. It’s not. I’m glad you let me know.”

“Uh. Well … that’s still not something you’re doing wrong, Sam. That’s just down to my own wimpiness. If I’m gonna be shrieking for a savior in the middle of the night, Messiah Sam should at least know what I’m whining about.”

“Gabe, no.” Sam offered his hand, and Gabriel, after a moment’s hesitation, accepted it. “I’m here to help, not file a report.”

Gabriel gazed down at their hands. Sam saw his eyes flicking back and forth, as if trying to memorize the placement of their fingers. “He didn’t listen. All I could do was scream for help, scream that I was sorry, scream that I needed him to come back. Screamed so hard I tore my damn throat and puked up blood.”

Sam nodded. “I remember you telling me that.”

“And even though I knew - of course I knew; I was insane, but not stupid - that he’d come back in there and kick me in the ribs for that, make me shove it back down my wounded gullet, I still didn’t want to be alone. I - someone. Him. He was all I - ”

“All you had.” Sam tightened his grip. “You have a lot more now. You’ve got me, and your brother, and my brother, and your nephew. And Gabriel, I’d never be able to live with myself if I left you to beg for comfort.”

“Well, you’ve got low standards for what’s worth your self-esteem.” Gabriel paused. “Remember when I spazzed out about that kid in the grocery store?”

“Peanut butter cookie boy.”

“Yeah. This isn’t too far from what was going on then. Because the second Asmodeus would leave, it’d be ‘no, come back, help me,’ and he’d get furious - ‘Why are you always wanting more, Gabriel? How is it that nothing is ever enough for your greedy ass?’”

“Don’t go down that road,” Sam warned, as gently as he could. “You’re going to get all worked up.”

“I know. I just - it was the same sort of mess. Pleading for him to come back. Always demanding more - exactly like I do with you.”

That took Sam by surprise. “You don’t do that.”

“Oh, please. Maybe I don’t prostrate myself like I did with him - unless you count just now - but I still can’t function without you. Whatever you do to pull me out of this, it’s never enough for me. Not because you’re doing a shit job, but because I’m flimsier than a stoned flatworm. And this is going to sound crazy, but the truth is I feel like maybe that’s because I know you, like I knew him, except I could trust him partly because he was doing the right thing by punishing me. And I can trust you because it seems like you’re doing the right thing by not punishing me. What am I supposed to believe, Sam? Because I’d really rather believe you.” His eyes shone with tears. “So I keep coming back to you, over and over again, hoping that sooner or later I’ll take you seriously.”

Sam took a few moments to gather his thoughts before offering a reply. “I don’t know how true that is.”

Still holding on to Sam’s hand, Gabriel cast him a look of confusion.

“I think,” Sam continued, “That it’s easier to tell yourself you’re chasing answers than admit that you’re so broken you need someone to make you feel safe. There’s not an end to that. Or there is, maybe, somewhere, but it isn’t a missing puzzle piece. It’s time and learning. You had to face so much violence, so much abuse, for such a long time, that the pain is just …” Sam cleared his throat. “I know, Gabriel. I know how hard it is to stop hurting. You don’t owe it to me or anyone else to be okay.”

A number of emotions clawed their way over Gabriel’s features: horror and relief, sorrow and gratitude, hunger and uncertainty.

“This isn’t about strategy or expectations,” Sam told him. “This is about you.”

Gabriel made a small, frightened sound. Sam had the sense that he wasn’t scared but simply overwhelmed, incapable of understanding - or accepting - Sam’s narrative.

“I’ve told you before,” Sam went on, softening his voice, “You’re sick and you need to let yourself get better. Part of that means not being so hard on yourself. You’re not responsible for what Asmodeus put you through and I’ll tell you that as many times as I gotta.”

He could feel Gabriel’s hand shaking in his, but opted not to comment on it. It was Gabriel’s turn to talk - or, if he preferred, to stay silent.

Finally, he pulled in a harsh breath through his nose. For a second Sam felt sure he was going to speak; but Gabriel remained quiet, squeezing Sam’s hand hard enough to cause pain, probably trying to root himself in the present.

Or perhaps this was another way of begging.

“You know, right?” said Sam. “You know that you don’t have to worry about being ignored. I’m here for you and so are the rest of us. Gabriel, the second we heard you screaming, we couldn’t think about anything else. All that mattered was making sure you knew you weren’t alone.”

Eyes fixed on the far wall, Gabriel moved his other hand so that both clutched at Sam’s.

“Hey,” Sam soothed, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I feel like I can’t get close enough. I don’t know how to explain it. I was alone for so long, isolated, cold - ”

“And more importantly, you’re not anymore, all right? Now you’re with us.”

“With you. Guys,” he added. “With you guys now. Yeah. Yes. Yeah.” Gingerly, Gabriel extricated his hands.

“You don’t have to do that,” Sam told him. “Doesn’t bother me if you want to be touched; it just bothers me that you’re afraid you might not get the opportunity.”

Gabriel shrugged, eyes trained on his lap. “It’s okay. Practice makes progress, right?”

Why was it, Sam wondered, that Gabriel was so convinced he needed to restrain himself from seeking affection? “Look … I know you still think you have some obligation to learn how to keep your distance and deal with everything by yourself. I do the same thing. I - ” He paused, surprised at what he had just said. It was not a fact he’d intended to disclose. “Anyway, that wouldn’t mean getting better, would it? It’d mean hiding. There’s a difference.”

Gabriel studied him, likely trying to process the halfway point of Sam’s lecture.

“It’s a good thing you haven’t forgotten how to look for help,” Sam insisted, intent upon redirecting the conversation. “Otherwise you would still be falling apart.”

Gabriel’s expression shifted into one of derision. “Because I’m so stoic these days.”

“No one’s pretending you’re all right, but you’ve come a long way.”

“How can you say that after the state you just found me in?”

“I didn’t say you always feel better. Sometimes though, right?”

Gabriel sighed. “Sometimes. But I owe you at least - ”

“You owe yourself a break. That’s the only thing you need to promise anyone.”

He spent half a minute waiting for Gabriel to respond, but Gabriel only leaned his head against Sam’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

“I’ll stay with you if you want to go back to sleep,” said Sam.

“I have a headache. Sleep sounds anything but appealing but I guess I at least need to lie down for a little.”

“Okay. Well, let me put on some fresh sheets.”

Gabriel slid to his feet and Sam began making up the bed.

“I mean,” said Gabriel, “You don’t have to stay, but - ”

“No, I want to. Wait - ” Sam shook his head. “Sorry, I know you don’t like that word. I keep forgetting.”

“I don’t care if you’re talking about wanting to do something. I’ll happily tell you ‘I want to drink some trauma cocoa’; I don’t want to say …” He tensed. “Don’t want to say ‘I want trauma cocoa.’ Things. I can’t want things.”

“Gotcha.”

“It’s weird, I know.”

“You’re trying to tell me about weird?” Sam finished tucking in the top sheet and tossed the bedspread over it. “You have no idea how high my standards for ‘weird’ are.”

“I have pretty high standards myself, and this is still messy.”

“You’re not exactly an impartial judge right now.”

“Mm.” Gabriel hesitated, then said, “I hope I don’t dream again. I can’t take another nightmare.”

“Even if you do, you’re not gonna have to scream. I’m here.”

“I don’t usually get that bad, right?”

“You don’t usually wake up in hysterics like that, no. Oh - hey, listen, before we go to sleep I need to let the others know things are okay. Can I leave you for just a minute?”

“Uh. Yes. Sure.”

“Should I tell them what’s going on? Why you were so upset?”

Gabriel frowned, contemplating. Then: “Tell my brother. Keep it under wraps otherwise. If you don’t mind.”

“They won’t judge you for it. It might help them help you.”

“Look, Jack can’t know because he doesn’t need that image stunting his growth; and Dean can’t know because - no offense - but I sort of don’t trust him not to judge me for it.”

“I have pretty high standards myself, and this is still messy.”

“You’re not exactly an impartial judge right now.”

“I hope I don’t dream again.” There was distress in Gabriel’s voice. “I can’t take another nightmare.”

“Even if you do, you’re not gonna have to scream. I’m here.”

“I don’t usually get that bad, right?”

“You don’t usually wake up in hysterics like that, no. Oh - hey, listen, before we go to sleep I need to let the others know things are okay. Can I leave you for just a minute?”

“Uh. Yes. Sure.”

“Should I tell them what’s going on? Why you were so upset?”

Gabriel frowned, contemplating. Then: “Tell my brother. Keep it under wraps otherwise. If you don’t mind.”

“They won’t judge you for it. It might help them help you.”

“Look, Jack can’t know because he doesn’t need that image stunting his growth; and Dean can’t know because - no offense - but I sort of don’t trust him not to judge me for it.”

“No one is going to - ”

“Please, Sam. Just Castiel. Don’t let anyone else in on this.”

With some reluctance, Sam nodded. “Just Cas. I’ll be right back, okay? I promise.”

Gabriel held out his hand and Sam took it.

“I can wait,” Gabriel said, and let go.

Sam found the others gathered in the kitchen, Dean taking a swig from a bottle of beer, Jack focused on a laptop screen, and Cas gazing into the distance, lost in thought, chin in hand.

“Hey,” said Sam, and they all looked up.

“Did he conk out again?” asked Dean.

“No. I’m going back to stay with him for the night. But he’s okay. Cas, can I talk to you for a second?”

Cas got to his feet, looking unsurprised. “Sure. We can go to the library.”

“Can I - ” Jack began, but Cas interrupted. “You’re helping all of us with your research, Jack. Keep trying to find cases.”

Jack looked disappointed. “Okay.”

“You want us to clear out?” Dean offered.

“No, no, you guys stay put,” Sam replied. The truth was that he wanted a smaller, more intimate space that at least provided the illusion of privacy.

Sam and Castiel sat down side by side at a table strewn with tattered books on witchcraft. About a week prior, there had been signs of magical activity not far from the Bunker: a teenage girl who had died in her bedroom after cerebral fluid - per the autopsy report - had leaked from her ears, nose, and mouth, swimming with maggots. The culprit turned out to be the biology instructor at her school, a man who had had an affair with the girl’s mother and targeted Jamila after overhearing her tell a friend of plans to inform the principal.

Cas folded his hands on the tabletop. “What did he tell you?”

Sam suddenly wished he had taken the time to figure out how to explain. The more he pictured what Gabriel had told him, the more nauseated he felt having to witness it all over again.

“Sam?”

Sam blinked. “Yeah, uh, he said … a little while back he told me about how Asmodeus used to try to calm him down. Hold him and whatnot.”

Cas recoiled. “That’s repugnant.”

“Right. Well, apparently Gabriel used to have to beg for comfort, and when he woke up tonight he … he thought Asmodeus had left him to suffer alone.”

“And so Gabriel was trying to get his attention?”

Sam tightened his lips. “Yeah. Makes you feel sick, doesn’t it?”

Castiel didn’t say anything. His face was pale and drawn.

“Cas?”

Elbows still rested on the table, Cas laced his fingers and laid his forehead on them. “This is too much. For him, for me. For all of us.”

“Well, make sure you don’t tell him that.”

“Never. I just …” He raised his head, and Sam was horrified to see that there were tears in his eyes. “I almost wish you hadn’t told me.”

Feeling helpless, Sam replied, “He asked me to. He said not to let Dean or Jack in on it but he wanted you to know the story. Next time - ”

“It’s all right; I’m prepared for the next ‘too much.’ If anyone should be overwhelmed it’s you.” Cas shook his head, avoiding Sam’s gaze. “I only wish he hadn’t gone through the agony he did. That there was something I could have done.”

Sam wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Cas, he’ll be okay. I’m taking care of him.”

Cas nodded, still staring absently at the stacks of books on the table. “Go get some sleep. If something happens, find me.”

Sam stood up. “Listen, you’ve been pushing yourself pretty hard too. Go do something to relax. Watch a stupid show on Netflix. Unwind. I’ll see you in a little bit, okay?”

Cas nodded. “Good night, Sam.”

Sam tried not to think about Gabriel’s story on the way back to the bedroom. What was it, he wondered, that made this so particularly unsettling for both him and Castiel? Was it merely the shock of finding Gabriel lying by the bed, gagging on his own cries for help?

That image crept into Sam’s mind, followed by a vision of Gabriel in his cell, pounding the bars with his fists, face tear-streaked and bloody as he screamed and screamed …

Sam stopped to lean against the wall. He had to shut that picture away before returning to the bedroom. Otherwise he would be no help to Gabriel.

Every time the scene flashed before him, Sam felt the urge to intervene then and there, when it had actually happened. He wanted to shield that Gabriel - the terrified, desperate, battered Gabriel that had returned tonight.

But now was what mattered. Now was the time to reroute all that begging and pleading so that it led to safety.

Sam took a deep breath and pushed himself away from the wall. Gabriel needed him, and Sam wasn’t going to make him wait.