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Your Bottle Is Empty (But Your Glass Has Been Filled)

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Sam stumbles sleepily into the diner. It's four in the afternoon on a rainy day in Pennsylvania and he's not sure what meal he's buying, though it's not like it really matters. Food is food, and diner food is as all purpose as it gets. Sam heads up to the counter, asks if they'll make something to go and it's not like anyone ever says no, but he feels like it's polite to ask. He orders burgers and fries and pie and takes a seat on the worn leather stool, propping his elbows up on the counter.

Someone slides a cup of coffee in front of him. "Thanks," Sam says. When he looks up, he's looking at the Trickster - Gabriel - though Sam's not sure if knowing his other name really changes anything. Gabriel, who winks at him and retreats into the kitchen. The coffee is fantastic, sweet and rich, and Sam drinks the whole cup in just a few swallows. Gabriel comes back out with his order, wrapped in a paper bag and Sam wants to ask him a hundred questions, but the expression on Gabriel's face is both amused and stern and so Sam doesn't try, just goes on instinct and plays along.

"You want more coffee for the road?" Gabriel asks.

Before Sam can even nod, Gabriel snaps and Sam's holding a fresh styrofoam cup .

"Thanks," Sam says again. Gabriel shrugs and Sam waits, but when Gabriel doesn't turn Sam's coffee into a rubber chicken or anything, Sam heads back to the car. He feels someone watching him, but when he turns and looks, there's no one in sight.

Dean unwraps his burger as soon as Sam hands him the bag and he takes a bite and then punches Sam hard in the shoulder.

"What?" Sam asks, feeling guilty even though he knows that Dean can't know about Gabriel, so he can't be mad that Sam didn't at least try to shoot him.

"What's this?" Dean shoves the burger in Sam's face. Sam sniffs it, takes a bite.

"It's a spinach panini," Sam says, handing it back to Dean.

"What did I do to deserve a fucking spinach panini?" He shoves the sandwich in Sam's general direction. By all accounts, Dean should like the panini - it may have spinach, but it's greasy and cheesy, except that there's no meat and Dean's pride is probably hurt by saying the word panini. Dean rifles around in the bag once Sam takes the panini, which he definitely didn't order.The problem is, the other thing Dean pulls out is a salad, spring mix with what's probably a delicious light vinaigrette.

"What the fuck, Sam?"

"I guess the panini's for me, then," Sam says. "Maybe I'm not the only one who thinks you need to take better care of your health."

Sam's not sure if explaining is going to get him into more trouble, but he tries anyway. All that happens is that Dean doesn't believe him, and eats his panini in angry silence. The coffee keeps Sam warm and awake as he watches Pennsylvania slip by and Dean fumes.

It's two salads and a piece of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting that Sam takes away from the place they stop at the next day. Sam only sees Gabriel's smile briefly from behind the swinging doors.

"Go back in there and tell them this isn't steak sandwiches," Dean says. He refuses to start the car until Sam does. Sam sees no sign of Gabriel the second time. He places another order and checks the sandwiches before he leaves, they're exactly what he ordered, but when he gets back to the car, he's holding two salads. Dean looks like he's about to lose it.

"I swear, if you're pranking me - " he says.

"I'm not," Sam says quickly. "I don't want another salad, I already had one for lunch."

That seems to convince Dean that Sam's not behind the abundance of leafy greens and starts the car.

"We can split the carrot cake," Sam says.

"I fucking hate that guy," Dean says.

Dean doesn't have long to bitch about the salad, because Castiel appears in front of the car just as they're pulling out.

"Jesus, be careful, Cas, I could have run you over," Dean says as Castiel climbs into the backseat.

"You were not going to hit me," Castiel says. "I believe I have a lead on the plans of the doomsday cult."

"You mean besides the fact that they're right?" Dean says. "It is the apocalypse."

"They believe they have several more years to prepare," Castiel says.

The doomsday cult Castiel has been investigating was having an alarming growth in recruitment, and the towns they sprung up in were experiencing a corresponding number of unsolved disappearances. Castiel had gone to one of the towns to see if he could make a connection between the disappearances and the strange graffiitti that had also been reported. His investigation revealed the cult was way more persuasive than might be expected from recruiters with "Are You Prepared?" silk-screened t-shirts and ink-smudged flyers.

"The graffiitt is in actuality demonic sigils which amplify thought control," Castiel says.

"So they're mind-whammying people?" Dean asks.

"Yes," Castiel says, "Which is why Sam should have as little involvement in the search as possible," Castiel says.

"Yeah, ok," Dean says immediately.

"I'm right here," Sam protests. "I'm not taking a vacation."

"Caution is required, with Lucifer looking for you," Castiel says. He slides from side to side in the backseat like he's not sure where to settle.

"Fine," Sam says, because he's not sure what else there is to say, what else he can do but agree. Mind-control is the last thing he needs.

"Where to, Cas?" Dean asks.

"New York," Castiel says. "If you park the car over - "

"Sam's driving," Dean says, opening his door and getting out to switch. Sam apparently doesn't get a say in this either. Castiel peers into the front seat where Dean is settling comfortably into the passenger seat and picking out the tomatoes and the cucumber slices from his salad. "What are you eating?"

"Want some salad?" Sam asks him.

Castiel looks up at Dean, their eyes meeting in the rear view mirror. Dean shakes his head.

"No," Castiel says.

They stop in Pottstown, because Dean claims he's hungry, even though it's only been a few hours since the salad that clearly he's still bitter about. Sam's grumpy because he suspects Dean's deliberately parked about as far from the door as possible, because it's raining and Dean is a dick. Besides, Sam had been asleep and now he's soaked. He's wiping his face with his shirt sleeve and gets a slice of walnut pie, still warm, with melting whipped cream offered to him before he even sits down. He looks up at Gabriel, who's just standing there, looking back.

"How are you even finding us?" Sam asks. "And why are you giving me pie?" Gabriel grins at him. If he doesn't say anything, Sam's going to think this is all in his head and he's still asleep in the Impala dreaming about pie and an archangel who may or may not be trying to lull Sam into a false sense of security. And possibly a sugar coma so that he can trick Sam into pissing Dean off with more vegetables. Sam takes a bite of the pie. It's amazing.

"Just trying to keep you well fed, Sam, which, considering how enormous you are, isn't an easy task." Gabriel looks Sam up and down.

Sam bites back a size joke, and says, "I'm fine, really."

But Gabriel's gone.

Sam brings back three salads to the car.

"You need cut this shit out," Dean says, like it's all Sam's fault. Sam's really glad he decided not to mention the pie.

Sam never tells Dean the whole story about the six months in Broward County that didn't actually happen, of all that time he spent searching for the Trickster, the plans he had, all the ways he was going to beg for him to bring Dean back. It was as though those six months had never happened. Sam had collected months of life without his brother, but then he was back, and so Sam had never really learned Gabriel's lesson. He just tucked it all away, didn't look too closely at who he became without Dean because all that mattered was that Dean was back.

Only two people knew that wasn't true, and Ruby was dead. Sam felt safer having called Gabriel on his own deception, like he had the higher moral ground again. Except that he'd let Dean do all the talking, because Sam was sure all the wrong words would come out. The more Gabriel talked, the more Sam kept finding familiar, how much he loved his family, how much the constant fighting tore him apart.

The six months that never actually happened were uncomfortably like blood addiction, in how a single, clear goal drove Sam the way nothing else could, gave him the motivation he needed to do the things he had to do. And Sam had done a lot of questionable things. He stretched himself thin those months, chasing even a hint of the Trickster, killing everything he found in his way, taking on hunts he never should have been able to pull off alone, never would have tried if he wasn't stupid with grief, driven by the knowledge that if he could just find the Trickster again, he could get him to bring Dean back.

He learned everything about Tricksters, what the signs were, what to look for. Pranks and just desserts, but more subtle things, too, the kinds of people he liked to pretend to be to blend in. The kind of places he liked to stay. The kind of food left behind in a hide-out after he'd visited his vicious sense of humor on a town. Sam realized they had to be clues he was leaving deliberately, the closed circuit camera shots, the eyewitness accounts that were too detailed. Sam wasn't that good a tracker, not of someone this strong.

He became so fixated that it was hard to stop thinking about it, weeks past, when he'd forget for a moment that it was over, that Dean was right there next to him asleep in the next bed. It was hard not to turn the search for crossroad demon lore back toward that single vein of Trickster sign posts, so confident he could a way out of Dean's deal in exactly the same way he'd found the Trickster again. He'd still turn and follow the person on the opposite side of the street with his profile, look too hard at anyone who seemed just a little bit off, like they too were an illusion.

Sam had just tried to forget it all, tucking it away into the place he reserved for nightmares, where even if he was unpleasantly reminded of something that had happened during the six months of his life he didn't actually live, he didn't have to believe it was real. Until they were back on the trail in Wellington, of course. Sam knew it was the Trickster way before Dean ever made the connection, and Sam wasn't about to explain why he knew. There would have been too much he wouldn't have even known how to say.

"You think he's just, like, checking up on us?" Sam asks as it starts to get dark. "Still trying to convince us to play our roles?" Castiel is quiet, as though he's asleep, which Sam knows he's not. If Cas has any thoughts on the subject, he keeps them to himself. After their time in TV Land, Sam wonders if Gabriel watched the time Sam spent chasing him like a prime time drama.

"I don't know, man," Dean says, his thumb tapping out a rhythm on the steering wheel. "I can't see him and not expect something insane to come around the corner bite us in the ass."

Sam can't see him and not think about the pained way he'd admitted his real name, the way Sam felt like he already knew too much about him.

Sam thinks of the way Gabriel's face looked in the holy fire light, sad and powerful.

Sam falls asleep somewhere in the middle of the state. In the dream, they're parked underneath one of the piers of a giant bridge. Dean and Castiel aren't anywhere to be seen. Sam's walking toward the Impala when he hears a voice that makes his stomach sour with panic.

"You know it's not actually the blood you're addicted to, Sam," Lucifer says. Sam turns and Lucifer's behind him, gathering pieces of wood from the riverbank, holding them in his arms and then setting them down in a circle like he's making a campfire.

"Leave me alone," Sam says. Lucifer just continues to lift pieces of wood carefully, looking for ones which could fuel the best fire.

"It's the power," Lucifer says. "What you taste, what you crave. It's the power, not some magic in the blood."

"Then why do I get stronger when I have it, if there's nothing in it?"

"Oh, I didn't say there was nothing in it." Lucifer starts collecting rocks to set around his bundle of wood. Sam thinks, hysterically, of saying "Only you can prevent forest fires."

"It's just like you and me, Sam," Lucifer says. "Like calls to like."

"We're nothing alike," Sam says. Lucifer lights the kindling with a snap of his fingers and Sam jerks awake.

"You ok, Sammy?" Dean says.

They're pulling into a gas station. "We just stopped for gas," Sam says. "Unless I was asleep a lot longer than I thought?"

"Cas thought the building next door might be one of the meet-up places for new cult recruits. We're gonna go take a look. Why don't you go keep an eye on the store clerk," Dean says.

"Ok," Sam says. He should be angry at the clear dismissal, but Lucifer's words, and the bright fire at his feet, are still in his head.

Sam likes churches but he never liked mass. It felt like there were too many people who shared some secret Sam would never understand, but churches themselves were like gateways, or an open door, and every time Sam walked through, he felt he was someplace where he'd get answers. Sam was always looking for a sense of balance. All the pain, all the evil, ghosts and demons, spirits and hurt, Sam knew there was another side of that equation, something that balanced it out. There had to be. Every ritual Sam learned worked on balance. One thing fell at the power of another, one thing got more powerful when you gave it what it was missing. Sam got his idea of God from filling in the blank spaces. God was the opposite of evil. God was the thing that made prayers mean something. Dad never talked about it, Dean never talked about it, even Pastor Jim left the big questions out of conversation when he was watching Sam, focusing on the practical things that made hunters stronger. But Sam gathered enough over the years to pull together a personal theology, a belief system made up of educated guesses and enough faith to carry him along. They used holy water, salt for purity, prayers in Latin - the opposite of dark was light, so Sam never had any trouble believing God was out there, God was watching over him, listening, guiding him out of trouble. Every hunt they made it through, every time Dad came back when it didn't seem like he would, every time Dean said something dismissive that Sam knew meant he cared, that was God's work.

Sam didn't have set rules, and that worked for him. When Dean came back from Hell, it was just another blank to fill in, some way to accommodate Castiel, the existence of Lucifer. Even when he was wrong, when an angel wouldn't touch him because he was polluted with demon blood, Sam could work around it. It was as though it was just a chapter Sam had skipped in a book, something to go back and reconsider. He figured it was the same with Gabriel; even if he had read that book, well, sometimes books got it wrong.

"You know, it's funny," Gabriel says, trying on sunglasses inside the store. Dean and Castiel are just in his sight outside, examining sigils on what looks like a pay phone. Sam has never spent so much time caring about graffiti in his life. "You're still trying to be something you never were. It's about as effective as me thinking these," he taps the sunglasses, "would work as a disguise." Sam looks petulantly at the selection of pretzels. He picks up a bag of honey-wheat sticks. "Who am I to talk, I know, I know," Gabriel says.

"I'm a hunter," Sam says, though as usual with Gabriel he gets the sense he's already misunderstood the conversation before they've even had it.

"Yes, you are," Gabriel says, "And you're also sitting in the backseat while my little brother and your big brother run the case."

Sam stares at him. "That's not - "

"Lucifer's going to find you, outside of your dreams, whether or not you're keeping your head down. What you should probably be doing is preparing to face him," Gabriel says casually. Sam gets the creeping feeling up his neck when he realizes Gabriel knows about the dreams. He wants to ask how, he wants to argue, and though Sam had been saving up questions, they all seem to escape him when Gabriel looks up at him, wearing a pair of aviators too expensive to be found in a gas station. "How do I look?"

The sun glints in through the window, sharp and warm over Gabriel's face.

"Good," Sam stutters out. "Good."

Gabriel flashes him a smile, pulls the glasses down over his nose, and says, "Did you ever think that all I wanted to do was help you?" It sounds like an admonishment and it stings like an insult, like Sam's stupidly come to the wrong conclusion. But before Sam can answer, he's gone.

Sam sits inside the Impala and wonders what exactly Gabriel thinks he is trying to help him with. It's hard to think that anyone who put him through losing Dean all those times could have been trying to help, but what happened after, when he actually lost Dean, was darker than he ever could have imagined. So maybe Gabriel had been trying to help him prepare for that. To not start down the path that would bring the apocalypse. It's an uncomfortable thought, and Sam sits with it, prodding it like a wound that won't heal, and it scares him and hurts him in equal measure. When he closes his eyes in the sun, he thinks of Gabriel's sunglasses, and the way his mouth quirked around the smile, wondering why he was still around now, after everything Sam had done.

Dean and Castiel have gone to follow a lead about a community art project that was halted because of someone's inclusion of "demonic" symbols, and Sam got laundry duty. He looks down at the pile that Dean's left with him, and the crumpled shirt makes him think, unbidden, of Castiel's crumpled trench coat, the blood at the corner of his mouth the time he passed out on the motel bed.Team Free Will wasn't anything new to Sam. Picking the losing side of choosing his own path was Sam's whole life, a hundred small decisions to claim his life as his own, and he kept coming down on the side of free will no matter how often someone told him there wasn't any such thing.

Sam had heard it forever: this is who we are, this is what we do. He never really believed it, which was why he kept trying to derail the plan, but the thing was, Dean always had. Team Free Will was a new thing for Dean, raw and painful. New for Castiel in a harsher, more painful way. Sam feels like he isn't really like either of them. Dean chose free will for his family, for the world. Castiel chose it for Dean. Sam chose it for himself. He feels like his way is the less admirable one.

"There's a reason he was called the light-bringer." Gabriel appears, suddenly folding one of Sam's towel in perfect thirds. "There's a reason people find him so attractive."

"When you say attractive," Sam says, accidentally adding too much soap to his load. "It sounds like you mean, attractive."

Gabriel just looks at him.

"I mean, like, good-looking. A head-turner. Not, like, attractive in a way that makes sin seem appealing."

"I mean all of those things," Gabriel says.

"So, what, you're worried Lucifer's going to turn me on?" Sam hopes this is a metaphor because he doesn't really like the idea that they're talking about this.

"Do you even know what turns you on?" Gabriel says. Sam scoffs but Gabriel shrugs. "Because he does. And he'll use it. He'll flirt with you for as long as it takes."

Sam really, really hopes he doesn't mean literal flirting.

"I'm not that easy," Sam says. Gabriel hands him a stack of folded towels and Sam can't help but press his face into them, the cotton soft and rough at the same time against his face. Sam inhales deeply and feels the warming sense of contentment settle into his chest.

"You're easy," Gabriel says, nodding at the towels, the way Sam's still kind of rubbing the edge of one of them against his face.

He's gone the next moment.

Sam presses his face into the towels one more time, and of course that's when Dean comes in.

"Quit wiping your face all over my towel," he says.

Sam would throw them at Dean if he didn't think Dean would purposefully miss and let them drop all over the floor.

The clues Castiel gathers from the next payphone take them through Ohio and Indiana. Sam only barely understands why they're heading southwest, and he wonders if he's just not listening or if Castiel's not even bothering to tell him. They stop for the night just as they get into Kentucky.

While Dean and Castiel sit at the bar, Gabriel appears in the booth where Sam's sitting with his laptop. The light's shadowed over his face, but if there was any doubt who it was, the red licorice he's chewing gives him away. He's wearing a leather jacket that's soft where it rubs against Sam's arm.

"Hey," he says, like he didn't just pop into the booth, stuff the rest of his licorice into his mouth and reach for Sam's beer.

"Hey," Sam says, not in hello but in protest. Gabriel sets down his beer, but his hand's still on it.

"Just a sip?" He says. When Sam doesn't say no, Gabriel grins and takes a long sip. Sam really, really tries not to watch him swallow. "Good," he says, and Sam can't help but think of the last time he said that, the time in the gas station with the sunglasses. Gabriel's smiling at him in a way that looks more pleasant than mischievous, and Sam is even more confused.

"How're your dreams?" Gabriel asks conversationally. He takes another sip of Sam's beer, this time without even asking. Sam lets him.

Sam shrugs. There's been no Lucifer for a few nights, but no restful dreams, either, as though even as he dreamed he was worried of what would happen.

"You'd sleep better in a better motel," Gabriel says.

"It's not like there are ever better motels."

"So steal a house for the night."

Sam just looks at him.

"You make things so hard for yourself," Gabriel says. "Crappy motels, sleeping in the car. This beer," he says, taking another sip.

"You seem to like it all right," Sam says.

"Here," Gabriel says after a moment. He hands Sam a hotel key card.

"Why are you giving me your hotel key?" Sam asks, turning it over like there's something hidden on the other side.

Gabriel rolls his eyes. "Like I need to stay in a hotel. It's your new room. Whenever you want it."

"We're only in town for the night," Sam says.

Gabriel's expression is a mask of derision. "It's a magic key, genius. When. Ever. You want."

Sam looks at Gabriel and before he can say a stunned thanks, Gabriel says, "It's just for you, not for Dean and my little brother. No sharing." Sam is even more puzzled.

"Is this some kind of....."

"Trick? Like I'd tell you if it was, it would ruin it," he says. And then, "Look, I could zap you away to any number of places, I'm just trying to give you the option of something better than that crappy motel."

"Wait, you've been to the motel?"

Gabriel just stares at him like Sam's totally missing the point, which, Sam will be the first to admit, he totally is.

"I just want you to get a good night's sleep."

Sam turns, scans the bar. He's not sure what he's looking for. "That's really - nice. And hard to believe."

"So try it and see just how much I'm pulling one over on you."

This is the point in the conversation he'd normally angel out. But he's still there, drinking Sam's beer.

"Thanks," Sam says. "Dean'll be pissed." Gabriel laughs like that's the whole point. "Will you be there?" Sam asks and the words are out of his mouth before he realizes how they sound.

Gabriel's mouth is open in comic shock. "Sam Winchester, I'm out of your league."

Sam totally blushes and tries to cover it by drinking his beer, but Gabriel reaches for it at the same time and their fingers collide and then tangle, and then Gabriel's thumb brushes very deliberately over the back of Sam's hand.

Sam wants to make a remark about how Gabriel just told him he was out of his league, but his mouth is dry. He looks up into Gabriel's face and isn't sure what he reads there, but Gabriel's fingers are brushing over his knuckles. Dean comes over just then, and Sam wonders if that too was part of the trick to piss Dean off, if Gabriel's just flirting with him to get a rise out of Dean. Sam snatches his hand away and Dean looks like he's about to reach for the knife at his belt when Sam puts his hands up in caution.

"It's ok," Sam says quickly. "It's ok, don't - "

"Don't what?" Gabriel asks, looking between Dean and Sam. "Your brother's not keeping the ingredients for a holy barbecue in his pockets, is he?"

Sam shoots a look at Gabriel that's as close as he can manage 'play nice' and he wonders why he's even bothering.

"Dean, what's going - " Castiel says, appearing at Dean's side as though his reaching for the knife tugged some sort of invisible rope at Castiel's awareness. "Gabriel," Castiel says. It's more an observation than a hello.

Gabriel just nods at them both.

"So what is he doing here?" Dean says, sliding into the both, leaning toward Sam as though Gabriel isn't there. Castiel is still standing at the table.

"Just visiting," Gabriel says. "In fact, I think it's time I go. Sleep well tonight, Sam."

"You don't have to leave," Castiel bursts out. Everyone turns to stare at him. He seems to lose some of his certainly, and ducks to join Dean in the booth as Dean slides over. Sam gets the distinct impression from the look they're sharing that they've talked about this, without Sam, and apparently come to some sort of decision that he's been entirely left out of.

Gabriel snaps and beers appear, one each in front of Dean and Castiel and another in front of Sam.

"Thanks," Dean says, nice and awkward, and takes a pull of his beer so he doesn't have to say anything else. Castiel does not even hesitate, just lifts his to his mouth and sips.

A breathe later, Deans actually swallows. "Nice sparkling water," Dean says.

"Strawberry," Gabriel says.

Dean actually takes another sip.

Sam looks over at Gabriel, to see what he thinks of this new development, but he's already looking at Sam, and so when they catch one other's eyes, instead of being cheery camaraderie, there's a quick, tense moment of - something, before Gabriel blinks and says, "Have your beer, Sam," and disappears.

Dean and Castiel have some sort of barely-verbal scuffle just outside the bar about the hotel key card, which Sam wishes he hadn't told them about. Sam points out that this isn't a booty call, and that he doesn't see anything wrong with indulging Gabriel's whim if their goal is still to get him on their side, or at the very least, keep him entertained enough to not cause them any more trouble.

The problem is that when Sam says the words "booty call," Dean glares at him like he wants to punch him.

"You don't have to give him anything just because - " Dean makes an undefinable gesture.

Sam's really uncomfortable with the way his brother says, "give him."

"But Cas thinks it's a good idea, so - " Dean trails off.

Sam looks at Castiel but his face is unreadable. "Do you know why he'd give me this?"

Castiel shakes his head almost imperceptibly. Sam can't tell if it's a yes or a no.

"Okay then," Sam says.

Sam waits until they are 20 miles down the road the next day before he brings Gabriel up. He says into the silence between Zeppelin songs, "Wanting to sleep with me isn't the same as wanting to help me."

Dean slams his open palm against the steering wheel. "Are we seriously having this conversation?"

"I believe they are one in the same," Castiel says helpfully. "For my brother," he adds belatedly.

Dean shifts in his seat like he's thinking about pulling the car over and ordering them both out.

"He's just playing a game with me," Sam says. It's pathetic as reassurances go.

"Sammy, if you're playing sex chicken with this guy, I think you're gonna lose."

Sam is no longer sure what winning in this scenario actually means.

They make it through Iowa, Wisconsin and four different doomsday cults over three days. Only one of the cults was using sigils, but not the ones they were looking for, just copies from a scrubbed clean for general audiences demonic encyclopedia they found in the library. The second cult turned out to be simply a yoga club, the third, art students, and the fourth cult - well, they had to kill the leader, but that was because he was a vampire. So they were all misguided, or stupid, or both, but none of them were kidnapping people or channeling amounts of demonic energy. As they cross through Minnesota, Castiel makes them stop at pay phones at intervals, and Dean scans the local papers until he picks up a clue.

Dean's clue lead them to a new condo complex in Fergus Falls, where there are reports of odd symbols showing up on foundation walls. Sam tries to offer a few theories, but Dean thinks it's some hunter gone rogue and Castiel thinks it might be an angel protecting a charge, and they're too busy trying to disprove one another that they don't seem to hear a word Sam says. They don't need Sam to pretend to be code inspectors, and so Sam sits on the edge of the stone wall on the east side of the development, trying not to feel left out. The sun's warm if the air's chilly and for just a moment, he thinks about Gabriel.

He appears with a steaming mug which he hands to Sam.

"You brought me hot chocolate?" Sam says, dubious, but when he takes a sip, it's the most delicious, warming drink Sam's ever had, like coming in from a snowstorm to a warm house. "Really good hot chocolate," Sam says.

"Of course," he says, then he looks closer at Sam. "You missed me," he says, pleased.

Sam tries to shrug it off, but he takes another sip of the hot chocolate and warmth fills him up and he sighs contentedly. And then Gabriel's hand is on the back of his neck. Sam let's his head drop back into the touch.

"You really missed me," he says. He strokes his fingers up and Sam makes a noise in this throat that he can't help. "You could have just called. Here," he says and then he's pulling Sam forward, rubbing his shoulders. Sam feels instantly better, calmer, but also, he doesn't trust the feeling, because -

"Wanting something is not the same as being addicted to it," Gabriel murmurs against Sam's ear. "Needing to be touched isn't the same as needing a fix."

"But are you sure?" Sam says, thinking about how much he wants, how much he's wanted before and how it never went right.

"I've been around a long time, Sam, I'm sure," he says. He slides his hand across Sam's neck one more long lingering time before he says, "Gotta run." And then disappears. Dean and Castiel appear a moment later.

"Some kid with a spell book," Dean says. He's holding the spell book in question and a can of orange spray paint.

Castiel appears to have some of the spray paint on his hands and across his shoes.

"Dude, where'd you get the china?" Dean asks. Sam realizes he's still holding the cup of hot chocolate. Realization creeps over his face. "Your boyfriend brought you hot chocolate?"

"He's not my - " Sam stops because - well, actually, maybe he sort of is. Dean notices what Sam isn't saying, and he punches him hard on the shoulder.

Castiel looks to Dean, who just shakes his head reassuringly. Sam's amazed in that moment how much of a secret language they've developed.

"So if you're over your gay identity crisis, can we get in the car?" Dean says.

Sam asks if they're ever going to let him see any of the sigils so he might actually be able to do some research, and he's just asking because he's reached his limit of being quietly useless. But he hits a nerve he didn't even know was there and he and Dean are immediately in the middle of another shouting match. Sam channels all of his feelings of passivity, built up over days and days of a case he's basically on the bench for and his ever-increasing bewilderment over Gabriel's reappearances, into accusations that Dean's doing worse than keeping him on too tight a leash. Dean tries to say there's nothing he's keeping from Sam, but it's too bald a lie and so he tries again to say it's for his own good. They've shouted themselves into silence by the time they reach the motel for the night, but it's a heavy, uncomfortable one and the car's barely stopped moving before Sam's opening the door, anxious to get away, anywhere. He feels the keycard burning in his pocket like something he ought to have already forgotten about, but it's in his hand when Dean checks them in, and unlocks the room. Sam hangs a few steps behind Dean so the door closes behind him, and instead of opening it with the key Dean had tossed to him, Sam holds out the keycard.

The door pops open, just a crack, and when Sam reaches for the handle, steps inside, he's in an entirely different building, soft yellow lights, plush carpet, something like fresh citrus in the air. Everything's framed with a cityscape glinting against an orange sky.

Gabriel's sitting on the couch in front of the TV, his shoes off, his feet tucked up under him. He looks as though he's been there for hours.

"Hey," Gabriel says, super casual, like Sam didn't just use a magical keycard to turn his crappy motel room into a room that sparkles with glass and steel.

Sam toes off his shoes, sets his bag down, looks around.

"Wow," Sam says. "It's....." Sam's eyes fall on a small set of ceramic figures on the table, a man in a tuxedo and a woman in a white dress, holding a banner between them that reads, "Congratulations!" There's a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice and two glasses. "Is this the honeymoon suite?"

Sam's phone rings and Sam fumbles for it in his pocket. "Where are you?" Dean demands when he answers.

"At uh, at a hotel."

"You used the card, Sam, what is wrong with you?"

He hears a hushed exclamation that Sam can only imagine is Castiel.

"Ok, whatever," Dean says, "You need some space, I get it. You better not be 5 states away. You call if - " Dean doesn't finish the sentence.

"Ok," Sam says. Sam's not even sure why Dean doesn't pick their fight back up right now. Sam wonders if this means he's won.

"Your brother doesn't like me," Gabriel says conversationally. He turns off the TV with a snap.

"Don't take it personally. He doesn't trust me," Sam says. The fact that Sam's given him no reason to gets left out.

"Is that why you're here?"

"I just needed to get away," Sam says. He's noticing for the first time how Gabriel's eyes haven't left him since he first opened the door.

"You should check out the shower," Gabriel says, and Sam's not even surprised that Gabriel knows how Sam likes to get into the shower after he's spent the day on the road. "It's like standing under a waterfall."

Sam is momentarily blinded by the chrome and the shine of the tiles when he flicks on the light in the bathroom. The shower's practically a whole room. When he looks over his shoulder to say something about it to Gabriel, he's not there.

The shower's entirely surrounded by clear frameless glass, and Sam knows before he's even undressed and under the spray that it will like being on display. He forgets about it though, when the steam fills up the bathroom because the shower is like a waterfall, and also like a full-body massage. He could stay in here forever, without Dean banging on the door, without feeling like there's something else he ought to be doing.

He's also bracing for the punch line. It comes when he opens his eyes and Gabriel's sitting on the edge of the sink. "I'm not trying to trick you right now," he says, before Sam can even accuse him of anything, "but that doesn't mean I've lost my sense of humor."

"See through shower," Sam says, "Ha ha," trying to turn in a way that makes him feel the least exposed.

"You're lucky I don't have a camera. Oh wait, I do!" he says and with a snap there's one in his hands. Sam doesn't hear a flash, but it's probably because he's trying to erase everything by pressing his face into the shower stream.

Gabriel's gone again when Sam turns off the tap. He's suddenly exhausted, and his hair is still wet when he lays down on the absurdly large bed, pushing aside the dozen roses tied with a white ribbon. He's only going to close his eyes for a moment.

Sam wakes from his half-sleep - it's still dark. When he reaches over to look at his watch, he sees it's 3:00. When he turns back, Gabriel's on the other side of the bed. Fully clothed, on top of the sheets, just appearing there.

"Woah," Sam says.

"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you," Gabriel says, except that it's obviously exactly what he wanted.

"So," Sam says, because he's not sure what's going on, but he feels like this is the catch. He's suddenly wide awake when Gabriel rolls onto his side, rests his head on his arm, and looks up at Sam.

"So, " Gabriel says. "Here we are. You've had a hot shower and good place to sleep, what more could a Winchester need?"

Gabriel's suddenly closer. Sam says, "Listen, I don't know - "

"Oh, you don't know, Sam? You don't know?" Gabriel's hand is on Sam's arm, and though Sam thinks he's going to touch him, Gabriel just tugs at the edge of the sheet. Sam's stomach is suddenly cold from the draft.

"Why are you - "

And then Gabriel's touching him, hand flat over his stomach. Sam gasps. "Maybe I think this will help you sleep."

"Why do you care how I sleep?" If Sam thought he was having trouble focusing on what's going on, it's worse when Gabriel is leaning over him. "If this is some, albeit very strange attempt to get me to say yes to Lucifer - "

And all the breath is knocked out of Sam because Gabriel's straddling him, his legs heavy, his jeans rough against Sam even through the expensive sheets. "Sam," Gabriel says, like anything here is perfectly reasonable. "Are you really that thick?" Gabriel rolls his hips in a way that makes the sentence mean something else entirely.

"I"m just playing along," Sam says, though with much less guile than if it were true.

"Just because I'm touching you doesn't make this anything like what happened with Ruby." Sam can feel Gabriel's breath on his neck. The mention of Ruby is a sharp jab of shame at his mistake, and fear of making the same mistake again. Of not having the power to know better, to know the difference, to know when he's wrong.

"You don't really - " Sam starts but Gabriel rolls his hips again and touches his wet, hot mouth to Sam's neck. Sam makes a completely undignified noise.

"Care to reconsider what you were about to say?"

Gabriel sucks on Sam's neck again, slides his fingers into the tight muscles of Sam's shoulders in a way that makes Sam gasp.

"This all just a little.....abrupt," Sam manages to say. It's not the word he was going for but it's appropriate nonetheless.

"Not tonight, then," Gabriel says. He presses the side of his face to Sam's, and Sam has a moment to note that his cheek's hot, and Gabriel's gone.

Sam lies there, panting into the dark, wondering what the hell is going on.

When he opens the door the next morning to look around, he's looking into the parking lot of the motel. He grabs his things, and let's the door close behind him. When tries the door again, it's unlocked and opens up to Dean and Castiel's room. They look up at Sam, surprised and expectant. Sam shakes his head before Dean can ask him anything. He doesn't want to talk about it. He could have at least used another turn in the waterfall shower.

There's a reason Dean isn't pushing him, but Sam can't quite put his finger on it. It's something about the way Dean is looking at Castiel, and Castiel is looking at the sheets pulled back on the motel bed, and the fact that it's morning and it seems less like Castiel has just come back and more like he never left.

Sam's startled out of trying to decode what's going on by his phone ringing.

"Hey Sam," Chuck says when he answers. Chuck sounds as nervous and manic as usual, and it's never reassuring to hear from a guy who's writing your future. Sam's never sure what they're supposed to talk about and most of the time he thinks Chuck isn't sure either.

"Hey Chuck," Sam says. Both Dean and Castiel freeze. "Everything ok?" Sam asks, realizing belatedly that Chuck's got an archangel on him 24/7 and he's probably not manifesting hot chocolate for him.

"Yeah," Chuck says distractedly. Sam nods at Dean and Castiel, who go back to their silent conversation, though Castiel looks a little twitchy. Sam can't blame him after the last time he was with Chuck. "Yeah, everything's fine here, or, you know, nothing's different. Listen, Sam, about Gabriel - "

Sam chokes. Dean and Castiel look up, and Sam waves them off. Shit, it means Chuck knows everything. Of course he knows everything, Chuck always - Sam realizes Chuck's talking again and he hasn't been listening. "....none of my business, man, really, I wish it were none of my business, but - look, he's the Trickster! I had to write every single time he killed Dean. It was 300 pages in one day! My fingers cramped up. I still can't listen to Asia without having flashbacks, ok?"

"Yeah," Sam says. It's disturbing how Chuck knows more about that day - those months - than anyone. "Wait, Chuck, do you know something? Is something going to happen tonight?"

And Dean's totally staring at him now, and Castiel's looking between Dean and Sam like he wishes cell phones didn't exist.

"I don't know, man," Chuck says miserably.

"You don't know or you can't say?" Sam tries to whisper.

"I don't know what I can say! He likes kissing," Chuck says the last part almost incomprehensibly fast, like he's desperate to get it over with, which makes Sam wonder if Chuck prophesied this phone call and he's been dreading having to say it.

"I mean, who doesn't?" Sam thinks it's not the right thing to say because Chuck makes a pained sound.

"No, I mean, he really likes it. He has an oral fixation," Chuck says, and Sam can feel him wincing his way through the words. "What do you think all the candy's about?"

"Uh," Sam says. 'Why're you - why're you telling me this?"

Chuck coughs.

There's a brief flurry of hushed voices where Chuck's clearly put his hand over the receiver. He comes back, "Yeah, sorry, Sam, hang on a second," and then more voices, then Chuck comes back on with a sigh. "Becky wants me to tell you...." he takes a deep breath then starts again, "Becky wants me to tell you that she's read everything so far and that she...thinks the romance plot is very compelling. Can I talk to Castiel?" Chuck says the last part kind of desperately.

"Yeah, hang on," Sam says, grateful to have an excuse to get off the phone. He holds the phone out to Castiel who looks at it warily before saying, "Hello Chuck," solemnly into it.

"What'd Chuck say?" Dean asks. "Looks like something freaked you out."

"Just the usual," Sam says. "Telling me about how I'm almost out of deodorant," Sam says, pulling something out of the air.

"This prophet shit is a little too personal," Dean says, though he looks at Sam's armpits as though he's afraid Sam's already out.

Castiel hangs up and hands the phone back to Sam. "Chuck wanted me to relay the message that you are also almost out of shampoo."

Which means that Chuck also knew what Sam was going to say to Dean to avoid telling him what he actually said.

"We should find a diner," Castiel says. "Chuck told me I am going to order pancakes for breakfast."

"That guy makes my head hurt," Dean says.

Sam doesn't say anything, even though he couldn't agree with Dean more. His creeping headache is less to do with what Chuck knows about him and Gabriel, which he'd rather not think about at all, and more to do with trying to get his mind around why Chuck felt it was important to point out that maybe the reason Gabriel eats candy all the time isn't just because of the sugar. Nothing about how he just disappeared. Nothing about where he is, what it means. Just an uncomfortable observation that makes Sam think about Gabriel's mouth on his neck.

There's a diner a few blocks from the motel, and Dean assures Castiel that it will serve pancakes because all diners serve pancakes. In the car, Sam carefully tries to hide all thought of the evening and what happened, especially because Castiel keeps looking at him like he's got the evidence written all over him. Despite that, his thoughts keep circling back to Gabriel on the bed, the way his voice sounded in the dark, and the way Gabriel had -

Castiel clears his throat behind him in back seat of the car.

"You all right, Cas?" Dean asks.

"I am fine," Castiel says.

"You don't want a coffee or something?"

"I do not like coffee."

"I'll take a coffee," Sam says.

"I wasn't asking you, Princess," Dean says, and Sam shakes his head.

Sam half wants to stop for coffee because they might see Gabriel. Sam imagines the look on Gabriel's face as he hands Sam what would undoubtedly be a perfect coffee. The pleased with himself smirk, and maybe he'd run his fingers through Sam's hair and suck on his neck the way he'd -

Castiel clears this throat again. Sam tries to sink lower in the seat.

"That's it, next Super Food Mart we see, I'm stopping to get you some cough drops."

"I do not get sick, Dean."

"Yeah, well, whatever," Dean says.

They pass a supermarket, and Dean pulls in, heading straight for the aisle of cold remedies. Castiel lingers by the registers, and Sam pretends to look at candy so that he doesn't have to see Castiel look like he's about to start proselytizing to the cashiers.

Even the stupid Hershey Symphony bar makes him think of Gabriel, of candy wrappers on the table of the hotel room, of Chuck talking about his sweet tooth. "What do you think he means by it?" Sam says. Castiel looks at the candy bar in Sam's hand, and Sam knows that Castiel understands.

"They may be genuine offers of amicability that Gabriel only knows how to express in this passionate way."

The intercom announces that there's a call for Pharmacy holding on line 2. "You know what happened, at the hotel?" Sam hopes the answer is yes, because he isn't actually interested in explaining.

"I know something happened," Castiel says, hesitating with each of the words as though weighing them carefully.

"I should be able to tell by now," Sam says, "when he's playing a trick."

"I believe he genuinely desires you," Castiel says. It's not comforting, or much of an answer.

Dean comes back over with a selection of cough drop flavors. Sam snatches a mint Milky Way and tosses it on top of the bags as Dean goes to pay. Dean tells him to pay for his own candy, but the clerk's already rung everything up and tucked it away inside a flimsy plastic bag, so Dean just swipes the credit card and makes Sam carry the bag.

Castiel continues the conversation like they were never interrupted once they're inside the diner. "It may be portentous that Gabriel reveals this to you now," Castiel says. "I believe it is wise to encourage his amorous intentions."

Dean starts to choke on his soda. Sam gives Castiel a reproachful look because he thought Castiel understood they'd been having a private conversation very distinctly without Dean earlier, but all it does is make Castiel look at Dean like he's waiting for Dean's opinion.

"I don't want to hear anymore," Dean protests.

"His designs may be unfathomable. He is an archangel," Castiel says, "and a Trickster."

"And, apparently, our waiter," Sam says, hoping to halt any further conversation on the topic, as Gabriel appears wearing a dirty white apron and a ridiculous newsboy cap. Sam is almost grateful for the rescue, except that Dean is trying very hard not to say anything at all. Instead, he's staring at his menu like he's never seen the inside of a diner.

"What can I get you boys?" Gabriel says, taking out a pen and notepad from his apron pockets.

Sam tries to ignore the fact that the hand holding the pen has settled on the back of his neck.

Castiel dutifully orders pancakes even though Gabriel isn't writing anything down. Instead he's tracing soft circles just under the line of Sam's hair. Sam's holding his breath. Dean orders an egg sandwich. Or Dean starts to order an egg sandwich and stops when he looks up long enough to notice what Gabriel's doing.

"You know what, you bring me whatever."

"Dean can have my pancakes," Castiel offers. Dean stares at Castiel. Both Sam and Gabriel snort at the same time, and Sam looks at him, startled.

"And what can I get you?" Gabriel asks Sam, and he's alarmed at how intense Gabriel's focus on him is, like someone turning on the lights in the middle of the night.

"French toast," Sam says. "And coffee."

Gabriel smirks at him and then says, all waiter again, "I'll put those orders in," and turns and walks off toward the kitchen as though nothing just happened at all.

"Am I incorrect in offering my breakfast to you?" Castiel says to Dean.

Sam snorts again.

Castiel spends breakfast staring at Sam over his pancakes with a worried look that reminds him of when Castiel had legitimate reason to be worried. Sam only ever wanted Castiel to see him and not see everything he'd done wrong. He didn't have to look at him the way he looked at Dean, that was too much, Sam didn't deserve that, and would never have taken that from Dean, but it would have been ok if Castiel had looked at Sam like a friend. Gabriel's display has made this thing that he's doing an open issue, impossible for Dean to ignore, though Dean is making a valiant effort. Sam suspects that's exactly why Gabriel did it. Castiel seems to be putting the blame on Sam, not for the incident in particular, but as a familiar perplexed reaction to the way Sam so readily upsets Dean.

Though they don't see Gabriel again and he doesn't say a word about it while they're still inside, Dean's tightly coiled tension explodes the moment they're in the bright sun of the parking lot.

"What is your problem with sexing up the things that we hunt?"

Sam tries to answer but he doesn't even get a word out before Dean's shouting again. "No, don't you argue with me, tell me you weren't doing nothing. He touched you and you didn't pull your knife, you didn't even smack his hand away. What is wrong with you?"

"I....don't know?" Sam says, because the other thing he was going to say was that he doesn't mind and he knows that's only going to get him into more trouble.

Dean seems at a loss for words, and finally just gets into the car. Sam knows the real fight won't happen until it's just the two of them, when Castiel zaps out for research or recon and wherever else he goes when he's not playing Dean's shadow. For the moment, Sam enjoys the quiet.

Sam reads until dark, and he's starting to consider getting out the flashlight, but then Dean's pulling off toward a motel with a worn-looking vacancy sign that probably hasn't seen a "no" for years. They check-in, Sam holding an armful of books he's anxious to get back to, because the research has been doing a great job of keeping his mind off all the things he and Dean had shouted at each other 100 miles back, about trust and bad decisions and Sam humanizing demons and Dean demonizing everything. At some point Sam had just opened up a sigil concordance and stopped listening, and Metallica, just a hint too loud, had taken the place of Dean's shouting. Sam had figured out a that one of the sigils probably meant either "head" or "crown" so he counted it as progress, with the added benefit that his mind didn't stray anywhere near archangels.

Dean checks them in and tells Sam he's going to get some stuff from the trunk, though when Sam looks out the window, Dean's just sitting there on the bumper. Sam knows he's waiting for Castiel, and he knows it's only a matter of time before he reappears. Sam thumbs through another book about decoding ciphers, happy to be to be left with the books, and not wanting to go anywhere he'll run into Tricksters.

Sometime later, after he's gotten lost in three chapters of ciphers and the palm of his hand is grey with pencil dust from taking notes, he hears Dean and Castiel outside the room. He wonders if they left to investigate something or if they've been out there talking the whole time.

"I do not understand the full extent of Gabriel's behavior with regards to your brother," Castiel says, his voice clear even through the door. "I have no answers."

"I'm just asking if you think we can trust him or if he was just messing with Sam," Dean says.

"I do not know," Castiel says, with the air of having repeated himself multiple times. "If there was a specific danger - "

"I know, Cas," Dean says.

They come into the room a second later, like they weren't having a conversation about Sam just outside. "Find anything?" Dean asks.

Sam looks at the map spread before him, suddenly seeing that the towns where the cult had been active form a pattern. "Look at this," Sam said showing them the map. There's nothing like a hunt to clear his head.

They're all obviously off their game because, in retrospect, there were a bunch of signs pointing to the fact that the clues were all leading them straight into a trap.

They're on the second floor of the building, Sam thinks, from what he can see of the city out of the tall, dusty windows. The walls are covered floor to ceiling with sigils Sam couldn't decipher even with unlimited access to a demonic library. He and Dean are tied to a building support back to back, and when Sam tries to pull at the bindings, to test how much slack they've been given, there's something more than rope holding them in place, something invisible and tight around his arms and his chest. Castiel is pacing inside a square of symbols five feet wide.

"Quit it, Cas, you're making me twitchy," Dean says.

"I cannot free you," Castiel says.

"Yeah, I kinda figured," Dean says. "But there's no one here right now so we got some time to come up with a plan."

Sam's still pissed that he got a call from their prophet this morning and he didn't see fit to warn them about the demons waiting for them inside the building, of the electric blue light that exploded around Castiel when he tried to zap himself away, of the punches to the head that would knock first Dean and then Sam out, or the fact that they'd come to alone.

"Dean, I don't think it's a good sign that someone's trapped us and no one's shown up yet," Sam says.

"I agree," Castiel says. "It does not bode well that the ones who have trapped you - us," he amends with an uncomfortable air of defeat, "appear to have patience."

Castiel keeps pacing back and forth and trying again. He closes his eyes and there's another explosion of blue sparks.

"Quit it, Cas, you're gonna get hurt if you keep trying," Dean says.

"I am attempting to determine what is binding me," Castiel says. He closes his eyes again; more sparks. Sam can feel Dean go tense.

"Can you move your legs at all?" Sam asks.

Dean makes a frustrated sound. He doesn't answer, as though hoping he won't have to say no.

"Me either," Sam says.

"Just come on and show your ugly faces," Dean shouts, his annoyance getting the better of him.

It works; four demons come charging through the door. Castiel raises his hands to stop them as Dean shouts, "Don't, Cas," but it's too late. Blue light explodes through the room and then Castiel's face-first on the floor. "Cas!" Dean shouts.

Dean instantly switches to all swagger when he tries to get the demons, wearing townspeople Sam's sure they spoke to on their way in, to talk, but the two of them start punching Dean so hard it makes Sam's teeth ache, Dean's head slamming into Sam's shoulder with each punch.

Sam's too busy trying to will the demons away from Dean that he doesn't notice the one who's come around to crouch at his feet. He's got a toothy smile that looks completely out of place with the ink-black eyes, and he yanks Sam's right arm out of whatever invisible bonds are holding him, twisting his wrist and holding it so tight Sam thinks he's going to break a bone. The demon pulls out a knife from his belt; long, thin, covered in sigils and Sam tries to read them but the knife's moving to fast, slicing thin lines down Sam's arm, cutting through the sleeve of his shirt. The cuts sting in a deeply wrong way.

"Stop," Sam shouts, not to the knife-wielding demon in front of him as much as the ones behind him, because he can still feel the punches through Dean. "I know what you want." As though there's anything else they want, any other reason they'd have the Winchesters and their fallen angel tied up in a warehouse. "You're planning on calling Lucifer," Sam says, and they all stop, as though they can't decide whether it's ok for Sam to be speaking his name.

"Sam," Dean says warningly, and Sam can hear the slur in his voice that means a few more punches and he'll be unconscious. Castiel stirs on the floor. Sam can only imagine what he'd be saying if he could speak. The demon with the knife slices down Sam's leg, through his jeans, and he winces, but doesn't stop talking.

"That's why you lured us here, isn't it?" Sam says, when the demons look at each other. Another slice of the knife, around his ankle. Deeper. Then over his knee, then back up to his arm. Sam feels disconnected from his body watching his own blood well up over his clothes. He thinks the knife must be poisoned.

"Look, the Morningstar and I are pretty close," Sam says, and Dean makes an uncomfortable sound at the name, but it has the desired effect because the demon with the knife takes a step back. "And he'll be pretty pissed if you get in the way of his plan."

"You dare to claim you know his plan?" the toothy demon says.

"Yeah, I do," Sam says. "He's told me all about it. We have these longs talks, you see."

"Sammy," Dean says. Sam feels the punch, Dean's head snapping back and then forward. The knife slices deeply across Sam's chest, right under his collarbone.

"You don't know shit," one the demons out of Sam's line of sight says. "Cut the angel."

"No!" Sam shouts. The knife gets tossed through the air, into the waiting hands of a demon who's taking long strides toward Castiel.

Castiel starts thrashing as they come at him with the knife, unable to speak. The demons wailing on Dean take a break to push Castiel down on his knees, grab his arm, forcing his palm open. Castiel just closes his eyes the second the knife cuts into him and he goes limp.

"No!" Dean shouts.

"You want to know who was calling Lucifer," the toothy demon says, accepting the knife, dripping with Castiel's blood. "You are." Then he's dripping Castiel's blood into a goblet, and fuck, that's not good.

"Now just a little of yours, Sam," the demon says, dragging the knife down Sam's arm along an already bloody wound, flaying it open. The knife is hot with Castiel's blood. It's agony where it touches him, mixes with his in the open wound. He can feel it spreading out around him, concentric circles of watery light that make Sam feel like he's sinking. Sam thinks he's going to black out as they lift the knife to the goblet and let the drops of blood slide in. The light pulses, not outward from him but back in, like a wave, and Sam can't get any air.

"Hey, what're you drinking?" a new voice says. Sam blinks away the grey at the edges of his vision and sees Gabriel, impossibly arrogant, holding his hand out for the goblet. The demon hands it to him with a dazed look, like he doesn't know what he's doing. No one else seems to be moving. Gabriel looks into the goblet, sniffs the contents.

"Gross," he says. He snaps his fingers and the goblet disappears. The knife clatters to the floor. Castiel can suddenly move again, too, and he's rushing forward to Dean and Sam.

"Castiel," Gabriel says, sharply. "Don't touch Sam."

Castiel looks at the blood running down his fingers. "Yes," Castiel says, and then in a blink, he and Dean are gone. A second later, so are the demons.

"What's - " Sam says, and the room spins, sinks, crashes over him. Gabriel's moving in and out of his vision but Sam thinks he's actually standing still. "Is Lucifer - "

"No, don't worry your pretty little head, he's not coming. Be quiet for a second," Gabriel says very calmly, but there's something in his voice that tells Sam he's deadly serious. Gabriel presses his fingers to the deepest cut on Sam's arm and Sam's hit with shattering pain like everything important is being pulled out of him.

"Gabriel - what - " Sam protest dies on his lips as new pain flares up everywhere he's wet with blood, as though it were boiling on his skin.

"I said be quiet," Gabriel says gently. "Nothing to worry about." Sam's hit with another sickening wave of pain, and he gasps, tries to twist away, but Gabriel's holding him tight.

"Please," Sam gasps out. Gabriel's fingers move up over the wound across his chest and it feels like lightning.

"Almost done," Gabriel says in a soothing, sing-song voice, and out the darkness closing in around his eyes, Sam sees Gabriel reach for the knife, drag it quickly across his arm, then smear his fingers in his own blood.

"No," Sam says, because there's something discordant in the way Gabriel gathers his blood on his fingers, familiar and bad, and then Gabriel spreads the blood over the deepest gash on Sam's arm and Sam's out, his shoulders slumping as he slides down, unconscious before his head hits the floor.

He comes to with a gasp, and he's terrified to see he's still in the sigil-covered room. His face is smearing one of the chalk marks on the dusty floor. He's covered in blood and so is Gabriel.

"What - where's - " Sam says, trying to sit up but is hit with a dizziness so sharp he slumps right back down.

"Easy there, kiddo, this isn't a ritual you bounce right back from." Gabriel's leaning back on his hands, his legs just barely touching Sam's. He has blood streaked over his cheek and Sam wants to ask whose it is but he can't find the question.

"Been sliced up pretty bad before," Sam mumbles. He presses his hand to his forehead, trying to push back the spinning sensation but he misses his face entirely, his hand connecting with the floor with a sharp slap that Sam can't actually feel.

"I'm sure you have," Gabriel says, though it's more an insult than anything. "But the right spell, the right blade, the right amount of my brother's blood mixed with yours and it's like a volcano under your skin," he says. "And you were almost a telephone call straight to the black sheep of the family." Sam tries again to sit up, manages to lift himself onto his side. He looks at Gabriel, who's still fading in and out of.

"What did you do?" Sam asks.

"What did I do?" he asks, sounding unfairly accused. "Oh, nothing much, I only cleaned you up from a potentially lethal combination of magic and angel blood."

"Why is it always blood?" Sam asks.

Gabriel just laughs. "So you ready to get out of here?"

"Wait," Sam says. "Are you - "

Gabriel leans close, tucking himself under Sam's arm like he's going to heft him over his shoulder. "I'm not letting you out of might sight for a while, Winchester," he says. With a flash, they're gone out of the building and into the back of the Impala.

"Jesus," Dean says, swerving. Castiel, who is sitting in the front seat, presses his hand to the wheel and they steady. "You ok, Sammy?"

"Yeah," Sam says.

"Not a lot of room back here," Gabriel says. Sam can't quite tell but he's on his back and the only way that could work is if his legs are across Gabriel's lap or if he's crouched in the footwell. "Any chance we can get any closer to where we're going anytime soon?"

"Can't you just zap us there?" Dean says. There's a tense silence.

"I believe Gabriel used a significant amount of his strength on healing Sam," Castiel says, into the awkward quiet.

"Man, do I hate finding out you guys aren't all powerful," Dean says. He hits the gas, though, so it's a concession.

"I'll feel better soon and then I can zap you wherever you want," Gabriel says. It sounds like a threat, but Dean does not take the bait.

Gabriel's trying very hard not to look at Sam, so Sam reaches out, his hand fumbling. He lands for a minute on his arm, but doesn't have the strength to hold it there, and it falls back across his legs.

Gabriel looks at him closely as though checking for some missed injury.

"Thanks," Sam says weakly.

Gabriel doesn't answer, just turns and looks out the window.

Sam remembers the time when Dean and Dad thought college was some sort of runaway haven, like he was taking off as soon as it got dark with nothing but his favorite sweatshirt and a peanut butter sandwich. When Sam actually left, Dean acted like it was some dumb-headed, bone-stubborn act of rebellion, like books and thinking about his future was as reckless as breaking a salt line facing down a ghost. He didn't even think of it as rebellion the day he left, the ridiculous, heart-wrenching fight he had with Dad, the things they'd both wish they never said. It wasn't running away, it wasn't rebellion to chase down stability. Sam only wanted something normal. It felt good, too, it felt like it fit, when he sat in a lecture hall, when he took notes, when he smiled at a pretty blond girl who rolled her eyes at him. It felt like it fit the first time Jess smiled at him like she meant it, like she saw something in him that was worth looking at. It had been a long time since Sam had felt that when it wasn't coming from his Dad or his brother at the end of a hunt. Like someone was finally seeing him for who he was, not how quickly he could outrun a monster.

Bobby had acted like Sam showing up on his doorstep for winter break his freshman year was something that had been happening for years. "Nothing wrong with following your own path, dumbass," he'd said, and made up one of the beds upstairs.

Sam wakes up to Dean's voice on the phone "Bobby, it's Dean." Good, Sam thinks, they need a place to pull themselves together. "You got room for all of us?" Sam hears the pause of Bobby's question. "Yeah, me, Sam, Cas, and....well, we'll explain when we get there. Ok, Bobby, thanks. Yeah, we're a couple of hours away."

Dean hangs up, then slams his fist into the wheel. Sam thinks he sees Castiel actually jump. "Dammit, I hate having to go to ground while we lick our wounds."

No one else says anything. Castiel reaches into the glove compartment, pulls out a tape and puts it into the car. Dean looks over at him with a strange, curious look as Black Sabbath starts to play. Castiel seems to sit back and relax.

He catches Gabriel looking down at him. Gabriel raises his eyebrows at Dean and Cas, makes a kissy face. Sam tries to laugh but it hurts his stomach. Gabriel rests his hand, briefly on Sam's legs.

"Do you need me to - "

"You're fine," Gabriel says dismissively. Sam's too big for lying in the back seat like this, but he tried sitting up earlier and it wasn't good. Sam's pretty sure he's crushing Gabriel, but there's nowhere else to go, so he sighs and stares at the ceiling and hopes they get to Bobby's fast.

Sam falls asleep again, because when he wakes up, he's looking at Castiel trying to lift his ankles. He tilts his head back, and Gabriel's got his hands under Sam's arms. "Guys," Sam protests.

"Why can't you just - zap him?" Dean asks. "Cas can still do that, at least, right?"

"We could, but I would not advise it," Castiel says.

"We?" Bobby says.

"Guys, I can stand," Sam says.

"No you can't," Gabriel says. "You tried a few minutes ago. You don't remember because you blacked out."

"Bobby, meet the Archangel Gabriel," Dean says. Gabriel gives a heft and Sam's out of the car, his feet dragging on the ground. Castiel bends and picks them up.

"Hey," Gabriel says distractedly. "I'd shake, but my hands are full of sasquatch."

"Huh," Bobby says. "Never thought I'd see that. A couple years ago, if I saw two angels carrying one of you boys up to my porch, I'd have thought I was the one who was at St. Peter's gates."

"Don't get me started about Peter," Gabriel says, as he and Castiel carry Sam up the stairs and into the house. Sam hears Bobby start to laugh and stops trying to struggle and lets them carry him.

Sam's pretty sure he sleeps through the next day, and when he wakes up, Castiel is standing in his doorway.

"Don't do that, Cas, that'll freak him out," Dean whispers.

"It is my turn for keeping watch," Castiel whispers back.

"I'm fine," Gabriel whispers, from inside the room. "Seriously, you guys go spend some quality time together. I'll let you know when he wakes up." And with a snap of his fingers, the door swishes shut.

Sam thinks he might pretend to be still asleep, but he's too curious. He opens his eyes and waits for Gabriel to look at him, but he's already looking.

"Hey Sam," Gabriel says casually.

"Keeping watch?"

Gabriel shrugs. "Feeling better?"

Sam pushes himself to sit up. "Yeah," he says, until he tries to sit up. "Ok, not all that much better." Nothing appears to be broken or bleeding, but every muscle under his skin aches. "What happened?"

"You got yourself poisoned," Gabriel says.

"That why you sent Cas away?" Sam asks. He's still having trouble making his mouth say words, and he's still not entirely sure he's not going to fall back asleep any second. "His blood - "

"Was poison. Wouldn't have been pretty at all."

"But you healed me with your blood. Why is that any different?" Sam asks.

For a moment, Gabriel doesn't respond. "Higher up on the chain of command and all. Anyway, poison! I thought you'd have better sense than that."

"Yeah, well, it was a trap," Sam says.

"A trap you shouldn't have fallen for," Gabriel says. "I thought you were supposed to be getting ready to face Lucifer."

"Sure, because I could just go to the library and pick up that book, Saying No to Satan. I bet it's a bestseller."

Gabriel scoffs but Sam catches a wince when tries to sit forward.

"How are your, you know, powers?" Sam asks awkwardly. Gabriel pretends not to have heard.

"Think you can manage to hobble downstairs?" Gabriel ask. "Let's go show your brother that, despite his extremely suspicious nature, I'm not making you worse."

Dean's tight-lipped during lunch and steers the conversation away from anything to do with the past few days. Sam thinks Dean's just doing his usual shut-down-to-deal routine, but he notices that Dean's being hyper-aware of Gabriel's every move and exchanging more non-verbal conversations with Castiel than ever. It isn't until he's washing dishes and tosses Sam a towel to come and help dry that Dean lets anything slip.

"Cas says Gabriel can't leave," Dean says quietly, his words almost lost in the sound of the faucet. "He could leave, I mean, walk out the door, but he can't angel zap away."

"So you think that's why he's staying," Sam says.

"It's what Cas thinks," Dean says. He doesn't have to say it for Sam to know that he has misgivings, that the idea of Gabriel staying with them like a guest rubs him nine kinds of the wrong way. Sam's not sure how he feels about it. He's not suspicious, not the way Dean is; if Gabriel feels anything like how Sam has the past few days, he doesn't blame him for cooling his heels. But Sam wants to know if there's some other reason, too, that might explain the way Gabriel is always looking at him.

They're walking around Bobby's junkyard when Sam finally gets up the nerve to ask.

"Why did you save me?"

Gabriel stops and stares at Sam. "You ask the stupidest questions," he says finally and keeps walking.

"No, I mean, if you wanted me to say yes to Lucifer - the ritual would have called him there, wouldn't it? You could have just left me."

"Not like that," Gabriel says. "That wasn't your choice." He actually kicks a tire.

"But you used so much of your strength - "

"It's mine, Sam, I can use it however I want."

"Thanks," Sam says.

"You already said that."

"Well I mean it," Sam says. He feels like he's arguing with Dean, where they're both saying the same thing and fighting about it anway. "So," Sam says. "How long are you staying?'

A motorcycle rumbles into life somewhere down the main road. "Already anxious for me to go?"

"I was just wondering how long it was going to take for you to.....recharge. To be normal again." Gabriel doesn't answer. "Why do you always do that?"

"Do what, say what you're thinking?" Gabriel says with a smirk. He's twisting a hubcab like he's going to throw it like a discus.

"Say the thing you're afraid of, before someone else can hurt you with it?"

Gabriel stares at Sam and then takes Sam's hand in a solemn shake. "Thanks for this therapy session," Gabriel says, and walks off. A few moments later, Sam hears the hubcab swishing through the air, and then the clatter as it collides with the side of a car.

Sam can't catch Gabriel for the rest of the day, but he's clearly still there, he just seems to leave the room seconds before Sam comes in. It feels like a game of chase that Sam's losing.

Sam's always been chasing something. Dad's approval, a normal life, then revenge for everything he'd lost. It was how he say every day; Dad and Dean taught him that life was made up of a series of hunts. Every chase was always about one thing, Sam trying to feel like, once, just once, he had the jump on something, that he could corner something before it got him. That he could come out on top without losing too much, and one chase would end clean and simple, easy victory that didn't cost him more than he was willing to give.

Sam goes into the kitchen; Gabriel's just going out to the porch. Sam comes downstairs; Gabriel's just headed for the basement.

Sam's chasing Gabriel out into the salvage yard when he stumbles on to Castiel, Dean and Bobby marking up a map over the hood of a car that isn't much more than a frame.

"Sam," Castiel says, his hands splayed wide over the map.

"You've been working the case," Sam says. "And you didn't tell me."

"There's nothing to tell," Dean says.

"Heard some talk about some doomsday cult springing up a few towns over, recruitment meeting had more people turn up than to the Friday night drive-in," Bobby says. Dean gives him a betrayed look that wilts when Bobby glares back at him.

"We were waiting, until you were better," Dean says.

"I'm fine," Sam says. None of them argue, but he can tell no one's convinced.

"The lead will hold a few more days," Dean says. He nods at Castiel, who folds up the map. It's the end of the conversation, even when Sam gives Bobby a pleading look. But Dean leaves a pile of books on the kitchen table that afternoon, and Sam accepts the apology.

Dean's not the best researcher anyway, fast and sloppy, and Sam's not even sure Castiel has it in him to tell Dean if he'd missed something. So instead of feeling totally useless, Sam sits in the kitchen and pages through the lore.

Gabriel comes in and takes a seat when Sam's about six books into nothing and his head's starting to hurt.

Gabriel grabs a book from the pile Sam's already gone through.

"I'm in this one," Gabriel says and starts paging through like he's read it a thousand times. "Look at that," he says, opening to a page and turning the book around to face Sam. There's an old woodcut print and a page of text that looks either like a prayer or a poem.

Sam looks a the picture, then up at Gabriel. "Doesn't look anything like you," Sam says. Gabriel smirks. He reaches for another book.

"This one better?" he says. He slides the book toward Sam, tilts his head side to side. It's an oil painting, where Gabriel's depicted holding a spear.

"Nice weapon," Sam says. Gabriel waggles his eyebrows and reaches for another book.

"Look, I'm in this one, too," he says, delighted.

"It's a book of angelology, I'd be surprised if they managed to leave you out."

Gabriel doesn't respond, just considers the picture, sliding his hands down the book's seam. "Oh, I remember, I like this one," Gabriel says.

In the picture, the archangel is draped with purple robes, blond hair cascading down around his shoulders "Dude, you look like a girl," Sam says.

"I don't have a gender, Sam," Gabriel says. Sam gapes, looks at the picture again and looks at Gabriel, his Adam's apple, his stocky shoulders. Sam looks away, down at the book in front of him, where he's totally lost his place in the history of Enochian symbolism. "Ooh, I'm taking notes for later, gender play freaks you out."

"No, it doesn't," Sam protests.

"So you don't want me to be a girl?" Gabriel says. When Sam looks up, a gorgeous brunette with curves that would distract him for hours at a time blinks back at him.

Sam puts his head back down into the book. "Don't do that," Sam says. He's surprised by how annoyed he is. "Don't play with me."

When Sam looks back up, it's the face he recognizes. Gabriel's looking at him, like there's another question waiting behind his lips, but he just grabs another book, opens to another picture spread of himself. "Oh, this is a pretty fair representation," Gabriel says. "Don't you think?" His head's five times larger than his body. Sam just shakes his head, trying not to laugh. The fact that he stays feels like an apology for the last time Gabriel mocked him and walked off, for all the chasing around in what's not really that big of a house.

Dean knows Bobby doesn't have that many rooms, but he and Sam still get into a ridiculous fight about how Gabriel is sharing a room with Sam. It's laughable for three reasons: Dean waits until the fourth day it's going on to say something about it; Gabriel doesn't sleep; and Dean and Castiel are sharing the room across the hall. When Sam points all of these things out, Dean tries to say that Castiel goes out researching at night. Sam knows it's a lie, because he's woken up to go to the bathroom and seen Castiel there like he'd never left. He uses Dean's assertion to bring the fight back around to the cult case and whether or not Dean was going to sneak out at night with Castiel. They throw insults back and forth until Bobby tells them in no uncertain terms to shut the hell up until he tells them otherwise.

Sam retreats back to his room, sitting on the bed with four pillows propped up under his back, his laptop balanced on his thighs. Gabriel appears a few tactful moments later as if he hadn't heard the fight, sits down right in the curve of Sam's waist, dipping the bed. Gabriel peeks at the laptop and Sam closes it; it's only weather patterns but he doesn't want to talk about it, so he sets the laptop down on the beside table and looks at Gabriel, smiles like this surprise visit isn't an intrusion, because it hasn't been for a long time. Sam waits for him to come, hopes every time he's alone that it will happen, Gabriel will just appear and begin a conversation in the middle like they've been having it for ten minutes. Sam likes how it avoids all the awkwardness of hellos. Gabriel acts like he's always been there, and so they also don't have to talk about what happens when he leaves.

This time Gabriel is starting in the middle of a pretty suggestive flirting session where he's all but telling Sam what he wants and Sam is about a breath away from letting him have it. He's telling some story about locking a curator in a museum vault but Sam's having a hard time following the story because Gabriel is sliding his hand up over Sam's knee, like it's a new feeling under his fingers, his nails catching on the denim. He does it over and over and once, Sam stretches his leg just a little and Gabriel's hand continues the slide up his thigh. Sam's sharp inhale makes Gabriel hesitate mid-sentence about pulse-monitor safe locks but then he slides his hand back down over Sam's knee, holds it there, and goes on with his story.

"Gabriel," Sam says, because the hand on his knee is the worst kind of tension, wondering, waiting, wishing Gabriel would move it, onto the bed, back up over his thigh, wishing he knew what he was supposed to do. But apparently saying his name was enough because Gabriel moves too fast, and Sam gets a glimpse of how much power is wrapped up in that short frame, and he's turned around, knees on the bed, facing Sam.

"Hi," Sam says stupidly.

"Hi," Gabriel says back, a smirk waiting at the corner of his mouth. He places his hand back on Sam's knee and Sam let's out a breath he didn't realize he was holding, which makes Gabriel smirk for real. He slides the pillows out from under Sam and Sam falls, head almost smacking the headboard, and shifts, so he can lay down and not kill his neck. Gabriel looks pleased, like he's following directions without being told.

"So are - "

Gabriel shakes his head and Sam stops the question. Sam puts a lot of effort lately into doing what Gabriel wants and he thinks that should say something about him and how susceptible he is, how irrevocably he's let his guard down. Gabriel hears him thinking and Sam's about to apologize but Gabriel just looks at him, like he's studying him for some answer he can't quite divine. Gabriel abruptly pushes at Sam's knee with the heel of his hand, and Sam bends it. Gabriel pushes more, and Sam bends it further, until Gabriel's pushing his knee all the way so it's all the way tucked up against his chest, Gabriel's hand half on his shin.

Sam's not sure what this is about, and it's awkward and his jeans are not really baggy enough for this kind of contortion. He feels awkward and unsure and then Gabriel looks at him and Sam's mouth goes dry. Gabriel's expression immediately clues Sam in on how much more sense this would make if he weren't wearing pants at all. Gabriel pulls his hand away and Sam grabs his own knee and holds it to his chest.

Gabriel makes a sound, something cut off and greedy, and then he gets up.

Sam lets his leg down, lays there on the bed, scrubbing his hand over his face. "What are we doing?" Sam asks. His eyes are closed but he keeps his hand is over his eyes anyway.

"I'm thinking about making your clothes disappear and fucking you until you beg me to let you come," Gabriel says wistfully. He's halfway across the room, but Sam's sure he hears the choked sound Sam can't help but make.

"I meant - " Sam says, but Gabriel cuts him off.

"I know what you meant," Gabriel says. He sounds cranky, impatient. It's alarming, because Sam thinks he can even feel the air in the room change. He's seen Castiel get angry, but it was when - Sam derails that train of thought. This wasn't the same kind of on-high censorial anger unless he's done something he wasn't supposed to and he doesn't even realize.....

"It's not that," Gabriel says dismissively.

"Would you stop reading my mind?" Sam says, sitting up.

"It's hard not to!" Gabriel shouts, swinging around. "All your thoughts are right out there, all the time, how you're worried you're going to screw up, how you've screwed up before, how you're going to let down your brother, how he's right not to trust you. It's infuriating!"

"I'm sorry," Sam says, and Gabriel's right in front of him in a flash, too fast to have actually walked there.

"Don't," Gabriel says. "Don't apologize to me, too," and then he grabs Sam and kisses him. Gabriel tastes scorched, too hot, and Sam grabs on to his arms to steady himself from the dizzy feeling that's spinning in his head, tilting him toward Gabriel, deeper into him, deeper into his hot, wet mouth, his hands tight in Sam's hair, his lips burning from the contact, his whole face ablaze.

Gabriel pulls back and stares at Sam like he can't believe that just happened even though he's the one who kissed him first. With a confusing tilt of his head, he turns and, for the first time since this thing, this whatever has been going on, actually uses the door. By the time Sam can make his feet move, though, Gabriel's disappeared into the debris of Bobby's scrapyard.

The first time Sam kissed Ruby, it was with the taste of her blood on his lips. Sam liked Ruby from the moment he met her, when she came in and saved his life with the seven deadly sins, when she stole his fries at the diner. There was something about her, sharp and determined, self-possessed and smart, that hit all of Sam's buttons. He knew that the idea that she was a demon was supposed to mean something deeper than any of his instincts, that no matter how she acted, she was always a broken, evil creature who wanted him to suffer. Except that Sam never believed that, because when he looked at Ruby, he didn't see evil. He saw power. And Ruby had only ever used her power to help him - first to help him save Dean, then to help him survive after losing Dean, and then to stop the apocalypse.

It didn't matter what Ruby said, Sam knew she had some other motive, everyone always had other motives, people and demons alike. He'd just thought that it was selfishness, that Ruby was using Sam to help herself, and Sam understood selfishness. He thought of Ruby as rebelling from her evil family, turning her back on what she came from, using what she knew to make her life what she wanted it to be. Taking risks to help Sam and Dean but still walking that edge of cruelty that made her a demon, that way of seeing the world that made her different.

Sam trusted her like a friend, and he was still surprised when she betrayed him. Except that she didn't betray him because friendship didn't mean the same thing to her, if it meant anything. In the end he could never really blame Ruby; it was all his mistake.

Sam doesn't kid himself that he's not waiting out in he junkyard the next night, hoping that Gabriel, who he hasn't seen all day, will come out to talk to him. He knows it's always more likely that he'll get Gabriel's consideration if no one else is around. He's not even kidding himself that he wants a chance to convince Gabriel to take their side; what he wants is Gabriel's attention. He's chasing that moment when Gabriel's just looking at him like he sees something other than the boy with the demon blood, the inevitability of Lucifer's vessel. Like he actually sees Sam and wants to see more.

And suddenly he's there. "Is that you boys think of as comfortable?" Gabriel asks, but he settles himself easily on the hood of the car, elbows under him propping him up, eyes looking lazily around in the dark like there aren't a hundred thousand dangers lurking in the shadows. "Someone needs to remind you that cars aren't furniture." Sam's suddenly tense, reacting to how close Gabriel is, their legs in front of them on the car, how alone they are in the dark. He thinks of the dark of the hotel room, of how Gabriel had looked at him, of how much Sam wanted to touch him, after he was already gone. He thinks of the too-brief kiss.

Sam shivers and Gabriel says, "Should I have brought a blanket?"

"No, I'm fine," Sam says.

"Sure," Gabriel says, leaning back and looking up at the stars. "Sure you're fine. What are you out here thinking so hard about that your brain's gonna fall out?"

"Are you really a Trickster?" Sam asks. "Because, if you're an angel, you can't be -"

"Also a pagan god? You know the rules don't work that way. The rules bend, the rules twist in on themselves. Ask me another one, Winchester."

Sam tilts his head back, looks up into the sky. The stars are bright, confusing points for a moment until they resolve themselves into familiar constellations. "So what was Heaven like?" Sam asks. He thinks he shouldn't, but the air outside is crisp and there's this anticipation like a current between them, like Gabriel is waiting for Sam to ask. "Can you talk about it?" Sam feels like everything's an uncomfortable question, like everything with Gabriel is something that will set him off, push him, cross the complex web of invisible lines that Sam's so horrible at recognizing.

"That's like me asking you what home was like," Gabriel says. It's not an answer, but Sam also immediately knows what Gabriel's trying to say. Sam's mind flashes past all the places that felt like home, but they're moments, not places, and not all good ones, either, tense and lonely, wanting to survive, wishing that Dad would just say the right thing just once.

"Ok, my turn," Gabriel says instead. "When you prayed, what were you picturing?"

"You mean when I was a kid or when - " Sam feels suddenly ashamed at admitting he prayed any other time than in the innocence of childhood, the kid with the demon blood, the one who set Lucifer free.

"Whenever," Gabriel says, like he's giving Sam an out.

Sam lets a shuddering breath out like he didn't know how much this ache was paining him until he looked at it full on. "I pictured - when there was something I really wanted, I pictured asking a panel, like a big table full of stern looking guys, who listened and decided whether what I was asking was appropriate."

"Like they were judging you," Gabriel says.

"Yeah," Sam agrees quietly. There's a rustle of leaves and sand blowing around the tires. Sam watches the breeze blow Gabriel's hair back from his face. "And when I was scared, I pictured - like a golden light, surrounding me."

"If you were worthy," Gabriel says, pointing out the thing Sam's so blatantly left out. "Only if you were worthy. It doesn't work like that," Gabriel says. "At least, not how you think of worth."

Sam doesn't know what to say to that, so instead he asks, "Was anyone listening?"

"Oh, sure," Gabriel says easily, "but that doesn't mean you were heard by the one you meant to hear you."

"Did you - " Sam stops, swallows hard, because he's not sure why Gabriel would say it that way if he didn't mean it. "Did you hear me?"

Gabriel looks at Sam, and it's tense, so close. Gabriel could be touching him but isn't, just leaning on the car like something else other than gravity is holding him there.

"I do now, Sam," Gabriel says, and it sounds holy somehow in a way that catches in Sam's throat. Gabriel reaches out for him, and in the dark the hand coming toward his face might be the two-fingered zap but instead it's just a caress that lands across Sam's jaw. He shivers and Gabriel's hand rests there for a moment.

Then Castiel's rough voice calls out. "Sam? Gabriel?"

"Over here," Sam says. "Is something wrong?"

Castiel looks relieved when he's standing in front of them, like he's been lost in the desert of Bobby's land for weeks.

"We could not locate you," Castiel says. "Dean was worried." Gabriel and Castiel are staring at each other. Sam wonders if they're saying things only the other can understand or whether it's a simple brotherly stare-down where the meaning's known.

"About his little brother's virtue?" Gabriel says. Castiel says nothing.

"I will return to the house and inform Dean and Bobby of your whereabouts."

"You do that," Gabriel says.

"Thanks, Cas," Sam says,

"So," Sam says after Castiel's reasonably out of earshot. "You and Cas seem particularly - I mean, is it this way with - "

"Spit it out, Sammy."

"What's the deal with you two?"

"Oh, I could go on and on," Gabriel says, but then he looks at Sam, like he's trying hard to not be a dick. "I'm pretty sure he's just pissed that I left home. Not that that's not enough or anything."

"None of the angels are what I expected," Sam says. There's an old, nostalgic twinge, thinking of churches, the priests, the prayers, the other half of monsters and demons that he knew were always out there and that he thought - that he had always thought were kinder.

"Not even me?" Gabriel asks. Sam can see him smirking in the dark.

"You're - something else," Sam says, but it comes out a little more breathy than he means. He doesn't know how to get a handle on Gabriel, what he's supposed to expect. He's nothing like Castiel, and he's certainly not like any of the other angels, either.

Gabriel seems pleased with the assessment. "We should go in before Castiel tells Dean I've got you bent over the hood of the car." Sam feels the heat go to his face. Gabriel smirks. "Maybe later," he says, almost leering and then he turns and heads back to the house. Sam takes a minute to try to cool off, to get the image out of his head, and then he follows.

Gabriel's a lot quicker, or Dean was halfway into shouting before he got there, because Sam can hear the ruckus that's going on in the front yard. He hangs back, because he knows that tone from Dean and he knows stepping in is only going to ignite things.

"...just give me a straight answer, are you messing with him?" Dean shouts.

"It depends on what you mean by messing," Gabriel says. It's an answer designed to provoke Dean, and it does.

"You little bitch - "

"Dean," Castiel says, coming down the steps in a thunderous rush. "I believe I advised you that this method of direct confrontation - "

"No, let him get it all out," Gabriel says. "I can take it."

"What the damn hell is all the shouting about?" Bobby says, coming out on the porch, his shotgun across his lap.

"I believe I've finally worn out my welcome," Gabriel says. "I'll go."

"Don't," Sam says, stepping out from behind the shed. "I don't want you to go." Gabriel stares at him, open-mouthed.

"Sammy," Dean says warningly.

"What, Dean, what's the problem? Why now? You've stayed out of the fight for this long - "

"Well maybe I've reached my limit," Dean says.

"Dean," Castiel says warningly. There's a glance between them that reeks of "we talked about this."

"What is your problem with me, Dean? Come on, you can tell me to my face," Gabriel says.

"I don't trust you," Dean says gruffly.

"Fair enough," Gabriel says. "Who says you need to trust me?"

"If you're working something over on Sam - " Dean says. There's a teeth-gritting pain in his voice, like Dean was the one who lived through Sam's death 100 times at the hands of the Trickster.

"Dean, did you want to ask me what I think?" Sam says, trying not to lose his cool but feeling like he always does when he's fighting with Dean and feeling like a scolded, little brother. "Did you maybe want to ask if I trusted him?"

"You're not exactly known for your good judgement," Dean says, and the air crackles. Sam's terrified for a minute that it's somehow him, but then he sees Gabriel's expression, the rage written plainly across his face, his hands in fists at his side. Dean looks shocked, Castiel looks.....alarmed and Bobby has his hand on his gun.

Lights are going out in Bobby's house, in the scrapyard, down the street. There's something clattering down the road that sounds like it's huge and metal being dragged by the nails, a giant dangerous hand that could level the town in a second. And in a snap of fingers, turn everything upside down.

"Brother," Castiel says, and it's a plea.

"No, Castiel, it's about time this child who thinks he knows me so well saw me for who I really was." The ground starts to tremble, and Gabriel looks like someone's shining a light up at his face, like all of Heaven's power is underneath his feet.

"Now listen boys," Bobby says, trying to be all reasonable amid his sense of urgency. "I don't want my house destroyed over some name-calling."

"Gabriel," Sam says, like he's only just found his voice. "Let's just - go for a walk."

"Are you telling me to walk it off, Sam?" There's the snap of something that sounds like a whip, and the hair on the back of Sam's neck prickles painfully.

Sam looks between Dean and Cas, looking for something on someone's face that will tell which way this is going to go down. The screeching down the road gets louder; it hurts Sam's throat, it's so loud.

"Brother," Castiel says and he takes a step forward. So does Gabriel, and Sam's not letting this be some kind of angel fight, and everything is growing lighter and lighter like they're in some sort of stare down with an oncoming truck.

"No, I'm tired," he says, to Castiel, to Sam, to Dean, to Bobby, "I'm tired of behaving. I don't behave," he says. His voice is low and dangerous.

"You're not helping us. You won't choose a side. Why are even you here?" Dean shouts against the noise, stupidly bold.

"I am trying," Gabriel says, voice so loud Sam's afraid people states away will hear it, and then all of the power is quiet, tucked back into Gabriel as though folded into hundreds of layers. "I am trying to figure out what I can do for your brother," he says into the quiet.

Sam's stunned silent. Dean crosses his arms defiantly, like he's about to pick the argument back up like the didn't just narrowly dodge the wrath of an archangel, but Castiel grabs his shoulder and after a moment, they go back inside. Bobby catches Sam's eyes, checking to see if he's ok, what he's going to do, and when Sam nods, Bobby turns and takes himself inside, too. The screen door closing is loud in the newly quiet night.

"Gabriel," Sam says, his voice rough. Gabriel turns to look at him, and Sam can still see the fury in his eyes.

"I think I'll take that walk, now," Gabriel says. It's clear that he means he doesn't want Sam to follow. Sam sits for a while on Bobby's front steps, and when the house seems quiet inside, when Bobby's pretending to be asleep and Dean and Cas are having some sort of whispered argument behind closed doors. Sam kicks around in the kitchen for a while, and when it's clear Gabriel isn't right behind him, Sam goes up to his room, opens up his computer and some books, and starts picking at the threads of research.

He knows it's late, because hours later his eyes are itchy and tired, but he knows he doesn't want to sleep, for fear of dreaming Gabriel hadn't stopped, dreaming of Dean shouting - he just wants the rhythm of research, of searching, to take over his thoughts.

Of course, it's then that Gabriel appears on the edge of the bed, walking and reading a dog-eared copy of one of Chuck's books.

"This guy's good," Gabriel says, not looking up from the pages.

"Are you ok?" Sam asks, closing the books, getting up to walk over to the bed.

"I'm fine, Sam," Gabriel says. "Enjoying a little Bible study."

Sam makes a grab for the book, because he can't stand watching Gabriel page through it, making animated faces at whatever inappropriately personal thing Chuck has written. He misses, though, or Gabriel ducks, and he catches Gabriel by the shoulders, momentum carrying him too far and he tumbles on top of him. The Winchester Gospel with a bodice-ripper cover flies out of Gabriel's hands and lands on the carpet with a soft thump. Sam catches his breath as Gabriel exhales, struggles slightly, although mostly just rearranging himself underneath Sam, who's thinking of the angelic stand-off a few hours ago, the one he was powerless to stop. He grabs Gabriel's arms and pins them on either side of his head, and finally feel like he has some control.

They stare at each other for a long moment, Gabriel's chest rising and falling under Sam.

"You're letting me hold you down, aren't you?" Sam says.

"That's pretty much a given," Gabriel says. He still doesn't move.

"Why?"

Gabriel's face lights up. "You can't think of a reason?"

He shifts under Sam, just a little, but it's enough to suddenly make his position on top of Gabriel a lot more intimate than he'd intended. He knows he should pull away.

Sam has to clear his throat to get the words out. "I just wanted to talk."

"We can talk like this," Gabriel says, but he arches his back just a little bit and Sam tries to make his belly as concave as possible so they're not touching in as many places. He tries to move his legs but Gabriel's knees are just....

"Sam," Gabriel says, and extracts one of his hands from Sam's grip with no effort at all, and instead of flinging him off, reaches up and touches Sam's jaw, then slides his hand across the back of Sam's neck. Sam bites his lip. He's totally going to lose waiting this out. Gabriel shifts and they're close, they're really close and their thighs are touching and Gabriel's reaching up, tilting his head just so.

"Don't fuck with me like this," Sam says. His voice sounds wrecked.

Gabriel smirks. "How exactly would you like me to fuck with you?"

"No, I mean - " Sam abruptly sits up, wondering why he didn't do it sooner. His face feels hot. He feels a little shaky. Gabriel sits up with a sigh. Sam's waiting for him to get up, but he's still sitting there. The mattress shifts and he moves closer. Gabriel reaches up and touches Sam's neck, just under his ear.

"What happened earlier," Sam starts.

"Your brother said some things I didn't like," Gabriel says evenly. Sam's waiting for the flicker of power, but he doesn't see it.

"So what you said, about trying to.....find out what I need? What did you mean?" The thing is, Sam wants so many things. They're all raging inside him, overlapping, swirling around him. Gabriel rubs his thumb up and down. Sam doesn't mean to, but he sort of leans into the touch. Gabriel sighs like it's what he wanted. "Why do you keep touching me there?" Sam asks quietly.

"Because I know how much you like it," Gabriel says.

Sam turns and looks at him, to say something about how impolite it is to read his mind, but turning brings Gabriel almost flush against him. Sam takes a sharp inhale.

"Why are you doing this?" Sam asks as Gabriel's fingers explore the back of his neck, pressing just down under his shirt collar.

"This is a major character flaw," Gabriel says quietly, still stroking Sam's neck. His fingers are warm and soft and Sam can feel his pulse pounding in his throat. "Thinking you can understand everything everyone wants from you."

"What Dean said, though. I'm not the best judge of character."

Gabriel lifts his other hand to Sam's face, lets his thumb trace close to Sam's mouth. "So you were fooled by someone you wanted to trust, big deal."

"Because right now, I want - " Sam stops when Gabriel seems to finish the thought for him, dragging his thumb across Sam's bottom lip. "I want - this," he says, and he feels Gabriel's fingers tracing the spot on his neck that seems to have so much importance.

"You can have it," Gabriel says. "If that's what you want, you can have it."

"But I don't know what - "

"Don't you ever stop thinking?" Gabriel says. He wets his lips and Sam watches.

"What if I'm wrong again?" Sam whispers, desperately wanting to tell him, wanting the words to bring him an answer. "What if the things I want aren't the right things?"

"Oh, Sam, you're pretty damaged." Gabriel's mouth hovers over Sam's for a long moment before he says, "There are some things I can't fix."

Sam blinks and he's gone.

That night, Lucifer appears in his dream. He's shaving in the bathroom sink of a motel, shaving with the razor and shaving cream from the motel vending machine.

"Hello Sam," Lucifer says, looking at Sam in the mirror's reflection. "Alone again, I see?"

He can't know about Gabriel, he can't, except - Sam's still so angry at the way Gabriel left, at the way he'd said - It suddenly occurs to him that Gabriel might have been keeping Lucifer at bay.

"It's ok to be angry when people hurt you," Lucifer says. He dips the razor into the soapy water of the sink, taps it against the porcelain.

"I don't want to talk to you," Sam says, but he's not moving away from the bathroom. He's still standing in the doorway, watching as Lucifer turns his face up to shave the spot under his chin.

"Fair enough. I wanted to thank you for using my name, last week with the demons."

Sam feels sick. He remembers.

"The ritual failed, they - " he tries to protest.

"It did fail, yes. I didn't know where you were, but I heard you say my name. Like a voice in a crowded room, but I heard it."

Sam tries to take a step back but hits the hinge of the door, which creaks loudly. "I was only trying to intimidate them, to show them I - "

"I know Sam, and you keep trying. You keep at your good intentions."

"No - "

"Sam!" It's Castiel's voice, and Sam opens his eyes. He's still in the bedroom at Bobby's.

"You were shouting," Dean says. "Was it - "

"Nothing," Sam says. He and Dean stare at each other, both waiting to see who'll look away first, who'll give in.

"Where's Gabriel?" Castiel asks.

Sam shakes his head, falls exhausted back against the pillow. "He left," Sam says. Sam knows it's petulant, but he turns, his back on both of them, closes his eyes, his face pressed into the pillow. After a minute, he hears both of them leave, and after brief, heated exchange of words outside in the hall, and then they both fall silent.

In the morning, no one mentions Gabriel's absence. Dean's ready to follow a lead in Colorado, three disappearances in two days and an inconsolable mother who told the evening news about how her daughter and son had both run away days after telling her she should get ready for the end of the world. Sam can tell Dean's still worried about him, about whether or not he's recovered, because he makes a point of saying it's only an 9 hour drive and they can stop for lunch and dinner. Castiel does not offer to zap them there, staying without objection in the backseat and Dean does a good job of pretending that they're only leaving now because the lead's just come up, not because they were waiting on an archangel who decided not to stick around.

Sam watches Bobby's place shrink smaller behind them, and then sits low in the passenger seat and closes his eyes. Gabriel had told Sam what he thought was wrong and Lucifer had gotten a little too close to the "road to hell is paved with" and Sam keeps thinking how angry Gabriel had been talking about his brothers. Sam was good at anger, is especially good at old anger. But he realizes the thing he's feeling is disappointment; Gabriel had made sense. He'd made Sam feel like he was worthwhile. He'd been frustrating and impossible to understand, unbelievably hard to pin down - he thinks, suddenly, of Gabriel underneath him, of the way he'd moved and arched, so much promise, so much held back. Sam shakes away the memory, shakes away everything so that he's only listening to the same Lynard Skynard tape he's been listening to since he was eight.

When they stop for food, Dean doesn't even ask Sam to go inside, just gets out of the car without a word. Castiel gets out a moment later and follows.

Sam's phone rings. He's hoping, however ridiculously, that it's Gabriel.

"Hello," Sam says, leaning back into the seat.

"Sam?" It's Chuck, half-whispering.

"Chuck, are you - "

"I'm fine, really, no.....ghosts or angels or anything," Chuck says. The whispering makes it sound like sarcasm.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, man, no, it's cool, I'm just whispering because Becky's still asleep."

"Ok," Sam says. "So you're good then, you're just calling to....check in?"

"Yeah, no," Chuck says, like that's his dream, a time when he could call just to check in. "Have you, uh, have you seen Gabriel....lately?"

"No," Sam says, "Are you telling me I'm going to?"

"No, I'm just - I'm just curious," Chuck says. He's totally lying.

"Chuck - "

"It doesn't work like that, Sam, I promise you, if I knew what was going to happen in any kind of linear way..."

"So why are you asking about Gabriel? Did you write about him? Is he ok?"

"Is he ok?" Chuck says. "Last time he almost leveled Bobby's house because he and Dean got into a pissing match!" Sam's silent on the phone, wondering what it is Chuck knows about what happened that night.

"So you know why he left, then," Sam says.

"Do you?" Chuck says. There's another uncomfortable silence. "Sam, I mean this in the nicest way, but - "

"But what, Chuck?"

"You're perspective gets kind of screwy."

"What?" Sam says, thinking back to English classes and first person point of view.

"I'm just saying, when I write.....you," Chuck says, "I mean, when the visions are how you're seeing things - look, it takes me a while to get my head straight after."

"Isn't that because you're drunk?" Sam says. There's silence on the line. "I'm sorry," Sam says belatedly.

"Look, I get that I don't always have the most useful information, I'm a prophet, not a psychic, ok, but I'm just... As a unique observer to your life, I thought maybe it would help you to consider that you, um, that you are kind of fucked in the head. You know, like, it's ok, we all are, in our... own ways, but - you're like your own worst enemy, ok?" Chuck says.

Sam thinks he liked it better when Chuck was talking about Gabriel.

"Ok, so, I'd better go make some coffee or something, I'm not really sure the last time I slept - "

"Chuck," Sam says and he can practically see Chuck jump on the other side of the line. "Last time you called, it was right before the demonic ritual."

"God, that was scary," Chuck says.

"So there's not...anything you want to warn us about?"

"I don't think so," Chuck says. "Although," Chuck says and Sam thinks, finally, some useful information, when he says, "Does Castiel have a paper cut or anything?"

"What?" Sam asks.

"Is he there, can I talk to him?"

"Yeah, hang on," Sam says, and he opens up the car door and walks to the diner. "It's for you," Sam says, handing the phone to Castiel. Dean looks offended and Sam just shrugs and walks off.

"Hello Chuck," Castiel says solemnly into the phone. "I have not been cut by paper."

It's another case of hindsight being 20-20 and all that. Sam also makes a mental note to talk to Chuck about his reading comprehension, or possibly just not answering his phone the next time Chuck calls, because this is alarmingly familiar; Sam's tied to a post with Dean behind him, someone's beating on Dean, someone's got a knife poised over Sam's forearm. What's different is that Castiel isn't there. He'd gone back to the car to get an extra shotgun and they'd gone ahead inside, and they'd gotten a few good swings in this time but were grabbed all the same.

"Cas had better not come in here," Dean says through gritted teeth. "I don't want anyone calling Lucifer."

"Go outside and get the angel," the demon who seems to be in charge says. He's wearing a guy who looks like a hipster in skinny jeans and a skinny tie. Three demons go outside, leaving only the one in charge, who doesn't hesitate before slicing Sam's forearm, deep, so the blood flows freely, then across his chest, his stomach, his thighs.

"Fuck," Sam curses. It feels like the cuts are all exactly along the old wounds, even though Gabriel had already healed it so there wasn't even a scar. Sam doesn't have to get a good look to tell it's the same knife, the same chalky sigils on the floor and over the walls.

"You ok, Sammy?" Dean coughs.

"Yeah," Sam says. "I'm fine." But he's already going numb, up his whole right side.

"Don't ever believe him when he says that," says a familiar voice. "You think Winchesters do anything but lie?" Gabriel's standing in the middle of the room, hands on his hips like he's surveying his kingdom. Sam notices he's wearing the leather jacket Sam had seen him in last time at the bar.

"You've made a huge mistake coming in here, angel," the hipster demon says.

"Yeah, you know, I think I'll take my chances," he says. "I hear you're making a call to my brother. I'm here to lend a hand. Or, well, an arm."

The demon gapes at him.

"I could call him anytime, you know," Gabriel says as though answering a question no one's asked. "But it's not like he's going to listen to me. I need some sort of....incentive."

"Gabriel?" Sam asks, the feeling of relief at Gabriel's arrival twisting perilously in his chest. There's something in amiss in Gabriel's tone.

"Where's Cas, you son of a bitch," Dean demands.

"He's busy," Gabriel says. He is resolutely not looking at Sam or Dean.

"Anyway, so about that call, let's get on with it," Gabriel says. The demon takes a hesitant step forward, the knife held out. "Hang on, not the jacket, though, I like this too much," he says. He takes off the jacket, throws it aside, and rolls up his sleeve.

"You offer your own blood?" the demon says.

"You're a little slow, aren't you?" he says. "Yeah, go ahead, slice and dice away, honey."

"Gabriel, please, don't do this," Sam begs.

He holds out his arm, and the demon, still expecting some sort of fight, drags the knife deep against Gabriel's skin. Sam watches the blood well up, spreading thickly over the knife. Gabriel doesn't so much as wince.

"Don't, please," Sam begs as the demon approaches him, the knife dripping with Gabriel's blood. "Please," Sam says, and Gabriel finally looks at him. What Sam sees in his expression is terrifying; dark and threatening. Sam closes his eyes tight against it, feels the demon grab his arm, feels the knife so sharp and hot, the sinking sensation as Gabriel's blood mixes with his. Suddenly everything goes white and there's a wind so strong its like everything is being sucked inside out. The building shakes, the glass windows shatter, Sam is knocked away from Dean, almost across the room. He doesn't want to open his eyes. It can't end like this, it can't.

"Sam, look at me," Gabriel says, harsh and urgent.

Sam shakes his head, his eyes squeezed shut. "How could you - "

Gabriel's fingers grip his chin hard. "Look at me," he says and it's a command. Sam opens his eyes. Gabriel's looking at him with concern. "You ok?" he says.

"I don't - " Sam says but then there's another repulsive tilt of his room and he can't hold his head up.

"Castiel, get in here," Gabriel says. Sam can't see anything but blurry shapes, but he hears Castiel's voice, or more than that, he hears Dean shouting at Castiel.

"Where have you been? Did you see what this asshole did? He called Lucifer."

"He did no such thing," Castiel says. "It was a ruse. Look around you, Dean, the building is leveled. This is the power of an archangel."

"But the knife, and Sammy's blood - " Dean's saying.

"Dean," Castiel says. Dean stops talking. Sam's thinking of the knife, the blood; he feels like he's bleeding out except instead of blood it's light, and it's coming from everywhere under his skin.

"Hey, Sam," Gabriel's saying. "I need you to look at me for just a minute, ok, kid?"

Sam can barely open his eyes, but he does because Gabriel's asking him. "There we go," Gabriel says. "Castiel, get him out of here."

"Don't you dare - " Dean says.

"Now, Castiel!" Gabriel commands and then Sam doesn't hear either of them anymore. "Sam," Gabriel says, and then he slaps Sam's face hard and Sam realizes his eyes are no longer open. "I didn't call Lucifer, ok?" Gabriel says. "It was a trick."

"Trickster," Sam slurs.

Gabriel laughs but it sounds kind of choked. "I needed to do this, I'm sorry," he says, pressing his fingers to the gash on Sam's arm. Sam tenses, shivers. He sees a single, clear second of the knife in Gabriel's hand. "I can fix this like last time, but it's going to hurt us both a lot more. Ok?"

"Gabriel," Sam says, or he thinks he says, he's not even sure if he's saying words.

"Ok, hang on," Gabriel says, and presses his fingers deep into Sam's arm, pushing right through him, dragging him out, emptying him, taking away everything, his heart, his life, all of it here under Gabriel's fingers and spilling out onto the floor. Sam screams and he thinks he hears Gabriel's screaming, too, and then everything is white.

"Wait," Sam tries to say but it's nothing but a soft breath. He can smell the Impala, and gunpowder, and blood. So much blood. His shirt feels wet and heavy with it. He can't focus, thinks he might be flying because he sees patches of blue.

"You could have come a little sooner," Dean's saying.

"Sure, I'll just let you rescue yourselves next time," Gabriel says.

"Maybe if you hadn't let them start the ritual - "

"It was already started," Gabriel says. "Before you even - " Gabriel's voice cuts out in a groan of pain.

"Gabriel," Castiel calls out in concern.

"I'm fine, back off," Gabriel says.

Fingers flutter at Sam's neck and Sam tries to brush them away and then suddenly the sharp pain in his chest makes him curl in on himself.

"Hold him still," Gabriel shouts, "I can't - " Gabriel's voice cuts off in a pained shout.

"What the hell is going on back there?" Dean shouts. A horn honks and Sam realizes that the strange, moving feeling is because they're driving. He's not sure how both Gabriel and Castiel seem to be in the back seat with him.

"It's like magical anaphylactic shock," Gabriel says.

"So fix it," Dean shouts.

"I am," Gabriel says resentfully, "But it's happening to me, too."

"Your brother is bleeding excessively," Castiel says. "It is a mistake for us to continue to Bobby's."

"We need to get Sam to the hospital," Dean says with finality.

"No!" Gabriel shouts and the car windows rattle. Sam can feel Gabriel's hands pressing firmly on Sam's chest. "Just listen to me for a minute, Winchester, I can handle this." Gabriel's voice sounds ruined.

"Fine," Dean grits out.

There's a noise ripped out of Gabriel that sounds excruciating. Sam realizes it sounds so bad because he's crying out, too.

"Jesus Christ," Dean curses and Sam feels them accelerate as Gabriel reaches inside of him and tears out his ribs, one by one.

Sam knew how to drive as soon as his legs were long enough to reach the pedals. Dean and Dad never let him drive the Impala, but one time after a hunt for a Pooka went bad, Dean managed to hotwire a car from the campground, asking Sam the whole time if he was watching so he'd know how to do it next time, when Sam was too busy watching the blood staining Dean's shirt red, the blood leaking over his fingers, smearing the wheel. Dad was passed out in the backseat, saying things in Latin that were either prayers or an exorcism, Sam couldn't recognize the words.

"So ok, let's blow this - " Dean said and then he'd promptly passed out, and Sam was the only one close enough to conscious to get them back to Pastor Jim's. So Sam sat on the very edge of the seat, stretched his neck so he was as tall as he was ever going to be at 11, and it was funny how all the times he'd watched Dad and Dean do it, it wasn't as easy as it seemed.

"Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem," Dad mumbled as Sam ran a stop sign, spun out on sand as he turned too fast onto the highway, and the road seemed blurry and fast past the windows, the windshield foggy and the car too dark, too new for Sam to figure out where the defrost even was.

Sam watched the white needle climb over the numbers like the didn't mean anything, and he was better, almost better, almost turning the wheel without having to turn his whole body when Dad's mumbled Latin turned into Sam's name, sharp and urgent.

"Pull over, Sammy, that's a good boy," Dad said as Sam hit the brakes too hard, dust and gravel slippery as ice under the tires. "Let me take the wheel."

The next thing Sam's aware of is sharp rocks under his shoulders, dirt kicked up red and dusty in the air. The air is sharp on cold on Sam's face but Sam is thinking how warm Gabriel is on him. And that's weird, is Gabriel really - Sam blinks and Gabriel's straddling him, his hands on Sam's chest, but they're - they're closed one over the other like he's - like he's doing CPR and-there's a tightness in lungs, a burn that's spreading.

"Breathe," Gabriel shouts and Sam thinks he has to mean him.

"Someone wanna give me a hand here?" Dean shouts. "Cas?"

There's the heavy sound of a body falling, and Sam gasps, coughing, spluttering like he was underwater. Gabriel bangs his hands, closed into fists, into Sam's chest.

"That's not- " Sam gasps. "Not CPR."

"No," Gabriel says and then he hits Sam in the chest three more times.

Gabriel suddenly doubles over, falls from the place he's sitting across Sam, into the dirt. Another cloud of red dust kicks up and Sam hears the thunderous sound of footsteps, dust and dirt everywhere, and he feels something sticky leaking down his arm.

"Guys, I think I'm - still - " Sam tries to say, then then Gabriel's pulling himself up, yanking Sam's arm so it's held in front of him.

"Shit," Gabriel says, and then, "Hang on, snickerdoodle," and presses his fingers to the gash on Sam's arm and Sam blacks out.

When Sam opens his eyes everything has a comet trail behind it, like sparklers in the dark.

"The knife, give me the knife," Gabriel's saying.

"You can't - " Castiel says.

"Little brother, I know what I'm doing."

Sam closes his eyes, hoping it will make everything else clearer, but the comet trails are still there, behind his eyelids. "You sound," Sam gasps, "like Dean."

"Well he doesn't sound like much right now because Bobby gave him something that knocked him out, bless his heart," Gabriel says. "The knife. Now, Castiel," he says.

"You think that's such a good idea?" It's Bobby's voice, somehow, and Sam tries to say his name. "Cuttin' on him further when he's already - "

"Where are we?" Sam says, but all his consonants feel too long. "Did I fall off the car in Bobby's lot?"

"The knife," Gabriel says, insistent, then he's bending low over Sam. Sam gets a good look as Gabriel's face and he thinks he sees tear streaks down the dust-covered cheeks.

"It wasn't so hard to heal last time," Bobby says.

"First, you weren't even there," Gabriel says between clenched teeth. Sam can feel Gabriel's trembling hand on his arm. "Second, this isn't the first time, so his body knows. It remembers."

"His body is still trying to complete the ritual," Castiel explains.

"Helloooo," Sam says, long and loopy, "Collect call to L - "

Castiel's hand is suddenly over his mouth. "Do not speak his name."

Pain blossoms along Sam's chest.

"The knife, Castiel, don't make me ask again," Gabriel says, tearing back Sam's shirt. Sam feels the sticky resistance of blood all along his skin.

"Here," Castiel says, low and close, and Sam sees the glint of the knife.

"No," Sam protests.

"Sorry, kid," Gabriel says.

Gabriel slices his own arm and drags his whole hand over the spreading blood, collecting it in his palm, over his fingers, holding it like it's a handful of water scooped up from a lake. Sam thinks that he's going to make him drink and no, he can't, he can't - He turns his face away but Gabriel's hand is on the side of his face.

"No," Sam tries to shout but he can't make his voice loud enough. "Get it away from me, I can't drink that, I won't be able- "

"Oh, sweetheart, no, you're not going to drink this," Gabriel says sounding like Sam is fucking breaking his heart, and then Gabriel's dipping his his thumb into the pooled blood and pressing it to Sam's forehead in, Sam swears, the sign of the cross.

Sam didn't get sick often as a kid; it was an imperative. Sick kids got noticed. But he remembers once, he had a fever so bad that Dad at first thought it was possession, and even took him to a witch doctor. Sam had felt hot all over, stupid and slow, like time was moving backwards. Dean told him later he'd been hallucinating all sorts of things, making Dad paranoid as he paced back and forth in front of his bed. All Sam remembered, though, was Dean and Dad's hushed voices through a hypnotic, endless night, both of them trying to get Sam to swallow Tylenol and drink Gatorade that made him cough and dribbled down his chin. When Sam's fever broke, he woke up to Dean reading him a comic book that was useless without the pictures Sam couldn't see because of the a holy-water-soaked face towel over his forehead and eyes.

Sam wakes up and he's lying on a bed, blankets draped haphazardly over him. His head hurts like he's been drunk for a week, and when he tries to move, his body aches. Gabriel's sitting on the edge of the bed and he shifts when Sam moves.

"Easy, easy," Gabriel says, pressing a hand gently to Sam's chest, stilling him. "Remember what I said about taking it easy after blood magic rituals."

"You're crazy," Sam coughs out.

"Now you're talking," Gabriel says. "Your brother's fine, by the way, and so's his angel. I know you're going to ask. Move your arm for me?"

"Which one?" Sam rasps.

"Moron," Gabriel says. "The one that got turned into a filet earlier." Sam does, and Gabriel makes a pleased sound. "Ok, all systems go, mind of I lie down?" Gabriel sounds suddenly exhausted. Without waiting for Sam's answer, he tucks himself against Sam's side on the bed.

"What happened? Are you ok?" Sam asks.

"Oh, now you care," Gabriel says. He's warm where he's touching Sam. All the strength seems to have gone out of him and he's just - there, next to him.

"Well forgive me for thinking that you sold me out," Sam says. "It was hard to tell when someone was cutting me up."

"I won't forgive you anything," Gabriel says, like he's half-asleep.

"No?" Sam asks. He hesitates for a moment and then brushes Gabriel's hair back from his face. Gabriel tilts his head back and sighs.

"Maybe," Gabriel says. He turns into Sam's touch, so that Sam's fingers splay across his cheeks.

"Good," Sam says. "Good." He's stroking his fingers across Gabriel's cheeks. Gabriel's eyes are still closed but he sighs. "You're ok, right?" Sam asks. His chest feels suddenly tight with worry.

"I'm ok," Gabriel says. He opens his eyes for a moment and looks at Sam, sleepy, powerful, drained. "Had a rough night."

Sam laughs but it hurts and so he falls back against the bed, sliding his fingers down over Gabriel's throat, down over his chest. Gabriel hums. Sam realizes he's touching just skin. Gabriel's shirt is gone. Sam leaves his hand there and the next thing he knows, he's asleep.

He only realizes they're in panic room the second time he wakes up. They're not actually on a bed, but on a bedroll piled with blankets that smell like dust.

"Gabriel," Sam says urgently. He sits up and then immediately wishes he hadn't. His head hurts like an ice cream headache, but a hundred times worse. "Oh, god, you shouldn't be here. If I'm here, it means - " The devil's trap, salt lines, rust-iron walls.

"Means what, Sam?" Gabriel stands up from the mat, stretches, although, Sam notices he does it very gingerly, and then he doesn't stay standing very long.

"Demon blood," he says. "I must have - "

"Nope," Gabriel says. Gabriel brushes his hand over the back of Sam's head and the pain ricocheting around his skull eases.

"Then why am I locked in the panic room?"

"We are locked in here," Gabriel says, "and things got a little too....bright for everyone outside." Gabriel reaches behind the blankets, pulls out a shirt and slips it on.

"You did something," Sam says. He runs his fingers over his arms, feeling for wounds. Suddenly he turns to Gabriel and stops him from buttoning up his shirt, his hand finding warm skin.

"Well look at you being all forward, Sam," Gabriel says, grinning at him wolfishly. He let's Sam run his hand over his chest, then lets Sam push up his sleeve. There's an angry-looking scar on Gabriel's arm where there should be one on Sam's, but all of Sam's injuries seem to be gone. "I did a lot of something," Gabriel says. "For a long time. We came in here when I was risking burning the eyes out of your brother's skull."

"Weren't worried about burning mine out?" Sam says.

Gabriel's face is impassive. "Leave it be, I'll be fine," he says, and Sam realizes his fingers are still tracing the red line down Gabriel's arm. Sam pulls his hand back, sets it awkwardly in his lap. "The questions is, are you feeling better?"

"Define better," Sam says.

"You define better," Gabriel says.

Sam tries standing up, and decides to sit back down. "I'm fine if I don't try to stand, apparently," Sam says. His headache rushes back, along with a sharp pain that travels down the muscles of his back.

"Thought so," Gabriel says, his hand at the back of Sam's head again, fingers brushing back and forth through Sam's hair. The pain recedes to a hard to pin down mess of aches. He's still fidgety, distressed at being in this room, locked in here again, but he doesn't feel the familiar, desperate craving, even if he keeps expecting it with every breath.

"But we can leave when I'm feeling better?" Sam asks, hoping he doesn't sound as just this edge of unglued as he feels.

"I decide when we can leave," Gabriel says sternly.

"What happened?" Sam says. Gabriel once again doesn't answer. "What was so bad that I needed full-on eyeball-melting angel power?"

"You know what you could do," Gabriel says, as though Sam didn't ask a question at all. "If you really wanted to prove to me that you were doing better. You could kiss me."

Sam laughs. Gabriel's looking at Sam with an amused, appraising look, waiting.

"You're serious," Sam says after a moment.

"What, it's such a strange thing to want?"

"How is that going to prove that I'm better?"

"Stamina," Gabriel says with a smirk. "And it would be a nice way to thank me for saving your life."

Gabriel's not moving closer, just sitting here there on the mat, looking ridiculously calm. Sam doesn't think, just leans forward and kisses him, a hand on Gabriel's shoulder to steady them. Gabriel makes a noise that's more surprise than anything, as though he had really just been goading Sam and hadn't expected Sam to respond. Sam pulls back, and Gabriel just watches him, his eyebrows raised. Sam's not sure what Gabriel's waiting for, or what he's looking for from Sam, and so Sam just leans in and kisses him again. Gabriel's lips part, just a little bit, and he kisses back, with as little effort as possible.

Sam sits back, takes a deep breath. Gabriel looks at him, cocks his head. "Tired already?" he says.

"I don't know what you want," Sam says, which is as straightforward as he's capable of being right now, feeling raw and confused, like he's made a mistake and anything he does now will only make it worse.

"You're not going to find out if you keep kissing me like you're going to break me."

And somehow being irritated with Gabriel has turned into some kind of turn-on for Sam, because this time he kisses harder, a little sloppier, and the sound he makes when Gabriel opens his mouth and lets Sam's tongue push past his lips startles him with how sharp and needy it is. Gabriel kisses back companionably, letting Sam set the pace, letting Sam do everything first. Sam licks Gabriel's bottom lip and then Gabriel does the same to Sam's. It's an easy push and pull that flushes Sam with warmth.

"Not bad," Gabriel says. There's a definite quirk of amusement in his expression, and Sam wonders just how many times he's going to take Gabriel's bait. But he's driven by the desire to get a reaction out of Gabriel, so he just leans in again, kisses a little harder, a little more aggressively, so Gabriel's sliding down the bed under the pressure of Sam leaning forward, and Gabriel's mouth is so easy under his, so soft, so yielding. Sam makes a frustrated sound and bites Gabriel's bottom lip, chases his tongue. Sam can feel that there's so much more under each kiss, so much more behind it, and Gabriel's holding it all back.

"What do I have to do?" Sam says. "I can feel it, I can feel it just behind everything," Sam says, and he can tell Gabriel understands what he means even if he's not saying it right because his smile quirks and he reaches out, brushes his fingers so lightly over Sam's jaw.

"You can feel it, huh? You want more?" It shouldn't be so hot, the way he's goading Sam, but it still sends a jolt of lust through him, of need.

"Yeah," Sam says.

Gabriel leans back against a pillow, tucks his hands behind his head.

"Are you trying to make me prove I really want it?" Sam says. Gabriel just smiles.

Sam brushes his fingers through Gabriel's hair and Gabriel lets his eyes fall closed for a moment, and so Sam does it again, digs his fingers in at the base of Gabriel's neck and when his mouth opens in the slightest gasp, Sam kisses his way in, groans when he tastes the spark of power, the thing that means Gabriel's here, right here, and he wants Sam. And Sam wants him, too, he wants him so much, everything else is blacked out against this bright moment, when Gabriel's breath is hot on his face, Gabriel's tongue is sliding against his like he means it, intense, deep and unrelenting. It hits Sam hard in the chest, like it breaks apart the last of his control, and he's tugging at Gabriel's hair, kissing him so hard he's not breathing enough, everything's going white at the edges.

Sam pulls back with a groan, gasping for breath. "Is this -" he can't find the words, so he kisses Gabriel again, his mouth hot, so hot, so much power. Sam startles when something explodes behind him - the bare bulb by the door is in shards. Gabriel's expression is dangerous, like he'll explode something else if Sam doesn't kiss him right this very second. Except that when Sam does, there's a dull thud that comes from the ceiling. The iron pinions creak. The room starts to shake.

Sam tries to give Gabriel a look of concern, but Gabriel only opens his eyes to see why Sam's stopped kissing him.

"So is this why we're in the panic room?" Sam says. Gabriel ignores the question.

This is not the controlled thing Gabriel had spent so long suggesting and implying, the deliberate taking and claiming, the power play. It's dirty and urgent and messy and Sam doesn't think he's ever had anything hotter in his life than Gabriel so desperate for his touch that he's lost the his finesse, he's yanking Sam's shirt off so it catches at his chin, he's fumbling with Sam's zipper, biting Sam's neck in impatience.

"Touch me," he growls and Sam, so stunned and turned on, realizes he can move again, that he can do something other that kiss, slides his hands up Gabriel's bare back, tight on his shoulders, cupping his head, and Gabriel groans and starts mouthing Sam's jaw, his ear, his chin, sloppy and wet, tongue and teeth. Sam ends up on top of Gabriel, whose hips are already rocking a steady rhythm against Sam.

"Don't get too excited, I'm not gonna last," Gabriel says, arching up into Sam. The idea sends shivers through Sam, Gabriel so close, so close because of him. "All that kissing," he says, like it was something more than just - kissing. "Kind of pushed me over the edge."

"You're kidding," Sam says.

"Do I look like I'm kidding?" Gabriel says, and then kisses Sam hard to prove it, so hot and deep that Sam thinks he's hears the room creaking again, the iron being tugged in too many directions by some primal force.

"I remember - " Sam starts but then can't go on. He is totally not going to talk about Chuck right now. "So kissing is like - a thing for you?"

"You want me to make fun of how strongly you react when I lick your neck like this?" Gabriel says, and then does it, and Sam groans, bucks up against Gabriel, desperate for friction. "See?" he says. "Or what if I told you to spread your legs like a good boy," Gabriel whispers into Sam's ear and Sam grinds down against him. "Why can't I like kissing?"

"So," Sam says. "Could I kiss you until you come?"

Gabriel makes a needy, desperate sound like he wants that and also like it might kill him. Sam kisses him, long and lingering and Gabriel whines. And then he's arching into Sam's touch, his head thrown back wantonly, his legs splayed wide and dirty, Sam's hand on his cock, hot and heavy, stroking slow and measured. "Sam," Gabriel whispers, his mouth twisted with want like he didn't want to say it in the first place, and Sam moves forward to kiss him, awkward and tangled and Gabriel's moving against him, thrusting up against Sam's stomach, hands tight, fingers digging into Sam's hips, his ankles hooked around Sam's calves, and with a broken-open groan, Gabriel comes against Sam's stomach, head thrown back. The room shudders and shakes. All the lights go out. Sam's eyes adjust to the dark, and he watches Gabriel swallow and breathe in deep, cleansing breathes. Then he reaches for Sam, pulls his face close and kisses him again, and slides them on their sides so he can reach for Sam's cock. Sam didn't think he was that far gone, but just a few strokes and Gabriel's tongue in his mouth and Sam's gasping and coming, spilling over Gabriel's hand.

"Wow," Sam breathes into Gabriel's shoulder, once he's pulled himself together.

"We'll do something more impressive later," Gabriel promises, but Sam doesn't need anything more than this, this hot, messy, honest need was far better than any elaborately planned seduction. Gabriel nips his bottom lip and Sam realizes he's read his thoughts.

"Stop that," Sam says, though it's less than half-hearted.

"Whatever, you like it," Gabriel says. He's draped over Sam in a possessive and slightly obscene way and Sam just lets his head fall back against the pillow.

Dean knocks on the door, sliding open the peep hole slot. Sam grabs for a blanket to drape over himself, but the room's still dark and Dean can't possibly see much.

"You ok, Sammy?" Dean asks.

"Yeah," Sam croaks, "Just sleeping."

"Sorry," Dean says. "It was just so quiet after all the - noise."

Sam desperately hopes that Dean doesn't mean he heard that kind of noise, but he's reassured when Dean says, "Bobby thought the whole side of the house was gonna come down. What the hell kind of power is this guy plugged into?" Dean says. Sam knows they both know the answer.

"This guy," Gabriel says, "could use some more quiet."

"Fine," Dean says grumpily, but he doesn't argue. The slat slides shut with a metal finality.

"That's better," Gabriel says at Sam's ear.

"So you don't want to - " Sam's suddenly thrown back against the bed, hitting so hard he feels it in his teeth, and Gabriel's right there.

"What?" Gabriel asks.

Sam's speechless, breathless. He'd be more scared if Gabriel's eyes weren't darting back to his mouth every few seconds.

"What, Sam? I don't want to what? What is it exactly that you're offering?"

"Anything." It comes out breathless, a dirty whisper. "Anything you want."

"Do not say that to me," Gabriel says. His fingers are tight in Sam's shoulders, pulling him closer. There's a low rumble underneath them that could be the ground shaking. "You don't mean that."

"I do -" Sam says, but before the words are even out, Gabriel's cutting him off.

"You don't," he says, and there's raw power in his voice, dangerous, barely contained. "You don't have any idea." They're breathing together and Sam thinks Gabriel might kiss him, his mouth hovering over Sam's like he's just barely able to hold himself away. Their lips brush for just a second then Gabriel says, "I want you to say no to Lucifer, or yes, I don't care, but I want it to be your choice, and not because no one has given you any other option. I want you to choose," he says. "When you're where I was, when you're faced with that moment of decision, I want you to make a choice and not walk away from it. Because walking away hurts, Sam, it hurts and it keeps on hurting and all you've done is prolong the inevitable, but the choice is still there, waiting for you."

Sam's heart is pounding wildly, because he knows that feeling, he knows the feeling of waiting, thinking you're free, but knowing it's always out there. "I thought it was better, what you did," Sam says. He admires that Gabriel walked away instead of watching the hurt, he realizes it as it uncoils from inside him that he admires that, he wants to be that strong.

"Your brother's right about one thing, I'm a coward," Gabriel says. "And you're not, Sam. Oh, you're not." Gabriel leans in and finally kisses him.

And there it is, the smallest taste, the spark, and he knows Gabriel's keeping it from him, and Sam needs it, he needs it.

Sam groans his frustration against Gabriel's mouth, kisses him with the need that's spiraling up from inside of him, and it's scary, it's strong, and Gabriel's licking at the corner of Sam's mouth and Sam pulls Gabriel toward him, so they're both kneeling on the mat, facing each other.

"Yeah?" Gabriel says, not encouragement, but a question. His mouth's red and his hair's mussed up at the back.

"Please," Sam says, and it's the right answer, because Gabriel shows him what that spark really is.

Sam wakes up and the door to the panic room is ajar.

He digs clothes out of his duffel bag, showers and dresses, and then knocks on Dean and Castiel's door. Dean answers, doing a good job of pretending nothing's different but Sam's too distracted by his own thoughts, circling inside him like a storm. Castiel's asking Dean about a shirt and he stops like he's walked into a wall when he sees Sam.

"What?" Dean says, looking between the two.

"Nothing," Castiel says, but Sam can feel it, can feel the way Castiel is looking at him like he sees something that wasn't there before.

"Where's your boyfriend?" Dean asks grumpily.

"Not sure actually," Sam says. "Probably he's outside."

"So you're ok, Sam?" Dean sounds like he could care less about where Gabriel is, which would piss Sam off if he didn't already know how long it took Dean to get past something once he'd made a decision about it. Gabriel hadn't actually made good first or second or third impression.

"Yeah," Sam says, like he hasn't just been torn open and remade. "Yeah, I'm ok."

One of the things Sam loves best about staying at Bobby's is that they always follow the normal rhythm of the day, no matter what weirdness is happening. There is always breakfast, lunch, dinner, chores in the scrapyard, lessons about stuff Bobby knows and won't let them leave without learning. Sam likes the way Bobby teaches, too, with patience and irritation. Bobby's created a new protective circle incorporating some of the sigils that Sam was already weary of seeing, but Sam wasn't getting away without learning how to draw the thing from memory.

"Take a step back and look at that, tell me what you see," Bobby says, voice even, but Sam knows he's asking because he's gotten something wrong. Sam cans over the circle, the symbols, checks the book. Then he looks up at Bobby.

"I don't know," Sam says. Bobby holds his hands out for the book but when Sam hands it to him, he closes it.

"What do you *see*?" Bobby asks. He walks around the circle and then he sees it. Two of the angels of the pentagram aren't joined. Sam kneels down and connects them, and for a second the circle glows bright blue and then settles back into chalk.

"That look better to you?" Bobby says.

"Yeah, Bobby, thanks," Sam says.

"No reason to thank me. I might not be there when you need this, so now it's not my fault if your idiot ass messes it up."

This is the way hunter's teach, they stand there and watch while you figure it out yourself. Sam realizes now how much restraint that actually takes, how deliberately hands-off Dad and Ellen and Bobby and everyone who taught them their part of the trade had been. Ultimately, hunting was about being alone, and the best hunters would teach someone with that in mind. They weren't passing along something interesting, they were giving you the tools to save your own life and in the end, there's no one who could be held responsible if you messed up except you.

Sam rests his hand on Bobby's shoulder and feels a weird shudder pass down his arm. Bobby feels it, too, and shakes Sam off.

"Get your hands off me, boy, I'm not some piece of furniture."

When Sam turns around Castiel is staring at him.

"What?" Sam says.

"Stand up, Bobby," Castiel says.

Bobby looks like he wishes he had his knife closer. "Why, you son of a bitch, don't you even - "

"Cas, don't be like that," Dean says.

"What?" Sam says.

"You have shared Gabriel's Grace," Castiel says, in a whisper.

"Is that as dirty as it sounds?" Dean asks.

"Sam Winchester, you are touched by Heaven's mercy."

"That," Gabriel says, coming down the stairs, "Is why I like to stay out of things. No appreciation." He snaps his fingers and Bobby's wheelchair is gone; Bobby's standing on his feet. He looks so shocked that Sam's not sure he won't fall over from it.

"What the hell?" Bobby says after a moment.

"You cured him," Sam says.

"No, you did," Gabriel says, sounding like he'd rather not talk about it at all. "Looks like I was sloppier than I thought with your clean-up," Gabriel says, waving a hand up and down Sam's direction.

Sam turns to Gabriel. "What did you to do me?" When Gabriel doesn't answer, Sam shouts, "What did you do to me?" and all of the lights in the room explode in a shower of sparks.

"Did you ever think that's maybe why I don't get involved?" Gabriel says, sitting down at the table like Sam didn't just blow things up with his mind, his arms across his chest, simmering.

"That's enough," Bobby says. "Seems like if anyone's gonna be upset, it's gonna be me."

"What are you upset about old man, you can walk again."

"No thanks to you," Bobby says. Gabriel stares at him, then shrugs in an affected way.

"Uh, someone wanna tell me what's going on?" Dean asks quietly. Sam thinks it's really bad if Dean sounds scared. "Cas?"

"It'll fade," Gabriel says. "Give it a few days. Not you," he says to Bobby, whose mouth is pressed closed in a grim line. "You're good as new. Well."

Gabriel's stirring at least a cup of sugar into his coffee.

"So you - did something to me, without asking, you worked some kind of - " Sam says but Gabriel's cutting him off.

"You asked for my help a long time ago." Gabriel slams his fist on the table. Several dishes shatter and the window in the hall cracks like thin ice on a lake. "What kind of help did you think I was going to give you? I was the strength of God, Sam, and I was His messenger, I brought His Good News."

"This doesn't feel like - "

Gabriel stands then, crowding Sam's space like he's a hundred times Sam's size. "I blessed you with the power of Heaven, and you're pissed because you don't like the way it makes you feel!"

They stare at each other and the room starts to tremble. Sam can feel a current running between them, and it's enough like the thing he felt when he kissed Gabriel to make him feel broken wide open and scared, like he's holding a match that's about to burn down to his fingers and he can't put it down. A sharp, high noise filling the air. Sam blinks and Gabriel's gone. Everything's quiet.

"I'm waiting for an apology," Bobby says.

Sam glares at him.

"What, you think I'm ok with being a side act to your angel fighting?"

"Bobby," Sam says, and his voice breaks. Bobby's eyes soften.

"Idiot," he says.

"What the hell's going on, Cas?" Dean asks like he's just walked into the middle of something he has no chance of understanding. He's looking at Sam in a way that makes Sam think uncomfortably about Dean saying things about locking him up for his own good.

"Sam was touched by Gabriel's Grace. It is difficult to describe."

Sam turns, because he suddenly understands. "I got a hit of his powers," Sam says. "That's all it is. It'll fade, like he said."

"You got- " Dean clears his throat. "I thought you all told me you didn't drink his blood."

"One does not need to drink blood to be blessed," Castiel says. "I do not understand the specifics of the rite Gabriel performed, but he did what was necessary to save Sam. He must have used his Grace, and considering Sam's unique - "

They hear a light upstairs explode.

"Sammy, you gotta get that shit under control, or I'm not letting you in the car."

Dean's trying to make a joke, and Sam wants to laugh, he really does, but he just goes upstairs, locks the bathroom door, and splashes water on his face.

It's just like after the first time Gabriel left. Dean gives a hunt to Sam like a present, and they spend a week writing protective circles all around any town with so much as a whisper of groups gathering to talk about the end of days, getting thrown out of eleven churches and almost arrested twice for defacing public property. Castiel joins them on the third day (creating enough of a decoy to save them from the first near-arrest) and Sam empties hardware store after hardware store of their selection of white spray paint. He's pretty sure at least one of the clerks was convinced Sam was some sort of paint sniffing junkie.

They're just finishing up a circle on the cement floor of the rectory basement, where the Rapture Club of East Springmeadow holds their weekly meeting, when Sam's phone rings, startling him enough that he sprays a white line over the back of his hand.

"Hi Sam," Chuck says, "Don't hang up."

"Before you say another word, Chuck, is there another ritual?"

"I checked, I even had Becky check, there's nothing that looks like a ritual," Chuck says. "But, uh...."

Castiel puts his spray paint can into his trench coat pocket and takes a step toward Sam. Sam wonders how good his hearing really is and whether that's basically the same as picking up the line in another room. "But what, Chuck?" Sam says.

"So, you, uh, you know how I have an archangel on prophet duty all the time?" Chuck says.

"Yeah, did something - "

Chuck doesn't wait for Sam to finish the question. "So he's here. In person, you know, watching over me. In person."

"Raphael is there?" Dean comes to Castiel's side and Sam watches their wordless exchange.

"No," Chuck says, turning the end up like it's a question. "No, not Raphael."

Sam suddenly understands. "Chuck, is Gabriel there?"

"Uh huh," Chuck says, his voice wavering. "Yeah, since, uh, since Tuesday. Right now he's making scones with Becky. Can you - " Chuck's voice kind of winds up and cuts out. He clears his throat. "Are you anywhere close? Could you and Dean, uh, could you maybe drop by?"

"Yeah," Sam says, swallowing the word. "Sure. We'll, we'll leave now. I'll go tell Dean and Cas."

"Thanks, man, I gotta," his voice fades out. "Ooh, cookies, sure, yeah, I love cookies. Hurry," Chuck says right before he hangs up.

"Dude sure was pretty quick to pick his angel robes back up," Dean says, a hundred miles of silence down the road.

"I do not believe Gabriel is there in the exact capacity of an archangel," Castiel says carefully.

"You mean he's crashing Chuck's prophet party?" Dean asks. "You sure Cas shouldn't just zap us there?"

"I believe it is unwise," Castiel says. "If Gabriel is indeed protecting Chuck in some manner..." Castiel's voice trails off.

Sam knows what he means. He wonders if the cookies are a clue or a misdirection.

When they pull up to Chuck's house, nothing looks that different. It's still kind of in a crappy neighborhood, there's still half an old couch in his neighbor's lawn. They're about to knock when Chuck throws open the door.

"Hi guys!" he says in the worst imitation of surprise. "Hey, Becky, and uh, Gabriel," Chuck says, turning to shout over his shoulder into the house, "Sam and Dean and Castiel are here. Oh my god, thank god you're here, I don't know what I did to get on his bad side, but he's torturing me," Chuck says.

Castiel appears to be checking Chuck for injuries. "You are unharmed."

"No, no, I'm not," Chuck says. "Seriously, come on in."

Sam scans the house. It looks normal - cleaner, maybe, though he thinks it's probably because it got cleaned up from the last time an archangel was there. There are the unmistakable signs that Becky's also living there now, a cardigan draped over a chair, a tube of lip gloss on the table, a few pictures hanging. Sam would say something about it, but Chuck looks so miserable at the moment that Sam thinks it's not a good time.

"Hey guys," Becky says without looking up. She's sitting at her laptop, typing furiously, and Gabriel is standing over her shoulder, pointing at something on the screen.

"He should use his belt here," Gabriel says. Becky looks up at Gabriel with a brilliant smile and then she starts typing again.

"I don't get it," Dean asks.

"They're writing fanfic together," Chuck says.

Dean's eyes go wide. "You mean they're writing - " Dean points between him and Sam. Sam keeps watching the way Gabriel's eyes are locked on the screen as Becky types, the corners of his mouth tugging into a wider and wider smile.

"Oh, it's worse than that," Chuck says. He sounds like someone has a gun between his shoulder blades.

"Don't worry, Castiel, you're in this, too," Becky says, still typing. "Although Gabriel's much better at your voice than I am." Becky looks up at Gabriel with adoration. "Do you want to finish the shower scene?"

"I would love to," he says. Becky stands up and lets Gabriel sit down, his fingers flying over the keys.

"You guys want some cookies?" Chuck says, his voice too high.

"I would love some," Sam says.

Chuck kind of collapses when they're in the kitchen. "I don't know why he's here," Chuck says. "He just blinked in last week and - " Chuck has to stop, as though the horror of Gabriel's extended stay as a house guest is just too much.

"I think it's my fault," Sam says.

"You think?" Chuck says, practically throwing a plate of cookies in their direction and pouring himself a fifth of bourbon into a coffee cup. He seems to hesitate for a moment and then he sets the bourbon in the middle of the table next to the cookies. Castiel helpfully opens a cabinet and pulls out glasses. "I saw what happened, when you two fought. You really have a knack for saying the things that will make him the most angry," Chuck says. He downs his bourbon and holds the cup out. Castiel refills it for him.

"I'm sorry, I can - "

"And the worst thing," Chuck says. "Worse than him using my toothbrush or sharing recipes with Becky or the fact that he never sleeps, like, ever, " Chuck swallows his drink. "The worst thing is that he's messing with my visions. I don't even think on purpose, I think it's just the fact that he's here and there's some kind of bleed over and it's - Yesterday I wrote this whole story where he's an English professor and Sam's his best student and - " Chuck stops, puts his head in his arms on the table. "And then there were cowboys."

"Cowboys are cool," Dean says.

"You'd inherited a ranch," Chuck says. "Castiel was your ranch hand, and you'd tie him up with your - "

Dean knocks back his bourbon. Castiel reaches for a cookie, takes a contemplative bite, and hands the rest of the cookie to Dean. Chuck makes a choked sound, like he probably wrote that scene, too.

"You gotta help me," Chuck says.

Sam pushes back his chair and leaves the kitchen behind. When he sees Gabriel and Becky at the computer, though, Becky giggling and blushing, he wishes he'd taken the bourbon with him.

"Hey Becky," Sam says, "Can I talk to Gabriel for a second?"

"Oh sure," Becky says like she's in on some secret. "I'll just go into the other room." She winks at Gabriel and then elbows Sam as she walks by, too close. Sam waits until she's in the kitchen and then he clears his throat. Gabriel is still typing.

"Gabriel," he says.

"Kinda busy," Gabriel says.

Sam walks over to the computer, and before he can read what's on the screen, Gabriel minimizes the window, then closes the laptop.

"Can we just - "

"Can we just what, Sam?" Gabriel says, turning in the chair so he's back is always to Sam. Chuck's windows rattle. Sam reaches out and when he touches Gabriel's shoulder, it's warm and normal for a second and then he's knocked halfway across the room. He hits a bookshelf and falls to the ground, books raining down around him.

"Don't touch me," Gabriel says.

Sam looks up to see that Dean, Castiel, Chuck and Becky have rushed into the room.

"Sammy," Dean says.

"Don't, Dean," Becky says, placing a hand in the middle of Dean's chest. Dean looks down at it like it's a weapon. "I know you want to protect your brother, but you need to let him go so he can find love."

Chuck whimpers.

"Yeah," Dean says. "Whatever."

Gabriel picks the books back up with a snap but when Sam tries to get up, he's knocked back down on the floor.

"I believe now would be an appropriate time to make an excuse to leave," Castiel says. Sam likes that even Castiel isn't trying to ignore what's going on.

"No, don't leave on my account, little bro," Gabriel says. "I've got some errands to run anyway," he says, and with a blink, he's gone.

"Oh thank god," Chuck says, and then promptly falls over, clutching his head.

"Chuck!" Sam says, but Becky's already at Chuck's side.

"It's ok, this is just pre-prophet stuff," Becky says and it's actually touching when Sam realizes she's done this before. Her arm's around Chuck and she's trying to get him to stand. "Let's just get you to bed," she says. Castiel is at their side, and, with a nod Becky for permission, Castiel touches his fingers to their foreheads. Becky's face looks like she's being given a benediction, and Chuck just looks like he's going to puke.

"So, cowboys," Sam says, before Dean can say anything about how Gabriel just knocked him on his ass and blew him off.

"I need a drink," Dean says.

Dean and Castiel are having another one of their discussions without words in the entryway of Chuck's house, and Sam can't tell if they're talking about a case of Chuck or Sam or what. Becky sits down at the table next to Sam, still looking at him in a way that makes Sam think that it's only a matter of time before she's touching him again.

"Hi Becky," he says.

"Oh, Sam," she says, like she's coddling him. "Gabriel will be back, don't you worry."

"I'm not," Sam says. "I'm not worried."

"Oh, it's ok, he's got it bad for you, too," Becky says. "But you have to understand how hard this is for him."

"How - what?" Sam asks.

"So, it's like this," Becky says like she's about to lay something out on the table. Sam can't help but he drawn in by the calm understanding in her face. "When Gabriel rescued you from the second demonic blood phone call ritual, you were pretty far gone. I'm sure he didn't tell you, that's just how he is. He didn't want too much attention over it, you know?" Beck says. Sam wants to crack up, because Gabriel not wanting too much attention? "But to save you, he had to tap into some pretty serious angel magic. The kind of heavenly power that he hasn't touched for hundreds of years."

Sam feels understanding starting to dawn. "Oh," is all he can manage.

"It would give anyone some serious issues to work through. I mean, imagine, all the things he'd turned his back on for all that time, all the effort that he put into separating himself from the constant pull of Heaven, of family, of his past, and he doesn't even hesitate to drawn it all right back into himself to save you! It's not about you, Sam, it's about him."

"Oh," Sam says.

"He remembered what it's like to be Gabriel," Becky says solemnly, "To be more archangel than Trickster."

"It would explain why his presence is interfering with Chuck's prophetic powers," Castiel says. Sam isn't even embarrassed that he's been listening. "If Gabriel has once again opened himself up to the holy message."

"Try and understand what he might be going through," Becky says, patting Sam's hand kindly.

"Yeah," Sam says. "Yeah, I think I need some air," he says.

Sam's about a block down the street from Chuck's when he sees Gabriel up ahead, sitting in the grassy hill behind a baseball park. "Just- wait," Sam says, when he sits down beside him, hoping that Gabriel doesn't just angel out. "Please, just wait."

Gabriel's silent as Sam settles himself on the grass next to him. The sun's peeking out from behind the clouds. "I"m waiting," Gabriel says sullenly.

Sam sighs and tears up a few blades of grass. "I'm sorry I made you go all archangel," Sam says. He chances a look at Gabriel, who's face is turned up toward the sun. Sam is struck by how much he wants to touch him, but he squashes the feelings down because they need to get some things straight and he doesn't want Gabriel sending him flying off into the chain link fence.

"You didn't make me do anything," Gabriel says. He closes his eyes Sam watches his throat as he swallows, watches the sun warming his face, thinks of the holy fire, the way he'd talked about loving his brothers. "If you thought I was cruel as a Trickster," Gabriel says, but doesn't finish the sentence.

"I don't want to say the wrong thing again," Sam says. Gabriel rolls his eyes at him, but Chuck, and god forbid, Becky, were right. Sam's been really good at screwing that part up.

"I've been homesick," Gabriel says, "but not the kind of homesick that makes me want to go back."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Sam says.

"Your home is your brother's car," Gabriel says, "And there's no way you could have any idea what I mean."

Sam's about to apologize again when Gabriel says, "Oh, just kiss me already," but he doesn't wait for Sam, just pulls him closes and brings their mouths together. It's warm, and then suddenly hot, and Sam's got his hands up under Gabriel's shirt.

"Maybe we shouldn't be," Sam says, as Gabriel nips at his jaw, "Doing this right here."

"This better?" Gabriel says. Sam opens his eyes and they're on the floor in the middle of Chuck's living room, Gabriel climbing on top of Sam, his hands tight in Sam's hair. Sam has a moment to see his brother curse and cover his eyes, Castiel's wide-eyed stare, and Becky with her hand over her heart like this just might be one too many religious experiences for her in one day. Chuck, who seems to have woken up, is typing with one hand and lifting a cup of coffee to his mouth with the other. He doens't look up from the screen, just says, "You're buying me a new bedroom set," before Gabriel zaps them upstairs.

"What do you think he - " Sam says, but then they're on Chuck's bed, Gabriel stripping away Sam's clothes, his mouth on Sam's stomach, his teeth on Sam's hipbones and Sam forgets there's anyone else in the house.

Gabriel doesn't bother with the patience to actually undress Sam or himself, just snaps his fingers and they're pressed skin to skin.

"You know I'm going to fuck you," Gabriel whispers against Sam's ear and Sam shivers, still shocked at the overwhelming sensation of being suddenly naked. Gabriel seems to be waiting for an answer so Sam nods.

"Yeah," he says breathlessly. "Yeah, I know."

"Oh, you know?" he says. "You've thought about it? You've thought about what I would feel like, inside you?" Gabriel's fingers trace circles over Sam's thigh, up over his stomach. "Answer me."

"Yes," Sam says, without even meaning to.

"You know I'm going to come inside you? Did you think about that?" He drags his teeth across Sam's collarbone, biting down on his shoulder. "Are you gonna come first?"

"Gabriel, please." Sam reaches up and drags his fingers through Gabriel's hair, settling his hand at the base of his neck, kneading his thumb into the muscle. Gabriel makes a contented sound and lets Sam touch him, holding himself still. Gabriel's making these quiet, happy exhales every time Sam's fingers move, his eyes closed, mouth is open just a little against Sam's neck and Sam can't wait any longer, he reaches up and kisses Gabriel, who grabs Sam's hips tight under his fingers.

Gabriel's mouth is hot and wet and slippery under his, chasing after Sam's, each swipe of his tongue along Sam's bottom lip makes him want to push deeper, chase deeper, makes him want to open up underneath Gabriel.

"Yes," Gabriel says, his thumbs pressing into soft, sensitive spots between Sam's legs. "Open up for me."

When Gabriel's pushing into Sam, and Sam groans out, "Harder," the whole bed shudders and then Sam hears wood creaking and snapping, and the bed frame splinters and the mattress slams into the floor.

"So that's what - " Sam says but he's cut off by Gabriel finally doing just what Sam had asked and pushing into him, hard, so hard Sam loses his breath and feels like he's never going to get it back.

"So are we going to talk about this?" Sam's staring up at the ceiling, because looking anywhere else means facing the destruction they've caused to Chuck's bedroom.

"You're ridiculous sometimes, you know?" Gabriel says. It's not an answer, but Sam's used to not getting answers from Gabriel.

He says, later, as Sam's licking his neck, his hands tight on his thighs, "This isn't about you and your victim complex and you're fears about fucking up and what everyone expects. This could be about me, you know. A thousand years of being a god, of turning people's fears and pride inside out. I used to have a purpose. I used to be needed." He watches Sam carefully, like he's looking inside his head. "Maybe I needed that again. Maybe I needed someone to need me."

"I just have one more question," Sam asks cautiously. He waits while Gabriel stares at him, severe and close. "Are you gonna start singing Cheap Trick?"

Sam's delighted that he actually makes Gabriel laugh. In that moment, with Gabriel's arm draped across his chest, he's warm and content in a way he's been chasing all his life.

Lucifer's folding laundry. If Sam hadn't seen some really weird stuff recently, this would have completely freaked him out. As it is, it's just another strange thing to add to the list. Lucifer's messy with socks, pristine with shirts. Sam wonders whose laundry he's folding.

"Hi Sam," he says. He slides his hand over the crease he's just made in a sweatshirt, flipping it neatly folding in half. "Did you ever love something," Lucifer says, and the way he says it, something obviously means someone, "so much that you just had to walk away? A love that burned so bright and hot inside of you that it frightened you and you were afraid that it was more powerful than you? That all that want, all that need, would overcome you, escape your grasp, burst out of you and destroy everything? A love that was so strong it could hurt people? It could hurt the very people you love?" Lucifer gives a shirt a snap, smooths the front and then folds it carefully.

"No," Sam says. "I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

Lucifer actually looks caught off guard.

Sam wakes up, disoriented and alone in Chuck's destroyed bedroom. He puts on pants and a t-shirt and goes downstairs. The first thing he sees is Chuck, still at the keyboard, only pausing typing to take a bite of a muffin that's still steaming.

"Sorry about the - " Sam says and Chuck waves him off.

"It's nothing compared to the motel room two weeks from now," Chuck says.

"What?" Sam asks but Chuck's not paying attention to him anymore.

In the kitchen, Dean's eating an enormous stack of pancakes. He barely gives Sam a nod. Castiel and Becky are sitting in front of considerable spread of sheets of paper.

"Most romances follow a pretty reliable formula," Becky's saying. "And you can usually mix it up in the secondary conflict."

"Such as the suitor who appears at the ranch," Castiel says thoughtfully. "After the - "

"Cas," Dean says, sounding pained.

"Excuse me," Castiel says, and gets up to go over to Dean. Becky smiles at them fondly.

"Oh, hi," Becky says, when Sam comes into the kitchen. Gabriel lifts his head out from where he'd been peering into the fridge.

"Hi Becky," Sam says absently. Gabriel's giving him a look that he's desperately trying not to show his reaction to. Becky giggles, so Sam thinks he's failing miserably.

"What do you want for breakfast?" Gabriel asks.

"Becky, can you come help me with this scene?" Chuck calls out. Becky beams and goes out into the living room.

"Can he still write prophet stuff when you're here now?" Sam asks.

Gabriel nods. "Just had to teach him to tune me out."

"Wish you could teach me," Dean mumbles.

"Can it, sweetcheeks," Gabriel says.

"So I dreamed about Lucifer," Sam says. The room stops. "I mean, again," he says. "He was folding laundry and saying crazy things about how we always hurt the people we love and didn't I want to burn up in that feeling and....I wasn't scared. He sounded ridiculous."

Sam holds his breath in the quiet, wondering if his ramble made any sense, if Dean was about to drag his ass down to Chuck's basement and spray paint a protective circle around him.

"Lucifer is doing laundry in your dreams?" Dean protests. "Really? That's fucked up, man."

"I told you about the laundry," Gabriel says.

Castiel just looks at him, head cocked, the hint of a smile that on someone else might be a full-on grin. And that's it. That's all it takes for Sam to know things might have just taken a turn, for once, finally, in their favor.

"I told you he'd never fall for a guy who couldn't fold socks," Becky says from the other room.

When Sam was a kid, his favorite weapon was a .45 because he liked the way it fit in his hand, liked the big sound and the fast repeat. It was big even when he wasn't. When he was a teenager, he liked the boker knife that he got from Dad's weapons store when Dad let him pick what he wanted. A hunter had any number of weapons but there was always one you kept by your side, one you relied on no matter what you were fighting.

Sam likes Ruby's bowie knife now. It feels hot and safe in his hand, makes him feel strong the way having Ruby at his back had. The way the demon blood had. A knife that shouldn't exist in his hand, a hunter who should have died, a younger brother no one could let go. Ruby's knife felt like it was meant for him, delivered to his hand wrapped in contradictions. He wishes he hadn't been so careless as to leave it upstairs when the doorbell chimes and Becky goes to answer it.

"I bet it's the books I ordered," she says. As soon as she opens door, she's knocked back into the hall in a graceful arc. There's a demon wearing a UPS guy who steps in.

"Nice place," it says, and sweeps Dean off his feet, up against the wall before his body makes the sickeningly slide down. Sam charges but he's up against the wall, too, feels his head knock hard enough to draw blood. "I followed you all the way from East Springmeadow," it says. With a wave of it's hand, the demon has Castiel by an invisible barrier.

"This will not hold me indefinitely," Castiel says, and Sam can tell it's meant for him and Dean and not for the demon, though it laughs horribly. Sam's never going to see a UPS truck and not feel a little unsettled.

"I don't need long," it says. "A few minutes and this town will be full of my kind, wearing the good townspeople stupid enough to welcome us to the doomsday dinner table."

"Becky," Chuck says, running into the room, toward her.

"Ow," Becky says, trying to sit up and rubbing the back of her head. "Fucking jerk," she says to the demon. Sam would laugh any other time.

The demon flicks its fingers at Chuck like he's a bug. "I'm not here for you," it says. "So stay out of the way and I might let you live long enough to see what comes next."

"So that," Gabriel says, flashing into existence in between Chuck and the demon, "Was your mistake." He's still holding the whisk he'd been using for scrambled eggs.

The demon freezes. The air starts to whine.

"If you'd left Chuck here alone, you might have had a fair shot at these idiots, who I'm sure are the real reason you're here." Gabriel says, gesturing at where Sam and Dean are stumbling to there feet. "But my friend Chuck, he's a damn good writer. And I - " the demon starts to jerk and twitch, "Well, I'm a big fan. Close your eyes," Gabriel says, and it's obvious who he means and then the room is exploding with light. Two windows shatter and the demon doesn't have time to scream before they hear the unmistakable sound of something wet hitting the walls and the ceiling, the sharp slice of skin and blood and the smell of sulfur filling the air.

Sam opens his eyes and Chuck's ceiling is covered in demon like beans from an exploded pressure cooker.

"So, that never gets less terrifying," Chuck says. "Or revolting." Gabriel ruffles Chuck's hair fondly. Chuck winces. Castiel can move again and he's checking first Becky and then Dean and Sam for injuries.

"Does this count as a win?" Dean asks, swatting away Castiel, who's trying to determine the source of the trickle of blood on Dean's forehead. "No more demon-powered cult recruiting?"

"It is to be determined," Castiel says.

"I'm calling it a win," Dean says. "And we're taking the rest of the day off."

"Who wants more breakfast?" Gabriel asks, holding the whisk like it's a sword and he's heading for the battlefield of the kitchen.

The last Sam saw of Chuck and Becky, they were putting the adrenaline rush to good use making out, stumbling their way over to the couch and tearing at each other's clothes. He was happy to stay in the kitchen and give them their privacy, especially since he was the one who'd left their bedroom the mess that it was.

"So I was thinking," Sam says. "This is nice." Dean looks up at him with suspicion.

"What's nice?" Dean says. He scrapes his fork across his plate in the way he knows annoys Sam

"Having a house," Sam says. Dean chokes on his bite of eggs.

"Are you telling me you want to buy a house with your boyfriend? Because don't think I won't put you in the middle of a ring of holy fire until whatever mojo you caught wears off."

"No," Sam says. "Dean, listen, no. I meant, our house. Like, Bobby's."

"Our house," Dean says like it's crazier than one of Becky's stories.

"Forget it," Sam says. He's about to get up and get some coffee just to do something with his hands when Dean stops him.

"Sam," he says. "It's just - I haven't heard you talk like that in - in a while," Dean says. Years probably, Sam thinks. He feels like the part of him that used to care about the future, the mundane future like houses, is stranger and further away than the part that wanted to go to law school at Stanford, that remembered answers to questions on the LSATs. "If we survive the apocalypse, we can, you know, maybe talk about it."

It's a lot coming from Dean, and Sam will take that for what it is. "Ok," he says.

"Ok," Dean says.

"Dean," Castiel says. "Earlier, Becky informed me that this is the point in the morning where I should once again offer you my breakfast."

"Ok, thanks, Cas," Dean says, confused, but he stands up and takes the plate Castiel is holding out for him. It's a pancake swimming in syrup. Dean digs his fork in and takes a bite.

"She tells me it's a metaphor."

Gabriel laughs like he's never seen anything funnier. He comes over and Sam reaches out, pulls him close. Gabriel looks taken aback, but he rolls his eyes at Sam like it doesn't mean anything. Still, his hand lingers over Sam's forehead like it means a lot more than he's willing to let on.