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Little Ghost

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No one else could see this apparition
But because of my condition
I fell in love with a little ghost and that was all
- The White Stripes  

There are few pleasures in this world to rival Sam Winchester’s “confused” face. The scrunched up nose, the bunched eyebrows, that lost-puppy look in his eyes. Like he’d just been jolted out of a vivid dream and was still working out exactly where he stood in space and time. It’s an expression that can creep, slowly contorting Sam’s face into a knot of what the fuck is this? It’s an expression that can burst, a sudden slapping-on of sheer befuddlement.

The man, Gabriel thinks, is gut-punchingly cute when he’s confused.

Which is absolutely not the reason why the archangel has been deliberately confusing him for the past week.

They were little things. He moves Sam’s books when he isn’t looking, disappears steps on staircases only to put them back the moment Sam looks to see why he tripped, waits until Sam is alone in a room, cuts a fart, and then leaves. Stupid shit like that.

He could have been using the tricks he’d learned during his stint as a pagan god to completely warp the younger Winchester’s sense of reality and drive him out of his pretty head until he begged for death, so, really, Sam should be thanking him for sticking to mostly harmless pranks. Not that Sam knew it was Gabriel who was messing with him. No, for all he knew, Gabriel was dead.

He had been dead for a while. Still was, in a way. He rematerialized outside of the Angelic Afterlife (a place far too complex and mind-screwy to be described in terms that a human could understand) what appeared to be a couple of years after the botched Apocalypse. The Winchesters have returned to their eat-slay-love lifestyle. Castiel has returned to the Winchesters. Heaven has found an uneasy peace, Hell is, well, Hell but it seems manageable. Everything is copacetic, or as copacetic as life on God’s green, fucked-up Earth can be.

And yet, Gabriel can’t enjoy it. Because Gabriel is a ghost.

Okay, so he isn’t a ghost, but he might as well be. His Father, in all His heavenly wisdom, had elected to resurrect Gabriel minus a few key abilities. Namely, his ability to be a fucking angel. Gabriel can’t snatch a vessel, can’t take on his full angelic form, can’t even manifest in the short, smarmy body he’d designed for himself as the Trickster. He is trapped in physical limbo, unable to be anything other than a vaguely Gabriel-shaped knot of thought and power and will. He can still interact with things, still manipulate the world around him, but he can’t make himself solid. At least not the sort of solid that anyone could see or touch or hear.

(Judging by the fart pranks, however—and even he isn’t sure how he could fart without a body—they could sort of smell him. Which is hilarious, but not quite what Gabriel would have preferred.)

Gabriel gets the feeling that his Father has him on a trial run, a let’s-try-being-alive-again, tangibility-pending test. And it is infuriating, because hadn’t Gabriel laid down his life for humanity just a few years ago? Hadn’t he earned his wings, so to speak? Apparently not. Apparently God is on another penance kick.

So the archangel thinks Hey, if Dad wants me to be a ghost, I’ll be a fucking ghost, and decides to haunt the Winchesters.

It is the most logical conclusion. Messing around with the Wonder Twins had been a lot of fun when he’d been able to manifest, and it’s nice to see his baby brother Cas again. It’s nice to metaphorically roll his metaphorical eyes at Dean again. It’s especially nice to be able to bother Sam again.

His frustration at his incorporeality may have fuelled the bad behaviour. But really, nothing beats leaving that adorable sasquatch confused.

 

*

 

It takes a little over a week for Sam to realize what’s going on. At first Gabriel is surprised that a Winchester could be so oblivious to the supernatural, but he figures it has something to do with the fact that the week had involved stamping out both a nest of ghouls and a particularly nasty vengeful spirit. Neither of the brothers have had very much sleep as a result. But after they return to the bunker and he finally gets his five hours, Sam starts to notice that the mishaps that have littered his life for the past eight or nine days aren’t just weird, innocuous nothings. They’re too constant, too deliberate.

After fifteen minutes of Gabriel rearranging the contents of his bathroom every time Sam turned his back, the man has had enough. He makes his way to the bunker’s little library/study room, where Dean sits sipping a beer and staring at his laptop. Gabriel follows him.

“Dean, I think I’m being haunted.”

The elder Winchester groans and rubs an eye with the heel of his free hand. “Are you freaking kidding me? Dude, we just finished a hunt.” 

“I’m sorry my problems have such shitty timing,” Sam says acidly. “I think it’s been going on for a few days, actually. We’ve just been so busy lately it didn’t click until now.”

“Well then, are you sure? Maybe you’re just tired.”

“No. I mean, yeah, I am tired, but there’s definitely something going on.”

“What happened?”

“Little things. Stuff moving around, weird, uh, smells. And… okay, I didn’t really pick up on this until we got back, but I’ve just got this feeling. Like someone’s there, watching me. It’s not angry, I don’t think. At least it’s not aggressive. But if it’s a ghost it’s only a matter of time, right?”

Dean sighs. Not quite annoyed, rather resigned. He gets up. “Okay. So you’re haunted. Any idea how they got into the bunker? Need I remind you that this place is completely sealed against shit like this?”

Sam scrunches his face like he’s thinking hard about it and Gabriel wishes he could laugh. Seriously. It should not be physically possible for a grown man to be this fucking cute.

“It could’ve been a Man of Letters.”

“They’ve been dead for decades, Sam. Why’d they just show up now, out of nowhere? More likely we’ve got something on us, something with a ghost attached.”

“It’s been a while,” Sam says slowly, and not without a hint of pride, “since anyone’s died. Anyone we knew, at least. And I don’t know about you, but I haven’t exactly been stealing from vics.”

“Fair point. Hey, Cas?”

There’s a soft flutter of air and then Castiel is standing beside Dean. Gabriel wants to smile. His little brother looks so deceptively human for a guy who just teleported into the room. Time with the Winchesters has softened Heaven’s hard edges and left him all Cas.

“Yes?”

Dean jerks a thumb at his brother. “Sam thinks he’s got a ghost on his ass. We gotta deal with it. You got any ideas?”

Gabriel perks up. Now that they’re no longer surrounded by monsters and on the run for their lives, surely Castiel will be able to recognize him. He might not be corporeal, but he’s still an archangel, goddammit, and that sort of power signature isn’t the sort of thing that another of the Fine Feathered Folk can ignore.

Cas frowns, looks down. “I have noticed a peculiar energy surrounding us for the past week or so. It appears to be benign, so I didn’t think it pertinent to mention while we were hunting.”

Both brothers give him frustrated looks.

“Okay,” Dean says, “what is it, can you tell?”

Cas half-shrugs. “It is a spirit, you’re right. But it’s a rather… unusual one. It’s powerful, incredibly so. That could explain how it got into the bunker. Yet, like I said, it seems benign. If it is indeed… on your ass, Sam, I don’t believe you have anything to worry about right now.”  

“Oh, well screw you too, little brother,” Gabriel—well, doesn’t say, but thinks very loudly. What kind of angel can’t tell an incorporeal, cursed-by-God, resurrected superbeing from a “rather unusual” ghost? He guesses Cas’ brainfart is caused by the very same asshole who disallowed Gabriel from manifesting in the first place. “It’s all part of the test,” the archangel thinks, trying to inject as much venom into his ruminations as possible, just in case his Father is listening. “All part of God’s twelve-step program to enlightenment and angelic rehabilitation, yeah, yeah, fuck you very much.”

 Castiel shifts slightly. “The spirit may be harmless,” he says, “but it doesn’t appear above hostile thoughts.”

“He can read my mind?”

“You can read its mind?” Sam asks. Dean raises his eyebrows, impressed.

“No. But, like I said, the spirit is remarkably powerful. Its emotions are… very clearly broadcasted. That’s how I know it isn’t malicious. We are safe. If it shows any signs of flipping out—” Gabriel wonders which brother taught him that particular turn of phrase “—I’ll know, and then we can set about getting rid of it.”

Dean frowns. “Then we can get rid of it? We aren’t just gonna let Sam be haunted, Cas.”

“We don’t really have a choice, Dean,” Sam says. “We don’t know who it is, so we can’t burn any bones. And if the thing won’t materialize or attack, we can’t fight back. The best we can do is lay down some salt lines and wait.”

Gabriel is thrumming with the urge to laugh in Sam’s face. Salt lines. These idiots are precious.        

Dean’s expression sours and he kicks blindly at the air like a fucking child. “I don’t like it, Sammy,” he mutters.

“I don’t either,” Sam agrees. “But right now it’s our only option.”

 

*

 

Gabriel stays in the bunker’s library for a couple of days, lets the boys think that their salt has succeeded. He amuses himself by reading over Sam’s shoulder, making snarky thought-comments belittling everyone’s intelligence, and placing bets with himself over exactly how long Dean and Cas are going to continue to eye-fuck each other before one of them inevitably gets fed up and breaks the tension.

On the third day, he decides he’s done enough waiting. He flits into Sam’s bathroom while the man showers—he’s washing his hair today, which means a longer shower and a lot more steam. Gabriel waits until Sam’s almost done (and steals a peek at some soapy Winchester ass in the process) before concentrating on the mirror and dragging clear lines through the steam with his mind.

Sasquatch emerges, wrapping his hair in a towel. He’s in the process of draping a second around his hips when he catches sight of the mirror—the towel falls, and Gabriel wants to grin.

The messy lettering on the mirror reads: HIYA, SAM!

Sam’s eyes dart to the bathroom doorway, framed by a thin rubber tube filled with rock salt that he had taped there the other day. (It was simpler than laying fresh lines every time they needed to open their doors.)

“Yup. Everything’s still in order, buddy. Archangel trumps salt.”

“Who’s there?” Sam hisses, and it comes so close after Gabriel’s thought that for a second he wonders if Sam can hear him after all.

But no, of course he can’t. Looking deadly despite his drippy nakedness and the towel on his head, Sam half-settles into a fighting stance and glares in no direction in particular.  

“I know you’re in here. Now who the hell are you and what do you want?”

Gabriel scrawls something else in one of the mirror’s still steamy corners.

A FRIEND

AND NOTHING BUT YOUR COMPANY, BIG BOY ;)

Also freedom from this weird, limited prison, and an explanation as to why he’d been resurrected, and some tacos because he’s been craving them since said resurrection, but there is only so much space on the mirror.

He supposes he could just tell Sam who he is, too, but where is the fun in that? Besides, if God had wanted his identity revealed, He wouldn’t have blocked Cas from being able to recognize his presence. Since Gabriel is only here on a Life Visa, he figures it’s smartest to play the game. Plus—and yes, look at that, there he goes!—this way he gets to see more scrunchy-face.

“A friend,” Sam says flatly. “Okay. And your name is…?”

In the last little patch of space on the mirror, Gabriel writes:

NOT TELLING

Sam makes a strangled, frustrated sound. “Great! Because that makes me wanna trust you.”

He hesitates a moment, then steps towards the mirror and breathes on the glass until Gabriel’s messages are completely fogged out.

“Who are you?” he asks again, and his voice is hard. “What are you? You crossed the salt line, so I know you’re not a ghost. You say you’re a friend? Then you gotta give me something, here.”

Sam waits. He waits an inordinately long time before he seems to accept that his invisible friend is no longer in a talking mood. Cursing softly, he wipes the steam off the mirror and gives his reflection a long-suffering sigh.

“This is just fantastic,” he mutters.

It’s only then that he looks down and sees that, other than the one on his head, he is completely towel-less. The archangel can practically see the moment where Sam realizes that his new personal bugaboo has seen him naked—the realization is followed by a mad scramble for the towel on the floor and a flustered look that might just beat “confused” in the running for Gabriel’s Favourite Sam Face.

Oh yes, this is going to be fun.

 

*

 

“It called my by my name, Dean. Whoever—whatever it is, it knows me.”

“Yeah, and it’s been hangin’ around the bunker for a couple weeks now, Sam. It ain’t too much of a stretch to figure it could’ve, y’know, overheard a conversation or two.”

“If my understanding of typical conversational patterns is correct, we do say each others’ names with an unusual frequency,” Cas says, as if the fact has only just dawned on him.

Sam concedes the point with a nod, but he can’t shake the feeling that his ghost—powerful spirit—whatever—is a bit more familiar than that. Ever since the bathroom mirror incident, he’s begun to notice some sort of shift in the air whenever the Whatever makes its presence known. It’s the sensation of being watched coupled with a slight coolness (but not as much as a ghostly cold spot), a hair-fine pressure against his skin, an odd feeling of almost-nothing-but-something being there with him. He guesses that it’s a watered-down version of what Castiel can sense. The presence feels… intimate, almost playful. Some nights he thinks he can feel the Whatever smiling at him. Which is ridiculous. How the fuck do you feel a smile, anyways?

Today the damn thing decided to repeatedly knock Sam’s book out of his hand, because apparently even bizarre supernatural entities think he’s too much of a nerd. He snapped at the thin air to leave him alone, and that had worked. For all of two minutes. Then a light breeze seemed to blow through the room and the pages of the book flipped back and forth until Sam’s place was completely lost.  

“Oh, you’re an asshole,” he grumbled.

Fed up, Sam had tromped out of his bedroom, only to find the angel and his brother locked in one of their patented just-make-out-already staring contests. Sam figured he’d just walked into the middle of a very intense conversation, but he didn’t care, he needed to talk to someone who wasn’t invisible.

He slipped between them and pointed a finger at Cas. “You. You are getting rid of this thing, dammit. Figure out what it is and you get rid of it.

Cas frowned, looking offended. Dean put a hand on Sam’s arm.

“Hey, hey, hey! Calm down, Sam, this isn’t his fault. You wanna get rid of the ghost? Let’s figure it out together, ‘kay?”

They all sat down, and Sam told them what had been going on since the salt lines had been breached. He told them about the book, and about a million other little weird, irritating things that had happened over the past few days. Like the hair conditioner spillage and the missing pens and the transmogrifying of his beer into warm cranberry juice. Things he hadn’t mentioned earlier because it had seemed pathetic to whine about being mildly annoyed when he’d quite literally been to Hell and back.

“But I can’t take it anymore,” he said finally. “The thing’s driving me insane. And I don’t know what it is or what it wants because it won’t fucking tell me! An-an-and I’ve asked it to leave, but it won’t listen, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going on its own anytime soon, because I swear to God it knows me. It called me by my name, Dean…”

Which brought them back to now.

Castiel shrugs. “I still can’t tell what it is. I mean I know it’s a spirit, but assessing what it’s the spirit of is proving difficult. It appears to be happy here,” he offers, as if that makes it better.

“Yeah, happy making me miserable,” Sam snaps.

“Ah, it’s just teasing you, Sammy,” Dean says with a grin, and Sam realizes with mounting irritation that his brother thinks this is hilarious. “Let ‘im have his fun.”

“What happened to ‘we can’t let Sam be haunted’?”

“Hey, just ‘cause we’re gonna stop it doesn’t mean it can’t be funny.”

“It’s not funny to me, Dean!”

“Stop it, you two,” Cas says, and he sounds so like a grumpy parent that Dean bursts out laughing and Sam gives an indignant scowl. “Now, we know this thing wasn’t stayed by any of the warding on the bunker. So what does that leave us with? What can get in?”

“Humans,” Dean says, “and angels.”

“And we know it’s not a human because a human spirit wouldn’t be able to cross the salt lines,” Sam continues slowly. “Which leaves us with—”

“Angels,” Dean finishes. He makes a face. “So it’s an angel ghost? Hell, is that even possible?” 

“No,” Cas says. “No, it’s definitely not. We don’t… linger, after death.”

“Well, what the fuck, then? If it isn’t an angel ghost, what else could it be?”

There’s a click in Sam’s brain and he feels like he’s on the brink of an epiphany. Angels. Annoying. Happy. Dead. There’s an answer there, he knows it—something to do with wry smiles and tricks and eleventh-hour redemption… but no. It can’t be. Because there’s no such thing as angel ghosts.

 

*

 

The not-a-ghost has begun leaving notes for him. At first when his stack of post-its goes missing, Sam figures that it’s just another petty spirit-theft. But then he begins to find little yellow squares stuck to surfaces in his room. Some have only a couple words of greeting on them. Others have paragraphs written in minute font that, upon Sam retrieving a magnifying glass to read them, turn out to be elaborate dirty jokes. Once it is a short story that continues over a series of notes and winds up disintegrating into graphic pornography.

The story is ultimately what prompts Sam to make his next move, and not just because it’s startlingly good porn and he kind of wants to meet the author. Or so he tells himself.

So the next time he goes grocery shopping, he picks up another pad of post-its. And when he gets home, he scribbles out a note and sticks it to the hood of his desklamp.

You want to tell me what you are?

Sam waits. He feels the spirit’s presence. The post-it flutters like it’s caught in a breeze. Then there’s a second note next to it. It appears between blinks, as if it had always been there, and Sam checks off “is not bound by physical laws” on his mental What The Hell Is This Thing clue list.

The note reads: That’s for me to know and you to find out buddy.

“Seriously? Come on, we’ve ruled out—”

There’s another note on top of the second one. No let’s do the post-it thing. It’s more fun. Like passing notes in class.

Sam huffs. After a moment’s hesitation, he obeys.

We know you’re not a ghost b/c of the salt & you’re not an angel b/c Cas could tell & we can rule out—(he has to start another note)—pretty much everything else b/c the bunker’s warded. So???

Okay, this time he knows he can feel the thing laughing at him.

I guess I’m just something new Sammy!

Before he can stop himself, Sam writes: Don’t call me that.

Which turns out to be the wrong thing to say, because the Whatever writes back: But I CAN call you? ;)

Sam rolls his eyes. I don’t know. Can you even dial a phone?

Touché. Okay tell you what—you can ask me three questions about who/what I am and if they’re the right questions I’ll answer them honestly.

“Only if I can ask them out loud. Post-its are annoying.”

Fair enough. But if Dean and Castiel start to suspect you’re conspiring against them with a ghost I am not to be held responsible.

Another eyeroll. Sam thinks a moment, then:

“What’s your name?”

Biggus Dickus. Next question.

“… Obviously that’s not your real name. ”

Obviously that wasn’t a right question. Next!

“Fine, screw you, too. Okay, um… are you really dead, or are you just some kind of invisible monster?”

A little of both, a little of neither.

“That’s not a fucking answer!”

You’d think so wouldn’t you? But it’s true.

“So, what, you—I don’t know—came back from the dead?”

Psh, like you haven’t.

“That still sounds like a ghost thing.”

So call me a ghost if you think that’s what I am. Honestly it’s probably the closest thing to true that’ll make any sense.

“Hm. Okay, last question. Why are you here? Like, with us. With me.”

There’s a pause.

Sorry Sam. I said three questions.

“What? I only—oh, come on! The ‘back from the dead’ one didn’t count!”

The answers booth is closed now please try again later.

And just like that the ghost is gone. Sam feels its absence like the removal of a weight he’d forgotten was on him—only this weight is feather-light and probably shouldn’t leave as much of an impact as it does. He groans and runs a hand through his hair, glowering at nothing.

 

*

 

The thing has a smell, Sam realizes. Like cold metal and candlesmoke.

This dawns on him one morning when he goes to the bathroom, still groggy with sleep, breathes in that subtle smell and thinks—great, ghost in the room. The scent isn’t unpleasant (in fact, he rather likes it), but that doesn’t mean he wants to take a crap in full view of a snarky invisible entity. He splashes some water on his face only to notice that there’s a post-it on his forehead.

I made pancakes, it says.

Sam peels the note off and goes to the bunker’s kitchen to find that yes, indeed, there are pancakes. Pancakes and a hell of a mess. There’s spilled flour, batter congealing on the countertops, mixing bowls and utensils scattered about. The oven’s been switched off but the pancakes are still inside, wrapped in tinfoil and keeping warm in the residual heat. A post-it is stuck to the oven: Eat up, big boy!

“I suppose you expect me to clean this up?” Sam grumbles, wrapping his hand in a dishcloth and pulling the pancakes out.

He blinks, and there’s another post-it on top of the silvery stack.

Ouch. Not even a thank you?

“I’m just saying, these’d better be damn good pancakes.”

Sam makes himself a plate, smothers the stack in butter and syrup, and takes a bite. He lets out a small, satisfied moan.

They are damn good.

A post-it appears on the table beside his plate: Music to my ears, sweetums ;)

“Fuck off,” Sam says, laughing around a mouthful of pancake.

The smell becomes less subtle, the feeling of the ghost’s presence slightly more intense. Sam realizes that the thing is next to him now, pulling in closer as he devours his breakfast. The sense of calm that this gives him is almost unsettling—since when were ghosts a comfort? Since when did they make pancakes for you and joke with you and sit with you as you ate?

He swallows another bite and clears his throat. “Hey, um. So… could you at least give me a gender? Just… I don’t wanna keep thinking of you as an ‘it’.”

The post-it takes longer to appear this time.

Technically don’t have a gender. But I guess male. I like being male best.

Well, that just opens up a whole new whack of questions. Sam asks them, and to his surprise he actually gets answers. He learns that his ghost has been male, female, and neither—that he has been with males, females, and neithers—that he thinks humanity’s hang-up on what’s in everyone’s pants is both ridiculous and ridiculously hilarious—and that the only reason he prefers being physically male is because he’s found that dicks are just more fun to play with. Which is really way more information than Sam wants, but it does help him get a better idea of what kind of creature he’s dealing with here. Besides, the nerd in him is a little bit fascinated. Objectively.

Sam also learns that the ghost’s natural form is incomprehensible to humans, and that he has been unable to assume said form since he died. Which makes Sam think he might be talking to a phantom Elder God, but the ghost, apparently reading his mind, assures him that this is not the case.

“Good,” Sam deadpans, “because I’ve seen a lot of crazy crap, but I don’t think my brain could handle Cthulu making me pancakes.”

Trust me, I’ve had Cthulu’s pancakes—your stomach couldn’t handle it either.

Sam laughs.

*

 

Their next big hunt involves taking out a nest of vampires that set up a small blood-slave trafficking ring in Oregon. Gabriel tags along, because he knows the operation is going to take at least a few days to dismantle and he doesn’t want to be away from Sam that long. He tries to tell himself it’s because he’ll be bored with no one to annoy, but really he has to admit that he likes the witty repartee thing they’ve got going. He doesn’t even care that Sam is no longer startled by his ghostly pranks. Even if he does miss the cuteness.

Also, if they die and Castiel ever finds out that he was hanging around at the time and didn’t try to help, he will get no end of shit for it. So into the Impala he goes.

Cas and Dean appear to be fighting, because the angel teleports to Oregon rather than riding in the car and Dean’s only explanation as to why involves a tight-set jaw and staring mournfully off into the distance. The next time Dean stops for gas, Gabriel slaps a post-it (which he has managed to carry with him through sheer will and the fact that he is a magnificently talented bastard) onto the glove compartment for Sam to read.

Lover’s tiff huh? Don’t worry they’ll make up. And hopefully make out.

Sam snorts. “Unlikely. Cas freakin’ fell from Heaven for him and Dean still can’t take a hint.”

Ah you underestimate the power of gay angel love Sam. Just wait until you guys find the vampires. Nothing like a good near death experience to amp up the romantic tension.

He doesn’t register the irony of that particular post-it until several days later, when Sam is kidnapped by said vampires. When he barrels ahead of Dean and Castiel because they aren’t rescuing Sam fast enough. When he finds the vampires and pops their heads like pimples with his mind only to see that they’ve already beaten the idiot bloody. When he finds no teeth marks, no broken bones, nothing that Castiel can’t heal, but still aches with rage at the sight of Sam injured, still burns to bring those fanged fuckers back to life just so he can kill them all over again.

When Sam whispers “thank you” and Gabriel realizes that the man knows exactly what saved him. When he wants to punch God in his omnipotent face for resurrecting him with the power to kill shit with his mind but not heal—no, of course he still needs touch to do that. Which means Sam has to wait minutes for Dean and Cas to find out where he is, for the angel to tap his forehead and put a stop to his pain, and that’s just cruel and unusual punishment as far as Gabriel’s concerned.  

It’s when all this happens that the archangel finally sees just how fucked he is.

 

*

 

 You feeling okay?

“I’m fine.”

I’m just saying you got pretty messed up yesterday. Those vampires did NOT go gently into that good night.

“I said I’m fine. Christ, don’t be such a nag.”

Well now you just sound like your brother.

“Seriously, man. Cas healed me. You got there before they could do any real damage, anyways. Everything’s okay.”

You aren’t like sore or something?

“… A little.”

I knew it. I have a seventh sense about these things I tell you.

“Don’t you mean sixth?”

My species has access to a sixth sense naturally. Your puny human brain wouldn’t understand.

“What, do you have like telepathy or something?”

I’ll say this for you, Sam Winchester; you are a phenomenally good guesser.

“Awesome. So… is it just one-on-one telepathy, or a hive mind like angel radio?”

The second one.

“Wait a sec. Is it like angel radio or is it angel radio?”

Are you asking me if I’m an angel?

“Well… are you? Because if you are I think I know—”

Angels can’t be ghosts Sam.

“You never said you were a ghost. You just said ‘ghost’ was the next closest thing to what you are.”

And you still guessed ‘angel’? On Cas’ behalf I am offended.

“You’re not answering the question.”

I like being mysterious.

“You like being annoying.”

Go tell Cas you’re still sore. He can fix it.

 

*

 

After the vampires, the ghost follows them on every hunt. They’ve stopped trying to hide their post-it conversations from Dean and Cas, the former of whom only tolerates Sam’s constant communiqués with the debatably undead because the spirit occasionally gives them useful hunting tips. Exactly how he got so knowledgeable Sam has no idea, but when he presses the ghost the only answer he gets is:

I am an ancient and worldly being. Tremble before me.

Beyond that, Sam finds it’s actually rather pleasant having his ghost around. Dean and Castiel appear to have gotten over whatever it was they were fighting about before and are now joined at the hip again, which mean that Sam is frequently left out of their deep and meaningful conversations. And even when he’s not—because to be fair, he’s not more often than he is, even if it doesn’t always feel that way—it’s a bit of a comfort to know that he has someone to bitch to when cabin fever inevitably sets in.

After some brutal dealings with a shapeshifter, Sam exchanges notes with his ghost until he forgets his wounds and aching bones and laughs himself to sleep.

When their attack on a witch coven goes south, it’s his ghost who tells Sam where the hex bags are before they have a chance to kill them all.

A scuffle with a kelpie leaves Sam’s hands bloody and torn, and since Cas has flitted off somewhere to retrieve ingredients for a spell, he has to ride out the pain until he returns. His ghost keeps his mind off his throbbing fingers when Dean leaves the room.

And each night Sam feels the creature’s presence beside him in his bed. He comes to think of that light pressure and that soft smell as a second blanket.

He wonders briefly when his ghost’s purpose shifted from making him miserable to making him happy. He finds he doesn’t really care.

 As for Gabriel—well, the archangel is frustrated.

He’s found that Sam’s “happy” face means more to him than “confused” or “flustered” ever did. He loves teasing him, loves making him laugh, making him feel better after a nasty night of monster-slaying and general mayhem. He could be content doing just that for the rest of Sam’s natural life. Maybe even longer.

But his inability to tell Sam who he is… it’s driving him fucking insane.

At first, yes, it had been his choice. But after the vampires Gabriel felt he owed Sam an explanation. An explanation that he had so far been physically incapable of giving.

Apparently his guess that God didn’t want him to reveal himself to Sam and the rest of the Hunter’s Ball Brigade was one hundred percent true, because every time he tries to admit the truth his mind gets away from him and his post-its wind up covered in gibberish. He couldn’t tell Sam the truth even if he wanted to. And he does want to.

He also wants to lie next to Sam for real, touch him for real, kiss that big dopey grin off his face with real lips and feel him kiss back. Whisper sweet, sexy nothings in his ear instead of sticking post-it notes to everything. Run fingers, not feelers of thought and will through his ridiculous hair. Zap him to a tropical beach somewhere for their first date, drink piña coladas and eat candy and taste sugar on Sam’s tongue as he grips that perfect ass and—

Wow. Okay. Body first, beach sex fantasies later.

Though at the rate he’s going, later is starting to look like never.

In a fit of desperation, Gabriel leaves Cas a note begging him to help him regain a body. I’ll do anything, he writes. Just stick me in some nobody and let me be alive again.

“I can’t help you,” Castiel says, “unless I know what you are.”

Come on enough with the ultimatums! You know I’m not here to hurt you or your precious Winchesters. Please Cas I’m begging you.

“It’s not an ultimatum,” his expression remains even, but his eyes are sympathetic.
“I am physically incapable of helping you possess anything, much less a human vessel, unless I know what kind of spirit you are. Even then, I don’t believe it is within the range of my powers to do anything more than coach you into a new body. I’m sorry. I do know that you mean well.”

There lay yet another dead-end.

Gabriel’s mounting anger at his Father for doing this to him is eclipsed—but only slightly—by the silver lining that this means Sam will never have the chance to drive him away. And though Gabriel had died while on decent terms with the brothers, he knows that he’s still on the hook for months of Tuesdays. Still burned into Sam’s woefully heterosexual brain as a male angel—a male ghost, even. He can make himself a woman for Sam. He can do anything for Sam. But whether or not Sam would accept him is another story… one that the archangel prefers not to think about.

In the meantime, he puts on a brave face—figuratively speaking, of course—and contents himself with staying by Sam’s side. Even curling up next to him when he sleeps. The man doesn’t seem to mind. And that’s probably the best Gabriel can hope for.

 

*

 

Dean approaches Sam where he sits at the long table in the bunker’s library, looking disgruntled as all get-out.

“So,” he says, “I guess we’ve given up on the whole getting rid of the ghost thing?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, for one, you’re playing chess with it right now.”

Dean gestures at the board before his brother. The black pieces, on the side across from Sam, are commanded by what appears to be nothing at all. One of the black knights skips forward of its own accord and takes Sam’s third to last pawn.

Sam nods. “And?”

“… You wanna maybe explain what that’s about, buddy?”

 Sam opens his mouth, but before anything comes out he feels a tickling sensation on his upper lip and finds a post-it stuck there. Dean reads it, rolls his eyes. Sam peels it off.

We’ve bonded, it says. I’m keeping him.

“Really, Sam?” Dean raises an eyebrow. “Really?

“What?”

“I get that it’s helped us out on a couple hunts. Okay, yeah, I’m grateful for that. But are you tellin’ me you’re friends with the damn thing now?”

Sam shrugs helplessly and slouches in his seat. He knows he probably looks like a petulant child right now but he doesn’t care. Whatever, whoever his ghost is, he’s still going to be the one who rushed to save Sam from those vampires. Who makes him laugh after brutal hunts, makes him feel comfortable and comforted and sane. Sam has stopped asking after his ghost’s species, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. He’s still his.

Dean sits down across from him and runs a hand over his face.

“Look, Sam, all I’m saying is be careful. At least until we know more about it.”

“Cas says he means well.”

“Sure, yeah, but do you really think it’s smart to be getting in too deep with this thing? It’s not human—hell, we don’t even know what it is. For all we know it could be playin’ us for saps.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“What the hell’s that s’posed to mean?”

Sam puts on what he hopes is a really bitchy expression. “You and Cas? I mean, he’s my friend too, but you guys ‘share a more profound bond’, remember? And last I checked, Cas wasn’t human either.”

“Th-that’s—that’s different, Sam! We know Cas; we know he’s a good guy. For fuck’s sake, he’s died for us! We don’t know anything about this… whatever the fuck it is, except that it’s occasionally helpful and it’s haunting you.”

“Well, maybe I don’t mind being haunted anymore.”

He says it quietly, evenly, but Dean still looks at him as if he’s gone insane.

“Yeah, okay, whatever man,” he says finally, standing up. He gives the chessboard the side-eye and gestures mutely as he backs out of the room, doing what Sam recognizes as his what-the-fuck-do-I-even-say-to-this dance. “Just… don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

The post-it appears almost the instant Dean has left.

Guess that means you can’t screw any angels. Damn, there goes your weekend!

“He has a point. You could be playing us.”

C’mon Sam. You know I’m too awesome to be a traitor.

“I do. But I’m just saying, he’s… he’s not wrong. I know stuff about you, but I don’t know who or what you are.”

OK all I heard there was that you agree that I’m awesome. Forgive me while I fangirl.

“I’m serious!”

There’s a pause. It stretches on for what feels like a lifetime and if Sam weren’t so well-attuned to his ghost’s presence he might’ve thought that he’d left the room. Finally, he gets a reply.

I tell you as much as I can whenever I can. But I’m not allowed to tell you exactly who or what I am. Doctor’s orders. I’m sorry.

Sam sighs, though that was more or less exactly what he’d expected to read. He tries not to be disappointed. He has learned a startling amount about his ghost, even if none of it is particularly relevant to the whole figuring-out-its-motives thing.

There’s another post-it.

I also heard that you don’t mind being haunted anymore. My, my, Sam! I don’t know if I should be flattered or scared for your sanity.

Sam smiles, gives a small laugh. “Both, probably.”

“Aw,” says a soft and mocking and horribly familiar voice. Sam feels as if all the air has been punched from his lungs. “Are you guys having a moment? Am I interrupting? I’d offer to come back later, but I guess there’s not much hanky-panky to be done when one of you doesn’t have a body.”

Lucifer is sitting across the table from Sam, in the spot where Dean was, in the spot where he imagines his ghost probably is. He leers, winks, leans forward with a conspiratorial grin.

“Hey there, Sam. Didja miss me? Oh, it’s been weeks—hell, months! I guess your ghostie’s kept you good and distracted, huh?”

It’s like the world is imploding in on him. Sam’s breathing hitches, little sparks of panic go off in his brain. He curls his hands into fists and feels his broken, bitten nails bite into the flesh of his palm, stinging where they break against that nasty scar—this is real. You got out. Lucifer’s not really here.

The hallucination clings longer than he’d like, much longer than it had the last time he’d seen the Devil lounging about the bunker. But it does disappear, and Sam lets out a low sigh of relief.

The newest post-it reads: Sam? You okay?

“Yeah,” he breathes. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

 

*

 

Sam starts to make a habit of pressing the scar on his hand. Gabriel asks him about the tic but he just shrugs and says it’s nothing. Which in Winchester-speak means that something is horribly, horribly wrong.

His suspicions grow when Sam starts to behave more skittishly, to avoid eye contact with Dean and Cas and slowly start to clam up whenever Gabriel pesters him or sends him a note. When Dean asks his angel whether Sam seems off to him at all, that’s when Gabriel knows that this is big. Because Dean more than anyone else knows the difference between Sam moping and Sam not being Sam.

Still, Gabriel can’t get a straight answer. Nobody can.

The archangel sits uncomfortably in the dark until one night when he coasts back into Sam’s bedroom after checking out a local midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. He expects Sam to be awake—his sleep schedule has never been anything other than fucked to hell—but he doesn’t expect to find him huddled in the corner, shivering and staring at the wall opposite as if it’s just started leaking blood.

Gabriel looks—there’s nothing there. But Sam sees something, that much is certain. His hands are tangled in his hair, his teeth are clenched, his eyes bloodshot… he looks as if he’s about to cry. And goddammit if that doesn’t stir up all sorts of protective, mushy feelings.

He approaches Sam, and he knows the man can sense him. He droops a little, lets his eyes dart away from the wall a second as Gabriel settles next to him.

“It’s not real,” Sam hisses. “But I can see him, I can hear him—he’s talking to me right now. I tried not to let him in but he—he—”

Gabriel gets closer, as close as he can. He lets himself envelop Sam, wrap around his shaking shoulders until the younger Winchester lets out a long, shuddery breath, relaxes, and gives a bitter laugh.

“I told him to leave,” he says, and his voice is so damn small it hurts. “And that just made it worse.”

Gabriel doesn’t need to ask who he is. He’s only caught snippets of the story of what happened when Castiel pulled Sam out of the Pit, but he’s heard enough to glean that the experience wasn’t exactly psychologically stabilizing. And he knew exactly what kind of scars his brother liked best to leave. 

“So, Lucifer, you thought you’d fuck with his head? Stick a little scrap of your vile self in there to fester? You knew he was getting out, so you made sure you got your claws in deep before he left. Of course you did. You always did get off on trying to destroy everything I ever cared about. Luci, I love you, but if I ever see you again I will fuck you up. I’m on their side, remember? I’m on his side.”

He thinks this all so loudly he might as well be screaming.

A post-it note appears on the floor in front of Sam.

You want me to rough him up a little?

Sam chokes a laugh. “Yeah, and how d’you think you’ll manage that? He’s a figment of my imagination.”

Exactly. Not having a body, I kind of have access to that sort of thing. Or I will if you let me have it. Do you trust me?

The silence is palpable. Sam licks his lips and closes his eyes.

“Yes.”

Then will you let me in?

“… Yes.”

And then Gabriel does something drastic. He enters Sam’s mind.

It’s not the same as possession. It’s more like… making a house call. You find yourself thrust into a physical manifestation of the host’s thoughts and fears and dreams, and then you get to poke around. Taking a walk around the vessel rather than actually taking the vessel.

Gabriel has done it many times before, but never with a hunter. Most people’s minds are constructed like buildings, cities, mazes, with beautiful gardens to house their lighter realms of thought and locked basements for the dark. He isn’t sure if he just hasn’t entered a mind like Sam’s before or if it’s a common side effect of having everything you ever meet try to kill you, but Sam doesn’t have gardens or basements. Sam’s mind is a freaky backwoods highway at night, a seedy motel and greasy spoon diner, all surrounded by impossibly tall trees. The only lights are the sputtering pink neon of the motel’s No/Vacancy sign and a sickly yellow glow illuminating the diner’s windows. The woods echo with the low growl of something hungry.

Gabriel looks down at himself, sees a torso and crotch and arms and legs extending down beneath his chin. This is the Trickster body, or a metaphysical facsimile thereof—he’d know it anywhere.

If only Sam could see me now.

He peers through the window of the greasy spoon and sees Lucifer sitting at the bar. An instant later he joins him.

“Hey, bro,” he chirps, pulling himself onto a stool. “How’s it hangin’?”

 

 

Sam feels an electric chill down his spine, and then the soft sensation of fullness coupled with a brain gone fuzzy with smoke. It’s not unpleasant, having his ghost inside of him—and wow, he really wishes he’d phrased that differently—it just feels sleepy.

For a moment Lucifer actually looks startled, and that alone is almost worth everything. Then his eyes turn sly.

“Just like Dean, aren’t you,” he drawls. “Sending your angel boyfriend in to do your dirty work.”

 

 

“I,” Lucifer tells Gabriel, “am not your brother.”

“Right, right. ‘Cause he’s still in the Pit, isn’t he? You’re just… what exactly are you?”

“I’m just a little something Lucifer—the real Lucifer—cobbled together as a farewell present for dear Sammy,” the hallucination shrugs. “Trauma, mostly. Self-loathing, paranoia, the seeds of madness sown by months in Hell… y’know, a bit of this, a bit of that.”

Gabriel clenches his fists so tight he can feel the skin of his palms breaking. “Yeah, he always was a massive dicklord.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“Did I say—?”

“Let’s not play games, Gabriel, we both know why you’re here. I’m not leaving. This is how Lucifer wins—wins over God, wins over the Winchesters, wins over you. I am Sam’s cross to bear, and he will carry me until his spine cracks.”

The archangel smirks.

“Aw…” he smacks Not-Lucifer’s cheek lightly. “It’s so cute when it thinks it can beat me.”

 

 

Angel boyfriend? “What are you talking about?” Sam asks before he can stop himself.

Lucifer laughs. “Oh, oh you’ve got to be joking. You mean you don’t know? Weeks of living with the damn thing and you couldn’t figure it out?” He crouches in front of Sam and leans in, giving his neck a long, obscene sniff. “Ugh, its fucking stench is all over you—you reek of sanctimonious whore. Or did you always smell like that?”

When Sam just glares at him, Lucifer shakes his head.

“Your BFF, your ghostie, the little shit you just let inside your brain,” he says slowly, as if speaking to a very young and very stupid child. “The Archangel Gabriel.”

Gabriel?

 

 

Not-Lucifer’s eyes go steely, and Gabriel’s smirk goes cold. They stare at each other for a long while, neither moving. The hallucination seems to be searching for something in Gabriel’s face, and it appears that he finds it, because suddenly he’s all drawn-back lips and teeth.

“You know what you have to do to get rid of me,” he purrs, reaching out a hand and combing his fingers through the archangel’s hair. His expression is frighteningly tender. “You know… and you’re not going to do it. You’ll just try to drive me back into the woods, put a bandaid on Sam’s head and call it a night. You’ve always been selfish, Gabriel. I know. You weren’t expecting me—him—to kill you in that motel. You were so arrogant. Aw, Gabriel… you don’t have it in you to make a real sacrifice, do you?”

Gabriel’s gut churns. He drops his eyes, leans into Lucifer’s hand. He’s right—he hadn’t expected Lucifer to see through his ruse. He had wanted to live. He had wanted to win. And for a terrifying, beautiful moment, he’d thought he could. Yes, he had died fighting the good fight, but he was no martyr. Not an intentional one, at any rate.

But the question remains: Could he become one for Sam Winchester?

He’s shaking. Not-Lucifer reaches another hand into his not-brother’s hair and draws him close, resting their foreheads against one another.

“It’s all right,” he croons, “it’s all right… I know you mean well, Gabriel, I know you want to help, but it’s all right…

Gabriel gives a low, shuddering sigh.

“No,” he whispers. “No it’s not.”

He puts his hands where Not-Lucifer’s shoulders meet his neck and pulls away slightly, looking the image of his big brother dead in the eye.

“But it will be.”

 

 

 Sam shakes his head, refusing to meet Lucifer’s gaze. The devil is still crouched beside him, his face still perilously close to Sam’s neck.

Gabriel is dead. You know he’s dead. The ghost can’t be an angel, he can’t be…

But hasn’t Sam already guessed that he is? Hasn’t he already noticed the similarities, already recognized traces of the archangel in his ghost’s behaviour? He thinks he has.

Angel. Annoying. Happy. Dead.

Lucifer’s expression hardens. “He’s in here with me,” he growls. “He’s trying to save you, aw, how sweet. How fucking precious.

He spits the word, and for all Sam knows he’s not real that hot breath and warm spittle sure as hell feels real against his throat.

“He won’t do it,” Lucifer continues. “He’s a selfish bastard. Oh, sure, he might send me away for a while, but I’ll be back. I’ll be back to ruin you, Sam.”

Sam closes his eyes, and then there’s a hand on his chest, warm and calloused.

“I’m a part of you now, Sam—not like I was before. No matter how strong you are you can’t cast me out this time… I’ll destroy you, and that pathetic excuse for an archangel will let me. Because he doesn’t care about you nearly half as much as he cares about himself.”

Sam thinks about vampires. He thinks about sleepless nights spent exchanging post-it notes, about scrawled messages on a bathroom mirror, about chess games and banter and pancakes.

He thinks about Gabriel.

Sam opens his eyes and looks straight into Lucifer’s.

“Yes, he does.”

For a moment he thinks Lucifer might actually bite him. But then something dies in the devil’s eyes, goes frightened and cold. He pulls away, shaking his head furiously.

“No, no, no,” he mutters. “No… what is he doing?

 

 

Gabriel knows that taking this madness from Sam will kill him. He has no body, no vessel, no buffer against the pain of Lucifer’s scars. There’s no way around it. He will go mad. He will burn out.

And he burns gladly, with Sam’s name on his lips.

 

 

Lucifer’s skin starts to writhe. He slaps his arm, tries to stop the creep of black through his veins, inky and red-rimmed and spreading through his body like dark worms. Sam watches, transfixed, as his flesh peels away from his bone and turns to black ash in the air. Shards of white light poke through the holes in his body.

Lucifer screams. The light flares until the whole room goes impossibly white. There’s a wet tearing sound, so loud it hurts to hear.

Then the light fades and the devil is gone.

Sam goes boneless. He collapses, and the world swims before his eyes, fringed by blurry grey and flecked with stars. His head feels lighter. His heart feels lighter. He—

He realizes, as he begins to slip into unconsciousness, that he can’t feel Gabriel anymore.

The fuzzy fullness is gone, the presence is gone, the smell is gone. There’s nothing inside of him, not even an archangel’s ghost.

Sam’s world goes dark.

 

*

 

In the end, it turns out God is a bigger romantic than He lets on.

 

*

 

Sam just can’t get used to seeing Dean and Castiel kiss in front of him.

He isn’t sure exactly when their unresolved sexual and romantic tension got… well, resolved, but he guesses it happened shortly after Gabriel defeated the hallucinatory Lucifer. He can’t be certain though, because the moment he regained consciousness he found them all a case and hadn’t had eyes for anything but monster slaying since.

The new couple doesn’t often engage in PDA, but every now and again Castiel will misread a cue and kiss Dean out of nowhere, and of course Dean kisses back because wrong signals or not he is always happy to make out with Cas. Which leaves Sam feeling awkward and alone and more than a little bit miserable.

He misses his ghost.

He misses his angel.

It’s been nearly a month since Gabriel… Sam doesn’t let himself think the word died. He knows the archangel wouldn’t have just up and abandoned him, but he still can’t admit to himself that Gabriel has died again because this time it’s just too painful. He’s not the only one avoiding the subject. Once Sam finally explained to him what had happened and who his ghost really was, Dean began walking on eggshells trying not to bring it up. Even Cas, master of the conversational faux pas, knows it’s best not to mention his late brother.

They still aren’t above kissing in front of him, though.

“Dude, I promised myself I would never say this sentence out loud, but could you two get a room?

Dean has the good grace to look sheepish as he pulls himself off his new angel boyfriend.

“Sorry, man. Hey, wait a second,” he side-eyes Sam, who is trying his best to hide behind his laptop screen. “You’re not still looking for cases, are you?”

“What if I am?”

“Oh, come on, Sam! We’ve been on the road for weeks, we just got back! Let’s just… y’know… take it slow a while. You could use a—”

“If you tell me I could use a break one more time, Dean, I swear to god I will punch you in the face.”

“Sam,” Cas says evenly, “Dean is right. If you keep going at this pace—”

“What? What’ll happen?” Sam slams his laptop shut. “Tell me, Cas, what is the worst that could happen? One less monster in the world? Some lives’ll be saved? God forbid I do my damn job.”

“Sam…”

“No, you know what, Dean? Just leave it.”

“If this is about Gabriel—”

Sam levels a dark look at his brother. “Don’t,” he growls.

Dean shakes his head. “No, man,” he says, and his voice is uncharacteristically gentle. “It’s time to face facts. Gabriel… he’s dead. And that sucks. I’m sorry that he’s gone, and I am sorry that it’s hurting you so bad. But you can’t move on like this, Sammy. You’re gonna wind up killing yourself.” 

By the time Dean finishes his sentence, Sam has already left the room. He slams and locks his bedroom door, fully aware of how childish this is, how pathetic. Since when was Dean more emotionally mature than him? When did he become the kind of person to respond to death by shutting down, revving up, burying himself in work and denial until he goes numb?

Except he hasn’t gone numb yet. He can’t switch off the ache in his heart, no matter what he does.

He leans his back against the door, slides to the ground, and tries not to cry.

“Should I… come back later?”

Sam nearly screams. He jolts to his feet in a fighting stance only to see the Archangel fucking Gabriel lounging on his bed. His mouth falls open, and his brows knot in confusion.

Gabriel smiles and lifts himself off the bed. “Hey, Sam,” he says softly.

Sam opens and closes his mouth, but he can’t speak. Literally can’t speak. His brain is fried and his heart is racing and this has to be a dream, it has to be, because Gabriel can’t possibly be alive, can’t be here in front of him, can’t have his body back, can’t be walking towards him and stopping so close there’s only inches between them…

Except he is. And it has to be real, because Sam would know that smell anywhere.

The archangel’s smile turns wry and he gives one of Sam’s biceps a squeeze.

“I have missed that beautiful beached-fish look of yours,” he chuckles. “How’ve you been, buddy?”

“How—you—you died!”

Gabriel shrugs. “I got better. And hey, you aren’t exactly in a position to question multiple resurrections.” He opens his arms wide and flashes the dumbstruck hunter a spectacular shit-eating grin. “Just enjoy.”

Sam laughs, a small, desperate thing.

Then he fists his hands in Gabriel’s shirt and crushes his mouth with a kiss.

The angel tastes like he smells, like metal and smoke. But there is something deeper there, something warm and brilliant and loving, and it envelops Sam just as Gabriel’s arms envelop him. Teasing lips and a wicked tongue wreak havoc on his senses and Sam is drowning in Gabriel.

They are drowning in each other.

When they finally come up for air, they don’t exactly get around to letting each other go. Gabriel gulps, his hands still on the taller man’s neck, and shakes his head.

“Sam,” he murmurs, “there’s something I wanna say. I—I’ve been meaning to say it for a… long time…”

Sam’s heart is thudding in his chest so hard he can barely breathe.

Gabriel looks up at him, meets his gaze. There is so much goddamn naked affection in his eyes, and Sam can only hope that the same is reflected back in his own. Even if he can’t make himself say it—which he highly doubts he can—he wants Gabriel to know that he has well and truly fallen for him. That he loves him.

The archangel clears his throat. “What I’ve wanted… what I’m trying to say is…”

He smirks.

“Boo.”

Sam rolls his eyes and tries not to be disappointed. Which isn’t difficult, because Gabriel’s smirk softens, and he pulls him down for another, gentler kiss, and Sam knows full well that he is loved right back.