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*Act Three: Isn't something missing?*
Masterpost



Every inch of his skin felt burnt from the bottom of his feet to his scalp. He hardly dared to move for fear of sparking new pain. It eventually occurred to him that rather than any particular sound, silence rang in his ears. He cautiously opened his eyes and searched his surroundings in attempt to orient himself. He took in the sight of a dull, partially cloudy sky and the upper branches of trees. As he processed the images, his other senses seemed to kick in with new information.

His skin still ached but there were no flames scorching his skin; instead his fingers curled into grass and dry dirt. The air was fresh, natural, tugging at a memory in the back of his mind. The ringing in his ears slowly faded and he could hear rustling leaves moved by the light breeze also tugging at his hair.

None of this made sense. It was all too calm, too... pure.

Sam didn't know how long he laid in the grass, still except for his fingers clenching in the dirt and the movement of his eyes as he tracked the clouds in the sky. Eventually he pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around.

"Shit," he muttered when he recognized the cemetery surrounding him. He staggered to his feet and turned around slowly as he searched the area. This wasn't the Pit, that much he knew, but he had the sense that it wasn't real, either.

Someone clearing their throat had Sam swinging around to face the threat; he nearly fell over from the wave of dizziness brought on by the movement. A few feet away the demon Crowley stood with his hands tucked into his pants pockets.

"Sit down before you fall down, Gigantor."

Sam braced himself against a tombstone as he stared bleakly at the demon. "I told Dean no deals! Take it back!"

Crowley snorted. "Oh please, like I'm mad enough to trade with that fool."

Confused, Sam asked, "Then why are you here?"

The demon looked up at the sky with a scowl. "Apparently Miss Hindu Goddess thinks you'd go barmy without someone sitting shotgun in your noggin during the transfer."

Sam opened and closed his mouth a few times, at a loss for what to say. "Kali?"

"That's the one." Crowley shrugged.

"Why would she... Why would you...?" Sam asked.

Crowley was silent for a long while, expression suggesting that he was turning something over in his mind and debating about sharing. Eventually he muttered something under his breath and moved closer to Sam.

"Call it a posthumous favor for an old friend."

Sam felt weak as he lowered himself to sit on the tombstone behind him. He stared at Crowley while letting the information sink in. He had no doubts as to the identity of the demon's friend. "You knew Gabriel," he whispered.

"Tolerable chap," Crowley admitted with a shrug. "Certainly didn't like the idea of Lucifer getting his hands on you."

Sam looked away from the knowing stare. The overwhelming heartache made his body pains fade into a dull numbness.

"When do I wake up?" he asked quietly.

The breeze around them picked up. Kali's voice whistled on the wind, "Soon enough. We needed to be sure nothing of Lucifer transferred with you." She paused and Sam looked around, wondering if she would manifest in this strange between-worlds. "Vessel or not, you're mortal, Winchester. Your body and soul have been deeply wounded."

"I know," Sam murmured. If he reached out he could feel some sort of shield currently keeping the worst at bay. He looked up at the sky, for lack of a better focus, and said, "Thanks."

"Don't call on me again. If your brother tries, I'll rip his arms off," she threatened.

While she was probably serious, Sam couldn't help but smile a little. "I'll pass the message along."

The wind began to die down, and Crowley mockingly saluted Sam. "See you on the other side, Moose." He vanished.

*

The wind brushing across his skin held a chill that hadn't been present in Stull Cemetery. Instead of grass, his stiff fingers curled against the fabric of a quilt. Slowly he sorted out the strange murmuring he heard until finally he could identify the creak of metal, footsteps, and familiar voices; though the words hadn't become clear enough to understand. Sam opened his eyes, blinking cautiously at the too-bright sky overhead.

"Sammy?" Shortly after Dean spoke, a hand pressed against Sam's arm. Sam flinched away from the contact and bit back a groan. Instantly the weight disappeared and the pain from the touch faded to a dull ache.

"Hey, Sammy?"

Sam turned his head to look up at Dean's worried face. He had to swallow a few times before he thought he could speak. "Yeah?" he whispered.

"Jesus," Dean breathed, eyes closing for a moment. He leaned forward but let his hands hover above Sam's arms. "D'you want to sit up?"

Not particularly, Sam thought. Movement made him acutely aware of too many aches and pains to count. He agreed to the suggestion, however, and motioned that it was okay for Dean to help him up.

"Are you okay, man?" Dean asked, brows furrowed in confusion as Sam grimaced.

"Fine," he muttered. Sam leaned wearily against Dean's shoulder. "Just getting my bearings."

Bobby's boots came into his line of sight. "When you're ready we'll get you inside, son."

Sam tipped his head to catch the older hunter's gaze. "He didn't make a deal?"

Bobby's lips curved into a smile. "Wouldn't let him do that even if he tried. We just happened upon some luck is all."

"Look, I think we all learned our lesson. Stop harping on it," Dean grumbled. "Plus, I think your boyfri—um, I think Gabriel kind of had an influence."

Sam let his eyes close again. Instead of replying directly he murmured, "I'm tired. Just... let's go inside."

*

The first clue Sam had that something strange was happening came in the form of a woman's shrill voice demanding, "What are
these doing here?"

Sam kept his finger against the binding of the history book he'd been interested in as he turned his head to glance over a nearby shelf. There was a woman standing in front of a set of shelves labeled for religious texts. She waved animatedly at the series of similarly bound paperbacks lining the shelves as she held a heated discussion with an elderly gentleman at her side. Sam narrowed his eyes suspiciously as he recognized the series lining the shelves.

"This is going to be hi-larious," Gabriel remarked as he stepped on a shelf and crossed his arms on top of the bookshelf next to Sam. Grinning, the angel nodded towards a pair of harried-looking employees arriving at the scene. "Think these two can take her?"

"Gabriel..." Sam crossed his arms and glared at the angel. "Why did you replace the entire section with Chuck's novels?"

Gabriel snickered as he watched the employees search the nearby shelves in confusion. "Ok, so he took a bit of artistic license – or his editors made him. Still, it's the modern era and fancy talk isn't real popular. Good ol' Chuck's 'novels' are more factual than most of the texts usually over there, though."

Sam resisted the urge to groan. "Gabriel. Where did you move the Bibles?"

"Hey, not just the Bible, Sammy." Gabriel turned his attention away from the drama unfolding across the way to wink at the hunter. "Christian texts are hardly the only ones getting things wrong."

"Dude, you don't just— I mean..." Sam sighed. Reluctantly he asked, "Where'd you put them?"

The expression on Gabriel's face epitomized the cat-who-ate-the-canary metaphor. The angel hopped down onto the floor and grabbed Sam's hand. He tugged the human partway across the store and down a row past a large selection of comics.

"Voila," Gabriel announced as they stopped in front of shelves filled with books categorized under "Science Fiction/Fantasy." Sam covered his face with his hand.

"Gabriel..." he drew the name out in a long groan.

The angel tugged at the hand he held and laughed. "Oh, come on! You must have thought about doing this before."

"Can't say I have." Sam uncovered his face and stared warily at the group of Bibles sitting on the shelf above a novel entitled
Adventures of the Bold and Beautiful Venusians. "I can't believe you did this." Then, much to his own surprise, Sam started snickering.

Gabriel grinned and slapped Sam on the back. "That's the spirit!"

"Oh my gosh!" A young woman with bright red hair and styled eyeliner stood next to them with her wide-eyed gaze fixed on the Holy Bibles. "Did somebody...?" She started giggling and turned to Gabriel and Sam. "Me and my friends have totally talked about doing this! But it's, like, blasphemous, right? We could never work up the nerve!"

Gabriel smirked at her. "I assure you, things have been appropriately re-categorized!"

She giggled some more but shook her head. "No way, someone's gonna go ape-shit over this."

"Then sit back and watch, kid," Gabriel said.

The girl eyed him suspiciously, although she was still grinning. "And did something get moved to the religion section?"

Gabriel winked. "Only the modern gospel. Guaranteed factual, very few details spared."

"Hmm, guess I should check it out," she laughed.

As she walked away, Sam nudged the angel and whispered, "You're just going to encourage someone to copy this little stunt."

"Awesome!" Gabriel turned so that he stood toe-to-toe with Sam. With a grin, the angel rose up on his tiptoes and planted a quick kiss on Sam's lips. "Now come on, let's find a good seat for the fireworks."

Gabriel had already pulled away and walked past the human by the time Sam decided he wanted to return the kiss. Instead he hid a chuckle and asked, "We're not talking literal fireworks, right?"

Sam turned around and his smile faded. Lucifer stood watching him with a cold expression. The Devil almost always appeared in the form of Nick, the simplest way for Sam to perceive the powerful being.

"Sam, he was never yours," Lucifer said pityingly. He stepped closer and curled his hands around Sam's biceps. "My brother always loved his little games." His hand slid down Sam's arm until his palm pressed against Gabriel's sigil. Lucifer's fingers tightened with preternatural strength.

Sam whimpered as his arm began to burn. Lucifer's hand glowed and tendrils of smoke trailed above the contact point. The smell of burning flesh made Sam gag. No amount of struggling could get him free. Lucifer pulled him closer, impossibly close, until Sam realized that he was no longer alone in his own mind. The fallen archangel slid into Sam's skin, invaded the human's mind, covered the soul with a smothering presence.

Lucifer raised their arms and examined the red, raw flesh where somehow, against all odds, Gabriel's sigil could still be seen. Sam flinched away as best he could as Lucifer's furious cry ripped through their throat.

"This is
mine! You are mine!" Heedless of the human body's sensation of pain, Lucifer dug into the raw flesh and began to scratch. Fingernails sliced into subcutaneous layers of skin, tearing deeper.

Despite the zealous determination Lucifer applied, the mark never seemed effected. Sam writhed in the small corner of his mind that he occupied. He couldn't wrestle control away from Lucifer and had to bear the full impact of sensation flooding his body.

*

Sam's throat burned as he gasped for air. The transition from dream to reality had made him disoriented as it began to sink in that he had control of his body again.

Slowly the overwhelming sound of his heartbeat lessened and he became aware of how ragged his breathing sounded.

"Sammy?" Dean leaned into view, expression worried. "You wanna get off the floor now?" Sam glanced down at himself and realized that somehow he had ended up sprawled on the floor instead of his bed.

"I'm just gonna..." Sam trailed off with a cough. He recognized the rough feeling of his throat and realized he must have been yelling before he woke up. "Just give me a minute." Sam rearranged his limbs so that he no longer sprawled haphazardly across the limited space. He looked down at his arm as he shifted and the sight didn't match with the lingering pain he felt.

Fully aware that Dean was watching him, Sam rolled up his sleeve. Gabriel's sigil showed no sign of damage. Hesitantly Sam pressed his fingers against the simple, unblemished black lines. There was no unusual reaction, no heat, no light, no pulse of power.

"Did you think it meant something? There is no bond, no connection. Another game for him, Samuel. Little brothers do love to vex their older siblings."

"Hey, dude, don't zone out on me." Dean had moved to the floor and was busy waving a hand in front of Sam's face.

Sam leaned back a little to put some space between them. The room itself felt too close, he didn't need his brother crowding him. Dean seemed to pick up on that since he moved back to sit at the foot of the bed.

"So..."

"How long?" Sam asked.

Dean blinked in surprise, as if it had never occurred to him that Sam might ask. "Four weeks, Sammy. A month."

"I can count," Sam murmured absently. Not that saying "a month" meant much of anything when time was an indefinite concept to translate. Sam wasn't even sure if time in the Cage passed the same way as it did in the rest of Hell.

"A month," he repeated, letting the idea sink in this time. Not an unusual amount of time to pass between seeing friends, in a normal life. Sam didn't know the little details he should. Although he did have a detailed sense of those last weeks before the Pit, if only because of the attention paid to those memories while in the Cage.

Dean shifted noisily, his boots scuffing the carpet as he leaned forward. "So, uh, we were kind of thinking about grabbing dinner when you got up."

Sam scrubbed a hand over his face as he assessed his body's status. "Maybe..." he said. His throat still itched. "I could use some water."

~

Sam ate slowly since he figured out he wasn't very hungry. Throughout the meal he found himself staring at Bobby and unable to turn away. The older hunter had moved around the kitchen with an ease Sam hadn't seen since before Lucifer's rising. It was hard to reconcile the scene with Sam's memories of Lucifer's sharp hand twist and the loud crack of Bobby's neck snapping.

"It's rude to stare," Dean joked.

Sam didn't look away even though Bobby now met his gaze. "You were dead," he said. Bobby glanced at Dean.

"Cas used his mojo to sort things out." Dean shrugged.

The memory of the angel exploding into a thousand gory pieces guaranteed Sam wouldn't be finishing dinner. "Castiel...?"

Dean's smile looked a little forced. "Yeah. Fixed us up then headed back to Heaven to play sheriff."

Sam hunched his shoulders and stared down at the table as he tried process the information. "Castiel... is alive," he murmured. He crossed his arms in a tight self-hug in attempt to hide his trembling.

"Yeah, Sam," Dean sounded confused. "Apparently God brought him back."

Biting his lip to keep back a bark of laughter, Sam shook his head. "God. Who told us to leave Him alone, who Cas gave up on. God brought Castiel back again?" He snapped his mouth closed at the urge to laugh hysterically rose.

"Sammy—"

Sam abruptly shoved back from the table and rushed for the door. The air was too heavy, the room too small, and it was too hard to breathe inside. In the kitchen he could hear Dean's concerned shout and Bobby's softer rumble to smooth things over. Sam walked briskly through the yard, putting as much space between himself and the house as possible.

God had intervened and reformed Castiel for a second time. What made the angel so special? Why was it God came to Cas' aid but refused to interfere with anything else? And if Castiel could bring back Bobby, why had he done nothing to help Sam?"

Eventually Sam came to a stop. He dropped his arms to his sides and let his head fall back. He wanted to scream his frustration but didn't need Dean to come running. "Why do you get another chance?" he half-shouted at the darkening sky. Why do any of us get our lives back?

His hand moved to curl around his arm with Gabriel's sigil. Sam squeezed his eyes shut and let out a stuttering sob.

*

Three hunters sitting around post averted-Apocalypse would never amount to anything good. Less than two weeks after Sam's return, Bobby sent the brothers off on a haunting case located in Missouri.

Things weren’t exactly how they used to be. The hours spent in the car were uncomfortable; the air heavy with everything they couldn't or wouldn't talk about. Eventually it seemed that Dean found it an acceptable topic to wonder aloud about the few friends they still had. Not surprisingly, Dean spent most of his time speculating about Castiel's new role in Heaven.

They pulled into Joplin too late to talk with anyone and instead focused on grabbing dinner out before checking into a motel. Dean nodded off around midnight in the middle of a black-and-white sitcom. Sam hunched over his laptop, intent on research preparation and avoiding sleep for as long as he could. Eventually he would have to rest at least a little or risk making mistakes during the hunt, but he would wait for exhaustion to smother his persistent nightmares.

~

Scattered showers had developed into a steady rainfall by the time Dean and Sam uncovered the ghost's grave. The simple salt and burn turned into a mess of mud and pooling water as they were forced to start the fire while still in the hole, attempting to keep the corpse dry enough to catch fire. Fortunately the flames caught quickly and burned strong enough to finish the job before the rain ruined the possibility.

They were halfway back to the Impala when the first rumble of thunder shook the air. Sam hunched his shoulders and ran faster towards the car. In the distance lightning flashed. Dean opened the trunk to toss in their supplies.

They ducked into the car just as a long roll of thunder started. Sam curled in on himself and shivered.

Dean popped in a tape as he started up the car. "You cold?" he asked, sounding skeptical.

Sam accepted the offered excuse with a nod. "Yeah. Shower sounds good."

Vivid spikes of lightning split across the sky. The next clap of thunder seemed to penetrate Sam's bones. The feeling was too reminiscent of how Lucifer and Michael began their arguments.

Sam grabbed for the volume dial and twisted it up. He studiously avoided Dean's stare and was grateful that his brother didn't press the issue.

~

The blood of so-called gods clung to Sam's skin and clothing. He had seen how deep the pagan's rage and grief went. He would have ended her suffering were it not for the wayward archangel that appeared to protect her escape.

Sam allowed himself a disdainful smile as they circled each other. "Over a girl. Gabriel, really? I mean I knew you were slumming, but I hope you didn't catch anything."

The younger angel looked grim. "Lucifer, you're my brother. And I love you. But you are a great big bag of dicks."

Sam/Lucifer curled his lip in distaste. "Wait, what did you just say to me?"

Gabriel spread his arms to indicate the world at large. "Look at yourself! Boo-hoo! Daddy was mean to me, so I'm gonna smash up all his toys."

"Watch your tone," he hissed in warning.

"Play the victim all you want." Gabriel's expression remained firm but Sam recognized the weariness in those amber eyes. "But you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best. More than Michael, more than me. Then he brought the new baby home and you couldn't handle it. So this is all just one big temper tantrum. Time to grow up."

It made no sense. "Gabriel, if you're doing this for Michael—"

"Screw him!" Gabriel snarled. "If he was standing here, I'd shiv his ass too."

Fury ripped through Sam as he glared at the archangel. "You disloyal—!"

"Oh I'm loyal. To them!"

"Who? These so-called gods?" Sam demanded.

Gabriel released a tired-sounding laugh. "To people, Lucifer. People."

"So you're willing to die, for a pile of cockroaches. Why?" It went against all logic for Gabriel to stand against his brothers; for a doomed species, no less.

"Because Dad was right. They are better than us."

"They are broken. Flawed! Abortions," Sam hissed, patience wearing thin.

"Damn right they're flawed. But a lot of them try – to do better, to forgive." Gabriel grinned, "And you should see the Spearmint Rhino! I've been riding the pine a long time. But I'm in the game now, and I'm not on your side, or Michael's. I'm on theirs."

The fury hadn't gone, but Sam felt a rising sense of bitterness as he issued one last warning. "Brother, don't make me do this."

Gabriel's lips pressed in a tight line and he shook his head. "No one makes us do anything."

"I know you think you're doing the right thing, Gabriel." Sam sighed to himself. "But I know where your heart truly lies." He spun around and caught the real Gabriel's raised arm. Aided by the element of surprise, it was easy to redirect the killing blow and impale the archangel on his own blade.

"Here," Sam murmured. Gabriel stared up at him in shock, the disbelief and betrayal sliced through the tight hold Lucifer had on Sam and suddenly they were two again.

Sam dropped to his knees and watched helplessly as Lucifer pressed his free hand to Gabriel's cheek. "Amateur hocus pocus. Don't forget, you learned all your tricks from me, little brother." He jerked the blade one last time and watched dispassionately as his brother's Grace burned out in a powerful burst of light.

Gabriel's body slumped lifelessly to the floor as soon as Lucifer released the blade. The black ashy imprint of wings spread across most of the ballroom. Sam crawled forward on shaky limbs. He pressed his hands to Gabriel's chest, his neck, his face. "Please... oh, God, please..." He tilted the angel's head and stared into dull eyes. Sam clenched his fingers in Gabriel's jacket and sobbed, unable to hold back his grief any longer.

"He never wanted to get involved," Lucifer said. He crouched on the other side of the dead angel to catch Sam's attention. "You thought nothing of his welfare when you insisted he fight." Lucifer reached out and gently ran a fingertip down the side of Gabriel's face. Sam went to slap him away but the Devil grabbed his hand tight enough for the bones to scrape together.

Lucifer's eyes flashed angrily. "You dared to put him in harm's way. This wasn't meant for him!"

Sam ignored the pain in his hand and shouted, "
You killed him!"

"Watch your tongue!" Lucifer twisted Sam's hand with a sharp jerk that broke the bones with a loud crack. Sam curled over his broken wrist and Gabriel's body as flames burst to life around the room. Lucifer stood up and sneered down at them.

~

Sam woke up screaming. Dean leaned over him, holding down his flailing limbs. It was a long time before Sam stopped crying.

*

They didn't talk about another hunting trip when they regrouped. Bobby said something about getting Dean to help out with legitimate work and suggested Sam help with research when other hunters called in. It was a pretty clear setup to keep an eye on Sam until he improved. As much as he would prefer the focus of a hunt and travel, Sam felt relief at not being responsible for the safety of himself or his brother in a fight.

The "down time" meant Sam avoided sleep as long as he could, waiting for exhaustion to knock him out for a few hours. It didn't rid him completely of nightmares or flashbacks, but fatigue provided a protective layer of numbness. Even so, he could get the research done that Bobby wanted.

Whenever he could, Sam did work outside to escape the enclosed spaces of the house. He remembered how Bobby's used to feel cozy with its familiar clutter. Now, it seemed too oppressive.

Within a week, Crowley showed up. Sam first saw the demon when he went to return a couple books to the library. He stopped in the doorway when he realized that Bobby and Crowley were chatting amiably at the desk. It was the first time Sam had seen the demon since the mindscape scene during his extraction from the Cage.

"Done with that?" Bobby asked, beckoning Sam into the room.

"Um, yeah. Don't think it's the right thing, though." Sam kept shooting glances at Crowley.

The older hunter rolled his eyes. "We're not discussing soul-swapping, idjit."

"Bit of complicated work, that is," Crowley remarked with a lazy smirk. He arched an eyebrow at Sam's suspicious gaze. "I am what I am, boy, don't give me that look."

Sam glanced at the other hunter.

Bobby scratched at his beard for a moment before saying anything. "He's surprisingly reasonable company." He shrugged. "Better to keep an eye on him, anyway." The statement lacked a tone of seriousness, however.

Crowley made a face in response. "Charming, Robert."

Wonderful; now Bobby was the one making friends with supernatural beings. He could have chosen worse than Crowley, of course, so Sam decided to leave off any arguments.

"Um, I'm just going to see if Dean needs anything," Sam excused himself, ignoring the feel of
Crowley's pensive stare.

~

"—ever learn?" Sam hadn't expected to step out of the house and hear Dean shouting. The reason why became clear as soon as Sam turned the corner: Castiel stood beside the Impala's open hood and watched calmly as Dean waved his arms and continued to shout.

"Seriously, man, what is wrong with you? You just up and vanish with a shitty goodbye and decide it's okay to just pop in without warning? It's been weeks and—" Dean sighed sharply, cutting himself off. "Never mind." He stared at Castiel silently for a few beats before stepping forward and slapping his hands on the angel's shoulders. "I missed you, you jerk!" Castiel blinked and tilted his head at the admission.

Sam walked closer and apparently made enough noise for Dean to realize someone had joined them. Dean quickly pulled away from the angel and schooled his expression into something bland. "Hey, Sammy."

Castiel's gaze ran slowly over Sam. "I was unaware Dean secured your safe return."

"No thanks to you," Sam said without thinking.

"Sam!" Dean stared at him incredulously. Sam was surprised, too, though he didn't regret saying it. Castiel merely tilted his head in acknowledgement.

"Attempts to extract you from the Cage without grievous harm to yourself or allowing Lucifer to escape were ill-advised." A flicker of emotion softened the angel's expression. "However, I am pleased to see you are well, Sam."

Great, now he did feel a little guilty for snapping.

Dean assured, "No soul deals involved."

"I would be interested in hearing the details later," Castiel admitted, gaze returning to Dean.

"Oh. Something's up?" Sam could easily see his brother's disappointment that it had taken some mission to get the angel to return.

"Yes. Although I returned to find Heaven in better order than I feared, there is significant conflict. Factions have formed and I fear that if we are unable to settle our arguments, another war will ensue."

Dean exchanged a wary look with his brother. "Yeah, just what we need."

"What do you think we can do?" Sam asked.

Castiel looked grim as he explained, "One of the more militant factions left Heaven in order to meet in secret. I have been unable to successfully track them since their descent to Earth. They are implementing wards to hide from angelic view."

"I hope you have a little more to work with than that," Dean said, looking skeptical.

"I will assist in the search," Castiel replied. Sam thought he looked a little uncomfortable.

Dean shut the hood of the Impala and gestured toward the house. "Might as well get Bobby in on this."

"Of course."

They were halfway to the house when Sam thought to warn, "Uh... Crowley's visiting."

Castiel tilted his head inquisitively as Dean muttered something unflattering.

"Oh look who's come back around." Speaking of the demon... Crowley was leaning in the doorway when they started up the porch steps. "Troubles, angel? Or just a social call?"

The angel looked over the demon silently for long moments; Sam and Dean began to shift uncomfortably, Crowley merely looked amused.

Finally Castiel said, "You may be of some assistance."

*

Lucifer plunged the blade into Gabriel's chest, the vessel's body giving easily beneath angelic strength. Sam watched from the Devil's eyes in horror. Gabriel stared up at him with shock and betrayal clear in his expression. Lucifer raised his free hand to the archangel's cheek.

"Amateur hocus pocus. Don't forget, you learned all your tricks from me, little brother." He jabbed the blade upwards, piercing his brother's heart.

Gabriel's eyes and mouth filled with light as his Grace burst free and vanished in a final flare. Lucifer let the empty vessel drop and looked down. The only indication that the body had held something more, something better than human were the burned shadows of the archangel's wings.

Sam struggled within Lucifer's grasp, desperate to reach Gabriel's side no matter how many times he had seen this ending. He knew there was nothing he could do to change events, nothing he could do to improve the situation; but Sam hated being forced to wield the blade. He felt sick each time he felt flesh and bone give way and the betrayed look aimed at
him.

Eventually Lucifer let go and Sam stumbled into his own body. He half-fell to the ground next to Gabriel and touched the sightless face.

"How could you let this happen?" Sam carefully moved the vessel so that he could cradle the empty body. "I'm sorry," he whispered brokenly. "Oh God, I'm sorry. Please..."

"He would still be alive if you'd just accepted your destiny."

Sam looked up at Lucifer but he was too worn out to work up any anger. "Please," he whispered, "just stop. I know... I know—"

"You know nothing." Lucifer snapped his fingers and Gabriel's body was suddenly ablaze.

~

Sam cried out as he reached for a body that was no longer in his arms. He clenched at the bed sheets as he gasped for air clear of smoke and the sickening smell of burning flesh.

He closed his eyes and scrubbed at the tears running unchecked down his cheeks. Slowly his breathing returned to normal. Sam rolled over with the thought of getting up, but exhaustion weighed him down. As much as he didn't want to sleep and bring on more nightmares, his body didn't want to move.

"Hey, you have another nightmare?"

The unexpected voice sparked some reserve of energy and Sam quickly twisted around. Gabriel lounged beside him, propped up on one arm as he looked at Sam with a mildly concerned expression.

"I... Yeah. What?"

Gabriel touched Sam's shoulder and guided the human to lay flat. "I just got back, sorry I wasn't here." He moved so that he was mostly lying on top of Sam; he braced himself on his elbows.

"I don't understand..." Sam cautiously raised his hand to Gabriel's side. The skin was warm under his hand. "Gabriel?"

The angel pressed a kiss to the corner of Sam's lips. "A
really bad dream, huh kiddo?"

Sam rubbed his hand along Gabriel's side as he stared up into the bright,
alive eyes. "You're dead," he whispered.

"You have crappy dreams," Gabriel said, nose wrinkling in distaste. "It's fine, Sammy. I'm here." He brought his hand to Sam's cheek and rubbed his thumb along the lingering tear tracks.

"But..." Sam closed his eyes and leaned into the caress. He wanted this to be real. "Please, don't do this to me," he begged quietly.

"Shh, Sam." Their lips brushed together briefly. "Look at me," Gabriel murmured.

Reluctantly Sam opened his eyes. Gabriel's face hovered above his own, expression serene.

Amber eyes began to glow, the light growing brighter with each passing second. Sam had seen the archangel's final moments too many times not to recognize what was happening.

"No!" Sam had to shut his eyes as the archangel's Grace burned out and he was enveloped in whiteness.

After the light had faded and Gabriel's weight had disappeared, Sam released a long, shuddering sob. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes.

"Whatever happened to dreams of showing up naked in class?"

Sam moaned quietly. "Please... no more."

"Oh don't get me wrong, I'm flattered," Gabriel said, tone sarcastic. "All the things your psyche could draw on and you chose me?"

"I can't keep doing this. Please, go away."

"I'd love to have you out of my hair, believe me, but it's kind of hard to ignore someone screaming for you all the time." Gabriel pulled Sam's hands away so that the human was forced to look up at him. The archangel looked irritated. "Seriously, you need to find a new obsession."

Sam tried to pull away from Gabriel's grip without success. "You're dead."

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine, I
was dead. Somehow I got caught up in your ill-advised campaign." He pursed his lips contemplatively for a moment. "Congrats on working that out, by the way, didn't think you'd have it in you.

"Point is, do I look dead?"

"You never do," Sam replied tiredly. "Please, Gabriel..."

"You are insufferable." Gabriel let go of Sam's arms and stepped away from the bedside. "If you think I'm dead, then why do you keep yelling my name? The dead can't answer, Sammy," he reminded. "Well, I suppose there's exceptions."

"Go away," Sam tried again.

Gabriel glared but apparently decided to give in. He huffed an annoyed sigh. "Fine. I'll leave you to your charming dreams, but if you call me again, you better believe I'm tracking you down to gag you. This is getting ridiculous."

*

Sam was all too aware of the stares focused on his back as he moved around the kitchen making breakfast for himself. It made him tense and paranoid. There weren't many choices as to the reason why he'd be drawing attention this early in the day.

By the time he sat down at the table, the stares had become a little less intense as Bobby and Dean seemed less inclined to catch his eye. But Sam had had enough.

"What?" he demanded.

Dean hunched over his bowl of cereal, looking distinctly uncomfortable about the prospect of having to talk. Bobby scowled at the older brother.

Sam bit into his toast with a loud crunch. He altered his stare between the two, irritated that they couldn't just spit it out and get past this.

The smell of sulfur and cologne announced Crowley's presence before the demon walked into view. He dismissed the silent hunters with a glance and settled into the chair opposite Sam.

"You have a helluva set of lungs," Crowley remarked. He crossed his hands on the tabletop and stared expectantly at Sam. "These gents are attempting to avoid addressing the fact that your hollering advertises your nightmares."

Dean scowled at Crowley but remained hunched protectively over his cereal. "What do you know about it?" he grumbled.

Crowley's smile eerily reminded Sam of the Cheshire Cat.

Bobby ignored the staring contest and turned to Sam. "If you need, we can look into some ways to help, son," he offered quietly.

Sam rolled his shoulders, distinctly uncomfortable with the conversation. He wondered just how much he revealed while he slept. By the time he woke, he usually had reached the point of wordless cries.

"Bobby, did you know you had a demon spending the night?" Dean asked, sounding irritated.

Sam didn't hear the reply, his attention drawn to the tattoo on his arm as he remembered the night's twisted dreams. He thought back to the painful burn as Gabriel marked his arm and the quietly reverent tone as he identified the sections of the symbol; "Strength. Endurance. Goodness. Hope."

Crowley's whistle snapped attention back to the present. The demon was watching Sam's fingers trace the tattoo; the human hadn't realized he'd started doing that. "You know what that is?"

Sam pulled back and hid his arms underneath the table. "Doesn't matter," he replied shortly.

"Bollocks." Crowley smirked and pointed at Sam. "I knew there was something going on. Fool wouldn't admit to anything."

"Doesn't. Matter," Sam growled, shoving back from the table. He strode to the back door, not caring that he was still barefoot.

"Sammy—"

"Not now, Dean!"

As the screen door slammed behind him, Sam heard Crowley complaining, "Don't kick me, old man!"

"Learn to shut your trap."

*

Eventually Sam returned to the house. A shower and change of clothes later, he joined the research effort downstairs. Crowley had gone off again, either doing some field investigation or, more likely, seeing to the business side of things.

Castiel had speculated that the missing angel faction had holed up somewhere with wards forming a barrier around a single location. The hunters focused their research on various warding options as well as ways to dismantle the barriers. On the chance that the angels were using more personalized wards, they marked passages that could apply.

Conversation, what little there was, surrounded research and an argument about dinner.

By the time Dean abandoned the books that evening, Crowley had appeared with a couple thick tomes. Bobby eyed the books bound with questionable material and sighed. "That can wait 'til morning."

"I'll just take a quick look," Sam offered, getting up to grab the top book. No one objected so he took the book with him into the living room. He stretched out on the couch, planning to get through as much information as he could.

~

"Can't avoid it forever." Sam looked up at Crowley and was surprised to realize how dark the room was beyond the circle of lamplight by the couch. The demon sat in the armchair and crossed his ankle over his knee as he leaned back.

Sam placed a finger on the paragraph he was reading; he had the feeling that the demon wouldn't just go away if he tried to ignore him.

"Getting by on little sleep is nothing new," Sam said.

"Doesn't mean it's a good idea." Crowley steepled his fingers together as he stared at the hunter. "There are ways to be rid of those nightmares."

"Memories," Sam muttered. "It's usually memories." He broke away from Crowley's contemplative stare. "They'll... fade away in time."

Crowley snorted. "You don't believe it. Though with your history of addiction, I s'pose you aren't keen to take up a new dependency."

"I won't let it be a problem." Sam clenched his jaw in frustration.

"Get your head out of your ass, hunter," Crowley grumbled.

Sam glared at the demon. "What do you care?"

"In case you've forgotten, your brother's pet angel sees another war coming. Heaven isn't the only realm in disarray. Seeing as you hunters keep getting in the middle of things, it's my preference you're the vision of health."

Sam rubbed a hand over his face. "And what if I said I'm sitting this one out?"

A huff of laughter escaped the demon. "Oh yes, I'm sure that'll happen." He leaned forward and fixed Sam with a pointed stare. "Your advanced guilt complex won't let you sit by. Bit arrogant to think all this is 'cause of you, innit?"

"What? This doesn't have anything to do with me." Sam scowled.

"Say what you like, boy." Crowley stood up and smoothed his already immaculate suit. "Try not to wake the whole bloody house. Again."

Despite Sam's best attempts, he fell victim to his exhaustion a little more than an hour later.

*

Dean had gone back inside, leaving Sam alone with Gabriel. Letting out a shaky sigh, Sam turned back to the angel. "Thanks for not saying anything else." Gabriel snorted and the annoyed sound coaxed a smile from Sam. "Really. It's, uh, kind of a tradition to blow up before processing surprises." He had to believe Dean would be okay with this, preferably sooner rather than later.

Gabriel wrapped his arms around Sam's neck and complained, "Well I don't like it. He's full of shit, by the way." He hopped up, wrapping his legs around Sam and planting a quick kiss on the human's nose. Sam grunted in surprise as he moved his hands to help hold the smirking angel up. "But your brother's nosing around did prove we should move someplace a little more private."

With a snap they appeared in Sam's room.

"Now where were we before that rude interruption?" Gabriel tilted his head and began nibbling his way along Sam's jaw. One of his hands caressed up and down Sam's bare arm.

Sam moved to the bed, still supporting the archangel's weight. Gabriel showed no inclination to let go; to accommodate that, Sam turned and let himself fall backwards, pulling Gabriel down with him.

A chuckle passed Gabriel's lips as they bounced twice against the mattress. He rearranged himself into a full out sprawl on top of Sam and resumed trailing nips and licks across Sam's skin. The angel's fingers skimmed along the still sensitive skin of the new tattoo as he moved his lips over the human's shoulder.

Sam shivered when Gabriel's lips pressed against the tattooed sigil. His fingers slid into Gabriel's hair and curled tight when he felt a sudden tingle of something like electricity jolt up his arm. He tilted his head to get a good look at the angel.

"It's okay," Gabriel assured with a small smile. He glanced up and pinpricks of light shone from the center of his pupils. Gabriel's thumb brushing against his arm turned Sam's attention back to the sigil and his breath caught when he saw the formerly black marks glowing with a shimmering display of light.

"Is that—?"

"Shh." Gabriel kissed the mark before shifting up and pressing his lips against Sam's. "I'm here, with you – for you." He followed up his words with a gentle nip to the human's ear. He whispered, "Promise."

When Gabriel snapped away their clothes a few minutes later, Sam didn't protest.

~

The first thing Sam noticed when he woke up was that he felt cold without his lover laying at his side. The second thing he realized was that the room had changed. He sat up and let the blankets pool in his lap. He immediately relaxed when he saw Gabriel standing at the window.

"Hey. Why the change in scenery?" Sam asked as he rubbed sleep from his eyes.

Gabriel turned and smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "You know where we are, Sammy," he said quietly. He returned to the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress.

"I don't... think so." Sam looked around the room. He had a slight sense of familiarity, but with the number of hotel rooms he'd stayed in, that wasn't unusual. "Although, it looks like the setting for one of Dean's pornos."

A pen with the hotel's logo landed in Sam's lap. "Never can tell how things are going to go down," Gabriel said. Sam could feel the angel watching him as he turned the pen to read the name.

"Elysian Fields?" It took a moment for the memories to fall into place. "No..." Sam grabbed Gabriel's arms and tried to drag him closer. "If you go out there, you won't come back."

Gabriel offered a sad-looking smile as he slipped free of Sam's hold. "I'm already gone." The angel walked backwards unwaveringly to the door. "I'm sorry, kiddo."

As the archangel turned to leave, Sam pulled free of tangled sheets and ran for the door. "Gabriel! Please!"

Unbearably bright light shone through the doorway, forcing Sam to shield his eyes and back away. "Gabriel!"

*

Act Three, Part 2

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
auntmo9
Oct. 20th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
Oh those dreams are so haunting!Poor Sammy.And yet, he is such an insufferably stubborn fool, it makes you want to Gibbs head slap him. He needs to talk to people (as in Dean, Bobby, heck even Crowley ,is offering to listen!). But noooo, he is a freaking Winchester!
enmuse
Oct. 20th, 2011 02:55 am (UTC)
Yes the boys needs Gibbs around sometimes! (Bobby might be able to manage the head slap at times...)

Sam's nightmares are... getting quite dark in the sequel. He'll definitely have to start talking!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )