When Gabriel hit the ground, wings seared into the earth beneath him, Sam felt nothing. For a moment he was completely numb. There was a roaring in his ears like ocean waves or his own blood, and he thought he heard Dean call his name, but he was fine. Why wouldn’t he be?
He shoved Dean through the rift, took one last look at the archangel’s body, and turned.
Being back in the bunker was a shock, the walls and the smells and all the people standing looking at him. The roaring hadn’t stopped and it was Dean’s hand on his shoulder that set him off. He slapped his brother’s hand aside and swore at him and that was all. But Sam was angry. He was angry at Michael for taking Mary and Jack and for killing Gabriel. He was angry at Chuck, wherever he was, for not doing anything to stop it. He was angry with Gabriel for not listening to him, for dying again. But he was the most angry with himself for letting it happen. For letting it happen right in front of him.
And when Bobby raised a toast to the Winchesters, Sam left. He took off down the hall. He didn’t deserve Bobby’s praise or gratitude. He felt like a complete failure, and as he sat on his bed, he couldn’t help but think, somehow, Gabriel had known he would die in Apocalypse World, that he would die so the Winchesters had a few more seconds to slip through the rift.
Sam’s fists clenched into the comforter of the bed.
A couple seconds wasn’t worth losing you.
It felt like years had gone by in a matter of days. Dean was gone; Michael had taken him, and no matter how late Sam stayed up researching nothing surfaced. There was one night where Sam had had too much to drink, and he actually got down and prayed for the first time in years. The entire time, he really wasn’t sure who he was praying to.
Days turned into weeks, and nothing changed. Dean was still gone. And Sam was here. Doing absolutely nothing.
On one occasion, Sam came out of the bathroom with his right hand shoved into his jacket pocket. Cas watched him storm out the bunker door without a word. When Cas looked in the bathroom, the mirror was in pieces and the sink was stained red with blood. Sam didn’t speak about it.
And there were those nights when everyone was asleep, and Sam would go to his room and lay awake, staring at the ceiling. It was during those long nights that he felt really, truly alone. It was dark and quiet and isolated and sometimes he would catch himself breathing unevenly, tears spilling down his cheeks. He would force a hand over his mouth to smother the sobs because God forbid Cas or Jack hear him.
Tonight was one of those nights. Sam held his hands to his face and broke down. Hours passed. And then there was a knock at the door.
Sam stiffened and sat up, brushing away any evidence of tears.
“Yeah?” His voice was rough and gravely and he cleared his throat as best he could as the door creaked open.
It was Jack, looking a bit lost in the half light of the bunker. He managed a smile that was barely visible in the dark of Sam’s room. “Hi, Sam.”
“Jack,” Sam smiled and pulled a hand through his hair. “You’re up late.”
“I don’t sleep much.”
Sam nodded faintly. “Right.”
Jack shifted a bit on his feet. “I-I brought you something.”
Sam raised an eyebrow as Jack stepped into the room and gestured for Sam to give him his hand. Sam obliged and Jack handed him something that rattled faintly at his touch. It was a candy bar.
“I thought you might like it.” Jack’s face was hidden in shadow but his voice was warm.
Then, Jack leaned forward and wrapped Sam in a quick embrace. Sam returned it and Jack was gone.
The darkness was suffocating and Sam realized he wished Jack had stayed for a bit longer.
Trying to refocus his thoughts, Sam peered down at the candy bar in his hand. In the darkness, it was impossible to tell exactly what kind it was but the longer Sam stared at it, the more a strange feeling settled in his chest. The candy should have been a comfort but Sam realized it was a grating reminder. The candy bar reminded him of Gabriel, and that was not something Sam was prepared to ponder while sober.
He stumbled out of his room and into the bunker library, towing along a large flask of whiskey. The room was quiet, and Sam was quickly extremely drunk. That was the way Castiel found him.
Sam barely looked up when Cas sat down across from him. “Sam—“
“Do you miss him?”
Cas tilted his head to the side in confusion but quickly found the candy bar set right beside Sam’s shaking hand. He sighed and settled back into his chair. “Most days. Some more than others.”
Sam laughed but it was brittle, unfamiliar. He took another swig of whiskey. “Well, I don’t.”
“I don’t,”Sam said with more force, but his eyes were glistening as he met the angel’s gaze. “He was loud and obnoxious and arrogant and…”
He trailed off and busied his fingers with the candy wrapper. Cas watched him sadly, trying to think of something to say.
After a moment, Sam took a shaky breath. “After seeing what Asmodeus did to him it was different. I felt...different. Something about him. It was like...I would look at him and he...”
“He reminded you of yourself.”
Sam’s head shot up, eyes wide and swimming. He didn’t bother nodding.
Cas’s eyes were alight with sympathy. “You know he cared about you.”
There was a pause in which Sam stiffened, and then he scoffed despondently.
Cas leaned forward in his chair, forcing the hunter to look at him. “He did, Sam. If he were here—“
“Cas,” Sam looked away, shaking his head. “Stop.”
“If he were here—“
“I said stop!” The anger in Sam’s tone made Cas flinch. Sam’s voice was breaking, and he reached for the flask without drinking from it. “Just don’t.”
“Sam,” Cas sighed. “He wouldn’t have wanted this for you.”
Sam laughed that harsh laugh again. “Yeah, well…”
He didn’t finish. His breathing was getting shallower again as he fought back tears. He glared at the whiskey, drank more, and left Cas without another word. The angel dropped his head in his hands. The candy bar sat on the table.
Sam was well and truly drunk. He stumbled down the bunker hallways for what felt like hours, searching for his room. When he finally found it, he stepped inside, flicked the light switch on, and shut the door but didn’t move away. His head sank against the door frame, eyes squeezed shut.
The smell was the first thing to penetrate. It was musty and when Sam breathed he tasted dust. Sam raised his head and groaned. His bedroom walls were covered in Enochian which meant they weren’t his walls.
He had stumbled into Gabriel’s room.
That cold, empty sensation settled in his gut, and he felt himself sliding to the ground with his back against the door. He thought maybe he should leave. He thought he should definitely leave. But he didn’t.
He hadn’t been inside Gabriel’s room since the archangel had first staggered out of it. Since all of this had started. The room hadn’t changed in the slightest.
Sam still remembered stepping in the dark months ago and finding Gabriel tucked in the corner beside his dresser, broken. He remembered seeing the Enochian lettering on the walls for the first time, and he remembered how he wished he could read it himself. He still did. They were Gabriel’s words, Gabriel’s story, and all they looked like to Sam was gibberish.
The tightness in his chest didn’t dissipate. Sam pulled a hand over his face feeling the scruff on his cheeks (when had he stopped shaving?).
“Gabriel, are you there?”
It took him a moment to realize he had been the one to speak. But then he spoke again, eyes closed tightly. “God, Gabriel, tell me you’re there.”
He was greeted with cold, glaring silence.
He laughed. “That’s what I thought.” (But that wasn’t true. He had thought—)
Sam shook his head to clear his thoughts and lurched to his feet, reaching for the door handle.
When Sam Winchester left that bedroom, he gave up hope.
The Empty was a cold, dark, empty place. Most wouldn’t notice because most never woke up. But today was different, and Gabriel wasn’t “most”.
At first, Gabriel wasn’t sure what woke him. He was exhausted; he wanted to sleep again, wanted to give in and drift off into the nothing, the Empty.
But then he heard it.
Four words. Four words that would have meant absolutely nothing to anyone else but meant everything to him.
Gabriel, are you there?
I’m here, Sam. Don’t leave me.